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Arrows In The Hands Of A Warrior (IC)


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March 20, 2021 

HAX

 

It was a quiet weekend at HAX. The boss and most of the staff were away with their families or working on projects at home, and for once the security director and her assistant had given most of the security staff the day off too. Drilling could come the next day, when they'd be simulating an attack by space pirates from the 22nd century on the building. 

When the door buzzer sounded in the main security office, Steve answered the message, holding the headset up to one ear and speaking into the microphone. "The building is closed." A pause. "Who may I say is here?" And then an even longer pause, with his eyes noticeably widening before he said with a tone that mixed reverence and a sudden, sharp skepticism. "...whose name shone brightly among all other in the branches of the Silver Tree?" The answer he got seemed to satisfy him, and he turned to Erin and said "There are Furions at the door. They say they have come to speak to the Dethroner." 

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Erin looked up from the laptop where she was carefully adjusting the security schedule for vacations and flex days. It was one of her least favorite parts of being in charge and she would've welcomed nearly any distraction, but this was a weird one. "Furions?" she repeated. "God, they haven't been around in awhile." Her hand automatically slid to the bat on her belt, which still shone with the pale glow of the Silver Tree even years after she'd been healed by it. "I guess it's just as well they're here outside of working hours. Let's put them in Conference Room C, it's the sturdiest and closest to the door. Check the scanner for weapons as they come in." She radioed to the two other members of the security team on duty to put them on alert, then rose and straightened her uniform. Outside, she was collected as always, but her stomach was in knots. There were not a lot of reasons to look up a Dethroner of Omega. Like maybe if you thought you might need someone to do it again.

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Steve nodded and went about his work, relieved that she hadn't asked him to actually greet the gods that had welcomed him upon his return to humanity - offering him a paradise his darkness hadn't quite been ready for. He followed her anyway, monitoring the scanners by the door as they went. "They are armed, but no more than one would expect from Furions. Energy-staves and hand-blades. The life signature is - profound, as one would expect." 

 

The group of Furions turned out to be what looked like a trio, an older woman with a shock of silver-white hair escorting a dark-skinned woman with a shaved head, the latter followed closely by a male child who strongly resembled her. They looked like Furions certainly, tall enough that elder was about as big and muscular as Steve, the younger woman taller than either he or Erin. They submitted willingly enough to their escort to the conference room, though surely a group like this could have matched Steve and Erin together in hand-to-hand combat. The child was watching everything with the wide-eyed awe of a boy on his first trip away from home, the younger woman gently carrying a wrapped bundle in her arms, the eldest wielding nothing at all. 

 

In matching brown and grey robes with hoods, they looked like a group of Bedouin misplaced from the desert to the streets of Freedom City. "Greetings, Dethroner!" said the old woman, giving a sharp salute and bow that Erin had seen Redbird display only in moments of great formality, one matched shortly thereafter by the two she escorted. "I am Aarden, this is Serpa, and her sister-son Teledar. I pray that you will forgive the informality of this meeting. We have come to ask a favor of you." 

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Erin returned the formality with a half-bow of her own, less graceful but hopefully enough to avoid offense. "Please, call me Wander," she told them. "This is Harrier, my trusted teammate. Please, have a seat and we'll talk." The conference room table was large enough to seat all of them easily enough and with a few seats to spare, and was already equipped with its standard setting of notebook, pen and water bottle at each seat.

 

Taking the seat at the head of the table, Erin put Steve at her left side, the better to guard her weaker flank. She didn't know a huge amount about Furion customs even after years of living with Redbird, whose mannerisms were, she suspected, unique, but she knew they were a warrior culture and valued strength. "You've come a very long way from the Silver Tree to here. What is it that you want to ask?" That might have been a little too direct, she realized immediately, but small talk wasn't exactly her forte.

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"Yes, we know him." The look Steve got from the Furions wasn't hostile, exactly - it was a look that could best be called pity. "All are welcome, if..." Aarden consulted silently with her party, none of whom seemed to object to Steve's presence, and so continued speaking. "We have come across the dimensions to seek the services of a Dethroner. We are Nomads; of the Furions you have known, but unlike them." Steve nodded at that in Erin's direction, looking a little surprised. "Rarely do we leave the sheltering branches of the Tree, but we have come to you in our time of need..." 

 

The bundle Serpa held began squirming and with a small sigh she unwrapped the blankets around what was clearly a baby, small and dark like her and her nephew. She adjusted her robe to bare her breast, and held the infant up to suckle as Aarden went on. "This is Lightbringer, Serpa's child by blood. His father was slain in battle against Omegadrone, and Serpa herself was gravely wounded." The adjusted robes showed that well enough, a deep, jagged scar across her neck that must have been terrible when it was inflicted. "As you can see, Lightbrighter has suffered much in the time since." 

This was actually hard to see. Erin was no expert in babies but this certainly looked like a strong, healthy child of about six months as he squirmed in his mother's arms, fuzzy hair looking like soft wool on his round head. "Our own arts of healing have failed. We have come to ask that you will lay hands upon the child, so he might live with the freedom of his body and mind." 

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Erin's eyes widened as she shot a quick glance at Steve, but he was no help at understanding what exactly was happening. "Ms. Aarden," she began carefully, "I would do whatever was in my power to help a child, but I'm not a healer." She spread her hands a little bit, let them drop. "I'm a fighter, my powers are strength and speed and skill with weapons. Earth has a lot of powerful people," she offered instead. "I know people with the power to heal sickness and terrible wounds. I would be happy to ask one of them if they can help." It would mean interrupting Mara and Ellie on a rare weekend day they both had off, Erin knew, but she also knew Ellie wouldn't let wild horses keep her from helping a sick little kid if she could. "Do you know what the problem is that's hurting him?"

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"He carries the same entropic taint that slew his father," explained Aarden hesitantly. "But are you a Dethoner, are you not?" She looked at Serpa, then back at Erin, as if she could not quite believe what she was hearing. "We came to you because of all those who Dethroned the Destroyer, you alone will one day birth a child of your own, you alone understand what a mother can be. Are yours not the hands that tore his armor apart? Your eyes that saw his energies dispersed across the cosmos?" 

 

"Wander is not of the faith of the Nomads," said Steve suddenly, his hand raised halfway, tentatively entering the conversation. "You cannot expect her to understand what you ask." The two adults in the trio gave Steve a hard look at that, but he didn't seem to mind, returning it levelly, his arms crossed across his chest. 

 

"...perhaps not," admitted Aarden. She reached over to Serpa for the baby, the mother reluctantly handing him over as Lightbringer disengaged from her nipple, and asked Erin, "will you at least hold him, if you will not bless him?" 

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Erin thought of Sage, of Psilent, but didn't bother to correct the woman. Eve's powers were no better suited to this than Erin's, unfortunately. She reached out an accepted the baby, skilled enough at that, at least, after years of babysitting first JJ Faretti and then Mark and Nina's Richie. She snuggled him comfortably into one arm and looked down to study him. He didn't have the red and black mottling she remembered from her own brush with entropic decay, but entropy could be a subtle thing. She certainly didn't know how to fix it.

 

Even so, she touched the child's soft little cheek with her fingertips, trying to remember back to the moments she'd spent washed in the water of the Silver Tree's pool. There had been something there, she remembered, perhaps not a cure for entropy but an answer, something more vital, something that rendered its darkness insignificant against the silver light. The memory was elusive as always, just out of reach and beckoning. The answer certainly wasn't in her hands, strong and blunt-nailed and pale against the child's downy skin, hands to wield weapons, not blessings.

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The baby stirred in Erin's grip, reaching up to grab onto her finger with a strong, pudgy fist. Lacking any particularly attunement to the cosmic she had no way of telling if anything was actually wrong with it. Dark eyes met hers steadily for a long, silent moment before it became clear the baby was trying to jam her finger into its mouth. "The children of the Silver Tree are stronger and faster than those of this Earth," said Steve softly. "A child of - half a turn?" he guessed, earning a nod from the mother in reply, "should be..." He was silent for a moment, thinking of his own scars, before he said in words seemed inadequate when he spoke them, "more than this." 

 

Aarden let out a soft breath and said, "Not all miracles can be seen; but faith is belief in what cannot be seen. Do you feel anything, Dethroner?" The mother, Serpa, was watching Erin yet with hooded eyes, her nephew having risen to his feet to look at the walls, the floor, the Omegadrone. Novelty for a child only went so far. 

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Erin absently let the baby gum on her finger, used to it after years of JJ. It was weird when the baby didn't immediately try to bite her, but that was probably normal for non-vampires. "I don't feel anything," she admitted. "He's a handsome child, but this is not..." She shrugged helplessly. "This is not my gift. When we fought Omega, I would never have succeeded without the help of my friends. It's our way to work together with other heroes to accomplish things. If you let me call someone else, they might be able to do what I can't do by myself."

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That logic seemed to persuade the Furions, Aarden exchanging a look with Serpa and nodding before saying "Perhaps many hands do make a miracle after all. We will wait here for you to call." Serpa took the baby back from Erin, sighing softly as he latched on again, the first sound Erin had yet heard the scarred woman make. Aarden added to her youngest companion, "Teledar, go with the Dethroner and attend to her needs." They would brook no argument on this point, and soon the dark-faced boy was following Erin out of the conference room. Steve followed her as well, his back tense, looking around as if expecting some imminent disaster. 

 

"The Nomads are outsiders among the Furions. They wander beneath the branches of the Silver Tree to find direct connection with Creation itself. I have never seen a group leave the Silver Tree before. Their fears for that child must be very great." 

 

Teledar tugged at Erin's arm, his grip very strong for a child who looked no more than ten, and asked in a tone of soft awe, "Are there other gods here?" 

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Erin looked up from scrolling through her contacts list. "We don't think of ourselves as gods," she told the kid carefully. "But there are some very powerful people who live on Earth, who can do a lot of different things. I'm going to try and get in touch with one who can help your little brother." She looked around the lobby and spotted one of the educational tablets left there for school groups or the occasional visitor. "Here," she said, picking it up and queuing up a child-friendly promotional video about the Freedom League, then passing it over. "This will tell you about some of them."

 

With Teledar distracted, she drew Steve aside. "The Furion healers are really powerful," she murmured. "I'm going to give Ellie a call and see if she can help, or if not I could try Fleur de Joie, I guess. But if they couldn't fix him themselves, I don't know if we can either. Why do they think I can give them a miracle?"

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Steve stared at Erin, shifting from foot to foot with a degree of nervousness that didn't quite fit the big man's typical demeanor, before he whispered, "You and the other members of Young Freedom pulled Omega from atop the Omnicidal Throne. The multiverse quakes at your passage and you are commemorated amid the shining cities of worlds far greater than this one. For all ages after this one and many before, you will be remembered as champions mightier than the greatest of the gods." His voice trailed off before he folded his hands behind his back. "...This is not something you wish discussed at work so I do not mention it. Were you - unaware of this?" 

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Erin stared at him blankly for a long moment. "Oh," she finally said, trying to wrap her brain around that. "I guess... I never really thought of it like that? I know that the Furions call us Dethroners, and Tona knew special names for all of us, but not that it had, um, gotten that far?" She shook her head. "Here on Earth, hardly anybody even knows about what happened, and most of the ones who do aren't sure they believe it. Makes it kind of weird. Or even weirder than the weird it already was."

 

She pressed thumb and finger against her eyes and tried to refocus. "Okay, healer time. I hate to interrupt Mara and Ellie's weekend, but she'd want us to for something like this. Plus, closer by than somebody who's probably on another planet, right?"

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"I think that is wise," said Steve after a moment's thought. He shifted uncomfortably where he stood, then said, "I will watch the Furions." He leaned back against the wall, his eyes on both the half-open door and the Furion child who had fairly quickly figured out the tablet Erin had handed him. 

 

"Why does it not speak?" he asked Steve. 

 

"Sentient machines are rare on this plane," he said softly. "But the information network to which it links is voluminous...." 

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"Just click on the other videos," Erin advised, "there's a whole bunch on that page about Earth heroes." Trusting Steve to help the kid if needed, she took her phone into the lobby security booth for privacy's sake. Maybe this wouldn't take very long, she thought hopefully, and Ellie and Mara would be cozied up again in a few hours. Maybe this would take a short enough time that she herself could finish the security schedule today, she thought not quite as hopefully, and she could get home before Trevor finished work on the latest car in the shop.

 

She sighed and pressed the button to call Ellie's cell phone. "Hi, this is Erin. I hate to interrupt your weekend, but I'm at HAX and we have a medical situation that's very weird. I could use some help."

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"Alright, but you owe us a babysitting night," the sardonic reply came. Ellie had already had a pretty good idea of why Erin might be calling her instead of Mara and it generally wasn't going to be to gossip about the neighbours. There was a muffled string of objections followed by the medic saying, "I know you don't need a babysitter, Yoyo, it's about being petty." The note of deadpan humour dropped from her voice as she turned her attention back to the call. "I'm geared up. Is this a 'Dragonfly teleports me in' sort of emergency? Should we be phone-treeing this?" Between her powerset and her day job Ellie was used to always being on call one way or another; whether she would drop everything to come of Erin's aid had never actually been in question.

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Erin hmmed. "It's not a "time is of the essence," situation so much as it is a "the faster we deal with this, the fewer intergalactic incidents can possibly crop up," she offered. "It's a group of Furions, those folks who live in the Terminus and pretty much spend all their time fighting it. Silver Tree, the world Redbird comes from, you know? One of their babies has some kind of entropy poisoning and isn't growing right. They came to ask me if I could do a miracle for them because their healers can't fix it. I know you've dealt with that kind of thing before, so maybe you can do something for him? He's about six months old, looks normal to me but they all say, including Steve, that he should be a lot bigger and stronger at his age."

 

She turned to look at the camera pointing into the conference room again. "So if you can hitch a ride that's great, but you could probably just drive, too. And how about dinner instead? Trevor's made even more modifications to that crazy grill of his, so maybe when the weather gets a little warmer?"

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"Ah, Dios, okay. Worried parents are always rough. Make sure Mara's 'private elevator' is clear on your end and I'll right there." The power requirements of the site-to-site teleportation pads her wife had installed at the office and their home were a little too hard to explain away to use consistently but it was a handy option to have in an emergency. Or when she'd distracted Mara from leaving for her morning commute in time.

 

- - - - -

 

Ellie stepped out of Mara's office to meet Erin dressed in an olive green turtle neck and khaki slacks she wasn't terribly precious about getting ruined by potential cosmically tainted baby barf, with a bulging messenger bag over her shoulder. She didn't expect a conventional first aid kit to do much in this situation but she didn't do house calls without bringing all of her tools. "So can we revisit the part about you performing a miracle real quick? What am I walking into here?"

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Erin raked her fingers through her hair uncomfortably. "Okay, you know that time back in high school when I was on Young Freedom and we killed Omega after he tried to suck the entire multiverse into the Doom Coil on graduation day?" she began, leading the way towards the elevators. "Nobody really wanted to believe it happened here on Earth, but it's kind of a big deal in some parts of the multiverse, especially in places near the Terminus, like where the Furions live. They call us the Dethroners of Omega and gave us titles and stuff. I'm the Brave, Trevor's the Marksman, stuff like that."

 

She waved a hand to dismiss all of that as not currently important and punched the button to call the elevator. "Apparently there's a subgroup of Furions, and I didn't know about this until today, who actually worship the Dethroners. So when nobody else could fix the baby, they brought him here, and apparently thought I was the best option because I'm the most motherly?" That supposition came with a helpless shrug. "I told them I couldn't do anything, but I would try to find someone who could, and they seemed okay with it."

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"That's crazy," Ellie objected as they walked. "Mark's way more motherly than you. Corbin, too. Maybe Trevor. Not Eve. Do you have a statue? You do, don't you. I'm already jealous of your hypothetical statue." She gave the harried security chief a lopsided grin. "I'm also remembering that you once said you'd explain the Omega thing later and then super never did. So you're not getting away with that twice." Her expression dimmed as the elevator approached their floor. "Seriously, though: if this is something the kid was born with or a long term thing I might not be able to do anything special here. The magic part is fussy about that stuff, that's why I couldn't do anything for mi mama. How bad is this going to be if we can't pull out a win? People get dangerous when worship's involved and that's not-huge-warrior people."

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"It doesn't sound like he was born with it," Erin told her as they stepped into the elevator. "Apparently the dad got killed a few months ago by Omegadrones, and the mom and kid both got hurt in the same attack. The mom's got a scar that a human probably wouldn't have survived getting." She shook her head and sent the elevator to the first floor. "I don't read them as violent types, but you never know. They were definitely disappointed when I told them I couldn't help them. I gave them the line about how human heroes work in groups, I couldn't have killed Omega without my team, etcetera, and they seemed to get it. There's only two adults, a kid and the baby though, so if it did come down to it, we'd win." The thought didn't seem to cheer her much.

 

"I don't know about Omegadrone hits, but you were able to get entropic taint off those people on Yolanda's world, so I thought it would at least be worth a shot. I didn't want to just send them away because they had misplaced their faith, you know?" Erin looked down, uncomfortable and unaccountably a little ashamed that she couldn't do what they wanted. "Anyway, they're in the conference room by the lobby with Steve's looking after them for now. And maybe when you come over for dinner, I'll tell you the story. No statue, though," she added with half a smile.

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Ellie winced as Erin recounted the family's recent tragedies. "Oof. That is... a lot. If this does work I'm hoping you've got a plan for talking them down from the cult angle. I would not make a good saint."

 

There was a silent lull as the elevator reached it's destination before she spoke up. "By the way, they had me in to do the interview about the whole Curator robot thing at the end of January, like we talked about? Brought back some stuff. Don't think I thank you and Steve enough for getting us all through that in one piece." Her tone was fairly light, not looking to have an emotional conversation there in the hallway while there were other matters that needed resolving. There was never really a good time to talk about a shared experience in alien abduction.

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Erin looked over, obviously surprised. "That was a group effort," she insisted. "Do you have any idea how happy I was to have not only a medic but somebody who knew how to talk to people on that trip?" She grinned, one quick flash across her face. "Steve and I could've survived the world, but I don't think we could've kept everybody together long enough to get rescued, not with Tona and Beekeeper being so squirrelly. I was scared to death about what was going on back home with all of us gone, but I was glad you were there." She gave her hair one more quick tug, settling it back into place as they approached the conference room. "And if they want to make a statue for you, I'm going to let them. Why should I be the only one to suffer?" With that, she pushed open the door. 

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Jill O'Cure arrived to find a conference room holding two big, strapping members of a warrior race of space gods, a scarred cybernetic warrior, a scion of the ancient race, and a child of the space gods infused with the unholy power of entropy. Or maybe a grandmotherly figure, a wounded mother, a small boy watching her over top of a tablet, a baby, and Steve.

 

Once introductions were made, Serpa handed the baby over to Erin, shooting a suspicious but not necessarily hostile look Jill's way. Ellie had spent years working at a hospital in a busy, diverse world-city like Freedom; these vaguely-Magrebian-looking women were not the first people she had met who were uneasy around doctors from a different culture. 

 

"May I take your hand, child?" asked Aarden, extending hers to Jill. The older woman's grip was hard, her nails worn, an old woman who had worked with her hands her whole life but was healthy despite all this.  "My sister-daughter is uneasy trusting her only living child to an Outlier's hands. Friend of a Dethroner she may be." 

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