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The DuTemps Building

July 10th, 2018

10:59 AM

 

Before the sky bled, Temperance was taken in by the city below.

 

Things were tranquil, and she wasn't quite sure where they'd go next. She and Sharl were still happy in their relationship. They weren't necessarily making any moves towards any particular destinations, but they were okay with standing in the middle ground. She had just graduated from college, and while she was putting herself out on the job market, she was still experiencing that difficulty of having a good - but not incredible - GPA and some internship experience. Maybe I'll put my "night work" on the resume and see how many heads explode.

 

There was peace. There was quiet. There was a city below, remembering what was lost and celebrating the victory that had been gained through great sacrifice. She stood on the lip of a castle in the sky, wondering how her life had gotten to this point, and where it might go next.

 

Then the screaming began. In a hundred different voices, from boiling asphalt to sparking power lines. Her phone went off in her hand. A message from her father. THE CITY IS GOING MAD. RUN. Before she could even more, a great red rent was torn in the sky, and a swarm of steel locusts descended. She ran to the lip of the building, struck dumb for half a second, before she got a good look...

 

No. Oh, gods, no.

 

She ran back into the building, reaching for her phone to send out a mass blast to the group. UNDER ATTACK. TERMINUS.

 

 

 

 

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Miss Grue

Whilst Daphne didn't need to sleep she still liked to experience the dreamscape that sleeping human created, so when she wasn't catching up on her favorite TV shows she'd meditate and use her psychic powers to explore others dreams. With no college for her today she'd been deep in the dreamscape exploring those still asleep this late in the morning.

 

Suddenly the dreamscape was torn open ripped apart by a psychic scream the likes she'd never experienced before, something very bad was going on in the city something very, very bad. It was only thanks to her natural talent and training that she hadn't screamed psychically herself, though she may have given out a tiny psychic meep, as she bought herself to consciousness and went to Mother Unit who tended to monitor the communications for any problems going on. The normally verbose computer had only one word for her that explained everything.

 

Terminus!

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Floating in front of the full length mirror in her room Kimber made a thoughtful noise as her appearance blurred for a split second before snapping back into focus with a different outfit. A older print copy of the Canadian Sears Wish Book bobbed in the air next to her, pages dogeared and nicked and showing a bit of water damage along the spine but having otherwise survived the decade or so before she'd tracked it down. The poltergeist flipped idly to the next page of fashions and tried a different top with the jeans she'd already manifested. It was too easy to just wear the same outfit day after day when there weren't any actual clothes involved; it was worth putting in a little effort to experiment.

 

She glanced back over to the catalogue and blinked. Her soul scythe was gripped tightly in her left hand, practically humming with anticipation. She didn't remember summoning it and her right hand went reflexively to her throat to confirm its pendent form was no longer there. She had just enough time to frown before the palpable waves of fear hit her, tidal waves from the surrounding city. The sensation was so strong that she almost missed that they were all terrified of the same thing. "...oh marmalade." Her work clothes unfurling about her she passed immaterially through the door into the hallway, shouting, "TARVA!"

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Sighing wistfully Eve set aside the report Bluebird had compiled for her.  She was curled up on one of her office's couches instead of sitting behind her desk and had found herself looking out the windows, her thoughts drifting northward, instead of paying attention to what was undoubtedly important paperwork.  She missed the physical presence of Becky, but they shared a mental bond that was in some ways even more intimate than that.

 

Eve focused on that mental bond, about to send a playful though racing off when the world went mad.  At one of the highest points in the city, Eve had front side seats to the awful wound that was ripped open in the sky.  The psychic blow was even worse, shredding the telepath's formidable mental defenses, and Eve Martel found herself among the screaming.

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A moment before Kimber burst into Tarva's ritual room, she distinctly heard "No. Not this time." 

 

She found the room alive with umbral power, shadow hounds leaping from wall to wall, barking and growling like maddened dogs as swirls of energy like spilled ink filled the air. Tarva stood in the midst of an arcane symbol etched into the floor, two loops and a straight line, and somehow the black against the black of the sign drew her eyes impossibly because the black marble of the floor stood out like a summer's day against the eye-draining, light-draining energy that swirled unnaturally at her lover's feet. Tarva's dress billowed around her like a shroud as she raised her hands before a misshapen altar to strange gods, clutching a dagger in one hand that looked to have been made from one of the kitchen knives. "Kar’Kradas and the Howling Dream! Dagon and Hydra! Apep and Erebus! Hear my prayer! Cast my realm through yours Below and shield me from my enemies! I have paid the price!

 

In a voice that struck Kimber like cold fire, the swirling sign at Tarva's feet spoke - "The price is paid. The deal is struck. The way is open." 

 

Tarva brought the dagger downward a moment before Kimber reached her - and suddenly, even as Tarva's flesh ripped open, Kimber felt other things rip open too, outside.

 

And then outside, great black wriggling things like umbral tentacles spread across the building from the castle downward, enveloping the entire structure like a squid around its prey. And Eve felt the touch of cold, impossibly ancient intelligences. And for the first time, Daphne heard the song of the Arcane. And Kimber knew that outside something far more primal than a robot army had been summoned, and it had them.

 

"Any price." said Tarva as her blood spilled out on the floor - as the skyscraper and the castle vanished from the city. 

 

 

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In a second, the screaming was gone from Eve and Daphne's heads. For Eve, it was like surging from the bottom of the ocean to the surface in seconds. She reached, grasping across the floor, trying to find some purchase.

 

For Eliza, the screaming had just begun. Great and terrible moans echoed from the outer darkness, as the things outside - spirits never moored to any firmament, never shaped and tempered by duty, faith, and purpose - slid across the surface of the DuTemps Building, trying to gain some form of purchase. For Kimber and Daphne, the fear had vanished, only to be replaced by something more... piercing. There was the flicker of mortal terror outside, the death-scream of a mouse right before an owl swoops down on it, a hundred times over, swirling in the more isolated folds of the hungry abyss. 

 

And then, it was all gone. The darkness prevailed for half a second in the building before the emergency generators kicked on. The windows, once cloaked by shadows, now looked out onto an endless meadow of red flowers, cast faintly by the dim lights of the DuTemps Building. They were soon enfolded by further darkness, under a sky with no moon and endless stars. Eliza stepped to the window, not recognizing anything of the land below her. 

 

"Where... where's Freedom?" 

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"Not here. Where are we?"

 

Wraith was just inside, having almost made it to the castle balconies before they...traveled. Went? It had been an incredibly unpleasant experience, even to her more mundane senses, and she didn't want to think about what it must have felt like to some of the others. At least it had stopped the noise; Wraith's hearing was extraordinary even on her worst day, and she wasn't sure she'd heard such a sound....well. She wasn't sure she'd heard such a sound.

 

She was on the ceiling, all claws and sharp bits, and the line of scratches indicated that she hadn't shown enormous care getting here in a hurry. "Blackness and unsettling magic. I do not know where we have been sent," she said, a nearly-inaudible rattling betraying her nerves, "but in this building, the list of people to ask will be very short. Where is Tarva?"

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Miss Grue

Daphne picked herself up and tried to work out exactly what had happened, her telepathy was a natural part of her as sight and now it was doing something very, very weird. Even though this was a very confusing puzzle to solve her first thought wasn't for herself, she was from a race of telepaths and shifters and already she was recovering from the psychic assault, but of her friends. Humans weren't naturally suited to such things and they could be hurt or worse!

 

Her first instinct was to reach out with her psychic powers before remembering that it might not be a good idea in the circumstances. So she made her way out of the room looking for people to find out what exactly was going on here.

 

"So something very weird is going on here!"

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As the lights dimmed across the building and flowing water abruptly stopped, other things came to life. "Initiating disaster protocols," came Bluebird's voice in that slightly mechanical, calm tone that meant she was feeling nothing of the sort. "All building residents are asked to return to their homes immediately. All non-resident merchants should shut down business and proceed to the nearest Class A mercantile establishment immediately. All building transients, please seek out a Freedom City police officer or one of the red-uniformed building security officers. they will guide you to the nearest emergency center. All building security staff are now on emergency alert. All building police officers are now on STAR alert. Please report to your assigned duty stations as necessary.

 

Inside the castle, Bluebird had other things to say. "Building is now running on internal reserves. Dimensional sensors overwhelmed by high levels of Coil energy. Spatial sensors reading no displacement in local spacetime but significant displacement before radiation overlord. Entropic radiation levels falling from earlier peak. No readings on Freedom City or environs. Building has been displaced from ten meters above highest point to ten meters below lowest point. Reading breathable atmosphere and Earth-normal gravity outside. WHERE IS THE SHADOW WITCH?" Bluebird punctuated the last sentence by appearing in the center of the castle's main hall, glowing brilliantly. 

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The shriek the echoed through the castle halls was equal measures terrified and indignant. "Oh don't you dare!" Kimber cried out as she rushed forward. The bloodied knife flew from Tarva's grasp with a flick of her wrist and embedded itself in the far wall with a metallic twang. As the phantom placed her hands over the gut wound shadows swirled about until translucent blue fingers had been stained a light-devowering black the crept up her wrists. "I swear, you get back here or I'll kill you mys-- gnnh!" As the witch's flesh knit itself together a matching slash opened on Kimber, chill mist rising from it in lieu of blood like someone exhaling on a winter day.

 

Kimber took a few sharp, steadying breaths, gritting her teeth. Pulling her hands away from Tarva she examined the empathic injury she'd taken on. "Hsss, smarts... Oh, for pete's sake, that's not even fatal. Do you have any idea how worried I was just now?! You are so in the doghouse, lady. Ow, ow, ow."

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"...I did it." Weeping black tears of joy, Tarva took Kimber's hand. "Oh, my poor brave boon, I'm so sorry I made you bleed for me, but I finally did it. After all these years, I finally beat them. I finally won." The room around them seemed to float with shadows, a bit like being on the inside of a mono-colored lava lamp. "Come on. Let's see our brave new world - together."

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"That is a very good question," said Eliza. "I think I have a good idea." She could feel something stirring within her, and if it lashed out any further, it might result in ruined pipes and broken sprinklers. And given they had no idea where they were - or how long they might be there - there might not be all that much water to spare. She could feel the Temperance voice slipping in, that little measure of control. "Bluebird, I would not dream of giving you orders, but we need to know how many civilians were in the building when we teleported. I think we have a register of permanent residents and on-staff officers somewhere, but if we..."

 

Can't go back. If she won't take us back. If something happens to her before we can make her take us back.

 

"...are here for the long haul, we need to start making plans for how to minister to their needs. If they've gathered at the emergency areas, they should be easy to log." 

 

As Eliza strode off, she found that the brief distraction had done nothing to quell that stirring within her. She liked to think she could keep her fury focused, that it was part of her comportment. Maybe it was part of having the blood of the deeps in her veins and the essence of ice within her. But as she strode down the halls, she felt the frost leak out of her, causing the carpet to turn crisp, then moist. She tried to keep it in, keep it from turning to a blizzard. But she found it was harder with each passing step. 

 

The door was locked. And then it wasn't. There was a bolt of brilliant darkness from the hallway as Eliza's will reached out to touch the door. She brought up a wall of ice to meet it, catching the brunt of the attack and not caring for the rest that remained. The metal in the lock snapped under conditions of bitter cold. Eliza stood there, still as a statue, as the door swung open.

 

"We need to talk." 

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The Dutemps building was built for emergencies in mind, with a reserve of water, significant backup power and with the markets housed inside the building, sufficient food.  It was also hardened against outside attack, like a super villain rampage through Freedom City that might come too close to the castle crested tower.

 

But that supposed that it would only need to remain in reinforced mode for a few days, that the outside situation would normalize and whatever rebuilding efforts would be run out of the tower.  A interdimensional jaunt wasn't designed for, and that worried Eve.  Still, she smiled at the sound of Bluebird's calming voice as she reassured the residents.

 

--Ladies,-- Blue Fox thought, casting her mind out to her friends. --Meet me in the conference room, when you're able.--  Her mental voice was cool and calm, even if she was anything but.

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Indira cocked her head as she always did when someone reached out with telepathy; she'd long since gotten used to Eve's, but the entire sensation was still so strange. Her peoples' minds did not touch each others.

 

Her people also did not live on a planet as placid and ecologically pacifistic as Earth was, either. She eyed out a window as she dropped to the ground, "splashing" into unformed silver before righting herself as a more humanoid shape. It was too angular, too literally on-edge to be calm, but her humming voice was at least even and carefully controlled. "We should hurry," she said, setting off. "We do not want to miss answers...or suggestions. I am uncomfortable in an environment I know so little about. Where I am from, beautiful landscapes are very deadly."

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The group found a quietly agitated Bluebird 'waiting' for them in the conference room, translucent blue-tinted screens on the walls displaying the growing world around them. "There is no sign of entropic contamination in this dimension at all. The shadow-witch has pulled us entirely out of your hyperdimensional axis." The cybernetic intelligence was obviously seething beneath her mask of calm, passing right through the table as she paced. "We are not in a dimensional framework which my database can recognize without significant further information. Where is she?"

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Temperance entered the conference room, a cold wind sweeping ahead of her. She had found the time to put on her face. She knew the odds were slim that anyone not affiliated with Eve and clued in to the nature of the superheroes dwelling in the DuTemps Building would be stomping around the conference room, but she still felt it helped to take precautions.

 

Plus. It helped to reassure her against the sense that she was unmoored, on a world that was utterly alien to her. 

 

"She is here," she said. It was by deference to Kimber that Tarva was not hauled in to the conference room in a block of ice. She stayed close to the shadow witch, not taking a seat until she had. "Now. I believe we are all very interested in hearing your justification." 

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"My justification lies in the shattered bodies burned to ash in the fires of the Omnicide; in the weeping of the all-deads, in the violation of..." Tarva looked away, bringing a cloth to her face to wipe black tears away. "I...am sorry I could not save more. I know Aquaria and Jessie were out of the building today, and so was Fleur de Joie - but there are thousands of people in this building, and mighty guardians to go with them. There will be time to build a new society here-

"Invasions have been repulsed by their world before!" declared Bluebird with great firmness. "Why would you think this one so deadly? Is it because you know what would happen to _you_ if you were near the armies of entropy?

"The flukes that saved their lives before will not save them now!" declared Tarva, eyes blazing black. "I made the sacrifices that saved them! I paid the price!

 

"The price to what? To what foul things did you sell us for your own salvation?" demanded Bluebird. 

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"You did not offer us choice," Indira noted, pointing down with one finger; it was perhaps sharper than she might have intended. So was the normally-warm hum of her voice, for that matter. "It is not a choice we can make now, and we are unable to help those in need, because you decided that we should all run in fear from a predator we have fought and beaten before. We respect and acknowledge your trauma, but you cannot let it drive you to--"

 

She sighed, in as much as a being without lungs could, forcing her sharper edges to smooth out. "I do not trust this place that you have sent us," she said, more evenly. Her calm was a precious thing, and well-trained. She would not have it taken from her, too. "Earth is a...peaceful place. What is the better word? 'Placid'? Its plants inert, its animals mostly harmless. Other places, other planets and worlds, are sometimes...not. We should check on those who were kidnapped with the building, and we should scout our surroundings unless we can return home immediately. I trust that if something were wrong with the building structure, Bluebird would know."

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Miss Grue

Daphne had never been able to get a good read on Tarva, literally, she was so focused and self-disciplined that hardly a stray thought crossed her mind. But she always liked to assume the best of people, and no one who was a partner of Kimber could be that terrible.

 

"To be fair she did get us away from a massive psychic shockwave, which I can tell you was quite unpleasant. It could have caused those of us sensitive to such things serious harm."

 

Her species were fairly resistant to such things but she wasn't sure how well humans psychics could deal with an assault like that.

 

"But really the important thing to decide is what we should be doing to try and get back, or at least make sure that everyone is safe for now."

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Eve said nothing from her place at the table, occasionally she turned to look at someone as they spoke or glance expressionlessly at Tarva, but the bulk of her attention was focused on the report in front of her.  On the tablets screen was the current headcount as well as supply tally, but despite Eve's attention she wasn't really seeing it.

 

Instead her eyes were unfocused, and all she could do was fidget with her wedding ring.  

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Kimber's expressive features were having a difficult time deciding on what they were expressing. On one hand she was feeling a knee-jerk reaction to jump in as the rebukes directed at Tarva added up but on the other hand she wasn't much happier about the situation herself, not to mention her side still hurt and there was something about wherever they'd ended up that her scythe definitely didn't like. The poltergeist opened her mouth to rebut Bluebird's accusations - it would have been much simpler for Tarva to escape on her own or even with just the castle if self-preservation was her only concern after all - when she looked over and saw Eve, silent.

 

She'd gotten used to smelling the fears of those around her, from barely detectable whiffs of anxiety to genuine, all consuming terror but she almost never felt anything from the Frenchwoman. Part of that might have been her psionic abilities but Kimber suspected it had more to do with Eve being able to recognize her own fears and her steely resolve to act in spite of them. Now though then was distinct note and a glance at her friend's hands explained the cause.

 

Kimber closed her mouth and wrapped her arms around herself for a moment before giving herself a little shake and volunteering, "I can try using my scythe to open a portal but we'd need to know more about where we are first. I know you weren't being choosey, hun but you weren't exactly dealing with the most trustworthy travel agents."

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There was so much Eliza wanted to say. So much that she kept locked away behind that image of the lady of ice. 

 

She wanted to know that she could call home, that her mother and father would be there to answer. She wanted to know that they were safe, and not hauled away to be grist for the mill of the great cosmic engines of oblivion. She wanted to know that the spirit world in which she had one foot was still there, and not harrowed or sundered by the great ephemeral backlash of the Terminus intruding upon reality. 

 

Most of all, she had so much she wanted to say to Tarva. More than just say - do. She wanted to ask her what right she had. She wanted to ask her why she thought it was her choice to decide whether they would die fighting with their families, or perhaps, die all the same somewhere on the distant end of the multiverse.

 

She wanted to ask her if she ever wanted to find out what it was like to slowly melt while still alive. 

 

But in the end, she shut it all down, locked it away in an ice cube and sent it adrift on the greater seas of her psyche. Kimber was right. Knowing the turf was more important than fighting over who sent them down the wrong road. "All right," she said. "I can fly over the grounds on my sledge. Anyone else want to come orienteering?" 

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"I will join you," Indira said, nodding politely. "I cannot fly, but I have some experience with dangerous wildlife, and if there is trouble I am one of the most durable of us, and likely the easiest to heal if hurt." Her humming tone didn't carry even a drop of pride or bragging, but an open assessment of her strengths and weaknesses - forming a hunting party was serious business. "Unless there is need for stealth, I will try to keep my top reflective so that I am easily spotted if there is need."

 

Her face pulled into a mouthless frown, eyes narrowing a bit at the corners. "We may wish to circle the building before we get too far away. It is possible that we are being investigated, even as we move to investigate this new world. Most animals might leave us alone until the - metaphorical - dust settles, but I suspect some apex predators, or some intelligent native peoples, might not."

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Miss Grue

Daphne had never been the type to hold grudges or assign blame, she was more concerned with making sure everyone here was safe. Plus she really wanted to get back to Freedom City to help out there however she could.

 

"I can survive almost any environment..." she volunteered to the others "... plus my telepathy seems to work on anyone regardless of the languages they speak. We should move quickly in case we're in any kind of danger."

 

In fact, she was already on her feet and ready to move out as soon as the others were ready to leave.

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The outside was still dark when they emerged. Temperance's flashlight cut a narrow beam through the dark. There were higher powered flashlights within the DuTemps, but there was always the risk of predators here, and she didn't feel much like running the risk of getting eaten by something that a T. rex look like a gecko a thousand eternities from home. From what Bluebird had told them, the field went on for half a mile - which seemed large, to Temperance, but stranger things did indeed exist in their own world. She sniffed the air, tentatively. There was that strange scent coming from the flowers - like lilac, but not entirely there, with perhaps a bit of camphor - and she still couldn't place them.

 

In fact... she couldn't see any spirits in the field. This was strange. In a concentration of plant life like this, she would have expected at least a minor functionary of the courts. But perhaps this world had no spirits, like Sharl's Tronik. Perhaps it was a magic-flat world that never sustained the kind of ecosystem that would allow objects to develop animistic personifications. 

 

If that's the case, I'm going to need to kick Tarva's ass three times over. 

 

To Miss Grue, there was a similar strangeness in the air. She could only place it after a few minutes - no emotions, no minds. She had seen enough of Earth to believe that night like this might be a time for rats, owls, foxes, and other things that hunted or foraged in the nights. There might even be, as unpleasant as it might feel, the brief snuff of one of those meeting something larger and hungrier. But there was no hint of primal thought or emotion across the field. And the further they went, the more than absence seemed to poke at the back of her mind.  

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