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Avenger Assembled

Kill A Man: Rusty Cage (IC)

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The next morning, after a suitable opportunity to sleep off the tremendous feast and partying from the night before, Young Freedom was assembled for the trip up the mountain! Mark had actually been out most of the night talking to Niobe D'bko, his friend from the Agriculture Council, and had just barely managed to get enough sleep in the palatial king-sized bed in his part of the suite he shared with Mike before the alarm woke him. He called his mom to tell her they'd gotten there safely when Mike was in the shower, showered off himself, and joined his friends for the walk out to the courtyard where the king and his party were waiting for them. Mark had come in costume, naturally, and was relieved to see that the King and his fellows had done the same, the Dakanans dressed in the ceremonial garb of the Lion...and also carrying fully modern climbing equipment and supplies. They were religious, not foolhardy, a distinction Mark appreciated thoroughly as the King greeted everyone. Man, when I did start worrying about ropes and stuff like that? Mark thought as he exchanged a good morning with the monarch. Oh yeah. When I started having to call Mom every morning to let her know I was OK...

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Alex had gone to bed early as, well, she was ever responsible and had also still been a bit worn down from her first experience with alcoholic drinks. Still, a night's rest in a huge and terribally comfortable bed had left her bright eyed and bushy tailed and eager for whatever the day brought. She bounced down the stairs and into the courtyard on enthusiastic booted feet, hovering between the steps as, well, she wasn't actually that agile. She beamed and brought herself up short with a chirped and polite greeting to those gathering in front of the palace.

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At some point the others turned slightly to their right to find Midnight already standing there in the courtyard. It wasn't entirely clear how long the masked figure had been standing there or when he'd arrived, nor did he seem particularly inclined to explain himself. He'd chosen a far more utilitarian jacket than he'd worn the previous evening and a few pieces of climbing gear were evident where they hadn't fit into his many concealed pockets and belt compartments. Notably, there were at least three thermoses strapped to his matte black uniform.

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Erin wasn't far behind Alex, actually taking the steps on her own two feet, then pausing in the courtyard to do a few stretches before the expedition. She hadn't packed anything extra for the trip, and wore her normal uniform with nothing more than her communicator and bat hitched to her belt, though she'd taken the precaution of putting her hair in a french braid rather than risking the wind blowing it into her face. She gave Trevor a quick smile of greeting as she joined the group, waiting to hear more about what they were going to do.

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Mike had followed suit with Marks instinct and dressed in his full costume as well, as marks instinct was usually a good thing to follow when not given obvious reason not to and tended to work out even if there was. He arrived moments after Mark stepping lightly into the courtyard with a warm smile to Alex and managed to start only slightly at midnights sudden appearance rather unaccustomed to such sudden comings and goings even after their time working together.

He looked with a polite nod to the king and entourage, "Thank you for this opportunity Sir." he said politely as he took in the climbing equipment with a quick glance as he thought to Alex, 'So we're climbing then?' uncertain if protocol suggested he do the same or if he would better serve in flight just in case, of course this was all colored by his preference to fly on his own when ever he could find an excuse.

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"You deserve it," the king told Phalanx gravely. "All of you do, for everything you've done for yourselves, and for the world. And for me," the king added with a smile. "Hmm, I'd hoped to wait for Hellion," said the White Lion thoughtfully, "but I'm sure he'll be able to catch up with us. He had quite an evening," he added. "In any event," he said, shaking off the moment as he walked out to the center of the courtyard, "we have an expedition ahead of us!" He gestured to the top of the mountain and said, "At the top of this mountain lies the gateway to the Heart of Dakana. Only a few brave outsiders have dared venture into its confines, and today you shall all be lucky enough to do so in the company of a king!" He pointed to a just-visible trail that wound its way around the long, round slope of the mountain. "We shall climb the mountain on foot as our ancestors did, as befits the place, and by early afternoon you shall see the great secret of Dakanan kings." He grew more serious as they all gathered together for the trip up, surprising Mark by taking him to his side.

"Yessir?" Mark gulped as the team headed out, a trifle nervous at taking the lead in the company of a hero so famous as the White Lion, even if this was a man he'd known since childhood. Things were different with the masks off.

"Tell me what you told my agricultural secretary."

"Well sir," said Mark as the two reached the trail, a surprisingly easy slope if you didn't look down the far side to the long, long tumble down the mountainside. "I was talking to her about a job possibility I have in southern Africa, and I was asking her what relationship Dakana had with UNISON..." the half-heard conversation continued, Mark getting out of breath, as the kids headed up the mountain.

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As the group started toward the mountain, Midnight slid in to walk next to Erin. Once everyone seemed more or less occupied with their preparations and assent, the youth doffed his beaten black fedora with one hand to uncover a dark object about the size of a softball which he quickly retrieved before replacing his hat. Presenting it to the auburn haired girl beside him, he revealed a chocolate cupcake in a black paper liner, topped with a dark cocoa icing that seemed to swallow the morning sun's rays. In a slightly lighter brown the numeral '18' had been written in calligraphy, swirled into the darker glaze. "Happy Birthday," he told her solemnly.

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Erin looked confused for a moment, then laughed when he gave her the cupcake, holding it in the palm of one hand to examine it. "That's so cool, Trevor! Birthday cake." She wondered how the cupcake hadn't melted or gotten squashed up against the hat, but knowing Trevor, he'd probably installed a tiny cupcake insulation system into his hat just for the occasion. It certainly seemed pristine. "Thank you." Erin had promised herself that she wasn't going to let herself think any sad thoughts today, so instead she leaned in and kissed his cheek. "I guess this means I'm an older woman now, at least for another four months or so."

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Alex slanted a glance to Mike and slipped her hand into his, "You're good at climbing and you'll catch me if I fall." She assured him, squeezing his fingertips gently before she pulled on the thicker winter layers around her and fastened up a muffler. Alex's costume wasn't really geared for serious winter wear so she'd made a few adjustments. "Don't worry. Today's going to be super!"

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For the Claremont students without a superhuman constitution, the walk up the mountain was deceptively difficult: the long, easy slope stretching up and away was after all a slope, and within a half-hour up the mountainside they were beginning to feel aches and pains in their calves and back: even the students with particularly durable bodies couldn't fully relax, not with the long, long drop down the mountain stretching off on the other side of the path. But with no one manifesting a particular fear of heights, and with the experienced Dakanan climbers and the luck of Mark Lucas alongside, any worries about accidents soon faded before the spectacular views below them.

Distant scrub and lesser mountains seemed to stretch off forever, with giraffes, elephants, and other big animals visible down below to Phalanx and others with extended vision, or else those who borrowed the binoculars of the Dakanans to look down the mountainside. Normal man or not, the White Lion didn't seem to feel the fatigue of the mountain, but then he had been doing this his whole life! For his own part, Mark found it hard not to reflect on his family ties here. His father had made this trip as a young man alongside the current king's father, learning a secret that he'd sworn himself to keep until finally...he wasn't there not to tell it. Mark had always believed in, always loved history, especially the story of his own family, but increasingly he was feeling the weight of his father's legacy wherever he went.

But that's part of why I'm here, isn't it? he reflected when they took a rest break, peering up at the sky in a rare moment of thought. To break with my dad's legacy, so I can start meeting people who can give me a career outside a costume. So I can get away from the past. Mark looked up at the sky and blinked, covering his eyes against the glare from the mid-day sun. "Hey, what's that?" There was a light in the sky. Edge had many virtues, but a knowledge of science wasn't one of them: only later would he stop and look up how fast meteors travel. The average meteor falls at roughly 44 miles a second. There was no time to think, only..."Psyche! Shields up!" Mark threw up his hands, with no time to refine his powers, and as the meteor tore through the sky and smashed into the summit of the mountain, a screaming, blinding wall of pure fire, a sphere of blue and yellow, the colors of the Centurion, sprang up around the party, a cage of energy that caught and bent under the weight of the titanic explosion! Seconds later, as the glow faded, the shower of rocks against one side of the shield began to pile up, even as more began tumbling down the sides of the mountain around them.

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Psyche flung her hands up without a second thought, the glittering pink that constantly surrounded her spreading out a heart beat after Edge's to form a glowing sphere. She was looking right into the fire as it washed over them, held at bay. Except for her mental might, the tiny heroine was human in most basic regards so she winced and squinted at the deafening noise. "I can't hear anything. Phalanx, relay, please."

She called over the noise, putting the power of her projection behind it to Phalanx as she firmed up the concentration to take over the shield as she reached one gloved hand for Edge's to better mesh her powers with his. "Avalanche, incoming. Phalanx! Edge, can you give him a gap to punch out of? We need him airborne."

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Erin looked up the instant Edge called out, seeing the fiery death plummeting out of the sky just moments before it impacted. Instinct took hold, and she pushed Trevor to the ground, shielding him with her body while the forcefields covered both of them. The roar of impact all around them was deafening, to the point that she had to open her eyes to realize that the impact was over, but the danger was not yet past. She jumped to her feet and pulled out her bat, as though she intended to fight off the landslide by smashing away every single rock that came near. "Are you okay?" she called to Trevor, then was disturbed anew when she couldn't hear her own voice.

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Recovering from Erin's well-meaning tackle, Midnight rolled to his feet into a low crouch, keeping out of his more overtly powerful teammates' way. Fortunately, his hearing appeared to be as resilient as his mutant eyesight, as he shook off the resounding crash and pulled a palm sized computer from his belt. "Fine," he assured Erin, giving her a thumbs up when he realized she couldn't hear him and his mask prevented her from reading his lips. Turning his attention back to his tablet, he quickly connected to a geosynchronous satellite and scoured recent astronomy charts and live telescope feeds. His lack of findings confirmed his suspicions; wherever the meteor had come from, it wasn't natural.

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"On It!" Phalanx both shouted and thought to Alex as he shot through the breach in the shield they created. The teen titan raced uphill in a blur batting aside rocks and debris as he planted himself before the the onslaught of the mountainside. Boulders pulverized into dust under his blows as he raced across the face of the mountain above to halt and redirect what he could of the massive rock slide protecting the shielded group of mountaineers from being buried beneath the mountainside as best his potent abilities allowed.

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With the worst of the avalanche blocked by Phalanx's aerial maneuvering and the rest caught by Edge and Psyche's hastily erected dual wall, everyone's hearing gradually returned as the teens assessed the damage. The top of Kilimanjaro was smoking in a way that was particularly alarming for a volcano, and what could be made out of it through slowly fading smoke looked warped and bent: whatever had hit had blasted up new craters and walls, as if it had come straight down rather than at any appreciable angle. The White Lion, looking upward, looked very concerned indeed, news that grew even worse when a frantic radio message reached them from the palace: there had been a subsidence when the meteor hit, and people were in danger. "I must go below to assist with the evacuation," said the king quickly, looking from face to face amongst the teenagers. "I would trust no one else on Earth with this duty, but you young heroes must go above and make sure that the...the cage of the Great Beast of Kilimanjaro has not been broken."

The "I KNEW IT!" was for a half-second perfectly clear in Mark's posture before he said quickly, "What kind of beast is it? What should we expect?" He'd heard his father's stories, of course, but to hear the secret of the mountain confirmed was...well, not really a triumph! But Young Freedom had dealt with plenty of big monsters before, and he wasn't about let worries about one of them get him down. As long as no one was hurt, things would be okay!

"A powerful beast from before the birth of man," explained the king quickly. "A creature so powerful, some say its arrival heralded the end of the dinosaurs. If it has gotten free, you must surround it with daka crystals, as many as the fastest of you can gather, and that will paralyze it. You must hold it in one place until then, though, by whatever means you can. It has...leapt from the mountain to Dakana City before. But the last cage we built should be secure enough, if it can be rebuilt!"

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"Sounds like we'd better get to work," Erin muttered, brushing rock dust off herself and looking up towards the mouth of the volcano. "And we don't have a lot of time, so maybe we should split up? Midnight, Psyche, can either of you find us the biggest nearby source of daka crystals? If that's what we'll need, we'd better get started collecting them right away. Phalanx can pound them out of the ground and bring them here, and maybe Edge and I can head straight up to the summit and get a look at what's going on there. If the cage is intact, we can all go help with the evacuation." Personally, Erin didn't think even Mark had that kind of luck, but it never hurt to plan ahead.

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James muttered to himself. He'd been out late, no surprise there. He'd intended to sleep in through breakfast, no surprise there either. (He didn't really need much sleep, but something about sleeping in and skipping mornings was just appealing to the teenager.) He'd managed half of this 'plan'.

The rest was shot when the klaxons went off alerting him to a dimensional penetration. Which turned out to be nothing major, just a bunch of fool kids messing with something they shouldn't have and almost getting lost in a Faerie sub-realm. An easy fix. But it did take a little while. By the time he finished, he got a message about being late to meet with his friends...oh, and major explosion/imminent threat was in the works over there.

With a swirl of lights, James appeared on the side of the mountain near the others, shaking pixie dust from his shoulders. "Sorry I'm late. Had a minor elven altercation that I had to intervene on. Where do you need me?"

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Switching his hand-held tablet to a different function, Midnight scanned for radiation in a radius of several miles, quickly picking up a number of hot spots of the telltale emanations of daka crystals. "Meteor dislodged nearby deposit," he informed the others, giving Phalanx the exact direction and distance to the largest concentration before indicating the peak of the volcano. "Hellion, transport. Please."

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"The nearest source of daka crystals is probably going to be at the summit," said Edge, glancing up at the still-smoldering crater. "...but whatever the meteor hit up there is probably fried. Yeah, Hellion, if you can get Midnight and Phalanx out there," he said, talking over the discovery that the nearest daka deposit was indeed on the mountain's surface, but far enough away down the slope of the now torn-up and damaged side that they would certainly need a teleporter to get there. "Yeah, that'll work. Don't take too long; if it looks like you can't get it there, we'll need Phalanx at least against any kind of big monster. Psyche, you should come with us up the mountain," he suggested. "As thick as that smoke cloud is, if we can't see up there we'll need you to look through it until Phalanx gets back up. This is a bad situation, but we can handle this. We're Young Freedom. "

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James just nodded. "No problem. Midnight and I can get the crystals. Phalanx is a big hitter; he's needed for moving fast and beat the heck outta ancient space Godzilla or whatever it is." He activated his comm, transferring the information to Persephone so she could get the sensors and transporter ready. He nodded to Trevor before reaching out and resting one hand on the teen's shoulder, teleporting them to the chosen location easily enough. "Rather warm up here," he said idly, not bothered in the least. "Ok, any particular way we need to transport these things or what?" He had no clue on what to do with Daka Crystals. Heck, all he knew was they were valuable and powerful. But he was willing to bet Trevor was clever enough to have a plan for handling them already in mind.

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The smoke had largely cleared by the time Wander, Edge, Phalanx, and Psyche had teleported to the top of the mountain, giving them a good view of the crater formed by first the volcano and then by the newly-impacted meteor. Shards of daka crystals were everywhere, sparkling in the seared-hot crater, a shimmering shower of sparks that highlighted the figure in the middle of the crater. The creature looked like a gigantic suit of armor, seared black by the fall, and as the heroes watched it brought down its great fists and smashed and smashed the ground beneath it, sending showers of sparks and rock up and making the ground shake with every blow. The strange thing was, the thing didn't look like it was digging itself out...rather, it looked like it was digging its way down! Mark stared at the suit of armor without comprehension for a moment, a baffled look on his face. "No, wait, they didn't put it in the mountain. They put it into...space..." His eyes wide, he stared up at the Heavens just as the armor-creature turned to glare at them!

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"Well, wherever they put it, it's up to us to slow it down." Psyche said, her voice a little higher pitched than usual but steady enough. "I don't think it's possible to talk sense into it, but I'll see what I can do. If not, maybe I can stun it to give you all an advantage. Edge, why don't you shore up the ground. Wander, Phalanx.... you know what to do."

Psyche suggested, turning to Edge to give the go-ahead for the assault before she turned her attention to trying to see if the creature even had a mind to touch in the first place.

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"Holy cow, holy cow, it's Adamant." Mark didn't looked scared so much as he looked appalled. "He's a monster sort of, uh, animated suit of armor made by the god Hades. He fought the Centurion, Horus, even villains like Superior, as part of his mad quest to purge the world of all divine magic." He thought of his own secretive arcane heritage and shuddered. "My dad told me he was probably the toughest single opponent the old League ever fought. He's invulnerable." With the heroes not attacking him yet, Adamant resumed punching the mountain, making great booms that shook the rock below at every strike. "So one day, after he started actually killing innocents for the first time...the Centurion threw him into space," Edge added in a hushed whisper.

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"We need to distract him before he punches a hole in the magma chamber of that volcano," Erin muttered. She wasn't actually sure that was possible, but it seemed like a plausible threat. "If he's really invulnerable, that's all we can do until they get back with the crystals." So saying, she skidded her way down the slope of the cone and onto the crust of the dormant volcano. It was hot under her feet, but she could handle it, and kept walking towards Adamant. "Hey!" she yelled to the giant. "Knock it off! Don't you know that's a volcano you're punching? That's just dumb!"

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Adamant turned and gave Wander what was obviously a _glare_. This close, she could see two red eyes through the darkness of his helmet. There was no sign of life beyond that, and certainly no sign of anyone inside the armor. For a bare second, she thought the giant armor would surely attack her before it drove its fist into the ground again, making the whole volcano shake. This time, though, Wander could feel another impact through her bootheels: not one caused by the giant armor, but rather, by something _inside_ the volcano, striking _up_ at the surface beneath her feet. Sure enough, suddenly a grey fist the size of Wander's torso burst from the ground before Adamant, and something very large, bigger as a full-sized bus standing on its feet, began crawling out of its rocky tomb inside the mountain.

Watching, Mark got on his commlink to the others while Psyche pushed against her first target, finding a mind there but one shielded by impenetrable walls against her mental investigations. _Something_ was inside Adamant, but it was going to be very, very difficult to actually get in there and reach it. Not impossible, though. Mark said a few short words: "Adamant is here. The Beast is escaping. Get the crystals and get here now."

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