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November 11, Monday, 4.50PM

 the city of Algeciras, Cadiz province, Spain


Algeciras is easily one of the world's busiest ports. Connecting the shipping of Africa, the Americas and Europe meant the city was a hive of activity, and the three newcomers from America had seen plenty of evidence of that just from the plane.


Down on the streets that feeling was compounded. The air rang with voices from a dozen nations, the roads hummed with traffic racing across the metropolis, and along with the sharp smell of the sea were the deep scents of petrol, metal and lots and lots of cheerfully sweaty people strolling, jogging, running and generally moving on the long trek of their lives.


The coffee house Corbin's contact, an archaeologist with an at least cursory knowledge of the arcane world, had asked to meet them in was hardly a respite. It buzzed with the chatter of its patrons, the strong, thick coffees made every breath aromatic and the intricate carvings that passed over every corner of the ceiling, the myriad of pictures and beautiful sea view from the windows ensuring that if you bored of the people, the place could still entertain.


It had been only around ten minutes since Tia Rojas had been late, and the minutes flew by regardless of what she was here to tell them.


Cobalt Templar was always on the search for the rest of the Seven Rings of antiquity, in part to make sure they found worthy bearers in the present, and that nobody would abuse their power. Tia had heard rumors that something uncannily like the Indigo Ring had just appeared in Spain, somewhere in southern Iberia. Its wielder was impossible to make out, a patch of inky darkness that vanished into the night it never dared leave, leaving behind people stricken with lost memories only able to recall a flash of purple light.


Thus, the presence of his former team mates Indira Singh(Wraith, of the shapeshifting metal species Kinigosi), and Kimber Storm(Ghost Girl, world's happiest poltergeist). Whatever this new bearer was about, it was hard to look at favorably.

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Corbin Hughes sat and sipped one of the strongest cups of coffee the cafe served, his eyes not focusing on any one thing. It was good coffee, and he'd had stronger and much less pleasant. He was a bit concerned about the lateness, but it wasn't terribly bad yet, and he knew countries that weren't the US or UK tended to run on their own time.


Still, these rumors about this Ring-bearer who wielded shadow had him a bit worried. The purple light and the mental distress and memory erasure pointed to the Indigo Ring, but absolutely nothing in his research suggested it had powers over shadow.


He knew when he needed backup, and considering the unknown shadow powers plus the potentially potent mental powers of the probable Ring, he'd elected to ask for help from two individuals that might be more resistant to such abilities.


"Thank you again for agreeing to help, ladies. I realize this was a bit out of the blue, but I think you'll both bring expertise we'll need, and perhaps some perspective that will be helpful."


Man, he sounded like one of the Claremont teachers or something these days.

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"I am always happy to help," Indira replied from behind a rather large pair of sunglasses. "It is not often that I get to travel; I am always curious to see new and different cultures."

Of course, she wasn't actually supposed to travel, but she was keen to gloss over that fact. She was pretty sure that if her parents or their Lor witness protection agent knew she was out of the city - much, much less the country! - they'd blow their tops. But what they didn't know couldn't hurt them, right?

"Is your friend usually late? I suspect that for a matter of such importance, I would make very sure to be on time."

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"Well hey, everything I do is out of the blue!" the other young woman chimed in with a bubbling laugh, raising a hand that faded from solid looking flesh to translucent azure for a brief moment. The other hand wrapped around the stem of an opaque parasol that hid her sunny disposition from the more literal rays that would have revealed her ghostly nature. Strictly speaking it was only the poltergeist's telekinesis that held the shade in place but Kimber had gotten quite good at maintaining the illusion of a corporeal form so long as she didn't have to move around too much.

If the parasol stood out a little, the outfit she'd affected, based on the local women in the cafe and passing by on the street, painted her as an enthusiastic tourist. Nibbling on the ephemeral essence of a tapas the way Nick Cimitiere had taught her, she looked about the room with avid interest. "Maybe she just got caught up with some history stuff? I mean, there's an awful lot of it!"

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"I don't really know her overly well, Indira. More one of those "friend of a friend" things. You'd be surprised how thorough the "old boys" network is among historians. Or maybe not. Either way, I've found that many European countries tend to define "late" a bit differently than us."


He couldn't help but chuckle at Kimber's joke. 


"One might say the same about me, I suppose. And you're right, she may just have gotten caught up in research. That's why I'm not overly concerned just yet. If it goes much longer, I'll try giving her a call or something."

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Indira hummed, scanning her eyes over the other patrons of their waiting spot. The sunglasses had been an impulse buy earlier that day, but she really would have to use them more often; they were fantastic for just watching people without getting awkward looks.

And she did love watching people.

"I did not mean to seem impatient," she apologized. "I am unused to dealing with people in...I am sorry, what is the word? Academy? Academia, yes; I simply have not spent as much time with them. I can understand how you might lose track of time when researching something you enjoy very much."

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The front door crashed inward, admitting a fresh wave of hot air and a lean woman carrying a heavy backpack, who removed a pair of sunglasses, glanced around the coffee house, lighted on the three and marched over to their table.


Dropping the backpack beside them, she dragged over a chair and plunked it down, giving the trio a brisk smile as she sat and surveyed them curiously "Good day-well, end of the day, I suppose. Rojas, Doctor of Early European History. You may call me 'Tia', if you like" she said, her rough, kindly voice heavily accented. Tia had been young long ago, but the dark, leathery skin, graying hair and dark eyes in a perpetual squint from being in the glaring sun for decades signified years spent in action, and her lean frame had a wiry strength to it. Looking at Kimber's parasol with slight amusement she added "I'm afraid I don't know much about any of you, but you have come to help, right? I will not pry. Tell me" her smiling face turned grave "what does this...problem sound like to you? Could something from the realm of shadows have taken the Ring?" her question was asked with a low tone, despite the cheerful buzz of conversation in the coffee house easily keeping their own talk private.

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Corbin gave a polite smile of greeting.


"It's good to meet you in person, Tia. You already know my name is Corbin. These are my friends Indira and Kimber. They're interested in the historical aspects of this, but also in the more...present-day...implications. It helps to bring fresh eyes to a problem sometimes."


As she spoke of the actual problem, his expression turned to sober thoughtfulness.


"It is possible, yes. Everything I know of the Rings would suggest they could be claimed by many entities, if not already at least partially "bonded" with a user. That is perhaps the one flaw in their design, that they typically are not very "picky" on wielder. All things considered it's not totally surprising. And of the Rings for some sort of shadow-being to take, the Indigo would fit well. It gives off light, but its powers are primarily those of the mind. If it had been the Blue or Yellow Rings, I'd be less convinced, though."

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"We're freelance monster hunters!" Kimber supplied helpfully to the new arrival indicating Indira and herself before pensively considering the claim. "Well, maybe. We're still working some stuff out there. We could be, is the point, which is really just as good regardless!" Giving Tia a bright smile and a reassuring thumbs up with her free hand, the young woman twirled her parasol about idly as she turned her attention to the matter more at hand. "Doesn't necessarily have to be anything all that shadowy. Invisibility isn't that hard, especially at night! Sounds like somebody who just wants to be left alone. Do you know what they're after besides just being generally spooky?" That seemed like a good enough reason all on its own to her but not everyone shared her ghostly predilections.
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Blinking in surprise, Tia looked a little dubiously at Kimber "I'm not sure that's entirely comforting...but I like your spirit!" she added with a smile that nearly crinkled her eyes out of sight "We could use more of it, so many young people these days, always so dour, so drab, like they cannot see the wonderful things right in front of them!".


At the shade's question about what the ring-bearer was hoping to gain the historian pursed her lips a little, visibly mulling it over before answering slowly "I think, but do not know for sure, that they are trying to find something near here. Let me show you."


Reaching into the backpack she withdrew a heavily battered map and propped it up so the three young heroes could see it. It was a map of the peninsula, looking like it had been made at least ten years ago and covered in dotted trails depicting everything from migrations to the routes of armies, outlines of dozens of now-vanished settlements jostling for space beside modern towns and cities. A new trail had been marked in dark blue.


"Here," said Rojas as she tapped a large dot that started the trail just a few miles west of Madrid's outskirts, "is where the first sighting was. A bicyclist going home was bowled over by a dark mass, and came to remembering nothing for the last hour except dread. As you can see, it goes south...more or less. A fire at an antique shop in Albacete happened just before it's sighting there, no loss of life but it does make you wonder. Then it comes to our neighourhood, Granada, Sevilla, Cadiz, and now just north of here. Something it's after must be somewhere nearby, otherwise why not just leave Spain?" The area only a dozen miles away had three dots in it, with only six on the map in all.


Rojas shrugged and the put the paper down, folding it back up deftly with scarred fingers "Those who encountered it were unmolested, and it took nothing from them, not even food or water."

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Indira had leaned over to look at the map with great interest, and when Rojas put hers away the young Indian woman pulled out her own - it was merely a cheap city map, the sort you'd pick up in an airport or tourist shop, but it had a small map of the greater layout of Spain that was serviceable, if rather crude. "There are many things you can take from someone which are not food or water," she mused, pushing her sunglasses up to her forehead in order to better trace the being's reported journey.

"The 'more or less' part is very curious to me. Cadiz is between Algeciras and...I am sorry, how did you say it? Seville?" she glanced up, brown eyes questioning. "But Granada and Albacete are perhaps out of the way if the goal is only to come here from Madrid, and Seville is out of the way if one is to come here from Granada. If this...'dark mass' is attempting to locate something, perhaps that something is attempting to not be found?"

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"Considering the Indigo Ring was supposed to grant powers related to the mind? You're right, it's quite possible it was...hm."


Corbin's frown deepened.


"Obviously it didn't take bank numbers or the like. So it was searching for something else...perhaps their more generic memories of the area? The appearances do strongly suggest there's some sort of search pattern going on, rather than a simple A to B journey. But they're still moving along a path..."


Corbin looked to the woman who was somewhere between "mentor" and "peer".


"Tia, do you have any local legends about artifacts in the area? Especially items that would relate to light, darkness, or the mind? Perhaps something that was taken on a journey of some sort?"

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"If this...'dark mass' is attempting to locate something, perhaps that something is attempting to not be found?"

Folding her hands and resting her chin on the knuckles, the archaeologist allowed a thoughtful "That is a very good point. It would explain the wandering, for certain. And the Indigo does...well, 'did' have some strange power over the mind, searching memories could be part of it." Frowning deeply at the implications, the older woman glanced over at Corbin as he asked about the area's legends. There was a brief silence as her eyes flicked up to the ceiling and her forehead creased in a fashion all three had seen more than once in class, the instructor trying to remember something.


At last she shook her head slowly "None. There was a-alright, fine," Rojas rolled her eyes and smiled sheepishly as  looked back at the trio "there was one. A folk tale some of the Moors had about the old Caliph Abd-ar Rahman the Third, from the tenth century C.E. The story goes that long ago, feeling rhe weight of his age as his reign dragged on, he went on a journey to the southern provinces to rest. While camped many miles south of Sevilla, he slipped away from his guard and found a pool in a small valley. Looking into it, he saw his face and mourned the passage of years, wishing aloud that he could have the sharp and clear mind he used to have."


At a nearby table, a cheerful burst of laughter and bawdy suggestions started ringing out, caused by a young couple very energetically starting to make out.


Coughing a little, the historian added "From what accounts I have read, Abd-ar Rahman was not known for lapses in intelligence, or self-pity. Even by those closest to him. Anyway! A light shone from the pool, and a voice told him that if he dipped his father's ring into the water and drank it, he would have his wish. Greedily following that command, the Caliph found the fog of years cleared in a flash, and started to run back to the camp. But the voice spoke again, warning him that the gift wouldn't last, and offered a second draught to show him the dangers he would face in the future. Turning back to the pool he said "Once is enough for me. Thank you for your offer, O Radiant Pool, but only God should know the future, not Man." And he left rejoicing. The shining pool is said to still wait, offering any who find it that second gift." Shrugging, Prof. Rojas smiled apologetically "Sorry Corbin, it isn't much, but all I can think of right off the bat."


A bird landed above their window, a seagull, and it added its squawking voice lustily to the din already going on inside.

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  • 2 weeks later...

"He drank the ring?!" Kimber balked, pulling a face for a moment before parsing the sentence differently. "Oh, the water, he drank the water. That makes more sense, sure." Nodding thoughtfully to herself, the cheerful young woman bounced up and down in her seat, coming perilously close to forgetting not to actually float. "I guess if you're trying to find a secret spot, reading minds until you find somebody who's been there before kinda makes sense. Seems like an awful lot of work just to get a bunch of bad news from a big puddle!" The incognito phantom pursed her lips before shrugging. "We could just go where we think it's gonna be and ask when we run into it! I bet it'd love to read your brain, Corbin, you know loads about old stuff nobody else cares about!"

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"The ring is an odd detail." Indira had leaned back in her chair again, attention initially on Rojas as she spoke but increasingly - if idly - distracted by the growing din and sudden appearance of the bird. <Too small to hunt, perhaps, and it poses no risk. Its type could be good agility practice, however....> "Stories do not always have to make perfect sense when examined, but it is odd that a magic, talking pool would require the presence of the jewelry of a user - I am sorry, perhaps that is better as 'the user's jewelry'? - to function."

She glanced at her map again, frowning. "I do not suppose there is any more legend surrounding where precisely this fabled pool is to be?"

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"Ancient legends can get confusing, Kimber. No worries. But it sounds like the puddle might be able to give a lot more than just "bad news". Perhaps whoever or whatever seeks it is looking to get a lot of insight into the future as a whole. Considering their methods I'm hoping they don't get what they want."


He pondered the map, frowning at it as well.


"Well, the father's ring would have been something important to him. At the very least, a token of good memories of the past. Perhaps a symbol of power as well. The current seeker, if they do possess the Indigo Ring, might be seeking to "trade" it for this future knowledge. Which...I do not think the Ring would be destroyed, but this is a situation where I am less certain, and not a scenario I'd like to see."

Edited by KnightDisciple
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Rojas was  taking a sip of water when Kimber spoke, and nearly choked as she spluttered with laughter, hastily swooping her head away from the map to keep it dry. Recovering slowly, she turned back and said with the odd flicker of a grin "Actually, Indira, from what I've read there was something important about the Caliph's ring. At least symbolically. You see, in the old days rings that a ruler wore would be rare, prized possessions, and when Abd-ar-Rahman was named the former Caliph's successor, the Emir Abdullah gave him his ancestral ring. Abdullah had several children to choose from yet passed over them all to a grandson, so this was a weighty gesture, to say the least. And that's a fair point Corbin, could certainly be that's what the idea in the story was; the ring as a symbol of the past or his ancestors or right to rule and letting the water work its magic. Authority in fairy tales is odd."


"And don't ask me about English grammar" she added with a slightly pained expression "I...still get confused sometimes. And I am older than all of you combined. As for locations...north of here?" Tia shrugged with an apologetic look, raising her voice to speak over the din "Between two rivers at the rise of the Moon" is as good as I have from an older source. I was planning on just heading into one of the park's river valleys with more than average ghost stories. Our presence" her dark eyes caught Corbin's for a moment "and the Blue Ring's might get its attention. Or we just might catch them in the act."


She leaned back in her chair, flicking some of the more extraneous folds of the map closed "You already have a place to stay, I'm guessing?"

Edited by Arichamus
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  • 3 weeks later...

Indira opened her mouth to reply, but her words died in her throat as she sensed someone - something? - attempt to poke at her mind. It wasn't the first time it was happened, and she was grimly aware that it wouldn't be the last, but she'd never quite gotten used to it; such abilities were even less common among her people than they were among the humans, and the psychic intrusion never failed to weird her out.

Her sunglasses darkened for a moment - like the eyes behind them had been replaced with featureless black - as she quietly glanced around the room. "Our minds are being touched," she warned, her voice low but even. "It would appear that we do not have to wait for long; something may have taken an interest in your mention of Corbin's ring."

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Corbin had unconsciously rolled his shoulders at the slightly odd feeling that had poked at his spine a couple times now. It felt...off...but he couldn't pin it down, and they were making some good headway.


But then Indira said they were being mind-scanned. His face locked down into an expressionless mask that might as well be made of the same fiery steel as his armor. He looked at the professor, frustration clearly peaking through.


"That's why I try to keep the possession of certain artifacts less-than-public."


But the woman had refused to meet with him or reveal anything until he'd finally relented and revealed he might have one of the legendary artifacts on his person. He hadn't told her the full extent of what he could do, or his heroic identity. He wasn't stupid, after all.


"Perhaps, Professor Rojas, it would be best if you left us with a couple of helpful maps, and headed back to the university. I think at this point we've got what we need. For the time being."


His gaze slid to the two young women with him, likely trying to indicate they should be ready if things...went south.

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"Our whats are being what?!" Kimber yelped, reflexively crossing her arms defensively across herself and looking around the cafe furtively. "Yeugh, not rad, shadowy ring-wearing puddle enthusiast. Some of us are trying to pretend to enjoy their drinks here. Rude." The poltergeist doubted she would have noticed anything amiss had Indira not pointed it out; she'd felt something unnatural and unsettling but that was pretty much par for the course for her in the first place. "Should we maybe get out of here, too? There's a lot of people around if this thing turns out to be a jerk."

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"How was I supposed to know that would happen?" the professor grumbled. Still, she dug out a much more modern map of the area(the relevant markings copied on) and handed it over.


Rising to her feet with a quick motion, she slung the backpack over her shoulder, saying "And yes, Ms. Storm, that sounds like an excellent idea. If they come looking for you, better there's nobody nearby who could become a hostage. Good night to you. I wish you well in your search!" Tia called over her shoulder, tossing her fee to the sleepy-looking bartender who caught it without even a blink, the door banging heartily as she vanished out into the city.

Edited by Arichamus
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"Yes, I agree; we should perhaps be leaving ourselves," Indira suggested, getting to her feet with fluid grace. She was still trying to keep an eye out, but had given up on actively searching their surroundings - she doubted their lives were easy enough to be able to spot their prey in a crowd. "Rojas' idea may be sound - if we head north into a valley we will be further from people - hostages and eyes."

"It could also encourage our prey to attack us," she mused as they made their way out, reflexively casting an eye on the places she would lie in wait if she was doing the hunting. "That could be useful."

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Corbin sat calmly, waiting for Rojas to be headed out the door before taking the map she left and carefully folding it up, tucking it into his shirt pocket. He glanced around as he quietly drew out his wallet and counted up their tab. He stood, nodding at Indira's words.


"I simply wished for the Professor to get some distance from us. Just in case. And I like your thinking about location, Indira."


He began walking for the door, keeping his voice quiet as he also tossed some money toward the bartender, not even having to look to have it land almost exactly on top of Rojas's money.


"It also puts us in the existing...search area."


Meaning it could be a two-for-one sort of deal.

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  • 3 weeks later...



No further attacks were made on the Claremont alumni that night, and even to their experienced eyes none of the people they passed on the way out of Algeciras acted as if more than one mind was at work. The warm air was hurrying everyone not native to the climate onward. Hardly anyone gave them a second glance, in fact, besides a middle-aged Indian man who started upon seeing Indira, but passed by after a closer look with an embarrassed shake of his head.


The trip northward was far from difficult. Even without needing to fall back on their powers the trio made good time on the local bus service. The other passengers chatted amongst themselves, and as usually happened when crowded by people quite happy to talk about themselves, it was impossible to miss that most of them were heading to either Cadiz or the closer town of Ronda, and all of them had heard something about the blackout attacks, no matter how suspect the details. Their general consensus was that it was superhero business, and that the elusive Toro would take care of it before it got out of hand.


The grand hills of Andalusia grew swiftly around them, spotted with the brilliantly green, tight-knit Spanish trees that had hammered themselves into the region over long centuries. Rivers cut deep ravines into the slopes along with their tributaries, making for some spectacular drops into valleys far below.


After a trip of a few hours, they disembarked just a few miles from what seemed to be the epicenter of the strange hunt. The Cordillera mountains swung far to the east, and a few of the more unlucky hawks swooped above the river plain, their sharp cries making the beautiful desolation that much lonelier, not to mention the rising Moon, its light lending a cold starkness to the world. It was pretty easy to imagine wanting to wander the rugged hills, never suspecting that something was hunting you.


"Hola!" came a cheerful voice behind them, revealing its owner to be an athletic young man about Corbin's age sitting on a nearby rock, wearing shorts, hiking boots and a floral-print t-shirt

so loud it actually seemed audible. He grinned, showing very clean teeth "Not many tourists come around here. You people looking for the magic spring too?" Without waiting for an answer he jumped down, landing next to the trio and offering his hand "I'm Alfonso, from Jerez de la Frontera, northwest of here. Mind if I come along? I have two friends who should be here in just a few minutes!"


Nodding at the romantic vista below he explained cheerfully "Me, Ion and Christina have been coming around here for a while now, since we were kids and first heard the old story about the Caliph. Sometimes others wander in, more for the moonlit walks with lovely ladies than actual hope they'll find a glowing magic pond. Don't blame them much!"





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Corbin offered Alfonso a polite smile and handshake. 


"Alfonso, nice to meet you. My name's Corbin. I'm from out of town. This is Indira, and Kimber. We, uh."


He pauses, glancing at the girls briefly, a bit of uncertainty in his eyes.


"We're here to try and find the spring, and maybe enjoy the landscapes, too. I'm an artist, see, so I figure even if we don't find some sort of mystical spring I'll get some good material."


It wasn't even really a lie at all, it just left out the whole bit with superpowers.

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