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Freedom Hall

Monday, September 30th, 10:23 AM


For all its international presence the Freedom League could sometimes be viewed as American ambassadors in questions of law and often more importantly public perception. Questions of jurisdiction became very muddled very quickly in the wide and wild world of superhuman powers, brightly coloured costumes and brass tacks politicking. When it came to the Igneous, a thriving subterranean civilization with settlements and tunnels far, far below the surface of much of North America and north-eastern Asia, the question of borders turned suddenly difficult.


Thus it was that a team of Leaguers, including their resident Russian liaison, had been requested for a joint mission with the representatives of the nationally funded Canadian super team True North to respond to a reportedly tense and escalating situation deep within the section of the Rocky Mountains that crossed the 49th parallel. Besides Comrade Frost, who had had some dealings with the underground culture when the Kola Superdeep Borehole had found a little more than it had expected in the 1970s, the geokinetic Gaian Knight had been a natural choice, along with the famously diplomatic Fleur de Joie.


The team gathered about a conference table littered with briefings on the area's geography, past encounters with the Igneous and the members of True North they'd be meeting with, familiarizing themselves with all of them before departing.

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"I always did enjoy the Rockies," Gaian Knight mused, leafing his way through an old geological study with expert interest. "I've been meaning to find an excuse to head up to Canada for a while, really - their bit of the range has some great mudstone."

"Oh, yes," Tiamat agreed with all the sincerity and enthusiasm of a teenager stuck in class. She was at least attempting to look through their data on the Igneous, but apparently wasn't having a lot of luck staying focused. "Mudstone. Fascinating. With a name like that, I'm sure it must be beautiful. How come it's never mountains of ruby or crystal spires with you?"

"Pretty sure they don't have those, Tiamat - even in Canada."

She dropped her piece of paper back into the table with a deep grumbling sound. "Well they should."

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"You know," said Comrade Frost conversationally, "Southern Ural mountains are famous source for gems of all kids. If you ever want to come fight seven dread colossi of Manpupuner alongside Russian heroes, I am sure we could arrange for you to spend some time amidst largest ruby mines the world. True story." He winked at Tiamat, then turned back to the report before him. His face as usual hidden by his insulated white cowl, the Russian hero picked up a cup of boiling hot coffee and raised it to his lips, white-gloved hands spreading pictures and documents that he had actually gone to the trouble to print out and study. "My personal experience was with Igneous of Russian underground. Was source of rumors of Soviet Russia digging portal to Hell." He snorted, creating a faint cloud of white mist from his nostrils. "Nice people. We liberated them from their worship of Chernobog and made good friends. They said little of eastern cousins." 

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Fleur looked up from the pile of papers she'd been studying and massaged her temples with the tips of her fingers. "We've got a lot of information to dig through here," she observed, "but I don't know how useful it's going to be until we know more about what's happening now. And these underground missions are tough to begin with." She rose from the table and walked over to the largest window, tipping her head back and closing her eyes to let the morning sun shine down on her face and turn her hair bright green. The plant controller had traded her usual cowl for a fitted hip-length trenchcoat and eschewed her mask, making her look less a superhero and more a tired woman who'd made an unusual coiffure decision.


 "I've mostly been reading from the geographic info pile," she remarked without turning around. "Who've we got coming in from True North? Maybe one of them knows enough to give us the scoop on what exactly we're getting into." 

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"I have worked with Shield and Bombardier before, in incident where Tuurngag merged with great Inuit god Tekkeitsertok and laid waste to Arctic. Feh, what a cold one that was, thank goodness for all the fires." He shivered a little at the memory. "Shield is interesting lady. Of Ignean and human stock, which must have required..." He made a little circle in the air, looking briefly baffled, before he went on, "Anyway, has geokinetic powers of Igneous people and connection to family still below. She surely will know something of their affairs in matter at hand. Bombardier is fine fellow, very...robust, in that Canadian way. You know the type, I am sure. Wendy Go is new member. Say, I wonder...no, surely not." He folded his hands, remembering his own encounters with the Igneous people. With a memory that stretched back to the 1930s, the Soviet encounter with the Russian Igneans in the 1970s was practically a stone's throw away for his frozen mind. 


"Igneans are...smart for people with rocks in their heads, heh-heh-heh. We made treaty with them after we helped with Chernobog problem and has been good ever since. We have ores they do not, and refined goods, but for the most part they are happy living in their rocks and shaping them as they see fit. Government is a bit like old capitalist merchant city of Venice, guilds and noble houses competing in council elections. Not as bloody as old times, though, not generally. They are too...ossified for that, or for much changing of minds. All are zemlya, er, earth manipulators, like Gaian Knight, though none nearly so powerful. It is skill and talent for them like any other, not what we would think of as superpower, aah..." He scratched his chin, and admitted, "It is not good they call us, or True North, for that matter. Igneans prefer to handle own problems, even in time of crisis." 

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"We have files on True North around here somewhere....hm...." Tarrant frowned, digging through his stack of papers; he'd long since pulled his facecloth down and his goggles up to keep them out of his way. "I could have sworn...."

"Yo." Tiamat waved a thick folder before sliding it as close to Fleur's side of the table as she could. She was, apparently, pointedly ignoring Comrade Frost - he'd gotten her attention at talk of ruby mines, and lost it just as quickly with the wink.

"Ah, thanks. I'd like to know what the issue is, myself - the location is certainly touchy, right on the border and all, but I'm a little thin on details. As for the Igneous, I haven't run into them more than a couple times but from what I know they're not bad folks - they're usually way out of human kind's way, and they don't like the surface much. No ceiling," he only half-jokingly explained, gesturing upwards. He was a little sympathetic to the feeling, really, especially when relying on his more exotic senses. "I'm wondering what's happened to draw them out, especially if any of their, ah, higher-ups are involved. The ones in charge are - unsurprisingly, heh - often the ones with stronger abilities."

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"I know the True North agents," Fleur said with a nod, "or at least know of them. Canadian Shield will probably be the key, she's been in on every Ignean interaction I've heard of, so she ought to know what's going on. Bombardier's a good guy, though he's more a sky type than underground." She shrugged a little. "He'll make do, I imagine. I haven't met Wendy Go, but I've heard of her. She's a cadet, sort of the equivalent to a Claremont student tagging along with the League. I don't think she's been on any international missions before. She's a shapeshifter or some kind of animal totem, turns into a big white monster that can throw houses. She seems like a sweet girl, and she could come in handy. Anything else we need before we head out?" She looked at the others, automatically lifting a hand towards the flowers in her hair. 

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Frost jumped slightly at Fleur's words, the Russian speaker putting two and two together and sensing that trademark Canadian humor at work. Not being one to judge, he opted not to share his insight - if Daniel Storm trusted a ghoul of the frozen north as a member of his team, Comrade Frost had learned through decades of experience that said being could be trusted with the world. Speaking of, I should look into that ghost girl I've heard so much about. There are not so many of us with no life in us but ice and cold these days. "I...erm, no, I have no more business. We should move quickly," he said, rising to his feet and pulling his white cloth gloves back to his wrists like a surgeon snapping on latex. "Border crisis or elsewise, True North does not call for aid for any small matter, and neither do Igneans. This is grave matter." He gave Fleur a slightly wary look, but by now he knew the American plant manipulator and he were at least willing to get along before the others. 

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"Nothing here either," Gaian Knight agreed, putting a seismic chart down and getting to his feet. The goggles went back up over his eyes as he pushed his chair in, though they couldn't hide one last glance down at the assorted papers. "I'm going to regret not having read some small, missed detail in there somewhere, I'm sure, but that's always the way."

"S'what you get for being an egghead," Tiamat taunted as she circled the table toward the group. "You should just punch your problems. It's a lot easier."

"Ah, yes, the punching solution. If that's the best option, why did you go through almost as much of that research as the rest of us?"

"Shut up, that's why. We going or what?"

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Going they were, with a trip through the verdant field of Fleur's powers seeing the quartet stepping from the trunk of a ponderosa pine onto the uneven foothills of the mountain range. They were technically on Canadian soil for the time being and though it wasn't terribly far north the elevation and time of year made things chilly enough to be uncomfortable for those Leaguers sensitive to it. Having crossed a pair of time zones, it was now early morning, with the late autumn sun only just out in earnest.

"And there they are," a nearby voice announced with the resonant enunciation of a practiced public speaker colouring a honey smooth drawl. "Welcome to British Columbia."

The speaker would have stood out even in less stark surroundings, a muscular woman towering at nearly seven full feet, with an ashen skin tone offset by warm copper-hued hair tied up in a business-like style. Symmetrical patterns of mineral scales dusted her high cheekbones where freckles might have been on another woman and the maple leaf motif of her white and cool green uniform left little doubt that this was Canadian Shield.

As Combs strode toward them with wide steps in serious looking combat boots, a loud guffaw erupted from the armored man to her left. "Haw! They dragged you out for this, eh, Frost?" Bombardier had the helmet of his armor tucked under one arm, exposing a wide grin framed by a thick brown mustache and goatee and eyes that positively twinkled. "Guess they didn't want me being the least diplomatic one here! We'll grab a drink after, yeah?" Most of his armor had the look of brushed steel with elements picked out in a brilliant, metallic blue slightly scuffed from wear but free of pits or dents, suggesting a man who took pride in properly maintained equipment if not cosmetics.

The third member of the True North contingent, standing a little further back to Canadian Shield's right, said nothing yet, evidently waiting for a polite opportunity to introduce herself. Reedy by nature but showing signs of regular training through her simple red and white jumpsuit, Wendy Go regarded the Freedom Leaguers with a mixture of curiosity and the concern a student might give material she might later be tested upon. She chewed her lower lip absently and if her teeth were a little sharp and her mouth a little wide, it was a subtle thing and certainly not outside the spectrum of normal human features. The bone white streak in her otherwise dark, chocolate brown hair was more obvious as was scent that hit Tiamat's nose like the smell of freshly killed meat leaking from a closed dumpster.

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Fleur took a moment to button her coat as they arrived, but her smile was warm enough as she greeted their opposite number. "It's very good to see you again," she said, stepping forward to clasp hands with Canadian Shield. From close up, she had to crane her neck back to look the Canadian leader in the eye, and she had to resist the momentary temptation to make herself a footstool from the underbrush. "And you as well," she added with a friendly grin for Bombardier, taking his hand as well. "I heard about what you did at that stunt show over Lake Erie, that was quick thinking! You'll have to tell me the story later, if you and Comrade Frost are not too busy telling lies over drinks," she teased.


She turned her attention to the quiet young woman. "And you must be Wendy Go?" she guessed, giving the girl a reassuring smile and taking her hand with both of hers. "It's lovely to meet you. I'm Fleur de Joie, and these are my colleagues, Gaian Knight, Tiamat, and Comrade Frost. We're looking forward to working with all of you." Introductions taken care of, she turned back to Canadian Shield. "We want to help in whatever way we can." 

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"Feh, I represent Mother Russia honestly and forthrightly, what more could a diplomat do, eh?" Frost laughed and clapped Bombardier on the back, then turned to Wendy Go. He looked the monster girl in the eye and remembered other young people, in long-gone places and times, fighting for their people because it was that or live as what they were. "Ah, privet! It is pleasure to meet another fine member of True North, my dear," he said with a paternal wink in her direction. He didn't offer to shake hands, even with gloves on, some people just didn't like it. As for the other member of the group, he was used to people in the modern age towering over him, but few did so quite as much as the mighty Canadian Shield did. He looked up at the giantess, remembering occasions he'd seen her manipulating volcanic power, and for a moment let his mind wander. 

"And hello as well, Canadian Shield. Ever on guard, eh?" He looked around and shrugged. "So, what affairs lie below?" 

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Tiamat took an appreciative breath of the brisk morning air in through her nose...and almost immediately sharply exhaled it back out like she'd gotten something unpleasant up her nostrils. Under her domino ask, one red eye scanned the group as she took a couple far more subtle and tentative sniffs at the air.

"Watch the kid," she murmured to Gaian Knight as Fleur de Joie and Comrade Frost made their introductions. "She's...dunno, don't recognize it. But it probably isn't great."

Gaian Knight quietly hmmed, but behind his goggles his reaction was otherwise unreadable. "Not to get to business too quickly, yes, but it did sound rather important," he agreed, offering Canadian Shield and Wendy a bow and Bombardier a friendly nod. "We're looking forward to lending a hand - afraid we didn't have much on what's happening, though."

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Bombardier laughed loudly at Fleur's comment before slugging Frost in the shoulder, thankfully without the strength amplifying assistance of his armor. "Eh, come on, how could you doubt anything coming from this face, haw!" he pleaded comically, indicating the Russian thermovore. Catching Tarrant's eye, the armored Francophone gave a broad friendly wave. "Paul Bouchard, Bomardier," he introduced himself cheerily. "The token man of common sense and science among godless mumbo jumbo types, eh?" Making his way over close enough to offer his armored hand to Tiamat, he added in a lowered voice in Gaian Knight's direction, "Don't let Lizzie scare you off too much. Moving rocks is a bit of a pissing contest with Igneous, tsé?"
Wendy Go's eyes widened briefly at the attention but she smiled gamely and shook Stesha's hands with both of her own. The florakinetic could tell that the younger woman was being painstakingly delicate with the gesture but with the proverbial ice broken her expression was sunny. "Ah, that's right! It's really great to meet you, I've heard a lot, obviously!" With a rueful bob of her head that suggested she'd been accused of gushing in the past, she nodded to each of the Americans in turn, keeping one eye on her team's leader for direction.

Canadian Shield herself had set her jaw slightly as Comrade Frost addressed her, taking a brief moment to point toward her own, nickel hued eyes and then back at the parka wearing man warningly. "I know there wasn't as much lead time as anyone might have liked," she agreed with Gaian Knight. "We appreciate you coming out on short notice. A united front may make a difference here but time is a factor. I'll explain on the way." The towering woman, raised both hands in front of her and the ground around the group stirred in response. She paused, however, turning to Tarrant. "Unless you'd care to do the honors, Knight?"

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Gaian Knight raised an eyebrow at the friendly and unspoken challenge, but he seemed game; the hero bowed again, spreading faintly glowing hands out to the sides. "With your permission, of course - it is your territory, as it were."

The ground the group was standing on detached from its surroundings - gently, so as not to overly disturb the plants (a habit learned from spending so much time around Fleur) - and curled up a bit around the edge to form a vaguely circular riding platform. No sooner had Tiamat muttered something dire about being underground than the soil beneath them silently yawned open, the platform quickly accelerating down and toward the mountains. "I am afraid you'll have to help me navigate a bit," their conductor politely requested, looking sightlessly forward along their path as the world closed back up behind them. "I can keep us out of hazards, but I only have a general idea of where we're headed."

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  • 2 weeks later...

Fleur sat down as the world began to twist and reshape around them, taking a comfortable crosslegged position with her hands in her lap. Gaian Knight was a careful driver, but falling over thanks to an unexpected corner was just undignified. "We don't have much information to go on so far," she remarked to Canadian Shield. "Freedom City doesn't see a lot of subterranean action, given how many heroes have underground bases scattered around, so it's never really come up. What can you tell us about what we're likely to be facing?" As she spoke, she idly waved a hand over the grass near her on the platform,  the leaves following her hand as though stirred by wind. "And what approach are we looking for? Stricly diplomatic?" 

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"Ideally," Combs told Stesha with a set to her jaw that suggested she wasn't as optimistic about that as she might have liked. The slate hued woman seemed to have having no trouble keeping her balance as their rocky platform slid downward at a steep angle, occasionally giving Tarrant minor course corrections but largely standing back and observing her fellow geokinetic work. Wendy seemed to have similar concerns to Fleur, bending down on one knee and steadying herself with a hand on the ground, while Bombardier rode the platform with the lack of concern of a pilot well acquainted with turbulence.

"Generally, Igneous prefer to keep to themselves. They don't like change much and as a rule they don't have much use for the surface or humans," Canadian Shield continued, her smooth voice as well suited to a briefing as a press conference. "For the last few years, one of the younger senators, Laccolinth, has been advocating for a more open relationship with the surface, loudly and persuasively. Importing what we'd think of as modern tech, expanding trade agreements, a seat at the UN." Combs made a fist of one hand and tapped an extended thumb against her chin in a contemplative gesture. "You can see how that would make some people either very excited or very nervous and that's not even a fraction of the stir he's been causing in Hypabylon itself. Laccolinth is very popular with the young guard, especially the commoners since surface technology would go a long way to balancing power between the earthmover bloodlines. He's ambitious and depending on who you ask more than a little ruthless. The last messages I received suggested civil war is almost inevitable at this point." Pausing to point Gaian Knight slightly to his right, she pulled a weary expression. "Imagine a pair of eight point oh earthquakes fighting it out under our collective feet."

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Old-line Marxist that he was, Frost liked the sound of this Laccolinth fellow. The power of the noble families among the Igneous had never set particularly well with him, for all that the Siberians and Kolans he was personally familiar with were less interested in such things. From each according to his ability, to each according to their need, eh? The words were as true as the first day he'd read them. And he had seen enough societies stagnate over his many decades of life that the news that someone was interested in technological expansion seemed a reasonable course. 


But he was far too much the veteran to comment on a friendly ally's politics, especially in a fraught diplomatic situation with his own team likely taking another view. And one can never know these situations. With my luck, I would speak and he would turn out to be some masked madman fighting some petty paternal grudge. "We shall do all we can to prevent such a thing," he said seriously, as he spoke letting his body stretch and shift into a roiling man-sized cloud of white haze able to keep up with all the rapid movement. "Civil war is curse to any nation, much less one of friends.

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"I admit I can see the appeal of his platform," Gaian Knight admitted, though his eyes - literal or metaphorical - didn't move away from directing them ever onward. "I imagine the Igneous and the surface world would have a great deal to share, for the benefit of both sides."

"Kingdoms have fallen for better intentions." In what dim light was offered on their subterranean journey, Tiamat looked briefly...old, the pupils of her gently glowing red eyes pulling into lizard-like vertical slits. "It all sounds good in speeches and sometimes it's true. And sometimes it's lies. But so often it's children who don't know what war and real leadership are, and old men too stubborn and afraid to change. But, anyway," she added, pulling a grimace, "as shocking as it might be, I think I'm going to vote for as much diplomacy as possible on this one. It's a lot less fun, but being stuck underground when some idiot brings the earth down on top of us sounds even less fun than that."

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Fleur's eyes widened as she took in the implications of the briefing. "So our mission is to prevent a civil war between two deeply entrenched factions?" she asked, her voice sounding a little faint. "If tensions are running as high as you say, I can't help but thinking that any meddling we as outsiders do is just going to pour gasoline on the fire that's already burning. The xenophobic contingent, at least, is hardly likely to listen to what we have to say." She massaged her forehead with her fingers. "And even if we tried to convince them, I imagine the progressives aren't going to be content with staying underground just to preserve the peace.' 


She looked around at the others, some of the grass she'd been playing with already starting to curl in on itself and wilt. "Have we got an ace up our sleeve that might tip the odds for us?" she asked. "Otherwise... we may want to start shaking the League's tree for more geokinetics to hold the world together." 

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"That why we brought a princess along, eh?" Bombardier broke in with a hearty chuckle that was deep and warm even through the external speakers of his helmet.
Canadian Shield shot an annoyed look in Bouchard's direction but let the comment pass. "Obviously we're hoping it doesn't come to that," she agreed, her expression somewhat less reassuring than it might have been, "but if it looked as though it was going to be easy, we wouldn't have called in the League for support. The Igneous are stubborn and like making shows of strength as a rule but they're slow to actual violence."

"Lizzie can give any of them a run for their money chucking rocks and her mère's a big shot noble in another rock people city, so they've gotta be polite, tsé?" the armored hero continued, looking about the group. "Monsieur Knight seems to be doing alright for himself on the first count and they oughta know Frost already by reputation. Never heard of anybody not liking you, belle Fleur, so I wouldn't worry much." Laughing again, he added, "Me, I'm Quebecois! We know a thing or duex about stubborn civil disagreement, haw!"

Still crouching, Wendy Go did a poor job of hiding a bout of self-doubt about her own inclusion on the a small team while Combs gave Gaian Knight a final set of instructions. "We'll be there soon. If anyone has any questions, now's the time, people. You already know about as much as we do about the current situation; once we arrive we'll have to play things by ear."

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Gaian Knight followed Shield's instructions dutifully, keeping sharp acceleration to a minimum for the sake of anybody still standing. The prolonged subterranean trip had set a few small rocks orbiting his cross-legged form, but he didn't seem to be paying them much mind. "Do you know anything about the high-profile folks we'll be running into?" he asked, after a moment's thought. "You mentioned Laccolinth, but it couldn't hurt to know who the other movers and shakers are before they start, ah, moving and shaking. Forewarned is forearmed, and all that."

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"Is he first or last pebble of avalanche?" asked Frost, continuing with the train of thought he'd begun earlier. More so than the young people with their American heritage, or the dragon with her medieval past, he had an intimate acquaintance with the fall of governments and the rise of new ones, and knew enough about the politics of those below to have his suspicions. "Does he move and the people move with him, or is he spokesman for the masses? In my experience, movement is never just one man and his followers. If he truly speaks for people of Igneous heritage, those not part of old aristocracy, this could potentially be difficult. Madame Shield, you know locals best of all of us. What is likelihood that we will be asked to help them with...problem?" he asked as diplomatically as possible.

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"It's harder because they're not actually fighting with us," Fleur speculated aloud, "so it's not a matter of concessions or negotiations on our own behalf. But there might be things we can do to ease tensions down there, just as a third party with a lot of interest in not getting too shaken up. But I guess we won't know what they want or need till we get down there. We'll follow your lead," she told Canadian Shield. "We have a lot of room to be flexible with how we use our own powers to defuse the situation, and I can call in other people if there are skillsets we need and don't have." 

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"Arenaceous is probably the senator most vocally opposed to Laccolinth's ideas," Combs noted with a frown, seeming to mull something over internally. "The Igneous economy is still barter based more than anything but Arenaceous is as close as they get to old money."
"Old power?" Wendy Go supplied absently before blinking several times and biting her lower lip, regretting the interruption.

Canadian Shield for her part looked thoughtful. "Right idea, yes. He's a paragon of traditional values but equally well known for spending his time and influence improving things for the lower and middle classes. Apprenticeship programs, improving safety conditions in the deepest mines. He's well liked."
"Which starts to answer your question, Frost," Bombardier noted, his tone and posture a little more sober as he folded his arms. "Not so much the bourgeois against the masses, eh? Now, Arenaceous and Laccolinth, they hate each other but rock man on the street, harder to say until we're there in person."

"Which we are," Shield noted as the front wall of their earthy bubble gave way to a gaping cavern several hundred meters across. The combined teams stepped out onto a ledge the width of an interstate highway with sheer rock on one side and dizzying drop on the other. Even from the far side, the heat from the river of lava running parallel but far below was palpable. "The city itself is this way," the half-Igneous directed, taking the lead. "We'll go on foot from here; less chance to popping out in the middle of someone's home."

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