The Resurrection of a Murdered God

September 14, 2017:

To save Azalea's life and to find a resolution to her God-problem, John Constantine, Tony Stark and Zatanna Zatara conduct a highly experimental ritual that takes them into the Astral Realm, which results in the rebirth of a new world and the resurrection of a more malleable Xiuhnel. The costs for tampering with the will of the gods may be dire, and the consequences staggeringly high, but there is no time to reflect or regret when a changed Azalea informs the three that they need to go to Wakanda right away to assist Bucky Barnes.

Stark Tower, The Astral Realm, Tamoachan

These guys go everywhere.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Bucky Barnes

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

A long time ago, before Azalea's other half had nearly consumed her in a long journey of self destruction, she had turned to meditation to steel herself against Xiuhnel's worst impulses. It had never worked, not fully. She'd blurt out the inappropriate thing, laugh at something cruel, or put her hands where they did not belong. But it kept her from killing anyone, kept her from crossing a line that would put her far on the other side of the fence she was forced to straddle. Here and now, while others might have engaged in days of preparation on her behalf, she felt almost helpless, retracing the path of meditation in some hope that her temporary truce with the creature inside her would be the turning point in a battle for her soul. So she sits, and waits, cross legged and eyes closed, thinking back on the bright points that dotted the dark landscape of her journey so far.

In the days after John and Zee's proposal, she'd found a way to come to terms with her dark half, met his demands, and the peace accord had allowed her to become almost human again. She was dressed in the outfit Batman had given her, the one she had worn when she'd called herself a hero. It was important for her to feel like one tonight, as they tried to fix her tortured, twin soul. Any space John and Zee might need to repair they'd find in adjacent rooms, as Tony was more than accommodating. He's even agreed to watch their ritual from his command center, still on Az-neutralization duty if Xiuhnel tries to go back on his word. There is no barrier now, not since her accord, but this room itself is more than a prison in it's own right, and since John and Zee's talk she's made no attempt to escape.

Azalea will remain turned inward and deep in some far thought until someone comes to draw her out of her helpful reverie.

—-

Part of conducting a ritual this untested — bespoke; cobbled together from disparate elements in numerous magical traditions, the kind of mongrel magic that John is best at — is ensuring that the magician is ready.

Little things can throw off the balance of the whole. Most of the time, conducting a ritual half-cocked, John knows what he's dealing with. There are enough known quantities that he's able to fly by the seat of his pants, doing things like 'omitting sacrificial cats whilst trying to contact Princes of Hell, only to be soundly reprimanded by their hell-butlers for lack of decorum.'

This? Is not that. There are almost no known quantities. He and Zatanna are amongst the most well-prepared occultists of their age when it comes to attempting something like this — his unconventional knowledge, her classical studies and the sheer amount of raw power she brings to the table — and they've done everything they can think of to tilt the odds in their favor, but…they're flying blind. Once the ritual begins, they're committing to something more than just dangerous. It's more than the fact that people could die. It's playing with souls. There are things worse than death.

SO:

John has been preparing himself in other ways, and part of that has been a hurried purification process, because Azalea's declining health has meant they don't have the amount of time he would have liked for doing that. And what does that mean? It means no smoking, no alcohol. No meat. No sexual activity of any kind. Of any kind. He's spent the last two days not in prayer, exactly — like hell he'd ask for help from the Host — but a trance state that comes and goes. Better when it comes than when it goes, because the other thing it means is that he's been extremely difficult to live with. John's no hedonist, but he has his vices and he likes them, and without them he becomes an absolutely miserable bastard.

The world owes Zatanna Zatara a debt for putting up with it, really. "Ready? Got everything?" He flicks an irritable look over her, double-checking. This is the third time he's asked.

—-

In many ways, Zatanna Zatara should be harboring a healthy amount of apprehension going into this entire mystical enterprise, largely because she knows that there are many aspects of this solution that are untried, and the last time they had experimented with soul bonds of any kind had amounted to disaster. The only other magus in which they could have asked for assistance from was Giovanni Zatara himself, and considering the fact that he and John had not spoken since their vicious row a few months ago, the chances of John asking him for help of any kind were slim to none and considering the nature of the curse, it isn't as if she could do it herself. Stepping into this room now, she should be expecting disaster, keeping calm while fretting inwardly because there is a life literally hanging by a proverbial thread and the more they tarry, the more questionable her chances of survival become.

She should be, but she isn't.

The raven-haired witch has been through many trials since she decided to return to the United States, and even more when she had decided to rekindle her relationship with John Constantine; the young lady has literally been to Hell and back since then, but even that soujourn into terrible infernal realms, and staying there for two months, has barely prepared her to what happens when John decides to adopt an ascetic lifestyle - one devoid of everything he enjoys - and while she would never say it unless absolutely inebriated, it was quite possibly the closest approximation of hell on Earth that she has ever experienced.

She is, somehow, stepping out of the entire ordeal hating tofu, yet another favorite food item turned into a bloody sacrifice on the altar of Them.

This is why she isn't fretting. After the week she has had, she is even more determined to do all of this right the first time and find a resolution not just for Azalea, not just to keep a pair of uppity Aztec minor deities in check, but so everything can go back to normal in her house - and when things are awry in an Italian woman's abode…

Ready? Got everything?

"Oh my god, really???"

She does not dignify the last query with yet another affirmative response. Instead, she totes her gear towards the middle of the room and hunts for her pencil case full of chalk - a unique blend, ground and pressed herself, especially for this occasion. She looks up at Azalea and flashes her a small smile.

"How are you feeling, Azalea?" she asks.

—-

The room was cleared of the wreckage of her former cage, and her personal items are pushed to one wall, leaving plenty of space for the task at hand. Space Az has used to tune out the world, at least until John and Zee bring their force-of-life presence into the room, a warmth somehow only amplified by their quick, short exchange of words. Because it's all so human, and lately she's been feeling anything but. When Azalea's eyes open, they're a telling blue, not the gold of her monster, and her expression fades from her distant introspection to something fixed on Zatanna. The monster inside of her does not leap and claw up into her throat looking for a taste of the endless well in front of her, but it twists. It turns. Restraint is new to Xiuhnel, and it is not perfect by far. The question probably deserves a thoughtful answer, her gaze dropping to the cement while Zee fishes out that case.

"Better, in most ways. Worse in others. I wish I could be afraid right now."

Fear left her long ago, in that alley when she became something else, a side effect of being joined with a creature that does not believe it can know defeat. Dangerous, in this situation, which is why she wishes she could be afraid. Right now, she just wants to make sure that Zatanna Zatara and John Constantine don't have to count her as a complication in this journey to fix her soul. This dangerous undertaking, that could end them all.

Her gaze sweeps towards John, and she can pick up on his rougher edges in the same way she could read a book, something about it reminding her of the way her father used to look before those long weekends away. Weekends she now knows were spent destroying vile things, far away. Vile things like her. A hand comes up, brushing back over her hair, and she draws her knees up, hesitant to move while Zatanna works on something to do with chalk. She doesn't want to mess it up!

"So. How will this all work? Xiuhnel told me some of it. He said something to me about a conjugal visit getting him back to his former greatness. I'm not really sure he got all of the details right, but I wasn't exactly in a position to take issue with his colorful interpretation." Her lips curl into a small smile, because despite the absurdity of talking to a part of her own soul in her dreams, despite how horrible the creature is, she almost found his version of a polite conversation comical.

—-

John scowls in Zatanna's wake, and if they weren't on the very precipice of beginning, he'd probably pay out a long line of justifications for having asked, yet again: we're only about to make magical history, christ forbid I make sure everyone is ready—

Mercifully, not least because this ritual will be considerably more difficult to complete if he's dead and Zatanna's responsible, that doesn't happen. Perhaps more mercifully still, once they've tilted over the top of this mountain and find themselves facing the long downward slope — a mad plummet into the unknown — most of the restlessness and petulance and agitation are sloughed away from him. What hollows he carved out of himself with his purification had little left to fill them but a bad mood, but as the wheels of Azalea's fate begin to turn in earnest, what fills them is focus, and purity of intention — as was the intent all along.

He draws up behind Zee, folding his arms and studying Azalea with eyes squinted just enough to draw out the suggestion of crow's feet, blue irises bright in the sterile lighting. Looking at her. Almost through her. Maybe literally through her; maybe, what he's looking at is Xiuhnel. Sensing in some strange way that muscular squirming, so new to restraint. It doesn't seem to bother him, and why should it? John has trouble with restraint most days; he's not about to judge the godling for that.

What matters more, infinitely more, is that there is an attempt at restraint. Some sign that Xiuhnel wants this. Is compliant. Is still with, as they say, the program.

"You look better," he says, though she could hardly have looked worse than the last time they saw her. "Maybe it's for the best you're not afraid just now. You can be afraid later, after we're done." When she's someone new, someone compound. Someone she might not recognize wholly anymore — a disconcerting experience for anyone. John ought to know.

How will this all work?

The answer he COULD give her is, 'fucked if I know,' because the long-form answer, involving all of the magical theory connected with this sorcerous titan of a ritual they've created, would not only take too long to lay out and be completely impenetrable to most people, it would — if they could understand it — amount to basically the same thing as the short answer. So much of what will happen will emerge from everything that happens before it. But he's not going to say either of those things to her, is he?

"You'll see once we get rolling," is how he decides to couch that response.

—-

With the chalk in hand, Zatanna is on her hands and knees, a notebook opened and flattened on the floor as she begins the physical preparation work for the ritual. Pristine white dust cakes her hands as she inscribes large, sweeping circles around where Azalea stands; if John ever had colleagues before that balked at his brand of mongrel magic, this latest construct would be downright blasphemous - a hybrid of varying protection and projection spells, cobbled together with the aid of Qabbalistic, Norse and Aztec runes worked around the perimeters of the three that she is busily etching on the floor, and leaving a vast space in the middle that will be taken up by overlapping triangles and even more symbols.

Then the candles, positioned in equidistant points between the circles and in the gaps between the overlapping triangles, alternating wax stems of black and white and red.

And then the incense and the holder, for the rest of them to breathe into and synch all of them in a similar mental state.

She mostly does all of these in silence, though judging by the way she looks up and takes a look at John and Azalea now and then, it is clear enough that she is listening to the conversation, though the former's not-too-unexpected response earns the room a slight twitch of her lips.

There is literally no reason for her to do the work herself when she can just a spell to magic the details on the paper onto the ground, an ephemeral transfer of all the details - she has done this before, after all, when she had cut the Darkness compass into John's left wrist - but focus is an integral part of the preparation as well and she has made the conscious decision to do this the traditional way - to whisper the words while she quietly etched the necessary keys on the ground below.

When she is finished, after lighting the wick of the last candle, she stands up and dusts her hands.

"Alright, I think we're set." There's a pause, and her brows furrow faintly. "Where's Tony?"

—-

As this ritual is just about to start. John Constantine and Zatanna Zatara, arguably two of the most powerful wizards in the world, prepare a spell unlike any other. Their concentration is bent on this mythical ritual to transfer them into the unknown.

Which is why it could be bad if..say…one of walls shutter a moment before sliding back to reveal a hidden elevator. An elevator full of an iron man suit. A sleek red and gold suit, whirring and humming as its massive booted feet echo on the stone floor. The machinery whirring and clicking with every single little movement that he makes.

The faceplate is drawn back to reveal the face of one Tony Stark.

"JARVIS, you got that reporter lady out of the house this morning?"

It echos thoughout the room.

"Yes sir," comes JARVIS' ironic reply. "She left right after your usual breakfast of Jack and Coke." A pause. "You do know that Pepper has an entire kitchen staff on call, sir. She has instructed me to 'badger' you about it whenever you forget."

"Nice of her to care," Tony replies with a smirk as he looks towards the pair of wizards and the trapped god there in his basement. "Anyway, hows this work? Whats this do? Are you two gonna have to chant around a fire or waggle wands at things? Draw on my suit? I have no idea how this magic works."

…maybe Zee shouldn't have summoned him.

—-

Well, fuck.

John's answer isn't exactly what she was hoping for, and his gaze will pick up another roiling motion of energy beneath the surface of her, of a God that is mildly displeased. Azalea's brows rise, her only response, and then she watches as Zatanna works, standing up as she goes through careful motions. Despite not fully understanding, her other half recognizes some of it - the Aztec symbols certainly - but it is all a terrible fog. Despite her recent conversations with Xiuhnel, his memory remains a jumbled thing, crushed back by their mismatched halves. She certainly did not expect to find focus in watching the work, in tasting incense in the air, in anything that was so ritualistic.

It is, of course, shattered by the arrival of Tony Stark.

A slow blink as the suited man comes into the room and JARVIS reports on his illicit activities, and Azalea's eyes light up as a grin overtakes her. "Holy shit, Tony, was that the same girl from the party? That was days ago."

As per usual, leave it to Azalea to make it worse. At the very least, it seems to have Az in good spirits, and though she wants to cross the distance and give Tony a slap on the shoulder for coming own here to help out, she doesn't dare move, somehow having convinced herself that she must stay in the center of this chalk thing Zee is drawing.

Or she might explode, or something.

—-

John keeps his focus on Azalea while Zatanna works, but he feels it. The words she whispers, the lines she scrawls on the floor with chalk compounded of far more potent things than the chalk itself all act on the energies in the room — energies already bounded by the protections they put into place over Stark Tower weeks ago, to keep Itzpapalotl out.

Speaking of which: "There's no list of boxes to tick on this, Kingston. This isn't out of a 'blend two souls together' paint-by-numbers kit, yeah? Nobody selling those down the corner market. There comes a point in a magical working where you've done what you can with research and preparation, and you've got to act. Once you begin, things can change, and they can change fast. After that, no amount of bloody book-reading or tradition is going to help you — you've got to rely on other things." He lifts his hand, taps one of his temples. His smile is genuine, but tight. He could have tapped his chest, too, because it's as much a matter of listening to the heart and the gut as thinking on one's feet, but that wouldn't be his style. Talking about having feelings is really more Zatanna's department.

"I can tell you this, though; the first thing we'll do when we kick things off is pull down the wall keeping the Butterfly out. So we're starting with a b — "

— bang.

John half-turns where he's standing, arms still folded, and narrows his eyes on the shiny, loud, shiny, distracting, loud, shiny Iron Man suit, and the loud, shiny man occupying it. He has never in his life sounded more British than when he responds with a brittle, affronted, "Do you mind?"

—-

And there's Tony Stark.

Zatanna's lips part to greet him, but before a word slips out, John is already turning to their present benefactor, as British as can be. There's a bit of a furrowed brow at Constantine, before a small smile is directed at Tony's way. It has been everywhere, and every time it shows up, it is guaranteed to make the rounds in every social media outlet in existence, but this is the first time she has found herself in the same room as the famous Iron Man suit and her eyes can't help but round slightly upon seeing it.

"Can I touch it?" is the first thing that comes out of her mouth instead, already reaching out to poke a finger at one of the suit's shoulders. "I hear about this thing all the time, but thank you for all the help so far, Tony. I appreciate it. John does, too, even though he doesn't look it at the moment." She lowers her voice. "He hasn't had any meat or booze all week to prepare for this."

There is a two-fold motive for this explanation: as a sort-of apology for John's present emotional state, and as a halfway con - once all of this is over, maybe Tony'll treat John to an entire cow and pick up the tab at the nearest pub, where he will undoubtedly consume all the alcohol he has missed tasting in the last few days.

It's the little things.

"Anyway, John's right. The first thing we'll have to do is take down the thing that's keeping the Obsidian Butterfly out and once that comes down, she probably won't be happy, so that'll probably get hairy pretty fast. These circles should be strong enough to protect us - so long as we don't step out, or fall out of them while this is happening, we should be fine."

She thinks. She hopes.

"So Az, take up the first triangle in the middle. John, Tony and I will stay on the circles in the perimeter. The last triangle in the center is for Itzpapalotl when she comes calling." She claps her hands together, a small cloud of white silt pouring from her fingers at the gesture.

"No time like the present, I think," she says, before moving to take her place in the intricate magical construct she has just inscribed on the floor.

—-

"Nope, don't mind at all." Tony replies cheerfully towards the Brit. Either entirely missing the annoyance or willfully ignoring it. Knowing Stark? Its likely the last one. Zee gets a grin as the inventor strides forwards and towards the indicated circle.

This suit seems slightly bulkier than what others might have seen. Additional armor plates line the shoulders and arms and power syncs dot the additional armor and line parts of the legs.

"And of course you can touch it, I love it when pretty girls ask if they can touch it." Stark continues glibly as he smirks towards Zee as he takes his place.

…the explination though….

There is a wince. "And he hasn't killed anyone yet. You wizards /do/ have amazing willpower." A longer pause. "Well the night is still young. Right?"

However he does take the indicated circle. Glancing down at the circle the faceplate closes as his voice comes though with its synthetic change though the speakers. "Hell. If we survive this I might make you a suit. And get him a full dinner somewhere." A nod towards John. "I'd owe ya both for getting me my basement back."

A longer pause.

"Oh wait was there a party?" The man's faceplate turns towards Az. "…I think there was. Its a bit fuzzy. But no it wasn't her." A pause. "She had a sister."

—-

As John's tone turns somewhat dire, Az focuses on everything leading up to the sudden cold regard he gives Tony Stark. Yes, she hides the smile. No, she doesn't do a good job of it. It comes out as a bubbled cackle that stops only when Zatanna begins to give her direct instructions, swallowing away her mirth and nodding even as she looks for the proper triangle. Some part of her wonders if it wouldn't be better to have Xiuhnel alone, at the forefront. Some self doubt that she can only know in the presence of Zatanna's luminosity, when her humanity and focus becomes much more clear.

A blessing, a curse. She wraps her resolve around those questions and crushes them away, fingers curling in her gloves, body filled with tension born of anticipation.

Succeed or fail, live or die, the time is now.

The time for Tony to make everything so, so much worse. She can almost feel the tension lift in the room, even as Stark invites Zee to touch his toy. Somewhere inside, Xiuhnel cackles madly, and John alone can hear it, echoing across the room. Az does everything she can to keep her focus here and now, and horrible, Xiuhnel's sudden good mood helps.

That's right, Tony Stark is /helping/. That is probably the worst part.

—-

There is only so much narrowing that John's eyes can do, and they do the vast majority of it while he stands there, listening to Tony Stark, Starking around aggressively. No I don't mind was bad enough, but the thing with Zee is treading into dangerous territory…and by the time Tony gets to the thing about the party, and the sister, he's sealed his own fate.

In the background, John lifts a hand. It's the only thing about him that moves save his eyes, which follow the armored bajillionaire. The movement that follows is similar to the way it would look if he were pantomiming turning a stereo's volume knob down, and that's because that's exactly what he's doing. The little spell that goes along with it makes Tony's voice dwindle into nothing as far as the rest of the people in the room are concerned. Granted, Stark can still hear himself, so it's anyone's guess when he'll figure out that he's been effectively mute-buttoned by the Englishman — whose mood brightens almost immediately, having enacted that little beat of petty revenge.

He claps his hands, rubs them together. "Looks good, 'tanna," he says, tossing the offhand comment. He occupies the circle he's meant to, and seats himself. Safer that way, no risk of falling over. "It's going to be a bit rough for those of you without any nous, I'm 'fraid. 'tanna and I are going to have to sort of…pull you along. Not you, Kingston; you've got enough connection to the astral plane already, but — well. I'm just talking about you, I suppose, Stark." He smiles, thinly.

—-

It is rare to see John actually expend mana; the whiff of his magic tickles her senses and Zatanna turns her head - just in time, it seems, to watch John turn down the volume on their chatty benefactor. She shoots him a look from across the way, though it isn't a ferocious one. He'd find amusement in her expression, just before it's banished away so they can focus on the task at hand.

"You just had to bring out the big guns, eh, Tony?" she tells the billionaire playboy with a grin, long legged strides moving so she could situate herself in one of the circles, pulling her legs until they're in a cross-legged position. She drapes her wrists loosely by her knees and takes a deep breath of the smoke rising from the incense holder that she had placed in the room. Notes of cinnamon and nutmeg mingle with earthier and more metallic strains - like mushrooms laced with copper.

She keeps doing this while everyone moves to their positions in the construct, and once everyone is in place, she closes her eyes.

There is a pulling sensation soon after, though not the kind John had meant from earlier. Like unraveling a cat's cradle, the young woman's hands extend outward, long, pale digits linking and unlinking together; the effects of such would be more felt than seen, like small twitches of electric current pinging off each participants' hair and skin as she carefully starts to undo the barrier that she and John had woven around Stark Tower with the aid of other points in the city - Jessica's flat, John's in Brooklyn, Jane's apartment and Shadowcrest in Gotham. Knots loosen in this deft, but systematic dismantling of the protections that have kept Itzpapalotl so far at bay, metaphysical macrame expertly undone by someone who by all rights looks like a novice - but appearances are as always deceiving. The years in which Zatanna had not lived magic in her every day are very few.

Finally, the protections fall aways, dissipating into ephemeral fragments - to find a home back into the universal Source.

It won't be long until Itzpalalotl comes calling, and she quietly girds herself for it. The recognition of this new avenue of danger has her blood rushing through her veins, feeding her spikes of adrenaline, liable to make her heart race; she practically vibrates with anticipation. The nervousness that she hadn't felt earlier rolls over her in a sudden flood and that on its own comes a kind of exhilaration unique to the Work, knowing full well that she is treading on uncharted territory, one of this terrain's first explorers.

It is exciting and terrifying in equal measure.

—-

Tony is talking.

I mean his mask is lighting up. His arms and head are moving. The whirr of the machinery is still there. The body language speaks of him talking. He looks from one to the other. Possibily asking questions. Possibily making comments. Possibily both. Likely both. Most assuredly both.

One hand waves towards Zee. Then towards Az. Then towards John.

Finally he taps his foot, arms crossed over his chest. His fingers punch something into a pannel on his gauntlet.

A few lights bloom into existance on the side of his helment as a holographic display ignites into life. Laser lights slowly coalece into words.

'Did one of you /mute/ me?!'

—-

The veil rolls back under Zatanna's influence, and Azalea does not move. They can almost hear her breath, shaky but not with fear. It is adrenaline that floods her, anticipation that has her hanging on a ragged edge, eyes wide and almost feral.

It happens in a blink. One moment there is empty space. The next Iztpapalotl, The Obsidian Butterfly, snaps into existence. Her skin is dark, her eyes are arm, and she has an ancient, regal beauty, wrapped in all the trappings of the modern world. A pair of jeans, a faded t-shirt, and a look in her eyes of hurtful longing. She looks at Azalea the way John and Zee look at each other before they make up. She looks at Azalea, and through Azalea, to what's left of her beloved, crushed down below that shell of humanity.

And with her comes the scent of honey and wheat, something that might be familiar to Tony if he had his helmet off. It might finally clear T'Challa of the tragedy of being known to Tony as The Perfumed One, but apparently it is simply not to be. It is the stuff of raw emotion, meant to raise pulses, to fuel lust and anger and love and hate. It is the stuff that could make someone starving of those things turn in turmoil, or someone languishing in them fall to horrible addiction.

"Hello, beloved. They have kept me from you for to long."

Azalea stands still, caught in the throes of that emotional wave, torn between her promise to stay still, the urge to remove her throat, and raw desire to find her lips and let the world sink away.

—-

Did one of you mute me?

John glances up, knits his brows. "What? No. I can hear you just fine. Now plant your tin can in that circle and mind you don't move out of it, unless you fancy being lost in the astral plane for all of an eternity." There's no telling whether that's what would actually happen; he says it as convincingly as he says he can still hear Tony, after all — very convincingly, save for the fact that it has to be a lie.

Where Zatanna adopts a posture in the circle that might be delicately contemplative, John, also cross-legged, has a very different approach: he tilts his head to either side until his neck pops, and settles in like a man in a foxhole, preparing for war. Much though he might enjoy watching Zatanna unravel the ambitious chain of wards they designed, he closes his eyes and attempts to disengage himself from irritation and flippancy, expectation or nervous energy.

In spite of his involvement on the sidelines of Azalea's struggle, he's never actually been present for one of Itzpapalotl's appearances. The feeling of the goddess' arrival passes over him like a storm surge of energy, even with the barriers erected by Zatanna's fine work with the chalk on the floor. Around him, the circular pattern with all of its attendant runes and modified scraps of ritual incantation flare up with phosphorus light, white lightning that crackles and spits around the edges, responding to the immensity of the Obsidian Butterfly's presence.

Pale blue eyes wander this displaced deity, taking in her choice of attire with mute surprise. Only a glance, though, and a side-eye of the triangle into which the goddess must step if they're to begin this…process. His attention returns to Azalea soon enough. "Do not…step over those lines, Kingston." He says the words gently, but firmly. It would be too easy — for anyone, but particularly someone unused to this kind of supernatural assault on the senses — to get caught up in the swirling energies around Itzpapalotl, forget one's self, step across. Be lost, genuinely into the forever.

—-

And so Zatanna abandons Tony to his cruel fate - besides, she has things to do.

The last ephemeral thread unspooled from the rest of the mystical construct criss-crossing Stark Tower, the response is immediate. She feels the goddess' approach well before she appears, her hair standing on end and shockwaves of electricity rippling through her hair and skin, suddenly alert and rejuvenated, her heart lurching into her sternum and the hot rush of warmth spreading from her chest and outwards. From what she knows of the lore, Itzpapalotl was the Aztecs' Aprhrodite and Hera combined, and she proves that mythologists got that part at least correct when she emerges out of the ether and ignores everyone else but Xiuhnel: the scent of honey and wheat and bounty, the very presence of her rousing every available instinct in her attuned to desire.

She watches the two exchange a glance, before she clears her throat.

"We're here, too," she points out, because she can't help it. "Anyway, we decided to let the barrier drop because the Cloud Serpent would very much like to speak to you. I understand that your history is a complicated one, hence the precautionary measures but the intent here, in the end, is to start a dialogue of some kind in hopes that the two of you could at least achieve an accord. So if you will, Itzpapalotl?" She gestures for the triangle in the middle of the circle, directly across Azalea.

—-

'Well damn. If thats true I'm going to have to work harder. I've been doing bad James Bond impersonations for the past three minuites and you havn't even batted an eyebrow.'

Even when muted Tony Stark will run his mouth. Like Jurassic Park. Life finds a way.

But they /are/ here for a reason and though Stark is quite confident in the abilities of his suit and the abilities of his mind he knows enough to realise that magic is /not/ something he has a firm understanding of.

He can figure it out later after he blows up a few labs and interrigates people for formula or whatever passes for spells. Oh maybe he can use alchemy to make /vibranium/…

Focus Tony. Focus.

So Stark and the suit both step into the center square, the one offered to him by a annoyed Brit. He doesn't sit like the mages, mostly because its /really/ awkward to sit like that in this suit and he doesn't want to do it.

The appearnace of one of the principles of this little stage though draws his attention. Almost without thought, a routine motion to scan the figure there. Though the suits air scrubbers /are/ at least protection against the sweet and dangerous scent there.

So thats something good about wearing the faceplate down.

—-

The Goddess pays no mind to John's command, but Azalea latches on to it like a lifeline, grasping at it with her mind as her hear tries to leap out of her chest. It is painful, and Xiuhnel thrashes, wanting the touch of her like a drowning man wants air. All the words before, the promises that he was done with her, that he wanted to murder her for what she'd done, fall away for the barest promise that he might have her again. It is a sensation that rebounds between crackling energy, echoing through them all, as a Murdered God remembers love, and all it's brief trappings. For those who know what it's like to leave someone in anger and return to watch it drain away in a moment, it is a familiar sensation, amplified a hundred fold.

Zatanna's words draw her gaze sidelong, but she stops at Tony, eyes going wide. Her head tilts ever so slightly, and she practically gafaws, stepping a little bit closer to him, hands on her hips with a lean that lets her take him in, top to bottom. "Well now. Seen a lot of things in my time, here." Her voice saunters into a barely there southern twang, and she gives Tony a knowing wink. "Never thought I'd see the Iron Man in person. When we're all done here darlin', maybe you'll let me in close. Close enough to touch it?"

Her wink alone could make a man drown in tears that he couldn't have her, and when she rounds on Zatanna, her mirth all but drops away. "Just for a talk, right sweetheart? Nothing untowards. Nothing violent. Don't worry, I trust you. You're one of those heroes, wouldn't harm someone like me who came in peace, right dear?" And so she steps into the triangle, keeping her eyes on Zatanna as her last foot crosses the threshold, and then her eyes settle fully on John Constantine.

Azalea's breath catches, because she's so close. Because this could be violent. Because, more than anything, she wants to love again.

—-

All of these radiant waves of love, lust and longing seem to roll over John without much more than a marked increase in his heartrate. He's gone toe to toe with avatars of many things and come through the other side; this is not, as they say, his first rodeo. One of the many darker denizens of the world he has occasional contact with is an honest-to-god succubus, in fact.

What gets him, and what he was not prepared for, are the gut-wrenching feelings of Xiuhnel's longing. The suffering that rises to fill the empty places where love used to be. It transmits along the lines of the circle, floods the boundaries of it, and strikes John in the ribs with all of the force of a sledgehammer.

It's too familiar, as a brand of suffering. It's too personal, too intimate. Shades of a bitter New Year and a dark week in Berlin, most recently.

He has more restraint and experience than to look at Zatanna, though the cramp in his chest is white hot. She'll feel it, though — the silver thread between them pulled suddenly taut as a steel cable, as everything in him tightens around that unexpected piece of Xiuhnel's shrapnel.

He almost misses the exchange between the Goddess and Tony Stark.

"Don't even think about it," he says, with a flat look at the faceplate of the Iron Man suit. Evidently, Tony's reputation precedes him.

Itzpapalotl's focus falls on him like a physical weight. He lifts his eyes to meet it.

"We'd prefer that nobody come to any harm, luv. It's messy, there's paperwork — you know how it is. 'Course, that's really up to you lot, innit?"

—-

The wink is taken in stride, the flirtations, the aside towards Tony Stark. The overwhelming strains of familiar, heartbreaking emotion lift from the lines binding each of the four souls within, staging a full blown coup on her senses. Her heartrate elevates in time with the cascade of imprints from John, feeling her heart twist; now is definitely not the time to think about such things, if not just because Itzpapalotl is sensitive to the very thing - the realm in which she inhabits, her influence over those emotions, probably make her sensitive to them and the last thing they need to give her any more of is insight. She knows this, deep down, but actually dealing with it is another thing entirely, especially when she knows where the roots of John's own fountain come from.

So she focuses on what is being told to her instead, shoring up her usual degree of reckless bravado to plunge into untroddedn minefields in hopes that the resulting shrapnel doesn't shred her to pieces. Ice-blue eyes lift to look at the Obsidian Butterfly directly in the face.

"Well, hopefully you actually did come in peace, so we wouldn't have to find out," Zatanna tells her; shades of Giovanni Zatara are present, a master magician who never balked at going toe-to-toe in a fight with some of the most ridiculously powereful entities across dimensions, but she doesn't have his icy regard. The words are underscored with subsumed fire and lightning, her jaw tilting in a challenging fashion.

"But like John says, an accord is what we all want, I think. Xiuhnel, especially. He misses you." The last is genuinely sympathetic - she knows what that is like. "And I think you miss him too, so what if we said that there's a way to make it so the two of you could be together again? Push the two of you in the same place? We figured if we could make it so the two of you could co-exist harmoniously, we don't have to worry about….what happens when the two of you don't agree."

—-

You know. It might be good that Tony is muted. Since the way that suit is regarding that goddess speaks volumes. But one thing can be said of the inventor. He knows when he /doesn't/ know a damn thing about whats happening. When situations like that arise, well…its better for Tony just to sit back and let the experts handle it.

I mean he wouldn't expect John or Zee to tell him how to wire up a VI personality matrix. So he won't tell them how to waggle fingers and look impressive in the midst of all this rune nonsense.

So he stands, he waits, he looks afronted that John said anything. Never mind he was totally about to make the universal 'call me' sign.

Its fine. Right. Its fiiiiiiiine.

—-

When The Obsidian Butterfly takes her eyes off of John and turns to look at Zatanna again she looks ever so distracted, eyes flitting about, as if there's another butterfly in the room. It might seem disrespectful of Zatanna's attempt at providing a balm, an equitable solution, but soon enough she looks back to the little witch, drowning in her blue eyes in much the same way John might if he were standing here. "He tried to tell you, and I tried to tell Jessica Jones. He needs to be here, and I need to be there, and any disagreements we might have, well…" Her fingers snap.

Azalea's strings cut, and she drops to the floor, thankfully still in her barrier.

It's momentary, heavy breath bringing oxygen back to Azalea as she struggles back, as Xiuhnel, too, struggles to understand. If the tether between John and Zee had grown taught as emotion reflected upon it, the one between Itzpapalotl and Xiuhnel grows deadly silent for that bare moment, as she forces herself upon him, commands him. If the prospect alone is not horrifying enough, that she knows such things, has such an understanding about how these tethers work may be worse.

And so is the way she brushes her finger through the air, like she's petting something. Can John feel it? Like goosebumps on his back? Can Zatanna sense it, like the whisper of warm breath against her neck?

"Your barriers are divine, impressive, but you two were the wrong mages to wrangle me, little dears. Your plan has the flaw of being utterly impossible. But don't worry, this trip won't be wasted. This beautiful thing you have here goes through everything, permeates everything. Let me show you."

She pulls the string, swiping at the astral connection between John Constantine and Zatanna Zatara, twisting it momentarily, letting sensation and memory blend across the line for an single terrible moment. Could she pull it apart? Stomp on it until they, unused to its power, give up everything they ever are? Or maybe this is all she can do, with all her knowledge, because the connection is so very sacred, if new, to the pair.

Then, she rounds to Tony, her face lighting up.

It's a dare. A dare while the mages might be distracted, to make this a physical challenge, perhaps, before it can truly become an astral one, raising a finger to crook it at the Metal Man.

—-

As gambles go, it might have been a very effective one — if John and Zatanna were any other mages. Astral links are rare, and few enough have them to make understanding of them commonplace. Fewer still would have been equipped to experiment with the one that they share.

John and Zatanna are all of those things, and more. And what they've been told by Giovanni Zatara, whose own astral link lingers, is this: it can't be broken by anyone else. Only the two of them could cut it free — and John has plenty of reason to believe that. After all, Giovanni wanted it broken, and it isn't. That alone —

None of which will ameliorate the impact of having outside forces toy with it that way.

Until that moment, John's chief concern is Azalea, watching her unstrung that way, his breath held for the moments between her impact with the floor and her next demonstration of life. The young woman is strong; has had to be in order to survive her ordeals for this long. She has Xiuhnel's strength to lean on now, too, however conditional and unpredictable it may be. But she's still fragile. Still worn thin, body and soul. For a moment, he wonders whether the Goddess has killed her through some means that he and Zatanna could not account for, vast and intricate as the circles may be.

But no: she lives. And then Itzpapalotl makes the mistake of touching that tether.

"Shouldn't have done that," he says, quietly.

Will she feel it, in the moments just before he pulls the pin on the metaphysical grenade that is the scrawling arrangement of circles and lines? The way Fate moves in him, pivots around on a fulcrum of anger so deep and pure it's like the colorless radiation of a new star? They had intended to ease through negotiations where possible. Give Xiuhnel a forum. Avoid, if at all possible, turning this into a spectral cage match in the astral realm, where the odds are certainly more equal, though the consequences for failure may be far worse.

All of those cautions are thrown to the wind like so many shards out of a broken mirror — not unlike the jagged transparencies that seem to cycle and wheel through his aura, bits of intersecting planes and timelines, a locus of chance — when she touches the tether. Blue eyes turn hard, and then he throws the dice. Flicks off the safety on the thing they've created. Blinding light bursts through the seams scrawled on the ground. The pair of triangles — those containing Azalea and Xiuhnel, and Itzpapalotl, respectively — receive the astral equivalent of polarities.

John is in the process of flushing them down the swirly toilet of reality into the sewers of the underpinnings of existence, and all he can say, in spite of the biting cold in him, is this: "Hope you don't get motion sick, Stark."

—-

Azalea.

For a heart-wrenching moment, fear nearly overwhelms her, almost pulls her out of her section of the diagram she has etched onto the floor. Ice-blue eyes widen and a choked, garbled sound escapes the back of her throat.

It's only out of sheer, herculean effort that she remains where she is, teeth clamping hard and a tic manifesting at the delicate hinge where her jaw meets her neck, the spasm pulsing along that vital, life giving vein. She is alive, but…

Deities are cocky; it is one of the only constants in the universe when it comes to beings that have been worshipped across the centuries. That alone should have forced her to expect the response that Itzpapalotl gives the both of them - after all, she had told John before that even if they did manage to do what they intend, there is no guarantee that the Obsidian Butterfly or Xiuhnel would subject themselves to a mortal's whims. And yet what she actually does in defiance of her challenge is surprising, because she gravitates towards the worst thing she can possibly do in their presence.

Zatanna Zatara has always been John Constantine's opposite in many ways - she reacts to adverse circumstances with fire and heat; John, for all his passion, tends to react with icy precision especially when his anger is riled. Filaments of anger kindle deep within, the dull roar accompanying the sound of her blood rushing into her ears when Itzpapalotl dares to toy with something in which she isn't welcome. Like anything about the two of them, she jealously guards the pieces of her life with John at the exclusion of all others - even those closest to her. Even her own father. So when the Obsidian Butterfly acts, when she dares…..

John pulls the pin and she unleashes the whip; like a brutal, metaphysical backhand, the sheer force and magnitude of it - astonishing and ridiculous, coming from someone so slender and so young - slams into Itzpapalotl. The endless wellspring of magic inside her, singing from the crucible of her soul; the container of everything she was, and is, and is becoming, burns like a distant white-hot nebula. If it hits, it will shove the goddess back and into the swirling astral hole that John provides - not just in case the woman manages to resist its pull, but because she cannot help that lash of anger also: how dare she. How dare she!

Her consciousness follows soon after, seamlessly following the golden threads of John's Synchronicity - meant to, in the end, when she trusts someone so implicitly.

—-

'You know.'

Tony's speachbubbles are still going. Mostly because he forgot to turn them off. And its hard to read sarcasm and nuiance in speach bubbles. Somehow though. Somehow Stark manages to convey just that as he tilts his head to one side and speaks up.

'I have /no/ idea what you just did, cause. You know. Not a wizard. But I'm pretty sure it was a /really/ stupid idea.'

He's not a wizard that much is true. However it doesn't take a wizard to read the room. The ice from John. The fury from Zee. She pushed a big. Red. Button. One that was connected to the both of them. And both of them are going to react well…just about like he thought they would.

I mean really. The cocked finger. The little tease. If the Suit had eyebrows one would be crooked skywords.

'I mean really. I don't have to do anything.'

Then /things/ are happening. Important things. Soul drawing things as the world starts to drop away. But he still hears John and his comment.

And he still can't help himself.

'Go on Hogworts. Hit me with your best shot.'

—-

The images come the moment they go for that wild ride to the astral realm. Space comes apart, and pieces of the past flood in. A story of eons, told in mere moments.

The stars are beautiful. Ishkana adores them. Her father looks sad when he looks to them, because he knows they will be gone soon. Their sun does not allow for much night time anymore.

The training is hard. The elders tell her father she is special, that she is a Brightsoul, filled with infinite power. They show her the hedge tricks. Making light. Making shadow. Reaching across the world, talking one soul to another. They tell her not to worry about the stars. They tell her not to worry about the sun, red and angry and dominating the sky. They tell her she is a child of the Gods. Her father relents under the burden of such superstition. Itzpapalotl is sad, because she remembers her father, and how much she enjoyed looking at the stars with him.

Because she remembers how he failed her. She wished she had never known her power.

She is old enough to marry. She never will. The sun shrinks away, casting her homeworld in utter darkness, and then blinding light. She had read the ancient texts. Knew of a time when science ruled her world, and of the Gods that abandoned them. They did not prepare her for this, but the Elders tried. She is the bright soul, and she raises her hands against the shockwave as it pours over her world, the last defense against the death of the sun. The moon washes away, torn asunder. Her father calls out somewhere behind her, and then his voice fades to the blasted oblivion of a shattered world.

But not her. The Brightsoul lives, even as she dies inside.

She watches as her world tumbles and cracks and stretches, pouring into the black hole that used to be her Sun. She watches for countless eons in misery that may shatter a human mind. Perhaps that is why she shows them. Perhaps she has no choice. A shooting star catches her eye, but her eyes are not as they used to be. They see so much more. They see a strange creature trailing a sword.

The wings of her people were far to frail to fly on her world, a vestige of a long lost past, but her power is infinite in reserve, if not breadth. She uses them to fly, and follows this odd creature into a place filled with others like her, beings of immense power. They nod at her, and speak strange words but she understands. These are the first people she has seen since her world ended. But they are not people. They speak of those they watch over. They speak in familiar wars, drawn from her people's past, when science ruled.

These are Gods.

They congregate in this great library, and an old man with wings like her own snidely asks her what she's the God of, and how he can help her. She tells him the truth. She tells him she is the God of Bones, the God of Ash, the God of Nothing, and all she wants to do is remake her world. He rolls his eyes and mutters about edgy Gods these days, and directs her not to leave, but to the books that will show her how.

She only needs one piece of her world, but all the pieces are gone. She will not be defeated by a technicality. She dims a dozen stars, drains them of their power, casts the worlds around them in utter darkness. They had no life to begin with, she would not suffer others as she suffered. But she would not fail. Pitch black turned to bubbling molasses, turned to muddy earth. It was all there. Every tree. Every blade of grass. Every person a ghostly reminder of what had come before, but made of utter darkness. It wasn't enough.

This place was made of destruction, and she needed creation.

Mimich dived through clouds of hydrogen, drawing them to his scales and swirling them into a fog of oxygen. Crystals formed in his wake and trailed the edge of the nebula. High above, Xiuhnel seared through another nascent star, shattering it whole, a supernova rippling outward, his scales glowing hot as he dived once more into the elemental soup his brother had stirred. Together, they made the sky, together, they made the sea. Creatures that knew nothing of emotion, knew nothing of peace or war or all the things that bothered those lesser Gods who had been creating and redistributing starstuff since time immaterial. They were the few, the last of the Elder Gods, and time did not know them.

But the other Gods did. When a world needed an ocean, a sky, or anything in between, those Gods who wished to build and create came here for their starstuff. The brothers paid them no mind, flecks of dust flitting about in their garden, they were beneath notice. Then she came. Flitting. Fluttering. She did not come for water or air or anything they might make. She came for Mimich, who brushed past her, intent on his work. Then she came for Xiuhnel, who thought to do the same, until he saw his reflection in her perfect, black wings.

It was a dance, a curious thing, and since Xiuhnel had never known curiosity it was a powerful notion indeed. Mimich noticed the absence of his brother where their trails should cross, and his roar shook the stars and nearly shattered Ishkana's mind. It summoned Xiuhnel from the edge of his cloud, to his home where he helped the universe remake itself. He did not understand his longing, to play in the shadow of those small wings, to dance in a pattern that was not his brother's. He did not notice what she had stolen with her black dagger, made of Uru, forged in just the way the books in Omnipotence had told her.

The black abyss that was her home, crafted from a black hole and kept together by her will alone shook in complaint as Ishkana planted the single scale in the ground. A scale made of a creature of pure creation. The books at Omnipotence city had shown her places to visit, worlds made whole and perfect, built on leylines that stretched the universe, because in truth, she had all but forgotten her own. She had seen Asgard, Muspelheim, Corvos, Skrull, and one place that looked like her home would have looked in the time before her Sun grew large and red with fury. Earth would be her template, and Tamoachan was live again.

The scale melted into the abyss, and it was emotion, not memory that fueled the remaking of her world. It remained frozen, locked in time, with nothing to fuel it. And so she played a trick, and took a piece of her Brightsoul, the very best of her, and pushed it into the sky. It could not be a Sun, but it could be a moon, and project a brightness that would traverse the sky. A yellow ball of flame that would nourish the world and set it in motion, and it was so.

She knew her father again, even her mother, who died before she was born. She knew the Elders, and scientists of the past, born again to teach their people to be great. For a thousand years she was their savior, their Goddess, not of Bones or Ash, or Nothing, but of Hope. Then Xiuhnel came, roaring through the sky. She could do nothing but look on in horror as he played their last dance over, following the trail his stolen scale left in it's wake. He crashed into the moon, shattering it to a thousand pieces. The sun winked out, and Tamoachan ground to a halt, it's strings suddenly cut.

There he circled, a creature given a new, confusing notion, and he did not know what to do. There she wept, shouted condemnation, even fired her fury to the sky at him, but he barely noticed. Exiled for her own world or forced to face destruction from his infatuation, she returned to Omnipotence, city of the Gods, and asked for help. Most did not believe her. Those who did would not help. The Librarian told her she should make another world somewhere, perhaps one not so prone to accidents. How she hated that man.

But she found another who told her the way, a Titan who knew more about the universe than most Gods in Omnipotence. He told her the only way to save her world was to reclaim what the Sky Serpent had shattered, and so she listened to him and learned how to kill an Elder God. It was not enough to simply attack a creature that could shatter stars. So she danced for him again, flitting through space in orbit of her world, while coaxing him closer. He filled his mind with images of stags and other creatures he could eat. He'd never known hunger, but it sounded divine. She pulled him closer, to a grass field that did not exist on her world, and told him to join her on the ground. To leave his body and become like her. To dance another way, and so he did.

There in the astral realm, half way across the universe, she showed him pleasure. There in orbit of Tamoachan, she showed him pain. Cleaving him with her dagger of Black Uru, she stole his heart. Cleaving him in the astral realm, she broke his spirit, and stranded him in the realm of Earth. She did not understand the link between them, or the nightmares she saw after. Violence she did not know could exist. But as he learned of Earth, she did too. And every bit of it fueled her world to turn. To act. They were dark shadows of her memory, but they lived. A place barely alive, but alive none the less.

But she could not leave her world. Only through him, could she appear. Projected to Earth by way of the tether they shared. Living and dying by it. Of course, through the years she experimented. Learned to entice him, control him, encourage him. Once, she even tried to love him, to lord over the people of Earth as Goddess, drawing strength from the terror of those sacrificed under the blade. It was the first time in ages that Tamoachan knew color, vibrant and rich, until those Knightly fools from across the sea ruined it all.

She could not leave her world.

So how is it, she is here now? Azalea seems to know, but she cannot speak, looking up, just as John begins to pull them all down. A command from the tether prevents it. All she can do is look on in horror, as realization crests her mind like a burning dawn. All Xiuhnel can do is drunkenly coil an arm around Azalea, using her as crutch to push himself up.

In the swirl of the descend, Itzpapalotl is burned by the rush, steals herself against it. But it is not the rush of transference. In that moment, her trick is revealed. In that moment, they will understand her trap. She was already on the astral plane, and what they saw before was what anyone has ever seen of her on Earth - a well done projection from across the boundry. She must remain there. He must remain here.

Of course, Zatanna's rage impacts her, and she goes sliding across the astral floor, until finally she stops with a groan. Being here already doesn't protect her from such an assault. So what's her trick?

"Beautiful children. All of you. But just children," says The Butterfly, as she rises back to her feet. "I've had Forever to master the astral realm, to know every limit of my connection with him and the universe itself. To craft projections more real than the touch of your lover's skin. When your world is made of a singularity, time is endless, loops back on itself, over and over, and I have used every drop of it. And time has taught me that Earth is oh so precious.. and the only way I can keep the memory of my people, some small fragment of them alive. I had thought long ago of consuming the Earth, to bring them back. To make Tamoachan live as something more than a shadow realm once more. But I could not visit the same ruin upon you that was visited upon me. Until now. You have me, John Constantine, in your little trap. If only you had known the full power of your connection to your lover, you would know that I heard ever word of your plan long ago. You have me. But while you have me here, I have you there. The portal to Tamoachan is open, in that room. Time will stretch first, as the border of my world made of pure entropy, and your world made of fragile rock collide, and the portal cannot be shut. You can rip my soul apart, turn my body to ashes, but as long as his heart exists on Tamoachan, and his soul exists here, your world and everything on it will suffer the slow pull to oblivion, the utter terror of being torn apart inch by inch. All except you, of course."

Her eyes flicker to Zatanna, and her smile grows just a little, resignation showing on perfect lips. "You will survive this, Brightsoul, and when you try to bring your own world back, take my advice dear child. Love what remains of him at the end of your tether, but try to let the rest go."

Somewhere, far away, Tony Stark will hear JARVIS from the other side.

And he is speaking very, very slowly.

—-

This is not the first time John has slid into the astral realm in the company of a minor god. Australia was a hell of a trip.

The Rainbow Serpent was sure she was cleverer than John Constantine, too — but first, a story interlude.

The force of those images is akin to attempting to drink from a firehouse, pouring forth out of the dim reaches of history, cloaked in fire and cosmic time. As they slip away from the physical plane, John's body tilts backward, some faint awareness of falling, but by the time his back hits the ground of Tony Stark's basement floor he's already been plunged deep into the origin story of Itzpapalotl — and also Xiuhnel as he is now; as a thing halved and made strange with madness. He floats through those memories like little more than a whisper, a mortal soul in the presence of immortal things — but that, too, is familiar, and in passing through them, a bit of fluff on divine winds, he pays attention to everything. Every nuance of emotion, every intuited meaning, all of the interior knowledge of the creature that thinks of herself as the Obsidian Butterfly.

Somewhere along the way, on the other side of a distanceless membrane from the astral realm, John Constantine's lips quirk to one side.

And oh, when it ends, and they unfold the essence of themselves into that unreal-but-realest of spaces, spirits contained and preserved within the phantom wards of the lines drawn on the floor…

"The monologuing, luv," is the first thing that John says, with an expansive rolling of the eyes. "Haven't watched any cinema since deciding to gallivant about with the fleshbags? When you start crowing about your inevitable victory, that's when you know you're in a lot of trouble. Hell of a story, yours. Hell of a story. Bloody awful about Tamoachan." And in spite of his mockery, that sentiment seems sincere, at least; he finds it tragic, and genuinely. Losing everyone and everything, being left alone, endlessly powerful but incapable, even with all of that power at her fingertips, of saving the things she loved most? John Constantine understands the tragedy of that very well.

Of course, he bookends it in further trash-talk, because he's still John. "The real one, I mean, not that sodding dollhouse you've been squatting on. You know what always gets me? How incredibly bad little fledgeling gods are at gaming the rules. Honestly. Because I listened to that story, and it's like — mad, right. They told you that you needed a piece of your world to revive it, and you thought, 'oh bloody hell, but all of it got sucked down a black hole and that, what's a girl to do?' So you thought you'd be clever and steal something that weren't yours, and that's when it all started to go wrong. But thing is — "

As he's speaking, he's doing…something. Something in the nature of the circles is changing. The triangles at the center are modified iterations of his experiment with Zatanna — the one that had allowed them to fling open the gates at either end of the tether, opening each up to the other unrestricted. John had, in a moment of weakness, nearly slid into her soul forever. It may manifest as a kind of tugging sensation — on Azalea, and Xiuhnel, and Itzpapalotl. Gentle, at first.

" — the thing is, if you were me, and a clever bastard used to putting your foot up the arse of everything, the first thing you'd have thought is, 'but I'm a piece of my world.' And so you bloody are. Just hazarding a guess, but it's like — you used that bit of Xiuhnel to bring it all to life, yeah? Your world, your Tamoachan, all of the little things that were part of what you remember. But you're part of what you remember, as well."

The tugging sensation becomes impossibly strong, then. Two ends of the tether, inescapable, the flood gates on either end opened: like a long hallway, a door at either end, with Itzpapalotl in one room and Xiuhnel, and Azalea, in the other.

"What I think is that you used him to work a great magic, and maybe you don't understand how you worked it on yourself as much as your bloody dollhouse. But even if I'm wrong and he can't claw straight through you and out the other side into Tamoachan, he is very angry."

—-

In the astral realm, it is certainly about the journey as it is about the destination. As Zatanna finds herself hurled across time and space, the birth, and death and rebirth of worlds, she swims through these images like a minnow in rushing current; to one such as her, it isn't just what she sees, but what she feels, an empathic enough creature that she can't help but sense the emotional imprints left by this present cascade of memories. It isn't unlike what she had experienced with John before, sinking into the fetid swamp of his heartbreaking history - while less traumatizing, it is for the most part astonishing. There is nothing on this in the lore, no mention of this in the countless of tomes that her father has in Shadowcrest; proof positive that the mythologies that the Earth knows are spun half out of minds a hundred times more creative than hers. She is in awe of it all, despite her situation; she has yet to develop the cynicism John has when faced with the truly fantastic.

When it ends, her heart is in her throat, pouring with the echoes of everything she had felt upon getting there; sadness, loss, the determination to reclaim. Had they met under different circumstances, she would be the first to express her admiration of Itzpapalotl's resolve. But she is in uncharted territory and she is still furious at what had just happened before - as quick as she is to forgive, the tether is a different story, and anger maintains its tenacious grip on her for even daring to touch what wasn't hers.

She finds herself adrift, surrounded by an endless spray of stars and lodged squarely within a cosmic tunnel, though it is certainly more complex than that; more like overlapping avenues - one connecting the Earth and Tamoachan, and the other connecting Xiuhnel and Itzpapalotl - their tether manifested in another form, and when John once more applies his magic and channels it through the lines they have inscribed on the floor…

This is where it gets hazy and unpredictable.

Zatanna has never heard the full story of the Rainbow Serpent; bits and pieces here and there, enough to let her know that John has tangled with minor deities before. If she had, she would be able to draw clear parallels between that and this situation, but it is his experience and her lack of it that keeps her silent as she watches the byplay between the Englishman and the goddess, her brows furrowing faintly even as the weight of the obsidian dagger - the one that Jessica relinquished to their safekeeping - tugs from her back pocket. Confusion settles on her face, her own mind attempting to chase what is being imparted - it doesn't last long, being a quick study, and she kicks herself for not realizing it sooner.

Of course.

The admiration that she doesn't feel towards Itzpapalotl manifests at last - not because of her, but because of John's insight. While this isn't the first time that she has been amazed by his cunning, it surprises her again and again. It bleeds through their link, a molten silver rocket as wide ice-blue eyes stare at him from across the way.

It seems all they need is a little push.

And if they're lucky, Xiuhnel would find the strength within himself to push on through and reclaim his heart.

So she gives it. One little nudge.

A nudge that suddenly launches Azalea and her passenger towards Itzpapalotl, to help the inexorable pull of the strange metaphysics they are concocting together in the astral realm. There's only so much she and John could do. They can pave the way, make it possible, exploit the opportunities presented.

But in the end, Azalea herself will have to be the one to reach out and reclaim what she and Xiuhnel have lost.

—-

Well.

That wasn't exactly what Tony was expecting.

Images smash into his mind with all the loving subtlety of a sledgehammer. Lifetimes of knowldge and the weight of ages crash into a conciousness not entirely prepared for it.

Stark can feel his knee slam into the ground. Holding himself up on one hand the metalic clang of his suit fading into echos as he gets pulled away. Somewhere else. Somewhere full of stars and magic. Somewhere that is respectful. Quiet…

Which of course means he can't let that go on for very long.

'So next time worn me that someone is gonna download a Lifetime miniseries into my head.' He says as he starts to pick himself up. 'I mean hell. That wasn't even well directed. So many plotholes.'

John is doing /something/ though. And so is Zee, and the inventor smirks slightly. Coiling inside the armor because as Az goes flying. Well…somehow Tony doesn't think their smug guest will take that lying down.

—-

Of course John Constantine is right. It's why everyone hates him. Those warm eyes find John, and she would hate him like all the rest if she had not realized her folly ages ago.

"You might have been a better god than me, John. But there's only one person here who has what it takes.".

She feels it sucking her towards her lover, crushing her closer. She feels the turmoil that comes with it, as Az and Xiuhnel, standing like a pair of brawlers layered over one another, fix Itzpapalotl in their sights. Zatanna's burst of strength sends Az and Xiuhnel screaming towards the Obsidian Butterfly, the moment hangs in the air, fueled with Zatanna's own rage.

"I'm sorry you won't get to say goodbye to her."

Turnabout is fair play, and Itzpapalotl reaches into the physical realm as well as the astral. Barriers begin to shatter, as time pulls them apart, physics and magic battling on an epic scale. Only one of them is stronger than it all, and she will not be moved. First, Tony, sucked right into the path of Xiuhnel and Azalea, sending them tumbling into the dark. Then John, pulled to her hard enough that she can give John a spiritual clothesline before he too goes flying into the abyss that is her soul. It is a blow that Zatanna will see and feel, echoing through the astral plane as the Butterfly stalks towards her.

"He's very brave your John. He may have just saved the entire world, but mine will certainly die without me, and Tamoachan will never let him go as long as I am it's master."

Whatever ire drives her now is palpable, perhaps the last gasp of someone who hopes for better, but cannot make it happen herself. In the physical realm, John will find his clothesline ends with the shock of his physical body being pulled through that portal, the lot of them tossed into a world made of abject shadow, where a temple towers before them, and spindly, bony creatures rise up, flitting their wings, and raise spears as the first invaders in centuries enter their realm. Above them, a shattered moon streaks the sky, as well as the rotting remnant of a sky serpent, lost to ages and mired in this world's orbit.

Kinich Ahau has returned to Tamoachan, and the Tamoans know it. Because Iron Man looks just like the sun god that had forsaken them. They call his name, and launch into the air, searing past him, even as Tony's sensors will pick out something atop the temple, something pulsing inside a massive, stone butterfly clutching the top of it.

Meanwhile, Azalea stands over John, intercepting the first Tamoan to find them both, but feeling fear for the first time. Because here, in this place, faced with his mortality streaking the sky above, Xiuhnel knows fear.

—-

John's not so upstanding a bloke that he doesn't answer that little surge of favorable feeling from the young witch with a sly, cutting half-smile — and a wink.

Later, he'll chastize himself for doing the very thing he mocked Itzpapalotl for doing: preening before the ink's dry.

You might have been a better god than me, John, says the sole survivor of some far-flung and long-forgotten world, and even John feels a chill of icewater run down his spine at the thought. But as he opens his mouth to begin to say so he's cut off by an ominous remark, and in the very moment he glances at Zatanna, Itzpapalotl finds, and begins to exploit, weaknesses in the wholly experimental circles that keep body and soul separate, preserved. The little jars that contain them are shattered, and John is ripped from his place of safety, hurtled toward the Butterfly, and —

He isn't sure, after that. There's a crushing weight, a feeling of impact that isn't impact, and an eternity of falling into the hollow center of what was once a person, now something else. Not a god. Not in the way, at least, that Xiuhnel was a god. Not that it matters in the here-and-now, loosely speaking: he his the ground in Tamoachan, has the breath knocked out of him, and stares up into a sky defined not by its stars, but by the corpse of a murdered god. Coils and loops and arcs of it, decaying forever.

Quietly he groans, lifts a hand to touch the back of his very real, very solid, very physical head. Fingertips come away clean. No blood.

Wincing, he's only just sitting up as the residents of this resurrected charade of a world decide that Tony Stark is some kind of god, and when he sees that, he lays right back down again.

"Oh, christ."

—-

In the waking world, reality tears itself open and draws in the bodies left behind - Tony Stark's, John Constanine's, Azalea Kingston's and Zatanna Zatara's. As all are sent hurtling deep into dark, vast space, across its endless canopy of stars, they find themselves in a construct befitting Tamoachan's namesake - a valley of bones, its Tower of Babel beckoning those who dare into its confines, and where shining metal men are considered gods.

But not all are awake.

Tony Stark, Azalea Kingston and John Constantine have been flung back forcibly in their bodies, but the raven-haired witch's physical vessel remains woefully empty. Stripped of the bright, shining thing that makes her her, those ice-blue eyes are left open but sightless, staring up the expanse of the temple's ceilings. Her heart beats, slowly, as it should be when one is in a meditative state like the one she had forced herself to adopt when the ritual started, but John - and the Obsidian Butterfly, given her expertise in the astral realm - knows just exactly what happens when a soul is out of its body for too long.

Zatanna is not there…and worse, Itzpapalotl had made it such that at the moment, she cannot find her way back to her body…because it's not in the same place where she left it.

Where she has been left, still drifting in the Astral Realm, she is suddenly alone with a mad and angry goddess.

"What the…" she whispers, looking down at her hands. Whatever the goddess did…was this what she meant? Her words about the Brightsoul, the only one who could cut it. Did she mean to leave her here, as a means to power her realm in the event that Azalea was successful in reclaiming Xiuhnel's heart? Where did everyone go?

I'm sorry you won't get to say goodbye to her.

Deities have always been masters at the double speak. It wouldn't be unfeasible to think that.

Unless…

Another realization dawns over her, face contorting at the throes of her epiphany. Did Itzpapalotl intend to trap her here? Or is the answer far simpler than that…?

Her eyes lift slowly to Itzpapalotl.

Only one way to find out.

There's no other method. If what she says is true, she has every intention to end John, or at least strip him of most of himself, judging by the woman's words from earlier, and there is no way she can let that happen. And if she intends to kill him out there while holding her here…

She doesn't hesitate; she never does when someone she loves is in peril. As the tumblers and latches of Giovanni Zatara's binds unravel off her, as she removes the protections her father has placed on the eternal dam of her power, she feels her soul stretch with it, brighten to it - a bulb slowly being turned to its maximum strength. The whole of her starts filling the void, her fingers vibrating with it, coalescing into a build up of white-blue fire as vibrant color bleeds out from her irises.

With a cry, she unleashes all of it on Itzpalalotl's astral form. She does not give her a choice but to fight back with her full strength. And if all of her is concentrated on what is happening here

…then maybe she can give the rest the time they need.

—-

Tony Stark is usually in control.

He likes being in control.

He is in control in his lab. In his building. In most of his life. He's almost always the master. The head honcho. The one on top of the game.

So when he is ripped from the suddenly fragile protections of this magic circle and thrust forcefully into another realm by a diety that he doesn't quite understand. He defintally doesn't like it.

In fact. It pisses him off.

"Man, the Butteryfly is the worst decorator." His words deceptively mild as he looks up at this new landscape around them. His mind though is working faster than most people could believe possible.

Fingers on the suit flex as he pushes himself to his feet. Noting the oncoming natives he frowns slighlty. "Right, so I guess this is why you brought me."

The heavy armor plates on the shoulders roll back as he sweeps the targeting systems across the first wave of the welcoming comittee.

"No time to rest, Hufflepuff!" Stark calls towards John. "I didn't understand most of what happened since I walked out of that elevator, but what I figured was that Az's unloved sidekick was used as a power source."

Stark raises one hand to point towards the top of the pyramid. The bloated figures of the Butterfly there.

"Considering my scans show that thing up there makes my ARC reactor look like a watch battery, I'm gonna guess thats where you need to go."

Tiny projectiles launch from the sections of revealed armor. Dozens of them heading towards the first wave of greeters. When they connect? There is so much electricity. Arcs of energy put out, enough to stun a horse as Stark starts to stalk forward. Trusting the suit and his science to keep him safe enough for now.

"I think I got their attention. Get going."

—-

Just like that, Azalea understands why Tony Stark is an Avenger. While John and Azalea are about to be overrun, his munitions streak forth to take out a mass of a hundred or more of the creatures, sending them tumbling over, some from the very sky, to land in a twitching heap. The Iron Man is a one man army, a God like the old tales told, and the Tamoans balk. Az summons Xiuhnel then, as Tony points the way, tells him it must end, that he cannot falter, cannot be afraid. Az reaches down to take the dagger from Zatanna, and with a mighty, inhuman leap she bounds towards the alter that holds the massive creature.

But she does falter. In that moment, she sees the reflection of what was done to him, sees the horror of the knife descending, of pain for the first time. A breath escapes her, the dagger clatters away, and she turns, to call to John. To beg him to find another way. He uses magic. He must have another way.

An errant spear finds her first.

It almost doesn't register as she looks at this thing, comically sticking from her chest, black as midnight. It almost doesn't register how the blood doesn't feel like anything at all, because it's the same temperature as her. She pulls the spear out, and the blood flows like a waterfall, and Azalea tumbles like a rock cast into it's current, skipping down the side of the temple to land very near Zatanna.

Elsewhere, there is fire.

Not the fire that lit the torch on Ishkana's name day, when she come of age. Not the fire she carried for her father when he became an Elder. This is the fire she saw when her world was washed away.

Her eyes go wide as the power passes through here. In Tamochan, there is a scream that could shatter a thousand lesser minds, but only shadows and heroes are here. Light casts to the sky as the body of the Obsidian Butterfly is burned away by the endless well of a Brightsoul that is not missing a piece where it's heart should be, shattering Xiuhnel's massive physical heart too, and carrying it to the sky.

The body of Xiuhnel ignites in that moment, blazing and burning, metaphysical and physical, and in that moment Zatanna's power gives birth to a star. Color washes over Tamoachan, vivid greens, beautiful blues and oranges. Even the people, not black like midnight, but insectile creatures of all spectrums. Gasps fill the air as as the sky turns blue. Spears fall to the ground as a people surrender to the rebirth of their world.

As the light fades in the astral plane, as her body disappears and leaves only this echo, Izpapalotl sees. She sees the birth of a new star. Sees power she could not have dreamed of. She stumbles forward, one hand on Zatanna's shoulder. even as she begins to flicker, begins to fade. A spark of something pulses in her chest. A tether trails behind her, and the spiritual heart of Xiunhel spills into Zatanna's hands.

There is a look then, rapture, horror, all the things that come at the end. "I'm so sorry…"

Tears fall, streaking her cheeks, even as the astral world fades, and that thing in Zatanna's hand tries to rebound her back to physicality.

"…you're going to love John Constantine forever."

It is the last of her, before she is resigned to a final oblivion.

—-

One does not simply take a goddess to the throat and rebound on the instant. Not when one is merely mortal, and John is nothing if not mortal. He's still trying to summon up the reserves to get back on his feet when Tony Stark does several things simultaneously.

The first thing is call John 'Hufflepuff,' which is upsetting for a number of reasons, being, in order: John doesn't care much for Harry Potter (a point on which he and Zatanna disagree, as it happens), but he knows enough about it through pop culture osmosis that he is very sure he's offended by being called 'Hufflepuff,' and this, in turn, makes him irritated that he has an opinion about that anyway, and long story short, it at least gets him up off of the ground.

The second thing Tony does is demonstrate why that prodigious mind of his has catapulted him to the forefront of humanity's technological timeline, putting together the pieces of a very fragmented, convoluted story. Enough to understand the importance of some signal he's getting via his suit — and what are the odds, really, of that? Nobody else would wear an armored power suit to a magic ritual, and yet had he not…

But those sorts of coincidences make up the fabric of John's existence. They don't give him much pause.

The third thing, and the most spectacular, is that he begins to shit out what John very technically estimates to be 'a metric fuck-tonne' of lightning, buying John time to — to —

To what?

It's at that moment that he feels something thrum across the tether that locks his breath inside of his lungs. It causes all of the fine, invisible hairs on his body to stand up — the phantom rush of power, somewhere out there in the astral plane, as Zatanna takes the limiter off of the engine with which she was born. Like being somehow connected at the level of the soul with a power station. With a nuclear reactor.

Whatever she's doing out there, he can do only two things: trust that she'll be alright…and be very, very grateful that it's happening on the other side of the fence from reality.

He spins in place. Casts his eyes upward, toward Azalea, and in that moment sees her silhouette speared. Sees her tumble down the stairs, and land beside another shape motionless on the ground.

Fear spears him as surely as the lance through Azalea's chest. He's there in an instant with no memory of crossing the distance at all, and while the sight of Zatanna crumpled in a heap tears at him, he knows, through that tether, that she lives.

So it's Azalea he reaches for. To turn her over, if he can. "Kingston! You're not allowed to bloody die! Good on you for initiative, but I'm not sure putting a hole in your chest was strictly necessary for cramming the heart back in!" Searching for the wound. To put his hands over it, if he can. Keep the blood in, and the rest out. He runs his mouth because that's what he does, but there's tension in every line of him.

—-

She is not in Tamoachan, and so she doesn't see what the effects of her magic do to a dying world dependent on the whims of its goddess and the heart planted at the core of it, to be the root of a tree that has been sustained by murder and bloodshed. As the threads of pure, pristine magic threaten to engulf the whole of the astral realm, Zatanna stares when she realizes that she has made a grievous error - did Itzpapalotl even mean to fight back? Or had she simply concluded that it was futile. Would that mean that her earlier realization had been correct all along?

Horror twists her features as bits of her start to fade, crumbling like cosmic dust - to vanish completely or to be reborn elsewhere, she doesn't know. Ice-blue eyes brim with moisture almost immediately. "No…!" she cries, aghast. "I didn't mean to…I didn't…"

Something weighty falls into her hands; through a ripple of rich rainbow colors, she finds Xiuhnel's lost heart suddenly within her grasp. This, she wasn't expecting either; perhaps she'll find some consolation later, in birthing a new world with her gambit, but she doesn't know - not yet - and she had just…

I'm so sorry…

She has almost completely dissipated, barely any weight on the limb resting against her shoulder, dark eyes transmuted to faded mirrors, perfect lips reflecting the stars surrounding them.

…you're going to love John Constantine forever.

It's either a blessing or a curse, or both. But for a split second before the world once more turns into itself to right something that has been twisted out of proportion, she is left staring in the empty space for what feels like an eternity. It could be a prediction, but Itzpapalotl had said it herself - she is attuned to everything that happens in the astral realm, so sensitive to the emotions of those that capture her interest. This was something she had worried about before, contemplated in the privacy of her own mind, that the intensity of what she has with the Englishman could doom her to something she could never recover from if it all ends.

The Obsidian Butterfly could have known that. It could have been one last, final taunt.

"…I know," she whispers to the yawning, black empty, before the stars spill forward in a torrential rush…

…as John places both hands over Azalea's chest to function as a stopgap for the flood of blood spilling from her body, life returns to Zatanna's formerly sightless eyes. The first thing she sees are arches, spanning hundreds of feet in the air, the vaulted ceilings of a sacred place of worship. She hears explosions from a distance, though these are fading, and the colors banding across the air, spilling from the outside world remind her of…

Kingston! You're not allowed to bloody die!

Pins and needles twist over her limbs even as she struggles to sit up, leaking magic from her very pore, eyes smoking in the corners. She will have to put that to rights and quickly, but first thing is first.

"John…" she croaks, and with both sets of pale, tingling digits she presents Xiuhnel's heart to the Englishman - it has traveled with her, with the solidity of a disconcertingly warm crystal that beats rhythmically in the palms of her hands, and just as malleable as the organ which it is designed to emulate. She cannot use what she has at the present moment to heal her, she is presently unstable. And once the heart is handed over…

She will turn to the very serious business of recalibrating her father's seal.

—-

The beating crystal is en epicenter, the true heart of Xiuhnel's power. Like nothing like the galaxy has ever seen, except maybe half a dozen times before.

Constantine eats it immediately.

BUT WHAT REALLY HAPPENED WAS…

—-

Tony Stark is many things.

He's a jackass. He's a pain in the ass. He's in general a hard man to be around. He takes nothing seriously, except for those precious few times he does, and he makes friends with the ease of a porcupine.

Which is to say not hardly ever.

However, when push comes to shove. He /is/ an Avenger. People sometimes forget that until he is forced to remind them. Like right now.

The first rank falls, the second rank crumbles and Iron Man stands his ground. He's earned that name after all. Most people think its just a lark. A silly nickname given to himself by an egotistical asshat.

…and he will be the first to admit that he's an egotistical asshat.

Its more than just a name, as spears shatter against hardened plate and lightnight arcs between ranks. He doesn't persue as they fall back, standing protectively over Az and Zee and John as they work. He spares a look to Az's wound, but they seem to have something for that so he doesn't worry. Yet.

Instead he crosses his arms and glowers at the ranks of newly recolored natives.

"If /any/ of you bug people come near any of us I'm going to show you just how bad my version of Raid can be!" He shouts at the natives as they cower back from his wrath. Some of them bow. They are all chanting a name.

Which he of course looks up.

And smirks at.

"Ray," He mutters under his breath. "When someone asks if you're a god. You say yes!"

A longer pause.

"Lets put on a show for em JARVIS. Holofireworks are in order. Keep em nice and distracted while the rest work."

—-

For Zatanna, questions will linger in the motives of Tamoachan's Queen in her final moments, but the result is unquestionable. Here and now, she can see and feel a radiance made of her own power, and what was left of Xiuhnel's body. It will orbit to close to be a real star, but burn only bright enough to nourish this world which must have raw feeling, emotion, or magic to survive. For Azalea, it is a consequence she knew may come. She would not kill, and instead, she may die. It was a line she had always told herself she'd never cross, and briefly, she can be proud of it, no matter what condemnation she might face from others. It was what made her human still, after all this time. For all the terrible things she might do, for all the humanity she's lost over the last few years, that small thread kept her alive. Light shrinks to pinpoints, and it seems easy to let go. The stars look beautiful. Then the sky has no more stars. Brilliant and bright and full of new light, it tugs at her mind as much as John's demand that she doesn't die. Xiuhnel thrashes, preparing in his own way for a familiar traveling arrangement. Always those souls get sucked down and away. Always, the ruler of that realm would have to use the dagger Itzpapalotl left him to cleave him away and let him come back.

It was the only way to take what was his, after all.

Her hand curls, finds Zatanna's wrist, the same weak hold she used the night they met, the last time she was on the brink of death and should have been done for thanks to the Winter Soldier. Her other finds John's chest, curling at his clothing, just over his heart. She is oblivious to what he holds in his hand, and even Xiuhnel does not realize it's importance or power, basking in the terror of a dying host.

"Take care of everyone. You're good. Good for that. A good person… a…Hufflepuff."

The smile she gives is the slippery slope, and John can tell she's sliding down into the blackness at the back of her eyes.

The Tamoans rouse, draw closer, perhaps attracted to the item in John's hand, but deferring to Tony. None hold weapons anymore, some embrace and speak to each other, others stare in reverence at The Iron Man, the God that brought lightning and a new dawn. That was him that did that, right? Very soon, Tony will feel fingers on one arm, then another, the curious Tamoans looking for that brief blessing of their Sun God as Tony unintentionally steals credit for Zatanna's miracle.

—-

John could give two figs for Tamoachan.

From where he's sitting, none of it is real, none of them were ever meant to exist in the first place. All around him, this great and glorious rebirthing is happening, the heavens scrubbed clean, the light that falls akin to the light that dawned on the very first morning of genesis, Tamoans embracing and whispering, and John…

"Bollocks to that, and you!" Snapped down at the slight figure underneath his kneeling stance, as she starts to drift out of herself. "Don't even think about — "

…it.

It's not his name crossing Zatanna's lips that pulls his attention, but instead the sudden thereness of her as her essence refills the vessel it belongs in, and that ozone familiarity of vast magical expenditure bleeds off of her in veils of blue-white. The sense of that is strong enough that he almost misses what it is that she has in her hand, until she's reaching for one of his. Bloodied, gleaming red, he turns it palm up and in spite of the urgency of the moment finds himself staring down at what she places there. Smaller than his palm, clear as crystal, and beating.

He would really love to be able to say this is the first time he's held the heart of a celestial being in his hand. He would love that. But the other one…is in a shoebox in the vault in his flat in London, and this one —

This one belongs somewhere very specific. And it needs to get there quickly.

He turns back to Azalea and looks down at her, and the corners of his mouth turn down just a bit. "Sorry luv. This is probably going to be bloody awful."

The hand containing the hard slides it underneath her shirt, cupped over top of the wound in her chest and pressing down to hold it in place. His other hand balls into a fist…and comes down hard on the back of the hand holding the heart, to jam the sucker in.

It's not a thing of finesse. It's not pretty. It's not a moment you could canonize in scripture, full of rays of light emanating from the miraculous heart and the magus with glowing hands slowly guiding it into perfect fusion with the twin souls of the young woman laying on the ground, chanting and —

It's just not. It's rough and messy and deeply unconventional and probably also painful, but it's fast and effective. And all of those things are what a person signs up for when they hire John.

—-

Once the heart is in John's hand, Zatanna turns to the very urgent business of righting herself. What she had done in the Astral Realm wasn't of the same magnitude as what happened back in New York where she had to force her massive soul back into her body, but she is so unpracticed with the act that she simply cannot risk letting it lie. So she works, closing her eyes and gathering up the wild wisps of magic pouring out of her, returning her father's seal where it belongs. It's only when she is done, leaving her exhausted and her pale skin luminous with sweat, that she finally turns her ice-blue eyes to where Azalea is lying, and John's indelicate procedure - a magical transplant at its most urgent, but as he would tell her in calmer moments: needs must.

The other woman's hand curls loosely on her wrist, and she turns her hand over underneath hers, her other hand pressing on top of her knuckles.

"We have the heart, Az," she tells her quietly; she means her tone to be encouraging, but it is tightened by apprehension. "You're going to be fine, now. Everything is going to be fine."

She thinks.

She hopes.

—-

"Well, at least they arn't throwing things at us anymore." Comes Tony's comment. Back to the magic workers, trying to make sure the natives stay away from them, Stark is a bit bemused as they touch him with that reverence. Bowing. Saying a name unfamiliar to him in a language otherworldly.

"…is this how Thor feels when he goes to Vikinglands?" He wonders outloud as he tries to keep too many of them from pawing them. His lightshow has ended and since they don't seem to be attacking he doesn't want to hurt any of them. Just keep them far enough back so they all have time to work.

Work in this case meaning shoving crystal shards into peoples chests.

Urgh. Magic.

"Everything ok back there, Fishnets?" He calls over his shoulder as he makes calming gestures to the bug people. Hoping the'll stay back as he works to find some kind of lanugage translation so he can figure out what the hell they are saying.

Something about blessings and Sun Gods?

…great. Pepper is gonna be so mad.

—-

There is an awful squelch, a terrible noise as John Constantine pushes raw power into her gaping chest pound and pound it into her chest. Smoke rises, because it burns her insides, because Azalea Kingston is not a magical creature on her own. The light leaves her eyes, and no sound escapes her in that violent act that should bring her screams to the heavens.

It is the first time in a long time that Xiuhnel sees. Not hidden behind someone else's eyes, a passenger that pushes and claws and forces it's nature upon someone, but something suddenly filled whole again. Azalea breaths, sucking breath as if it were a stranger to her, a gasp echoing into the new dawn as she suddenly sits up, clutching at her chest. There is a cry of terror, as every memory that had been shattered before comes rushing back in perfect clarity. Thousands of years as a monster of all flavors, and the weight of morality to make it hurt.

For the first time in a long time, Azalea feels human again. She understands the look in John's eyes, the elation of the Tamoans around her. Sympathy, empathy, crawl back into a psyche that was driven only by her Id until moments ago. As terrible as it is to know Xiuhnel's transgressions as the horrors they are, the burden rests on shoulders that were finally meant to carry it.

They will all feel it, a spiritual radiance as the power from that heart burns two souls together, but more than that, surges through every fiber of Azalea's being. It fortifies her, changes her. She looks the same, but the mages can see it: Her body has become something in the physical world that Zatanna's soul is in the spiritual world, holding the power of primal creation and destruction in physical form.

Itzpapalotl warned them all, that they were tampering with the lock that if broken could undo their world, and every bit of that exists in the creature before them, held in the silent rapture, the flood of memories. But not just memories. She sees those she cares for, that she has a connection with, in her mind's eye. She sees them as every fiber of her lances out and rebounds to those soul's she's touched, piling on her confusion.

Somewhere, the sleeping form of Mimich, fallen to mourning since his brother's passing, hears the echo of his brother's rebirth and rouses.

Somewhere, Edward Kingston wakes from a fitful dream as his Blood Oath is realized, as Xiuhn'azel, aspect of Redemption, is born.

Somewhere, a Titan lifts his head from his fist, curling his gauntlet as something unexpected calls from him from across the known universe.

As for Azalea, a creature remade, she just focuses on breathing, right up until she reaches up to cup the side of John's neck. Just like she did back in Tony's basement, when she promised John he would be the Moon, and Zatanna the Sun. If John looks, the wound will be burned over, sealed by the energies that have remade her. And as she looks on, there is both understanding and confusion, looking between them both with new eyes that contain a spiritual awareness in the afterglow of such a profound joining.

"We need to go."

It sounds dire, like there is yet some other hidden danger, but as her words falter for a moment, she shakes her head to clear the mire from her memory. "Tony, Zatanna, John. We need to go to Wakanda. All of us." Her voice is different, poised and filled with a very real wonder. Her gaze snaps to them, each in turn, alarm clear in her expression.

"Bucky is in danger."

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License