Rescuing Emily Montrose

November 15, 2017:

With the means to communicate with Emily Montrose's undecaying corpse finally at their disposal (thanks to Zatanna's bizarre adventure in an occult film containing a long-kept secret), Team Getting Shit Done discovers a means to retrieve the woman's lost psyche — and a dark, malign force slowly gathering power, secreted away within the depths of astral space. (Constantine GMing.)

Various

John's Flat, and then Astral Space, via Emily Montrose's undecaying corpse. Gross.

Characters

NPCs: Emily Montrose

Mentions:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Texts for scheduling tonight were something of a flurry over the course of the last day or so. It's not easy to coordinate the availability of a crowd as diverse as this one, to say nothing of various secret identities — okay, maybe just in the case of Red Robin for that one, but at least he's accessible — but when it all shakes out everyone on the list is there, barring two. Emma Frost said that she would attempt to be there if she were able, but social engagements prior obligations Hellfire Club persons of importance blah-di-blah, and John never heard back from the man he knows as the Devil of Hell's Kitchen, and calls Zorro. He can only assume this means that somewhere out there is a man with a sock on his head administering vicious beatings for great justice.

Poor Emily Montrose. The co-founder and only responsible member of management for the now defunct Auspex International start-up is still an unnerving resident of John's Brooklyn flat. Her body is as bloodless and undecayed now as it ever was, pale as snow, hair still auburn, her eyes mercifully closed. She's clean, at least; for a time she'd done a stint with Red Robin, who forensically examined the body and took samples of the uncoagulating, undrying blood that had been all over both her office and herself, though no one ever did find a wound on her to speak of. Now she's wrapped in a sheet, laid out on a table situated in the warded magical cell built months ago for entirely other purposes: a cinderblock cube full of rebar and poured cement, covered in metal flashing throughout the interior and etched all over the interior and exterior with various magical symbols.

Everyone present has been in the flat before. The process of getting to it is the same as usual: John specifies a door and a time, and that door will suddenly open onto the flat rather than the deli, shoe store, or pharmacy it's supposed to. And once everyone is assembled?

John is standing in the cell, arms folded, looking down at the wrapped body in some consternation. It's tight quarters for all of them to fit, but as he explained when each person arrived, they have no idea what's going to happen when they attempt to interrogate her. Inside the cell, there's less chance of a horrifying hell-mouth opening up to usher in some sort of secondary apocalypse. It's probably difficult to tell whether or not he was serious about that.

He glances at Zatanna sidelong. "Are you sure you're ready?" It's a question rooted not in a lack of faith in her competence, but a lingering worry about how little they know about her new…'condition.'

They do not know much about her condition, but the truth is apparent - her changes are subtle, but to those who know her best, glaringly obvious. Gone is the perpetually restless energy that has always marked her since youth, replaced by something confidently self-assured. That isn't the worrisome part, really. Whatever has happened in the last few weeks has given Zatanna Zatara a state of inexplicable detachment that is difficult to quantify, as if some part of her has moved beyond the ether, something that she has to reel back in whenever it is time for her to seem present. Even now, her eyes are fixed on Emily Montrose's non-decomposed form, looking at her and past her, at a point where only she could only see and sense - whatever it is, the beats are all the stronger, considering the fact that the victim was also a woman, and the tyet is particularly sensitive when it comes to the members of the 'fairer' sex.

Are you sure you're ready?

"Yeah," she says, a dreamy edge to the single-syllable answer. But she must feel some of his trepidation - she can't not, when they're still linked at the soul. Turning to look at John, her smile is genuine and does its best to be reassuring. "It'll be alright, John."

Her hand reaches out, warm to the touch, especially now that the seasons are approaching its coldest. She squeezes his fingers once, before she lets go and moves towards the body, and the chair sitting right at the top end. She takes it up by where the head is lying. Graceful, pale fingers fan on either sides of it.

Her whispers are quiet, too low to hear, and given her art, it would largely sound nonsensical to anyone who catches a word or two anyway. Light spin between them, bright and blue-white….but that is strange now, too, when hints of dark red wind now and then around the usually clear aura.

She takes her time, builds the construct of the spell in her mind as she taps into the beating, crimson center of the endless well within her, a spring of ancient magic keyed towards creation - the ability to bring life, to pry through the magic-resistant shell by introducing it with something so natural to the body that it will hopefully circumvent these defenses. She does not intend to resurrect Emily Montrose - that is impossible if the soul is not reintroduced to the vessel, and even then, that is an endeavour that will take days to complete. Instead, she moves for the woman's brain, where the information they need is bound to have been stored.

-

When John Constantine made that comment about the hellmouth or the secondary apocalypse, Jessica Jones kind of took it seriously. Because she saw what happened to that building. Saw it disappear without a trace. Not just without a trace, but without a vacant lot. She'd even had trouble remembering it from time to time, until she went through various notes and records only to find the signs of its passing.

She pauses outside the door to the shoe store that is not a door to a shoe store, tossing a cigarette butt into a nearby outdoor ashcan with a quick flick of her fingers. She pushes back the hood of her grey hoodie when she arrives inside, her head dipping momentarily downward as if to regard the floor before moving on further into the flat. Her clothes are a study in monochromes, from that self-same garment, to her black leather jacket, somewhat ripped and torn black jeans, black boots, black fingerless gloves, pale face almost sallow, today. She steps into the cell, half shaking her head. "Interrogating corpses," she says, a sardonic note dancing across the edge of her tone, "isn't supposed to end up being a tradition. And yet, here we are." It's not quite one year to the day when she and Zatanna broke into a morgue with a Hand of Glory so she could interrogate the very dead Madame Chong, but it's close enough for government work. "Then again, neither was stealing corpses supposed to end up being my grand new hobby. And yet. Here we are." Em there being the second of three corpses Jessica has absconded or helped to abscond with.

She wedges herself into a corner, leaning against the wall and crossing her arms, trying to make herself as small as possible so she can give others as much space as possible, perhaps. Then she takes in these changes in Zatanna, brows drawing down into a deep and thoughtful frown. When the spell starts though, she shuts right up, not wanting to break the woman's concentration. She probably can't, no matter how many times she pipes up with some quip or another, but she won't take the chance. Because…hellmouths. And secondary apocalypses.

John Constantine called, and Bucky Barnes came. He and Jane were quite happy to come assist despite their recent ordeal; it's what they've always done, the four of them, going all the way back to that one night in Hell, leading up through fights with demonic Bears, and finally this: an unrotting corpse, wrapped in a sheet, on a table in the middle of all of them.

All of them, crammed into a cell.

Bucky is characteristically silent, though there is a line between his brows as if something is annoying him. Maybe the close quarters. As usual, despite the fact they're in a magical doodad box and the threats are on the order of 'hellmouths opening,' he's brought his guns in with him, most likely in the event of demons.

They worked on them before.

One advantage of the whole superhero getup, especially when it has a full cowl, is that it makes you much harder to read.

Outwardly, then, Red Robin seems to be taking everything in stride, or… Whatever cowled vigilantes do, anyway. He manages to seem entirely unfazed by the magic behind making some other door into the door to Constantine's flat, despite his ongoing discomfort with teleportation. He shows no flicker of anything about the immediately apparent differences in Zatanna, though it would be beyond foolish to assume that he didn't notice them.

Whatever was going on with her, there were more immediate concerns to be dealt with, so he took his other thoughts and he put them in a little box in the back of his mind, somewhere they could hardly manage to intrude on things in front of him.

The Red Knight had tried every scientific examination he could on the curious corpse of Emily Montrose, and had a sample of the woman's never-congealing blood under constant observation in his lab, but it hadn't amounted to much: Some things were simply beyond the realm of what technology could do, as of yet. The thought chafed, a little, but this was hardly the situation to go getting annoyed by non-overlapping magisteria. He'd even thought about trying to find a Lazarus Pit, but there were too many unknown variables there, so he'd dismissed it. Instead, he watches Zatanna work from behind the featureless white lenses of his cowl, the black of his cape folded around him; he's still, and quiet, both enough that it would be easy to forget he was even there.

The past few days have been radio silence from Jane Foster — and rightly so, considering her recent disappearance, and near death, at the hands of the Demon Bear.

Fortunately rescued, she's spent the past week at home — in seclusion and recovering in Bucky's close company, as the two keep to themselves in their usual, private ways.

However, there are some things to encourage them both back of the thick of things — namely a potential apocalypse on the rise.

At Bucky's side is Jane, freshing wearing some of her healing marks from her ordeal: bandages holding cover over her closed cuts and scrapes over her face and neck, her temples and neck swathed in fading bruises, and a few of her fingers taped to heal against frostbite. If a little frayed around the edges, she looks healthy, if not tired — but the black under her eyes seems a perpetual thing by now.

Silent as Bucky is, a little reserved when usually the questions may be pouring out of her — might be her condition, might be the week she's had, might be John here, might be the /corpse/ — Jane watches on.

If John has glanced at anyone aside from Zatanna in that inscrutable, checking-on-you sort of way he has, that person has been Jane. Not only is she in recovery from an experience he doesn't understand the full extent of — though he remembers vividly his own experience, and the extent to which it placed hairline fractures in him has yet to be fully realized — but the two of them had a rather tense encounter just before that.

Her silence doesn't seem to strike him as a surprise. In fact, he might be more surprised that she came at all, given all of the many givens. In her shoes, whether or not he would have attended is an open question. But she seems stable, at least, whole and intact, and that must be enough for John.

"You get used to it," he says to Jessica about corpses and the interrogation thereof, smiling a thin, almost humorless smile. It's a sad reality of hanging around Team Magic: eventually, you're going to be doing things with corpses that you'd really rather not.

The working from Zatanna fills the cell with a sensation of static cling on exposed skin, worming sensations that crawl underneath clothes and vibrate in the sockets of the eyes. Though he's seen it before, John's gaze is trained on the little glints of red evident in the Zatara witch's characteristically silver-blue spellwork, and given how astute the crowd in the cell is, it's probably possible to tell that the look contains a subtle note of wariness: whatever that is, whatever it means, John is at best uncertain as to how he feels about it, and at worst outright leery.

The effect is almost immediate, though. Emily Montrose's eyes remain closed, but Bucky, Jane, and Jessica will almost certainly find what happens next familiar, a throwback to the time they interrogated one of Papa Midnite's minions: her mouth opens unnaturally wide, and a voice emanates from the other side, faint and echoing, as though coming from a long, long way off.

"Hello?" It's a woman's voice, unfamiliar. "Hello? Is somebody there?!"

Back in Red Robin's laboratory, the blood being monitored under a microscope begins to change. Little glints of red light appear, winking through the plasma, like ghostly glitter.

It works quickly, but there is no surprise from Zatanna there, with this newfound confidence in her talents - the ones she had before, and the ones that she had just acquired. As the corpse stirs on the gurney, she maintains her position on the chair, keeping these flickers of light pressed on the sides of Emily's head. When the body starts to speak - a disconcerting experience, surely, to anyone who's never worked with Zatanna and John before - she keeps her eyes closed and her control over the corpse. There's a hint of tension, there, but more out of readiness than anything else. She is tampering with Brujeria magic, after all, she has to be prepared for any sudden…..complications.

"Miss Montrose?" she murmurs. "My name's Zatanna Zatara."

She pauses.

"I'm with a few people who would like to ask you some questions while we still have you."

She will leave the detectives, then, to pose their questions. It's probably best that someone else did, when she's the one keeping the spell active. The less distractions to her, the better off they all are.

The exhale of breath from Jessica's nose stands in for a humorless laugh in response to John's own quip. Fidgeting, she slides her hands into the pockets of her jacket, zips the zip of her hoodie a little tighter as the show of light and static begins.

But questions she has aplenty. "Hi, Miss Montrose. Jessica Jones." Introducing herself to the spirit both feels right and downright creepy, but…Zatanna was polite, so she decides to do her version of the same. Her mouth twists a little bit as she tries to decide where she, personally, would like to start. Reverse pyramid style, trying to decide which questions ought to come first. Last time they only got a limited number of questions before it had all gone to Hell in a handbasket. "iDoL," she says. "You were the one handling the terms of the merger. Did you ever end up going to their offices, get a tour of the place you were contemplating wedding your business to? Know where they might be holed up?"

A lead to those people would be nice.

You would think, associating closely with Zatanna Zatara for nearly a year now, Red Robin would be more comfortable with magic being worked around him.

The reality is, though, that a year is a very brief time to overcome a wariness pressed deeply into his bones: Inasmuch as he really believed in 'magic' beforehand, it was always a thing of danger, of evil. That's the nature of life in Gotham City, where odds are anyone with extranormal abilities is also a murderous psychopath. Perhaps it's the city itself, the miasma that corrupts every stone of it.

There's only the faintest shift from the caped and cowled figure at the sensation of it - one thing he does know is that if he can feel it, something serious is happening - crawling over his skin underneath the armor of his suit, pressing at his eyes, at his eardrums. Two things ameliorate the situation, at least: One, there's important work to be done, and he wasn't the type to shy away from that even when it was personally uncomfortable… And two, his implicit trust in the gothic magician.

Still, that doesn't mean he doesn't give himself other things to think about in the meantime. Like some of the others in the room, he's seeing things that most people cannot, looking beyond in his own particular way. Seeing what was in the room, the familiar colours of Zatanna's sorcery mingled with something else, the curious way the body reacts… But also seeing something else, something in another room, the lab in his Nest back in Gotham. It was locked down, now, all the security he could muster sealing the site.

He doesn't view it as paranoia.

"Reaction in the blood," he whispers, while Jessica begins the questioning, his voice bearing that light electronic fuzzing. It might not be important… Or it might be.

It's obvious Bucky remembers this from the last time they had to interrogate someone associated with Team Magic. The moment the corpse starts to move, to electrify with unnatural magic, he stiffens. His hand tightens on his weapon. The energy makes the back of his neck prickle, his hackles rising like the ruff of a spooked wolf.

The others ask questions. He's watching from the back, ready in the event anything untoward happens.

Every now and then, Jane has her own well of looks she passes John: the same kinds of glances she's always given him, much less anyone else in the room: deep and searching, looking for the answer she wishes to solve on her own to a question she does not choose to ask. It's without a doubt she knows he was there to rescue her, Jessica too, both acting on Zatanna's help.

But Jane still makes no word about it; neither the time nor the place. Perhaps it settling on her first that they're all standing in too-close company with /a dead body/, she folds her arms uncomfortably, warming her hands under the wings of her bent elbows.

Magic, without warning, permeates the air — perhaps, weeks ago, to have a more greater affect on Jane, acid-and-bases on the sorcery running through her blood, now long expunged. She looks on, even now insatiably curious despite it all — warnings can stop her hands but will never, ever put out the fire in her soul — up until Emily Montrose /speaks./ She doesn't forget things; memory of Papa Midnite comes back strong.

Leaving the questions to the investigator, she sees quietly to his tensing, uncrossing her arms to lay a silent hand on his arm.

"Questions?" The tone of voice is one of disbelief. "You want to ask me questions? How about you get me the hell out of here, and then I'll answer all the questions you want!" There's a very real fear in her tired voice, as faint as it is.

For now, the connection holds steady. There are unnatural whispers across the 'open line' of it — like interference on a bad phone line, though it's safe to say this isn't the consequence of signal loss in any traditional sense. The feeling that she's speaking to them from a far distance — a physical distance — remains strong.

Only one of the various filters through which Red can view the world will show him anything he can't see with his own eyes: electromagnetic fields are a natural consequence of this particular variety of magic. It clings to the flashing inside the cell, probably responsible in some small part for the uncomfortable sensations of unease that permeate the space.

Jessica's string of questions produces a pause before the voice speaks again. "You — how do you know that? How do you-"

Another pause.

"Oh god." Whispered. "I think it can hear us."

There's is nothing further from Zatanna for a few moments, until Red's whisper reaches her, somehow, through the distance. She follows that lead; she can't not, when she can feel it, a smaller pulse of Emily Montrose's existence somewhere far away, across the city and in someone else's petri dish. Odd how she can sense it when…

"…wait…" she murmurs. "Whatever she is now, she's a…I don't know. I thought there'd be a network if I can feel the pieces of her from here but it feels more like a…

Corridor. One that promises the chance for answers in exchange for facing whatever dangers might be in there. Emily, herself, confirms it. She mentions that something can hear them.

"This body can be a door," she tells the rest.

"I'm going to open it."

Unless she's stopped, she will attempt to do so, extending the already considerable influence she is already demonstrating over the corpse, to search for those locks and switches.

This is ground tread not long ago by the supremely powerful Emma Frost: a little jaunt down the rabbit hole, save the rabbit hole is located inside of a bloodless, undecaying corpse. Supernatural abilities are capable of taking people to wondrous, fantastic places to do remarkable, awe-inspiring things.

It can. It just doesn't, usually. Usually, it's something like this.

The moment Zee presses into whatever levers her augmented blood allows her to lay her hands on within Emily Montrose, the sensations crawling over the participants in this bizarre interrogation intensify to the point that vision is affected: the world seems to vibrate, blurring, fuzzing, indistinct. Emily Montrose's mouth emits penetrating static, hostile white noise that emanates from her like a brick wall of sound, crushing the physical bodies contained in the cell's space and then pushing through them, their cellular matrices interleaved with it, until they themselves, everything they are, everything they contain, are dissolved within it. All of them.

Naturally, things get weird.

Held in solution in a vertiginous darkness, pieces of them mingle together. Things that belong to one are carried out on the currents of icy wickedness into which they've been plunged, ferried into another, shards of identity buried so deeply they're shrapnel even in the people to whom they belong.

*

As Tim races toward their ultimate destination, he passes through a spider web of someone else's interior, ghostly, invasive: "Stop your hands from trembling."

Was this happening?

It was easy to forget sometimes how muscled the body that lay on the floor, a huge mass of mutant meat if ever there was one, really was. But there it was, breathless and still on a lovely historic brick floor.

"It was deserved."

And it was true, wasn't it? For the six younger bodies who lay six feet under, this was vengeance in its purest form.

"You deserve the same."

That also rang true in the dark corners of the mind that birthed it. The teacher and the enabler. Both contributed to six bright lights, snuffed out far too soon. Neither teacher nor enabler should have lived to see those six tombstones.

Had that enabler ever visited? It didn't really matter.

"Never again."

*

For Bucky, something else he plunges through, sick and slimy: It blooms over the skin like a transparent tar or a thin layer of mucous. Oozing, itching, crawling, burning, a little. It is a putrid thing that can't be pulled away, washed away, shaken away. It's always there, clinging, seeping across every inch of the body, leaving nothing sacred.

Sometimes it's most upsetting because it settles into the most strangely bothersome of places, like the space between the toes or the very back of the neck. Sometimes it's just?everywhere, invasively everywhere. Sometimes it settles into one place, a patch of skin that changes in location, in size, but which becomes impossible to forget. A constant distraction, ever-looming, no matter what other pressing things might demand one's time, one's attention.

Sometimes it slips into the nose, the mouth. It cuts off breath, it cuts off sound, it all but drowns before the ooze retreats again.

A putrid contamination anyone would wish to hide away, if one could not simply burn it away, but there is no hiding it. There is no burning it or curing it. It glistens over the skin, everyone will see it eventually, like the pus and livid coloration of a bad case of pink-eye.

There is only trying to coax it into becoming as small as possible, and only for a little while. And it's a tricky thing. Sometimes it grows to something as small as a baby's fingernail, settling into some easily hidden place, a little patch of mire so subtle in comparison to the full-body treatment that it might be easy to believe it's treated, it's gone.

But it always comes back, this leprous fungus. This inexorable infection. This most persistent pollution. No cure for it. No help for it.

One can only hide it, and one must hide it well.

If ever anyone really saw it, really understood it, really knew it, they'd turn away from it, from the bearer of this strange malady, in pure involuntary revulsion and disgust.

How could they possibly help themselves? How could they possibly do otherwise?

Slithering, shambling, worming, wriggling, coiling, curdling on the skin, always and forever.

*

For Jane it is the sensation of an infinite torrent of ravenous insects invading every orifice of her face. Clicking, chitinous, papery-feathery wings that split and tatter and are shorn away in their desperation to crowd into the cavity of her mouth, pointed legs driving into the soft flesh of her mouth and throat, endlessly funneling down into the depths of her body. Beyond that, into her soul itself, a feast that will sustain them for endless, agonizing days and nights of ceaseless suffering. They burst on her teeth and their mandibles pinch her tongue. They raze her interior like locusts, spreading outward from the restless vortex they form in her belly. There's a single whisper in her ear, a voice she almost recognizes, satin and fierce, from the body behind hers, the hands that hold her shoulders, the hands that wrought this on her:

"I am so…proud of you."

*

For Jessica, something altogether different. Not one thing but two, though they share so much resonance that her consciousness is helpless but to slingshot between the two in a dizzying whirl, like something swirling down the drain at the bottom of existence:

Everyone is dead, and the world lies frozen.

This is a total absence. Of light, of heat, of life. Not even molecules move. Full, absolute-zero, dead stop cold.

This is beyond winter, beyond the lifelessness of the cold seasons, into the emptiness of a void.

The stars in their firmament are bright, but what about the space between?

This is that: the endless whorl of empty space. A soundless, interstitial vacuum. Between the pinpricks of distant stars, light-years of blackness stretch, trackless and unexplored.

No one has ever set eyes on this empty void. No one ever will.

*

For John, the plunge into rotting corridors within the astral plane is almost familiar. Almost, and not quite.

It looks like a game.

It's a dozen games at once - it's Risk, it's Clue, it's chess, others familiar and not - the boards all mixed together in a way that simultaneously makes perfect sense and defies all explanation. The pieces are a similar grab bag, each one completely different from the others, each one individual… Individual and somehow, almost, familiar.

Almost, almost.

The game is unfair, its rules unclear, changing, shifting. One almost-figure sits at one side of the board, while at the other side huddle a number that's difficult to count. That seems wrong: It shouldn't be like that. And yet the solitary player smiles, a grim little thing that doesn't disguise a genuine enjoyment.

Each piece moves, each in its own way. There's no obvious sense to any of it, just a feeling… That some of the pieces are aware they're being moved, are moved against their will. That each movement brings pain, and blood, and sorrow, inflicted by the player as much as by the other side. Pieces leave the board, some permanently, some temporarily, some switching sides, some not.

The coppery tang of blood hangs in the air, along with tension like a wire pulled tight, and a sense of thrill as other things - warm and human things, camaraderie and caring, laughter and joy and love - slough away.

With each move, the almost-there 'players' of the far side of the board grow more numerous. The pieces of the single player grow fewer. Spent, sacrificed in ways that grow increasingly callous turn by turn.

It's wrong. It shouldn't be like that.

But it is.

*

The only one of them who proves immune, either to giving or to receiving any of the above, is the pilot: Zatanna's twisting descent is crimson and scarlet, insulated within a sheet of thick, viscous red: a consequence of the magic she now contains, perhaps, or an interaction between that magic and the body she's using to ferry them to- where, exactly?

All of it happens in the way that things on the astral plane do: swiftly, across a timeless span that could have been forever. In the end those currents of darkness spit them out on some accidental shore, a small cove, a hiding place. It manifests as a smooth, blackstone cave at the lip of the spectral river they somehow manage to escape. Within that cave, sitting on the ground with her back against the far wall within the tiny space, terrified, is the perfect likeness of Emily Montrose.

The river rushes past the makeshift shore with the same white-noise hiss that emanated from her mouth in the cell, obviously its source. Within it one might attempt to discern whispers, the blankness of it interrupted with textures that seem like words, but if they're words, they're only gibberish. It's impossible to tell what might lie at the end of it, further along its winding course: there is only uninterrupted blackness, nothing on which the eye might gain purchase.

Jessica's face reflects a moment of surprise when Red says what he says. And perhaps, that nobody objects to her just bulling right through there and piling on the questions, surprise that comes for a whole host of reasons and issues she's doing her best to both to control and to conceal. She looks quickly up at everyone, then looks away just as quickly before returning her gaze to Emily's face, as if this woman were a live witness who could actually see her.

Meanwhile, It's a sad truism of the PI's profession that people often don't want to give up information. That they have other priorities besides telling the detective what the detective wants to know. Jess girds herself up to lie to the dead girl, to tell her that giving them the information they seek will let them effect a rescue, already looking guilty and sick as she gears up to do so.

But then? Zatanna Zatara says 'this body is a door' and gets about the business of opening it. She makes no move to try to stop the witch, curosity warring with trepidation on her face. Her breath picks up a hint of speed, a prelude to an inconvenient panic attack that she cannot succumb to. She forces herself to take deep, meditative breaths, instead, even as bile rises to touch the back of her throat.

Even as she wishes she'd brought the flask, and to Hell with what anyone would think to know that she needs it to function once more. Wishes she'd had a drink before she came, but she'd been taking care of a 5-year-old, of all things, and even Jessica Jones isn't shitty enough to drink under those circumstances.

Held in darkness once more, she tenses.

Then her consciousness is snapping between Absolute Zero and the Endless Void, disoriented, the one thing moving in either expanse, dizzy in places where everyone and everything is dead. The chill seeps into her bones, works its way beneath her skin, her jaw freezes, cuts off the chatter of her teeth. This is it. I'm going to freeze. Everyone's gone. I'm going to die here. Maybe everyone already has. Something went wrong, we've failed, didn't save anyone or anything. There's got to be some way, something— I'm still here, I'm still breathing, I'm still -thinking-…there's got to be -something- I can…

And then…something. Stone. On her hands and knees, in the dark. A river. A river is something. It's warmer than absolute cold. Her mind struggles to catch up, when she goes to move her fingers she thinks they're frozen, aching and chapped; she inches them apart bit by bit.

And then asks her next, far less useful question in a sort of raw croak. "What the actual fuck?"

Zatanna opens the corpse-door. Static dissolves them all into a familiar sort of dizzying free-fall, and one thought percolates through Bucky's mind before it gets scrambled up with all the rest:

Not this shit again.

They fall through darkness. Or at least, the rest do. Bucky Barnes, he falls through a sensation that is not unfamiliar to him at all… though for him, it was never slime, nor sickness, nor disgusting infestation. For him it was blood, always blood. Seventy years of blood. Seventy years of the stink of death.

He was never revolting because of what he was. He was because of what his hands had done over the years.

Midway through, his blue eyes flick open. They are empty as Siberian snowfields, patiently waiting for the end.

It comes, soon enough. They alight, by a river, by a cave into which the erstwhile assassin is already peering with some detached curiosity.

It's not an ideal interrogation, from Red Robin's perspective, and so he lets Jessica take point. Not that he doesn't have his own questions he'd like to ask, but everything in good time, he hopes. In the meantime, he observes, passing on the information from the Nest, analysing and recording the curious electromagnetic response seemingly caused by the magic - in the past, he'd told Zatanna that he felt like he was walking blind when dealing with these sorts of things, blind in a space where any step could lead to a bottomless pit; it was only natural that he'd try to find some handhold, some edge.

I'm going to open it, he hears the Princess of Prestidigitation say, of the 'doorway' the body of Emily Montrose has become.

He doesn't like that one little bit.

But he also doesn't budge an inch or speak a word to try and stop her, placing his trust in the other Titan.

What ensues is strange, intrusive. Something of someone else passing through him, settling strangely, ill-fitting. Debris of another mind, thought or memory or whatever it is, a malformed corpse, vengeance, failure. Things almost familiar enough that his own mind doesn't entirely reject it, and for a long strange moment that's both forever and the space of a single heartbeat it slips into place, like it belongs there.

"How come we never go anywhere nice," rasps the electronically fuzzed voice of Red Robin as he finds himself quite abruptly not in that alien thought and instead somewhere else. It's still rattling around in his head, though, like an intruder found its way into his memoriae regis. He tries to not think about that, though, instead attempting the likely fruitless task of getting his bearings.

To Jane Foster, life is no more than the opening and closing of doors. No pausing, no stopping, no time to — no good that comes with staying still and making roots, only a false home that stacks walls so high and locks the doors so fast that it's become a cage. And like all the doors before this one, ephemeral even it nature, she welcomes it with open eyes. To close them is to deny herself: people with homes close their eyes. With roots, with binds, with things to lose. Time to say hello even to this.

And she does — open-eyed and breathing in the new sensation that covers her. Worse that covers: it locks her in the dunking stool and holds Jane under, captive and dying, watching her last breath of air bubble free in a last betrayal. It holds her in weightless, breathless waiting for that what begins.

While it is sensation to others, first it is a study to Jane Foster, hungry for discovery — unsure if she is looking down on her own hands or those of another, feeling them grip down onto her own shoulders and seeing the twitches and flexion of her own fingers, a living, breathing Escher stair. She tilts her head and tries to measure how that crawling must be, along and inside and under her skin. Wings beating and warming the tissues of her stomach. Little, squirming bodies crawling up and down her throat. Legs trapped between her teeth. Moving stingers she can feel every time she blinks. Everywhere and nowhere. And that voice. Spoken down on her —

Jane comes to in this new world. On her feet, though she is not sure she remembers. The first thing she knows is she is still looking down on her hands — her hands, with her taped fingers — though now they grasp nothing, no one's shoulders in her palms. No one's palms on hers.

She takes two steps, then violently throws up.

The intervening months have left Zatanna Zatara with the utmost faith in her friends' abilities to weather whatever new pile of shit the Universe decides to throw at them. Ever since the last year's winter, they are veterans of this, to the point where she believes that so long as they had each other's help, there is absolutely nothing they can't accomplish together. They are thoughts colored with the rose-blush of youthful sentiment and from a mind that is more prone to optimism than anything else, but that is her all over, isn't it? That, at least, has not changed.

She feels the door open up and the chamber surrounding her going utterly still and silent. She does not look up from her work, but she knows something is happening. It emanates like waves, prickling at her skin. The shadows rise at her periphery threatening to ensnare her, engulf her.

But something beats it back even as she's pulled in and descends - sparks of white-blue and edged with red flicker that only grows in potency the deeper she goes, until she looks like a burning comet, hurtling towards wherever this leads. The tyet inside her rises like a living thing, to protect its host. It lashes out, beats it back. It will not allow Zatanna Zatara to be defiled.

When she ends up at their intended destination, she takes a look at the strange landscape. She waits for the fear, and finds none. Her last few forays into the astral plane have marked her in ways she doesn't have the ability to explain to anyone; the last one had been particularly devastating. Now that they are here, she feels the adrenaline pull through her veins, lighting up every nerve, but it is closer to anticipation than anything else. She is calm in the way most veterans in the battlefield are calm - all energy, all doubt, is internalized.

"Everyone alright?" she asks - her voice echoes strangely, here.

Jane's violent throes brings the focus back in her eyes. She reaches out for the smaller woman, to try and steady her and rub her back through her nausea - though should Bucky move to assist the physicist, she will step aside. Eyes take in the rest of her party, eyes lingering on John, silently wondering what he has experienced, and whether it is as bad as what has affected Jane. Once she's assured that everyone is at least intact, she moves; her feet lift off the ground - levitation, often a struggle for her, is as effortless to her now as breathing as she glides just a few inches from the path and towards the cave. In a realm where anything can happen, as always cognizant of the forces they are potentially dealing with, she goes first and takes point.

Should she manage to reach Emily without incident, she lets her feet touch the ground again.

"My friends were asking you questions," she addresses the terrified young woman. "We can try to help you, however you can be helped, but you have to tell us what you know. What Jess asked about iDOL and what you mean by whatever it is that might've heard us."

Emma Frost had said she'd show up when she was available and ready. And that point in time is not actually now. The blonde woman, wrapped in opera gloves, thigh high boots, a constricting white brocade corset, and a floor-length white satin skirt that's slit to the waist on the right side, has been drinking spirits and making a coquettish show of smoking a cigar for the better part of two hours with an older gentleman from the Hellfire Club's London chapter.

It's important to make nice with the other chapters, and Shaw very much wanted a cordial relationship with this particular member. Good blood. Good standing. Influential. And so she smoked and she drank, bored out of her mind despite appearances.

Except that, through the warm chemical glow of alcohol and nicotine, she feels an uncomfortable twinge from the very irritating mark that has come to mar the left side of her posterior. The one that John Bloody Constantine told her that she couldn't just go and get removed.

And then she feels an uncomfortable tug that would be impossible to explain to the man sitting across the small table from her. So, instead, she plays it off. A little too much to drink, she says. She needs a little air, she says. And then she moves to excuse herself.

Except she doesn't really get that far.

She gets up from the table, and collapses as soon as she's on her feet as her astral self is suddenly ripped free of her body. A body quickly collected and moved to a small, out-of-the-way parlor by a few members of the staff with very little in the way of explanation. Fortunately, explanations aren't strictly required at the Hellfire Club.

Still. It's unfortunate timing.

But now, there is one frustrated telepath sitting on the astral plane when she in no way intended or desired to be there.

« I told him this thing was the problem, and not my eyes,» she grouses to no one in particular, sighing as she floats in her astral form. Floats, and stretches her gloved hands in front of her to summon a whip into being that she then coils into her hand.

This isn't realspace. It's real in a different way than the physical world is real, and there are dire consequences here, but it's not actually a cave and it's not actually a river, and that isn't actually Emily Montrose's body. They know that. They know exactly where it is.

John, for his part, doesn't throw up, no. He spends a moment on his back, staring upward with a look on his face that's unsettled and a little bit confused, but whatever it was that thrust itself into his headspace, he's less horrified by it than some of the others.

Montrose, though, is horrified enough for all of them combined. She stares at them with eyes like teacup saucers, one hand covering her mouth.

"Oh. My god. How did you- how-"

Somewhere, deeper within the darkness, further along the stream, there's a low, sub-aural sound, like the groan of a cosmic titan. Simultaneous to that, pulled in through the undertow of a thing that surfaces near enough to the veil between this plane and the next to determine that Emma Frost isn't responsible for this latest of intrusions — a posh blonde in the real world is about to find herself in unusual circumstances. The symbol Zatanna once melded with John's wrist — delicate circles and lines, Enochian and infernal languages, all done up in a glassy infusion of primordial darkness — begins to dimly glow, also, visible even through the fabric of shirt and coat.

It has the effect of silencing Emily's questions. They're on a timer, clearly. She unsteadily gets to her feet, but doesn't approach. She continues to whisper.

"People keep getting sucked in here like this. I see them pass by sometimes, they don't — they don't make it out of the…whatever that is." She gestures at the…'river.' It's not water, obviously, but the analogy is as close as anyone is likely to get.

"The merger was his idea. Trey, he was my co-founder…sort of, it…it doesn't matter. They wanted to host their code on our servers without us knowing what was in it, and I just had a — I had a really bad feeling about that Outreach guy, Roquefort. Like. He didn't seem…right." Wide, blue eyes shift from one of them to the next, searching for understanding. "I joked with Trey that I thought he might be just, I dunno, wearing a human skin? And it was a joke. It was a joke!" Her expression begins to crumple, and she covers her mouth, breaths fast and shallow. "I don't know if it's so funny anymore, that joke. Holy shit." She begins to pace. "They came to the office, Roquefort and this guy I'd never met, this — greasy…guy. God, he stank! He was so…so obviously not a tech guy. They came by the office and started asking questions about this incident at Radio City Music Hall, they wanted to see Trey and then-"

There's another impossible sound, too titanic to come from the lungs of any natural thing. Closer, now. The flaring up of the symbol on John's wrist is brighter by the moment. Blue eyes lock to it, the intensity of the look controlled but taut. "I don't care to find out what's on the other end of this. Might I suggest we hurry things along?"

"It's coming! Please. You have to get me out of here. PLEASE. Please don't leave me!" Her gaze flashes from Zatanna to Jane to Bucky: those three specifically. "You're…different. I think I could leave with you. I think I can. But you have to, I don't know — you have to agree. You've gotta let me in."

Predictably, Bucky is by Jane's side once she folds over and starts to throw up. Zatanna will only get in one pat or so before he's there, his left arm steadying Jane and propping her back up.

He stays mostly absorbed in this as the others address the young woman in the cave, as she tells them her story, though he's obviously listening.

He's sure listening when the girl suddenly entreats them to let her ride along with them so she can leave. Specifically, ride along IN them. They have to let her in —

Bucky's expression shuts down. His features lock, and he looks at Jane.

"I'm fine," Jessica affirms to Zee, adjusting, shooting Jane a concerned look. The dizziness passes in a moment, the cold passes, and she pushes herself to her feet.

She doesn't hear any mental comments, thanks to the warm blanket of wards all over her head, but her mouth does twist into an incredulous look as she takes in Emma Frost. She has no idea who she is of course. A denizen of this place, for all she knows. Someone else who got trapped here, just like Emily says.

She sighs, as she listens, Trey, the idiot, sure didn't go to their offices. Who does business with any company without getting so much as a fucking address?

But then she tenses. She feels compassion for Emily Montrose, but…she's not so sure that is Emily Montrose, all of a sudden. "I hate to be an asshole, I can't think of anything good that's ever come from someone saying all you have to do is agree to let me in," she warns quietly. "Nothing good comes from having someone in. And she's been here what, 8, 9 months? Who knows what's…done stuff with her. How it's changed her." She tries, briefly, to figure out what all three of them have in common, Bucky, Jane, and Zatanna, as if that might shed some light on what Montrose wants with them. At least, as far as that kind of a denominator goes. She also tries to imagine what 8 or 9 months would do to someone's psyche, here. Most of all, she thinks back to her and Red's initial thought, that she was left there as a kind of trap. She also watches John's arm light up.

"Bait, or…" She nods down the corridor. "Connected to that thing down there. Maybe working with it, now. Could be the thing they were after, leaving her there in the first place. Getting us to take some part of this thing back. Or all of it."

She's probably lost her question-asking cred, issuing that thought, but Red can take over as good cop, maybe, if the Q&A continues to be something they can do. If anyone's going to be knee-jerk openly wary about that request, though, it's Jessica Jones. She's blunt enough to say it, even if she thinks the three so proposed could come to that conclusion on their own.

"No," Zatanna says, her eyes falling on the terrified woman once more. "This is the real Emily Montrose. She wouldn't be able to lead us here if she didn't have a direct line to her physical body."

Emma's sudden appearance, felt through the ripples she generates across the astral plane - as per the wont of a telepath of her caliber, there's a glance to the blonde, but otherwise she says nothing.

For his part, Red Robin doesn't bother to answer the general inquiry about them being alright: It isn't as though he'd answer in anything but the affirmative, after all, even if he were in dire straits.

And really, despite his complaint about never going anywhere nice with this crew (not even strictly true, Berlin was quite nice when no cultists or ancient Nazi wizards or a weird shapeshifter dude was trying to kill any of them) this is far from the worst situation he's been dropped into.

Admittedly, whatever's behind that horrible noise might make a strong case for the situation worsening, especially with Constantine's wrist getting glowy.

"Roquefort, that makes sense," the electronically fuzzed voice of the Red Knight says, featureless eyes turning towards the figure of Emily Montrose. Mentally, he chastises himself for not digging even deeper on Roquefort and iDol Outreach, but of course Red Robin would chastise himself for not flawlessly predicting everything that would go wrong in the next ten years: His expectations of himself are not always, let's say, realistic. "Did the other one give a name?"

But there might not be time. The whatever-it-is gets closer, Constantine clearly strained and wisely suggesting they wrap things up before they meet the source of that noise. Montrose, panicking, not wanting to be abandoned to the entity she might have been hiding from. Or might be bait for. Jessica's right, of course. It's dangerous, too dangerous.

But if the soul isn't some elaborate bait or trap, with Zatanna vouching that it's the real Emily Montrose…

"We can't just leave her here to face… Who knows what," the vigilante says. He turns to look at Emily Montrose again. "There's no way that I could let you in?"

And that'll be the first introduction Emma Frost gets with the infamous Dr. Jane Foster: a tiny woman bent at the waist, hands braced on her thighs, and currently throwing her guts up. Whatever her last meal was, there was definitely a lot of sesame seeds.

Fortunately, Bucky is quick to bear her up, and Jane leans gratefully into the cradle of his left arm, with enough mind to pass a brief, momentary look of thanks — and apology — toward Zatanna's help. Taking in deep, labourous breaths, she begins to calm with time, fatigued for the moment, her dark eyes slipping briefly shut.

But not for long, as Jane reanimates, forced to sober on many new, polarizing things — such as Emma's astral form, suddenly there-but-not, and way, way, way too overdressed for the occasion, and then much worse — Emily Montrose pleading one of them to play some sort of house for — for her.

Stunned to silence, even if her nausea didn't handle that well enough, Jane's lips part but she has nothing immediately to say. Tension knots every muscle up in her body like a slowly-braiding noose, and she draws unconsciously closer to Bucky, her shoulders lifting.

She shares his telling glance. "Not James," she speaks. "Not me. We can't… we've had enough — enough of that sort of thing."

Elsewhere, but not far away, Emma felt a very familiar dread. A dread that has awareness. A dread that is moving. She noted that the plane's occupants have changed here. Have consolidated. She took in a few glances, and then - for reasons beyond her knowing, but she knows better than to doubt - she felt its attention search for other presences. Presences that are not her. Two of them, familiar enough. She felt as it moved, quickly, but indirectly in their direction.

Her expression of irritation faded and changed into one of a certain focus and determination, and she decides quickly to take the more direct path.

And so it is that, with all of the skill and speed that one should mostly certainly expect of one of the world's premier telepaths and respect accordingly, is rocketing through the astral terrain towards the small group that most certainly does NOT belong here.

Which does, yes, put her in the space above them with very little in the way of warning. She can be blindingly fast here, where the world can be bent and shaped with the right knowledge.

John Constantine receives her attention first, with a mark of surprise. Then she looks to his hunting party. Including the vomiting Foster. She then slowly turns her attention back to Constantine, with a deep and abiding frown with no verbal commentary. She also slowly crosses her arms with that whip gripped tight and arches an eyebrow. Because, clearly, this is somehow his fault. (Well, not really, but she'll at least attribute some measure of something to him, because he's not permitted to get off scott free.)

"It's not possible without something to help," Zatanna tells Red quietly; there's a flare of concern there, in her ice-blue eyes, knowing what that will entail, but of course he would offer. If he was willing to make the kind of transaction he made with Wong, of course he would try to step up.

There's a quiet glance down to the glowing sigil on John's wrist, lips pressing in a thin line. She knows what it means.

"There's a part of the Darkness in here, John's right, we can't tarry too long, or we'll never make it out."

Her fingertips start to emanate that same white-blue glow, with those occasional crimson sparks. Moving, she reaches into her own body, though she spares everyone else the sight of it, turning around with her back to the rest…

…and when she turns back around, she holds an empty glass vessel in her palm. In the astral plane, it gleams strangely, touched as it is by something ancient and beyond human.

"Get in," she tells Emily quietly. And once she does, once the lost spirit pours herself into the empty tyet…

…she starts moving towards Red, offering it up to him.

"You have to swallow it," she tells him. After a pause, her lips lift in a smile. Some of her old humor returns.

"Congratulations. You're an honorary magician, now."

What is there to say about the transaction with the tyet? John's attention is captivated by the object: more by the object than what happens to it, in fact, which is bizarre until one remembers who it is that they're dealing with. Swallowing strange objects to achieve unusual ends is so much a part of his kit that it's now a running joke, much though he might wish that weren't true. He watches Tim for some moments after that offer, but in the end nods once, a short, tight nod that makes him complicit in whatever might happen to the Titan team leader as a result.

While Tim prepares to sample the gastric delights of an ancient egyptian goddess, he turns his gaze toward Bucky and Jane, eyeballing the latter and then trying to catch the gaze of the former. He says nothing, but they know one another well enough by now: he's asking if Jane's alright. Looking for some kind of confirmation from the man with the metal arm.

His focuses bounces away after that, landing on Jess, for whom he quirks another of those tense little smiles. "Leave it to Jones to see all of the angles. Can't just bloody take the word of every nervy tart you meet in an impossible astral space on the shores of some sort of piss-yourself-to-death river of terror."

He's cracking wise, but by the end of that statement his eyes are already creasing at the outer corners. The symbol at his wrist is blazing now, the violet and black unlight of it starting to radiate actual beams, clothing or not. More, it's beginning to make his body apparent through cloth: transparent flesh laced through with veins, muscles, bones in greyscale, in an ever-growing region around the focal point of the symbol there.

When Emma pops in? It nearly gives him a coronary.

"Christ almighty, Frost! You could have — I don't know. Knocked? Shit. What are we dealing with?" The jerk of his thumb over his shoulder is roughly aimed downriver. "Is it that swirly cloud of prats?"

Constantine's words, in some form or fashion, absolve Jessica Jones, at least in her own mind, of whatever sin she might have committed by mentioning those angles. It wasn't that she wanted to leave the girl there per se, but— yeah. Angles. He gets himself one of those little chuffs that passes for a laugh sometimes, but she's looking in the direction of The Big Awful. She'd pull out the flashlight Tim gave her, if she had any idea how 'STUFF' works here, but she's terrified about crossing the streams, so to speak.

The mention of Frost's name causes Jones' gaze to snap back up in her direction, wary and tense, but…well. Giant thing roaring soon overshadows whatever worry she might feel over psychics; and if she does know what they're dealing with, well…that could be important.

But she speaks up with, "I got another angle to ask about. How the Hell do we get out of here now that we've— " She gestures sort of helplessly at Red Robin, who for all she knows is about to turn himself, always and forever, into Red Montrose because he sipped from that keg. Even if she can admire his willingness to take the risk to help someone. Which she can.

It's the sort of risk-reward evaluation Batman made sure was second nature to Red Robin before he was ever even allowed in the field… Just a stranger version. He doesn't disagree with Jessica's assessment at all, and he's well aware that this sort of thing is incredibly dangerous. But with Zatanna vouching for the identity of Emily Montrose's soul, it becomes a much simpler calculus.

There was no artifice in what he said. They couldn't simply leave her here, to suffer whatever was coming. She'd survived for months, somehow, and that was well and good, but it was no guarantee that she'd continue to, especially if they'd drawn the attention of Something to her. And he couldn't let somebody else take the risk, even if Foster and Barnes had been up to the task.

Zatanna's quiet explanation draws a slight frown from the young man, figuring that this means it's going to come down to one of the others, one of the ones Montrose singled out, but then the Mistress of Mysticism does… Something. What it is isn't particularly clear, given how she turns away, and then she's holding some kind of vessel, which she gets Montrose to… Enter.

And then she offers it to him.

An honourary magician, she calls him, with a bit of humour.

"Yay?" he replies, with not entirely facetious uncertainty, before taking the offered draught without anything in the way of noticeable hesitation.

Yay?

All with the trepidation a wise and thinking person should muster. Hers had more of an exclamation mark when her father had told her about some of this the first time.

Zatanna smiles faintly when he swallows the tyet - it should be safe. The thing has been sitting inside of her for a few weeks now, and considering how she has pissed off Aleister Crowley by telling him to his face that she's not giving him what he wants, it was probably safer in someone else's hands anyway. Someone he wouldn't expect.

Something she'll probably have to explain to Tim, sooner rather than later.

John's exclamation pulls her attention towards him and Emma, and the now-visible glow emanating from his wrist. She would press for them to leave, now, but the Englishman poses a good question to the telepath, and she keeps silent - if she knows something, and that Something is coming right for them, it would be helpful to know the nature the Darkness has taken this time around.

But they can't afford to be idle, either, so she nudges Jessica to start moving out of the 'cave', hoping the rest will follow suit.

Emma does not seem to be particularly concerned about the swallowing of things or even the inviting in of trapped entities. No, her concern is elsewhere and growing.

To John's surprise, there is a dark satisfaction. And so Emma resists the urge to summon a door from the astral ether and knock on it for his benefit. She's antagonized him enough. Instead, there is a shake of her head to the question he puts to her.

"No, that," she says, with a rough gesture from that curled up bullwhip, "is what its been collecting. Can't you really not feel it?" Even if she's not entirely certain what it is, she knows it's separate and powerful and really not something they should want to meet. "You need to get moving right now. It knows you're here and it's coming. And… probably knows where I am. So I need to make certain you can past that river tout de suite. Because that damned current is what nearly caught me last time. And I'm fairly certain that you really don't want to be part of what that cloud of prats is becoming."

Emma Frost asks an extremely astute question, actually: can you really not feel it? It's a question that knits John's brows, though he says nothing. Why can't he? Beyond the symbol on his wrist, anyway: there's nothing ominous for him, only the searing, increasingly uncomfortable alarm in the early-warning detector he had Zatanna install there months ago.

He'll be thinking about that a lot later, but for now?

For now, they've officially just run out of time. No sooner has Emma said the word 'becoming' than they'll all have their first glimpse of what she's talking about.

In the darkness it's impossible to get a sense of scale. There are flickers and flashes of emerald in the far darkness, lighting up the pitch black as though it were a vast and sunless sky, encountering nothing whatsoever like terrain. Backlit, roiling toward them in impossible geometries that are endlessly accreting the substance of the river, is a — thing. Amorphous, lacking identifiable limbs or organs, possessed of some unfathomable intelligence that drives it toward the place where Emily Montrose managed to conceal herself for months, it has yet to solidify and wholly congeal. The pieces of itself that stretch away like elastic wail as they go, dark pits opening into infinitely long mouths, expressions all anguished.

The well of swirling ghosts that Emma encountered is gradually thickening, becoming cohesive. Cohesive, and massive.

The last of those emerald flashes reveals that it now knows where they are. Leaving becomes a paramount concern.

With Emily Montrose safely ensconced within Red Robin, Zatanna has lost her connection to the guidepost that drew her here, and that current only flows in one direction.

It's lucky for all of them that Emma Frost is here, and god those are words I never thought I would write, but there you have it. Zee may not be able to connect with Emily anymore, and Tim may not be able to do magic…but they have a telepath.

"Well I'm convinced," is what John says, briskly, staring into the darkness where those flickers of revelation are happening. "Off we go!"

As she did the other night, when she begged Zatanna to magically remove the dead maggots from beneath the layers of her skin, Jessica flinches a bit at the contact. Not as badly, not as much as she did a few days ago, but the flinch is there, as is a slightly strained expression that flits over her face. It's nothing she makes an issue out of, not by a long shot.

She just gets moving, pulling the hood of her hoodie up as if the flimsy layer of soft grey sweat fabric could provide her with some sort of armor against…something. She picks her way carefully, wary of the river but trusting Zee's knowledge and instruction here. She's not sure how far to go precisely, so she doesn't let herself move too far from the group. Get past the river? The scary river of suck? She could probably leap it, maybe even carry a few across, she supposes a few people here can fly but…

Truth is, she's so far out of her element here that she just shoots another quick, uncertain glance in the direction of the two wizards, who at least know what she can do well enough to put her to useful activity if there is any sort of useful activity to be had on her part. Otherwise? She's going where they lead, no more, no less.

And then she catches sight of what they're running away from, and her eyes widen. Her lips part, but whatever curses she was likely to utter just sort of freeze up in her throat.

There's a glance at the growing darkness off the astral plane's horizon. Turning to look at it, a glimpse of fear finally makes it in Zatanna's eyes. Her heart crashes into her ribcage at the sight of it, knowing what it is, or its very base nature. She's come across it twice before, and knows that there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to stop it.

Extending her hands forward, a few whispered words weave what appears to be a transparent bubble, for people to step into - they would have to swim upstream, along the river, but the risk of losing one or some of them in the currents, or so she believes, is a very real one and that is one that she doesn't want to take. This ensures that no matter what happens, they will all stay together - nobody will end up lost. That takes care of one problem.

But moving up the stream is another problem entirely and without her anchor to Emily Montrose's body, she will not know which way is up. She's going to need some help.

Ice-blue eyes fall on Emma Frost. John had indicated that she was a person of interest before, one of the most powerful minds on the planet.

"Miss Frost," she begins. "I can keep us together, but you're going to need to use your mental muscles to shove us back out into the right direction. Without any guidance, I can't guarantee we'll make it out."

It feels extremely weird.

It's not that Red Robin is entirely unfamiliar with swallowing solid objects - the other contents of his stomach at the moment include handcuff keys and an emergency lockpick - but knowing that there's someone in it, and that it was apparently recently inside of Zatanna just adds a certain extra psychological weight to it. He swallowed some kind of weird magic object.

And of course, he'd done it without much in the way of hesitation either, because there was a person's existence on the line. And also possibly the existence of every other person.

Once he's dealt with that, the caped and cowled young man can deal with the fact that there's someone else present who he didn't really notice before, on account of the weird stuff he'd just gotten up to. He chastises himself again, this time for having been so oblivious: No matter how bizarre the current situation, he should've noticed a dominatrix show up.

Silently, he observes the interplay between Zatanna and Emma Frost, but with the sight of the Something they need to get away from, he can feel a certain visceral need to get away, a deep existential kind of panic, though he does make sure the others are heading towards Zatanna's bubble before he does.

With something incomprehensibly awful behind them, there shouldn't be time for humor, even of the gallows sort. John's never done anything by the book, though. He's not about to start.

The face he makes when Zatanna generates a transparent bubble and Tim begins herding people into it is —

"Is this going to be a thing now?" Potent skepticism resides in his expression. He still gets into the bubble. It's beyond time to be leaving.

The remark earns him a light kiss on his cheek from Zatanna before she, too, gets in the bubble.

Tellingly, however, she does not answer his question.

"Yes, yes," Emma says quickly in agreement to Zatanna's plan, her skirt and hair floating about her ethereally. The words might come off as dismissive, had she not already turned towards the sound of doom and were her pale and steel-set eyes not so very keenly set on the growing thing as it emerges. The whip in her hand is gently teased out - for ignorance encourages blind bravery - and she heaves a very large breath out of habit more than necessity.

Her tone is more than a little strained as she continues briskly without looking towards them. "Just… Now, hurry please, everyone," she encourages with all the notes of a schoolmarm, "if you would be so very kind." Because she'll need to find her own way back, and she'd like to get started on that pretty much immediately.

But she waits. She waits until bodies are collected into that ball of magic and then she tears her attention away. The whip is suddenly gone, then, dissipating into nothing as the telepath turns towards the ball of energy, closes her eyes, furrows her brow, brings her arms up, and then brings them in again as she centers her hands in front of her shoulders. She breathes. And then with an disturbing show of raw psychic power, her glowing eyes open and she shoves.

What our brave adventuring party is — really is — can only be described as a collection of minds, spirits. As real as it all seems, as serious as the threats may be, physical bodies do not often pass through astral space. It can happen. It shouldn't. It didn't, in this case.

Few people are better at pushing minds around than Emma Frost.

Zatanna's bubble holds fast, binding them all together, and Emma's brute force sends it rocketing back the way it came, a transparent bullet shot against the inexorable inward pull of a river that isn't a river but instead a funnel, a feeding tube, to be precise. There is no comingling of minds, memories, or experiences this time, no exchange of dark histories or internal fears: just the stomach-pitching sensation of momentum into nothingness, and for Red Robin the sound of a young woman shrieking, muffled within him, evident to him only.

Time does not pass the same way on the astral plane that it passes in the physical world. It can be unpredictable, and there was every chance they might re-emerge on the proper side of that equation in a crumpled heap on the ground, but fortunately for everyone involved, hardly the blink of an eye seems to have passed. They rubber-band snap back into themselves, once more contained within the comparatively mundane interior of the cell.

The metal flashing that lines the interior is…corroded. There's a faint film of something black, like ink, in the places where the damage seems greatest — and it seems to be continuing to eat away at it even now, sending out colored sparks as it gradually destroys the protections embossed into the metal sheeting.

"…Shit." That's John. Not useful. "Everybody out. Someone help me grab the body."

Because it is that: still a body. Emily Montrose may have been rescued from a fate far worse than death, but the reversal of that very condition appears to be persistently out of reach. If there are pieces of that puzzle to restore, they have yet to find them.

When she returns to her body, it's like waking from a nightmare - her eyes blink, body jerking over the corpse with a start, and the first thing she senses upon doing so is that.

The Primordial Darkness, bits of it, is leaking through the null magic cell, eating through all the hard work John Constantine had built into it. Its original purpose had been to hold Gottfried Mueller, nothing but a ghost, now, and keep him there to be interrogated. But the thing that is attempting to leech inside it now is beyond the powers of an immortal nazi sorceror. She had already explained to Red the nature of the thing they're facing - now he and Jessica get to see it up close and uncomfortably personal.

So she will do as they're bid. She helps the rest of them get the body out of the bunker.

Oh. She was never really there. Jessica takes a few seconds to process that, and she decides the astral plane sucks balls.

But. Then there's creeping darkness everywhere. "Son of a bitch." She's just found her curse words.

Someone help him grab the body? Jessica just grabs it, just as she's done before, and barrels out of the cell with one of her leaps as soon as others have gotten out and the way is clear. "Sorry," she says, to the body, which is a weird thing to say; the sorta-corpse is not the kind of thing that can feel nauseated or even greatly put out by this particular maneuver. But she still does it.

Probably out of the flat as well? She goes for the door anyway. Just what she needs to do. Pop out on a busy street with a body. But if Zee's helping, maybe she'll render it invisible or something. Otherwise she is going to have to 'Weekend at Bernie's' the shit out of this.

And of course, Jessica's already seen this shit once, the darkness, that is. She's not keen to experience a rewatch.

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