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Avenger Assembled

A Picture of Sophisticated Grace (IC)

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"Phantom?" Jessie repeated the name when Phantom said it, then seemed to check out of the conversation in the abrupt way she had when she was chasing a mental rabbit down one of the holes in her memory. She frowned and hummed and rocked back and forth on her heels, entirely ignoring Taylor and Indira's suggestions that they move somewhere more private. Suddenly her face came alive again, cleared of confusion, as she pointed at Phantom. "You," she informed the superheroine, "have a baby. And you wear a purple... cape, purple thing," She mimed swishing a cloak with her arms. "Did Erin send you to look after us?" Most of the hostility had cleared from her attitude, but she was still obviously curious. 

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Phantom stiffened, slightly but perceptibly for those who were inclined to notice such things. That she was protective of that knowledge was an understatement to say the least and she was surprised that Jessie was aware of it. Her assumption, at the moment, was that it had been mentioned to Jessie by her dimensional counterpart but it was certainly not knowledge that she was expecting the young woman to have. For a moment, the shadows under her hat shifted, showing wide brown eyes before she tipped her head again and the shadows settled. 

"I do usually wear a purple cloak. But as you were doing mundane things in mundane clothes, it seemed like that would be less appreciated so I dressed down," She agreed, leaving the topic of her offspring untouched and hopefully, quickly forgotten. "And no, she didn't. I've been circling through checking up on Freedom Cities non-natives as I've been, ah, otherwise occupied and its good to know if any problems are cropping up. Lay of the land."

Her head tipped to the side then, the curve of her jaw showing below the wide brim of her hat and her gaze moved from young woman to young woman, "I'm not actually trying to be overly cryptic - despite rumors to the contrary - but we are standing in the frozen foods aisle of a supermarket that I imagine will become a regular place that you go and I really am trying not to make that more difficult for you in the future."

At least having a child had made Phantom more sympathetic in trying to keep their secret identity untainted. "Neither stealth or duplicity are strong suites of mine."

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A few minutes later, Aquaria left the store, cradling her newly-bought lobster, which the seafood counter clerk had helpfully wrapped in cool wet newspaper for her. Her hands were mostly obscured by her burden, but Aquaria was intimately aware of what someone looking too closely might see. She let Jessie push the cart and made a beeline for the shadows herself, no easy task in the brightly lit corridors of the underground mall! This can't be a mistake, she told herself firmly as she waited for Indira's signal that it was safe to enter the closed-off store she was going to open for them. We're going to make new friends, and Jessie will be okay, and then I'm going to eat this! Absently she patted the lobster, which sleepily complained to her ears about its bondage. She was tempted to tell the lobster that it would all be over soon, but people usually thought it was creepy when she talked to food like that - and it was important to make a good impression today. 

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Indira looked casual enough walking up to the large, temporary walls surrounding the closed-off shop, but her eyes were a predator's: sharp, careful, and casually alert to everything that might be going on around them. The door set into the obnoxious business artwork ("Coming Soon! Under renovations!") was clearly locked, and she clearly reached into her pocket as if to retrieve a key, but from the other women's perspective she clearly came back empty - a vacant palm that she held against the keyhole for a moment.

There was a near-imperceptible noise like rattling metal, a momentary frown, and the door opened into a mostly-torn-out space with a couple worn out chairs and discarded tools - what was left of one mural proclaimed that the space had previously been a jeweler's. "I have heard they will not be returning for a week," she said, withdrawing her hand - there was something silver in her palm, pulling out of the lock, but only briefly before it vanished. She gestured for the others to enter before shutting and - mundanely - locking the door behind them. "I confess I did not hear why, precisely. Something about money and 'plumbing codes'."

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Jessie pushed the rented cart into the empty shop, then moved without apparent thought or intent to put her back against the nearest wall in a spot where she had a good view of the entire dim and slightly spooky space. She'd been persuaded to surrender her bag of fish for purchase and bagging, so now she was unarmed, but it really didn't make her much less dangerous. She didn't seem in a combative mood right now though. "What did you want to tell us?" she asked Taylor, even as she kept one eye on Indira and avoided looking at Aquaria and her lobster entirely. It was making weird crinkly-paper noises in its wet prison, and every time it made a particularly loud crinkle, Jessie twitched slightly. 

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Phantom lifted one hand up, touching the glittering gem at the hollow of her throat and from that drew the shadows that coiled around her fingertips into a proper mask as she slid them over her face before removing her hat. It wasn't the full cloak and cowl, but it would offer some privacy from those she didn't know while still largely wearing her civvies. As she did so, her body shifted, turning ephemeral and ghostly although she still 'stood' there on the ground in booted feet. 

Complicated. Things were always so very complicated. 

"I wasn't here to offer any sort of warning - at least it wasn't my plan. I've been... away for a while and there are a few cross dimensional entities that have more potential of, hmm, how would I put this... hrm."

Phantom was clearly trying to find some way of putting more esoteric terms into layman's words. "...Static. Dimensional noise, if you will. When I noticed the anomaly, I came over to investigate. I hadn't intended to disturb you or your companion."

That was said with, again, a curious, thoughtful glance to Aquaria before that same curious look travelled to Indira, as her head tipped to the side, "I did not count on being noticed by your compatriots."

Was Phantom the sort to lurk and scan people for mystic problems without even saying 'hello'? Why, yes. Yes, she was. "I am truly apologetic if I caused alarm. It wasn't my intent."

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"Woah," said Aquaria, fascinated. "That's really interesting. Are you a magic detective? Is that where you got your baby?" She pulled the gloves off her hands as she spoke, exposing thick, muscular green fingers, three on each hand, with pale green pads running along the surface of each. "Jessie's not a dimensional anomaly, though, that sounds bad.," she said with great authority, though she wasn't really sure what that was. "She's my best friend." While they talked, she slipped her hands inside her newspaper-wrapped burden and flexed them, a sudden crack echoing through the room. Ooh - was that too loud? Maybe that was too loud. She raised the lobster's still-twitching tail to her mouth and opened wide, wrapping her mouth around the tail and sucking the meat out the way a Surfacer would with a single crab's leg. Schlurp! Her gold-black eyes widened - As delicately as possible, she began lashing out with her tongue, licking fragments of meat out of the now-very-dead crustacean. 

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Indira had opened her mouth to speak when the slurping started - she frowned for a moment at that, but it seemed less born of disgust and more the frown your host gives when you put your elbows on the dinner table. It was a testament to her experience dealing with all manners of people that she recovered her smile quickly. "I cannot say that I paid too much attention in some of my classes, but it is my understanding that babies do not have much to do with being a detective. I am told it is, sometimes, magic," she added, smile turning into a small grin at her rare chance to make an English pun.

"Though I introduced myself already, I am Indira. I cannot claim to be a 'magic detective', however. I simply live...upstairs," she vaguely supplied, pointing a finger straight up, "and am often curious about the unusual guests and residents that may show up here."

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Jessie flinched hard at the loud snapping noise, her pupils blowing wide for a moment before she recovered her equanimity. She carefully did not look over at her hungry friend. "I am an anomaly," she agreed, raking a hand through her hair uneasily. "I'm not from here, and there are two others of me here already. It's not normal." She studied Phantom, her forehead furrowed with concern. "Do you see any bad vibrations around me? Am I going to hurt people with the... staticky... stuff?" She waved a hand in the air, trying to pin down a term she couldn't exactly understand. "I can't go back to my world. It's all gone." 

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This conversation was quickly getting away from Phantom and HOW that kept happening to her was most frustrating. The slurping noise startled her and although Taylor generally considered herself to both have a sturdy stomach and be considerate of those with 'alternative dietary practice', the look she cast Aquaria was very briefly both startled and a little grossed out before she managed to recover her stoic, blank expression once more. 

"Magical detective is not... entirely inaccurate," Phantom agreed as she'd long ago given up on trying to explain the nuances of what she did and did not do. "It's close enough but although my son is magic, I did not get him from being a 'magic detective'."

Clearing her throat, she forced her voice to soften for the palpable unease she was causing, "An anomaly isn't good or bad, it just means that Jessie is unlike most people in that her origins are unique and outside of this plane of existence. As the sole survivor of her reality, she's a dimensional anomaly. That's all that means."

She turned back to Jessie then, her eyes glowing white for a moment as she examined the girl, "I know. I'm not here to send you home, Jessie. I just wanted to make sure that you weren't attracting anything... problematic. For you or anyone else. Have you noticed anything strange lately?"

She was utterly serious as she asked the question, looking from Jessie, to Aquaria and her lobster-meal, before turning her gaze towards Indira. 'Strange' was really a moving target in Freedom City. 

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Aquaria had been about to tell Phantom that she had better not mess with Jessie because her sister was super-tough and had once killed Omega, but the conversation moved on from there as she finished getting the meat out of the lobster. The pale skin on the front of her body flushed a faint pink with embarrassment as she wrapped up what was left of the lobster in the wet newspaper it had come in. "Am I a problem?" she asked suddenly, a croak in her voice. "Vrak..." She swallowed hard, which produced some impressive bulges visible right through her hoodie. Taking off her glasses revealed an amphibian face, slit black pupils against giant gold eyes. "Surfacers believe bad things about my people. They're not true," she said firmly, "but...but I don't want any of it to hurt Jessie. She's my best friend." Of course, if this Surfacer said she was a problem, that didn't really mean anything - but it would be good to know. 

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"Strange?" Indira seemed to find the question funny, but she didn't seem to think the joke worth sharing - still, it made her pause and think. She blinked again, twice, eyes shifting from pleasant brown to featureless black voids and back as she pondered.  

"I...see a great deal that is strange," the young woman admitted, laughing a little despite the gravity behind the inquiry and Aquaria's more somber take. "Even my own best friend is...unusual, so I am afraid that my measure for 'strange' may be slightly 'off'. I do not think that I have seen anything strange that could be related to you or these two, however," she said, nodding politely in their direction. "So perhaps nothing you would find interesting."

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Jessie's eyes widened a bit as she took in Phantom's question. She glanced at Aquaria, then at Indira, back to Phantom again, and seemed to work her way through several possible answers. "I don't... think so?" she finally ventured. "I mean, not like what you're asking about. But I haven't seen very much of this world except on supervised field trips until I got released this morning, so it's all weird, you know?" She shrugged, looking and sounding in the moment very much like her doppelganger. "Like before today, I hadn't been in a working grocery store since I was fourteen. It gets... fuzzy, what things are supposed to be like. No portals, though, or monsters, or paranormal stuff." 

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Phantom, although she heard the other young women, the bulk of her attention was fixed on Aquaria. She was startled, that clearly flickered across her features - visible despite the mask obscuring her face. Her dark gaze traveled over Aquaria's features and then down to the lines and markings of that tattoo that she could see, as she attempted to discern the meaning. Phantom's lips moved, although no sound came out, muttering Lemurian words under her breath before she caught herself and snapped her mouth shut. 

As her head tipped to the side, her expression remained remote, almost impassive as she considered potential ramifications before she gave one small, reassuring shake - dismissing any potential threat from an orphaned Deep One. Especially since this particular Deep One seemed primarily worried about those she called friend. Phantom was many things, but xenophobic had never really been on the list, "There are many creatures the layman would call 'monster' but it is, by and large, an uninformed position. No, I don't think there's any additional metaphysical concern due to your friendship."

She paused then for a moment before adding, very briefly, "I am sorry for your losses."

That, really, was an educated guess but from the gap in the runes and the commentary about surfacer opinions - not to mention the Invasion - it was not hard to imagine that there were few of the girl's kin left. She turned then, giving the other two her attention, "I imagine that 'normal' and 'strange' are a little bit difficult to parse but... if you do notice that there is more 'odd' than usual - and you find you need help - you're welcome to call."

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Aquaria silently pulled up her hoodie and put her gloves back on, hiding the faded blue ink beneath her pale green skin. As Phantom talked to the others, she discreetly wrapped up the remains of her snack in the newspaper it had come in and left it in a big white trash barrel that looked like it was full of stuff the Surfacers were using to build the building. Hands back in her pockets, she said, "Everything will be all right. Jessie and I will take care of each other. We stand alone together." Of course, that reminded her that they weren't entirely alone. She looked at Indira with big goggle eyes and croaked, "And someone will take care of you, right? Do you have someone here who is your family?" She sounded very concerned by the possibility that nobody would be taking care of Indira. "Nobody should have to be alone." 

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Indira smiled, broadly - a happy smile, brought to the surface by genuine good feelings. "I am not alone anymore. I have at least some family in the city, though we have...disagreements on how I should be spending my time," she said, the smile dimming a little as she was reminded of that. "They are perhaps more strict than I'd like, while having less control than they'd like. But it is a very mundane concern."

"I do have a 'family' of good friends, however," she assured Aquaria, giving her a deep nod as the smile returned. "We live upstairs, and I trust them with my life. More, too, that are not close but are always available to me if I am in need, and I to them. I am sure your life will be no different - both of you - once you have spent more time here and met more people. Do not fear for me."

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"Do you live in the castle with Eve?" Jessie asked Indira curiously. In a small and quiet place, with people who posed no apparent threat, her twitching had stopped and she seemed much calmer and more attentive. "Eve helped Erin get us our apartment, because she owns the building. We're supposed to go to her for help if anything goes wrong and Erin doesn't answer her phone. But it's good to have options if something bad happens," she added, taking her brand-new phone out of her pocket. She looked at Phantom expectantly. "What's your phone number?" 

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Phantom remained quiet where she stood as the girls talked and exchanged information. She didn't move much, nor seem to breathe until she was asked a question once more. With a small nod of her head, Phantom rattled off a cell phone number with the Freedom City area code for Jessie to put in her phone. She made sure that the number was correct. 

"In general, that's the better route. I have a very specific sort of thing that I do. Most times, Erin or Eve will likely prove a more suitable response for whatever issues you might be having. My sphere of domain is much more, well, cultists and things from beyond than the usual superhero concerns." Phantom provided, tucking her hands into her jacket once more. "Or closing dimensional rifts. That's usually what people call for."

Phantom smiled then, a slim curve of her lips below her mask as she took in Aquaria's fervent words, "But I think you'll have things well in hand."

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When Taylor left the young women to their own devices, Aquaria and Jessie decided to cut their trip short - after all, they already had almost everything they needed. They couldn't take the rental cart upstairs with them, so the grocery store boxed everything up for them. Jessie could throw cars and Aquaria could lift them - but their real strength wasn't really at issue here. The over-stuffed boxes together looked like quite a load for two young women passing themselves off as normal to carry, and so it was that Aquaria, Jessie, and Indira all found themselves carrying boxes of groceries, loaded into the elevator for the trip back upstairs. 

"So can we meet your friends?" Aquaria suddenly asked, twisting her shoulders to look at Indira and speaking over the music. "I promise I won't eat any more lobsters." Probably not gonna get any more lobsters for a while. "and Jessie's really fun. That way we'll all be together, and everyone will know everyone.

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"That is - hmm." Indira seemed genuinely surprised by the question, but she had to admit it was a fair one - especially once the elevator had arrived and she found herself in possession of knowledge of just where the unusual pair lived. 

Not that she couldn't have tracked them there anyway, having already met them, but it was the spirit of the thing. "I do live up at the top of the building," she admitted, setting her easily-hefted boxes down on their floor, "but I do not live there alone. I would be happy to show you at least part of it, but I will have to call and ensure that it is okay with my friends."

That, at least, ended up being easy enough: by the time the others had finished putting the expirables away she had completed a quiet phone call, and gave them their belated answer with a smile and a polite gesture back toward the elevator. "I am afraid I cannot show you the entire area," she apologized, stepping back into the elevator; it settled somewhat under her weight, springs compensating slightly for a mass her athletic but rather lithe build shouldn't have been able to justify, especially without the heavy boxes they'd arrived carrying. "Some areas are private to myself, or others who live there. You are welcome to come, however, and see what you can. I do promise that I have friends, either way."

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Putting away the groceries seemed to calm Jessie down even further, appealing as it did to her love of both a surplus of food and having things where they belonged. By the time Indira was ready to take them to the castle, Jessie was about as close to cheerful as she ever got. "Is Eve your friend?" she asked Indira. "She's very rich, and she's a telepath, but not a bad telepath. She helps people." After some consideration, she'd decided that a visit to new neighbors probably required a gift, especially when said neighbors had done you a favor. Her choices at the moment were somewhat limited, so Jessie had settled on a three pound bag of red apples, which she held cradled in one arm as the elevator began to rise. 

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"Eve is my friend," Indira confirmed, smiling. "She is very rich, but I do not know how rich - it is not important to our friendship, I think. I have...less need for money than most people."

"She is also a telepath, yes, though you may not wish to speak of things so openly," she advised, corners of her mouth turning down a little - not disapproving, but her voice carried a great deal of caution. "I believe some secrets should be shared only by the people who own them. She is somewhat open with her gifts, and uses them well, but it is still a matter of politeness...and saves you from the risk of revealing things you later find you should not have." She shrugged, smiling again. "But I am not in charge of you. It is advice only - I believe the phrase is 'take it or leave it'? Besides Eve, we may also find Kimber," she added, changing the subject, "though I do not know if she is here right now. She is my best friend. I think you would like her."

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Once they were all out of the elevator, Aquaria hunched over a little, wringing her long fingers together with a faintly slippery sound. She'd paused to rub herself down with lotion when they were putting groceries away, and her green-white skin glistened in the light of the interior of the castle. When she caught sight of an exterior-facing window, though, she gasped and placed her fingers across it, all but plastering her wide froggy face against the reinforced glass. "We're so high up," she croaked, yellow-black eyes wide as she studied the land far below. "Jessie, look!" She pointed, knowing the heights might help relieve her friend's occasional claustrophobia - a trait they both had in common. As they looked, she sang, her voice dropping to a deep bass as her throat swelled, "Oh Mother Hydra; Father Dagon too; listen to me sing your names, oh so far from you..." She trailed off quietly and turned to face Indira, her amphibian visage set in a smile. "Uh, sorry. Lead the way!

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"Ooh, singing!" a chipper voice called from down the hallway, coming from a brunette woman hurriedly heading their way with a spring in her step. Between Indira's phone call and their arrival Kimber had been fliting about the first floor of the castle, getting it as ready for company as she reasonably could in so little time. Wearing denim overalls with a stripey white and black top and a broad smile, she waved gregariously as the new arrivals. "Yay, new people! I've never heard a Deep One sing in person before!" she gushed, bouncing up and down on her heels as she reached the group, evidently unbothered by the subject matter of the verse. "Your voice is so pretty! Oh, I'm Kimber and this is Avro!" She indicated the tabby cat winding about her ankles, sniffing at Aquaria and Jessie uncertainly. "Come on, let's go to the kitchen! We can make food, with actual food!"

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"Oh, you have a kitty!" Jessie exclaimed, crouching down and extending a cautious hand for the animal to sniff. "I like cats, I used to have... no." She frowned thoughtfully. "I had a dog, and then I didn't have any pets. But I like cats. Hello, Avro." For a moment, she seemed to consider this sufficient introduction, then remembered that there was a new person around as well. "Oh, um, I'm Jessie. We live downstairs now because we just moved in. Are you Eve's friend too?" 

Edited by Electra

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