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Salvo

 

Salvo was lining up her next shot when she saw the last fake Justice raising her gun in the air. It was as close universal sign as surrender as there could be, and Salvo powered down her weapons platform. Then without a word, she dropped from the sky like a lead pipe, her thrusters pushing her past terminal velocity within ten seconds. Her flight downward was silent as air screeched and the ground rushed up to meet her.

 

And just as she was about to hit the pavement, she arrested her flight. The G-force alone would have crushed a person, but she came to rest easily, twisting so that she 'stood' mid-air. She was just in time to hear the Justice's deal, and every word her eyes narrow with annoyance.

 

"Wrong." Sparks began to fly from Salvo's armor as she began to talk. She crossed her arms, looking down at the Justice. "Here's what you will do. You will drop your gun. You will drop that USB. You will drop all your gadgets. Then you will turn around, walk ten feet away, and drop to your knees. If you try to run or fight or look at one of us wrong, we will beat you unconscious."

 

Her voice was calm, a statement of fact.

 

"Consider this your last warning, because we're nice." Her visor crackled with energy, the danger set squarely on the Justice.

 

"Understood?"

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue
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Justice

 

"Hey, hey! Chill out a bit!" Alright, Salvo was a hardass, and these people had attacked them, but still, this was not how Robin wanted to do things. "Drop the gun and USB and we'll talk, alright?"

 

It wasn't like her evil double could even see them, anyway. She could probably hear them. "Just, stop looking like me and do as Salvo said, alright?" Were they really gonna end up doing a good cop/bad cop routine here? Really?

 

Robin reached into a portal and pulled out a small grenade, palming it and getting ready. The moment she tried anything, Robin would be ready. Maybe not so much on the whole beat unconscious front, but she had other options.

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GM

 

The evil Justice backed up. Gun still held high, she stammered. "Alright, alright!" She leaned down, placing the gun on the ground, then the USB, then slowly turned and backed away, while her body shifted. While the smoke still made it difficult to see anything, unless you had goggles or something else that took care of that, it seemed like she was still a girl. She was in a light grey tight costume, with purple boots with yellow trim, flared purple gloves with yellow trim, with yellow markings stretching from under the gloves on the outside of her arms, reaching her back where they connected. She wore a light grey cowl that obscured all but her mouth, with yellow lenses over her eyes. She had a heraldic blue lion on her chest. It was different to make out anything of her actual appearance, aside from the fact that she appeared to be in great shape.

 

She leaned down, kneeling on her knees like Salvo ordered, hands behind her head. "Alright, I'm down, just... just let us go, alright?"

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Salvo

 

"Can you check on the other one?" Salvo said as she landed and began to follow the girl. "Tie him up and gather their weapons. We don't need another fight on our hands."

 

She kept an eye on the girl as she shapeshifted out of her Justice's form and knelt down. Weapons or no, Salvo still knew they had a few tricks up their sleeves and their teleportation was one of the most pressing issues. Salvo raised her foot and lowered it on the girl's calf. Then she applied a bit of pressure on the calf, enough so it was like a normal person was pressing down instead of a thousand pounds of steel.

 

"No," Salvo cut the girl's request off almost immediately. She looked down, her sensors recreating a figure of the girl in her mind's eye. "You will answer my questions or I will step down with my whole weight and strength. I can break steel easily and bend titanium, just so we're clear what I am able do to you."

 

"So if you want to be able to run after this, answer my questions." She bent down. "First, can you or your partner teleport and if so how?"

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue
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GM

 

The moment the pressure was applied and Salvo asked her question, the girl was gone. Everything shattered about her. Before Justice could reach the other evil Justice, the girl was by her, kneeling and touching her.

 

"What do you think?" There was a bit of an arrogance to her tone that hadn't been there before. "I don't need this kind of trouble!"

 

Then, they were gone. Salvo's enhanced sensors could maybe grasp at whatever happened, as they broke through reality, a quickly filling hole through reality before they were just gone. 

 

A few papers and the USB key that the girl had dropped was still left behind...

Edited by RocketLord
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Justice

 

Robin nodded at Salvo and moved towards the other evil Justice. It was so creepy to see herself knocked out cold like that, and then... things happened way too quickly.

 

"Wait!" Robin called out, already grabbing a gun out of a portal, already getting into position to take a shot and then... they were just gone.

 

She was left standing for half a second maybe, then she leapt at the USB key and the papers, quickly grabbing them before someone else could, before turning frantically towards Salvo. "We gotta get out of here before. How are you with portals?" She didn't exactly feel good about this whole situation, but it seemed pretty clear how Max Mars had gotten his hands on her tech. The other question was why, then. But they could try and figure that out, right now, they needed to bolt before someone showed up to figure out what was going on.

 

A light touch to the amulet in her belt, and Robin created a bright rainbow colored portal, a doorway in the middle of nowhere, large enough to fit Salvo, if necessary. "C'mon."

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Salvo

 

With a grunt, her sabaton crunched through the pavement, sending large shards of gravel flying.

 

Then she whirled toward the other shapeshifter, and sure enough the girl had teleported to him. Before Salvo and Justice could do anything, the shapeshifters were gone, though Salvo could register the quickly collapsing tear in reality left in the pair's wake. Then that too was gone, leaving Salvo and Justice alone.

 

"Before the police arrive, yes." Salvo finished Justice's thought with a low growl. She was clearly frustrated. Sure, they had confirmed that Justice's tech was being snitched, but the whos and whys and hows were still up in the air.

 

Who were the pair? Did they have a connection with Max Mars? Why Justice of all heroes? How did they find out about her? How else did they fit in?

 

The questions raced through her thoughts, but she squashed them down. They were questions for another time. For now, they had to make their own escape.

 

Idly, Salvo blind-wiped any electronics in the area and stepped forward as Justice created a rainbow-colored portal. Her sensory-suite took snapshots and created a model from the data, detailing the effect for her. Magic and tech, much like her own works.

 

"You'll have to destroy or move your own equipment, sooner rather than later," Salvo said as she stepped through the portal. "And you need to take precautions with any of your friends or family as well. Your identity's known and that's a Sword of Damocles hanging over your head as much as anything." 

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue
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Justice

 

Salvo stepped through the portal... and found herself in what appeared to be a garage or an armory. Justice's Law Rider bike was parked ten feet or so to the left of Salvo. The wall behind the bike held a multitude of weapons, armor pieces and equipment. Some of them Salvo had seen Justice using before, some of them seemed brand new. The room had no windows, but Salvo's systems could pick up a large gate behind her, while there was a closed door in front of them. The entire room was cast in a dark grey, almost metallic color.

 

"I know." 

 

Justice's tone was strained. Her tone was harder than what Salvo had heard before. Justice clicked a hidden button on her belt, and one by one, the pieces of her armor flew off and took their position on her wall, until she was left in just the under armor, which then quickly retracted back into her belt, leaving her in her dark red costume.

 

"Honestly, do you think I don't know how bad this is?" She looked at the armor on the wall, keeping her eyes away from Salvo. "I know that you're from Freedom, you got heroes everywhere there. Here? Until recently, its just been me, Emerald Spider, Meta-Naut and a few others. Things are different here. There's not some super hero school to teach us how to do things. Max Mars knows who I am. I got no idea how he found out. He's been sending people to raid my old lab, where I have already removed anything related to my armor or any of my equipment that could be of any use. I know all." While she spoke, her voice went from anger to almost trembling. "I'm dealing with things. I'm working on figuring out what to do. I reached out to everyone to get help, to try to get all of us to work together, to try to make sure that Mars doesn't figure out who everyone else is! I'm dealing, I'm finding out what I'm going to do, so could you please stop getting on my case about this every other second and give me a chance to just breathe?"

 

Robin slumped down on the floor, against a wall. Her breath was heavy. Her mind was racing. Her heart was pounding. 

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Salvo

 

Salvo was about to continue, but something in Justice's tone cut her off. Whatever she had said had been the last straw and sent Justice on a full-blown rant. Salvo watched the other hero impassively from behind her visor as Justice vented it all out, until her anger dissipated into a trembling. Fragile, as if it could break if stepped on too hard. Justice slumped down on the floor, against the wall. Her heart pounding. Her breath heavy.

 

There was silence as Salvo waited for her to cool down.

 

Then she moved closer and bent down, balancing on the forefront of her boots. She stared down at Justice, her visor reflecting the other hero like a vivid red-tinted mirror. And then she waited until Justice acknowledged her.

 

"I am offering you my help," Salvo said, in a measured pace. "If you want, take it. Or don't. You aren't the first to face danger like this and I doubt you'd be the last."

 

She paused, taking stock just how much she was willing to share to a stranger, maybe colleague. Then she continued, her voice oddly flat as if she were reciting a textbook. "My enemies hound me constantly and now I'm backed to a cliff. They know my identity and I don't doubt that once they find out who my family are that they'd hesitate in threatening them if it suited their purposes. I know of ways to frustrate their search but the effort to maintain the blinds take so much time, especially with my responsibilities as a hero. I don't think I have the time for rest except when I sleep, and even then I can feel the blinds slowly slipping away."

 

She stopped herself before she could drift off. That was enough. Then she refocused on Justice and turned a palm upwards. An offer. "This is what you want, right? Individual heroes dealing with things together?"

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Justice

 

Robin looked straight ahead when Salvo started talking. She had probably pissed her off, going off like this. It was stupid. None of this was Salvo's fault, all of this was because she had been stupid, and honestly, all of Salvo's prodding was justified, wasn't it? Robin had messed up. Not Salvo. She was in the right here.

 

She was almost shaking again, but she calmed down while Salvo spoke. Yeah, alright. She was right. She wasn't the first to get into danger, and it sounded like Salvo wasn't exactly new to having enemies coming at her all the time. Robin just wanted to help people, but all of this was just too much.

 

And then, the hand offered. Robin stared at it for a moment. Heroes dealing with things together? Helping each other? 

 

Yeah. That was what she wanted.

 

"Stronger together, right?"

 

Justice took Salvo's hand and stood up, shaking her head.

 

"Sorry about that. Just kind of got to me all at once."

 

She had to get her head together, figure things out already. Turning away after a brief pause, she moved towards the door that led further into her headquarters, pushing open the door into a living area with a small kitchen, a table and some chairs. Open doors peeked into a hallway and a workshop at least as messy as the one at the university.

 

"So, uh, welcome to the AnneX. Capital A and X." She paused briefly again, before continuing. "We're in a place called Z-Space. Its supposed to be between realities. Its kind of trippy, to be honest."

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Salvo

 

Salvo gave a simple nod as Justice apologized, then watched impassively as the other hero moved towards the door. Justice had perked up too quickly and too neatly. No doubt she continued to hold much of her source of stress, but if that breakdown was her release valve from all the pressure then there was no telling when it would next explode. She'd keep an eye out for when that'd happen again. Right now, after the danger had passed and they were safe was alright. But if it were to happen somewhere more dangerous was what she needed to be careful off. 

 

No one to see, Nicole stepped out from her armor, tugging at her domino mask self-consciously. Bellios disappeared. Now unarmored save for her hoodie and jeans, she followed Justice into the headquarters and looked around at the mess. A living area, a kitchen, and a workshop. She picked up what looked like a piece of armor, actuators and energy sources and all, turning it in her hand as Justice gave the headquarters a name and short explanation.

 

She snorted back a laugh. "Trippy's out middle name, you know that? We're related that way." She placed the armor piece down and turned to look at Justice. "So this is the place you were talking about the other day? Doesn't look too bad for one person. You've got a kitchen and living room but no bed, so you stay here a day at most working on your stuff. It's something I can get behind." She bobbed her head with the thought. She'd done the same herself many times.

 

"Though we need a whole lot more space if we're fitting in our as-of-yet-unnamed group of individual heroes." She pulled a chair from a table and sat down.

 

"Z-Space," she muttered to herself. "How'd you find this place? No interdimensional guardians bothering you here? Sounds nice."

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue
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Justice

 

"Sure, you're probably used to trippy, but.." Robin continued, a bit of humor returning to her voice as she pressed a button, and a defensive shield moved away from a window, revealing a swirling sky of all the colors of the rainbow and many more out there. She felt it was appropriate to start with that, at least. "As far as I can tell, that's some kind of visual metaphor of the multiverse out there. All kinds of things and creatures drift out here, but I haven't really seen any guardians or anything like that. There's this guy that's calling himself Professor Zed I've met a few times, but he seems pretty harmless, and he haven't found the AnneX yet."

 

She fiddled a bit with the amulet that she had previously slotted into her belt, before holding it up. "This thing. It was a gift, then suddenly it opened a portal and I found myself in here. Its a pretty effective power source too, I was able to do a whole lot more with my armor after that, and started moving everything here after I found this place. I'm not sure who build it, but I've been able to get a pretty good thing going here, at least."

 

"I usually just sleep on the couch, to be honest. A bed haven't really been a priority, right? But the place is pretty big. I've only set up the rooms I needed so far."

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Salvo

 

Justice opened the window and Nicole's breath was stolen away as the alien sky swirled above. It was mesmerizing and she found her eyes drawn to the sky, eyes glazed over, as if she had just remembered how it was to be tranquil after a very long time. Justice's voice broke the spell and Nicole turned to the other hero with a start.

 

This was not the Dimension of Doors but it was a transitive one, Justice's explanation made that all clear. Salvo knew of parallel dimensions tied to their own not with magic, or tied with just magic. She knew people who came from them and took refugee in Freedom City. She'd been in several of them against her own volition and her instincts screaming danger at her. But for all her experiences as Salvo, she couldn't think of one time where another dimension left her alone. To let her guard down was a liberty she had not known other worlds would allow her, until now.

 

"Can I?" She held out her hand for Justice's amulet and, if the item was handed over, she'd twirl it between her own fingers, contemplating the purple-pink stone in her hand.

 

"This could be the cornerstone for how you defend yourself and your family," Nicole said after a while and handed it back to Justice. She struggled to find what words to say but continued in a halting manner. "But you aren't utilizing it to its fullest potential. It's as if you know the output but not the input, and definitely not its inner workings." 

 

She shook her head, frustrated with herself, and stood from the chair, walking away to face the kitchen, hand on her hips. She never liked inducting the uninitiated as she never had the patience to guide them or the people skills. She preferred to pass the burden to someone else, but now she was thrust the responsibility as if didn't have enough on her plate. There were others who could but they only both knew Santa Muerte, an idea she immediately rejected.

 

The room was small and fit only for one person, barely. But with a few hours and more furniture placed elsewhere, it could easily take in another one. 

 

"What do you know about the occult and the arcane?" Nicole asked, turning her head to watch Justice from the side of her eye. "Hidden from the world of science. Man walks basking in the sun but the practitioner slinks in the daark to perform her art in secret. They will never understand... but maybe, you might."

 

She stepped beside Justice and took the hand holding the amulet, raising it between them. Light glowed, casting their faces in a purple haze. "Who gave you this amulet? Be truthful."

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue
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Justice

 

Robin handed over the amulet with a hint of hesitation, giving it a long hard look before letting go of it. She had to admit that she found at least a little bit of satisfaction in Salvo's reaction to seeing Z-Space. It was a pretty cool place, after all.

 

"Yeah, I know." Robin shrugged, throwing her hands out to the side. "Trust me, I've tried to find out what that thing is, but nothing's really worked. Its some kind of weird energy, its connected to Z-Space somehow, and it gives a massive energy output. That's all I've really figured out, no matter what kind of tools I've tried."

 

She followed Salvo into the kitchen. Robin was starting to feel a bit anxious. Salvo still had the amulet, and honestly, she kind of wanted to get it back in her hands. She hadn't been this far from it for a long while.

 

And then Salvo gave her little speech on magic and it all sort of clicked into place. "Wait, magic? The amulet's magic?" If she sounded like she didn't believe it, then that wasn't quite right. She just hadn't considered it. "How can you tell? I didn't even think about it. All of this," she spread her arms out, motioning towards the open window, "it didn't really scream magic, y'know."

 

She shook her head at the question about magic. "I don't really know magic, but I know its there. I've seen my share of stuff in Emerald, y'know. There's lots of hidden secrets."

 

Robin took a step back when the amulet was suddenly held up between them. Salvo's voice sounded more like a command than anything, like she didn't have a choice. She was getting into Robin's personal space, and asking about her family here, even if she didn't know about it. Robin hesitated. Should she tell Salvo? She was rough around the edges, she could be a pain, but she was a hero, right? And Robin was the one talking about trust.

 

"My grandmother gave it to me. I got no idea where she got it, but she's had it since forever."

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Salvo

 

"It's plain to see if one has the sight or the senses expanded to the Beyond." Nicole held it up to examine it. Her glasses began to glow a soft purple light, reflecting the amulet's cast but also generating its own Identity. She looked closer, held it until her nose almost touched the facets of the jewel. There was nothing more mesmerizing than a mystery, and she held one in her hand. "A pretty gem for most and nothing more," she continues, breathless. She reaches out with her free hand, fingertips caressing the smooth surface. "A power source to you, but who knows what secrets lie underneath, yet untold? If only one knew how to look, to sing and bring them out gleefully."

 

She tore her gaze away from the amulet. Shaking her head from the spell, her eyes settled on Justice. "I don't doubt your experiences. Cities are more than what mortals can ever explain, and Emerald is bursting to the seams with the unknowable, more than even Freedom."

 

Nicole's face visibly softened as Justice mentioned her grandmother's role. She nodded, her face awash in relief. "Good, good. Then your grandmother might know more about this. If you ask her maybe she could teach you of her arts, though I don't know why she didn't before."

 

"Ask her. Maybe it the secret was yours to figure before she could impart her knowledge. There could be rules I don't know about at stake here." She moved to hand the amulet over to Justice but stopped, her mind fraught with second thoughts. Then she retracted her hand. "Could I, hold on to this? I'd like to study it more, at least while we're in the AnneX."

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Justice

 

The Beyond? Really? Secrets lying underneath?

 

Robin couldn't keep the grin from her lips. "Y'know, you sound kinda like a Saturday morning cartoon wizard when you go on like that, right?" Then quickly backtracked a little bit. "Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course. Its kinda cool."

 

She reached out to accept the amulet, then slowly retracted her hand when Salvo asked if she could hold on to it. "Er, I guess... Its kind of a personal thing. Feels weird to not have it near me all the time... but yeah, I'll try asking my grandmother. Maybe she'll know something." Robin sighed and leaned back, turning towards the kitchen. "You want coffee or something? I feel like I could need something like that now." While she started rummaging through some shelves to look for the beans for the coffee machine, she continued, "So, uh, I guess you kind of know my deal now, but what about you? You got a big magic armor, you're from Freedom, and you obviously know magic, what else? Why'd you leave Freedom for Emerald?"

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Salvo

 

"Thanks, I think?" Nicole stopped her speech momentarily as she looked at Justice as the other hero compared her to a cartoon. On the one hand, it kind of felt lame to have her life be compared to cartoons but on the other hand, Justice thought it was cool.

 

Salvo sat back down on the kitchen table as Justice offered her coffee. She nodded, placing the amulet on the table in front of her. "Coffee's good please." 

 

"You could say I left Emerald for Freedom." Nicole began as she waited. "I grew up here, though I hadn't spent so much time here as I could. And even if I attended high school in Freedom, problems won't go away just because. They're... personal, kind of, but things that require both Salvo and my personal effort to solve."

 

Her family's legacy, she thought. Crime and magic mixed together does not make a good combination. Others stole from her family's assets despite her best efforts, leaving her poorer and poorer by the day, until her gathered inheritance was lost. She had little of the blood money that her parents had accumulated over the years now. And if it had come to that, she would have best left it alone. But the other her had come, with a whole criminal empire's worth of power, looking to forge the disparate elements left in the wake of her family's demise.

 

Despite Nicole's efforts, she was succeeding. A secret hidden save for those in the know, who practice their arts in secret.

 

Nicole looked at Justice, making coffee, for all the world ignorant of Nicole's heavy thoughts. "You said you've seen your share of secrets in Emerald. Like what exactly? Because my problems are that to the public, a conflict in secret, and I mean to keep them that way."

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Justice

 

Robin's own thoughts raced, but she didn't seem to notice that Nicole was thinking about anything beyond their discussion. Her back was turned while she got some beans ready.

 

"Sure. Emerald's weird, if you know the right places to look." She turned to the fridge. "You want milk, cream, sugar, anything?" She had stocked up, of course. Too many long nights spent here building her tech.

 

Once the coffee was done, she returned to the small table and sat the two cups down, with whatever else Nicole had asked for.

 

"Met a guy that called himself Finnigan once. I think he was some kind of zombie or something like that? He ran a group of child thieves that I busted. I've met a few people that's been turned into monsters, they ended up burning themselves out. There's a whole magical underworld scene here, I've only dipped into it, it wasn't really my scene, but I guess with all of this," she gestured to the amulet, "I guess that might change, right?"

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Salvo

 

"Just the coffee. Thanks."

 

Nicole took the offered coffee and began to sip from it, still warm in her hands, as she listened to Justice talk about her experiences. Nicole had to admit she didn't know who or what Justice talked about, though they seemed plausible enough. The Emerald Cities were big and even accounting for only the magical population native to the cities, that was still a whole lot of people and stories.

 

Nicole looked down at the amulet held in her hand, then up at Justice. She gestured at the other hero, the amulet tracing purple light in the air as her hand moved. "It depends on what you want. It's your amulet, your tears and sweat. To be a practitioner of the occult requires a different way of understanding the world, one which most would be hard-pressed to do, especially women committed to the pursuit of science." She glances at the pieces of armor scattered around the room, obviously Justice's handiwork.

 

"And I guess you can call it that, a magical underworld scene. But in a way, we're already used to the secrets and the isolation as self-acknowledged superheroes could be. You do things and see places and meet beings very few people even dream about. Extraordinary doesn't come close to what we do, if only it wasn't paid for with equivalent struggle. What's one more?"

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue
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GM

 

What was one more?

 

Difficult to say. 

 

Justice and Salvo had found a potential reason for how Max Mars had stolen the tech. They had clashed, both with villains and each other, but perhaps they had also learned a bit about each other in the process. Or maybe it was all just going to lead to another clash down the road. Who could tell?

 

Science, magic, one led to another, they were connected, at least now in Justice's eyes. Could Salvo help her find out more? Or maybe not. Time would tell.

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