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The Terminus


High above the Silver Tree, deep in the cold red space of the Terminus itself, darkness billowed from the nothingness. It formed first into a black crescent that glowed with an impossible black radiance, then from the crescent there swelled a long spear with a pentagram at the tip. From the crescent resolved the figure of a pale-skinned woman, the spear in one hand and the crescent of shadow billowing behind her like a cape - her eyes deep voids of blackness as she looked down at the world of the Furions beneath her. Clutching her weapon, which was Starkiller, the slayer of suns in her hand, she waited in the void until the Furions came for her - and when they surrounded her, weapons glowing, she threw aside Starkiller and declared in a booming voice that resounded even in the true vacuum of the Terminus. "I am Tarva the Terrible! I bring grave tidings from the streets of Nihilor. But I will speak only to the Fleet-Footed!"

March 1, 2014


As happens more often than you'd think, a swirling dimensional portal opened above the Martel Castle suspended itself a full hundred stories above Freedom City. Out stepped a man, if that was a man, all in black - the darkness of his garb marred by silvery lines that criss-crossed his muscular body in an abstract pattern and by his facemask - a white goat's face like that of Baphomet himself! Wielding a staff that glowed with searing red flame at the tip, he folded his arms expectantly and awaited in cold silence the arrival of his host and her escorts - for this was Scavros the Scarred, darkest and most terrifying of the Furions!

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In the time since graduating from the Claremont Academy, Eve had come to miss having both Indira and Kimber as a daily feature in her life. Both girls had made up two-thirds of the non-human half of the last team to carry the name Young Freedom, and they were the two that the telepath was the most comfortable with.

She wasn't entirely sure what they had been up to since they last worked together, but she hoped to find out which was part of the reason why she invited them over to the new Dutemps Tower, and into the castle perched on top. She had just finished giving a brief tour of the semi-public first floor; were the young Martel heiress to host parties or entertain guests in a formal setting, that was the floor on which it would be held.

The upper floors were private, and off limits to anyone but specifically invited guests. This is where Eve would hold less formal, more intimate encounters with friends and family--and the one place where she could absolutely assure privacy of those within. She was just about to lead her two friends upstairs, she had a proposition to make, when a quiet, almost delicate tone alerted her to an unexpected visitor.

Turning away from the stairs, and with her friends close behind, she instead opened a door that lead out into a garden.

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Kimber had barely been able to stop gushing over the castle Eve had had painstakingly constructed atop the Freedom City skyline from the moment she and Indira had arrived. Not needing to pause for breath it was only when her sense of restraint and decorum outweighed her bubbly enthusiasm that she paused her effusive praise and exclamations of excitement, which was to say infrequently. Eve's uncanny grace and cool poise had always reminded the Canadian phantom a little bit of a fairy tale princess and that she had taken to living in such a fantastical structure was almost too perfect for words -- not that that stopped Kimber from making a valiant attempt.
When the subtle alarm led the hostess out to a garden and the strange figure waiting there, however, she was quickly silent. She hadn't bothered to affect her illusion of corporeality around her friends and the outlandish garb of the unexpected guest suggested this was more of a Young Freedom alumni sort of matter anyway. Floating just behind the white haired telepath, the translucent blue young woman bit her lip for a moment before ending her brief quiet. "Um. Hello?" She raised a hand a waved uncertainly.

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Indira hesitated for a minute before stepping outside - it was always difficult to judge whether she was better off as human or alien when these kinds of things popped up out of nowhere. Still, away from prying eyes and approached by ominous goat-men, she supposed she was better off a little more combat-ready.

When she stepped out to join Kimber and Eve it was in a lean, silver bipedal body, not overtly aggressive but hopefully ready for anything. Though this city had a habit of putting 'anything' to the test with distressing regularity. "...were you expecting another guest?" she hummed to their host, turning a three-eyed, mouthless face up to regard their visitor. "It is an impressive entrance, but the door might be more practical."

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"You do not fear me. Good." The dark one's voice was echoy, like some of the ghosts Kimber had met, but clearly came from a solid throat for all that. "Fleet-Footed," he said with a short, respectful bow to Eve, "am Scavros the Scarred of the Silver Tree. I have come to your realm to ask for the aid of you and your boon companions." He seemed to take Wraith and Ghost Girl both in stride, inhuman as they both looked to the right sort of eyes - surely there were sights far more terrifying than them in his own native realm. "We Furions have lately taken a mighty prisoner - a shadow-priestess second only to Nightmare Doom in the ranks of Madrigal's servants. She claims a dread secret that she will reveal only to the Fleet-Footed herself.

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Eve frowned.

"Join me in my garden," she called out to the Furion, her French-accented soprano carrying a faint hint of command. "I value my privacy and I will not have you drawing undesired attention." Probably not the most diplomatic way to address Scavros, but the Furions did have a habit of popping in unexpectedly.

While the white-haired telepath waited for him to join them on the ground with her arms folded, she made a mental note to ask the others if they often entertained guests from the Silver Tree; in her eyes they were certainly more worthy of the honor than herself. Her mouth twisted into a faint smile, wondering if these visits truly were an honor; after all they usually carried dark tidings.

"Tell me of this shadow-priestess," she said after a moment. "That I will go as you request is beyond question, but I would like to know more." She paused and glanced at her friends before adding, "And they deserve to know as well, and they have the right to refuse."

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 Scavros did not relax in the garden as such, but he did seem to blend there. With his arms folded, body motionless, and spear at his side, he looked like a grim garden statue rather than the cosmic godling he was. "Her name is Tarva. A theatrical sort, a proud servant of Taarvon the Undying who left his service for the Madrigal's, and then hers for our prison. Having broken oaths of blood to her world, oaths of ensoulment to Taarvon, and oaths of killing to the Madrigal, she is a tritraitor who would be dead were she a Furion; but such loyalties mean little to those from the streets of Nihilor. An enemy of Nightmare Doom, who you know well from your encounter with her and the others of Madrigal's Hounds.


He hmphed. "She spoke of a death coming worse than any she had seen or inflicted, one coming for the Silver Tree as well as all others. One so great as to make even a servant of entropy quail.

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Kimber looked sideways at the imposing Furion as she floated about Eve's garden. "If people are scared of you a lot, Mr. Scarred, maybe you could make your outfit seem friendlier, like with some fun buttons? For bands you like and stuff! Everybody likes to talk about music!" Catching onto the grim tone of Scavros' visit a bit belatedly, the phantom ducked her head between her shoulders and bobbed a little closer to the ground with a mumbled, "...sorry."

She regained her vim once the nature of the emergency had been explained. "Oh, you gotta let me come along, Eve! Last time you guys got to hang out with the Furions I wasn't around and I'm totally an expert on death! Death is my jam! I can your expert consultant on all things deathy!"

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"If they are going then I shall go too," Wraith hummed. She'd straightened out a bit when it became clear that 'Mr. Scarred' didn't pose any immediate threat - she was still ever the faceless quicksilver entity she'd always been, but was a bit less dangerous-looking and more conventionally humanoid.

"Though I believe I would have done so anyway," she added, giving their guest a respectful nod. "Even if Ghost Girl and the Fleet-Footed -" - she appeared to use the name with due respect and not so much as a trace of teasing - "- were not here, I helped your people once and am please to do it again."

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With a single nod, Scavros turned and snapped his spear open. The head parted and exposed a searing red point, one that he used to draw a circle in the air that seemed to cut the stuff of reality itself. A circle appeared in the air that replaced the view of trees and garden behind it, glowing with a cold crimson light that reflected eerily on Scavros' goat mask. "This IS my friendly outfit," he said to Kimber. "My face is far worse." It was tough to tell if the grim Furion had made a joke - it didn't seem like an area where he was especially competent. Stick in the mud or not, he stepped through the gateway first, leading the way into the Silver Tree, the shining world of the Furions! 


The skies were red today, but a more comfortable red than the world where Eve and Indira had fought Madrigal's Hounds, a cheery color matched by the latticework branches of the Silver Tree. They were on a platform high in the air, higher than the Martel Castle had been, one nearly transparent beneath their feet (or other lower limbs), and before them a handful of silvery-white trapezoids stretched out like a New Age university campus suspended above a grassy plain far, far below, with only thin, glowing cables stretching above to the Tree as its visible support. "We take few prisoners," the Furion began explaining as he led the way across another nearly invisible bridge to the nearest building. "So we have kept the shadow-priestess here, in the Castle of Light and Air.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Eve gave Kimber and Indira a grateful half-smile before she went through the portal. Eve wasn't in the habit of asking others to walk into danger--and anything even tangentially related to the Terminus was dangerous--but neither did she turn away those who would face danger on behalf of others.

The sight of the Silver Tree was still one to take the telepath's breath away and for a brief moment she forgot why she was here. Scavros' words brought her mind back to reality and seriousness of the task and circumstances.

"I see," she said giving the furion a small nod. "What is the purpose of the Castle of Light and Air in other, less unusual, times?"

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He made a noise that it took a moment or two to parse as laughter, then added, "Romance!" It was nearly a shout from the grim-faced Furion, enough to deflect the conversation for a few moments as they walked through gossamer crystal corridors and along shimmering translucent bridges, far above the world of the Silver Tree below. The path was not marked and the featureless, nearly smooth surface beneath their limbs was almost impossible to harm; finding their way back without a guide was not going to be easy. At the end of one long, particular corridor, They passed by two guards in ornate silver armor, then with a low rumble, a door seemed to rumble open in the sky itself - and Scavros ushered them inside a cell that was completely invisible from the outside. 


The cell was divided on the inside; the clear area where they stood (almost entirely transparent on the inside as well), and across a thin divide there sat a woman - with her eyes wide and skin nearly chalk-white, she looked up and for a moment a look of despair was on her face before she bolted to her feet with a big, confident smile. "The Swift! And company, yes, I knew you would come!" She spread her arms and shadows seemed to boil and spew forth from behind her; shadows that were unable to penetrate the barrier that separated them. "_I_ am Tarva the Terrible, daughter of-"


"No, you aren't." Scavros folded his arms and Tarva winced under his glare. 


"I _am_ Tarva the Terrible, _scion_ of Taarvon the Undying, and I bring you ill news!" She pressed her face against the glass and stared at them with huge, soulful eyes, and suddenly pled. "But you must take me with you! This is no place for a wizard of my gifts and I have no desire to be thrown to the doomforges when Steelgrave learns I have deceived him! And I have deceived him, oh yes," she said with a shake of her pretty head, long white mane of hair fluffing behind her. "And Madrigal as well. But if Steelgrave succeeds, she won't matter. None of the others will. I could have joined him SO easily, you know!" she snapped a finger for emphasis. "But I did not sacrifice my SOUL, not even for my dark magic!


"Yes you did." Scavros was definitely enjoying himself, and Tarva smacked the glass in frustration


"That is not the issue at stake here!" 

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"Ooh, romance! Outrageous!" Kimber bobbed up and down in the air just behind Scavros as they headed toward the castle, clapping her hands. "You gotta dish about that when we're done! I bet the warrior lady types totally dig scars, eh? Ooh, or the warrior guys? Eh? Eh?" Looking back to her friends, the ghost shrugged. "Look, I'm dead, not... anyway."

After listening to Tavra's emphatic proclamations the poltergeist was even gladder that she'd tagged along to the Silver Tree. "Haha, we should bring her along! She's all loud and goofy and fun! Plus she smells super afraid," Kimber added, sniffing the air while her eyes briefly turned an unsettling, lifeless pearlescent white, "so she'll probably even behave if she thinks we'll protect her from the scarier bad guys. I guess that's why she wanted to talk to the Swi~i~ift!" She dropped her voice into a singsong baritone as she intoned Eve's title.

Looking back over at Tavra, the phantom snapped her fingers. "Oh, hee, sorry, probably shouldn't talk about you like you're not there, eh? You can call me Ghost Girl. Ooh, ooh! Can I be like Ghost Girl the Glamorous or Ghost Girl the Ghoulish or something? What's the rule for that, is it like nicknames where you can't really give one to yourself or it's weird?"

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"I do not believe I have sufficient knowledge of the English language to give myself such a name," Wraith admitted, casting her three-eyed gaze around the cell as much as the person in it - frightened darkness-wielding villain-types were apparently no more or less interesting than the wonderful technology or magic that had to have gone into the construction of such a room. "Wraith the Wrathful, perhaps, but I do not believe it fits. I have a growing reputation for several things, but not, I think, for wrath."

She shook her head, turning her attention back on the prisoner. "You will have to explain why you are here before we can decide whether to help you, though that decision is not truly up to us."

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"Do you know what a doomforge is?" 


When the heroes signaled that they did, Tarva went on. "Imagine a doomforge behind an Omegadrone's armor. A killing machine, built and bred for destruction and death, made to make more killing machines bred for destruction and death. What it kills die screaming as their very souls are devoured by nanotech machines and replaced with cold steel and iron hearts devoted only to raw, bloody entropy, the Unbirthing of the cosmos. And then they get up and kill, and those they kill get up and kill, again and again!" Her eyes were wide and her melodramatic voice shot through with unshed tears, enough that Scavros interjected with a question. 


"And you have seen this happen? It was not mere talk of Steelgrave's bedchamber?


She hit the glass with a solid thump, the shadows inside her cell swirling like disturbed smoke. "I saw it happen! The Black Madonna had sent false pupils of hers to their death, as is her wont, but this was no mere bloodsport! Steelgrave sent them fight these new...doomdrones and be slaughtered like so many cattle! And then they rose again, still with their powers, but with only service of Steelgrave in their hearts!" 


"Why would _you_ object?" inquired Scavros, still skeptical, seriously. "You are a shadow-priestess turned vassal of Steelgrave. You have seen and done things beyond the understanding of these,he added with a wave towards the heroes. 


"Because this is no mere game of decadence and treachery. No mere entropic dance. Steelgrave has engineered a way to end the factions inside the Terminus, and from there to end all factions, everywhere. Our doom is here." 

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Never in her life did Eve think she would be in a position to help the Terminus, or that she would actually give it serious consideration. And yet here she was. --I would much rather the Terminus forces remain divided against themselves,-- Eve thought to Scavros and her friends.

"Say we help you, what then?" she asked Tarva, raising a snow white eyebrow. "We certainly won't allow Steelgrave's new toy to continue to exist." Or maybe even Steelgrave, she thought to herself. Omegadrones aside, perhaps this is an opportunity to decapitate the hydra that is the Terminus, or at the very least prune back their leadership.

"And why did you request me?" Eve added as an afterthought.

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"There are dimensional axes known to your science but not yet probed by the Terminus. My price is that you take me to one of those worlds and leave me there. It need have no sentient life if you are concerned about the effects of my magics. I can live as well on an empty world, or a dead one, as I can in a city." She pressed her hands flat against the glass. "You must understand that I have died, screaming, for this. This is what it is to be a daughter of Nihilor - this is our fate. But I have chosen a few more years of life as my own woman than to stay in the dark temples of Nihilor." She turned and looked at Blue Fox. "I summoned you because you are the one too swift to die when Omega was Dethroned. I want to run away.

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"Heeeeey, she wasn't running away that time," Ghost Girl objected with a frown and a glare for Tarva, hands on her hips as she floated a little higher so that she could look downward at the dark sorceress. Corbin had been only slightly more willing to discuss that fight than Eve but that hadn't stopped stories from getting around Claremont here and there. More importantly she knew Eve well enough to dismiss some things out of hand and she didn't like Tarva's implication at all. "We're not running from some stupid little robot things this time, either! Um, right?" She looked over at Renard Bleue, backing up from the cell a bit as she realized she probably shouldn't have been speaking for the team. The doomdrones Tarva had described sounded pretty bad, sure, but the poltergeist had trouble getting too concerned about a technological threat, given her own nature. Besides, they'd taken down the Curator's robots handily enough when he'd invaded Earth, albeit at terrible cost; she couldn't imagine this would be any worse than that.

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"Nanotechnology is powerful, but dangerous, and aggressive nanotechnology rarely ends well," Wraith darkly observed. She didn't have her best friend's unique untouchable nature, and what she did have was a few years of pre-immigration history lessons that she wished she'd paid better attention to.

"I will help in this. It...the word is 'abhorent', I think? An abomination. It will be a danger to anything it touches if it is allowed to continue. Ah, more so than normal. I will gladly help to put it to an end."

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  • 3 weeks later...

Eve looked thoughtfully at Tavra before turning to Scavros.

"The final decision lies in the hands of you and yours, Scavros," she said. "But if she does aid us in this, and if my opinions carry any weight, then accept her exile."

"I understand that all creation is in a de-facto state of war--whether it knows it or not--with the armies of the Terminus. And I understand that this person may have done some unspeakable things while prosecuting this war."

"But if what she says is true, and if she aids us in ending this particular threat, her actions may very well save more lives than she has ruined."

The white-haired woman shrugged slightly and looked back at the Shadow Priestess. "It is also an exceptionally foolish thing to attempt to deceive or mislead a telepath, and you're not a fool are you, Tavra?"

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"If you take her to your land, her affairs are yours," growled Scavros reluctantly, waving his hand dismissively at the renegade spellcaster. "We have sent >others to your world who were unable to live among us. But be careful how much weight you give her words. When Tarva speaks, men die, even if they still breathe.


"I am not a fool," replied Tarva with what must have been her version of quiet speech. "And I will tell you what I know. Steelgrave's doomdrones lie within one of his star-fortresses - the Palace of the Virgin Flame. Named for an old bedmate of his," she added with a sneer. "The Palace lies in orbit around Mechane's World, the nearest in these days to the...tender light of the Silver Tree." that sneer on her face, small though it was, looking to be a permanent fixture. "I know this because it was the last place where I was an Annihilist, before I chose flight and exile and a torturous future over a hastily-abbrievated present. If you enter the Palace, past all its guards and fortifications, you will find what you seek there. But you must take me from this dimension first," she added, shooting a glance at Scavros. "When you are killed, I do not want to be left to their mercies." 

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  • 3 weeks later...
"Well, we can't just send you back home to do whatever," Kimber pointed out to Tarva in the tone of someone pointing out something obvious though without malice or reproach. "You're still at least a little bit evil, right? Plus you're going to need help with all the paperwork; dual-citizenship is a pretty big deal but we're all basically experts on it so you'll want us around! We'll just take you with us to the Palace of the-- um. The Palace. It'll be a great way to start earning some brownie points, so two birds, one stone! Evil people like efficiency, right?" The phantom glanced over at her friends for confirmation before giving the sorceress a big thumbs up with genuine encouragement. "You don't need to worry about us dying first, either! I'm already dead, makes just about everything way safer." Snapping her fingers as she remembered something, Ghost Girl added, "Oh, right, should ask, though: are you going to betray us?"
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"I am not dead, but I am very difficult to kill," Wraith noted, with some measure of amusement. Not that the situation was particularly light-hearted, but Kimber was nothing if not an expert in brightening the mood. "Though I am quite certain that they are likely to try."

She was quiet for a moment, humming quietly as she regarded their...prisoner of war? "I do believe that we would be better-off leaving you here until we are done. Imprisoning you in our home - or securing you passage to a new one, without people or resources to exploit - would take time, and you appear quite secure here."

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Betray you to who?" asked Tarva in response to Kimber's question, a somber thought indeed. "I am a thrice-sworn daughter of Nihilor who has betrayed my god the Starry Queen, then Taarvon the Undying, and now Shadivan Steelgrave. You are dead because your body is gone, girl? I am dead because I have killed myself for standing where I am. I will be followed through the door you open for me even if you close it behind me, unto the end of days and beyond. There will be no kingdom, no barren moon, green no pasture, where they cannot find me. It is my fate." Scavros nodded in agreement at that, murmuring 'Fate' as if it was an Amen in a Baptist church. "But send someone with them, Scavros," she went on. "Do not send them to die there with no Furion allies." 

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  • 3 weeks later...

"When we're through, Tarva will come with me."

It was one of the best choices out of a list of terrible ones, but Eve was confident she could make it work. And if she couldn't, well, she could always ask Mark about sending people on a one way trip to the Zero Zone; he seemed the kind of person who'd know someone or something to make it happen.

She did find some merit in the shadow priestess's suggestion.

"An ally would not be unwelcome, Scavros. My friends and I have seen much and weather much as individuals and as a team, but a guide would not be remiss. I would not deplete the strength of the Silver Tree."

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