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Octoman

 

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"General Dalekos said Theodora had gone missing," Heroditus interjected, "after the attack. That does not automatically mean she was kidnapped," he said defensively, "she may well have pursued them as they retreated.  She is not some coy damsel to be rescued, she is a... a..." his eyes darted around a bit as he searched for the proper English word, "a firecracker, very active, aggressive, and I can easily see her moving to take the fight to them.  But she may have rushed in where prudence would be more advisable."

 

Octoman held up his hands in a placating gesture. "OK, OK, chill, I get it, Sis equals Badass, Trinity, Lara Croft, Pam Grier, Michelle Yeoh, I know the type, I feel ya."

 

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He shook his head, made a few whistle-click Atlantean murmurings.  "If we are very fortunate, we shall catch up with her as she readies an assault.  If we are less fortunate, we may find her as she retreats from a failed attack."

 

"So we find her and then we go all back-to-back bam-bam-POW with her. Cool." He balled his hands into fists and made a jab-jab-haymaker motion in the empty water in front of him.

 

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"Well well well!" Dalekos was on his feet in the bridge, animated with excitement as the old-fashioned crystal display before them magnified the scene below. The horde of Deep Ones below was frightening, the barbarous temple intimidating, the small group at its top a mystery. "The Harbinger _and_ the Surfacer's pet, all in one place." The view didn't let them make out the words, but they could see the blue-skinned humanoid and the small cluster of deep-dwelling Deep Ones, as well as the armored figure of the Surface 'heroine' Sea Devil. "Perhaps we have a greater opportunity here than we thought." The Harbinger turned his body in the direction of the submarine's 'cameras' as they approached, showing the grisly trophy that hung from his neck. The female that was with him didn't quite face the camera, her tentacles waving as she spoke to the Sea Devil.

 

"'Harbinger'? Now THAT's a full-on supervillain name. MAD sinister, nobody calls himself 'The Harbinger' unless HOLY SHHHCOW is that a freakin' SEVERED HAND he's wearin' as BLING? OK, yeah, BAD GUY. And is that...aw man, I KNEW she'd go evil again! SO MANY PEOPLE gettin' told I told 'em so after this!"

 

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"Boys, are you prepared?"

 

Octoman stood up straight, as much as anyone could "stand" underwater, rested his fists on his hips, and looked Dalekos right in the eye (though it was hard to tell, since Octoman's eyes appeared to be featureless white orbs). "I was BORN ready...Oh man, I've always wanted to say that! But yeah, uh, stealth mode!" He held his hands in a "two thumbs up" gesture as the colors of his skin gradually changed to match those of the surrounding environment. In a little over a second, the Sensational Cephalopod had completely vanished. He could still be heard half-humming, half-singing a piece of music most likely unfamiliar to the present Atlanteans.

 

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The Front 

 

Dalekos led the way up the temple steps as part of his disguised force swam behind him, turning his back to the Deep One mob below them with the bravery of an Atlantean warrior. Their submarine hovered roughly horizontally across the plane of the steps, a dark line across the crowd beneath. There were songs and howls and grunts behind them, but Dalekos kept his eyes fixed on those above. When he'd reached them, he bowed unhesitatingly before the Harbinger. "Greetings, my lord. I bring my greatest warriors to pledge to your cause."

 

"Rise, Talek," said the Harbinger with the air of a beneficent monarch. "I am glad to see so many of your tribe have joined us - that the Children of Dagon are not the only ones who stand against the corrupt Throne of Atlantis!" The crowd below, anyway, sung in their triumph and Aquaria snorted at the blasphemy; then realized what she could smell. Something familiar, and close by. Closing her eyes and briefly ignoring the prattle of the Atlantean as he introduced his traveling party, she listened with senses that could hear the song of the universe and realized she could hear something moving past them in the direction of the temple, something, no, someone that she recognized. 

 

She opened her eyes, stared at the arriving Atlanteans as they made their obeisance to the Harbinger and his hooded mate and realized something. She recognized one, no, two of them! Reflexively she closed the faceplate of her helmet, the opaque features hiding her expression. An Atlantean general and the Atlantean who studied at Claremont! They must be here for the hostages; curse the luck. Did they not realize I can tell one Atlantean from another? Perhaps she couldn't blame them for making the mistake; frankly it was _not_ easy with them or any other being that bore the mask of Surfacemen, but those two had impressed themselves on her memory quite well.

 

She cleared her faceplate after a moment, not sure what to do. Expose these Atlanteans, and risk a war - or hope that they came only to save the hostages and not to kill her people before her eyes? Well, when she put it that way, she knew her play.

 

"Why do you come here?" she demanded suddenly, interposing her way into the conversation with the frankness a true Deep One should show - not the honeyed words of the transformed Surface-Man. "This is no place for the likes of you. This place is already mine!" She thought about shouting a warning in English, but of course the mutated Surface-Man would speak that. Instead she fixed her gaze on Dalekos and Heroditus among the troops. 


"Patience, Sea Devil!" laughed the Harbinger with a smug tone that made Aquaria want to shove her trident down his throat. "Talek has been in our camp for some time. Why should there not be an Atlantean on their Throne, when the stars are right?

 

"As you say, Lord," said Dalekos smoothly. "But until that great day comes, I bring only gifts that I might buy the freedom of those of my poor foolish _civilized_ countrymen who fell victim to your raid. Surely even the Surfacer's pet would not disagree?" Two of the Atlantean soldiers dropped an impressive-looking chest of ancient Atlantean design on the temple platform as he spoke. 

 

Aquaria resisted the urge to tell the Harbinger that when the stars were right there would be no thrones, and no kings, save Dagon and Hydra and the other Gods Below, something any Deep One should know! Instead she bellowed, "He thinks you are a fool; you prove him right to take these dolphins to your bosom!" She struck the ground with her trident. "I too have come here for those you have taken - but I offer you no baubles from those who kill us for their sport. Are you so _weak_ that you take them?" It was a vile insult, but no worse than sneering about her sexual habits.  

 

"Do none of _us_ get a chance to speak, amid all this bellowing?" The Harbinger's mate threw back her hood - and Theodora smiled at her brother with pointed teeth. "Hello, brother. I'm so glad you're here." She smiled (not blank, not horror, but the teasing superiority that Heroditus knew well when his sister was feeling bold) as tentacles emerged from her robe, and raised a hand emblazoned (much to Aquaria's horror) with the golden sign of the king in its three-fold glory. "We have such sights to show you..." 

 

The Back 

 

Evidently realizing that they'd spotted his 'tail', the Deep One who'd followed Miss Grue and Wraith around to the rear entrance of the temple didn't bother to conceal himself. Raising a bone-tipped spear, he called, "What ho!" He clung to the stony flanks of the ancient monument and said. "Prisoners are for the leaders, outlanders. Whose people are you?" Up close, the cyclopean bulk of the temple loomed, casting where they stood into a darkness that no visible light could penetrate. They could hear sounds coming from within by the iron-seeming grate that blocked their path further, voices and other sounds coming from mammalian rather than aquatic throats. The Atlantean prisoners had to be close by indeed inside the temple's bulk. 

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Heroditus remained quiet at first, letting Dalekos take the lead (and because he wasn't sure he could restrain himself from making rude comments about the Deep Ones around them).  But as soon as he and the Harbinger began talking, an even slimier sensation came over him.  Dalekos said we would be playing the part of a barbarian warlord and his vassals, come to parlay with Deep One chiefs.  But Harbinger says he 'has been in their camp for some time'?  Dalekos sees the Deep Ones as monsters, he wouldn't be in league with them... would he?  He did a double take at the chest Dalekos' men offered, such a gift would fit with the proposed ruse, but are those worthless baubles, or true Atlantean treasures?  Has he been covertly aiding them?  If so, is it for their benefit, or his?  His family were true barbarians, assimilated into Atlantis only a few generations ago -- could he be trying to rally aid to conquer Atlantis for himself?

 

And then he saw his sister.  He darted back reflexively, then moved back in to get a better look at her.   "<Theodora!?  What... how... sister, what have they done to you?!>"

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Miss Grue

Daphne must have been getting rusty she’d never considered the currents and flows of the water would affect her concealment, she was after all not really one that lived in such a medium. Thinking quickly she shifted as she dropped her concealment becoming a version of herself with her features suitably altered to be a Deep One.

<” I’m sorry for the deception but Lady Aquaria thought it wise fo us to act in haste.”> as she spoke Deep One she provided an instant translation for Wraith

<” Alas we must act with some haste, if you wish to assist us in this task we’d be grateful. I have been away from the glorious sea for far to long.”>

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Wraith watched the scene not from the ground, but from up the side of the temple - she'd flattened herself against a surface shadow, trading her normally-smooth silver for a dull, matte shade reminiscent of iron and patina'd copper.

 

Letting her copper oxidize itched, and she looked forward to scraping it off, but for now it broke up her profile and with the help of the shade she was just this side of invisible. It was a good perch; she could watch the Deep One below, listen to the temple behind, and if there was a sudden change in the latter she could come down on the former like the metaphorical sack of human hammers.

 

...probably. Three black eyes slid across her body to eye the temple and her would-be quarry. Water was complicated; she might have to push off pretty hard to get to him in time. She would have to hope that Daphne could handle it.

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Octoman

 

The Crime-Fighting Kraken's already-slightly-too-wide eyes grew even wider when Artificer's sister revealed her disfigurement. OH SNAP! Mermaid-Girl went all freaky fish-monster on us! Damn, this is some REAL stuff Squaddy's going through right now, and I wanna be here for him. But he's got a whole Squad of other Squaddies backin' him up right now. And someone's gotta go help those hostages. That's what Geckoman would do. Sorry, Dude. You're the distraction this time. I'll be back as soon as I can.

 

Still invisible to the naked eye, Octoman swam as quickly and quietly as he could toward the temple. He silently chuckled to himself as he looked down at himself, spotting the tiniest distortion between his body and the surroundings they were mimicking. "If it bleeds, we can kill it." Wait, no, I'M "it." Bad example. He crept up the walls, searching for a way inside. Gotta take it slow. Can't get a jet boost without ripping a super-fart, bubbles might as well be road flares lettin' everyone know I'm here. 'Sides, skin pigments can't keep up with the background if I go too fast. Learned THAT one the hard way. OK, start at the top, work your way down. Even fish-people never look up. There's gotta be somethin'...a hole, a vent, even a crack, somethin' I can squeeze through...

 

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The rear of the temple: 

 

The Deep One exhaled with a throb around his gills, a movement that was oddly similar to how Aquaria herself responded to the release of a great tension. "Hydra's champion makes a play for the prisoners, eh? I will not raise my hand against her minions. Do as you like." With that, the two of them were free to enter the temple, the iron grate clanking into place behind them with a thump. It was dark inside, naturally; a people who could see in natural darkness and who preferred to listen needing no particular lightsources. As they moved through the tunnels, it was clear that the plan of the place was distinctly off, at least by Terrestrial standards. Aquaria had sometimes talked about how the architecture of the castle had unsettled her and if this was typical, no wonder! 

 

The stones that held the castle together were all square but there were no corners anywhere in a building full of ropey, curving dark-walled corridors that curved back against each other like a seashell, the walls adorned with abstract images that seemed to be guiding the eye to concepts that were best not thought about for too long. They might have wandered for a long time through floorless corridors but a distant sound, echoing through the water that surrounded them, led them to a central chamber that was roughly spherical in nature. 

 

The most arresting feature in the room was a statue of a Deep One, looming perhaps half as large as the Centurion statue back in Freedom City, a tentacled, winged mass on its back obscuring its face and much of its upper body. This was the god that meant Wrath to Aquaria; Dagon, a king sitting on its throne - and in its hand was the globe of the earth, the continents misshapen, as if recently overrun by water. There was something ominous about the statue and its great black three-eyed gaze, surveying a room whose walls were adorned with mosaic images of the laughter of thirsting Things. 

 

The other feature was a roughly spherical cage tethered by iron chains to the statue, guarding by two fishy-looking Deep Ones who didn't look like they'd be quite so amenable to persuasion as the last one. 

 

Coming in from the front side, Octoman confronted a similar scene. It was clear this temple was used for something horrific; the art on the walls, with its scenes of Deep Ones and other undersea monsters laying waste to first Atlantis, and then the rest of the world, certainly suggested that. He could occasionally feel vibrations as he moved, but this was a place where his deafness was a particular trial. So many things almost there, at just the edges of his perception, that he couldn't quite perceive...Finally, well after Miss Grue and Wraith arrived, he found himself entering a spherical room with a vast statue of a god and Atlantean prisoners in a cage, guarded by two hideous-looking Deep Ones...

 

-

 

"Why, _this_-

 

"You stupid dolphin-couplers!" Aquaria suddenly bellowed, her voice loud enough that even the interplay between the Stylanios siblings was interrupted. "I have had enough of these dolphin-coupling Atlanteans and this dolphin-coupling cult!" Interposing herself between Dalekos and the Harbringer, she declared, "Your madness has made you weak and foolish, Surface-Man! I make the challenge!" There were great hoots and bellows from the Deep One crowd on the temple mount and above in the temple proper, and over it all, Dalekos raised his wrist to his hand and said the word - 

 

"Now!" 

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"Wait, not yet!" Galena was turning to shout at Dalekos. "We haven't finished-" 

 

The submarine erupted in a wash of chromatic energy, a flash of light that covered the whole scene atop the temple and flashed down into the valley. Abruptly, the light faded as quickly as it had come, dying the water it had touched an unwholesome, choking brown. Protected by the filters on her suit, Sea Devil could taste the foul stuff but no more - but she could hear gagging and writhing down at the foot of the temple steps among the crowd of thousands of her people. "Naia!" she bellowed, turning and zipping down the temple steps, the thrumming of her suit's engines the only sound of her movement as she disappeared into the choking, blinding cloud below. 

 

Up above, Dalekos contemptously waved Galena off. "Go down and save them if you care so much," he said as the foul-tasting brown cloud washed over the temple roof, sending the Harbinger's Deep One attendants writhing as they clutched and gagged at their gills. "The toxin will not harm Atlanteans, or Surfacers," he said with a nod to Artificer, "only those who-


"Then it seems you have made a _mistake_, imposter!" said Theodora, her robe now drifting away as she and the Harbringer faced down the Atlantean war party. "For I am still Atlantean - and I will have my _revenge_ for your crimes! Ia! Ia! In the Unspeakable Name!

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Miss Grue

If the Grue had god and spirits of there own Mother Unit had lost the information from there firey birth, but Daphne had a good idea about those of the Deep Ones from the various (sometime ominous) things Aquaria sometime made. Unlike the other gods that seem bound by some sort of pact to stay away the Deep Ones gods seemed more… tangible. It was a risk but maybe she could use that to her advantage?


 

I’m going to try something, not sure if it’ll work but it should at least distract them for a bit.” she whispered to Wraith “And we should hurry I think things are getting hairy outside.”


 

Keeping her Deep One form, adding just a few more tentacles for effect she grew as she stepped into the room looming as much as the space would allow her. Now all she had to do was wait to see how the guards would react.

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"<Sister, no!>" Heroditus called out (in their native tongue), both concerned for her violent mindset and any harm that might befall her from the chemical weapons Dalekos had unleashed. 

 

What miasma has he unleashed?  How much testing did it undergo?  Did he coerce someone in my family to make it?

 

His hands had already gone to the pockets on his belt, and he slipped on a set of metallic handwraps.  The bands -- gold, copper, and silver on the left, iron, tin, and lead on the right -- had numerous astrological symbols engraved on them, which flared with white light as he channeled his own arcane energies into them.  He slammed his palms down on the floor of the temple roof, and a line of the same light lanced out across the stone from hims to his sister, then around her in a circle.  A dozen dots of light appeared along the edge of the circle, growing wider and rising up, pulling the now-pliable stone with it.  The dozen pseudo-stalagmites reached up to Theodora, widening and extending connecting bars to each other.  She, and those outside watching, could see they were quickly forming a cage made of interlocking statues of Heroditus, some looking in with a soft, loving expression, others looking out with a fierce protective look.

 

"<This isn't you, Theodora,>" he pleaded, "<they have changed you!  Let me help!>"

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The guards swam towards the giant Deep One/Miss Grue in quick, powerful strokes. "Dark Mother," one croaked curiously, its voice a deep basso profundo that echoed under the water, "how did you find your way in here?" The other guard, equally watchful, cast big dark eyes up and down Daphne's altered form before adding, "Darkwater is that you? Are you trying to get some meat?" It laughed and said "You will get in trouble with the priests!" 

 

When the monster grabbed ahold of the cage and began eating it, the Atlantean prisoners looked up and began screaming in terror, clutching at each other and cowering away from the cage. Their panic didn't seem to make much sense, until a bald-headed young woman covered her mouth in terror and screamed in words only Daphne could make out, "Aagh! Oh by the Gods, _is that Theodora_?!

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Wraith had slithered up the statue like some kind of alien lizard, as Miss Grue distracted the guards - on inspecting the cage, their surroundings, and the guards, she'd assumed a peaceful option wasn't on the table, and time was running short. So, she changed.

 

The thing that had blobbed partway into the cage could have been a sea-slug, if sea-slugs had a half-dozen bar-grasping hands and far, far too many mouths. Mouths full of concentric rows of ever-more teeth, mouths that set themselves against the iron cage and started grinding at it with an uncomfortable efficiency. It tasted awful - she'd never been over-fond of impure iron - but at least she could let dust and fragments fall instead of trying to take them into herself. Wraith wasn't sure if she trusted any of the metal here....and, for all that she was trying to free them, she wasn't sure she blamed the Atlanteans for not trusting her.

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Octoman

 

When Octoman first entered the temple, a cocky grin spread across his face. Just two guards? Please. I could do this with my eyes closed. Even freaky fish-people gotta breathe. Give 'em each a faceful of tentacles, they won't know what hit 'em, choke 'em 'till they're out, grab the hostages, home free.

 

Then a third, bigger, freakier fish-person came in, and his grin flagged a little. Oh hey, that one has tentacles too. It's cool, it's all good, I can still...wait, is she here to EAT the hostages?!

 

But when the fourth, freakiest fish of all appeared, the giant many-mouthed slug-lamprey THING, and started eating the cage, Octoman lost his cool. Oh HELL NO! I don't just hafta stop the fish-people from eating the PEOPLE-people, I gotta stop the OTHER fish-things from eating the fish-people! This place is THE WORST!

 

The Sensational Cephalopod frantically swam up toward the temple ceiling to get the best angle he possibly could before the slug-monster finished unwrapping its tasty treats, and then he unleashed all ten of his tentacles toward the Deep Ones and the other predator. His tentacles stretched as they surged forward, extending until he had hundreds of feet of sucker-lined flesh to wrap around each of them. The exertion disrupted his camouflage. The pigmentation of his skin still matched the coloration of the surrounding terrain, but it was offset enough that the outline of his body was now clearly visible.

 

"SORRY!" he shouted in English, assuming none of them could understand a word. "This restaurant's booked for a private event! Y'all are gonna hafta get dinner somewhere else!"

 

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There was a distant sound - like a bellowing, or a chanting, from the midst of the choking cloud spreading now to cover the temple like an ill-smelling fog. Whatever it was was happening over and over again; but everyone around and inside the temple had other things to deal with. 

 

For example, on the roof, the dark reflection (or was that transformation?) of Theodora stepped nimbly out of her brother's rings with an acrobatic grace, tentacles waving around her in the water. "They showed me so many things. Look." She raised her hand, the one with the brand, and this time the yellow sign in it crackled with arcane power, a promise of profound transformation that drew in Heroditus's eyes (even as Dalekos and the Harbinger exchanged blows and curses nearby) so deeply he had to forcibly turn his head away to avoid looking at it. 

 

Theodora staggered briefly in the water, raising her other hand to her head, and declared, "Wait, it's not supposed to be you...by the Gods Below, there are so many _voices_...

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Miss Grue

Daphne was trying to work out just what to say as a good, she didn’t have much beyond admitting she was a god when asked. If she’d managed to work out what was going to say it didn’t matter as something attacked them, her ability to sense life and mind must be overwhelmed with just how much life was going on around them. She wondered if it as guard animal of some type or maybe a Deep One, as some of them they went through some freaky changes over the years. But generally deep ones didn’t speak English.

 

It could be a Deep One trick but Daphne generally trusted that good people did good things, and right now they didn’t quite look there best. She couldn’t speak, but she wasn’t in any danger right now and she still had her telepathy. Time to take that chance.

 

We’re one your side, I’m Miss Grue and we were trying to save the Atlantians and defuse this situation without violence.

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The slug-thing chewing through the cage stopped, startled; Wraith had not anticipated being bound up by tentacles. In hindsight, she probably should have, but she'd been underestimating the...enemy? The enemy that spoke English, that didn't want the Atlanteans to be eaten?

 

It was a solid grab, she had to admit, but there was a reason Kinigosi only taught grappling against animals and aliens. She relaxed, most of her body slipping into a more liquid state that oozed out of the octopus-man's suckered grip like so much mercury, reforming into something more sensible on the other side.

 

It also reformed a trio of solid black eyes, flat on the back of the metal-eater to look up at their assailant. "Please don't do that," her body hummed, in English, mouths returning to their work on the cage. "We are very busy."

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Heroditus grunted as he fought off the eldritch energies, bolstering his mind with memories of their childhood.  He helping her with her history studies.  She helping him in the basics of spellcasting.  Protecting each other during storms, barbarian raids, invasions from Surface villains, schoolyard bullies, and more.

 

"<Fight it, Thoedora!,>" he pleaded as he reached for more components.  He slipped something that looked like a set of gem-studded brass knuckles over the metallic handwraps, quickly popped out some of the jewels, and tugged at the handwraps so they now covered his forearm.  "<Focus on my voice, sister!  Remember Atlantis!  Remember our family!  Remember mother, and father!">  He channeled another burst of arcane energy through the devices on his arms, and a Heroditus-shaped pulse of force shot forth, picking up stony debris as it went.  By the time it reached Theodora, it had formed a rocky likeness of her brother, with exaggeratedly large hands, coming at her for a firm embrace.

 

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Down below, the water rippled beneath the Atlantean submarine as it began thrumming its way up above the temple steps towards where its commander and his troops were now in a fight for their lives. The water rippled as if invisible arms had suddenly formed the shape of a portal - and out strode the Sea Devil, her armor stained with the chemicals the Atlanteans had dumped into the ocean. With the blood of the - The blood of the - She could not even now make her She looked up at the craft above her, heard the terrible sound of its engines, and realized they hadn't seen her. 

 

Up on the temple platform, as the submarine approached, it was clear Artificer's plans were working - the statue had gripped Theodora by the arms, pinning her in place as she writhed and spat. She was chanting now, words of Atlantean prayer mixed with harsh invocations to the Gods Below - whatever the words meant, they seemed to be holding her in place - or maybe it was just the grip of the spell. 

 

Meanwhile, Dalekos and the Harbinger of the Far Tide seemed to be evenly matched - both had traded blows and bled each other, but neither had dealt the other a serious injury, and Dalekos's remaining troops seemed to be tied up in battle with a Deep One contingent that had come boiling out of the temple. The fight above, it seemed, was evenly matched. 

 

 

Inside the temple, it seemed as though things were rather different. The Atlantean contingent evidently included no one who spoke English - they weren't quite panicking, but they were obviously readying themselves to bolt from the monster eating its way through the side of the cage. A voice was entering into Octoman's head and telling him all sorts of interesting things, one of the creatures he'd captured had escaped (and smelled distinctly peculiar), and the Deep Ones he'd caught up were doing something that vibrated _oddly_ against his body but didn't seem to be making any real effort to escape. 

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She can still incant, Heroditus thought, but at least she can no longer gesture, so that should impede her magic somewhat. 

 

As he swam towards her, he swapped out the brass knuckles and hand wraps for another set of components, several flat strips of metal and a glass vial filled with a tiny amount of liquid, his attempt to recreate something he'd seen months earlier.  He tucked the vial into the crook of his right arm as he wove the strips into a circle, then a dome.  Holding the cap in his right hand, he withdrew a tool with his left and made quick marks where the strips crossed, sigils of order and reason, logic and rationality, and healthful restoration.  Now for the real challenge.

 

Theodora strained against her bonds even more as her brother approached, but the Hugging Hands held true, and he was able to place his device on her head.  "<Remember who you are, sister!>" he pleaded, shaking the vial in front of her face.  "<Remember you lessons, your family!>"  The agitation caused the tiny amount of liquid in the vial to vaporize into a sparkling blue gas, and when he opened the vial, it emerged as a palm-sized bubble.  "<Remember, and be restored!>"  He placed his free hand on the cap and channeled his arcane energies into it while pushing her slightly forward, face-first into the bubble, which clung to her nose and mouth, lungs and bloodstream.  The combination -- he hoped -- would undo whatever foul transformation had befallen her.

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Octoman

 

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We’re on your side, I’m Miss Grue and we were trying to save the Atlantians and defuse this situation without violence.

 

"Wait, WHAT?" Ben's skin cells unconsciously released the well-rehearsed combination of pigments that created the Octoman costume as his head jerked around in all directions. "I HEARD that! How did I hear that? I-OHHH, riiight." He aimed double finger-guns at the source of the telepathic transmission as his tentacles loosened their grasp upon her. "Miss GRUE. Sneaky shapeshifter with spooky mind-powers, but, like, the KINDER, GENTLER version. We got one'a you guys at Claremont now. Well, KINDA. It's a whole THING we ain't got time for right now. So, now that you're free, you can help me with the Jello-monster over there, I can't do everything, I only got like twelve hands, OK maybe I can do everything, but seriously that thing's about ta OM-NOM the prisone-WAIT, did you say 'WE'? I mean, you didn't really SAY it, but, like, did you THINK 'We'? Is that thing with YOU?"

 

As Octoman ran his mouth, his other tentacles continued to squeeze the Deep One guards as he pulled them closer. "So, like, you guys got a plan for THESE losers? 'Cause I figure, they're not goin' nowhere, no need to smack 'em around, I'll just choke 'em 'till they're out. Freaky fish-people gotta breathe too, right?"

 

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Miss Grue

Well you could have put it nicer, I like to think of myself more like Willie from V. And I know Davyd, who do you think helped him get better at his shifting abilities. He’s like a nephew of me in some ways.

 

She smiled as she thought of this something that looked weird on a face full of tentacles, then she looked more serious again.

 

And that there is Wraith, you know the other shapeshifting alien hero. If you want to check them think a message and I’ll pass on the message directly. And be gentle to those poor Deep Ones it looks like they’re being manipulated by some baddie.

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Miss Grue recognized the death chant of the Deep Ones - she'd heard Aquaria sing it before. It was about how one fought all one's life against the forces of the enemy, and how at the end one was devoured by the Gods Below to sustain them, and what fate could be greater than that? They were still struggling against Octoman's grip, but seemed to have little chance of success. 

 

Theodora writhed and spat, her body pulling against Heroditus's restraints with such force she was surely spraining something - but he braved the transformation just as she was braving it. He watched colors play over her skin, arcane glyphs writhing out and vanishing into the churning water like tattoos being run in reverse, her eyes transforming into Atlantean shapes and colors, then back again, flesh warping and bucking - and then suddenly, from everywhere, a great cloud of ink erupting from her skin like a startled octopus that briefly hid her from sight, sound, and smell...

 

Sea Devil jetted up the temple steps and without preamble stabbed the Atlantean general in the back. "MURDERER!" she bellowed as she felt her trident points sink deep, through the joins in his armor. She pulled the blow at the last minute, thinking of Jessie and the Surface and her life there, but spun Dalekos over her head to smash him bodily into the ground head-first, dividing him from the Harbinger and taking her own stand by the cultist's side. For a moment, together, Dagon and Hydra's champions stood united against the Atlantean threat. As Dalekos pulled himself to his feet, surrounded by those of his men who could still swim, she pointed her trident at him, acutely aware of the scent of Deep One and Atlantean blood mixing together in the water. 

 

"You think you can kill spawn where I could hear it happen and take no penalty for the deed!?!

 

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"<Theodora!>"  Heroditus frantically swiped away at the foul cloud, trying to clear it away, and totally ignoring what was going on with Dalekos, Harbinger, and Sea Devil.  "<Theodora, are you alright?  Please, please be alright!>"

 

What if it did not work what if I made things worse I am way out of my depth here in the shallows of my knowledge please be alright Theodora why did you have to go after them in the first place I should have been here to help defend you defend the family defend Atlantis Theodora please...

 

At last enough had cleared that he could just make out her form, hanging limp in the arms of the transmuted statue which had bound her.  He could not yet make out details, could not see if he had succeeded in reversing the transformation.  But at least he could see her.  "<Theodora?  Are you...?>"  He reached out a hand to her.

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One of the final iron bars gave out with a satisfying crunch, and Wraith pulled herself back into something a lot more humanoid - though, disconcertingly, she'd traded many mouths for zero mouths and it didn't entirely help sell her on her humanity. Still, it gave her arms, and one of those arms grew to be half the size of the rest of her, great clawed fingers wrapping around the damage she'd done to wrench part of the cage off the rest. The hole would let them exit in ones and twos, if they were careful; she'd tried to not leave any sharp edges. Goodness knows what was growing down here, and Earthlings were so fragile.

 

She evened her mass back out as the broken bars fell, skittering halfway back up the statue to watch. "I do not know if you can understand me," she said, peering intently at the Atlanteans, "but we would very much like it if you -" - she made an exaggerated pointing gesture, one climbing claw extended toward the captured group - "- would please come with us-" - she turned the hand to point back the way they'd entered - "- as quickly and calmly as you can. We will take you...somewhere."

 

They'd never actually decided how to get anybody out. That seemed uncharacteristically short-sighted.

 

She turned her head back to Miss Grue and the...octopus-person. He smelled odd, but at least he wasn't trying to kill anybody. "Did we have a plan? Can we fit them in your ship?"

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As the cloud of ink faded, Artificer was at first left with appeared to be a failure. Theodora was still blue-skinned and _altered_, looking piscine as much as humanoid, but when she opened her eyes and fixed them on him they were a familiar color. "Heroditus?" she whispered. "Are you - are you - what happened?" Like him, she seemed to have forgotten about the battle taking place nearby, where the two champions of the Gods Below were squaring off against the finest defenders of Atlantis. "I don't...I don't feel well..." 

 

Dalekos was staring at Aquaria; then suddenly, wounded or not, he gave a low laugh. "...I am not one of the Surfacers you have bewitched, monster. Even if you did not stand with this despoiler of our blood, I know how the fallen ones work! Your kind breeds in the hundreds! You let your young eat each other in the name of your dread gods!" He sneered as he pointed his sword at Aquaria. "No Deep One would care so for the deaths of a few dozen of their get, unless she had some deeper agenda. What is it? We are all underdwellers here, my dear - who are you trying to fool?"  

 

Sea Devil closed her eyes, inhaled deeply, and then exhaled with the sound of a snorting bull. When she spoke, it was a croak of great grief. "I'd care.

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