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Avenger Assembled

The Fate of All Great Souls

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April 15, 2015 

Liberty Park 

 

After over a year in captivity, Tarva had quietly gone into action. She'd taken advantage of a driving rainstorm, one of the heaviest to hit this city in the year she'd lived there, and a rare mystical confluence produced by Seven's battle with Malador in order to slip away from the Dutemps Building's both physical and spiritual security. With a heavy rain jacket on and her face down, she had gone unnoticed by the many proles who walked the wide, nearly empty streets of this city, long enough for her to carefully make her way to her intended destination. She'd seen Liberty Park on a map of Freedom City and decided to make it her own - and as she approached, thanks to the lateness of the hour and the recent driving rains, she was delighted to find the park almost entirely empty.

 

She stripped off her shoes and left them heedlessly by a walking path near the entrance, staring in wide-eyed fascination at the green beauty of the place. There was no smell of poison in the air, no whisper of monsters in the trees - and when she stepped into the grass, the soft blades were damp and cool against her bare feet. It was exactly what she'd wanted. A cool breeze came up, blowing softly against her skin, and in her soul she wanted to weep for the sheer beauty of the park by night. Keeping her hood up against the rain, she walked towards a nearby pond, staring into the water and thinking with fascination about the creatures who must live there! Settling down by the water, she turned and stared east, knowing the sun would be rising in just another hour or so. Plenty of time for her to see the new dawn, the first she had seen in...in an age, and then flee back to the tower like the rat she had become, away from the awesome beauty of this world's star.

 

It was all perfect - except for one thing. She shot a glare up at the artificial lights scattered through the park and muttered a quick spell as the rain continued to die down, smiling as black globes appeared to cover all the lights she could see. Now the park was in the darkness it deserved, despite the glow of the city all around it, and from the curses and exclamations her sensitive hearing could just pick up from around the park, she would not be molested while she waited. She was alone; as she deserved. Taking out her diary, she began to write, letting her sensitive soul spring to glorious umbral life in the words of darkness and regret that lay beneath her skin like her black-tainted blood. 

 

The words flowed from her pen like lightning from a bottle - until suddenly she heard the too-heavy footfalls behind her. She leaped to her feet and screamed in horror at the sight of the oncoming Omegadrone, her fear dimmed not at all by the fact that it was not yet wearing its armor. "F-freedrone!" she exclaimed as she shoved her diary behind her back, terror at the fire burning in those cold eyes. "W-what do you want?

 

Steve's cold voice curdled into a growl as he stared at the Annihilist witch. "I wanted to be free of you, Tarva the Black, but look at you now! Wandering the streets of this city outside of your cage? Casting your spells? Writing who knows what horrible plans?" He turned anger into purpose, turned the urge to grab her by the neck into a surge forward that caught her by the wrist. "Be grateful that it is an ally who holds you captive, woman, or I would surely call the Freedom League and make some suggestions to your confinement." He pulled, and she pulled back, but his strength was far greater than hers.

 

"Mercy! Please, mercy!" Tarva called, "Please, I only wanted to-"

 

Steve came within an inch, a bare inch, of driving his fist against her face - and the thought must have shown on his, because she fell instantly silent. "You beg me for mercy. You beg me. For mercy."  Armor erupted across his skin as holo-emitters came to life, transforming him into the armored figure of Caradoc, Tarva briefly crying out in alarm as armor shifted against her skin where his hand gripped her wrist. He didn't speak; instead he began picking her up so that he could fly her directly to the Dutemps Building. The sooner this was done, the better. 

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After nearly a year of going out of her way to avoid Tarva around the castle topping the Dutemps Building, Kimber had gotten awfully good at knowing where the sorceress was likely to be at any given time. It helped that the Nihilor expatriate was something of a creature of habit. Despite her grandiose manner she set about any tasks assigned to her with an almost desperate efficiency that the poltergeist tried not to think about too closely. Once those responsibilities had been seen to, though, she could usually be found brooding at one of the skyscraper's choicest vantage points or in her room writing poetry, which ultimately was just a variation on the same brooding. Kimber supposed it made sense; a society of immortals would have to be comfortable with repetition or else they would surely go mad over time... though she didn't think she'd want to be put in the position of having argue that Tarva was completely sane, either.

 

Over past few weeks she'd started trying to add some variety to that routine mainly with movie marathons and television binge watching of cultural touchstones she'd missed while otherwise occupied haunting a log cabin in the middle of the woods, ostensibly to help Tarva better understand Earth culture so that she could relate to the rest of the staff. With a good amount of Indira's time taken up with school and the Kinigosi warrior's reluctance to sit inactive for long periods of time anyway it was as good an excuse as any. With a boxed set of sitcom DVDs floating in the air behind her it hadn't taken her long to realize that Tarva was nowhere to be found, confirmed by an alarmed conversation with Bluebird. Quickly shifting into her tattered reaper's cloak the phantom was off like a shot, passing through the stone walls and out into the heavy rain.

 

There was an entire city to get lost in but Kimber wasn't without her own talents. For a being who could sense death and smell fear Tarva's trail stood out like a familiar ribbon of neon in the near blackness of the cloud covered night, making a beeline for Liberty Park. Cutting through the air back down toward ground level, the sympathetic energies of the deluge adding to the ghostly wind that always tossed her hair and cloak out behind her, she was startled to meet her quarry coming back toward her in the opposite direction, struggling in the steely grip of what appeared to be a knight of myth and legend in resplendent silver armor. Kimber was still attuned to her more ghastly aspects, however, and if the miasma of horror that surrounded Tarva was made somewhat more tolerable by dint of exposure over the past year the violently thrashing spiritual echoes around her captor nearly knocked the undead girl out of the air. Tarva was someone who lived with a constant certainty of her own doom colouring her every thought and deed but she was terrified of this man.

 

"H-hey!" Ghost Girl shouted over the roar of the rain, recovering from her surprise and balling up her translucent blue fists at her sides. Her jaw set and some of the youthful roundness seemed to melt from her face, leaving it hard and almost skeletal. "Don't touch her!"

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"...you." Caradoc recognized Ghost Girl immediately - one of Tarva's jailers. He'd memorized all their faces, at least as much as the Freedom League knew, just to make sure he knew who was dealing with the shadow-witch. He shifted his grip fast, grabbing her roughly by the rain jacket and black blouse underneath so that she could not wriggle free. Holding Tarva in the air like an angry puppy, heedless of her increasingly desperate struggles, he declared in a flat, almost mechanical voice. "Your charge has escaped her cage. I am returning her for you."

 

"Let me go! Let me go!" declared Tarva, her white and black eyes wide as she looked at Ghost Girl with guilt, fear, and triumph in her eyes. "Unhand me, foul freedrone, or this mighty spectre of the dead will drag you back to the burning pit you deserve!

 

"Foolish witch," growled Caradoc as his flaming jetpack roared to life. "Be thankful I return you conscious." 

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"You'd better believe 'me', buddy! Hey! I said let her go!" Kimber wasn't going to pretend that Tarva being afraid of someone automatically made them a bad guy but her brutish captor definitely wasn't the squeaky clean knight in shining armor he was pretending to be, that much was certain. She sure didn't buy that he was just planning to give the sorceress a friendly ride back to the Dutempts Building. "Nobody's going anywhere until you learn to keep your mitts to yourself!" Diving forward as the armored man began to rise into the air, she passed bodily through his torso to emerge behind him on the other side of what appeared to be some kind of rocket pack. Her ectoplasm hummed with a defiance of natural laws that caused havoc for circuits and sensitive mechanisms, enough to short out the flight device if she'd gauged things correctly. Whatever was going on she decided she'd rather sort it out on the ground than airborne with a hostage.

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To his surprise, Caradoc hit the ground after Kimber passed through him, fat yellow sparks erupting from behind his armor as he automatically dropped Tarva. He did not cry out even as the pain rippled through his body and burning electronics seared his flesh, even as the holographic disguise he wore rippled away to nothing. It was an Omegadrone that rose to its feet before Kimber and Tarva, a hulking, merciless, faceless armored form covered in lethal-looking spikes, holding in one hand a flaming powerpike that had automatically come to life when his hand tightened spasmodically on the trigger. Now he radiated death, terrible and ever-lasting, a smile of triumph dying aborning on the white-faced Tarva as she beheld the unmasked face of the monster she knew only too well. 

 

"Does this face surprise you, Tarva?" His voice was a cold, mechanical growl now, an unnatural sound that grated even on the ears of the living. "Why? You've seen it before." 

Tarva backed up, silent, hands pressed to her mouth and for once completely at a loss for words. 

 

"Did you think I was some field conscript sent to die in the fields of this world?" He took a step towards her, even his movements neither mechanical nor organic but some unholy combination of both. "Foolish woman, I am a son of dread Nihilor. I have seen the face you hide to bewitch the innocent of this world." 

 

To Steve's horror and disgust, Tarva broke down crying. "I'm sorry! I'm so, so sorry!"

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"Oh... oh marmalade!" Ghost Girl gulped as the Omegadrone stood revealed, the reds and blacks of its armor blending together into a terrifyingly jagged silhouette in the dark, raindrops sizzling as they hit the malicious glow of the ignited pike. No wonder Tarva had been so frightened; no matter what assurances Eve and the others had given her the former Annihilist had always maintained that someday her former allies would come to punish her betrayal and that nothing would be able to stand in their way. But Kimber has stood up to Hiroshima Shadow, she'd stood up to the Curator and she wasn't about to give up this time... even if she'd had her friends to back her up all of those other times. "Tarva, run! It can't hurt me! ...maybe." The specter's jaw stretched as though it had come unhinged and a howling gale of pent-up blizzard erupted forth, washing over the Omegadrone and turning rain to sleet along the way.

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The black fire tipping that pike flashed to red flame and with a slash, Harrier cut through the icy gust before it could freeze flesh through his armor. He stepped forward, facing them down, pike in hand - and suddenly, triggered by a thousand horrible memories, he hurled the pike into the earth, deep enough to bury it halfway into the soft, mushy soil of the park. He concentrated, trying to open his armor, and found to his alarm that the mechanism was stuck, no doubt burned out by the same electromagnetic pulse that had destroyed his holo-emitters. I am going to hear about this from Gina, he thought irrelevantly before speaking, raising his spiky head as if staring at them. "Tell her, Tarva. Tell her." 

 

"It..." Tarva wrung her hands, black, inky tears still on her cheeks. "He's not from the Terminus, Kimber! He, he lives here! In Freedom City! He's one of you people.

 

"Yes." Leaning on the pike, Harrier rose to his feet. "The truth at last, Tarva the Black. What have you told her, that you were some innocent victim of multiversal annihilation?" 

 

"I, uh, well," Tarva shot a guilty look at Kimber. "I have told them the truth, though I may have omitted some of the gorier details so as not to shock their innocent sensibilities! You would not have me scar their innocent souls with my dread tale! The horror of infinite forced servitude and torment?! It was my fate to-"

 

"You speak to me of fate? You were forced to do nothing." His hand tightened on the pike, but he still didn't pull it out. "I saw the bed you slept in. The food you ate. The luxuries that were yours. You were in that place and you did those deeds of your own choice." 

 

"You...you have to understand," said Tarva, ducking her head and practically hiding behind Kimber. "The skies had run red with the blood of a million stars. Our protectors had become our destroyers! What would _you_ have done, when faced with betrayal of self or its terrible extinction?" 

 

"I would have died. I would have died, rather than be what you became. What I became.

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Kimber looked back and forth between the Omegadrone and Tarva for a moment, driving rain passing through her insubstantial face as it twisted into a grimace. "Why does everyone act like I'm stupid?" the teenage phantom lamented angrily, hands emphatically raised into the air. "I'm a ghost for jams sake! I can see death and smell fear! I know exactly what you've done, Tarva! I know what both of you have done!" There was something distinctly unnerving about the intersection of the frustration of youthful petulance and the unenviable insight of a being outside of mortal reckoning. Ghost Girl faced the menacing armored figure with her arms stubbornly folded across her chest, emboldened by the knowledge that it still seemed more inclined to talk than attack outright. "So you're right, she's not a very good person. Maybe it would have been better if she'd just died, maybe it just would have been somebody else doing all those awful things, maybe that doesn't matter either way. I don't know and neither do you, not really!" Kimber positioned herself protectively in front of the cowering Nihilor refugee, for all that it wouldn't have made any physical difference anyway. "But she risked her life to make sure they couldn't... couldn't make more like you and we'll never know if she could be good if we don't let her try!"

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"No, you don't!" replied both Tarva and Harrier, one in grief and one flatly, in an echoing response to Kimber's statement. Both fell silent for a moment, surprised to find themselves thinking the same thing.

 

"I know her tale of woe and remorse, Ghost Girl." Harrier pulled the pike from the ground and stood, carrying it in one hand like a man with a long baseball bat. "But know this, Tarva the Black.  Others may try to convince you they have forgiven you, that is more about them than you. For them, imparting forgiveness is a blessing. Can you forgive yourself?" 

 

Behind Kimber, Tarva whispered. "...no." 

 

Behind the armor, Steve's face was impossible to read - only that cold, robotic voice as he recited "The past cannot be changed. The dead cannot be brought back to life." As Kimber well knew, or so he assumed! "But your future is yours to decide." 

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Kimber ground the heels of her palms into her eyes and grated her teeth. "Fine. Fine! Clearly the dead girl couldn't possibly know anything and is just wasting whatever she's got instead of breath!" she groaned in frustration, trying her best to remain sympathetic but having a hard time in the emotional crash now that panic had given way to yet more brooding. She bet everyone would take her more seriously if she spent all her time brooding and going on about how the past was like a foreign country you'd been kicked out of with no passport or whatever. "Why don't you two just make out and get it over with so you can go back to your self-flagellation party," she muttered, pulling her hood up and over her head. "If I really were dumb I wouldn't know what flagellation meant, now would I? Can't believe I'm out here it the stupid rain for this..." She looked back up at Tarva as a thought occurred to her. "Why'd you sneak out here, anyway?"

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Between Kimber and Steve, Tarva looked like she wanted to shrink down into the ground and never been seen again. She crossed her arms and looked away, and finally spoke in a voice so quiet the others could hardly hear. "I wanted...I wanted to see the sun rise. I can't see it from my room. I haven't seen a living sun rise since..." She trailed off, unable to finish.

 

Harrier stood beneath the skies of Freedom City - he stood beneath the cold red eternal night of the Terminus. And despite all of it, he understood Tarva. "...then we will stay," he said in a tone that brooked no argument. He took a step or two, then wound up on on firmer ground, his great weight already making him sink into the soft earth. "The rain will end soon."

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Floating in the air behind the Nihilor natives Kimber heaved a great, silent sigh. "Don't know if I want to hug you two or throttle you," she grumbled before throwing up her hands in surrender. "Oh, who am I kidding. I'd hug you. I'd be such a hugger." She wasn't particularly good at staying mad at anyone in the first place and it was clear that both Tarva and the apparently reformed Omegadrone had been through far more than enough to justify their admittedly frustrating penchant for sadness and self-loathing. It was hard for her to watch anyone be that hard on themselves, whether or not it was justified.
 
She let almost a full minute of silence pass before speaking up, asking, "So, um, listen. If you guys won't talk to me about... everything, could you maybe talk to each other? In a non-growly, wailing, begging for mercy sort of way? Maybe?" The poltergeist managed to muster up a shaky smile of encouragement as she ducked her translucent head between their shoulders and looked back and forth between them.

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There was dead silence in the park, long enough for Kimber to think her advice had been ignored. The rain did indeed begin to slow, then stop, the sky gradually beginning to lighten as the sunrise approached. "Will you seek to escape again?" Harrier finally asked Tarva. 

 

"No," she said, shaking her head slowly as she watched the eastern sky. "No, I'm done," she added, looking at Kimber as much as Steve. "This is all I wanted." She actually laughed. "I'm no fool, freedrone. I know what waits for me outside the walls of my sanctuary." 

 

"I'm not alone, you know," replied Harrier, just a touch of a barb in his mechanical tones. "There are two others on Earth-Prime alone." 

 

That made Tarva fall silent again, pressing her hand to her mouth for a long moment, then "That must be...terrible." 

 

"Yes." 

 

Tarva couldn't look at either of them, instead staring at the eastern sky as it gradually began to pinken. "I'm glad I killed them." That made Harrier's head turn to study her impassively. "You remember, Kimber, I...told you their n-names." Her hands were balled into fists. "On the old world, at the end. I killed them to...to show what I could do. They would have gone to the pit with the others if...if they had lived.

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"Gone to the...? Oh! Oh, Tarva..." Kimber clapped her hands over her mouth as her eyes widened. She did remember, the pair of lovestruck young men who had been the sorceress' companions? Lovers? Whatever the details it was obvious that they'd been the most important people in her life; when she reflected on everything she'd lost their names were the ones that came first to her mind. Kimber hadn't needed to focus her supernatural awareness to know just as obviously that Tarva had been the one to kill them though she hadn't asked for the details. That was a story she knew she didn't want to hear, because it wouldn't be one she could forget, just like she couldn't forget the 'freedrone' saying with absolute conviction that he would have rather died than submit to the monstrous transformation that had been inflicted upon him. "Oh, no. I'm so sorry." The feeling she'd deflected with humour earlier returned more sharply: even with everything considered Tarva was close enough to a friend to make no difference to the magnanimous phantom and just then she wanted very, very badly to be able to wrap her arms around her friend's shoulders.

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"A life taken before the forges is a life spared. We learn this as children. In the Black Ghetto. Of dread Nihilor." Were they words of comfort? Even Steve was not entirely sure. 

 

"They were not the first." Tarva, perhaps to her surprise,  actually managed a response to Steve as well. "How-how do you live like this? How do you live with what we have seen? With what we have done?" 

 

"There was a time when I could not," Harrier conceded. "But then I realized that was another defeat. All that you have lost yet lives while you do, Tarva the Black." For Kimber's benefit, he added, "There are no afterlife planes in the Terminus. There is nothing left of the worlds that it devours - but what we remember. If you forget; if you die, then all you have known becomes...dust in the wind." He made a little gesture in the air. "It is our fate to remember the long-dead past. And keep it alive in our hearts."  

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Kimber was quiet for a while before quietly noting, "That makes sense, I guess." There had been something well and truly unsettling about her visit to the Terminus a little more than a year prior and until the free Omegadrone's explanation she hadn't been able to put her immaterial finger on just what it had been specifically. She wrapped her arms around her shoulder and curled in upon herself a bit in the air, knees rising upward as she tried not to think too hard about entire worlds were every death was as horrifically hollow and finite as the sacrifice she'd witnessed when Sharl had fought the Curator over the skyline of Tronik. She didn't entirely succeed and ended up feeling a little nauseous, quivering slightly where she was floating.
 
She concentrated for a few moments on breathing through her mouth, which helped a little bit even if she wasn't really breathing. To the corporeal pair in the park it still looked like she was on the verge of retching as she shakily offered, "If, um, if you want to tell me about them some time, I could help remember them, too? If you want."

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"I had been banished from the temple when it happened." said Tarva suddenly, her eyes deep pools of almost impossible black. "It was...it doesn't really matter why," she admitted, her voice tight with remembered tears. "I was on the outskirts of the city, making a show for the peasants, when the sky opened up and the Black Ships came forth." She folded up into a ball, arms pulled tight around her legs, and rested her chin on her knees. "The war against Chaos had gone on for so long, I remember the way people cheered when the Six stepped out of the vessel. And the way Nightmare Doom said their long quest was over - that they had found new allies that promised peace for all our kind.

 

"And then the Omegadrones came," said Harrier, an edge of sympathy in his synthesized voice. 

 

"Yes." said Tarva quietly. "And there were so many of them, and the Six were helping them, and..." She waved her hands spasmodically and suddenly the shadows at her feet moved. Steve's hand briefly tensed around his pike, but the shadows that moved moved in human shapes that writhed and screamed beneath oncoming hordes of shadowy mechanical raptors, a play no bigger than the frogs in the pond. "The boys tried to protect me, and I tried to protect them, but it was all too much, too fast, and in the end there was nothing any of us could do. We were on our way to the forges when we were taken to the Madrigal to see who was worthy to join her cause." She looked at Steve, black, inky tears in her eyes. "And I know what you're thinking, freedrone, but I had already seen the forges! I had already seen them cast the young ones into the doomfires and I...when the Madrigal asked me to prove my worth, I offered to show her my spells. And so she unshackled me, and I did, and she looked at me...

 

"You're pretty. Steelgrave will like that." Steve spoke in a haunted voice, like the undead remembering the grave. 

 

"Yes. And I thanked her, I thanked her on my knees, I told her I would love her forever if she spared me, and so she asked me to prove my love, and then..." She started crying, really crying. "They didn't even fight! They didn't even try and run away!" She leaned over and all but collapsed on Kimber - her shadowy aura giving her real substance as she supported herself against Kimber's ectoplasm. "And after that, why bother? What did it even matter?!

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Tarva's shoulder pinned one of Kimber's arms between them but the other had reflexively wrapped around the sorceress' back before the specter realized what she was doing. She reminded herself that intellectually she'd known more or less that this was something Tarva could do but with her fingers tightening around a bunched up bit of damp fabric from the borrowed raincoat all most of her could think about was how good it felt to have another body physically against her own, real and tangible and shaking with emotion. The undead young woman immediately hated herself for that impulse, ashamed to have taken any measure of pleasure from her friend's tragedy, inadvertent though it may have been. There was no use adding qualifiers or quibbling over details, Tarva was her friend in most of the ways that mattered and she resolutely resolved to be supportive in both a literal and figurative sense, pushing her own looming issues to the back of her mind. "Let it out, you can just let it all out," she assured Tarva softly, hoping she wouldn't look up to see the flush she could feel colouring her cheeks. "I've got you, it's alright now."

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Tarva cried and cried until her tears were exhausted, pathetic black streaks that ran down her face and onto Kimber's arm, impossibly liquid against the ghost's flesh. When she was done, she raised her head and looked at Kimber. "How can you do this?" she begged. "How can you comfort me, knowing the evil I have done, the evil I have...I have danced in like gossamer veils?

 

"It is their nature to forgive, Tarva," came Steve's voice, quiet and mechanical from nearby. "Why do you remember this?" he asked in a confessor's voice. "It would have taken effort to shield your mind from the Doom Coil, again and again and again, and to never be seen. If you so hated the thing you had become, why did you not let that Tarva fall beneath the Doom Coil and rise again as an Annihilist?" 

 

"Because then...then I would have died." She spoke as if a dawning revelation was coming to her. "And all that was would have died with me.

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"And then who would we have to say stuff like 'danced in gossamer veils'?" Kimber asked in as light a tone as she could manage with her throat feeling unusually thick, giving Tarva a wan smile and wiggling the arm pinned between their chests enough to tap her index finger to the tip of the sorceress' nose. "Boop."
 
With the rain passing effortlessly though her the only foreign wetness against the ghost's skin were Tarva's tears, with oil mixed with mascara. It should have been more than a little unsettling but it was such a novelty that Kimber could at least be honest enough with herself to admit that she desperately didn't want the inevitably fleeting moment of physical contact to end. Surely that wasn't such a terrible impulse, though, not when it meant she could better comfort and support her mourning friend. "Oh," she murmured in distracted realization, "I think the rain is about to let up."

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When the dawn came, after all this, it was a beautiful sight. The sky rioted with pink and orange and purple, the Sun itself seeming to rise with particular force as its ray reached the little trio in the park, Tarva's spell vanishing with the dawn. When the sunlight hit her, Kimber felt the familiar vanishing of her body beneath the warming rays - except, looking down, where Tarva's shadow got between her and the sun, her flesh was was real as it ever was. For once Tarva was silent when the sun's rays hit her face, her grip warm and very real in Kimber's, just watching the sun and the morning sky like a child. 

 

For his part, Harrier rose to his feet, shaking the mud and dirt off his armored form. With the rising sun, and his holoemitter still disabled, he knew he'd need to get out of there fast. "It was easier to hate you, Tarva the Black, for your cowardice and the evil you did in Steelguard's name." And for that painted face, that laughed, there at the last. "But this life is your fate." It was, despite everything, a statement of real approval. "We are no longer enemies, Tarva. But we will never be friends." He struck his pike against the ground and took off, flying into the sky on a roar of burning jet fuel, heading up fast and out to sea so that no one could recognize the Omegadrone in the sky. 

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"I bet he comes around," Kimber predicted once she was sure the Omegadrone was well out of earshot, optimistic to a fault. With the third member of the impromptu gathering departed, however, the reality that she was floating alone in the park with one hand in Tarva's and the other around the sorceress' shoulder became oppressively clear. "Mmh, you're soft and solid and warm..." she all but whispered without realizing she was speaking out loud, leaning her cheek toward the space between the older woman's neck and shoulder before catching herself and jerking back.
 
"I-I'm so sorry!" she stammered, not quite pulling away but releasing Tarva's hand and creating a space between them. "I didn't-- I know you-- What he said ab-bout S-Steelgrave--" The poltergeist swallowed carefully, looking like she was on the verge of bursting into embarrassed tears herself but holding her composure together with a filament of willpower. "I know Eve's your boss now and I'm supposed to help keep an eye on you but you never, ever, ever have to do anything like... like that here, I swear. I swear! I thought I could just help and be supportive but I'm being so selfish, I'm s-sorry...! I'm ruining your sunrise..."

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Tarva pulled her hands onto her lap for a moment, her face immobile and her body tense, before she finally rose to her feet, dusting mud and leaves off the lap of her stolen raincoat with a distracted look on her face. It was pretty clear the dress underneath was going to need some serious washing, as would the bedraggled shadow-witch herself. "We...we should go back. The sunrise was very beautiful, but I have to go back and explain myself to Lady Martel - and I would bathe and refresh myself before such things must happen." She smiled thinly. "I must look an awful fright after all those tears, and we must look our best after our employer has seen us at our worst." And indeed she had, long, messy black lines ran like scars down her pale face. "Oh, I envy you, Kimber," she said, her smile broadening. "You never have to worry about those things. You will be lovely forever." 

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Kimber made her best attempts at returning the smile but she knew she'd been right: she'd done what a heavy combat Omegadrone with a black belt in guilt couldn't and made a complete mess of things. Keeping her voice light as she could she replied, "Well sure, you can look however you want when your face isn't actually real! I'm not really pretty like the others but I can fake it alright." It wasn't her teammates looks she envied so much in that moment as their composure. Eve never said anything she didn't mean and she never apologized for anything she meant and Indira - Indira! - was a world away from anyone she might legitimately find attractive but you never heard her complaining or making things weird. Kimber wondered if they let ghost become warrior monks. She didn't suppose she'd be very good at it anyway.
 
"Anyway, you look-- mhn. Um. Professional! And... and professional, right. ...I'll give you a lift." Looking away in renewed embarrassment, she gestured with one hand and the sorceress was raised smoothly into the air alongside the phantom. "Don't worry about explaining everything, we can just say it was my idea. Everybody really does think I'm dumb and naive so I'll just get a lecture and that'll be it."

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Tarva did her best to rebuild her dignity on the way back to the DuTemps Building, slowly wiping her face clean and methodically reapplying mascara with the help of what looked like a disposable makeup kit from the pocket of her borrowed raincoat. She wasn't much in the mood for talking, keeping her own counsel behind closed-off black eyes and a face that could have meant anything. By the time they reached the building, she was even able to give a sultry, knowing smile to the doorman they passed on the way into the lobby. Inside the elevator, she finally asked Kimber a question that broke the silence inside; even if she was still staring at her own reflection in the polished metal of the express elevator.

 

"How did your body die?" 

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