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[Actual Play, NSFData] Marvel's Agents of STRIKE - S04E05: "Exiled"

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  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    I can only imagine the players' reaction when Jeremiah showed up at the end.

    what you imagine is probably pretty close to the truth

    FencingsaxMatev
  • MatevMatev Cero Miedo Registered User regular
    I am, and I am cackling.
    Also, guess who is mad that the X-Men animated series never had an actual soundtrack released? This guy.

    Especially right now cause I want to link Days of Future Past music or at least Bishop's Theme and I can't!

    "Go down, kick ass, and set yourselves up as gods, that's our Prime Directive!"
    Hail Hydra
    Jacobkosh
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited October 1
    QkBvQhG.png


    2cFnguyh.jpg

    Ryann Valt, Centurion, is aboard the Peak. It's been a few weeks since STRIKE helped save the Earth from the threat of Galactus. Officially, Ryann is on paid leave from STRIKE. He's on the Peak to visit his family. They're currently residing here. His son, Danniel, is employed as a junior SWORD agent, and his wife Kaat is working as a researcher.

    Danniel walks up to Ryann as he's walking through the station.

    PLsfAOVl.jpg

    "There he is!" Ryann says, pointing at Dann.

    Danniel smiles. "Hey!”

    Ryann smiles warmly as his son as his changes direction to match his son’s path. He swings his arm around Dann, embracing him lightly for a moment. "How's your mother? I was hoping to surprise you."

    "She's good. She's been working with that Herald of Galactus you apprehended. His name's Norrin, I guess. Director Brand wanted to learn more about him.

    “He's cooperating." Dann pauses. "I don't trust him, dad."

    Ryann nods. "It's hard to say. Your mom is a pretty good judge of character, though," Ryann winks. "So Director Brand made the right call on having her work with him.” He turns serious. "We gotta give everyone a chance, son."

    "I guess."

    Ryann nods again. "How are you taking to SWORD?”

    "It's alright. Different from the Corps. Less rules in ways that don't matter, more rules in ways that are frustrating."

    "They are pretty new to all of this," Ryann muses. "That’s why they need agents like you and your mother. Agents who know what it's like out there."

    "Yeah, I guess,” Dann nods. “Mostly I'm just doing customs work.”

    "For now."

    Danniel nods. “I wish I could go down to the planet more but apparently, planetside stuff isn't their jurisdiction anymore. That's a new thing, too. Everyone here is really sore about it."

    "Tell you what," Ryann looks around. "Maybe in a couple weeks. you and I will go Planetside."

    His son’s face lights up.

    "I got some pull. You know, saving the planet and all," he winks again.

    Dann smiles. "So, mom wanted to know if you're going to be up here for Thanksgiving? Apparently that's...that's a thing here? She says it's important to fit in with Earth customs."

    "Yeah, sure. When is that?"

    "Today? Or tomorrow. I forget." He scrunches his brow. "It's hard to keep track of days in LEO. I think it's teeechnically today in one half of the planet."

    "Oh wow. Ok, well yeah, I'm on leave so It'll be great," Ryann says. "I know it's been awhile."

    "Awesome! So, hey, the Director wanted me to let you know that she wanted to talk to you. Off the record, personal thing. She said you guys were friends."

    Ryann furrows his brow. "Kay..."

    "Here, c'mon," Dann says, leading the way.

    PHU1KZN.png
    Confused? Check the dates. A few months passed between the end of season 3 and the start of season 4. Here’s where you find out some of what happened.

    We begin with Ryann’s family, oft-talked about, but not previously seen.They’re pretty important to his motivation and character, so we made a point of finding ways to bring them into the action this season.

    And as you may have picked up on already, all may not be entirely well. You can’t be a space cop without having Space Cop Problems, after all...

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    The two walk through the station to SWORD Director Brand's office. Brand is there, talking to Kane, who is taking notes on a tablet. Deputy Director Isabel Kane smiles at Ryann when they enter.

    Ryann nods and returns the smile, standing at easy attention.

    "Valt," Brand says, matter-of-factly.

    "Director."

    She taps the console on her desk, and a holographic image of the city of New York comes up on her desk. A small blip soars across the city. "You may have been informed of intel that someone bearing resemblance to a Nova Corps member has been operating in New York City. That person has been operating while you were off-planet, so obviously it's not you."

    "Yeah, I've seen it. I thought maybe they were a copycat from when I got exposed."

    "That's a possibility, yes,” she says. "There is another possibility.

    "When you were apprehended by ONE as part of an operation for STRIKE, you did not have 100% of your Nova Corps equipment with you afterwards."

    Danniel looks at Ryann, shocked.

    Ryann scratches the back of his head. "My helmet, right?"

    "Yes."

    He sighs. Danniel gasps, "Dad, that's treason."

    Ryann snaps his gaze at Dann. "Don't ever accuse me of treason, Dann." He lets out another sigh. "It was an oversight. Everything was moving really fast. I assumed it was destroyed; I was wrong. That is my fault and I take responsibility for it."

    Danniel is shocked by this.

    Brand waves off Danniel's concerns. "I don't care about what Xandar considers treason. This planet is no longer a Xandarian Protectorate, and you're no longer a member of the Nova Corps officially, and ultimately you're citizens of Earth and under the larger auspice of SHIELD.

    "What concerns me is this faux-Nova flitting about New York. Now, it appears they're doing good, at least for now. So, that's a mercy. But what happens if/when HAMMER figures out they're using alien technology? Then they get involved."

    "The Nova Force judges the measure of a being’s character,” Ryann points out. “There are no ‘evil’ Novas. ...Maybe some assholes."

    "Sure," Brand agrees. "I just don't want Greg Stark's Gestapo getting their grubby mitts on it."

    "Well, I can agree with that."

    "I need you to find this kid, Valt. Off the books. I don't want my people involved, dirt-side isn't our zone anymore since Stark convinced HELM to let him eat our lunch."

    Danniel speaks up. "I should come too! I've been trained as a..."

    Brand cuts him off. "No. I just said, none of my people. You're my people now, SWORD Agent Valt."

    Ryann purses his lips.

    "I can't have this traced back to SWORD," she continues. "Stark thinks I'm stepping on his dick, he cries to Garrett."

    Ryann looks at his son. "She's right, Dann." Dann frowns and folds his arms.

    "This is my mess," Ryann continues. "My mistake. So I'll fix it, that's what we do, right?"

    Dann nods.

    Brand nods briskly. "Good. I'm glad. I can't provide you with any resources or intel beyond the fact that this Nova operates in New York. You're on your own otherwise. Presumably, if it's your tech, you can find it somehow."

    "Yeah, I'll be able to pinpoint him through the Corona," Ryann says. "I assume."

    Brand puts her hands up for silence. "Less I know the better." Ryann nods. "This is off my books. Just get it done. SWORD Agent Valt, you're dismissed. STRIKE Agent Valt, leave at your leisure, I'm not the boss of you."

    "Yeah," Ryann chuckles.

    Danniel stands, salutes, and walks out. After he walks out, Brand looks over at Ryann, and says quietly, "Good kid."

    "Thanks, he's got his mother’s spirit. I'm grateful for what SWORD has done for them, I'd like you to know that."

    Brand nods. "Earth thanks you for saving it, in turn."

    "All part of the job," he nods. "Alright, well, I'm going to go check in on Kaat and the Surfer. You two take care."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    When Ryann leaves the office, Dann is waiting outside in the hall. "So...I'm getting the helmet, right?"

    "What?"

    "When you get the helmet back from whatever Earthling this is, I'm the one getting it, right?"

    Ryann looks confused at Dann. "Dann… That's not how it’s supposed to work."

    "Why not?"

    Ryann exhales through his nose. "The Nova force isn't something to just be gifted. You know. It's why I have to go."

    "But this whoever, can just steal it?"

    Ryann pauses at that. "No. Well, at least, I don't think so," he sighs.

    "I don't understand, dad. I get it. I failed the entry test to join the Supernovas. I get it. Fine. But...but we're here. On Earth. Director Brand just said, we're not citizens of Xandar anymore. You're a Black Nova now. The old rules...do they even apply? If I can use the Force, if I can be beside you, in the field, why shouldn't I? On Earth, heroes have sidekicks."

    Ryann puts a hand on Dann’s shoulder. "Apprentices, who learn from heroes...they..." He's tearing up. “Listen to me. Maybe you are right. Some of the rules might be different now, but we still need rules. I’m going to go down there and get my helmet back. We can talk about the state of Earth and whether you really even want to be down there. You can do a lot of good here, son. You still have your whole life. There is power in you already, Dann. You just need to find how to wield it.”

    Dann sniffs hard and quiets himself. "....okay."

    “Alright.” Ryann nods at his son. “Agent.”

    Danniel nods back. "I have paperwork to do. See you at dinner, dad. Mom says she's making a turkey. It's some kind of Earth bird."

    "Sounds good, I'm going to go find her now."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Ryann moves through the station to the lab where Kaat works.

    When he arrives, he sees the Surfer's board floating in a machine, suspended in an energy field. Nearby, sitting at a lab table, are the Silver Surfer and Kaat Valt.

    "Hope I'm not interrupting," Ryann says as he sees the two of them and smiles warmly at Kaat.

    Kaat returns the smile. "Not at all. Norrin was just telling me about Zenn-La, his homeworld."

    "Zenn-La?" Ryann nods at the Surfer. He assumes he knows why he has never heard of it, but doesn't say it out loud. "Where is that?"

    "Gone," the Surfer says. "The Devourer held it as part of his Worldship, a hostage tactic to guarantee my compliance as his Herald. When he was destroyed by the forces of the Nullifier, Zenn-La was destroyed along with him. Along with the worlds of all the other Heralds. We are free now, but all that we sacrificed is for naught."

    Ryann frowns. "I am sorry for that, for what it's worth. We didn't know. I don't know if that knowledge would have changed any of my companions’ plans but I'm sorry for your loss."

    The Surfer nods. "I do not believe the situation could have gone any differently. I had believed, at one time, that Galactus' hunger was driven solely by a need to stop the machinations of the Celestials. When it was revealed to him that this was no longer a factor, I knew then that he had become addicted to the power he had consumed over eons. There was no other outcome.

    "I am saddened by the loss of Zenn-La. Your wife has been very helpful with...what do you call it, Kaat?"

    Kaat replies, "Grief counseling."

    The Surfer nods. "But I also know that I am culpable in the genocide of trillions. A day will come when I am to answer for this. I do not know how."

    Ryann nods at that. "Well for now, i think you’re in the best hands possible. Kaat," He looks at his wife, "Can I talk to you for a minute? It's about tonight."

    Kaat stands up, and walks over to Ryann, away from the Surfer. "Yeah, did Danniel talk to you about 'Thanksgiving'?” She smiles. "I'm going to cook a turkey. Director Brand had a whole batch of them shipped up from Earth; many of the agents celebrate this holiday."

    “Yeah, so...” Ryann rubs the back of his head. “So I kinda did a fuck-up.”

    Kaat frowns.

    “A while back when I first came here, when we were involved in an infiltration mission. And during that mission, I kinda, sorta lost my Nova helmet and now SHiELD has reports of someone running around dressed as a Centurion and fighting crime...? Which is not good?” Ryann’s voice climbs several pitches while saying this.

    Kaat grimaces. "That's bad."

    “Yeah...” he agrees. “So, umm, I’m going to quickly go down to Earth and, umm, deal with that. Brand asked me directly with Dann in the room, which was smart on her part. He's upset about it too. He’s still bitter from the Nova applications, I feel. I dunno, you should talk to him. I need to find out how this person gained access and is able to wield the Nova Force.

    “I’ll be back before dinner.”

    Kaat hugs Ryann. "...alright. I love you. Do what you need to do. Force be with you." She turns back to her work.

    "I love you, too," Ryann says as he departs.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Ryann heads out from the Peak, and down to Earth. He knows that this ersatz Nova has been operating in New York, so that's his best place to start.

    AqUMA1Lh.jpg

    He brings up his gauntlet. "Corona, begin scanning for Nova Force signatures " He begins flying a search pattern, taking him back and forth across the New York skyline.

    "Scanning...signature found. Centurion Valt, I have found a Nova Force signature over Central Park. It is currently channeling the Nova Force at 45% of peak efficiency.

    "There are police band signals in the area. It appears an individual matching the description of this Nova is engaged in combat with… Stand by.

    "It appears this individual is engaged in combat with Tony Stark, alias Iron Man."

    "Oh great, that took like zero time for him to get involved." Ryann turns in air and blasts toward Central Park.

    A moment later, he’s there, and sees the other Nova battling Iron Man. The two are circling each other in the sky, blasting back and forth. The other Nova is smaller. He looks young.

    Ryann surges in between the two combatants. "Stop! Both of you!"

    Stark opens fire on Centurion with his Uni-Beam.

    "Oh fu-" Centurion gets blasted out of the sky and plummets to the ground.

    The other Nova sees this, and shouts "Hey!" He looks at Iron Man. "Oh, you shouldn't have done that!" He dives at Stark, tackling him in a super-speed rush. The two hit the ground, making a trench in the Central Park dirt.

    He’s fast, Ryann thinks as he watches them. He rights himself in the air and heads back to the action.

    Stark grabs his attacker, and tries to crush his head between his hands with palm repulsor blasts.

    "Off him!" Ryann blasts at Stark...but he has a choice He can blast Stark hard enough to knock him free and save the kid's life. But he knows Stark's a human under that suit, he hits that hard...Stark might not live.

    He's gotta make a call. One life, or the other.

    He’s just a kid. Ryann shoots to kill. Iron Man takes the blast and goes flying backwards, slamming into a rock wall nearby. He slumps down, lifeless.

    The ‘kid Nova’ pulls himself up, dusting himself off.

    Ryann pulls up his gauntlet. "Corona, scan Iron Man."

    "Scanning...scanning...the Iron Man suit contains hardware that makes it difficult for my scans to penetrate and verify lifesigns. Suggest manual verification of life."

    Ryann walks over and rips off the face plate.

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    It's a Skrull under the suit. He steps back in shock, then looks at the younger Nova. "You," he points. "You're coming with me, now."

    The other Nova gulps.

    Ryann grabs ‘Iron Man’ and hoists him over his shoulder. "Follow." Taking flight, Ryann heads to a skyscraper rooftop.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Landing, he tosses the dead Skrull down, and turns to the kid. "Who are you? And what do you know about that?" he asks, pointing at the Iron Man suit.

    The other Nova looks around cautiously, and then takes off the helmet. The Nova Force dissipates, and the suit disappears. He's holding the helmet. He's...just a boy in a grey hoodie. He's Danniel's age.

    "My name's Sam. Sam Alexander."

    "You’re just some kid," Ryann murmurs, shocked.

    "I...I found this a couple months ago." he holds up the helmet. "I saw Sentinels attacking Avengers tower, and I went to watch and...this fell down. I picked it up and took it. I...I put it on after a while and...I saw stuff.

    "Power. A Force. The...the Nova Force. It said it chose me."

    "Impossible," Ryann breathes.

    "Well, I dunno man!" Sam shrugs helplessly. "It's what happened!"

    "Wow, I sound like an asshole," Ryann blinks and shakes his head. "So you're not stealing or drawing the power out?"

    "No?"

    "You've been chosen. The power is yours," Ryann says, frowning. "This makes things complicated."

    "So...you're saying I get to keep it?" Sam asks hopefully. He's starting to smile.

    "Slow down there, bud. That is my helmet—well, was, at least. I'm going to explain some things to you, try to keep up..." Ryann explains (in a grandiose and epic way) who the Nova Corp are, their mission and how Sam came upon the helmet.

    Sam sits down on the edge of the building, taking it all in.

    Finally he speaks. "I'm going to do whatever it takes to earn this, Ryann. To become a real Nova, like you."

    2OGgeoTl.jpg

    "We’ll see, but I still have questions for you,” Ryann says. "Big green questions." He points at the Skrull.

    "Oh, yeah, about that..." Sam sighs. "So, when I was trying to figure stuff out, I didn't know who to turn to. But I saw you on the news, saving Iron Man. So I figured you guys were friends? I didn't know who you were, but everyone knows Iron Man is Tony Stark.

    "So I went to him.

    "He didn't want to talk to me at first, didn't believe me. But then I showed him my powers, showed him I was the real deal. So, he kinda...started showing me the ropes a little? Quietly, he said if anyone found out about me I'd be in trouble and stuff, didn't really explain why or what he really knew.

    "Then he told me that a Skrull was trying to steal his identity, and had stolen one of his suits. That is...or was...him, I guess. I tracked him here from LA. So...I guess I can call Mr. Stark and tell him mission success."

    "Pump the brakes on that one," Ryann says, holding up a hand. "Mr. Stark isn't your boss anymore and I'll make sure he's informed about your success.'

    "Okay?" Sam shrugs. "So...are we like...are you my mentor now? Is that how that works?"

    "Something like that, I guess,” Ryann sighs. "We’ll figure this out. I gotta make some calls."

    PHU1KZN.png
    Sam Alexander is the second young Earth boy to come across a Nova’s gear; the original being Richard Ryder, the main character in the original Nova comic, whom I discussed a couple seasons ago. I haven’t read Sam’s comic, but I assume, like Miles Morales’ Spider-Man, he represents a chance to hit some of the character’s classic beats in a newer, modern context.

    Matt could just as easily have made Kid Nova Richard Rider, of course, but I figure his reasoning was to give us one of the different, lesser-known versions of a character, the way that our resident Watcher is Atul instead of Uatu.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Ryann raises his gauntlet and calls Clay...and gets Clay's voice mail. Ryann explains the situation and asks Clay to get back to him. After he hangs up, his phone rings and the caller ID says MODOC.

    He answers. "Hello?"

    "MODOC WAS TO REMIND ALL STRIKE AGENTS THAT YOU ARE ON TIME OFF," the screeching voice says. "DIRECTOR QUARTERMAIN IS ON VACATION."

    "I know that, I have a developing situation here. Can you just send an exfil team to me, I have a Skull imposter who stole one of Iron Man’s suits." By the Force, why is this guy always yelling?

    "OKAY. MODOC HELPS." MODOC hangs up.

    "THANK YOU," Ryann shouts back. He shakes his head.

    After a half hour, a stealth Quinjet stops by, and Bob and Faiza are inside. They load up the Skrull, and Bob looks at Sam. "Hey, who's the kid?"

    "New recruit. Clay doesn't know yet."

    "Cool stuff. What's your name, kiddo?"

    "Sam," the kid says.

    Bob nods. "Awesome. Hopefully goes better than Petey. Get aboard."

    Sam raises an eyebrow. "Who's..."

    Faiza sucks her teeth. "Don't worry about it."

    Sam looks at the Quinjet. "Wait...are you guys Avengers? Am I an Avenger now?" he says with a sense of wonder.

    Bob smiles. "Sorta, in the sense that a wolf's a dog. C'mon." Ryann sighs at Bob, and Sam follows them onto the Quinjet.

    Corona chimes on Ryann's gauntlet. "Centurion Valt, you have a message from your wife."

    "Oh damn it," he says. "I gotta go. I'll see you soon, Sam." He nods at Faiza and Bob, then dives out the Quinjet and takes flight. As he does so his listens to the message.

    "Hi, Ryann. Turkey's in the oven, I figure you're still on Earth handling that...mission. Danniel seems upset, won't tell me why." There’s a pause. "If you can make it back in time for this dinner, great. If you can't, I understand. Work is work.

    "It's just a silly Earth tradition anyway.

    "It would have been nice, though."

    Ryann grimaces at the message and at the timestamp, and tries to double-time it back to the Peak. He’s almost late. The bird could be coming out of the oven any minute. Ryann could make it...if he really pushed the Force.

    Focusing his will, he slingshots himself across Earth's orbit, arriving just in time for Thanksgiving dinner with his family.

    PHU1KZN.png
    This was a real roll. The culmination of Jake’s whole segment was he had to roll to avoid Ryann being a bad husband and father.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    bsP3zMoh.jpg

    Miles is aboard the Peak, visiting his fiancée. Carol has, in the past few weeks, taken over as the team leader of Alpha Flight. Alpha Flight is SWORD's own elite rapid response team, equivalent to the Avengers or the Squadron Supreme, with the narrow remit of only responding to extra-terrestrial threat. Many of its members (Krugarr, Nebula, Lothi, and Mantis) are individuals that Freedom Force brought with them from their mission in deep space.

    The remaining members are from the original Alpha Flight, a Canadian covert ops team that operated essentially as Canada's equivalent to STRIKE, which sustained heavy losses in the Skrull invasion. In the wake of that event, Canada agreed to put Alpha Flight under HELM's jurisdiction, and amalgamate their resources with SWORD.

    As Miles arrives at Carol's quarters, Carol exits and motions for him to follow. "West Wing it with me." He grins and falls in line.

    "Brand wants to talk to us ASAP,” she continues. “You and me, specifically. Just us. Not me and my team, not you and yours. Just you and me. Really suspicious. I think your spy paranoia is rubbing off on me.

    "If she tries to airlock us, how fast can X-51 counter-hack the controls?" It's only a semi-serious question.

    Miles starts to laugh, then it dies on his lips. "Uh...fast enough? Hopefully? How big is Brand on, you know. Grudges?"

    "Pretty big."

    "Well, you're tougher, so if she starts shooting green lasers at us or something, I'm cowering behind you."

    "Okay." She's genuinely nervous, though. They walk in silence for a moment, then she speaks again. "Also, the orbital year on Hala is 14 months. 14 Earth months, equivalent, that is."

    "Interesting. Is that, um, relevant?"

    "...yes,” she stammers. "Um..."

    Miles purses his lips and watches her closely. This thing with Mahr-Vehl’s personality was supposed to be getting better, he thinks.

    "Hala doesn't have a Christmas. Or anything like that. But there's two solstices. At one, one half of a couple is supposed to give the other a gift made by hand. At the other, the other half gives a gift. You're supposed to take 7 months to make the gift. That's the idea.

    "We haven't...been together 7 months so...I cheated."

    "You..."

    "And I bought you something when we were on Knowhere."

    Miles bounces on the balls of his heels. "Yeah?"

    She reaches into a belt pouch and holds out a small gemstone that glows with an inner purple light.

    reCUWyml.jpg

    Miles cradles it in his palm, turning it over and admiring its facets. "It's beautiful," he breathes. He squeezes her hand. "Thank you."

    She smiles. "It's called the Tactigon. Once, it was a powerful weapon that could defeat entire armadas. Now, it's...well, it's broken now. But it's still pretty."

    "And it has a baller fucking name. The Tactigon!"

    "Right?!" She grins widely. "I figured you like it. So..."

    He nods eagerly.

    She smiles wolfishly. "You have seven months, buster."

    The color drains out of his face. He can tell she's serious. And a shop class cutting board won't do the job.

    "Yes'm," he nods meekly.

    She giggles, "Alright, well, let's go see Brand and hopefully she doesn't try to murder us."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    The two go to Brand's office, and she's there sitting at her desk by herself. When they enter, the door locks behind them.

    Miles shoots Carol a worried look. This isn't beginning well...

    Brand folds her hands. "I need you to understand this entire conversation isn't happening. Entirely off the record."

    "What conversation?" Miles deadpans.

    She nods. "You both have had the displeasure of meeting Gregory Stark, and may have by now met his HAMMER goon squad.

    "I don't trust them. I know you don't either. Mason, you and I both know that the majority of their boots on the ground are made up of the sort of dickswinging country club goose-steppers you used to jager-bomb with."

    Miles nods. "Things have a bad habit of going to shit whenever we go away for a little while, but finding out Stark has a whole government agency to call his own really took the cake."

    Carol squints at Brand. "Harsh."

    Miles makes a hand-waffling gesture. "I mean, it wasn't just Jager bombs...there was a lot of Goldschlager, too." Carol snort-laughs. Brand scowls at her. "But I can see that's not operationally relevant right now," he hastily adds off Brand's look.

    Brand nods. "Prior to Gregory Stark eating my lunch, we used to have a facility for when we captured Skrulls. Skrulls are notoriously hard to kill. The base Skrull's a shapeshifter with fantastic regeneration abilities, the Royal caste are telepaths, and the War Skrulls can mimic superhuman powers. We've found the best thing to do when we take them, alive or dead, is put them literally on ice.

    "We used to have a facility for this. A cryogenic storage lab we called the Guest House. When HAMMER started up, Stark made the case that they should be in charge of that, and Fucking Garrett," she says 'Fucking' as if it is his first name, "agreed and gave him the keys.

    "Which would have been bad enough in and of itself but..." She draws a deep breath. "He cleared it out."

    Miles blinks. "Wait, what?"

    "There's no Guests in the Guest House anymore. We don't know where they took them. We don't know where they're taking anything anywhere. What happens when HAMMER apprehends Skrulls, or any other aliens they capture? We don't know! I don't like not knowing things, people. It makes me anxious. You know how I handle anxiety? Airlocks."

    Carol grimaces.

    "So where do we come in, Director?” Miles asks. “I'm assuming it's not the airlock part, right? Because you know that we're your good, results-getting buddies here."

    Brand nods. "I need you to find out where they're taking these hostile LETs. Because this impacts you people too, by that I mean, STRIKE. Because with…one exception, no Skrull works for SHIELD directly."

    Miles nods slowly. He takes this to mean she doesn't know about Lyja.

    Brand continues. "There are, however, some friendly Skrulls who work for WHISPER, who are ex-Leviathan. And there's definitely concerns they get caught in HAMMER's dragnet, and through no fault of their own, fink on the wrong people."

    Miles nods. "So how do we want to play this? Find an alien, feed it to Stark's people and...follow it through the process? See what HAMMER does?"

    Brand nods. "Fortunately, we don't need to find one. We have one already, and one we're happy to feed because he's a Dard'van piece of trash. A little while back, we came into possession of a Dard'van Skrull who was trying to impersonate Tony Stark. We nabbed him before HAMMER did. We've got him on ice."

    Miles nods appreciatively. "Nice. Okay."

    "So, he's the bait. We're going to put him into your custody, you decide how to lay the trap. I'm putting this into the hands of you and Danvers, and then washing myself of it. This isn't a SWORD op. If you get caught, you and Danvers are going straight under the bus. You're a STRIKE guy, you get to be Quartermain's migraine, and Danvers is so intertwined with you professionally and personally that I can just burn her."

    Carol mouths a big wow.

    "You've got an interesting approach to engendering loyalty, I'll say that much," Miles scowls. "But as it happens, I've been trying to get into HAMMER's dirty laundry for weeks, so I'll take the shot."

    Brand nods. "I figured." She taps on her desk console. "The cryo-chamber is in the docking bay. You can decide how you want to deal with the thing at your leisure. There's a SWORD shuttle that you can take that X-51 can cover up that you took without us putting any particular effort into tracing that you did it. Good?"

    "Good." Miles turns to go. "Guess we've got an op to plan, then. See ya."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Carol and Miles proceed to the docking bay. The cryo pod with the Skrull inside it is already loaded on to the shuttle by some helpful SWORD agents who know nothing.

    Carol looks over at Miles. "So, how do we wanna do this?"

    He hops behind the controls. "Okay, X-51, let's take her out." He turns to Carol. "Here's my rough sketch.

    "You'll call this in. You were doing something in SWORD's wheelhouse and the fight took you to Earth so it became a HAMMER thing, right? You make the handoff. I'll be nearby. Once Stark's goons show up, I'll have X-51 get into their business and lojack them - have them send some kind of tracer pulse, or whatever. We follow them at a discreet distance until we get where we're going, and then we infiltrate from there."

    "Sounds good." The shuttle begins descending into Earth's orbit. "So I guess I don't really have to wake this jerk up, huh? I can kinda just half-thaw him and toss him down, maybe give him a few blasts for appearances’ sake, and then call it in?"

    Miles nods. "Yeah, throw in some love taps for realism and we should be good. I doubt checking to see if their Skrulls are pre-frozen is top on the HAMMER agenda."

    "Okay. Once we're at a good alt, I'll toss 'em out the back and let fly. Man, I tell you though, Brand just got herself taken off my Christmas card list with that 'I'll just burn you' stuff. And it's a cute Christmas card, too! My cat's on it in a little Santa hat and everything."

    He cocks a grin. "Brand could stand to brush up on her people skills, that's for sure. But on the bright side, we're getting to do a job together! How cool is that. It's like that old show MacMillan and Wife! You get to be Wife, in this context."

    She blushes. "..okay." She stands and heads into the back of the shuttle, where she opens up the cryo tank, grabs the half-frozen Skrull, and jumps out the rear hatch. She gives Miles a goofy grin and a thumbs up as she flies away.

    Miles follows, keeping the shuttle at an unobtrusive distance. A few minutes later, he hears a radio call-in to HAMMER from Carol.

    A Quinjet arrives soon after, and Miles watches on his screen as a few HAMMER agents filing out and loading up the Skrull. One of them is talking with Carol.

    Patching in audio from Carol's comm, X-51 says.

    "...yeah, yeah, you did a good job, Lightspeed Barbie, but we'll take it from here," the HAMMER agent sneers. "Protocol is pretty clear that you and your freakshow buddies stay up on your space station. Which is where you oughta be now."

    PHU1KZN.png

    "Who the fuck is this incel," Miles growls.

    Running the agent's personnel file now... standby…

    "When you find it, ruin his credit," Miles spits.

    File found. Miles, I have found that this HAMMER agent was dishonorably discharged from the US Marine Corps in 2004 as a result of physically abusing detainees in Iraq. Shortly thereafter, he joined Blackguard. He already has a poor credit score, as a result of an ongoing gambling addiction fostered by online poker.

    He has gone to significant lengths to cover up this last aspect of his identity from his current employers, as HAMMER considers that sort of financial debt a possible point of leverage to be used against their agents. If you would like, I could covertly disclose his financial indiscretions to HAMMER Human Resources anonymously. This will likely result in his termination.


    Miles whistles. "You've picked up the rules of this game in record time. Good work. Let's do that. How does the Quinjet's cybersecurity look? Do you think you could co-opt their transponder so we could follow them home?"

    Easily. HAMMER's security is...quaint.

    "Great. As soon as we have that in the bag, arrange a pickup point so we can grab Carol and shadow these guys."

    Miles, on a personal note I find the lack of digital security exhibited by what is supposed to be an agency dedicated to extra-terrestrial threats deeply disconcerting. The Skrull Empire has technology far exceeding Earth's. Gregory Stark is also a technological genius. That their cyber-security is this poor is disconcerting."

    We should advise SWORD Director Brand of HAMMER's inadequacies.


    Miles nods grimly. "Is it possible that there's more there that we aren't seeing?"

    Possible.

    "You and I have both seen Stark's prisons; sloppiness certainly doesn't seem like him. The best case scenario is there's layers of security we can't even see. But the worst case is that HAMMER's been...suborned somehow. Or hobbled."

    "Indeed. ...I have arranged a rendezvous point with Carol. She's arriving now.

    Carol flies back aboard the shuttle. "We've got ‘em?"

    Miles nods. "Oh hey, dickless down there has a bad gambling habit that he neglected to tell HELM HR about. X-51 and I rectified that little oversight."

    Carol breathes a sigh of relief. "Thank you, both of you. Fuck that guy. ‘Lightspeed Barbie.’ I could have caved in his head."

    Miles grins wolfishly. "Without breaking a sweat. That's the best part." He settles behind the controls. "Now we just gotta follow these goombas back to cockroach central and see what we see."

    He keeps the shuttle on the Quinjet's path but comfortably outside of its radar range, letting X-51's telemetry do the work.

    The shuttle follows the Quinjet, and after several miles, the HAMMER Quinjet...vanishes.

    Not cloaks. Disappears.

    X-51 comes over the comms. "Fascinating.

    "They've shrunk. The entire Quinjet is using Pym Particles. Rather than using any conventional stealth technology such as holographic cloaking, the Quinjet simply became extremely small."

    "Oh shit," Miles says. "Can you still track them?"

    "Yes, although it is becoming difficult. If they go radio dark, I will lose them."

    Miles frowns. "Maybe we should keep them from doing that, then. Go as deep as you have to. Just don't lose that ship."

    "Understood."

    After tracing the tiny Quinjet for hundreds of kilometers, it resizes, and comes upon a facility in the Mojave desert.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited October 1
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    Miles stares. "What the fu-"

    "What...what is that."

    "Bad news, I bet," he answers. "Well, we're in it now, hun. Do we press on? Find out what's going on in there?"

    "I...I guess. We can't exactly call back for orders. We're off the book."

    The Quinjet flies directly towards the blank, featureless cube, which opens an aperture and accepts the craft, closing after it. Miles sets the SWORD shuttle down a discreet distance away from the bizarre structure.

    "Miles," X-51 says, "I believe I can open us a door. I've been scanning this cube-structure for signals. I assumed if the Quinjet could enter, there had to be some kind of call-answer protocol. I was correct."

    "You can spoof the signal?"

    "Yes. However, the encryption is significantly more advanced than I had previously denigrated HAMMER's security. It uses a rotating algorithm that...suffice to say, I will require the 'fuzzy logic' of a human mind to reinforce my attempt. If you would please."

    Miles nods. He squeezes Carol's hand. "Wish me luck. These cyberspace trips are always something else." He projects his consciousness into cyberspace.

    Exposed to the code, Miles realizes that it's Hank Pym's design. He's seen Pym's work before. Somewhere in this place, there's probably quantum-overlaps of billions of tiny server farms.

    He and X-51 open an aperture in the Cube, which extends a footramp down to them. "We have managed to open the door without alarms or alerting security, Miles," X-51 adds.

    "Popcorn," Miles breathes. "Here we go."

    Miles and Carol enter the facility. Its...immense.

    Bigger on the inside than the outside. It reminds him, design-wise, of the Big House. Another Pym product.

    There's HAMMER agents approaching. Miles and Carol don't have any specific stealth technology or abilities, so they have to be conventionally sneaky.

    As they're sneaking through the facility, a meaty palm rests on Miles' shoulder suddenly. He turns and looks.

    iBF15MX.jpg

    "Fancy meeting you here."

    "Which way to the can?" Miles asks innocently.

    "Let me escort you."

    Carol's face is a rictus of terror. "...oh, hi Mark," she manages.

    "Nice," Miles shoots her a thumbs up, which she returns, shakily.

    Hyperion groans. "Let's go."

    He motions for them to follow.

    Jacobkosh on
    Matev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "So," Miles tries to make his voice jovial. "New office. Pretty cool. Is the whole team here?"

    "Yes. We got called in when our Quinjet realized you were following them. You guys were sloppy."

    Miles feels a searing hot pang of annoyance from X-51. He shares that annoyance. "Well, as long as we're here, could we say hi to Moondragon? I rescued her from HYDRA; I feel kinda responsible for the kid."

    "Oh, you'll be talking to Moondragon. That's for sure," Hyperion says. "Director Stark wants her to ask you a few questions." Hyperion does not look happy about any of this. He actually looks kind of upset.

    He leads the pair into what is very obviously an interrogation room. Moondragon is there, along with Darkhawk.

    Hyperion shuts the door behind him. "Sit."

    Miles shrugs and sits, hooking the chair around 180 degrees with his foot so he can rest his arms on its back.

    Carol sits, her arms folded at her stomach like she's in the principal's office to be yelled at.

    X-51, if you can find us any leverage in that Darkhawk armor, that would be...helpful.

    Hyperion sighs. "Alright, so, first things first. Darkhawk's armor has its own AI. It's alien in origin. Don't make it get into a pissing match with X-51. If you try to call out, if you try to hack our stuff, the Darkhawk AI will get into it with you. So, don't."

    X-51 responds to Miles internally. Miles, for now I believe I would like to heed Hyperion's caution and see how this plays out.

    ...Yeah.


    Hyperion continues. "Heather's going to ask you guys a series of questions. Verbally. She will know if you are lying with passive telepathy. Surface thoughts stuff. She won't be deep-diving on your mind, nothing without your consent. But it's very...polygraph-adjacent. So please be honest with her, guys. I want to believe we're all on the same side here and this is a big misunderstanding."

    Miles opens his arms up in acquiescence. "All right. Ask away."

    Lyja. If there's anything you need us to say or do, please...let us know somehow, Miles thinks, not sure if she can hear him.

    Miles receives a telepathic response, Cover your own ass. I'll cover it too. Whatever you want to be true, is. Whatever is a lie, is. Tell me. Don't tell just the truth, it's too suspicious. You know what to do.

    Moondragon folds her hands gently. "We'll begin.

    "How did you acquire the Skrull that you gave to us?"

    She's asking Carol. Carol bites her lip nervously and looks at Miles.

    "STRIKE caught him weeks ago," Miles says smoothly. I'm lying.

    Moondragon squints. "Lie. Where did he really come from?"

    Hyperion frowns.

    Miles tries to look put out. "We...borrowed him from a SWORD lab. They're going to be upset when they find out he's gone," he adds. Truth.

    Moondragon looks at Hyperion and nods.

    She looks back at Miles. "Why? Why are you doing this?"

    Miles takes a deep breath. "Because Gregory Stark gave guns and jackboots and badges to my ex-coworkers," he snarls. "All the washouts and dishonorable discharges and literal war criminals. He dusted them off and turned them loose on the entire planet. You've got a guy in that Quinjet who assaulted detainees in Iraq. And you're all just cool with it! And you talk about being on the same side!" Miles half-stands out of his chair with red-faced indignation. "Well, those creeps are my responsibility. If Stark won't clean up this mess, then I will."

    True, he informs Moondragon.

    Moondragon sighs. "He's telling the truth, Marcus. This is personal for him. Deeply."

    Hyperion shakes his head, "Miles...man...I'm sorry. That's...I'm sorry.

    "Look I don't like a lot of the guys we hire. If I was in charge of all that stuff, we'd get rid of a bunch of them. Clean house. But I'm not in charge of that. I'm not in charge of as much as I'd like.

    "And you roped Carol into your little crusade? Man...c'mon..."

    "If you don't like the situation, you have a responsibility to change it," Miles jabs a finger at Hyperion. "You have a century of seniority. If not you, then who? The buck has to stop somewhere, guy."

    Hyperion grumbles. "You think I'm not trying to? Why do you think I agreed to this assignment? I could have just said no. It's not like they could have made me.

    "I am trying to change it. From the inside. I'm trying to do what I can to make things go right. But I'm not...I'm not HR, man."

    "Maybe you should be! That's where this whole ship seems to be leaking!"

    Hyperion growls. "I'm done with this. This rogue op of yours was irresponsible and sloppy, Mason. If you had beef with how HAMMER ran its house you should have kicked it upstairs to Clay or to HELM. Not gone off-res on your own, and brought the woman you love into it. Now I gotta order Heather to acid-wash you and that sucks."

    Moondragon stares at Hyperion. Carol gasps.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "You tell yourself whatever excuses you need to, buddy," Miles snarls. "But you could have said no whenever you wanted."

    Hyperion rubs his temples. "Heather, do the thing. I'm done. I'm so fucking done."

    "I guess being a slave gets to be a habit after a while."

    Hyperion's eyes begin glowing as he flashes a glare at Miles. Moondragon sends a telepathic transmission to Miles. Watch yourself. I can't actually stop him if he wants to kill you.

    Hyperion turns and leaves the room. "Do it, and drop them off somewhere. Don't call this in, I don't want to start shit with Clay."

    Moondragon nods soberly. She turns to Carol and Miles, "I'm going to need you both to count backwards from 10. You're going to pass out, and when you wake up, you'll be somewhere far away from here, and you'll have no memory of being here or where this place is."

    Darkhawk speaks up, for the first time since the meeting started. His voice echoes artificially. "What about his AI? How do we make sure it hasn't recorded everything?"

    Moondragon turns to Darkhawk, "When I take control of Mason's mind, I can send a command to his AI to clear the record. Trust me, Chris."

    X-51, store everything that's happened in a black memory sector. Just in case.

    Done.

    Moondragon transmits to Miles telepathically, I'm not actually going to do it.

    Do we need to act, or...?

    Just let me take the reins. You won't lose any memories.

    Thank you,
    Miles thinks.

    Whatever Clay has you doing, I trust him.

    What happened to the Guest House's guests after HAMMER took over?

    Here. They're all here. Everything's here. I'll send a data-packet at the next dead-drop.

    Okay. That's what we needed to know, then. Thanks.


    "Now, count," she says aloud.

    Miles takes Carol’s hand. “I’m sorry, honey,” he says ruefully. “I take you to the best places.”

    They turn to face Moondragon. "10, 9, 8..."

    Miles and Carol pass out. Some undetermined time later, they wake up in the SWORD shuttle somewhere in the desert.

    PHU1KZN.png
    Man, one bad stealth roll can really ruin a guy’s day, huh?

    If Miles had been thinking a little more clearly, he might have tried to fast-talk the situation more. Tried to convince Hyperion to have Darkhawk review the HAMMER personnel files the way X-51 had done, to get both of them on-side.

    But Miles was genuinely upset. He really hates HAMMER and their whole ICE vibe and he was really annoyed at Hyperion’s kind of meek, go-along-to-get-along attitude. So he lit him up! And almost got the favor returned.

    Matev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited October 1
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    Michael is in Asgard, visiting Sigrun with his friend, Krugarr. Since the events of Ragnarok and the coming of Galactus, Asgard has been separated from the power of Yggdrasil, the World Tree. Because of its Celestial origins beyond space and time, Yggdrasil was cut off due to the choices made by Miles Mason, Machine Man.

    Since then, the eternal summer of Asgard has become an endless autumn, with the leaves of trees taking on golds and reds and falling from time to time. While still beautiful, it is an ill portent in the minds of many Asgardians, as the inevitable Endless Winter of the Sagas is coming. Yggdrasil was the source of Asgard's life and power, and without it, Asgard will diminish and fall. Odin, in an act of mercy, has gone into the Odinsleep to sustain his realm with his own energies, leaving the throne to his son Thor, who now reigns as King of Asgard.

    Taking in the destruction from Shuma-Gorath, MIchael is saddened at the state of Asgard compared to what it once was. He resolves himself to prevent its fall.

    CYXCbmFh.jpg

    The trio walk along the streets of Asgard. Krugarr remarks, in sign language that Sigrun and Michael understand thanks to the Allspeak, that he also vows to help Asgard in whatever way he can.

    A royal page approaches them, and informs them that the King requests their presence in the throne room. They travel there together to an audience with Thor.

    VLGGykel.png

    Michael gives a half bow. "Your Highness."

    Thor looks at the three of them, "I have a quest for you.

    "You have vowed to help Asgard in its time of need, to find a way to stave off the Endless Winter. Our sages may have found such a way."

    Michael stands up a bit straighter. "That's good news!"

    Thor nods. "It is...a complex matter, however."

    "It wouldn't be a proper quest if it was simple."

    "There was a time before Asgard was sundered from Midgard," Thor says. "In that age, our land was called Aesheim. My grandfather, King Bor, was ruler then. He was the one who cleft Asgard from Midgard when the Frost Giants came and made war.

    "He did so with incredible power, which the sages believe still resides on Midgard. It is called the Heart of Ymir, the essence of the Great Giant who created our people."

    Michael nods. "So when we find this power to re-attach Asgard to Earth, do your sages have any idea where that might be? Would be pretty strange to have a giant floating nation above New York. Well maybe not strange for New York ..."

    PHU1KZN.png
    Dave, Michael’s player, is making a sly reference to an actual plot from the comics, where Asgard traveled to Earth as a giant floating city.

    Thor nods. "We have a notion of where it is. It is in the land that the Midgardians call 'Greenland,' despite the fact that it is not Green at all.

    "The three of you have sworn to find this place. A mighty warrior, a powerful sorcerer, a cunning assassin. But according to the sages, the place may be beset with traps and dangers, hazards ancient in origin. So, I have called upon the services of a clever thief who has served as an ally of yours in the past and feels she owes a debt to be paid for the sins of her father."

    Nebula steps out from the shadows. "Hey."

    Michael takes a half step back in surprise, then nods towards Nebula. "Hi there, glad to have you on board." She nods back and smiles.

    "The Bifrost will take you to a cave's entrance, and inside that...begins your quest," Thor says. "Go now, and save our people."

    PHU1KZN.png
    BRING PLENTY OF QUARTERS

    wfMUF1l.png

    Michael bows and heads of with his party of stalwart companions on a grand quest, thinking to himself Miles will be so jealous I went on a fuckin' real life D&D quest.

    The group move to the Bifrost, and greet Heimdall briefly before being blasted off.

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    Jacobkosh on
    Matev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    f3VmTljh.jpg

    They arrive inside a glacial cave, somewhere in Greenland.

    Nebula looks around, touching the side of her head and scanning with her cybernetic eye. "This way." Michael nods and follows close behind.

    Rough-hewn walls of stone are carved alongside ancient ice. The architecture looks, to Michael's eyes, Asgardian but older.

    "Keep your wits about you. Thor wasn't kidding, this place wasn't meant for people to come back to," Nebula says. "Don't know why. Wouldn't your people want this power? Something doesn't add up."

    "There's always a catch, in my experience," Michael muses. Sigrun pats his arm.

    What would be the catch, is an interesting question? Krugarr asks. If we are to use this power, is it not worth finding out?

    Michael nods. "It is indeed. This may be the best chance Asgard has of surviving. Whatever comes, I believe we can overcome it."

    Nebula looks back at the group. "Huh...that's definitely a trap. But it's facing the wrong way." She reaches up and disarms something, which lets out an energized hum. "It's like it's designed to keep something in."

    There's a green energy bolt behind Nebula. It's about to hit her.

    Michael realizes that he can't armor up in time to shield Nebula. He's either gotta let her take the hit—or he's got to take the hit himself, and hope he can withstand it. He's been...getting tougher?

    He body-checks Nebula clear and takes the hit.

    He’s blasted off his feet, and winded. The skin on his back crackles and burns.

    "Owwww." That hurt. A lot.

    Gritting his teeth, he whirls to face the source. The thing that blasted was some kind of creature.

    a1mtNEyl.jpg

    It's armed.

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    And it has like fifty friends.

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    A legion of undead Asgardians, led by this draconic warrior, pour out of the tunnels towards the adventurers.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited October 1
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    Michael armors up and faces the incoming horde. "Everyone stand back." Michael tries to fire a powerful beam at the enemies, trying to encompass as many as he can.

    There are too many, and when he blasts them down…they get back up.

    Even from ashes.

    Krugarr, Sigrun, and Nebula do their best to try to hold back the tide.

    Michael has a choice. He can seal the tunnel, and let the rest of the party fall back to safety. But it will inevitably put him on the side with the undead. Or they can stand together, knowing it will put all of them at risk.

    He looks back at the group and gives a thumbs up. "I got this."

    Sigrun shouts "NOoo--!" but Nebula holds her back as Michael seals the tunnel behind himself and the horde.

    He whirls to face the undead, who...stop. They stop attacking, and step backwards.

    Something moves among them. A massive shadow of smoke and wisps of light.

    It writhes and stalks until it takes shape in front of Michael. It's a wolf. A huge wolf, the size of a bear.

    "Well, hello there," a sultry woman's voice echoes across the icy halls. She walks up next to the shadowy wolf, patting it on the head.

    hF3kczFl.jpg

    "The Destroyer, hand-crafted by King Bor himself. How amusing."

    "Hi, I'm Michael, and I'm the one not judging you on first sight. Who might you be?"

    She grins. "My name is Hela. I'm the goddess of death."

    "And who is that big boy at your side?"

    "Oh, him?" she chuckles and pats the snarling wolf. "This is Fenris."

    "So uh, what are you doing in an ice cave with your undead friends?"

    "I was imprisoned here by King Bor, in his finite wisdom. He believed that my reason for being, my purpose, was no longer needed in his Asgard. I assume, since you came here and freed me, that the dying of Asgard has caused you lot to change your minds?

    "I can feel it," she says. "The rot, the decay."

    "Sooo, about that. You know Ragnarok? I kinda helped stop that. And managed to defeat Surtur, that was fun. We, uh, actually came here to save Asgard. Didn't even know you were here, or that you existed."

    She nods thoughtfully, biting the edge of her nail. "Oh, I know. Just because I've been imprisoned doesn't mean I don't see.

    “But I can help you.

    "Asgard is dying, decaying into nothingness, Destroyer. Join me, and burn away the rot and we will resurrect Asgard to its rightful glory."

    "Now when you say rot, what do you mean?" he rumbles.

    "All power is finite. The weak draw from the strong. Some Asgardians are weak. Some are strong. If you find the Heart of Ymir, you can use it to restore Asgard to its glory but...for how long? Millennia? What is that to an Asgardian? A good afternoon?"

    "So how is what you're proposing any different? If we let Asgard die and then resurrect it, how will it live on any longer than if we save it now?"

    "Death and life are intrinsically linked. Death can fuel life, if you let it," she says. "If you let me." She walks towards Michael.

    He can see magical sigils floating in the air. Krugarr is making a portal. Fenris' ears begin to twitch. He can hear the noise of the portal opening.

    Michael has to act.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited October 1
    To keep its attention off the portal, Michael blasts Fenris, who yelps and goes flying through a horde of undead, dissipating into smoke. Hela looks at Behemoth and hisses in anger.

    Krugarr's portal opens, and he, Sigrun, and Nebula leap through.

    Sigrun gasps. "Hela! Goddess of Death! No! Michael, we need to flee this place and seal it away!"

    "I agree! How?!"

    Sigrun looks at Krugarr, who motions to the still-open portal. Go. Sigrun and Nebula jump back through the portal, fighting some undead back as they do.

    Michael approaches the portal and looks at Krugarr. "C'mon!"

    Krugarr and Michael jump through the portal, and it closes behind them. Once the portal closes, Krugarr begins making mystical sigils against the collapsed tunnel.

    I can reinforce the seals that we have broken, which will hold for a time. I will return to this place with Doctor Strange, and we will create a more thorough ward.

    Nebula looks at the collapsed tunnel. "Well, that sucked."

    Michael looks down a bit. "There must be a way to defeat her and save Asgard."

    Sigrun shakes her head. "I did not know. King Thor could not have known either. Our legends say that King Bor slew Hela, it was part of what gave the Asgardians our near everlasting life, he defeated Death Herself and cast her into darkness.

    "But...it seems that is a lie. It seems all Bor did was use the power of the Heart of Ymir to contain her. We will speak to the King. Perhaps...perhaps with time, we can find a way to truly slay her, and take the Heart of Ymir for Asgard…

    "We should return and tell the King of our quest. At the very least, we will return with knowledge."

    Michael powers down and takes Sigrun's hands in his, looking into her eyes. "I swear that I will do what I can to help save your home. Even killing the goddess of death."

    Sigrun smiles, and the four call out to Heimdall and are summoned back to Asgard.

    tjrxGJ6.jpg

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  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited October 1
    NlMU77Xh.png

    It has been a month and a half since Freedom Force's last visit to Attilan to commemorate the birth of Elise's child. As members of her fraterarmalis, and the saviors of the state, STRIKE-1 is allowed to move freely between Earth and Attilan. Miles has decided to check in on his teammate, and Carol is happy to come along. By now, Miles is used to Attilan. It's otherworldly still, with striking architecture with surreal twists and turns, but he's been here often enough that the awe has worn off, and he can easily make his way to Crystalia's estate. This is where Elise and Crystalia are staying during their leave of absence from New York City.

    "This place still kind of weirds me out," Carol whispers.

    "Me too," Miles mouths. Then, more audibly, "But hey, give it a couple more months and Elise will have gotten them to install a Taco Bell." Carol snickers.

    They approach the entrance to announce themselves, and are escorted through the gate by a former Alpha-Primitive and to the front doors of the estate. The front doors swing open. It's a woman, short and slight, with jaw length hair dyed pink on one side and a natural brown on the other. She is wearing a full face of Attilan makeup: sweeping, dramatic eyeliner, heavy lines on the border of her forehead, dramatic lips, and bold colors. She's wearing a sleek, neck-high dress that billows outwards. She looks embarrassed. It's...Elise.

    "...Heeeey, Miles," she says. "Carol."

    Carol's jaw drops. "What."

    Miles looks at her for confirmation that he's not seeing things, then follows her gaze to Elise. "Uh."

    "Youuuuuulook lovely! Oh my God!" Carol recovers and sweeps Elise into a hug. "Where did you get that dress."

    "What did you do with the real Elise?" Miles is still gobsmacked.

    "The real Elise got taken to a tailor by Crystalia," Elise grumbles. "We've been doing the whole high society circuit, and the suit wasn't really going over, so I agreed to try on something else and it...it made Crys happy. And she deserves that, after I fucked off to space for God knows how long."

    The initial shock worn off, Miles steps forward and looks Elise up and down with fresh eyes. Carol releases Elise and goes to join him. "...you looks good," he says at last. "I mean, in general. Like they've been feeding you."

    Elise grins. "Yeah, we've been going out. It turns out if you're a princess, you don't actually have to stay at home and change diapers. You can just go places with your princess wife and eat steaks and desserts and I've put on weight for the first time in years. You wanna come say hi to Valeria, though?"

    "YES!" Carol's eyes are aglow, probably in the normal human way and not cosmically, though it's hard to be 100% sure.

    Guilt flickers across Elise's face. "I mean, I should probably see her as much as I can while I'm here, right?

    "Even though she's a baby. Who does nothing."

    Miles nods, squeezes Carol’s hand, and holds the other hand out, gesturing for Elise to lead the way. "Take us to your leader," he says,

    Along the way, Carol asks in a low voice "So...what's it like? Being here more. Having in-laws. Is it weird? I bet it's weird."

    "The King and Queen like me pretty good," Elise smiles. "They respect me. I'm like a warrior to them first, which is cool. And it's really, really nice spending time with Crys and Val. It's the rest of Attilan that sucks. I spend a lot of time now talking to people, and they don't think I'm smart enough to tell that they're laughing behind my back. I absolutely am, but I don't know what to do about it. If I tried to treat 'em like I did Jeremiah and Wendell back in COMMS, it'd be civil war, y'know? So the space operas and the fancy dinners are nice. The dances and balls and social engagements, though? Ugh. Trash. No thank you."

    Carol purses her lips and nods at Elise's account, and Miles outright scowls. "That's...really shitty, Elise," he says to her. "You deserve better." Carol nods agreement.

    Elise shrugs. "How's NYC? Everything cool back home?"

    Carol shrugs; Miles makes a waffling-hand motion. "New York is okay. It's still around, right?" He chuckles mordantly. "Everything was so tense when we got back from space...more paranoid...and the entire sky filling up with devouring swarms and a spaceship bigger than planets didn't do much to improve people's mood."

    Elise sighs. "Yeah, no. No, it did not. Let's not talk about Galactus, though. I've had my fill of that fucker for several lifetimes."

    "We saw the Mean Girls musical!" Carol adds.

    Miles nods. "Yeah! It was pretty good. You could take Crystalia if the two of you need to get away sometime." He pauses a moment and sighs. "Sorry. It's hard for me to not talk shop. Every time Carol's home from the Peak she wants to decompress and feel normal for a little bit and I just start bugging her about work." He frowns. "I'm having to sort of relearn how to just hang out and be a normal person. Carol helps. Dr. Sofen helps. I clean the apartment a lot."

    "You should visit me more. Or I'll come visit you!" Elise nods sagely.

    The group reaches Valeria's nursery, which is as extravagant and opulent as the rest of the estate. Elise carefully, gingerly picks Valeria up from silk sheets and hands her to Carol nervously, like she's handling a bag of flour. Carol's mouth makes a giant "O" of joy and she happily swans off with Valeria.

    Once Carol is away, Elise falls back next to Miles. "Hey. Hey. I need a favor."

    Miles looks at Elise searchingly and nods. "Of course. What is it?"

    "I need you or X-51 to come up with something, some crisis or whatever, that needs a super sensate on it." Elise taps the side of her nose. "I gotta get back to work, Miles. I can't take much more of Attilan and Clay keeps denying my requests to come back to the office. So you gotta come up with something to convince him!"

    Miles sucks his teeth and leans in closer. "Dude, if I knew how to do that, I'd be doing it for me," he says in a low voice. "I was great for the first three weeks. I went to the Met, I ate out every night, I played a ton of the new Battlefield. But I couldn't stand being benched. I just knew there's all this important stuff going on that I could help with but Clay just blows me off and Carol isn't allowed to keep me in the loop. It...kinda got us into trouble a week or two ago. Like bad trouble."

    He regards Elise in her less-colorful hair and her dress and sighs. "...I'll see if I can think of something," he says.

    "I'm being benched with my own kid, too," Elise grumbles. "Like, I know a little bit about how to raise a baby, but everyone tells me it's under control. I tried to change a diaper and Crys said I didn't need to be a helicopter parent. A helicopter parent! Me! I'm a punk!"

    Miles grins and relaxes a bit. "Yes you are," he says. "Look, I don't know dick about babies...my sister Nina isn't much younger than me, I don't have many memories from when she was a newborn...but if you're trying to be involved, to take care of your kid with your own hands, that's a good sign in my book. No matter what anyone in Attilan says."

    "Yeah, well, we'll see whether these fuckers manage to iron it out of me," Elise sighs. "We should probably step in before Carol tries to take the baby home with her. Or starts figuring out how to get one of her own."

    PHU1KZN.png
    This is a little scene that Cass, Elise’s player, and I cooked up in our time off between seasons. We both had a pretty clear idea where our characters’ heads were at, both having difficulties winding down and enjoying their time off, and thought it would be fun to have them talk about that.

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  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    NTArB2Uh.jpg

    Julian is visiting the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, home of the X-Men. He's there on invitation from Charles Xavier, who has been trying to get him to visit for some time now to discuss in further details his powers and mutant history. Julian has been somewhat reluctant, given some revelations he's had about his powers and his ethically questionable usage of them prior to his amnesia and the fact that, as a STRIKE agent, Clay wouldn't be especially happy with Julian disclosing all sorts of information to Xavier (the two men have a relationship that is antagonistic at best).

    However, it is also Christmas Eve, and Julian has no family to speak of and his closest friends, the various members of STRIKE-1, are scattered to the winds pursuing other matters or spending time with families or significant others of their own. Ryann has his own wife and son, and his wife is dedicated to celebrating Earth customs. Michael is in Asgard, celebrating the Asgardian festival of Yule (a two-week affair during which he is unlikely to have any appreciable level of sobriety). Miles and Carol are off likely being stomach-churningly domestic, drinking cocoa and watching Die Hard. Elise is in Attilan with her own wife and child.

    But Jean Grey invited Julian to spend time with the X-Men on Christmas, and putting all op-sec concerns aside, he has decided to join them.

    jcohWGzh.jpg

    He enters the mansion, and is greeted warmly by Hank McCoy.

    "Thank you for coming. Jean will be happy you came. Scott...less so."

    Julian cracks a wide grin. "That's just fine. It's good to see you, Hank."

    "Can I get you a hot toddy?"

    "Please!"

    Hank nods and smiles. He walks off to fix Julian a drink, and Julian hears his name shouted excitedly by Jean. She runs up and hugs him.

    "Heee-e-ey!" Julian laughs and returns the hug. Over her shoulder during the hug, he can see Scott. Staring.

    "Man. Warm welcoming committee, I gotta say." Julian smiles at Scott. "How's it going, buddy?"

    "Fine.

    "Merry Christmas."

    "Merry Christmas to you too!" Julian retains the smile. He's not deliberately trying to piss Scott off. But if this is how he's going to be he can take some delight in it.

    "Heeeeeeeeeeeey....." Bobby Drake, Iceman, slides into the room on an ice slide, a dubstep remix of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” blasting off his phone speaker, "...yo."

    "Hey!" Julian motions for a high five as Iceman passes.

    Iceman hits that high-five. "Did Scotty tell you about the test?"

    "There's a test? I haven't studied!" Julian freezes in mock horror.

    Scott looks at Iceman. "Don't call me Scotty." Iceman sticks his tongue out him, and fakes his tongue sticking to his own icy upper lip as a gag.

    Iceman looks at Julian. "Yeah, the Professor wants to test your abilities, he was talking to Jean about..." Jean starts making a throat-cutting motion at Bobby, "at...chopping...at the execution...Jean I don't...?"

    Julian looks back at Jean. "So what's this test, then?"

    Jean laughs nervously. "The Professor wants to test your abilities in the Danger Room. Specifically, your regenerative and reincarnative abilities, since those draw directly from the Phoenix Force unlike your telepathy or telekinesis, which are just, y'know, your mutant powers."

    Julian quirks an eyebrow. "That sounds like an interesting test."

    Hank walks over and hands Julian his drink, "No easy way to say this, Julian. We brought you here to kill you. For science." He shoots a glance towards Scott. "Bet you're gonna love to watch this test, eh?"

    "I volunteered to help."

    Jean scowls. "Scott."

    Scott shrugs. "I did."


    Julian looks at Scott. "I bet. Better not get too close when I come back, man."

    Jean sucks her teeth. "So...the uh...Danger Room is this way." She takes Julian by the hand to lead him. Scott frowns.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Julian walks along.

    He's…mildly irritated. "You know, I can't say I'm that surprised. But I can't believe you're not at least letting me get drunk, first. Hell, we should try it. Test whether I come back sober."

    Hank makes a hmmm noise.

    Julian grins. "Yeah, I know you want to try it, now."

    "We should do a sober test first, as a control," Hank declares.

    Julian nods with mock enthusiasm. "Of course."

    Jean sighs. "Hank, please do not make this entire night about killing Julian repeatedly, it's Christmas."

    "So like, what do I get out of this, anyway? Tell me I'm at least getting to have dinner."

    Jean laughs. "Oh, you're absolutely getting dinner at least." Iceman snickers.

    "Oh!" she gasps. "That's not!

    "Bobby, shut up"

    Julian laughs. Bobby puts his hands up, "Man I didn't say nothing."

    Scott, too, says nothing.

    "I hope Santa's smiling on me right now," Julian muses. "Giving my life for science, here."

    Hank looks at him and smiles warmly. "We got you a gift, from all of us, for being a good sport."

    Julian nods. "Like, I can still feel pain. Just saying."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    They enter the Danger Room.

    VfNYG8gh.jpg

    Jean, Hank, and Bobby step back. Scott steps forward. "I can do this pretty painless, if you like." Scott says.

    Julian hesitates a moment. "If I like." He scoffs. "Okay, why don't we start painless and ratchet it up if we're really going to put me through my paces."

    Hank walks upstairs to a control room overlooking the Danger Room. "So, a few questions before we get started," he calls over the loudspeaker. "Do you need to...do anything to initiate it, or is it reflexive on death?"

    "I feel like it's...mostly reflexive. It hasn't always worked immediately."

    Jean grabs the mic. "It doesn't?! Does it ever not work?!"

    Hank takes the mic back. "Jean...if it didn't work...how would..."

    "...oh," she realizes.

    "It's like...you know when you get the wind knocked out of you and you can't get up?" Julian says. "It's like that. I'm standing here before you. It's never totally not worked." Julian leaves out that time he came back in Elise's body. But he does think about it for a moment. He tamps it down.

    Jean gulps, "I'm...I'm not watching this."

    Julian looks up at the control room. Bobby is sitting up there eating chocolate almond bark that he's freezing before each bite. He's absolutely watching.

    Hank presses a button, and a buzzer goes off. "Whenever you're ready."

    Just before he dies, an intrusive thought enters Julian's mind. He could be in really freaky movies. He projects it towards Scott. Just for laughs.

    Scott's visor glows red, and Julian briefly sees the optic blast for a split second before he gets hit in the face, his head snapping backwards at sudden speed and breaking his neck, killing him instantly.

    Julian's neck rights itself, bones cracking horribly as his head snaps into place. He lets out a yelp as he helps it along with his hands a bit. He hears Bobby yell "Fuckin sick" from the Control Room, and Hank murmur "Fascinating."

    "So was that fun for you, Scott?" Julian smiles.

    "I...I'm sorry.” Scott looks genuinely horrified. "I'm sorry, Julian.

    "I thought it would be more like...with Logan. I didn't know you'd actually die."

    "Really?” Julian throws his hands up and laughs incredulously. “I mean - ! Yeah! That's...the whole thing, dude."

    "I've...I've never killed anyone before." Scott starts staggering back, and puts his hands on his knees. He gets pale, and looks like he's going to throw up.

    Julian moves forward to help steady him. "Whoa! Dude, dude. It's okay.

    "I've gotten taken out way worse before, man. It barely registers anymore." Julian's lying a little bit.

    "Oh man, that's true!" Bobby says, chewing through almond bark. "I was reading some of the files from the Professor, this dude totally has been like, cut in half and his head exploded and like..."

    Hank snaps at him "Bobby!"

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Julian’s still with Scott, who’s trying not to hurl. "Alright man, breathing exercises. Breathe with me. Works great for the pain if I still have lungs." Then he looks up towards the control room. "Wait. What files?"

    Bobby looks down at Julian and laughs nervously, "Ha! Well, I promised Storm I'd help cool all the pies, those pies won't cool themselves, bye!"

    "Hey!" Julian flies up to confront Bobby directly. Bobby yelps.

    "Dude,” Julian says. “Come on."

    Jean sighs. "Just tell him, Bobby. Lying to a telepath is hard for anyone. For you it's like trying to...."

    "Hide a fart in a leather chair?" Bobby says with a nervous laugh. Jean and Julian try not to laugh.

    Bobby looks at Julian. "So...you know that your boss and the Professor, they're not...buddies. I don't know everything, but I know they're both telepaths and they don't agree on how to be telepaths and your boss is a SHIELD guy and..."

    Jean looks at Bobby and gives the 'wrap-up' gesture.

    "The Professor has been keeping his own records on SHIELD and SHIELD's activities for years. It's how he's kept mutants safe. This includes uhhhhh you guys? We keep tabs, get copies of your mission reports, that sort of thing."

    Julian quirks an eyebrow. "Copies? From who?"

    "A...mutant...who works for...STRIKE." Bobby looks at Jean nervously.

    The idea of the X-Men keeping a file on SHIELD or STRIKE isn't surprising to Julian. That they get copies is. "Which one?"

    "Omega Red," Julian hears Charles Xavier's voice from behind him.

    Julian turns to face him. "Merry Christmas, Professor." The humour has drained from Julian's voice.

    "It was part of an agreement I reached with him. Logan wanted to kill him, some old Cold War grudge between the two men. I brokered peace between them, on the grounds that Arkady would provide the X-Men with information on STRIKE's activities and any SHIELD information his clearance granted him access to.

    "I would have simply asked you for a more forthright open exchange agreement, you personally, if Director Quartermain had permitted it."

    Julian just shrugs. "Wonderful. And how did that conversation go?"

    "Arkady agreed, and he's been providing me information since then. It's been most helpful. I would, however, like to renegotiate those terms. You are far more trustworthy. Arkady is a sociopath and I fear that his tenure with your agency is not long.

    "I would like you to be open about these terms. Tell Director Quartermain, this time. He'll be upset. Greatly so, I imagine."

    "Yeah, no shit." Julian looks around for somewhere he can take a seat to plop back. "Better than having a mole, though." He holds up a finger. "Not that I'm agreeing to anything just yet!"

    "Of course."

    Julian looks at the others around the room. "You know he drained the life right out of me? Didn't even come back right." Julian shudders. He dramatically fixes a look over Scott, still eager to have a bit of fun at his expense. He's probably over the nausea by now anyway.

    "Anyway, yes, yes. I'll tell Clay. Of course I'm not agreeing to anything until I hear back from him. It's no fun being on his shit list."

    Xavier steeples his fingers. "In the meantime, it is Christmas Eve, and you've been a very good sport with tests and subterfuge and all that. Would you join us for dinner? I've gotten you a gift I think you'll quite like.

    "Come, my X-Men."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod


    Julian is trying to deny it to himself, but he is still somehow genuinely excited to see what kind of gift awaits him. He follows the X-Men to a huge dinner hall, where there's many other mutants, some of whom he has met in passing and others he has not.

    As they assemble for dinner, Jean walks over and hands Julian a large, heavy wrapped box. "The Professor picked it out, but I helped wrap it!"

    The Professor laughs, "Jean, it was your idea, don't be so modest."

    Julian smiles warmly at Jean. "Thank you." He unwraps the gift and it's…

    LPs. Vinyl David Bowie LPs. Originals, spanning from 1969 to 1973. Original first edition copies of The Man Who Sold The World and Aladdin Sane. Some of these are signed.

    One of them says, "To Chuck: Make Way For The Homo Superior! - DB"

    A huge smile is plastered on his face as he flips through the records. He looks at Jean. Oh You Pretty Things indeed.

    They sits down to dinner. Jean sits next to Julian and makes a psst noise at him. When he looks over at her, she looks up.

    He follows her gaze to a sprig of mistletoe floating over his head telekinetically.

    Before he can react, she steals a peck of a kiss. Julian turns to meet her kiss and steals one of his own.

    Cyclops stares vacantly at his turkey and stuffing.

    "...I killed a man."

    Iceman pats him on the shoulder. "Yeah, but he got better."

    PHU1KZN.png
    I really love the X-Men here. I think Matt got their voices pitch-perfect - a task that’s made a lot easier by the fact that they’ve been so vividly characterized over the years. That’s another thing I kind of dully resent about the Fox movies, the way they pushed all their storytelling and characterization chips on the Professor and Logan while leaving most of the other characters an afterthought.

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    edited October 1
    KqU7ELwh.jpg

    Elise is in Attilan, spending time with Crystalia and their daughter Valeria. Her daughter's nanny, Marilla, is tending to her in the next room while Elise is sitting on her phone, sorting through her 'trophy case' of selfies that are in glaring violation of op-sec.

    She snickers as she scrolls through her gallery. It took a lot of work to build it back up after Clay wiped it. She glances nervously in the direction of the antechamber where Marilla and Valeria are. "Are you sure that it's cool to just, not even...like, shouldn't we be like...holding her? The baby, I mean."

    Crystalia makes a shushing noise at Elise. "Elise, ancestors, you worry so much. It's sexy but sometimes it's...it's just worry! Marilla is the best at what she does. It's literally her life. It's her caste! If we didn't let her do this, it would almost be...a cruelty?"

    Elise tugs nervously at her hair, which is now down past her jaw. And part brown. That's a compromise! It's a compromise. She went to space for several months and now she is compromising to make Crys happy. "Yeah, but like, what about when she gets big? Like, when do we take over?"

    Crys looks at her. "I don't understand the question?"

    From the next room, Marilla calls out. "My lady!" She sounds concerned.

    Elise springs to her feet and rushes over.

    When she enters the room, Kobar is there.

    NOaigYPl.jpg

    Kobar, High Councillor of Attilan's Cultural Guidance Council, is Crystalia's grandfather. He does not like Elise. The feeling is mutual.

    Elise skids to a stop. She is wearing Attilan garb, including skirts and heavy makeup on her face. That makes her feel slightly more comfortable. Slightly.

    Compromise. She owes Crystalia compromise after going to space for several months. "K-Kobar! You, uh...honor us."

    "I do.

    “I am here with purpose, Princess Elise. Has your wife explained to you the significance of this day?"

    "Uh, New Year's Eve! Yeah, there's a new year, that's..." Elise is winging it.

    He snorts derisively, "Perhaps by Earth's calendar. No, today is Daes Paxus. The Day of Peace. In our traditions, it is the day in which one makes peace with one's enemies. Houses sign treaties, armistices are signed, things of that nature."

    "Oh! So you're here to ap -" _Do not say he's here to apologize. Do not imply he's a dick. You are compromising with your wife because you left her pregnant alone for months. Don't be a dick, Arnell. "Apply...lessons. Of wisdom. About what me and Crystalia are to do. As royals?"

    "In a sense," he allows. "You and Princess Crystalia are to accompany me as part of a delegation. Crystalia!" he barks into the other room for her, like one would a child. She walks over.

    Elise feels her fists clench. "Don't talk to my wife like that. ...Honored sir."

    "I will talk to my granddaughter however I so please."

    Crystalia snaps back at him. "Elise is my wife, you will not speak to her in such a way in our house, nor will you do so to me, Councillor. You forsake the name of your House when you joined the Council, and with it any right to speak to me with any way but deference to my station as mother to the heir of Attilan.”

    Kobar folds his hands, and nods politely. "Princess."

    Crystalia takes a cleansing breath, and puts her arm around Elise. "Now, Councillor Kobar, what did you come here for?"

    Kobar speaks with an air of careful politeness. "The Crown has requested that in your capacity as Attilan's diplomat, you accompany a delegation composed of myself, Councillor Sapphira of the Genetics Council, and Alaris of the Ennilux, to entreat with the tribal savages of Orollan on this, the Day of Peace. Your wife is requested to accompany you, as her prowess as a warrior is renowned by the King and she is considered to be your honored protector as duty-bound by your wedded oath."

    Crystalia makes a face. "Orollan? Ew."

    Kobar sighs. "I know, Princess. But it is Daes Paxus, after all, and the King would wish us resolve matters."

    "Back to Earth?" Elise says, trying to keep her tone carefully neutral. She's in Attilan! With her wife. In a manor beyond anything she could have ever imagined. In silk robes. With brown hair. Compromising.

    She also nudges Crys with her elbow, grinning. "Hey. Hey. As your honored protector, I'll keep you safe, my lady."

    Crystalia smiles at Elise, "You might have to. These…people. Ugh." Crystalia takes a deep breath. "Diplomacy! I'm going to get changed. They're not fond of Attilan fashions, I'm going to wear some Earth clothing!"

    Kobar grunts "...why."

    Crystalia makes a whine. "Because diplomacy, I just said!"

    "I should probably wear Earth clothing as well!" Elise says, tentatively looking to Crystalia for approval.

    Crystalia gives her a thumbs up. "You should still wear that coat. I like that coat."

    "Yessssss."

    Kobar grumbles. "Fine. Meet the rest of the delegation at Eldrac when you are ready."

    "Race you to the wardrobe," Elise offers, then takes off at a sprint.

    "If you get there first then you're naked when I get there!" Crystalia giggles.

    "You can see my tattoo!" Elise is loud. Purposefully loud. Kobar can hear. He can know that she plows Crystalia on the reg.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    The two get changed. Crystalia says she has a surprise for Elise, and makes her promise not to peek. When finished, she steps out.

    3XY3M9Fl.jpg

    She grins. "Look! It's a superhero costume! I'm like an Avenger! Crystal!"

    "You are like an Avenger! If I saw you wearing that in Avengers Tower, though, I'd never get any fuckin' work done because it is gorgeous on you." Elise, for her part, flares out her coat and grins. She's wearing a shirt that shows off as much of her tattoo as possible. Kobar hates the tattoo.

    "Niles made it for me. It has a bunch of technology in it, bulletproof weaving and things," Crystal explains. "It's as good as a SHIELD field uniform, he said."

    Prepared, the pair head over to Eldrac, the Living Door.

    Elise hates Eldrac. Well, that's not fair. She hates being around Eldrac.

    Waiting for them are Genetics Councillor Sapphira -

    pIj11jwl.jpg

    And Alaris, leader of the Ennilux. She is, effectively, King Agar's spymaster.

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    Kobar is also there.

    Elise gives Alaris a jaunty salute.

    Crystalia leans over to Elise. "So...how much has STRIKE told you about Orollan?"

    "Nada," Elise says. "Clay doesn't tell me anything unless I 'need to know'."

    "...oh," Crystalia says. "Well, Orollan is the other Inhuman city."

    Kobar sneers, "If you could call it that."

    Alaris frowns. "This is supposed to be a diplomatic delegation, if we can not, Councillor Kobar."

    "So, what's the deal with it?" Elise asks. "Like, it's an Inhuman city? On Earth? And you guys seem to kind of uh, not love it?"

    Crystalia nods. "Yes. When the Ancestors left us behind and receded into space, they left two cities behind. One was built by them, which is Attilan. The other was not, and was built by the Old Gods."

    "Wait, the who?"

    Crystalia squints. "The...Old Gods?"

    Kobar looks at her. "Does your wife not know who the Old Gods are? You swore a vow in your wedding rites to the Old Gods?!"

    Crystalia puts her hand up to quiet Kobar.

    "I must have been so stunned by Crystalia's beauty I forgot." Elise grins at Kobar.

    "I'll...I'll explain on the other side, Elise."

    Kobar shakes his head. "Ugh, yes, let us proceed into the misbegotten Savage Land."

    Elise has a new objective, besides keeping Crystalia safe and their marriage strong. She is going to needle the shit out of Kobar.

    The group enter Eldrac, the Living Door, and are transported across space.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Thm20AVh.jpg

    They arrive in a trackless jungle. The air is fetid and damp.

    Kobac yelps, his feet in ankle-deep water. "Eldrac! You could not have placed us closer to the city?!"

    Elise grins and lifts one of her legs, showing off a combat boot. "Practical, see? I can pick you up a pair if you'd like."

    Alaris responds to Kobar's yelping. "It is entirely possible that the Orollans have methods of making sure that Eldrac cannot simply transport us near them. If we could do so, it would be a simple matter of invading them."

    Kobar sneers. "Leave it to a spy to think like a spy."

    Alaris raises an eyebrow. "...yes? Was that intended to be a slur, Councillor?" Crystalia snickers.

    Elise hears a voice in the back of her head, the tickle of something resembling a conscience. I'm Miles. Myeh myeh. You're a spy for a living. You should be taking in as much data as possible for our records. She sighs and opens up her senses to take in as much as she can.

    She can hear something coming. She holds up a hand. "Incoming." She reaches for her holster, where she's got a pair of ICERs. She did, after all, come here as Crystalia's protector. She doesn't draw. She also is here as a diplomat. But she rests her hand on the grip.

    Crystalia's hands light up with electricity, and Alaris wields her staff in a defensive position.

    Kobar hides behind Councillor Sapphira.

    Elise hears snarling and chirruping. Almost like a cat But...hungrier. She narrows her eyes and shifts her weight, looking to see where this beast is.

    Three creatures emerge from the bushes, each the size of a man.

    IjmsRGvl.jpg

    "FUCKIN' DINOSAURS?"

    One of them screeches at Elise's yelp. They don't look friendly. They look hungry.

    Elise draws and fires.

    She takes down all three with ICER rounds, dropping them to the ground.

    Crystalia whispers in her ear. "Nice."

    Elise grins and performatively twirls the pistol on her hand before re-holstering it.

    There's a horn blast.

    Elise hears something massive coming towards them, like an elephant. Bigger. Considering she just shot three dinosaurs it...it might be a big dinosaur.

    She sees it coming through the trees.

    9hxoTAMl.jpg

    Atop it, she can see riders.

    "Hold!" Elise cries to the riders. "We come from Attilan, for the Day of Peace!"

    The dinosaur stops. One of the riders raises a flag, and waves it.

    Crystalia smiles and leans in to Elise. "That is the flag of peace. We are welcome."

    Elise offers Crystalia her arm. As far she's concerned, she just fucking killed that intro. In front of Kobar, too. Nice.

    Crystalia takes her arm, and the delegation approaches the beast. The riders, individuals in leather tribal clothing, lower ropes to let the delegation aboard. They climb up, with Kobar and Sapphira needing help in their robes and finery.

    The leader of the riders greets them.

    gWfwsmgl.jpg

    "I am Nocculus of Orollan. I was told of your delegation's coming, and I am here to take you to the city."

    Elise gives a slight bow. "We are the Princesses Crystalia and Elise of Attilan, mothers of the heir Valeria. Thank you for coming to meet us."

    "My task is as I am needed. All within the tribes do as they can, for what is needed."

    Elise sees Crystalia make a micro-expression of disgust. She notes that. Crys can be...a bit of a snob sometimes. Maybe that's all.

    PHU1KZN.png
    The Savage Land, a tropical preserve located in the middle of Antarctica, where dinosaurs and cavemen still roam, is one of the oldest Marvel creations, dating back to 1941’s Marvel Mystery Comics #22 (the comic that eventually game Marvel Comics its name! In the 1940s, the company was still called Timely). It was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, better known as the creators of Captain America, and was featured in a very Conan-ish story called “Khor, the Black Sorceror.”

    It first appeared in “proper” Marvel continuity in Uncanny X-Men #10 from 1965. The X-Men have a long and storied history of ending up in settings that really have very little to do with mutants or civil rights allegories, like this, or Arcade’s deadly funhouse, or the TV dimension ruled by the alien Mojo.

    However, any good pulp story needs a jungle full of mysterious temples and dinosaurs sometimes, so the Savage Land quickly became a favored destination for all sorts of superhero adventures, not just the X-Men’s.

    MqByRc5l.png

    Most prominent of those was Marvel’s answer to Tarzan, the character Ka-Zar, a noble orphan from the modern world left there by mishap and raised by animals (they didn’t scrape very hard at those serial numbers, did they?). Ka-Zar fought to keep the Savage Land free and unspoiled by his evil, rapacious industrialist brother, the aptly-named Lord Plunder. The Fantastic Four and Black Panther villain Ulysses Klaw is also a frequent guest.

    Fencingsax
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited October 1
    As they move towards the jungle, Crystalia explains in hushed whispers that she knows only Elise can hear.

    "These Savage Lands were not made by the Ancestors, the Kree. They were made by the Old Gods, the beings that SHIELD calls the Celestials. Sort of a...you would call it a 'game preserve' for the ancient species of Earth. The Ancestors found it, and used the places they found within it for their own research.

    "When the Ancestors left, the people of Attilan made their own kingdom. The people of Orollan made...their own...society. They have no kings. No castes. They have...tribes. They are disorg-... chao-...complex."

    Elise gently, gently prods at a topic that she and Crys have been dancing around for months. "Maybe there are...occasionally...positive things. To not having castes."

    Crys sighs, and whispers. "I…suppose. America doesn't have castes, not officially anyway. I mean, it functionally does. It used to have slaves! But I do like America."

    "I mean, I was kind of a low-class ding dong. And I managed to climb my way up to be a princess! And a spy! And rich!"

    Crys nods thoughtfully. She whispers to Elise, "This delegation will be very trying for likely everyone who is not Alaris. Alaris, of course, is a rebel, a renegade who rejects Attilan's norms, and when the Ennilux smuggled culture into Attilan she frequently made deals with the tribes. It's part of why she's here, she has friendly relations with these people. I also think you will do well here. Punk culture is a sort of tribe, I think."

    "Just follow my lead. You got more punk in you than you know, Crys. I mean, you want to be a superhero, you married me, you stood up to Kobar back there... You got this."

    Crys nods and smiles.

    After a bit of time travelling through the jungle, Elise can start to hear the hum of a vibrant, living city in the distance. It takes a bit longer than that to come to the clearing where she can see it, but when she does, it's quite a sight.

    Jxg2VrCh.jpg

    Much of the city is suspended in the air, floating by unknown means, connected to the ground by bridges and skyways.

    For a supposed savage people, the city of Orollan is incredibly complex, rivalling Attilan if, for nothing else, in elaborate architecture.

    Elise studies it for some time. While it looks more open and inviting than Attilan, in an organic sort of way, it doesn't appeal to her in the same way New York does. Not for the first time, she feels a pang of homesickness. New York, and the apartment she had shared with Crys, and the Crypt, and the Avengers Tower... She forces herself to stop thinking of home and start thinking about diplomacy. She's probably in for a long day of boring talks.

    The delegation arrives in the city. In a lot of ways, Orollan feels familiar to Attilan but somehow more alien. It reminds Elise more of Knowhere than Attilan; the streets are chaotic and full of stalls and lean-tos. There seems to be little in the way of urban planning, with clustered family homes and tiny marketplace bazaars dotted here and there.

    The people are Inhumans, absolutely, composed of the myriad of shapes and colors that the people of Attilan are, but...more diverse. Far more are bestial, shaped strangely, or sport forms that shock Elise. On Attilan, while it's not incredibly uncommon to see a man with the head of a snake or a woman with three eyes or blue skin, it's rare to see someone who is literally a man-sized slug.

    The people of Orollan? All over the place. Some are not even humanoid. They're just...living shapes. Or animals that are clearly sapient and speak like people. Strange chimeras distorted in form.

    Sapphira is trying really hard not to look disgusted by all of it. Outwardly, she's doing a good job. For Elise, though, she looks absolutely horrified. For a member of the Genetics Council, this place looks like a den of madness and ill-breeding.

    Clay will definitely want to know about this place, Elise thinks. It's probably important in some kind of...geopolitical way. The Celestials did it. That's probably important.

    Crystalia is holding Elise's hand tight.

    She's afraid. This place scares her. She's got the kind of fear of a sheltered girl in the wrong neighborhood.

    "I'm here." Elise squeezes her hand. "I'm with you."

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited October 1
    The delegation is led through the streets by Nocculus, and find themselves in a large building that is likely some kind of palace.

    When they arrive, there are two other individuals waiting for them. One looks not so friendly. The other? Elise isn't sure.

    3lAFRWHl.jpg

    uqLdvfpl.jpg

    The plant-person in the gossamer robe speaks, her voice feminine and soft. "I am Elder Vishann of the House of Lor. This is my husband and Honored Protector in War, Lash."

    Elise and the delegation bow. She glances to Crystalia to see if her wife is up to give an introduction.

    Vishann puts up her hand. "No one in Orollan bows to another." Elise hears Kobar almost literally choke on his words as he holds back saying something shitty.

    Crystalia begins. "This is High Councillor Kobar of Attilan's Cultural Guidance Council, Councillor Sapphira of our Genetics Council, Lady Alaris of the Ennilux, and I am Princess Crystalia of House Amaquelin. Accompanying me is my wife and Honored Protector in War, Princess Elise of House Amaquelin."

    Lash growls. "So many Councils, it's a wonder you Attilans know how to relieve yourselves in the morning without a conference on the matter."

    Elise can't help herself. She laughs. Sapphira shoots her a glare.

    Lash tilts his head quizzically at Elise. "I see you have a proper warrior's mirth, Princess Elise."

    "Oh, I got mirth for days. Like, yes, I'm sworn to defend Attilan and I would die for my wife's home, yes, of course, but I can appreciate a good jibe.

    "Especially on Peace Day, y'know?"

    He nods thoughtfully. "Would you care to join me for a flagon whilst these diplomats and councillors conduct their chattering? One proper warrior to another."

    Elise leans in to her wife. "Will you be fine without me?" Crystalia nods. "Okay. If you need me, just call for me. I'll hear you over anything and everything. Love you."

    Lash and Elise leave the rest of the delegation, and enter a side chamber. Lash walks over to what seems to be a small bar, and uncorks some wine. It is strong; Elise would be able to smell it from where she was standing even without her senses.

    He pours her a glass, and them himself. "You're not from Attilan, are you. Not originally. You married into it." He hands her the glass and drinks from his.

    "That's right." Elise takes a long draw. "I was actually born in Jersey. Uh, New Jersey. It's not as...interesting as this place."

    "Few places are," he agrees. "We..."

    Nocculus enters the room. A look of panic is on the big man's face.

    "Lash! The Mutates are attacking the southern border!"

    Lash snarls. "Damn!" He looks at Elise, "What say you, warrior? Join me on the lines of battle against these invaders?"

    "I mean, sounds like kind of an oxymoron on Peace Day but...yes."

    "Peace Day is for our people. These Mutates, they're not our people. They're not humans. They're...something else. Come, I will explain. Nocculus, send word to the delegation that Elise and I will be engaging these creatures. Then join us."

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited October 1
    He leads Elise through the halls of the city, down the surface. He gazes out across the plains, to the southern border. Elise, following his gaze, can see Orollan tribal warriors fighting...something else.

    ypQpy20l.jpg

    They're almost like Inhumans, but more animalistic. Feral. Barely wearing clothing or using weapons. Some have powers, some just seem to rip into the Orollan warriors using claws and teeth.

    "Jesus! Are they...like, sentient?"

    Lash shouts, "They are slave warriors of the Sinister One."

    Nocculus rides over, leading two other large raptor-like creatures, riding one himself. They're for Elise and Lash to ride.

    "The what?" Elise asks.

    "Sinister. An invader from the human world. Creator of the Mutates. Ride, I will explain on the way to battle. Can you ride?"

    A dinosaur. Lash is asking Elise if she can ride what is essentially a giant raptor with a saddle.

    "I have never wanted anything more in my entire life than to ride a dinosaur into battle firing two guns at the same time." Elise springs onto the raptor and whoops.

    The three charge into battle.

    Along the way, Lash explains, "The Mutates come from the human world. They are created by a human scientist. Sinister, we call him. He attempts to falsify us, make forgeries of our bodies. These abominations are the result. He enslaves their minds and bids them make war on us."

    "Attempts? So he's still active? No one took him out in the last few months?" Elise thinks back to Alchemax.

    "No, he has a base somewhere in the jungle. Our best trackers have not found him."

    They arrive at the battle front. Orollan warriors are fighting the Mutates. It's intense. Vicious, animalistic combat with many having superpowers.

    Lash charges into the fray. He scoops one of the Mutates off the ground, and burns it into ashes in his hand. Apparently, that's his power?

    Nocculus, on the other hand, casts his gaze on a group of Mutates and they seem to fall unconscious if they look his way.

    Elise pulls the raptor's reins and carefully lines up a series of shots, dropping as many Mutates as she can until her mags empty. The battle turns thanks to the three of them.

    A shadow darkens in the sky.

    One of the Orollan shouts. "It's Sauron!"

    The Orollan warriors scatter in fear. Lash shouts "Fall back! Fall back to the city!"

    "Wait, Sauron? Like, Lord of the Rings Sauron?"

    A huge, pteranodon-like humanoid drops down out of the sky on to the ground in front of Nocculus and his mount as they are retreating. The winged beast is at least fifteen feet tall, with a wingspan of at least double or triple that.

    auDRFh1l.jpg

    The winged creature...Sauron, it seems, lunges towards Nocculus and snatches him off his mount.

    Elise frantically checks her coat pockets for more ammo. "Let go of him, you Jurassic Park piece of shit!" She reloads and aims for Sauron's eyes.

    She makes the shot, and blinds him. Sauron shrieks, and drops Nocculus. The creature flies off.

    Elise scrambles off her mount to check Nocculus.

    Nocculus is dying. Not just from his wounds, though. They're not that severe, and Nocculus is a big guy. It's like Sauron was draining the life right out of him before Elise got Sauron to drop him.

    Lash rides over.

    "Lash. He's... he's dying. I don't know what to do, I'm not a doctor-type. I'm sorry, I -"

    "It's alright." Lash says softly. "He fought bravely. If we can get him to a healer in time, we will."

    He picks up Nocculus, and puts him on his raptor. "No one has ever pushed Sauron back like that. Come, we need to speak with the delegation."

    "Alright." Elise hopes that Crystalia has been keeping everything in line. That only seems fair, considering Elise rode a dinosaur and fought a battle.

    PHU1KZN.png
    That was a little cameo by Sauron!

    Not the Lord of the Rings Sauron, although he’s named after him, both out here in the real world and in the world of the story; geneticist Karl Lykos adopts the name after he is bitten in the Savage Land by mutant pterodactyls (yeah...yeah), transformed into a winged pteranodon-like creature, and given the power to vampirically drain a living being’s “life force,” leaving them a husk. What that has to do with dinosaurs is anyone’s guess.

    He’s another creation of Roy Thomas, comics’ first fan-turned-pro, whom I’ve discussed in other commentaries and who created a huge number of the characters we encounter in this game, second only to Lee and Kirby themselves.

    Sauron, like many of Thomas and his other late 1960s/early 1970s colleagues’ other creations, has a name sourced from literature and myth (lots of Marvel writers were defunct English majors of one sort or another) and a weirdly-convoluted, mismatched origin story and powers. (The classic example of this is still the Vision, the android built by a robot supervillain using the body of the original android Human Torch and the brain scans of another villain, Wonder Man, and who has the power to...turn intangible?)

    You don’t really appreciate the laser-like focus and clarity that Lee and Kirby brought to their creations until you read comics by the people who came later.

    Or until you play superhero RPGs. The first instinct of a lot of people who want to roll up a comic book character is to make their whole thing convoluted as shit. Simplicity and focus takes work. One of the reasons I think this game works as well as it does is that our PCs by and large don’t have weird byzantine origins and powers. Michael’s a big magic golem; Julian’s a dime-a-dozen telepath/telekinetic, Ryann’s a Mass Effect vanguard, Elise is a bloodhound, and Miles is Deus Ex. It’s the personalities that make them interesting.

    Jacobkosh on
    Matev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    They return to the city, and to the building where the delegation was meeting. Lash explains the situation, speaking highly of Elise's actions and in awe of her not fleeing from Sauron and firing on it to save Nocculus (who, it turns out, will survive thanks to Elise).

    Elise grins at the delegation. That's right, I'm amazing. Soak it in, Attilan.

    They begin talking about the situation with Sinister. Elise notices they begin talking about her. Crystalia starts telling a bunch of stories about Elise, and her exploits.

    Lash turns to Vishann, and whispers to her "Perhaps, she can find the way to Sinister's fortress, and end this madness once and for all, my love?" Elise can hear him.

    Vishann nods, and calls to Elise. "Princess Elise, come forward, please?"

    "Uh..." Elise steps forward, glancing nervously at the assembled Inhumans. "I feel like I just got voluntold for something?"

    "We would like to solidify an alliance between the Tribes of Orollan and the Kingdom of Attilan, and as part of that alliance, we would humbly request that Attilan assist us in fighting one of our most hated foes, the one we call Sinister. He is somewhere deep in the jungle. Lash speaks highly of you as a warrior, and that you can best Sinister's general Sauron. We request that you accompany Lash and a hunting party of our warriors into the Mutate territory to track down Sinister's fortress and end this threat to our people.

    "Do this, and our alliance will be true."

    Crystalia gives Elise a smile and a thumbs up.

    Elise shoots Kobar a smug look. "Sure. I can do it." Kobar wears a mask at all times. Elise can tell he's seething, though. It's all in his body language.

    I win, Kobar. I married your granddaughter and I'm the MVP of your kingdom. Eat shiiiit. "So sure, let's go kill Sauron. No big deal."

    The hunting party assembles, with Elise and Lash in the lead, riding on raptor-back.

    Elise takes a selfie to show Miles later. And Julian. But not Clay.

    Lash looks at her. "What are you doing?"

    "Takin' a selfie. It's a picture of yourself you can share with other people later so you can show off."

    "Oh! Like a trophy."

    "Exactly!"

    He nods and reaches over. "May I?"

    "Absolutely." Clay would probably complain about op sec, but whatever. It's diplomacy.

    Lash takes the phone, and fumbles with it for a moment like a 50 year old man, with Elise showing him how, and eventually he manages to figure it out. He leans over, and takes a big, toothy grinning selfie with Elise leaning into frame while the two are on raptor-back riding through the jungle on a hunting party.

    "Excellent." he says with a firm nod and hands it back to Elise.

    "Hell yes."

    As far as Elise is concerned, this is basically a giant theme park. Riding dinosaurs! Being hailed as a hero! Dunking on Kobar! Getting compliments! Selfies! This Sauron guy will probably be just as hardcore fantasy, Elise reckons. Something you can airbrush on the side of a van.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Elise and Lash track the trail of the Mutates. Lash is bewildered at Elise's abilities as a tracker. After an hour of travel through the jungle, the hunting party come upon a clearing, and see a mammoth ancient structure.

    IFnU0T7h.jpg

    Elise narrows her eyes. "Looks like the kind of thing that's full of traps that release arrows and spurts of flame and shit."

    "Agreed," he says. "We should leave the rest of the party here as sentries so our escape is not impeded, and go in alone. The two of us. You are nimble, and small. How stealthy are you?"

    Elise taps her harness and vanishes. Her voice comes from where she was standing. "Very."

    Lash nods firmly. "Good. Let us go."

    The pair move through the fortress, taking great care not to alert any Mutate sentries. Lash is extremely quiet, a trained warrior and hunter. Elise is literally invisible, and a trained STRIKE agent.

    Elise is also able to see, and smell, any Mutates before they are coming, and it's not like it’s especially difficult to do either. They move through the fortress, stalking the halls.

    As they get deep within, they hear a voice, murmuring. High-pitched, keening.

    "Yes...yesssss....the Attilan delegation is here?! Good. You will find them, and bring them to meeeeeee." The high-pitched voice echoes. "Go, now. Summon Sauron, and make ready for a full attack upon the city, we must take the Attilans alive."

    "Are you serious?" Elise is stunned. "This Saturday morning cartoon motherfucker. No, he's not going to touch my wife. Fuck that. Let's move."

    The pair move down the hall to where the voice is coming from, and enter a large vaulted chamber.

    They see a very small child, with a very large cranium, sitting in a crude wheelchair.

    kUdWYill.jpg

    Elie stares. "What."

    "How dare you approach me, the Brainchild of the Father?!"

    Elise can feel something. Something in her mind. It's like a tarantula crawling around the inside of her skull. She only has moments.

    Elise grabs her ICER, pulls it and shoots this 'Brainchild' right in his oversized head. This knocks him out, instantly.

    Lash nods approvingly. "Was this...him? Sinister?"

    "I dunno. Maybe." She sniffs the air, checking for anyone else.

    There's someone else.

    There's an acrid, ozone-like smell of the person, as he emerges from the shadows, a crackling ball of energy emanating from his finger-tips.

    2TV9Albl.jpg

    Elise immediately fires, but the newcomer puts up a hand and the bullets are pulled out of the air and absorbed into the energy ball, which he then blasts at Elise.

    She is struck by it, her kinetic harness absorbing much of the hit, but sending her flying into the back wall.

    Lash snarls, and shouts "Sinister!" He lunges at Sinister, who simply backhands Lash without looking, hitting him with such force that he embeds into the stone.

    "Oh, what the fuck."

    PHU1KZN.png
    Mr. Sinister, aka Nathaniel Essex - and the Essex Corporation has been name-dropped once or twice in passing in earlier seasons - is a British geneticist from the 1700s who has unnaturally prolonged his life through his work studying Mutants and Inhumans. First introduced in the late 1980s, he’s one of the X-Men’s major “mastermind” villains, a shadowy schemer responsible for several big developments in the X-Men and spinoff comics published years before he was ever actually named or shown.

    In particular, he’s obsessed with the Summers family, who he sees as having the genetic key to ultimate mutant power. His agents ran the abusive orphanage that Scott Summers grew up in after the apparent death of his parents in a plane accident (of course, we know they didn’t die, but were taken to space) and from which Xavier rescued Scott as a teen. He also created Madelyne Pryor, the human woman with an eerie resemblance to Jean Grey (because she’s a clone of Jean) that Scott married after Jean’s first apparent death.

    Matev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Sinister walks towards Elise. "Fascinating. You must be the one that Wyndham talked so much about.

    "Pity what happened to him."

    Elise tenses, climbing back to her feet. "You stay the fuck away from me and from my wife."

    He grins. "Oh, what do I need from either of you, when you have such a fascinating child?"

    PHU1KZN.png
    Stealing kids is kind of Sinister’s whole thing.

    Elise swings the butt of her ICER at Sinister, aiming to pistol whip him. She has a choice.

    She knows Sinister is strong. Super-strong. He just completely clowned Lash in one hit. She's not...she's not sure pistol-whipping this guy is going to seal the deal.

    ...He threatened her daughter. She swings for it.

    She hits him right in the temple. He's stunned by it, and tilts his head. "Ugh." He's put off-balance. On a normal person, that would have knocked them out, definitely given them a major concussion.

    She follows up with a series of jabs, aimed at pressure points and sensitive areas.

    He falls to the strikes, letting out pained grunts as he staggers down.

    "Don't you ever -" Elise aims her ICER. "EVER think about going near my daughter." She aims to empty the entire clip into him.

    It takes a few rounds to fully knock him unconscious, clearly he's not fully human, but it does take him down.

    Elise fires more than strictly necessary and then stops, breathing heavily from anger, to check on Lash.

    Lash groans, and slowly gets to his feet with Elise's help. "The battle's won, then?" he looks at Sinister.

    "Yeah. I think so, at least. Me and my bosses back in New York would have a lot of questions for this guy."

    "He must be tried by our people, for crimes against them." He frowns. "Wait...do you hear that?"

    Elise tilts her head.

    It's the sounds of running and screaming. It's coming from outside the fortress.

    "Sauron!" Lash says.

    "Oh, fuck.

    "Alright, shit, shit." Elise looks at Sinister. He's knocked out. He can't hurt anyone at the moment. She has to trust it can stay like that. "Let's go, now. We'll come back for him after."

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    They return to the entrance, and find the Orollan hunting party standing around, baffled. "They're fleeing, Lash!" one of the hunters calls out. "The Mutates, they're fleeing! We don't know why? Did you defeat Sinister? Did that break their will?"

    Elise can see the Mutates running off into the jungle, shrieking in terror, like a wild animal that had been leashed finally let go.

    Then she sees the shadow.

    The sun blotted out by Sauron's form in the sky.

    The winged beast drops down at the entrance of the fortress in front of Elise and Lash. Lash takes a step backwards. He's afraid of Sauron.

    Sauron stares at Elise.

    The creature looks at her for a moment, tilts its head, narrows its eyes... and then turns and flies away with a loud shriek.

    "Haha, holy shit. I think it's scared of me."

    "Scared...or grateful,” Lash muses. "Perhaps it had no choice but to serve. Perhaps none of them did.

    "Come, let us collect our prisoners and return to Orollan as heroes."

    "I do like the sound of that." Elise imagines the look on Kobar's face when she returns, triumphant, having sealed an alliance. It feels sweet.

    The two walk back into the fortress to collect Sinister and Brainchild. When they do, Lash suddenly and excitedly waves Elise over.

    "Oh, Elise," he says urgently. "Get out that device."

    He holds up Sinister's unconscious body next to him.

    "Trophies."

    "God I love diplomacy." Elise makes a note to tell Clay - and Fury - about all of this. Someone knew Wyndham. Someone has designs on their child. Maybe that someone is this Sinister fellow. Elise has a sick feeling that it's not that simple.

    But for now, she indulges in the simple joy of taking a goofy selfie with Sinister's unconscious body with her and Lash grinning like idiots as a trophy.

    She won't show these ones to Clay. Or Miles. She wants to remember this moment forever.

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    FencingsaxNytewarriorMatev
  • PowerpuppiesPowerpuppies Registered User regular
    i like how Michael just fucks off immediately when he meets Hela, and we don't know wtf is going on with the skrulls or Hammer!

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  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    i like how Michael just fucks off immediately when he meets Hela, and we don't know wtf is going on with the skrulls or Hammer!

    I'm legitimately salty I whiffed that stealth roll! If I'd learned what was going on with the Skrulls and HAMMER this session, I'd have -

    well. You'll have to wait a bit longer for that.

  • PowerpuppiesPowerpuppies Registered User regular
    Rude.

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    JacobkoshFencingsaxMsAnthropyMatev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    RffBiB7.png



    mWvKmyC.jpg

    STRIKE-1 has been cast into the cosmos by Kristoff Vernard, a member of the Parliament of Doom. Kristoff has told them that they have been identified as a threat to the Parliament, and rather than kill them (which would present some kind of unspecified "complications") he has used a Cosmic Cube to toss them into some unidentified alternate reality. In doing so, he's also deleted from X-51's memory one half of the encrypted key that contains the address ID for their home dimension, Earth-1491.

    They arrived on this world, a ruined place in flames, where Sentinels patrolled the skies, and braced for battle. Suddenly, a mystical portal opened and Jeremiah Warrick, clad in power armor, stepped out and told them to follow. Out of other options, they followed. They're now in an archaic place that in some ways reminds them of Doctor Strange's Sanctum.

    "Welcome to Kamar-Taj." Jeremiah says, gesturing to the large chamber before them, "I suppose you guys have questions...but let's start with mine: where the hell have you been for the last six months, and where's Clay?"

    "Wait, wait, wait,” Elise says, holding up her hands. “Are you our Jeremiah?"

    He squints. "What are you...yes?"

    Julian counts on his fingers. "Six months?"

    "Jeremiah-1491? I once bought one hundred spiders from a website and set them loose in your desk Jeremiah?"

    Jeremiah clicks a button on his shoulder plate, and the back of his armor opens, and he steps out of it. He looks at Julian,\. "It's January 7th, 2018. You guys went MIA on June 23rd, 2017. We sent you to invest- wait." He looks at Elise. "Earth-1491? No.”

    Ryann frowns at that.

    "This is Earth-1289," Jeremiah says. He scowls at Elise. "So you're an Elise from a completely different universe and you still did the spiders thing? Jesus Christ..." he grumbles.

    "Oh, shit, so this world's Elise pulled off the spiders thing? That was fucking great," Elise cackles with joy.

    He looks at Elise and the feathers on his face puff out.

    Michael holds up his hands for a time-out. "Can we focus, guys, we're kinda fucked here."

    "So what's this world’s gimmick?" Ryann says, rubbing his forehead.

    "Sentinels." Elise groans. "The one thing we've fought that is literally built from the ground up to stomp my shit in."

    "So what happened to 'us,' Jeremiah?” Miles asks. “From your point of view."

    PHU1KZN.png
    We now return to your regular multiversal adventure, already in progress.

    I’m particularly happy with this week’s title card, and sharp-eyed readers who know a little about the history of comics may appreciate why this episode’s STRIKE logo comes in those four particular colors. Doing these writeups can be grueling in the moment, and one way I keep it fun for myself is littering these little Easter eggs here and there.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Jeremiah looks at Machine Man. "ARMOR asked us to send STRIKE-1 to an alternate Earth. I don't know the designation for it, but it was one where there was an Inhuman empire that ruled the world.

    "It was a two-fold operation. Objective 1 was to rescue the Ultimates. Objective 2 was to gather intel on Inhumans, because we just recently had multiple bombs of Terrigen go off all over the world, multiplying the population of Inhumans by orders of magnitude.

    "So, STRIKE-1 went, led personally by Director Quartermain. This was back in June. You never came back. Deputy Director Hand took over as STRIKE Director, STRIKE and ARMOR decided to declare both teams MIA and wash out the entire endeavor and move on."

    Miles stares. "So this world...this reality...it's because we never made it back," he says.

    "This isn't our fight. This isn't our Earth," Ryann says quietly to Miles

    Miles shrugs at Centurion. "I believe in helping where I can," he says quietly. "Mission or not. Besides, they've got ARMOR portal tech..."

    Elise's brow furrows. "There's a Vlad on this earth still," she says quietly. "Assuming everyone wasn't KIA."

    "Well he's not on this Earth," Jeremiah points out. "He went on the mission. He's gone. And he doesn't look like he's with you."

    "He's more here than... Never mind. Forget it. Fuck. What happened to Crystalia and Attilan?" she asks.

    "Jeremiah, what happened on this Earth since then?" Michael interjects.

    Warrick puts up his hands. "Slow down. I don't...I don't have my intel reports anymore, I have to recall everything from memory." He sits down on a nearby bench and runs his fingers through his feathers, and sighs deeply. "So, with STRIKE-1 gone, we had to move on.

    "On July...2nd? I think? Beginning of July, we worked with WHISPER on this op to bring in some Leviathan guys from the cold. Hand sent STRIKE-2 to Chicago with Susan Richards and they just...never came back. We don't know what all happened, last message was they were going to Fermilab to follow a lead. There was some kind of quantum energy fluctuation there, and an explosion, and then they were just…gone.

    "So that was two STRIKE teams we were down.

    "Reed Richards lost it after that. He demanded answers from us, we gave the best we could, and he became some kind of weird recluse. Last we heard, he built some kind of new portal tech and disappeared into it with Ben Grimm and John Storm. Never heard from them again.

    "Then Hand wanted to learn more about the Inhumans, so she started sending Munroe to spy on them, get close to Maximus. That uh...turned out bad, long term. She ended up turning on us and shacking up with him, siding with 'her people', he took her on as a consort after he married Princess Crystalia."

    "Oh no, oh no, oh no no no no no," Elise stammers. Ryann sucks his teeth; Miles' face is a mask of quiet horror.

    "Then this guy," Jeremiah points at Centurion, "Shows up for like a week and tells us he's Earth's new Nova Corps authority. Hand puts him in charge of STRIKE-3, since Munroe bounced. He does one mission with us, a botched job to apprehend some space criminal. Downtown Los Angeles gets nuked, everyone on his team except him gets killed.

    "He's so screwed up by it, he puts in a request for reassignment, and he just leaves."

    Ryann clears his throat. "Not me."

    Julian looks at Ryann, then back at Jeremiah. "So what, we landed ourselves in Murphy's World?"

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