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Avenger Assembled

After the End (IC)

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September 30, 2013 

Somewhere in Ashton 

 

The apartment complex looked like any other in this bedroom community, an anonymous collection of two-story boxes done in a vaguely mid-20th century Spanish style, occupying the edge of the bedroom community in the space that lay between Ashton proper and the industrial loading docks of Greenback. Thanks to Dr. Metropolis's powers, and Daedalus' wealth, nobody much had noticed just how fast the complex had gone up, or who exactly had moved into it. There had been some very special circumstances over a year earlier, when the heroes Wander, Jill O'Cure, Dragonfly, and Harrier brought back the >last survivors of a dying world from the grip of the Terminus. Most of the time, dimensional refugees in Freedom City went to the same place - Freedom League Special Circumstances Housing. 

But these refugees, such as they were, were very special indeed. 

Murdock stepped out of the car, the taxi rising off its struts, and looked up at the nearly-anonymous building complex, clouds in a darkening sky overhead showing what promised to be the mother of all rainstorms. He wasn't looking at Circle Ten Apartments, though, or even at the agents waiting inside who he knew worked directly for the Freedom League. Instead he was remembering the last time he'd met the people inside that building. 

 

You. Dare. Beg Me? HERE?
 He remembered that day, and how close he had come to losing control, with a fever-hot vividness, and took a moment outside to compose himself.

 

Gabriel was arriving at the same time, by a discreet League teleporter into a nearby side-street rather than by his own very noticeable flight. The news wasn't good - the Terminus prisoners resettled in Freedom City had been found making a secret room inside their apartment complex, marked with strange signs and unknown names, and as the League's expert in religions, he'd been called in to see if this was another Terminus cult alive and well even among people who were supposed to be their guests. 

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Thankfully, the side street he'd arrived on had one of the service entrances. A plainclothes police officer let him inside with no one on the main street the wiser; it was quick enough that even his rather noticeable profile didn't overly stand out. 

 

Then he was inside and headed for the front lobby; while he figured he probably could take a look himself, he knew Steve Murdock would be here. It was polite to meet the other expert being called in...

 

And perhaps best to make sure he was there with Steve during the whole matter. It was unlikely to be a calming day for either of them.

 

So he waited in the lobby until Steve walked in, at which point he gave the other man a wan smile and offered his hand for a shake.

 

"Wish we were getting together under better circumstances. How much do you know about the situation? I only got the bare-bones briefing."

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"I know that of the twenty-three Doomforge operators deemed fit to enter the society of Earth-Prime, all are currently housed here." Steve's voice was cold as hammered iron, and having read the report he'd submitted to the League after their visit, it wasn't hard to guess. "In single apartments for most, with spouses in both. And that they were found in the complex's laundry room, writing on the walls in chalk in the language of the Terminus." The nature of the Terminus made all tongues one, but at the same time on the outside made the Terminus language itself almost impossible to translate if you did not speak it naturally.

 

Steve spoke, distracted, as visions of the past swam before his eyes. He pushed back the memories, and seemed to mentally return to the room as he greeted a Agent Dumfries, the AEGIS agent in charge of handling the case, and for that matter making sure that the Terminus prisoners were well-protected. With his greying ponytail and sunglasses, the agent looked for a moment more like an aging celebrity before he spoke, shaking first Gabriel's hand, then Steve's with just a trace of reluctance. "We've got them all locked up in the containment area in the sub-basement. The spot that was supposed to guard them if their master ever showed up looking for them. Do you want to see them first, or visit their little shrine?" 

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Gabriel shook hands all around, trying not to give Steve too much of a worried glance. He could easily tell how stressed his large friend was. Then again, he was a bit tense himself. This wasn't the sort of thing one dealt with on a casual basis. Everyone in Freedom City knew the dangers of the Terminus. 

 

He considered the Agent's suggestions for a moment before speaking.

 

"If it's acceptable with everyone, I'd like us to look at the shrine first. I want to get as much raw data as possible. Steve, you'll need to translate for me; Agent, could I get a notebook and pencil or pen? I'd like to take some notes and sketch out the diagram, but in English. Which should hopefully not carry the same...weight. And having it on-hand will make it easier to run the questioning. I'm pretty good at sussing people out, but it helps to have every tool at our disposal."

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The agents gave Gabriel a notebook and pen and escorted both men to the laundry room, a thin-walled structure down in the basement of Circle Ten's main building. Their escorts were efficient and projected an air of professional calm, but it wasn't hard to guess they were tense too - certainly they gave Steve in particular a very close examination before the door guard unlocked the fragile wooden doors and ushered the two men inside. Lit by emergency lanterns placed by the AEGIS agents, the scene inside the laundry room was to Gabriel like something from one of the tawdry thrillers about the Terminus - but somehow terribly more real and alive.

 

The walls were covered in crude chalk drawings of humans and humanoids, and shapes that were unquestionably Omegadrones and other monsters unknown to the world outside the Terminus. The monsters seemed to be pursuing the humans, like something from a cave painting, and occasionally they fell on a human shape and tore it to pieces, or dragged it away to become like a drone. When 'alone', the humans were weeping or otherwise embracing each other - or bowing before a symbol of Omega himself. Surrounding everything were words, the twisted script of the Terminus itself, a dark calligraphy cast in pale white chalk all around the grim, crude scenes of death, destruction, and despair. 

"We had our magic guy look it over and he couldn't detect anything," said Dumfries with a shake of his head as the heroes looked over the scene, "but I need to know if-" 

 

"Oh." The tension had gone from Steve's face, replaced by a shadow of reflected grief as he walked up to a wood panel scribbled over with small, broken humanoid images, no more than stick figures, and rows of text. "I know what this is. This is a shrine. A shrine to those they lost." He bit the words off, slowly and painfully, as thunder rolled outside. "This is a list of children's names," he said in a voice no more than a whisper. "Inhabitants of one of their homeworlds. All gone now." 

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Gabriel's expression was one of slight confusion as he took in the pictographs. It was hard to pin a motive to them... And then Steve told them all what it actually meant. And the confusion became gentle sorrow. He sighed and tucked the pad and pencil under one arm.

 

"Guess there's no point to writing this down...I hate to ask, but you're sure this is all just a memorial, nothing more? If so, I think I'd like us to speak to one or two of them at a time, and work from there."

 

Suddenly all the fire in his eyes, the determination to figure out what fouls goings-on were happening, was replaced with a bit of weariness.

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"Wait, that's what this is?" Dumfries looked wary, and perhaps a little abashed. "Why did they just say something when we-" 

 

"They would never tell. Never." Steve faced a crude horde of humanoid figures that were unmistakably Omegadrones, sketched in chalk against the wooden clothes rack that stood by the dryers. "To mourn is to expose oneself to the reality that is the Terminus, and to do so is to invite..." Having reached for the wall, almost touching, he turned and looked back at the others. "I think Gabriel is right. A direct consultation will-" 

 

Suddenly, the room plunged into darkness - the lanterns going out like so many candles snuffed into nothingness. The bulb overhead seemed to ignite, but with a glow that gave no heat or light. The only light in the room came from the drawings, which glowed in green and red. Steve felt his limbs harden like he'd been dipped in ice, and fell forward, smashing face-first into the floor with enough force from his armored body to crack the wood. Beside him, Agent Dumfries gave Gabriel a wide-eyed stare before clutching at his own chest and toppling over! 

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"Well that's bad."

 

Ever the master of understatement, that Gabriel. He glanced around with a frown, moving quickly to the door even as his spear appeared in his hand. A moment later, as his fingers touched the door handle, light erupted from his spear. He opened the door into the also-dark hallway. He then turned and strode back, bending down to the stricken Agent.

 

"Just hang on, Agent Dumfries. This sounds horribly stupid but try to stay as calm as possible. Steve, I'll be back for you in a moment."

 

He was still working on how he'd get the much-heavier man out of the room. But the Agent was easier; Gabriel wrapped one arm around the man's chest, under his arms, and heaved up enough his torso was off the ground at least. Then, as he reached the hall, he spoke up loudly, though it wasn't quite a yell.

 

"Agent down! Need assistance, medical if possible!"

 

After a moment, it was clear he'd have slapped himself in the face if he hadn't had his hands full. He spoke again, in a normal tone, but his voice reached any and every corner of the building that wasn't sound-proofed.

 

"I need anyone with medical training down in the laundry room immediately. I have a man experiencing some sort of heart trouble and I lack training."

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Trapped by his suddenly unyielding body, Steve lay as immobile as a quadriplegic before suddenly he felt the energy return to his limbs. He pulled himself first up on his arms, then to his knees as the strength flowed back into his body. Several seconds later, the lights came back on - the lanterns seeming to glow with an attenuated light, as if their bulbs had been drained of power. There was no response to Gabriel's hail, save Agent Dumfries suddenly taking a long, shallow breath. Even by the weakened light of the lanterns, Dumfries looked grey-faced and sick. 

 

"Battery-driven heart," the grey-faced agent said weakly, "Got it from the Ptahmen...after we helped out with that Sobek thing...not doing so well. Better go see to my team." 

 

"We will tend to your people," said Steve reassuringly, having made his way over there heedless of the massive bruise already forming on his own dark face. He looked up at Gabriel. "Whatever is out there is _not_ of the Terminus...I don't understand what it could be. Surely anyone who wanted these dead would simply kill them and be done with it, not be so...elaborate in their preparations." 

 

Outside, in the corridor outside the small hallway they'd left, was darkness - not shadow, not black light, but cold, pitiless darkness that seemed to be as real, as solid as any beam of light. Gabriel's shout had penetrated the darkness; the heroes could hear gunshots and commotion. As his armor closed around him, Harrier could _see_. 

 

"The Shadow World." he said simply. 

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Gabriel's face became one of determination.

 

"Stay here and recover your strength, Agent. Besides, this way we know there's someone we trust guarding our backs and keeping the...memorial safe."

 

He gave the grey-haired agent a genuine smile at that, before turning to Harrier, his face once more set as if stone.

 

"I refuse to be afraid of shadows. My friend, I would be honored if you would watch my back as we advance. I'm going to try and draw some attention and lift some spirits. Might be best to not look directly at the spear."

 

He closed his eyes and began floating forward down the hall. At first, it was a slow walk's pace. As he moved, he muttered prayers under his breath...until suddenly the light from the spear was reaching much further than normal.

 

OOC: Basically, Device Stunt for greater radius on En Control: Light

 

Gabriel's eyes snapped open, his speed increased to a very quick run, and he was moving toward where the gunshots were heard. Then, suddenly, his voice was everywhere in the building once again.

 

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.
For You are with me.
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.
"

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Harrier wasn't as sanguine about the situation as Gabriel but followed him anyway, his armor's sensors cutting through the darkness just as they'd been designed to do. He knew from personal experience that shadows could be something to fear, especially when one battled those who were connected to the dark, cold place where all shadows were born, but at the same time there was something cheering in following that candlelight spear into the darkness around. Gabriel's spear, which might have lit the place like the noonday sun under normal circumstances, cast a glow like a torch at night, spreading light but not able to banish the darkness around them. 

 

They found the battle in the courtyard in the apartment complex, where a small team of AEGIS agents were trapped inside a translucent black hemisphere just off-color from the shadows that were all around. The attack had come from the five beings floating in the air above the empty swimming pool; or so it seemed - a man dressed like a Regency fop with poofy shirt, high collar, and knee-length trousers, a shadowy humanoid shape with two white eyes in the middle of what would have been a man's forehead, a man and woman who looked like a Victorian's Cupid in flowing robes, and in the center, a paragon with flowing cape and eye chest symbol who might have stepped straight from the pages of Central Casting. 

 

Behind them was a white _space_ that seemed to be cut out of the shadow as if someone had taken a razor to black paper, making their uniformly black and white costumes seem all the more stark. "Oh! There was a superhero here after all." It was the paragon who'd spoken, eyes narrowing behind a black domino mask. "And you must be the Omegadrone. Listen, we don't want any of these people to get hurt," she said with a gesture towards the trapped agents, who were milling around in their captivity but looked none the worse for wear, "and the last thing we want is to fight you two. If you want to go ahead and get the agents out of here, go ahead - we only need a half-hour or so to do our work."

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"I wasn't exactly trying to hide myself."

 

Gabriel's tone was friendly, jesting even. His expression was a bit more open...

 

But while his spear's light dimmed perhaps a little, it still shone on. And he didn't seem inclined to move just yet.

 

"I certainly appreciate a desire to avoid injury, though I must admit skepticism when you almost killed a man with that techbane field of yours. I feel compelled to ask, though.

 

What exactly is this work you need to be about, that might take you a half-hour or so? Were you going to install a couple security systems, perhaps?"

 

Gabriel chuckled and shook his head, holding up a hand.

 

"Wait, before you answer that, I'm being a bit rude, I apologize. My name is Gabriel. My friend here is Harrier. May I ask who I'm speaking with, and where you come from?"

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"We are the Umbral Army, my boy!" said the fop jovially, "united by a common connection to that realm of mystical shadow your more boring mystics of mid-century called die Schattenwelt...well, close enough, anyway," he said, pursing his lips, "German is such a barbaric language, don't you think? I am Black Shadow, and you've already spoken to my friend the Dark Lady. We come from a place that lies between your world and its energetic opposite, the Counter-Verse." 

 

"The accident with your friend was...regrettable, but he'll recover. We had to make sure there were no technological...impediments to our mission. We're here for the Terminus...prisoners you've taken," said the Lady herself with a shadow of deep disgust crossing her face for a moment. "Your restraint when dealing with them is admirable, but the sheer strength of the murder they embody has begun to pierce the dimensional barriers between your world and the shadowlands. We've come to eliminate the problem." 

 

"You have come to destroy them." It was not a question - Steve seemed to know the answer before he spoke. 

 

"Yes, of course." She treated the suggestion with perfect casualness. "They're a threat to your world just by existing, not to mention an abomination in the eyes of any of your many deities. For pity's sake, drone, we know about you and what was done to you. Can you really tell me that mass murderers, these people who sent hundreds of thousands to mutilation, soul-murder, and torture beyond reckoning actually deserve to live."

"I have done all that, and more besides," replied Harrier, his words clipped and falcon-short; as he moved warily to face the group, separating himself from Gabriel to stay out of reach of any shadowy bubbles, he went on, "why not come for me as well?" 

"Because what you did, you were forced to do," she said, sounding exasperated. "The same as with any other victim of mind control. Look, this has to be done for the good of both our dimensions, so just stand aside and let us get it done." With a sigh, she started to fly past Harrier and Gabriel, heading for the main room deeper inside the compound where the Terminus prisoners were being held. 

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There was a shining spear in her way.

 

"No."

 

Gabriel's single word carried much weight, and his gaze was as sharp as the silvered steel of his weapon.

 

"You will not touch them. We did not ask you here. You will go home now, and then send a representative to meet with the Freedom League and the proper governmental bodies to request prisoner transfer. If you feel you need to try their crimes, go through the legal channels. If you instead simply wish to pay death for death..."

 

He stopped for a moment, tilting his helmeted and hooded head slightly to one side.

 

"I will admit, I am not a science major. But your explanation seems sketchy. Especially since there have been many other individuals who "embody" even more death, and you have not come for them. I can make sure to request Daedalus is at your meeting with the League, though. I'm sure he'd be able to understand all that inter-dimensional stuff. Anyways, the world hasn't exploded yet, I'd wager we can let this sit another day or two while we discuss the matter like civilized people."

 

He gave them a friendly smile that didn't reach his eyes.

 

"Also, perhaps you could turn the lights back on? I don't want to run down my batteries on this; just gave it fresh ones."

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"Sufficient killing can weaken dimensional barriers. Or shatter them entirely. I have seen it." Harrier's flat voice broke off as he pulled himself out of the past and into the dark present. "Particularly through dimensions such as those dominated by shadow, as you say. But there would be signs here, on Earth-Prime. Blood on the walls, shadow creatures moving forth on the landscape...none of that has been seen here." 

 

"Perhaps not in your realm," spat the female of the Cupid-lookalikes, "but we have seen it with our own eyes, and shown the signs to our allies in the shadow realm!" 

"You see!" hissed the male of the cherub twins in near-stereo, shooting Harrier a venomous look as he whispered in the paragon's ear, "Just as we told you would happen! The Omegadrone defends those who once were his kin, and the servant of the One God invites corruption and decay into the realm of his rivals!" 

 

"Hold a moment," said the foppish fellow for the first time, a suspicious look on his face, "you said you weren't expecting to see either of them-" 

 

"TARTARUS TAKE YOU!" shouted the male, "Kill them! In HADES NAME!" And as black shadows moved across the faces of the trio under the control of the corrupted Erotes and as they moved on Gabriel and Harrier, suddenly the reality of the situation grew all-too-clear for the embattled heroes! The cherubs opened fire on Gabriel, sizzling arrows shooting past him. "Stupid human, why did you have to interfere?" one shouted. The other shouted to her twin, "Don't worry, this is just a minor setback in a MAJOR operation!"

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Gabriel stood there calmly as the not-cherubs tried to assault him. Their arrows sizzled past his head as he turned and walked calmly a few feet to one side, planting himself in front of the door.

 

"O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?"

 

He gave a slight smile and waved his free hand toward the snarling shadow-wielders. Invisible waves rolled through the air and lanced into their very bones.

 

"I serve He who bears the keys of Death and Hades! I fear not your pitiful master, and your more pitiful attacks! I have faced worse! I serve the Light of the World! Your dark powers will not avail you! Go back to the shadows of your master's house! Go back, or suffer mighty defeat!"

 

And despair tugged at their hearts.

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A wave of despair rolled through mind-controlled and mind-controller alike, sending them staggering as if a small earthquake had passed by. The shadowy, shapeless figure in the rear broke from the fight entirely, suddenly sitting down and plunging shapeless limbs over a shapeless face, a paragon of misery rather than umbral power. Harrier entered the fight and targeted those two divine creatures that seemed to be the source of the trouble, targeting the male of the Erotes with a direct attack. The battle was savage, brutal, and short - the Omegadrone tore the bow out of the shadowy 'cupid's' hands with his own blade, then reversed and smashed the shrieking rear tip of his weapon backwards directly into the man's face, before reaching over and driving his armored fist into hollow wing bones. When that sent the Erote staggering, Harrier brought the shaft of his weapon up and swung it like a baseball bat, going for the head again as with a crunch he dropped the being to the floor with a rustle of feathers. It had all taken seconds, perhaps less. 

 

Of course, all that exposed the drone to the others. "You don't do that!" yelled the shadowy paragon as she fired beams of sizzling black energy from her eyes at Harrier, black flame insinuating itself through his armor to scorch too-mortal flesh. "Not to him!" added the once-dapper ringbearer, stepping forth to drive a shadowy blade through Steve's shoulder, knocking him to one knee for a moment. Pulling himself to his feet, Harrier charged his pike to stand under the unyielding assault - just as a magical arrow, fired point-blank, buried itself in his stomach, fired from the glowing-red blow of the still-standing Erotes. 

 

"If you won't get with the program, you can die with the other agents of chaos!" she shouted! 

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The whole situation was spiraling out of control, and while Gabriel wasn't really stressed by the idea of "super combat", he didn't really like the numeric odds. Only one of the attackers had been sidelined by his "trick", and while the others seemed a bit shaken, they seemed well enough to enter the fray. 

 

He felt a bit heartened when Harrier completely beat down one of the Erotes. It was a touch brutal, perhaps, but clearly non-lethal. Maybe it would send a message to the others and make them rethink-

 

"Harrier!"

 

Apparently it just made the others mad. Gabriel's eyes narrowed, and his coat flapped in the breeze generated by the sonic waves lashing around his body. His friend was hurt, and it was all the fault of these blasted servants of Hades. One of them was unconscious, but the other....

 

"YOU WILL NOT TAKE HIM, SERVANT OF HADES! I FORBID IT!"

 

His voice echoed a bit, but at the center of that admonition was a core of sonic power that just managed to slam into the winged woman. It was a sloppy shot, but it was a moving target, so he'd take sloppy if it got the job done. 

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Gabriel's shout seemed to tear the wings off the Erote like a butterfly, magic melding into shimmering gossamer that sent both her and her partner tumbling backwards - into a shimmering purple gateway in the shadow itself. Fixing a pleadingly venomous gaze on Gabriel, the female of the species fired a single shot his way as she vanished. "Your realm is next!" before she and her companion had both disappeared. Sure enough, with the removal of the two 'angels', the fight seemed to completely go out of the remaining shadow heroes. They backed away from Harrier, wide-eyed, the Omegadrone keeping his feet only through sheer force of will as the darkness alongside him faded - revealing the once-captured, now-freed AEGIS agents. 

 

"That was...unexpected," said the shadow paragon, looking at her friends first, and then the heroes. "Are you well?" 

 

"I am fine," replied Harrier, who was distinctly bleeding down his armor and onto the ground at his feet. 

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Gabriel returned the hate-filled gaze of the Erote with nary a twitch. His response was a single word.

 

"Unlikely."

 

When they were gone, he turned and walked over to Harrier, concern on his face, before turning to the AEGIS agents.

 

"Do any of you have medical training? If not, could you get an ambulance here? My friend will need attention, and Agent Dumfries will likely need a thorough checkup. His pacemaker went out for a moment a little while ago."

 

He turned to the shadow paragon and her companions, frowning.

 

"I didn't catch your names. Or a better description of where you're from, or just why you were here. Or how those two convinced you this was a good move."

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"We attacked you while under mind control," said the shadow paragon coldly. "For that, you have our apologies. We never came here to cause violence to you or the other heroes of Freedom City. As for us, what we came here to do is done. So we're leaving." As the shadows began to clear overhead, casting the glow of a clear blue Freedom City sky, she added, "Having the Terminus in your city will only bring you death. He knows, even if you don't," she said with a nod Harrier's way as the shadowy coverings over everything cleared, freeing the trapped AEGIS agents as well. "It is their fate." And with that, the umbral visitors were gone as if they had never been, leaving Gabriel alone with a badly injured Harrier. As the light cleared, heedless of his injuries, Harrier turned to Gabriel and practically grabbed him by the front of his costume. 

 

"The safe room!" 

 

Gabriel could fly much faster than Harrier, especially an injured one, and so he arrived at the bunker beneath the main building of the apartment complex just in time to find himself in a scene like the last stages of Masada. The technicians, who stripped of their costumes and gear looked like any other two dozen pale, frightened, ill-looking people, were gathered together in a circle with a red-headed woman in the middle, one he recognized from his briefing as Carol, one of their leaders. Carol looked at him, beginning to look decidedly ill, and said weakly, "Have you come to end us before they take us?" 

 

In the corner, another one of the residents, a dark-skinned man in his late fifties, was vomiting in a corner, and a few were laying on their sides in the quieter places of the room. 

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Gabriel takes in the scene, trying to figure out what's going on. At first, nothing really makes sense beyond "fear and resignation".

 

Then a couple little things added up. The smell. The cups. Their expressions.

 

His face blanched, and immediately his voice echoed out to the agents on the street.

 

"I need medics in the safe room, now! Whatever they've got that can deal with poison, likely cyanide! Possibly taken as soon as the darkness fell, or sooner! Ingested as liquid!"

 

He didn't know much about medicine, but those seemed the relevant facts. His voice became normal, and he gave Carol a pained look as he took a single step forward.

 

"No. I will not murder you. Please, everyone, try to remain calm. Help is on the way."

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It took great good luck, and maybe not a little prayer, to rescue the prisoners from their decision to end their lives rather than be taken by the Terminus - luckily Johnny Rocket was in town, and able to deliver Lady Liberty in time to help cure the effects of the mass poisoning inside the safe room. Gabriel's distress call had saved the day, and he could be congratulated for that - even if it wasn't coming from the hollow-eyed poisoning victims who the arriving EMTs immediately booked straight for the League's clinic - cured by the Light of Liberty or not. Gabriel, the League member on the scene, was kept busy answering questions as the poisoning victims were taken away. What exactly had the visitors from der Schattenwelt said? What connection did Hades have to all of this? By the time he was done, and the AEGIS agents had extended their thanks for helping save their boss, the sky overhead was beginning to darken with true night. 

 

Carson found Steve sitting alone outside,  a silent, albeit still-battered, sentinel in the empty complex square where they'd unexpectedly fought for the welfare of those who had done so much evil in the name of the Terminus. "All lived?" he asked, his voice rusty with hours of disuse at Carson's approach. 

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"Yeah. All of them. It was pretty touchy with a few, but they'll survive. I think we'll want to watch them a bit closer, though. Well. AEGIS, UNISON, somebody. What about you? You were leaking pretty bad a few minutes ago; you going to be okay?"

 

He paused for a moment, looking back toward the building.

 

"I can't say I've been through what they have...That memorial, it made me wonder. Were they doing what they did out of desperation, some sort of disconnect from their grief? I guess, from what you and others have told me about...that place...I'd imagined that most of the folks who did something that involved bought the party line, as it were. Guess it's not that simple.."

 

He looked back at his big metallic friend.

 

"Are you going to be okay? Not your injuries. You. Do you need anything? Anything I can do to help?"

 

From some it might sound at least a little fake or hollow; from Gabriel, it's raw sincerity and genuine concern.

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Steve spoke in a voice like the animate dead, his eyes looking at something beyond Carson. "There is no escape. Not for them, and not for me. I allowed myself to believe otherwise for a time, but in my heart I have always known this to be true. The past cannot be changed. The dead cannot be brought back to life." He pulled himself to his feet, keeping himself there by sheer force of will. "Thank you for saving them. It would be easier if I could...hate them for what they've done." He took a step forward, seemed to consider going forward again, then slowly but firmly slumped back into the bench he's been sitting on. "Do you think what they said is true? About the Terminus infiltrating other realms, divine ones, adjacent to this one?" 

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