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Avenger Assembled

The Past Is In The Past (IC)

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May 2016 

 

"Hello, children!" The famous, or more likely infamous, Dr. Dimitri Peshkov was waiting at the curb when the Claremont shuttle bus arrived - all smiles beneath his parka's raised hood. "Welcome to headquarters of the Freedom League!" He sketched a courtly bow to Fred as she stepped out, then gave Ardent a warm, almost predatory smile as she joined the Chinese alchemist before doing the same thing. "I am Comrade Frost, and I will be your lecturer for special study session on heeero history today. It will be exciting times, sure," he said, pulling his heavy gloves back on. "Did you have pleasant ride?"  

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Winifred reflexively returned the gesture with a slightly stiff curtsey that lost some of its effect in trousers before turning her eyes to Peshkov with the wary curiosity of someone observing a potentially fascinating but definitely dangerous specimen in the wild. The record of 'Comrade Frost' had been public enough - though she still found the present day's attitude toward scholarly reference worrisome - but decidedly mixed. It certainly hadn't been lost on her why someone might think him a suitable mentor figure for herself and Morningstar. 'Decidedly mixed' indeed.

 

Still, that was no excuse for rudeness. "Hello, Doctor. The ride was uneventful." That was a careful bit of wording to describe the mildly awkward silence of the trip. She knew Phaedra was seeing Cathy in a romantic sense and it wasn't that she disapproved but between the Hallowe'en party and Sanderson's vocal opinions on the subject Winifred didn't entirely trust herself not to say the wrong thing. The ride from the Academy wasn't a particularly long one but it had been long enough for the most banal of conversation topics to dry up. She straightened her white coat and stood a little bit straighter. "We appreciate your time."

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Phaedra cut her eyes to the side to regard Winifred, the corners of her mouth turning up into a bit of a smile at the things her time displaced peer left unsaid.  The hellspawn had become use to the awkward silences her presence invoked in others and it didn't really bother her anymore.

 

Instead, she nodded a greeting toward Comrade Frost and flashed him one of her radiant smiles.  "The ride was pleasant," she said, which wasn't a lie.  "Though it was a bit on the quiet side, there was so much to see on the way here and I suppose we are predisposed to.. companionable silences."  That statement, though, played a little fast and loose with truth.

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"Oh-hoh!" Frost clapped his hands together and seemed to chortle in his joy. "Well, I shall be mindful, then. For as the sage says, when ladies confer in whispers, gentlemen must beware!" He winked at Phaedra and Fred as he led them inside Freedom Hall, his personal keycard winning them space in the private elevator. It wasn't that many floors down - but he found he got to know people better within confined spaces. Within seconds, it was distinctly cold within the elevator, substantially more than it had been outside even in the air-conditioned corridors. "So, tell me about yourselves," he said, still cheerful. "I understand that you are great young chemist, and you...well, your file was full of horrible supernatural complaints like 'godless abomination' and 'hideous freak'! Wait, no, that was me!" He laughed and looked at Phaedra expectantly. 

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Winifred gave the back of their escort's head a flat look at his recited proverb but said nothing in favour of concentrating on the building they were walking through. While Phaedra might have been exaggerating about the captivating sights on the way there - once the difference is scale and architecture had lost some of its novelty for her buildings had resumed just being buildings - Freedom Hall was a place that even locals spoke of with some amount of reverence and she didn't want to miss anything.

 

When Frost made reference to Phaedra's file, however, her back went from posture perfectly straight to absolutely rigid. Even when it quickly became clear that he had been making a joke the alchemist shot a less than subtle look in the other girl's direction, trying to gauge how she was taking it. "The Russian sense of humour has changed little enough, I see."

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Phaedra's eyes narrowed.

 

"I'm not hideous," she said glaring at Frost, unaware that the color of her eyes had run red and black and some of her other features had begun to shift betraying her infernal heritage.  It was the warmth in her palm that caught the young half-demons attention; glancing down at her hand she noticed her nails ad become elongated and punctured her skin.  Blood oozed from the cuts.

 

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

 

"But being that it is true that no gods are welcome in Throne, and my parentage is... complicated... the file would be largely accurate."  She frowned.  "That being said, you must have had a reason to push me toward anger.  What would that reason be?"

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Dimitri chuckled. "Child, if I wished to see your wrath, I would say far worse things than that," said Comrade Frost, a warm smile on his face despite that distinct chill in the air. Turning his head, he winked at Fred. "And you, you sound just as many an Englishwoman I have known! How delightful you have kept the Victorian soul in these times." 

 

When the elevator reached its destination, he led the way out into a small series of rooms adorned with a wide variety of monuments, icons, and other treasures that the girls recognized from their superhero history class. An image of the old Freedom League, its bright colors faded now by time and acid paper, greeted them under glass from the far wall of the anteroom. "Welcome to the Richard Milhouse Lucas Memorial Exheebit Hall of Heroes!" Comrade Frost was stretching his accent as far as he was stretching his arms, there in the middle of the room by a statue of the Centurion. 

 

"Is private museum of Freedom League artifacts of some seexty years of heestory!" All fancy devices are replicas," he confessed, gesturing at an Egyptian bronze ankh that looked to be dipped in black, sooty ash. "No use causing trouble, eh?" 

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"I weep for their combined misfortune. Sir," Winifred replied flatly, the pause before she added the honorific long enough to be clearly deliberate. The alchemist had fallen back a step once they'd left the elevator, just enough to stand rather pointedly shoulder to shoulder with Phaedra, at least as close to shoulder to shoulder as their respective heights allowed. "We were led to believe, Doctor, that the purpose of this tour was to familiarize us with some of the local history we had missed while benefiting from the perspective that came with your experiences outside conventional science. The Academy faculty have proven to be perhaps overly fond of testing students' composure, however and if this is to be another exercise in that vein I believe both Miss Morningstar and I are equipped to find better uses for our time."

 

The ultimatum was delivered in a prim, even tone but the effect was somewhat diminished by the way her eyes flicked away from the Russian to various exhibits in the room, curiosity at war with indignation.

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"Trinkets?"  Phaedra said, shooting Frost a questioning look.  "Perhaps Winifred is right and this is a waste of time."

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"Oh-hoh," said Dimitri quietly, studying the young women with an interested look on his face. "So it's that sort, eh? Well then, ladies, old Frost will not bar the door." He made a little gesture at the door behind them. "But if you really want to know what has happened in this city, and not the stories your teachers tell young ladies so as to not angry up the blood, well, you will find no better source than me." He casually snapped open a lighter as he spoke, wishing not for the first time that he hadn't left his smokes at home that day. Damn hypoallergenic laws, what did they do but coddle the weak! "Last demon prince at Claremont is now in depths of space, you know? After he led invasion that only handful of people actually remember. But talking about that would be frightening to people who want to believe their memories are complete - so it is simply not discussed." 

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Winifred briefly pulled a face at the unsubtle manipulation as their guide offered to allow them to be on their way but composed herself with a silent reminder that she was perhaps being unduly harsh. Dr. Peshkov was not an educator by trade and was volunteering his time for this, after all. She had to commend his self-awareness at least; 'angry blood' seemed like it would be a common result of conversing with him. "An invasion by the forces of Hell seems like an event that would be difficult to forget," she observed, giving him an opening to continue his story.

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"Which Hell?" Phaedra asked, curious now.  There was a brief moment where she was irritated with Peshkov, he shouldn't have been so ready to just allow her to walk, but she suppressed it now that he finally got to something interesting.

 

"There are many Hells," she said, more for Winifred's sake than Frost's, "Throne, my home is among such, but generally speaking it is not one that invades other realms.  At least, no invasion would be commanded from the ruling class."

 

She frowned, biting her lip some.  "How did people forget?"

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"Through sheer dissonance!" declared Frost with a wave of his hand, looking delighted at his audience. "I know of Throne, young lady, but there are Hells deeper than it, with flames more bottomless - this was one such, one so foul even its name cannot be spoken in this place. The invasion produced such a sheer cosmic dissonance that when armies of such Hell retreated, even their existence passed from the minds of people. Which was good because city was full of corpses, was pretty grim from all I hear." He shrugged. "This sort of thing happens in city like Freedom - is right on barrier. Generally not to worry about." He hmmed. "Why you think your teachers not tell you this?" 

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"'Because you're inventing it from whole cloth as you go' leaps to mind as a likely explanation," Winifred muttered just loudly enough for her classmate to hear her clearly, though from her expression alone Dr. Peshkov likely gathered the general sentiment regardless. More clearly she spoke up, "At the risk of sounding the uneducated provincial, you're talking about Hell as a... a nation? Rather, a whole category of literal, physical locations? The meaning of the word seems to have drifted considerably while I was indisposed." Phaedra was open enough about her origins and parentage, certainly but Winifred had assumed there was a degree of metaphorical language involved in her classmate's explanations. It was one thing to accept the idea of multiple possibly histories like the world from whence Smith had come but this had theological implications that did not sit altogether comfortably.

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