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Avenger Assembled

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Seven years ago 

"Perhaps, one day, Dunwich would rise again. Not as an exercise for visions of madness, but as a true place of realization."

 

Thanksgiving 2018 

The Parkhurst Hotel 

 

Arcane energies crackling around its edges like so much barely-suppressed lightning, the mystic gateway opened and out stepped a vision from beyond the very edges of our reality! Resplendent in his starry robes, his eyes glowing with the energies that lay between the planes, the Gatekeeper raised his gloved hands and said, "Hello, Nick!" Kyle and Eric were actually on a first-name basis but they both were working, the latter especially. With the holidays, Claremont students with no particular place to go had been attached to established heroes for a "ride-along" - which explained what Ms. Thursday was doing there. "And company, I see." The Gatekeeper brushed his hair, looking a little distracted; the faint smell of smoke rising from him. "Are the two of you free for a small favor?" he asked. "I hate to interrupt whatever you're doing for the holidays, but I have a situation." 

 

 

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It was certainly a very interesting Thanksgiving. 

 

The Parkhurst had often served as a waystation for Claremont students attuned to the mystic arts, but it wasn't exactly something that happened every year, or with every class. But when it did happen, the mansion rose to the occasion. The ghosts were always happy to get a chance to put food on the table, and full-on feasts were a special chance to cut loose. Nick Cimitiere had helped, of course - mainly with the pastries and the coffee, but help nonetheless. 

 

He had been talking with Ms. Thursday on matters of the divine - as well as the interdimensional nuances of gods, something that he knew was there but didn't necessarily like to poke with a stick - when Gatekeeper had shown up. "Gatekeeper," he said warmly. Kyle, he thought to himself. Queer magician superheroes didn't exactly come a dozen to a bundle, so there had been some collaboration - and some drinks - and the possibility of something more over the years. For now, though, their relationship was pretty much 100% professional, if more due to professional obligation than anything else. "We've still got some pie left, if you wanna join - but the way you say 'a situation,' I think you'll probably want it to go." 

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Thanksgiving really wasn't a thing in Norway. Sure there was Høsttakkefest but it wasn't exactly the same as the American holiday, and in fact wasn't even a recognized national holiday in Norway to begin with. Not that Astrid would be inclined to celebrate it beyond as just an excuse you get out of school anyway. It's kind of hard to have a celebration about family, thanks and togetherness when your mom is always drunk and your dad is a no-show after all. But that was all in the past and Astrid was more interested in the now.

 

Parkhurst was something else. A huge mansion filled to the brim with ghosts and Claremont students with a talent for magic. It kind of reminded her of Asgard, at least in terms of magic and power feeling omnipresent and in-bedded in the very foundations of the place. It only needed a bunch of beautiful serving girls giving out tankards of beer and surly Aesir warriors boasting about the foes they've slayed and it would have felt just like home. 

 

Instead of that though Astrid contented herself with chowing down on some delicious turkey and chatting with Nick Cimitiere about the gods. Their conversation was an interesting one to say the least. Usually Astrid liked to compartmentalize and downplay the whole 'child of the gods' thing as no big deal but Nick seemed pretty eager to learn about the weird meta-magical physics of divinity and Astrid felt she kind of owned the guy her honest attempt at explaining all that stuff as limited as her own understanding was. 

 

When Gatekeeper literally teleported on to the scene Astrid couldn't deny that was a little relieved that their gods talk went on hold. She was a badass punk rock warrior of Asgard not a bookish volva who could talk-shop about ancient Nordic magic.

 

"Situation, huh. Does it involve up beating bad guys?" Astrid shrugged. "Actually forget that. Whatever the sitch is you got me my help."  

 

 

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"Hmm, something like that," said Kyle politely, not wanting to discourage the precocious young woman. "And I would _love_ some pie," he admitted. "I haven't eaten anything for almost 24 hours, and I've been spending too much of my energy on mystic power." He waited as Nick made introductions. "As you may know, my job is protecting dimensional barriers from intruders - sort of like what Phantom does for Heshem, but on a larger scale." Gesturing with his hands, he summoned a half-translucent image of a deep pine forest and abandoned buildings. "Right now there's a group of cultists trying to crack dimensional barriers in a spot that's already been weakened. Normally I'd go deal with them, but I live in southern California and my neighborhood just spent the last two days trying to burn down." He smiled thinly, taking a piece of pecan pie from one of Parkhurst's servitors. "Thank you. One thing you'll learn about magic, it doesn't free you from your obligations to where you live. I need somebody to get up there, but it's, ah...it's Dunwich, Nick." 

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Dunwich Prep.

 

Nick hadn't been there for that hullabaloo, but he knew the stories about it from Kimber. And, of course, he'd seen the news story about one of its students turning into the Blob right in the middle of a parade. The headmistress - a former superhero herself - had turned out to be a blood descendant of Shub-Niggurath, one of the more boundless things that some people considered a "god." Nick didn't want to think on how one could be descended from it, but from what he understood, the cultists of Shub-Niggurath weren't ones to let things like logic and decency stop them from interacting with their patron's fleshy architecture. Only problem was, the headmistress had been sharing the wealth, spreading the milk of Shub-Niggurath among the student body to unlock their powers and fuel a multitude of transformations. By Kimber's account, there had been evil trees and strange rituals, all in an attempt to call the Black Goat with a Thousand Young down live and in person.

 

Apparently, they'd managed to crack the walls a little bit before being taken down.

 

"Outsiders aren't exactly my bailiwick," he said, "but it wouldn't be my first time dealing with these things." He turned to Ms. Thursday. "I might get yelled at for this, but... how would you like to punch something right between its thousand eyes?"

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Astrid gave Nick a wolfish grin. She was born to punch creepy monstrous things and write awesome ballads about them afterwards. "That sounds right up my alley, boss!" She roared, making a fist pump. "If Summers gets into a fit about it just tell her I that I forced you to take me along." Astrid figured that the Headmistress knew all about her reputation for delinquency from her Norwegian school records and would probably buy that she strong-armed her mentor into taking her on an adventure fighting thousand eyed Outsiders.

 

Speaking of Outsiders, Astrid had no clue what the Hel they were. The word Dunwich sounded familiar and she could faintly remember a couple magic-users at Claremont mentioning some creepy school with that name but beyond that she had no clue what Nick and Gatekeeper were talking about it.

 

And this is why you got kicked out of Asgard and got sent to superhero school, Astrid, she thought.   

 

Astrid's fist pump turned into a raised hand. "Yeah, Outsiders aren't my thing either," she admitted, kind of embarrassed. "Trolls, giants,  draugr, sure. But I don't really know squat about Outsiders or Dunwich. Mind filling me in?"

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"Dunwich was a school for teenagers with powers - until the headmistress was found to be dealing with Things Beyond, and trying to transform her students into other Things. As for what Outsiders are, well...there are realms beyond the Nine," said Gatekeeper with an air like a museum docent - someone who genuinely cared but who'd given this speech many, many times before. "And realms beyond those, and beyond those, unto infinity. Outsiders is something of a catchall term for things beyond our reality's understanding, things driven by laws of magic and physics so different that they're dangerous simply for their alien nature. The Black Goat With a Thousand Young, the thing that touched the Earth at Dunwich, isn't a devil, or a demon, or something that's actually evil - it's just a Thing that wants to spread, and grow, and multiply, and it'll reward anything that looks like it'll give it that chance." He was silent for a moment, hand at his chin, then said, "If you are looking for an expert...do we need to talk about the Sea Devil?" 


The elder sign burned into the landscape of Freedom City, representing a confluence in arcane dimensions of great power, in the wake of the Terminus Invasion had been a major subject of debate among the heroes of Freedom; especially once it was abundantly clear that an arm of Mother Hydra herself that had reached out to drag the Terminus forces in North Bay away to another place. But in the aftermath of the invasion, nobody had been willing to take action against the aquatic heroine whose gods had touched the Earth in defense of...what, exactly? 

 

 

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Nick had heard a good deal about Sea Devil. She was... trying to do good? A part of him wanted to look at the situation through the lens of his own situation. He dealt in powers few understood, powers that would easily be dubbed malefic or terrible from an outside perspective. He consorted with deities associated with records of atrocity and a rapacious desire for destruction - mostly unfairly. 

 

And yet. He'd seen what lurked in those shadowed reaches. He'd seen what had happened to divine figures who poked the outer darkness with sticks, only to have it crawl up their arms like some infection of the veins. Sea Devil may have been doing right by her gods... but as Nick well knew, beseeching some gods was very much a matter of tit-for-tat. And there was a good chance that it would be more than Sea Devil paying for the "favor" bestowed upon them.

 

"Sea Devil's beckoning is an example that speaks for itself," he said. He didn't want to cut the conversation off, in case Ms. Thursday wanted to know more, but there were pertinent details to get here. "Speaking of 'grow,' just what exactly might we be expecting on the grounds? Has the ambient magic affected plant life, fauna, etc? I mean, I saw Annihilation; I know what happens when stuff like Shub-Niggurath gets into the water table."

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"There have been reports of alterations in the wildlife in the immediate area, enough that the evacuation zone around the school includes several dozen square miles - but nothing dangerous enough to warrant intervention. Things that have crossed the line have generally not survived the transition." Almost apologetically, he commented to Ms. Thursday that "There are enough real danger spots that we have to pick our battles. Whatever is in there, the borders of it haven't expanded since the initial investigation - so it's been allowed to continue." He was silent again, obviously considering things, before he said, "I think you should consider bringing the Sea Devil to the site. There are advantages to bringing a entity who can't be corrupted to a site with that level of extra-dimensional infestation - and if the cultists are the threat I'm worried they are, something with that connection to their gods will give you an edge." 

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Astrid scratched the back of her head. Most of everything she heard made sense to her. They're were weird creatures not from anywhere closer to here that wanted to do something really messed up and nonsensical to people for their own selfish ends. And of course, they had crazy followers that were totally willing to throw anyone under the bus so they could get power, including teenagers. Astrid gritted her teeth. She wanted to hit something really badly right now but kept her cool and stowed away that anger for later. "Right, so there's drittsekk cultists that worship monsters that they want to summon to Earth. Got it. Thanks for the info, guys." 

 

She knew nothing but who this Sea-Devil person was but she figured that learning all the details about her right now wasn't all that important given the situation. Those danger spots Gatekeeper was talking about might not have expanded but dilly-dallying while crazy people tried to release Odin-knows-what on the planet seemed like a very bad idea. "Ok, so I'm up to speed. So unless we got anything else to talk about let's grab this Sea-Devil person and head over there and punch those drittsekk in the face, ja!"  

Edited by Cubismo

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The group met the titular Sea Devil down by Freedom City's Waterfront, the commercial district quiet thanks to the holiday weekend and local ordinances discouraging too much shopping on Black Friday. 

The armored heroine (for Ms. Thursday had heard feminine pronouns while Nick and Gatekeeper were talking) looked rather different than the ones she'd met at Claremont; the armor's massive limbs and glowing blue 'fingers' were probably its most striking feature, as well as a faint opalescent sheen overlain over the black of the armor itself. Sea Devil's face was invisible but the hand that gripped her trident was clearly three-fingered inside its armor - said trident being about as tall as her and black. Carved with ancient runes, it looks wrapped all around with grooved edges and curved lines like tentacles rather than the smoother craftsmanship of Atlanteans. The armor was dripping wet, Sea Devil herself having clearly just emerged from the river with her prey. 

 

Sea Devil was singing when Nick and Ms. Thursday arrived, her amplified voice a decidedly odd booming bass that sounded mechanical through the armor, in a language neither of them spoke. For a moment it seemed she hadn't heard them, until her upper body turned. "Hello!" She..bellowed - there was no better word for it. "I have a license! For the fish!" On closer inspection it was a swordfish she'd dragged out of the water, an impressive one as large as she was. Without looking back, she pinned it to the deck with one foot, then impaled it through the body with her trident. "I am not going to eat all of it!"

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Nick Cimitiere had dealt with death gods, zombies, psychopomps, and things that clasped against the void. He took tea with ghosts and drank Jack with the ghede.

 

It said a lot whenever he found something that unsettled him. And he didn't know whether it said more about them, or about him.

 

"Hey, Sea Devil," he said. "No worries about the hunting - I don't think my duties cover fish and game."

 

Well, except for that one really weird time in the Pine Barrens...

 

"We're here because there's a matter in New York that could use your expertise. Just out of curiosity... what do you know about the Black Goat with a Thousand Young?"

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Sea Devil pulled her trident out of the swordfish with a wet schlurp and croaked (there was no better word for it) in an apologetic tone - "...What is a goat?" When the term was explained to her in more familiar language, she hopped backwards slightly, landing so that the fish was between her and the two heroes. She made a sound that might have been Shub-Niggurath - had it passed through a mechanical filter and been spoken by a throat that was not human. "It is...glory. The glory of the gods to transfigure in their image." She turned her upper torso to regard her trident for a moment, remembering the vision she'd had of herself when she'd found the trident, covered in glory, with Dagon's eyes and Hydra's tentacles upon her face, but of course she'd realized that only in her current form could she do the work that had to be done on the Surface - and to know the love that she could find in no other place. "What do you know of it?" she croaked. 

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Given the hesitant way Gatekeeper and Nick talked about She-Devil Astrid figured that she had to be a bit eccentric. That said, she certainly didn't expect their Outsiders expert would be, well, a giant fish person (?) in a black submersible power armor. That was a bit much even for her but the demigoddess kept her cool and tried not to look too amazed. She decided to speak up then and get She-Devil up to speed.

 

"Right, so, we know that apparently worshipers of this Black Goat have been spotted near Dunwich Prep. You've probably heard of it. Anyways, we think they might be trying to summon their god to Earth and try to mutant everyone because their arseholes. Think you could helps us deal with all that? This stuff isn't either mine or Mr. Cimitiere's cup of tea so we could really use it."

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Sea Devil struck the butt end of her trident against the dock and fell silent except for a faint noise that came from her armor - brekekekex, coax, coax. "...Yes. I know Dunwich," she croaked after a time. From behind the imperturbable mask of her armor, she studied Ms Thursday for a moment, thinking about immature Surface females - surely this one was not even old enough to mate! "I will help you. I cannot travel among your people without my armor."  She had experimented with using the divine power channeled by the trident for travel - but she had a feeling these Surfacers would appreciate it less than those she knew best. "I need to call my roommate. And my parole officer." She hopped away from the pair again and had a quick one-sided conversation (seemingly with thin air) where she apologized to someone for not bringing any fish home, but told them that she was sure there would be plenty of food at her sister's house this year. A few moments later, a  more serious one where she had to stop Ms. Thursday and Nick to get them to spell their names for her parole officer's benefit.

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Nick knew that there was much he just had to deal with. Well, "deal with" made some of it sound like a burden. He knew that his calling had taken him to the outer limits of what could be grasped. He'd been to Heaven. He'd been to Hell. He'd been abducted to Tartarus on at least one occasion. There was much that fell within to his field of expertise and the realms of his calling, which meant there were many things that had to be done in order to get at the true wonders.

 

"...yes, Cimitiere. C-I-M-I-T-I-E-R-E... yes, like cemetery, only a lot more French... we'll make sure of it, yes... okay, thank you."

 

After getting off the phone to the Deep One's parole officer, Nick looked to her. The idea that she saw the mutagenic blessings of Shub-Niggurath as "glory" was perhaps not the best start in the world... but it might be a translation matter. There was a time Nick would've been burned as a witch, too. "So. What do you know about Dunwich?"

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Astrid didn't what was weirder. That She-Devil seemed to worship the very things that she and Cimitiere were planning on beating up and sending back to whatever dimension they came from, or the fact that she found She-Devil having a parole officer the most relatable thing about her. Not for the first, or likely not last, time Astrid had to ponder just how weird her life had gotten. Odin help me. My dad being a literal god is falling down my list of weird things in my life. 

 

Since musing on that creeping reality didn't seem especially useful at the moment, Astrid decided that helping Cimitiere with this question-and-answer thing they were doing with She-Devil would be much better use of her time. It wasn't as if she couldn't angst about the strangeness of the universe and its seemingly endless amount of gods once she got back to Claremont after all. Nicole would probably have a field day about that.

 

"Yeah, knowing a bit more about the creepiest school on the planet would be nice. Also, do you think you might clue us in on what kind of weaknesses these Outsiders things have? I mean, they have to have one, right. Vamps have fire. Werewolves silver. Outsiders gotta have something that makes them croak even faster, right?" 

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Brek-ek-ek..."I know that a place so touched by the gods is no safe place for Surfacers," she croaked, after another long, considering pause. "Especially if the walls are thin there, and some sing the songs of other places." She'd heard other things too - of how the heroes of Freedom had closed in and made sure that no one would dare worship the Gods Below in the presence of their younglings, but she knew better than to say that in front of these people. "I will help you. I have helped before. If you go planning to kill the gods, child, you will fail," she croaked in a buzzing bass that was no threat but was perfect sincerity. "You go to silence the voices of those who would wake them." Aquaria knew (and had known since the invasion) that the time had come when the stars were right and the first would be last and the last would be first - but she would go on living her life with those she loved until she was called, and that if the gods were called by Surface-Men to a place that was not theirs, the consequences would be disastrous for them all. 

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Astrid fought the urge not to make a face when She-Devil called "child" but she managed and said what she needed to say. "That's... great. Just... great. Thanks, She-Devil. Good to know you're on the team." What else was she supposed to say? Admit that she didn't take to kindly to the opinion that she couldn't beat down any weird squid gods came or come out and that she starting to have some serious doubts about their Outsider Expert? 

 

What if she decides to pull a Loki and join forces with the creepy cultists? She couldn't help but wonder. She wanted to talk with Cimitiere about this. To hear what he had to say on the matter. He was supposed to her mentor after all and he was more experienced when it came to these kinds of things. I mean, you'd have to know a thing or two about working with less then completely trustworthy allies when your a necromancer, right?

 

Until she had the chance to talk to him alone she just had to play this team up by ear and hope She-Devil was on the up and up. 

 

 

 

 

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Well. That was good to know.

 

Like Nick, Sea Devil lived by the understanding that there was thing not meant for the kenning of ordinary people. He wouldn't exactly put them on the same tier, but after looking at one or two all-consuming, rapacious underworlds run by deities with some sort of rot at their heart, he had a very good sense that necromancy and the realms of the dead were not fun for the whole family. So, while they might have disagreed on what was the best thing to worship by whom, they at least shared common ground on the idea of not letting people get a chance to lick the wall socket of the universe. 

 

"Good. We're agreed on buffering the walls. Any strategies and arcane constructs you might recommend?"

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"None that you could do alone," Aquaria croaked in a not-unfriendly fashion - though it was hard to tell. "Come, I have given your names to Janet at the parole office," she made a few words there sound carefully memorized, "so I have two days to help you. Before I must call her again, as long as we are beyond the state line.Privately Aquaria didn't want to be gone anywhere near that long, not when she'd be so far from good water and her friends, but there was no reason to dwell about that now. She hopped up and down uncertainly, then said, "I My name for fighting is Sea Devil. But my name for your people is Aquaria Innsmouth. I can show you my face if it will help you trust me. But you may not like it.

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"I'm good," Astrid said, immediately. Astrid didn't scare easily and she's stared down all kinds of monsters back in Asgard but she didn't really feel like tempting fate to day. She had a pretty nice slice of pumpkin pie back at Parkhurst and thought it would be a real shame and waste if she brought it back up after getting an eyeball full of Odin-knows-what. Hopefully Aquaria didn't take that as much great offense. "Maybe another time, ja? When we've gotten to know each other a bit better?" Fighting together in battle always bought people closer in Astrid's experience and she hoped that her concerns might be resolved once Aquaria and her were in the thick of it fighting baddies.

 

Speaking of which. "So, we got something of a plan. Think its time we move out and deal with these weirdos?"

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Dunwich 

 

It was pouring the rain when the Pale Horse deposited the trio outside the former site of Dunwich Prep, the sort of thick, freezing rain that'll mean mud for days and an apocalyptic freeze if the weather gets any colder. Aquaria had stayed secure inside her armor on the ride up, which kept her warm and wet but meant she hadn't eaten anything for a while. She was peckish and irritable as she hopped out onto the street outside the sealed gate, and more so when she saw what she saw. 

 

The local powers-that-were had sealed the site's main entrance well by Surface standards; a high metal gate like a prison's had been placed across the main entrance to the property, and something metal had been placed atop the stone fences around the edge. This close, Aquaria could feel the spells the Surface-Men had placed around the place like a buzzing inside her head. She made a small noise inside her armor, an uneasy croak, and studied the arcane signs that the Surface-Men had engraved into the metal of the gate. She ignored the rain, and in fact opened crevices in her armor to let it enter her suit, the better to replenish fluids that were getting a little tired after lubricating her skin during the trip up. She liked the bracing cold; like the very bottom of the sea. 

 

There was something amiss here, something more immediate than the old songs of glory this place had forgotten. Someone with a song of their own had breached these walls, and recently. Opening her armor wider, though still not enough to show her face, Aquaria snorted, trying to inhale scent, but it was all covered by the driving rain. 

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Dunwich Prep was pretty much how Astrid imagined it would be. Rundown, creepy, and miserable. The exterior of the schoolgrounds was thoroughly abandoned with there being overgrown grass and weeds in the few patches of ground that weren't covered in mud. It was also cold but the cold never really bothered Astrid all that much so she barely noticed it. What she notice however was the weird symbols that were itched into the metal gates that blocked the entrance into the school. 

 

Astrid couldn't naturally sense magic yet. Apparently that was something she'd "grow" into once she came into her semi-divinity, whatever the Hel that might. But despite that even she could tell that there something was seriously off about the whole school and especially the gated area. She whipped out Porrklubba then and used it to levitate off the ground and fly over to where Aquaria was. It wasn't really necessary but Astrid preferred to avoid getting mud and worse into her shoes. 

 

When she made to the gate she asked Aquaria, who seemed to be sniffing around for something by Astrid's reckoning, about the symbols in the gate. "Those are magical symbols aren't they? Do you think they're meant keep us out or to keep something in?" 

 

 

 

 

 

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The good thing about having his jacket treated in the waters of the River Styx was that Nick didn't really have to worry about what pouring rain would do to the leather. Of course, that was the least of his concerns. Dunwich Prep looked like the magical equivalent of a toxic waste dump. Sure, to mortal eyes, it might look like heavy security. But the fencing, the symbols, the wards... Nick could feel the power radiating off of this place. It reminded him of those articles of nuclear semiotics, how to tell civilizations millennia into the future that there was toxic waste buried in the ground.

 

This place is not a place of honor. No highly esteemed deed is commemorated here. Nothing valued is here. 

 

"I'm going to guess a little bit of Column A, a little bit of Column B," Nick said, trying to get as good of a grasp on the wards as he could without directly touching them. "Keep whatever's inside from leaking out, and keep idiots from trying to get at the toy prize inside. Of course, the issue we're dealing with here is that the wards may have served as a cask, causing whatever's inside to ferment and cultivate." His eyes fell on a small breach in the wards, a place that Sea Devil was gazing upon. "And it looks like someone just took an axe to the side..."

 

Nick focused on the breach, trying to extend his senses within. He shifted his focus from the denizens of death to the threads of the universe - and places beyond - trying to get a better sense of just how much the area within might have been saturated by the energies of Shub-Niggurath's realm. 

 

 

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