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Raveled

Terror in the Bay (IC)

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Robin Cross hurried down the few stairs to her basement shop, the package in her arms making her steps heavy. At the bottom she juggled the package and her keys for a moment as she unlocked the door. She opened it wide and dashed into the store, letting the door slam shut behind her. She hauled the box onto the counter and stood for a moment, rubbing her arms and looking over the shop. It was as wide as the building above it and even deeper, giving the shop plenty of footprint. Robin had several displays of bookcases arranged in a U-shape. Mostly those held the various tomes any self-respecting practitioner needed: the cubbyholes opposite had the spell ingredients that were her stock-in-trade. The carpet was a gray Berber and the walls were plain vanilla, so Robin had put down vibrantly colored rugs to relieve the dullness.

The ache was fading from her muscles so the sorceress turned back to the box. She opened it with an X-acto knife from behind the counter and started pulling out books – or rather, the same book over and over again. “The Great From the Simple,†she read off the cover, “a history of Divination.†She bounced it in her hand for a minute before coming to a decision and gathered an armful of books to start shelving.

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Robin had made several trips, mostly emptying the package of its contents, when she turned back and saw a customer peering into the glass at the front counter and studying the three-foot bird skull there. It threw her for a loop, and while she managed to keep from attacking the man, it was a close-run thing. She’d made enemies on both side of her epically long life, and paranoia meant she’d live even longer – but not if she went around incinerating innocents.

Because it was entirely possible that this was simply an early-morning customer, patiently waiting for the shop-keeper to be ready to serve them. Balanced against that were the silver bells strung on rods throughout the store, enchanted to ring when something passed the threshold. Robin hadn’t heard them, which meant either the magic involved had been disrupted or suppressed, or the bells had been silenced. And it had all been done neatly and quickly enough not to alert the sorceress’ own arcane senses. Which didn’t bode well for the intruder’s intentions.

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Robin cleared her throat loudly, but it wasn’t until she called out to the man that he glanced up at her. Their eyes met for a moment, and all the color drained from his face. “You can see me,†he breathed. “You… You can really see me!â€

Robin blinked at his tone of voice, standing slowly. “Yes, I can see you,†she confirmed. “Is there some reason I shouldn’t be able to?â€

The man took a couple of shaky steps towards her, hands held out in supplication. “Please,†he begged her, “please, you have to help my family. I’m dead and I can’t help them, but you just have to!â€

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Fifteen minutes later, Robin and the dead man were sitting across from each other at her little kitchenette. She’d hung the ‘out to lunch’ sign on the store’s door and brewed herself a cup of tea. Now, having listened to the ghost’s story, she blew carefully on the hot drink and sipped it, considering what she’d heard. “Let’s go over the facts again,†she said, her tone cool and deliberately measured. “Your name is Randy Scott. You work for a high tech company in Hanover, doing something terribly important with networks that I would never understand.†She waved her hand in the air as if brushing aside the issue. The ghost frowned, but didn’t interrupt. “You have a wife and two kids. Your company took out an obscene amount of life insurance on you – and you think they won’t pay?â€

The ghost shook his head with quick, frantic motions. “I inherited a ship from my granddad a couple years back – an honest-to-God sailing vessel. I take it out a couple times a months when the weather is fine.†He wrung his insubstantial hands as he talked, squeezing them until they were pale. “But the company put a rider on the insurance, anyway! If I died due to an accident while sailing, they only had to pay for retrieval and burial.â€

“And you did die at sea,†Robin pointed out.

"But not because of an accident,†the ghost insisted, leaning forward. “I was attacked! Something ripped out the bottom of my ship and dragged me under! Please, my wife’s an elementary school teacher! My son’s in grade school and our girl’s in kindergarten! My wife can’t make the tuition payments without the insurance money.â€

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Robin was conflicted. On the one hand, taking the case meant that she’d miss out on at least a day’s worth of sales. Money aside, the waster wasn’t her element; if she got into a fight out there, she’d probably end up a ghost herself.

On the other hand, she couldn’t just turn him down flat, and leave his family to wonder what had happened to him. Not to mention the fact that the ghost should never have been able to get into her store in the first place; her wards were specially designed to stop that. Maybe if she found out how and where he died, she could figure out how he had bypassed her defenses.

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It was a lovely day out in Kingston, and the layout of the marina was designed to take advantage of the land's natural beauty. The Pilings were on the est side of Route 9, the docks feeding out into the blue waters of the Century Narrows, and the sweep of the land pulled the eye away from the skyscrapers of Freedom City and towards the shimmering waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Robin sat in her blue Volkswagen in the parking lot, pouring over nautical charts and absently stabbing at a bright-yellow GPS device sitting on the console. Maybe she couldn't investigate underwater, but there were people in this city who could, and after a few phone calls Robin was scheduled to meet one here. Now she was waiting, and trying to figure out where to send her ally.

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Right on time, long, suckered arms erupted from the water, entangling themselves around the edges of the pier, before a shiny black figure launched herself out of the water and landed neatly in front of Robin's open window. Nearly a foot taller than Robin, particularly with Robin seated, the black-clad figure retracted her sinously writhing, muscular arms down to wrap around her waist, looking down at the other woman as water ran down her body, the sheen outlining the white biohazard symbol across her chest. "You must be Robin. Hi, I'm Fusion," said the octopus totem, her manner disarmingly friendly for something so bizarre. "Anything to do with the water, I'm happy to help with."

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Robin raised her eyebrows when Fusion revealed herself, but didn't actually move. Long experience with various inhuman entities and powers had ingrained in her the need to keep a stoic face no matter what happened. This instinct served her well in a world of flying, floating, transforming superhumans, and so she accepted the slick black figure with equanimity. Indeed, she nodded politely at the muscular woman, standing and pulling a map out of the car. "I am Robin Cross, yes. I have a task I believe you'll be well-suited to." She spread the map on the hood of the car; it was a detailed nautical reference for most of the New Jersey shoreline. One area in particular had been circled. "I believe a small, one-masted sailing vessel went down there. I'd like you to see if you can find it."

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"I'm not familiar with that immediate area of the local shelf," said Fusion, professional and courteous. "But I can reach that level easily enough. I've done underwater searching often enough. The Jersey shore is murkier than the South China Sea, but I'll get by." She studied the map, tentacles waving slightly in the breeze, and cocked her head to look at Robin. "Is there anything I should know about the cause of the wreck?"

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Robin chewed her lower lip. "Officially, no. The police report listed the cause of the accident as due to pilot error. But the pilot disagrees. He claims that something attacked him and dragged him underwater." She straitened, slipping back into the driver's seat of her car as she spoke. "I'm hoping that you can go there and take a look at the wreckage. Find out what happened to the boat. And find the pilot's body." She stood and tossed a small charm to Fusion, a ying-yang symbol cast in silver. Half of the symbol was filled in, and the other half was just an empty frame. "Keep that with you and I should be able to see your immediate vicinity."

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"Hrm. This is a magic totem?" said Fusion, sounding a little skeptical. Despite her reluctance, she wasn't too proud to take the help, and slipped it into her costume between her shoulder blades. "It'll take me a half-hour or so to get out there, and another few hours to search the area. After all this time, with the predators around, there may not be that much to find of the pilot," she admitted. Joan was a very good reporter, and had picked up on the contradiction in Robin's words. Woof, one of those "Did he give you any specifics?"

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Robin quirked a smile at Fusion's question and the tone it was asked it. The doubting tone was common when straights encountered the world of the mystic. Still, this wasn't the time or the place to educate the heroine, so she simply waved her hand through the air, brushing aside the woman's contentions. "He was wearing a gold watch," she informed Fusion, "around his left wrist. Besides, you get into the area and don't find anything, I think we can rule out an attack, anyway."

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"All right," said Fusion easily, having recovered her equilibrium. "I'll report back to you by this time tomorrow, right here, if I haven't done so before." It was a good week; Charlie and Lois would be able to get by on their own for a couple of days, since they knew where she was going. "If there's nothing else?" If there wasn't, she gave a courtly little bow to the sorcerous investigator, tentacles waving, then dived into the water with a smooth, easy economy of motion, disappearing from view quickly.

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Robin watched the woman-octopus-thing disappear into the water with barely a ripple, tracking her motion under the waves by the faint tug of the charm on her mind and power. She puttered around the marina for twenty minutes or so, buying a hot dog from a vendor and eating it slowly while she watched various ship and ship-related activities being carried out, from her perch on the bumper of her car. When the time came near, she slipped behind the wheel of her car and reclined the seat far back, rolling down all four windows. She closed her eyes and settled her hands on her chest; within moments she was breathing deep and slow, to all senses sound asleep.


Fusion's estimate of her own speed was good; even having to arc around a few tankers and private yachts, she got to the coordinates in a little over thirty minutes. The sea floor here was remarkably smooth, a shelf of beach going fifty or sixty feet into the surf before dropping off precipitously to several hundred feet. The light faded quickly, but Fusion's skin allowed her to 'see' the sunken vessel clearly. Various species of sea life were crawling all over the wreckage, but the eight-armed heroine could easily determine why the ship had sunk; the keel had been ripped out of the vessel, near the prow and clean back to the stern. There wasn't anything remotely like a reef or even much in the way of rocks here, and in any case to completely lose the keel like that, the ship would've needed to have been going at a fantastic speed, far faster than any sailing vessel, ever.

A swirling in the water and an odd pressure on her skin was the heroine's only warning of the attack. She twisted deftly in the water as a dark shape rocketed past her, but she still felt it scrap across her ribs, sending the octopus-woman tumbling in the dark water. Nevertheless, she caught a glimpse of her attacker; squat and covered in hard growths of bone, it was vaguely humanoid. Its arms ended in heavy clubs though, and its 'legs' were a pair of snake-like tails.

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Fusion did what she usually did in underwater battles: she swore violently and lashed out with her tentacles, doing her best to ensnare the beast before her in her powerful, nigh-unbreakable grip. She hadn't been hurt by the creature's surprise attack, but it could still have done some damage. _You're not fighting some air-breathing shrimp now!_ she spat through the water. _I'm the mighty Fusion! Back off right now, or I'll crush you like a surfacer in Atlantis!_

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Fusion's arms lashed out at the misshapen figure and passed straight through it, without slowing down. The twisted figure waited in the water there as the heroine's arms waved at and through it impotently, then opened its mouth -- and kept opening it. Its mouth stretched out of proportion, wider and wider, until it seemed like half its body was just gullet. A moment later a massive roar shook through the water, shockwaves smashing into Fusion and reverberating through her entire being.

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