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The Bricks of Babylon [IC]

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Hmm.

 

"Feh, I have seen bigger guns than they can bring to bear and come away only unscathed. Come, let us all ride together next time." Frost snapped his fingers as he led the way to an closed top armored car temporarily abandoned by its military occupants. "You, American jet-man, you can pick us up in car and fly to destination, yes? Then let us do so." Beaming, and pulling his hood up around his head, Frost took a position in the driver's seat. "Or else I could use rusty skills and drive us to Baghdad! Seems a dangerous phenomenon." 

 

How interesting that local heroes show up just as we have foes in hand and artifact unrecovered. Better to keep it to ourselves. "Say, pass it to the witch-girl, would you? Best to let magic stay in magic's grip, eh?" He winked at Equinox, red eyes just visible beneath his hood. It wasn't quite salaciously, more like somebody's old grandfather sharing a humorous story. 

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"Well, I suppose I could carry everyone, but even I can only hold so much stuff at once. There's just the issue that should anything happen to me and I drop you? Well, that could be bad."

 

Victory sizes up the armor-clad figure, trying to see if there's any specific info he may have on her. He's not terribly familiar with supers in this part of the world, so it's only natural to have at least a little bit of caution.

 

In the meantime, he nods at Frost's suggestion.

 

"Good call. I don't like having magical sources in my hands any longer than I have to. You never know what's going to happen."

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Equinox dropped down to the floor, hand extended to take the proferred artifact. "Girls don't have doctorates, comrade," she said drily, but with a small smile on her face. "But I'll happily carry it, if there's any real risk of it falling into their hands, I can just teleport halfway across the desert to play keep-away."

 

She looked around at all of them. "But before you ask, probably not all of you, and certainly not an entire car. It's difficult enough making sure I arrive in one piece without adding that level of added mass into the equation." The witch looked down at the artifact. "Let's take a look at this thing, anyway."

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To Equinox's mystical senses, the statue was inert. Almost too inert. There was a glimmer of something, like light reflecting off of a shiny object at the bottom of a deep quarry, but the rest of the statue felt like taking a Geiger counter to lead.

Victory, meanwhile, realized he knew who Zulfiqar was. She'd been one of the local counterinsurgents during the occupation, an engineering student at the University of Baghdad who'd bootstrapped together her first armor out of an old tank, disused munitions, and more than a few rusted-out Jeeps. She'd acquired more parts over the course of her peacekeeping effort - some through legitimate channels, others through the caches of insurgents she busted - until she had a personal armament system that had allegedly gotten bids from military intelligence in several neighboring countries. If she had any secrets worth offering, however, she was keeping them close to her chest.

"I can help get you there," she said. "Two of us, carrying a Humvee... should be short work."

---

Indeed, it was. Cannonade looked down from the passenger seat of the now somewhat stuffed Humvee, shared between Cannonade, Comrade Frost, Equinox, Dr. Al-Biruni, and the statue. Victory and Zulfiqar made sure the car stayed - mostly - steady as it soared over Baghdad and touched down outside a somewhat disused warehouse. On Zulfiqar's command, the car drove forward through the rusted old doors --

-- into a base that looked like the Freedom League in their first year before the big leagues. At the far end of the room stood four individuals, who moved to meet the car. A hirsute, lean man in worn fatigues and combat boots; a striking woman in diaphanous clothing that likely had many local fundamentalists stewing; a man draped in dark robes covered with astrological symbols, his face cloaked by a scarf over his mouth; and a strong, solidly-built man in an Atomwear bodysuit in the colors of the Iraqi flag, floating a few feet off of the ground.

Enkidu. Qedeshot. Harut. And Sadalmelik. With Zulfiqar, these were the Watchers.

"Glad to see you here," said Enkidu, speaking with a thick British accent. "When we heard about the attack, Harut got us back here as soon as he could."

"I am sorry it was not fast enough," said Harut. "If the stars were in proper alignment..."

"They're safe," said Sadalmelik. "That's all that matters. Let's get that statue out and secured."

Cannonade was quick to handle that. Even if there was something weird to the statue, it was still pretty easy to handle. Within seconds, it was out, upright, and secured. "So," he said, "guess this antique's worth the trouble. Question is, what kinda worth's it got?"

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As they had transported the vehicle to the destination, Victory had used his scanning software to try and identify as much of the tech Zulfiqar was using as he could. Not surprisingly, at least considering where she's been known to get her tech from, most of it was completely off-the-record. And no small percentage of her gear seemed to have been changed from the last time AEGIS was able to get an updated spec. Granted, the most recent info he has is rather old. Not the easiest group to get info on, to be sure.

 

Upon landing, Victory gave the appropriate salute as the Watchers are introduced. His automatic identification software kicks in, although without as easy a direct link to AEGIS due to the distance, it may take some time to get any info, if there's any to be had. In the meantime, he tries to do a quick assessment of his own.

 

A soldier... a mystic of some kind... a possible bruiser...not sure what the other woman might be...But it seems like a balanced team.

 

"Good to meet you all. I take it you all know more of our parcel than we do?"

 

Cannonade's question gets a very slight smirk out of Victory.

 

"Probably not something you measure in dollars and cents. That wasn't the kind of crew you send just for a highway robbery. And we're not the kind you'd bring in just to prevent it."

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"In my experience, it is wise policy to destroy mystical artifacts," said the former Soviet hero easily, whose AEGIS file Victory knew only too well - Comrade Frost had not always been a hero, at least not always when dealing with Americans, and more than a few priceless artifacts had wound up destroyed in Soviet hands over the decades.  "They bring nothing but trouble and this place has had trouble enough, hmm?" He strode fearlessly past the Iraqi heroes to study the statue closely, taking out antique bifocals and peering at it intently. "But if Russia was making decisions about Iraq, things would be very different, eh?" He laughed cheerfully, clapping one of the big fellows on the shoulder with his icy hand. "You know, if is going to be problem, I say we just give it to jet-fellow here and have him fly it somewhere far away. Few could catch you, Victory!" 

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"Except," chimed in Equinox. "I'm not sure what this thing is, mystically speaking. From a magic perspective, it's... not. And not in the sense that it's non-magical." She frowned and waved her hands, trying to explain. "Basically, it's utterly inert. Most everything has some level of magic to it, even just background magic. Like radiation, everything is slightly irradiated. Except things where it can't penetrate. Like lead. This seems to be... magical lead. Profoundly not magic."

 

She was very, very, very carefully not mentioning the sheer idiocy of letting Russia manage Iraq. Not that she agreed with how it was currently done, but Comrade Frost seemed to have an... idealised view of Russia.

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"Lead?" Marut moved up to inspect the statue, staring it over. "Now that is something. As far as I see, there are two options here. One - this statue, which appears to be... Qedeshot, do you see any family resemblance?"

 

Qedeshot stepped forward, moving up to Marut. She took a careful look at the face, even though it had been weathered heavily by the weight of ages, and nodded. "I would recognize the eyes anywhere," she said. "It is Ereshkigal, queen of Irkalla and sister to great Ishtar." 

 

"More of the old ones," said Enkidu, bristling slightly at the mention of the names. "Seems they flare up every so often."

 

"All right," said Cannonade, "for those of us who didn't take Ancient History, what the hell does that mean?" 

 

"There were gods worshipped in Babylon before the spread of the word of Allah," Enkidu said. "Lesser ones. Adad, of the storms... Ishtar, of love and war... and Ereshkigal, of death and the underworld."

 

"They are no lesser," said Qedeshot. "Your blood runs from them, Enkidu."

 

Enkidu shook his head. "Not the time for this debate. So, Marut, if this statue is a tribute to the queen of the underworld, maybe it slays magic?"

 

"That's one option," said Marut. "Option number two is that this is lead. Not to its core, but heavy lead shielding. There may be some potent magic underneath the statue, hidden under the strongest of countermagics and cloaking spells. It may take some time to crack it..."

 

"In the meantime," said Sadalmelik, who'd been hanging towards the back, "there are some issues that need to be taken care of. Whoever hired those three to hit the convoy is still out there, and if he was willing to go to such excess, he will try again." He turned to the heroes. "You've brought the statue to us. You're welcome to leave, but if you wish to assist, we won't stop you."

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Frost's cheery demeanor seemed to chill slightly as he studied the statue of Ereshkigal. "I have met great lady in question. Many years ago. There was incident along borders of the dead..." He shook his head, banishing old ghosts. "She has had much grievance with the world, now and again." Putting his gloved hands in his pockets, he shot a look at the Iraqi heroes. "You have seen the old ones flare up, eh? The ancient gods do take an interest in the world of men when our eyes turn elsewhere. But a cult would have to be careful indeed in a nation where men do slay each other for wrong kind of religion, much less wrong religion altogether." 

 

He shrugged. "As for me, my government has a strong interest in a peaceful Iraq, and I have strong interest in letting the ancient gods stay in ancient realms and outside of world of men. How I can help, I shall help." 

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Victory, being more of the modern marvels kind of fellow, as opposed to ancient magic, kept passive during the debate, but was keeping a close ear on every word. There are two many unknowns about what the object really is, so he'll need as much info as he can absorb first.

 

With each of the mentions of various old gods and religions, a small browser window quickly appeared in his visor, where he'd take a speed-read of important known info, before replacing it with another.

 

Frost's input got victory talking again, as international relations often do.

 

"I'm staying around, as well. If there is an emergency back on home soil, then AEGIS has ways to find me, even out here. Right now, knowing so little about the actual goals of our thieves and what they think they can do with this....device...leaves too many potentially dangerous questions. And, as our Comrade here mentioned, this country is enough of a boiler as is. Whatever this artifact is capable of, I wouldn't be surprised if, at the very least, they may intend to cause an international incident."

 

Victory looks over to frost with a small upturn of a grin, placing a hand on his shoulder.

 

"Besides, think of the headline! East And West Join Together; Middle-East Thanks Both! Would've been history-making 30 years ago, eh?"

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Cannonade nodded. "We've come this far," he said. "Last thing I wanna do is leave a fire burning." He knew this was far from his purview - politically-sensitive situation, coupled with weird-ass magic, wasn't really his forte - but he'd gone weirder places with the Liberty League, and gotten out intact. Besides, he really couldn't turn his back on a threat like this. "So, we got any idea who'd want the magically non-magical death goddess?"

 

"I've already got an idea," said Enkidu. "Reports from the field say Haboob was there. The man may have all the intelligence of a goat that's been dead for three weeks, but he's got a steady stable of employers. Cross-reference that with Kalaa's pay stubs, and we have --"

 

"The Vizier," said Qedeshot. "One of our new would-be emperors. Controls the major pipeline for vice into and out of Baghdad, but still manages to keep his fingers clean enough to be the best friend to insurgents and mercenaries alike."

 

"Well, it's good to know you've got capos all the way across the world. But what the hell would he want with the statue?" 

 

"He doesn't have any reputation for magic," said Marut, "unless you count the rumors. Some of those who've been in his service say he can see the future, and that he hears the whispers of djinn." He shook his head. "Or, it could just be he has a reliable intelligence network. Some people will buy anything."

 

"Odds are he's the middle man," said Zulfiqar. "Perhaps if we put some pressure on him, we can find the buyer."

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