Shine and Grit

June 02, 2015:

Ms. Marvel meets some creep in an alley and teaches him the value of human life.

Gotham City

A fetid Gotham alley.


NPCs: Werewolves


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

John reels from a punch to the face and stumbles into a trash can, knocking it and three others into a loud clatter and spilling their contents out onto the asphalt. He rubs his jaw with a pained grunt, struggling to his hands and a foot, while his assaulters all laugh at his humiliation. One of them, a smaller fellow, kicks John in the ribs. All the air leaves John's ribs with a 'whoosh' of pain and he rolls to his side, curling into a fetal position and covering his head with his elbows. "Kick his ass!" one of the men crows, laughing loudly. All of them look like common street thugs, though an extremely perceptive eye might note something 'not quite right' with the shape of their pupils… and un-naturally long canines visible behind their lips.
Gotham isn't all that far from Jersey City, and it's depressingly common for stuff to be horrifically messed up there. Or, indeed, for people to be getting horrifically messed up there. So while Ms. Marvel isn't exactly one of Gotham's Great Vigilantes — she's not even on the radar so much — the red and yellow-clad girl does a fair amount of patrolling of her own. Oracle, too, has sent her around this city more than once. She's starting to know the layout.
Still, the diminutive figure standing silhouetted at the mouth of the alley seems to fit into Gotham about as well as… well, about as well as a tiny Pakistani girl in red and yellow fits in a city with 'Goth' in its actual name. And when she points an accusing finger and shouts "Let that man go or you'll suffer the consequences!", the whole thing seems to belong less in this world and more in Sailor Moon.

"What the shit?" one of the thugs says, looking back at Kamala. The others turn, too, then look at one another in befuddlement. "Is this bitch for real?" one of them asks, crooking a thumb in Kamala's direction and looking at his roguish ally. The two men shrug and stare at Kamala, in a long moment of detente.
Finally one of the braver ones steps up, eyeballing the myserious figure at the street junction. "Dude, it's just some girl!" he calls back, stepping up towards Kamala with a cocky stride, baring his teeth in an animal-like grin. "C'mere, sweetheart. You ain't gotta act so tough- I'm real friendly," he assures her, reaching out with one hand as he draws near.

It's so incongruous, right? The five foot tall girl with the domino mask takes a half-step forward. Or, well. Mostly what she does is redistribute her weight. But she's smiling so cheerfully. Why, she doesn't look fierce at all.
"That's good," she says. "It would be a shame if you were unfriendly. We just wouldn't get along at all at that point." She extends her own hand as he draws near, reaching out as if to shake his hand. Instead, though, she clasps his forearm and grips quite hard. Especially hard given that her hand appears to have about tripled in size, enough to wrap around the entirety of his forearm. Her weight's on her front foot, but her back foot goes back. A lot. And a lot more, and all of a sudden she's transferring her weight. All she's doing is taking a step backward, but with enough leverage to yank a full grown man off his feet.

"AaaaaUGGH!" the man screams, feeling those massive fingers crush his forearm. He goes windmilling forward and pratfalls instantly, his hand held up by Kamala's grip. He snarls and lashes out with his other hand, long nails gleaming with a razor's edge as he swipes at Kamala's hand to disengage himself.
"Bugger," John says, back on his feet with no one paying attention to him. The nearest of the gangsters starts tor each for him and John makes a silver whistle appear in his hand and puts it to his lips, cheeks ballooning out. No sound can be heard, but all four of the gangsters emit an inhuman scream of pain and cover their ears, staggered by the noise.

And that's Ms. Marvel's cue to get to work. She's not super-fast and she's not even really super-strong, but she has some remarkable leverage on her side. And she can grow muscles, so there's that.
She yelps when she sees those long nails, yanking her arm to throw the wolfman into a wall and running toward another of the gangsters. A punch to the jaw. A kick to the knee. One after another, they're all hurled across the street where they can't easily reach the man in the alley.
Kamala gets next to Constantine, speaking quickly: "I think running might be good?"

"Damnit, you little git!" John snaps at Kamala. "I had this under control!" He starts walking towards the downed men with a purposeful step from his worn leather soles. He reaches into his overcoat's deep pocket and comes up with a sleek old automatic pistol, a Browning. He walks up to the only gangster still in the alley, who recovers from his daze too slow, and cocks the hammer with a thumb and sticks the gun in the man's face. "All right, mate, you just sit there and unplug your ears for a minute," John orders the fellow. "And don't think you have nothing to lose- I'm loaded with silver bullets here. They'd kill a progenitor, let alone an ugly little halfbreed like you."
The thug goes pale, but snarls at John with his bared canines far too long to be a regular human, holding his shattered left forearm in his other hand. "Screw you, man! You're just some guy! They'd eat me alive if I led someone back to the den!" the thug snarls, his earrings jangling and a bit of blood dripping on his acid-washed jeans.

"Oh sure, super under control with three, four guys waling on you?" Kamala folds her arms, clearly annoyed, but her eyes get big and horrified when she sees him pull out a gun.
"Seriously, dude," she says, reaching out to clasp the shoulder of the arm holding the gun. "I don't know who you are or what you're doing here, but lay off the death threats, maybe?"

John eyes Kamala. "Luv, don't grab a man's gun arm while he's holding sights on a bloke," he warns her. "A clumsy fellow is likely to flinch and put a bullet in the face of whomever he's staring down."
He looks at Kamala's resolute features and reaches into his pocket with his other hand, holding aloft a little saltshaker, of all things. "Wolfsbane," he says, by way of no real explanation. He flicks his wrist and sprinkles it on the fellow, who immediately screams with a feral roar, hair sprouting on his knuckles and face. He instantly starts to transform into something inhuman, swiping at the flakes of herb on his face.
"Let me do my job," John tells Kamala with cold certainty- and there is definitely something about the older Brit that might even put an audacious young superheroine in a position to think about who's really in control of the situation here.

Big brown eyes narrow up at the man, and for a moment Kamala's hand tightens on John's shoulder. People waving guns around don't tend to be the good ones.
But she drops it at last and takes a step back, dropping into a crouch and looking at the wolfman-thug crouching on the ground. "Something tells me he's not 'just some guy'," she says to him. "What do you want with him?" This to John with a half-glance upward.

"He's going to tell me where his den in," John says, looking at the man with a grim set to his jaw. The fellow shakes his head, still snarling. John puts the muzzle of the gun to his forehead, forcing his head back so the fellow looks in his eyes. "Not because I'm holding a gun. Not because I might kill him. He's going to tell me because I'm John bloody Constantine," he says. At that name, the wolfman's face goes completely white, suddenly in more fear than he'd expressed facing Kamala or even with a gun in his face. "And he knows I can do worse things to him than give him an easy death in an alley."
John hunkers down, the gun barrel dropping away, and bares his teeth in an unfriendly grin. "Now, mate. Start yapping, while I'm still feeling patient."
With a shrill, terrified tone, the fellow starts enumerating the precise location of his den, and even volunteers numbers, disposition of the individuals there, and the best time to get there.

It's not a name Kamala really knows; then again, she's not exactly tapped into the usual channels. She listens, though, looking between the faces of the two men and glancing back down in the direction of the other (seriously? werewolves?) thugs who reacted to that whistle.
She takes in all the information, though, and gives Constantine a dubious look. "Say you're not gonna kill this guy, though? He just told you what you want. He can run out of town."

"I would, but I have a feeling that'll set your rampaging sense of civic rightness off," Constantine says, smirking at Kamala. "And we're off to such a promising start, here." He reaches into his pocket again and comes up with a fistful of silver dust, and with a puff of air, blows it at the werewolf. The canid growls once, but instantly falls asleep, slumping against the wall. John gets out a cell phone- an older flip model- and sends a text message quickly. "All right, Gotham's local bobbies will be down to pick him up. I still think a bullet to the brainpan would set him up proper, though," John grunts, tucking his gun into his coat pocket.

"Yeah, I'm such a lame jerk about the whole murdering people in alleys thing. It's almost like killing is a horrible last resort or something; crazy, right?" Kamala straightens, looking Constantine up and down with a wrinkled nose. "What's all this about, mister? Why do you want to find a werewolf lair so bad and seriously, werewolves?" She looks back down, crouching to peel open the thug's eye. Dead to the world. "I have… eighteen questions about that alone."

"Walk and talk, luv," John says, heading out of the alley with a brisk stride. He doesn't make it ten steps before he's got a silver cigarette wallet out, flicking it open and drawing a cigarette into his pinched fingers. The wallet disappears with a magician's smooth motion and a brass zippo takes its place, flame illuminating his craggy features as his stokes the cigarette to life.
"They aren't really werewolves. They're halfbreeds," John explains, hands loose in his overcoat pockets. "They aren't hunters or predators- they're just violent brutes with too much testosterone and aggression. If I don't check them, then they'll start killing and eventually turn completely feral- human only in form."

Kamala straightens and falls in beside the magician, glancing back over her shoulder a bit distrustfully at the man apparently sound asleep in the alley. Not a great place to fall asleep, but maybe his own will find him. And maybe that's not the best thing that could happen, but.
It takes her a moment, but Kamala nods her slow understanding. "No, right, I got it. They're berserkers. Because the old stories about berserkers had them, like, get all bear-y when they got into a fight because they got their power from the spirit of the bear? So assuming magic is a thing that exists, humans who get a little wolfy could be like that. Worst of both worlds. Fierce like wolves. Jerks like humans. How do you 'check' them?"

John blinks and looks at Kamala. "Blimey, you spend too much time in the library," he mutters. "You're quite right, though. They're where we get the stories of berserkers. Their power comes from a true lycanthrope, though, a real honest-to-God shapeshifter. It can infuse them with that sort of bloody awful magical power, like a drug, until they're absolutely mad with power. And the only way you can stop them- really stop them- is silver," he says, grimly. "Through the heart or brain. They'll come back from nearly anything else. Killing their leader will stop furthur transformation, but they'll stay just as beserk as they are now. Forever."

Saying that she spends too much time reading is clearly a compliment to Kamala; she grins, but the grin disintegrates the more Constantine says. In the end, she's shaking her head: "Seriously forever? Seriously nothing to be done? I mean, I kind of doubt that, no offense. They're not zombies. I bet if it happened to someone you cared about, you'd find a way. Who says it lasts forever? Who actually sat there watching one of these berserkers for five years, taking note of his froth levels? You've just given up on these guys without even seeing them. Somewhere there's gotta be stronger magic. Rehabilitation. Something."

John stops abruptly, wheeling on Kamala with a scowl suddenly on his features. He waggles two fingers at her, cigarette between them. "They aren't cursed, you twit," he growls at her, not backing down from her recriminating tone. "Berserkergang takes what you have inside you and brings it to the forefront. All the anger and bottled range and fury you carry around, tamped down behind a layer of civilization. Good and decent people don't become wolfweres because they don't have that much anger and fury built up in them. The ones who fall into that trap are bloody bastards who are one drink, one shot of heroin away from jumping you in a dark alley."
He snorts at Kamala's strident objections and stomps off, not looking to see if she keeps up. "If you want to be a hero, lass, you better start appreciating desperate economics. Sometimes to save a hundred lifes tomorrow, you have to sacrifice ten bastards today."

Her hands — small hands, when she isn't embiggening them — clench and unclench as she listens to him. But as he starts stalking off, she calls after him: "You're talking like people can't pick themselves up! You're talking like every single person who steps over that line can never come back from it, but you've killed men too, John Constantine. You can't tell me they all deserved it, and you can't tell me you never did anything desperate. You just said it right there. Desperate economics. You spend much time in Gotham? One bad day here can tip someone over the edge. I know that and I don't even live here!"
Kamala stalks back up to his side, catching his shoulder and, if she can, stopping him and turning him to face her. "If there is a chance. Any chance at all that they regret what they are or can make a change, can turn things around. If you really think you're a hero, you owe it to them to let them try. Maybe they knew what they were getting up to, and maybe they didn't, and I'm not going to argue a point when it comes to the guy who made them this way. Those guys have anger inside from before the berserk took them? I'm not shocked. Lot of angry, angry people out there. But that doesn't mean they deserve death."

John stares daggers at Kamala when she spins him around. He's scary in many ways, but he's definitely a human, and Kamala is something more than that, now. "I don't owe anyone a bloody thing," John growls, smoke spewing around his head from the cigarette. "I choose to get out and walk this godforsaken road because I /feel/ like it. I'm not a hero. I'm just a bloke with a bit of knowledge who gets up out of bed and tries to make a small difference once in a moon. Don't you /dare/ tell me I owe anyone, especially some sodding wankers who were so greedy for power they got in bed with a WEREWOLF!" he says, ending on a shout.

"You never actually said you couldn't." Kamala is bafflingly, doggedly persistent, and she's not shouting back. Admittedly, it's clear she's not far from it. "You just said that almost the only thing that can do it is silver in the heart or the brain. Tell me, straight up. Even if whatever it is is hard, what else will take it away? If they have any chance at all, then I'll wade in there with you and make sure you get that chance. I'll do what you say. They may be huge bastards. They might not deserve to live. But if we all got what we deserve, this world would be a really rough place. Come on. I'm sorry for ragging on you, but work with me, here. Please."

John just shakes his head, staring at Kamala dumbfoundedly. "Fine," he says, dragging on his cigarette. "I'll tell you how it's done. First you need wolfsbane, hemlock, holly, and a few other particular herbs not exactly found in the tri-state area. They have to be gathered by a shaman or druid, a priest of the Earth. You have to mash the herbs into water and each man has to drink it. He cannot eat flesh or taste blood until after the following full moon passes. If he gives in to rage or fury at any point, he'll revert instantly back to his feral nature, the bloodlust still there."
John drags on his cigarette again, exhaling through his nose as smoke wafts around his spiked, mussy blonde hair. "And I don't have /time/ for that. I don't have the energy for that. I could exhaust myself fixing them only to wake up tomorrow and not have the chops to deal with a real serious threat that genuinely endangers innocent bystanders. I'm not going to risk that just to redeem a half dozen madmen who are most likely violent sociopaths anyway."

"I will."
Kamala says it so solemnly, and while the fact that she can't possibly be old enough to drink gives it very much the tenor of a ten year old promising to clean up after the new puppy and take it for walks every day, she has a rigid determination that you could bend steel around.
"I will," she says again with a little smile. "I bet you know half a dozen shamans or druids in the tri-state area and beyond who could get everything needed. Gotham is top-full of empty warehouses; there's an abandoned hotel like two blocks from here. I know some other shiny hero types who could keep watch; I know one in particular who never even seems to sleep and can keep constant surveillance on six or twelve guys. I will come in and teach those jerks yoga and transcend-freaking-dental meditation and feed them on black beans and corn and tomatoes and hummus. I will be with them through detox. If not one of them makes it? Then we tried. If one of them makes it? Maybe there's one more decent guy in a city so sick that it won't even notice, but it'll matter to him."
Kamala takes a deep breath. "I won't fight you on the lycanthrope. But you can knock those guys out with whatever you've got in your pocket. I can help with crowd control, I can help keep them away from you, and I can corral them up at the end and lay out their options. They get one chance. And if they're not willing to take it, I know you have the other choice in your hand."
She takes a little step backward, offering her hand: "Do we have a deal?"

John eyes Kamala. "You bring the firepower. If I think for one minute we don't have the manpower- if I get roped into one second more work than I'm comfortable with- then I'm out, and you're on your own."
He slaps his palm into Kamala's hand, then snorts and shakes his head. "Blimey, but yer persistent. What's your name, lass?" he asks Kamala.

A smile like a sunrise breaks across the girl's face and she gives Constantine a hearty handshake. "I'm called Ms. Marvel," Kamala replies. "You just go by John, don't you? John Constantine?" There's no derision in that: just curiosity.
"This guy," she adds. "Big green guy. Calls himself the Martian Manhunter, and apparently he really is from Mars. He told me I was one of the humans in the world who gave him hope, and that's — I'm not bragging or anything, that's not what I mean. But I am not going to be ground down by what everyone else calls necessity or pragmatism. I know sometimes answers aren't clean or simple or easy. It's science. It's… it's easier to tear something down than build it up, and I know sometimes things get broken past fixing. But that doesn't mean I'll stop trying."
A quiet instant, then: "Bet you think that's pretty dumb."

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