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February 1, 2011

Earth-Prime

This is exactly where Young Freedom belongs. It's been raining for days now, what was once drizzles transforming into thick, heavy drops that come as part of a torrential downpour, turning what should have been a lovely flowering of spring into a cold, sopping wet bog. Exposed grass is wet and the earth beneath it muddy, and the city's levees have been shored up along the Wading River. All that wouldn't be so bad, except that's not just happening here. What was a joke for meteorologists last week has become all too serious today: it's raining everywhere. All through New Jersey, all through New York; across the East Coast and across America. The entire continental United States is under the biggest storm system anyone's ever seen, maybe ever heard of, and the rain is getting worse. The natural assumption, of course, is that culprit is the villainous Dr. Stratos, the wicked weather manipulator. The League is off dealing with that, leaving the city in the hands of its teen heroes.

Edge stood by the levee, watching with worry as the river level slowly rose. He was doing all he could to keep the water level down, standing on the dam and draining away the water as it came in, a thousand improbable accidents sending the water cascading downriver and into the Atlantic, but he wasn't powerful enough to stop a storm this big: maybe no one was. Trusting that the rest of Young Freedom was busy, either helping with the sandbags or assisting the engineers reinforcing the seawall in other ways, Mark looked up to see the familiar shape of the Pegasus spaceplane dipping low through the storm, heading for nearby Freedom Hall. _Thank goodness!_ Edge thought. _The League is here!_

That was when a tremendous lightning bolt came ripping out of the storm, heralding a massive tornado that came roaring down after it, and before Edge could do anything, bolt and tornado both struck the plane, shattering it to a thousand pieces in a jagged-edged explosion that tore open a violent hole in the sky. As the engineers and volunteers around him started to panic, Edge threw up barriers in the sky, falling debris vanishing in circles of mist as the Pegasus came tumbling down, shouting to his teammates for help...

---

February 1, 2011

Earth-No Designation (aka, 'Earth-Paragons')

"Oh my freaking God!" As the League's plane broke into pieces and vanished, leaving behind a shimmering purple void that had to be provenance of paragon powers, Edge shouted in surprise as pieces of the falling plane began tumbling to earth all around him: he pushed his powers to the utmost to deflect them, sending showers of debris falling away from him, away from the hard-working engineers and volunteers below. It had been an awful few days as unprecedented weather disasters swept the nation, as rumors of terrible paragon powers unleashed began to terrify a frightened populace; he'd seen reports of lynchings in Texas and Arkansas, and televangelists speaking grimly of the End Times.

It wasn't the end for Mark, but despite his best efforts, people around him were dying, even as the scream of the waterspout in the river filled his ears. It was all over in a few terrible seconds, and though he'd saved many people, he was surrounded by disaster! Whipping out his cellphone to call up the linked phones of his teammates, Mark yelled, "Listen, you guys! I need help in City Center right now!" Claremont's young paragons had been divided up through the city to help deal with the rising water, the better to promote their individual Q-ratings while each of them combatted the threatening disaster that was so baffling to both the Freedom League and the Vanguard alike, indeed, to all the scientists and supers working for the government. "The Pegasus just blew up!"

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Earth Prime

Elsewhere on the levy, Wander sprang into action, grabbing the large section of corrugated wall that she'd been about to put in place against the levy, and instead carrying it into the sky! Placing herself and the broad metal sheet between the explosion and the workers below, she wielded it like a shield, deflecting chunks of debris even as she kept an eye out for falling bodies. There didn't seem to be any, though. There wasn't even enough of the plane left to cause a splashdown in the river. "Midnight!" she called into her commlink. "We're going to have casualties here, we need help on the ground."

Earth Paragons

"On my way." Wander's voice immediately came over Edge's communicator, without any of the typical banter or flirting she might have used. Today was not a good day for that. Leaping from the top of the Pramas Bridge directly towards City Center, she zeroed in on the cloud of debris and the sound of screaming people. She was intent enough that for a moment, she didn't even see the purple rift. When she did, it startled her enough that for a moment she lost control and began to tumble through the air. "Crap!" she yelled, the conditioning of years keeping her from yelling anything stronger over an open com. "What the heck is that up there?"

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Earth-Prime

Cobalt Templar had been maintaining a extension to the levy in one area while crews worked frantically to patch up the actual barriers. Thankfully, they had just finished when further disaster struck.

"All of you, get down!"

Even as he cried out for the workers to find cover, his blue construct flowed like water, sliding into the sky and spreading out to cover as much area as possible. While normally he created thicker constructs, this one only had to hold for a few moments; thus, it was only a few inches of "steel" to hold off the debris. The plates of "metal" were shaped such that the chunks of debris were funneled to a bare patch of ground. He'd almost dumped it in the river, but a part of him said that it would be better to hold onto it. Just in case.

"I've got this side covered for now, but what in the world happened?"

Earth-Paragon

Cobalt Templar was still helping move huge piles of sandbags with his powers when the call came over the radio. His eyes widened, but he still carefully placed his latest load near this section of the levy, nodding to the nearby foreman.

"A situation has come up; I'm needed in City Center."

Before the man could respond, the young hero in blue and gold was roaring across the sky, the poring rain sizzling against the faint aura of psychic fire that covered his body. His expression was tense with worry.

"Cobalt Templar inbound at best speed. ETA 1 minute and counting. Any survivors? Is the levy there damaged?"

His aura flared slightly, but a clenched jaw was the only sign of his iron will snapping down on his powers, which quickly settled down. The ring on his hand, the odd mental "focus device" his subconscious had settled on, flared briefly through the armored gauntlet he wore over it. Even his subconscious was worried, though his conscious worries flashed through his mind at high speed.

'What just happened? What about the League? Are the others okay?'

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Earth-Prime

"Already en route," Midnight's calm, collected voice assured Wander over the secure line. Smoothly twisting the steering wheel in front of him, he sent the dated looking ambulance around a sharp turn, remaining in control even as the tires drifted on the rain slick streets and the storm pounded down on the vehicle. His grandfather had kept the white and red colour scheme when he originally acquired this particular addition to the Midnight Manor's motor pool, deciding that in this case clarity won out over theme, but beneath the paint it was constructed more like an armored car. Trevor's powers didn't particularly lend themselves to his sort of disaster control, but his driving skills and basic medical knowledge made him an excellent choice for transporting the injured in adverse conditions. Pulling up to the levy with a squeal or rubber, he hopped out of the vehicle, rain immediately collecting on the brim of his beaten fedora as he took a brief moment to study the scene in the sky before moving to tend to the civilians.

---

Earth-Paragons

Elsewhere in the city, panic was setting in as the storm worsened, with nowhere to evacuate to and no answers as to what was really going on. Downtown, a wide eyed man in a disheveled suit lost control of his overpriced vanity car, the tires finding no traction on the wet concrete. Sliding into a wild spin, the struggling broker was helpless to prevent his vehicle from careening toward a bearded man manically waving a sign proclaiming the storm to be divine retribution against super humans. Amidst the whirling colours and motion sickness came the clang of metal striking metal as a matte black motorcycle matched the sportscar's spin and collided with it purposefully, sending it instead into an empty storefront in a shower of glass. While the driver groggily got his bearings, a dark figure ripped the remains of the twisted door from its hinges and hauled him out into the rain and away from the smoking wreck. Lifting the startled man off of his feet, a pair of smoldering red eyes narrowed as they addressed him "You never saw me." Tossing the wet businessman to the sidewalk, Midnight remounted his motorcycle in time to hear Edge's voice crackled over the open frequency. "Fantastic," he grumbled, speeding off toward the City Center.

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Earth-Prime

Sage brushed a damp lock of white hair out of her eyes as she looked up from placing another sandbag. She didn't mind the work, in fact she requested it. Brought out into the field due to the communication advantage she provides, she had spent most of time under a tent relaying messages between the various crews. It was driving her little nuts though and the constant downpour wasn't helping brighten her mood.

Sage didn't see the explosion; she was facing the wrong direction. But she heard the terrible sound and Edge's call for help...

Earth-Paragon

<<Acknowledged,>> Sage replied, whispering in Edge's mind. She wasn't that far from City Center, only a mile or so. "A mile run in the rain?" Sage thought to herself, "I'd rather stay inside where it's dry."

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Earth-Prime

It was a grim scene, but it could have been much worse. Edge's fantastic powers had deflected most of the falling debris, leaving the rescue workers at the levee shaken up but mostly unhurt. The tornado and lightning storm that had brought down the Pegasus continued to flash and roar in the sky, but they stayed offshore, instead dancing in the river as if mocking the heroes and any hopes of rescuing the League. No bodies were visible in the wreckage that had fallen onshore, but from the sheer power of that explosion, who could say what might have been destroyed and what hadn't been? Dominating the sky was that bizarre purple rift, a jagged tear in space and time that sizzled with energy that made it hard to look at. It wasn't particularly _bright_ so much as it was simply _wrong_: it didn't look like pictures of the Terminus, though, or of incursions by magical entities they'd all seen in class. It looked like something else entirely. Edge stared up at the rift, rain running down his cape, then called to the others, "I don't know what that is, but we've got to get in touch with Freedom Hall! They need to know about this, and maybe get some answers!" With a gesture, a giant wall of earth sprang up behind the levee, helping reinforce the structure before it could begin to crumble.

Earth-ND

It was a grim scene when the Claremont kids (and Midnight) arrived. Edge's powers had let him save many people, turning what could have been a disaster into a crisis, but things were still very bad. The exploding debris had showered down on the all-too-human rescue workers like a flurry of knives, killing some outright and leaving others very seriously hurt. Edge was doing his best to tend to them, but the plucky team cheerleader was obviously under stress himself: and no wonder, with the League's plane exploded just overhead! Dominating the sky, more frightening even than the tornado and lightning bolts striking the water, was the jagged purple _hole_ in the universe, gazing down at them like the eye of an angry god. It was obviously the product of paragon powers, but who knew anything more than that? _This isn't supposed to be our job!_ thought Mark desperately, letting his gloved hands brush away the shower of broken glass on his back. He couldn't see any costumed bodies around him; there were already too many bodies for his taste.

"Oh thank God!" said Mark, a look of profound relief on his face as everyone got there. "I don't know what happened! It...it just blew up when the lightning hit! I couldn't catch all of them..." But there wasn't time to worry, not when there were people who needed their help and a levee that needed reinforcing!

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Earth Prime

With Midnight and Sage to tend to the wounded and keep the team in contact, Wander threw her efforts into fortifying the levee, adding her wall of steel to Edge's wall of earth. She kept an eye on the rift the whole time, wondering what on earth it could be, and what might try to get through it. "Hey CT!" she called through her communicator. "Can you get a closer look at that purple thing? Not too close, just make sure there's nothing nasty coming through there?"

Earth Paragons

"We've got to get off the levee!" Wander barked into her communicator, even as chaos swirled around her. "Edge, move as many of the wounded as you can, I'll help you round them up. See if you can get in touch with a terrakinetic to shore this up, there's nothing we can do at this point. Sage, where the hell are you?" she demanded in the next breath. Psychics were so damn unreliable. "Cobalt Templar, can you fly up and get a closer look at that rift?" She began moving the shaken civilian workers off the levee, which was straining dangerously under the weight of water.

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Earth-Prime

Cobalt Templar snapped off a salute to the upperclassman member of the team, and started to take flight.

"Roger that, Wander. I'm going in nice and slow; going to keep back about 500 feet at first, and evaluate the situation from there."

With those words, he began his careful flight, dodging any airborne hazards along the way. His speed was perhaps 50 miles an hour; on the other hand, the rift wasn't very far into the sky, so he reached the target distances in just a couple of minutes.

Earth-Paragon

Cobalt Templar frowned. Considering his powers, he really ought to stay at the levee. At the same time, no one else could fly. And the rift could be a larger threat in the end. Reluctantly, he started towards the tear in the sky.

"Yeah, going."

His frustration was clear in his voice, but he still followed her orders. She was, after all, the team leader.

He proceeded at near-maximum speed, making a hard stop just 200 feet away from the rift, peering closely into its chaotic depths, trying to discern more about its nature.

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Earth Prime

Sage sat near the wounded, eyes closed with an inward expression on her face. There was little she could do for them directly so she concentrated her efforts on what she could do. Mere moments after the explosion she was already firing messages off to paramedics to come tend the wounded as well as contacting the FCPD so they could cordon off the debris field.

--Edge, who can I contact at Freedom Hall? I need a name, or a memory, something to help me locate their mind.--

Earth Paragon

Sage stopped running as she realized she was lost. She hadn't spent much time in this part of the city, and the torrential rains were limiting visibility and ruining what few landmarks she'd recognize. With a sigh of frustration Sage closed her eyes and concentrated on locating some of the minds that were most familiar to her. She detected Edge, Wander and Cobalt Templar in City Center already. Midnight on the other hand was…

The telepaths eyes snapped open and she dashed down an alley. Unless she missed her guess, Midnight should be rounding the corner right about… now.

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Earth-Prime

After quickly instructing an uninjured civilian on how to keep pressure on one of his fellow's freshly treated but not life threatening wounds, Midnight turned his attention back to the purple scar across the sky. Without much to go on, the black clad vigilante retrieved a broad spectrum scanning device from his belt, shielding the palm sized tablet from the torrential downpour with one hand while skimming through the readings it gathered for anything that stood out. The rain and ionized atmosphere of the storm was playing havoc on his equipment, but the longer they spent on damage control before figuring out the bigger picture, the more likely they'd miss any window of opportunity to remedy the situation. "Templar, what are you seeing?" the gravelly rumble of his calm voice carried over the communicator.

---

Earth-Paragons

As Sage had predicted, the unmistakable sound of a heavily modified engine heralded the arrival of a matte black motorcycle speeding around the corner, scything though the violent weather like an oil slick. It took all of a split second for the rider to spot the soaked blue and gold suited girl and screech to a sudden stop beside her. "Hurry up and get on," Midnight demanded, tossing her a pitch black helmet that matched the vehicle. Waiting until the diminutive psychic was perched behind him, the brusque young man resumed his daredevil ride toward the City Center, leaning low against the handlebars. "Any idea what your friends have gotten themselves into this time? he called over his shoulder.

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Earth-Prime

Corbin had seen pictures of dimensional rifts plenty of times; documentaries about the Terminus Invasion, pictures in his Claremont textbooks, and even live simulations of them in the Doom Room. (He hadn't taken the Advanced Physics class that gave students an opportunity to make their own rifts in the lab) But this one was like nothing he'd ever seen, a shimmering, formless mass of purple-grey light that got even stranger as he got closer: the colors were cold to look at, as if they had a physical presence beyond the visual, and the faint scrittching coming from the rift itself made him taste purple too. He was educated enough to know what synthesia was, and as he got closer, he realized that's exactly what the rift was causing. As he watched, peering through the heavy storm, he saw drops of water hit the rift and vanish utterly, without so much as a sizzle. Were they going elsewhere? Or being disintegrated?

In response to Sage's question, Edge turned and shouted through the storm: "Call Nancy Gardener at Freedom Hall! She runs things when the League's away!" It had been quite a while since Mark had met Captain Thunder's wife, before his father's disappearance and his bitter rivalry with Bolt, but soon an image of the nice lady who worked monitor duty when the League itself was gone popped into his mind. "I don't know if anyone else is still in the city. She's our best contact person."

Down below, Wander and Edge working together succeeded in shoring up the levee: if a collapse did come today or tomorrow, it wouldn't come here, despite the disaster that had happened overhead. With a look of relief on his face mitigated only somewhat by what a rotten day this was, he went to give aid to the few wounded who still needed it, trusting that Cobalt Templar would be able to get a good look at the rift. Things were bad, that was true, but he was sure things were going to be all right.

Earth-ND

Mark was scared, there was no other word for it, but he was doing his best not to show it when Erin and the other teens were around. He'd just seen somebody's powers used to blow up the Freedom League, in the middle of a week when terrible things were going wrong all over the nation. His powers were to make himself and other people lucky: but today he didn't feel lucky at all. He nodded with a feeling of relief at Wander's words, and soon was on his cellphone back to the school, trying to relay over one of their earth-manipulating friends to help patch up the damage. The problem, of course, was that there were so many things going wrong, and only so many supers to fix the damage. He quickly figured out that his headset phone could be worn while he worked, and soon he joined the others in helping to get the wounded away from the levee. They were succeeding here, but who knew what was happening elsewhere?

The rift, or hole, or gash, or terrible thing was like nothing Corbin had ever seen before, a swirling mass of colors that froze and sounds with flavor. He'd seen pictures of superpowers in action and read some theories about them, but nothing that matched the grim reality of this sight. Despite the bizarre, alien nature of the thing he was looking at, Corbin felt a strange connection to the gap, as if some part of it was akin to some part of him. If it was, though, it was certainly a very alien part, one that he wasn't immediately familiar with. The blue light of his powers was, however, distinctly brighter around the rift, even against that strange glow.

Working down below, Wander was able to help Edge get the wounded away from the weakening sandbags and earth, the rain still beating down on everything. She'd seen worse disasters on the news, but that was a far cry from seeing one up close and personal. Moving through the debris on land, she almost stepped on a battered black box she recognized as a still-active sat phone. "Hello, Ray? Beth? Can any of you hear me?" She recognized the tinny voice from inside as Daniel Daedalus, the armored paragon of the League.

Sage and Midnight zoomed through the streets of Freedom City, only Midnight's bike letting them stay mobile in the chaos. Between the falling rain and the frightened people on the streets, particularly after the explosion in the heart of town, things were getting bad: lightning strikes in the sky providing a noisy percussion to all they said and did. Things were bad, and it looked like they were getting worse. But there was a light of hope, at least; they could see the shape of the blue and yellow Claremont kids as they got closer to the crash site. They weren't alone, even if all they had were kids.

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Earth-Prime

Corbin hovered there, feeling equal parts awe and fear rushing through his body. He quashed both, and tried to keep an all-business tone as he reported in.

"Cobalt Templar reporting. It's strange; I can tell you this isn't like other rifts I've read about. But I can't say what it is, either. Except...It's wrong. Just...somewhere inside, I know it's wrong. I'm experiencing slowly increasing symptoms of synthesia, such as tasting purple. Which is nothing like purple Pop Tarts, let me tell you. Also, I'm observing water hitting the event horizon of the rift; I cannot discern the fate of said water. I don't want to risk sending part of my power in, but I propose I retrieve a pole of some sort, stick it in, and pull it out, seeing the results. Maybe put a wired camera on it?"

His gaze was locked on the hole of wrong in the air, and his ears strained, trying to keep track of the sound. That itching sound!

Earth-Paragon

"It's...it's beautiful. So many colors! I can hear it, taste it! It's...I think it's calling to me! I feel stronger, more alive! I can't see where it goes, though. Or what it's doing, besides sitting here. In the sky. Being incredible."

There was more than a hint of admiration in his voice; clearly something about the rift had snagged his attention, distracting him at least partially from what was going on around him.

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Earth Prime

Wander looked up from the sandbags she was casually tossing into place, two and three at a time. It looked like the levee was going to hold, at least for now, but she had a hard time leaving anything to chance. "Get back from there, CT," she warned him. "We can get Psyche to find us something to scan it with. Or maybe... hey Sage, do you get anything from that rift?" She leapt back to the top of the levee wall, watching over the workers even as she got a better look at the strange phenomenon.

Earth Paragons

"Don't get too close!," Wander warned Cobalt Templar, a chill running through her as she looked towards the sky. "That thing ripped apart the Pegasus like tissue... what's this?" Kneeling in a pile of soaked and broken sandbags, she picked up the box. It was obviously debris from the plane, the biggest piece of debris she'd seen so far. "Daedelus, can you hear me?" she asked, looking to see if there device needed to be activated somehow. "This is Wander from the Young Paragons. The Pegasus just dissolved in midair, some kind of rift in the sky tore it to bits. They're all gone, and the levee is about to give way. We can't stop it!" Despite her best efforts at calm, fear crept into her voice as she looked at the barely controlled chaos around her. "We need help!"

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Earth-Prime

"You heard her, Templar. Keep your distance," Midnight's collected voice came over the younger student's communicator as down below the fedora wearing hero carried one end of a stretcher into the back of the armored ambulance and out of the pouring rain. "Nothing in or out until we know more." Narrowing his eyes in consideration behind his featureless mask, he directed a cautioning thought in Sage's direction. --Careful. Synesthesia suggests mental component; could be making yourself vulnerable.--

---

Earth-Paragons

Midnight's rain slick motorcycle pulled up to Wander and Edge with a rumble, weaving through the chaos on the ground. Removing his helmet, the rider revealed short black hair protruding over the top of an otherwise blank, black mask punctuated be ruby red goggles. Pointedly ignoring the Claremont students for a moment, he regarded the purple tear in the sky once more now that he was stationary, grimacing to himself. Finally, he turned to the team's leader. "Can worry about me stealing your thunder later," he grated through the vocal filter built into his disguise, "where do you need me to help?"

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Earth Prime

Sage nodded at Edge quickly finding the mind that identified itself as Nancy Gardener, honing in the residual physic impression her self-image impressed on the world. --Madam Gardener, apologies for the intrusion. This is Sage. I am currently assisting Young Freedom and there has been an incident involving the Pegasus. It's... it's destroyed Ma'am. We have our hands full with the levee situation, is there someone you can contact for assistance? I will maintain this connection and await your response. And ma'am, our hearts are with you.--

Standing up and turning to face the rift she flashed a faint smile at Midnight and inclined her head, sending him a brief impression of thanks for his concern. Sage didn't expect to discover anything; her mental senses aren't particularly tuned for diagnostic purposes, she needed a mind to connect with.

Sage inhaled sharply as a series of images and malevolent intentions flood her consciousness; images of terror, feelings of hate, Pyramid Plaza burning and collapsing and so much death. A fresh feeling of horror welled up inside of her as she suddenly realized she was broadcasting and she abruptly severed the connection with Midnight and Nancy Gardener. And for a brief moment, as she turned her mind away from the rift, she felt another mind examining it.


Earth Paragon

Gracefully dismounting from the motorcycle, Sage removed the black helmet gave her head a quick shake and brushed a gloved hand through the white locks. With a casual flick of the wrist she tossed the helmet at Midnight, favoring him with the briefest of smiles before turning to look up at the rift before waiting to see if he'll catch the projectile. Curious and acting on impulse she sends a questing mental probe at the rift.

The telepath blinked in surprise as she felt another mind probing the rift from the other side. It felt familiar, somehow, but then it was gone abruptly. Linking her mind to the assembled teens, Sage started to mention her revelation before a flood of image, emotion and intent slams into her consciousness. Whimpering she drops to one knee and grasps her head, fragments of what she sees travelling across the mental links.

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Earth-ND

Wander heard the armored inventor's voice come through laden with heavy static: "Ray, no must be WanGrave danger. The Trick... into the Imageria. Overshadow and the Tiger of al-Khayalnothave taken over the Clock. must reach them before Reality Storm threatens to end. Meet me in League base in Freedom Tower before-" And with that, and a particularly loud crash of thunder from overhead, the signal cuts off, leaving the teens suddenly feeling very alone.

"Okay, uh...I guess we'd better do that?" said Edge, shooting a look at Wander. "If he's actually asking us for help, we've got to do something! We can't just sit by and let them handle things, not when...not when they're gone! Oh jeez, Sage!" Even as Edge spoke, suddenly his own comm snapped to life, along with the sat phone's tiny screen, along even with the radios of the cops on scene, speaking in a terrible voice familiar to any who'd watched the news in the last decade: it was the voice of the Tiger of al-Khayal: the man who brought down the Pyramid Plaza, speaking in his familiar accented, hissing English. As the civilians all turned white-faced, and the teens did as well, the terrible voice on the radio speaking.

"I am become Death, the Shatterer of Worlds! It is said that Robert Oppenheimer spoke those words from the Bhagavad Gita on the day the atom bomb was detonated. I take those worlds as my own, for coming from my lips on this day, they are more appropriate....

Earth-Prime

It was the grim and terrible voice of Overshadow, the monster long thought dead even by the likes of Edge and Midnight:

"Fools! Today I have become Death, shatterer of worlds! I take those words as my own even as I take your planet! I have taken control of the world's weather systems. What you have seen thus far is nothing-only the most trivial demonstration of my newfound power. You will surrender rulership of the world to me immediately or face the consequences of defying the EMPEROR OF THE WORLD!!!"

Earth-ND

"As your rightful Caliph, heed my words for I make my first proclamation. As proof of your loyalty, you will gather together those paragons calling themselves superheroes and turn them over to me for punishment, for having stood against the rightful ruler of the world for SO MANY YEARS, punishment for their wrongdoing will be just. Those deserving pain will SUFFER before their execution; others will suffer punishments suitable to their crimes, and will be given an opportunity to..."

"Wait a minute..." Edge said, his voice just loud enough to carry as the storm boomed overhead and as the mad paragon would-be god-king ranted. "Who the hell is that!?!" Sure enough, on the tiny screen of the sat-phone, they could make out the familiar black-shrouded, kaffiyeh-wearing figure of the Tiger, but standing behind him was a bizarre figure in gleaming metal armor, looking like a warped version of Daedalus or a knight in shining armor, his arms folded imperiously as his seeming ally ranted.

Earth-Prime

"Who the hell is that behind Overshadow?" They'd managed to catch the video portion of the broadcast in the tent still standing by the levee, the videophone the responders had been using for coordination now carrying the signal coming in from elsewhere. They all recognized the armored figure of the SHADOW leader, or at least the man claiming that title since everyone knew Hans Hellman was dead, but the black-shrouded Arab-looking gentleman was a total stranger.

"...arrive at the United Nations in 72 hours for my coronation! If you, all of you, all the people of the world would live, have the superheroes present for my inspection at that time. As evidence of my benevolence, those misguided FOOLS will be the only gift I require of my subjects.

All hail, EMPEROR OF THE WORLD!!!"

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Earth Prime

Erin ran a hand through her soaked hair as she watched the broadcast, her eyes flat. "He's insane," she muttered. "He's got to know that not a single hero group is going to surrender to him. He's just given everyone the same target, even other villains. He must have some ace in the hole." She looked up towards the rip in space again. "It must be him who's behind that thing, as well. But what the hell could it be doing for him?"

Earth Paragons

Wander looked up briefly from the radio when Midnight pulled up, a look that was almost like relief crossing her face. She didn't look ready for primetime now, she looked more like she'd been thrown in the river and then rolled down the beach. Then again, most of the people on the levy looked that way. "Nice to see you too," she told the black-clad vigilante with a trace of her usual wit. "If you can... Sage!"

She lunged forward and caught the diminutive telepath before she hit anything vital against the ground, and then everything went even more to hell. By the end of the broadcast, Wander was sitting on her butt in the soaked mud and sand of the levy, wheyfaced and with one arm still around Sage's shoulders. "What do we do now?" she murmured aloud before remembering herself. "Freedom Tower. We have to get there."

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Earth Prime

Cobalt Templar nodded at the advice of his fellow heroes. Poking the rift probably was a bad idea. Still, he thought it was better to speak an idea than just float there. He'd already started moving towards the group when the broadcast started. Narrowing his eyes, he rushed down to the others, watching in silence, with gritted teeth, as the two madmen proclaimed their rulership of the world. Once it was over, he slammed his right fist into his left palm.

"I say Hell. No. We gotta get to the Freedom League, or somebody. Then, we gotta stop...wait. That was really him?"

Suddenly, confusion reigned on his features. Overshadow was supposed to be dead! He shook his head. No time for such thoughts. His gaze followed Erin's, a worried expression plastered on his face.

"Well, it was messing with my head from a few hundred feet out. And that's not really that big. What if they make one big enough to swallow the planet?"

Now there was a sobering thought.

Earth-Paragon

Despite the warnings of the others, Cobalt Templar barely backed off from the oddly enticing rift. He wanted to keep studying it, keep learning, feeling, seeing-

Then, true evil showed its face and made its demands. The stupor induced by the near-hypnotic effect the rift had on him vanished, burned away by hot fury at the words of this man, this monster! His blue aura went from "harmless blue glow" to "sizzling aura of psychic fire" in short order.

Only at the end of the broadcast did he turn and notice Sage's condition. Worry crossed his features, and the flames died a little. He left a thin trail in the air as he rushed to the ground, crouching a few yards away from everyone else as he fought to regain total control. He looked at Wander with worried, inexperienced eyes.

"But...the levee? We...no, you're right. Yeah. We need to tell someone about this. Maybe...I could carry you all? It wouldn't be super fast, but I could do it."

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Earth-Prime

Midnight caught enough to Sage's turmoil through the tenuous psychic link to be vaulting himself out of the ambulance's rear doors in the time it took her to turn her mental powers away from the rift, placing a steadying hand on his white haired friend's shoulder and waiting for confirmation that she was alright to proceed. --Easy. Take your time.-- Looking over to Wander, he nodded taciturnly in agreement, speaking normally in a clear baritone. "Insane and supposedly dead, not stupid." The ultimatum certainly suggested that Overshadow was a step ahead of them, a thought that irked the young strategist. They were still flying blind; he hoped Sage would be able to offer some insight into the ominous rift.

---

Earth-Paragons

"Damn!" Midnight swore as Sage collapsed nearby and Wander dove to catch her, wonder aloud, "The hell does that to a telepath...?" He was a little surprised by the image-conscious team leader's immediate save, a hint of grudging respect slipping through his reserved demeanor as he moved to offer the two young women a hand up. "Nobody carries me anywhere," he informed the fretting Cobalt Templar as the student arrived, wreathed in blue flames. "Help me get her back on the bike," he told Wander with a terse nod at the shaking psychic. "Can rendezvous at the Tower."

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Earth Prime

Sage offered a weak but grateful smile to Midnight, touching his hand lightly before taking a half-step back out of reach. --Sorry about the infodu-- Merde, Madam Gardener.. she was linked!-- One thing at a time, girl. Sage told herself. --There is something else.-- Reestablishing contact with the team she relayed the images she had witnessed, though she edited out the emotion that was part of the original viewing. The telepath took care to relay the events slowly, taking steps to prevent a sense of information overload.

--One more thing,-- Sage added as she finished the relay, --When I looked into the rift I felt another mind. It was looking back.--

Earth Paragon

<<I'm fine,>> the telepath murmured to her comrades as she accepted Midnight's proffered hand, shooting Wander an apologetic glance . <<It just took me by surprise, that's all. I agree with Wander, we need to get to Freedom Tower. I felt something from that rift, another mind. Whatever or whoever it is may be behind all this.>>

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Earth-Prime

"Well, I guess that answers whether or not Hans Hellman is still alive," said Edge a little testily. "Lousy Nazis. He's supposed to be in Hell!" He hmmed, thinking about the picture they'd seen. "That didn't look anything like the Hell I remember. I suggest we head for Freedom Hall," he said to the others. This wasn't the sort of thing anyone was ever totally blase about, especially not with the global storm network, but truthfully he could imagine a lot scarier plots than what was happening now. "All right, I suggest we head for Freedom Hall and use the equipment there to try and trace the signal. If we can figure out where it's coming from, or even better where that rift leads and who's on the other side, maybe we can make some connections and figure out what happened to the League.

Earth-ND

Mark took the opportunity to briefly hug Erin, wanting to reassure her as well as himself on this terrifying day. "It'll be all right!" he told everyone, though the usually-chipper cheerleader didn't sound entirely sure of that. "This is bad, and this is big, but...but if we all work together, all of us, we can do this thing. The Freedom League didn't die for nothing." He looked from one to the other, thinking about his mother, and even his father. There were tornadoes in Texas. Nowhere was safe. "We need to go fast," he added with a murmur, shooting a look around them. "Not a lot of people in Freedom City are going to sell paragons out to al-Khayal, but you know the rest of the world won't be that nice."

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Earth Prime

"Freedom Hall is a good idea," Erin agreed. "There's not a lot more we can do here, anyway. Midnight, if you want to drive the ambulance to the nearest hospital, I'll go with you and we can meet everyone else at the Hall. Mark can take care of talking us in if he needs to while we're catching up." She headed for the ambulance where the remaining injured people were waiting.

Earth Paragon

Wander helped Sage up onto the motorcycle, then returned Edge's hug briefly before addressing the expanded team. "All right, we're going to the tower at best possible speed. Midnight, you take Sage, I'll take Edge with me. Cobalt, do one more sweep of the levee and make sure no civilians are still on or around the danger zone, then catch up with us." Gathering Edge up in her arms, she leapt into the air, towards the Freedom Tower and maybe a little more sanity.

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Earth-Prime

Grunting a soft affirmation, Midnight followed Wander back to the armored ambulance, agreeing that time was the essence. With two more heavily injured civilians lying in the spacious back with a handful of less serious cases attending to them as instructed, he slid into the driver's seat opposite the auburn haired powerhouse and pulled away from the levy as the members of Freedom's heavily taxed EMT personnel arrived from the opposite direction. His own vehicle's modifications, in combination with his substantial skill behind the wheel, soon had them speeding through the downpour toward the nearest hospital.

---

Earth-Paragons

Grunting flatly as Wander leapt away with the Young Paragon's team mascot, Midnight passed his spare helmet back to Sage as he mounted his motorcycle in front of her. "Stuck with each other a little longer," the considerably taller youth remarked, some combination of vocal filtration and continued concern robbing the comment of any heat. "Going to want to hold on," he instructed with a terse gesture to his waist as he replaced his own helmet and kicked off, leaning almost horizontally against the turbulent weather as they rocketed after the blue and gold clad pair arcing though the sky.

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Earth-Prime

Cobalt Templar nodded at the words and plans of the others. In this case, he would defer to their greater experience in such matters.

"So, the three of us just need to teleport there, I guess?"

He turned to Sage, a curious look on his face.

"Did you get any sense of what that "other mind" was like?"

Earth-Paragon

Cobalt Templar seemed to finally have his powers tightly locked down, as the sound of sizzling rain had stopped.

Edge was right; this could turn ugly, quick. CT snapped a salute to Wander after she handed out their marching orders. He stood, his eyes evaluating the surrounding area.

"Roger that, Wander. I'll be along as soon as I can."

With that, he flew into the sky, flying up and down the levee area. When needed, he pulled a civilian out of danger, or perhaps did a quick fix-job on really weak areas. Perhaps 10 minutes passed before he deemed the area truly clear enough. With that, he turned and poured on the speed, intent on catching his fellows.

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Earth-Prime

A tight-lipped Nancy Gardener was waiting for the kids when they got to Freedom Hall, accompanied by a holographic projection of a face familiar to all the kids, but Wander in particular. His beard white and his body just a little transparent, Alexander Atom flickered slightly as a particularly bright and loud flash of lightning-thunder echoed overhead. Young Freedom's finest were all soaked to the bone, but as they walked into the empty foyer, the water in their costumes and on their skin was sucked away as if by magic into the sides of the security scanner they'd entered through.

"Hah! Hydromagnetics!" The image of Dr. Atom clapped his hands together soundlessly. "I knew that would work."

"There's no time for that now," said Nancy Gardener not unkindly. "Thank the Lord Young Freedom is here," she said, lumping in Midnight and Cobalt Templar without hesitation. "There's no one around right now who's more experienced with dimensional crises," she said, "not with the Atom Family dealing with the Azores crisis."

"Azores crisis?" asked Edge, looking grateful to be dry.

"The island of Las Palmas, at the center of the Azores in the mid-Atlantic, has begun to erupt," said Dr. Atom frankly. "It's been extinct for centuries, but hours ago it flared up again with a new, unprecedented intensity. If my grandchildren fail, the entire island could fall into the sea, creating tidal waves all through the Mid-Atlantic." He didn't sound worried about that, trusting his family, but he did sound worried in general. "But that's not what's important right now either. What matters is; you were there for the rift? You saw the temporo-dimensional barriers breach? I need a full description right away. If my theories are correct, time is even shorter than the world realizes. Were any of you able to probe the rift?"

Notably there was no mention of Overshadow's ultimatum: this was a serious crisis, but the veterans in the room had all heard this kind of talk from world-conquering despots before. As Dr. Atom talked, the kids could hear the sound of voices above: it didn't take them long to realize that the League had taken in refugees displaced by the flooding. Maybe there was nowhere to evacuate, but the people of Freedom and their heroes could save the day.

-

Earth-ND

Freedom Tower was normally an optimistic sight to the kids of the Claremont Academy: a shining symbol of hope restored and faith rewarded after the horrors of 9/11. But today that shining silver tower was swaying ever-so-slightly in the breeze against torrential rains, lighting crackling around it...and of course the Freedom League that made its home there was gone. The kids had heard about Vanguard, the US national team, being deployed, but they were further down in the East Coast: the kids of Young Paragons might well be the most powerful paragons in the city right now. It was a frightening thought for all of them.

On the roof level, the kids were all soaked as they came inside, greeted by Daniel Daedalus out of his armor just inside the fire stairs. All of them dripping wet, he led them down to what was obviously his lab, brimming with various hi-tech inventions."So it's just...just you kids, eh?" He pulled his short beard and said, "All right, well, we can deal with this. Is this everyone who was there at the Imageria eruption? Were any of you able to see any details?"

Down below, Sage and Midnight drove into a scene of chaos: protestors were beating at the gates of the Tower, kept away only by the League's substantial private security forces, some of them with angry voices. "Where's the League!? Why aren't they stopping the storm!? Somebody help us!" But with the League gone, no help was being given, especially not with their headquarters way up on the top floors of the huge skyscraper. The two kids on the bike hadn't been noticed yet with the focus of the crowd, but getting through the crowd and upstairs, especially in the torrential rain, wasn't going to be easy, even with Sage in her Claremont uniform.

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