221 - Theogony

Charlotte has kept close tabs on Ghostheart, both personally and magically and with Summer’s invaluable assistance thanks to her drones. The enigmatic occultist has been minding their business quite thoroughly. Still, the proprieties must be observed, and privacy afforded, and so there are gaps in the surveillance that could spell trouble.

Now, she watches from afar as Ghostheart erects a magicked barrier against scrying within their apartment. Charlotte has power to push through such barriers, but two things stop her. First, the invocation of King Paimon that’s included in the ritual. For Ghostheart to call on the patron demon that’s bound them is unusual. Second, that Paimon’s domain is knowledge. To use a scrying spell would require Charlotte pitting her power not merely against Max Gallian, but against a goetic demon of the highest tier.

Some things are better left unknown, she tells herself.

Twenty minutes after the ritual began, the barrier falls away. Max leaves the apartment, and Charlotte follows by proxy.

The trail leads to the industrial and manufacturing district of Halcyon City. The shine of newly built factories and hyper-tech hives gives way to the rust and roughness of post-War facilities. Charlotte finds Max entering an even older complex. To her surprise, there’s an affective force field here - a barrier against emotion and psychic emanation. The product of a magic ritual? After a short examination, she concludes it’s closer to something Concord could have created.

The abandoned complex echoes with Max’s lonely footfalls, and aches with the weight of memory and loss. Max descends rickety staircases only barely bolted to the walls, climbs down ladders that seem prepared to dissolve into rust, and navigates a maze of corridors lit only by a pocket flashlight.

Charlotte realizes in time that she’s gone much further underground than she ought to have, if this were a normal facility. But of course - this is another spiritual access point, a way into the Underworld.

What of the force field? Do the Concordance have an interest in the human afterlife? Does Concord? Charlotte is intensely curious, but there’ll be time for that.

She follows the trail into a massive open chamber. The room is a huge sphere, a football field’s length in its radius. It’s well-lit, with cabling and pipes and other appurtenances of technology jutting from the interior surface. There’s a catwalk that runs in a ring around the edge of the chamber, and a control room visible at the far end.

She sees Max already halfway around the catwalk when a door slams shut and seals behind her.

“Charlotte Palmer. The Magus.” The voice is casual, masculine, unknown to her but with a familiar accent. “Right on time. Thank you, Max.”

Charlotte narrows her eyes. “If you wish to do more than have a civil conversation, you’ll find me well able to defend myself, sir,” she calls loudly at the omnipresent voice.

The room’s light grows to a painful intensity, and Charlotte feels herself pulled up off the catwalk, into the air, and whisked to the center of the room. Powerful forces suspend her there - she can see lines of what seem to be white lightning gushing out of access points in the walls, and converging on her. At the same time, she feels a horrid, spiritual tearing, as though something were rending at her soul with talons of ice and steel.

Bound to the center of the mystical lightning storm, she finds herself unable to muster any mystical counterattack. Something about the chamber? Something about her? But the voice is talking again.

“If you’ll permit me to introduce myself. My name is Devon Crowninshield.”

“You’ll forgive me, sir, if I’m not obliged to show you any politeness at the moment.”

“Quite. However, let me assure you I mean you no personal ill will.” Crowninshield’s voice is that specific sort of Southern politeness used for enemies on one’s property, when one has a shotgun aimed at them. “In fact, you could say I’m doing you a favor.”

“A favor from a real gentleman would be to release me from this duress,” she snaps back.

“Alas, I’m a scholar first, gentleman second. For example, shall I tell you of the readings we obtained when you went on all those journeys to close those interdimensional rifts? The etheric data we collected on you in Albania and elsewhere? None of this would have been possible without your tireless efforts.”

“No good deed goes unpunished,” Charlotte quips.

“In the interest of fairness, I’ll give you something you’ve been seeking. Lest you think this the ramblings of a villain in the midst of enacting his master plan, let me clarify and say giving you this knowledge is necessary for my plan to work.”

Crowninshield can be heard adjusting something from the control room; the intensity of the mystic lightning increases, causing Charlotte to thrash at the locus of confinement.

“I can think of nothing I would like from you but my freedom,” Charlotte calls, gritting at the increased discomfort.

“Oh? That’s no way to speak to me, cousin. Many times removed, to be sure, but we are related.”

The accent’s familiarity becomes clear.

“You and I, Miss Charlotte Palmer, are both members of the Hidden Family of the Vyortovian Throne.”

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“God spelled backward is Dog.”

This is the weirdest text Daph has ever received.

“This is Max Gallian, the Ghostheart.”

The follow-up puts the original weirdness into a little bit of context, but opens the door to new inquiries of philosophy. Such as the one she sends back. “How did you get this number?”

“Occult secrets. Charlotte needs your help. Contact Pal immediately.”

“Why should I do that?”

The response genuinely piques her interest. “It will mean the start of yr freedom from Pal”


“Gods don’t have wills. They want things. They don’t plan or intend them. Rethink yr relationship w Pal.”

Rethink my relationship?

“Cave is pretty far. How soon is immediately?”

“You don’t need the cave.”

Daph lies on her bed, in her darkened bedroom. The door is shut.

You don’t need the cave.

She closes her eyes. She imagines the theater.

“Welcome, priestess,” says Palamedes. “The drama is about to begin.”

Daph finds herself shielding her eyes against a sun that isn’t really there. “What drama?”

The god shrugs eloquently. “You’ve come to me of your own volition. Your need must be great indeed.”

Daph’s eyes narrow. “Ghostheart said Charlotte is in trouble.” She thinks a moment, connecting dots. “They just said to contact you. They think you must know how to get to Charlotte.”

Palamedes inclines his head. “That is within my power, if she is within reach.”

It’s a hard thing, trusting someone who’s inherently untrustworthy. First Ghostheart, then Palamedes. But Daph also realizes it’s too easy to doubt oneself, when you implicitly trust other people too much.

I’m supposed to be a tough, go-getter girl who plays lacrosse. I’m supposed to be strong and smart.

She thinks back to the other things Ghostheart said.

The gods don’t have wills, they just want things.

God backward is Dog.

Rethink your relationship.

She feels really hopeful, and really dense.

What if he’s not the one in charge here?

Maybe if I want to stop being this guy’s bitch, it’s time to be myself.

“Hey. Palamedes. Your gig is revenge, yeah?”

“That is correct.”

“If Charlotte’s in trouble, she’s gonna want revenge on whoever’s giving her grief.”

Palamedes smirks. “Undoubtedly.”

Daph smiles back at him, finally ready to take a chance. “Alright, then. Let’s go for a walk.”

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Daph and Palamedes ascend toward a light. Passing through it, they find themselves in what Daph immediately thinks of as the pandemic room from movies, the place where all the victims are kept. The room is a huge rectangle, white and antiseptic, with LCD screens on desks against the walls. Bodies lie on gurneys, with IV needles running from their arms to fluid solution bags.

“What is this?” breathes Daph.

“The mortal Palamedes participated in the Trojan War,” the god smirks. “Who are you asking?”

Good point. I hate him. Daph glances around. She spots two young men, dressed in light blue scrubs, observing and monitoring.

“We’re ghosts, yeah? Can I just… I dunno, grab one of those guys and make him talk?”

Palamedes nods.

I am gonna send you to obedience school, grouses Daph. But okay.

She lays a hand on the shoulder of one of the men, and leans close to his ear. “Tell me what you’re doing here,” she orders, low and intense.

The man’s lips don’t move, but she hears a voice anyway. “We’re looking after the health of the PAIMON project candidates.”

“What is the PAIMON project?”

“I don’t know. We’re just supposed to come down here.”

Daph releases him. She looks around again. There are all these unconscious people. They can’t talk because they’re asleep. But if she’s dreaming, or a ghost, then…?

She lays a hand on the chest of one, who looks no older than her, and leans toward his face to speak at him. “Tell me who you are and what you’re doing here.”

Again, the body is motionless, but a ghostly voice is heard. “I’m loyal to Rook Industries. I’m loyal to Rook Industries. I’m loyal to Rook Industries.”

Jeez, someone’s gunning for employee of the month.

She peeks at the IV. What are they feeding into these people anyway…? Looks like saline solution - just water, with salt. But there’s two bags.

She checks. Everyone has double bags. Everyone’s on the saline drip.

Daph’s eyes open wide when she reads the label on the unused bags. “Dude. This is the shit they use to put pets down. This is… this is gonna kill these people.”

She turns to Palamedes. “This is a fucking murder factory, dude!”

Palamedes’ arms go wide in a shrug. “How do you feel about murder, Daphne Palin?”

“Well obviously it’s bad!” she shouts. She reaches for the unused bag, watches her ghostly hand go through it. She tries again, focusing, concentrating.

To her great satisfaction, the bag breaks open on the second try. It leaks its deadly fluid payload over the floor, rather than into the veins of a Rook flunky.

Some instinctive part of her mind prompts her that there is an audience in Palamedes’ arena.

“Go get your guys. All the people who want revenge. Every one of those ghosts who serve you.” She points a finger. “I feel like this is gonna be big.”

Palamedes’ lips curl into a smirk. “They will relish an opportunity for vengeance.”

A realization comes to Daph. “You guys don’t really care who you get revenge on at this point, do you. You’re just like… like those dads who didn’t play football so they send their kids to Little League and get really into it. Revenge and recognition is all you want, and you don’t care how it comes. Is that about right?”

Palamedes’ eyes light up. “We finally understand one another, Daphne Palin.”

“Call me Daph. Now get your guys. People are gonna know your name by the time I’m done dealing with this bullshit.”

Charlotte has given up on physically resisting. She’s focused on what this contraption is doing.

It feels like it’s peeling the Magus’ power away from her, the way you’d wedge fingernails under a tight lid to pry it open or tear a sticker off a purchase. It’s doing something that feels wrong, something that ought not be done, and it’s agonizing.

Devon’s voice comes over the PA system again. “You’ve stopped struggling. Good. I imagine this is painful. Like prying fingernails. It’s more like removing scar tissue, honestly.”

Charlotte hasn’t lost her fire, only stopped channeling it to unproductive ends. He’s still talking. She can use that. “The last time someone tried to use my power for their own ends, Pandemonium was the result.”

Devon laughs at that, loudly. “What a name! Why that’s perfect. The capital of Hell in Paradise Lost. The name can be read as ‘the place of all demons’.”

The laughter subsides. “You could say that souls have sockets, or attachment points, or spike proteins. Pick the metaphor you prefer. Some have only one. Imagine someone knowing they have a soulmate somewhere out there, and you get the idea. Places other souls can make a connection to you. You, Charlotte, and other people like you, have hundreds. Maybe thousands. Divine seedlings, waiting to sprout into new divinities with the right infusion of souls.”

“Right now, the Magus’ power is attached to those points. You’re the supernatural equivalent of a complex machine, when most people can only manage to be levers or pulleys or something simple. We’re stripping those old parts off, to build a new machine.”

Charlotte flares again, “A machine for Rook? No thank you.”

Devon’s voice is oddly placid, for all the intensity of energy surrounding her, and the emotions that she feels. “Very well. Do you prefer to think of yourself as a corporate god?”


Daph rises through the layers of Rook construction and finds herself at the bottom of the a huge spherical chamber. It’s lit up by lightning, and at the center of the streams is Charlotte Palmer.

There’s some talky white guy on the loudspeaker. “Do you prefer to think of yourself as a corporate god?”

Palamedes appears beside Daph. “The rest of the poison packages are being disposed of. I took the liberty, as you seemed rather insistent.”

Daph nods. “Yeah. Good. What the fuck is this?”

Palamedes looks upward, and Daph can see him start to rise, floating toward the center of the lightning. She somehow feels like this isn’t supposed to happen. She grabs hold of him, pulls him back down. Only then does he become aware of it.

“Ah. Someone is working with artifice that touches the supernatural,” he observes with a frown.

Daph’s spiritually enhanced vision can see the pieces of power floating freely around the chamber, as lightning bolts tear them away from Charlotte’s body. “The machine… it’s like it’s stealing her power or something?” she guesses.

“Very astute, ‘Daph’.”

“Now we come to your part,” says Devon. “You’ve been given the theory. I cannot explain the practice. I’ve never done it. I suspect nobody has. Now that the Magus’ mantle has been stripped from you, we’ll be releasing a mixture of souls. Rook ‘volunteers’, to ensure the loyalty of our new god. Students in STEM fields, courtesy of our outreach at Vyortovia’s New University. And a hand-picked selection of history’s geniuses and leaders, courtesy of our very own Max Gallian.”

Charlotte would spit, if there was any saliva left in her mouth.

Max’s voice comes on the PA. “Now now, dear Charlotte. We’ve been pallin’ around for quite a long time, haven’t we? But if you’re thinking of taking your spite out on me, I know you better. Revenge is beneath you.”

Devon comes back on. “When these spirits are released into the chamber, they’ll want to attach themselves to you. You must align them, master them, direct them into a coherent whole. Then our new god will be born, with you at the center of it.”

“Of course, if you fail to align them, or reject them, we’ll flood the chamber with the riff-raff. The nobody ghosts that Max and their associates picked up early in our research program. There’s no rhyme or reason to them. But they’ll swarm you like psychic piranha. You’ll go irredeemably insane. You’ll spend an eternity as Pandemonium, a dark cloud of directionless divinity that will remain isolated in the afterlife forever.”

“The choice is yours, cousin. Servitude, or madness.”

Charlotte is only half listening to Devon. She understands the idea. But a word like “pallin’” was out of character for the fastidious demonologist. It tipped her off to look around. And now she’s focused on the figures of Daphne Palin and Palamedes, both looking up at her from the base of the chamber.

Revenge is ‘beneath’ me, indeed. But whose side are you really on, Ghostheart?

Inside the control room, Devon Crowninshield starts the video conference with Rosa Rook. Max Gallian is leaning against a wall, minding their own business.

“Devon. Good. Is it ready?”

“It’s in progress, Rosa.” Devon smiles.

“You never did tell me how you found out that Charlotte Palmer would work for this project,” Rosa says with a sly smile. “We’re past secrets, Devon. You’re getting this promotion. So tell me.”

Devon’s ultra-confident smile grows wider. “You could say Charlotte is a sort of family heirloom. The people of her time were seemingly attempting something like this themselves. Not with our level of technology, of course. I honestly don’t know much more about it myself. The records I have access to are incomplete. But their journals, and her ghost, are my inheritance from a very odd family.”

An alert comes on the console, and Devon smiles again. “Excuse me Rosa. It’s time.”

“Of course.”

But it’s not time. A voice comes over the comms. “Sir, something happened to IV drip line 2 on all the beds. They’ve all leaked out.”

The smile fades. “They can’t have all leaked out. Get the spare bags and start wiring them up. We’re on a countdown–”

The voice interrupts - under normal circumstances, not a wise move. But these are not normal circumstances. “Sir, the spare bags leaked too.”

Devon fumes. “That’s impossible.”

Another voice comes on. “Sir, just to be clear, these bags are labeled ketamine and-- holy shit, this is a euthanasia cocktail. Sir, someone must have put some kind of deadly–”

“I did!” howls Devon. “It’s supposed to be lethal! Now kill the patients!”

“Sir? What?”

“I said kill them! I don’t care how you do it!”

Devon cuts off the protests on the comms. He dare not turn back to the big screen where Rosa Rook’s face is watching him. Instead, he turns to the console and starts manipulating controls.

He hears her voice from the speakers. “Devon, Devon, Devon. For something so important, you didn’t get assistants who could do the job?”

Devon Crowninshield grits his teeth. “It’s hard to find people who’ll willingly commit mass murder for their company, Rosa.”

Rosa Rook tsks. “It’s really not, Devon. You’d be surprised how easy it is.”

An indicator comes to life on the console.

Devon’s eyes widen. “That’s the self-destruct. Rosa, what have you done?”

“It looks like there’ll be ghosts after all. Goodbye, Devon.”



Rosa is always so much fun. I picture her as Amanda Waller, just as clever, cold-blooded, and aggressive, only fixated on her / her company’s success, not national security.

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Was rereading this story because of reasons and a couple lines stood out to me that didn’t before.

And then I remembered a different section from another story…

Which got me thinking about this description and how it could also describe how the Concordance Shards work.

If this is connected, this just raises more questions. Very excited to see if/how/why these all tie together. :slight_smile:


Charlotte takes stock of her options. She’s still confined, by whatever spiritual technology is built into this chamber. But there’s a ready source of spiritual energy all around her - the shattered pieces of the Magus soul-armor. And there’s Palamedes.

“Daphne! Ask your patron to block the beams!”

Daph nods, says something to the god beside her. Multiple copies of Palamedes appear, and immediately are drawn into the beams’ power. But it’s an instant where Charlotte is free. She falls away from the locus, and Palamedes’ copies are slammed together where she floated.

“He says you better have a plan,” remarks Daph’s astral projection.

Charlotte spares an appreciative smile. Right now, though, she must play conductor to a willful and chaotic orchestra. And she must act fast - the beams will peel Palamedes’ supporting souls away from him just as readily as they shed her of her own power.

That would solve Daphne’s dilemma, she muses. But this is not the way to do it. And it would be an unforgivable ingratitude.

She feels the souls floating just beyond the chamber, ready to be assembled around her as the new armor of god. But it sounded like Rook’s “volunteers” weren’t going to make it, due to some meddling from Daphne?

Still. This could be a problem. So many distinct personalities might overwhelm her, make another Pandemonium.

Palamedes is safe enough as a god - a few more souls won’t matter to him. Daphne is already spoken for, theologically speaking. She’s the only possible target.

Point and counterpoint - call and response - black and white. Contrasts. What here will armor her?

How many soul sockets do the Magus fragments have?

She tries something. Drawing two of the fragments toward her, she spectrally beckons to one of the swarming souls just outside. It comes. Before it can glom onto her, she sandwiches it between the fragments.

More souls come. Charlotte focuses her will on pulling the Magus fragments to her, but not attaching them. Keeping them apart is difficult and draining - there are so many. Using them like shields, to intercept incoming souls, is demanding.

But she must.

Devon finds Ghostheart missing when he glances briefly up from trying to override the self-destruct.

“Of course. That traitor was paid by Rosa to set me up,” he grouses to himself.

His brow is sweaty. The controls aren’t responding.

He looks up again to find a teenage girl he’s never seen, staring at him.

“This is vengeance for your attempt to kill Charlotte Palmer,” she announces. “In the name of Palamedes!”

She tilts her head, seemingly hearing an unheard voice. “Uh, make that Palamedes, son of Nauplius and Clymene. Anyway, happy fuck-you day from all of us.”

She looks over her shoulder and shouts, “Sorry, dude!”

Then she’s gone.

On the screen, Rosa Rook raises an eyebrow. Devon is too busy fighting for his life to think about it.

Charlotte is angry when she hears Ghostheart’s voice. She puts that emotion away when she processes the words.

“Charlotte! Self-destruct mechanism! The whole place’ll blow!”

This is a time constraint she was not expecting and frankly does not appreciate.

She can’t just take all these Magus soul-sandwiches and stuff them in a picnic basket for later. She’s got to don the armor again, and pray it doesn’t drive her mad.

Soul-sandwiches. We really don’t understand the afterlife, do we.

The original mantle of the Magus was bestowed as a complete construct of spectral energy. Now that it’s in fragments, Charlotte realizes she may have to piece it together manually.

She only needs a little bit of power, enough to destroy the beam emitters. Frantically, she pieces together bits that look right, and holding her metaphorical breath, dons the resulting armor.

She feels the power returning. Not anywhere at full strength, but enough. She twists light and darkness into a beam of her own, aiming it at the emitters. One by one they spark and explode. Palamedes wins free before the last beam is gone, and he descends to stand beside her with a mocking smile. Daph joins them moments later.

Charlotte tries to figure out where Ghostheart got off to. She doesn’t see them, and assumes they’re bound for the exit.

“A self-destruct system,” she says.

“I saw some kinda countdown in the booth up there,” Daph reports. “Some annoying bitch on the video call, and your boy trying to call the whole thing off. But hey, we got some unconscious people downstairs.”

The trio descend again, finding themselves in the medical support room. Charlotte’s brow furrows with anger when she sees the bodies of the would-be sacrifices.

“Can’t you just teleport these people out or something?” demands Daph.

“Not from here,” Palamedes interjects. “This middle ground between life and death is too far distant from either world.”

Charlotte thinks. “That junction can’t be easy to hold together. Perhaps I could sever it. But I’m not at anywhere near my full power.”

Palamedes casts an appraising eye at her, then smiles sharply. “You’re wearing the tattered remnants of an ancient regalia, Ms. Palmer. Allow me as an experienced tailor of souls to assist you.”

Devon had said he hadn’t meshed souls together. But he was wrong when he said nobody had, Charlotte realizes. Every god must have. And she’s got one right here.

Charlotte hesitates, then nods. She opens her will, allowing Palamedes to guide the Magus soul-armor’s fragments.

Palamedes wasn’t lying. Deftly, swiftly, the ancient inventor weaves a new cloak of souls. It’s triple-layered - the Magus’ power confining human souls trapped in the warp - but he weaves these together with astounding craftsmanship as well.

“Clever,” he murmurs. “Embedding the psyche in the arete. You will wish to re-weave this garment later, but for now…” With a flourish, the god retreats, and Charlotte feels herself once again imbued with the power of the Magus.

Something new has been added. She feels surrounded by a ring of minds, each isolated from each other, but accessible through her. She can’t hear their thoughts, but she is confident she could reach out to them if she wished. Is now the time to explore this new capability? No - but soon.

She reaches out, feeling for the divide between life and death. There it is - unnaturally precise, perhaps created by the same kind of machinery that trapped her.

She gathers power, but the machinery is potent. She feels Palamedes lend her some of his power, and nods in appreciation at him. Palamedes, in turn, smirks at Daph. “You honored my request, priestess. The queen of Rook heard my name as the architect of her defeat.”

“Absolutely my pleasure,” mumbles Daph.

Charlotte draws the power into a point, then hurls it like a psychic spear at the boundary. It cracks, and crumbles, and she feels the metaphysical weight of the underground base begin to fall away.

A voice comes over the PA in the medical room. “Charlotte… What have you done?” It’s Devon, voice ragged and trembling.

“Goodbye, cousin,” she murmurs sadly.

She can only imagine what’s happening back in the confinement chamber. The free ghosts, hunting for a target to attach to. Their only possible target is Devon. Does he have enough soul capacity to become a Pandemonium of his own? She’s not sure.

The ghost of the Rook research station falls, into the unending null of the underworld.

As the medical facility is now rooted in the physical, it’s a simple matter to portal its occupants back to the surface, including the two terrified med techs.

Now alone to converse, Charlotte turns to Daph and Palamedes.

“What will the two of you do now?” she asks.

Daph glances at Palamedes. “Pal-o-mine here and I are gonna have a long conversation about our deal, and I am gonna introduce him to the concept of independent contractors and at-will employment.” She shrugs. “But y’know, as long as I get a say in it, maybe divine superhero isn’t a bad gig.”

Charlotte smiles. She directs a bow, and a smile, to the god. “Palamedes. I thank you, sir, for your timely and capable assistance.”

He returns the bow with aristocratic refinement. “To have my name remembered by the Magus is a compliment. We shall meet again, should the need arise.”

Daph turns the question back to Charlotte. “How 'bout you?”

Charlotte hums. “Ghostheart, despite their seeming aid in this matter, is still at large. The nature of their connection to King Paimon may have changed with the presumed departure of Devon Crowninshield, who I assume was the architect of that particular bargain. I will keep an eye out for them, lest further evil present itself.”

“Cool.” Daph gives a thumbs-up. “Call if ya need us.”

Her astral projection, and Palamedes, vanish into the air.

Charlotte looks to the sky, where dawn is peeking across the horizon. She almost lost her power, her mind, or her life - depending on how badly things could have gone. The incident raised many questions, as well. What of the hints of the Hidden Family that Devon gave? What business does the Concordance have here? What else will Rook Industries do, to violate the sanctity of the dead?

Charlotte decides the answers to all of these questions can wait. She’s tired, and the cure for that is a good cup of coffee.


That wraps up Theogony. The three villains are still at large, and perhaps now unshackled from Rook’s control! We will see more of them in the future.

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Great story, but now I’m imaging some concern from Alycia next time she and Daphne talk.

(I couldn’t remember if Daphne knows Alycia’s secret identity, but couldn’t pass up the joke.)


I don’t think she did as of the time I was writing her, but it’s been a while, and some revelation of her status (though probably not a full background dump) would make sense, in a “You have no idea what I’m going through” / “Oh, let’s see, uncertainty about how to be a hero, combined with a megalomaniacal mentor who won’t take no for an answer? Yeah, let’s talk …” way.

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She knew.

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Awesome. Thanks.