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"Hello," said Siren as she entered as well, giving SFX a friendly greeting. "You certainly performed well today, young lady. I'll make sure your teachers get a note excusing your absence," she added with a small smile. "And perhaps some extra credit, hmm?" 

 

"They want to know if I was the one who transformed Devil Ray," croaked Aquaria, shooting a suspicious look at Siren. It wasn't that she was hostile to the Freedom League member, not as such - but Siren was a well-known ally of the Atlanteans and claimed the powers of strange Surface gods. it was hard not to be unsettled in her presence, for all that she liked Phantom the sorceress well enough. "I did not. I am not a shaman or a priest." She wore her armor sensibly retracted in Freedom Hall, but hadn't bothered to take it off. 

 

"We don't think you transformed Devil Ray," said Siren reassuringly, shooting a glance at Phantom before looking back at Aquaria, her arms spread wide. "But even if you don't know that sort of magic yourself, you are the person on the Surface who  knows the most about Deep One curses - and how they might be removed. Anything you could tell us, even legends or rumors, could help." 

 

Aquaria blinked, staring at the woman with big, goggly eyes, and shifted inside her armor. "Why do you want to help him?

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SFX suppressed her inner geek as she did her best not to look like a fool, "yes please, that would be very nice."  Of course the truth of the matter was that she was already so far ahead in her classes that extra credit wasn't really needed, but that wasn't the point.  Siren had just congratulated her which was one of those moments that she wanted to remember forever.  It the woman had asked her to dance naked through the hall singing folk songs she likely would have!  So correcting her on not needing extra credit seemed more like an ungrateful insult.

 

She listened to Aquaria's response and interjected before her brain could tell her to let the established heroes discuss, "I'm sure they just want to help him.  Whatever was happening looked very painful based on the nerve clusters that the transformation was centered around."

Edited by BlazingCoconut

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"He does not want to be whatever he may be turning into and your people are unlikely to want him either, should his transformation actually progress to something resembling your kind. He is a generally unpleasant individual," Phantom's tones echoed hollowly, odd and unnatural as she flickered ephemeral in the Freedom League hallways. She was not, as such, a member of the League but she was often brought in when something was outside of the ken of the mystics who served on the various teams. Despite the strange timbre of her voice, the dry humor was clear in her statement. "We are heroes, and heroes help people would be the Freedom League party line. Beyond that noble and blanket statement, however, magical things make people nervous and nervous people make stupid choices. Understanding and curing Devil Ray will ensure that no one panics and thinks that the Deep Ones are causing it on purpose as some sort of attack. Humanity at large doesn't comprehend the nuances of your society, nor that your magic workers would consider it a blessing that the majority of air breathers do not deserve."

 

Phantom shook her head, her cloak rustling with the slightly impatient gesture, "I already knew that it was not your doing, Sea Devil," She repeated, as she'd told Siren before outside the room, "Even if it were a skill that you possessed - which I do not think that you do - I don't see any motive to have done so. Does it resemble anything that you have seen before?"
 

 

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"If he was a Deep One who had killed thirty of your young, he would not be alive now," croaked Aquaria in reply, a statement that was not a question because everyone knew the most likely answer. She took a breath, neck bulging visibly inside her armor, and spoke, no, sang - 

 

"Dagon and Hydra,

Gave we our shape and our teeth,

to be their glory,

 

"I have seen..." Aquaria paused, rarely struggling for a world in English. "...shapes of the Creation of Deep Ones, from the hands of Dagon and Hydra, in the cities Below. There is one you call the Serpent Crown, but it is on the Surface. They had great power in them - power over shapes. A Surfacer who saw one might have been...transformed." She struggled for the last word because she knew that while 'enlightened' was the correct one that it was not one her listeners would want to hear. "If he continues to become, and goes Below, he will live a long time if he is not killed.

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"Just looking at this Serpent Crown... would cause someone to transform!" SFX exclaimed with a real sense of panic.  She had no desire to transform to anything like Devil Ray had.  While she liked Aquaria, she wasn't ready to share a species with her.  "Is there a cure?  Has anyone tested any visual filters to prevent that from happening?  What's the effective range?  Or for that matter the duration of the glance?"

 

Then she froze, realizing she had just interrupted some of the most accomplished heroes in the world.  Her brain, one of her best assets, had not bothered to check on her common sense.  Of course they had thought of those things.  She was certain that they would have.  It was just that she wanted to get information and she was certain that the internet wouldn't have much that was accurate.

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"It is a mighty treasure of the kings of old," Aquaria croaked softly, listening in her mind to songs of other places and other times, and the ancient days of lost Lemuria. "Another treasure could challenge its power." She bit off the last sentence with the precision of someone speaking an alien language - and saying things she had little desire to say. She hopped from the chair where she'd been awkwardly perching, her facial armor sliding up to mask her amphibious expression. "The other treasures, the small and large things he stole. What will happen to them?

 

"No one's yet had a chance to apply technology to the Serpent Crown," Siren admitted to SFX, "it's generally been combated with magic, either Atlantean or human." Siren studied Sea Devil's posture and said gently, "Most of them will be returned to their owners, if we can find them. It looks like Devil Ray and his gang plundered museums and occultists on several continents." 

 

"But not their owners," Aquaria croaked again, insistently. It had been a long day, full of fears and triumphs, and half-heard songs she might never have known. "..may I see them?" she asked. "I could tell you what they are.

 

 

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Phantom had floated silently, her head half cocked as she listened to the conversation, "Lemurian and Atlantean artifacts that date back to before the sinking tend to be potent, unruly things," Phantom provided the answer, of sorts, to SFX's questions, taking on an almost professorial tone. Sketching out a few absentminded sigils with one gloved hand, she added, "Some technology would work, some would not but applying science to magic is often an unpredictable and frustrating endeavor unless one is schooled in both schools of thought - a rarity, I might add, and I'm not sure many minds could even handle it. Trying to understand all magic is not unlike trying to understand all scientific disciplines while understanding how those rules work in any and all possible realities. Either is the work of many human life spans. Both..."

 

She trailed off with a shrug that sent her cloak rippling silently anew. "And yes, of course you may see the artifacts. Any time saved in identification is time I can put to other pursuits." She agreed without asking Siren's permission first as Phantom clearly felt she had final word on any magical items that might have been recovered. 

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Being a third wheel was something that Zhu had sadly more than enough experience in.  She had already interjected her opinion into the conversation when she should have remained silent and observed the situation.  However, even that strategy had proven to be... problematic.  The heroes around her had more experience than her few forays into defending Lincoln from some of the many street toughs who preyed on the businesses and citizens.  They were talking about Magic.  Not the kind that she could create with her nanobots or her holoprojector.  Instead, the real pulling a rabbit out a hat kind.  She looked to Aquaria, then to Siren and Phantom.  They were talking of items that were created long ago, and in a culture that she had no reference too.  Idly, she scanned the web for Lemurian information before finally giving up at the sites which had nothing but conjecture and hypothesis.

 

Stepping over to Singularity, who had remained silent in the conversation she gathered up the courage to speak to her, "do... you understand any of this?"

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Singularity blinked, seeming a bit surprised at being addressed. She turned to SFX while still keeping a healthy chunk of her attention turned towards the discussion in front of them. "Not much about the magic stuff," she admitted. "That isn't my department. But Aquaria wants the artifacts to be given back to the descendants of the Deep Ones they were stolen from in the first place, but Siren wants to give them back to the people who stole them first and then got them stolen again." Her lip curled just a bit, showing her opinion of the Atlantean heroine. "It's possible that one of the things in the truck could be powerful enough to counteract the Serpent Crown, but not if Devil Ray manages to complete the transformation first." 

 

She sighed and rolled her neck. "It sounds like we're going to have to go underwater again. I hate going on underwater missions. Have you ever been?"

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"No..." SFX replied quietly.  "...to both underwater and on a mission.  Other than a bath, which I don't think counts in this case."

 

She watched the conversation letting it store in her mind to consider it later, "you want the artifacts to go back to the original owners, right?  That's what should happen as it wasn't fair they were taken in the first place.  Besides, we should do what we can to help Devil Ray.  What is happening to him looks terrible and he must be in a lot of pain."

 

There was definitely an undercurrent of tension in the room and SFX didn't have to be a genius with people to notice it, "Aquaria doesn't like them very much, does she?"

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Phantom had been apparently paying attention to the side conversation enough to tune in to the discussion of the artifacts. She sighed, the sound hollow and echoing but still somehow sounding beleaguered for all that, "Any actual artifact with magical potency is only going back to owners who are not going to misuse their properties." It was a sweeping enough statement to cover all swaths of people, "In the case of truly dangerous items, I'll see to their storage personally."

 

The master magus let the statement hang in the air for a long moment before continuing, and answering SFX's question herself, "Siren and Sea Devil's people have a long history of enmity, unfortunately. It's to their personal credit that they can put aeons of war aside for the cause of the greater good." Gesturing with one hand, Phantom opened a portal into the space holding the artifacts that still needed to be cataloged and returned, or stored. The magic opening shimmered in space, with edges that bled light almost too bright to stare directly into. "And almost no superhero is all that fond of me. Shall we?"

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"Oh..." was the only thing that SFX managed to say.  How did one argue with one of the Freedom League and perhaps one of the most powerful mages alive?  While she had thought returning the objects to the rightful owners was the correct choice of actions, she also knew that things weren't always that simple.  They were just in the middle of that in 'Ethics and Responsibility for a Metahuman' which was practically required at Claremont.  She vowed to take more interest in the debates as there seemed to be some very imminent practical experiences that she should be getting.

 

She nodded agreement and waited for the others to make a move.  While stepping through the portal seemed like what Phantom was suggesting, it was magic, and she had already proven that she didn't have the experience of the others.

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Singularity flinched very subtly when Phantom cut into their conversation, though she didn't seem to actually find fault with the content. She picked at the black cuff of her uniform sleeve instead, idle habit or nervous habit. Phantom's opening of the portal drew another flinch from her, this one more pronounced as the heroine seemed to try and withdraw her whole body from the vicinity of the portal without actually moving more than a couple of inches. "I think I'll stay here," she told Phantom and the others. "If Aquaria, I mean, if Sea Devil is leaving the dimension, one of us should be here in case her ankle monitor goes off." 

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Aquaria closed her eyes and thought of Deep One things in Surface hands. The hard work of shamans and priests, bound up by song and magic with great care down uncounted aeons of history, since the mighty days of lost Lemuria and all that they had once been. O what we been! What we come to! she thought, remembering a book of Jessie's she'd never been able to finish. If these things stayed with Phantom, they might never touch Deep One hands again - their great purpose would lie lost, and what had once been would never be. She exhaled, audibly with a deep croak, and reminded herself of the great truth of the universe. One day the stars will be right and the sea will be as the land, and the land will be as the sea, and all that we have lost will be regained. "I will help," she finally croaked, opening her eyes and rising to a bipedal position. "But what can go to its home, should go to its home. It is just.And perhaps Devil Ray will go to the Surface Hell. It sounds hot there.

 

"Well," said Siren carefully, "I think we can all agree with that." 

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As the heroes discussed, and she thought of Aquaria as a hero, and finally came to a conclusion on what was to happen SFX felt significantly better.  On one hand, she had gone to Aquaria for help and siding with the Freedom League heroes would have seemed disingenuous.  However, they were the Freedom League with a capital F and L.  All in all, she was thankful that she wasn't being asked to pick sides or arbitrate the dispute.  However, that still left the matter of the glowing portal hanging ominously in the air.  SFX had read up enough about teleportation and the practical applications of it.  Her biggest worry was wondering if she stepped in, would she walk out the other side, or would someone who was identical to her step out.  It was a semantic difference for the people who would interact with her, but she enjoyed being herself and all it entailed.

 

That was her worry on the theoretical level.  On the more practical level was the matter that Singularity had raised, "if we're going underwater, I can't breathe there.  I mean I'm sure all of you can, or have things to do that.  I just... don't.  Yet.  I mean I could figure out how to do it with some time and... shutting up now."

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The next morning, Jessie found Aquaria in their living room, eating a large plate of koi pa that she'd made and frozen the morning before. The spicy Thai salad was a raw fish dish that at least didn't smell like raw fish, instead mostly of the spices and herbs that provided exotic flavors for the discriminating palate of an aquatic carnivore. Aquaria wasn't alone in the room either - spread out on their coffee table were a couple of big, heavy leather-bound books, and a metal trident resting on a golden shield. "Hello," Aquaria croaked, "I put your food in the microwave if you are hungry." She scooped up another handful of raw fish and shoveled it into her mouth. "Phantom and I found what could go and what could be kept - and I kept some.

 

 

SFX had a very busy night - the League had made sure Claremont knew exactly what she'd been up that day, which meant a long (albeit not unfriendly) talk about her adventures at the museum and with the League. She didn't get the feeling she was in trouble as such, but she did get the feeling that her activities were being closely scrutinized. So maybe it was no surprise, the next morning after her morning classes, when she was summoned to meet with the headmistresses (again) and found her in the company of another instantly recognizable figure - the red-skinned shapeshifting mutant who went by the name of Pseudo. "Hello, Ms. Zhu," he greeted her with passably accented Chinese. "It's a pleasure to meet you." 

 

"Pseudo has come to the school this morning because of an invitation that's been extended to you - one that's rather unusual. You said you and Aquaria Innsmouth worked well together yesterday?" 

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Any exhaustion that SFX felt from the long night and the early morning classes vanished when she had been summoned to see the headmistress.

 

While she was a little apprehensive about the second summons, that immediately turned to wonder as Pseudo was in attendance.  Her inner geek cried out as she tried to school her face so as not to look like a wonder struck fan.  Unfortunately, she didn't have the years of practice and her reaction was rather public and noticeable. 

 

"Yes!" she said a little to loud and covered her mouth to try and reign in her excitement.  "Yes.  She and I tracked down... well, I guess you already know that since I answered all the questions last night.  I guess, well we kind of sang together," she finished the statement so that it nearly sounded like a question.  When she reflected back on it, it sounded pretty weird, but it had been a moment that she felt like she really understood the Lemurian.

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"I'll get it later," Jessie said with a vague wave, moving to sit as far as possible from the large pile of raw fish. She had her own pile of books: a history textbook and a writing style manual and a glossy book of magazine advertisements.  Drawing her feet up under her with a pillow to soften the uncomfortable jut of the tracking anklet, she cracked open the history book. "I'm glad you got to keep some of it," she told Aquaria. "I thought they'd send it all back to museums or something. Nothing dangerous, I guess?" 

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"Nothing with great power," conceded Aquaria, who had to admit that her talk with Phantom had gone easier than she'd expected. She'd fully expected the Surfacer female to destroy most of the Deep One artifacts lest they "fall into the wrong hands", but most of what had been made would survive. If she had not been able to give it to its rightful owners, it would go where it was safe - and that was enough, until the stars were right. "Look at this!" she added, scooping up the trident and shield and presenting them to Jessie. "These are made enough for you to use," she croaked, a look of curious anticipation on her face as she offered the weapons to Jessie. The trident was cast in the rough edges that Jessie vaguely knew meant Deep One craftsmanship and not Atlantean, its golden surface made of one of those exotic undersea metals that could endure even superhuman strength. The shield was something different - there was a greenish-black spiral of inlaid metal inside the circular shape, and at the center of the spiral a golden sign that Jessie had seen tattooed on Aquaria's skin. "Do you want these?

 

 

"Were you concerned about her nature?" asked Pseudo, but SFX had the feeling the question was coming from her headmistress as much as the Freedom League member. "You went above and beyond the call of duty yesterday - but there will never be a time that this school forces you to be a superhero, especially with someone that makes you uncomfortable or afraid. Do you want to continue working with Sea Devil and Phantom on this case?" Pseudo asked. 

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A mixture of both pride and concern flowed through her, making her stomach perform little flip flops as she basked in the praise, but still considered the question being asked of her.

 

"Uncomfortable?" she asked looking at the headmistress.  "Is there a reason that I should be concerned?  She seems very nice and was more than willing to help out."

 

She thought over the events before responding, "yes, I would like to.  As long as I won't be a distraction to them."

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Jessie's first instinct was to recoil, though it was less from the Lemurian artifacts than from the weapons of war. She had a bat of her own, one Erin had given her when it became clear that Aquaria would keep dragging her out on adventures whether she liked it or not, but these were different. These were no little baton, as innocuous as a can of pepper spray. These were weapons of war, designed for a warrior. If she took them up, it would be an admission that she understood her life was defined by conflict and struggle and causing pain. Erin's words to her in their first battle together already rang in her head whenever Jessie struggled in school or missed another day of classes. All we know how to do is fight. 

 

"They're beautiful," she told Aquaria and meant it, because despite their unsettling designs and dark origin, they really were. "Don't you think you should be using them?" 

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"People will be afraid if I use them," Aquaria said in a soft, rumbling croak. "But if most people see you with them, it will not mean anything - except that someone strong is there." It would mean very much to Aquaria - but she wasn't going to say that in so many words to Jessie. "Some will know the signs you bear - and they will see that they don't have to be afraid." She hmmed to herself, a deep noise, reaching down to idly run her fingers over the trident's shaft, then smiled, slightly, keeping it in the center of her muzzle rather than across her whole face, feeling unaccountably nervous about this conversation. This wasn't even the hard part of this morning! 

 

---

 

"Aquaria requested that you join her, Singularity, and Phantom for a visit to a partially submerged Deep One site off the New Jersey coast today." Callie frowned as she spoke, looking skeptical of the whole enterprise as she sat behind her desk. Pseudo offered gently, "I don't think she can tell the ages of non-Deep Ones by sight. It's harder than you might think!" he added with a warm smile. 

"This is...not typical for first-year students at Claremont," Callie went on, "but by the same token, I'm not going to hold you back from this opportunity for professional and scientific inquiry. If you are interested, Pseudo has volunteered to act as your adult monitor. Are you interested?" 

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That she would have someone who had more of a clue on what they were doing along side her was actually a big comfort.  If she had time to plan and devise and think about whatever came at her, she was certain that she could do well.  Of course, that was a luxury that was rarely extended to heroes in the heat of a conflict.  That it was underwater made things even more interesting considering that swimming was not really her forte.  Perhaps if she had a little time, she could invent something a little better than the typical air tanks and fins.  Already she was skimming articles on the internet and bypassing firewalls to check some interesting hi tech developments.

 

"Yes Ma'am.  I am very interested.  Working with heroes like Pseudo is an opportunity that I don't want to pass.  Besides, I like Aquaria.  She was nice to me and didn't have to be.  Will I have time to prepare some gear?"

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She was only given a few hours before they were leaving, which was plenty of time to work on an apparatus to keep her alive.  There were three problems that she needed to address; cold, pressure, and oxygen.  Some kind of nano membrane that would generate power based the minute differences in the alkaline content of the sea water and the mesh material could me made with the ability to break down seawater into something reasonably breathable.  Making it semi rigid would help with the pressure which would take care of the last of the problems.  With a little research, she found materials articles that indicated the types of materials that might work.

 

Unlike her contemporary scientists, she had complete fabrication capabilities from her nanites as well as some of the more exotic materials that Rev had helped her liberate from the science building over the past weeks.  It took a little bit of trial and error, but she ended up with a spandex like suit that should probably do the trick.  The only odd part was that she had to pull it up over her head, so she had left that part transparent and while it seemed odd to pull a skin tight material over her head, it should keep her alive.

 

As she worked she started a collection of all the research she could find about the Deep Ones.  Much of it was disturbing, but she had at least some ideas that much of it was colored by people who had some kind of agenda; either to the Atlanteans or due to the Lemurian invasions over the years.  Still, if she hadn't met Aquaria, it would have been a rather compelling set of evidence.  As she had, she found the other woman good company, and had a rather fond spot for the Lemurian hero.  Saving as much of her research to her phone for access later, she stripped off her clothes and shimmied into the skin tight suit.  Leaving the headpiece hanging behind her, she made her way to Aquaria's, having a little time left before they were to meet. 

 

Ringing the bell, she shuffled back and forth hoping the enigmatic hero would allow her up.

Edited by BlazingCoconut

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Reluctantly, Jessie reached out and took the shield, handling it with the tips of her fingers as though not ready to make the commitment of a whole hand. It was heavy but that didn't matter to someone of her strength, it was more the bulk that was a bit daunting. No slim collapsible baton this! But it was well balanced and solidly made, and the metal gleamed with a soft polish that was sort of appealing under the strange colors. "What does the sign mean?" she asked Aquaria. "I mean, if it's Lemurian, I can't even read what it says." 

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