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[Archive] With This Ring (Young Justice SI) (Story Only)

Discussion in 'Story Archive' started by Mr Zoat, Jan 30, 2019.

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  1. Threadmarks: A Week in the Life of
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    A Week in the Life of

    10th April 2011
    23:43


    I take a moment to regard the petty criminals sitting on some sort of large canine on the rooftop a short distance from me. The young woman in the dog mask.. is quietly growling. Odd. The young man in regency dress is subtly trying to nudge his hound backwards. The thickset man in leather is trying to appear completely calm while supporting the semi-conscious woman sharing his dog, wisps of the black.. material he appears able to control pooling around their feet.

    "Undersiders. Please pay attention, for I will say this only once. I will be cleaning house in Brockton Bay. You may find legitimate employment, you may leave the city, or I will kill you. Am I understood?"

    Regency looks down onto the street below, where the charred remains of Lung and the corpses of his retinue are slowly cooling.

    "Yeah, I think we got the fucking message."

    Leather's head dips for a moment, then returns to facing me. "What did you do to Tats?"

    "Nothing deliberate. She appears-" I scan her body. "-to.. have unusual activity in the part of her brain controlling her superhuman abilities. I could attempt to turn it off, but that probably wouldn't be healthy for her. If she collapsed when I arrived, I would suggest removing her from my presence as quickly as possible."

    "Yeah. How long you giving us?"

    "I'm working from most serious to least serious. I will be checking on you shortly after Uber and Leet."

    "That's.. after the Nazis and the Merchants?"

    "And what's left of the Asian Bad Boys, naturally."

    He snorts quietly. "Good luck with that."

    "Thank you. Ah, I see that you all have the same brain abnormality. That will make this easier."

    No sirens, I note. A man glowing with yellow light shoots a dragon in the brain with a positron beam, and no one calls the police. Clearly, I couldn't get here soon enough.

    "So, like… Can we go?"

    "Yes. Be about your business."

    A series of somewhat frantic looks are exchanged between the two men, then the one in leathers carefully lays a hand on the dog girl's shoulder. She tenses, but after a moment she whistles and the canines turn away.

    I hope that they make a sensible decision.

    I float downwards, yellow filaments flicking out and plugging into the phones owned by members of the fallen dragon's retinue. I doubt they have much identifying information stored on them, but I'm perfectly capable of brute forcing the records held by their service providers, bankers and.. accessing city records to locate their registered addresses, scanning their home computers and-.

    Why are there so many flies? And why aren't they being attracted to the corpses?

    Hm.

    In a city there are almost always going to be some observers. I turn slowly in the air, looking through the walls at the fears of those inside the buildings around me. Generally, I can tell how bad things are by how glad people are to see me, and from the look of things…

    Things aren't too bad-.

    Several small flies attempt to land in my hair. A scan of the local area reveals one person with the signature brain abnormality of the local superhumans. A young woman wearing a.. ersatz costume. Nothing about her in local records. I transition to just in front of her.

    "May I help-"

    Flying insects of many types swarm in from all directions, creating a cloud around my face as she hurriedly backs away.

    "-you? I bear you no malice, my environmental shield is proof against insects and I can see where you are perfectly well without using my eyes. I am merely trying to ascertain your purpose here."

    She's showing up rather brightly in my 'empathic vision' at the moment. She knows perfectly well that she wasn't ready for a confrontation like this, but-.

    "If you're looking for the Undersiders, they've already left."

    The insects are showing up in yellow as well. Curious. Simple insects shouldn't be mentally complex enough for true fear. And if they were, they wouldn't be behaving like this.

    "Who are you? Are-? You a hero?"

    "I would be somewhat sceptical of anyone who would describe themselves as a hero." I raise my hands to gesture to the cloud of flies. "Would you mind?"

    The insects withdraw, forming a dense cloud around the young woman and settling on her body. She's trying to disguise her outline. Alright.

    "You killed Lung."

    "If violence troubles you, I suggest finding a new career. There's always work for a good exterminator."

    "Why did you kill him?"

    "He was a serial murderer who runs an organisation of rapists, slavers, murderers and drug peddling thugs. Would you like to reflect upon your question?"

    She just stands there for a moment.

    "Look, if there's nothing else I've got a lot of people to kill-."

    "Are you-? Trying to be a hero? I mean, is this-? Normal?"

    "How are you defining 'hero'?"

    "How are you defining 'hero'?"

    "A hero is someone who lives to improve the lives of others, rather than to improve their own. I look at the situation in Brockton Bay and I see rampant gangs and under-resourced law enforcement organisations with bad doctrine who are failing to bring the situation under control. Therefore, I will cull the criminal population until it reaches a level where civil peacekeeping becomes possible. Once I am done, I will move on to the next city and repeat the process."

    "So you do think you're a hero."

    "I'm trying to be one. Not that I want to imply that I think there's only one way to be a hero."

    "And what about the Protectorate? Do you think they're heroes?"

    "Probably not. The silly costumes were the first clue. Not that there's anything wrong with being a police officer or a soldier, or that people employed in those capacities can't be heroic or be heroes."

    "But you wouldn't join them."

    "No. They would hobble me and drag me down to their level of ineffectiveness. Though-" I smile. "-it could just be that I'm a pontificating serial killer with delusions of utility."

    Another person with a super tumour is approaching… On a large motorcycle.

    "I believe that the authorities are responding. You may wish to absent yourself."

    "You.. know they're.. going to arrest you?"

    I smile wryly as I turn away.

    "If they couldn't arrest Lung then I very much doubt that they can successfully arrest me."
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2020
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  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    10th April 2011
    23:47


    The ring shows me the approaching motorcycle in my mind's eye, the general construction reminding me more of an Astartes bike than the more usual design. Scans show that it's riddled with exotic mechanical and electronic equipment, and…

    That's a halberd.

    So this is a 'superhero'.

    I feel a moment of sympathy for my alter egos who had to put up with that sort of lunacy on a regular basis. Thundera has no such tradition, and never will if I have anything to say about it.

    The armour is passable, as light power armour goes. The colour is a little off-putting, but in an urban environment it probably serves adequately as camouflage. The exposed chin-. Is there a retractable chin guard? No, there isn't. Ordinarily I'd have said that such a small weak spot wouldn't matter significantly in urban combat, but if he routinely closes to halberd range -and stays there- then that clearly isn't the case. It also implies a vulnerability to gas weapons and contact toxins.

    My own armour is a masterwork of technology and magic wrought for me by Mumm-Rana's hands. My only influence is in the yellow lantern built into the cuirass, freeing me from the need to recharge the ring. It has served me well on a dozen battlefields, and a simple analysis shows that it will outperform… Armsmaster's? Armour in every regard.

    The young woman with the insects is still watching from a nearby rooftop. I imagine that she's curious as to whether I am a deluded serial killer or not, but I'm not sure that it's actually worth my while remaining here. While I doubt that the Undersiders are going to pass what I said on to anyone, my work will be easier if I can attack the local superhumans before they can gather hostages. Naturally, I would simply shoot through them, but I would prefer to minimise civilian casualties.

    On the other hand, it would be useful to gain first hand information on the capacities of the local law enforcers. I do intend to pass the pacified city back to them after all.

    Ring, scan for neurological oddities such as those so far seen in local superhumans

    Working.

    Armsmaster turns onto this street, sees me and leaps from his bike, which slows, turns away and parks itself automatically. He watches me from a defensive crouch, polearm in the guard position.

    Located.

    The ring shows me an albino in a warehouse. The people around him have an unusual number of swastika tattoos, and the quantity of firearms rather implies that they're not Buddhists.

    "Unknown parahuman-."

    "Excuse me for a moment."

    I fly upwards about a hundred metres, giving myself a clear line of sight to the warehouse. The albino operates under name 'Alabaster', and has some sort of regenerative ability which resets his body when he's injured. The obvious counter is entombment, but logically speaking destroying the part of his brain which controls his ability should do the job.

    The quantity of ammunition present does give me some concerns, but I still have Orange Prime's cold gun designs on file so I should be able to prevent it cooking-

    Located.

    -off. I create a positron ray construct and a cold gun construct, target Alabaster's brain with the former and fire. There's a small blast as the positrons briefly interact with the outer wall of the warehouse and explosively neutralise a few of its electrons, and then another slightly larger one as the beam carries on and puts the positrons in a position to briefly interact with Alabaster's cranium.

    His accomplices don't require such careful treatment. I target brains and hearts, moving from one target to the next in a matter of seconds. Few have time to understand what's happening before they expire and… Ah, good show. The heat increase is palpable but nowhere near cook-off temperature.

    I put my constructs into an 'at ease' position and return to ground level.

    Located.

    Armsmaster has come a little closer, but he was clearly monitoring me and the only change in his stance as I come to a halt on the road is to tilt his head to continue to track me.

    "I apologise. You were saying?"

    "Did you kill these people?"

    "Yes." I generate a data stick which should be compatible with local technology and float it towards him. "A full recording of the incident. Death was near-instantaneous in all cases."

    He lets the data stick float in front of him for a moment, and I notice some sort of broad spectrum probe deploy from his axe. Most likely trying to determine whether it's an explosive or not. After a moment he takes it with his left hand and places it inside an armoured compartment in his cuirass.

    "If you surrender and accompany me now, it is possible that you will be offered a favorable plea bargain regarding these murders."

    "Your statement is probably true. However, I am not interested in your offer."

    "The alternative is that I defeat you and bring you there by force."

    "I believe that you overestimate your chances. But I am curious as to your motives. What is it about what I've done here that bothers you?"

    "Aside from the cold-blooded murder of sixteen men, including-"

    "Thirty-four men and three women."

    "-both of the ABB's parahumans?"

    Two-? Oh, yes, that corpse has a mask and a super tumour. I hadn't noticed at the time.

    "And one belonging to Empire Eighty Eight."

    "That will trigger a gang war. Dozens of innocent people will die in the crossfire with Empire Eighty Eight move in on former ABB territory."

    "And what do you propose to do about it?"

    "I'm not here to discuss policy with a criminal."

    "The correct thing to do is bring in the army, as you clearly lack the resources to deal with such an major upsurge in violence. That said, if local law enforcement had adequate resources to deal with the level of opposition you face then this situation would not have arisen. You need not worry about collateral damage. I will simply kill all participants."

    Located.

    Oh, that's interesting.

    "I had been under the impression that superhumans were prohibited from holding positions of authority in the Parahuman Response Team. Does that just apply to directors?"

    "Why are you asking?"

    "Thomas Calvert is a superhuman. He has the signature growths in his brain. I don't yet have the data to tell you what his particular ability is, but there doesn't appear to be any record of it in your files. That seems like a substantial oversight, given his current role."



    "How did you come by that information?"

    "I scanned him just now. Determining whether someone is a supervillain or not requires a manual review, but those growths in your brain are quite distinctive."

    "You can locate-?"

    He cuts himself off, but I nod anyway.

    "Yes. I'm going to get back to work, now. I suggest-"

    He gestures, and a bolas of some kind attempts to wrap itself around me. I catch it with a construct and drop it on the ground.

    "-that you make preparations for your job suddenly becoming possible. Farewell."

    I rise into the air, target Purity and then fire.
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2020
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  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th April
    15:48 GMT -6


    "Oh?" Alan smiles at Lantern Koriand'r. "I hadn't realise you spoke English."

    "Yes!" Koriand'r is.. just about keeping herself from jumping up and down in excitement. Which is probably just as well, because her top doesn't look very supportive and Alan's not a young man. "Tamaraneans can learn languages by touching people!"

    "Ah." Alan frowns in puzzlement. "How does that work?"

    "I have no idea!"

    Alan raises an eyebrow in my direction, but I just shake my head as well.

    "My best guess is that it's a modification the psions made to X'Hal so that they wouldn't have to learn her language, but I've got no idea how it operates."

    I've got Lantern Koriand'r's ring in my pocket, along with former Lantern Comic King's. I suppose that instead of keeping it to issue to someone else I could just give it to Koriand'r to extend her battery life-. No, no, Komand'r would hate that, and the two of them are cooperating reasonably well at the moment.

    "Guess we.. might as well get started."

    Alan gently removes his ring from his middle left finger and hesitantly holds it out to her.

    "Now, be careful. I know-"

    Koriand'r doesn't grab it, but I can see the effort it's taking.

    "-that you're used to using an orange ring, but from what I can tell it's a whole lot less… Direct, I guess."

    He takes a breath. Understandable, really. I think this is the first time he'll have been without it on since I gave it to him. And while he might accept death as an old man, I imagine that having your vitality renewed encourages a person to reconsider the matter.

    "But flying's pretty intuitive, so-" He offers her his ring. "-if you wanna take it for a spin, go right ahea-"

    Koriand'r plucks it from his hand and slides it onto her left ring finger, a wave of blue flowing over her outfit and replacing the orange sigil with a blue one.

    "-d."

    Koriand'r beams excitedly as she floats into the air.

    Alan nods. "You seem to be getting the hang of-"

    Koriand'r turns her head towards the western horizon and then she's gone.

    "-things…" Alan turns to the west and watches the glowing trail. "Is she coming back?"

    "Yes, but I suppose that answers the question of which colour suits her best."

    "You sure you can't get her another blue ring?"

    "Sure? No. I'll definitely be asking Kalmin about it after we're finished, but…" Hm. "You know that Lanterns are perfectly capable of making new-"

    He's shaking his head.

    "-rings, right?"

    "I don't… Can Gardner do that?"

    "I… Don't know, actually. I haven't asked."

    "He doesn't seem like the sort of fellow who'd be slow to tell you if he'd learned to do something he thinks you can't do." He frowns slightly. "You can't, right?"

    "I haven't yet. I probably can. But… I can get as many orange power rings as I want, and I can't make a new ring without already having a ring. Making a lantern is useful because I can do it when I have some charge but don't have access to my personal lantern, which is.. why I learned to make one."

    "So you can't coach me."

    I shrug. "Sorry."

    "Oh, no. It could be an interesting change of pace. You know, back in the forties, Ted asked me how my ring worked. I guess he thought I made it myself."

    I frown. "Ted Grant, or-."

    Alan shakes his head. "No, no, Knight. I let him run a few tests, but we didn't really learn anything." He shakes his head. "After that, I just figured it was beyond human science."

    "And now?"

    "I'm only just getting back into this whole thing. Kinda awkward asking Diana to explain how the League's computer equipment works."

    "Why?"

    "When she first came to the US, Jay and I ended up showing her how a whole lot of things worked. She's nice about it, but I can tell she's enjoying the role reversal."

    "I thought that was Major Trevor's job?"

    "He was her official… Liaison, but I think half the reason for that was because the army didn't know if everyone else on Themyscira was as strong as her so they wanted to be a bit careful. He sure couldn't go with her on missions or train with her or anything." He looks away for a moment. "Hah!"

    "What?"

    "Oh, I just remembered the first time Hank had a practice bout with her. He got his-" Alan points to his right forearm. "-arm bent in half. Diana was horrified because she didn't know it was a prosthetic."

    "Was he alright?"

    "Oh, he made a joke out of it! Got hold of a regular uniform and started pranking some of the…" He glances down, his smile fading slightly. "Some of the kids. Pretending it was his real arm."

    Yeah. The thing about hitting ninety is that a good few of 'the kids' have probably predeceased you.

    "Oh, hey, are you alright about the big.. starfish thing? Guy said he was going to talk to you…"

    "I'm not shy about killing people who deserve it. But I'd rather not kill people when there's a reasonable alternative, and I really don’t want to kill someone-. Something that doesn't deserve it." I shake my head. "With the Star Conquerors, I've seen their records. I know what they do and how dangerous they are. But the Mother Star didn't even seem that hostile. I can't reconcile the desires I saw with their recorded behaviour, and that… That makes me uncomfortable that it died on my mission."

    "So what did it want?"

    "In the short term it wanted dreams to feed on. Or.. possibly watch or experience. I'm not sure. I mean, it was capable of complex behaviour… I don't even really know why the Star Hunters were digging it out. And I don't really think that the Green Lantern Corps is going to continue with an investigation."

    "So? You want to go to Oa and talk to them about that?"

    "No. It's not worth it just because I'd like a 'clean' ending. If we follow up with-."

    A beaming Lantern Koriand'r appears, carrying three large teddy bears and a bicycle.

    "I like this ring very much!"
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2020
  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th April
    18:32 GMT -6


    "Oh. Hello." Tia gives Alan and Koriand'r a puzzled frown and then looks at me for an explanation.

    "Doctor Sivana, this-"

    "Tia, please."

    Which is what I normally call her, but it seemed to me that emphasising her title would be more appropriate and 'Doctor Tia' sounds a little silly.

    "-is Blue Lantern and Lantern Koriand'r. If it's not too much trouble, I'd appreciate it if they could join us."

    She shakes her head. "That shouldn't be a problem. Are either of you involved in what Paul's been doing?"

    Koriand'r shakes her head. "I have been on Earth for less than a day."

    Alan shrugs. "He's been keeping me updated."

    "Okay. If you'll all come with me?"

    She leads the way from her office to Fawcett Hospital's research ward, nodding to the duty nurse as we arrive.

    "Anyone new in this evening, Mark?"

    "Yeah, they're bringing a guy in now. Low-speed motorcycle crash. The paramedics don't think anything's broken. He's already signed the consent forms, so you can get started as soon as he arrives."

    Tia nods as she uses her holoscreen to review the file for a moment, then smiles.

    "Thank you." She turns back to the three of us. "We've been gathering test data on purple healing rays since Paul gave them to us, and we switched to human trials back in December."

    "Ah…" Alan looks mildly concerned. "It hasn't been tested on humans? I thought-?"

    "We've got pl-." / "FDA approval doesn't mean-."

    We look at each other and I bow, opening my right hand in Alan's direction.

    "FDA approval doesn't mean that it's safe, it means that it's passed FDA standards for safety and efficacy. We haven't changed the way the purple ray functions, all we're doing is gathering data on how it affects the human body. If it gets approval for widespread use everywhere that picks it up will still be using essentially the same device as the one Doctor von Gunther built in München in nineteen forty four. Just, about a twentieth of the size."

    "Have you had any trouble at all?"

    "Not exactly, though we have discovered some of its limitations. The purple ray doesn't remove foreign objects, so we've had situations where glass or metal fragments have caused damage after the wound was healed. It also doesn't treat displaced bone fragments as being part of the body. Normally, if someone's bleeding to death on the table we don't worry about that, but with a purple ray blood loss and brain swellings simply aren't a problem any more whereas a bullet fragment which is physically impeding regeneration can be."

    She takes a breath, smiling the satisfied smile of a chirurgeon in a major city who hasn't had to tell a family that one of their relatives has died in over a year.

    "Some people were reluctant to have a experimental healing ray used on them by someone named Sivana, but once news got around that the Justice League used it we started having the opposite problem."

    "Opposite..?"

    "People deliberately injuring themselves so they could participate. I had to do a piece on local news after someone died…" She shakes her head. "That's mostly stopped now, tha-"

    The doors at the end of the ward are pushed open and a man is pushed through on a gurney. The biker gear he's wearing are clearly heavily scuffed on his front and left side, and his expression makes it clear that he's in a degree of discomfort. I do a quick ring scan to make sure that there's nothing seriously wrong -and out of the corner of my eye notice Alan and Koriand'r do the same thing- and find nothing of note. Enough bruising that in other circumstances he'd probably be spending the next few days high on painkillers, but that's about it.

    "-nkfully. Mister Augustin, hello!" Tia steps away from us and falls in beside the orderlies and they push the gurney towards the purple ray room. "I'm Tia, and I'll be overseeing your treatment today."

    "Yeah, h-" He glances up at the three of us as we fall in behind them. "-i. Ah..?"

    "If you don't have any objection, Paul, Koriand'r and Blue Lantern would like to observe the process. If you'd rather that they wait outside-."

    "Nah, nah, that's cool." He lies back down. "This take long?"

    "Well, that depends. This is a research-"

    The gurney is brought into the centre of the room, under the purple ray emitter. The orderlies then head back out while Tia steps closer.

    "-project, so I'd ideally like to do a full assessment of your injuries first. That could take a few minutes and require you to remove your clothes. Then we would apply the ray and monitor exactly how your injuries respond. Then you'd be called back every few weeks so that we can check on your progress."

    "Progress..?"

    "We haven't had any adverse effects as a result of the purple ray, but we'd like to be able to prove that. On the other hand, since we've already submitted our data we can skip the assessment if you prefer, and that will shave a few minutes off. We'll still need to do follow-ups just in case, but I don't imagine there'll be any trouble."

    "And after you zap me, I'll be fine?"

    "Ninety-nine point nine nine percent."

    "And it's free?"

    "Yess?"

    "I.. think I'd rather skip the assessment?"

    "Okay, that's fine." Tia takes hold of the purple ray projector and points it at Mr Augustin's head. "Now, some patients feel a small amount of discomfort, but if you feel any pain, let me know at once."

    She activates the purple ray, and after an initial flinch Mr Augustin doesn't appear at all uncomfortable.

    "We've found that fifteen seconds is enough-" She moves the ray down. "-to completely eliminate the risk of concussion, and since brain damage appears to be something the ray can't entirely fix, we like to start there."

    Alan nods. "You said you've already submitted your data?"

    "Yes, and it's now up for peer review. Once that's done we can make our FDA application and it's just a matter of having them inspect KordTech's manufacturing plant and paying our registration fee." She moves the purple ray to Mr Augustin's left arm and he looks visibly less uncomfortable. "Ted's been talking about selling internationally, but I'm only familiar with the US process."

    And since there isn't anyone with an existing 'fast heal' product on the market, no one in the US government has a financial stake in trying to block this. Even painkiller manufacturers won't be affected all that much, at least until Ted can make enough to equip every ambulance in the country.

    "Does it just work only on humans?"

    Tia glances at Koriand'r as she move the purple ray briefly over her patient's right side. "We don't have enough aliens in Fawcett City to test it. If you can bring injured… Ah, what was your species?"

    "Tamaranean."

    "Tamaraneans here, we can give it a try."

    "Could you not give me spare purple rays so that tamaranean doctors could perform the trials?"

    "Purple rays are magic-based. As far as I can tell, it won't work as well away from a source of magic." I shrug. "Sorry."

    Tia shuts down the purple ray down and returns it to its cradle.

    "How do you feel?"

    Mr Augustin smiles.

    "Like it never happened. Thanks."
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2020
  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    12th April
    22:03 GMT -5


    I'm not looking forward to this.

    But there's never going to be a good time. I'm at home, sitting on the settee and I'm as up to date on Earth affairs as I can reasonably be.

    "Ring, contact Clarissi Dox."

    Compliance. Call pending.

    I offered to book Koriand'r in at a hotel, but she preferred to take Alan up on his offer of m-. Of his spare room. My old room. Jade's apartment doesn't have a second bedroom or I'd have offered to put her up myself. She appears to be enjoying her time on Earth so far, including the alien starfish fight. I suppose that there are only so many times you can fight pirates whose ships aren't capable of threatening a Lantern before it starts to get a bit dull.

    Good news about the healing rays. KordTech's valuation -and Ted's personal wealth- was increased hugely by his magic weather control system, and unlike in the field of power generation there don’t appear to be any competitors. Which surprises me a little; Mark Mardon may be resident in Iron Heights but his technology exists. I've strongly been considering trying to resurrect his brother to get access to it myself, but… Perhaps that doesn't have the best of associations.

    "Illustres."

    "Clarissi."

    No facial projection. That's usually a fifty-fifty with Dox, and I haven't noticed a particular pattern. I assume it's based on whether he's working on something he actually needs to look at or not.

    "Slight problem."

    "I am aware that Manga Khan resigned. The fleet which you requested remains en-route to Earth and you already have the authority to replace him."

    "He quit after the outermost planet in our system turned out to have a Mother Star inside it. In point of fact it was mostly Mother Star by mass. The Mother Star is dead and we think we got all of the rest of the Star Conquerors. The Mother Star's corpse is currently in-system. Sending scans now."

    "A shame that no record of the bioengineers who created these macroorganism exists."

    "Preliminary investigations suggest that it was magic. I'm still looking into how it was achieved. Do we have any telepathic Lanterns available?"

    "Lantern Nax may become available in the future, but at the moment I need her to focus on countering Reach bio-infiltration techniques. The L.E.G.I.O.N. xenology team will have to suffice for now."

    I nod.

    "I'm sure we'll cope. Earth is getting the expertise required, but we're still organising things. Is the fleet briefed on the Sheeda?"

    "The limited information you assembled was included in their briefing documents. Do you have any information indicating that their return is imminent?"

    "Depends what you mean by imminent. I'd say 'yes', but given the time frame involved and the recent incident with Krona that could be years away. The only good news is that it can't have already happened."

    "If I thought that anyone understood what changes you made at Vanishing Point I would accuse you of misusing your language's temporal tenses."

    "I can't give away what I don't know. Though I do know a couple of time travellers if you want me to try and get a more helpful answer."

    "Do so. You should strongly consider them as recruitment candidates."

    "I.. don't think either of them like me well enough for me to want to risk giving them a power ring."

    "Work on them. We may require their expertise."

    I nod. "Since the Sheeda are time travellers, I might be able to persuade them to cooperate that way. It's not in either of their interests for our civilisation to be destroyed."

    "Whatever you think best."

    I nod.

    "One other minor thing. Lantern Koriand'r has been experimenting with Alan Scott's ring and she's got rather a knack for it. Have you given any thought to us expanding the range of colours we use?"

    "Why?"

    "Useful people respond better to other colours. Plus, if we don't, someone else might. I can talk to Lantern Ferris about having her train Violets, we have Alan for Blues, and I'm sure that we could find someone for other colours."

    "Other versions of you, for example."

    I'm glad he didn't mention Sinestro, if only because for him to do that he'd have to have already decided to do it.

    "I'm not sure how to get in touch with all of them, but yes. I'm a fairly reasonable guy. There's almost certainly things we could trade for their help."

    "I'll talk to unaligned maltusians about it, though I'd rather not split our focus. The Controllers are being somewhat slow in aiding us in building up our fleet resources."

    "Perhaps some of them would prefer other colours as well?"

    "It's possible. Is there anything else?"

    "No, that's it, thank you. Illustres out."

    I lower my left hand, mentally accessing Lantern Nax's file. Ah. Well, I'm working with the entire Sivana family, I can't really complain. That sort of thing is why I wouldn't have minded getting a psion or two on staff. Though I suppose that a dominator's cold disinterest would be better than a psions active malice.

    Or maybe a scientist from New Genesis? I doubt that they'd go for it…

    I sigh inwardly.

    Next call.

    "Call Kalmin."

    "Compliance."

    "What?"

    "Thank you for taking this call."

    "Still alive then, Illustres?"

    "So far. Look, Alan's ring and personal lantern are working really well. He's rejuvenated, he finds making constructs… Fairly intuitive. What would I have to do to persuade you to make another one?"

    "Another blue ring?"

    "Yes."

    "The process is catalysed by my emotions. To make another one I would have to have something new to hope for. And that's not even counting the payment."

    I nod slowly.

    "What sort of payment would you want?"

    "Sinestro's head. I can't think of anything else that I want."

    "I'll get back to you. Illustres out."
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2020
  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th April
    04:43 GMT


    "Victory!" / "Victory!" / "Victory!" / "Victory!" / "Victory!" / "Victory!" / "Victory!"

    Jade and our dinner guests raise their tankards in a salute, then the locals -a four eyed humanoid species- immediately chug a gulp. Jade follows suit with a little less enthusiasm, careful not to obscure her sight-lines as she does so. Caccanah just takes a small sip while the clicker serving as L.E.G.I.O.N. coordinator chugs too much and ends up choking on the stuff, prompting a friendly expression of amusement from the locals.

    Okay, the locals' potato bread type thingy is done, the fish analogue will be ready to serve in a few minutes… I check the grill and the scraal -eight-legged pseudo-insectoids that the locals think are fine dining- are… Done. I pick up a pair of tongs from the work surface and transfer them to small plates. Drizzle of the flavoured oil… And carefully check the faux-insectoid for the officer with the alternate digestive system… Okay! I load them onto the floating serving tray and push it into the dining area.

    "…looked like-"

    Caccanah holds her hands up to her forehead and mimics the eyestalk gesture someone made.

    "-this, and the guards dropped their weapons without even trying to fight back."

    Jade looks mildly relieved to see me as I place a plate in front of her slightly tipsy colleague, immediately drawing her-

    "You cook too?"

    -attention.

    "I'm a man-" From the affirmative gesture from the locals I hand plates to next -an officer in the planetary police called Baezen and someone from their intelligence agency named Trouk- it looks like I copied the local dish reasonably well. "-of many talents."

    K-Ku'ss seems a little uncomfortable.

    "I don't think I can digest this."

    "Already thought about that. Yours is synthetic, designed to replicate the taste and texture of a scraal without actually being one. It's perfectly fine for you."

    "Oh. Thank you."

    "That's a fake?" Seinea, one of the locals and a strong political proponent of N.E.M.O. cooperation, takes a closer look. "Where did you get it? I've never seen one that good before."

    "Oh, I made it myself. I'll send the design to one of your vegetarian food companies after dinner."

    I put down the last plates in my and Jade's places, then take my seat next to her. Jade pulls off a leg, dips it in the oil and then bites the oiled end off. Really, it's remarkable how edible alien food generally is. But… Humanoid species generally have similar nutritional needs, fruit-bearing plants need animals to eat their fruit in order to spread their seeds, so it's not that unusual for a person to be able to pluck a fruit from just about any planet in this galaxy and be able to eat it safely. Or at least as likely as it is on their home planet; plenty of fruit on Earth are poisonous to humans, after all.

    K-Ku'ss picks up her faux-scraal and gently begins feeding it into her mandibles. She's remarkably adept at the process. Not a drop of oil or faux-bug juice drips onto the table and I can hear the quiet crackling as the carapace is crushed.

    "So… What exactly was the Reach trying to do here?"

    Jade glances in my direction.

    "Do you want a full report?"

    "I'm not that boorish, Jade."

    Trouk makes a gesture of disbelief with his right arm. "We've known that the Reach were going to head this way for generations. We've tried guarding against them, making alliances… We usually spot infiltrators and patsies pretty quickly-"

    My eyes dart to Jade and she slightly inclines her head. The summary is mostly true, though it does skip over the brutal totalitarianism they've had to instate to do it. Of course… There's a reason why they're our strongest partner in this region of space. When any internal division is a target for Reach leveraging… Not allowing any works really well for keeping them out.

    "-but some entertainment programs created by our allies-"

    Vassals, but they're not total dicks about it.

    "-only get light-"

    Medium. If you want to ask a politically sensitive question, best do it in private.

    "-censorship." He looks around at his fellow members of the local establishment. "I suppose we should take it as a mark of our success that the most they can do is interfere with our children's entertainment."

    Baezen makes a gesture of disagreement with his eyestalks. "That is what happens when standards are allowed to slip; enforcement was lax."

    "What exactly was this children's program supposed to do?"

    Baezen looks around to… Ceally, who works for their intelligence service as a scientific advisor.

    "Mm?"

    "Pael wants to know how the Reach's program was supposed to work."

    "Oh. Well, we've known for a while that certain sounds combined with certain colours can induce predictable emotional responses in our species. The stun projectors used by the low-police use a very particular pale blue combined with a high pitched tone to render suspects unconscious without risking injuries. But the Reach have.. been studying our brains. They were able to introduce a signal which would render those exposed to it susceptible to pro-Reach ideas. The complexity of it is greater than anything we've tried ourselves; we thought that level of control was only possible in fiction. But… They managed it."

    "Did they give you any trouble?"

    Caccanah nods. "We had.. five..?" Jade nods. "Five assassination attempts from people they've used their signal on already. There was nothing linking them because they were responding to the signal rather than making decisions themselves. But the security at their base wasn't a problem because they were just supposed to be the security for a television production company."

    I nod, finishing my own scraal with knife and fork rather than the more manual option my fellow diners are going for. This sort of infiltration is what the Darkstars exist to prevent, and from the reports I had my rings feed my brain this sounds like it was another resounding success for Jade. Which in turn firms up our support in this region of space. While we haven't got the Reach completely enclosed -that would be more or less impossible- we now have allies and N.E.M.O. members all around Reach space. I… Think the totality of our military power is greater then theirs, though not all that much is made up of ships designed by Dox's team or under his direct command. The Reach warships have a technological advantage on everything else, even if they can't use them aggressively without starting a war with the Green Lantern Corps.

    Seinea slides her empty plate forwards. "Have you studied our cooking for long?"

    "No, but I've studied a great many different culinary traditions. Specifics vary, but a lot of things are the same."

    Wallace seemed to enjoy insectivore week well enough, until Richard told him what he was eating.

    "Are you a professional chef? That's… Not the match I would have expected-"

    I frown at Caccanah, who isn't watching.

    "-for an operative like Jaed. And I don't recognise your species; have you been in the service of the Controllers for long, like the clickers?"

    "Oh, gosh no. Our homeworld is a long way from here, and I've worked for the Controllers for less than a year."

    Jade nods. "This is a personal vocation, for both of us."

    "Then how did you get here?"

    I pick up the empty plates with orange filaments, to the visible surprise of several present, and float them back into the kitchen.

    "Long range teleportation."

    I raise my right fore and middle fingers to my forehead and

    vanish, reappearing in the

    kitchen.

    "Does anyone want a refill?"
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2020
  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th April
    14:57 GMT -7


    "Alright, if you're sure."

    Luna nods. "We feel that Our dignity may be undermined by meeting your offspring whilst barely able to keep Ourself upright."

    "Yeah, but…" I exhale. "People on our side are perfectly at home with the idea of nonhuman sophonts, but aside from my genomorphs they don't generally meet them."

    "And you are concerned that they may fear Us."

    I.. take a moment to look at the living pony princess plush toy I'm dating. Or.. think I'm dating. For a moment I amuse myself with the idea that she's simply waiting for me to give Celestia her bride price. I haven't asked any ponies about their courtship customs, because whatever they are the current alicorn population is too small for there to be a tradition on how to court the goddess-princesses.

    "No. I.. think that you can safely assume that they won't fear you."

    She nods. "Because you are renowned as a stalwart protector and your presence will reassure them."

    "No. Because you're… Cute."

    "We are… Cute?" She regards me sceptically. "We hope that you are not allowing your own opinion of Us to colour your advice."

    "No, you're small and furry and look like… Well, you look like a more aesthetically appealing version of a type of farm animal. People are going to ask me if they can ride you. Children are going to come up to you and stroke your fur. Are you sure that you wouldn't rather do this as a human?"

    "We feel that We will most likely survive their affection."

    "I'm not the one who's going to be pulling chewing gum out of my pelt, but if it's really what you want…" I trot up to Starswirl's Mirror. "See you on the other side."

    I trot in and stroll out in a way which… Still doesn't make sense to me. Looking on the process from the outside I'd guess that the person going through it was in some sort of state of flux, but… My front goes in Wilson-side and I'm coming out Earth-side, even though I can feel my hooves back there until my feet emerge here. I should.. fall forwards as my front support vanishes, but that's not what happens.

    Weird.

    "Mother Box, boom tube to the Mirror room."

    Ping.

    BOOM!

    Luna walks through, her wings bristling slightly with tension as she looks around the room, and then at my crotch. And then at my abdomen. And then at my chest.

    And then she backs up slightly so that she can see my face.

    I raise my right hand in greeting.

    "Hello."

    "You are… Quite large."

    "Yes. I am, but the difference here is mostly because I'm naturally bipedal. Rather than being long, I'm tall."

    Luna frowns faintly, slowly walking around my right side so that she can get a better look at me.

    "Your posture makes Our spine ache in sympathy."

    "Oh?" I turn anticlockwise to face her, dropping onto my hands and knees. "Is this better?"

    "Now Our legs ache in sympathy." I grin, and crawl towards-. She backs up, a look of distinct disquiet on her muzzle. "Stop stop!"

    "Okay." I come up onto my knees and then rise to my full height. "But I warn you; I don't mind being pony-shaped-."

    "But this is your true self." She nods. "We understand. And we hope that you will not grow too besotted with Our human-seeming form when We choose to assume it."

    I shake my head as we head for the exit.

    "Nah, I'll be too busy laughing. You and Sunset sorted out a translation spell?"

    "We have the form of it, but We think that We will test our skill with your tongue before resorting to magic aid." Her horn glows faintly as she looks around. "Your home is truly a magnificent citadel, but We think that We would sorely miss natural sunlight and the chance to stretch Our wings."

    "Once the whole of the world is progressing in the direction which I want it to, I can probably afford to expand upwards and create a more conventional habitation area jutting out of the mountainside. Or just move and repurpose this as a pure fortress. I originally acquired it more as a statement than anything else."

    "That you are a troglodytical troll?"

    "That my mountain is better than the mountain of those whom I left."

    I bend at the waist, contorting myself until my head is close to her level.

    "Though if mountains aren't your thing, we could renovate your old castle. Could be a bonding activity."

    She rolls her eyes. "Yes, because clearly We wish to return to the site of our greatest shame."

    I straighten up as we reach Sunset's laboratory.

    "Yes, getting beaten up by six teenagers and a baby dragon was a bit pathetic, but I'm sure we can whip you into shape."

    "We were referring to Our fall, not to Our purification."

    "Luna, in a thousand years no one is going to remember that."

    She tosses her mane. "We are not yet entirely accustomed to the idea that We will live so long. We are uncertain how we feel about it. We were always the less sociable sister, and we have seen how Our Sister's venerability serves to isolate her."

    "If you're asking to include her in our herd-."

    A mild glare. "That is not what We meant."

    "I mean, one of my brothers is single, but he's… Kind of evil..? If you want to try friendship lasering him we could try getting them together…"

    The door slides open and Sunset stands in the doorway. Her human form grew significantly as a result of her ascension, and… She definitely has a more womanly figure now.

    "Are we heading out?"

    "Indeed, Sunset Shimmer. But why are you accompanying us?"

    "You're… Acting as my canary."

    Luna tilts her head back slightly. "We do not understand your reference."

    "Well, I'd kinda like to walk around as a pony myself… But I don’t wanna get mobbed. So I'm going to watch what happens to you and then decide what to do."

    I leer at her. "I wouldn't be so sure that humans won't mob you anyway. You weren't exactly hard on the eyes before your ascension, and now…"

    "I'm not talking about going to a club, Grayven. Just walking down the street. I like people admiring me. I should be admired. I just don't want little kids pulling my mane or my feathers."

    "And so We serve as your test case."

    "Hey, you volunteered." She frowns. "And I got promoted from 'thou'?"

    "You are an alicorn, and raised to that state by your own skill. We feel that We should hesitate to address you as Our social inferior."

    Sunset smiles happily. "True."

    "Alright then, if we're all ready? Mother Box, hush tube."

    The portal opens, and I bow to Luna.

    "After you."

    13th April
    15:02 GMT -7


    Luna sits, wings flaring slightly and eyes widen as the tide of grinning primary school aged children draws closer.

    "We fear that We hath made a terrible mistake."
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2020
  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th April
    15:03 GMT -7


    Luna manages to keep her nerve as I step forwards to slightly discourage them. Children here aren't afraid of me, but I register as 'adult' and 'authority' and they're not quite as eager to-.

    "Mister Grayven?" A small girl points at Princess Luna as her mother catches up with her and gives me a slightly embarrassed smile. "Is that your pony?"

    The boy next to her stares at Luna. "Is it an alien pony?"

    I nod. "Technically, yes."

    There's a small disruption at the back of the huddle as Clare and Sarah are gradually recognised by their peers and their peers' parents as being my children and permitted closer. Lynne and my namesake are hanging back with the others, with Knockout keeping watch over the crowd of parents and children for potential attackers.

    "Everyone, this is Princess Luna. Luna, these are the students and parents of Rifle, Colorado."

    Luna metaphorically girds her caparisons and steps forward.

    "SALUTATIONS, DIMINUTIVE HOMINIDS!"

    Her legs are spread and braced against the playground tarmac, her wings are unfurled and on full display and by the Source I think my right ear is ringing.

    The front rank of children stagger backwards into their wincing parent's legs. Even Clare and Sarah are cringing, their hands covering their ears.

    "WE BRING WARM FELICITATIONS FROM OUR NATION OF EQUESTRIA, AND HOPE THAT WE MAY PROCEED IN THE SPIRIT OF FRIENDSHIP!"

    She pauses for breath, and the crowd are torn between risking uncovering their ears or covering their ears harder.

    "Luna…" She turns her head towards me and I raise my eyebrows. "Volume..?"

    "WE SPEAK WITH THE ROYAL CANTERLOT VOICE, WHEN…" She sighs. "When.. We.. hath no need to at all." She trots forward and extends her head towards a child with both arms over her head. "Art thou well, small child? Hath Our speech injured thine ears?"

    The boy blinks at her and lowers his arms.

    "You're a really loud horse."

    "We are a pony."

    The boy smiles.

    "You're a really loud pony."

    "Thou are suredly a most astute human."

    "You talk weird."

    "We speak in the proper manner for an Equestian princess."

    The girl next to him perks up.

    "You're a princess?"

    Luna gives her a mildly puzzled look, then glances upward to check that her crown is still in place. "Doth thou not see the crown 'pon Our head?"

    The boy looks thoughtful.

    "I put a plastic crown on my dog's head one time. That didn't make him a princess."

    "Couldst thine crown'd canine speak?"

    "He barks."

    "And didst thou understand his meaning?"

    "Ah… No? Not really."

    "Then We shall continue to consider Ourself to be his superior."

    The boy doesn't have a response, just taking a half-step back and shrugging. The small girl is already stepping forward to replace him, right hand nervously extended.

    "Can I pet you?"

    "We-. Ah…" Her ears twitch and I see her consider looking at me for support. "Are not entirely averse to-"

    The girl places her right hand on Luna's muzzle, causing Luna to momentarily go cross-eyed.

    "-thine-. Yes, that…"

    The girl sort of rubs the fur a little, while Luna… She's trying not to sneeze. I'm not sure whether that's due to the pressure on her nose or the scent of modern perfumed detergent.

    "This is not quite-. Yes, that is Our nose. Do not wear it-"

    And that's the cue the rest of the ragamob needs. The horde advances once more, lapping around Luna's sides to lay their hands… About as gently as could be expected, on her neck and barrel, with one or two of the braver souls daring to brush her darkly-feathered wings.

    "-out."

    I… Get ready to perform an emergency pony extraction if she gets distressed, but she.. seems to be handling-.

    A different girl finds herself lifted into the air by Luna's thaumokinesis and brought to float in front of her face.

    "Grooming Our pelt is acceptable, but pulling 'pon Our mane is not. Doth thou understand the difference?"

    The girls nods shamefacedly.

    "Very well."

    Luna carefully sets her down a little back from the scrum, then notices that the children are now staring at her horn.

    "You're a magical pony?!"

    "Didst Our wings and horn not providst thou with sufficient evidence?"

    "I thought it was stuck on."

    "Our horn is most assuredly affixed to Our face, in much the same manner that thine nose is affixed to thine own."

    I step around the huddle of curious children and address their bemusedly smiling parents.

    "Sell out toy for Christmas twenty twelve?" There's a quiet chuckle. "But seriously, there's a whole country of magical ponies where she's from. How do you feel about interplanar tourists?"

    A fellow named Chet -his son Davis is friends with Stephan- waves his right hand at Luna.

    "They all her size?"

    "About half her size."

    An amused hissing-exhalation whistles through his teeth. "Well, I don't think they'll cause much trouble, but… Ah…"

    And the children have lapped around to her haunches.

    "I don't know if the kids'll be able to keep their hands off them. How'd you two meet?"

    "Sunset-" Who is standing well back and letting events unfold. "-wanted to visit home, we bumped into each other in the palace. And now we're dating!"

    Chet looks uncertain about that. "You're dating a horse?"

    "I'm an alien dating an alien. Not all intelligent creatures are humanoid, you know. Heck, not all Apokoliptians are humanoid."

    Sunset reluctantly takes a step forward. "Yeah, in Equestria, most intelligent species have four legs. Not all, but bipeds are pretty unusual. I think it's just yetis and minotaurs."

    The first small girl stares at our equine guest. "Princess Luna?! Are you dating Mister Grayven?!"

    "We have tentatively accepted him as our consort, though-."

    "Oh?" I mug for the crowd. "Sounds like I'm getting promoted this evening."

    Luna's ears prick up, followed by the rest of her head as she glares at me.

    "Thou art most certainly not 'getting promoted', rapscallion!"

    I bow my head in mock shame as my fellow parents laugh.

    Demoted to 'thou'.

    Darn.
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2020
  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th April
    16:01 GMT -5


    "What's your favorite book?"

    I.. frown slightly. Leonard generally doesn't bother with personal questions, and… He doesn't respond all that well if I try asking them. But it's not as if it's a security risk.

    "Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett."

    He looks away pensively.

    "Second favorite?"

    "Night Watch, also by Terry Pratchett."

    "He your favorite author?"

    "Yes. Um, if you're interested… I'm sorry, but he doesn't exist in this reality, and I've only ever been able to do a ninety six percent recreation of Small Gods…"

    "No, it's… Something Wizard said."

    "Wiz-?"

    If Wizard's out then I need to speak to John-.

    "Weather Wizard, not.. whoever you were thinking of."

    "William Zard. He operates under the name 'Wizard' and he was one of the people responsible for Roanoke Island."

    Leonard looks right at me, his eyes widening slightly. "Shit. Yeah, not him. I never even heard of him."

    "You might want to suggest to Mister Mardon that he consider a different abbreviation. If the police hear someone call him 'Wizard', they might just shoot first without checking."

    "See, this was what he was talking about. You just gave me advice to give him so he doesn't get killed because the cops thought he was someone else."

    "Okay?"

    "Do you have people..? Superheroes, who are total psychos?"

    "I… Generally wouldn't call people like that 'superheroes'. I mean… There was The Reaper in Gotham. That was after Green Lantern One left but before Batman started working there. He murdered.. quite a lot of people. Quite a lot of them had it coming…" I frown. "Do you actually know anything about Gotham?"

    "Everyone who lives there is crazy."

    "Hey, I live-. Yeah, okay."

    "I went to Gotham once, 'cause Mister Freeze had some equipment I needed. Never went back again."

    "Right, but the city's history?"

    "Used to be an alright place, then manufacturing jobs left and crime went up." My surprise clearly shows on my face. "What? I go to Kadabra's lectures."

    "Sorry, sorry, I know you're intelligent, I just didn't think you were interested in that sort of thing."

    "No point robbing someone with no money."

    I give him a mildly disappointed look, to which he responds with a small smile.

    "What? There isn't."

    "So the Reaper… The place had gone to pot. The mob owned the police, the politicians and the judges. So the Reaper decided to kill them all."

    His smile grows slightly. "Didn't do a very good job."

    "There were a lot of them. He killed quite a few of them, then got too badly injured to carry on. By the time he was fighting fit again, Batman was in his second year and the police were starting to get straightened out. But he didn't care and went right back to murdering. Two honest policemen killed and several injured, Batman decided that the only way to keep the death toll down was to make a deal with the mobs-"

    "What?"

    "-for information."

    "No, no, you can't just drop something like that and keep talking."

    "What? Batman hated them, but the Reaper killed a lot of people in a short space of time. He thought that with their help he could deal with the Reaper in a few weeks, but that the mobs would be a long term problem whatever he did."

    "And given that Batman's still around and the Reaper isn't, I can guess how it went."

    "The Reaper's motives were a lot like Batman's. And his aims were too. But his methods weren't. If he'd been a little more discerning… I mean, Gotham was pretty bad. But the moment he killed honest police officers escorting a criminal they already had in custody, no one thought he was a superhero. He was just another serial killer."

    "But a supervillain's a supervillain."

    "I'd.. encourage you not to think about it in such binary terms."

    He leans back in his chair and waves his right hand. "I mean, the more violent a superhero is, the less heroic they are. But for a supervillain, the more violent you are, the more villainous you are."

    "That's… Surprisingly philosophical. What brought this on?"

    "The day after I told you Luthor offered me a job, I started getting letters. WayneTech, KordTech, a few other places…"

    "Mister Luthor may not be Alva, but I'd still be much happier with you working somewhere else. Almost anywhere else, in fact. It would be like putting a bottle of whiskey down next to an alcoholic."

    A reference to his father usually gets a scowl out of him, but he just looks away again.

    "It's about class."

    "In what sense?"

    "When I thought about what sort of supervillain I wanted to be. When I started out." He shakes his head. "I know Doc Quinzel wants me to say I'm lashing out at society 'cause I want to lash out at my dad, and… Yeah, she's probably.. not wrong. But you don’t tell yourself.. you're stealing from innocent people 'cause you can. You… Dress it up in your own head, too. Like, there was a story about one of the banks in Central City foreclosing on a whole lot of mortgages. I think.. one of the car factories closed and put a lot of people out of work." He shrugs. "So I robbed their vault. I didn't do it because they foreclosed; I don't know anyone who got a loan from them. I did it because… The fact they did that made it okay. They were bad, so… If I make their lives harder, so what?"

    He smiles.

    "If I shot some security guy dead when I was robbing a place, that's murder. And if I shot a psycho like Joker dead, it's still murder, but…"

    "But he has it coming, so it's easier to tell yourself that's why you did it. You don't have to internalise 'I'm a guy who will kill anyone to get his way'."

    "Yeah. Wiz-. Mark said something like that, once. 'Ask someone what their favorite book is'. 'cause… Anyone who's read a book has a favorite book, even if they don't like it much." He shrugs. "Right? And it's not like it's a big secret or anything. The only reason not to tell someone is if you've literally never read a book, or you're such a total psycho that you can't… Have a conversation without turning it into a fight."

    "And I don't think I'm that person. I know I never wanted to be. But I also know I can't tell you what my favorite book is."
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2020
  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    13th April
    22:12 GMT +1


    Koriand'r looks around the Mount Etna countryside with an expression of puzzlement on her face.

    "This is the home of your gods?"

    "No, just two. They were worshipped before modern foundries were invented, so it was easier for them to build their main workshop in a volcano so that they'd have a source of heat."

    She frowns as she lands on the ground next to me.

    "If they are gods, could they not create fire for themselves?"

    "Not ex nihilo. Conceptually, they design and build. Fire is something they use and manipulate, not something they conjure into being. And Hellenism doesn't really have a fire god, so if they'd wanted to negotiate for some sort of divine fire they'd have had to trade with someone outside of the pantheon."

    Koriand'r doesn't seem to have as much trouble with the idea as Lantern Dul did. Which is not entirely surprising; while Thanagar and Tamaran were both shaped by active gods, X'Hal is still widely worshipped while the Seven Devils very definitely aren't. Actually…

    "How much contact do X'Hal and Auron have with Tamaran?"

    "We have not had contact with either of them for longer than we have lived on Tamaran. When X'Hal's rages grew too great and too frequent for any mortal to survive, it was Auron who persuaded her to leave Vega. I do not know where either of them are now."

    I suppose I can put a pin in the idea of bringing them back to Vega, then. At least until we get some idea of exactly what the psions did to her.

    "I suppose that it's not exactly the same thing. X'Hal underwent apotheosis. Hephaestus and Vulcan were born as gods."

    And unlike when I first came here, it's no longer necessary to use their original stairwell. Because disguised as a blank rock face…

    I walk into the wall, and the dolmen gate built into it takes me into… An antechamber which they built because they kept getting birds trying to nest on the rock and flying through. The guardian mechanoid on guard duty inside switches to 'active' mode, standing more upright as it fixes its eyes on me.

    "Orange Lantern Illustres and guest to see the forge-gods."

    The guardian mechanoid is a dramatic improvement on the tripods they used to use. Rather than have a single animating spirit they have hundreds bound to the microscopic mechanisms of a mechanical Babbage engine. The process makes it capable of far more complex decisions as well as substantially increasing its agility and dexterity. It isn't a person and it isn't much of a conversationalist, but it's remarkable how they've taken the whole arcane technology thing in such a different direction to the Atlanteans.

    "Communing."

    Koriand'r comes through the ring behind me and takes a look around.

    "We are inside the volcano?"

    "It's really more of a mountain these days. She's-" I point to Koriand'r with my right hand. "-the guest."

    "Communing. Lord Vulcan responds."

    "Thank you."

    "Follow."

    Its upper torso rotates, legs already in motion as it leads the way into the Mount Etna facility. Runic panels built into the walls are their power cables and fibre optic lines, magitech crystal chandeliers their light sources and-

    We walk past a specialised cleaning mechanoid as its partially aqueous body removes whatever dust build up inside a mountain from the floor and walls.

    -bound spirits their servants. Their actual helpers are human, and last time I visited they were inducting a few that Lord Vulcan had picked up. I'm not entirely sure how no one has twigged about-

    "Paul!"

    -Etna being reactivated.

    "My Lord."

    Vulcan's wearing a full face mask which puts me in mind of the masks Roman standard bearers used to wear. And… Hang on. How is his nose fitting under there?

    "What are you working on?"

    "Ah." He holds up his right arm, which has various runic bands strapped to it. "Watch."

    He clenches and unclenches his fist, then swings his-.

    A giant mechanical arm swings across the workshop, the open palm stopping next to us.

    "I read an article on telepresence." He clenches his fist again and pulls his arm towards his chest, which causes the mechanical arm to fold back up. "And I realised that it was far easier to get around signal speed limits with magic than with radio waves. Well, until you leave the planet, anyway."

    "Did you give up on the mechanical prosthetics?"

    "No, those are ready." He shrugs, his mask still in place. "But if the Atlanteans are opening up, no one is going to want a mechanical limb when they can get their original limb grown back at a fraction of the cost."

    I nod. "Probably not. This is-" I gesture to Koriand'r. "-Lantern Koriand'r. I wanted to introduce her to one of my gods while she was on Earth."

    Koriand'r comes to attention and does a Roman salute. "Hail Vulcan!"

    "Hail Koriand'r."

    "Did you make a new face for yourself?"

    "No. I'm-. My face is part of my concept, but I don't like it all that much." He unstraps the giant arm's control mechanism and uses his now freed hand to tap his mask. "I'm trying to find out if I can change it. I've managed to make my face conform to the interior surface of the mask, but only so long as I'm wearing it."

    "That's still a significant achievement."

    "I suppose. Though speaking of achieving things; did the Hawks from the Justice League tell you that they've been visiting me?"

    "No. We're not on.. particularly good terms. Did they want anything in particular?"

    "Nth metal." He picks up a small ingot from his work bench. "Interesting stuff. Transmuted lead, with a variety of fascinating properties. They made me an offer."

    "They want to buy as much as you can produce?"

    "And in return, I get my choice of unlimited resources, or unlimited resources and to be their new chief god. Do you think it's an honest offer?"

    "They really need the Nth metal. But… They're materialists. They aren't used to worship, and they generally treat other species as inferior."

    "Does that extend to gods?"

    "I don't know. I doubt that they've been in this position before." I shrug. "I'll miss you if you go, but this is a good opportunity for you."

    He nods, then makes a beckoning motion with his right hand.

    "Come, Lantern Koriand'r. I'll show you around."
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2020
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  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    14th April
    15:01 GMT -5


    Christopher -a man who has been happily married for eight years- takes a moment to look Koriand'r over.

    "Thought you were dating that Chinese girl?"

    "Vietnamese, and I am. This is my colleague Lantern Koriand'r. Koriand'r, this is Christopher-."

    He raises his hands slightly. "Seriously, it's Chris."

    "-Chris, and he was the man who taught me to shoot conventional firearms."

    Koriand'r smiles at him. "You are a warlord?"

    "Ah… No, a range master. I've been.. shooting pretty much every day since I was eight."

    "I have as well! Who were you shooting?"

    He shrugs. "When I was in the army it was mostly Eastern European assholes, but I haven't actually had to shoot a person since I mustered out. Not with a real gun I mean; I've been paint balling with the guys a few times. You?"

    "Mercenaries, pirates and raiders. Vega is much more violent than the space around Earth!"

    "I… Guess we're just lucky that way. You.. wanna learn how to use Earth guns, or are you here for the Cobra?"

    "You have a pet snake? I have never seen a snake!"

    "I'll add a zoo to the itinerary." I look at Christopher. "May as well."

    He nods, and turns away to lead us into the workshop. When I first started coming here this is where they did lessons on gun maintenance. Those still happen, but recently we've been working on another project.

    "Hey, you wanna explain this thing or do you want me to do it?"

    "America and my own country of origin have very different cultural practices when it comes to gun ownership. When I-."

    "First thing he said when he came here: 'I'm a poor European who's never held a gun in my life and I think they belong in the hands of police officers and soldiers and I need your violent colonial help learning how they work so I don't get my ass killed'."

    "And he thinks that's what my accent sounds like. But, yes, when I was just starting out, this was where I came to learn gun-handling. Because unlike Vega -and certain boroughs of New York- Britain has had no violent internal disputes since the Good Friday Agreement stopped our last internal insurgency and I never had a need to use a gun."

    "If you know how to use it and don't need it, you don't have a problem." Christopher unlocks a large safe and takes out a reinforced case. "If you don't know and you need it, then you've got a problem."

    "If you make an item available for sale to sensible people, you inevitably make it available for sale to less sensible people. It's easier to get a gun in this country than a car."

    "Vega has a lot of guns. Do you want some?"

    Christopher grins. "Space guns? Oh hell yeah!"

    "If you want to get raided by the FBI, the NSA, the CIA, the ATF and the NRO all at the same time then go right ahead."

    "Think I could take 'em with mother fucking space guns! Suck my Second Amendment, Alphabet Men!"

    "Koriand'r, please don't give or sell weapons to anyone on Earth without consulting me first."

    "Of course, Illustres."

    "Bah! Still a fuckin' British pussy."

    "Careful, Christopher, your knuckles are dragging."

    "Oohk! Oohk! Oohk!"

    I chuckle quietly as he unlocks the case.

    "See, what Paul wanted to work on was… See, Jerry… One of my guys, Jerry, read something about the AK-Forty Seven…" He points to an American-made version on the wall. "Overtaking the gladius as the deadliest weapon ever. And it's not because it's a great gun…" He shakes its head. "It's not. It's got massive recoil in full-auto; you can barely hit a thing. It's the deadliest weapon ever because it's simple and reliable. You can bury that thing in mud for a week, clean it off with a brush and it'll work fine. And that means it's cheap, so everyone uses it."

    "I wanted to know if we could do better."

    Because as much as I love cold guns they are not easy to maintain if you don't have a power ring or the intellect of a criminal genius.

    Christopher nods, and pulls out the Cobra.

    "It occurred to me that the most complex part of the AK-Forty Seven was the ammunition. So we got rid of it."

    Christopher pulls out the magazine and removes a single round.

    "This is just a lump of iron. The gun uses magnetic fields rather than explosives, which cuts down on maintenance even more. The capacitors make the gun more expensive, but it pays that real quick."

    He puts the magazine back it and turns the gun on.

    "I wanted to have a solid ammunition block, but the mechanism we'd have needed to put in there to shave it off added too much to the cost."

    "As it is, it's cheap, reliable, accurate and can be recharged anywhere with an electric supply. There's no explosive, so full-auto is just as accurate as single shot and burst fire. Rate of fire isn't as good as good assault rifles, but it's better than an AK. Batteries and capacitors just come off-" He takes them off and puts them back on again. "-and can be replaced with more expensive versions for higher performance..?"

    I take a bleed torsion generator module out of subspace and pass it to him and he grins as he slots it in. I don't let him keep this on-site just in case, but if we're testing the other parts of the gun it makes more sense to not make us swap the battery out quite so often. Christopher loves it because he's a closet hillbilly.

    "The gun has a dial for the power output of each shot."

    Christopher leads the way into the range, where quite a few of the lanes are occupied. I'm still not sure whether or not there's a 'peak season' for ranges, but with all of the violence I've seen on this Earth… Alright, conventional firearms wouldn't be all that useful against a lot of it, but I can understand people being more eager to arm themselves even if their popguns wouldn't do anything to -for example- a titan made of water. And even for an anti-private gun ownership proponent like me… I can see how knowing that some people have built-in laser cannons does shift the terms of the debate.

    Christopher puts on a set of headphones as Sharon -one of the instructors- spots us and tells the group she's tutoring who we are. They immediately step back, the man who had been firing disarming his weapon before they head over to watch us.

    Christopher walks over to an unused range, and I spot someone… I don't recognise as a regular do a double-take at seeing me and then stare at Koriand'r. Christopher attaches a target and then sends it halfway down the range and he takes a firing stance.

    "Since there's not much recoil, you don't really need to brace in the same way, which takes a bit of getting used to. You still need to be able to keep the weight of the gun on-target, but if you can do that, you can fire it one-handed accurately. This version's this long because more coils are cheaper than really good capacitors, but if-" He looks away from his target at the gathering audience. "-anyone feels like shelling out, I know a guy who can make a short version. Just don't tell the ATF I told you."

    He smiles and takes aim.

    "I really like this gun."
     
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2020
  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    15th April
    08:03 GMT +1


    "I'm just-." Thaddeus's face starts going red. "I'm going-. To-. Recalibrate the temporal synchroniser. Ah… Again."

    "I'm sorry about messing up time, Thaddeus, but there really wasn't much-"

    To my right Koriand'r leans closer to study a large tubular device and then backs off as Georgia swings a rolled up New Scientist at her.

    "-alternative, and I don't have anything like the knowledge of temporal mechanics I'd need in order to have done something else."

    He flashes me a quick smile.

    "No one here is going to criticize anyone else for altering space-time however you want. It's just that there are consequences."

    "Would you like Lantern Koriand'r to help you?"

    Behind me, Georgia rolls her eyes, while in her brother's head the awkwardness he feels at being in close quarters with a stunningly attractive woman wars with his pride as a mad scientist.

    "Is she an expert in temporal mechanics?"

    "No, but I'm trying to give her an idea of what Earth's civilisation is like, and I think your work is a good example of what the most advanced science and technology our species can produce looks like."

    "That's.. true. Okay. Sure." He manages to look at her as she smiles appreciatively. "I'll show you my workshop, Koriand'r."

    "Thank you, Thaddeus. I am very interested to see what you have made!"

    "Right-. Ah, right this way."

    Arms held rigidly at his side, Thaddeus leads Koriand'r over to his work station on the far side of the subterranean workshop where the villainous part of the Sivana family keep their 'active research' projects.

    "Honestly."

    "Be reasonable, Georgia. You're both young, and neither of you have a lot of social contact with people outside of the community."

    "Please tell me that you didn't bring her here just to dangle her in front of Junior."

    "Of course not. I assumed that if he responded at all that he'd respond in the way your father did to your mother when they first met; with stilted formality."

    "Father didn't think it was appropriate for supervillains to study etiquette."

    "Oh. So I assume that he doesn't have a great deal of experience with girls."

    "To put it mildly."

    "While… You have a great deal of experience with boys?"

    "Vril called my input into beam weapon design 'insightful'."

    "Gosh. That's coluan for 'take me now, big girl'."

    Her eyes widen a fraction. "Is it?"

    "Well, coluans don't usually conceptualise romantic relationships in the way that humans do, but… Pretty much. I only know-"

    And she blushes just as badly as her brother does.

    "-one female coluan, but I can ask her to confirm it if you like."

    "What do-? Female coluans look like?"

    "… Green?"

    Her eyes narrow slightly. "You know perfectly well that's not what I meant."

    "Most coluans are currently being mind controlled by a AI network on their homeworld, so their bodies are optimally healthy. Of the two coluans I know who don’t live on their homeworld, both are athletic, but both work in military occupations and one has a power ring."

    "Standard… Humanoid… Physiques?"

    "Georgia, I can't believe that you're this self-conscious about your appearance. If you don't like something, change it."

    "But this is me. I don't expect-" She regards me for a moment. "-you to understand, but I want to recognise myself when I look in a mirror."

    "You think-? Georgia, I didn't look anything like this good when I arrived from Earth Prime."

    "You… Didn't?"

    "No. I have an orange power ring. Tuning myself up was the.. second thing I did. I didn't make any radical changes; just.. a general enhancement and a few cosmetic modifications I'd wanted to make for a while. I certainly haven't had any trouble recognising myself. And… If you thought that might be a problem then you could just put your original body in suspended animation and transfer your brain into a new one."

    "Yes, I.. could… I'm not metaphorically attached to everything…"

    "Or don't. I doubt that Dox will care, so it's really just about boosting your confidence and.. happiness."

    I suppose there's no good way to bring it up… Ring, are there any possums in Germany?

    Only in zoos and private collections.

    "You..? Are you aware why your elder-?"

    "Why our parents divorced? Yes, I am aware that Father decided to ensure that we would look like him so that we would share his outlook on life." She thoughtfully strokes her chin. "I suppose that there is a conceptual link: if we're going to make this 'new leaf' thing our preferred approach for the foreseeable future then I simply have no need for an additional reason to reject society any longer."

    "Speaking of new leaves..?"

    "We did have an early warning system set up, then somebody rewrote the laws of temporal mechanics."

    "It was that or risk losing our entire continuity."

    "I'm not accusing you; we're not hypocritical enough to seriously object to other people's forays into 'angry' science. I am simply pointing out why we won't be able to give anyone advanced warning at the moment. We have been able to identify a large number of people fitted with spine riders, and we've sent search and destroy squads to their breeding centres."

    "Um."

    "They were clearly instructed to minimise collateral damage. But we can't save everyone."

    "Give me a list and their remains. I'll get the missing persons' cases closed."

    "If you think that's important. And the… Other matter?" I nod. "I'm not used to having to model with so little direct data. But there's definitely something going on. But given the complexity, I think a full investigation will have to wait until after the Sheeda are destroyed."

    "That's probably for the best. If nothing else, there's a better than average chance that it's them."
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2020
  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    15th April
    12:31 GMT +3


    "Do you not think that was rude?"

    "Koriand'r, if I didn't pull you away then my countrywomen would never let you go."

    "Is it not good that they are so friendly?"

    "That's a little complicated." We emerge into Erebos and I take the lead as we fly towards Lord Hades' palace. "I want them to learn to leave the island. If they can get what they want -which includes stunningly attractive alien warrior-women- by staying at home, they get disincentivised."

    "You..? Think I am stunning?"

    I glance at her with a frown. "Yes, you.. are? Especially to a warrior culture that holds physically capable women in high regard. Themyscira has been in voluntary isolation for most of the past two thousand years, so anything new gets a lot of attention… What?"

    "Stunning?"

    "Seriously?"

    "I grew to womanhood on Okaara, and the people of Okaara have standards of beauty that are not the same as those of Tamaran."

    "Okay, yes, but surely there were other students?"

    "The Warlords preferred to teach only small groups, and their lessons left little time for other matters. I was there to learn so that I could lead my people, not to entertain myself. And… Since I was betrothed, I did not want to risk becoming too attached to someone I would have to leave. I have never experienced romantic love, and my only experience of sex is being raped by Citadelian soldiers."

    "Oh." Ah. I know that tamaraneans process trauma differently to humans, but… I don't.. really… "Are you..? Alright?"

    "Yes?" She blinks. "Should I not be?"

    "I… No, I'm glad that you are, but perhaps we should make time to discuss the life goals you have that aren't related to public service? It's a poor sort of Orange Lantern who doesn't get at least something for themselves, and Vega is hardly in the same sort of state it used to be in."

    She smiles. "Do you wish to 'set me up' with someone? Did Rikane telling you that you were a betrothal-breaking villain make you so concerned?"

    "I… Suppose that I'd like you to be happy..?"

    "Perhaps with Alan?"

    I actually fall slightly in the air.

    "Um."

    "You do not approve?"

    "Alan.. is… Fairly old for a human. Um."

    "But his body is fuelled by the light of hope."

    "That's certainly true. But… Have you talked about his late wife? Because him… Being involved with someone… I certainly don’t hate the idea, but I think it's something that you should think about carefully? With perhaps a greater understanding of human cultural norms than you currently have?"

    She nods as we come in for a landing.

    "That may be more wise."

    Starfire and… Alan Scott? I wouldn't have even considered

    "Ho, Lanterns." A young-looking man with tanned skin and dark grey hair and wearing.. safari gear that's so stereotypical that it makes me blink, raises his right hand in greeting as he strolls out of the shadows of a pillar. "I was wondering how long I'd be here until I met you."

    I bow, and Koriand'r follows suit. "Lord Zagreus. I wasn’t expecting you."

    "I'd be a poor hunt-god if my prey expected me." I-. "Oh, not like that. You simply managed to make me curious. What brings you back to the underworld?" He looks pointedly at Koriand'r and then back at me. "Not planning on parading her in front of my sister, I hope?"

    "No, no. I simply wanted to ask her help in deciphering some dreams."

    He smirks. "And you could hardly ask an oracle. But I'm hardly ignorant on the subject myself, even if you do prefer my sister's company."

    "I meant no offence, my lord. I simply haven't had the pleasure of meeting you until today."

    "But why not Hypnos? He lives not far from here. And general interpretation is more his bailiwick."

    "Because I know Melinoë."

    And I honestly can't remember whether Hypnos and Morpheus are distinct beings and I'd rather avoid things like the Endless if at all possible.

    "Do you know what my sister spends her time doing?"

    "No?"

    "Custom mail order nightmares. People like them. I think people are even praying to her. A man called… Jonathan Crane?"

    "Doctor Jonathan Crane, and that doesn't surprise me. He's insane and obsessed with fear but chemically incapable of feeling it without Melinoë's help."

    "At least he's happy. Listen, I've got some… Bad news."

    "What's that?"

    "Your visits are setting off our mother's protective instincts. She's… Not cutting you off, exactly… But I'm supposed to chaperone you."

    "Did she call you back from… Wherever you were, because-"

    "Nairobi."

    "-she thinks I'm going to abduct Melinoë? Because Melinoë could lock me in a never-ending series of horrifying nightmares."

    He glances awkwardly away.

    "Our.. mother is concerned that.. perhaps she wouldn't want to."

    "So… What exactly is Queen Persephone's opposition to relevance in the modern world?"

    "It's not the hobby. It's the man. And I don't think that having me along is really all that burdensome."

    "Alright. I suppose you aren't really a problem. Where is Melinoë now?"
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2020
  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    15th April
    10:48 GMT


    Melinoë absentmindedly rubs her arms as we look down at the Mother Star's unfocused eye. The lack of air doesn't seem to bother either her or her brother, but it seems that being this far from home is making her a little uncomfortable.

    Or it could be the dead giant star starfish god thing, but I rather assumed that she was used to things like that.

    She turns away from it, looking right at me instead.

    "It's dead."

    "Yes, I spotted that. Is it still dreaming?"

    She rolls her eyes. "Stop reading Lovecraft. None of it is literally true."

    "You weren't inspiring him then?"

    "European folklore and racism inspired him. I didn't have anything to do with it. If a creature dies, it doesn't dream. Its soul might still have a connection to the Dreaming, its life might change the texture of part of the Dreaming, but it won't dream and it won't have nightmares. Living things have nightmares."

    I bow my head slightly.

    "So you're not getting anything from this?"

    She opens her mouth slightly and then appears to think better of it, closing her lips and turning back to the Mother Star.

    "If you want me to guide you through the Dreaming to someone who can actually answer you-."

    "No. No, I'm perfectly happy to leave that particular can of worms well alone. I doubt that Morpheus would exactly be thrilled with the Host of the Ophidian popping by for a visit."

    "If you dream, then you visit the Dreaming." Her head comes up slightly. "Did I really just have to say that?"

    "I'm not so sure. No soul, remember. At least, originally. And I kept dreaming after coming here. I think that my dreams.. at least were just a reinterpreted mess of images thrown up by my brain ticking over while I slept."

    "I suppose that's not entirely stupid. What about now?"

    Huh. Alright, the magic I've integrated should mean that I'm just as capable of entering the Dreaming as anyone else. But would all of my warding disrupt that? Atlanteans have studied the process a little, but I'm a fairly unique case. There's nothing… That stands out to me as showing that my dreams changed between pre-soul and post-soul.

    "Don't know. But I'm a Hellenist. Do you know anything about my nightmares?"

    "I think it's too far away?"

    "Hm? Oh, from Earth. Yes, I thought that might be a problem." I shrug. "I do actually know roughly where these things came from. If you want, we can hop between systems until we find a planet with a lively enough magic field to be worth investigating."

    "And how long would that take?"

    "Assuming that you can manage passage through the Honden of Avarice, perhaps an h-."

    "No." Zagreus shakes his head. "Veto."

    "If you're concerned for Melinoë's chastity, I assure you-."

    "Oh, I'm not." He brings his right fist to his chest. "I'm not. But a demi-god like you bringing my sweet little sister into his place of power? Our mother would be quite upset."

    "My lady Melinoë?"

    She doesn't look around. "She probably would. She's been getting a bit… Weird about it."

    "And your feelings on the subject?"

    "Because my life is so incomplete without seeing the dreams of a dead starfish."

    "I… I'm sorry, I can't tell whether you're being sarcastic or not. It sounds like you are, but you're the Goddess of Nightmares and Madness so you could-."

    "And what would you do if I did want to go?"

    "I would entreat your mother directly. Or swear an oath of her choice that whatever it is she fears happening would not happen. Or given that I'm reasonably sure that you're over eighteen-."

    Zagreus narrows his eyes. "Can you afford to anger another deity?"

    "I'm not sure. I talked Hera into divorcing Zeus and all that happened was that I got hit with lightning once. The Themysciran oracles have been glaring at me, but other than that I haven't noticed any fallout from the.. incident with Apollo. On the other hand, Eris, Hephaestus and your regal father have been genuinely helpful."

    Zagreus regards me curiously. "I rather doubt that our father has been genuinely helpful yet. You are still alive."

    "Except for when I wasn't. And just-" I shake my head. "-knowing that I have somewhere to go when I die is a tremendous weight off my mind. Try living in a purely material universe if you want some concept of my old ennui."

    I let the glow of my environmental shield grow brighter, the normally skin tight orange outline gaining considerable volume.

    "And I'm the philosophical leader of an organisation that believes quite strongly in personal fulfilment. If you want to go, then I'll deal with Queen Persephone as best I can."

    Koriand'r frowns. "Why would you not simply fly from world to world?"

    "Because that would take weeks. The Star Conquerors were a galactic threat, and some of the people who live in the places they once lived are pretty darn hostile. And I'm really not convinced that Persephone would be happier about me taking more time."

    "I haven't even agreed to go anywhere with you!"

    "When fishing with a rod, you bait the hook and then leave it there. You don't shove it in the fish's mouth."

    Zagreus jabs at me with his right forefinger.

    "That sort of comment bothers me, to say nothing of how our mother would feel-."

    "Shut up, both of you." Melinoë straightens slightly. "I think I can feel something."

    Melinoë's form… Changes. It's subtle, but her outline becomes slightly indistinct and her horns and colouration becomes slightly more pronounced. Direct Dreaming connection. I wonder if she'd mind us studying her?

    "That's interest-."

    And she vanishes.



    Oooooooooh… Whoops.
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2020
  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    15th April
    06:14 GMT -5


    John Quinn looks at the three of us through the entrance to the Tower of Fate.

    "Is there a punch line..?"

    Zagreus takes a moment to regard his right fist before lifting his eyes to John.

    "There can be."

    "Melinoë was taking a look at the Mother Star at my request and she disappeared. I would very much appreciate your help in working out what happened."

    "Melinoë… You lost the Goddess of Nightmares and Madness?"

    "I lost the Goddess of Nightmares and Madness in an incident related to a giant telepathic starfish god. As I'm sure that you can understand-."

    "Yes, we should get on this right away." He steps out, closing the door behind him. Then he turns back to the Tower and opens it again. "Follow me."

    We troupe through, and rather than the stony entryway that was on the other side of the door a moment ago, now we're wandering through his library's reading area. Koriand'r's head jerks around, her eyes open wide as she tries to take in everything with clear fascination. Zagreus just ignores it, marching ahead of John and sitting down hard on a leather upholstered bench.

    "What do you need to find my sister?"

    John walks over to a reading table and picks up a small… Ring box? Snuff box?

    "Orange Lantern wanted Melinoë to take a look at the Mother Star. His mission report said that it had two different sets of memories relating to a species the Star Conquerors enslaved." He looks at me. "You thought it came from the Dreaming."

    I nod. "It's a possibility I want to eliminate."

    "So you went to the person you know who understands dreams the best and it blew up in your face." He smiles. "Very Constantine."

    "No, no one's died yet."

    "Early days. So you think she's in the Dreaming, and you want me to help find her."

    "There's a portal to the Dreaming in Erebos, but we have no way to track her."

    "A piece of the starfish would probably do it. You're the God of Hunting, aren't you?"

    "I can't track through the Dreaming. Not reliably. The terrain isn't stable enough. I need someone who can impose order on it. And don't think for a moment I don't know what's in that box."

    Koriand'r's head snaps around, staring at the box John pointedly isn't trying to conceal.

    "What is in the box?"

    "A little something John Constantine stole from under Morpheus's nose. Just a pinch of his powder." He looks at me. "Do you know the story? John said that you knew a lot he didn't think you should…"

    "Morpheus has three tools of power; his gem, his helmet and his powder bag. I'm not sure exactly what they all do, but at… Some point John Constantine came into contact with the bag. When Morpheus got free of his prison, he got John's help tracking it down in exchange for getting rid of his nightmares. Somehow I'm not surprised that John kept a pinch."

    "Risky. Even for him."

    "The way he told me, it wasn't so much him taking it from the bag as realising that a dream-addled addict probably spilled a lot while she was using it."

    That makes sense.

    "Does it help us? If you want something in exchange-."

    "I'm not sure I want to take the risk of receiving payment." He smiles, taking the box in his right hand and tapping it against the table. "We might be able to get Morpheus's attention with this, and he might be willing to help us. Or we could use it ourselves and try and find her without his help. Or we could enter the Dreaming physically through Erebos."

    "Which do you recommend?"

    "Does Morpheus have a grudge against any of you?"

    I shake my head, and Zagreus and Koriand'r do the same.

    "Does he have any reason to want to help?"

    "I've never met Death, and I'm not sure that my dreams relate to the Dreaming. He might find that interesting enough to indulge me. Plus, I doubt that he wants the Goddess of Nightmares and Madness in residence long-term." I turn my head to the other two. "Any ideas?"

    Koriand'r frowns. "What is 'Dreaming'?"

    "The collective universal unconsciousness made of raw magic twisted into shapes by material concepts. Just about every being partially enters it when they dream, but there are other ways to access it and a lot of ways to use it."

    John thinks for a moment, then nods. "That's a pretty good summary, actually. Skips a few pertinent points, but if we're not going there it doesn't really matter."

    "Actually… Using the Dreaming might let us build magic-based interplanetary vessels. It would be far safer and simpler than flying through Hell." John bows his head slightly. "What?"

    "So are we calling up Morpheus, then?"

    "I don't have a glass jar full of demons… Zagreus?"

    "Why would I have a glass jar full of demons?"

    "No, I mean: do you have an opinion?"

    "I have an opinion on a glass jar of demons, yes."

    "Oh, some total prat of a caliph once talked Morpheus into taking everything that made his country great into the Dreaming by threatening to break open a glass orb full of demons. Morpheus turning up in person might have been coincidental but even if it wasn't I'm not going to try and find out."

    "Good." He thinks for a moment. "I've only met Morpheus very briefly; he doesn't owe me anything and I don't owe him. But if the alternatives are trying to dream of nightmares and madness ourselves or trying to track him through that insanity, I favour politely asking for his help."

    "Koriand'r?"

    "I do not think I know enough for my view to be meaningful."

    "John?"

    He regards me thoughtfully. "You know the spells that bound him, don't you?"

    Ah. Yes, he would work that out, wouldn't he?

    "I… Might. That's the sort of spell you want to get right the first time, and I didn't understand the theory enough to know if what I saw was everything."

    He nods.

    "Don't tell him you know. Don't even refer to it. I'll set up a nice, friendly non-binding ritual space and we can ask him politely." I nod, and he makes eye contact with Zagreus and Koriand'r. "And that goes for you. Do not, under any circumstances, attack Dream of the Endless. Am I clear?"

    They nod, and he walks over to the ritual space.
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2020
  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    15th April
    06:28 GMT -5


    "That was a bit quick?"

    John shrugs. "With demons you have to take your time, because if you make a mess of the binding then at best they kill you. But since we're not trying to bind Morpheus -just get his attention- it doesn't really matter."

    I look the diagram over, applying my apprentice-level comprehension of magic ritual to what he's doing. Looks.. like a.. bound evocation without the focus circle this sort of ritual usually has.

    "You haven't filled the spaces for active or passive links. Do you need me to get something?"

    "A piece of the Mother Star should do."

    "Any piece in particular?"

    "If she touched a piece, that piece. Otherwise, no."

    I nod and

    step out,

    reappearing in the physical universe on the skin of the Mother Star. The perspective of the starfish landscape and non-horizon throws me off for a moment, but then I look down and ignore it, cutting through the covering of rock and ice with an x-ionised knife to get at the flesh beneath. The size of it means that it's not practical for me to cut any singular part off, but a lump of meat should do it. Yeah, that looks fine.

    I

    reappear in the tower and hold it out to him.

    "Anything else?"

    He waves his right hand and a faint red.. disk forms under the meat and then floats it over to its position in the diagram.

    "Do you have anything she owns?"

    "Yes."

    Zagreus pulls a.. photograph out of one of his pockets, steps forward and lays it face down in the diagram.

    "Right then. That'll do for Melinoë, now for the dream."

    He carefully opens the box containing… Not a lot of dream powder, and taps the tiniest portion into a pestle in which he's crushed some flowers and seeds. He then carries it into the centre of the ritual space.

    "Any of you know anything about lucid dreaming?"

    "I know I've never really done it."

    Koriand'r shakes her head while Zagreus shrugs. "Gods don't dream in quite the same way that mortals do. My experience isn't relevant."

    "Alright, well, make yourselves comfortable anyway."

    I sit down, crossing my legs. Koriand'r copies me, while Zagreus stands at parade rest. John shrugs, then clicks his right middle finger against his right thumb, using sympathetic resonance to ignite the bowl. There's a puff of relatively normal smoke, then it… Becomes decidedly abnormal. It's.. twinkling, and there's a… Depth to the cloud that it clearly shouldn't have. It flows outward, almost reaching for John, Zagreus-. And Koriand'r. But apparently ignoring me.

    Ah.

    I don't want to mess this up because this ritual doesn't interact with my wards very well. I drop down my environmental shield and lean into the miasma as it flows past me. A… Slightly woody smell

    which… Oh, I… See. I

    blink and I'm almost completely back into the room. It's… Like I'm looking at their full emotional association network and… It takes me a moment to recognise what's happening now and what's past or imagined. Ordinarily I'd try to pull back, but I suppose-.

    I look at myself as.. the room falls away slightly. It's still there, but it's less… Relevant. I'm… Larger, glowing with the orange light and for a disturbing moment I'm not sure whether I'm looking though the Ophidian's eyes or my own.

    In Koriand'r I/we we see her think about/relive a training session on Okaara, an armoured figure serving as a sparring partner for her class. John sits at the feet of a master of some mystic art, listening keenly to his words. Zagreus guides an indistinct figure through a dense forest while I…

    No. Wait.

    The fighter turns to us. / The mystic turns to us. / The explorer turns to us.

    "I see what my brother/sister found interesting about you. In the world yet not entirely part of it."

    "Lord Dream." / "Morpheus"

    The fighter is watching the class run through katas while talking to us. / The mystic holds the jewel up to John's eyes. / The explorer offers a flask to us.

    "Why do you seek me?"

    "We appear to have mislaid Melinoë in your realm, and were hopeful that you could find her and return her to us."

    "Yes, her sudden presence could be… Disruptive. Do you offer anything for her safe return?"

    "What do you want?"

    The fighter shows Koriand'r how to dismantle and clean a gun. / The mystic passes a scroll to us. / The explorer extends a rope down to us.

    "There is something that you can do for me. During the period in which I was trapped on Earth, there was a man who made an unusual connection to my realm. He used his prophetic abilities to hunt criminals and named himself after me."

    "Wesley Dodds."

    Dead of a stroke over a decade ago. Alan's spoken to me about him a few times.

    "It has been brought to my attention that I do not always reward good service as I should. Wesley Dodds is now dead, but in his memory I would see some unfinished business attended to."

    "I'd be happy to do that anyway. What's the job?"

    "Wesley Dodds was unable to restore his adopted son Sanderson Hawkins to full health. Find him, and complete his work."



    I/we wasn't/weren't sure if that happened here. "I/we already looked for him."

    "You have more resources and allies to draw upon now than you did then."

    "Okay, if… You're telling me that he's definitely still around… I'll get right on it."

    The fighter strikes us and Koriand'r both, sending us tumbling to the floor. / The mystic exhales a pink mist. / The explorer pulls a lever and closes a stone door on us.

    And I snap awake, the mist gone and my colleagues pulling themselves upright.
     
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2020
  17. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    15th April
    06:42 GMT -5


    "Oh El? Training's not 'til, like… Nine.

    "Yes, Kid Flash, and I'm-"

    "Wait, what'd you call me?"

    "-sorry about that, but I'm in need of your expertise."

    "Okay. Ah. What's going on?"

    "You remember Sandman?"

    "Yeah? I mean, I don't remember-him remember him; he died when I was, like, five, but I know who you mean."

    "I have received information that his sidekick Sandy isn't dead."

    "I know we joke about it? But getting shot with radioactive sand usually just kills people. Or gives them cancer.. or something."

    "I know. I checked the statistics myself when I first came to this planet." Selection bias: the ones you hear about are the ones who live. The ninety nine point nine percent of people who get exposed to weird chemicals or magic or technology who just die don't make the same impact. "But you know how Sandman had prophetic visions?"

    "I know he said he did. Wait, he didn't get them from Apollo, did he? Because you said Apollo hates you."

    "No, not Apollo. Apparently what Sandman was dreaming… Was sort of leaking out of the dreams of criminals. I just had a chat with the being in charge of dreams and he wants us to rescue Sandy as a post-mortem 'thank you' to Sandman for using the power to do good."

    "Huh. Kinda… Late."

    "When talking to a being who can shape dreams and ideas as an act of will, even I had the sense not to point that out."

    "I guess that makes sense. What do you need my help for?"

    "Have you studied the chemicals Sandman used?"

    "I'm.. Kid Flash, not Kid Sandman."

    "Yes, I know."

    "Jay showed me his research a couple of times, but I couldn't-. Oh!"

    "Yes."

    "That's how he invented a perfect knockout gas that nobody's been able to replicate! Rgtrgtltmjt-."

    He's accelerating. I could have my ring play it back at audible speed, but it's actually faster to-

    "Okay, I'm headed to the Mountain now."

    -wait for him to realise.

    "Who's actually gunna be there?"

    "Blue Lantern, Wonder Woman, Red Tornado and whoever else is awake."

    "You not calling Jay?"

    "Flash One is even older than Blue Lantern and nothing like as regenerated."

    Where's Ian Karkull when you need him?

    "I'm not saying 'invite him along', I'm just saying he might know something."

    Fair point.

    "Is he going to be less annoyed about being phoned at seven o'clock in the morning by you or by me?"

    "He's probably up. He doesn't.. actually sleep all that well. I'll run there so the phone doesn't wake Joan up."

    "Right-oh. See you shortly."

    I close my left fist and sigh as Zagreus emerges from the thrush-corpse he used to create a personal portal to Erebos.

    "How did he take it?"

    "My father is concerned, but he does not blame you. Our mother… We had best do the bidding of Morpheus swiftly." His eyes narrow and he gives his head a small shake. "Assuming that he can even find her."

    "Why are you worried? He might not be omniscient, but his control of his own realm is pretty good."

    "And was his control 'pretty good' when those Mother Star creatures were eating entire species?"

    "Yes. Well, him or one of his predecessors."

    "And he did nothing to stop them?"

    "Zagreus, if there was some sort of apocalypse, most humans died and civilisation broke down completely, would you go back to Greece and teach the last few survivors how to hunt?"

    "You mean, even though they're Christian?" He considers for a moment. "Probably."

    "How about other places?"

    "Per.. haps..?"

    "You have a connection to Greece. Even now, over a thousand years after they stopped worshipping your family, you still feel it. Morpheus doesn't have a connection to anyone. The Mother Stars could have eaten everything with a mind in the universe and he wouldn't have cared, unless he considered himself to have an obligation to someone."

    "Hm." He considers for a moment. "Then if I am unsettled by his callousness, it would behove me to amend my own behaviour. Very well then. If disaster befalls the world, I will teach the survivors the skills of their ancestors."

    "Thank you."

    "And now I will attempt to hunt down our earthly quarry."

    "Okay, but if you find Sandy, don't approach. We have no idea what his mental state is."

    "I have stalked quarry before, you know."

    "I didn't mean to criticise your skills. I just want to make sure that we're on the same page."

    He nods, then turns away and takes off at a loping run.

    Okay.

    I transition to the Salem zeta tube, which Koriand'r appears to be fascinated by. John is in full Doctor Fate regalia, which…

    "John, are you grandfathered onto the League, or do you have to get nominated separately?"

    "I suppose it depends on how long they want to keep the cover-up going."

    "Grandfathered, then." He shrugs. "Well, let's get going. We've got a sidekick to rescue."
     
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2020
  18. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    15th April
    06:46 GMT -5


    "Recognized, Doctor Fate, two one, Orange Lantern, B zero six, Koriand'r, A six two."

    A few perturbed looks from my early-rising colleagues, but with John's clearly different outline and my lack of aggression they appear willing to let it lie. All the lifers are up and about, along with Artemis. I assume that Wallace phoned her. Diana gives me a smile while Alan mostly looks pensive.

    "Is it true?" Canis strides over, eyes wide and mouth grinning with excitement. "This man was turned into a sand monster sixty years ago and he has been in a state of torment ever since?!"

    "You're about to tell me that his pain must be exquisite and that you want to dedicate an artwork to it, aren't you?"

    "No! A full triptych! Perhaps more!" His gaze suddenly shifts to Koriand'r. "Ah, the tamaranean. Such a shame that I did not meet you at your most interesting."

    "You are Apokoliptian."

    "Born and raised!"

    Her face falls. "Even with everything I have experienced, I do not think that I would trade my life for yours."

    "I would not trade mine for yours, either." He shakes his head and rolls his eyes. "Aliens."

    "…sounds familiar to me, but I do not…" Angelika flies over. "Paul, I remember the Sandman of my Earth from Overman's records, but this… Sandy. I do not know him."

    Alan takes a slow breath. "Do I wanna ask?"

    "He survived the Conquest of America, and was a major figure in the resistance until nineteen sixty one."

    "I guess not many of us who were in the All-Star Squadron made out okay."

    "No, you… Did not."

    He waits for a moment, but she doesn't expand on it. "You may as well tell me."

    "You -and most of the more powerful members of the Squadron- died in Europe, during the early part of the invasion of Britain."

    He nods. "There's a Nazi wearing my ring now, isn't there?"

    "Yes… But… Like me, he was born long after the purges were complete. I do not know how… Nazi he is. Not for certain."

    "I'm sure you can have a talk with him about it when-"

    "Recognized, B zero three, Kid Flash, A six three, Jay Garrick."

    "-you go back. Morning, Jay!"

    Jay nods, and I'm slightly worried by the fact that he's wearing his costume. "Blue Lantern."

    "Ah heck, Jay, everyone here either knows or doesn't care."

    Wallace is carrying an age-worn journal, and immediately heads over to Garth and Tula. Mr Dodds supposedly got his education on the mystical somewhere in the Far East, but there are some fairly significant differences between Hindu and Taoist magic practices… Assuming that he didn't just run into a bunch of con artists. I don’t know if it will mean much to magic users trained in the Atlantean tradition, but I suppose it can't hurt to ask.

    I turn to Diana.

    "Are we ready to start?"

    She nods. "I believe so. Please, tell everyone what you have learned."

    I connect my ring to the training area's hologram system and call up an image of Mr Dodds in full costume.

    "This is Wesley Bernard Dodds, aka 'Sandman'. He was a founding member of the Justice Society and -during World War Two- a member of the All-Star Squadron."

    He quit almost immediately afterwards, his need to prevent his prophetic dreams becoming reality not really meshing well with government work. They let him go because they didn't particularly want a man who specialised in non-lethal takedowns. And I do mean 'non'; there's not a single recorded instance of anyone dying as a result of his gas gun.

    "And this-" I bring up an image that -should we find him- I'll endeavour to make sure never makes it onto the internet. "-was his sidekick, Sanderson Hawkins, aka Sandy-"

    Linda's eyes widen, and she splutter-laughs. Artemis and Wallace look like they're only just holding their laughter in as well.

    "-the Golden Boy, and that costume, A, wasn't that weird in the forties and B, have you seen Superman's costume lately?"

    I bring up an image of Superman's 'with pants' costume, and the bold colour choices and external underwear make the visual link obvious. Linda then looks down at her own costume, and I spot the change in her expression as her Noriel-thoughts take over. Kon raises his eyebrows at Artemis, who half-shrugs an apology.

    I dismiss the Superman hologram.

    "In nineteen forty five, there was an accident while they were testing a new silicon-based weapon. At this point, Sandman reported that his sidekick had been killed. But according to information I received this morning, what actually happened was rather different. Instead of simply dying, he allegedly underwent an extreme physiological change, becoming a frenzied silicon-based monster, and Sandman spent a good deal of effort both keeping him contained and trying to find a way to turn him back into a human."

    That prompts several frowns, but Alan's the one who voices their doubts.

    "How exactly does this source know about this? I never-" He looks around the small circle of Justice Society members. "-heard anything about this at the time."

    "I don't know for certain, but there's no obvious reason for Morpheus to lie about it. And he would certainly be in a position to know."

    M'gann raises her right hand. "Who is Morpheus?"

    "Lord L'Zoril." My eyes move to Canis and Noriel. "Dream of the Endless. Indirectly, the source of Sandman's prophetic visions. Unfortunately, he wasn't willing or able to tell me exactly where Sandy is, which means that we're checking as many possible locations as we can identify, and going through as many of Sandman's records as we can find."

    "And as for what happens when we find him, that depends on what sort of state he's in. Hopefully, our better understanding of magic and alchemy will allow us to revert him to his human form. Failing that, just restoring his reason will be a decent first step, because a man made of sand won't be the strangest thing any of us has seen."

    Wallace grimaces. "Yeah, no pressure."

    Kaldur nods. "Do we know how strong Sandy is in his current form?"

    "Not precisely. Immediately after his transformation he was subdued by a middle-aged man with an alchemical gas weapon, so I don't think we're talking about a world-beater here. But I don't have any more information on his peak abilities."

    "Could Morpheus not provide you with more information?"

    "With a being like that, I didn't want to press."

    I see their expressions.

    "Oh come on. I'm not that bad."
     
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2020
  19. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    15th April
    06:58 GMT -5


    The people of New York are reasonably well-accustomed to superheroic comings and goings. And while the Justice Society's old headquarters has been a museum for decades, it isn't open at this hour of the morning and so our arrival doesn’t arouse much in the way of attention.

    Jay puts his key in the lock and opens the outer door.

    "I haven't been back here in a while."

    Naturally enough, Wallace would have preferred to go with his grandmentor, but we all kind of need him to study the alchemical records we've gotten hold of so far. Diana's going to talk to Dian Dodds' grandnephew, who apparently is now the owner of what there is of the couple's stuff that wasn't donated to the museum. Including their house, which is one of the locations where they might have stashed Hawkins. Which is going to be very strange for the owner if she actually finds Sandy there.

    Other members of our team are making contact with old All-Star Squadron and JSA-era contacts and allies and looking into property owned by the Dodds family, directly or indirectly. The best place to stash someone like this would be a dramatically expanded basement under an old property held by a zombie trust. I did look for things like that early on, but after the three hundredth empty abandoned shack I stopped trying to locate all buildings like that in the US. Too much time, too little reward.

    Angelika looks around some of the exhibits in the entry hall with interest.

    "We have something similar in my Berlin."

    Jay doesn't appear to be taking news of 'his' death quite as phlegmatically as Alan did.

    "Trophies, you mean? Or do you have mementos from Nazi supersoldiers?"

    "Oh, both. But most of the pieces from the All-Star Squadron are recreations. Your deaths were usually violent enough that they did not leave bodies behind."

    Jay walks a little faster, and I give Angelika a glare.

    "Overgirl."

    "Is it not something to be proud of? That they fought so hard and for so long? I.. did not think that having pride in indefatigable will was a specifically National Socialist trait. I wasn't-." She turns to look at Jay. "I'm sorry, I wasn't trying to offend you."

    "No, I… Know. I suppose I should just be glad that I didn't get mind controlled by the Spear of Destiny."

    Angelika shakes her head. "I still cannot believe that such a thing actually worked. The-. Our Adolf Hitler threw out such superstitious people after Overman arrived on Earth. He wanted nothing to do with them."

    "Just because it sounds nonsensical, that doesn't mean it's not true. Case in point: all of us."

    "Alright, I may as well ask: how did I die?"

    "In America, in nineteen fifty. Originally, we thought that you died when Green Lantern did: during the invasion of Britain. But we did genetic tests on the body years later and confirmed that it was Jonathan Chambers and not you. There simply stop being confirmed reports of you appearing after nineteen forty seven, and after it was confirmed that it was Chambers had died we had no idea where you were. Even after the Conquest of America it took some time before we found out what happened to you."

    "So? What was it?"

    "We were never certain, but… Artillery based on kryptonian technology had.. devastated the Soviet Union. Fast as you are, it would have been easy for you to have been caught in a bombardment. You were found in a hospital. You killed two of the soldiers sent to apprehend you, but you could no longer move well enough to get away."

    "I guess that makes sense. A man would have to be faster than me to dodge all of the shrapnel from a heavy bombardment." He leads us through the public section of the museum towards the storage vaults. "Did anyone I know make it?"

    "American supersoldiers were killed after the Conquest. When they were found. By the seventies there were none left alive."

    "Of course there weren't." The vault requires another key, and code entered onto a keypad -Jay hesitates for several seconds as he tries to remember it- and a palm scan. "Did that include your version of Sandy?"

    "I… Don't remember. A lot of the bright costumes blur together after a while. If he didn't have any innate powers he probably wasn't considered important enough to record in detail."

    The door clanks open and we enter… What is essentially a medium sized basement warehouse with desks for the hardcore researchers. Most of the material here has been gone over dozens of times, though I suspect that the only person to do that recently is-

    Alert.

    -me… And Nylor Truggs, apparently. Because of course he'd come here. Not recent, and I can't detect any booby traps or anything like that. I wonder how he feels about golden age superheroes? They weren't responsible for the Earth's defeat in his future. And given that he never went after Jay for not sharing the speed formula I can only assume that he isn't directing his vengefulness in that direction.

    "Wesley's stuff is over that way." He points along one of the rows and up several shelves. Angelika nods and flies upwards to get it while Jay heads over to a weapon safe. "I'll pick up a couple of his gas canisters for Kid Flash."

    This is where I came to take a look at them, with Alan vouching for me with the trust that runs the place. I asked about the risk of keeping the perfect knockout gas here, and they pointed out that all of Sandman's old enemies are long dead and that frankly if it came to it they'd rather have a thief use knockout gas on people than a regular gun that they could buy in any town or city in the US.

    "Overgirl, you don't remember anything about a monster made of sand? Or earth?"

    I generate a construct pallet and she begins loading it with boxes.

    "Yes, there were several such creatures during the Pacification of Africa. I.. think that there were a few during the Conquest of America, but I don't remember the reports well enough to be of use. Minor supersoldier fights from the forties weren't required reading. Except for their biological relatives."

    Jay picks up the box containing one of Sandman's guns and several vials of compressed gas.

    "Biological-?" His face twists in distaste. "I can't believe that-. That any of their kids… Okay, maybe Miya would have had her reasons-."

    "No. I don't think that any of them betrayed their country. We used tissue samples -usually bone- to create clones or.. biological children. Particularly when we could not recreate augmentation formulae such as yours. Blitzen is your doppelgänger's biological daughter."

    I catch the box before it hits the floor.

    "God."

    Jay rests his hands on the safe and takes a moment to regain his equilibrium. He closes his eyes, regulates his breathing… No, no, he's not dying just yet. Jay and his wife were never able to have children and after… Their adopted son died of pneumonia, they decided to not worry about it anymore. Barry Allen is pretty much the son he never had, and Jay and Joan have become his parent-substitutes. But learning that he effectively has a Nazi daughter…

    "Overgirl, I think we've probably learned enough about your home parallel for the day."

    "Ah-?" She looks at Jay, then nods. "Yes. Of.. course."

    "Flash?"

    "I'm fine. Just a bit of a… Surprised." He shuts the safe and turns around. "Do we have everything?"

    "Yes."

    "Then let's get back to base so that the rest of the team can look this stuff over."
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2020
  20. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    15th April
    07:39 GMT -5


    Wallace blurs around his arcane laboratory, grabbing reagents mundane and exotic and bringing them to his mystically neutral mechanical grinder. The grinder rests on a Poseidonis-made thaumatic sensor. I'm not sure whether he ever followed through completely or not but when he put this setup together Wallace said that he wanted to test every conventional chemical reaction to see if there was a measurable thaumatic shift. The plan was to see if he could identify the causal relationships which makes some substances good for some things via magic mechanisms, rather than just noting them when they were stumbled upon by luck.

    Just because he's learning magic, that's no reason to abandon modernity or reason.

    He stops moving, leaning against the work bench as the grinder gets to work.

    "I.. dunno, Oh El. I can make a potion which helps with mental stability-"

    "Are you talking to Ted about that one?"

    "-but-. Ah, yeah, but it's more like it helps with extreme stress, not schizophrenia or anything really serious."

    "Targeting rich people with medical conditions created by their lifestyles and charging them through the nose for it: that's how to make money from the American healthcare system."

    "I'm not…" He frowns thoughtfully for a moment, then shakes his head. "Yeah, probably. But if this Sandy guy went crazy after getting exposed to radioactive sand… I mean, a healing potion might do something for the radiation? But after sixty years the radioactive particles should have decayed by now. I don't know much about how potions affect shapeshifters. I've got a potion to stabilise magic, I've got one that can drain magic or heal magic injuries, but if the radioactive sand activated his metagene that won't do anything."

    "It's been sixty years. No one's expecting you to come up with a solution in a few hours."

    He shakes his head.

    "Getting a solution might take another sixty years." He frowns faintly. "I guess…"

    "What?"

    "This must be what it was like for the first real scientists. Trying stuff out with no real idea why any of it was happening, or what it even made sense to look at. I mean, when Uncle Barry runs a test at his job he pretty much knows what he's looking for. The blood's either there or it's not. Chemicals either match or they don't. No one knows what radiological materials does to magic potions, because everything I've got-" He waves his right hand at some of his tomes. "-predates research on radioactive materials. Unless one of your gods-."

    The grinder stops and Wallace checks the thaum detector. Nothing. He grimaces in irritation, then opens the grinder and tips the ground product into a chemical waste bin.

    "Unless one of your gods feels like helping me out."

    "I think we need to know more about what's happened to Sanderson Hawkins before we try that sort of thing. Because while Hecate is the Goddess of Magic, the God of Healing is Apollo."

    He smiles faintly.

    "So who's the Roman God of-"

    "Wonder Woman to Orange Lantern."

    "-Healing?"

    "It's not her." I raise my left hand slightly. "Orange Lantern here, go ahead?"

    "We have found where Sandy was."

    "Was?"

    "It's a site Wesley owned in Philadelphia. The security guards have been entranced. Lord Fate has freed them, but we can't tell how long ago it happened or where he was taken."

    I actually.. checked there, but that was before I had any sort of facility for magic detection. I thought it was just a large walk-in freezer, but I only did a general scan and only stuck around long enough to confirm that there wasn't a sand monster there. I could easily have missed something.

    I need to tell her. It could be important.

    "It was empty as of a year and a half ago."

    "How do you know that?"

    Not accusatory, but certainly curious. Do I say I was suspicious of the official cause of death? Registering a death was a simpler affair back in the fifties, but none of the graveyards in the area they used to live had a Sanderson Hawkins buried there. At the time most members of the Justice Society were still involved with the All-Star Squadron, so it wasn't all that strange that they didn't attend the boy's funeral.

    Does it make sense that I would have been suspicious without prior knowledge? Alan certainly never said anything about it sounding odd. Sad, yes, but not suspicious. Testing schizo tech weapons is a dangerous business. I don't want to say anything that makes it harder for us to find Mr Hawkins but at the same time I don't want to sound suspicious.

    "Early on, I went on a tour of places I thought might contain Justice Society relics. I knew that people sometimes trip over other people's equipment…"

    True and misleading. It should get around her ability to hear truth.

    "I looked there, briefly. Just a long range scan… No Sandy or Sandman-related equipment."

    "That will help narrow it down. Though it does raise more concerns about your kleptomaniacal behavior."

    She sounds amused. Respond in kind.

    "I consider it a job skill. Do you need me anywhere?"

    "No. Remain in the Mountain and assist Kid Flash. We will call you if we need you."

    "Rightoh. I assume that you'll be tracking him with magic?"

    "We tried. Fate's efforts to scry his location met with failure. He thinks they used the magic of the Dreaming, but since he used all of his sand when he made contact with Morpheus he lacks a focus."

    Not too surprising. John Quinn may have the Helmet but he isn't a Lord of Order. He can't just muscle his way past defensive spells.

    Okay… Who'd have a reason to abduct Hawkins? Not the government, because they'd have better options. It was only really Sandman and Dian Belmont who knew he was there… And… Would entities from the Dreaming know about it via Sandman? Odin knew about him in that Sandman comic I read… It's a place to start, I suppose.

    "It might be worth asking Fate to try detecting Dreaming-based magic in general. If he's not having any luck with direct detection. There are only so many ways that anyone could have known where he was, and if someone had found him accidentally they'd probably have told someone."

    "I'll pass that on. Is Kid Flash with you?"

    I hold out my left hand in his direction.

    "Kid Flash here. No real progress yet, but I'm still working on it. If you can get… I dunno, maybe whatever gun it was that started his transformation, that could help."

    "I will try. Continue with your work as best you can."

    He nods. "Sure thing."

    "Wonder Woman out."

    I lower my ring.

    "Making some progress."

    Wallace thinks for a moment.

    "You know where I could get any kind of reagent related to the Dreaming?"

    "Actually… Yes."
     
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2020
  21. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    15th April
    12:48 GMT


    Robert half-closes his eyes for a moment, then shakes his head.

    "Yeah, I can feel it."

    The manor of Fawney Rig hasn't changed since last time I was here. There's a party of Chinese tourists walking the grounds, but they're almost immediately more interested in Robert, Wallace and me than in the location. To most people it's just the base of operations of a group of mystical rip-off merchants who were briefly a thing in the seventies and eighties. I'd say something, but the absolute last thing the universe needs is anyone else trying to trap the Endless. It was hard to see on a country-by-country basis, but when I looked at the statistics worldwide his imprisonment killed thousands of people who went to sleep and never woke up… Or woke up and lost the ability to sleep.

    I haven't tried looking at the same period on other planets.

    Wallace frowns as I pay for our entry and we head towards the house.

    "Are you serious about this? This… Endless guy was trapped here for seventy years, and there aren't any… I don’t know, magical barriers here?"

    "The only heavy-duty bound spell was the one keeping him imprisoned. Otherwise, it was all minor stuff. While it worked."

    Robert nods. "Yeah. It feels weird, but it's a background weird."

    Wallace nods uncertainly as we enter the house. "So how come no one else spotted this sand stuff?"

    "The man who owned the place before the National Trust bought it didn't believe in magic. The only reason he kept the set up downstairs in one piece was so that he had something impressive-looking to show potential 'investors'. I still don't think that anyone who actually knows anything about magic has made it safe."

    Wallace stops. "What?"

    "Oh, no, no." Robert shakes his head. "Dad told me. They got someone called Cursitor Doom to check the place over in the eighties. Should be alright."

    "But we're relying on it not being alright, right?"

    I lead the way towards the basement.

    "Dream sand is only dangerous in high concentrations. And even then, actual dream manifestations require long term exposure." I take a warded gas mask out of subspace and offer it to him. "It shouldn't be a problem anyway, but just in case…"

    He takes it from me and looks at it for a moment.

    "Kid Sandman, here we come."

    He puts it on over his face, fiddling with it in a vain attempt to make it comfortable. I have no idea how Wesley Dodds managed for so many years.

    "So how are we finding this stuff?"

    "I scanned the sand that Fate had." I lead the way down the stairs into the basement. "And while my ring couldn't make sense of the exotic aspect, it gave me a pretty clear reading on the 'sand' part. So all I've got to do is scan for that sand, and we should have it."

    Robert frowns. "I thought they took his stuff off him as soon as he got here."

    "Yes, but it was in the building for years. If he spilled some inside the circle, or they spilled some in the house somewhere, I should be able to find it."

    "Ugless they were having some building work done."

    "Sand isn't just sand. I can distinguish between the molecular structure of that sand and the stuff that's used in the local buildings."

    I step out into the basement and walk a little way around the room, letting the others come in. Robert looks fascinated, though I'm not sure how much of that is due to the history of the place and how much to whatever his arcane senses are telling him. Wallace-.

    "Oou really couldn't put a throat mike in this thing?"

    "It would be an extra point of weakness and complexity. Ring, find me some sand."

    Orange light washes outward, covering the inner surfaces of the room. And like a disclosing tablet, colour pools in particular areas of the room. Nooks and crannies in the stone floor, the walls, the tapestries and the stairs. Not a lot really, but worth noting.

    I make a pulling gesture with my left hand and it comes, flying through the air and coming to rest in a small construct box. No, not a lot, but perhaps we can do something with it.

    "Stuff dreams are made of." Robert frowns. "What happened to the woman who was using it?"

    "She starved to death." I shrug. "Sort of. She only lasted as long as she did because she spent so much time in the Dreaming, but her body was a mess when she finally died."

    One last strobe around reveals nothing, and I turn to leave.

    "And what happened to her house?"

    "Her father's brother got it in his will, and he sold it. The family who moved in ended up having bizarre waking dreams, galloping nightmares, believing they were other people, all sorts of weird stuff. There was a nasty legal battle over the sale which ended with the bank repossessing it. They couldn't sell it, a few people tried squatting there which resulted in it being burned down. It's a grass field, now. There's no way we're getting any sand from there."

    I fly back up the stairs, tiny quantities of dream sand making themselves known as I go. I… Vaguely remember Morpheus dosing a few people with sand during his escape, but after this long I doubt that I'll get more than a few grains anywhere which isn't somewhere where he did that. Probably just the bedroom of the former owner, Alex Burgess.

    "…supposed to help us find him?"

    Robert and Wallace follow me back up, Wallace shaking his head.

    "Fate can use it as a focus for a spell to detect other people using dream magic. It's not something a lot of magicians use, so it should show us where to look. I wanna see if I can use it alchemically. If this stuff can make anything I can imagine real, I might be able to make a potion to fix Sandy."

    "You think so?"

    "This… Something like this needs a real expert. But there aren't any. There's some people who use scientific equipment to do alchemy, but there's no one who's actually studied it scientifically. So it's not like when Tempest and Aquagirl do a whole lot of math to work out how their spells should go; this is basically… Guessing."

    He grimaces under his mask.

    "Hey, Oh El: Sandy didn't ever get the same kinda dreams that Sandman did, did he?"

    "Not as far as I know."

    Based on sources that I've found here and based on the handful of Justice Society of America comics I read with him in them. Mostly what I remember of that is him complaining about how libidinous everyone had become since the forties and then getting into a fight with Hawkman over Hawkgirl.

    "No, that would be too easy."

    We continue through the house until we get to the bedroom. They've redecorated it to look how it did during the heyday of The Order of Ancient Mysteries, but… Yes, a decent amount of sand lurks under the carpet. Probably a good job that no one tried sleeping here since Alex died.

    I hold up the small construct box with even less sand than John had. And I'm not completely sure that it is all dream sand.

    "I think this is all we're getting. Time to head back."
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2020
  22. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    15th April
    07:59 GMT -5


    The magic detector lights up like a Christmas tree. A small and flat Christmas tree.

    Wallace's eyes widen as he picks up the flask and swirls it around, watching the tiny sparkles within.

    "I.. think it's a universal catalyst. It literally makes everything… More. And.. if the.. Dreaming is the source of magic, that makes a lot of sense." He turns to me. "How much you got left?"

    I hold up the construct box, and its maybe three pinches of dream sand.

    Wallace exhales disappointedly.

    "You don't think that Morpheus guy would sell me more of it, do you?"

    "He might. But he wouldn't want just money in return."

    "Okay, what would he want?"

    "Shakespeare gave him a play in exchange for making sure that his plays lived on after him. Which explains why people still study them here, though I've got no idea why they do it back on Earth Prime."

    He frowns faintly. "I wanted to ask: how come your Earth gets to be Earth Prime?"

    "You'd have to ask President Lex Luthor on Earth negative fourteen. And… If you do, it's probably best not to mention me."

    He begins preparing the next mixture.

    "You didn’t get anything on 'why'?"

    "I only saw his early notes, but to him my home Earth looked like it didn't quite fit in with the system the others established. It looks like he referred to it as 'prime' in a couple of places because he thought that it might be the 'original' parallel from which others divided, but he didn't really do any work on it."

    And I think someone would have noticed a man dressed like an owl fighting a man dressed like a bat next to a giant bomb.

    "So why not 'Earth One'?"

    "Because he used negative numbers for some of them, so he'd have 'one', the defining article, and 'negative one', which was different but didn't mirror it."

    "So… Is it?"

    "How would I know? He stopped focusing on it when he couldn't open a portal to it. It was really just a guess about a parallel that didn't fit, anyway." I smile. "Did you know that the Amazons don't consider 'one' to be a number?"

    "What?"

    "It's not all that much stranger than modern mathematicians not considering 'one' to be a prime number because it doesn't fit a pattern the others do."

    "Ah, yeah it-"

    A golden ankh appears in the air close to us.

    "-is."

    John steps through and holds his right hand out towards my sand box. "Mind if I take that?"

    I fabricate a normal box in place of my construct and pass it to him. "Does Wonder Woman want the rest of us to come along?"

    "She doesn't want to crowd him by bringing everyone. Do you think your empathic manipulation will work?"

    "It.. should." I shrug. "With a novel life form I can never be completely sure."

    He nods. "You're in. Kid Flash, will your potion work?"

    "It's a super-wellness potion. It should help with just about anything, but like Oh El says…"

    "Welcome to magic, kid."

    "That's not much of an excuse. I'm sure I'll get there; I'm just not there yet."

    "I like your optimism, Kid. Let's get going before Wonder Woman starts to think we got lost."

    He steps back through, and… Huh. I haven't been through one of these before. Wallace walks through just ahead of me, and…

    I hesitate. I could just teleport mys-.

    No. No. Just do it. I step through and-

    -u-ugh-

    -out.. again. John's head whips around to stare at me as the ankh wobbles and then collapses.

    "Maybe you should-" / "Maybe I should-" / "-teleport yourself-" / "-teleport myself-" / "-next time." / "-in future."

    I'm really not orderly.

    John waves his hands, causing the dirt on the… Car park we emerged onto to form the runic symbols he needs to run this ward-bypassing trace spell. Wallace steps closer to me.

    "You knew Morpheus had been there for a while, right?

    "Yes."

    "So why didn't we go there right away? Like, last year or something?"

    "You remember what happened to Rachel Mathers?" He hesitates, then nods. "Dealing with the Dreaming is dangerous, and the place is poorly understood. It's a case of 'if there's another option, do that first'."

    "…and a pinch of the good stuff-"

    John tosses a tiny amount of sand into the air.

    "-to make it real."

    A door, like a slightly more cartoonish version of the little card doors that come with the old Heroquest game, appears in front of him.

    "Huh."

    Diana steps up to it. "This will take us to him?"

    "I'm not sure. Something odd is going on. I was just expecting directions. But…" He shrugs. "Dream magic isn't my focus. This doesn't necessarily mean that it's a trap. This could be what's supposed to happen."

    "Do you know what we will find?"

    "It's on Earth, and wherever it is acts a bit like the Dreaming. A demigoddess like you should be fine, I'll be fine with this helmet on and Orange Lantern will be fine. Everyone else should stay back for now."

    "Very well." Diana takes hold of the door's ring-shaped handle. "Follow me."
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2020
  23. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    15th April
    08:04 GMT -5


    She pulls open the door.

    "Sandy? It's Diana."

    Because even if he is a sand monster, I'm sure that she stuck in his adolescent mind even if nothing else has.

    The.. corridor on the far side is broad, with lines of plinths on either side. Atop each plinth is an object. Some are simple and unremarkable: a three-eyed teddy bear, an unusually large wrench resting atop a thick metal cog and a chocolate cake topped with cherries and a single candle. Others are strange: a worm with no beginning or end, a ray of light with no source and a mobile pile of wood shavings constantly throwing itself against the side of its glass case.

    Diana's already strode halfway down the corridor. John steps through the door after her, taking a moment to wave an ankh at the exhibits. He twists his ankh as he passes the shavings, grasping the upright piece and slamming the loop into the case and shattering it. The shavings leap free and flow across the floor, rustling around John and Diana and turning left as it reaches the end of the corridor.

    John nods. "Kid Flash, I think it's safe enough. Someone's building a temple to their own ego."

    I go through next, Wallace just behind me. John's eyes narrow inside his helmet as the door tries to close on us and raises his hands towards it, bringing it to an immediate halt with a golden ankh embossed on the wood.

    Diana glances back. "Doctor Fate, do we need to follow that?"

    "No, I just don't like seeing it in prison." He turns his attention to me. "Where do you think we should go?"

    "This is a dream we have no stake in. We end it." I point to the closest wall. "We smash through there until we hit something important."

    He snorts with amusement. "That might work, but there's an easier way."

    He brings his hands together in front of him, generates a large ankh and stabs the upright into the floor. Golden light flows away from the point of impact, glowing through the tiny gaps in the brickwork as it spreads throughout the structure.

    "Why go to them, when we can bring them to-"

    The wall I pointed at explodes! A muscular green-skinned humanoid lunges out of the hole and swings its right fist at John!

    "-us?"

    Diana's there, blocking the attack with her bracers! The creature hesitates, frowning in apparent surprised that she could stop him. Super strength, probably, and not familiar with Wonder Woman. She takes advantage of the opening to slam her right fist into.. his? Jaw, sending him staggering back.

    "Explain yourself, creature! Why have you taken Sandy!?"

    "I don't answer to you, Olympian!" He grabs the teddy bear from the plinth and swings it at her, the creature swelling to a huge size and enveloping her. "I don't answer to anyone any more!"

    The bear comes to life, baring down on Diana with soft fur and padding! She can't just smash it aside as it can just soak up her strikes!

    "Dreamkin." John raises his arms at it but doesn't hit it yet. "You shouldn't be up and about by yourself."

    "I can if I can."

    Wallace crouches slightly to prepare to throw himself into the fray but I shake my head and point to the hole. He nods, then dashes through with me flying quickly after him.

    On the other side there's a.. black abyss, with only a narrow stretch of floor between exit and entry point. We both pass through it in a moment, coming out into… A richly-appointed throne room. There are two thrones on a dais, one intended for a large humanoid while the other is a sort of.. high chair. It's occupied by a… Squig with arms? The other points of interest in the room are two large glass cases, one occupied by a writhing pile of sand and the other occupied by… A Star Hunter with grey skin matching the tone of Melinoë's skin.

    "How'd you get in-?"

    A mage slayer round punches through each glass enclosure, sand spilling out at once. The starfish settles for glaring monoptically at me.

    "Hey, cut that out!"

    "Ah." Wallace slows to a stop and the sand begins piling up. "Sandy, right? Sanderson Hawkins? We haven't met, but-."

    The sand clenches, shrinking down slightly as it takes humanoid shape. No, not 'humanoid'. Human, a slightly older copy of Sandy, outline of his dodgy costume and all. Rendered in sand of course; no colour other than browney-yellow. Still, that suggests purpose which means that he isn't mindless.

    "Flash."

    "Kid Flash, but, yeah. Ah, hi?"

    "EXCUSE ME!" The squig rises up on its weirdly thin legs and waves a whistle in its right hand. "No one breaks into my house and BREAKS MY PROPERTY!"

    He moves the whistle to his lips and I tear it from his hand with a construct.

    He blows his fingers, then realises that something isn't right.

    "Huh?"

    "Sandy, who is this?"

    "Thut-." His throat shifts as he tries to regain the ability to enunciate. "That is Glob. It's some sort of dream… Creature."

    "Good show. Brand."

    "What-?"

    The filament tags him in the forehead, and… I feel little to no resistance as I take control and… Change his operating desire from 'create hoard from the dreams of everyone he can reach' to 'release everything he's taken, then report to Morpheus'.

    "Ah, hey, I made this potion." Wallace holds it out to Sandy. "I'm.. not sure what's going on, but it should help with the 'sand monster' thing."

    Sandy grimaces.

    "I had to learn how to control a body made of sand. I was never a monster."

    "Ah." Wallace's eyes widen slightly for a moment. "Okay. I don't.. really know.. what to say-."

    A three-eyed teddy head flies through the gap in the wall and hits Melinoë's container.

    "If he doesn't need it, could you give it to her?" I nod at the starfish. "She appears to be stuck."

    The eye narrows as Diana drags the green fellow through the hole, bound in her lasso.

    "Sandy." She lands, looking him over. "You're alive."

    "W-wonder Woman?" He shakes his head. "How.. long was I in..?"

    Lasso wrapped around her left forearm she walks forward and embraces him. He doesn't hug her back, instead remaining in the exact posture he occupied before she touched him.

    "Ah." Wallace stands in front of Star Melinoë. "Do you have a mouth..?"

    She turns-. And she's got the small Star Conqueror's toothy mouth on her reverse surface. Wallace cautiously leans into her enclosure and pours his potion into it, her teeth clacking together in response. A healing potion shouldn't do much to an Olympian, but combined with a little dream dust…

    Her outer surface undulates for a moment and then snaps back into the form I know.

    Okay, Sandy and Melinoë rescued, two Dreamkin in temporary custody before we hand them over to Morpheus. I think this mission is complete, though Sandy will need a lot of help in the next few months and I want to talk to Melinoë about what just happened.

    Then the squig claps its hands and the room around us evaporates.
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2020
  24. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    16th April
    17:12 GMT -6


    I take a sip of water from the glass on the coffee table next to me, and then sit back slightly in my chair.

    "So, mission over? No one injured, no one.. even arrested, objective accomplished?" I shake my head. "No. And if any of you still think that a vigilante's job is that simple, then you need to go back and do the workshops again."

    There's a small amount of laughter from the crowd at this convention of would-be superheroes the Alliance of the Just put together. The costumes range from professional to pyjama, the armaments ridiculous to disturbing and the attitudes serious to role playing. Mr Edge has done a… Well, I don't really have anything to compare it to. This is the biggest gathering of superheroes… And, alright, 'superheroes', that I'm aware of ever happening, and he appears to be trying to get them to moderate their ambitions. They're not exactly shy about the still-high death rate for novice vigilantes, but… It can't be all doom and gloom.

    Which is why I'm here.

    "No. Nothing ever ends. Sandy spent sixty years either alchemically drugged and frozen by his mentor who was under the mistaken belief that he was a rabid monster or locked in a glass case by dream creatures. None of his surviving relatives have ever met him and his friends are either old or dead."

    Which, naturally, means that we got a new team mate, because where else was he going to go?

    "Which means that between his well intentioned contemporaries and the handful of aged or unageing superheroes he actually recognises, we've got to bring him up to speed on everything he missed and help him work out what he wants to do with his life. And that's going to be a long term ongoing thing. But the more immediate concern was the local police. Because it turns out that the warehouse the Dreamkin had converted was in Arkansas, and the police there didn't want to simply deport them back to the Dreaming."

    "Now, perhaps you're wondering why the two Justice League members we had on hand didn't simply use their charter authority to resolve the situation as they saw fit? The answer to that is basically the same as the one that Mister America and Ms Longacre have been trying to beat into your heads since the start: good relations with police organisations are very helpful. And while it's true the League's charter means that police are in theory obliged to share information, it's amazing what gets misplaced or forgotten if people think you're being high-handed."

    "Perhaps more importantly, countries don't like foreigners interfering in their internal affairs. If the Justice League throws its weight around outside of an emergency it's not just the local police who complain, it's heads of state. And… What happened was kind of my fault. You may remember that last year I was one of the primary campaigners behind a law called the Citizenship Recognition Act. And while I mostly intended it to apply to artificial intelligences and aliens… I got a law that also applies to -for example- demons. I.. suppose it's nice that demons get due process as well, but it can be rather inconvenient. In this case, where we'd rather have sent the Dreamkin back to the Dreaming… The police were right to want to arrest them."

    "And -respect to them- the Arkansas State Police do actually have magic suppression manacles. And got them to us in under two hours, whereupon they were not happy for me to tell them that they'd wasted their effort because they weren't designed to work on Dreamkin. And this is where we run into another problem highly qualified vigilantes have: you know more than the people who officially have power. Because it turns out that after Swamp Thing occupied Gotham City the Arkansas state legislature redrafted their laws concerning hostile magic users. Unfortunately, they did so without any real understanding of what they were doing or any direct input from people who did. As far as the police knew, putting the manacles on meant that there wasn't a problem any more, and the fact that I was one of the people who developed them and knew exactly what they could and couldn't do didn't carry as much weight as their procedural manual."

    "So their Chief of Police spent about half an hour arguing with me and.. then Icon, about how to handle the situation, until eventually the state governor got involved and had to write the Dreamkin a pardon for any and all crimes on the condition they leave the country immediately. Which was technically legal and produced the result we wanted. But is probably not an option that's going to be available to you in the field."

    "A good working relationship with authorities is the difference between a successful prosecution and a case collapsing. Or you getting arrested yourself. It's the difference between people listening to you when you say you know better and them ignoring you and people being hurt or killed as a result. But I digress. Doctor Fate stayed behind to make sure that the site was safe, Wonder Woman and the other former members of the Justice Society took possession of Sandy and I escorted Melinoë back to Erebos where Queen Persephone gave me the third degree about my relationship with her daughter."

    "The rest of the day was spent explaining the American criminal justice system to Princess Koriand'r, including a tour of a selection of courts and prisons."

    I lean forwards.

    "And without wishing to sound too conceited, none of what you're going to be doing will be anything like any of that. What you'll mostly be doing is patrolling around your neighbourhood, because knowing that crime will be fought is a good way to make committing crimes unappealing. The next most common thing will be petty thefts and common assaults where working out which belligerent party was the instigator will be difficult or impossible. If you're fortunate you may use your first aid skills to treat the injured and they live because of the help you gave them. And if you're really unlucky you'll see murder victims with horribly injured bodies. I've done that, and police do it, and medics do it, so I'm afraid that if you do stay the course it's more a matter of 'when' than 'if'."

    "Being a paramilitary vigilante is not romantic or fun. I'm part of a group that's about as skilled, experienced and knowledgeable as superheroes get and we had to work out how to handle that as we went along. Being hopelessly out of your depth when lives are on the line is not a good position to be in. But not only are you unlikely to be in the sort of position I was in yesterday, your friends and family? The people you got into superheroism to help? They're unlikely to be in danger as a result of that sort of thing. Someone shot by a criminal is something like ten thousand times more likely to be shot with a conventional firearm than a ray gun. A robbery from your neighbourhood bric-a-brac shop is more likely to be a drug addict looking for something they can fence than a tomb robber searching for a magic amulet. And robbery? That is something you can learn to deal with that will have a measurable positive effect on your local community."

    "So, yeah, that's what I've been doing this week." The original questioner has long since sat down, but I make momentary eye contact and give him a nod. Looks like the male/female ratio hasn't changed much. "Next question?" A few hands go up and I pick one at random. "Lady in the pink costume?"

    She stands up as a boom microphone makes its way over to her.

    "So, like, what are you doing next week?"

    "Whatever fate throws at me. But if you mean scheduled activities…"

    17th April
    18:32 GMT -5


    There's a thud and then my power armour spins as Artemis kicks off my cuirass, sending me hurtling across the desert. I just about see her making a sand-cushioned controlled landing of her own before I bounce off a dune like a skipping stone and embed myself in the next one along in a shower of sand, sandstone and stone.

    Super strength sparring. Super muscle versus powered muscle.

    I draw my arms back and punch, the ground exploding beneath me and I briefly leave the ground. Over to my left I catch sight of Beryl using her mini-mech's kinetic cannons to teach Kon the value of friction while a good distance behind me Richard tries to work out where William's hiding before he manages another ambush.

    Artemis tried to hit me mid-jump again, but this time I grab her leg and twist, throwing her off course. I let go before she can grapple me and watch as she makes a hole next to mine as I land.

    And then I charge.
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2020
  25. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    16th April 2011
    08:48


    I regard the 'were-chipmunk' as it regards me. A curious creature; it puts me in mind of something that might have existed in a Beatrix Potter book as reinterpreted by Tim Burton. It's got the cute little jacket and scarf combined with eyes that no natural creature should have and razor sharp teeth just a little too large to hide behind its gums.

    "I have an appointment with King Jamie. If you would be so good as to escort me?"

    The creature flicks its strangely lion-like tail as it contemplates me.

    "I wonder if you're a farmer?"

    "Not by preference, and I wasn't much good at it."

    "You can understand me?" I n-. "You can understand me!"

    "I can understand any form of spoken or written communication. Now-?"

    It lunges for my right leg and attempts to scramble up, but my environmental shield allows it no purchase. Instead it slips down, falling over and then rolling back onto its hind paws.

    "I don't think that King Jamie would appreciate me being late."

    "I was only made with short legs-. Oh! You should have seen how quickly some of the others used to run and leap!"

    Having watched every visual record of their activity, I know it perfectly well. Home videos and strike team recordings that leaked out. Even security camera records from the businesses inside Ellisburg. The children of 'Nilbog' didn't do all that much damage to the infrastructure of the town, and quite a lot was recoverable. He loved his children. He loved making children. He didn't care a whit for his fellow humans, and I've seen it argued each way whether that was because of his power or just how he was anyway.

    "Allow me."

    I create a construct plane, designed to look like one of the comically misshapen ones that you used to be able to pay 50p to ride at the front of a supermarket. The.. creature stares at it in absolute admiration for a second before leaping and landing head first in the seat. The propeller starts up as it twists into a sitting position, and then it grabs the steering column.

    It has a few false starts, but it still takes less than a minute before it understands the control system well enough to fly us through the abandoned fields surrounding the town proper. I think that King Jamie was attempting some sort of 'mystic forest' thing here, but his talents don’t actually make trees grow any faster. Or perhaps the problem is a lack of personal discipline? I know that further into town there's an area where he appeared to be attempting to recreate the yellow brick road of Wizard of Oz fame. Sadly for his Scarecrow simulacrum he has no more knowledge of pottery than he does of arboriculture.

    I see a few of the Goblin King's children as I fly after-.

    "You haven't told me your name."

    "Oh no, sir. Giving ones name to the fae is a terrible idea, they can make you do all sorts of things."

    "You do understand that I'm not a fae creature, yes?"

    "You must be, sir? Or else why would you be here?"

    "As a foreign diplomat attempting to negotiate."

    The creature turns its head, apparently disappointed by my reply. Or perhaps that I replied to what was supposed to be a rhetorical Cheshire Cat paraphrasing?

    I reach down to my equipment harness and pull out an iron horse shoe. That seems to mollify it.

    "My name is Hunca Munca, yes it is! What is yours?"

    "I might not be a fae creature, but you definitely are."

    It grins.

    As we approach the town hall it.. veers off, turning its toy plane down another road and towards… A playing ground which is being fully enjoyed by the locals. Creatures like my guide, midget animals who went for cute and fell far short. Others look like miniature demons, gremlins and gargoyles. I think perhaps that I'm too familiar with goblins from Warhammer to recognise that mythological goblins had far more varied appearances.

    And the man I'm here to see, dressed like a cross between a court jester and Slenderman. His people have built him a platform atop the climbing frame, and a couple of heavy wooden chairs have been stuck together with the adjoining arm rests removed to create something that can serve as his throne. His eyes are sufficiently altered that I can't tell where he's looking.

    Hunca Munca flies up to the top of the climbing frame and leaps out of the plane, landing at its creator's feet and prostrating itself.

    "Oh mighty King Nilbog! I come, with the ambassador!"



    I've only just realised that his name is 'goblin' backwards.

    I dismiss the construct, land at the base of his climbing frame and bow.

    "Your majesty. I thank you for receiving me."

    "Mm. And what do I call you? And who do you work for?"

    I straighten up. "My title is Lord Protector. And I work for myself."

    "Are you a king?"

    "No."

    "It's a very grand-sounding title, for a man who says that he isn't a king."

    "There was some suggestion that after I reunified Thundera I might take the title, but I decided against it. It is my opinion that once a community reaches a certain size, it isn't wise to have every decision be made by a single individual. I guard the state. I do not control it."

    His face… Sort of squishes.

    "You think I'm a tyrant, do you? You dare accuse me of keeping my children as slaves?!"

    "Not at all, your majesty. The affection you feel for them is obvious. It is simply that the political community I guard will outlive me, while your children are dependent on you and your abilities. Were I to claim the title of king I would be lying, where as you are simply describing your situation accurately."

    "Hmm." He settles down slightly. "What do you want, Ambassador Lord Protector? What boon do you ask of me?"

    "I wish to trade. My people have recently undergone a revolution in farming technology. Not only do we have a surplus of farming equipment to exchange, we also have a surplus of farm animals. I understand that you have consumed all of the animals within your territory for resources."

    I don't have Orange Prime's empathy, but I can hardly miss his reaction to that.

    "And as a personal gift…"

    I take a pile of books on farming techniques out of subspace and… Ah. There isn't really anywhere to put-.

    A moleman ambles up and holds out his large fore claws. I hand them to him.

    "This should enable some of your children to set up the farms you will need to ensure the long-term viability of your s-. Kingdom."

    He shifts in his seat. Oh yes, the reports made it clear that his people skills weren't very good but even he knows that he shouldn't seem too eager.

    "And what do you want in return?"

    "When I first came to Thundera, its people were starving. For now, it is enough to know that your people won't be. But if you will agree to meet me again in a year, perhaps we could discuss a longer term agreement?"
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2020
  26. Threadmarks: Otherworld
    Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Otherworld

    I have no idea
    Where I am


    Elves.

    Elves. Okay.

    Because… Sure. Why wouldn't there be elves?

    The black and purple combined with pierced heart, skull and thorny vine iconography makes me think 'Warhammer Dark Elf', but really those are generic enough that it's not really proof.

    And I need to keep myself calm and focused on the outcome that I want because the one thing the brief fight I just had taught me is that this ring doesn't like me being afraid. Fear gets me shot with repeating crossbow bolts and I don’t want that again.

    On the deck of the ship just in front of me the crew kneel bound and gagged by glowing orange chains. If this is the Warhammer world, these would be corsairs, and… The cloaks do rather.. suggest…

    Once I've dealt with this, I'll… Go and check.

    I half-turn, taking in the fishing village they were in the process of raiding. A few wooden boats pulled up onto the shore. Wattle and daub houses with thatch roofs. A couple of the houses have visible timber frames, but this clearly isn't wealthy enough or close enough to a good quarry for stone buildings. Not sure why there aren't clay bricks…

    The people here were scarpering as I arrived, the fastest making it to the tree line while the slowest were hit with bolts from the probably-corsairs. The bolts haven't actually pierced them anything like as deeply as I thought they would, and since the aim was to take slaves… Some sort of drugged tip? Since this is my first day as a… A Lantern, I decided not to take a chance on wound repair and leave the bolts where they were after moving the wounded into one of the houses.

    No one has reappeared since I defeated the attackers. Which makes sense; they probably think I'm a daemon.

    But what happens next? This place is clearly too small to have a military presence. It certainly doesn't have a prison. Don't… The Bretonnians have a Knight of the Realm in every village or something? So this probably isn't Bretonnia, but those are definitely pale-skinned humans lying on the shore. So… What? Empire? Border Princes?



    Did they..? Have a coast?

    Oh, it.. doesn't matter.

    Right. The pirates. Mixed sex crew, but with the males outnumbering the females. The man with the fancy armour is probably the captain, and the woman in the leather bikini who threw what I suspect was a doombolt at me is a sorceress. Given that they're a) pirates and b) completely evil, I should… Probably just kill them.



    I'm an ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT! Last time I got in a fight with someone it lasted about ten seconds and we went our separate ways! And I don't even remember the time before that!

    Okay. I need to.. find out what's going on.

    Deep breath.

    I remove the gag from the captain. He doesn't immediately respond, simply staring at me. I drift a little closer and a couple of my prisoners use the opportunity to test their bonds oh no you don't.

    "Are you lost, little daemon?"

    "Yes. Dreadfully." I float into a sitting position. I'm… Going to have to kill them. That's-. I mean, I know the physical act of killing isn't particularly complicated or difficult, but…

    Ring, what sort of person am I looking at?

    The ring shows me-. Augh. His satisfaction at lashing slaves, breaking their will and watching them suffer and die by inches. I turn my head a little and see that the rest aren't much different. The only real difference is that some don't have his patience and want to hurt and kill the thing right in front of them immediately.

    I think I can bear killing these people.

    "So I've got a deal for you."

    His face remains impassive. "State it."

    "I'm afraid that I'm rather against piracy and slavery."

    "That is the advantage of being in a position of power; you may do as you like to those weaker."

    I.. nod. "You're not wrong. Still, I'll give you a choice between three options. The first is: I kill you. I will endeavour to make it as swift and painless as possible. The second is: I hand you over to whoever represents the local judicial system. I imagine that will most likely result in your death in a way that is less swift and painless, but the option is there if you wish to die in accordance with local law. The third option is: I rewrite your personality with the orange light so that you're not… Evil."

    His eyebrows go up very slightly, then his eyes dart for an instant to the sorceress.

    I suppose it makes sense that this would be outside of his wheelhouse. I remove her muzzle.

    "Be warned, sorceress, that if you attempt to use magic upon me I will take that as you choosing option one."

    She looks at me with a sort of hungry fascination. "A daemon of Malal? I did not think that they existed."

    "Yes, nice attempt at a divide by zero there. Malal is Chaos-as-contradiction, not stupid."

    "I can feel nothing of the winds of magic from him, but his power is evident. Make your decision, captain: purity or survival. I've made mine."

    "If it helps…" I look at the rest of the crew. "If one of you who is completely sure that they'll be choosing a clean death would kindly attempt to raise their right arm?"

    There's a moment of hesitation as those who were testing their bonds freeze, then one jerks.

    "Well volunteered." I remove his muzzle. "Please confirm your decision audibly."

    "I would sooner die than be tainted by a human's magic. Or that of a slave to the Chaos Gods." He turns his head as much as his bonds allow to sneer at his fellows. "Show some pride and do not abase yourself before this thing."

    I nod. "Those were good last words." I raise my left hand and want him dead, every part of his body crumbling and burning until nothing's left for being that obscenely vile.

    An orange bolt hits him, and he dissolves into grey dust and blows away.

    "That's as quick and as painless as I can make it. Now, I would like a volunteer to demonstrate the mind control option."

    The captain continues to stare at me. "You will make us empty vessels?"

    "No. I'll… Reach into your minds and… Change how you value things. Your desire to make things suffer will decrease, your desire to dominate will be suppressed… You won't want to be as evil. In their place, you will gain more pro-social desires. In case you were planning on escaping that way, I won't be maintaining the effect. Once it's in place, it's done. Even if I died, it would remain in effect."

    The sorceress smiles.

    "So there would be nothing to stop us carrying on exactly as we are?"

    "You… Won't want to, but in theory, no."

    "Then my choice is simple. Do your best, daemon."

    I lift her up to float just in front of me, reaching into her… Revolting desires. No, remove that positive association with ritual murder. Add in one for… Aiding someone… Never? Okay, just… Create one. And-.

    "Halt, vile daemon!"

    I turn-. Oh. A knight. With a faintly glowing two-handed sword and faintly glowing eyes.

    "Stand and face me!"

    That could be bad.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2020
  27. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    I know roughly where I am
    But I have no idea when I am


    The knight's surcoat is quartered red and blue, which probably means something to someone who knows about heraldry. His shield has a red background with a golden… Snake? Embossed on it. I can't see any sort of retinue which suggests 'Bretonnia' rather than 'The Empire'… I think? I would expect a knight to at least have a small retinue. I could ask the ring what language he's speaking, but without a record to compare it to it wouldn't mean all that much.

    I take the sorceress's delight in petty cruelties and replace it with one for petty kindnesses.

    Why isn't he advancing? Is it because I'm not threatening one of the locals? Or-. Ah. There's no obvious way for him to actually get to the boat. He could probably wade to the boat in full plate if he wanted, but the tide is turning and his footing would be uncertain. Plus he'd be completely open to any crossbow bolts fired by the crew. He could grab one of the small fishing boats, but that would involve even more difficulty. I doubt that he knows how to use one.

    "Might I ask your name, sir knight?"

    "I am Mallobaude du Carcassonne, Questing Knight sworn to the Lady!"

    That clears that up. I'm in Bret-. No… Wait.

    "I realise that you are obliged to follow the Lady's signs wherever the quest takes you, but are we actually in Bretonnia?"

    "Are you a fool as well as a Hellspawn?"

    "More ignorant than foolish, though I'm sure I have my moments. And if I could beg you for the date?"

    "The year is fifteen thirty one, it is the thirteenth day of month of Vendémiaire, we are in the Duchy of Mousillon and I will have your head!"

    "Thank you! Though I'm not clear why you want my head?"

    "You are a daemon!"

    "No I'm not." I point to the elves-. I reinforce the bonds which were starting to fade a little. "They just assumed I was because it was the only point of reference they had."

    "Come over here and say that!"

    "I don't think that would be a good idea."

    The sorceress shakes her head as she tries to make sense of her own partially-rewritten motivations. I can see that her desires are not meshing at all, and that's probably making her profoundly conflicted.

    "If you are not a daemon, then what are you?"

    "Oh, just some random mon-keigh-"

    The captain isn't quite able to prevent himself from letting out an exhalation of shocked amusement.

    "-with a potent artefact."

    "A mon-keigh!" Seeing that I've already noticed he doesn't bother concealing his delight at the idea. "At least you know your place!"

    "A what?"

    Right, the translation isn't mutual. "Mon-keigh. It's an elven word meaning 'lesser intelligent species'. Basically anything that isn't an Old One, a slann or an elf."

    "You are a man."

    "Yes. I spotted this reaver ship as it came in and decided to stop it."

    The knight's eyes dim a little. "Very well. Bring the picaroon here, that I may slay them as the Lady commands."

    "You are.. lawfully able to sentence and execute criminals?"

    "Verily."

    "Okay, slight problem there. I've already offered them parole."

    "You have no authority to do so!"

    "I didn't think there was any authority in the area! Look, I offered them a choice between death at my hand, death at-" I gesture to him with my right arm. "-your hand, as it turns out, and my altering their minds in order to make them less evil."

    "It matters little whose hand wields the blade, but how can their misdeeds and crimes be paid for if not with their deaths?!"

    "Is that an actual question, or are you stating that they can't be?"

    He hefts his sword in the half-handing hold.

    "I will slay you for your impudence, cur!"

    "That seems unlikely. Ah, one moment." I turn back to the corsairs. "Did anyone actually want to be handed over to the local authorities?"

    No one moves.

    "Just to be clear, you're choosing between annihilation at my hand and…" I look at the sorceress, then turn back to Mallobaude. "Could you possibly wait until I've finished one as an example?"

    "One what?!"

    "The way I see it, killing a slaver doesn't free those they abducted or resurrect those they slew. In the same way that if you put a debtor in prison they're never going to be able to earn enough money to pay off their debt. A better approach would be one in which they were able to pay off their debt to society through productive work."

    "You would commute their death sentence to one of labour!?"

    "I would effectively be-. Look. Could you wait until after I've finished? Nothing I'm doing would make it impossible for you to kill them afterwards, and you'll be able to get a better idea of the result of what I'm doing."

    "You invade the lands of Bretonnia, steal my rightful quarry and ask that I await your pleasure?! Nay, churl, you shall satisfy me now!"

    He thrusts the point of his sword into the ground.

    "I challenge you to single combat!"

    The sword glows and whow. It's like.. I'm in a tunnel, the edge distorting the rest of the universe like a… Concave lens. I lose contact with my constructs immediately, and… No, can't get through.

    "You shall not escape me now!"

    And the 'back' of the tunnel is being pulled in, forcing me to come closer to him.

    "True, but the corsairs almost certainly will." I focus, and orange plate armour appears around me. "Because you have no way to catch them."

    "It matters not! The Lady is with me! I shall never back down! I shall never falter in my devotion!"

    "Okay, no." I stop being pushed towards him when I'm about five metres away, and he draws his sword from the ground and takes a stance. "Is there any way I could persuade you into not doing this?"

    "Insult has been given and insult will be answered! Draw your weapon!"

    I land and send bands of orange light into the ground. They surround a column under the ground just in front of him and send it into subspace, a construct arch being the only thing supporting the topsoil. And then I hold out my right hand and create sword and shield constructs.

    "Alright. If you insist. Come at me, Sir Mallobaude."

    Eyes fixed on mine he advances, and then disappears straight down. I take the excavated soil out of subspace and pour it into the hole, burying him up to his neck in loose soil.

    "Craven coward!"

    "It's hardly my fault that you didn't check your footing." I look around and the 'challenge arena' fades away, and the corsairs are hurriedly making sail. "If you'll excuse me, I've got a sentence to carry out. I'll come back to free you once I've finished."
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2020
  28. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    22nd April 2012
    11:31 GMT -5


    Ted's grinning as he points to the whistle held in the vice.

    "To put it simply: it puts people to sleep."

    Huh.

    No, no, that actually makes a good deal of sense. The Dreamkin were stealing objects from dreams and using Sandy's connection to the Dreaming to keep them existing in the waking world. If we assume that they used other people prior to him… Or just knocked people out to take their dreams at times of their own convenience, it would make a lot of sense for them to prioritise that sort of artefact.

    "For… How long?"

    "Until they wake up. We've been able to wake up our volunteers after about a minute, and no one's stayed asleep more than nine hours. All the tests we've done on brain waves, blood chemistry… Everything, shows the sleep itself is completely mundane. But… It's the whistle, not the sound. We've replicated the sound, played recordings… It doesn't work. And our magic people can't make sense of it either."

    "No. It's a dream manifestation, not an enchanted object. They've probably never seen one before. Dream magic isn't really.. studied in Atlantis."

    Because it's a pain to study and because as of a little while ago King Orin accepted the fait accompli and recognised Venturia's independence, meaning that they're not part of Atlantis any longer. Though Cyprian did agree to open his city to trade with the other city states, so… Really, the rest of Atlantis is getting more out of the place now than they have for decades.

    "So… Someone dreamed about a whistle that could put people to sleep, and this is it?" He regards it with a frown. "It can't be that easy."

    "No, it's more like… This object is an archetype that people dream about, and they're all dreaming about this."

    "And now they can't, because it's here? Are we gunna get in trouble with Morpheus about that?"

    "We've all slept at least once since we acquired it. He's spoken to Glob, so he knows we've got it. If he had a problem with it, we'd definitely know about it by now."

    He nods, his momentary concern being overshadowed by his fascination with his new toy.

    "It works on insomniacs, too. I mean, we haven't tested in on people with actual neurological disorders-. Is that safe?"

    "It should be, but I can't give you any guarantees. It should just do what it does, but… There could be just about any other effects."

    "And we can't exactly just call Morpheus up and ask him about it."

    "Actually, we can. He's not a demon so there aren't really any laws against it. He can just decide not to answer. Just asking him to put in an appearance shouldn't… Bother him. Or we can ask Melinoë, or find someone who knows how to dream lucidly… There are options."

    "Is it possible to make more of them?" I raise my eyebrows. "Sure, it's not hurricane control, but we could put every sleep aid manufacturer out of business. And it would make a pretty good low-lethality weapon."

    "I have no idea. I.. doubt it, and… It'll be years at least before we know enough about how the Dreaming works to do it… 'Digitally'."

    "So we gotta talk to Morpheus."

    "If you think this is worth pursuing right now."

    He thinks for a moment, then sags slightly. "I wanna say 'yes'… But I don't think it is. Not right now. Not with the healing ray roll-out coming up, and the earthquake control systems and the water purifiers…"

    "No need to sound so disappointed. You're doing better than STAR Labs managed."

    "But it's just all so great! We're making more progress on this stuff than I expected to for decades! Sometimes I have to pinch myself-. Oh."

    "Oh?"

    "Speaking of things I can't believe are happening to me… I got a date."

    "You're good company, rich, and passably attractive. It's not that weird. Did Io say 'yes', or-."

    He winces, shaking his head.

    "Oh… God no. Turns out? Most Amazons are gay."

    "I honestly hadn't spotted that."

    "Yeah… Well… You think… 'Okay, they haven't seen a man in three thousand years, maybe they're curious'. And… They're not. Not in a million-. Ah, three thousand years."

    "I may not live in New York, but I have heard the stories."

    And attended the court hearings. Honestly, those are usually more the Amazon's fault than those of the men -and it virtually always is men- they get into fights with. They think they're ready, we try to ease them in gradually, then they encounter men in the wild and they all too often don't react well.

    We haven't had a maternity lawsuit yet, and if incidents so far are anything to go by we don't have anything to worry about.

    "And I like Io. We have a lot in common. But she wasn't picking up on my signals, and when I asked about it… She didn't even recognise what I was doing. And she was pretty direct about not being into men. So that was a bust. But I got talking to Tia Sivana and she asked me out."

    Considering what she was doing this time last year…

    "Did she.. mention-?"

    "Yeah, I know, it's her family day and she wants to be able to pretend that she's got a social life… Which I can relate to. But she's brilliant-."

    "And about a decade younger than you."

    "Sure, but it's not like I lie about my age."



    Y-eah.

    "Not since I could buy alcohol legally, anyway. And you can't tell me that she's not mature enough to make her own decisions."

    "No, I… Suppose I can't."

    "You went with her last year, right?" I nod. "What's it..? Like?"

    "It's a sealed artificial habitat on a death world. As automated as a family of technological and scientific geniuses can make it. Venus is a very nice woman-. You know Beautia only took me because she finds dealing with her siblings extremely trying, right?"

    "I didn't think Magnificus was that bad. But just in case, I've read up on his work enough that I should be able to stroke his ego."

    "Okay, and what about Thaddeus and Georgia?"

    He pales slightly. "They're gunna be there?"

    "It's a family day, and they haven't committed any crimes on Venus."

    "Oh. And her… Will her.. father be there?"

    "Probably. But there's a truce, so he probably won't do anything."

    "Huh." He thinks for a moment. "You know, I read up on his stuff, too. You were right; it's a real shame no one took him up on it before he… You know, went-"

    "Supervillain."

    "-crazy. Can I..? Talk about that with him?"

    "I wouldn't start with that, but yes. He doesn't care what anyone outside of his family thinks about him." He nods, risking a small smile. "It's the younger siblings you should be worried about. Has Beautia told you about the possumizer?"
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2020
  29. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    26th April
    07:03 GMT -5


    Sanderson looks up as I walk into the kitchen and take a seat opposite him.

    "So you're today's babysitter."

    "You need help, I'm here to give it."

    He turns his head back towards his cereal bowl. "You know I can't eat this? It just sits… In me until I change shape, and then it falls out. The milk is the worst part."

    "Can you eat sand?"

    "'Kid' Flash already thought of that. I can, but it doesn't do anything. And it feels really weird, like it never really becomes part of me."

    "Makes sense. However this happened to you, you couldn't function without some way to differentiate between the bits that are part of you and the bits that aren't."

    Okay, awkward bit.

    "I know Diana's already talked to you about school, but I was wondering if anyone had asked-? No, I'm wondering what you wanted to do about being made of sand."

    "What can I do?"

    I take an enchanted necklace out of my equipment harness and put in on the table in front of him.

    "There's a range of options, and that's step one."

    "I don't wear jewellery. Or clothes."

    "It's enchanted. One of my particular talents is locating solutions to apparently intractable problems. This… Should make you feel more human. I got the original put together for a man named Matthew Hagen, who got turned into clay-rich mud. It took a little while to get a version adapted for you, but we're pretty sure that it will work now."

    He reaches for it with his right hand. "What exactly does it-?"

    The change starts the moment he touches it, the 'flesh' parts of his body gaining a fleshy appearance and his clothing starting to look like clothing again. He gasps in shock, dropping the amulet. As it clatters against the table his body shifts back.

    "That-! It felt-!"

    "Yes, you won't just look human to everyone else. It also give you sensory feedback. I don't know how you perceive the world as a man made out of sand-."

    "Do you know what it's like not to be able to feel your own heart beating?"

    "Yes. I once had to turn myself into a cyborg, and I replaced my heart with a pump."

    That appears to take the wind out of his sails slightly.

    "Oh. How did you..? Fix it?"

    "Power ring." I shrug. "Everything apart from the brain is basically brain-support anyway. I can transmute machine into flesh and back again. You're difficult because you don't have a brain and your mind is distributed across your body with magic." I hesitate. "I assume magic, because I can't work out how a piezoelectric consciousness would work and you were transformed by an alchemical solution."

    He nods and picks it up again, holding it in both-

    Canis strides in, sketchbook in hand, pencil already in motion.

    -hands, the transformative effect taking hold again. Ignoring the pencil-scratching sound and Canis's stare, he cautiously lifts his left hand away and runs it through his hair.

    "Oh God. Is this permanent?"

    "It recharges from ambient magic energy, so as long as you don't go into space power consumption isn't an issue. But you need to remember that this is all appearance; you're still made of sand underneath it all."

    He nods, lowering his left hand and staring at it for a moment before pulling in his fingers and turning it into a sandy bulb.

    "This feels weirder."

    "Because the spell is only designed for things that are human-shaped. It's trying to give you the feedback you'd get from a hand when you don't physically have a hand."

    He nods, re-extruding his fingers. "So these aren't clothes and this isn't hair, but it can pretend."

    I nod. "Which is why I want to know what you want to do next. The magic people I work with find this all fascinating, so the cost isn't a problem. The problem is the decidedly finite pool of people who can meaningfully work on this, which is why you need to tell me what outcome you want so I can tell them what they should be working on."

    He puts the necklace around his neck, wiggles a little to make sure that it remains active when moving, then nods.

    "What are my options?"

    "We can try and transfer your consciousness into a new human body. Since I don't have any record of your genetic structure it won't be exactly the same as the one you were born with, but I've got pictures of you and records on your closest relations so it'll be close."

    He doesn't look comfortable with that. Which is reasonable. I suppose that I could try and find an old hair or skin cell or something. DNA lasts a very long time. But finding-.

    "And what happens to the copy?"

    I blink. "I'm sorry?"

    "The new body. What happens to its consciousness? When I get… Put in there?"

    I shake my head. "No, no, it wouldn't have one. For goodness sake, Sanderson, what sort of person do you think I am?"

    "Oh. Right. Sorry, I didn't-. It just sounded like mad.. Frankenstein-science. I shouldn't have said that."

    He actually.. holds out his right hand.

    "Okay." I take his hand and shake it. "But please try to remember that despite my eccentricities I am a superhero. I'm not going to murder people for the sake of personal advantage."

    He nods, releasing my hand. "How long will it take?"

    "No idea. Creating a 'blank' human body is easy. Transferring a consciousness isn't too hard, but since we don't understand how you work there are a lot of added risks. And unless you're familiar with the magic involved yourself there would be a risk that you might 'snap back' into the sand that you're occupying now."

    "Alright. What are my other options?"

    "We could try undoing the transformation spell." He opens his mouth but I hold up my right hand. "We don't know how you were turned into sand. People are going over Mister Dodds' notes in detail now, but they're going to have to relearn everything he did before they can even think about how to undo the results of the test that changed you. It might not even be possible."

    He nods. "Are there any other options?"

    "You can stay like this. You're nearly immortal and have super powers; that's not so bad. There's a man I know called Rama Khan who can make bodies out of coloured sand; he might be able to tutor you." He doesn't look impressed. "We could try making a deal with an eldritch life form to change you."

    "Like a.. demon..?"

    "I do know a few demons who could charge a price we could bear, but I was thinking about one of the Olympians or possibly Morpheus himself. We wouldn't learn anything about the process and the price might still be considerable, but that's probably the fastest option."

    "I'm not so keen on doing that."

    "As you will. We could try creating a new spell to grant you human form without directly undoing the original transformation. We can make you a body you can control by proxy without being fully transferred into it. Or you could learn magic yourself and focus on self-transformation spells."

    He nods. "Look, I appreciate the help, but this is a lot to take in. Can I think about it?"

    I nod. "Of course. Let me know what you decide."
     
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2020
  30. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    28th April
    09:28 GMT -5


    "…because I'm somehow the 'most evil'." Magnificus grimaces imperiously. "'Most evil'. The nerve of it."

    "They are working to save the world from alien invasion while you're working for Lex Luthor."

    "I can't quit! With Arnold-. Hugo gone, I'm running the place. I'm somewhat aware of the nature of Lex's other business, but alchemical research needs to continue and I don't see anyone else funding it."

    "And Nyssa's there."

    "It does make things easier." He gives his head a small shake. "I really don't think that they can claim to have reformed just because they're not-" He looks around as we walk through the Hall of Justice. "-'acting out' at the moment, that suddenly all of their misdeeds have just vanished."

    "If it helps, their behaviour might not matter. Unless they change their internal moral beliefs they can't get into Heaven."

    He frowns sceptically. "You said that you weren't impressed by Heaven. That you'd rather go to Erebos."

    "True, but I'm not them."

    "I doubt that they'd like Heaven any more than you did. And after you mentioned Hell's unique form of arcane engineering I wouldn't be surprised if they were positively looking forward to it."

    "Having another ally as a leading figure in Hell could be useful."

    "Regardless of their spurious assertion, I'm not fond of acting as their messenger. If they want to pass information to the Justice League this badly they should just have sent an e-mail. Or used a robot courier."

    "This helps with plausible deniability."

    He rolls his eyes as I scan my key card and let us into the 'backstage' area of the Hall.

    "Yes, where could Magnificus Sivana have come by this information? A person hardly needs to possess Sivanic intelligence to deduce the most likely source."

    "'Plausible'. Not 'probable'. And are you sure that your disquiet isn't just down to the fact that you don't think you could beat Superboy in a fight?"

    "No, I'm over all that. My focus is -and always should have been- on my intellectual achievements. What is Superboy majoring in?"

    "His High School diploma? I think he's taking a mechanical engineering after school course."

    "Let me know if he wants any help with that."

    "You can ask him yourself."

    "Yes, but it's bad form to just walk up to someone who thinks they have a secure secret identity. Particularly if one wants to keep out of all of that business. No offence intended."

    "None taken. I'd much rather that more scientists of your calibre kept their minds on their research rather than mass murder or world domination."

    He nods, apparently satisfied with that division of labour.

    I scan my key card again through the reader attached to the conference room.

    "Just in here."

    I walk through the doorway and hold it open for Magnificus as he strolls in, not showing particular interest in the Justice League members waiting for him. William wanted to be here when he heard the name 'Sivana', Batman and Mr Hol are here in their capacity as intelligence analysts and Angelica is here as duty magician. John Stewart and Guy are here, and Guy gives me a smile and a jaunty wave as we make eye contact.

    Magnificus looks at the empty position at the foot of the table, sniffs, then pulls a holographic drone out of his pocket and lightly tosses it into the air. It swiftly rights itself and projects an image of the Sheeda-seeming warlock from Kennedy. After some pressure he gave his name as 'He-Died-For-Thee Bennett', though he would not be drawn on who the 'He' in his slogan-name referred to. My guess would be either Jesus or Melmoth.

    "We have good data on Sheeda weapons and behavior. We know that they're coming here soon, and we're all trying to be as ready as we can. But we don't know what Melmoth is planning, and there's a high likelihood that his people have further information on the Queen-aligned Sheeda that no one on Earth has access to." The image is replaced by one of Beulah Bleak. "Despite Klarion's death Orange Lantern managed to arrange things so that the witch-hunters left on less than friendly terms."

    He's not wrong. The rest of them weren't any more impressed by that sojourn into Hell than Beulah was.

    "Nonetheless… 'Certain contacts of mine' believe that they can open a portal to the parallel world which these 'witch-people' come from. They also believe that the Justice League is best placed to make contact with their government and handle relations with them. Their indoctrinated hatred of all things Sheeda should make them natural allies, and the presence of an angel or two should appeal to their religious sensibilities."

    William frowns. "Who exactly are 'certain contacts'?"

    "People of whom it might be useful for you to be able to later honestly claim that you had no knowledge."

    Batman inclines his head slightly.

    "We will of course verify the technique your contacts recommend."

    "Of course. I would be almost insulted if you didn't."

    "Yeah." William points at him. "See, it's when you say things like that that I get worried."

    "Because the League is practicing basic data network security?" Magnificus dismisses William with a shake of his head. "One of the difficulties with the method they employed is that there is a substantial delay between when their pathways can be opened. Anyone you send will have to have a convincing excuse as to why their 'secret identity' is absenting themselves from their regular work, perhaps for months."

    Which means that Kal-El can't really go. Batman could… Maybe. Jordan can if he brings Arisia. Mr Allen and King Orin can't. So… Probably Diana leading the mission? And if my team mates aren't skiving… I can go, as can Zatanna, Garth, Tula, Roy, Canis, Starfire… But maybe I need to recuse myself? It's not as if I'm actually repentant… But I'm also carrying a power ring that will let me study alien technology better than anything any of the League members might have can.

    Angelica makes a circling motion with her right hand.

    "And will your 'contacts' wish to accompany us? Or expect us to share our discoveries with them?"

    Magnificus huffs quietly.

    "I believe that they feel that they will be able to access your records, whether you wish them to or not. As such, neither issue is a material consideration for them."

    William's eyes widen slightly and he looks at Batman in genuine concern. When Batman doesn't really respond he moves to Hawkman and then looks around the room at the rest of us.

    "Doesn't that worry anyone else?"

    Mr Hol shakes his head.

    "If these 'contacts' are members of Dr Sivana's family, they are already perfectly capable of designing weapons which could end human civilisation. There is no greater risk in them gaining the ability to make civilisation-ending weapons which make use of Sheeda technology."

    "An' if we're not goin' after them 'cause we think they only really wanna fight the Sheeda anyway, where's the harm in makin' 'em better at it?" Guy shrugs. "Way I see it, either they're a problem and we should be all over it, or they're not. So yeah, let's go talk t' tha witches."

    Batman nods. "Thank you, Doctor Sivana. You will have a response from the Justice League by the end of the day."
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2020 at 8:19 AM
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