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Futuristic Arcadia: Heroes World Brave

"Right...we've stalled long enough then," Henry nodded. "Let's see if this painter's home," Henry noted raising a finger to ring the doorbell.
As soon as Henry's finger touched the doorbell, the world swirled and spun violently, mixing together into a whirlpool of colors and lights like water swirling about a drain. The visuals were accompanied by a sucking sound, like something being extricated from deep mud before popping free. And indeed, the pop snapped the world back into focus but the Brave were now somewhere else.

They were inside a building now. Perhaps it was the same house they had been approaching, but it was strange. The light filtering through the curtained windows was not bright morning, but rather a fading evening. The air was thick and warm, coating the large room in a blanket of silence. The furnishings were rather cluttered, with several chairs and couches pushed against and in front of each other. White sheets draped over everything; some of the sheets were pulled to the side as if whoever had placed them there had changed their mind halfway through. Beneath the Brave's feet were rugs piled on rugs, and even more in rolls stuffed to the side.

More than anything, what would catch the heroes' interest was the painting set up on the easel across the room from them. The painting was only half-finished, but it was clear that it was a depiction of Sasha. He was turned away from the heroes, his gaze locked on something that had yet to be drawn. Or... had it? The longer one stared, the more the light seemed to crawl away from the area that had captured Sasha's attention. A darkness rising from the canvas...

"Sorry about the mess," came a voice from the doorway to the room. A woman stood there, holding a glass of some form of steaming liquid. She looked to be of middle age, with black hair tied back in a messy bun. A pair of black-framed glasses covered blue-gray eyes that watched the group without blinking as she sipped her drink.

"I honestly wasn't expecting you for another day or so," the woman continued, smiling slightly. "But here you are. Cocoa?"
Akiko placed the beard back on her face as she tore her gaze away from the painting. She took in the sight of the woman, her presence reminiscent of an old 'psychic' friend she used to know.

"I'll take a cup, please," Akiko said respectfully as she adjusted the oversized glasses next as though she were trying to get a better look at the strange woman. Her home seemed so cozy and she herself didn't present herself as a threat. However, the implications of her statement were unsettling.

"Did Sasha tell you we would be dropping by?" she asked bluntly. "Or did you foresee our coming?"
Klaus eyed the woman suspiciously, Akiko's blunt questioning heightening the tension in the room. He gestured dismissively to the offer of cocoa, turning his gaze again to the painting that prominently displayed Shasha. He'd seen quite a few strange things since landing in 2040 Atlas City; the possibility they could be transported inside a painting no longer phased him.
Henry's eyes widened as the world suddenly spiraled into a cyclone of color as the group was transported inside...presumably. He wasn't sure what to make of the old woman or her cocoa, but he didn't feel much of a threat from her. But there was something...very eerie about this place. Questions like if they were still on Earth as they knew it began to crop up in his mind....or if this woman had crafted herself some sort of pocket dimension with the stroke of her brush. And then there was the eerie painting of Sasha. It gave the feeling that perhaps there was something bigger at play than a dispute between former comrades and shifting allegiances.

"And how are you acquainted with Sasha, if you don't mind us asking?" Henry asked, adding onto Akiko's questions. He briefly rested his arm against a wall, wondering if it...if any part of the house was real. It felt like it but....
Lynne blinked as reality reasserted itself. She glanced around the house, the cluttered furniture, the piles of rugs, the half-finished painting. The light through the windows was the dimness of late evening, but she made no motion to inspect the view further as the other's voiced their suspicions. "I'd love some, thank you," she commented idly, gears churning in her head. She turned to look at their host. "What part of Russia is this?"
"Lots of questions I see!" the woman voiced with some amusement. "Have a seat and I'll answer all of them."

The woman pulled one of the sheets further off one of the couches, revealing an assorted pile of pillows. The woman hesitated as if she were thinking of throwing them off but finally shrugged and returned to the kitchen instead.

A few moments later, she returned with two full cups of presumably hot chocolate. Handing them to Akiko and Lynne, the woman smoothed her skirt and seated herself on an uncovered stool.

"As you might have surmised, I go by MC," the woman began. "Marianne Curtner if you must know. But I never liked the name. Sasha and I first met shortly after you met him. I represent an... interested party, one unaffiliated with any you are familiar with."

"In regards to your arrival," MC said, gesturing to Akiko, "I do have some limited foresight through my art but in this case it was plans that Sasha made with me in the event he was forced to return to Russia."

"This location is my own personal home, one built for me within the dreamscape by my employer," MC continued. "Monitoring Sasha gave me the insight that he would be taken, so I did expect you. But I don't have a full connection to the real world here. It makes it harder to paint."

MC paused. "So... unless you have more questions, how can I help you?"
Akiko glanced over at Lynne at the mention of Russia, gears grinding away furiously in her head. There was confusion on the detective's face which turned to delight as she accepted the cup of hot chocolate. The warmth of the cup contrasted with the cold she felt enveloping her which made sense once the woman began talking. The afterlife, the dreamscape, time travel. The heroes certainly seemed to come across some remarkable phenomena.

She sipped rather loudly, unsure of where to begin. The hot chocolate didn't taste off. It was very smooth and rich though she may have drink it a little too quickly as she had to swallow quickly due to how hot it was.

"Sasha had this all planned out, huh," Akiko muttered more to herself but still loud enough that some of the others could catch it if they listened. There was a bit of awe in her voice.

Much louder for the class to hear, Akiko asked, "There's a lot I personally want to ask but I don't know if we have the time or that you're willing to tell us everything..."

"But the main thing I want to ask is that if Sasha knew he was being taken, then he had to know where he was being taken to, right? There were different ways to get us to Russia and I'm sure he has other connections or could have set something up with our own employer. I mean, he didn't set this up to have us taste your hot chocolate. Though I will say, this is actually really good. This isn't the box kind is it? I never seem to find a brand I like."
"Does time even pass normally in here?" Henry inquired, wondering if this realm was bound by the same logic as there's. Akiko was right (?!) in that they didn't have much time, but he couldn't help but ask, "What is this place exactly? What's your 'interested party' exactly? If you're at liberty to say..." adding that at the end sometimes cushioned the disappointment when the one being questioned chose to remain tight-lipped. Sometimes.
"Hmm, yes," MC nodded to Akiko, her eyes turning to the painting she had been working on depicting the missing Brave member. "I do wonder if it was a matter of 'when', not 'if', but if so, he did not voice this to me. This was a contingency plan, one that he put in place by purchasing one of my paintings and giving me the key to a cipher he was leaving behind."

MC tilted her head to one side. "If you have the cipher, I can decrypt it for you. That may give you the answer. As for why he chose to use my client, I flatter myself that I was able to persuade him we were working in his best interest. Or perhaps it was the hot chocolate."

Smiling, MC turned her gaze back to Henry. "In answer to your questions in particular, Henry, this is the dreamscape. Or at least a piece of it. As I mentioned, my employer constructed this for me so I could focus on my art. I'm sure that will give you some insight into their powers, but that is all I am truly at liberty to discuss for the moment. If all goes well, I will be able to explain more."
Klaus scratched his chin, his eyes leering into Akiko's cup, wondering if it might be too late to ask for a warm cup of cocoa. "The power to create pocket dimensions is fascinating. Does your employer themselves have this power? Or someone else on their payroll?" He inquired, his focus turning from the cocoa to MC. "A super with that ability could leave many question their entire existence, the existence of the universe as a whole, with dangerous implications." He nodded as he spoke as if trying to convince himself of something. "Yet, I wonder about the limits of their power. Could a dimension they create circumvent the rules of space and time...could those rules be bent, broken?"

The idea of having a way to return to the future, any future, suddenly felt possible again, but Klaus knew better than to allow himself to be excited. It was a long shot, but a shot he wanted to investigate further.
"Perhaps," MC said, her expression curious. "I confess I do not know the limitations myself. But if you are able to rescue Sasha from the clutches of his imprisoners, a meeting may very well be on the table with my employer. I can't promise you anything mind. They may yet have another test for you, to prove your intentions align with ours."

MC shrugged. "But I digress. The task at hand is Sasha's return."
Klaus nodded in agreement, "Yes, Sasha comes first. I pray whatever the cipher holds is enough to locate him..."
"Dreamscape, huh..." he muttered to himself. In Henry's experience, unseen masters were not cause for comfort. They weren't here to take anyone's test...though he knew this woman was being helpful and was their only clue to whatever was happening with Sasha and his old team. But there was so much they were being kept in the dark on, he couldn't help but question just what motives this woman's employers had. Only time would tell, he supposed.
"A super with that ability could leave many question their entire existence, the existence of the universe as a whole, with dangerous implications." He nodded as he spoke as if trying to convince himself of something.

Akiko stared hard at Cobalt throughout this entire statement as though he weren't surrounded by heroes who did the exact same thing.

She almost looked offended.

"Right, the cypher. Who has it?" Akiko asked. "Because if it was me, I forgot it." Even though she at least knew the cypher phrase....
"Oh." Lynne startled at the mention of the cypher. "Sorry, you just handed these to me so I haven't really… had a chance to, um. Look at them. Yet." She hugged the books to her chest, looking guilty from Akiko to Marianne and back.
"Oh that's fine my dear," MC said, taking the journal from Lynne and adjusting her glasses as she opened the book. She flipped through the pages to the end, pursing her lips as she muttered to herself.

"So this is written in multiple ciphers but using the key for the last few pages, it looks like Sasha did indeed leave a message for you all," MC said after a few moments. She cleared her throat.

"My home was ransacked a few days ago so it can't be long now. My prior employers aren't the type of people to take defection lightly, and my current activities have drawn their attention. As most of you have probably guessed I used to work for a Russian super agency, one directly in ties with the government. Their name is Fang.

Within the coming days or weeks, Fang will appear. I do not how but they will undoubtedly be successful in coercing my return.

I have no doubt you will follow me to Russia. I do not wish you to endanger yourselves on my account but you will not listen. That is who you are. So I will give you the location I spent most of my time in. It is likely vacant. It is likely a trap. But it is all I have for you.

Be prepared - the demon I carry is not from Hell. And it is assuredly not unique."

MC looked up. "That's all aside from the coordinates. Looks like it's near Surgut."
"Sounds like we have our heading then," Klaus mused. "Surgut." He rubbed his chin, realizing he needed a shave, "We will most likely meet some resistance the second we step into the country. We must be prepared and show Fang they'd do well not to underestimate us." He looked at Henry and then Akiko, "What's the play?"
"I don't want to make a scene. If we could somehow do this stealthily, then I'd prefer that but..." Henry rubbed his forehead and closed his eyes. "The last thing we wanna do is start an international incident over this. We can't go in loud. It won't be easy, especially since we're playing their game now," Henry opened his eyes and looked to Akiko. "Any ideas? After all, you are....technically the healthiest among us."
Akiko didn't answer at first, staring hard at MC as though she had suddenly grown 2 heads. Admittedly, that would have been cool for Akiko to see but she didn't looked thrilled. There was annoyance on her face and it wasn't until someone nudged her that she finally broke concentration.

"What? Healthy?" she made a face at Henry, mostly of confusion with a little bit of suspicion, "I'm a ghost, Henry. Healthy doesn't apply to me. However, we can apply our heads to this problem. By which I mean, I can cheat by ghosting us in. I doubt Cobalt can put us in Russia, time wise, like a day ago right? Henry's powers only apply to himself and Lynne..."

She squinted at Lynne.

"Did you have powers? Nothing wrong if you don't but I don't recall... Memory of a goldfish, you see."
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Lynne's face soured. She had been looking forward to solving the puzzle herself. She blinked at the mention of her name, looking around to see where it had come from before realizing Akiko was looking at her. Powers?

"No, I-" She cleared her throat. "I mean, kind of," she muttered, rubbing her arm and looking away. "Nothing good for sneaking."
"Not good at sneaking," Akiko said as she wrote something down in the small journal she had pulled out of her coat pocket. "No problem then! Just six other problems."

"Just one last thing. You." Akiko said, pointing at the dreamcaster. "Anything else you got for us? Maybe some quest items you'll also instantly procure for us?"
"No," MC said, handing the journal and the translation back to the group. "Just a word of caution. The man you saw in Atlas City, Jacques... he is an extremely powerful telepath. Do try to avoid battle with him, if you can."

MC smiled. "Well, best of luck to you all. I'll send you out now!" And with a clap, the group were back on the outside of the building.

"Oh, there you all are," Albert said, standing up and brushing grass off his pants. "Want to fill me in?"


Surgut was a sizable city, home to almost half a million residents, seated along the banks of the mighty Ob River. Seated across the river was the Yugra Bridge, and beyond that several skyscrapers dotted downtown Surgut. Several large docks and their towers hunched over the water to the south. The airport was to the north, past a few residential areas. The coordinates the Brave had been given were to the east, where the city's massive power plant had been constructed.

"We've got to be the least suspicious Russian tourists," Albert said sarcastically, his knees pressed together in the back of the small car that Henry had purchased for the group. The sub had brought them most of the way, but even with its advanced technology, George had felt it best not to press their luck. Next to him was Akiko and Lynne, with Henry driving and Klaus in the passenger seat. "How much farther? This seat is harder than an actual rock, and I don't understand how that's possible."
Lynne pressed up against the door of the Lada Samara, periodically checking the door lock to make sure it wasn't about to dump her out in the street. "It's not that uncomfortable," she lied, mumbling.
Akiko pressed up against Lynne in an attempt to get a better view out the window despite already having a good view from her seat in the middle. Her legs were also stretched out, stepping on Albert's legs to give her more leverage.

"Oh yeah, super comfortable!" she agreed cheerfully. "We just need to be close enough where we can walk a bit and then I can ghost us in. I can hold my forms longer but doesn't mean I don't get tired at some point."

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