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May 22, 2011
9 AM
Lincoln

The Church of the Eternal Rock of Justice is the oldest traditionally black church in Freedom City. The congregation dates back to the 1850s when the first large black communities began in the city, while the building itself is a magnificent Romanesque cathedral rebuilt and refurbished in the 1920s thanks to lavish donations from a wealthy parishioner turned beauty shop tycoon. Chester Brown, the Bluesman, once sang in the choir here, at least before he decided to take his magnificent vocal talents, and his fists, to juke joints rather than choir. (The acoustics are still magnificent.) Back in the 1960s, 'the Rock' was a centerpiece of Freedom City's civil rights movement: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke here in 1966, back when today's senior pastor Reverend Thaddeus Q. Stone was just another fervent young believer in the crowd. Now in his mid-60s, Stone is famous for rejecting the support of larger religious organizations who make their financial aid dependent on adopting regressive social politics he and his congregants reject: the Rock, as it has so often in the past, stands for integrity and compassion. Numbers of parishoners are falling these days, as they are in most churches, but it remains a centerpiece of Freedom City's community.

Parishioners are running out the door; screaming. "There are dragons in the church! There are dragons in the church!" And sure enough, if one looked past the frightened older woman clinging to the rail as she heads down and away, inside the sanctuary is a scene from a science fiction film: six gigantic reptilians, each as tall as a man with a tail whipping behind them as long as they were tall, paced the hallways as those parishioners who hadn't been able to run cowered in their seats or slipped away where they hoped the new arrivals couldn't find them. Today was children's choir! Standing behind his podium, secure in his faith (if not, if he was honest, his ability to live through the next few minutes,) the Reverend Stone faced down fearlessly the largest of the beasts as it stalked down the aisle towards him. No, not a beast... On closer inspection, all the new arrivals were wearing harnesses and carrying gear, their clawed hands working with an unnatural dexterity. And so it was that as the lizard-thing approached him, the Reverend asked, "How can I help you, Brother?"

The thing hissed a reply in English that sounded inside the Reverend's head, its foul breath like rotten meat blasting in his face. "<Monkeys! Where are your leaders!>"

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Joe hadn't really been to church as of late. He'd been raised Methodist, sure, and he still went to services every so often. But ever since graduation and moving out of the house, he'd found himself sort of drifting from the church. He still believed, but he didn't really hold much to the idea that one had to gather regularly to pay homage to God. Wasn't it enough to do so through good deeds with good intent? There were a few gentle arguments with his folks, but they'd always been okay with him taking his own path.

Still, he couldn't deny feeling the occasional bit of guilt about skipping church. Perhaps that was why he was patrolling on a Sunday morning, when he'd usually be sleeping in. If he couldn't honor God through song and prayer, then maybe the occasional good deed would help. He was taking the patrol route that'd take him through Lincoln, across the river to Greenville, cut over to Greenbank and the Fens, then back across the river to the Boardwalk and Southside. He paused before the Church of the Eternal Rock of Justice, considering its splendor. The place had paid an important part in Freedom's history, and Cannonade has always been taken by its majesty.

Except that majesty didn't usually include shadowy reflections through the stained glass. Reflections that looked like... dinosaurs?

"Oh, son of a --"

He dashed around to the front doors and charged through. Fortunately, they were still open for some of the late arrivals; however, he had to duck and weave to ensure that he didn't trample any of the fleeing parishioners. "'Scuse me -- sorry -- dealing with dinosaurs -- hey, nice hat -- "

He came to a grinding halt right in the center aisle, looking on six... Velociraptors? That's what they were in Jurassic Park, right?... dinosaurs, stalking the pews. "Hey!" he called out. "Don't know if you can understand me, but --" He ground his fists together. "I really suggest you go in peace."

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At Cannonade's arrival, a trio of the dinosaur-things turned to face him: two bigger ones on either side, flanking a smaller one in a bright blue harness. On closer inspection, and they were certainly getting close, he could see a line of feather running down the smaller one's spine from the top of her head down to the base of her tail. When she (and it was definitely a she) hissed at Cannonade, her words resounded in his head somewhere between amusement and disgust. "<Oh, it's one of those disgusting meaties! I guess _some_ things don't change. Where's your leader, monkey, too busy humping to show herself in public?>"

"They came bursting out of the basement!" came a voice from behind Cannonade. "There was a big explosion or something, but before we could go down there to look they were right on top of us!"

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Keith LaMarr usually preferred to go for evening walks, once his classes were done for the day, tests had been marked and lesson plans had been drawn up, but with it being the weekend and the weather taking a pleasant turn, that morning saw the broad-shouldered teacher walking the streets of Lincoln with his hands in his pockets and sunglasses on his face. His leisurely pace turned into a sidewalk shaking sprint as the sound of screaming reached his ears, leading him to the foot of the Rock. LaMarr was not a man given to public worship for more than one reason, but the church was a broad pillar of his community and it was only concern for those fleeing that slowed his entrance into the building.

Inside he took in the lizards with a calm glance, recognizing the young hero Cannonade and an old friend standing at the front of the church. "Morning, Thad," he greeted in a rumbling bass that resonated within his cavernous chest as he strode forward.

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"<Oh, this is just perfect! First pervert monkeys, now giant monkeys!>" hissed the female that had recently been snickering at Cannonade's headgear. "<Did we land in someone's freak show or what?>" The two big hairless ones on either side of her snickered, their voices deep enough to suggest maleness. Not that it was easy to tell the gender of dinosoids as large as a man (though not even the biggest male bulked as much as Wail did), but on closer inspection there seemed to be two females: one at the door with two escorts, the other in the process of hissing at the Reverend. Of the four males, two were by the door, another was stalking the aisles, and another pacing back and forth in front of the children's choir.

"<Quiet, Bloodfang!>" hissed the leader, at least if her brightly-colored harness and air of command had anything to say about it. "<Show some liveborn professionalism, for pity's sake. And don't call him a pervert, he doesn't know any better.>" Abandoning the Reverend, who gave Wail something like a despairing shrug, the raptor at the podium hissed at the air. "<If anyone can hear me, this is Officer Runs-With-Back-Claws-Open of World VIV. If you can hear me, please respond. I have hungry males here and we don't want to damage your property.>"

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Sunday morning wasn't typically one of Wander's patrol times, it wasn't exactly a crime-ridden watch and it offered a nice chance to sleep in. But with finals and graduation barreling down on her, there was not much sleeping these days anyway, and patrolling offered a chance to burn off some nervous energy. She was almost pleased when the automated voice from Young Freedom HQ reported the disturbance in Lincoln. Finally something to absorb her attention! A few leaps took her across the city and had her landing on the roof of the church that was still surrounded by upset, crying, screaming people. Whatever was going on, it was happening inside.

She shinnied expertly down a drainpipe to one of the smaller beveled-glass windows that had been cranked open to let in the morning breeze. It took her a moment to internalize what she was seeing. The place looked like The Land Before Time From Hell, full of freaky dinosaurs wearing clothes and speaking English. She only dwelt on the strangeness of that for a moment, before noticing the crowd of children cowering at the front of the church. No wonder the people outside were so upset. Forcing the window open wider, she leapt across the open air in the vaulted sanctuary, bounced off the wall next to the cross at the front of the church, and landed just in front of the choir, between them and the monsters.

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The big dinosaur that had been glaring at the choir (or not, it was hard to read their intentions) kicked at the ground, its claws scraping against stone. From the stage, Runs-With-Claws called angrily, "<Gamma! Back down! Even if some of them are wild, they're not ours, and the last thing we need is to make enemies here! Down!"> she added, when Gamma didn't seem keen to listen. With an annoyed hiss, Gamma turned and bounded nimbly away from Wander, landing at Runs-With-Claws' side. "<Bloodfang, you and yours bar the door. The last thing we need is more monkeys in here.">

Bloodfang hissed something that sounded rude, but nodded to the two males at her side, and obediently they began to trot around to either side of the door. For her part, though, the female studied both Cannonande and Wail, cocking her head and sniffing the air. "<Very strange...look, all we want is to talk to your leader, whatever you call her. I'm sure she'll reward you for helping us...>" her hissing going up at the end as if talking to a child or a dog.

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Willow had few indulgences, but ever since she reawakened she took to spending her Sundays lounging in one of the many trees, listening to the beautiful singing of the church choir and congregation. From time to time she found some amusement in the song selection, old tunes that were at some point in their history not always so reverent. The smile the dryad had faltered when a different sound arose from the temple, the sound of screams.

Melding into the tree she was resting in, Willow started to step out from one of the smaller, younger trees that graced the front of the churchyard. As she appeared the tree uprooted itself, warping and shifting around her, encasing her body in a suit of living armor. Charging, the armored plant controller headed toward the front door, long white hair whipping behind her.

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"What?" Cannonade looked up to his helmet. "What's wrong with my --" It was then that he noticed the dinosaur with the feathers running down its spine... as well as the fact that it spoke in his head with a voice that coded as female, for some reason. "Oh." He tried to smooth down the red stripe running across the top of his helmet. "Cultural differences. Got it."

He nodded to Wail, a brief sort of greeting that would have to do for the time being. He also noticed the entrance of Wander... as well as a walking tree with long, white hair. I'm just going to assume that one's okay. "I think we can get you in touch with our leaders," he said. "But I don't think you wanna talk to the mayor. You said 'World VIV.' You travel to other worlds often?"

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As Willow came charging at the door, the two big males guarding it hissed and snapped at her. "<Crazzzzy plantssss!> " one hissed angrily. "<Not even good to eat! Cut you! Cut you sssso bad!>" By the twitching of those long, wickedly curved claws at their back legs, they had a pretty specific idea of just how they were going to do that. "<Feed you to monkey offssspring!>" They bobbed their heads at her, stretching high, and scraped their claws on the ground, waiting for word or an attack before springing into action.

For her part, Bloodfang was content to let the big males guard the door while she glared at Cannonade. "<You...you can talk!?>" Her eyes widened and she reared back, snorting in alarm. "<You can BOTH talk! That wasn't just vocalizing earlier at all, it was...What kind of place IS this?>" She turned back to Runs-With-Claws, sounding distinctly younger than she had just a little while earlier. "<They don't even smell like monkeys! They're like some kind of alien monkey!>"

"<This is...sweet Nestmother,>" hissed Runs-With-Claws, scratching her scaly chin with long clawed fingers. "<It's some kind of terrible other dimension! How far did that damnable Kaiju knock us off-course!?>" She sounded appalled, and began pacing, lashing her tail back and forth in the air.

"<No people?>" inquired Gamma at her side, flexing his claws and licking his formidable-looking teeth. He looked back at Wander and the kids she was guarding. "<Eatsss?>" The other male at the front jumped up to join Gamma on the stage, and both gave Wander and her charges a sizing-up look.

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Wander opened her bat to its full length with a practiced spin, taking a step forward to confront the pair of raptors surveying the choir loft. "You're on Earth Prime now," she told them evenly, "and where I come from, we primates eat lizards like you. I've done it before, pretty tasty, actually." She bared her teeth in a grin. "If you want to start something, we'll see who ends up on the menu." Of course, the lizards she'd eaten were more the size-of-your-hand variety, but they didn't need to know that.

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Wail had remained standing imposingly in the middle of the aisle while Cannonade attempted to speak with the telepathic dinosaurs and the other metahumans arrived on the scene. The aging hero certainly enjoyed the response time the current generation brought to the table, and while the raptors were by no means the strangest thing he's seen, he was content to let the first young person on the scene take the lead initially. As the lizards grew more and more agitated, however, the massive educator cleared his throat loudly to lay down the law. "Sister, I'm getting that you didn't mean to come here," he addressed Runs-With-Claws in a booming bass that echoed off of the church walls and made him sound as big as he appeared, "and we'll see about getting you back where you ought to be, but you are going to have to get control of your friends, cut out the 'monkey' talk and step outside or you are not going to like how this goes down. Am I making myself clear?"

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Runs-With-Claws flinched and reflexively ducked her head, obviously impressed at the authority in Wail's words. While her reply wasn't exactly helpful, it was the first time one of the dinosaurs has spoken to the humans as an equal. "<Stand down, team. The last thing we need is a fight with the locals.>" She bounced back and forth on her long back legs for a moment before coming to a decision. "<Let them leave!>" she called to the ones at the door, the males blocking the exits moving away with unhappy hissing and snapping. "<We hold no prisoners that aren't ours. We'll live on the rations in the ship if we have to.>"

As the dinosaurs by the door got out of the way, the people in the church started to clear out as hastily as they could without provoking a hunt. "<The ship is inside three feet of concrete!>" spat an angry Bloodfang, turning her back on the heroes by the door as she stalked towards her putative leader. "<You want us to go down there in the dark and rad-scent every time we hunger? Down there with HIM?>" The males by Runs-With-Claws, who had been cowering from Wander, snapped and hissed at the smaller female as she approached.

Ignoring her willful subordinate for the moment, Runs-With-Claws added to Wail, "<I...appreciate your words, not-people, but I cannot leave my prisoner. It is my duty to escort him to his Last Hunt, and I cannot abandon that. Even under threat of force.>"

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"Perhaps we can assist?" Willow asked as she strode past the door guards, armor warping and shifting so as to not touch reptiles and subsequently pulling back to reveal more of her face. Striding into the center of the church the dryad stopped several feet to the side of Wail, cocking her head as she regarded Runs-With-Claws. "I see no purpose for violence now that you have allowed the humans to leave, but you do not belong on this world."

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Bloodfang cradled her face in her frontclaw, nicitiating membranes flicking in a gesture that suddenly seemed strangely familiar. "<Nestmother's addled egg, even the plants talk here! What fresh hell is this!?!>" Runs-With-Claws butted her in the flank with her massive head and growled irritably in reply.

"<Don't curse like that! What would your grandmother say?>" And with that, as the last of the parishoners filed out, she focused on Willow. "<Yes, we are...>" She licked her lips. "<...intimately aware of just how little we belong here. We will endeavor to repair the damage the Kaiju did to our ship and depart.>"

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Looking just a bit disappointed at the prospect of being denied a fight, Wander leaned on her bat and watched as the children exited, some of them crying, all of them very glad to be out safely. The danger was past, and she wasn't exactly much for diplomacy, but she was pretty curious. "Why are you letting a prisoner go hunt?" she asked the raptor. "Why not just put him in jail? What are you hunting for, like, besides human beings?" Talking dinosaurs were interesting enough to give her a story to share with her friends, at least.

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"<We have no experience with your people,>" said the velociraptor commander. "<I am sure,>" she added with what was probably supposed to be diplomatic language, "<that you are very unlike the monkeys and apes with which we were familiar.>" At the discussion of their legal practices, Runs-With-Claws gave a short bark that turned out to be a laugh. "<You are mistaken, not-people youngling. For his crimes against science and nature, the Kaiju is to be the hunted. The families of those whose bodies he warped and minds he destroyed are waiting in the great colosseum of the Nestworld to deliver final justice to him in the fashion of the People. That is why he must be guarded.>" She clacked her claws on the ground for emphasis and added curiously, "<Why, what do you do with mad scientists?>"

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The vines and thick plates of wood encasing Willow continued to shift and alter form, revealing more and more of her figure until the former tree was just a mass of vines wrapped around her left arm and coiled about her neck. Her amber eyes narrowed when the raptor mentioned their captive's crimes, an array of razor sharp thorns sprouting along her vine covered arm. "Forgive us, Guardian, we knew not the Kaiju's crimes. Tell me, what must be done so that justice might be served?" Willow didn't know how to answer the last question, and so ignored it.

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"Well, usually we throw 'em in Blackstone to serve their sentence -- which most of 'em do, at least until either they make parole or make plastic explosive out of some creamer and a spork," Cannonade said. "But I get what you're saying. This guy did something hideous to his people, and he's meeting the death penalty. We've got something like that here, too. Well, not in New Jersey, but -- " His eyebrows furrowed. "Wait a minute. You said the guy in the basement was a 'Kaiju'. This another one of those cultural differences, or does it mean 'big lumbering beast the size of a skyscraper' in your world, too?"

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Wander was distracted from the conversation by something else, a noise, no, a strange feeling coming from somewhere. She looked around cautiously, but the big dinosaur things were holding still for the moment. Crouching, she laid both hands flat against the floor and closed her eyes. "The floor is vibrating," she observed aloud. "It feels like there's something big underneath, bigger than any piece of machinery that ought to be under a church."

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At Wander's words, suddenly there came a great rumbling beneath everyone's feet and panicked screams outside. The metal wristbands worn by Runs-With-Claws and Bloodfang both began beeping frantically, and all the raptors began hissing and spitting in alarm. "He has escaped! The Kaiju has escaped! Quickly, outside!" Without stopping to see what the not-people did, the raptors ran right out the door, vaulting right over any heroes too slow to get out of the way. Outside, as the slower-footed humans joined them, they all gazed at a terrifying scene: the street in front of the church was _glowing_ a terrible sickly green, the people outside having pushed and pulled apart to give it a wide berth.

Suddenly, from beneath the surface, a gigantic reptilian head erupted, followed by a body bigger than a house: if these smaller dinosaurs were raptors, this was nothing less than a Tyrannosaurus Rex, red and staring of eye, fangs as long as a man's arm as it pulled its gigantic bulk to the surface to blink against the sunlight. The two differences visible, though, were as follows: no natural T-Rex breathed the green, sickly flame that pooled like smoke around this giant monster's nostrils. Secondly, most dinosaurs did not wear Nazi uniforms, the clearly defined uniform of the Third Reich on the body of a radioactive T-Rex!

"<Kaiju!>" called Runs-With-Claws imperiously as her dinosaurs drew up alongside her, all of them spitting and glaring at the T-Rex and ignoring the humans for now. "<Do not think you can hide in this world of not-people! The Empire will hunt you down and devour your intestines wherever you run!>"

"<FOOL!>" roared the Nazi T-Rex, "<YOU THINK ME BOUND BY YOUR PUNY LAWS? I AM KAIJU, THE UBER-DINOSAUR! AND I SHALL MAKE MYSELF KING OF THIS WORLD, AND THEN EMPEROR OF THE OTHERS! YOUR LAWS WILL BE TRAMPLED BENEATH MY FEET EVEN AS I TRAMPLE THESE MONKEYS!>" And with that, he turned and charged the civilians!

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Wander raced outside along with the others, just in time to see the massive Nazi dinosaur appear! "Oh right, Kaiju Island," she muttered. "Just what we needed. Somebody get the civilians out of here!" The instant the creature began to turn towards the civilians, she was back in motion, racing past the others and vaulting over a bike rack in front of the church, pushing off from there into a dizzying series of aerial flips that culminated in a flurry of blows directly to the dinosaur's ferocious Nazi muzzle!

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Wander's powerful blow sent the giant dinosaur reeling back, but didn't seem to stun him. This monster was going to need a serious pounding to go down! Nearby, the velociraptors charged into action: with the males leaping and diving, scoring their claws against the T-Rex's flesh to madden him, Runs-With-Claws made her leap, just missing the Kaiju's throat with her outstretched talons, and landed with a hiss of frustration at Wander's side. Giving a cordial nod to her fellow hunter, she spat loud enough for the others to hear, "<He's not bluffing! The Kaiju will eat your leaders and void his bowels on your gods if he is not stopped!>"

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Wail ran out through the Rock's front doors with street shaking strides only to face the truly titanic footfalls of the über-dinosaur! "Man, I've fought drug-peddling monkeys, sword-swinging birdmen and a dolphin was was pretty much rude to everybody, but a fascist dinosaur?" The broad-shouldered bald man took a deep breath that filled his prodigious chest. "This sorta thing is why I came out of retirement!" Fists clenched at his sides, he let loose a column of bludgeoning sonic force that warped the very air between him and Kaiju, an impossibly deep bass that those nearby felt in their bones. The Tyrannosaurus Rex turned to meet the scream head on, a wave of neon green flame roiling from his jaws to disperse the bulk of the attack. Eyes narrowing behind his sunglasses, Wail planted one foot behind him and redoubled his efforts, punching through the radioactive fire and wearing the saurian down.

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Battered by the assaults from the surprisingly powerful monkeys, the radioactive T-Rex redoubled his efforts. Rearing his head back and issuing a terrific gout of radioactive flame, the Kaiju roared "<FOOLS! YOUR CHILDREN WILL BE THE FOOD FOR MY HATCHLINGS AND YOUR CITIES THE NESTS THAT SHALL SPAWN MY EMPIRE ACROSS THE MULTIVERSE! I AM THE KAIJU AND I WILL NOT BE DENIED!>" The Kaiju evidently loved his ranting and raving; luckily that meant the civilians (no fools) had had time to get away from the insane radioactive Nazi T-Rex. Of course, that also meant there was nothing between him and the heroes. "<I WILL BURN YOU WITH THE POWER OF A MILLION FLAMING ATOMS!>" Scientifically improbable though the threat was, he did his best to make good his boast, exhaling a gigantic blast of nuclear heat right at Cannonade!

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