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Avenger Assembled

Lord of the Manor (IC)

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April 2012

"So you just...destroyed his entire castle." Nina al-Darsah was wrapped in a tourist's fleece jacket and heavy slacks, her desert-born constitution not much for southern Germany in April. Alongside Mark Lucas, she stood on the hill overlooking the remains of Schloss Archeville. She actually smiled, leaning over and nudging Mark on the arm. "I have to say, Mark, I didn't think you had that kind of violence in you. Did you take any pictures after you were done?" She smiled, and it was that vicious grin that was so attractive in more private circumstances, but less so now to the heroic UNISON agent.

"No, it wasn't like that," said Mark, feeling a little defensive in his blue and white sweater and slacks. Sometimes Nina's approval was pretty great, other times it made him feel...ashamed. "The field agents had just managed to get the prisoners and brainwashed people out of the building. We had no idea if there was some kind of doomsday device in the building, or a portal to the Grue homeworld, or something to summon more Deep Ones...so I took the building down, fast and hard, with all the power I could." He'd had headaches for days afterwards, having summoned by sheer force of will a nickel-iron asteroid that had smashed the building to rubble without doing damage to the surrounding terrain.

"And your power is vast." Consoling, Nina slipped an arm through his. "If it makes you feel any better, I've always thought ruins like this are much more attractive than intact buildings. It really gives you a feel for the history of the place." She kissed his cheek as they walked down the hill towards what remained below. "I'm glad you brought me here," she added seriously. "I know this has...troubled you." It hadn't troubled Nina a bit, but she was willing to accept the idea that someone might be bothered by it.

"Not troubled," said Mark, picking his way down the fairly rough path from the hill they'd arrived on, the scars from the battle the year before still healing on the land. "I don't have any regrets about being here and standing up for the people in the area. I just wish there'd been another way."

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There was a crater near the cracked-open castle gates that had filled in with water since, and with a sigh of relief Nina kicked off her shoes , rolled up her pants,. cand buried her bare feet in the new pond. "Aah, that's nice. However cold the air is, the water always feels just about perfect" She leaned back and gave Mark a lazy smile, looking more comfortable with her body partially in the water. "Just think, if you'd done more damage, all this could be a lovely mountain lake." She sighed, the water rising up around her bare legs at her mental command. "I'm counting you to convince me that this is a better way to spend your last week in Europe than Ibiza," she added with a little smile.

Mark sat down next to her, keeping his feet out of the water. "Well, we're not going to spend the whole week here," he said with a little laugh. "Remember, there's still that ski lodge with our names on it." Dating the daughter of a king did have its advantages, even if arguments about politics tended to go awry very fast for the two of them. "I know it's silly to worry about property damage when people died," he said, waving his hand idly over the pond and warping a sculpture of green water up into the air. "But there was a lot of history here. It was a shame to lose it all because of one bad week."

"Deep Ones don't have history," said Nina dismissively, "they're the scum of the undersea. I've fought them alongside my father since I was a child, and I know they're nothing but filthy monsters." Typhoon had also had his share of conflicts with regular Atlanteans, but Nina was too young to have engaged in those sorts of wars alongside her family. "If one of them had burned your family house down, the only thing they'd regret is not catching you inside it."

"That's not fair," said Mark loyally. "It's not Archeville's fault he got taken over by weird magic. I just don't think someone should be defined by one bad thing, or even a series of bad things," and as he spoke he pictured his own father in his mind, "when they did good in their life too. The world's more complex than that. I know how you feel when people call your father a supervillain," he added pointedly to Nina, who from the look in her eye had to admit the truth of that. He put his hand on hers, his skin pale against hers dark, and they shared a smile that turned into a kiss.

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Unknown to Mark or Nina, they were not alone. Further up the path, right at the edge of the crater, gazing down into it, was the former lord of the manor, Doktor Viktor Heinrich Archeville. He had been by the site numerous times before, but always with others -- with Freedom League members, with AEGIS or UNISON agents, with ArcheTech board members -- to oversee the safe dismantling of any lingering or potential threats that Edge's orbital bombardment had not obliterated. He had lead them down what subterranean corridors still existed, pieced out what still functioned to other ArcheTech facilities. He had worked on plans for what and where the new European HQ for the international chain of research laboratories would be, as well as compensation for the peoples and places damaged by "the unknown supervillain who had usurped Archeville's facilities and technologies and used them against the world"; while the public did not know it was Archeville (kinda) who did it, few forgot that it was his equipment that was used against them.

Now, though, he was here alone, having finally set aside a moment for quiet reflection on the personal impact the loss of his 'ancestral home' had made. It had not been much when he inherited it on his 16th birthday -- a five-story tower, straining under decades of neglect (his father had never set foot in it, and his grandfather spent most of his time either on the front lines or in laboratories in Berlin). But it was in a prime spot, a hill overlooking the Danube River, and its "Old World charm" appealed to a part of him. He'd cleaned it up, then expanded it into a massive 110-room castle, which he set as the European headquarters for his company.

And then it all came crumbling down.

What the Doktor buildeth, the Doktor taketh away...

He let out a sigh, then drove the maudlin thoughts from his mind, and turned to start his walk around the perimeter. It was then that the site of two people embracing caught his eye.

"," he called out in German as he walked down the broken path, "

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Mark and Nina both jumped at the sound of the voice breaking into their romantic reverie, Mark with the guilt of someone being caught doing something naughty, Nina with the anger of a princess interrupted in the middle of one of her favorite pastimes. Mark looked up at the sound to see no less than Viktor Archeville himself coming down the path towards them and for a moment was an embarrassed high school student again. But he wasn't a kid anymore, and Nina wasn't his girlfriend with daddy issues. Actually, that's not too far from- He pushed _that_ thought aside too, and urgently whispered to Nina as she pulled the pond at her feet up into her hands in a razor-sharp whip of water, "No, no, it's okay, it's his house," he whispered to her in English. "He has more of a right to be here than us. Don't be a jerk about this." She didn't exactly look mollified, but with a sigh she put the water-whip back into the pond from which she'd made it.

In his own accented German, he said, "" Socotra's legal name was considerably longer than that, but he didn't particularly feel like praising the revolutionary accomplishments of the exalted Typhoon today. He looked up at the man who he'd just given his girlfriend a lecture about trusting and decided to take a chance. "" He made his way up the path to shake the other man's hand. ""

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Archeville froze when he saw clearly who it was on his fractured doorstep.

It's him!

The one who destroyed my home!

But I deserved it! More, even!

Perhaps I should wreck something of his in return...

No! He did what he had to -- we were too far gone, and quick, decisive action was needed!

And he did get everyone out safely, that is the important thing!

Ahhhh shut up all of you! Fracturing like this isn't going to help!

"Ah, of course, Agent Lucas!," he said after a moment's fugue, greeting Edge warmly in his native English. He took Mark's hand; his grip was firm, though not as firm as he would've liked. He then turned and gave a slight bow to Nina, addressing her in slightly accented Soqotri, ""

"So what brings you here? I was under the impression UNSION's work at the... site... was done, at least for the immediate future. Has there been some change?"

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"As far as I'm aware, the castle's status as a protected area hasn't changed," replied Mark with a glance back at the remains of the building. "I'm not actually assigned to the German division of UNISON," he confessed. "My primary work is with the humanitarian division in Africa and Southeast Asia. I was only called up to deal with the Deep One crisis because Europe had few meta-agents at the time."

"What he means is, Mark is one of the most powerful beings working for UNISON, so they called up to deal with their biggest crisis." Nina slipped an arm through Mark's and gave the Doktor a flinty-eyed stare. This close, the resemblance to her father, who the Doktor had seen unmasked in Freedom League documents (there'd been no reason to take _that_ from his mind) was unmistakable. "You speak my people's language well, Herr Archeville. I'm sure a man of your experience must be familiar with all kinds of peoples."

Mark gave Nina a nudge that wasn't entirely friendly. Before they'd started dating, Nina would have directly asked Archeville about his command of Deep One: this was a step forward, at least. "We were here because...I wanted to get a chance to see this place again, when it wasn't the middle of a battlefield. It's a shame what had to happen here."

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Definitely her father's daughter, this one.

"Oh, yes, all kinds," he replied back to Nina, hoping his smile his his sneer, "but that is not unexpected, is it? I am sure you and Edge here know all kinds of people, too, owing to all your varied experiences."

Stay calm, mustn't start an international incident.

He turned back to Mark, "a tragedy, yes, though I am extremely grateful that no innocents here were harmed, and were evacuated safely." He turned back to the crater, "such loss, though. You know, it was not just my advanced technology in there that was destroyed -- I had several cultural artifacts, too. Books, paintings, sculptures -- all irreplaceable. Lost forever, because I could not keep that invader out."

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Well, he certainly doesn't seem to be peni-no, that's not far, Mark thought as Archeville and Nina bandied words with each other. He doesn't need to spend his life apologizing to everyone because of what happened...and nothing bad actually happened to Nina during the invasion! The hydrokinetic had been in her element when a Deep One party had raided Freedom City University and had simply slain all half-dozen of the monsters before a single student could be more than terrified. "In any event," Mark said firmly, "We can all agree we're on the same side here. You know how you'd feel if someone destroyed your father's palace."

"...wait a minute," said Nina suddenly, her eyebrows furrowing. "You told me you kept your identity a secret from your enemies! For the sake of your family!"

"It's a gesture of trust," replied Mark without heat. "If I went around planning to destroy everyone who might possibly be a bad guy ," I'd be a lot like your father, "I'd never get anything done. Doctor Archeville is on our side, and that means trusting him. Just like you trust me to look after my interests, right?" he asked pointedly.

"Right," replied a very skeptical Nina. "I'm going rock-climbing," she said after a moment. "You two enjoy your lovefest. Perhaps afterwards, Mark, you can tell me why we should have one any time soon." Sneering, she walked away and began ascending a half-broken wall like an octopus monkey, scooping up water from the small pond to make climbing tentacles.

Mark sighed, and, when she was out of earshot, said "Well, I certainly hope you are a good guy, because I'll never hear the end of it if you aren't." He didn't look too bothered by Nina's moment of temper, or particularly disturbed. "I'm sorry about your house," he finally said as he watched Nina go up the wall, "I've had some...family crises myself recently. Seeing your family history go up in smoke is never easy, especially if it's something you value."

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Wait a second... he did just - Mark Lucas is Edge?! My mi-

No, no, it's going to take a lot more than that to rock my boat.

Archeville did wince slightly at Nina's remarks to Edge. "I will add that to the large list of reasons I have not to lose my mind again," he said, half-smiling. He glanced up at the ascending Nina, I would ask what you see in her, but, well, you are young still, and from here I can see the... assets that probably drew you, then back to Mark. "I had heard about your father, and the sacrifice he made. I am sorry for your loss." He placed a hand on Mark's shoulder, but could think of nothing more to say on the matter.

Not quite sure I'm ready to get into a discussion on lost fathers. Maybe later, but... but not now.

"Sooo...," he remove his hand from Mark's shoulder and put it behind his back, "how has Africa been? I am sure there are a number of projects you could be working on -- what have they had you do? How free a choice do you have in deciding which missions you take?"

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"It's mostly industrial work," Mark admitted, "or close to it. My powers let me build emergency housing and base foodstock on a massive scale, so I'll usually warp myself to a given area and go to work making food and shelter. I've been working in the remoter parts of the Congo River valley the last few months, building and making for the displaced persons there." He found himself wanting to say a few words in Nina's defense, but he doubted she'd appreciate the effort even if she could hear it. Growing up with her father, she has a very well-developed sense of right and wrong; it's just not always right. "Sometimes mercenaries show up to raid the foodstock, but I'm good at surprising them. Most of UNISON's super-agents get a government job because they're not powerful enough to be superheroes or something on their own. Freedom City's still the place for big super-action."

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Archeville began to smile, but then stopped, and a serious look fell upon his face. "You sound slightly... uncomfortable with what you are doing. Disappointed, even." He placed a hand on the young reality warper's shoulder and looked him in the eye, "but you do see how big an impact you are having out there, yes? What you do for those people matters more to them than almost anything the League or Young Freedom ever did. It is easy to talk about saving the world," he took his hand from Mark's shoulder and spread both arms wide, "and heroes work hard to fight off the supervillains and alien invaders and other threats to the world. But most people around the world do not see those threats, or only see them in an abstract manner. But food in their bellies, shelter over their heads, that, they can see, and having those basic needs provided matters more than any Grue warship or SHADOW war-wheel we might bring down. It may not be as glamorous, but it is no less important."

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"It's just strange what you find when you grow up," said the 19 year old. "I spent my life sure I'd grow up to be on the Freedom League just like my father. I spent my high school years fighting Nazis from other dimensions, my own drunk classmates, gods from out of space, my own evil self, and then Omega." He gave Archeville a surprisingly thoughtful, maybe even intelligent, look "You ever have the feeling that you've reached a point in your life and it's all going downhill from here?" Mark never actually had felt that way, not for more than a few seconds, but he was smart enough to know a lot of people in his situation would have. It was instinctive to get Archeville in his corner when they were together like this, maybe because he thought he owed the man something it was impossible to fully repay. "So what exactly was it that-"

Suddenly, a shriek of royal alarm made Mark jerk his head upwards as Nina came rocketing into view: she'd evidently gone exploring in a large cracked-open cave wall that she was now exiting in a hurry, swearing in Socotri as she surfed her way down the nearly sheer wall on a bank of water. "What the hell do you have in there, Archeville?" she demanded, a moment before a gout of flame erupted from the cave over their heads!

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It would seem Mark's adventures and experiences have managed to teach him a thing or two. I do hope he does not lose too much of his childlike wonder, though, because- what the?

In a flash Archeville's electromagnetic screwdriver was in his hand, held up the way Peter Cushing held up a crucifix in so many Hammer horror films. "There should be nothing there! Whatever Edge did not smash, AEGIS and UNISON carted off, and whatever they did not take was pieced out to other ArcheTech facilities!"

Unless something managed to escape in the brief window between Edge's meteoric strike and the cleanup crew moving in. But if anything had, surely it would have been found by now, or fallen dead or inoperative from killswitches set to prevent any escapes or thefts from wreaking havoc.

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The great reptile came boiling out of the hole not long afterwards, a mighty dragon of ancient lore. A sexapod, with four limbs and giant wings that beat the air behind it, the red-hued reptile looked like something from a fable as it came crawling down the broken wall towards the heroes, belching smoke and flame from its nostrils. Nina didn't look like she needed to be told twice; she had a twisted whip of water curled up in her hands before the dragon boomed like something from a 1930s German serial. "

"" called Edge in reply in the same language, his German flawless as he moved to back up Nina. "

"" boomed the great beast. "

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... hunh.

Well, I certainly don't recall seeing any dragon caves when I excavated the sub-basements, nor do I remember making any dragons. And if it was something my Other made, it should've made itself known by now.

It's also speaking modern German. Which could be a telepathic trick, or a sign of a more modern creation.

He took his eyes off the creature rearing before him just long enough to take a quick peek down the hole, just enough for his superhumanly fast mind to process what his sensors were telling him. And they told him an interesting tale.

"" he muttered to himself, "

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Edge isn't telepathic, is he? No, so no way to send him a private message. (No need to 'think only good thought' around him, either!) Ah, for the days I used to work with Scarab. But, here and now is where I am needed!

Well, if this thing is dragon -- it's something, that teleported in from somewhere -- I may as well play the part and see where it leads. And in so doing, perhaps get it, or whoever sent it, to tip their hand.

The Doktor bowed to the beast, "" His mind raced as it came up with a fanciful tale, which he hoped would give Edge and Nina time to prepare a counterattack should it come to such. "" he clasped Edge by the shoulders, ""

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The dragon roared in fury at that, raising his head to bellow fire at the sky! ""

"Can we just get to the-"

"No! He has to explain himself first, otherwise there's no point," came a quick exchange between Nina and Edge at the fringes of Dok's vision. Princess and hero were obviously ready to strike, but that the dragon had targeted none of them even in its fury seemed like a sign of something. If a dragon doesn't try to eat you first off, he's probably not a bad guy...right?

"

"" roared the dragon in reply, claws digging into the rockface as it paced back and forth. "" With a snarl, the dragon spread his wings and seemed keen to take flight. "" he snarled at Edge just before leaping from the cliffface at him. ""

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A mighty chomp missed the fleet-footed Edge by a mile, who'd been dodging creatures like this since he was fourteen. That wasn't that long ago! I'm only nineteen now! He slid down the slope of scree at his feet to get beneath the slavering jaws, wincing as acidic spittle made the rocks near his head hiss and spew noxious gases. "" taunted the dragon despite its missed attack. ""

"SLAVE?" Nina al-Darsah didn't so much as hesitate as she waded into battle with the monster, though it was impossible to tell if she'd been moving to defend Edge before or after the monster had insulted her personally. "" The pond nearby came up and it was all icy daggers that whirled around her in a deadly dance before whipping forward at super-sonic speed to bury themselves deep in the flesh of the dragon's maw, making it hiss and rear back. "

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Oh-ho-ho, what fun! I thought I would need to go into the city for entertainments of such caliber!

What is that beast going on about? It's not something any of us made, even when we were under the Other's influence!

No? No! It must have been -- it has to be our fault!

It's not, you simpering fool -- we have all the memories of what we did when that thing usurped us, and there was never any dragon!

We can figure out what it is and what it's here later, right now we have to stop it! And if it's after me, well, it'd be a shame if it teleported all this way to not find me!

Archeville's fingers flew fast & furious over his Screwdriver's controls, uncoupling safeties and bringing in Dakanan focusing lenses into alignment. "," he called out, ""

He spared a quick glance at Edge, "too soon?"

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Back to the dragon as his fingers danced over the controls, ""

The Screwdriver whined, and the sound built to a deep hum.

"<... and have been since i built tower upon them but you are the ever seen did your clutchmates or mother not wish to harm>"

The Doktor pushed the final button, and a beam of blue-white light lanced out at the dragon. The weird beam sucked the electromagnetic radiation -- specifically the infrared/thermal radiation -- from the air immediately around the beast, and dumping it into the area immediately around himself. The net effect of this thermal shuffling was the fomration of thick ice around the dragon, and a sudden rise in temperature around Archeville, though the ultra-tech construction of his fantastic labcoat prevented that from bothering him.

""

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Ice crystals erupted over the dragon's body, cascading over its massive form and sealing it beneath a solid block of ice as massive as a tractor-trailer: only its position still standing on the ground kept it from crashing right onto the heroes, especially Edge who it had been straddling a few moments later. As Nina was going in for the kill, the dragon blinking at them all in frustrated fury, Edge slid out from under the dragon and interposed himself neatly between the beast and the heroes. "" And so he began to talk, his voice soothing and warm, his arm going around first a bemused but not displeased Nina, then Archeville, until they stood together in a trio of good fellowship beneath the dragon's iced-over maw.

"" he added with a gesture to Archeville, "" And done ill too, but that was neither here nor there. "" He reached up and put his hand on the ice, and from inside his bonds, the dragon began to weep.

"" boomed the dragon. ""

Mark made a gesture to Viktor and turned, sotto voice, to Nina. "See," he murmured, "sometimes diplomacy is the best option."

She hmmed up at him and said, "All right, I'll concede you were right about diplomacy, just as I was right to come along on your expedition. But you owe me a pair of boots," she added with a smile.

"I'll make it up to you," Mark promised, and bent down to kiss her before they both turned back to the scene at hand.

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... what just happened here?

"" the Doktor said after a moment's pause (which, given his incredibly fast mental processes, meant he'd been replaying the prior scene several times over). He made another adjustment to his fantastic Electromagnetic Screwdriver, and was soon waving a beam of gentle (to the dragon) heat over the icy bonds.

This is not at all how I imagined spending my day. But, my days so rarely go as I expect them to, so I supposed this is 'normal' for me.

And I would be lying if I said I wasn't thrilled to be investigating this mystery!

"" he told the dragon, a bit of Edge's exuberance infecting his inflection. Soon tiny rivulets flowed off its mighty form, and the ice was weak enough in places where it could shrug off large chunks of it.

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The tunnel was dark and dry, still warmed from the dragon's recent emergence, continuing to show the signs of the recent teleportation that Doctor Archeville had noticed upon the dragon's arrival. Ending in a wall, the rough cylinder of air had obviously been carved by no natural force: the walls were too smooth for that, and neither Nina nor Mark could make heads or tails of it: it hadn't been done by water power or lasers, and it had been done fairly recently. "I guess _I_ could probably do this," Mark hazarded, the dragon having crowded up in the middle of their group as they studied the dead end from which he had emerged. "If I put my mind to it and tried hard. But there are lots of people with matter-based powers, so I don't know if that means anything..."

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Matter transposition? Is there a cylindrical chunk of stone where this dragon was sent from?

Archeville continued taking readings of the area, waving his Screwdriver in the dragon's direction every once in a while when he thought it wasn't looking. "

Mental programming? Did someone build you, body and mind?

"

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"" replied the dragon with assurance. "" For his own part, as the dragon talked to Archeville, Edge was having a quiet conversation with Nina while the great firebreather was distracted. When they were done, he slipped closer to the older man in the narrow confines of the tunnel and murmured to him.

"Can you track whatever beamed him in with that thing? Enough for us to actually port over there, wherever it happens to be?" Edge had been around enough weird things in his time to know a setup when he saw one. "Nina's pretty confident she can take Fafnir in a fight, so she's willing to keep an eye on him while we take a look around." Sure enough, the princess was giving an almost predatory eye to the dragon as she talked animatedly with Fafnir about medieval royalty; the dragon sounding like he'd gotten most of his knowledge out of a book.

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