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April 30, 2016 


It had started small - a hemokinetic terrorist attacking Ocean Heights Amusement Park one day, a strange Deep One migration in New England. Then the situation had seemed to grow more serious - a misguided fly monster in Nuevo Laredo who spoke of a day of vengeance and a divine appointment, followed by a diseased specter in the West End bearing horrific diseases where she went. By the time a shambling monster in Sicily had come bringing boils and pain wherever he went, followed by flaming thunderstorms in Washington - the heroes of Earth knew the crisis they faced. By the time locusts blotted out the skies over London, and darkness did the same over Claremont Academy the very next day, they knew who was behind it - August Roman, the once-Emperor of Crime, infused with the powers of the Devil. But where would he strike? 



Freedom City

Port Regal 


Fast-Forward was doing magic in the backyard. World-ending threats were one thing to Richard Cline but the idea of something happening, something targeting Freedom City and probably the world, that targeted first-born sons, was his little boy in his arms, spinning him around so fast that they tunneled through the earth was something that he needed to do everything in his power to prevent. The first time Will had tripped and fallen, holding his bloody knees and crying inconsolably. The broken bodies of the victims of the Terminus Invasion, scattered at his feet. Outside in the yard, Richard ran faster and faster, tracing out the patterns of the stars at his feet, trying to find the unholy disturbance in the starry patterns that would mean a fallen angel come to Earth. 


Across the world, others were watching too, and waiting - ready to defend it. 

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He knew this was coming. He'd known for some time.


Blood. Frogs. One didn't have to be a rabbinical student to figure out the pattern. And Nick Cimitiere knew what was coming at the end. 


And he knew that couldn't happen. 


One could always - if he remembered Sunday School right, one should always - question a mass slaughter in the hands of the divine, even the Lord Almighty. But whatever was doing this was not sacred. There were a number of acts of destruction laid at God's feet, but never anything so... haphazard. This reeked of the infernal. 


So, he realized, get in some other divine as a buffer. 


The ward was as much a matter of politics as it was magic. After talking it out with the other big-name practitioners of Freedom, Nick had designated various neighborhoods, then called in every god of death he didn't owe too much or whose bad books he wasn't currently in. To Port Regal, Manannan mac Lir. To Lantern Hill, Baron Cimitiere. To the West End - man, this is an act of supreme irony - Osiris. For one night, each province would be part of their Underworld. For a year and a day, they could walk in and enjoy diplomatic privileges. As long as they made sure a certain subset of the population did not die of a specific supernatural cause. 


He didn't know if their power would be enough. He knew for a fact that he couldn't have covered the whole city. And he tried very hard not to think about the fact that he was a firstborn son. 


But he knew where wasn't protected. And he knew where the Angel of Death - and man, I just have to hope Azrael is pissed that someone's walking over his turf - would go to hunt. And where he would have to face him. 

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Across town, Ray had closed his doors to the tattoo parlor, locking them firmly. He drew no few startled looks from his neighbors as double-checked that the lock was in place. After all, he had old artifacts and other dangerous things hidden away in his apartment. A voice-mail had been left for old acquaintances to see about dismantling the place if he didn't follow up tomorrow. It wasn't so much the closing of the shop, really, Ray had always had odd hours after all. It might have been the fact that all he was wearing was his jeans, his feet bare on the pavement and all the tattoos on display. It could even have been the fact that once he was done, he turned to walk straight into the street, regardless of the traffic that might be wanting to pass through.


It could have certainly been any of those things but most likely it was the fact that his tattoos were moving, writhing on his skin like living creatures as the Enochian runes that cracked the seals on his mortal prison were lighting up like roman candles to stand out from the patterns of color that normally masked them. 


For the first time in a very long time, Ray felt old. He'd seen the plagues in their original inception, after all, horrific terrible things. It was worse, though, when it was the child whose mother worked in the storefront nearby, wailing inconsolably in fear of the dark than it had been all those many long years ago recording the plight of humanity. 


Araerel was no warrior-angel - sometimes he wasn't quite sure if he was even a 'super hero' - but he knew that this was absolutely not the will of the Almighty. 


With his neighbors - his friends - looking on, Ray reached through the Enochian runes that lit across his skin for the holy power that was still his to call and wings of flame and light lifted from the shifting patterns of his skin to send him aloft in a wash of power that was entirely deliberate, perhaps even taunting. He might not be a warrior, but by God, he would fight.

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Paige stared out the window at Richard's complex attempts at conjuring magic far beyond his ability to control. He used his magical textbook like a swiss army knife, whipping out spells as needed in a fight or to stopgap a problem, not to realign the stars and see the future. Ordinarily she would've gone out and tried to talk some sense into him, tell him to leave the magic to the experts, but not today. Instead she watched, bitterly envious that he, at least, had something concrete to do. Paige hadn't been raised in an especially observant Jewish household, but she still knew the most important stories, and Pesach was right up at the top of the list. There was no misunderstanding what was happening to the world, what mad homage August Roman was playing at. There was no question what lay at the end of this horrifying road, when the other plagues had run their course. 


She'd considered sending Will away, of course. She had contacts in the super community, there were places he could go, off-world, out of dimension, that would almost certainly be beyond the reach of whatever twisted form the final plague would take. But Will, for better or worse, was twice the heroic soul that either of his parents were. If they'd found him a place, he wouldn't have gone. If they'd forced him, he wouldn't have forgiven them, or himself, if anything had happened. So she waited, and she watched, and she tried to ignore the threatening migranes that were the overloading of her nascent premonitory powers, and she cleaned. She cleaned the entire house with a thoroughness it hadn't seen since they moved in, scrubbing the entire place top to bottom, going over the kitchen as though she were expecting a white-glove inspection. She didn't know what she was expecting out of it, but it was something to do, anyway. And if a few times she stood on the front stoop and stared contemplatively at the doorposts, well, she didn't know what she was expecting from that, either. All there was to do now was wait, and hope that somebody was going to see it coming. 

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Rivers of Blood, a Rain (or in this case perhaps Reign?) of Frogs, Flies, Sickness, Boils, Storms of Thunder and Ice, a plague of Locusts, and a Darkness that blocked out the sun.  One didn't need to be a theologian to know what came next, nor a person of faith to know this was no act of God wrathful or otherwise.  Clues found or hunted down by Erins 'Sister', Chris, Or Mark where they had fought the terrors worldwide, Interrogations by Joe, Nina, Alex, or Trevors young not quite protege, it had all finally added up.  These terrible acts were those of a man, a man empowered perhaps by dark pacts and sinister purpose but a man, and with evil intent.  August Roman, once lord of a criminal empire, now bargaining the scraps of his damned soul to make his mark once more on a world that had left him behind.  Everyone knew what came next, the curse that had broken the will of, and put the fear of God into, Pharaoh.  The death of the first born.  


He didn't know where or how Roman would strike, only that he was not going to stand idly by or cower in fear.  Mike donned the White, Gold, and Blue of Phalanx and rose to the skies high above freedom city.  Looking out at the city sprawled below he hovered miles overhead and for the first time really listened and watched letting his hyper acute vision and hearing blanket the city, seeing every fearful parent putting on a brave face as they tucked a child in for what they knew may be the last time, sitting wakeful watch, or gathered to spend what they feared to be too short a time together before the next 'Plague' came, listening to the prayers of the faithful, the tearful goodbyes of lovers uncertain how long they had, he watched families gather and celebrate in the face of fear or cower their courage already spent in the horrors that had come before.  Heroes around the city, preparing, searching, or simply waiting he saw and heard it all but none of it was what he sought.  High above Phalanx watched, listened, and waited for Roman to make his move.  

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When the disturbance came, it ripped across the magical world like lightning. 




In a backyard full of glowing stars, Richard watched them fall. He'd never been much of a church-going man in his life - but as he watched the tiny orbs fall down on a magically-sketched map of the world, the book in his hand produced in the carefully penciled handwriting of a long-dead Master Mage a King James quote. "And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind." - a quote from Revelations that spelled the end of the world. Even said Master Mage might have taken hours of celestial calculations to see where the end of the world was coming from - Richard needed no time at all. 


Ticks on the kitchen clock of the Cline house. Tick. Richard was inside, a thought in his mind. Cleveland. The Heart Hospital. Tick. He was in costume - and so was Paige. Tick. They were running. 


Hologram felt it as they ran - a black cloud that was not an angel's wrath or an executioner's remorseless sense of duty, but a pall of mortal despair and anguish coalescing in the fast-approaching city. The deaths hadn't started yet, but they were coming, oh yes, she could sense the intent growing in the mind coming into existence in Cleveland - the heart hospital! It was 450 miles to Cleveland; She and Richard were running at an objective Mach 26. They made it to the city limits before the sponge that had been in her hand hit the ground. 


The mind she could feel, burning like a flame even from this far away, was August Roman's, a man she'd met only once or twice but was clearly enough, but not at the same time - as if a burning torch had been placed in a pile of offal. What force could do this to a man like that? 




Araerel remembered Azrael. Azrael the patient, Azrael the wise, Azrael the one never interested in the politics of Thrones, Principalities, or Powers - because he had his work, and eventually his wife and son, and it was all he ever really wanted. Along among angels, the Angel of Death had always been...content with his Created lot in a way unlike most other beings. 


When the Enochian words on Araerel's body began to reshape themselves into a new message, the lowered angel knew exactly who was speaking to him. THE USURPER RISES. The Angel of Death did not sound content this day. YOU ALONE ARE WITHIN TERRESTRIAL CREATION. HE HAS THE POWER TO DESTROY YOU - WILL YOU GO? 



The same manifestation came to Nick Cimiterie - albeit in a slightly different form. MY SON-IN-POWER. The words came not in his skin but in his head, in his mind; not the angelic manifestations he had seen but the cosmic reality of Death itself (at least in the Judeo-Christian garb it usually wore around him) speaking directly to him. He saw a scene in his mind - a hospital in the midst of evacuation, patients being desperately wheeled through corridors by a staff near panic, all while something black and coiling writhed its way through the walls and into one particular frail body warped by age. The body of August Roman. 





"Centurion! Is that you!?" When Phalanx turned his head, he'd been joined in the sky by a man who wasn't there - a smiling figure with a black suit, sharply cut goatee, and red tie. The man was, as far as Mike's senses could tell, not really there at all - but he didn't seem like the illusions Alex had shown him, either. "Oh no, he's dead, isn't he? You must be the new chap." The man smiled at him. "Hello, I don't think we've met. My name is Mr. Infamy." 


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The sensation was like a cold caress in his head. Nick Cimitiere had been in the presence of Azrael before, when the angel had garbed itself in the flesh of reality and tried to pass as something of this realm but still of Heaven. There was none of that this time. There was that sensation of having crossed a threshold that didn't beckon so much as it enveloped. 


But I've always been good at thresholds. Thank you, Azrael. I'll make sure he knows he's nothing but a crappy cover artist. 


He recognized the face. August Roman, the man with a finger in a thousand poisoned pies, finally having danced down the Reaper and come away aware of his own mortality. Far too aware, it seemed. So many bargains made with Hell - or other powers - right on the tip of death. Trying to ensure another tomorrow. He supposed he couldn't fault them entirely. They didn't necessarily have the view of the long game. And in most cases, the other party had the constancy of eons to make sure they could collect.


Unless, of course, it was never about gaming the system, but cashing out spectacularly. He had a good idea what this case was. 


The Pale Horse was parked behind the corner. Normally, he would draw up a ritual for this kind of thing, but he didn't have the luxury of time. He opened a channel to the realms beyond - while mainly it was a way to get the attention of gods of death, some gods were closer to this realm than others, and for them, it would be an all-purpose beacon. He pulled the offering out of the trunk - a mixture of fine black coffee and cocoa, a few steps up from the kind of blend one would get from Trader Joe's. 


Legba. I wish I had time for pomp and ceremony tonight, but I do not. I need a road to Cleveland, and I know of the fastest road I can find. 


He did not receive an answer right away, but there was that silent perception of listening. He got in the car, turned the key, and sped off. As he approached the first crossroads, he turned to look in the passenger seat. The blend of coffee and cocoa was gone. And soon, so was Freedom.


Guinee blew past, its roads lit by dying, spectral stars. He did not look at the parlors, the mansions, the saloons, hotels, and crypts. All these things were beautiful, he knew, and with pleased visitors and residents. But all he cared about tonight was the other end of the spectral highway.


Reality came slamming back in as he sped out of the cross street in Cleveland, quickly swerving to avoid traffic. The other drivers had been somewhat surprised by a car appearing right the hell out of nowhere. But he didn't have time to slow. He pulled into the hospital parking lot, slamming to a stop. He raced out, death sight active, ready to face the usurper. 


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Ray glanced down as the tattoos on his body shifted, flipping his forearms up to watch the message scrawled out against his skin. "Az - ol' buddy -" Ray drawled in response, letting his hands fall to his side once more. The Angel of Death was so far above Araerel as the diminutive was wildly inappropriate. Humans, perhaps, were a bad influence. Or a good one? Ray was still undecided as he snapped his wings wide and enjoyed the sensation of catching the air current on flaming pinions. He took a deep breath in of the crisp air, enjoying the sting of the cold on the mortal skin of his fleshy prison. He was well aware that Azarael meant destroyed in a much more permanent way than just the immolation of this human shell. 


"Do you really have to ask?" Ray said then, letting his wing snap into his sides as he let himself fall wherever the Angel of Death might toss him. Falling, really, was always so very easy. What people didn't realize was the landing... it was the landing that was hard. Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha`olam...

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Phalanx slowly turned at the voice rotating where he hovered to fix his steely gaze on the apparition before him.  Whatever it was it wasn't precisely real though that did not mean it was not a threat.  "No."  the paragon replied carefully,  "But you knew that."  he intoned quietly suspicious of the phantoms intentions from the beginning, "I don't know you, is this all your doing then?"  the question probing he knew Roman had a hand in this but Roman lacked the potency to grant such power to the heralds that had come before. "Infamy is not an auspicious name."  even in his suspicion he couldn't play it close to the vest that he knew the entity before him to be other than what he seemed, Trevor would have been so disappointed.

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The touch of Roman's mind sent Paige reeling, and if it hadn't been for Richard's hand in her own, she probably would've fallen. As it was, she staggered and nearly fell out of his ambit of speed. saving herself at the last moment when she managed to reestablish her mental shields and gain a small amount of perspective. "There's something terribly wrong with his mind," she told Richard. "Something there that shouldn't be, that wasn't before. He's got a really impressive natural mental defense, and something that could breach that, well, it could breach almost anyone. But I can't help but think he accepted whatever it was in willingly, and then lost control. It sounds very much like something he'd be arrogant enough to do." She clung to her husband's arm as they approached the center of the psychic vortex. "He doesn't want it now, though. It's burning him alive and he's lost all control. We have to stop it." 

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"A young fellow like you should learn the importance of branding," said Infamy, giving Mike a smile that showed too many teeth. "I'm here to offer you a favor. You, the brave and famous Phalanx, want to know where August Roman is and what he's doing so that you can stop his dastardly plan. Well, I can tell you where he is. You're a smart fellow - you know what he plans already. All I ask in return is...your gratitude." He gestured down at the city below. "Now, I'm sure you could look around with those senses of yours and find the man eventually, before too many more people die - but you have to ask yourself, is your pride really worth their lives? What do you say?" 



The Angel of Death's (the real one) twin champions arrived together in one of several parking lots of the University Hospitals of Cleveland - right in the middle of a near-panicked evacuation. The lot was a melee of patients, bed-bound and otherwise, being tended by staff and security in the process of getting themselves and their charges away from a hospital complex in the middle of a grim and frightening transformation. Clouds of grey, swirling ash were coalescing on the building like a film run in reverse, pooling through windows and doors like the limbs of some fantastic beast that was forming around a bed somewhere inside the complex. 


In the parking lot themselves, Fast-Forward deposited Hologram next to the two obvious superheroes and gave the situation a fast look before commenting in a short syllable - "Evac." It was an old maneuver, and a necessary one here. Fairview Hospital was across town, some ten miles away by road. Fast-Forward, running from bed to bed, taking patients, doctors, and staff as he went, was disappearing and reappearing so fast it hardly appeared that he'd left at all - his form stuttering around the lot, vanishing the civilian crowd rapidly as the other heroes planned their next move. 


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Phalanx regarded the entity warily for a long moment.  "Pride would be to assume no other could stop him."  he replied starkly fixing the manifestation a firm and uncompromising gaze.  "If you required only gratitude you'd not have to offer your aid and have it be accepted."  the broad shouldered paragon spoke plainly and though in some ways still naive, "If all you required was gratitude you would know you would have it merely by helping me help them."  he explained with a shake of his head, "You say gratitude but it is not what you mean."  Phalanx was firm and unyielding.  "You ask a price however small for what any decent person would offer without thought."  Phalanx answered, "So why then are you here?"  


Casting about far and wide Phalanx turned his potent senses to find the enemy or those that might be seeking him as well,  "An offer that seems to good to be true usually is."

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Ray landed lightly on bare feet, his wings still out as he took in the chaotic scene. "One of you two able to pinpoint the locus of that mess?" Ray asked, the words almost laconic. Running one hand over the still glowing script on his arm, Renegade scooped up the light with his fingertips is if it were a more tangible substance than energy. Gathering it into a ball as he squinted at the grey, ashen clouds. "Personally, I don't fancy getting thumped around as we try to go room by room to make with an exorcism."


With a quick gesture, Renegade tossed the ball of light that he'd been collecting up above his head to at least brighten the murky parking lot with its gentle radiance. He sighed, exhaling a short, sharp breath, "And unfortunately, I don't think a few snippets of scripture and a bit of salt are probably going to cut it this time, either."

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  • 2 weeks later...

Huh. Another angel. Thought I'd heard rumors of that stripe. Should have checked in on them more, but... 


Nick nodded. "Working on it," he said. "It's a bit like trying to find a polar bear in a snowstorm, but... working on it." He trained his death senses on the building, opening his eyes to the full flow of necrotic energies. He knew there was a very good chance that would be like taking a deep breath at the bottom of a swimming pool, but it would be better than walking it blind. At least, until I get blinded. 


As he opened his senses, he also started working out some variables in the back of his head. If the faux-Reaper was hiding behind the sheer aura of death, or had some way to avoid detection, he would likely have to flesh it out. And the best way to do that would be to step on its toes with a steel-toed boot. And if this aura of ash was part of its body, and this was a Fisher King situation... he knew just how to strike hard. 

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Hologram's expression said clearly that she didn't want to try and pinpoint anything about this phenomenon, but she took a deep breath and closed her eyes anyway. The good part about such an overwhelming mind-contact was that it had been extremely memorable, a mental signature all but stamped on her gray matter. She wound up sitting down rather abruptly on the pavement, but with some gritting of her teeth and the beginnings of a really fabulous headache starting behind her eyes, managed to grate out, "Hospice. He's in the hospice ward. Need a hospital map to pin down where that is." 

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"If you survive, you'll find your answers. Now, as I was saying, you'll find August Roman - or the man he used to be, anyway, within the elder hospices of the University Hospitals of Cleveland. Delightful place most of the time, you'd be amazed what even the most aged people will do to stave off death for another day. Now go," he said with a smile, "before the bodies hit the-" Phalanx was not one to tarry when given news like that. 



"Fast-Forward, Hologram," said Richard by way of introduction, zipping up alongside the two men he didn't immediately recognize as the heroes studied the situation. In the space of a few seconds, he'd largely cleared out the hospital parking lot - but Nick and Hologram had both sensed civilians inside, for the moment safe, but still trapped. They didn't have a lot of time to talk this out. "Can't stay around talking it out forever," he said, making an effort to keep his words separate from each other. "Need to-hang on." He came back, between words, with a map for Paige and the others he'd taken from the abandoned front lobby. "Looks like it's in that big brick block over there," he said choppily, "where all those snakes are heading. We gonna do this?" 


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As the words left the sinister apparitions mouth Phalanx already was casting his gaze east and focussing on Cleveland, the hospital more easily found thanks to the clearly supernatural armageddon being wrought therein.  As he shot away at speed his final words hung in the air, "Thank you."  The likely malevolent entity would know it was heartfelt and carried with it the confidence that even whatever damned creature he might be one person at least took on faith that he could set his feet toward redemption.


Phalanx streaked through the air cape billowing behind and the dull boom of his body pushing well past the sound barrier the only herald of his passing before he came to a stop hovering a few feet from his fellow heroes.  "There."  he pointed gaze hazily unfocused as he sought to penetrate smoke, ash and walls alike to see what foe they faced.  "I fear he has made a bargain for which he intends the world to pay."  he intoned confidently, "But we will stop him."  

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Nick nodded to Phalanx as he touched down. "Nice to meet you in the flesh," he said. "Okay, so, there are civilians still trapped in an elevator between the first and second floors. Weirdly, I'm good at talking to machines -- the older, more rusted, and more busted, the better. I can probably talk it into getting them down, but if that doesn't work, we may need someone who can get in there, snap a few cables, and guide the thing down gently." Nick gave Phalanx a quick look.


"That leads to the question of getting our Reaper's attention. If this whole building is his domain, like I'm kinda afraid it might be, then there's a good chance that we, the living, will draw his attention the second we cross the threshold. But just in case... he's using the arts of death. I may know a thing or two about those. Namely, I may know a thing or two about how to shut down necromancy or other forms of magic aimed directly at screwing with the vital processes. So, if anyone wants to wave a red cape in front of the bull... just let me know where to get into position."

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"Renegade," was the angel's response, his wings flaring out once more in preparation to launch himself again although he paused to nod at Phalanx once as the young man touched down in a streak of blue and white. "At least that's what they call me. It's not the most well known of monikers but I can probably be your red cape."


His shrug was more wing movement than actual shoulders but conveyed the same basic emotion as he added dryly, "Infernal things generally aren't overly fond of my kind as a rule."


Having volunteered to take point, and well aware from Azrael's warning of the sort of potent foe they faced, Renegade nodded once in acknowledgement of Fast-Foward's directions before leading the way towards the brick building and the source of the miasma.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Paige followed the angel toward the building, reluctance slowing her every step, but never quite halting her progress. Sickly black energy began creeping over her skin, dripping from her fingers in gobbets that dissipated before they hit the ground. "Why do you cry out, except at some vision of horror?" she murmured to herself aloud as she stared at the hospital. "The house reeks of death and dripping blood, the stench is like the breath from a tomb..." It was hard to think at all, with the overwhelming dread her usually spotty pretercognition was flooding into her mind, but it was amazing what the brain could dredge up at times like this. 

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Nick paused as he saw the black energy wash over Paige. Whatever it was, it flared with death, decay, and entropy... Ah. After the issue with that Terminus cult a few years back, he'd always been a bit wary when he saw someone slinging that energy. He knew it was a matter of degrees, of course - and I am most likely a rank hypocrite - but he saw what it could do when you drank it down like Kool-Aid. Still, he'd also run into his share of heroes who actually managed to tamp that stuff down... and now was not the time to let the willies get the better of him. 


"Thanks for the heads up. So, this breath... are we talking a pickling sensation, or more a 'Humbaba, his breath is death' situation? And why, indeed, is he crying out?" He turned to Renegade. "As for the whole 'red cape' thing... we could always do both. You can go tell Hell's errand boy to sit down and shut up, and I can hurl a brick through his delicate necromantic stained glass window. In fact... if we do it from opposite sides of its sphere of influence, it might leave him off his footing." 

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Phalanx locked onto the elevator in question vision piercing the walls to reveal the frightened occupants stuck between floors, "The pleasure is mine."  he humbly rejoined as he examined the structure for the best point of entry.  "I'll get the civilians clear."  he suggested and floated once more into the sky with a small nod toward Renegade, "Perhaps you could guard him against our foes retribution?"  He wasn't clear on precisely how Nicks necromantic powers might function but it seemed if he could disrupt these workings stopping an attack ought be within his purview as well.


"Perhaps he realizes the price of his vengeance."  he opined with a small shrug, "Or perhaps he is simply mad."  there was no telling which as far as Phalanx was concerned, "regardless he must be stopped and that falls now to us."  he intoned firmly and arced up toward the roof and the best access to the elevator shaft without risking the entire building collapsing.

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Phalanx's job proved to be an easy one, all things considered. The upper floors of the hospice were empty save for the frantic scenes left behind by evacuation; you didn't have to be an empath like his fiancee to imagine the terror and fear of the patients and staff here when everything had started to go haywire. There was no sign of the grey gathering power below, but the air still smelled of bodily fluids and what smelled distinctly like ash - despite the lack of fire so far. His senses told him that the building itself was getting shaky, the foundation being put under enormous pressure as the lower floors were breached by those growing magical energies. 


Luckily, it proved a simple matter to find the elevator shaft he'd been looking for and to open the doors - the car was just a single floor beneath him. 




Down below, the group of heroes entered the lobby of the hospice, an eerie place where the air was thick with the stink of ash and death, the grey, swirling tendrils of necromantic, infernal, and divine energy all tangling together in the ceiling and worming their way upstairs to where August Roman lay. "No name here," said Fast-Forward, returning from a search of the abandoned front nurse's station, which luckily had paper records to go with its computer. "Mustof checkedin under a pseudonym." With a moment to think, Richard took one look at the questionable stability of the building and lay his hand on Paige's arm, never minding entropic radiation at a moment like this. He was much faster than a falling ceiling. 


And then - 




"I'm sure I can arrange something for you, Arthur, the girl is pretty enough and there have to be some eligible young meta out there who want to father a child without the bother of raising it." Paige had been in this corridor before, listening to the conversation between her father and August Roman about the latter's plans to find a suitable mating partner for his youngest daughter. 


But this time she was suddenly standing in the open door - her father was looking down at the notes on his desk but August Roman had turned in his chair to give her a deep, penetrating stare. "It's too late." 




"August, no, not with Dickie right in the next room." Richard watched through the crack in the door, his heart in his throat, as his mother pushed herself out of August Roman's embrace. Normally he knew to clear out when his mother had a man around, especially the powerful supervillain who had taken them into his mansion, but there was only so many places to go in the small bungalow that was their temporary hideaway. 


"Very well," said Roman, giving his mother an ugly sneer as he stepped away. "I trust you'll make it up to me with interest once we're back in Freedom City." He turned and suddenly stared at Richard, right through the crack in the door. "It's too late.." 




Behind a church, an old man was getting a quiet, vigorous beating. As Renegade turned his head down the alley to look, a young man with the unmistakeable features of August Roman stood over the old man - no, the old priest. "I hate to strike a holy man," he said in an unconvincing British accent, "but when you try to drive out the moneychangers, you should be wary of their whips." He kicked the priest in the ribs. "There's an empire to be built in these streets, old man." 


He raised his head and looked at Renegade, fixing a cold stare at him. "It's too late.."




"Ah, my beautiful Theodoras!" Ensconced in his office, Roman smiled at the nervous-looking men in cheap suit across his desk, but there was little humor in it - little kindly humor, anyway. "I thought we had such a good relationship, ladies. The drinks are cold, the attic and basement are yours to do with as you wish, and you needn't worry about any troublesome Irishmen in blue ruining your tea parties. But if you're tired of the rent I charge you, perhaps the paddywagon will be cheaper." 

He swiveled in his chair and looked up at Nick, a frown on his face. "It's too late." 


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"I s'pose this is where I ought say something uplifting like 'it's never too late', but its often too late a lot of the time. Too much of the time," Renegade said in his usual laconic affect. At odds with his words, though, his wings flared out bright with holy light. "Too much of a pragmatist, me. If you want uplifting speeches, though, the young man in blue and white seems like he'd be keen for those."


Extending his hands forward, Renegade's arms light with the same holy light that he sent coursing over, not towards the effigy of Roman but towards the injured and beaten priest. "But I'm gonna settle for 'not today'. Its not too late, right here, right now. D'you think that you'd cow me in the shadow of my Father's house?"

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There was a time when being thrown back into her own past would've thrown Paige entirely off her stride, when the memories of shame and fear would've swamped her or the sheer confusion baffled her long enough to keep her inert and quiescent. That ship had sailed decades ago. She leaned against the doorway and gave August Roman a penetrating stare right back. "Too late for who, August?" she asked conversationally. "Too late for him? Absolutely. You know what kind of monster he's become, don't you." It wasn't a question. "He's always been that. Too late for you? I don't know. You made a very bad choice, I suspect, somewhere along the line to here. Struck a deal that went very bad. But you're not a criminal mastermind for nothing, Roman. Where's the loophole? How do we fix this?" 

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