The Pitfalls of Proactivity

December 27, 2016:

Cutscene - after a few days in the relative safety of John Constantine's bunker in Brooklyn, Zatanna decides to do some poking around of her own.

New York City

New York! Everyone knows what it looks like.

Characters

NPCs: Benji Raymond

Mentions: Giovanni Zatara, John Constantine, Bruce Wayne, Tim Drake, Jessica Jones, Azalea Kingston, Peter Quill, Groot, Rocket

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

'tanna. You're bleeding. Are you…?

Zatanna Zatara hated it here.

Were the situation a little more different and less complicated, she would be immersing herself completely in John Constantine's new headquarters in New York; she smelled its history from the concrete and bricks, tasted the magic that powered its very air, drawn from the potent convergence of leylines from above and below. But after the ill-fated trip into Muller's astral labyrinth, yanked there by the evanescent strings of Jessica's presence, all she saw were things that she would rather not think about, her brain playing the association game as her stare hopped over the leather couch, the punk rock records and the ashtray on the coffee table. The disastrous soujourn into parts unknown had only served to bleed out one specific open wound, culminating in the reopening of several others - some of these being the ones that John inflicted on her a few months ago, the ones that she swore up and down were closed.

Now, it was an exposed nerve, left chafed and incredibly raw by the encounter, interspersed with the memories of her father in that dark, rainy night in Paris.

And it wasn't as if she could escape this. Not at the moment, not when the nullification chamber he had built in the back of his flat was keeping her hidden and safe from the long distance attacks by Gottfried Muller's agent. Ever since she had bunkered down with him, nothing else had been eating away at the magical fortress she had cast on her arm, the source of the blood that said agent managed to acquire after she had protected Tim Drake from an attack on campus. But the momentary, temporary boon came at a cost; one that she was lamenting now as she sat in the middle of her open cell, surrounded by everything John Constantine and the reminders of the fragile, delicate thing they adamantly refused to talk about or bring up to one another, the thing that she was so determined not to forget, but to bury - to eulogize and exorcise from her heart forever.

So yes, she was bleeding, but not in the way his bloody, cantankerous British ass meant.

Of course, she lied - not about being capable of handling what just happened in Muller's astral house of horrors, but about being fine. She was not fine with this arrangement. She was not fine being here, sleeping in the same space as him, breathing the same air as him.

She was not fine staying here, even though it had been her choice. She was not fine with remembering the fact because all she could see whenever she closed her eyes was his face and the way he looked when he confessed that he had grand plans of jailing her here to keep her safe. She was not fine in that she only ended up here because she didn't want him to suffer, when she didn't owe him a goddamn thing.

And to illustrate just how not fine she was about this latest turn of events, she spent the last hour sobbing against one horrified Chas Chandler, who made the mistake of giving her that paternal, teddy bear concerned expression after fixing her a cup of peppermint-infused hot chocolate. The consideration and the look on his face had been too much, even for her.

She missed Jessica and was absolutely terrified for her safety, even moreso than the threat hanging over her head. The fact that she and John could track her was promising, it meant that she was still alive, but Heaven only knows how long that was going to last.

She missed Peter, even though she had yelled at him dozens of times already for wandering around Shadowcrest naked at strange hours of the night. She missed Rocket and tripping over his instruments in her living room. She missed Groot, who always let her lean against him while she read and made sure she always had a reading light whenever she lost track of the hours.

She missed Tim and the long-suffering way he reacted to her flirtations, how he constantly claimed to be impervious to her teasing. She missed Alfred and the way he doted on her whenever she stopped by Wayne Manor just to see him specifically. She missed Azalea, even though she had absolutely no idea how to respond to her obvious physical interest in her, when her worries about the murdered god that she bound to the Dark Devil's will tended to override everything else.

She missed Bruce.

All of it only intensified her determination, diving headlong in the very serious business of saving her own life, burning the midnight oil as she pored through books and tomes and recalled some of the vast collection in Shadowcrest to New York so she could continue her research. She experimented well into the night, ignoring Chas' entreaties for her to get some rest, or the way John monitored her while on the couch, a single blue eye cracked open as she wove will and ink together to not just learn, but to create. The last few days have generated sheets and sheets of paper full of her own mystical inventions; that was, at least, one helpful takeaway from her trip to Muller's world of nightmares - she had accidentally stumbled into the discovery that she had some innate ability to bend reality to her whims with minimal foundations of power, which soon became a cornerstone to her current endeavors.

Presently left to her own devices, she stopped caressing the air with her fingers, her right hand poised over her left arm. After a few more whispered syllables, she felt it lock in place, turning her hand this way and that to inspect her handiwork. Her wards didn't look like the garden variety tribal tattoos anymore; swirls of pure magic coiled over her wrist and forearm, twisting like ivy on trellis past her elbow and over her shoulder. The arcane series of bands, runes and sigils burned like fire and ice, crackled like lightning and caused the fine hairs on her skin to stand on end.

"Alright," she muttered, reaching for her jacket. "Time for a test run."

She would be the last to admit it to anyone, but she was spoiling for a fight anyway. Rummaging around for a consecrated rosary, knowing John normally kept a box of them in every place he slept, she hung it around her neck and tucked it under her shirt.

After all, it was always a good idea to test a new invention, wasn't it?

—-

This was a bad idea.

Out of everything she could have done to test the durability of her new wards against a long-distance threat, she could have done something less foolhardy than walk right up to a talent agency on Fifth and Broadway and demand to speak to Benji Raymond, dashing, debonair scout and manager for the stars. He had tried to sign her on to his agency once, when he had been in Spain and she had just opened for her father, though his attempts at wooing her to join it had been utterly thwarted by the older Zatara, who knew that he also moonlighted as a soul broker for Mammon. To say that the business meeting went poorly once that revelation was on the table would be a reckless understatement.

Despite their thorny history, he was courteous enough to offer her a seat and refreshments before calling in the cavalry.

Zatanna sprawled painfully on the floor as the three flaming hell elementals stood over her, her fingers pressed over her mouth, feeling hellfire ravage her tongue and the sensitive inner lining of her cheeks. All three were female, wreathed in unholy fire, smoking rising uncontrollably from their svelte, buxom figures and triggering the sprinkler system of Benji's posh, penthouse office in the BR Artists Agency's building. She was soaked to the bone in minutes, her black, longsleeved blouse clinging like second skin, her equally dark hair sodden and heavy against the back of her head. No matter how copious the deluge was, however, they remained bright, fiery and golden; ordinary water wasn't enough to quench hellfire - and at the moment, there was plenty of it inside her.

She felt it burn, herself burn, her mind racing as her heart pounded wildly in her chest. Tears of pain mingled with the water pouring from the ceiling as she desperately sorted out her options. If she opened her mouth to chant a spell, the conflagration forced into her body would consume her. But if she didn't do something, it would burn her from the inside out.

"Look at her writhe," crowed one of the fiery harpies, her pupiless eyes somehow reflecting her wide, toothy smile.

"Lord Mammon will be pleased," sighed another.

"I'm somewhat disappointed," said the one standing in the middle. "All this fuss and for what? Some infant trickster?"

Zatanna's hand moved, dexterous fingers rolling over the air as she slowly sat up. In retrospect, the denizens of the underworld couldn't be blamed - the Zatara family art was well known across occult circles, and while plenty of its enemies have been burned by it in the past, it didn't change the fact that its weaknesses were considerably notorious, hence the nature of the trap. If she couldn't speak, she couldn't save herself. No amount of study, no matter how many languages she learned and mastered, all of that wouldn't make a lick of a difference.

Right?

Looking up at her attackers from underneath a fringe of wet, dripping bangs, she parted her lips; white, sulfrous smoke poured out of it, caressing the pliant, dark-cherry lines and rising upward. Pursing her mouth, she blew a smoke ring at the elementals, the three of them gawking at her openly as it slowly unraveled and dissipated.

"Our trap!"

"Impossible!"

"How— !"

"ASL, bitches," the raven-haired magician hissed, pulling the rosary off her neck and slamming it down on the floor, her fingers splaying over the blessed beads.

"Retaw yloh fo llaw!"

The falling drops of water moved as if alive, coalescing into sheets, twisting into small torrents. They lanced forward towards the elementals, dousing them as the rosary within her grip pulsed with sanctified heat. The screams that followed were shrill, deafening, an infernal cacophony that the acoustics of Benji's office amplified and reflected. More smoke washed over the space, rolled over the ceiling and poured into the vents as the fiery bodies dissolved in the onslaught, sent back to the pit that spat them out.

When Benji Raymond finally looked up from where he was crouched, he let out a squawk as long feminine fingers seized his tie, bodily dragged out from underneath his desk and thrown on his back. His face drained of color as Giovanni Zatara's daughter leaned in close, loose hair plastered on either sides of her face in inky whorls, droplets of water sliding down her pale skin and rolling over her curled lips and slightly bared teeth. He saw himself in her eyes, iridescent points of blue fire threatening to score holes in his skin. Something glowed from underneath the cuff of her sleeve, ebbing and flowing with power he can practically chew on, but given his position, he didn't dare explore that further.

He swallowed.

"Alright, alright, I'll call him, for fuck's sake!"

His words appeared to mollify the young woman slightly. Brows lifting, Zatanna smiled through her dangerous glare.

"You're a peach as always, Benji," she replied. "Was that so hard?"

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