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Slave to Time (IC)

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The spirits were different. Or at least - appeared - different.

Both of them were women. Both of them were the incarnate spirit of some idea, some land. Victory and Justice. Perhaps they were one and the same, perhaps not. Even the two superheroes which served each spirit, El Heraldo and Young Britannia, were not privy to their true nature.

No doubt a thousand other such spirits (or aspect of one) existed, some given manifest form, some not.

However, only two superheroes of these spirits were in Freedom City at this point. And they were chosen.

For the message was the same.

"I call upon you. Another force like I stirs, but a force malign. The spirit of Lemuria, the serpent empire.
It is the spirit of slavery, and cruelty, and dominance.
It's chains could break the world...
In the War of this land, it was defeated,
But now, history may be rewritten...

Without talking, speaking, or hearing, somehow both heroes knew where to look. Freedom City Library.

The cults of the American Civil War. By Professor James Bottle

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Subito Sondo, current wielder of the might of the Blue Dame of Puerto Rico, did not normally frequent libraries. The Claremont student used his school's library facilities often enough, but he didn't go to them in his spare time, and never had. He had a lingering notion that people 'like' him weren't supposed to go to bookish places, which he decided must be so that the bookish could read in peace without blunderers like him charging around.

So it was with no little nervousness that he walked into the city library, doffing his Claremont school baseball cap, in answer of the summons by his spiritual patron. "Mebbe get Rodrigo something while I'm here" he muttered, eyes rapidly scanning the unfamiliar interior, twirling his cousin's library card around his forefinger. His moody cousin had been quite amenable to lending the card to Subito, surprisingly so, and he felt an urge to repay that generosity.

Walking quickly up to the front desk he suddenly felt very conspicuous, something that rarely happened. With his battered running shoes(beaten from randomly running through some positively hellish terrain in the city), carefully repaired blue jeans, and bright yellow t-shirt. Approaching what looked like the front desk he smiled politely and asked "'Scuse me, I'm looking for a book called "The cults of the American Civil War" by a Prof. James Bottle, is it available"

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It had been a near perfect plan, both of them had a little spare time so they had decided to skip the meal and go straight for the desert. And what a desert it would have been, silk sheets, some racy underwear she’d even put on a little Barry White. Then the message had hit her like a freight train of cold ice.

So instead of Agnes’s fun time hour, or two, she was walking into Freedom Cities Central library looking for a book on an Easter Egg hunt from a cryptic clue from a possibly sadistic spirit. And apparently she wasn't alone in her little "quest".

“What a coincidence I was looking for the same book.â€

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Subito gave a start at the voice, Nah, it's a coincidence, she just sounds like Ms. Avebury he told himself, he turned and opened his mouth to say something politely about how he really needed this book for an assignment, and perhaps they could find it somewhere else? It was bound to have a copy somewhere.

What he actually said was "Really? I'm sor-Annice Avebury!" he gasped, blushing as he realized that he had almost shouted in a library, something cultural osmosis had ironed into his head as a Bad Thing. Coughing slightly he spoke in a much quieter tone "I beg your pardon, Ms. Avebury, go right ahead. With any luck another library will have it" he added, stepping aside from the desk. Curiosity nagged at him: was she in school around here? Was she a history buff? Was this book really popular in some circle? Was she in a cult herself and had heard that hers was chronicled in the book and she wanted to see how it had been treated by the author? The buzz of questions was thankfully centered around one specific fact: she wanted the book, and he had no real reason to begrudge her its use but even so...

"I don't mean t'pry, Ms. Avebury" he said "but I must admit I never could have guessed you were interested in 19th century cults in America"

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Well that disguise was worthless…

As she’d teleported herself in she only has the clothes she had been wearing were suitable for certain fan-boys (and girls) fantasies perhaps, but not for the library. So she had to rely on the old standby of an oversized hoodie and sunglasses. Some people would have got upset at being spotted by a fan, but the one thing she’d learned was that fan’s, on any level, were to be nurtured. Besides his breathless enthusiasm was kinda cute.

“Please call me Agnes, or Ms Stone if you must. It’s a pleasure to meet you…?†she held out a hand “And as for the book…â€

“…well a spirit, possibly crazy, told me to find this book…†she gave a big grin “Actually I’m doing research for a… concept album, yeah a possible concept album.â€

She look a little thoughtful and then added.

“Look I’m only going to need this for an afternoon tops. How about I buy you a burger and once I’ve finished you can take the book away with you.†she turned a smiled at the librarian “That’s if you have a copy…â€

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"Very kind of you Mz. Stone, but I'm afraid I'll have to decline the burger part, my family's still on Lent, you see" he explained casually "and not consuming meat happens to be one of the restrictions we've placed upon ourselves" he was more than a little surprised at the cover story, remarking "That'd certainly be good for sheer unexpectedness, nobody's ever made so much as a piece about 1800's American cults to my knowledge" Which is pretty darned sparse on that front he thought drily to himself. He still needed something for Rodrigo, however... "I'll be right back, I just need to get a few other books while I'm here" he smiled politely and went rapidly off to find something by one of those writers his cousin liked...

Returning with a stack of hardcover books that reached up to his shoulders, he placed them with care on the bench next to the self-checkout scanner and began the serene process of checking them out.

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The librarian was a thin, young, pale woman, with the trappings of "Goth" that had been polished off for the job. She was actually quite interested and engaged.

"The cults...?" she asked, enthusiastically "yeah, I remember that book. Think I may have read it a few years back...I majored in history and literature" she said, proudly. "Ended up a Librarian! eh, the hours are good!" she smiled.

She took Agnes and Subito to the history section, full of endless shelves of books.

"Yeah, its out of date now, of course, written fifty years ago by Bottle, but the dude knew his stuff...and its such a specialist area, I guess nobody else has written anything on it. Guess he is referenced a fair bit now..."

Her finger traced a line until she came to the book. It was a rather well made red covered hardback book, but it was looking very dog eared. It was thirty years old (the last time it was reprinted) and whilst it had never seen heavy use, and the Library did their best, it was looking worse for the wear.

"Course, a lot of it was speculation, and he came under fire for some of his more melodramatic conclusions. Heh, apparently he kept the really insane stuff to himself, never published it..."

She clicked her fingers.

"Now I remember! yeah, so like, a dude came here a month ago asking for that book! that's why I remembered this book!"

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The brief history lesson sailed over the stocky teen's head. The American Civil War hadn't been an area of study he'd gotten into much. He knew the basics about it, but nothing much more.

"Now I remember! yeah, so like, a dude came here a month ago asking for that book! that's why I remembered this book!"

"'A dude'?" echoed Subito "Like an older guy, or someone closer to my age? Dunno much about Prof. Bottle" he admitted "but I'm pretty sure he's a pretty niche author. They some university student at FCU?" he watched with casual interest as Annice pored over the book "Thanks for takin' us to it by the way, probably would have taken a while to find it ourselves" he added, glancing around at the dizzying rows of reading material flanking the trio.

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Agnes wandered behind the two down the aisle humming to herself a Sisters of Mercy tune whilst listening to the young woman going on about the book, and then it happened.

When the woman started talking about the book she felt the little niggling at the back of her head, the feeling that she knew something about the book, or at least part of her did. She was never quite sure if they were really the past lives of the former Young Britannia or some kind of UK wide collective unconsciousness, but they felt like real people and she trusted there judgment implicitly.

As she let this new persona wash over her whole manner changed her relaxed posture taking a sterner more formal manner. Even her broad North London accent melted away into more formal clipped toned.

“Ah old James and wonderful man but a little on the, how should we say, eccentric. He research on an obscure Virginian cult called The Coldbloods, who embodied the worst of the Deep South ethos, was excellent piece of work. But he seemed to have some crazy theory that they followed some crazy being called the Unspeakable One and his Deep One servants, like some poorly written piece of literature…â€

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"Hey that sounds kind of right!" said the librarian with cheer and enthusiasm. "Coldbloods, cold bloods! yeah! spooky!" she said, actually shuddering.

"But I guess war brings out the worst in people, huh? and the best, too, sometimes..." she continued, distracted for a few moments with wistful fancy.

"Oh yes, that guy who asked about the book a month ago. He was creepy too. Maybe he was a goth, but I haven't seen him in around myself. Tall man, looked respectable, great big piercing blue eyes that looked...I dunno...though you..." she shuddered a bit at the memory.

"He sat down and studied the book for the whole afternoon. Didn't say a word. Didn't drink, didn't eat, didn't stop. Like a machine. Spooked a few of us out, to be honest. Guess he was some kind of academic, professor type. Otherwise, he was just some nut job!"

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"Really? That's weird" said Subito, never one to miss the obvious. "I doubt it would do him much harm or good though, unless he was some kind of time-traveler, and what are the odds of that? Anyway, thanks again for showing us too it miss, much obliged. You wouldn't happen to have anything by the Strugatsky brothers? Russian guys, cousin of mine likes 'em" he turned to Agnes and and said politely "See you later Ms. Stone, hope the book is helpful" he added warmly with a quick smile at the pop star. He was certain he'd see the book again soon, and saw no reason she couldn't have it for a moment. Although...

"Er..is it alright if I skim through a bit of it? I just wanna make sure what I'm looking for is in there for certain"

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Agnes gave him a little smile; it seemed neither of them noticed her strange mannerism for her little info-dump. Well she had the book all she had to do was take a quick look at the contents and she was away. But what about this young lad, maybe it was a massive coincidence but since taking up the mantle of Young Britannia all her coincidences seemed to have been managed.

“Cause you can. I guess a meal is out, but how about coffee. There’s a little coffee bar over there, and to be honest I could do with a drink. It’s been a long day…â€

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The Next Day...

Abigail Hart, Librarian, didn't come home that night. Nor did she turn up to work. Or phone anybody. In short, she was a missing person.

A couple of police cars were flashing away outside the library, and an appeal had gone out by the library staff, and even in the news.

"I don't know what's happened to her! please! someone must know something!" quoted her mother, who she lived with.

But nobody knew what had happened to her.

Agnes got a call, as did Subito, from a concerned Detective, asking about their visit to the library, and if they had seen Abigail, what did she say, was she frightened, what was she wearing...

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"No officer, she never mentioned anything about being in danger or anything like that" Subito leaned against the dorm wall, listening carefully to the questions, shooing away some of the other students who had started clustering about him "Hm? Oh! Yeah she was wearing mostly black, with a little white. No ma'am, I didn't pay much attention to what exactly she was wearing, I don't do stuff like that, it's rude. I apologize ma'am. Yes, it would have made it easier for you to be sure. Closest I can put it? She wore kind of..gothy stuff. Yeah, like that. Alright, sorry I can't help more officer. Bye" he hung the phone back in its recess of the wall. He glanced at the two or three other teens still watching him like owls "Someone got kidnapped" he said shortly, and stalked off out the front door. It nagged at him that even in a city filled with some of the most powerful people in the world stuff like this kept happening.

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“Of cause officer I'll be right over. I'm at my Apartment in Freedom City, just let me grab a shower and I'll be right over.â€

As she spoke she looked out of her window and a sunny London skyline, modern technology wasn't it wonderful. One quick change and she was back in Freedom City, at the last minute she grabbed the book before teleporting away.

After arriving she took a quick shower and threw on a comfortable pair of jeans and top. She threw the book into a large bag before catching a cab down to the library.

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Subito arrived not long after she had, though considerably sunk into gloom. For all I know, THAT was the reason I was supposed to go look for the book, to try and prevent that from happening he thought glumly to himself, pushing open the library coffee shop doors with a casual shoulder and walking directly up to Agne's table.

Smiling as best he could he said "Glad you could make it, Ms. Stone. Mind if I sit?" he asked, distant memories of the archaic propriety possessed by his patrician grandfather bubbling up from his brain. "Awful shame about what's happened to Ms. Hart" he added, much more soberly.

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Looking around to see if the police were paying attention to them she leaned in conspiratorially.

“Listen kid this is important, why were you after the book? I suspect that the book and Ms Hart’s disappearance are connected and we might be the best people to solve both.â€

She sighed there should be some kind of secret handshake or something so heroes could identify themselves.

“Look I’ll go first. I don’t want to give too much away, secret identity and all that, but when I said a spirit asked me to find the book. Well that wasn’t a lie…â€

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The powerfully-built teen blinked in surprise at this sudden turn of events. He figured there were more important things to focus on though "Same here" he murmured, sinking into the chair opposite her and with difficulty smoothed over the emotions playing across his face "I was..sent as well. The Blue Dame of Puerto Rico wanted me to find something in the book, something about that lost continent of Lemuria, and a 'serpent empire' that's got a will and power of its own, like her" he scowled, a look of vaguely annoyed confusion stamped on his features "So..did you find anything about that?" sudden horror "D'you think Ms. Hart's kidnapping had anything to do with this?"

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She gave a friendly little smile. She resisted a little victory dance at her hunch being right, that could be seen as a little crass.

“Someone else was after that book and after we got hold of the book she disappeared. I’d be more surprised if they weren’t linked.â€

At his question about the book she shuffled in her chair nervously.

“I started to read the book, but I feel asleep reading it. It was a long trying day… and he might have been an excellent scholar but a gripping writer he was not.â€

She shrugged and brightened up; she scribbled her phone number on a scrap of paper and handed it to Subito.

“Let's help the police and find out what they know about the kidnapping. Then we can meet up, in costume, and see if we solve this thing.â€

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""A perfect plan! agreed the youth, accepting the scribbled number and scanning it repeatedly before slipping it into a hidden pocket. "Sorry I can't give you one miss, but I don't have a cell phone. What time would be best for us to meet and start hunting for whoever did this?" he asked eagerly, the prospect of doing something a very attractive one to him "And I hear you on falling asleep, happens to me when I tried reading about the production and refining of rocket fuels. Really interesting stuff, but the way it was written..." he shook his head sadly "It's just a shame"

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The police questionings were routine, thorough, and reasonably short. Neither of the two heroes were suspects, although details and demographics were taken as a formality. All in all the police were professional and polite. They were concerned about Ms. Hart's dissapearance.

"Did you know her?"

"What was she wearing?"

"Did you see her with anybody?"

"What did you discuss?"

All routine questions, routinely answered.

All except...

"What did you discuss with her?"

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She managed to slip Subito the address to her little studio, the safest place she knew in this city.

“Meet me here; I’ll let them know you’re coming.â€

She then turned and gave her best winning smile to the detectives, despite her sometimes rough edges she did have some media training and knew how to charm people if she need to.

“Poor Miss Hart all she was doing was her job. Why would someone want to kidnap a librarian?†she look thoughtful for a moment “She did mention someone suspicious hanging around, but she didn’t give any information about him, apart from him being a bit creepy.â€

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The police questioning soon drew to an end.

"Well, we will stay in touch" said one officer. "RIght now, you aren't a suspect, either of you. But then again, right now we got no Suspects..." he sighed.

"This one doesn't look to good. She had no enemies, no trouble. Just a regular day that day. I just hope we turn up something, and fast...."

Subito, with his extraordinary hearing, managed to pick up a few snippets during the police talks - an Italian gentleman was in the library that day, a few people commented on his accent and the fact he didn't appear to read anything. Nothing concrete - except of course nobody knew who he was.

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The Peurto-Rican teen hadn't been able to provide much more than he'd given over the phone earlier that day, and with every question he wasn't able to answer, he sunk a little more in his seat. It was a relief to hear the rolling pen, and read the address marked down on it. The moment he was relinquished from police custody, he set off at a quick pace through the busy streets to the place the address signified.

Subito was almost as well-versed in the city as a native, and it was no trouble finding his was to the building housing the recording studio. The name certainly caught his eye, at any rate. As soon as he caught sight of Agnes, he fairly leaped towards her, whispering nervously "So..what are we gonna do?"

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Agnes gave a warm little smile. “Well I don’t know about you but I fancy a skinny latte. Oh and welcome to Zenith Studios.â€

After a quick word with the receptionists she led Subito through to her office. The studio wasn’t big, it was no more than a recording studio and a practice room, but it was a home away from home. Likewise the office was small and uncluttered just a couple of chairs and a desk. Her only decoration was a single gold disk.

“Everything hinges on this little bugger.†She threw the book down on the table “All we got to do is decode it. Did you summons contain anything more than my cryptic message?â€

With perfect recall she quoted the rhyme which had begun there strange little quest.

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