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Late December 2020 

A beach south of Freedom City 

 

It was a time, Sea Devil had assured everyone, of great importance. Hydra in her wisdom had provided a great blessing here in the coldest, darkest time of the year, a gift of food, and light, and shelter. Aquaria had guided her people to the site and with a little help from the Freedom League, the nearest tribe of Deep Ones had eaten well - and without conflict with surface-dwellers or Atlanteans. But most of that tribe was gone now, migrating out to the deep waters off the coast that stayed the same temperature in any season. So it was just Aquaria, her friends, and a few straggling Deep Ones to commemorate this rare blessing for her people. She had begged, pleaded with those she loved to help make this occasion a truly special one, and with a few promises of cleaning here and quiet there, she had won the help of important allies for a rare, glorious holiday amid a site made holy by the occasion. The best part was - it counted as community service hours, just the thing after the last time she'd gotten in a little trouble with the law of the Surfacers earlier in the year. Come to think of it, Indira had been there for that one too - maybe why she'd come along this time? It was hard to say. 

 

And so it was in late December that Sea Devil and Singularity crouched inside the almost completely skeletonized remains of a beached whale that Aquaria had assured all her Surfacer friends had been dead before her arrival there a couple of weeks before, Sea Devil wearing a crown of teeth and other bones and not much else to mark the role she played in the ceremony as Dagon, Jessie wearing - well, Jessie had preferred her own garb for the celebration and Aquaria could hardly blame her, the traditional Hydra garb not really being suitable for a great many reasons. Still she was here, making a sacrifice out of love, and as usual Aquaria was touched by emotions too profound for words. Crouched inside the skeleton, Aquaria laid a wet hand on Jessie's and hissed "You are the best friend anyone could want."

 

Then she began to sing; a short, ponderous song about the blessing of the cold dark sea, and how in certain very special times of the year, Dagon and Hydra awarded their children special tokens of their esteem before she popped her head out of the rib cage and bellowed at the top of her lungs before adding a translation for the benefit of the humans in the audience - mostly a few volunteers from local communities and a couple of students from Claremont: 

AUSPICIOUS SEASON! 

 

Back inside, she turned a joyful smile on Jessie, an impressive sight indeed, and raised her two thumbs high to encourage Jessie to take her part. 

 

-

 

Outside, Nightscale's extra credit project was certainly giving him something interesting to talk about. He was the oldest student there for once, a few first-years there in the company of Mr. Sadler, a parent volunteer who'd been a hero back in the far-off days of the early 1990s, being his Claremont escorts. There'd been music, and food already - hot apple cider brought over from the nearby small town, all of it locally caught fish fried over hot coals, though the 'locals' on the scene here were scaly fish-frogs that looked like they could bite his head off. The Deep Ones he'd seen in Claremont lectures had been fearsome beasts laying waste to Freedom City and fighting superheroes; the half-dozen here (besides Aquaria, the Deep One hero) didn't seem interested in much other than eating fish and watching the ceremony - though he was conscious occasionally of big black-and-gold eyes cast his way. 

 

 

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Jessie, who was somehow cold and wet even despite her superpowers, dutifully consulted the folded up scrap of notebook paper in her hand. "Oh great Belopa," she intoned, "we remember your beneficent sacrifice and honor the holy deliciousness-" she tried not to wince "of your kin's flesh and blubber." She tucked the scrap back in her pocket and pulled out a harmonica, providing an appropriately tuneless accompaniment to her roommate's important ceremony. It was going to be worth it, she reminded herself, for three months of guaranteed live-crustacean-free living in the apartment. 

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That was a form of extracurricular that he could get behind! Free food (that was great by the way) and strange, but somewhat intriguing fish people, sure he had heard some creepy tales about them, but these ones seemed nice and no one had tried to eat him, yet. Although he would have to admit that the whole celebrating inside a carcass was kinda creepy. Whatever, besides, he had decided that scaly people had to sympathize with each other, right?

 

The scent of seafood was a tad overwhelming, maybe, to his enhanced senses, but it was nothing that he couldn’t overpower by focusing on the admittedly overabundant portion of fried fish that he was devouring with extreme glee.

 

So far the attempts at doing small talk hadn’t exactly been successful (what do you exactly say to a fish guy or gal to break the ice?) still, he was confident that he was gonna figure out something before the night was over...

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"Is it good?"

 

For a relatively tall being made entirely out of metal, Wraith had an awful habit of sneaking up on people - always just in your blind spot, always just close enough for conversation, always just far enough to respect someone's personal space. The feet probably helped - for all that the rest of her was a smooth silvery humanoid, her legs were distinctly alien: thick and wide-toed like an alien camel to help her balance her mass on the sand. She blinked three large, black voids of eyes Nightscale's way, gesturing gently at his fish. "I cannot partake, of course," she added, which made sense; she had no mouth, humming a voice from somewhere a mouth should have been, "but people do seem to enjoy it."

 

Perhaps it was for the best. She suspected she couldn't participate too fully in the ritual itself without committing some kind of personal heresy, and even the whale bones weren't much good to her if she hadn't hunted it herself. She did so want those whale bones.

 

Mostly she wanted her family's case worker to stop sighing at her over holo-call. She wasn't going to admit that one out loud.

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Wh-” Luke almost choked on his fried fish. 

 

Shorrhy.” He cleaned up his mouth with one arm, gulping down what was left of his last mouthful of delicious seafood while using the short interruption to take a glance at the newcomer. Cool. The whole three eyes and no mouth thing was maybe a bit weird, but then again, he was a guy who could turn into a dragon at a party with fish people so yeah… He could live with weird.

 

And I mean yeah, it’s pretty awesome.” He smiled.. Robot? Alien? Lovecraftian creature? Was it polite to actually ask? Yeah super-hero etiquette was  hard wasn’t it?

You don’t eat? God that must suck.” He commented frankly. 

 

Ehm-No offense, obviously. But I feel you…

 

Anyway, is it the first time at the ceremony for you too?” He tied to change subject. Yeah very smooth  Luke congratz..

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It was a short version of the traditional ceremony - one rarely performed outside of particularly auspicious seasons.

 

Aquaria would have preferred a longer one but there were significant complications. The remnant of the tribe still here was not so big that they could provide a full chorus of accompaniment from the Four Wise Ones; and the waters were too overhunted by Surfacers to provide a good sacrifice. Jessie and the other Surfacers would probably object to the sacrifice of a dolphin as well, given the odd attachment they had towards the foul beasts.

 

So instead there was just singing and dancing, alternating between the female Deep One and the human woman - Aquaria handling the parts that were a little rich for the throat of a regular human. They sang of Belopa, the aspect of Hydra that nourished Her people and of their gratitude for what She had brought, and how this auspicious season would mean joy and full bellies for the new year. It was only an hour; but as she sang with her best friend, Aquaria knew it would be one of the best of the year. 

 

When it was time for the halfway break, the singers came out to enjoy the fried fish and to talk with the spectators, Aquaria resplendent still in her traditional dress and shimmering with oil. She immediately hopped over to talk to the small group of Deep Ones nearby, taking great joy in the looks of fascination from the little ones as she praised Belopa with them, leaving Jessie to fend for herself among her own people. 

 

"That's Erin White," said Mr. Sadler confidently, pointing Singularity out to the Claremont students, "she was a little after my time, but ask some of your teachers about her some time. Young Freedom saved the world a bunch of times." 

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Jessie somehow had no appetite for fried fish and especially not for the sushi rolls, but she did grab a couple bottles of water before retreating to the edge of the gathering to at least wipe her hands and face clean of ceremonial fish oil. She was a little ways away from the knot of students, but her enhanced senses meant she could hear them perfectly well. She thought about just letting it go, but no reason for people to have to wonder what Wander was doing in the belly of a dead sea creature. "I'm not Erin," she called over brusquely, scrubbing her arms with a wad of paper towel. "I'm her sister Jessie. Singularity." 'Sister' was so much easier than trying to explain all that she and Erin were and were not to each other these days. 

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"This is my first festival to Belopa," Wraith confirmed, unblinking eyes sliding a half-inch across her head to look at the whale for a moment. "I have seen some others, but they were not quite like this. She has a very interesting culture."

 

That didn't seem to be either insult nor compliment, and she turned her gaze - thankfully, by turning her actual head - to bring her attention back to the conversation. "The food thing is easier than you might think," she chuckled. "I do not get hungry, so I do not miss the food that I am not eating. I did have pancakes once," she amended, an afterthought; her eyes unfocused a bit at the memory. "They were very good. But those were special circumstances - while I was at Claremont myself. Have you been a student long? Or are you not here with the rest?"

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Yeah definitely. It’s like… a bit alien maybe, still awesome though.” Well, everything in this new world he had found himself into since enrolling at school was awesome to be completely honest. “Speaking of Aliens… are you like, one too?” Sure maybe it was not a smooth way to ask, but then again, how do you exactly phrase this kind of question?

 

So you can eat, but don’t need to? That must be freaking neat.” Yep, definitely. 

 

“You’re, like, an ex student? Cool. Cool. Cool.

 

Myself, that’s like my first year. Takes a while to get accustomed too… I mean, before this whole superpower thing I had a life as normal as one could be. Now my roomie can like control paper, one of my best friends is a shapeshifting robot and the local the bully can mind control people...” He could probably go on forever about life at school, his new friends and so on, like the bird-themed martial artist (that was a bit of a know it all, but no one is perfect), the cute red-head telepath that almost busted him the day he tried to sneak in at school... the... and the... yeah... 

 

How was it? I mean when you were in Claremont too?” As far as he knew that could have been yesterday or last century, no way he could guess the age of a robot\alien or alien robot after all. 

 

By the way, I’m Luke- I mea Nightscale if we wanna use our battle names.” He cleaned up his right hand on his jeans and offered Wratih and handshake. 

------

 

And you were both at Claremont too? Feels like a school reunion here.” He grinned as he waved at Aquaria and Erin better known as Jessie. Young Freedom? So these were the people that Casanova was aping with his new group. I bet that you didn’t go around mind controlling people though...

 

 “F- I mean great ceremony by the way.

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"Thank you!" croaked Sea Devil. She hopped from where she'd stood alongside her fellow Deep Ones to land next to the young Surfacer. She fixed two big goggle eyes on him, black and gold, and spread her three-fingered hands. "I am so glad you came!" Up close her voice alternated between croak and bellow, a booming sound that must have carried for miles when she chose. This close Nightscale could definitely see her teeth - thick rows of jagged shark's teeth that ran all the way around the inside of her mouth. She was definitely not quite the frog-humanoid she looked. "It is important for us to learn from each other! I have learned about Christmas, and Diwali, and the Kinigosi holiday with the auspicious feasting, so it is important to teach you about all of mine." She squatted down on the sand and declared "Jessie is my best friend." It was hard to judge tone of a creature speaking through a throat as thick around as two human arms but she sounded truly happy. "Her sister lives in a large house with her husband.

 

"I did not go to your school but I have visited there. I wanted them to hear that we are not all their enemies." She fixed her goggle-eyed gaze on the small group of her own people and made a noisy, throbbing sigh before adding, "Oh I found this for you!" She produced from her headpiece a substantial looking chunk of metal, a lump of what might have been wrought iron about the size of a human fist, and handed it to Wraith. "An auspicious gift from the whale's belly. Praise Belopa!

 

Meanwhile, an apologetic-looking Mr. Sadler had gotten up to introduce himself to Jessie. He was good-looking in a dad sort of way, his greying hair cut short and his smile perfectly white. "Hello! I'm sorry about the confusion earlier; I didn't even know Erin White had a sister." He offered Jessie his hand and said, "Barry Sadler, AEGIS. That's my son Gray over there," he said with a nod towards a young teenager with spiky blue hair that crackled with tiny sparks of electricity. "Nothing's quite like family, is it? It must be interesting being attached to so many extraordinary people." 

 

"Oh geez," Gray muttered too loud for anyone but Nightscale, Wraith, and Sea Devil to hear, shooting a glance over at where his father was talking to Jessie. "Not again..." 

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Jessie nodded in Nightscale's direction, but didn't correct his misapprehension. She had spent several years at Claremont, sort of, in another dimension, in a sealed iron box in the basement that she now had no firsthand memories of. That sort of thing took too long to explain. She was not great at making polite conversation in social settings, but several Project Freedom seminars and a lot of internet articles had at least given her the bare essentials. Not taking fifteen minutes to talk about your tragic and convoluted backstory wasn't expressly stated, but it was implied. "Thanks," she told the kid.

 

She turned to the adult chaperone as he approached.  Raising a brow at Sadler's extended hand, she waved her own wet, oily arm in a sort-of apology. "Dimensional doppelganger, but it's easier, you know? AEGIS, that must be exciting work."

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"It was...nice, though not always peaceful. I made some very good friends. ....your bully sounds like a problem," she noted, gently disapproving. Claremont might frown on a graduated student showing up to punch teenagers. "When I was still a student, they sometimes had lessons on resisting mind control - perhaps you will get a chance to attend? I found it--"

 

She paused for a moment, visibly wincing as Aquaria mentioned the Kinigosi. And feasting. Both those things were technically correct but she'd have to remind Aquaria to...not do that. In public.

 

Train of thought lost, she did at least recover her social grace in time to accept the chunk of metal with an eye-tilting alien smile. "Thank you," she said, and meant it. "One wonders how a whale came to eat such a thing, but I will not turn away good fortune."

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Yeah, happy to be here, Miss.” Luke grinned. “I mean definitely something that doesn’t happen every day.” Although  one day he would probably get accustomed to these kind of things it for sure was in the still far future. Although the fact that Sea Devil had as many fangs as he had when he was 16ft tall, could have been a little worrying. 

 

Here to learn, myself.” He nodded, yeah, besides, he could definitely trade having to sit in class with a lovecraftian ceremony on the beach any day of the weak.

 

Whose husband?” He chuckled. 

 

And doesn’t look like to me like you are the enemy.” 

 

Dimensional Doppelganger woah.” That was a new one, then again, as far as he knew he was from another world too, or maybe another time? His parents had never exactly been clear on the matter to be honest he wasn't sure that he wanted to know. “And how is it? I mean, your dimension?

 

We are gonna deal with him.” He replied confidently. “And certainly hope it isn't gonna be peaceful, I mean I didn't sign up for boring, right?

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"Oh! Yes, that makes sense - my apologies again for the confusion." Sadler's eyes had lit up at Jessie's words. "As for my line of work, it has its moments," said Sadler with a chuckle. "I transferred to desk duty a few years ago; but even desk duty on the metahuman detail keeps me busy. How about you, are you happy with your current...line of work?" he asked delicately. He wasn't exactly avoiding the oil but he wasn't getting too close either. 

 

"It is much easier to be a young Deep One," offered Aquaria a little too loudly, swiveling her massive head towards Jessie worriedly. "If another young male gave you trouble, you would bellow at each other and then fight! Such times as that!" She smiled an impressively wide smile, one large enough that she could have popped a human's head in there if she had been so inclined. "With females it is harder, there is more knifing of each other," she added, miming a little stabbing gesture. "You would be in trouble for that. They would send you to jail!

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Everyone spotted the boat coming their way - a big, fast-moving rowboat cutting its way through the water, a half-dozen oarmen on each side driving it forwards above the freezing water of the bay at surprising speed. Only Wraith, with keen and many eyes, spotted what lay beyond them - a low, black shape that barely protruded from the water and gleamed with an odd hue against the light. The crew beat and beat the oars in regular time, the captain calling "Schlag! Schlag!" as they went.

 

As the boat got closer, Aquaria seemed to tense, nostrils flaring, and hissed something in Lemurian to her fellow Deep Ones, all of whom rose to their legs and hissing for their young. 

 

Gray, his hair sparking faster, retreated to his father's side as the boat hit the sandy beach not far from the beached whale - and Aquaria leaped not to confront the new arrivals but to Jessie's side, where she hissed in a reassuring voice that came straight from their therapy sessons, "I am okay. You are okay. This is real. You are real.

 

The officer in the front of the boat stepped out and declared in a raspy voice, "At last! We have arrived - in America!" It was easy to tell why he sounded so raspy - you could see right through parts of him. Pale and clammy-looking where it wasn't green and slimy, he was a wet, rotting corpse in a faded grey jacket. His crew all looked to be of similar vintage, some bloated and swollen, others more human-shaped, all of them looking like drowned corpses. "Praise God and the Kaiser!" 

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Under the mud and muck from the ceremony, Jessie had blanched white at the arrival of the strangers. She grabbed Aquaria's arm with one hand while her other hand went to the baton holstered discreetly at her side. Both hands were shaking, but not enough to loosen her grip any. "Zombies," she whispered, a thread of ragged panic in her voice. It had been such a long time, and so many of her memories were lost, but she remembered the zombies. Her brain could've been scraped out like the inside of a mixing bowl with a spatula and she'd still have remembered that. Any second now the crying would start, the frightened little-girl voice screaming her name, and everything would be red...

 

She sucked in a gulp of stinking air and tried to center herself. "Do we need to fight them?" she managed to ask Aquaria. If they didn't, she needed to leave, right the hell now. Very bad things might happen otherwise.

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Wraith was very still as she surveyed the situation, eyes flexing wide to take in as much of the beach as possible. Too many civilians; too many people whose abilities she didn't know. Jessie's reaction was less than ideal, if her sister was anything to go by. Okay.

 

She said a short prayer to herself as her body elongated, torso reshaping and head flattening and arms becoming forelimbs, long and sharp and piercing the sand as she gently stepped forward toward the zombie crew. She looked like some kind of eight-foot alien insect, if the insect had been cast of solid steel - not aggressive, but dangerous. And, hopefully, a bigger target than anyone else if the zombies wanted to start biting people. "The dead should rest," she mused by way of greeting, dipping her head down to look at their new guests, "but if you cannot we would ask that you not scare anyone without need. You came by...submarine?"

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"Ach du lieber!" declared the zombie officer, looking at Wraith with goggle eyes. Some of his men went for weapons, old-fashioned looking revolvers and boathooks that looked distinctly waterlogged, but the officer kept his hands away from his revolver and his saber. "You certainly are a funny-looking one," he said, raising his bony fingers to his chin for a moment before saying, "...That seems very...nein, I must be on mission. We are here to meet mit Herr President Wilson." He seemed to squeeze out that last sentence as if with great effort, forcing himself back onto task. "We have traveled a long way to get here, and faced many obstacles. I must see your President." 

 

Aquaria interposed herself between Jessie and the walking corpses, her broad face the one she put on when desperately trying to pretend everything was okay. Oh these terrible things! I would destroy them all if it would make her happy! "We should go back to the van. And just not look," she told Singularity, afraid that if she ran away it would be hours or days before they found her again - most inauspicious! "The others can handle this." 

 

Sure enough, Grey's father appeared to be joining the conversation. "Hello!" he said cheerfully, "I'm Agent Barry Sadler of the United States...government," he went on, losing a bit of his composure when the zombies made direct eye contact. "Would you gentlemen be soldiers of the, ah, Kaiser?" 

 

The lead zombie laughed - and so did the others. It was an unpleasant sound. "No! We are sailors and marines!" 

 

 

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On 12/16/2020 at 5:14 AM, Avenger Assembled said:

"It is much easier to be a young Deep One," offered Aquaria a little too loudly, swiveling her massive head towards Jessie worriedly. "If another young male gave you trouble, you would bellow at each other and then fight! Such times as that!" She smiled an impressively wide smile, one large enough that she could have popped a human's head in there if she had been so inclined. "With females it is harder, there is more knifing of each other," she added, miming a little stabbing gesture. "You would be in trouble for that. They would send you to jail!

 

"It ain't that different if you are a young human sometimes." Luke chuckled. Perhaps it was not the smartest thought to share in front of their accompanying teacher, but whatever right? He was about to add something else when a freaking crew of German zombies approached (at least they didn't look like Nazzi zombies, those are the worst). They didn't appear to be aggressive at least, for now, but then again, zombies so... yeah..

 

"President who?" Yep history wasn't exactly his forte, but then again why would German soldiers be after an old timey president? An idea started to form into his mind...

 

Now unfortunately he had returned the smartphone that he  had bought with his ill-gotten gains and his current one was barely fit to make calls, but he didn't take him too much to borrow one from one of the other kids.

 

"Hey google that guy will ya?" 

 

"Who?"
 

"The president come on!

 

Ok great. Unfortunately he didn't have time to read through the wikipedia page (perhaps actually listening in class could have helped, but well), but he did manage to get a good look at the pictures though, enough at least to get an idea of how the man looked like.

 

Then he took a deep breath and called upon a little bit of his ancestral magic, shaping an illusion of the president making it appear like he had just walked on the scene from behind a sandy mound.

 

"Then you are in luck. Good Sir. I was here in attendance of this fair ceremony. I hope that you bring good news from the Kaiser..." The image declared once he got a few steps closer, using a tone of the voice that Luke hoped would at least vaguely sound 'presidential'. 

 

 

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Jessie took a few big steps back and away from the shore, trusting Aquaria to make the call in this situation. The Deep One didn't always have the best tactical instincts but she wasn't stupid, and she was definitely in a much better frame of mind to be making judgment calls right now. There were real heroes here, she told herself, and government agents, and people generally much better suited to- but zombies! She hesitated again, waiting for the terrible wailing to start in her brain, but it was all still quiet. Her bat was a comforting weight in her hand as she watched the dreadful creatures.

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"Ah-hah!" declared the officer at the sight of the holographic President, seemingly convinced fully by Nightscale's illusion. "President Wilson, on behalf of Kaiser Wilhelm and the Reich, I have an important message for you!" And then he drew his pistol and aimed it directly at the midsection of the hologram. "The men of the U-616 have traveled a very long and very hard road to make you our prisoner as the first step of conquering America!" 

 

"The hell you have!" declared Agent Sadler, who drew what appeared to be a holdout taser and stepped between the zombie and the students. "I don't even know if this will work on you, dead man, but I'm willing to try!" 

 

"...but wait!" Aquaria croaked. "You are a thing of a strange aeon - one where even death has died! Why do you even care for this thing?" she demanded, waving a limb at the projected ghost, which she could barely see and hear at all. She was much more concerned with trying to get Jessie to step back, not quite grabbing onto her (as that was a potential trigger) but offering physical encouragement about how they should move back towards the van. 

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Wraith stepped forward to flank with Agent Sadler, covering as much of the rest of the crowd as she could - which was at least slightly easier for her, large and spindly as her current shape was. "I do not have a taser," she coolly observed, "nor do I have a gun, but what I have I guarantee will work on you. I do not prefer violence but I would happily bring peace to the unclaimed dead."

 

She pulled one spike-forearm out of the sand to resettle it, which was both practical and a threat. She didn't seem to find the pistol immediately concerning, but she did take a moment to eye the zombie and his crew a bit better. "....what year do you think it is?" she asked, carefully. "I do not think you have thought this plan through. If you plan to conquer America with a very small army and a pistol, you are in a great deal of trouble."

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Singularity's entire affect flattened when the zombie pulled its weapon and made its threat. She didn't even look nervous anymore, just very determined. Brushing past Aquaria, she took two bouncing steps through the soft sand and then leapt like a dancer, going impossibly high and far over the heads of the onlookers and the other heroes, coming down right in the middle of the zombie throng. Before any of them could react, she spun the leader to face her and aimed one surgically-precise blow at the base of its bony neck. Decapitation didn't always kill a zombie, but it would certainly interfere with this one's ability to aim. Dropping it, she turned to face the rest of the intruders, her face empty and cold.

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The German sailor's head went flying off and landed directly at Grey's feet, prompting the teenage boy to turn white and bolt to his feet as lightning crackled in his spiky hair.  "Ach du lieber!" the head declared in a tone of great annoyance, raising a lot of questions about how exactly he was speaking, "Not again! Get them, men!" And with that, carrying improvised weapons like oars and boathooks or just their rotting fists, the sailor-zombies closed in! 

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Singularity did not seem bothered by the fact that the zombie was still talking, or that the ghastly crew was now close and closing in. Without a single wasted motion, she punched the nearest one in the solar plexus hard enough to have it flying apart in several directions with no chance of getting up soon. A second met a similar fate, though with a sweep of her foot that sent it crashing down just as hard. The violence and its effects made no obvious impression on the blank-faced powerhouse, who looked merely intent as though entering a tricky password on her phone.

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