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Beyond the Veil (IC)


Avenger Assembled

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It was a gloomy day near the end of November when Mark decided to call Taylor Chun, having spent a long day at home in his father's study reading up on the City of Brass. Amid all the horrors and wonders of the demonic invasion earlier in the month, those taunting words from the demon in the graveyard had stuck with him. He knew perfectly well what the City of Brass was, of course, he'd been raised on stories of the place for much of his life. Azim-al-Aziz, his grandfather's friend and ally during the Second World War, had been a prince of the City of Brass, an efreet kidnapped by Nazi sorcery and held in their clutches before being rescued by the Liberty League.

It was supposed to be a wonderful, magical place where the Arabian Nights had never ended, a place where a thousand wonders lay just beyond the veil. But he'd never visited there himself; his grandfather had passed on a warning that with the end of the Second World War, Azim-al-Aziz had encouraged his people to seal up their dimension to make sure they could never be taken against their will again. That also meant they didn't visit Earth much anymore.

With the issue still nagging at him as he sat in his dorm room, Mark had decided to phone a friend. That's what friends were for, wasn't it? As his cell rang, the rain outside stopped. Maybe today was going to be a good day after all.

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"Hello?" The voice was a little distracted on the other end but neither curt nor unkind as she picked up. Curled up on the sofa in the apartment, Taylor answered the strange number that jingled her phone on the coffee table. She was dressed for lounging, legs crossed and up over one arm of the couch as she worked on a translation of some esoteric text. She flipped off the tape recorder as she answered the phone. The last thing she needed was some sort of gobldegook in the middle of a several hour long translation.

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Taylor blinked and carefully set down the old book, sitting up as she did so. "Consultation? What did you need to know about?"

Please, please, don't let it be demons again. Taylor thought she might strangle James if there was anything more demon related, especially if he'd failed to mention it.

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"I need to talk to someone who lives in another dimension," Mark replied. "And I'm not supposed to use any of our equipment for that without authorization." He hesitated a bit, then said, "Have you ever heard of the City of Brass?" Of course Taylor had heard of the City of Brass, home of the efreeti, source of a Thousand and One Nights. The inhabitants were ludicrously powerful on Prime, though the version of the Pact they'd sworn with Simon Magus meant they were tightly bound by oaths and strictures when not on their own soil. Only a very few had been active on Prime in the 21st century, and those minor scions who had somehow slipped through the cracks.

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"I'm familiar with it. I've been through once or twice dealing with objects that were stolen." Taylor said dryly as she quirked a brow and stood up to stretch. These Claremont kids were going to be the death of her yet. "I'll save my cautionary notes about the efreeti and start by asking what you need with a genie in the first place."

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"Um, actually, I'd rather not talk about it over the phone," said Mark apologetically. "It's kind of a family problem. But have you ever heard of the famous Jimmy and his Genie?" That one took Taylor a minute to parse out the pop name from the real name. Back in the 1940s, Wilhelm Kantor had successfully used certain artifacts stolen from ancient Arab cities in Libya to summon a prince of the efreeti, a nigh-omnipotent demigod who might have won the war for the Nazis in a month if said prince hadn't fallen into the hands of an utter naif from Freedom City with connections to the Liberty League. Mystics didn't like to talk about Jimmy Lucas and Azim-al-Aziz; that sort of relationship _wasn't supposed to happen._

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There was a sigh, audible over the speaker of the phone. Taylor just knew this wasn't going to end well, but at least they were involving an expert early in whatever scheme the teenagers had cooked up. At least, Taylor certainly hoped they were contacting her early. She paused to jot down a note for Jack for whenever he got off of his conference call and left it on the coffee table. It still struck her as odd now and again how they were finding a rythm of living together in the same apartment. She didn't know when the coffee table had become the designated place to leave 'I went out to deal with an emergecy' notes. It just had become one over time.

"Where am I meeting you, then?" Taylor asked as she jotted down quickly, 'Got a call from YF. Don't think its anything big but I'll call your cell if I need back up or if I'm going to be late. -T.

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"That's all I need to know. I'll be there in a few minutes." It would only take a second or two to teleport in but that way Taylor could grab a quick shower first and change out of her lounging clothes. She planned to go in costume but on the off chance civvies were needed, it would be better to not have to change back into a pair of borrowed boxers and a tank top. She made her polite good-byes and headed off to the shower. This should be an interesting day.

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A few minutes below, Mark was knocking on Alex and Erin's door a floor below his. He'd originally hoped to bring Alex along, given her perceptiveness, but somehow finding Erin down there felt right too. "Hey, Erin?" Mark asked, the look on his face as serious as it got outside of battle. "I hate to ask this, but could you do me a big favor? It's kind of important."

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He found Erin in an unusual attitude of repose today, stretched out on her bed with the cat and actually napping, but the moment he knocked on the partially open door, she was wide awake. "Okay, what do you need?" she asked, removing Oliver from where he was draped over her arm before sitting up. It was hard to imagine what sort of favor Mark would need that would make him look so comparatively worried, but she did owe him after Thanksgiving and the business with James. And, for all he was beyond weird sometimes, he was her friend.

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"Phantom, that woman who helped with the invasion thing, is going to try and do a ritual for me," he said confidently. "To summon my grandfather's genie. It's going to be a pretty important conversation, and...well, I'd like a friend there. You can even bring Oliver, I guess." He smiled faintly. "Cats are supposed to be good at that, right? It's down in the basement of Kord in about, uh, five minutes or so."

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"Um, okay," Erin said, sounding dubious, "but are you sure you don't want somebody like Alex or James who knows stuff about this sort of thing? I mean, if you just want someone to be there in case there's a fight, I can do that, but I'm not good at all that magic theory and stuff. I don't even know anything about dimensional travel, really." She rose anyway, running her hands through her hair to smooth it back down into place, then looked at the cat. Oliver washed his front paw, looking as though he hadn't decided whether to come or not. Erin had already discovered the cat pretty much did as he pleased.

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"You're my friend, Erin," said Mark simply. "That'll be enough." He smiled at her, then led the way over to the Kord dormitory and down to the basement there. Those students still on campus had just gone out to enjoy the spate of good weather, leaving the two teenagers with privacy down in the stone-lined basement with its rune-strewn walls and arcane-circled floor. Also, there was a brand-new Playstation 3 over in one corner, attached to an old big-screen TV.

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Erin took a moment to scope out the room as soon as she walked in, not particularly happy about its lack of escape routes and defensible positions if something bad did happen, but she took a seat anyway on one of the molded plastic chairs. They weren't so far underground that an exit couldn't be manufactured in a pinch. "So why do you want to talk to your grandfather's genie?" she asked. "I thought he's been gone for ages."

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"You remember when that demon talked about the City of Brass?" Mark asked Erin as he idly paced around the edge of a magical circle. "Back in the graveyard when we were trying to rescue James. He talked about it like _I_ was from there, which is weird because I've never been. My grandpa was the last human to visit there for more than a couple of hours; the efreet closed their gates after the Nazis attacked. Even my dad never actually talked to Azim-al-Aziz. I'd just, I dunno, like to get some answers and figure out what was going on." He smiled. "If nothing else, maybe I can get some good stories."

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Phantom teleported directly into the room, the folds of her cloak filling up the corner of the room that she materialized into. Her face was obscured by the deep hood of the purple cloak until she lifted her head as if she was listening to something that only she could hear. In actuality, she was feeling the distinctive disturbance of a non-planar native. Her fingertips moved up, parting the folds of her cloak as she automatically checked to see what that disturbance was. Tracing it to Erin, she studied the teen with a soft, almost pensive, "Hrmm..."

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Erin rose to her feet, uneasy with the scrutiny from the new arrival. She glanced over at Mark, then looked back to Phantom. Maybe that was just how she treated everybody. Still, it was decidedly less than comfortable when she'd expected to just be a spectator. "I'm Erin, ah, Wander," she finally said, one hand on the back of the flimsy chair. "I talked to you on the phone a few weeks ago."

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"Hello, Phantom!" said Mark exuberantly. He missed the tension between the two women entirely, but he did wander between Wander and Phantom in an unconscious shield. "Glad you could make it. This is my friend Wander, she came along for moral support. And because she's dealt with people from other dimensions before. Did you have a good trip over here?"

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"I'd say she spends most of her days dealing with people from another dimension," Phantom's voice echoed dryly from her hood as she reached up to push it back to allow the kids to see her masked face below. "I'm guessing, other than 'magical things', you probably aren't aware what it is that I do. I'm the guardian of the boundries, so, generally I spend my time putting things back in the dimension they belong in."

Phantom floated down to the ground and solidified, her cloak rippling like a living thing as she settled. Her gaze strayed briefly to Erin before settling impassively on Mark, "So, I hope your interest in this genie is as important as you said it was."

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Erin tensed at those words, staring back at Phantom for a minute before shooting another look at Mark. What had he gotten her into? Suddenly, the genie didn't seem like the worst problem she might face. She wasn't going to go back, not without a fight. Erin resisted the urge to take another step back and give herself more room to maneuever, but she remained mostly focused on Phantom, wondering what the cloaked hero was going to do. The chair made an alarming squeaking noise, and Erin let go of it before she'd done more than spread white tension cracks all along its back.

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Ever the leader, Mark stayed between the two of them. He might have been a little thick, but he wasn't actually stupid. "Hey! You were supposed to come here to help me out," he reminded Phantom, looking annoyed. There wasn't a trace of magic around Erin, but suddenly there was something visible behind Mark Lucas' eyes. "If you can't do that because my friend's here, then we can handle this ourselves. There are plenty of students around here who know how to handle magic."

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Phantom pinned him with eyes that glowed white under her hood, her expression flatly unimpressed, "Amazingly enough, Mark Lucas, the world is neither black nor white. A lesson that I will imagine will be a rather difficult one for you to learn."

Sweeping her cloak out of the way with one hand, Phantom moved the chairs out of the way with a thought and glanced over the sigils on the ground with a judicous eye, ignoring the posturing of both of the youths, "Take my words for the warning they were meant as. Just because I am a hero - which I am - does not mean you shouldn't research what people do before you call on them for aid. You clearly cannot handle this by yourselves and the thought of you blindly summining one of the djinn sends cold shivers right down my spine."

Deciding the sigils were up to whatever standards she had, she straightened to look at the teens again, her gaze flickering between the two, and she sighed, "I am not here to send your girlfriend back to her zombie world. I am well aware of the interdimensional guests that pass through the Freedom League and end up stationed on Prime. We can go more into what I do, but I assume you would rather spin me your story of what you need from me and why you need it."

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Mark folded his arms, unusually irritated thanks to all the worries of the day. Man, she's bossy. And here I thought she was James' friend! I'm going to have to have a talk with him. Mark did live in a simple world, as it happened; there were helpful adults who appreciated him, and then there were those who didn't. Well, except for Mr. Summers. "She's not my girlfriend. And I would like your help," he said firmly, "in summoning Azim-al-Aziz, the Third Prince of the City of Brass," he said, the words coming flawlessly. "He fought with my grandfather sixty years ago against the Nazis, and I need his help now to solve a problem with my family the demons raised when they invaded."

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