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Tuesday, February 26th
4:18 PM
The observation deck at the top of Pyramid Plaza was empty, save for one woman. No one else wanted to be in there right now, except for the people who were paid to be there. 
Around twenty minutes ago, the young woman had entered the observation deck. There wasn't much odd about here - sweatshirts, jeans, sneakers, short and somewhat untamed hair. She stood before the windows of the deck for about five minutes, not moving. And then she'd started pressing her hands against the glass, and slowly, it had begun to crack. The visitors began to move back when they saw what was happening, while the guards quickly moved forward. They didn't get within ten feet of the girl - she looked at them, and within seconds, they were asleep, passed out on the ground. In two minutes, she was the only person left at the top of the Pyramid. In five, the glass on all sides had cracked, with nothing but air surrounding the frame of the peak. 
For ten minutes, she stood up there, looking out over the city. Looking out... and waiting. STAR personnel were sweeping over the scene, keeping their rifles trained on the pyramid in case anything happened. The heroes would be arriving soon enough; if nothing went haywire until they arrived, maybe this could end peacefully.

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"And I've been thinking about starting potty training, but she's still a little young, and I'm not sure I want her growing up any faster," Stesha commented to Min with a sigh, one eye on the little girls playing on the carpet. At this age, a playdate mostly involved Amaryllis viewing Eden as a big and fascinating doll, but once the inevitable poking stage had been dealt with, they seemed to be getting on well. For now, Ammy was happy to empty her own diaper bag of toys, one by one, bringing each one over to where Eden was sitting almost steadily among a pile of pillows. "But washing diapers is such a hassle, and diaper services won't deliver outside the dimension..." 


She laughed, then checked herself with a puzzled frown as the communicator in the diaper bag chirped. "Phone!" Ammy called, digging it from the bag and bringing it over to her mother. Stesha checked the message. "That's not good," she murmured to Min. "There's a potential jumper on Pyramid Plaza, but she's got some sort of metahuman power going on as well. Apparently she knocked a negotiator unconscious by just looking at him. STAR squad is calling in the Aux League to try and talk her down. Would you like to come with?" 

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Across town, the Russian liason to the Freedom League peered at the relayed security image, his red eyes narrowed as he studied the situation.They were under-strength today with Velocity and Gabriel both occupied, leaving only Comrade Frost, Gaian Knight, and his assistant 'minding the store.' And just me behind the monitor. Feh. Frost picked up his communicator from the heater that had frozen over next to him and called Gaian Knight, giving Tarrant the same briefing he'd given Fleur de Joie just a few moments ago. "Attacking negotiator means there is desire to jump. But she does not take him with, nor does she jump. Is a concern. Will be on roof - can you provide transportation?" 

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"We'll be right over," Tarrant promised, shoving a stack of tests off his lap and onto the desk as he stood up. There they joined similar stacks, a graveyard of papers and quizzes that had all suffered the fate of getting put aside when someone was in trouble. There was always tomorrow....


Teagan raised an eyebrow as her friend grabbed a familiar duffle bag from the shelf behind him, pulling a pair of headphones down off her ears. "Please tell me there's something to punch this time."


"Metahuman jumper, looks like - we can't take any chances. C'mon, we've got to go pick up Frost on the way."


She snorted, but her obvious disappointment didn't keep her from putting her notepad of translation notes down, standing and cracking her knuckles. "Diplomacy and glorified taxi service. Why not. You know, I distinctly remember you telling me that this life was supposed to be exciting...."

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"Certainly," Min said, rising from her chair.  Pyramid Plaza was a little further afield from where she and the Interceptors typically operated but Stesha was one of the few people outside the family that Min enjoyed being around, so the dryad was more than happy to lend a hand.  Scooping Eden up--who promptly snagged a length of her mother's ankle-length white hair in her tiny fist--Min carried her into the kitchen where Erik was preparing dinner.
Even though time was critical, Min couldn't help but pause in the doorway and watch Erik move about the kitchen, causing a small smile to form.  It was a tug on her hair from that reminded the ancient guardian of why she was there.  She quietly cleared her throat.  "Going to have to postpone dinner a little," she began before filling him in on the situation at Pyramid Plaza.
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Stesha scooped up Ammy as well,following Min to the door of the small kitchen. "Mama's got to go help save people," she told the toddler, who was already familiar with that reason for being left with a sitter. Even as Ammy's little face turned mutinous, Stesha turned her to face the kitchen. "Look, here is Mister Erik, Eden's daddy! He'll look after you until I get back. You be good and listen to what he says, all right? And don't go in the kitchen," she reminded the little girl sternly. 


"Hungysup!" Ammy immediately whined, her reddening face beneath spring-green curls making her look oddly festive. 


"You can have the applesauce in the diaper bag," Stesha told her, then turned to Erik. "I'm sorry, this should really only take a few minutes, hopefully. Usually they can either be talked down or caught in the air." 

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Caught with a wooden spoon filled with rich red sauce halfway raised from the pot on the stove, Erik turned with a lopsided smile at the soft sound of Min's throat clearing. His expression turned more serious at her explanation and with a nod he turned dials downward to set the food being prepared to simmer. The simple apron he wore over his sleeveless white shirt left sienna arms toned with lean muscle bare, which he used to take Eden, freeing her mother's hair from her grip with a practiced motion. "Got it. I'll leaf you ladies to it," he agreed, brushing his daughter's hair out of her eyes before following the women back into the other room. "There's the hanging gardens out that window if you need to do your zip-zap-zop thing, Stesha. Be careful." The latter was directed at both of them but he punctuated it by shifting Eden to one arm temporarily so he could lean over and kiss Min lightly. "Love you, florecita. Try to give me a shout when you're done so I can have dinner ready."


Turning his attention to the infants, he accepted the diaper bad. "Okay, applesauce! I dunno, Ammy, I think I might need to eat this myself, what do you think?"

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The STAR Squad had set up base camp at the bottom of the second pyramid when the various heroes arrived on the scene. Capt. Maddicks looked several different shades of pissed off, but most heroes who'd run into him during a crisis knew that was a standard mode for him. He gave a quick, as-friendly-as-the-situation would allow nod to the various heroes, though held off for a few seconds to look Comrade Frost over before delivering the nod. 


"Target's female, in her mid-twenties, no obvious arms, armor, or visible mutations," he said. "As she managed to knock all the security guards on her floor unconscious, we're considering her as having taken hostages. No demands, though. We've got a squad waiting in the stairwell and a sniper trained by helicopter, but we'd really like not to take the shot - especially since there's a chance it might just bounce off." He looked up to the top of the pyramid. "Only thing she's really been doing up there is looking around. We were afraid the chopper got too close to her perimeter, but she didn't try to knock it out of the sky or anything, even when the downdraft was beating on her."

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Frost stood at ground-level and peered up at the observation tower so far overhead, his parka falling away from his head for a moment to reveal his white hair and blue-white skin for a moment before he pulled it back down as he looked at the others. The Russian hero was an observer here, but in the end they were all heroes faced with a crisis. "She is waiting for superheroes. She would not be so public if she did not want the attention of Freedom League." He put his hands in his pockets and said, "I am troubled. Her powers must be under her own control, or else she would have stunned the crowd on her way up there...I suggest we send someone in to speak with her, and have fliers ready beneath." 

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"Good plan," Gaian Knight mused, frowning up at the building. "She's certainly waiting for something; if she's after superheroes' attention whoever goes up there to talk to her is going to need to play it pretty carefully. You don't attract that kind of attention this way unless you're pretty sure you can handle the possible consequences."

He put a hand on his sword, stepping back up onto the platform of rock he'd brought Frost over on. "Hopefully we can talk this out. If not, and she does try to jump - or start something, or launch an attack from up there - Tiamat and I will be nearby to intercept as best we can."

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"Willow and I can go up and talk to her," Fleur suggested. She was standing as far as possible from Comrade Frost without causing actual offense, but even then she seemed a little chilled. "She might respond better to women, and I can get us up there through the ornamental trees on the observation deck. I'll keep an open channel, so you'll know if you have to intervene. Until then, though, try to keep a low profile." Fleur pushed her cowl back to reveal her green braided hair, then took her mask off and tucked it into her pocket. "All right, here we go." Putting a hand on Willow's arm, she touched the flowers in her hair and teleported them both to the tippy top of the tallest building in town. 

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"Help me understand something," Willow quietly asked when she and Fleur arrived on the observation deck.  It was windy at this height and the room now exposed to the gusts of cold February air though the Willow paid no heed to the weather despite her unseasonable attire.  Truth was she looked more comfortable now than she did among the League auxiliary below.
"This girl destroyed property and assaulted guards, and we're to talk to her?"  The amber eyed woman remarked, raising an eyebrow in inquiry.
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"Her life is still worth saving," Stesha murmured, just loud enough so the wind didn't whip the words away before Willow could hear. "If we grab her, if we save her by force when she wants to die, then she hasn't made the choice to live. She could try again and be even more desperate next time. If we can talk to her, maybe we can convince her that there's always something to live for, and maybe she'll step down on her own accord. If she cracked all these windows, she could've done much worse than put the guards down for a nap, but she didn't. There's still hope." 


She took a few steps forward, trying to take in the whole situation on the observation deck before making contact with the girl on the edge. It bothered her a little to be so far from the earth, but she ignored that as she would a nagging itch. Something was strange about the setup here, something was just a little off, but she didn't know what it was. Maybe she should've taken more psychology classes in school. 

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The woman was whispering repeatedly under her breath, turning her head with each gust from the copter overhead. As it got clear, Fleur could hear what she was saying. 


"Wind's not right wind's not right wind's not right wind's not right..."


She froze, like a prey animal that had realized a predator was stalking its territory. She turned slowly towards Fleur, and it was clear the woman was distraught - tears were running down her face, and her cheeks and nose were bright red. But then the woman stepped forward, and the two heroes got a better look. The red wasn't flushness, but some sort of rash or allergic reaction. And the tears that looked like running mascara were black as pitch naturally...


"You? You're here. Here's not there. You're not... you're not of the root. You're not of the root!"


The plants around her began to creak and crack, and the air grew thick with pollen. 




And above the observation deck, the spores worked their way into the updraft of the circling helicopter. To the eyes of the STAR Squad below, the helicopter began to list and lose altitude hideously fast...

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The young woman began to double over, clutching her hands to the side of her head. "It's coming... it's coming... the wind is coming... I have to seed..."


A loud crack rang through the observation deck as the woman began to double over. She opened her mouth wide, but no sound came out. Instead, the air filled with the scent of new bloom - and old blood. Tendrils began to work their way out from the woman's body - thin as spider's silk at first, but quickly growing thicker and thicker, the thin ropes binding up into thick cords. Soon, the woman was at the center of a vast network of greenery that threatened to crowd out the floor, and it was hard to keep track of her. She raised her arms, and the hundred vines lashed out towards Fleur and Willow. 

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Fleur murmured a quiet imprecation at the horrific scene that unfolded in front of them, her eyes going wide. She'd seen plants do many strange things, caused them to do plenty of strange things herself, but nothing remotely like this. One of the vines hurtling from the woman's body smashed into Fleur, but the instant it made contact, it seemed to wither, turning brittle and dropping ineffectually to the ground. "We have to help her, or stop her... maybe both." Fleur shuddered. "Stand back," she told Willow, then raised her own arms and matched the hostile magic with her own powers.


For a moment she could feel the press of the other against her senses, very alien, very primal, with the sort of intelligence that she usually attributed to plants themselves. The two forces warred, but Fleur's well-honed abilities quickly overcame the power of the plants. The entire mass of greenery began to wither, rapidly dessicating and shedding leaves, before decaying into a fine carpet of humus like a time-lapse film of a dead plant. The woman behind all the greenery immediately collapsed, and it was impossible to tell what shape she was in. "The helicopter!" Fleur said urgently to Willow. "Can you do something?" 

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When one lives as long as Willow has you tend to see a lot of strange things, but she had never in all her years witnessed the terrible transformation that took place before her. The ancient guardian was shocked into immobility when the Host's attack struck, but the attack did not meet flesh; instead thick plates of bark like armor encased the dryad protecting her from harm.

She immediately sprung forward to counterattack then noted--with some sense of satisfaction--that Fleur's strike removed any need for that. The white-haired woman skidded to a halt near their downed attacker and glanced back at Fleur, about to congratulate her on a masterful attack when the green-haired plant controller's words caught up to her.

Whipping her head around to look at the helicopter, dread filled her voice as she said, "I can watch it fall."

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"Don't worry, I've got them....!" Gaian Knight might not have had the best vantage point for watching the fight, floating as he was a story or two off the ground outside the building. It did give him a good view of the helicopter's plight, though; even as Fleur de Joie was withering their less-suicidal-than-expected metahuman he was gathering earth and stone from all around, gesturing with two glowing hands to send it streaming up to intercept the plummeting craft.

It wasn't the smoothest catch in the world - the fuselage would certainly have its fair share of dents to work out afterwards - but with a healthy share of dirt and some more-or-less gentle deceleration down a ramp of stone that hadn't been there a moment ago, the craft made it to ground in one piece. "Tiamat-!" he shouted - but she was already there, sprinting toward the helicopter to make sure its occupants were in good enough shape to get out and away from danger.

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The STAR Squad members flinched climbed out of the helicopter, though on the side opposite. Apparently there was a proper exit procedure for if the helicopter was saved from certain doom. Capt. Maddicks gave them a nod, an acknowledgment of their brief brush with death and sudden salvation, then turned his attention back to the top of the pyramid. "Glad to see you're all right. Saw vines snaking out up there. Don't suppose any of you got a good glimpse of whose side those were?"


"Tried keeping an eye on the proceedings, sir," said one of the officers in the back. "Think it was the target."


"Target? Hmm. Where she was keeping those?"


"Apparently... inside her."




Meanwhile, up at the top of the building, Fleur de Joie and Willow noticed something about the now unconscious woman. While she was still breathing, it seemed irregular. As if her body was trying to figure out the proper rhythm...

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A cloud of icy mist came pouring in over the balcony railing seconds later, instantly forming into the hooded shape of Comrade Frost. He'd headed straight up here at the sign of trouble, leaving a thin line of ice on the windows trailing all the way back down to ground level. Frost relaxed at the sight of the fallen woman and standing heroes, albeit just a little. "Gaian Knight and Tiamat have the helicopter crew. What happened here?" he asked, making a beeline for the unconscious would-be jumper they'd all come to save. "I'm a doctor," he said without preamble as he bent down and began examining her with his red eyes narrowed, though he was careful not to remove his gloves. "You are safe now," he said to the victim, though for all he knew it was a lie. "Are you two all right?"

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"Don't touch her!" Fleur exclaimed, running through the crunching leaves to kneel down by the fallen woman, opposite Comrade Frost. "You'll just make it worse!" she added with a definite snap in her voice. Even in stressful circumstances, it was not the way she usually spoke to teammates or fellow heroes. "If she's a plant controller and you put a hand on her, you'll probably kill her. We need the STAR Squad paramedics up here," she said into her radio. 


To Willow, she called, "Did you hear what she was saying about the wind changing, and "him" coming? Is there anything you can see or sense out there?" 

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"This is not my first action," snapped Frost, a little peevish himself in the crisis. "She has dysautonomia, which means her autonomic functions have become disconnected with each other. She needs hospitalization. Fleur, can you transport her to the League clinic? Treatment fast, or this becomes worse." He stood up and reached into his parka's front pocket, coming out with what looked for all the world like a pair of old-fashioned bifocals. "Hmm. Many causes for this condition. I could not see what happened from below - did she overpower herself in attacking you?" 

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"The helicopter's clear - looks like everyone made it out alright, though I don't envy their whiplash," Gaian Knight announced, floating in through what had once been a window and letting Tiamat step down before he hopped to the ground himself. Behind him, his stone platform silently shattered apart into a score of fragments that quietly gathered above and behind his shoulders. "If we're sending her to the League clinic, we'd better phone ahead so that they can get quarantine ready. I'm pretty sure she took out that helicopter with some kind of spores; whatever's wrong with her doesn't seem natural or healthy."
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"You assume she's human," Willow commented as she crouched near the young woman.
"I heard something, Fleur,"  the amber-eyed guardian continued as she placed a hand on her attacker.  "Were I still my sister's Herald I could do as you ask but with the Gorgon's departure I find my senses dulled."  There was a subtle pressure change in the observation lounge, a faint pulse of power that pushed outward from the living weapon and the Host.  For a moment Willow looked tired, but the injured young woman's erratic breathing stabilized and fell perfectly in sync with the dryad's.
Lifting her hand free, Willow looked up at the other heroes, once again preternaturally still.
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Willow's energies flowed into the unconscious woman, finding the wounds, big and small, in her body. There was a slight sense of dancing over tiny yet crucial gaps in her physiology, completing a system that had been broken by the dissolution of plant matter. When the healing was complete, it took a second or two for the woman to wake. She slowly opened her eyes, and looked around at her surroundings. 


"Where am I?" she asked. "Last I remember I was in the Great Temple, seeking wisdom from the Mother. And then --" She finally took notice of the people around here, and backed up. "You! You're not the Champions! You're outsiders, aren't you? I thought they didn't let your kind in. Unless you chose to see Her glory..."

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