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  1. There is a funt noise as a harpoon is deployed, and it strikes true, spearing the moss-mass and pinning it to where it is - unable to advance on shore, and unable to full return to the sea. In rage, it lashed out, but Leverage is able to steer the sub expertly, dodging its blows. But the triumph is short-lived, as the Moss-Mass's many eyes and many mouths roar together in song, and this song is... disturbingly alien, washing over the battlefield in an almost tangible wave. It raises the hair (or the lichen) on the backs of your necks. It stirs uncomfortable memories as if they'd just happened, just now.
  2. The seaweed is fully buoyant, and within moments, the civilian stopped panicking. He looks at Leshy. He's out of breath and still in shock, so perhaps he's still scared of Leshy - or perhaps he's still scared in general. But now he has the presence of mind to stop thrashing around. And maybe, just maybe, he's grateful.
  3. The Moss-Mass recoiled from the mystic shield, and Incantrix was unbowed, though a little worse for wear.
  4. The beast didn't roar so much as shriek, a hair-raising noise that stood everyone's hair on end. But Argo's sword struck true; the limb was severed, dissolving into a pile of goo, as the car was freed. The driver wasted no time, and peeled out of the area. The moss-mass turned blinking fish eyes, dozens of them, towards the one that had actually hurt it, and it slammed down with a massive limb, targeting the Incantrix.
  5. The Incantrix focuses through the litany of magical phrases and conditionals and mental states of being, and there are so many, and again, she feels it - that tension where she may be about to lose control. But she keeps her focus, and the disc forms - somewhat unsteady at first.... ... but in the water, Persephone sees the magic forming, and directs a nature spirit to lend its flame to the focused blast. As Persephone does this, she feels the creeping sensation on the back of her neck, as microbes in the water around her are drained - and that is the least harmful thing that could happen. A small portion of her life force is now gone, and not coming back... much like the park. But it works. The beam lances down and the moss-mass reacts in horrible pain, diving under the water. For a moment, all seems calm. ... and then, it lurches up on shore. The moss reconfigures itself, and this close, it really does look like Leshy - uncomfortably so. It is a rotting mass of sea life, of all shapes and sizes, eyes blinking and staring at everyone on the shore, with an alien intelligence that cannot be fathomed. All these fish are stitched together by the moss-life that transformed Leshy, smelling of wet seaweed. It reaches out slimy fish-composed tendrils, and grabs a car - a car with a pair of occupants - and it looks like it's about to swallow it whole.
  6. The spirits obliged, as they often did, as she and the spirits started to push the water to shore. In moments, the boat - and the people on it - were out of danger. A good thing too, because there was a large hole in the back of the boat, and it was taking on water. ... until one of the people on the boat - red-faced and panicking - leaned over the side. He looked and was dressed like he was out for a nice relaxing day of fishing, and he was gobsmacked temporarily by the sight of a superhero - but this was Halycon City, so only a moment. "My brother - he fell overboard - " He pointed, and Persephone could see that yes, not far away there was someone splashing in the water. Grabbing the man's brother could be dangerous, with the way the boat was listing - it could capsize. But he was also out there, alone and without protection...
  7. Despite being built for a woman with four smartfluid limbs bonded with her spinal column, the sub was very easy to pilot once she got the hang of it, and in moments, she was out in Halcyon City Bay. Somewhat primitive holo-tech gave her a bearing on a Big Blob composed of unknown matter - presumably the moss-mass - and a smaller blob of similar matter. There was also a boat that was relatively close to the melee that had stopped moving, that the hologram labeled a viable target of opportunity. The sub also had torpedoes, and enough room to seat many more people than her, if it came down to it...
  8. A combination of Kitsune's very convincing illusion and Argo's firsthand knowledge of the superhero's posture, demeanor and mannerisms helped sell the illusion to everyone present; the crowds of people remembered their better angels and started to resume a more orderly evacuation. The owner of Don't Falafel waved to Akhiro to get inside the truck, as he prepared to start the engine and get off the beach. Kitsune's younger brother obliged, hopping in the back - a little eagerly, but it was the first time he'd been in a food truck.
  9. The roar of Leshy, combined with the display of power, succeeded; it froze in place, unsure of what to make of this newcomer on the scene... the newcomer that was so much like it. And so, it was no longer advancing on the waterfront. However, there was an unintended side effect: Leshy emerging from the underground and charging at the monster caused everyone on the street to panic, because while this was Halcyon City and people here were used to giant weird monsters, there was a giant monster from far away and then there was one that ran right by you. Any kind of orderly evacuation was out the window. People in their cars were starting to move and then stopping as people crossed in front of them. Horns and tempers blared. Someone could get hurt, or worse, at any second. And in the middle of it all - as frightened as anyone - Kitsune saw the familiar face of her brother, Akihiro Satsu, stuck in the crowd...
  10. Shortly after the message went through, Elaine got another one on her personal phone. It was an unknown sender, but she knew, deep in her heart, who it was. The message read: Dear Azavizvedeva; Soon – or already, if your side of the game is not completely incompetent – you will hear about a very large, difficult-to-ignore undersea presence. Because we care for you, despite this quaint rebellious phase, we will give you a warning: stay out of it. Let those fools you think are your friends handle it, or not handle it. It is part of a very complicated plan, and if you interfere with our plans, well: we don't want to escalate things, but since when do parents always get what they want? Hugs and kisses, Dads You have little difficulty making your way to Halcyon City; there's a montage page full of panels of you suiting up and getting ready. You get out there and there are crowds already, people pointing cellphone cameras out to sea, because something is definitely moving around in the water out there. There is, as Kitsune wanted, a food truck… … and then, the thing in the bay rears up, and begins to approach the shores. It looks like a tangled mass of saltwater fish of all varieties – bass, salmon and species not native to Halcyon City's waters – and it's all tied together with some very, very familiar looking moss and algae tendrils. The people in the bay area live in Halcyon City and this is not their first giant monster – they immediately run out of the area, some helping others into cars or onto a freshly pulled up city bus. But if it beelines for the shore, it could make things very ugly, very quickly.
  11. Amanda walked up to the front of the building, noticing a couple of dancers doing some stretches outside. In the foyer, there were some posters being hung up, including a new one: a "potential superhuman aptitude test." These were a dime a dozen and mostly scams, but this one looked like it was sponsored by Vitek, which was a pretty reputable company… Melinda and Jonni stared at each other for long moments, the slight tang of chronal displacement having long since faded… Agnes shrugged. "The workaholics show up early to check books out for the whole semester, and there's never enough because of the silly ebook licensing program, and they need to reserve study rooms and don't trust that they're reserved online so they need to do it in person… yeah. Madhouse." Leshy bid his farewells to his young friends, and trudged off into the woods, having already plotted a path out to Dr. Stantler's. It was a roundabout way, but it would let him pass unseen… "Ooooooh-kayyy," said the potential mugging victim, as Kitsune vanished. "Feh. Superheroes." Sachiko basked in the glory of a prank gone perfectly a good deed done, and then… Everyone's communicators beeped. The communicators were small, handheld devices, ultrathin and with very long battery lives, designed for reliability and concealability more than anything. They did have the option to change the default ringer to whatever the user needed – anything from their favorite musical to a very quiet vibrate to even, for more committed superhero, subcutaneous speakers and microphones. The message was from Athena, and read: Something big moving in Halcyon City Bay Might be nothing but might want to make sure it's nothing CALL IF YOU NEED HELP
  12. Amanda's mentor, Natasha, nodded. "Fair enough. But you're right; that means that you're going to have to always be looking out for them, a little bit more than you would if you weren't a superhero. Be careful with your identity and who you trust, always. Now..." Natasha unlocked the car doors, and smiled - still business, but more friendly. "Get settled in; if you're needed, I'll be in touch, so keep your communicator close by. What's your first course, by the way?" "I'm Adam Aquarius. My mother is Dani Dynamo and my father is Aaron Aquarius." Melinda recognized the names - the oldest members of the Final Frontier, Dani Dynamo and Aaron Aquarius. But she didn't recognize the name Adam - he could be a new edition, he could not be. "Listen - " He tried to grip her by the shoulder, but his hand passed right through. "Dammit - I'm only projecting. Listen. Your team - you can't let them break up. That's where it all goes - " Adam Aquarius flickered in and out of existence briefly, and didn't seem to notice, he was talking so fast. " - and when they die, that's when Rook makes their move, and it's not long before they control everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, thanks to - " Another frustrating flicker, and then Adam returned, and then flickered out again, his warnings becoming erratic. " - cracked the xenomatter that mutated Leshy and something went wrong - " " - you need to keep an eye on Leverage. Remember that. Because she'll - " " - Argo gave up superheroics in protest after they - " " - we had to evac to an unstable parallel dimension, designation XB242 - " " - please tell me you're hearing me! The chronal slipstream's collapsing - " And then, finally, the stillness in the air faded. And so did the voice, and projection, of someone called Adam Aquarius. "Wow." The librarian - her nametag read Agnes - whistled at the catch. "Hell of a good arm." She started putting the eclectic mix of books back on the cart, one of which included a LIFE photographic retrospective on the life story of Flying Freedom, which appeared to include rare photos of her variant costumes. Off Elaine's look, she looked to the poster board, and then put two and two together. "Oh yeah, I saw the YouTube of her tearing into Axiom? I almost felt sorry for the guy, but yeah, he can not pull off those boots any more. Are you interested in super-fashion, then? Because we have quite a few books on the subject." "Thank you," said the woman, relieved to get her purse back. "It had my birth certificate in it because I needed it for a - a thing - if I'd lost that - " "I was gonna give it back," said the thief, unconvincingly, pinned underneath three football players and not going anywhere. "Pff," said the woman. "Thanks. I'm glad there's some decent people on campus. Wait, are you going after a supervillain or something, like that awful moss man? Should I be running?" "Hey - hey - " Upchuck turned the comics cover over, momentarily forgetting the argument. "Listen, they get stuff wrong all the time. You're a hero, right? You hang out with the rest of the, uh... do you have a name yet? Whatever, they're all heroes too, right? If you were really a monster like Obscenity they'd never let you hang out with them." "Yeah," added Tomboy. "They can think what they wanna, we know you're a good guy." (Leshy, they are not adults but I do believe you care what these kids think, so I'm going to rule that they are shifting your labels - Freak down, Savior up. You have two options; accept this shift, or reject Influence.) Jonni didn't hear or see anything unusual on her way up to the dorm room, and may open it - if she does, she won't see anything out of the ordinary by the time she enters.
  13. Night came, and as it often did, became morning again. Leshy awoke to his dog, Pucca, licking his face affectionately. Outside of where he was sleeping were the familiar sounds of his - friends? Charges? - his band of misfit fans, arguing over a comic book. "Look, we've been over this," said Upchuck, who only ever seemed confident and assured when it came to nerd media. "They changed the continuity when Axiom revealed his secret identity, because they're supposed to reflect real-world superheroes and since his name was Wilbur Macintosh, that's what Axoim's name has to be in the comics." Peabody rolled his eyes. "But Vance Xander is such a cooler name! And the event they came up with to change everyone's names after their secret IDs were leaked was so bad - " Tomboy was playing on her phone, and saw Leshy emerge. She smiled, and waved. Jonni entered the dorm to see the head of the dorm arguing with one of its more famous residents. Henry Stamp, AKA the superhero known as Firefox, had many different looks; a classic unthreatening teen heartthrob at one point, a distinctive fox-themed suit that channeled his pyrokinetic abilities at another; a carefully cultivated persona of rebelliousness (he had famously once proclaimed that superheroes with secret identities were being dishonest with the public.) Right now? He just looked annoyed. "I can't get the car out of my dorm is the thing," he explained, trying to keep his temper. "Then, Henry, we are just going to have to dismantle it into smaller pieces so that we can fit it out the window - " "But it's my car. I own it. And I don't want anyone to take it apart. I, I don't give you permission - " "But we, in turn, didn't give you permission to store it inside your dorm room - " "I didn't put it inside my room!" "Nevertheless: check your lease agreement. You are responsible for keeping your dorm room up to certain standards - " Henry Stamp, AKA Firefox, looked like he was going to metaphorically explode. Rumors actually said that when he was overly emotional, he had a harder time summoning and controlling flame, not an easier one - but nonetheless, people were starting to take a step or two back. As for Jonni, for once, she wasn't the center of attention. Inside the library, things were starting to get busier. An assistant was wheeling a large and eclectic collection of books around, a number of other students were lined up to get library cards and book rooms, and just in front of her, a student was stapling up a flyer for - Well, now. Elaine caught sight of the flyer and blinked, because apparently - as a special trip to Halcyon City University - Claudia deConnick, famed superheroism-inspired fashion designer was going to be participating in an exhibit at Halcyon City Heroic History Museum, less than half a block off campus, that was scheduled to run for the entire semester. The exhibit was going to cover the history of 20th and 21st century superfashion, and Claudia, a famous recluse, was going to be giving daily lectures as part of it. As Elaine studied the poster, the assistant who was wheeling the collection of books was cut off by a rude student and wound up tipping the load, sending them flying everywhere. The assistant let out a very unladylike curse. "A gentler catch, yes. That always helps. But you're more on the right track with prevention; stopping it before it starts. And that means depriving your enemies of the target to begin with, so I suppose the deeper question..." Athena drummed her fingers on the steering wheel, not taking her eyes off her protege. "... should Quintessence have been friends with a civilian to begin with? Or did having a secret identity lead him into letting his guard down, and his friend paying the price?" The woman cursed as she stood up - or presumably stood up, because Sachiko was well on her way by then. And then, she heard her exclamation: "Where's my purse?" No one was making a run for it; there were tons of people in the park, and whoever it was was deciding to lay low. All eyes were focusing on the woman who'd lost her purse as she started to panic. Melinda made it to her dorm room, and set her things down, and took a step inside, and then... ... time... ... got... ... strange... She felt the colors of the room blueshift, smelled and tasted a metallic tang in the air. It was like her visions, but this one was... off. The background noise of the city faded to a dull, distorted roar, and then there was a ripple in space, and then Melinda watched as it took the shape of a person, and then realized why this vision felt different: this vision was coming to her. The person before her was wearing a battered suit with a faded Final Frontier logo on it, and had a thick helmet on - but the visor in the helmet was cracked, and Melinda found herself eye to eye with one wild-eyed, unblinking pale blue eye. And the helmet had a splash of what Melinda knew, absolutely knew, was fresh blood, strewn across it. "It worked," said the stranger, voice distorted by the helmet, as they looked at Melinda. "It's you."
  14. As the fickle finger of fate would have it, however, the brewing autumn winds of Halcyon City picked up, and caught Leshy's letter upon the breeze, tearing it free from the windowsill and setting it aloft. Leshy could either grab it out of the air - possibly risking being seen - or let it go, and go through the emotional wringer of having to write it all out again... Outside, the campus smelt of autumn and the scent of the grapple trees around campus grown fruitful and ripe. They were a special gift from the superhero known as Green Machine - a biotech-fueled synthetic lifeform - and they felt like apples when you bit them, but tasted like grapes. They never caught on in supermarkets, but the university still took care of them. A couple of food trucks - Dumpling Hero, Gogi Truck, and Sal's Flatbed Flatbread - were set up on grounds, next to some kind of outdoor art performance that appeared to be reinterpreting the adventures of the initial team members of Final Frontier through the music of the Beatles. There was a long, long line out the bookstore, and not far off, the Halcyon University Heralds were engaged in team practice, along with the horrible golden blob mascot known as the Champ. Somewhere in the middle of all this, A woman bumped into Sachiko - a total stranger, who looked over Sachiko and just sneered, going "pfft." "Psst." Jonni looked at her backpack, and peeking out the side was Dante, her familiar - well, technically Dante thought of Jonni as his familiar, but that was an argument for another day. Either Jonni had snuck him into her back, or he'd snuck in on his own; whatever had happened, the little scamp was here now, and the weird ferret-lizard hybrid that talked was going to attract attention if anyone spotted him. So naturally, his first words were: "Hey! I'm hungry. They got anyone worth eating around here?" Dante paused, and rephrased. "They got anyTHING worth eating?" Up on the roof of her dorm, a gust of wind came up, and knocked over a pot that was perched just a little too high for Halcyon City's high autumn winds. There was no plant inside, and the pot was thick plastic, so no harm was done; all there was, was a little spilled dirt, and - And as Melinda turned, she saw that the dirt had settled - with the help of a slight swirl of wind - into a spiral. It was brown dirt, not red. And spirals were nature's most naturally occurring shape. But even so, just the sight of it was a reminder she'd rather not have had... if it had happened by sheer coincidence at all. The pot was close enough to the side of the roof that if Melinda wanted to, she could see Jonni if she wished to. Inside Halcyon City University's library, the Red Badge Memorial Library, a woman names Adele was carrying a load of books. The library wasn't busy just yet, but it was filling up; enough so that if Xhrin had been out in public, xey'd be easily noticed in xer d'zir shapes. And so, Adele had done a favor for her friend and gathered up a load of interesting books - from cookbooks to comic books, from pulp adventure to political histories - and brought them to Xhrin instead. Wherever Xhrin was, xey felt the familiar psi broadcast of Agnes, asking where to bring the books... The downside of getting a lift to the University from her mentor was that she was the one who decided what the radio was set to. Currently the podcast that was on rotation was Serial, which was currently delving into an uncomfortable subject: whether or not Niall Collins, the hero known as Quintessence, was guilty of negligent homicide in the death of Sam Reed in the late 1990s. That Sam was Niall's friend, and that medical examiners could not say for certain whether it was being knocked off the Colossus Building in downtown Halcyon that killed Sam or Niall catching him a little too fast in mid-air that did it, had made the whole affair emotionally difficult for everyone in, or adjacent to, the superhero community. The podcast was re-examining the evidence, and also asking the bigger question: whether or not Niall had killed Sam simply by being his friend and having a secret identity at the same time. Out of the blue, as they pulled into the parking lot, Amanda's mentor - in her civilian guise as Natasha Nicos, AKA the Global Guardian known as Athena - turned to Amanda, her expression curious. "Amanda, what do you think. Was there anything Quintessence could have done differently?" In the middle of Halcyon City University's main square, there was a statue dedicated to the Red Badge. Somewhat unexpectedly, the Red Badge wasn't a cop or a cop-themed superhero; he was a Gold Generation superhero who had been shot with a magical bullet, and had gained incredible healing powers that would heal most any wound, except the scar that the bullet had left. Like many Golden Generation heroes, he was armed with a pair of pistols and a grappling hook; he took his superhero name from the war novel of the same name, The Red Badge of Courage. Elaine was on the university grounds, going about her business, but couldn't help but stop here, because not too long ago, the Red Badge had finally died - not a peaceful death surrounded by family, but a brutal death where the magic bullet was forcibly dug out of his chest. The bullet had been stolen away afterwards, and Elaine knew who'd done the murder and who'd done the stealing; she'd seen it in the study of her fathers, in the section dedicated to whatever magical cult they were a part of. Not far away was an outdoor drama group performance of some kind of rock opera casting the members of the original Final Frontier as the Beatles, including a mop-topped student playing fashion icon and famous superhero Dani Dynamo; also not far away was Red Badge Memorial Library, starting to fill up with students.
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