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Vanguard: The Osprey Formula


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Meanwhile...below the Thames...in the Haven...


The Haven was being tidied, swept, and cleaned. A small horde of tech staff, security forces, and agents were searching it with careful detail. 


Amongst them, Professor Blackpool, Osprey, and Dr Jasmine Benoit, otherwise known as Catalyst. 


And a new face, Captain Eileen Rose. 


She was a woman of average height, with short cropped blonde hair and a handsome face, marred by a scar down one side of her face. She had the body of a muscular snake, all coiled and energetic. Her military fatigues were littered with striped and awards. Captain Rose was simply one of the best the Military had. 


That was before the Osprey formula had been tried on her. Admittedly at much much lower doses. The only visible sign was the eyes. Black, black and wide. Avian eyes. Not much escaped those eyes, sharp as an eagles. 


Professor Blackpool had taken them to the Haven's medical laboratories. 


"This place is a gold mine" he explained. "The Haven had access to all of the Ministries research, including the Osprey formula. But here, here they did so much more! The Osprey formula is only the beginning! You see, its highly unstable..very risky...it can cause..."


Captain Rose gave a glare at him with her inhuman eyes. 


"...yes, well. Its unstable. In essence, it can reset DNA, you see. Stabilise any mutations or deteriorations. Those poor souls that the Haven reactivated? those cyborgs? guess what...they had been stuffed full of the Osprey formula! With the Haven back on line, we may be able to perfect it!"



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"We aren't perfecting anything,"
Jasmine said it with a swift finalness in her tone as she paced around the medical bay. She wasn't a medical person, she had one class under her belt, and one or two instances of practical application, but she wasn't trained in it. She was however a science person, specifically a chemical science one, and such she had searched and restructured the entire bay from head to toe to meet all specialized safety procedures. She had been offered help, but she didn't let anybody without certified training even touch anything in the lab, not the equipment, certainly not the vials of medicine. Anything that was out of stock, or out of date had been safely discarded and replaced. Anything that was not in a charted place was reorganized by professional lab standards. All surfaces were scrubbed clean of any dust or other residue, all cabinets inspected and replaced if fallen out of disrepair, and all the machines were tested and run through rounds to make sure they would work properly in any emergency situation. Basically the entire bay had been made up like new, and Jasmine walked around it with a certain familiarity in the thick white lab coat as she held the chart made up from the last proper physical Osprey had been given both, before and after administration,

"We are running baseline tests to determine the physical and mental stability of both subjects. If remaining traces of the formula are set in their systems we will flush them if possible then look at available mental and physical therapies to help transition any damage that has been caused."
Looking from the files towards Eileen Rose,

"I'm glad you were able to join us today Captain, but I will have to ask for the tests that you change out of your military fatigues."
She walked towards a cabinet and leaned down. Opening it up she grabbed from a pile a sterile changing robe and handed it too her,

"You can do so in the restroom which I have searched and confirmed there are in fact, no cameras in. I'll be in charge of checking you for any abnormalities that may of surfaced since the last time you were examined because of the Osprey formula. Blackpool as the expert will be advising me, and will not do any unnessicary testing or injections of any kind. Otherwise I have been told I am perfectly allowed to glue him to the floor in the other room until testing is over."

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Captain Rose just gave a slight smirk. It was a mixture of attitudes, and mirth. She just stripped down to her functional underwear, a sports number rather than anything frilly, to briefly reveal an athletic, ripped body with more than a couple of scars, before putting on the robe. Perhaps she was assessing Jasmine's reaction. Her eyes certainly never left the scientist, coolly assessing what Jasmine would make of her. Captain Rose's athletic physique was exceptional, but whether it was the Osprey formula, a herculean devotion to the gym...or both. 


Meanwhile, the results of Osprey's tests came floating in from a rather irritated and frowning Blackpool. He kept quiet, but he was clearly fuming at Jasmine. 


"There we are. Metabolic parameters well over human normals. We have Osprey DNA fused and stabilised with human DNA. Yes...unfortunately the binding process is unpredictable, but stable once complete. Hmmm. It means that exactly what happens is essentially random, but it is relatively set once done..."


Jasmine and Osprey just  caught a tense sigh of  relief from Captain Rose. 


"Tell me, Osprey, how do you feel? how has the formula affected you?" asked the Professor, pushing his glasses back onto his nose and addressing the Avian superhero directly. 

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His former patient inclined his head, just a touch. "I feel well, Professor." replied the young man with a bland smile from behind his white-and-black mask "Sometimes I understand birdsong, want to tear heads from shoulders with talons that aren't there, but most days nothing goes wrong." Stretching out his right arm he twisted it slowly, until the forearm's bones made a gentle spiral and the muscles under his costume a spring. Letting the arm twirl back into place he said idly "Like this one."


In actual fact, Alden was pretty firmly convinced that this day had gone wrong almost from the start. After a lengthy talk with the three women he'd agreed to stick around and help them find out what had happened to Vanguard, the idea looking much more appealing then than now. Then at least he could believe that dealing with the inevitable queue of Ministry hanger's-on wouldn't involve more of Blackpool. Blackpool with his prodding and probing voice, the interrogating eyes that that drank in everything one was unwise enough to show, shuttling and filing information noiselessly in the cold mind that lurked behind those little chips of steel.


Now that he didn't look to the man as the purveyor of fine cheques and intriguing, baffling experiments, Osprey silently admitted that he'd never felt at ease around Professor Thomas Blackpool. But 'This is more or less besides the point. We're all stuck with this looney scheme, and this is likely the most helpful sort I'll meet. Anyway, Eel's here and the Yank can deal with Brainpool.' That task was easy enough to assign. It didn't take much effort to see how little Jasmine seemed to think of Thomas, or his infatuation with one of the world's few even halfway-successful superhuman treatments. Her immensely practical attitude and disciplined mind made it more fun, too.


Osprey had remained deeply quiet ever since the odd duo had arrived, silently looming behind Dr. Benoit whenever space permitted, with his arms hidden behind his cape's swooping wings and watching the proceedings from behind the yellow lenses of his mask, powerful jaw set and bright eyes narrowed as he watched. Captain Rose's air of bravado elicited an almost brotherly eyeroll, but Blackpool's careful question had gotten the first audible word out of the young vigilante.


For the first time, he pushed the goggles up and smiled fully at Eileen, commenting "Good to see you again, Rosie. Heard you made captain. You sure the soldiers will hear what you're saying?" he added with a mock-worried look "I don't want our nation's finest dropping like flies because their C.O.'s too nervous to speak up." Stifling a grin and turning is attention back to Blackpool, Alden went on "As for how it's affected me, Professor, not much to tell you or Mz. Benoit(here he glanced at Jasmine) don't know. Transformation can still be...uncertain, my mind is often gripped with animal urges, the switch from far-sighted eagle to myopic human gives me a headache after too much morphin', and the risk of growing claws and wings while asleep or at the toilet is starting to affect me in certain substantial ways."


With abrupt suspicion he looked sideways at Jasmine "You want to get me into one of those sheets too, Benoit?"

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"Yes, but you can keep the headgear if you wish. We're just running tests on you untransformed for the moment. You know, standard stuff. Though I guess it's been a while since you've been to a normal hospital, we aren't deviating from the standard for today."

Adjusting her glasses she looked at the charts,

"Anyway, we just have to make sure everything is healthy. Normal's a bit far fetched at this point. If anything or anyone makes you uncomfortable, just say so."
Raising her pen,

"You can of course use the bathroom as well, since you may be a bit more shy of the people monitoring the security camera's then Captain Rose."

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'Yeah, I doubt Eel would care who saw her face. Fearless. Not like me at all.'

Taking a medical robe from the neatly-folded pile, Alden checked the size tag, snorted, and vanished into the toilet. The door shut with a thump, so fast he had to whip his cape out of harm's way with a harsh mutter.


Once inside, he let the robe fall open and examined it critically, noting its cleanness almost with surprise. "Alright," he murmured, eyes flicking from the robe to the rib-like walls and sharp corners, "no need to carry this stuff around while I'm changed..."


A few minutes later, Osprey reappeared with the mask still in place, wearing the robe as gracefully as possible and the rest his costume mysteriously absent. Standing beside Captain Rose he regarded the other three with a polite smile smile. Turning to Jasmine he told her "Don't worry doc. Won't need to sterilize my gear when it shows up again. So, what's the next step? A blood test?" 

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Blackpool was in a bad mood, his enthusiasm turning sour after Catalyst's scolding. He worked almost silently, angrily. Passive aggression was his cloak. 


He nodded at Osprey's question and took blood tests, running it with quick efficiency through the Haven's medical equipment. 


"Your DNA has stabilised. Your transformation, well, its encoded in your DNA now, truth is, whilst the effects of the formula are clear, what effects they are...vary..." he said, avoiding Catalysts eye. 


"It does show signs of being dose dependent. In Captain Roses case, a low dose, a minor effect. In yours, more significant. And then..." he paused. "The Tyulluan. How I would love to see what happened there..." he said, full of irritation. 


His head popped up from the microscope. 


"Although...that might be possible now..." he said, his eyes lighting up and turning to Osprey. 


"You have the most stable mutations I have. Stable enough that...if....yes, I could use them. With your DNA I could encode a pheremone scent. It is a kind of fail safe I built in. You could be the perfect bait for the Tyulluan!" he said, becoming more eager as the jigsaw pieces fell into place. 


"I infect you with a harmless viral agent, that you then excrete. At worst, you will fill a little under the weather, but you would be excreting your DNA codes far and wide, and the Tyulluan would come running!"

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Alden sat quietly for the blood-drawing, though he winced at the needle's pinch and gave Eileen a savage look out of the corner of his eye. He'd known her long enough to sense her smirks. 'Would it kill you woman, to use more than half a mouth when you smile?' He thought irritably, watching the dark red fluid seep into the crystal-clear vial.


The two scientists seemed quite able to take it from there, leaving him to watch from the sidelines as Benoit and Blackpool inspected his and Eileen's altered blood under microscopes, commenting about them in lingo he could only guess at the meaning of. It was almost a relief when Blackpool looked at him with the old bright-eyed air of glee and put what was going on with his body in much more understandable terms. Then he suggested turning Osprey into a Tylluan-magnet. Just the idea made his pupils narrow to points and a tinge of yellow seep into his eyes.


"God no, sir" Alden said, shaking his head emphatically, "keeping my distance. I'm not strong enough to fight him alone and I'm not risking others' lives on an off-chance. Unless..."


Glancing at Jasmine with a calculating eye he offered slowly "...you and Dr. Benoit could make it..controllable. Tylluan's looney, but he might help if the baddy's bad enough. Draw him away from civilians too.."

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  • 2 weeks later...



"Controllable, eh?" said Blackpool, the concept rummaging around his cranium. "That is always the aim of science, control, wouldn't you say?" he said, turning his head to Catalyst. 


"It should be possible. A reagent perhaps, something to activate or deactivate the DNA tracer as it leaves your body. Might not smell or look nice, but I guess you have bigger things to worry about than style..."


He furrowed his head. "The DNA activation though, that's more biochemistry than genetics. I knew there was a good reason to have Dr Beniot around!" he said, snapping his fingers, smiling at Catalyst. 


"And the Haven, even not fully cleared, has the best facilities in the country, on a par with anywhere else in the world I know of. I am sure we can whip up something!"

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  • 3 weeks later...

"One, I'm an industrial chemist, not a bio-chemist, two you brought me over here because you needed a fresh pair of eyes and someone to stop you from being kidnapped, three, and this is the important part, why do we have to MAKE him excrete a pheremone we could just synthesize and spread over a certain location. If we need a biological host we can use test animals, no need to infect Osprey and make him the magnet specifically."

Taking the blood she moved it over to the machine to be tested,

"Blackpool, let's try to be professional about this. I concede to your expertise in your own field, but we do not need to use human subjects for simple chemistry, even if it's not specifically my field I know that much."

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Alden rubbed the side of his head. Jasmine made a lot of sense. On the face of it, what was the point of turning him into a bulls-eye when they could just have the stuff in an aerosol?

'It's easier, less likely to make me MORE of a freak if it goes wrong, and any of us could use it...wait...'


Leaning forward, Osprey raised his soft voice "Dr. Benoit, there's a few reasons why Dr. Blackpool's offer's a good one. Like you said, we could just have the compound in a can, spray a bit on a wall and use it as bait." He held up a long finger, eyes narrowing behind the mask "But. Tylluan's not just some dumb animal. He'll learn after maybe the second time, or even the first, that the smell doesn't automatically lead him to me. Just that will make it less useful every time after. We need a sure thing for that looney. He might be cautious after the first trap, but he won't doubt I'm there."


Gesturing to Blackpool he went on "The way me and him and Captain Rose have been...changed is very distinct. We don't base it entirely off me, we risk not realizing we've got a fatal mistake until too late." Smiling despite himself, Osprey added "At most you'll just need some of my sweat. Besides, 'controllable' means you too."

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"You act like he's going to get away after the first time,"
Jasmine raised an eyebrow as she looked at him,

"We didn't know it was him the first time, we had not time to prepare. But if he comes out we'll have adiquite supplies for a proper snatch and grab. Also, we won't have to stop to perform emergency medicine."
She paused and turned,

"By the way, I think that's something you should have your troubleshooters have on hand, someone who's actually qualified to do some field medicine. That's not what my doctorates in."

Tapping on the screen for the results,

"Anyway, we can set up a proper plan with several contigencies since we have time now, we can choose the location, set supplies, create choke points, and nuetralize him with much less trouble."

She glanced up,

"Plus this time, I can bring my van."

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"No plan's perfect, or can really account for things you don't expect," Alden countered "And putting faith in our foresight seems a tad like pushing it since our last victory was because Young Britannia flew Tylluan into space and the Farrington woman chucked around brain-whammies. But still..." for a second he fell silent, staring at the rib-like wall nearby as he visibly thought things over.


'Oh good. Now she'll think I hate plans.'


"I don't hate plans"


'Perfect. And come to think of it...'


"So how about a compromise? We do both. You can use the formula without me needing to be the bait, I get another way to keep Tyllu's attention on me if he escapes." His mouth twitched "And now I really want to see this 'van' of yours, doctor. Must be a formidable vehicle."


Glancing at Blackpool he added "So how about it, Tom? What are the odds you can make me give off this pheromone at will and a compound that gives off the same smell, maybe something that breaks down fast?"

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Not so long later...


"The odds are good! Success!" said Blackpool. 


Around Ospreys left wrist was a small wristwatch with a readout that blinked slowly, numbers slowly counting down from the thousands. 


"The level of pheremone in your blood" explained Blackpool. "Introduces via viral retrovirus. It will break down soon enough, as your immune system disposes of the virus and your liver breaks down the pheremone. But it should be at a good strength for today, at least. It will be less effective as the week progresses, until eventually your body will reject the pheremone altogether. Which I think will be harmless" he coughed. 


"And here, a sample of concentrated pheremone" he gave to Jasmine. It was a small pressurised aerasol can. "Enough for three of four liberal applications, I should guess. The only problem here is that it is unstable outside of living organisms. Wont last more than a few minutes, but it will be ten times stronger than the low levels Osprey is emitting..."

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  • 2 weeks later...

'Well, that was...a sight. Warrants a little note-taking.'

Fiddling with the small device, checking its construction and how it sat on his arm, Osprey nodded absently to the chemist's excited exposition. Looking up at last he said "This should do it, Dr. Blackpool" 'Incredible, not even a murmur when I called him 'Tom'. Must be big for him to get to work here.' A goggled eye flicked back to the small watch "You say I can control it, so...I can shut off the production of the pheromone? Maybe take a shot that stops it dead?" Folding his legs under himself, the small medical table rustling and creaking, he inspected the watch again, carefully noting the speed of the numbers ticking down. 'Time-sensitive, sweet of him. And if he can get the numbers this precise I'll need to be on my toes if I want to find out more about Dr. Blackpool's magic potion'


"One more thing: what would the Vanguard need with cyborg security blokes? And when did they get access to the formula?" Alden studied Blackpool and Eileen closely "Can't exactly see Champion going "Ooh my back, please help me fight this burglar Mr. Superhuman Killing Machine", you know?"

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"Vanguard? Honestly, I don't know. In the last years before they vanished, their were...tensions..." he said, frowning, not at displeasure of the question but of what it brought up. 


"All behind closed doors, of course. Even with my clearance I never knew exactly what happened. Vanguard became progressively more fractious, secretive. A lot of that was due to Crabs..I mean Headcases increasing paranoia. But Champion, for all his public bravado, was an anxious man, prone to panic and insecurity. Lucy Diamond was pretty loopy at the best of times, and Y Dderwen, well he was a mysterious fellow. Just how long has he been prowling England? and why did he only reveal himself recently in our history?"


He sighed. 


"But the cyborg guards? I don't know. Whoever shut up the Haven, if it was Champion, was clearly determined that nobody should get in again..."

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Favoring Thomas with an easy, understanding smile, the avian avenger nodded with a simple "Understood." 'Tensions? Yeah, that Crossfruity mentioned 'em. Still doesn't fit right, though, not with just any old tiff...and leaving cyborgs to, what, keep people off your track? Couldn't hurt to learn more...'


"Were there any signs Champ wanted to hide something?" he asked Blackpool conversationally, latching the watch onto his wrist and swinging his legs over the bedside "Anything scandalous? Plain dangerous? A team mission that went sour, anything?"


Glancing over at Eileen he added "How 'bout you, Cap'n Eel? Heard anything on the grapevine?"

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  • 2 weeks later...



Eileen paused a moment, considering. 


"Rumours, maybe. Speculations. Who knows what really happened? It was pretty plain that the core of the Vanguard was Champion and Headcase. One who lived off the applause, wanted to be loved by the public. The other went paranoid. Who was to say who was the worst? I guess if Champion had any egg on his face, he would want to keep it a secret. I mean, he was good guy and all, but kinda too good, you know? the kind of guy who would do something to protect his image..."


"As far as I could see, Lucy Diamond was always a wild card nutcase. And the treeman? nobody ever knew what his agenda was. He kept saying he was the spirit of the country. But that can cut a whole load of ways, you know?"


She shrugged. 


"Sorry, mate, but your guess is as good as mine. To be honest, I suspect the Ministry keeps secrets from even itself. Nobodie squeaky clean here. Not you, not me either..."

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  • 2 weeks later...

In the awkward silence that followed Rose's final words, Alden cleared his throat "Huh...thanks." Drumming on his calves with scarred fingers, the masked man digested this disquieting news. Super-teams('Wait, should it be "Power-"? Nah, that's just being a tosser') usually were pretty closed affairs. In a lot of ways they were like modern versions of secret political societies from the 18th and 19th centuries, with rigorous control over what was and was not known to the public, an-oft uncomfortable edge of tribalism, and not a little outright disinformation meant to keep their blood-thirsty and vengeful enemies at bay. Sorting out what was a fake-split and a real break-up of a team was largely impossible for anyone not close to a member. This time at least, Osprey had some insider clues.


'So, let's review: the Royal Squadron's feelin' washed-up, already starting to fray at the edges. The kind of time when every tiff turns into a little riot. So...something happens, and it hits 'em right at their weakest point. Whatever it was drives home the final nail in the coffin, upsets everybody, but...what? An' how?'


Rubbing his chin furiously, Alden struggled to make a coherent picture of what he knew 'It can't have JUST been a squabble. Vanguard was clean-cut('cept for Diamond, but anyway), but they made sure to let people know when something was wrong most of the time. An' it's not like they didn't argue in front of people now and then. So...a real difference? A REAL fracture? Enough to make them just stop being a team?'


'Wait...Headcase and Champ. They were at loggerheads so much, it could be...something happened, and nobody could agree how to solve it, so one of them takes action, they argue, stuff gets said that can't be unsaid, they split for good and all, Champ rigs up the Haven to make sure nobody else knows what happened or why so nobody gets blamed, everyone else just takes off.' Alden shook his head, having paused in mid chin-stroke. It was thin. What kind of threat could the team have been dealing with that they'd be that fractious over the solution? But it was hard to see any other explanation.


He looked up again "Say, Eel," his brown eyes sought out her black "don't suppose the Ministry's got any dossiers on any enemies of the Vanguard still around? The, uh, old, Vanguard" he added quickly. "Think I've got a pretty good idea of where to look for the reason Champ put cyber-zombies in the floor."

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  • 3 weeks later...

"I don't think Champion was responsible for that."
She chewed on her pen,

"I mean, gall aside, I don't think he would have the sheer ability to think to use something like that. Headcase would, but I have no idea why. It seems like an incredibly forceful method, not to mention unethical to the point that if discovered the press might send an outright revolt against Vanguard to shutdown immediately."

Looking at them she let out a shrug,

"I doubt this was everything there was about that either. This isn't something not perfected without intense practical experimentation, you can theorize all you want but this was brutally effective. That meant that whoever did this, in this working theory headcase, had done this before, maybe on human scale. Psychics are sometimes like that, they have a harder time finding borders because there are no effective laws or limitations on their powers. We can't of course do anything about this without solid proof. That is the scientific way so for the moment we should shelf that. Are we ready to go?"

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  • 2 weeks later...



Indeed it was. 


Blackpool had set the trap for the crack of dawn. High, he said, to disperse the pheremones. Early, he said, when London was quiet. 


The top of the shard was procured for that very purpose. The roof, such as it was, was small, cold. The height was giddying. 


"Don't look down" suggested Blackpool. He looked down, and felt sick. He very nearly was sick. His face turned a mixture of deathly pale and sickly green. 


"Here, you do it..." he said, giving Catalyst the cannister full of pheremones. 


"It shouldn't be long now...keep your eyes peeled!"


The sky had a crystal clear quality to it. The rising sun lit the sky dimly, but it would not be long before full light and the rumble of London's rush hour. At this height they had a magnificent view of London, and further. Their quarry would be easy to spot....

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Back in his dark, enshrouding costume, Osprey crouched on the lip of the modern obelisk, cape flapping and swirling in the high wind. Watching the city below behind his yellow-lenses, he suddenly wondered what London would look like in a few months, after the new Vanguard was established. Before he had relied mostly on just not being all that well-known, keeping his routine and 'territory' loose and vague so he would be harder to track. 


Now he was part of Britain's premier power squad. In not too long, most of the high-ranking criminals in the country would know him, and despite his not being nearly as powerful as the rest they'd be scrambling for information on him. London alone could hide thousands of informing eyes. 'So that'll be it. A whole metropolis for an enemy...'


Suppressing a bone-deep shudder at the unreality of it all, Osprey turned to watch Catalyst and Blackpool disperse the pheromone. He kept a very close eye on the professor.


"Go ahead, Jazz. No time like the present. Besides," he glanced back at the glittering skyline beneath them "if Tylluan does take the bait, 'least we can get a read on his abilities now."


Tensing and preparing to transform, Alden began the inner preparations for the coming encounter.

Edited by Arichamus
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