Big Trouble in Actual China

April 25, 2016:

A team from Primal Force has managed to locate the Pillar of Heaven. Turns out that finding it is going to be the easy part.



NPCs: None.



Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

The Huainanzi's is not exactly riveting reading. It's a collection of essays put together after a series of scholarly debates held in the court of Liu An in Huainan some time in the second century BC. That was, however, the most pertinent bit of research about the whole message a pair of small dragons had delivered to May. In Brief, at some ancient time the elements ran rampant, fires burning, waters flooding, animals attacking the innocent and so on. To right this, the goddess Nu Wa forged the a series of 'pillars', patched the sky, killed a black dragon and created a wall of reeds to keep the waters out. All sort of vague and allegorical or so people think. The people in Primal Force know that sometimes these things can be all to literal.

And now it seems that one or more of those pillars (made from the legs of a tortise, no less) have been damaged by the twitching and thrashing of a particular sleeping serpent.

Where to find them? The best place to start is probably the highest place in the old Shang kingdom, Mount Tai. It's been a place of worship, contemplation and meditation for well over three thousand years and a lot of mystical energy has accumulated there. The tallest peak there is, perhaps not coincidentally, called the 'Jade Emperor Peak' and has long been associated with cycles of life and rebirth. Getting here on short notice might be tricky but… May is SHIELD and SHIELD even if not exactly given free reign in China, is an official recognized UN entity, so there's that.

An interesting thought to chew on during the trip over might be this: May has been called, several times, the Daughter of Dragons. Nu Wa, who has taken an interest in her, is a serpent goddess.


Yes, it was ultimately easier to travel by mundane means this time around. May had requested the Bus as it's not exactly the shortest hop, but got told no. Sorry, kiddies, no comfy seats or cooking galley or private sleeping quarters this time around. It's a slightly nicer than usual quinjet. And really, all that means is that the seats actually have some padding and there's a head in the back of the jet. You're on your own for food and drinks, unless someone here has a Hermione-level beaded clutch purse of all the things +6.

Rain does not, and people might frown at SUDDENLY, A PORTAL! Teleporting often ends in wearing drag, being covered in chocolate sauce or landing in England (often while wearing dragon), so Rain is loathe to teleport. Captain is asleep most of the journey, likely thoroughly catnipped or slightly sedated as cats do not often handle flight well. Regardless, he's a warm, fuzzy lump available for pettings and cuddlings. Being a morale officer is hard work.

Rain herself is reading New Scientist, something on time and new theories on dark matter. She's still very much a nerd at heart. Maybe someone will have armor for Captain?

Zee… might actually. Her messenger bag of holding sits on the floor by her feet. She may have her powers back, but she's learned a lot and if she doesn't have to expend magic … then she shouldn't. Just … what's in that bag? Well, we all know better than to question the contents of a woman handbag? Right?

The raven haired mage has been doing some research both before and during the flight. What exactly they're looking for, she really doesn't know, but suspects there will at least one challenge to meet before they find the damaged pillar and can … hopefully… repair it.

Aboard the quinjet, the little door to the head opens, and out steps Walker Beck (a.k.a. Lichbane), dressed in a suit and long coat, and grimacing at some unholy smells left behind.

Thus, he shuts the door rather quickly.

"Apologies," he tells others nearby on the same craft. "That was worse than expected." He summons his staff to his hand and resumes his seat, tugging at his collar and trying to appear as dignified as possible.

"Light a match," is May's only comment tossed toward the back of the jet and presumably aimed at Walker.

Fortunately the Chinese authorities have consented to let May land her quinjet near the peak itself, though not actually on it. They'll be in for a bit of a hike.

Whatever else may be said about Mount Tai, it is scenic. Even without the (ancient) stairs and temple a distance below the peak, there's a lot of the verdant greenery that this part of China is known for. Air Traffic control was that typical mix of quiet and professional that almost makes you think May's twin is on the other end. There's no welcome wagon waiting when they get out but everyone with a pendulum or talent - that's everyone here - can feel the thrumming coming from the peak. It seems… off, somehow. Sort of like the sensation you get when a piston is knocking on an engine. Timing's off. At least there don't seem to be any threats around.

Melinda May sets the jet down as gently as possible in the pre-arranged landing place (and not for the benefit of the passengers), then quickly goes through the shutdown sequence. "We're here. Everyone gear up for a hike." As soon as the enginge are safely off and everything electronic in the jet locked down she stands and gets her own gear prepped. Most noteworty are the daypack she's added to her usual accoutrement and the fact that a good number of her weapons are on open display. Most notably the butterfly swords and the meteor hammer, all attached to a belt she dons with the daypack. Lastly, she turns and scoops up the still-woozy Captain from his chosen spot in the otherwise vacant copilot's seat. He gets draped over one shoulder, and she's ready.

Thankfully, Rain has some sturdy boots and clothes for hiking. She's going to refrain from bear form or broomstick flight. "Sure thing." A water bottle, some snacks and such are tucked into her bag. She doesn't display her weapons.

The woozy Captain merps, and streeeeeeetches a little, before forming a comfortable, handsome drape over May's shoulder. He'll come to slowly, mumbling a thanks. His tail wiggles a bit. He does seem fond of May in a respectful way. The sort of respect one gives a pet tiger or a well armed neighbor. Fondness, but they know there's a lot of pounce power. Rain shuffles, pulling her backpack on. "… glad I used the bathroom earlier," She tries not to comment quietly on Lichbane's - odoral destruction. She is glad enough to see Zee, but she doesn't poke at the woman too much. Rain is a Dire Introvert.

With the exception of Jes and more recently Kane, Zee's fairly used to living only. As Walker exits the head, she wrinkles her nose in his direction. What!?

Once the quinjet lands, the young mage unfolds from the seat, gaining her feet and stretching before scooping her bag from the floor. She's little preparation to make … her boots are made for walking and that's just what she'll do.

"Can you feel it?" she murmurs, to no one in particular and leads the way up the path to the peak. She could teleport the group, but … see aforementioned note about only expending magic when needed.

Walker grimaces again, closes his eyes and counts to 10, then exits the quinjet after the others. Slinging a satchel full of odd items (most of them with some sort of magical purpose) over his shoulder, he makes his way up the trail, frowning.

"Somewhat, aye," he answers Zee while glancing inside the satchel. He withdraws a pouch full of a powder and almost tips some of it out — but a glance at the cat draped over May's shoulders has him hesitating.

"You brought an underworld guardian, my dear?" he tells Rain.

The hike isn't, fortunately, too bad on account of May having 'parked' them three quarters of the way up. It's still enough to get them huffing and puffing if they can't keep up with the Daughter of Dragons, and all the while that odd out-of-synch thrum get's getting worse. Deeper. More noticeable. It's amazing the 'muggles' haven't gotten wise to this yet. Maybe they have.

To mundane eyes the peak seems normal. Picturesque. To those attuned as they near the top the sky turns dark and the clouds begins to swirl clockwise around a point of light that shines cold, pale blue. Directly above the mountain there's what looks like a ragged hole of nothing right in the center of the sky.

And then something pops behind walker. "HI!" A high pitched voice squeaks. "You came!"

Melinda May can't turn fast as much as she wants to — it would send Captain hurtling to the ground. But a split second after the squeaky voice tries to startle them all she recognizes it. The red Mushu. "I told you I would," she replies to the small voice. She glances at the others to make sure they're keeping up and they're ready to keep walking. And no, she would not fault Rain at all or opting to use her broomstick instead of walking.

Captain stares blearily at Lichbane. "No, you." Then he flops back to sleep. The sedatives are wearing off, but he's groggy. Still, his eyes seem open more often than not. Rain pauses at the odd, out of sync feeling. She reaches out with magic senses. Captain poofs up, as something pops behind walker. He's AWAKE! HE'S AWAKE! Adrenaline battles sleepiness, and seems to be winning.

Rain pauses. "He's my familiar. And we have no idea what my dad was, so it's possible. But he was a cat I adopted while I was homeless." They supported one another. Rain looks to Zee, and give her a sympathetic glance. "Yeah… kind of a thrrrum?" She thinks in machine noises sometimes. Then, suddenly, a mushu! "Awwww." So cute. "Salutations," She greets the Mushu. And Rain is in fair shape, but she will pull the broomstick after awhile. "I can fit one or two passengers." She will hover along just over the ground.

With all the exercise and training Zee has been doing in the last few months, keeping up with May is totally achievable … except she is puffing as they reach the summit. Eyes on the swirling maelstrom above, she's taken by surprise as their little visitor arrives.

"Oh, hello. We did say we would. And we've bought friends to help us. This is Rain, Captain and Walker. If your Mother about?" Not that Zee would expect that, but they should probably pay their respects if she is.

Her attention quickly returns to the problem though, letting her magical senses roam, trying to get a feel for just what it is their all sensing.

Walker stiffens at the voice behind him, but is gratified to discover it is not whom he thinks it is. His eyes track sidelong toward Captain, followed by half a smile on his face.

He nods. "A Familiar, of course." To the little 'Mushu', he offers a slight bow at the waist. "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance," he responds after a moment or two, and stands back upright again. He doesn't appear too fatigued by the climb — but being partly undead comes with the odd perk or so (amid a great many drawbacks). From the pouch, he tosses a small handful of bonemeal into the air. A face then seems to appear in the cloud of ground-up bone; it shifts to 'look' at the magical disturbance in the area… and then disappears with the wind.

Walker frowns.

The little 'mushu' dragon follows them up until they stop at the peak. It looks up to the broken sky and then back down, swirling around first Walker and then Rain before it settles near May, hovering not far off her right shoulder.

"The sleeping dragon broke the sky. He cracked the pillar and now the sky isn't holding up like it should. Next will come the fire and the floods."

Indeed those who are now investigating can tell that there's a great Ley Line nexus here, well, under here. Deep within the mountain. Dragon Tracks, the Chinese used to call them and several of them converge at this location. There's energy, a great deal of it, flowing into the mountain, but nothing flowing out. Zee in particular may remember Fenris warning about what happens if more magic is poured into a line or nexus than it can hold. And this one's a big one.

"Nu Wa said the Daughter of Dragons could make everything right, though. She said, so it must be true. You'll need the colored stones, though."

Melinda May hands Captain off to Rain once they reach the peak of the mountain, then looks at Little Red as it explains. "Tell me about the colored stones." Because that could be anything from their Leyline Pendulums to those enchanted stones she saw Zatanna using a few times.

Rain accepts Captain back. Captain sits on the back of the broomstick. She lowers her head respectfully. Anyone who wishes to sit on the broomstick with her is welcome. She smiles. "I see." Though, her smile fades. It's just, goodness, that is a cute Little Red. "We are listening," She promises. A nod at Walker. Captain eyes Walker, too. BLEP. Yes, Captain stuck his tongue out to blep Walker. Snap!

Rain looks to Zee, too. "It feels odd," She admits.

"The pendulums…" Zee murmurs to the group, attention still on the power that she feels. "The pillar is cracked…" she begins to explain "and is funnelling magic into the Leyline. Think of it like a big tidal wave. With this much flooding in, it will break the banks and cause … problems."

Raising a chin to the little dragon, she won't think of it as a Mushu, "As they say, next will come fire and floods… we must repair this."

Looking speculatively at May and the dragon, lips twisting in thought "You will need to lead this healing, Agent May." Clearly Nu Wa thinks that May has something that will help and Zee's not going to mess with divine inspiration. "The rest of us will channel power to your pendulum… bend it … to your will, I guess… " and that's the best that Zee's got at the moment.

"Will that work, little one?" blue eyes light on the dragon. It's capricious enough that she's not sure they'll get a straight answer.

Walker notices the cat sticking its tongue out at him, but primly refuses to acknowledge it (overtly, anyway). He does murmur, "Oh thank Set that Crotchet isn't here…"

After listening to the conversation going on around him, he leans a little on his staff and strokes his beard in thought. "I wish I had some pearl of wisdom or other to offer," he says to people in general. "My magic has little to do with healing, unless one discounts 'preservation'… although they are not quite the same thing. There are two schools of thought on that…" and he trails off, lost in his thoughts for a while.

He looks at Zatanna.

"Yes, channelling — that, I can do," he remarks, but his eyes turns toward the little dragon, also awaiting the creature's response.

"The colored stones." The little drake explains. "Nu Wa used them to patch up the sky long ago, but men came. Men who served a skull with snakes, and not the Lady of Heaven. They took them. I don't know where. West, somewhere."

Hearing the others talk the serpent turns back to them. "The Pillar was used to hold up the sky. Lady Nu Wa gave it the magic of the earth to do that. Now that it's proken the magic has nowhere to go. The fires come next. Then the floods. Then the beasts."

At least the reservoir seems pretty large. This may be up Rain's wheelhouse actually, well all of them. There has to be a way to bleed the system and buy them time. And if anyone has parsed who took the colored stones, they may need that time.

A skull with snakes. May has to keep herself from cursing aloud, because that REALLY sounds like HYDRA. "Thank you," she says to Little Red with a small polite bow. Turning to the others, she clearly has her game face on. "Let's do this." She reaches into the neckline of her shirt and reveals what looks like a necklace, a dragonscale-shaped carnelian stone on the end of the chain going around her neck and caught in the coils of a little gold dragon charm with a passing resemblance to Little Red there.

Rain listens. Captain is awake, and just beams at Walker. Rain pauses, "I can do my best with divination," She explains. "Finding stuff. You have no idea how much money I made finding remotes, car keys, wayward spouses…" The list goes on, really. She nods to May, bowing to the lil' dragon, too. "Thank you."

Zee parsed the reference, she's sure of that, and her eyes widen slightly before her lips thin. Wonderful. If she's right, the search for the coloured stones is going to be grim. Particularly given what Jericho's told her recently.

"Alright then, let's ease the pressure and put a bandaid on this." her eyes glow and blue energy dances around her hands as she pulls her magic to her. Slowly, she feeds that magic to May, letting the agent take hold of it and weave it as she sees fit.

Walker nods his head.

Removing his gloves and putting them in his bad, he points a bony finger at the ground beneath him and starts murmuring incantations. Energy in the form of black dust rises from the earth to his palm, and causes the Sha-head on his staff to glow.

"Arise…" he commands, as myriad little hands of blackness claw up out of the ground (or seem to at least), only to dissolve and give their energy to the necromancer. In seconds, the crooked staff is thrumming and Walker nods a second time. "The Dead are ready to serve," he tells May, sending the magic toward her — with a visual not unlike tiny hands trying to free themselves of a beam of inky darkness.

This is not unlike releasing the pressure valve on a steam system, except instead of turning a wheel May, Rain, Zee and Walker are making a hole with a hammer and nail. It's pretty finnicky business on a normal ley line. This might be the most massive ley line nexus any of them have ever seen unless they're exceptionally well travelled. The power comes out in a focused torrent, flowing from the puncture Walker helps May make back through the pendlums to each of them. Bleeding off the power is… well how it's done depends on the individual. Grounding it into the earth doesn't help here but the sky, spells, fancy effects, anything helps. There's a lot of it though and one not uncommon drawback with this particular process is it hurts.

Pain is something that May is by no means unfamiliar with. However, this sort of pain is completely different from the physical. She grits her teeth and as the power starts to bleed out, she mentally pictures water pouring back toward the others to disperse as they see fit. That's not her speciality, after all.

Rain does not like pain. It makes it difficult to concentrate. And her magic is concentration based. Captain is all kinds of poofy at the dead rising. Cats can see many, if not all layers of reality. Rain nods, looking to the others. She takes a deep breath. Her magic is more subtle, but it soon emerges like a soft aurora, dancing like strands of yarn about a cat because HOLY CRAP THAT'S A LOT OF MAGIC. She doesn't like it. But she will simply disperse the strands, if none can use the magic, offering it to the world once more, in a gentle form - as if pouring water into her hand to let it drip more gradually.

Zee knows the pain associated with this work, she's already attended a number of events. These days, it might worry those nearest her, she actually looks forward to it … except this is way worse than anything she's experienced to date.

It burns and sting. The magic rips at her and tries to tear her apart from the inside. Still, she stands firm and lets the magic flow through her, eyes and hands blazing as she takes the power within.

Around her feet, flowers bloom, frogs appear and grow large before … disappearing, butterflies and motes appear around her head. The Mistress of Magic slowly becomes engulfed in a swirling mist of magical power.

Everything around Walker dies.

Rather, the ground beneath his feet turns to an unwholesome ash-like colour and texture. Rocks nearby turn to dust as though aging very rapidly. Blades of grass, mountain flowers, insects… anything immediately around him perishes into nothingness.

But the pain remains.

Although the necromancer grinds his teeth, and his eyes are wide and hollow — no sound comes from him. Instead, it comes from the souls trapped in the torrent of energy he continually projects toward May.

Tiny faces appear around the grasping hands, moaning and wailing — and the nearest of the phantasms try to claw at the stalwart SHIELD agent rather than continue in such agony.

At length the sense of thrumming receedes and the 'valve' closes. The sensation of having done that is one of simple, sheer exhaustion. Like running a marathon after warming up with the Tour de France. It's over now though leaving the the magi and May in particular to wonder.

Where the hell did HYDRA take those stones?

As the last of the excess power is bled away from the Leyline nexus, May takes a moment to just breathes before turning to the others. For anyone that doesn't know her (like, say, Walker), she would seem unaffected by what they just did. But Zee can likely see it. She's more pale than her normal, and there's just the slightest tremor visible in her hands.

"We need to find those stones."

Now that the job is done, Zee sags as the energy around takes a while to fade. Finally she looks up, hair floating like it's full of static energy. "Thank you, little one." she speaks to the dragon before looking at the rest of the team.

"Let's go. We've got research to do … we need to find those stones before … the snakes decide to use them." Her words nearly echo Mays. "Oh, is everyone ok?"

With that, she's back off down the mountain to the waiting Quinjet. Much more slowly than when she started up it.

The moaning and wailing of the dead fades with all the channelling, and Walker turns around to give May and Rain a nod… and a more sombre look at Zee.

His skin looks like parchment.

"I… feel in need of a slight recharge…" he tells his comrades, leaning on his staff like an old man. "Never fear… I shall attend to the problem upon our return."

Melinda May sends Rain and Captain ahead to the quinjet, as they can travel more quickly via broom, then starts back down the mountain after Zee. "This is going to require research. I hope you're ready to hit the books, Walker." She also privately hopes that none of the three mages object to staying overnight either in the quinjet or camped just outside. She's pretty sure she'll need at least a few hours of rest before flying them back to the US.

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