The Prison of a Murdered God

July 06, 2017:

Zatanna Zatara visits Azalea Kingston's prison in the basement of Stark Tower, both as a friend and as a paranormal detective, of sorts. Azalea regales her of her origin story and the encounter leads Zatanna to a few unexpected plot twists.

Stark Tower - Manhattan - New York City

Tony Stark's headquarters in New York.


NPCs: The Obsidian Butterfly

Mentions: John Constantine, Jessica Jones


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

For Azalea Kingston, the world is a prison, but that is not a great change from her usual state - she has only added the physical to mental and spiritual bonds that shackle her to the pit of self destruction. For a time, in this place twenty stories below Stark Tower, she nearly imploded. Those closest to her visited to try to quell her anguish, but soon she became as volatile to them as she might have been to an enemy. And then, there was the ominous threat of the Obsidian Butterfly to Jessica Jones: When you speak of Xiuhnel's past, when you make Him remember, you kill the girl he inhabits.

Thankfully, Tony Stark is a considerate prison warden, and came to understand what she needed in this place. Flesh and bone collide with carbon fiber and metal to the tune of a dull echo, the sound shaking the circular walls of a glass prison not exactly made of glass. Outside, visible to those who look in from the outside, are Azalea's biometrics, and as she fights the two sparring bots, bloodying her fists but drowning at least one aspect of her frustration, her heart rate tops two hundred and her temperature is a steady, blistering 105 degrees.

This, it seems, is only slightly elevated from the norm, the push that Xiuhnel has on her, the power he can feed her, manifesting in the physical. The rest of the expansive prison is almost stripped bare, furniture and shower and bathroom facilities all dropping away into the floor when unneeded, leaving Az with a space to fight her robotic opponent to the bitter end. Though more often than not, it ends with her on her back, for with her rage comes a loss of focus.

She is broken.

Peeling herself off the ground, pulling at her tank top and pulling up her sweatpants, she finds herself marveling at the blood on her knuckles and remembering a time when it was not her own. Her focus wavers, and the bedroll mat and pillow beyond catch her gaze again, where she stares at a double-long necklace of panther teeth gifted to her by the King of Wakanda himself.

Azalea might stare all day, or all night, lost in a memory not her own, until Zatanna's brightsoul draws close, and sends her mind careening, along with some sense of self control, back to the terrible present.


Who knows how long Zatanna Zatara has actually been standing there?

It had taken some time before she and John Constantine had managed to not just construct a system of powerful magical wards, but rope them into a network that threads through several loci of concentrated ether: stemming from Shadowcrest, the oldest and most potent of these locations, through the Englishman's Brooklyn flat, and Jane Foster's apartment, with the Stark Tower in the middle of the configuration. The British magus had expressed some concern about tying his home to anything that belonged to Tony Stark and so they skipped that entirely, but planting it in the middle of their network is enough to produce a field capable of warding off even the most persistent of the world's minor deities. She is confident enough in their work to trust its integrity.

Her arrival had been silent, and given Azalea's mental state, lost in the power and strength that Xiuhnel fuels within her, it had been easy to just stand there and observer her as she works her frustration off an inanimate object - a preferrable opponent compared to what she had seen of her last: on a rooftop in the middle of Manhattan, preparing to lay the rest of it to waste. When the beacon of her own ridiculous soulfire finally catches the other woman's attention, there is a slight smile when her university classmate turns to regard her. A hand with its pale, elegant fingers lift in a wave.

"Hey, Az."

Always the emphatic creature, in spite of everything else, her expression reflects genuine sympathy, remembering the long days in which she had been under house arrest in John's flat, when the Cult of the Cold Flame still had a sample of her blood to curse her with. She knows what it is like, though in many ways, this situation is worse - Azalea did not have the Box, for instance. There is simply no outlet for her to just forget about her captivity, something that she had found necessary when she had been in this position.

There is this, at least; a means to channel Xiuhnel's violent tendencies, though she has absolutely no idea how effective Tony's technology is on that end.

Moving towards the designated 'seating area' of the bubble prison, the magician takes a seat in one of the chairs, opting out of the obvious comfort the beanbag chair provides. "How are you feeling?" she asks, before setting what she had brought on the floor - souvenirs and some preserved foodstuffs from Tahiti. "And I don't mean your passenger, just you."

After a pause, she speaks up: "John and I got to talking about your case recently and we figured it might be best that we start from the beginning. I'll try not to bring up you-know-who, but the object of the interview is to just talk about you before what happened…well, happened. I know, right? It's kind of cliched - 'tell me your origin story' and all of that. This time around, it might really help, though. So…whatever you can give me."


There is a tremble to her in the moments that follow her realization. The first hint of sweat at her brow as the power that surges through her, imperfect and rough around the edges is worn smooth in the wake of Zatanna's own. Just like that, it pushes her Passenger away. Always tethered, but past the surface, where impulse becomes action. Where desire destroys willpower. It's the only time she can feel the full weight of remorse, to remember the truth Zatanna laid on her shoulders on another rooftop. She'd attacked her, when the truth of the Devil Inside was brought to the surface, so long ago, back before a Nazi Sorcerer had burned her twin souls so badly that every moment since had been like that night in her old apartment.

There's a slow blink as a lifetime of regret fills up with just a few moments, and it does not begin to scratch the surface of the other lifetimes, roiling at the back of her mind. She focuses on her fingers, the human gesture, and draws on her renewed self control to return it.

"Tired. Worried. I don't know if it's ever just me anymore." There's a hard swallow before she moves to towards the mat that serves as bed and place of quiet contemplation, positioned in front of the chairs, where she and Trish had watched movies. At least until Azalea simply wasn't interested in pretending everything was fine.

Wiping her knuckles off on another shirt laying nearby - she is not a good housekeeper - she peels back the mat to pull forth a pile of messy papers or all shapes and sizes. Whatever she'd had a chance to scrawl a note on, after a particularly vivid nightmare. Eventually, she ends up sitting cross-legged in front of Zee, six inches of supposedly unbreakable material doing little to stop the hungry pull of the creature inside her, who gladly wraps itself in her aura like an addict who's only just scored.

Azalea takes her time to think on the question at hand, and for all the world it might look look she's coveting the line of Zatanna's jaw, or the curve of her mouth. In moments that pass, it's clear she's trying to remember, as if her own life were tossed into the fog-like oblivion of Xiuhnel's past, illuminated only by the nightmares he controls. Finally her gaze sweeps down, to the souvenirs and food, and it strikes her like a blow that draws tears.

Sometimes a single human gesture is enough to make her remember what it's like to have a real life.

It lets her focus too, on her past. "I hope John is doing alright. Hope my notes didn't upset him. My origin story? It's just.. I'm not special. I grew up around Seattle and Portland. My parents were into folk music. Christian rock. All that stuff. I remember when I was little, when I was maybe four or five, how we traveled all around. Concerts and whatnot. Summer camps out in the middle of nowhere. I didn't know how strange it was until I was older. It was part of why I left. They didn't approve of me moving to Gotham to go to school. They called it 'A Den of Sin'. I never got to go out, have friends, outside of Bible Group. It was a pretty shitty household."

Finally she smirks, and it's been the first time she's smiled in awhile. She thumbs the edges of her papers, which have all sorts of scribbles on them. Even drawings. Pieces of Xiuhnel's dream world. "I had a grant for books, a scholarship for a couple years at least at the University. My mom had sent me a little money my dad didn't know about, to help with the apartment. But I still had to work to eat. So I worked at Denny's. You want to know about how it happened, too? Or just.. more about growing up?" Her breath goes ragged, as if reliving the moment that changed her forever, and all mirth drops from her lips as her mouth falls open and pain fills her eyes. There's more to her story, more to the turning point, but it's horrible to remember.


I don't know if it's ever just me anymore.

It might never be. John was emphatic about the fact that pulling Az and Xiuhnel apart might kill one or destroy both, and so a full integration might be the only way in which to keep the volatile godling under control. Zatanna does not mention the fact - chances are, somewhere deep down, Azalea knows that already and she's not going to insult her intelligence by stating the obvious. Ice-blue eyes fix on the other woman when she moves and drops to a seated position in front of her, on top of the mat. Shifting away from her seat, she shifts so she's cross-legged on the floor, with the plastic-glass barrier in between them. If she is apprehensive about her safety, the raven-haired witch doesn't show it, ever reckless.

When Azalea's attention is drawn by what she had brought, she dips into the basket and lifts up a stuffed pineapple, with big eyes and tiny arms. "John and I had a holiday a while back - French Polynesia. They were selling these at one of the small carts, I couldn't resist bringing a few home." She sets it back within. "I'll make sure Tony gives them to you when I leave, I don't exactly…you know. Have the keys to this…" She gestures vaguely at the high-tech prison.

The story unfolds; this is the first she has ever heard of Azalea's past. She is of the preference that her friends and comrades tell her of these hidden pieces of themselves by their own choosing. Rarely does she ever ask about whatever skeletons may be lurking in their proverbial closets. But this situation isn't exactly normal, part of an investigation of which the outcome is too important to hazard waiting for the answers to come to her. That does not mean, however, that she doesn't experience a degree of discomfiture even posing the question - she does, and she tries to swallow it down, watching her friend's face intently when she describes her family life.

"We can get to how that happened in a bit," Zatanna replies, not in any hurry to get to what is clearly a traumatic point in Azalea's life. "So while living with your parents, you weren't allowed to socialize with anybody your parents didn't approve of? What about…you mentioned a boyfriend before. Could you tell me a little bit about him? Did your parents approve of him?"

After a pause, she continues, ever straightforward. "John has a theory, but it would require trying to figure out a few things. So let's start with there." That could be it, a restrictive social life, culminating in the urge to rebel. But these are simply speculations, she would have to glean whatever she can before she can conclude for sure.


Whatever sullen truth has hung in her throat, the stuffed pineapple draws it out in a stifled laugh, the back of her hand pressing to her mouth, as if afraid that her laugh might look like a mockery, it's been so very long. Tears fill up her eyes, the breaking of dam filled with every negative emotion in the world, but joy sends it rushing over. Despite Zatanna's discomfort, something mostly lost on Azalea in this dwindled state, the witch seems to have exactly the bedside manner needed to coax Details from the Devil.

Though the mention of her boyfriend dulls that joy, it does not diminish the focus she now feels. Perhaps part of being in Zatanna's continued presence. Perhaps just she's happy to have company again, or to be working on a problem. In all her time as a hero, in all her pretending, she never felt more human than when she was trying to solve a case.

"Yeah. Tommy. He came after. After I moved east, I mean." It's hard for her to look up. To meet Zatanna's gaze as she thinks about another person who cared about her, another person she cared for dearly, that she wronged. "But yeah, backing up. My parents were probably cool people once. I saw my mom's journal, it was all about community and helping spread the word, all that. It was about music and adventure and pilgrimage. The summer camp thing was probably a cult for all I know - not like, not the cults we deal with. Just normal cults. After that, they stopped focusing on music, and started focusing on this Mega Church, Sunside Heights? It was out in the boonies but the whole property was filled up on Sundays. God, I used to enjoy going. Just to see other kids. I had my first kiss behind that place. A ginger boy. Of course, one of the other kids told on me, and I got the belt for it every night for a week. I think I was twelve, maybe? It's hard to remember. Dad's still there though, doing accounting for Sunside Heights. Mom still leads the choir. Right, Tommy."

She sits hunched, setting her papers aside, confronting this hard truth like she confronts them all - with only the shame her current humanity can muster. When Xiuhnel is at the forefront, she might laugh about it. But right now? She can barely keep from crying. "I met him eight days into the first semester at Gotham U. He was super shy. I wasn't. I was ready, you know? Making friends was easy as long as I didn't talk about home to much. With Tommy, talking about home was easy. He went through a lot of the same shit. Strict parents. All the same shit. Except he played along, and being a doctor wasn't just his idea. He proposed about a month before it happened." Her gaze goes distant, because she can remember it all.

She remembers how sweet he was, hiding the ring in muffin, because he knew how Azalea liked to pick them apart. When she didn't find the ring he panicked and tore apart every muffin in the batch until he found it. Her expression sours as she remembers, plain as day, how that cherished moment turned to ash just a few months later.

"I lost him after. He'd seen the change in me immediately. Put up with it longer than everyone else. One morning he came to my apartment to talk, found me in bed with some girl I'd picked up the night before. She left when Tommy and I started fighting. He left after I punched him in his stomach and threatened to split his skull." This time the tears do not break because of some welling humanity. This time, it is only obtuse pain.


Yes. 'Normal' cults. Zatanna has tangled with a few of those and none of them could ever be described as normal, but she supposes there are some that are more destructive than others. Still, she listens, no matter her skepticism, wondering in the end whether she ought to send this information to Jess so she could investigate this summer camp a little more closely. But that is for later, depending on how the rest of the interview goes.

There's a twinge in her stomach when Azalea gives a name to the face. This is the first time she is hearing this as well, though the fact that Tommy and Az had been engaged once was new. The remembered pain is real, ice-blue eyes taking in how her face twists with pain at the remembrance. Love and loss are familiar stories to her, that she has experienced in the past herself. "I'm sorry, Az," she murmurs. "He sounds like a good guy." Another bit of collateral damage, proof positive that Xiuhnel doesn't just destroy the tangible. Certainly, there are more reassuring words than that, but at this moment, they would be nothing but fictitious - there is no going back, even if they do manage to fix what's broken.

She waits until her classmate recovers; by focusing on the life that came before, she is hoping it keeps Xiuhnel dormant enough so the interview can continue unencumbered. The network of wards may be enough to keep Itzpapalotl out, but the Sky Serpent remains a terribly dangerous insider. Now that they were about to venture into more perilous waters, she would have to tread carefully.

There is nothing about her relationship with Tommy that suggests something there would have been a trigger; if anything else, Azalea's former fiance sounded like he could have been good for her. If there had been a catalyst, it was probably something else.

"Could you describe to me what happened and what were you doing when everything started?" she asks, framing the question in a way that the other woman would have to look at it from her perspective. To ask Azalea directly about Xiuhnel would be to kill her gradually, and so she ventures forward in a roundabout way. A part of her chafes at it, considering her typically straightforward demeanor, but the parameters are there, and there is nothing to be done. It'll take longer, but at the very least she would not be risking the other woman's life.

And once again, she is beset with the overwhelming urge to punch the Obsidian Butterfly in the face.


Earlier, Zatanna had asked her how she'd felt. Tired, she'd said. Now she was tired for a different reason. Tired of crying in front of Zatanna almost every time they meet. Tired of letting her weakness pave the way for her own destruction. Finally she gathers courage, just enough to look up, to meet blue with blue. Once in a hospital room, she looked down at Zatanna and could feel the contrary loneliness of a person who, for all her bull-headed rush at life felt the gulf between people as keenly as Azalea did. For different reasons, certainly. It was a kinship that emboldened her towards misguided feelings, for hope and desperation that a single person could be a rock to throw herself on in a wave of spiritual turmoil.

Here and now, she finds her strength across the barrier between them because she needs it to talk about what comes next. A hard swallow. The curl of her fists at her pants. "I was at work, waiting tables. I had a late shift, and a few guys.. it happened sometimes. They'd hassle me. Ask me about school. If I were dating someone. I'd always brush it off. I didn't have time for that shit, you know? But this time it didn't end when my shift ended. They saw me miss the bus, and clouds and thunder weren't far off. They offered to give me a ride. You have to understand, I wasn't then.. I wasn't like I am now, Zee." The panic rises in her throat, but she doesn't look away.

Instead she keeps talking about her ordeal because Zatanna needs to know. "I was just.. scared. So when they began following, I ran. They ran too. I screamed for help. It's what they tell you to do after orientation, in the campus safety class. Scream for the police, scream that there's a fire. Don't say rape, someone might not care. I just screamed for help. I ran face-first into an old man. I remember almost tasting his beard. He smelled. God, he smelled awful. Like part of the grave had hold of him. Teeth rotted out. Eyes wild. I didn't care. I looked back, saw them coming, asked for help. I felt his hand on my head and I didn't even fight. Felt something cold.. a ring, maybe. A wedding band? I remember that, because the rest of him was so hot. It burned to touch him. Then it really burned. I.."

Her gaze goes distant, and finally she can no longer look at her, bringing a hand up to cover her eyes as she remembers the rest. "They took hold of me as the old man fell. It began pouring, and I'm not even sure they noticed him. One got as far as grabbing my pants. Broke the button on my jeans as he tugged. I shattered every bone in his arm. I slipped between them like the rain slipped between all of us. They didn't understand. Didn't know." Her voice rises, and the heat in her gaze is full of violent recollection, leaning forward to slam a fist hard enough against the prison that an indicator that only Zee can see, along with Azalea's vitals, switches from green to orange.

"I left them in a bloody pile. Right next to the old man. I left them breathing only because I could barely breath myself. I didn't understand any of it until later, when the dreams came. I poured through everything I could. Every book. Every old story. I sought professional help. They wanted me committed." Her hands press to the glass, and her head bows. Whatever anger she has, it was only Azalea's anger. Not Xiuhnel's. And it's gone. Every bit of it draining from her as she finally tells her story. "Every last bit of me, I gave to keeping it in check, and it's never been enough Zee. I'm going to become like that old man, or worse."


She doesn't just listen to the words, but the way Azalea looks as she describes that specific moment; the hitch in her breathing, the agonized look in her eyes. She can't help but understand the remorse, can't fathom how terrified she had felt once her wits returned only to see a pile of broken bodies left at her wake. Until then, the young woman had led a normal life and was, in fact, on the path towards a better one despite her beginnings. Zatanna's lips press tightly together at the idea of young men chasing a waitress; it happens in campuses across the United States and the rest of the world, but as a woman, especially, it is not easy to hear. Part of her is tempted to say that they all got what they deserved.

"Take your time," she says instead. "Az, I know it's hard, but you have to try, okay?"

The young magician gives her friend time after the end of her tale; a long moment of silence, enough for Azalea to take several deep breaths, to regain her wits. A hand slowly extends forward to press her palm flat against the transparent barrier separating the both of them; she would have preferred to do this herself, physically, always so free in dispensing physical comfort whenever the urge strikes her. But at the moment, it is too dangerous and she will have to content herself with this small gesture - as usual, she can't help herself. Ice-blue eyes soften away from that earlier spark of temper.

"That's not going to happen to you," she says, finally, firmly. "I promised you a long time ago, remember?"

After a moment, she lets out a breath. "When you were still an active participant at Sunside Heights, do you recall seeing or hearing about anything weird, there?" Despite herself, a small smile tugs up the corner of her mouth. "I'm just trying to be thorough, you never know, you know? Chalk it up to a few of my own weird experiences when I was a kid."

She chews thoughtfully on her bottom lip. "Also could you tell me about how you decided to finally leave the nest and attend Gotham University? I mean, your parents seem to have a lot of control over your life until you decided to break away. Could you tell me about that time - what made you decide to strike out on your own, that kind of thing? I know your mom supported you a little bit, but what about your dad?"


Proximity helps calm her, and though it is far to dangerous for Zee to join her in this room, she revels in a gesture so very small but so very profound to a person turned inward. There's a hard swallow, and she lifts her head. "Sunside Heights. Right. I… there was a summer camp, when I was sixteen. It was mostly normal. I think. Arts, crafts, prayer. But sometimes at night I'd see the counselors leave. Not all of them, but enough that it was weird. All the other girls would joke that it was some kind of orgy party over the hill. We made it out there once but only found a fire pit. Maybe they were blowing off steam and shooting the shit after dealing with teenagers. I don't know. When we went to church, I don't remember seeing anything strange. Except our pastor wore a wedding ring and he wasn't supposed to be married. But I think I heard his wife maybe died or something. That was it. I mean.. other than the normal weird stuff about that place. Like putting Christ up on a sword, instead of a crucifix. I never got it. We were always told the sword represented truth. I don't know. It's so fucking hard to remember, like it happened to someone else. Like maybe He's eating part of my mind."

Fingers slide down, away from Zatanna's, and she turns to lean against the glass, her eyes falling shut as she focuses on her departure from home. "I recycled cans for two years. Collected every nickle and penny. Scrounged and borrowed from friends who got allowance. I even stole a few bucks from my mom. But I think she knew. I think she understood what I was doing. I don't think she was happy. My father was oppressive. Devoted to the word more than his family. So I wrote a song about him. We always had a kinship around music, if nothing else. He taught me to play the guitar. And I turned it against him. Thinly veiled, a rebel anthem that told him to take a Sunside Heights sword and shove it where the Sunside wouldn't find it. So childish. And it wasn't a real act of rebellion - I'd already gotten my scholarships. Applied without them knowing. I was set. If only they'd made me less studious, I might have flunked something and been stuck there forever, but nope. They fucked up. My mom.. I think she was happy to see me get out. My dad was furious, of course. Disowned me on the spot. Until Tommy. I think his parents reached out when they found out we were engaged. I think they saw Tommy as my way back to their way, but they just didn't know him like I did."

She cranes her head up, her expression lost in memory, and mired in self disgust. "Did Jessica tell you how I met her? I put my hand between her legs at a club. She was following me, and it's the kind of place where it's understood that people are going to do that. She didn't know, she was just working the case. She had no idea what she was walking into. I was there because.. because I was weak and just punching shit doesn't let me sleep at night. But she was there because of my parents. Because of my dad. Because Tommy told his mom the wedding was off, and why. And they wanted Jessica to find me so they could get me home and pray the gay. That's the kind of man he is. And I'm sure he's mad he never got the chance."

The glass she's leaning against steams up, and even through such a thick structure, Zatanna can feel how high her temperature is. Maybe it's an effect of the ward, or being couped up with limited outlets to her frustrations. Maybe it's part of what The Butterfly had said was killing her. But it's getting worse. "You said John had a theory. Is it.. does it stand a chance? Do I stand a chance?" Zee has promised her. But it's still hard to believe she has a way out that doesn't include a bodybag.


There is definitely a story there. Zatanna can't help but feel a twinge of apprehension, though she keeps silent on it - John has trusted her, so far, with his secrets; a lifetime of personal demons that tend to resurface at night. Hearing Azalea's own difficulties about her father has her pursing her lips in quiet thought, already thinking about texting Jessica the moment she was away from the Dark Devil's prison, to check into Sunside Heights and what they could possibly be doing there when they think the children are sleeping.

It might be the missing link.

She knows from past cases and runs with John that the British magus has more experience dealing with strange organizations than anyone else she knows, save perhaps her own father. Stories back in the day about super-churches who keep young women captive in hopes of them giving birth to some kind of Savior figure and the like, or fronts whose members actually functioned as soul brokers or demonic sex puppets. The figure of Christ impaled on a sword instead of a crucifix was interesting enough in itself, though considering Azalea was only interested in getting out the first chance she could, she might not have been curious enough to ask why the change had been there in the first place.

She comments very little about Azalea's family life; there is no judgment or censure, nor does she tell her that she is glad she got out, even though she is. For a young lady her age and prone to going off into dramatic tangents, she is a slightly different creature when she is working. It is likely that this isn't the first time that she has conducted an interview such as this, mindful of the passenger sharing Azalea's body. But she doesn't take notes; she isn't a shrink, or even much of an investigator, and as always she treats such things like conversations between friends. In a way, this is precisely that.

It isn't until Azalea asks about John's theory that she finally looks up from her casual observance of the way her elevated temperature fogs the glass barrier between them. "If there's anyone who would be right about what's happening to you, it would be John," she tells her. "This is more his wheelhouse than mine, and he has more experience dealing with minor deities than I do." In spite of her delicate appearance, her real expertise is the magical battlefield - between the two of them, John has always been the sly and undershanded one.

She debates on providing her friend an explanation - but the last thing she wants is to alert Xiuhnel of anything.

"If John were here, he wouldn't give you any guarantees," she continues softly. "He's been through and saw too much to do that. I might be being naive, too, promising you what I did. If I fail, I know I'll pay for it with the pieces of my heart." She slowly lowers her hand pressed on the glass, staring at her fingers. "That would be a kick in the ass, yeah? Failing when it well and truly matters."

Taking a breath, she lifts her gaze, lips pulling up in a grin.

"But what can I do? I've always been the optimistic one. What kind of friend would I be if I didn't allow myself a little bit of faith? John and I…there were times when we thought one thing would be absolutely impossible, only to be proven wrong later. We've done things that nobody has ever tried and succeeded. I'm hoping this'll be another one of those, so stay strong, okay? One way or another, this'll get done. I'll get to work right away."

After a pause, she ventures: "Before we switch to lighter topics…when I leave here, is there anything else you need? Stuff you'd like me to do for you while you're in here?"


"I don't.. for the record. I don't doubt you. I never have. Even when I was angry with you. It takes time to see things clearly, and it's hard for me to ever do that anymore, at least until you're close, and he's asleep. But I know you're doing what's right. You always do. Even if it means staying away. I might have been angry sometimes, but you knew better." Her mind wanders to a time when she didn't realize her danger. When Zee was in jeopardy, and couldn't afford to risk being around her. For someone who had no one, it felt like the end of the world. For someone without a clear sense of right or wrong, it was a blessing to have someone more responsible make the call.

It takes her a moment to realize what she's doing to the visibility between them, and with a frown she leans away, wiping a hand through the condensation, a hand that pauses so that she can look at the back of her bruised knuckles. She stares for the longest time, her gaze drowning in the pain it represents, her mind caught on Zatanna's words. No promises, but she tries to be reassuring. It isn't until she asks about stuff she'd like for her to do, while Az is stuck in here that she looks up.

Xiuhnel thrashes, and at first she thinks it's to cough up lewd suggestion. Instead, she finds it's because he's forced backwards. Her shoulders twitch, and she jerks once. The whole of the room spins. The barrier, latticed between three anchors…


Azalea jerks backwards, sliding away and towards the center of her prison, a marionette with it's strings cut, her gaze staring at the ceiling with a vacant terror, as someone or something tries very hard to pull at one half of her soul, and in doing so tries to pull the rest of her with it.

And now Zatanna can see how. Just past the visible, in the place the Obsidian Butterfly has hidden most often, she will see the strand. A strand she should be familiar with. The same one her father severed. The same one she fosters with John to this day.

An astral connection, concealed until this strained moment. One that could only be forged in love unending, a commitment primal and real. Or perhaps in an act of betrayal and violence that transcends death.



"I try to," Zatanna confesses, a small smile gracing her lips. "I make a lot of mistakes, though, despite my good intentions, but I've been nailed for my recklessness many times. I've tried to curb it since then, but…"

Whatever else she has to say dies on the vine when something happens; much like a cage rattled from the outside, she feels someone try to throw her cosmic might against the bars of what she and John had constructed, ephemeral vibrations coursing through her nerves and setting them on fire. Ice-blue eyes jerk upwards towards the ceiling immediately, but before she can fire off a warning…

It happens, a scene reminscent of past exorcism rituals she has been privy to in the past. She watches Xiuhnel's chosen vessel as she tilts backwards, when she's dragged into the center of her prison on her back. "Az!" she cries, scrambling on her feet, but the prison remains and for all she knows, if she does try to force herself through, it could very well be a trap. And she had just finished explaining to her friend that she has been doing her best to limit her bouts of not thinking before she acts. Still, it takes no small measure of willpower to prevent her from phasing through the glass wall so she could reach her friend.

She has yet to truly test the boundaries of her magic; as it is, she has yet to find an actual limit on her capabilities, a fact that has worried her more than thrilled her, knowing that what lies in the very core of her could be dangerous not just to her and everyone else that matters to her, but for the entire world at large. But as always, what she should and shouldn't do fall by the wayside as far as the strength of her magic is concerned whenever someone she knows is in danger. Ice-blue eyes catch that argent glint, extending into the ether, but she does not have time to ruminate as to what it means. Not yet.

At the moment, she is too engrossed in the fact that someone isn't too keen on being left out, and if she can't get in, she is doing her best to pull what she wants out.


The command echoes through the fabric; much like Giovanni Zatara, his daughter causes ripples across reality whenever she feels the need to exert her will against the cogs of Fate. Authority lances through that single syllable, binds it into the rest of the Universe; a devastating instruction from a soul destined to become one of the most powerful magicians not just in this plane, but across dimensions. A future that she already knows deep down, but that which she has yet to fully accept.


The vessel of the Murdered God goes rigid, the breath sucked out of her as the force pulls at her soul, intent on taking what it cannot get at by its usual means. There is a moment there before Zatanna acts, before her cry lances across eons to dismantle magics and put an end to the assault that is like touching a live wire. Feedback piles against her luminous soul, kept at bay by not only the sheer power of what she is, but because the power she acts against is very much like her own.

The air here is cold, leeching at the skin as if the world itself is starved for heat, and only the living can provide it. Below an obsidian forest of petrified trees does not move against the brisk wind, but other things do. Spindly things, with amber eyes that bob in the darkest night. It is a place that feeds on light, consuming it whole, while the sky overhead blossoms with stars that have never touched Earth with their light. Nebula blossom in the distant beyond, while closer still are the remnants of a shattered moon, and something more ominous still.

There, floating like a great streamer, is the ruined, decaying remains of something immense. A great creature of serpentine bearing, its skull bare, it's body coming apart in the cold lock of gravity and space as it leads the ruined moon in a race to see which crashes to this dark world once and for all.


The command echoes, having traveled so far that her voice is a distant echo in the wind in this place, but no less is the power that it carries. An unearthly sound splits the air, and as power rebounds back and forth, her Dark Mirror in another place releases her hold.

Azalea sucks in a breath, the magical barrier stabilizes, and the feedback snaps back into the ether, blasting a magical shockwave across the city that will leave practitioners with an abundance of reserve for a day or more. There is a groan from Azalea, and Xuihnel too, one from the pain of being a conduit between such powerful entities as Zatanna and Itzpapalotl, the other from the ecstasy of drowning in the magical backwash.

"Is that.. is that going to happen again?"


Whenever Azalea regains her wits, she would find Zatanna standing there, her ice-blue eyes fixed determined and angry on a point somewhere beyond the far wall, expression tight and furious. She may not have seen the Obsidian Butterfly from where she was standing, but she knows who is responsible. If the tether does not give it away, her signature would. Even now, she could smell it; the earth and the sky, green grass and the coppery notes of blood.

Is that…is that going to happen again?

"Maybe," she says, finally lifting a hand to scrub her face. "I'm going to juice up the barrier here - John didn't want Stark Tower linked to the network, but I'll create a more independent layer here as an additional means to ward off something like this. It'll take a couple of hours of work." She gives Azalea a small, apologetic smile. "I thought we'd have more time to catch up, but it looks like I'm going to have to go back to the grind immediately after all."

Her hand falling to the side, she glances towards the door. "I'm gonna go call Tony and see if he can't bring some medical robots here to check on you," she tells her. "And then I'll work on some wards here. Try and get some rest, okay? I'll be right here."

And she will do just that, back down to the business of constructing yet another fortress of protection spells around the room, all the while attempting to parse out those confusing images she had seen when she had elected to kick the Obsidian Goddess in the teeth long-distance instead of shoring up the network's defenses. If anything, it had been instinct, as always she is more prone to throwing her magical weight forward when an emergency rears its ugly head. Sometimes, there's just simply no time to think. Now that the alert has passed, however…

Just what the hell did she see?

Something to figure out later, but for now she expends her energies into setting to rights the more immediate problem. She was going to have to talk to Jessica and John about this later.

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