AKA: Sodding Primordial What?

March 25, 2017:

The Devil of Hell's Kitchen seeks out one Jessica Jones on the eve of the Radio City Music Hall attack. They team up with John Constantine to begin investigating the deadly case of Auspex International.

Alias Investigations, Hell's Kitchen, NY, and Radio City Music Hall

Look, throwing furniture, fixtures, and equipment around was a one-time deal. Honest.

Maybe even at both locations.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Trish Walker, Zatanna Zatara

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It's evening, naturally: not some ungodly witching hour, but well past eight o'clock. The sun has set, leaving the still-teeming city washed in the low whites and murky yellows of street and shop-light. The songs of the streets are ever-present, and carry even to the higher floors of Hell's Kitchen apartment buildings: here sirens, there honks, a raucous hoot from some pack of students or twenty-somethings who find the start of the weekday no barrier to a night on the town. The city that never sleeps may be a cliché, but it's a cliché because it's true.

He feels like he lives half his life on fire escapes: climbing them, leaping from them, landing on them. They're the Devil's preferred method of transit, and they lead right to the window — and into the apartment and place of business — of one absent P.I. As places if business go, Alias Investigations is a famously insecure operation, prone to all manner of unexpected drop-ins. Today is no exception. So whenever Jessica opens the door, she'll find the light from the hallway behind her casts a widening bar of light on a familiar masked man, arms banded across his chest, standing in the corner behind her desk and leaning against the wall.

"Hey, sorry for letting myself in," the Devil of Hell's Kitchen says with a casual lift of his uncovered chin towards the open window. "But… elevators aren't really my thing."

—-

The area he is in is the one who smells most strongly of the vanilla of the place's primary occupant rather than the other two women who live there with her, both of whom were there at the old amusement park. Jessica sleeps here, on the couch, she works there, at the desk, she basically lives just in that front room. The place smells of the lavender cleaner she favors; quite recently applied. Hovering around the coffee table is a weird residue, reminiscent of gun powder, but not gun powder at all, with acrid unnameable chemicals.

He'll of course hear her heavy steps approaching down the hallway before she gets there; the elevator doors offering a slight 'ding' as they slide open to admit her. She's got an earbud in her ear with its own set of songs rolling, not really drowning out New York City's song because she's got one dangling, too, intent on maintaining her situational awareness.

She's even singing along, quietly, a little, despite real tension thrumming through her frame. It's an attempt, perhaps, to cope with the off-the-charts levels of cortisol thrumming through her system, lowering her body temperature and suppressing her serotonin. Singing is healthier, at least, than some of the ones she has chosen in the past.

"From the second I was born it seems I had a loaded gun. And then I shot, shot, shot a hole through everything I loved. Oh I shot, shot, shot a hole through every single thing that I loved…"

Another song accompanies her, one that might be somewhat more recognizable to him than the Imagine Dragons number. The clink of chain, the slight squeak of vinyl. She's carrying a punching bag over her shoulder, right on its frame, and is doing so the way some women might carry a broom.

The door isn't even locked, she just opens it right up. He announces himself right away, and is right there for her to see. There's no startled shift in her heartbeat, no sense of anger or fear, though some of the coldness is chased away when she sees just who is waiting for her, chuffing a bit of a laugh. "Yeah, elevators and doors, what kind of nerds use those? Don't worry about it, pretty much everyone lets themselves in."

She sets the punching bag down in the corner she's chosen for it. It clinks a little as it swings, settling in. A warm spot appears in the room as one of the wall-mounted lights brings the place out of shadow— at least for her. She shuts the music off and puts the phone away in the pocket of her jacket, warmth and curiosity alike in her voice as she asks, "What's up?" She crosses to the little fridge, withdrawing two bottled waters. She returns to offer him one, figuring that his nightly ninjaing is probably thirsty work.

—-

It's safe to say that his brief occupancy of her apartment has satisfied any number of curiosities he might have about Jessica Jones. While he picked up on the fact that the women at the amusement park melee were her permanent houseguests — we wear the people we live with on our clothes and our hair whenever we venture outside those shared spaces — it's safe to say he had no idea what that arrangement looked like in all its slapdash glory. He smells the cleaner, certainly, and likely too booze, still strong from months of overuse but faded from lack of recent indulgence.

When he hears her coming, and carrying that creaking punching bag, he can't help but crack a little smile — quickly banished by the time the door opens. "The kind of nerds that would give a man in this getup some funny looks if they saw him," quips back the Devil as he accepts that water bottle with a nod of his partially obscured head. "Maybe followed by a call to the police. Best not to risk it."

And then she's getting to the heart of it. The Devil pauses, as if he doesn't know quite where to start. "You heard about the thing at Radio City, right? That guy who fell, and the panic? They're keeping it quiet — but it was no 'special effects accident.'"

He unscrews the bottle-cap, taking a swig. "It was meta-stuff. Magic stuff. Occult, I think. And maybe even just a test for something bigger and badder. That's… not really my line, and I'm not afraid to say I'm out of my depth on it. You have meta contacts— lots of 'em. And you were involved in that stuff around your friends, which read similar to me." One gloved hand spreads out.

"So… I guess thought I'd rope you in."

—-

Huh. In the light she can see she was right about the Chucky Cheese mesh thing. This satisfies a number of her curiosities about why anyone would choose to wear a mask over his eyes, putting that idle question nicely to rest for her.

As for that booze smell…The abstinence has now lasted 7 weeks, if he can pinpoint times, though Wild Turkey will probably always, on some level, live in the hardwood floors forever to anyone who has senses like his. "Point taken," she says, still a little amused, when he points out people might call the police upon seeing him.

She sits down on her couch and drinks her water, listening intently to him. He can watch the silhouette of her head nod as he mentions the music hall. She has been keeping up a lot more lately. The news is getting relevant to cases, and this visit just proves the point.

"They'll definitely want to hear about this, and I'm out of my depth without them. How do you want to play this? I'm inclined to just text them, see if I can get one or both of them here to hear you out the first time so they can ask questions, but I can also tell them later if you're not comfortable standing in here with a crowd."

Whatever her penchant for noticing details and questioning them, she does try to respect the secret identities of the masked people around her. Asking the question about what he's comfortable with is part of the respect. "Granted it might be moot, sometimes contacting them right away is hard, but…it's 100% your call."

Her physiological responses shift; drilling down to a singular focus. The game is afoot, so to speak, and the bulldog has found an interesting scent, there's a puzzle to solve and work to be done. Her heart rate leaps in undeniable excitement. Whatever stresses it brings, the puzzles and challenges of the job they both share in some form or fashion (despite their very different approaches and areas of expertise to said work) help her feel alive in ways almost nothing else can.

—-

"You can text them if you want," grants the Devil after taking another sip of his water, rolling one of his shoulders in the semblance of a shrug. It's safe to say the courtesy, that deference to him on the means and methods of contact, wins her some appreciation from a man who clearly prefers to set the terms on both. "I agree that it'd be more efficient to have one chat; now or later works. Just — tell them there was a demon summoning involved. A snake? Sort of like what we faced at the park, but… bigger. A lot bigger. And it was somehow connected to people's smartphones. Like some kind of — uh, demonic tech startup. I've got a name, and some leads, and so once we're all together we can work from there."

He engages in the performance of looking around, masked visage sweeping the space. "You've got quite the boarding house going on," he says as she texts. A beat. "How's your sister doing? That was a scary situation she was in. And the second in a New York minute."

—-

Fingers fly across her phone keys as she gets the text out; she doesn't quite add all the words he's adding, but it's a nice long text. There's a brief exchange between them, and she says, "John Constantine is on the way," at the end of it.

She sits on her couch; the Devil of Hell's Kitchen stands in her living room/office space with her. The place is looking really great since the last time John was here, featuring, as it does now, nice furniture, a good paint job, a distinct lack of broken and spilled booze bottles everywhere. A punching bag on a stand. It looks professional and cozy and even— le gasp— clean.

DHK remarks on her boarding house, and Jessica smiles fondly. "Yeah, they're good kids," she says. There's a warmth there, a familial sort of tone that makes it clear that for all intents and purposes she has adopted herself a pair of super college kids and sees them, on some level, as 'hers', however difficult it might be to define the relationship. But she adds no more details.

Talk turns to Trish, and she says, "She's doing remarkably well. Reconciling the ways the fantasy and the reality line up, I think. But I think you did her a solid, giving her a lot of her confidence back, without making her think she can handle more than she can. She has backed off the whole 'I wanna be a vigilante thing.' I can't say I'm not happy to hear that she's decided to take a big step back from trying to wade in there fists swinging."

—-

Another shrug of acceptance greets the news that one of her friends was on the way, though inwardly Matt feels a quiet surge of relief that it isn't Zee. All this time spent around people who know both sides of his mask is exceptionally risky, and the addition of a new player mitigates at least some of the danger.

"Wouldn't have thought it was her jam, just from listening to her show," the masked man says of Jessica's sister and vigilantism as he concludes his naked perusal of the space and re-adopts his lazy lean against one of the walls. Patsy the child star wants to beat up criminals, and the Devil of Hell's Kitchen listens to public radio. It just goes to show: with some people you never know.

Safe to say Matt appreciates Jessica's protective impulses towards her adopted sibling, governed as he is by similar ones. He imagines briefly the idea of Foggy Nelson fighting crime in a onesie and has to suppress a smile. On the matter of Trish, he sums it up with a simple: "It's good— really good— she can handle herself in a fight, and even better that she's not going around looking for one."

—-

This is what 'on the way' means with John Constantine: ten seconds of normalcy, and then the well-painted wall gives birth to a door that wasn't there before, an effect much like something rising from beneath otherwise placid, opaque waters, an unsubmerging that should not be possible. It opens with a wholly normal, door-like sound, yields a momentary glimpse of what Jessica Jones would recognize as the interior of John's flat, and then it swings shut with a quiet click that coincides with its unmaking. What it leaves behind is John, who stands just inside of where the door was with his hands in his pockets, sharp, sky-blue eyes sweeping through the interior on a ruthlessly efficient assessment that ends with a 'hnh' sound.

"For a minute there I thought I had the wrong address," he says drily, tilting his head over to one side and slanting his gaze Jessica's way. "Not half enough plumbing laying about the place."

Those eyes tick over to rest on the second figure present, and they subject him to the same sort of quick, thorough evaluation. "Evenin', Zorro."

—-

"You wouldn't think," Jessica replies to the masked man, "but she is pretty much all about the superheroes and spent a lot of time wishing she could be one herself. And you now have yourself a bonafide fan, no matter what. But yeah— that was exactly my thought." This last to him saying it's good that she's not going to go looking for any more trouble at all.

"You are just never going to let me live that down, are you, John?" Jessica asks, with dry good humor. She'd clearly expected John would choose something like this as his method of arrival, more than familiar with the way his flat can spit him and others through to various locations. She doesn't particularly want to explain the comment— despite her good humor the Devil will note the flush of embarrassment that surges through her. She can laugh about it, but clearly whatever he's referencing is not one of the prouder moments of her life. And she's got a lot of not-proud moments to contend with.

But she'll move to introductions. "DHK, this is John Constantine, John, this is The Devil of Hell's Kitchen. You want a water or anything, John?"

She pulls out her phone though, bringing up an AR display, ready to do her side of this work. DHK said he had leads, and while the magical side of the conversation will, as ever, fall to John, the practical footwork that often represents part of the answer often and habitually falls to her. She pulls up the TOL database, sure she'll need it, and a couple other windows, navigating the holographic displays like she's been doing it all her life. Granted to the Devil it might look like she's just waving her hands in the air over her phone, but she's getting ready to go nevertheless.

—-

"Huh," the masked man says eloquently of Trish's super-hero obsession, and the prospect of having a fan, before the world goes entirely out of whack. Safe to say that sudden, magical disruptions in space time send Matt's carefully cultivated — and for all its potency, still incredibly delicate — way of viewing the world haywire. There's a door there that wasn't before, and behind it a new bevy of sounds and smells, not the least of it a —

Well, a guy who basically smells like an ashtray, among other things.

The 'Zorro' quip wins a twitch of the man's thin, pale, stubble-framed lips. "Hey," he says flatly, tersely, before turning back to regard Jessica. "So, here are the basics. Some company, Auspex International, sent a team to that concert at Radio City. A few numbers into the performance, things went… wrong. Some kind of… energy… from the people in the crowd started going into their smartphones. Screens started going dark, and the ones that didn't were doing something. I don't know what, but what I do know is that a bunch of demons showed up right after — including some giant snake lady that had the whole crowd in some kind of mystic frenzy: fuck-or-fight mode, and sometimes both." The narrative is matter-of-fact, but even with the tone and the mask there's a sense that the man is unsettled by what he presumably witnessed.

"I —" he pauses. "I found some intern the company dragged along," the Devil adds with mild incredulity. "He didn't know much, but we figured out a way to stop whatever it was they were doing, I think. He called the office, told them things had gone bad, and had them do some kind of system-wide reboot." A beat, and then a wry, grim: "Right around the time thousands of smartphones around he city apparently went offline."

—-

"Ah, love. You know me. I'm still bent I wasn't invited the party, is all. An' since when d'you need me to let you anything?"

There are probably chairs in here, and John takes it upon himself to cross to one and fall into it with a slack and boneless sort of grace, shrugging himself down low against the back of it — enough that the back of it can prop his head. He waves off Jessica's offer of water and tips her a wink, then settles in to silently watch her go through the motions with a bit of technology too advanced to have any place in his personal day-to-day, rendering it fascinating by dint of unfamiliarity alone.

Curiosity takes a back seat to focus once the gravel-voiced man in the mask begins to speak. John cants himself on an angle in his chair, bracing his elbow on the arm of it and palming his jaw and chin with that hand, eyes narrowing as he scrubs at a full day's growth of stubble. It's the description of the effect had on the crowd that finally causes any other change to his expression, had in the slow drift upwards of one brow. It stays there, arched, until the ominous conclusion of that concise report, at which point it takes a gentle dive down and inward.

"Magicians always find some new and improved way to cock things up," he observes, words that leave him in a monotone that suggests there's a great deal of thinking going on behind the screen of them. Two beats of silence later he drags in a long breath and expels it in half of a sigh, the last of it poured into pensive words: "There are plenty of things in the infernal hierarchy that could cause people to shag one another to death, so I'm going to need more to go on before I can give you taxonomy."

—-

John makes his joke about the party and points out he doesn't have to let her do anything, and the PI snorts with amusement. "Fair point. And okay, okay. The next time I decide to smash up some plumbing or anything else, you are so there."

Jokes aside, Jessica Jones' fingers fly through the AR display, pulling up some windows, shutting down others. Auspex International gives her what she needs to get started here. She can't add to taxonomy, but she is finding things with her own brutal efficiency, adding it to the conversation in a murmur as she finds it, though not one loud enough to exactly interrupt. She's thinking out loud and providing information to anyone who wants to listen to her go through her process while dropping the info as she finds it, hard on the hunt now.

"Looks like it was just a crappy data mining and predictive analytics start-up, tracking browsing habits, user information across people's digital footprints….buuuuut it's clearly not that anymore."

Another few stabs of her fingers. "Registered agent is right at their office address and they do have an address online, which surprises me. But…there are a lot of pissed off people on Glassdoor complaining they can't get into the building and they can't get anyone on the phone…big fuckin' surprise, the earliest complaints come pouring in the day after of the incident at the music hall. I think we'll want to visit the address anyway though. I'll also see if I can't get ahold of some of their phone records, but I can't do that here."

"Looks like they leased the building, owner on record has a phone number…let's see if I can pretext my way into who is signing those checks. May be hard at this hour but it's an individual owner, not a property management company. Someone signed that lease and wrote the rent checks, let's find out who."

At that point she actually stands up and walks a bit away from the two men so they can continue to have their own conversation, sticking her earbud in. She runs an app to obscure her number, making sure it will render as 'Unknown' on the other side. She dials a number and adopts a highly official tone.

"Yes, hi, may I speak to Dirk Jefferson please? My name is Alicia White, I'm an ombudsman for the FCC. I'm looking into some complaints regarding a business that may have been leasing from you, Auspex International."

She may be almost painfully and awkwardly honest (most of the time, since when it comes to emotional honesty there are certainly times when that does not happen in the least) with her friends, but during the course of investigations she lies with a smooth, easy grace. "I am sorry to call you so late, but we've been fielding dozens of complaints. Haven't left the office since 5:30 this morning. Look, I just need to know the contact information for the individual or individuals who signed the lease." Pause as Dirk answers, then, "Yes, they seem to have rabbited, it's all very suspicious. Emily Montrose and Trey Bryant? Okay, wonderful. And that's B-R-Y-A-N-T? Fabulous. Thanks, Mr. Jefferson. You've been a big help. Victim assistance for stiffed rent? Well that's not normally my area but I'll definitely look into it because you've been so helpful tonight."

And then she hangs up and gets out of that call quick.

—-

John's summation of how magicians find endlessly inventive ways to fuck things up receives a silent but ringing endorsement from one Matt Murdock, who was recently skewered by one in a dark alleyway not so long ago. Of course, Matt probably lumps in John with magicians who fuck up All the Things, but let's leave that aside for now. He's about to answer Constantine's request for elaboration on the giant demon, but pauses as Jessica makes her run at the landlords of Auspex International. His lips twitch again, this time with a twinge of admiration as Jessica gives the person on the phone a startlingly good cover pitch and, wonder of wonders, gets results. "Nice work," he says. "Seems like we've got some follow-up with those two."

Then he's turning back to regard John. "Bottom-half of it was a snake, top half was a woman, but with the proportions all kinds of wrong," he replies then, doing his best to keep his voice even and unconcerned. But while he can battle aliens with aplomb, demons give this devil some pause. "Long fingers, razor-sharp teeth. I don't know — don't know enough about demons to give you any distinguishing details, really."

—-

In much the same way John enjoys watching Jessica Jones tear a lamp post out of the sidewalk and use it to send a street gang scattering, he seems to enjoy watching her go about this other half of her kit of professional strengths. More, perhaps, because these strategic and occasionally duplicitous gambits have a great deal more in common with his own methods than the application of brute force. Long before she wraps things up, he shoots the man with the sock on his head a wry look and arched brow, thumbing over his shoulder in the PI's direction as if to say: 'this one, eh?'

Partway through her investigations he pulls a face, mouths the words 'Auspex International,' his expression so thoroughly full of disdain that it's practically palpable. He holds his tongue to keep from interrupting, though, listening — first to Jess, then to the so-called Devil of Hell's Kitchen (which, can we all just take a moment to appreciate how very good and polite John is being, not to comment on that name?). It's the latter he responds to first.

"Sounds like Asmodeus to me. I won't pin my name to that until I know more, maybe go to where it all happened and have a shufti, but the shoe fits." He stretches his legs out in front of him, drops one ankle over the other, and laces shockingly elegant hands over his middle, taking up a brisk, businesslike, educational sort of tone. "Asmodeus is a King of Hell, which means big bloody muckity-muck, more or less a general beneath Lucifer. Top shelf wanker. What you're talking about sounds like one of his handmaidens. The Malleus Maleficarum claims he's got seventy-two legions to boss about, but whatever happened, it wasn't 'a full legion' bad. Which leaves me scratching my head, really, because summonings usually mean you're calling something up specific to what you're after. You don't just — it's not like dipping a net into an aquarium and seeing what you come up with, is it? That's messy. Novice shite. So you're not going to see a lot of bits and pieces of legions, usually, unless this is somebody who barely knows what they're doing." His head tilts. "Bad news, that."

—-

Jessica catches Constantine's complimentary gesture out of the corner of her eye and seems a little bashfully pleased, but it never breaks her stride. The 'good work' seems to create much the same reaction.

'Seems like we've got some follow-up with those two', the Devil says, and Jessica gives a faint grin that at least filters down into her voice as she sits back down, though she's still distracted, focused. This is what she does, this is Jones in her natural habitat in every sense of the word.

"Thanks. And…I'm on some of that riiiiight now," she says, typing away. She starts scrolling through something, eyes narrowed, pausing to grab a legal pad and make a couple of notes. High technology at her fingertips and she still needs, or wants, to write in order to think.

"Okay, so Trey here has financial problems but paid off a real substantial debt six months ago. If they'd sold the company to someone else Jefferson would have given me a different set of names so…payoff."

She reels through more displays. "Huh. Both these crazy kids have public addresses. Phone numbers too."

Back to stand in the kitchen doorway, which is where she'd stood before to make the first phone call, but this time the phone rings, and rings, and rings. Call number two produces similar results. She splits her attention, listening to the Devil describe the demon while she listens to what really is a terribly ominous sound for something so innocuous.

"Nnngh, nobody answers anymore, let's see…" She taps into the display a few more times, this time making her phone number masking program match one of the Known Associate phone numbers from her Accurant list. "Let's see if they'll answer grannie or auntie or whoever this is…"

She repeats this process again, only to get similar results. She checks the date and makes a frustrated noise. "Too early for missing persons reports on a pair of adults. My guess is fled, or dead. We'll have to visit their homes, too."

Her stomach lurches unhappily at the thought of walking into another brutal murder scene. Not one, but possibly two. It shoots a crawling fear reaction through her, a reaction that is both tinged with a deep sadness and then savagely corralled back into focus. The emotions flinch across her expressive face and rocket traitorously through her bloodstream, but they're at least experienced fast and put away fast, settling briefly into self-disgust, then attention once more.

Harden up, Jones. If you couldn't handle dead people you should have stuck to photographing people's bare, bouncing asses. Get your shit together.

Once she's dealt with her unhelpful emotions, she tries to call up the music hall next for whatever reason it occurs to her to do so, but to no avail. That phone rings and rings too.

At least that lets her hear all about Asmodeus and his handmaidens. She hangs up the phone at 'someone who barely knows what he's doing.'

She leans in her kitchen doorway and regards the two men. "Maybe we should head over there, to the music hall I mean, first and foremost?" she suggests. "Maybe even tonight. Police and emergency services would be gone by now. We could slip in there. There might also still be some evidence that didn't get cleaned up and out, some other clue we don't have yet."

—-

Constantine jerks his thumb backward in a silent shoutout to Jessica Jones' magisterial P.I. work, and the man in the mask can't help but grin a little despite himself. He hasn't been himself — not fully himself — since the confrontation with the… whatever it was, and something about seeing Jess in her element gives him back some of his footing.

Of course, then John is dragging him right back down the rabbit hole by describing exactly 'whatever it was' in fact /was/, speaking of matters of Hell in the most flippant and crass terms possible. It cuts against both Matt's heavily religious upbringing and his more sophisticated, detached, it's-obviously-just-a-metaphor perspective he's done his best to adopt in adulthood — with varying degrees of success. And the idea that someone — anyone — could summon a full /legion/ of the terrors that stalked the concert hall sees his jaws tighten.

But the only thing to do in instances like this — where the surreal seems overwhelming — is to break it down, make it granular and task-oriented. "I think whatever they were doing was a trial," the Devil offers finally. "That's the way the kid described it, though he didn't know what they were testing. If he's right, might that explain why it was a — uh, aquarium grab?" He's turning to regard Jessica, then. "I'm game to return to the Hall, or to Auspex's old offices. Either seems like a decent lead."

—-

"Oh, good," John drawls, tilting his head back until the muscles of his throat are outlined, his gaze lifted ceiling-ward in long-suffering. "Summoning up handmaidens of Asmodeus as a 'trial.' Can't wait to see what they're rehearsing for." He heaves a long breath, curls himself upright and then continues forward, dragging his feet back in and resting his elbows on his knees. "It's always something."

After two heartbeats of consideration, he plants his hands on the arms of his chair decisively, pushing to his feet and lifting his hands to the lapels of his coat, to snap them and roll his shoulders, resituating the garment. "Well. No point putting it off, is there? I can get us in the building, emergency crews or not. "

—-

"Maybe even both tonight, if we can swing it." Jessica agrees, nodding to DHK. The more they can find out before the whole trail goes cold, the better, after all. She sees the tightening of the masked man's jaw, but reads it as determination rather than discomfit, especially when he dives right in with the rest of the information and the suggestion that they get a move on. John surges up, and she scoops up her phone, shoving it into the inner pocket of the jacket she never really bothered to take off.

She pauses only to pick up the blue marker and write AXI - Open - Jones on her whiteboard, under three or four cases in black assigned to 'Kingston' and her other two cases, marked 'Edward' and 'KW'. Given the things she's been juggling are often more complex and intense than her old cases it has more than paid to get organized. She drops the marker.

She waits for John to do whatever he's going to do to get the three of them there, and adds, "You made a face at Auspex, John. Does that word mean something to you? Someone's attempt to be too clever by half?" She just leaves the door unlocked, the window unlocked, the light on, even. Most of her clients, information, friends and needs and cases just come in pretty much the way DHK came in tonight. She might as well make it easy for them, even if it probably eliminates some of the fun for some of them.

—-

For all his internal conflict, there's no sign of reluctance or trepidation on the Devil's part when Jessica Jones and her friend from across the pond give their call to action. "Let's go then," the masked man says with a shrug, pulling himself up from that lean against the wall and then cants a glance towards Constantine. It's amazing what a face can communicate through a mask, the subtleties of expression given even while the features are hidden. To wit: you can practically see the cocked eyebrow under the mesh, even if it is in reality /entirely/ obscured.

"You doing that door trick, I guess?" he asks dryly. "Or are we taking a Lyft?"

—-

What John is going to do to get them there is this: pull a smartphone out of his pocket and begin thumbing through an app. While he navigates the whatever-it-is, he keeps his eyes on what he's doing, but cuts a sharp, small, smirk when Jessica asks him about the name of the company. "Auspex. Roman augurs who read omens in the movements of birds. A company that tracks user information and the like, and sells it to other companies, calling themselves Auspex. It's so bloody twee. The occult equivalent of getting a Chinese ideogram tattooed on your ankle, innit?"

John's gaze lifts without his head coming up when he's put that dry, arch question by the man in the mask, the latter's cocked brow communicated perfectly through tone of voice alone. The Englishman lifts his phone, screen displayed for the viewing of a man who has no visible eyes to speak of — but John takes nothing for granted when it comes to what he calls the 'capes and tights crew.'

The screen shows a Lyft reservation.

"Quite. For a lot of reasons I won't bore you with. I hope you have a good story cooked up for why you're running about with a nylon on your 'ead, because the driver is definitely going to ask."

He thumbs the screen off, drops the phone into his pocket, and pivots to start for the door. "Good job for you it's New York. I'd bet twenty of your American dollars that this won't be his strangest fare tonight."

—-

Jessica watches the interplay between the two men, her own lips twitching faintly as they banter back and forth with one another. John reveals the magic transport of the evening is brought to them by Lyft, and she frowns faintly. What would a good story be for something like that?

"I have an idea for that," she says, resigned. "Hang on." She goes back into her bedroom— well, the kid's bedroom, now, but she still has a dresser back there. She rummages, and rummages, and rummages.

A year ago she'd had cause to retrieve this stupid singular item from Trish's own drawer, for a very specific purpose, and had never returned it lest Trish realize she used it. She returns with just…a mask. A silky electric blue thing with eyeholes that ties around the head. She just kind of holds it, reluctant to put it on, but it dangles from her fingertips. "So one of my cases about 8 months ago put me in this club that was doing supers and metas night. I was just trying to find the freaking 15 year old runaway who did not need to be in a club full of drunks wearing spandex and masks but…I had to blend. So. If anyone asks, it's another supers and metas night at the club, and John is just the spoilsport who will drink and not play along."

She holds the item up with distaste, trying to decide if she needs to put it on or not to aid the deception. She decides just letting it sit in her lap in the Lyft will sell it better. She then decides it would be just great to head downstairs to wait for the thing. Just…all kinds of great. She swings her head between the door and the window, trying to decide what the more polite form of egress will be with two different fellows who will want to get down, most likely, in two different fashions. In the end, the expedience of just ducking through her window and leaping off the fire escape with the hot coal of this stupid mask in her hand wins the day.

If, after all that, DHK says he absolutely will not take a Lyft and is just going to ninja over and meet them there she will take the opportunity to just drop the damned thing into the nearest dumpster or something.

—-
/A/ man could see through the mesh wrapped around Matt's head, but /this/ man himself couldn't read the screen presented in front of him if his life and the lives of everyone on Earth depended on it. Luckily he can still follow a conversation, though, and seems utterly unconcerned by the prospect of the strangest cab ride ever. "Sex dungeon, obviously," the Man in the Mask answers for his explanation, without skipping a beat and as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. "Thanks for coming along, you two."

But then Jessica's offering her own alternative, drawing his attention and his regard. His lips twitch at their edges. "Or that," he adds to John with a brief, economical gesture towards Jessica Jones as she dives, mask and all, off the fire escape. "That works too. Meet you downstairs, Constantine." And then he's following suit, striding towards the open window and then hoisting himself out and rattling down, down towards the alleyway where their car awaits.

—-

Whether the other two actually follow through and take the summoned vehicle or not, eventually they'll all arrive at the intended destination. As promised by the news reports the theater is closed for ongoing repairs, but at this hour the work crews are gone, leaving plenty of opportunity for a trio of investigators to slip inside and have, as John says, a shufti at what's what.

He elects to go in through the front doors, and he achieves this end by withdrawing a lighter from one of the interior pockets of his trenchcoat and simply placing it momentarily on the door, at which point some of the delicate etchings laid into the silver surface flare with blue-white light, unlocking the door.

The theater is halfway through its repairs process. Large sections of seating have been removed entirely, squares of carpet cut out and awaiting replacement, but the structural damage to the floors and walls appears to be entirely repaired.

Once inside, John stands in the darkened lobby, turning in place, head slightly cocked. The smell of sulfur remains present in the air even after two full days, not quite hidden by the smell of sawdust and new carpet.

—-

She caught that sex dungeon comment. Jessica flushes bright red as she leaps. It's not that she's an innocent, far from it, but really…it's a matter of picking her poison. Is she going to the world's most corniest event with the world's stupidest mask that bears its own super-embarrassing story?

Or is she going to be sandwiched between two guys in a cab, on her way to a sex dungeon?

And oh, oh, sure, these two guys in particular.

Constantine, who thankfully has no idea that until she figured out, reasonably early in their acquaintance, was with Zatanna, she actually started to develop a brief crush on? Sure, it metamorphed away from that and into an easy partnership very fast, but in a lot of ways he'd done a lot of the same things Matt had to win some of her attention and regard, building her up when she felt like human garbage, and treating her with respect and kindness. She'd just still been too drunk and closed off to even go there. With all her jokes about his rakish British charm, she just hopes the secret of that brief crush goes to her grave.

And then DHK, who has also done these things, who has great shoulders she wouldn't have really noticed at all had he not done these things, and who has in fact caused a bit of how-can-I-be-in-love-with-one-man but also-really-starting-to-notice-this-other-person confusion. Fortunately for the most part even mild attraction has been held at bay only really by his mask, which reminds her she knows not a thing about the man, putting a fine check on her stupid emotions, which are…stupid. DHK who in fact also did the same sort of thing that allowed Matt Murdock to tuck her heart into his pocket or his briefcase or whatever while walking off into the sunset to his happily ever after with The Perfect Kindergarten Teacher. Believing in her, showing her kindness, giving her dozens reasons to trust him. But a comment like that kind of brings to mind stuff she's compartmentalized.

Yeah. Awkward. Just. Awkward. For her. She's sure neither of them are even phased.

By the time they get down there her body language is as stone-stoic as she can make it, her face twisted sourly, all to the aim of covering up the utter mortification and self-conscious embarrassment she is now feeling. Crankiness: her real mask.

But at least the joke wasn't made by someone for whom she had no comfort level, which would have provoked an altogether different reaction. She does trust the both of them, which means she can just be embarrassed instead of getting to feel her skin crawl. Small blessings and silver linings.

"Maybe," she mutters to the cold street, though DHK can probably hear it, "I'll just slip the driver $100 to just not even fucking ask. Shit. No. If I do that he'll think sex club by default."

Hands are shoved firmly into pockets.

By the time they get to the theatre, though, she's over it, having managed to turn her attention back on things of actual substance on the ride over.

She eyes John's trick with some admiration. Better than breaking the Radio City Music Hall's highly expensive door. Jessica switches the flashlight app on her phone and shines it around at all the renovations, exhaling in frustration. "Crap. They're moving fast." Every last replaced chair and removed bit of carpet could represent some piece of evidence that is long gone. Despite her drive, the place is massive and she looks unsure of where to start. John, she knows, will probably have some magical whatnot he can do to gain more information, so she looks to DHK, who, after all, was here.

—-

Safe to say that the Devil hears her soft-spoken words to the street, senses the full blare her blush, and feels with it all fair dose of chagrin for the off-hand and thoughtless rejoinder. It's equally safe to say that her quiet but forceful reaction puts a finer point on other telltale signals given in other contexts, like posh Hell's Kitchen bars, where he wore another face entirely, going some way towards painting a fuller but still unfinished portrait of Jessica Jones.

When they arrive at their destination, Matt is watchful, in his own strange but readily apparent way, as Constantine flares open the doors to what was just a few nights past a posh fantasy-land turned nightmarish hellscape. He feels the cavernous emptiness of it at night, absent even the maintenance staff that might normally oversee its evening operations. Even at the breakneck pace with which repairs are being made, it will be days, maybe even weeks, before the venue resumes operations, and so for the moment it has the atmosphere, perhaps fittingly, of a mausoleum.

"The monster was over there," Matt says, pointing with precision towards mid-section of the arena where the Handmaiden made her violent debut. "Above there, in the gallery, there were men chanting. To sustain it, or control it, or — I don't even know, to be honest," he says, admitting just how out of depth he is on the matter of magic, cults, and demonology. "I— uh. Took care of the chanters, and then had the kid call Auspex, I guess it was, and convince them to do the system reboot. After that the feeling of pressure— energy, whatever it was in the room— died down. The big monster was already dead. Don't know how."

—-

There's a really easy way to tell whether or not John knows he once piqued the interest of Jessica Jones, and it is this:

He isn't being an insufferable shit about it at every available opportunity; therefore, he does not know. QED.

He lingers in the lobby long enough to listen to the man in the sock explain what it was that he did and saw on the night of the performance, and then without another word starts off toward the stairs that will take him up to the first-floor balcony, moving at an efficient, business-like clip. As he walks he's checking the various pockets of his coat, and by the time he's descending the shallow ramp of the balcony, eyes tightened into a squint of detached concentration, he's got the thing he was looking for in his hand: a vial of what looks like pearlescent dust. He's still got his head very slightly cocked to one side, and up here he tilts it the other way, the fingers of his free hand extended in a loose splay, moving very slightly, as though exploring something tactile in the air.

He finds the corner of the balcony at which the chanting was happening readily enough through that opaque gesture, drawn by the tingling remainders of spent magic. Standing there in the middle of where the hooded figures were working their art, his expression tilts toward distaste, faint shadows of premature crow's feet appearing at the outer corners of his eyes.

"Wonderful," he murmurs, largely to himself— or perhaps wholly to himself, depending on whether or not the other two have followed him or pursued leads elsewhere.

—-

DHK points out where the chanting assholes were standing, and Jessica sticks her tongue into the pocket of her cheek, thinking, prioritizing what to look into first. She thinks of three things, but ultimately decides to follow John up to the balcony, frowning as she pauses to scratch down the actual seats he's spreading his fairy dust over. She's speaking to both of them when she says: "Maybe the box office will have the name of whomever reserved the tickets. Hopefully they didn't hand making reservation duties off to Tweedle Dumb, Intern Extraordinaire. Maybe the surveillance video is still up at the security office, too."

But her first act is not really to go to either of those places yet, just because she's hungry to see if any physical evidence remains. She shows no hesitation at all about just getting down on her hands and knees on the no doubt dirty floor, this woman who routinely digs through people's garbage for a living. She shines the flashlight under whatever seats remain up there. If there's any physical evidence at all, anything useful that might remain up here that isn't some magical trace energy, it will no doubt be there, kicked out of the way and forgotten. It's a long shot, but she's made a career on the occasional longshot. John says 'Wonderful' and she says, "I sure hope that highly descriptive comment doesn't mean whatever you're sensing says this is even worse than it sounds."

Of course that's what it means. They're not lucky enough for it to mean anything else.

—-

Jessica has her flashlight, Constantine has his… wizardry? Matt has his super-attuned senses, and he does his best to put them to use. It's smell that's most efficient today. Days later he still smells the reek of fear and bloodlust and booze that marked the evening, but he looks for other more subtle trace-signs still. Lingering whiffs of ozone, perhaps fleeting pockets of pressure akin to what he felt with such powerful force the night in question.

But he also is mindful of his companions. He watches John warily as he makes his pithy but opaque summation of whatever transpired in the spot. He watches as Jessica runs her flashlight along the ground. "Bits of robe, maybe," offering her some direction as to what she might be looking for. "I'm sure some of theirs ripped in combat. Some pieces of the kid's busted computer, maybe, though he took off with the brunt of it. The surveillance video is a good idea —"

It's an unnatural pause, as if a thought suddenly struck him and cut him short, but he doesn't elaborate further, letting the original thought stand on its own.

—-

"After a certain point," John says almost absently, the majority of his focus on whatever it is he's doing with that little jar of dust, "'Worse' starts to lose value." This is hardly reassuring, but then John is only ever very rarely in the business of attempting to be such a thing.

There's dust in his palm before long, the bulk of what remains tucked away along with the jar. He places his other hand loosely over the top of that palm, steadies his stance and straightens his spine, and for the most part closes his eyes, only the thinnest crescent bands of white sclera visible between thin scrims of honey-dark lash. After some moments of centering silence he begins to whisper in what will sound to the educated ear like Latin, though it's not any sort of Latin one's likely to find in a textbook. As the words continue to wind out of him they gain a peculiar echoing quality, as though they were in a stone enclosure and the sound were layering back into itself, and at length this effect grows intense enough to coax a reaction from the stuff held loosely between his palms. Motes of dust lilt into the dark air, reflecting, or perhaps producing, a gloaming light all their own. Like fine silt in water, motes of dust in a beam of light, or some sort of granular smoke, they unfurl and twist as though on currents of air impossible to sense, gradually beginning to trace out contours. The spell gathers momentum, the dust whirling out through John's fingers in more and more aggressive and purposed torrents, swirling turning organized. The stuff outlines four hooded figures, barely sketching out the head of a fifth seated more or less precisely where John is standing.

There appears to be a terminal velocity to the ritual, because eventually John is able to lower his now empty hands and take two steps backward, opening his eyes and observing the tableau — which is animated. Rhythmic chanting emerges in the papery whisper of the motes of dust, present only at first in a cadence or rhythm, gradually evolving to suggest syllables, each repetition growing more and more clear…

And then John startles, leans forward with his right hand gripping tightly the inside of his left wrist, his expression caught briefly in a moment of surprise and teeth-gritted discomfort. "Bloody hell."

Visible through the back of his gripping right hand, emanating from the inside of his left wrist, is a peculiar radiance, shaped in the form of a complex sigil: roughly circular, containing sacred geometry, it alternates deeply indigo flares of light with a darkness difficult to describe, a kind of un-light. "Oh good. That's just — fantastic. It's that sodding primordial darkness shite again."

Regrettably, the theater has seen a thorough sweep for personal effects since the incident two nights ago.

—-

Jessica gets up off the floor, giving up and wiping her palms on her jeans, though she'd done a diligent search for every item the Devil of Hell's Kitchen indicated. She shakes her head in frustration, but narrows her eyes at the four. Well, now she can mark the exact seats in her little pocket notebook, for the box office search. She'd heard that perhaps concerned pause from the Devil, but is thoroughly distracted by the results of John's ritual. And his wrist. Her jaw firms. DHK will get to feel a chill pass through her bloodstream, like someone just walked over her grave. The dread rather remains, too.

But what can she do, but continue to do what she does best? "Security office first," she decides. None of the dread makes it to her voice, which remains matter-of-fact. "Though I bet the footage is gone too. I bet they erased it or took it in the cover-up. But they won't have thought to remove anything from the box office. If we're really lucky we can get a credit card number."

With one last glance at the outlines of the men, she strides out into the hallway behind the balcony, calling up a map of the music hall on her phone so she can make her way to the security office. She puts on gloves as she walks, pulling them tightly over her fingers. Broken doors usually just strike people as broken, and she fully intends to break this one to get in and go have a look-see.

—-

The Devil feels something sink in his stomach when Jessica comes up short; the weight of his decisions in the previous night land solidly on his shoulders. A few different choices, and they might have more, might they not? He juts his jaw again, sets it aside. Regret won't save anyone killed that night, or anyone soon to be endangered by an encore performance of this shitshow.

Even if Matt may not pick up on all the little nuances and details of what's revealed by Constantine's magical inquiry, he gets the gist of it, and is captivated enough by it all that his reply to her is almost distracted, "Police probably took the tapes when they got on the scene, if they had half a brain," he offers in reply. Or the opportunity, he adds in silent and internal addendum. "Still, worth a look for sure."

A beat. "Sorry, primordial what?" Matt is saying as Jess walks by him on her mission to the security office.

—-

A single pairing of stern words from John is enough to cause the dust motes in the air to collapse, as though suddenly remembering that gravity exists: all of the shapes fold and drift floorward, no longer anything but particulate matter. "Bollocks," John says. The moment the chanting ceases, so does the light show centered on his left wrist, so bizarrely visible through his sleeves and the back of his other hand.

He shakes out that hand, flexes and fists his fingers, and shoots Jessica a nod, turning to begin trailing along in her wake.

He's not hurried about it, though, and glances sidelong at the so-called Devil. "Primordial darkness. Before God flipped on the lights, that's what there was: primordial darkness. Not nothingness, because Nothing implies the converse existence of Something, yeah? And this was before there was any Something to speak of. It predates God. The antithesis of Everything, quite literally."

As they walk he slides his hand into the side of his coat, retrieving that elegantly engraved silver lighter, flipping it open and closing it periodically, his gaze roving restlessly throughout the interior of the theater. "And it's turning up everywhere lately, which is, and I imagine this is unnecessary to say, 'bad.' Shouldn't be happening. Last I ran afoul of the stuff it had somehow got hold of one of the Heavenly Host, poor bastard. 'tanna and I had to put it down in a car park."

—-

Jessica has heard a little bit about this before, but she marks it all down mentally now as John expands his explanation. Much of this is new; John had been too busy trying to get the story of her tarted up get-up the last time this subject came up, before they were accosted by a fateful gang.

She grips the door of the security office and simply hitches upward. There's a sharp crack as the lock simply breaks, and then the door swings open. She looks around, then goes right to the computers and monitors, fingers flying over the keys, clacking as she searches. It doesn't take her very long to exhale in frustration. "It's gone." She pauses to erase any footage that's been taken of their presence, while she's at it. She erases the whole day, in fact. Whoopsie.

At least this trip wasn't completely fruitless…John's already got something.

There's still Auspex. Trey's apartment. Emily's. But…due diligence is due diligence. The PI is already moving, ready to hit the box office for the final bit that she, personally, feels can be accomplished here. If she knew the religious convictions of the man in black she might be concerned at his reaction to mercy killing angels, not to mention all the other horrible shit he's hearing.

Then again, it's all fairly horrible shit, dread-worthy in its own right. Nothing has chased the icewater out of Jess' veins yet, even as she just continues pushing forward.

—-

"Huh," Matt says eloquently to John's explanation as he considers, perhaps for the first time, that the person walking beside him is in fact bat-shit crazy. He's not lying; his heartbeat is steady enough given the trials of the last hour or so. And he clearly knows some of what he's talking about, given the feats he's able to perform. But he could still, for all that, be a high-functioning mage who just happens to be thoroughly out of his mind. For all that he's cast his lot in with Jessica's friends, the possibility brings a sort of relief. Because all this talk of Lucifer and murdered angels is throwing one Matt Murdock for a serious loop.

Still, he'll follow a unnaturally chilled Jessica's lead from the security office (which he gives his own fruitless scan, wincing as he comes up short) and eventually to the Box Office. "Anything?" he's asking.

—-

It's safe to say that it's for the best that John doesn't know the religious leanings of the man in black, himself…not because he doesn't believe, but because he does believe. And what he believes is this: All of the denizens of the celestial realms are absolute wankers.

As it is, being answered with a 'huh,' upon having elucidated the man about matters beyond the ken of most mundane human beings doesn't draw more than a quirk of a brow from John, who appears perfectly content to let the information stand on its own. It's refreshing, in fact, not to have to field a dozen questions about the secret machinery of the universe — for once. Altogether too often these expeditions require him to natter on ad nauseum about the same grim, apocalyptic nonsense, wondering to himself why he doesn't just print up a few pamphlets and call it done.

Of course, if he knew the reasons behind his new and erstwhile companion's taciturn response, he'd find it wholly unsurprising. That, too, is typical.

"'Course it's gone," he says, standing on the threshold of the security office. "Anything else might have been convenient."

He brings up the rear of this merry little band as they ascend toward the box office, but his part in things is largely through. He has a chant to look into and a specific King of Hell to prod about recent events, and that's more than enough to keep him busy.

—-

"Apparently evil asshole techno-wizards who like long walks on the beach and mucking about with horrible shit don't buy tickets," Jessica says, with a sigh, as she goes through the computer. "These seats are showing as 'unsold.' So fuck them very much."

She exhales. No credit card numbers, no names. "Fucking summoned a demon, why did I think they fucking bought tickets like good little citizens?"

She shakes her head. Her frustration isn't helping matters, though it does bring a rush of angry heat to thankfully chase the chill away. She holds on to her anger, preferring to feel that than to feel her weakness, her fear, even her sense of helplessness in the face of stuff that is just way above her paygrade. Everything lately has been above her paygrade, but screw all these evil bastards anyway, if they think they're going to keep her from leaping in fists swinging to do what she can.

"Well, gentlemen. Auspex?"

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