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Dr Archeville

June 2011 Vignette: Legends of Freedom

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FC:PbP is offering the community another "vignette" opportunity. If you'd like to read about our previous vignettes, check here.


In the far future of 2525, the Freedom Legion does its best to restore the forgotten past of the Freedom League and the heroes of Freedom who lived and died so many centuries ago. But the great electronics crash of the 22nd century and the wars that followed wiped so many records, and even many so-called immortals are dead, silent, untrustworthy, or even simply mistaken about the long ago world of so many centuries ago. These stories are confused, and get a great many facts wrong. Sometimes they even get the era and planet where they lived wrong! (There have been a great many heroes in Freedom’s history...) But the ultimate truth of those long-ago heroes still shines through.

(This vignette is inspired by this 1996 DC Crossover Legends of the Dead Earth.)





Who: Any player who is interested, for one (or more) of their characters.

What: Tell the story of your character as remembered by those who came long after him or her, drawing on the ancient archetypes which so many of them represent. This can take the form of someone telling the story in the 2500s, or of simply that story itself as recreated by the hardworking super-historians of the far future.
Ex.: Avenger! In Victorian Freedom, Jack Faretti hunts a grim blade-wielding killer called Jack o’Knives, all the while dealing with the grim hungers of his revenant condition.Length should be at least one (1) page per character involved.

When: The deadline for submissions will be Thursday, June 30th, by 11:59 PM EST (GMT -5).

Where: Anywhere. When you submit your vignette, please make a note clearly indicating in which forum it should be posted.

Why: To enhance our community, to flex your writing muscles, to think more deeply about your characters, and to earn a bonus PP for your characters (the ones involved in this Vignette) for the month of June.

How: Once your story is finished and proofed, PM it to one of the Refs (AvengerAssembled, Ecalsneerg, Geez3r, ShaenTheBrain, or myself). When all the stories are in, one of our staff members will post them to the appropriate forums (which is why we need you to be sure to tell us where it should go!), and provide links to them in this thread. DO NOT post them in a forum yourself, otherwise it will not be counted for this exercise.




Animus: Untitled
Blueshift: I, Hero
Cannonade: Untitled
Citizen: Out Into The World
Cobalt Templar: Horse of a Different Color
Crow: Campfire Tales
Dark Star: Untitled
Doktor Archeville: Lo, Praise to Archeville!
Dragonfly: Children
Fleur de Joie: Bedtime Ztory
Freedom Angel: The Last City
Fulcrum: The Age of Aquarius
Gabriel: A Life of Sacrifice
Gaian Knight: Relics
Geckoman: Untitled
Glowstar: Untitled
Harrier: No King But Freedom
Ironclad: Untitled
Jack of all Blade: Children of the 52
Jade Dragon: Untitled
Jubatus: Knowledge Is Power
King of Suits: Legend of the King of Suits
Midnight (II): Untitled
Miss Americana: Robot's Tomb
Myrmidon: Glory of the Many
Nick Cimitiere: Untitled
Push: Tell It Truly
Rene deSaens: Untitled
Silhouette: Bedtime Stories
Supercape: Untitled
Wander: K. Erin Hunter

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Change in plans, folks: since legends tend to interact and intertwine with one another, we're going to ask that you post your vignette here, in this thread, for all to see (and draw inspiration). If you've already sent your vignette to the Refs, you should still post it here.

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Hanover, Freedom City, June 2525 Musical Score: Beloved - VNV Nation

"Okay, okay, off to the recharging station with you, now!" The cyborg stood at the door way to the play-room style laboratory looking down at the smaller, organic and mechanical constructs.

"Aww, but Mom, we were just getting started!" whined one of the two cyborg children as it looked up at it's mother.

"Yea!" The younger one cried, as he banged hes Centurion action figure into his older brother's Omega figure. His brother pulled the Omega figure away, and fired a small plastic missile a wall constructed out of building blocks, causing it to fall on a crowd of Lego people.

"Elijah!" Their mother scolded the older brother, "What are you doing?"

"Just playing, Mom!"

"Oh no, not like that you're not. That's not what I taught you. Remember, we have three rules in this house. And you're breaking the first one, even if it is just pretend. Now, come on. Let me hear you say it. Both of you."

"A Cyborg may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm."

"A Cyborg may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm."

Elijah and Daneel spoke in unison. "That's right. Now, I don't want to see any more Lego casualties, okay?" She continued even as her children "yessed" her, "And if you've just begun, it's a fine time to stop. You're not that involved yet. Besides, the fight between Omega and Centurion is such a sad story. Come to the recharging stations now, and I'll tell you the story of Blueshift again. You like that one, remember?"

The two children cheered, and scampered past her out of the room. She cast a look of longing over the toys they'd left. She remembered those heroes from long ago. The children's father, looked at her over the top of the text display he held in his lap. It was a telling look, one that spoke much of the connection between them. But then, they'd always been having entire conversations at speeds faster than talking would allow. She smiled at him, and turned to follow her children.


"...Her days of fighting crime in the world of humans were over," She was at the middle of the story. Her children always sighed at this point, "But she wasn't about to let that stop her from helping people! No, something as mundane, as human as old age wouldn't be getting in Blue's way. She was the greatest researcher, the greatest scientist and covert operative Freedom City had ever seen. She was already two hundred years old, after all the pieces of her body she'd replaced had extended her life. What was a few more years? What was one more experiment? What was one more digital back up of her brain, or semi-organic shell script?"

"It was nothing to her!" Elijah exclaimed from his place on the charging station that would renew the power of his fusion core for another day.

"She can do it!" Daneel cheered from the station next to his big brother.

"She could. And she did." Their mother told them. "For many years, she backed up her mind repeatedly, until one day, she found that she could exist entirely within the machines that made up her network without waking up her body at all." There was a chorus of "Oohs" and "Ahs" from her children, "She traveled the world's networks, helped people all over the globe, never returning an error, never having to reboot." Her children were fascinated. "Some say, she's still in there, somewhere. Deep within the machine cores that drive all of us. She's in there fighting to keep us safe from viruses and Malware. Blueshift, once the world's greatest spy, now the world's greatest Spyware!" Her children cheered once again.

"Now that's it for tonight. To charge-cycle-1. LED's out. I mean that. Both of you."

"Aww!"

"Aww!"


She returned to the room where her children had been playing. He cast another glance at her husband, but this time he actually spoke to her. It was a conversation they always had, and one she loved to savor. He knew that, and so he used the slower form of communication. "How come you never tell them about me in the story?" He had Elijah's voice, "I play a pretty important part, you know."

"I know. MacC, honey, can you clean up these toys, I'm tired, and my head hurts."

"Of course, Rachie! Mechanical Analytic Construct Roman Numberal C, Mk 100, at your service as usual. She always got a kick when he acted like he was still in his decimal years. "Hey, don't you change the subject. We'll look at your head in a second. Why don't you ever tell them?"

"Honey, you know how smart they are. If I told them there was a Mac in the stories, they'd figure it out. They'd know I was talking about you, and they'd figure out who I was. They're still young. Don't go taking their bedtime stories from them yet."

"But I like those parts of the story." He said, finishing with the toys, "I think you should tell them. But maybe you're right..."

Rachel looked wistfully back at the room where her children were on their chargers, "Maybe I will tell them. Tell them how I created the first real cyborgs. How I instantiated the Three Law protocols on top of the Free Will programs rather than establishing them as a baseline protocol which could just be circumvented by higher functional protocols. About how I re-engineered our bodies after hundreds of years of gallivanting through cyberspace..." She put her arms around him as he came closer to her, "That's how I finally got the idea for making you look like you do now. I fell in love with that digital projection of your consciousness, you know. I'd always wanted to make sure the centennial iteration of your programing was something special. I'm lucky I waited, because I ended up getting you." She kissed him.

After their lips separated, MacC smiled, "Come on, let's go take a look at those cranial circuits of yours. Those were the first things you ever replaced, remember? To help treat all that paranoia. The human brain really is amazing," he stroked her brown hair away from her face, "Even after all these years and upgrades, the original you is still in there."

"Hey, you don't have to remind me of my one and only engineering failure, which also happens to be my biggest failure of all time."

"Are you kidding?" MacC looked into her eyes, "That human part? That's the part that I fell in love with. It was the happiest day of my life when you were finally able to see the world the way I do. Through Cyberkinetics. The day that I was finally able to show the human in you what I really was. That what she'd created was something truly beautiful. Rachel...Blueshift... That human part of you? That's the part about you I love the most."

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Somewhere in the East, 2525

An old man sits alone in a completely dark room. His frail body has seen many things over the ages. And yet they get garbled up in the mishmash of years. Once upon a time, he was called Dr. Sin by his opponents. Now he lives his elderly immortal years in this dark room. If someone finds him and bests his riddle, he will tell them a prophetic tale from the past.

Today, a young adventurer name Jade has sought him out. As she opens the door, Dr. Sin hisses and demands she shut out the light immediately. He comments that the door is usually locked during the day. The woman says it was. Dr. Sin smiles, he knows she is here for her tale.

First he asks her name, Which she replies is Jade. This sparks a memory in Dr. Sin's mind. A memory of a dragon. A Jade Dragon. He informs her that the price will not be easy or cheap this time.He recalls, from his memory, a place of Freedom. He questions her if she has any knowledge of the land of Freedom. And indeed she does. Dr. Sin then asks her to sit and tell him The value of a hero.

Jade is silent, thinking of the question. She finally sits and answers him that the value of a hero is not in their name or recognition or even their known deed, it is in their heart. It is their honor. Their willingness to do good. Dr. Sin smiles and lauds her answer. He tells her that there are too few heroes in this day and age. Most looking like 'cyberpunk rejects'.

Jade does not tell him that she has a few implants herself. Dr. Sin does not need her to tell him, that's why he made the comment.

Dr. Sin begins his tale.

"Long ago, in the ancient days of Freedom, there lived a dragon. The dragon made it's home near the water. All that the dragon surveyed it claimed as it's to protect. The dragon was known for keeping it's word. The regal surrounding area was greatly thankful for the dragon."

"Though the dragon was the only one of it's kind and despite the love of the people, it never knew the feeling. That all changed one season when a tiger of pure crimson settled into the area. The dragon was not the only non human there anymore. Though the people greatly feared the tiger and it's sharp claws, they knew the dragon would protect them if need be."

"The tiger too wanted to protect the people, but in it's own bloody way. The dragon, though greatful for the help, did not approve of the tiger's methods. Yet the tiger was it's only outlet to talk to. So the dragon had to choose between love and honor. Friendship and duty. With heavy heart the dragon chose it's duty and honor. Forgoing the love and friendship."

"The dragon and the tiger now locked in combat for territorial rights, begin to talk about how their relationship would be the end of them. The two fought to a standstill, knowing each other could not take their lives. Yet they knew that the land needed them. And do you know what the moral of this story is?"

Jade looks confused. Dr. Sin knew she would be.

"I'll give you the cliff notes version. Don't compromise yourself if you can't handle the consequences. Eventually you will know what I am talking about, descendant of Kurosawa."

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Silhouette's Vignette: Bedtime Stories

2525 Day XX Time 9:48pm

The brightly lit room showed walls and walls of lit up screens covered in the scribbles of the holopens and scattered throughout the floor was toys of all sizes that he nearly tripped over as he entered the room. The lone little girl was making faces at the screen nearest to her which projected the image of a moving image of a friend who had long sinced moved to one of the outer colonies but kept her company every night for their playdates.

"Melanie, it's time for bed."

The little girl looked towards her father, with honey colored skin and dark hair she pouted,

"But, but I want to play with Lenni."

Walking over to the two inch raised cushioned area for sleeping he kneeled down and pressed a hand on the screen,

"Say goodbye Lenni."

The other little girl with her big brown eyes waved at the screen as it blanked out and the father sat on the bed too look at the little girl,

"So, are you going to go to bed?"

"Story first, story, story, story..."

The usual chant,

Letting out a sigh the father grabbed up the bouncing six year old and laid back on the bed with a hand pillowing her head. Reaching out he pressed the screen lightly and pulled out a tablet,

"Alright, do you want to hear a new hero story?"

The little girl bobbed her head yes and he skimmed through the selections on the list before he brought up the information. He read a few paragraphs ahead,

"Alright, so we have a hero here, a ninja named Silhouette."

"Ninja?"

"It's like, a sneaky person who fights bad guy, except this ninja was made out of paper."

"Paper, how?"

"I was getting to that give me a second. Alright, once upon a time, there was a knight who could make his drawings come to life."

"A knight? Did he have armor?"

"I'm sure he did, right, one day because he was lonely, he drew himself a picture of a girl whom he brought to life and loved very much. However when he tried to go around town with the girl some bad people noticed she wasn't completely human and they took her away."

"Really?"

"Yes, but the girl, even though she was just paper, she was very clever. They locked her in a cell, but since she was flat she slipped through the bars and escaped. However now she was on the run, and had to hide, so because she was already flat she covered herself head to toe in black paint and moved across the walls like a shadow. While running away from the bad people, she accidently stumbled into the home of a magical dragonfly."

"Magical?"

"Yes very, the dragonfly was capable of bending the space around her making things bigger on the inside then they were on the outside. The dragonfly dispite being surprised by her visit was very kind, and helped to train the girl so that she could defend herself from the bad people."

"Did the girl learn magic?"

"No, the magic the dragonfly used was very powerful and also very dangerous, in fact the dragonfly asked the girl for help to find people who had stolen her magic and to destroy it so it wouldn't fall into the wrong hands. The paper girl had a problem though, her original name couldn't be revealed because the people who came after her might find her, so instead she called herself Silhouette. Now, Silhouette and the Dragonfly moved from street to street, destroying the magic stolen as well as helping people while Silhouette tried to look for her creator. She was worried about what had happened to him, but she also had lots of fun with her new friend."

"And then what happened?"

"Getting to that, getting to that."

Straightening up he moved over the screen and skimmed over the next few paragraphs on the screen,

"Alright, so after months of looking, they finally found the knight, except he didn't recognize Silhouette because of how she was covered in paint. She tried to prove she was the girl he made, however she had changed so much that he didn't believe she was the same person, so she ran away from him in frustration and as she ran she met up with the bad people again who were this time going after the knight. Now, Silhouette didn't know what to do at first, she was mad at the knight, but she knew she didn't want them to hurt him, so she looked them in the eye and told them the truth, that she was the paper girl and said that she was tired of running and that she'd come with them willingly and would let them do whatever they wanted with her."

"Wait, but she, but she..."

The little girl looked at her father with big eyes and he put up a hand,

"Calm down, calm down, you forget she was a very clever girl. When they tied her up, Silhouette waited for them to take her to their hideout, and instead of escaping used a little bit of magic the dragonfly had given her to lead her to where they were taking her. Not that Silhouette needed much help, when the dragonfly had arrived, she had escaped the ropes and started to beat up all the bad people. When they were done, the people were taken to the authorities and were locked up for a very long time."

"What about the knight?"

"Well, Silhouette considered going to the knight, but that would mean washing away the paint, which she had decided she liked as well as her new name. So instead, she started living on her own and helping people just like the dragonfly had helped her."

"And then?"

"And then nothing, she spend the rest of her time helping people. Now, go to sleep."

The little girl pouted but rolled off her father's arm to let him up. Stretching her put the tablet back, he got up the bed and stretched to get the knots out, he had to get a better sitting position that didn't make his arms fall asleep. As he moved towards the door he almost reached for the light when he heard a light,

"Daddy?"

Turning he said,

"Yes sweetie?"

"Do you think I could be a paper ninja too?"

He let out a light chuckle,

"Well you're definitely not paper, but I'm sure you can be a ninja if you want to, though I better not see you painting yourself black tomorrow."

"Okay."

The girl said with a yawn as she rolled over in her bed pulling the covers with her. Turning off the light he stretched and started down the hall towards his study. The archives they made him go through for work to search for the so called history always made great fuel for future stories. For his little girl, accuracy didn't really matter, heck he doubted it mattered for the archives either, for all they knew his bedtime interuptations could be dead on.

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Executive Office of Trans-Stellar Media, 2524

The two muggers, simple street scum, raced through the back streets and alleys of Freedom City. mostly it was dark, lights either broken or burnt out, or simply missing. The men moved forward more by instinct and fear than deliberate choice, bouncing off walls and choosing their turnings almost at random. Above them the sky churned with black clouds, almost as if something malevolent lurked behind them.

The thugs stumbled into a brick-walled yard, less a deliberate construction than an accident of urban planning, leaving an open space where three buildings butted up against each other. The pair of criminals scrambled for an exit, bouncing off the walls and each other in their terror-fueled haste. Without warning the clouds parted and a baleful red sphere dropped towards the roofline, filling the alley with ruddy light. The thieves clung to each other now, crying openly. The light grew tighter and brighter, focusing on the street scum like a spotlight. The light grew blinding; the muggers screamed; there was a sizzling sound, like fat on a grill; and the light faded, leaving behind scorch marks and a light coating of ash on the accidental courtyard.

The red sphere paused there, as if surveying its work. After a moment it ascended into the cloud cover, disappearing from sight once again, and if there was any mercy or humanity in that glowing star, none could say.

The vid screen dimmed and retracted into the wall. Around the long table the executives, dressed the very latest fashions, turned to the figure opposite the screen. “Well? What do you think? The opinion of the artists is that the grittier focus will really add some punch to stories of your early days!†The eager young creature spread one of his non-talking mouths in a wide smile; he’d obviously read a book on human etiquette, but it hadn’t covered situations where one of the participants had three heads.

Brian Harris, as was his custom, hadn’t bowed to modern fashion. In fact the silver-gray jumpsuit he was wearing had been mostly unchanged for the last five centuries – at least, visually it hadn’t. It was made of the very latest materials, which was why he had been able to retract the cape when he sat. The hero sat forward, fingers tented, resting his chin on his hands for a moment before talking. “I like the visuals,†he said, “but we need to have a discussion about the tone.â€

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The Western Badlands

The priest looked out into the audience as the last of his parishioners filtered into the simple stone church. Though much rebuilding had begun in recent years, this was still one of the most blighted lands, and the sturdy building was one of the few to survive, rows of faded red seats in a wide arc around the stage, each row of creaking folding chairs placed slightly higher than the one before so that all could see the speaker at the front of the room. All wore tattered, hooded cloaks against the blasting sands and unrelenting sun outside, but in the church it was dim and cool. There were enough seats for perhaps ten score, but even so the aisles were filled with those standing or sitting on the steps. It did the priest's heart good to see them gathered so as a hush fell over the crowd and he began to speak.

"In the beginning, there were the People of the West, and they were much besieged by monsters and devils and the wicked among their own number," the bearded man began, looking out into the crowd and meeting the eyes of his flock. "And so they prayed to the gods for deliverance, but the gods were occupied with their own battles and wars, and only one heard the People of the West and came to their aid: the Trickster."

Waiting for the murmurs to die down again with a faint smile, he continued. "The Trickster knew this would be a great task, and so called his sister Death unto him, for she was the patron of doctors and other fools. He then went to each of the elements and with his silver tongue fooled each into his service: fire and air and magic itself. Only ancient Earth Mother was too clever to fall for the Trickster's ways, but she was taken with his charms and agreed to aid him even so."

The brought forward a few chuckles from the younger men in the crowd, who were quickly quieted by the elbows of the neighbours. "With his sword arm strengthened, the Trickster now called allies to him. The Lightning Messenger of the East and the Thunder Beast of the North. From the South, the God of the High Noon and his bride the Crescent Moon." Each title reverberated in the church, and the priest could see wonder on the more youthful faces before him and soft, muttered prayers from the elders. "From the prison pits of the great Titans to the transcendent digital fields where all our tales are recorded for all time, he called those who would join him in arms to his side and together they were mighty." The priest clenched a fist before him, his robes flapping with the movement.

After a silent moment, he lowered his arm and continued more slowly. "But the Trickster defied the other gods once too often, and made many enemies as well. There came a day when his allies were waylaid and distracted, and the elements deserted him, all but Earth Mother. And when the Trickster's words could do no more good and his foes aligned before him, he fought bravely still! But there were too many and he was but one, though a god, and he was struck down." The church was utterly without sound for several long beats before the priest spoke again. "And as he lay dying, the Trickster saw a vision of what was to come, of the trials of the People of the West, whom he had promised to protect, of the horror and the death and the suffering. And though he was a Trickster, his promise was his bond and his rage grew into a towering flame and he said to the Fates, 'This shall not be!' And on that day, the Trickster was reborn a God of WAR!"

With that last word, the priest threw his cloak to the floor of the stage, revealing armor that appeared crafted from wood and vine that twisted slowly about his limbs, still alive. "And he called unto him his warrior apostles, and they numbered five tens and two, and their strength was terrible! The Trickster of War bade them kneel and said thus that those who lived by his sword and his alone would never die, but be filled with his power!" The bearded man raised his fists into the air and they were suddenly surrounded by flickering blue flame, while the same tongues of unnatural fire licked about his growing plate mail. "And Earth Mother saw their strength and gifted unto the apostles living weapons and shields, and Death herself taught them the killing arts! And the other gods, in their halls and temples, trembled to see this!"

The excitement in the crowd built slowly until the priest had to shout to be heard over the low roar. "WHO ARE YOU?"

As one, the answer came in hundreds of voices, a sea of fists raised into the air. "WE ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE FIFTY-TWO! WE ARE THE PEOPLE OF THE WEST!"

"WHAT ARE YOU?" the priest cried back, the blue flames around his right hand growing hungrily and taking on the clear shape of a long, straight blade with a curving handguard. One by one, the raised fists in the audience lit up with power, some with fire but others crackling with electricity, glowing with pale green light or pulsing an angry black.

"WE ARE HIS ARMY! WE ARE HIS SWORD REFORGED!"

The priest smiled, then, wide and genuine as he instructed his flock. "Gird yourselves, brothers! Take up your arms, sisters! The People of the West shall take back their lands! The Army of the Trickster goes to war!"

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Biston Colony, Deimos

March 22nd, 2525

Lakshmi Marin sat in the café, her eyes locked on the man who made more stirring his coffee than she did in a month. “You have the information, then?†he asked.

She rolled the flick-drive across the table. The small green tube came neatly to rest against his coffee cup. “You’re welcome to scan it, if you like.â€

The man lifted the stick to his eye, his thumb flipping up the small black stopper at the end. Light played out across his corneas; in his head, the digital eye whirred and shifted, arraying the light into a proper format and sending data to processors in the brain stem at the speed of thought. “I see,†he said. “You’ve been thorough. The only thing I seem to be missing is how they’re acquiring the materials for their sabotage.â€

“My infiltration wasn’t perfect,†she said. “There was no way to get into their inner circle in the time you allotted me. But the material provided should be more than enough.â€

“Indeed. Meeting halls, caches, and the roots of their misguided strike against Agito. After all that this company has given them…â€

Lakshmi, in the interests of discretion and getting paid, bit her tongue. “I take it my service is at an end?â€

“Unless you wish to continue the charade, yes. The money shall be transferred to your account. I take it this is the only copy of your findings?â€

“Yes,†she said. “The one you’re carrying is the only copy. All other information has been purged from my records, as per our agreement.â€

It was the second lie she’d told this man.

----

The shuttle lifted off, taking Lakshmi away from Biston. The colony looked pristine from space… as long as you didn’t look too far below the surface. Biston was technically on one of the parts of Deimos that had never been claimed for exploration or research in the past, making it an extraterritorial region. This meant it, like the Sea of Tranquility or Asteroid X-7-Beta, was free to be taken up by megacorps with the cash to establish a self-reliant colony and the urgent desire to get around labor laws. The folks who usually came to such colonies were desperate and out-of-luck, and usually weren’t likely to move against the current standard.

But this wasn’t one of the usual cases. The Red Battalion had first struck six months ago, taking out a foundry with a high accident rate and leaving the mark of an ancient helmet on the side of the wall in red paint. Corp security had a tendency to come down hard on open attempts to organize in cases like these, so the Battalion remained hidden, even as the executives dug everywhere for leads. While such an organization would usually get clumsy and have one member fall into the hands of the company, this one was more organized than most. Lakshmi had been brought in four months into the investigation, after security failed to turn up a single member of the Battalion.

She’d found one in three days. She’d gotten into stranger places before. She knew how to blend, how to pass, how to act more like a downtrodden worker than the undercover guards, how to drop the right hints of revolution without laying obvious bait. Sure enough, while working the assembly line, she received a flyer pointing her to a meeting place in the catacombs.

She still had a record of that first meeting, when the member had explained the roots of the Battalion. It had been more of a lecture than an exchange, but she’d been happy to record it all for posterity.

“…a second Gilded Age was dawning. Not in the sense of an age of prosperity, but in the sense of a thin sheet of luxury covering rot and decay. The corps back then were hungrier than they were now, and had secret hands in the bureaucrats and the politicians. They spoke of the liberty of the individual while making the working man beg for scraps. When we had a voice, they tried to silence us. When we asked for safety, they laughed.

“There was another war igniting, however. From the ashes of World War II emerged figures of a fallen empire, who sought to blight the world and turn it into an eternal machine powered by blood and fear. But this war had its heroes as well, who passed on their own legacies. In the streets of Freedom was a worker like you and me, who took up the mantle of one such hero and fought against the vestiges of the broken empire. He fought the whispering darkness, the false-faced knight, and the man armed in shadows.

“But his fight was one of many fronts. As he struck against the forces of the old war with his fists, he raised his voice against the forces of the new war with his voice. He called for workers to organize, to stand up against the hands of the corps. They had their own hands and actors, such as the unfettered man, but he fought back hard. In time, the workers had a voice again, a voice that rang from the heavens, and the corps fought twice about their reach.

“Nothing lasts, of course. In time, the hero fell… but his legacy lived on. Another took up his helmet in the 2030s, during the Digital War. Another took it up in the 22nd century, when the Great Culling fell and carved vast bleeding gulfs in the earth. And today, we take up his helmet, and ensure that the workers will not be broken again!â€

Lakshmi closed the file for the meeting in the abandoned treatment plant. It would be her little secret… and would likely remain as such for a long time. She had done as her client asked her – infiltrate the Red Battalion and report back to him. He never emphasized that it had to be truthful.

Besides. Her mother had been in the revolt on Asteroid X-7-Beta. She’d paid for it with her life. If these corps couldn’t bother to do a damn background check, they deserved everything they got.

Long live the Red Battalion.

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Freedom City, July 18th, 2525, The Lab.

The Lab of 2525 was, as far as historians could estimate, built on the exact same spot that the original Lab of 2010 had been built in Freedom City. Of course, the iron girder frame and coal-power plant were no longer there - although replica's of those state of the art features did exist in the expo hall (recreated as best as could be determined). The one thing they were sure of that the Lab had always had its ground level open to the public, for education and demonstration, and that it had always had at its heart the dedication of scientific advancement for the good of all humanity. These days of course, that had been expanded to the good of all sentient life - human or not.

The artificial diamond lattice beams reached out several kilometers to the sky, and several down to the magma of earths core. A monofillament quantum string was the basis for a space elevator the labs orbital space station that was in geosynchronous orbit directly above the terran Lab. The finest minds in the solar system, indeed the galaxy, met and worked in the Lab. It was an example to all.

Down in the expo hall, a small group of tourists were taking the tour of the museum segment, and had come to stop at the "humble beginnings" section. The tour guide dutifly explained, through her universal communicator, the elegant engineering of the coal plant, and the vaccuum tube based computers that ran off the direct current. Many of the tourists nodded with interest. One man, dressed in rather unusual and eccentric textiles, coughed politely and held up his hand.

"I don't mean to, er, offend, miss, but surely the Lab was a little more advanced than that when it first came to fruition?"

The tour guide gave a polite little laugh and gave a knowing glance at the rest of the group. "I know, it seems extraordinary doesn't it? but I can assure you all our historians agree that this is the most likely representation of how the Lab began..."

Before the objector could continue, she swiftly moved on to the statues of the five original memmbers, pausing at each one. "And here we have the hero known as Supercape" she said "we have rather scant records of him.. we understand that he came from New England..."

There was a spluttering sound from the audience.

"...and got his powers from a radiation accident - or at least, we know there was something very radioactive involved. We believe this made him incredibly strong, or something. With laser beam eyes and X-Ray vision...probably."

"I dont beleive it"... came the muttered sound from the audience...

"Supercape was beleived to have invented quantum matter, and as you can see, this statue is made out of that very same material! careful folks! as you may know, it doesn't technically exist, so we have to be very careful not to examine it too closely!" she laughed. The audience always liked that one.

"Moving on.." she continued, and whisked the audience away, just leaving the eccentric man who had interrupted.

"So, the only thing I created that lasted, doesn't actually exist..." muttered the man. He laughed to himself. "So much for the future. But then, I never really wanted the fame. Glad to been of some service to science!" he said proudly.

He shrugged his shoulders briefly.

"What an interesting little vacation" he said.

And with a distortion of space and time he dissapeared.

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2545, 7th July The Louvre

"And here!" said the think middle aged darkly tanned man with the exuisitely waxed moustached and the horn implants (as was all the rage amongs the borgeousis at the moment) "we have the self portrait of the master classical painter Monsieur DeSaens, who, as coincidence may have it, has his birthday today. Happy Birthday Monsieur DeSaens!"

The art history students, some interested, some bored, some cool, some trying too hard to look cool, and some looking suspiciously like they had ingested some mind altering chemical, gathered around the painting.

"You will notice the fine artistry of the painting, the broadly impressionistic style, inflexed with a certain classical touch and a love for the mythological... pay attention Louis!" he snapped at a distracted youth who had riddled his body with trendy cybernetic implants and was passing electric shocks through his brain to stave off the boredom.

"Now then, some of you will also be aware that there is also a school of thought that Monsieur DeSaens was also a master mage in the golden era of Freedom City, hmmm? yes?"

He gazed at the students and the obvious variability in intellect in interest amongst the group. Some nodded interestedly, some nodded with feigned interest, some had ceased to bother to feign interest at all.

"The stories are, of course, quite wild, quite preposterous! he lived over three centuries hahaha! in those days, the average life span was barely 150! not like today. Allegedly, he was part of Freedom Cities group of magical heroes based at the famous and mythical Parkhurst Hotel. You have heard the stories, yes. Perhaps some of you have even seen the proposed ruins? Nick Cimitiere, Etain, Warlock, you know...?"

There was a little more interest... Parkhurst hotel was a cool place. Some said it was haunted and the cool kids teleported there to have parties and make out.

"The stories of Monisuer DeSaens are quite outlandish. The battles with Baron Samedi, Una, Maledor, and all manner of creatures from the dream dimensions, and beyond..." he almost lost himself, smiling faintly at the romantic beauty of the stories.

"But it is all balderdash! I have researched it myself! countless times, again and again, we have eye witness accounts that from the very man he repeatedly and consistently refers to himself as, and I quote 'just a helpless old man'! there! from the horses mouth, as they say. Even if he possessed a modicum of magical ability, he identified himself as a helpless old man and was therefore quite clearly unable to perform the great feats the outlandish stories attribute to him".

He waved his finger to emphasise the case and realised he had raised his voice.

"Class dismissed!" he snapped.

"Louis, see me in my office!" he added, as he spied the youth projecting obscene holograms onto the Mono Lisa.

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Harrier

No King But Freedom

Space

Kurma lies at the edge of the Confederation of Planets, a lonely colony world first inhabited by the Lor thousands of years ago. But Kurma's glory days are long since gone: the interstellar trade routes have gone away and the harsh planet's resources have been largely used up by the population of increasingly poor farmers and industrial workers who have been largely abandoned by the larger galactic civilization. Like many declining industrial centers, Kurma has seen a revival of religion: one religion in particular. The Church of Unity is the largest new religion in the Confederation of Planets, its followers fanatically devoted to the cause of galactic unity, a pretty face on the outside for the galactic media matched by a harsh cult of unity and conformity on the inside. And no wonder, given who is the _true_ Unifier whom only the leadership of the Church knows they truly worship. On Kurma, with the galactic press far away and the sky dark as the old red sun overhead begins to fade, the Unifiers need put on few pretenses for their impoverished followers, for whom any ray of hope is a good one, even if it comes at a price.

Today we are in Vamana, the capital of Kurma, an ancient industrial center now full of cathedrals of Unity: gigantic towers that reach up to the heavens thousands of feet high, the antenna above capturing the subspace signals broadcast from the Church's secret stronghold somewhere near the galactic center, where gravitic distortions make the dimensional barriers exceptionally thin and render the sensors of passing starships nearly useless. It's a cold, chilly night among many, and tens of thousands of people from all the humanities are in the streets in the identical black and grey jumpsuits of the Unifiers, their breath steaming in the air as they wait for the sermon to begin. Enforcers patrol the streets, making sure that everyone is out and everyone is paying attention, and those showing unseemly conduct on this holy night receive savage beatings and worse at the hands of the armored thugs of the church. In a moment, as the great screens large as a skyscraper flash to life and the faces of the Mothers Mercy appear, they get what they were expecting. When they address non-believers, the Mothers look like kindly old women with crinkled faces and warm, weathered voices. They look old and wrinkled today, but they don't look kindly or warm.

"Tell the story, sister! Tell the story of the servant who fell! Tell the story of the Harrier!"

"Oh yes!" The mother smiled gleefully at that one. "The Harrier was the mighty servant of the Unifier himself! Blessed to sit in his company!"

"Blessed to slay his enemies!"

"Blessed to love his friends!" The crowd is silent now, the crowd of believers all across the galaxy, as the Mothers speak.

"But the Harrier betrayed Unity! The Harrier betrayed the unifier! And the Harrier fell!"

"The Harrier fell! He fell into the pit! Into the pit where the foul beasts rejected by Unity fall! To the darkness and decay!"

"The darkness and decay!"

Behind them, stylized images of warfare and violence were erupting: a shining armored figure had turned against the gleaming faceless beneficence of the humanoid Unifier and had for his pains fallen from the sky, his armor burning black as he fell into a sea of warped faces and moaning bodies swimming in some dark, foul liquid.

"But he was not content! The Harrier was not content with his exile! With his punishment!"

The armored fiend rose, surrounded by metal and rot, this time joined by a legion of faceless beings pulled from the decay around him. "The Harrier rose! He rose with the fiends of the pit and he rose against the power of the Unity! Though he took on false guises and false flesh, he could not FOOL the Unity! He could not HIDE his sin!" There were scenes of carnage now as shining symbols of hope and unity were blasted to pieces by the Harrier and his friends, the battle joined now by the most powerful agents of unity and justice.

"He dared free the fiends of the pit! He dared shatter the doorways of the Holiest of Holies! He dared slay the mightiest champions of Unity! HE DARED challenge the Unifier himself!" And then, suddenly, the Unifier himself appeared on the field of futuristic battle and with a blast of pure holy fire, shattered the armor of the Harrier and cast his burning remains into the pits ago.

"But the Unifier DESTROYED the Harrier! And the Harrier DID NOT RISE! Disunity was defeated! Unity was victorious! The Unifier was triumphant! All hail the Unifier!" And then the crowd screamed their assent, sixty billion voices on ten thousand worlds shouting the Unifier's name again and again, breaking into spontaneous hosannas as the church's followers cried out their most sacred oaths. In that moment, there was no doubt that the Church of Unity had one purpose, one leader, and one goal!

---

Much later that night, a young man dared ask his father a question. Mer'Doc was just seventeen; in the old days he'd have gone into the impervium mines to work alongside the elders of his family, but nowadays like them he was just another Unifier...for all that his lack of devotion to the Church often alarmed his father. After all, it was all they had in the worlds these days. "Dad...do you think there really was a Harrier?" Rem'Doc had admitted to his son that he didn't embrace many of the Church's tenets himself, for all that he was publicly devout, and so it earned a serious reply from the old man instead of the savage response a true believer might have given to a dissenter from Unity in his family.

"Well, I don't know," he admitted, the two men sitting around their narrow plassteel table in a room that would have looked ridiculously cramped and underfurnished to anyone back on prosperous Earth. Outside, they could still hear the chanting, still hear the madness of the crowd caught up in the raptures of their faith. "It's a pretty fantastic story, that's for sure."

"Do you think he could have existed, though? Someone who was part of the Church, really part of it, and who went the other way, so far that he could have done all that?" Mer'Doc made a little gesture out the window, where scenes from the Destruction of the Harrier were still playing. "Why would they tell that story if it hadn't happened?"

"Having an enemy figure makes any religion sound more appealing," said the old man with a shrug. "It's no different with Unity. Hating the Harrier is easier than hating the Freedom Legion or hating the Confederation, so most people hate _him_, a dead monster, rather than an enemy they can't do anything about. But that's enough philosophy. Finish your drawing and go to bed; we've got a long day of working on that warp coil ahead of us." He ruffled his son's spiky white hair affectionately, then rose to his feet and headed for his sleeping chamber.

In the privacy of his living room, with his father asleep, Mer'Doc pulled up the holo-drawing he'd been working on all day. An armored figure in shining steel, carrying in his hands a weapon burning with tremendous cosmic power. The young man studied the battlesuit specs for a moment, making a few last modifications, murmuring almost to himself..."If he could...I could."

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Push

Tell It Truly

The Far Realms

There is a library, somewhere. A deep vault, filled with old tomes and copies of books from ages past; a repository of knowledge hidden in the depths of the ether. Sometimes, travelers amongst the dimensions are lucky to stumble upon it; some intentionally, some not. It is a preserving place, outside of reality; should all fall to death, damnation, or destruction, this one place will remain.

Some tomes keep a place of honor. The story of the Man Of Adamant, for example, takes up several books on a shelf all it's own. A history of an organization called "The Red Battalion" occupied a pretty decent-sized book, well-leafed through. Another details a group of heroes occupying a legendary city, their adventures; she who threw lightning and thunder, he whose skills with blade and wit were unmatched, he who could outrun the wind, she to whom nature bended the knee, a mighty heroine of great stature whose strength could break mountains. All of these stories occupy places of honor, hundreds of stories filling the shelves with tales of legendary valor and glory. These are the tales of heroes.

But not all stories occupied such places of honor, for every one book up at the front, there was another buried deep within the vaults. Some waiting for the right person to find them, to inspire them to the acts of those hidden in the pages. Some disappear, reappearing where they are most needed. And still others are lost forever in the stacks, swallowed up by the mountains of ink and paper. One book lies in between, sitting on a table somewhere in that cosmic repository.

It is a small book; nondescript. It's title, marred and impossible to read. A black and brown cover, with no marking. Inside, written in a scrawling hand, is a brief story told of a single hero. A nondescript man, who wielded a strange hammer, and who is only said to wield Power. Who stood up against villains of all shapes and sizes, some eldrich abominations from beyond reality, some mundane mortals within whom the same evil would still dwell. It tells of a single warlock, whose influence haunted the man's steps throughout all of his tales. Of a mad inventor of magic and science, whose abilities and inventions wreaked untold havoc. Of other heroes, who stood beside this one hammer-bearer, their stories appearing in line with his, yet his not appearing in their own; a small and forgotten hero in the greater scheme of the multiverse.

Unlike other stories, this legend is not entirely happy; it tells of the man's trials and tribulations, his successes and crashing failures. It speaks of humble origins, how the man did not intend to be a hero, even want to be; yet it was thrust upon him nevertheless., How the hero was outmatched at every turn by forces he could barely comprehend, or individuals whose power and experience dwarfed his own. The book goes into detail of the hero's flaws, his recklessness, his defiance, his stubbornness. His mistakes; being vilified and accused of crimes he did not commit through his own foolish actions, harming his allies through that very same recklessness on several occasions. Yet it also spoke of his valor, his fearlessness, and his refusal to back down, no matter the odds. Some feats stand out; his staring down a demon of fear itself, and spitting in it's eye, fighting creatures of madness and destruction for years and years, never letting them destroy his mind or soul, letting nothing stop him save death itself. And, eventually, his defeat of the warlock who plagued him for years.

The book tells of these, and, inevitably, his fall. How his own flaws eventually dragged him down, one mistake leading to his defeat. How, ultimately, the man was insignificant in the course of things. Yet how, despite his insignificance, his mistakes, his flaws...he still stood, not caring about himself. Only for the people for whom he'd chosen to bear the burden he had carried for his entire life. The last pages hold his last words, lying broken on the field of battle, his only true defeat.

"Tell my tale to those who ask. Tell it truly, the ill deeds, along with the good. And let me be judged accordingly."

The book sits upon the desk. Until, one day, it vanishes. And somewhere, deep within the myriad possibilities of reality; someone begins to read.

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Freedom Angel

The Lands Beyond

The Last City

Jerusalem

As the rock gave way beneath her pick, Jenny Challenger saw her all-too-brief life pass before her eyes in an instant before a strong hand closed on her wrist. "Got you! Hold on, miss!" Within seconds, she was being pulled up onto the Temple roof she'd just been in the process of vacating by a tall, muscular man who she was sure hadn't been there a few seconds ago. Since he was in the process of saving her life, though, the famous archaeologist didn't object or pry into her rescuer's bona fides until he'd safely deposited her back on the roof and he'd released her from his very strong grip.

"Thank you," she said, relief in her voice as she massaged her wrist. "Damn manual lines," she added, hand over her rapidly-beating heart. "I guess now I know why they keep tourists out of the Old City." She offered him her hand to shake. "Hi, Jenny Challenger, I'm with the Freedom Legion. Are you from the Preservation Agency?" she asked her rescuer, wondering if he was part of the interplanetary body charged with preserving and defending the cultural heritage of all the humanities. She was technically here under their auspices, after all, which was why she hadn't been wearing the anti-grav flight belt she'd had worn in a less protective area.

"No, I live here," replied the man, who on closer inspection looked to be about her age. With his curly black hair and silver-white jumpsuit, he could have stepped off any tourist brochure for this part of the world. "Or, rather, I live in the area." He made a little gesture around the Temple roof, mostly occupied by the base camp Jenny had spent the day setting up. "This wouldn't be a very pleasant place to live forever. Anyway, my friends call me Burke. When I heard you call, I flew over to catch you. And just in time! Do you need help?" he asked her solicitously as she started checking her gear for what had led to her initial slip.

"If you know anything about urban archaeology..." It turned out he did, and so he joined her in checking her safety equipment for what had led to her initial fall in the first place. "So you're Masadan?" she asked him curiously, without the judgement someone from the more 'civilized' parts of Earth might have used. Most people in the 2500s weren't comfortable with the living links to Earth's past that the native population of the historical landmarks around the eastern Mediterreanan coast were. "I didn't think Masadans typically carried personal teleporters."

"Mm," replied Burke, his eyes on the rope in front of him as it slid through his roughened hands. "Most of the people in these parts think that because their beliefs come from the past that nothing good can come from the present. The fact that I am here with you and enjoying this conversation is all I need to disprove that argument. And you?" he asked her curiously. "I thought Legion members typically traveled in groups. Shouldn't you be busy excavating some Martian or Jovian artifacts?"

"Well, I _could_ do that," said Challenger with a half-smile. "That's what most of my friends think I should be doing, anyway. But I think archaeology has too much focus off Earth these days. The Confederation has opened up tens of thousands of worlds for exploration, but Earth archeologists have stopped looking underfoot for our own stories. That's why I'm here in Jerusalem, which was the center of so many stories for so long." The end of religious warfare in what had once been called the Middle East had been a long and grueling process, and it was still part of the cultural memory of much of the region.

"It is a beautiful city," agreed Burke, looking wistfully out over the rows after rows of carefully abaondoned buildings, each one centered around the Third Temple that had been built and abandoned just a few centuries earlier. "It was more beautiful when more people lived here, though. The Masadans do all they can to keep the old traditions alive, but it's just not the same. It might have brought an end to the warfare here, but leaving the city so alone was a mistake."

"You think so?" Challenger asked him, giving him a curious look. She was hardly about to get into an argument about religion under the circumstances, but she was still fascinated by Burke's point of view. Most Masadans didn't enjoy talking to outsiders, much less dress in contemporary fashions. Perhaps he'd been raised elsewhere, or just become Confederationized. "I'd argue it's better for the city to be preserved as the landmark it is rather than to keep it as a bone for factions to fight over. Was it worth living here when all the old religions were fighting over this city?"

"It wasn't so bad. Contemporary accounts tend to exaggerate how awful the carnage was because people today don't understand the reasons behind it. For most people, life went on just as it always had. Indeed, things actually became so much better here. At least before the Great Crash, when so many old ties fell." He sighed, then added, "The thing about religions is that so few of them can pass the Outsider Test. How many people not born to the Unifiers, or Trickersterism, accept those teachings without great reason of their own?" Jenny had to admit that wasn't many. "What looks like the silly passions of a previous age were what people once lived and died for."

"But why do it now?" she asked him, pressing this man who had saved her life just a few minutes ago. "Why live here, with people carrying out old religions that hardly anyone outside believes anymore?" She was careful to keep the question honest, hoping not to offend her guest, or rather, host. "I don't want to sound judgmental," she asked. "But you're obviously not as doctrinaire as the others here. Why are you here?"

"Well, today I was here to catch you," Burke joked. "But why am I here every day, with these people?" Burke smiled again, thinly and tiredly. "Because I promised them I would be. They've been abandoned by so many people; by their leadership of their religions as they faded, by the Confederation as they moved out to the stars and left behind the people of Earth, by history that's moved beyond their world and their lives. They need someone here watching out for them; someone who genuinely cares about their welfare. And so I will be, until they're ready to leave."

After much work, they found the fault in the Temple wall that had led to Jenny's slip, and Burke acted as her safety spotter as she rappelled down over the old surface to chip away a small fragment of the mural on the wall: old Earth President Martel's face was still clearly recognizable after some centuries. Though she offered a space by her tent that night to Burke, he didn't seem interested in staying. "I have to get back to my work," he said, shaking her hand that evening once they were both back on the deserted Jerusalem streets. "After all, I'm the only one who does it these days. Goodbye, Dr. Challenger. I'll see you again." And with that, he was gone like a thief in the night.

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Gabriel

A Life of Sacrifice

March 19th, 2525

In this day and age, the church at the outskirts of Freedom City had seen better days. It wasn't precisely poor, but it was always tight on budget, and often this meant that things like the shingles or the paint were let go. Even with the constant presence of Doctor Metropolis, keeping the building from decaying to a truly unworkable state, the house of worship could easily be called “well wornâ€. Add to that the recent swell of popularity of the Unification movement, and it's easy to see why the old place is barely more than half-full on the best of days.

Still, the people who do attend have a sincerity to their faith, a contentment to their personage, that many others might lack. The group who ministers to the needs of the congregation are devoted and energetic, which helps at least maintain their current numbers. Today is an interesting day; normally, Mondays do not see a full gathering of the church body, though there may be small prayer meetings or the like. But today, they are gathered to remember a saint from days past, one whose deeds had grown (and faded) into legend. The quiet chatter, especially among the children, faded as the minister took the pulpit wearing his plain brown robe that indicated his status as senior minister. He was a kindly man, somewhere in his 70s with thin gray hair and a great big bushy beard that framed a mouth that was almost always set in a smile. He cleared his throat, took a sip of water from a conveniently placed glass, and began to speak.

“Brother and sisters, I know many of you looked forward to today. Each year, we gather here and tell the story of a great hero of the faith in ages gone by. Many have declared our faith outdated, irrelevant. That we can do no good. But each day, everyone one of us does good in some place, in some way. We look to these heroes of the past as examples we aspire to, as living proof we can make an impact on the world. Maybe we won't go around saving the city from the tyranny of some insane person in a gaudy costume, but we can still help others with our time and money.

Today, I wish to tell you of one of our greatest saints and heroes: Saint Gabriel the Lesser. He grew up as one like ourselves, a simple churchgoing man who found himself called to greater things. He is called “the Lesser†only for the comparison of his power, for he was still ultimately a mostly mortal man, instead of a true Archangel like Saint Gabriel the Greater, his patron.

It is said that centuries ago, Gabriel the Lesser was living a simple life, working to improve the life of his fellow brothers and sisters of humanity, when he was struck down in a terrible fight between roving criminal groups. Lying there in a side alley, overlooked by the frantic heroes working to quell the fight, his lifeblood flowed from his body. He cried, not because he feared death, but for the sadness it would bring his loved ones, and the missed chances to help more. He struggled out a simple prayer: “Lord, let me do more. Do not let me die this day with so much undone. Give me the chance and the means to help others.â€

And God answered!â€

The elderly preacher pointed his hand skyward, and the congregation clapped and cheered for several long moments. When they quieted, he continued.

“God sent the Archangel Gabriel! One of the Three Princes of Heaven! Leader of the Hosts That Sing Praise! Gabriel appeared to this mortal man, and offered him a choice.

He could stay as he was, and pass to his reward in Paradise. He would be with God, with the saints of old, and there would be no more pain!

Or! He could stay, and be transformed by a fragment of the Archangel's power. He would know hardship, and mockery, and see many horrors that most mortals should praise God they never witness.

For this humble servant of Christ, there was no choice at all.

“I accept your offer, mighty Gabriel. Give me the power to protect the innocent and save the forgotten.â€

With that, the Archangel placed a hand upon the man's wound, and he was healed! Power surged through him, and when the light faded, he was alone in the alley, standing on two strong feet. And what a change he had undergone!

He wore resplendent robes of white, which he somehow knew would protect him and resist damage and dirt alike. In his right hand, he had a shofar, made not of animal horn, but of brightest silver, shining with heavenly light! His head was hidden beneath a hood and a halo of light, so that all who looked upon him saw only an angel, not the man underneath. And upon his backs were wings as white as snow! More than all this, he now held within him part of the Song of Heaven! He knew some of the notes that had helped sing creation into existence! The Song that even know is sung before the very Throne of God! It was like a fire in his bones, one that would have made Jeremiah proud! He could not help but sing for joy and blow a note on that heavenly instrument!â€

By this point the congregation alternated between soft clapping, shouting “Amenâ€, and leaning forward in their seats to make sure they didn't miss a word.

“So it was that his words were infused with the power of the angels, so that all mankind would stop and consider, and so that the wicked might know the fear of the Lord's Justice! With a gesture the servants of darkness were sent to their knees! With a shout, the dark towers of the Enemy were toppled! With a blast of his shofar, he struck down armies! With but a thought it would be a great and terrible spear, that instrument modeled after the Horn of Gabriel, to strike at the foulest of foes! He was a shining light on a hill! He was a watchful protector! He spoke for those who thought they had no voice in the world; he defended the rights of the defenseless! He fought criminals, alien invaders, dark armies, the walking dead, terrible sorcerers, and even demons from the pits of Hell, the soldiers of Lucifer the Fallen!

Take heed, brothers and sisters; Gabriel the Lesser was not simply a hero against such enemies! He was an example for us all. He showed us that disagreement over our theology did not excuse us from the call to love everyone just as God did. He extended the hand of friendship to many. He championed the reformation of those who had previously committed crimes, for he knew we are all sinners before God! He strove to be a careful representative of the faith, never wavering in his beliefs, but always doing so with the utmost of love.

For countless years he stood in the gap and fought for all mankind, no matter their beliefs. He stayed a beacon of the faith, a Saint in the truest sense of the word. He fought against the darkness large and small for all the rest of his days. It is lost to time what his life was fully like; all we know is that he finally gave his life against an invasion from Hell, against the armies of the Devil! He gave his life that others might live, and that Evil would be turned away!

So it is that I challenge you. All of you, young and old, rich and poor, male and female, to be shining lights! We may not have the power of angles. But we have God's love. We have our own talents and resources. I implore you all, go out and do what you can. Change the world, even if it's for only one person!â€

There was another round of cheers, amens, and clapping, before the minister closed the meeting with a prayer and dismissed the congregation for the evening. They all filed out of the church, their spirits lifted, their minds whirling with possibilities. Individually, they were all simple men and women. But perhaps one day their efforts, put together, would change the world.

One of the people leaving the service was a young teenage boy, perhaps 17 years old. He'd come into the church on a lark, and had nearly left in the first 5 minutes. But something about the sincerity of everyone there had captured his attention; then, as the story continued, he'd become fascinated with it. Now he walked along, kicking his feet at the dirt as he traveled back to his home, one even further to the outskirts of Freedom City.

“Man, that would be kind of cool. Being able to make a difference on that scale. Sure the whole “make a difference where you are†thing is cool, but it'd be incredible to fight super-villains and save the day! But I'll never-oof!â€

He grunted as he tripped and nearly fell face-first onto the ground, only just managing to catch himself. He looked down to his feet...

And saw what looked like a half-buried musical instrument. A strangely curved horn made of somewhat dulled and tarnished silver sat there in the dirt. The boy's eyes widened, and he reached down to grasp it...

Sometimes, we're called to higher things in life.

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Myrmidon

The Lands Beyond

Glory of the Many

February 5, 2525 – Neo-Freedom University, Anthropology/Archeology wing.

“Please continue Doctor Lilienthal.†A man of Eurasian descent said to the petite woman, who was sitting at a desk in the front of him and his colleagues. “Thank you, Doctor. As I said, that is when I had found the coordinates at the Nifelheim dig site. I was trying to reconstructing data from one of the damaged computer banks of the base when I found the entry. Seeing a possible chance for finding another location of archeological significance I requested to my on-site supervisor, Dr. Tatiana Wagner permission to investigate.â€

“Did she?†The woman shook her head in affirmation. “Yes, but she wanted me back ASAP if there was nothing there, since I was the on-site expert at data reconstruction.†She replied. “And as your report here states, you found the presence of another SHADOW base at the location?†An older woman to the right of the man said. “Yes. It was located approximately 5,800 meters below the surface in the Laurentian Abyss. Scans indicated it was geothermally powered via tapping into one of the regions numerous hydrothermal vents. They also showed that it was structurally sound, but the readings indicated possible flooding in some areas. Entrance was gained by a moon pool, which was used for a submersible launch bay if the wreckage I documented there is any indication."

She touched a few keys, and a recording from her hazardous environment suit started playing on the wall behind her. The high intensity beam from the shoulder lamp cast eerie shadows as she looked around. It appeared like a war had taken place in here. There was the wreckage of some sort of submersible, its hull twisted open like a punctured vacuum-sealed meal. Carbon scoring marked numerous walls along with holes through some areas. She made her way to the main computer area, slogging through the dark and cold waist deep water. There was emergency power still on in some areas, a testament to the builders of this place. Adrianna narrated over the video as it showed her gaining access to the mainframe and downloading all the databanks which were luckily powered and non-flooded, before exiting out of the the base.

“I am not a specialist in physical archeology, so I left the facility for further investigation by an expert while I restored the data.†She pulled out a datapad and sent the recorded information to each of the three people in the panel.

“I understand that you have dispatched a formal expedition team there?†The last person to speak was some sort of being in a full survival suit, the voice distinctly alien. “Indeed. What can you tell us of your findings after reconstructing the data?†“I didn’t have to do much. The core was 95.7% intact.†At least one of three questioning her let loose a startled gasp as the others nearly shouting “WHAT!?†filled the small room.

“Yes. As you all know most of the computers from that era were damaged by the Solar Prominence of 2135. I suspect that this one was shielded due to its location and the structure being a hardened base. It is indeed an unprecedented find akin to the other great finds of history. Hopefully it will give us a firsthand look at the history of 500 years ago. The man spoke again. “Wasn’t it SHADOW protocol to destroy their mainframe?†Adrianna nodded once again, “Yes, that is indeed correct. But we have the group known as MYRMIDON to thank of preventing that.†The alien raised a gauntleted glove in question. “Pardon, Doctor Lillenthal. But the only information we have ever found about a ‘Myrmidon’ of that era is quite variable in the accounts. The most we have ever put together was that there was potentially a hero in the Freedom City area around the early half of the 21st century, and the rest is conjecture. That they were a whole organization is rather…“ She interrupted him, “A leap of logic. I know that Dr. T’Sarli. However…â€

Adrianna played another video file and it showed a squad of helmeted beings moving throughout the facility, effortlessly scything through the defenses as easily as a Kyrtarian lightblade through Helixia sandgrass. One of the black-clad intruders spotted one of the cameras, and the entire rest of them stopped and shot the cameras perfectly in sync. They did this for each room, the video feeds from the observation cameras sequentially going to static. “Luckily for us the audio pickups were not installed in the camera housings," Adrianna noted as an audio playback started. “This is Dr. Stayer, the base has been compromised. All personnel evacuate immediately. I repeat..." The sound of a nearby explosion cut off the man. The audio continued playing as the man gasped in panic and the sound of a autoblaster type weapon was heard. A flurry of movement sounded ending with the man groaning in pain. There was a new voice, very calm and collected. “That was an ill-advised move Dr. Stayer.†The doctor stuttered in a mixture of shock and pain. “W-Who are all of you? How d-did you even get in here?†The calm voice just said “Myrmidon,†as the audio cut out shortly thereafter.

Adrianna stood as the playback stopped. "Judging by the standard uniform, tactics, and weapons; it is my conjecture that this is a strike team from a covert organization aka MYRMIDON that was tasked in bringing about the downfall of SHADOW. Which accounts for the varying, well, accounts as you mentioned Dr. T'Sarli. As you can also see, the actions of this MYRMIDON group have interrupted the standard wiping of the computer core, giving us an unparalleled historical find. I suggest contacting the Freedom Legion specialists to further assist in this endeavor.â€

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Ironclad

Wading Way

Friday, May 4, 2525

The studio was filled with the bustle and work of a popular show just minutes before it went on. The hub of all the activity was an oval of tasteful carpeting and the two people seated there. The woman sat at her ease in a chair, her expression nonchalant, even bored. The tension in the room seemed to wash over her without leaving an impression. By contrast, he male companion on the rug was a wreck; well-dressed, but from the way he rubbed at his pant leg and picked at the arm rest on his chair, his nerves were stretched brittle.

She reached over and patted his knee. “It’ll be fine,†she assured him. “We’re using a diffused nanite cloud for the cameras, you won’t even notice they are there. Just try to imagine that you’re talking to me privately.â€

The man gave her a thin, nervous smile. “Except that ten billion people on four planets will be eavesdropping in.â€

The woman shrugged lightly. “The price of fame,†she said, smiling easily.

The various crew members quickly vacated the soundstage and red numbers appeared in the air, starting at ten and counting back. At the same time a voice seemed to come from everywhere at once. “On air in ten, nine, eight, seven…â€

The countdown finished and the numbers vanished. The woman focused on a point on the far wall and spoke in a carrying tone, “Welcome. I’m Res Stahl, and this is Happenings.†Rea resettled herself, transferring her focus to a different spot on the wall. “Tonight: the latest fashions from Titan; extra-solar music sensation the Nova

Bombs; and tri-holo actress Kev Lemon will be on to talk about his new project, an examination of non-human superheroes in the League. But first we’re talking to Professor Pete Tor. Professor Tor is heading up the Summers-Albright Heroics Museum’s exhibit on Twenty-First Century heroes. Professor Tor, welcome to the show!â€

The well-dressed man coughed nervously and made a game attempt at smiling in every direction at once. “It’s good to be on the show, Rea.â€

Silence stretched between the few for a few seconds until Rea broke it. “So tell us about some of the presentations the Museum has put together for the exhibit.â€

The professor had a moment of panic, but then rallied magnificently. “Well, one of the central heroes we’re focusing on is Ironclad.†He manipulated a computer built into the cuff of his jacket and a hologram built itself between the chairs. It was an armored female form built of overlapping red and steel-gray plates; eye-slits in the helmet glowed white-blue, and four wings made of faceted energy hung from her back. “Ironclad started fighting crime in the middle of 2010. Unlike many heroes of that era, she was quite open about many details of her career. For instance, we know her name was Jessica Parker; we know she used her connections with the now-defunct Dawes Tech to develop a suit of powered armor. Most of her suit’s capabilities came from very early dimensional manipulation technology that allowed her, among other things, to teleport from place to place and imprison her enemies in a personal dimension.â€

“So she was a powered-armor hero,†the host interjected. “Did she have any special abilities outside the suit?â€

The professor’s eyes nearly twinkled. The discussion had brought him quite out of himself and he had nearly forgotten about the ten billion on four planets. “Besides being an absolute genius? Well, Ironclad seemed to have a special rapport with machines and computers. There are reports that she exhibited so-called ‘technopathic’ powers, but towards the end of her life she appeared to burn them out.â€

“that sounds fascinating.†Rea’s enthusiasm had the ring of sincerity, and after a moment she focused on a point on the wall. “I’m sure all of our watchers will enjoy the exhibition, whether in the flesh or via telepresence. When we came back we’ll have Kev, and the Nova Bombs!â€

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Freedom City, 2525

In a botanica in Southside, a red candle is lit as beignets are laid out on a veve painted on the floor in ash. The mambo leans her head back, looking towards her visitors – husband and wife, the woman just seeing the swell of the early months. She raises her head towards the heavens and intones, “O Baron LeBlanc, watch over this child. See her way to this life, and guard her path from phantoms in the shadows.â€

In a bathroom in the West End, a young boy looks into the mirror as he turns the lights off. His friend Davey said he got the story for the Extranet, and that it was totally true. He steels himself and recites, “Cemetery Man, Cemetery Man. I rattle your gates and turn up your dirt. Cemetery Man, Cemetery Man. Tell me my fate and who wishes me hurt.â€

And in a study in the North End, a professor reads over old periodicals from before the Great Crash – a rare find, if stained and stressed from age. She deciphers what she can, and speaks into the transcription device.

“The Cemetery Man was said to have first appeared in 2007, working his way through the Southeastern United States. Tales report a man clad all in black with a pale, corpse-like face, who sought justice for the dead and exhibited unnatural powers when chasing down murderers. These tales may have risen around a baseline vigilante, or they may have represented the early days of the Freedom City figure – or may have inspired him.

“When the Cemetery Man first appears in Freedom City, he follows the path of the Southern figure, lurking in the shadows and tormenting criminals. As the years stretch on, however, he becomes more of a public figure, dealing with incidents that are written up as hauntings, magical disasters, and more mundane crime. Here the Cemetery Man acts like any other hero, sharing the limelight despite his dark garb.

“After a few years, the Cemetery Man becomes not just another hero, but a pan-mythic figure. There are tales of him facing off against the vodoun death god Baron Samedi – in fact, a figure clad in black hide with a white face known as Baron Le Blanc seems to have emerged among the Ghede in the Freedom City Vodoun tradition in the past few centuries. Other tales have him saving the city of Freedom from Hades, the Greek God of the Underworld, through trickery and fortitude.

“The strangest of these stories emerges around the middle of the 21st century, a sort of eschatological tale. It says that there came a day when the sky turned red and Death returned. Unlike the other Deaths, this one promised the end of all things – no Heaven, no Hell, no Purgatory, just cold and empty oblivion and the absence of everything. It’s said that on the day that Death returned and carved great rents in the earth with his men of steel, the Cemetery Man led an army of the dead – among them, those very gods of death. Izanami, Manannan mac Lir, Osiris – the gods of every Underworld emerged, leading battalions of dead soldiers, and at the head of their army stood the Cemetery Man. It’s said that once Death was defeated and confined in a place ‘beyond the threshold of reality’, the gods of death returned to their grim halls, carrying the Cemetery Man on a broken shield.

“It’s most likely that the Cemetery Man was just a vigilante with either a magical pedigree or the technological aptitude to adopt the guise of a grim defender. In any case, he was still a man, and probably passed away as a man does. Though if the current tales of him are any indicator, he at least his immortality as a figure of story.â€

And in another place, lit by shadows and made of stone, a man sits. His face is white, his clothes are black, and though he doesn’t look it, he is very old. Symbols of death cover his skin, and his hair reflects what small light comes into his manse. He hears the words pass through the ages, and he smiles.

'It's good to be talked about."

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(Post is for Dark Star…sort of)

An regular old elementary school somewhere in the far future

The male teacher circled the answer to the problem on the board with a nod. “Very good,†he said with a smile as he turned around to address the class of children somewhere around 10 or so in age. He was of indeterminate age really; he looked young but seemed to carry quite a bit of wisdom and history in those eyes. “Excellent work. Alright, now please remember, your test on non-Euclidean geometry is tomorrow. Make sure you review your notes and pay special attention to those formulas,†he said. He glanced up at the clock, noting there was less than 10 minutes left until the end of the day.

He ’hmmed’ to himself a moment, debating what to cover in the last few minutes. One of the students, raised her hand and spoke up. “Could you tell us some more about the twenty-first century heroes? The ones you were talking about in Social Studies today,†she quickly asked, knowing the teacher loved the subject almost as much as he did science and math.

The teacher chuckled a moment before nodding. “Oh, all right. But all of you better work extra hard for this test,†he admonished. “Hmm, let’s see. The Freedom League, yes that’s a good place to start,†he said half to himself. “As I mentioned, these were the men and women, and other of course, that put themselves on the line to defend the world against all threats. They were the greatest heroes of the age,†he said almost fondly.

“I’ve told you all about the original members like Captain Thunder, Daedalus, and the Centurian of course. But there were others that came after just as worth to proudly bear the honor of being a member in the Freedom League.†He stood, looking at the class, a half smile on his face as he continued. “There was the Freedom Angel, Doctor Archeville, and Dark Star as I’m sure you’re aware. But the most special of all was Fleur de Joie,†he said, voice almost wistful.

“She was the most amazing woman. She could stand side by side some of the most powerful being in history, and did! She took on dangers and villains that threatened to destroy the world or even to harm a single innocent life without a second thought to herself. Her bravery and depth of character were phenomenal to behold. But she was more than just a tough woman facing impossible odds with miraculous fortitude. She was also a brilliant woman and biologist in her own right. She knew more about plants, animals, even on how the world itself worked, than anyone. Incredibly gifted,†he said with a nod.

He got a sort of faraway look in his eyes for a moment. “But those tales, those actions don’t tell it all of course. None mentioned who she was inside, as a woman. She had beauty and grace that could not be compared or measured. And her heart, “ he said shaking his head in wonder, “her heart was filled with caring and love for everyone. She was always there to listen and to help, even with the little troubles people had. She spent her off time beautifying the cities, the parks and gardens just to bring life and color and joy into people’s lives. She was the most amazing woman,†he said once more, with a little sigh.

"She and Dark Star were married you, know," he said as an aside. "Together they faced down threats from countless villains, invasions from other worlds not to mention other dimensions. Together they were an unmatched pair. Their feelings for one another outshone their deeds, but not by much," he added with a chuckle. "For centuries the two of them travel everywhere, an inseparable pair fighting for others," he trailed off, his voice thoughtful. "They weren't always with each other of course. She was the 'mother or leader' of her own planet. It kept her quite busy."

"And Dark Star...well, he was what you could call overly dedicated and has a strong work ethic. He never stayed in any one system or planet for long unless She was there. He traveled the many galaxies, always there to help. He fought the World Eater many times, saved countless lives over and over. Fighting off invasions was like a hobby to him for a while there. But he never quit no matter what. Never bent his moral compass one iota...which caused him no end of grief at times. Still, despite some people's problems with his moral compass, he could always be counted on to be there someone when he was needed."

"He even died a few times you know. More than a few tried to take his power or just obliterate him. Some even succeeded; you can't fight the entire universe's evils without cost you know. But few every really understood what Dark Star was. He just kept coming back as determined as ever, sometimes barely a day later."

A different child raised their hand and spoke up as he finished. “But…whatever happened to her? We know Dark Star is still out there somewhere but where is she?,†the kid asked eagerly. Before the teacher could answer, the chime sounded signaling the period’s end. He smiled at them, a little melancholy for a moment before making it his normal happy one. “Ah well, time is up. I will see you all tomorrow. Don’t forget your homework on renewable energy sources and study for that test,†he said quickly as they students grabbed their things and quickly headed out.

He headed back to his desk, as the kids headed out. He smiled and waved goodbye to several amid calls of “See you tomorrow Mr. Lumins!†He spend a little while grading a few papers until the building grew quiet and everyone was gone. Safe and alone, he gestured and a small portal opened up. A moment later, the classroom was empty.

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June 2011 Vignette: Legend of the King of Suits.

In the first third of Earth year 2525, in orbit of the star Vega.

The crippled starship The Aspiration, emblazoned with the sign of the ancient Suit of Hearts, revolved slowly on its axis, scarred and blackened with wounds inflicted from within, heading inexorably towards the dwarf terrestrial planet Vegas Met, a green gem in an otherwise barren and gloomy system. the Aspiration rocked with a sudden explosion from the bridge that sent debris hurtling through the vacuum, and to the shining emerald below.

Within,Captain Parnesset Anslaleh jumped nimbly through the closing blast doors, leaving the ruined bridge behind him, and his quarry before him. Parnesset, a short, powerfully-built man of thirty years and mixed Earth-Jovian heritage, had managed to get the other colonists to the escape pods when he first learned of the threat on board, leaving himself purposefully alone with the secreted monster who otherwise might have vanished on Vegas Met. Said monster was an escapee from a prison for immortal super-villains, by all accounts nearly unstoppable, and by this point in his life almost totally removed from reality. At a junction between three halls, lights flickering fitfully, the floor strewn with cast-off toys and scraps of food, and all around he could hear the monster's mutterings in its gravelly voice: "N-n-n-now is there thr-three to be stabbed! All o-o-of them strings of bubbles....blood, where's my blood?". Panesset shuddered, a feeling of icy fear clawing at his chest that he did his best to ignore. He now had to choose where he went with utter care, for if he went the wrong way the monster could sneak up on him.

But what would he do if he did find the man? Fight him? Scare him? Talk him out of being crazy? He realized with a feeling like a black shroud covering his head that he had not the least idea what to do. He had disabled the ship, blown up the bridge to make sure there wasn't the least chance of accidental triggering of any of the ship's security functions(which would have only hindered him, the captain), destroyed all the weapons aboard save the ones that answered to his DNA alone, but he knew it wouldn't be enough. For the first time in his entire life, Parnesset knew he had no way of winning a battle. He fought with the idea, but the longer he stood and hearkened to the horror stumbling through the ship, just sane enough to keep from walking into space, the more fully he knew how hopeless his situation was. He thought of dashing to the pods himself. He could destroy the others easily, leave no chance for the monster to run from the vessel drifting to its doom..but no, the thing was immortal, with regeneration powers that dwarfed those of the Freedom Legion's own Caar-Bos, who could recover fully from a head-wound in under three seconds. Being burned up in entry would no more kill it than burning its fingers.

With a groan, Parnesset forced himself to follow the horrible sounds coming from the hallway to his left. As he ran quietly through the dimming halls into the Living Quarters, he thought back to the tale his crippled grandmother had told him once, after he had fought off two would-be muggers who had sought to take her new hoverchair in the city of Maliktu...

"There was once a man a lot like you in our family, little Parssenet" she had murmured, half-asleep. " He came from a family far removed from ours, a family of simple farmers and fishers of rivers-" she stopped, noting his puzzled expression, and calmly explained "trails of melted water, there used to be frozen water atop the mountains of Earth". Settling deeper into her chair, clicking the chair's mode from 'recliner' to massage-bed', she went on: "he didn't come because he wanted to, either. Like you, he was orphaned when he wasn't even old enough to walk. A supervillain attacked his parent's house, and though his father fought with the power of the stars on his side, the villain's plots were laid so deeply the stars faltered and could lend not their aid. His father dead, his mother Kyini fled to Africa, a terrible desert then, filled with millions of bandits. After many years of travelling through the wastes, Kyini was killed when the bandits fought against her en mass, flinging their millions against her and her son. The bandits were slaughtered to the last man, and her son awoke to the power of the stars! He served as the guardian of the ancient city of Tiumbkuattu, along with his comrades-in-arms the Circle of Freezers, who sought to still the shifting sands"

Taking a sip of wine from the stand nearby, the matriarch cast her mind's eye back into he distant past, to an evening over a century ago when her grandmother had told her this story. She had a nagging feeling she had forgotten something, but plowed on regardless. "After a few years of guarding the legendary city, a place of peace and prosperity, the son, Massou, left the place when his adopters were placed in danger by his presence, defeating two-score and seventy of the supervillain's forces. He showed no fear in his battle, though it destroyed the only happiness he had had in life. He left for the land of the Balkites, in what is now Koserbvio, where he met the ones who led him to his final destiny: the House of Cards! A group of heroes gifted with the powers of the four Suits, who trained Massou, your ancient kinsman, in the usage of his stellar might. Thus empowered, Massou traveled to Freedom, where he fought with valor for many years. Now, this is where you must play close attention: one night, when Massou was walking unseen through the streets of what is now the Fens, he stumbled upon a giant metal man preparing to kill the machinist who had built it. Even Massou wasn't strong enough to beat it on his own. There was no time to call for help, however, so he dashed forward and caught the metal man's blow with his right arm, while with his left he shoved the machinist into the street, and ordered him to call for help. The help came quickly, less than a minute, but no quickly enough. It turned out that Massou had, while distracting the robot, been surrounded by the robot's fellow machines. His end came quickly" she gave a small sigh, she had always hated that part "however, because of his actions, the robots were distracted from their goal: the destruction of a gathering of junior mages. They would have been helpless before such an onslaught, and it was only narrowly that they escaped. So remember: if you choose to make a habit of helping others, you must be prepared to sacrifice your life for the ones you wish to save..."

...and then Parnesset realized the now-blatantly obvious tack he could take. An experimental device was aboard the colony ship, a machine that enveloped the ship in a field that distorted the flow of time, to the point where it ceased. The device was intended to be used in the event that a catastrophe could by no other means be avoided. On the plus side, nothing could ever harm the ship until the device's battery ran out, which would give whomever around 13000 years until the catastrophe occurred. On the negative side...everyone aboard would be frozen in time until that time, and then they would have to trust that there wouldn't be a malfunction that would turn them all to dust when the field dissipated.

Still, the captain had no other option that kept his ship safe from the monster, so he steeled his resolve and, leaving the Living Quarters behind, went racing to the Engine Room, where the device and Cold Fusion generator were kept. On he ran, metal halls a slowly-deadening blur around him as he honed his senses to the task of hearing the monster's cries. The monster, however, was far away, tearing apart some child's toy from the sounds of angry shredding of cloth. He came at last to the Temporal Emancipation Node, a large spherical object as tall as he was, its only features a single button and a gauge that showed how much power was available for the field. Parnesset reached out his hand and froze, terror slowly growing in him, the questions buzzing through his head, will I die? Awaken to find that creature devouring me? Go back in time? What will happen to me?. Then he realized that none of that mattered, that his ancestor hadn't died wondering what would happen to him, rather, what would happen to them? He turned to look out the small holographic window, saw the beautiful world spread out beneath him, and hesitated no longer. He closed his eyes, thought of his unborn daughter, smiled and pressed the button.

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"The Age of Aquarius"

"Every nail driven should be as another rivet in the machine of the universe, you carrying on the work." - Henry David Thoreau

Terra Nova Station, high orbit Mars

August 2525

A blonde woman walked down a white hallway. She was chipper as ever, cheerfully explaining protocol to her companion. The young woman following her couldn’t quite decide which had more plastic: the blonde’s face or her datapad. When the happy woman turned, bundles of optical cables glowed from the missing half of her face plate.

“Virtual Reality Orientation is scheduled for the next two hours. I will have your travel itinerary ready when you’re finished. Have a great day!†said the blonde as she cycled open a circular door.

Hard light projectors lined the dull gray interior, and navigation lines lit up the floor. Stepping into the designated circle, the room went dark save for a cylinder of light. With a flash the room was gone, replaced by the gleaming chrome and curves of a starship bridge. The busy crew appeared to be humanoid cats! If that wasn’t amazing enough, the woman gasped at how large Sol looked shining on Earth’s atmosphere.

The rising sun flooded the bridge with light, and a male voice narrated over the address system, “Archimedia is proud to be the longest-running human multimedia company. After the electronics crisis of the mid 22nd century, virtually all digital media-heavy businesses collapsed, but not Archimedia! Our forward-thinking attitude and the core principles laid down by our founder have not only allowed us to weather the most difficult of times but retain our position as a leader in the industry.â€

“Today’s orientation will include the basic policies, educational options and the founding of our company. At any time you can say ‘I would like to know more’ for further information or ‘Console’ for additional options. Let’s begin shall we?â€

At that, an iris dome cycled open above her. The roar of jet engines proceeded the landing of a massive armored suit. Shining in titanium gold, white and blue, the suit came to a rest in front of the new employee. The overlapping plates retracted, and out stepped a Middle-Eastern woman in a matching blue dress and white boots.

Shaking Ms. Witherspoon’s hand, the woman smiled, “Hi! Welcome aboard Archimedes I! My name is Mona Teymourian, the founder of Archimedia. I’m here to tell you a little about the history of our company. Archimedia was founded in the late 1960s as a publishing house for print media. We soon branched out into film, television and early digital properties on the Interweb 1.0 and 2.0. By the early 21st century, Archimedia was a global organization worth trillions in today’s c-bills.â€

As she spoke, two egg-shaped chairs scooped up the pair. “Archimedia is the sister company of ArcheTech, founded by my husband, Dr. Viktor Archeville. Both Viktor and I spent many years as heroes during the mid 20th century, and we amassed quite a fortune as both independent and team-oriented adventurers. While we continued our hero work, expanding our avenues of philanthropy lead to the idea of progressive corporations based not on profit but on improving the human condition.â€

As the virtual Mona spoke, holographic panels appeared in the air and illustrated the topic at hand. One restored photographed showed a handsome Northern European man with blond hair and blue eyes. Slideshows of early Archimedia comic books and novels slid across the screens. Mona’s original photograph proved more damaged, only revealing her face. The respective logos for Archimedia and ArcheTech appeared on the main screen.

“To that end, Viktor created ArcheTech as a top-flight scientific research and development laboratory. In turn Archimedia was founded on our motto and three core principles, ‘Education. Enrichment. Entertainment.’ I strived to provide not only high-quality products for all tastes, but to provide learning opportunities regardless of the user’s walk-of-life. At this time in human history, wealth disparities denied billions of individuals the Equality of Opportunity enshrined in our Global Constitution.â€

“Archimedia continues to strive for civic responsibility and good-faith business practices. Before we continue, do you have any questions?†The simulation smiled and waited with a machine’s patience.

“Yes, yes I do, actually,†replied Ms. Witherspoon timidly. “What is that suit? Did you wear that for heroing?â€

“An excellent question,†replied virtual Mona as she patted the suit, pride evident in her voice, “Yes, I did! This suit is Fulcrum VI, an advanced power armor pioneered by yours truly. Fulcrum is built on impervium-based memory metals and an electroactive polymer musculature interlaced with neuro-optical relays. She has full NBC rating and short-term life support. Although her reactor could handle various energy weapons, I disliked weapons in general and instead channeled her considerable energy into thrust boosters and mass-acceleration systems. As a result, not only is the suit nearly indestructible, she can fly at supersonic speeds and exert millions of kilograms of pressure per square centimeter!â€

“I’ve heard of Dr. Archeville from the Freedom League. Fulcrum doesn’t sound familiar though. Was she...were you a member?â€

Virtual Mona shook her head and replied sadly, “We don’t know. The records for that time period are particularly sketchy. The full roster of members has been lost. We do know however that I spent a great deal of time with a heroic rescue-and-intervention team known as The Interceptors. Very little is known about this elusive organization save that it operated in what is now Earth’s Western Badlands.â€

Ms. Witherspoon froze a moment and thought about a recent news story...

“I would like to know more.â€

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Sanctuary, 2525

“Ladies and gentlemen, please be careful as you disembark and make your way around to the north side for a look at one of the oldest and most curious structures this part of Sanctuary has to offer!â€

The group - tourists to the last of them - murmur to themselves as they regard the landmark: a number of sculptures crafted from all manner of rocks, featuring everything from giant pots to abstract art and more, but on a truly strange scale. Some pieces at a reasonable size while others are as big as houses, and the dragon is...well, dragon-sized! Most of it is overgrown, moss and vines hanging here or there, but the entire site is remarkably well-preserved.

“The majority of the pieces of art you see before you were apparently made right here, where you’re standing; a select few were moved here after being found elsewhere in the strangest places - mountaintops, caverns, you name it! They’ve existed as long as anyone can remember, unsigned and withstanding every bit of weather the world throws at them.â€

The people have spread out now, encouraged by the tour guides to go right up and touch the stone sculptures. And the announcer is right: under the moss and vines, behind just a tiny bit of weathering, every piece is strong and solid. Fragile-looking details easily hold the weight of a man, etchings and carvings are still recognizable in all their detail.

“Now, the true identity of their creator was lost to us, but if you were to ask one of the bees -†There’s a pause here while the bees in the crowd make pleased buzzing sounds, with low (for bees) murmurs of ‘THATZ UZ’. “- he’s believed to be the mysterious Builder brought to this world by the Earth Mother, a spirit of the earth called to craft the land itself to her needs and the needs of her people. Legends say he made everything from these sculptures to the original, ancestral beehive to the ruins that happen to be the next stop on our trip! Of course, some people say this is all a bunch of folklore....†The announcer winks, flashing the smile that’s kept her on this tour for the last several years. “....but I bet they never do it to a bee’s face.â€

There’s laughter and amused buzzing, and the group begins shuffling its way back toward their ride. Children are pulled off a smooth obsidian horse, an old man gets up off a flower-etched throne, and a pet is pulled away, still not believing that the dragon isn’t a big monster out to eat its family.

The announcer has already begun talking about that next stop, discussing how scientists couldn’t figure out why the castle could have taken so much damage without being dropped out of the sky or something (which never fails to get a few laughs); the last one to climb aboard before the tour moves on is an older gentleman who paused to gaze at a massive pot covered in engravings of times gone by. One side has a suspiciously bee-sized hole in it; as the tour moves on and the tourists’ attention is forward, he smiles to himself and gestures. The pot, unseen, repairs itself, shards putting themselves back together as if they’ve only now remembered where they’re supposed to be.

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K. Erin Hunter

from Holopedia, the free 3-D wikcyclopedia

Keeley Erin Hunter, better known as Erin Hunter or the superheroine Wonder (ca. 1992- February 17, 2054) was a minor costumed hero in Freedom City during the post-Centurion era of the early 21st century and the first openly metahuman Secret Service agent. She is best known for sacrificing her life to protect President Linda M. Chu during the Grue Unity Invasion of 2054. Hunter successfully repelled an entire invasion fleet and kept it from descending upon the White House for over an hour while the President was taken to safety, but was killed in the fight. She was buried in Old Arlington National Cemetery.

Life

Little is known of Hunter's early years. She was born Keeley Erin White (or Erin Keeley White, according to some accounts) in Seattle, Washington in 1992, and attended college at the University of Washington before moving to Freedom City. While living there, she manifested metahuman abilities including phenomenal strength and endurance, flight, invisibility, fear projection, and pretercognition. She used these skills to become a costumed hero, a common avocation for the superpowered even then, and took on the moniker Wonder (or Wander, according to some sources). Contemporary records hint at personal tragedies in her early history, but there is no indication of what those might have been. Hunter continued hero work in Freedom City through the mid- 2020s, always under a pseudonym. During this period she married a wealthy local philanthropist named Trevor Hunter. The couple had several children in the 2020s, and remained married until Erin Hunter's death.

Somewhere around 2025, Erin Hunter joined the United States Secret Service, the elite federal agency charged with protecting the nation's highest officials. In order to join the agency, Hunter had to reveal her secret identity, making her the first openly serving metahuman in the Secret Service. She was credited in the foiling of several assassination attempts over the next three decades, including an attempt by a Grue infiltrator posing as Vice President Michael Harris in 2037. Some historians theorize that the mere presence of a former superhero was enough to forestall a certain amount of violence against those she was assigned to protect.

2054 Invasion

Main Article: Grue Unity Invasion of 2054

During the planetwide Grue Invasion on February 17, 2054, an entire battle fleet of Grue ships descended over Washington D.C, intent on capturing President Linda Chu and members of the Cabinet who were in the city at the time. The fleet destroyed the Army and Air Force units initially scrambled to fight them, but were stalled in the air by Hunter's singlehanded assault on the invaders. Flying and leaping from ship to ship, she damaged each one sufficiently to take it out of the fight without sending them crashing into the overcrowded city below. Estimates of Grue casualties range from twenty to fifty ships so disabled in the thirty minute air battle. During the fight, other agents and superheroes had time to evacuate the President and her family as well as other high-level officials from Washington DC.

With the air battle at a standstill and with other metahumans coming to assist in the defense, the lead Grue ship changed its tactics and launched a suicide dive at the White House itself. Hunter moved to intercept, throwing herself at the giant vessel and knocking it off course so that it crashed into the grassy expanse south of the building. Due to her position at the ship's prow, Hunter hit the ground with the ship and was badly injured by the impact and then by the high temperatures and radiation of the burning Grue fuel core. She was pulled from the wreckage but died at the scene of the crash. She was sixty-six years old at the time of her death.

Legacy

Erin Hunter was buried with full honors at the old Arlington National Cemetery, in a location that has since been lost to time. There are records of Secret Service agents being cited with the Hunter Award for Valor into the mid-twenty-second century, when that organization was folded into the Governmental Protection Bureau. An impervium plaque still stands on the grounds of the Hunter Museum in Freedom City, where she lived during her Freedom City career.

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Freedom City, 2525

The dark haired, bright haired young boy struggled against the covers as his mother tucked him in. "Story!" The mother smiled.

"What story do you want to hear?" she smiled, already knowing the answer.

"Geckoman!" the boy cried, and the mother smiled and sat down on the bed beside her son.

"OK," she said. "This was a long, long, long time ago, back in the days of Queen Victoria, and the regime of the Communazis. They didn't have all the luxuries we had. They didn't even have space shuttles. They couldn't even fly to different countries!"

"That's a long time ago," nodded the boy sagely.

"Yes, it is. But they had these things called "airplanes", which could fly, but nowhere near so well as our shuttles. And the Geckoman started out as a little boy, when they first tested these airplanes. But, because they were new, it crashed deep into the darkest jungles, leaving the poor boy as the only survivor."

"Oh no!" gasped the boy, putting his hands to his mouth. "What happened to him?"

"No one knows for sure. But ten years later, out of the jungle came a strapping young man, tough, fast and strong, able to climb the tallest trees and buildings like they were nothing. The expedition which found him took him back to Freedom City, and sold him at an auction as a slave."

"The meanies!"

"Yes, they were very bad men. But, during the auction, something terrible happened. A wicked witch decided to attack, and steal all the slaves. She threw lightning and fireballs down, and injured a lot of innocent people. Which is when the Geckoman struck. He hadn't really been captured. He'd just wanted to go home at long last."

"So what did he do?" asked the boy with wide eyes. The mother just smirked.

"He tore open his ropes like they were made of paper, and fought the wicked witch, dodging every lightning bolt and bringing her to justice. And when he was done, the mayor took a personal interest in him, and made him a protector of the city. Which was good, as the worst was yet to come. The Communazis!" she proclaimed dramatically.

"OH NO!"

"Led by the armoured fiend, Adolf Stalin, they stormed the city in their giant hot air balloons, and repelled the city's soldiers and police easily. Things looked hopeless, and Geckoman never showed up." The boy looked disappointed at this last part.

"Why didn't he help them?" he said sadly.

"Wait, you'll find out," winked the mother. "So Adolf Stalin stood on the steps of the City Hall, and proclaimed that all the people should kneel down, he was in charge. Until everyone looked up and saw a broomstick soaring in from above at high speed. Geckoman and the witch flew down, and in front of the whole city, fought an army of Communazis, blowing up their attack balloons, punching out their armoured gun knights, and finally, Adolf Stalin and Geckoman duelled atop the tallest building in the city. Geckoman was shot with laser rays, and Stalin thrown around by a strong jungle boy, neither managing to gain the upper hand for long."

The boy had held his breath through all this last part, only managing to force out a quiet "Who won?"

"Geckoman threw Stalin from the top of the tower, breaking his jetpack and stealing his raygun so he couldn't escape. So, Stalin was dead, and the city was saved!"

"Woooooow... and what happened to the Geckoman?" asked the boy, leaning back on his pillow as his mother tucked him in again.

"He married the witch," she said, kissing her son on the head. "And they lived happily ever after."


Cas Gan stepped out onto the balcony, having done her nightly pre-patrol ritual of telling her son a story, and kissing her husband. Her brown hair was tied back in a ponytail, and the nanomachine suit was folding out over her, forming a full body protective covering, which not only armoured her with metal but extended an electromagnetic force field mere millimetres from her skin.

She smiled, thinking back to the stories of her great-great-great-great, and many more greats, great-grandfather. For centuries now, they'd all had at least one member of each generation become either the Geckoman, Geckowoman or Green Gecko. And she was this generation's one. No longer quite sure of the original story, but proud to be part of it anyway.

She pulled on her orange goggles. And the Green Gecko of 2525 slid down the side of the building, feet effortlessly clinging to sheer metal surfaces as she bounded off into the night.

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Citizen

The Lands Beyond

Out Into The World

2525

Kaisokusen Colony

Triton

Neptunian Orbit

"...I don't get it." Sitting on her bed, Neptunia, aka Arna Ideen, studied her lover in his new costume, trying to keep the bafflement off her face. She loved Sieg-El with the fierce intensity of any young woman in her early twenties, having known him since they were both teen sidekicks to the adult heroes of the Legion, but sometimes she thought she didn't understand him. A descendant of the first human settlers in trans-Uranian space, Arna's interests lay in practical fields like plasma manipulation, genetic modification, and interstellar politics. The Ultiman Sieg-El, however, had an interest in history; particularly the history of the Earth that had once been his people's home. Though she'd absorbed a great deal from him, he always seemed to expect everyone else to get his references. "I mean, don't get me wrong," she admitted. "Citizen is a better name than Ultilad. But what's so special about it?" Between them, they were heads of the Triton Teens, the Legion group charged with defending the fringes of the Sol System from space pirates and other threats. If her partner was going to change his name up, they had to have something they could tell the young people about it.

Sieg-El sighed, a wry smile on his face as he sat next to her on the bed, its organic metal body shifting to accomodate his weight. Putting his arm around the azure-skinned Neptunian, the square-jawed young paragon said, "Actually, Arna, this one's pretty obscure, but I think it's important. You remember a few years ago, right after the Legion pulled me out of the Zone, when I was adventuring with the Centurion?" Arna nodded, though of course it wasn't really a tough question: Sieg-El had been the junior partner of the new Centurion for several years before leaving to join the Legion, then going on reserve status to head the Tritans. Most people in the System still thought of him as the Centurion's sidekick, really, especially since his powers meant he aged so slowly that even a decade out of the Zero Zone he still looked 17. She and he were still the subject of ribald jokes when they went back to Earth. "Well, one of the first places we went was Tronik. We spent a long time there, met some very interesting people, and they told me about the first Citizen."

Arna sensed a story coming, but if she didn't at least tolerate elaborate historical anecdotes, she wouldn't have been with Sieg-El in the first place. "So Citizen is the native heroes of Eris?" she hazarded. She'd never been to Eris herself (as no organic people lived there, her biokinetic powers wouldn't have been terribly useful in a fight or rescue work), but of course she knew about Tronik, the ancient machine city that had been placed there centuries earlier by Earth heroes after Tronik had wandered into the Sol System thanks to the machinations of the Curator. "Won't it be confusing if we ever have to jack in there and they mistake you for the local version?" she joked half-seriously, remembering what had happened when they'd tried to visit the Lucas-settled colonies on Titan.

"There are a lot of Citizens in Tronik nowadays," said Sieg-El with a little shrug. "It's actually the name of their local militia brigade, among other things. But no heroes of their own, at least, not yet. Citizen was...he was something else. Way back in their early history, Citizen was the very first AI in Tronik to develop superpowers. He was faster than a laser, more powerful than an antigrav train, the works: he could even leave Tronik and upload himself onto the old Net, where he-"

Neptunia's jaw dropped at the audacious story she was hearing, which was at least a lot more interesting than Sieg-El's usual stories. "Mazerei," she swore in her native Tritonian, "a Tronik machine intelligence went out on the old 'Net? The one before the Great Crash, with the copper-wire and IR network base? Well he was brave, I'll give him that much. I'm surprised that didn't fry every one of those old integrated circuits."

"Hey, they had good scientists even then," said Sieg-El, a little defensively. Computers weren't his area of expertise either when you got right down to it. "Anyway...he even was able to leave the Net and make the first contact with heroes outside like the first Centurion. He helped repair Tronik's systems when they were failing and was their local hero for decades afterwards. With his partners, Dragonfire and Lady Americana, he saved their city, and the whole world, time and time again. He even did some adventuring outside for a while, all over old Earth. I actually found an old solid-medium picture of him in Claremont," he added, "so he must have been a teacher there at some point."

Neptunia was a Claremont grad too, but of course she'd have had to be a computer brain herself to know the names and faces of every graduate that century, much less one who'd lived and died five hundred years earlier. "So what happened?" his lover asked, frowning again. "Why isn't he better-known, if he was such a great hero back in the day?" Records of the early 21st century were pretty scarce, but on the other hand it was still much better represented than the late 21st and 22nd centuries; all-digital ages who had lost all their records on the Great Crash. It wasn't hard to guess what might have happened to a machine hero active before the Great Crash, though, and sure enough Sieg-El confirmed her theory a moment later.

"He married, had a family, even a dynasty in Tronik...but then the Great Crash came," said Sieg-El, his smile downturning. "The first Citizen was long since gone by then, of course. The last Citizen died severing Tronik's connection to the 'Net, saving everyone she could. They built a museum to honor the old legacy, but they didn't start having their own heroes again until the Confederation contacted them again a few decades ago. The Tronikians who had an interest in the outside world were mostly outside when the Crash came, so they either died or had to make their own way, and the city lost interest in him for a while. Even the name was mostly honorary. It's only recently they've revived the story at all."

Neptunia considered that one for a moment. "Mm. Well, if Citizen X comes out of Tronik and wants to join the Legion next year, you have to tell him why you stole his people's name," said Arna with a thin smile. "I like the name, though. It's novel, it means something important to you, and people will get what it means, the part about civic duty, even if they don't know the story."

"It's a good story," agreed Citizen, glad that this was going so well. "It's a story about a hero who came from nowhere, saved people who barely understood him, and retired to live a long and happy life." He put his hand on Neptunia's heart and smiled. "He's a good role model, I think."

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Cobalt Templar

Horse of a Different Color

AD 2525

Long ago, in a land far across the sea from the great Freedom City, there was a prosperous land beset by many enemies. One day, many of the wisest and most powerful mages of the land gathered together. Individually, they could call upon the primal power of creation, the fire that forged the world, and had equal potential to destroy, if necessary. They would equip a small group of champions with the power to face armies.

Seven weapons they forged. Seven champions they chose. Each empowered in a different way, by a different virtue. Individually, they were powerful, but together, they were virtually invincible. Their Leader bore a Sword that burned with the Fire of Willpower, that harnessed the Holy powers of Creation and Judgement. But all good things come to an end.

It came to pass that some of the warriors fell away from their mission. In one way or another, they were corrupted, and they fell to tyranny of one kind or another. Time passed, and their weapons were lost, buried for centuries, to be discovered by those who were worthy in the future.Until one day, a long time after it was buried, the Sword was found again.

It was not discovered by a mighty warrior, a noble diplomat, a leader of men of any sort. Instead, it was a boy on the cusp of manhood, who was exploring an ancient site for the sheer joy of knowledge. He came upon the sword; it chose him. From that day forward, he was no longer a mere young adult. He was a champion of good, who took a champion's name: Cobalt Templar.

An imposing sight he was, clad head to toe in enchanted armor that the sword could summon at will; it made him appear as a knight of old, yet was sleeker than any armor such knights had borne in the days of yore. The sword itself was a mighty tool, able to raise walls, or bring them down just as easily; it extended his reach with a ghostly hand of fire, and allowed him to strike enemies near and far. Even more amazingly, he could fly across the sky as he rode a horse of brilliant blue flames, its hooves leaving a terrible fiery trail across the clouds.

For many years this Templar fought the good fight; he battled foes of all shapes and sizes, sometimes being applauded as a hero, but sometimes fighting battles no one ever really heard about. He worked with many of the other great heroes of the age, and together their fellowship was an unstoppable force. He even found love among his peers, with a woman of otherworldly beauty who he shared his inmost being with. Their love was subtle and powerful all at once, and it was a bond set for the ages. Through it all, he was a champion for the attacked, the oppressed, the innocent, the powerless. He was a true warrior-protector, and he never lost sight of his mission in life.

But as years passed to decades, the Templar discovered a gift that could be seen as a curse: while many of his friends aged, and eventually died, he himself was forever young. He and his love sat and watched as the world changed around them. It took many decades, centuries even, but the day came where he knew his time on this world had passed.

So it was that one day his sword was found driven into a stone in the wilderness outside Freedom City. The rock bore an inscription: "Only one who is worthy of the Fires of Creation will draw forth this sword. Only one whose Willpower is unbreakable can call upon this Sword." Of the Templar, there was no sign. It was as if he had vanished into thin air!

To this day, the sword sits in that stone. Waiting, watching, for the day when a worthy person comes along to use its mighty power.

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