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November 1, 2015 

The DuTemps Building 

 

While the machine intelligence briefed the superheroes on relevant global events she'd gathered from observing the planet's news cycle, Tarva, her head on her hand and shoulders slumped as usual to disguise her great height, was in the process of making notes on her yellow legal pad, the heavy black ink of her pen scratching quietly as she worked. NORMAL MOVIE FOR KIMBER - 2001? CLOCKWORK ORANGE? AN ANDALUSIAN DOG? She didn't really understand the appeal of any of the bizarrely sanitized movies that people on Earth-Prime enjoyed watching, but after some consideration (and careful scrutinizing of their plots), she'd selected a few that she thought would make for an enjoyable evening. When Bluebird paused to change topics to recent interstellar news, Tarva nonchalantly put her hand under the table and rested it on Kimber's thigh, giving her lover a warm smile as she locked eyes with her. They'd have an evening all to themselves yet. Nobody's going to come between us, she thought comfortingly. Nobody. 

 

 

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At the touch Kimber straightened in her seat - the novelty of being able to properly sit in corporeal chairs rather than hovering above them still hadn't worn off - causing the reclining, leather wrapped back to creak softly as she shot the shadow witch a look that gave up on trying to look reproachful in favour of being coyly amused without much of a fight. "Pay attention," she whispered insistently through a small smile, the sentiment undercut by the twinkling in her sea green eyes as she curled an ankle around Tarva's calf. She flicked her eyes back in Bluebird's direction, doing her best to follow her own advice and keep up with the briefing but she had to admit that she was slightly more interested in trying to peek at what the taller woman was writing.

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"Thank you Bluebird," Eve said after the machine intelligence finished.  Resting her arms on the table the white haired telepath took time to regard each of the exceptional women seated at the table before inclining her head to indicate the folio in front of her.

 

"I've had yet another communique from the Freedom League inquiring into Tarva's status," she began.  "I assured them that she was being watched, intimately, but I'm going to have to let one of them in here eventually."  Her sage green eyes locked onto Tarva and Kimber for a moment, silently begging them to not screw that up.

 

"In addition, I've had Bluebird contact the Silver Tree," Eve continued, "for two reasons.  The first is determine if they have heard of any hint of reprisal against us for the operation against Steelgrave."  And for Tarva's betrayal, but Eve felt she didn't need to elaborate on that.  "And second was for a list of targets of opportunity, with the intention of decapitating Terminus leadership."

 

"Bluebird?"

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Tarva sat bolt upright in her chair at Eve's words, black irises wide in her bone-white eyes. "Wait, what!?" The others on the team, especially the new people, had seen Tarva like a great black cat: lounging negligently about the place with Kimber when she wasn't engaged in her mysterious duties, occasionally sharpening her talons against Eliza in a 'friendly' magical debate. But the look of bolt-from-the-blue terror she gave Eve, then Kimber, then Bluebird, was entirely new. She spread her arms as she stared in shock at Bluebird, a look of almost betrayal on her face - an odd thing, given that she and the projected Furion machine intelligence were on frosty terms at the best of times. 

 

For her part, Bluebird returned the shadow-witch's gaze imperturbably, folding her arms and locking her gaze with Tarva for a long, uncomfortable moment - that wound up being broken by Bluebird's internal alarms. With patience, she had accepted the suggestion of the other DuTemps dwellers that her 'alarms' be represented by her blue-tinted projection flashing an alternating shade of blue and red while a siren noise played. Dismissing the noise, Bluebird cocked her head before saying sternly, "There are lawbreakers robbing the First Municipal Bank across the thoroughfare. They identify as ...the Power Corps!"

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This was not Temperance's standard level of operation.

 

That wasn't to say that it was hostile or uncomfortable. Well, it was, but it wasn't because of the building, the extradimensional intelligence gathering AI, or most of the personalities. She was fine with working with Kimber, and Eve still felt like she had her head screwed on straight.

 

Which left Tarva. Hoo, boy, did that leave Tarva.

 

She hadn't exactly sensed much hostility pouring off of her when they'd gone to Jotunheim - then again, they'd been mainly focusing their attention on getting Kimber's scythe, meaning socializing took second place. Her demeanor was a bit... her, but Temperance could see other calling her cold and arrogant. You had to put on a front in this line of work. It was when she'd accepted the offer to come work at the DuTemps that Tarva had suddenly started asking questions. Well, "questions" was the wrong word - more like "inquisitions."

 

"So these entities, representatives of... everything, are allowed to flitter about as they will, absolutely unbound? Capable of seeing everything and manipulating their purview, separated from all existence by a thin sliver... and you want to let them run free?"

 

"Ice has its uses, but it's fragile, especially under the flame. I know, yes, water in turn, but... what is water unless you wish to truly use it? You could drown someone with it, or you could rip the moisture from their veins, but those require... determination. Otherwise, you're left with the water itself, which means you may just end up giving your foe a very aggressive bath."

 

And, while she never said it directly, Temperance knew that, underneath the barbs, there was a little sense of satisfaction about Tarva's own element. She knew the darkness, she was darkness - she was so Goth, she blew midnight into her tissue when she sneezed. So, it gave Temperance a slight, bitter sense of satisfaction to see Tarva panic... though she did worry a little about what could make such a smug sorceress lose her head so easily. But, that had to wait, as the announcement came down about the robbery attempt by the Power Corps.

 

"Well? This feels like a good chance to take it to the field."

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Bad guys, yes, to punch. Mali wondered where the offer came from, and she wondered more why she'd accepted it. Probably her sense of adventure. She did not know anything about Tarva, and had only briefly spoken to a few of the other people she now associated with. She had a feeling there was more to the story than she'd heard, even in snippets. So, she stayed quiet, listened more than she spoke. She was happy to see her friends from school, if nothing else.


The Power Corps she could handle, more so than the Terminus and magic. They had faces to punch, and they were robbing a bank. Should be relatively simple, she thought. Of course, when she put the costume on things almost never stayed simple. More than once, she wondered what she brought to the table, what she was valued for. More than once, she quashed those thoughts. These were smart people, they wouldn't have wanted her here if there wasn't a good reason to bring her in.

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The police were already on the scene by the time the heroes arrived on the scene at the First Municipal Bank, where they'd gone ahead and handled this the "Freedom City" way - put up barricades, summon the SWAT teams, but otherwise wait for superheroic assistance. Captain Glen Brooks,  a tall, rangy man with a bushy grey mustache, was there to greet them and give them a short briefing behind a blue and gold police van, out of sight of the Power Corps' sensors inside the bank. 

 

"Half dozen of 'em," he said laconically. "Teller who got out said they came in with the armor under their clothes, then made everyone get down on the ground. Saw 'em goin' for the vault, but by then she was already running out." Anna Ng turned out to be a middle-aged Vietnamese woman with a faint accent and the marks of glasses on her nose; glasses that she had, unhappily, left behind her during her dash out the front door when her return from lunch had been interrupted by the arrival of the bad guys. Her story was about the same, with the exception that she added, "I remember when Mr. Wolf told them they were welcome to all the money, one of them laughed, and said who cares? He made it sound very funny." 

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Bank robbers who didn't want money. Superpowered bank robbers who didn't want money. Superpowered mercenary bank robbers who didn't want money. Temperance admitted she'd only handled a few attempted heists over the course of her career, but she had an idea where this was pointing. 

 

"If somebody hired the Power Corps, they're likely looking for the retrieval of something very specific. They may be targeting the safety deposit boxes." She scanned the area for spirits that would likely be incongruous slipping into the bank for recon purposes. Rat spirits... pigeon spirits... all the flightiest of spirits, more focused on food than intel. I could call them up, but if they come up dry, Tarva is going to rub my face into the curb... 

 

She turned to Kimber. "Recon?"  

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"Took the words right out of my mouth!" the poltergeist beamed from where she was sitting sidesaddle on the snath of her floating scythe like a cartoon Elizabeth Montgomery atop her broom. As she hopped off it became clear that the weapon wasn't supporting her weight in the air but the other way around. Gliding behind Eliza and coming around on the elementalist's other side she added in a low aside, "I talked to Tarva about being a little less catty, so you know. We're all glad to have you and Mali around, she can be a tiny bit territorial, is all; I'm sure it'll work out." Where that might have once been a statement of pure optimism the confidence and power Kimber had gained recently gave it a sightly different ring.

 

Turning to Eve and the rest of the team she grinned and made a little bow. "I'll go scare up some information! Bee-are-bee!" With that she abruptly disappeared from conventional view and sped away to slip immaterially through the bank wall.

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"A deposit box seems likely," Wraith agreed, three-eyed gaze looking up at the building. She was trying to determine how she'd get in or out...though her skill set was unique enough that she wasn't sure it was terribly relevant. Good practice, at least.

 

She'd been fairly quiet that morning, though it wasn't unusual - polite as ever, if a little more open than she had been back in high school. Open enough to give Mali a many-armed hug when she found out the fighter was joining the team, certainly...they'd never been extraordinary close, but it hadn't seemed to dampen her enthusiasm, or her promise that they'd have to spar later.

 

Temperance she didn't know so well, but a friend of Kimber's was a friend of hers, and that was more than enough for a warm and polite welcome. Eve was putting together quite the team, she knew, and she knew the value of diversifying the powers and personalities they had at their disposal; there was flexibility and strength in variety and teamwork.

 

Which brought her back to the task at hand, eyes rotating a fraction of an inch as she focused on the bank structure. "I am concerned by their...what is the word, braveness?" she hummed, eyes turning down in a frown. "Their actions draw a great deal of attention - they must know there will be a response. They are either confident they can fight their way out, or they have a plan to allow them to escape. I do not like either option."

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Ghost Girl found that she and her friends had called the situation in the bank down to a T. The most that could be said for the Power Corps robbery was that they were professionals - the bank tellers and other personnel were zip-tied in the back conference room, while the patrons were standing with their backs to the glass against the front entrance, the better to put a quick and memorable stop to any attempt to force through the frosted glass. Two of the Power Corps (3 and 7 from the numbers on their helmets) were standing watch over the staff and the customers, one in the back room and one in the lobby, trading places every few minutes in what was obviously a prearranged schedule. 

 

The other four (1, 2, 4, and 5) were back at the Vault, where Five and Four were just opening the vault door, their armors glowing with the light of readied weapons. The bank manager lay unconscious at the feet of a figure Kimber didn't immediately recognize, a black-clad man in a jumpsuit that made him look like a ninja. He carried no weapon, however, and seemed to be scanning the hallway, head turning back and forth, finger pressed to his temple. When he spoke to 1, it was with a young man's voice, low and urgent, with the timbre of command. "There's someone here - I can't see her exactly, but I can feel her presence." He was not looking at Kimber - but he wasn't looking _away_ from her, either. 


"Damn!" swore One. "We're out of time! Everyone fall back to the main room. Four, Five, there's no time to search - just plant the charges!" 


"But we'll set the book on fire!" protested Four, earning him a cuff from the larger Five. 

 

"Don't be an idiot! You heard what they said, that thing's not gonna mind a little Willy Pete! Get to it, soldier!" 

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--Aw, they have their own baby psychic,-- Kimber conveyed to Eve with a distinct note of amusement in her thoughts. If she'd been able to just whisk away the robbers' prize without ever being detected that wouldn't have given Eliza or Mali much to do on their first outing, after all. Sending the French telepath a rough mental map of the bank and the location of the hostages, she slid invisibly through the air to position herself between the vault door and the Power Corps. She wasn't planning on letting them set off any incendiaries, thank you very much. --They're already pretty worked up. I can work with that!--

 

Indeed, an undercurrent of fear was thick on the air to her supernatural senses. Foremost in the minds of the group was a masked figure that it took her a moment to recognize as the supposedly immortal villain Mastermind, which certainly painted the little heist in a new, more concerning light. She also caught a whiff of what she could only really describe as a sort of devil vampire. Or maybe a vampire devil. Either way, she had a winner. As she blurred into view in front of the armored thugs with a predatory grin her form shifted into a dead ringer for the monster of their collective fears with a few of her own embellishments for good measure. "You DARE endanger my tome?!" she bellowed, wreathed in swirling arcane power and clenching long talons toward the closest of the demolitionists.

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Well, that certainly got the reaction Ghost Girl was looking for! The already-nervous Five screamed in terror right through the mechanical vodor of his helmet before running until he hit the back of the bank vault, covering his head as he called out Catholic prayers at the top of his voice. 

 

Five and Two swore blindly and began retreating hastily the other way, yelling "It's awake! It's awake! Everybody fall back!" 

 

"No, dammit, don't run!" called One, readying a weapon in shaky hands that he aimed at the demon. "We've done this thing before, we know their weaknesses! 3 and 7, you stay with the hostages - if anything comes in there that isn't us, you shoot and run!" 

 

But the Power Corps' escort tilted his head and studied the 'demon', his masked face invisible, and suddenly pressed his hand against the side of his temple - 

 

"Scheisse! It didn't work!" he called to the others, dropping his hand to his side, backing up into the vault in a fright. 

 

Behind him, Four was pulling a weapon from the holster at his belt, a big, heavy-looking pistol like the one that Kimber had seen while visiting, and with a tone of religious awe and terror in his voice, he sobbed, "I'll save you! I'll save you all!" He shot the psychic in the back, the heavy armored bullets bursting their way through the man's midsection and out the front, a spray of blood falling harmlessly through Kimber's phantasmal torso. As One turned, startled, Four shot him, too, this time through the head in a spray of metal and bone as the heavy slugs tore through the armor of the man's helmet, sending the Power Corps commander crashing abruptly to the floor. 


And then, Four pressed the barrel of the gun to his chin and declared "I'm a hero!" 

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Wraith closed her eyes as soon as the mental image of the bank started coming through - or, rather, she ceased to have eyes, cutting her own visual senses off in an attempt to focus and commit the layout to memory.

 

As soon as Kimber was done her eyes reformed, void-black almond lenses folding back out of her face. "I will sneak in to provide backup," she said, already putting action to words - she dropped low, growing long and sleek as she ran for the side of the building and switched to Eve's ever-helpful psychic network. --I believe I can sneak in through the vents, in case Kimber or the hostages require aid. I may at least be an unpleasant surprise if we must fight them.--

 

She barely slowed when she hit the side of the building, away from windows to spy from - up the wall without slowing, lengthening and flowing until she was thin enough to slip, like liquid, into the first vent she could find.

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Temperance waited for the signal, trying to surmise her options. Until Ghost Girl reported back with surveillance on what was going on inside, she didn't have the clearest picture on where the Power Corps members were positioned. Which meant if she barged in, she could easily line herself up for an ambush - or give them reason to fire on hostages. That left the option of standing back and waiting with Blue Fox - which she could easily do - and... Tarva.

 

Perhaps being proactive might be the best option. 

 

She moved towards the bank - not enough to break the perimeter or get into line of sight with whoever might be inside, but close enough to get a rough idea of the best angle to take the bank at. She looked up and down the street - fire hydrants, gutters, all sorts of fun devices. A little extension of will is all it would take.

 

She turned to Anna Ng. "What's the layout like inside the lobby and offices?" she asked. "And are there any sensitive, water-vulnerable devices you'd like me to weave around?" 

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It was among the most horrific things Kimber had ever seen. 

 

And then, from a curling waft of shadow that arose in the air like smoke, Tarva appeared. Despite the horrific circumstances, the shadow-witch was all business (relatively speaking), putting a hand on Kimber's arm and declaring, "My angel of the night - it's not real! _This_ is real!" And with that, she did something she'd done once before in public - grab Kimber by the body and pull her up to kiss her passionately on the lips. She never had been one put off by the presence of violence - real, or imagined. 

 

And it was imagined violence, because when she released Kimber, the horrible carnage all around her had faded. Instead, though Four was still gibbering in a corner, One and the illusionist who had so bedeviled her were standing in front of an opened deposit box, the former flipping through the pages of a leather-bound, gold-leafed text and taking pictures with a high-end digital camera. To their credit, the two of them didn't hesitate when they realized the jig was up. One called "Evac!" and in the space of a few seconds - One

 

Even as the rest of the heroes made their hasty entrance into the building - Five and Two. 

 

The Power Corps, with the help of their teleporter - Three 

 

made their escape. Seven. 

 

And then the heroes were alone with their victory, and Tarva was looking around nervously, hastily smoothing her ornate black dress as she realized the circumstances she'd fallen into. 

 

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Kimber had opened her mouth to shout as the horror unfolded before her, form rippling and returning to her natural state as her focus was shattered. She couldn't believe that things had spiralled out of control so quickly, that she'd miscalculated so badly that blood and cooling bodies filled her vision. She opened her mouth but nothing came out, phantasmal throat tightening in a way that would have been choking if she'd had to breathe.

 

Then Tarva was there pressed against her and for a moment her awareness contracted sharply to consist solely of the unexpected presence of the statuesque woman in black. As she realized, blinking, what had happened the poltergeist whirled on the offending telepath with an uncharacteristic snarl and a raised scythe but it was already too late. The robbers and their accomplice disappeared with their prize, leaving her to slump her shoulders and rub her eyes with her free hand. "Well... jams. Messed that up pretty much entirely," she sighed.

 

Waiting for the others to rush in she took note of the one remaining Power Corp member before turning to Tarva with an expression that was amused despite the undercurrent of frustration and embarrassment over her own performance. "Spying on me again, eh?" Wrapping one arm around the shadow witch's waist she floated high enough to plant a more chaste kiss on her partner's cheek. "My hero."

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Bright flashes from indoors. That was never a good sign. Temperance broke off from her discussion with Ms. Ng to rush inside, drawing up her water to her sides. The time for caution was over; if they were opening fire with hostages in there, she couldn't risk staying outside and planning. She kicked in the door -- 

 

-- only to find no Power Corps, the hostages unharmed, and Kimber and Tarva in a loving embrace. 

 

The water slowly sloshed back into her container. Temperance decided to quickly look anywhere but at the two, giving a brief scan on the safety deposit boxes and the hostages, checking for obvious clues on the boxes and wounds on the hostages. When she was done - and hoped the public display of affection was over - she turned back to the duo. 

 

"Glad to see everyone's safe. Do we have any idea what they were after?"  

 

 

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"Whatever it was, I believe they got it. Or, perhaps, at least some of it," Wraith mused, silver oozing out of the closest vent like someone was pouring mercury through it, slowly taking form as her mass came through. Her voice was as even as ever, but those who'd spend enough time around her could feel her frustration - the slightly-too-pointed fingers, the unnecessarily clawed foot scraping against the floor. She was a predator worked up for a hunt but suddenly bereft of prey.

 

"We could not have anticipated the teleporters. Hopefully we interrupted them, and they did not get all that they came for. If we find a way to track them, we can at least prevent them from using what they took."

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"I couldn't let them hurt you like that. No one should live that way..." Tarva hugged Kimber lightly, her nerves fading as her eyes fell on the last remaining Power Corps member. Given a context, she forgot her terror at being outside the castle and advanced on him, shadowy flame crackling around her fingers. "Slave!" she called, grabbing the man and picking him up one-handed with the kind of strength that belied her usual meek disposition. "Who are you? How DARE you violate this beautiful creature's mind!?


Four was recovering, and wearing intact armor - but he wasn't fool enough to try and fight it out around so many superheroes. "Argh! Hey, quarter, quarter! First of all, that crazy devil thing wasn't no beautiful creature, and second, that wasn't me, that was the hired help! We were just supposed to get a copy of the book!" 

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"I did sort of start the scary illusion fight," Ghost Girl supposed aloud, floating up behind Tarva with her feet far enough off of the bank floor to place a translucent blue hand placatingly on the taller woman's shoulder before she could take out her frustrations on their captured robber. "But then I'm a poltergeist; that guy without armour was just creepy." Her voice was light, almost teasing but those who knew her well noted the lack of cheerful enthusiasm running beneath it and the way her other hand was gripping her scythe tightly enough to turn her knuckles ice white. Even if she was trying to stay positive she'd been shaken by the mental intrusion. "Those are the dangers of subcontracting, eh? Tell you what, I'll be good cop, okay?" She deftly swung her weapon about behind her head so that the long, unnaturally reflective blade framed her head like a macabre halo and let her eyes turn inky black with luminous blue irises, her too-wide smile touched by a hint of rictus.  "Who hired you in the first place?"

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Four had lost his helmet by dint of Tarva simply ripping it free from its seal, exposing the surprisingly young, freckle-faced redhead underneath. "Some creepy-ass cult guy, I dunno!" His cheeks flushed especially red. "Boss made him pay in gold up front, but he was good for it." He hmmed, a calculating look appearing on his face. "Bet you'd like to know where Manson II is hiding out, huh?" 

 

"Loathsome worm. You're just a slave's slave. You are not even worth my bile, maggot." Tarva released him disgustedly and walked away, wiping her hands on her dress as Kimber finished the interrogation. 

 

"Uh..." He watched Tarva leave, still looking tense, then looked back at Kimber. "Hey, I got no love for creepy cult guys. But, uh, I go in the hole and people hear I talked, I get a shiv in the back in the shower. Maybe if you tell everyone you used your mind whammies on me..."

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"That would help our reputation, wouldn't it?" said Temperance from over near the safety deposit boxes. "In addition to everything else, we have the ability to break men's minds. 'Don't cross us, or we'll dig through your head and tell everyone about your embarrassing search history.'" Her attention wasn't on the interrogation, but on the text. The Power Corps had gone to a lot of effort to isolate this book and gather information on it... but when the time had come to cut and run, they left it behind, cooling on the counter. She ran her fingers over the pages, trying to parse the words. Spellcraft wasn't her specialty - her talents were pretty much natural - but she at least knew enough to fake it. Perhaps she knew enough to figure out why this had made such an alluring target...

 

The words came easily to her - they were the tongues of spirits, transcribed onto paper. "Hmm. This is a sacred - if you could call it that - text to Veles, a dark god of magic. Apparently Slavic in nature. There are references in here to the return of Zirnita, a powerful high priest who will return... I believe that's 1028... years after a man named Vladimir found Jesus." She looked up. "As someone who has not had good experiences with Eastern European witch-priests, I vote we put this to rest as soon as possible." 

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"I would rather not advertise," Blue Fox said, joining the others.  "About anything we can do, but especially breaking minds and sifting through their thoughts.  Not only is that information inadmissible in court, but telepaths already have trust issues with the public."

 

"Noone will learn of this," the telepath assured Four.  Criminal or not, she wouldn't be responsible for someone coming to harm while they're in custody.

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Four eventually told the group the truth, as far as they could determine - the employer of the Power Corps had been a man who called himself The Disciple, Supreme Potentate of the Church of the Precious Blood Of The Lamb That Will One Day Cleanse The World Of The Fallen. "Locals call them the Blood Cult," offered Four. "Creepy bastards, every last one of them." Despite the grandiose name, Four (who reluctantly doffed his armor under pressure from a returning Tarva) remembered him as a rather scruffy, wild-eyed fellow living on a fortified compound in the Maine North Woods with a small coterie of followers. 

 

At Tarva's knowing suggestion, Four recognized the symbols in the text Eliza had studied - they were symbols he'd seen everywhere around the compound, painted on the walls, on people's garments, made as toys for the kids. The news of the connection seemed to agitate the former Annihilist, who began walking up and down the vault, hand to the side of her head, even as the police began filtering in to take evidence, statements, and place Four under arrest. 


"Cultists," she was muttering, "cultists of a god who want to summon him to Earth-Prime. We must destroy them!

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