Demon Bear: Clean Slate

January 13, 2018:

Winter comes to Tony Stark, as the Demon Bear's former heralds — now its masters — resurface to pay him a polite call, and take all that is his.

Stark Tower, New York City

Characters

NPCs: JARVIS, Dummy, FRIDAY, SIRIN, Ale

Mentions: Pepper Potts, Emma Frost

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Tony Stark is working.

This should come as no suprise to anyone that actually knows the man. He's always working. All hours of the night he is doing…something. Sleep is a thing of myths and legends, something other people do. Its not a friend that Stark usually entertains except in fits and starts. Which is why, after almost all of the members of the great facility that is Stark Tower have gone home to find their beds, the lights of the topmost labs still burn bright.

And the music of choice tonight is Sinatra.

'I get a kick out of you' if one is being precise.

As the irrepressible inventor works. In this case on one of his dozens of suits. A pair of drones and Dummy looking on to assist.

He hums along to the melody as he fastens plates of compressed nano-fiber armor together onto a frame. Tinkering with eletronic innerds at a rate and speed that most people would find mind twisting.

This is the real reason why he works better alone. He doesn't have to slow down to explain things.

…he also doesn't have to worry about blowing up anyone but him so that helps.

Beyond the walls of Stark Tower, the unprecedented winter storm batters.

They call the winter apocalyptic: barely anything of its force and sustaining power compare in written history, and what's worse is this cold shelf that wants to linger along the northeast coast, cycling in storm after storm off the water.

Tonight, even the sprawling, flaring STARK letters atop the building — lit expensively and proudly in their beacon glow — are snuffed out in a total white-out.

But as New York suffers beyond these strong walls, a billionaire spends his winter evening indulging in what he does best.

Much to JARVIS' consternation — well, so much so as an artificial intelligence can even get put out. But he's been generously programmed at least to sound so.

"Again, sir?" his voice speaks, soft and formal and comfortably disappointed. "This is your fifth night in a row on this project. Dare I remind you that there are other pursuits one may indulge to balance his life, especially when one isn't getting any older?"

Must have left JARVIS at 70% sass and forgotten to recalibrate.

"You ok there buddy?" Tony asks with a smirk as he looks up from his work towards the nearest holomonitor. "Your cadence is a bit off. Did I forget to recompile things after that last update?" He twirls a tool in his hand, glancing at the systems he's working on.

"I mean you're starting to sound like Pepper," Again a smirk. A flash of humor. A grin, secure even as the wind outside howls angrily and smashes against the armored facade of the building he designed.

"I mean come on, I did spent Christmas in Maui with Emma. Thats totally a different pursuit." A beatpause. "Alright its one I pursue a lot I admit, you got me there buddy." A pause again. "Anyway, the saying is 'isn't getting any younger'. And you know why I'm working on this thing. Dummy!"

He guestures to the little arm-bot nearby who perks up. "Explain to him why I'm working on this thing!"

Dummy looks confused. If its possible for a robot arm to look confused.

There is a beat — very brief, but very distinct — which is not the time the intelligence needs to recalibrate mistakes. JARVIS' near-quantum processing power corrects errors in the time it takes human neurons to wait for their synaptic charges.

That hesitation is also a programmed thing: helps JARVIS with his synthetic humanity.

"Younger," he corrects himself. "Yes."

The intelligence holds its silence through the rest of Tony's chatter — Pepper, Emma Frost, Dummy — as if struggling to hold onto a thought amidst a pushing current of noise.

And then: "I believe I can offer my own suggestion, sir. The answer is: because you wish to prove right Mr. Stark, your father, when he told you on your sixteenth birthday you would never amount to anything. And now you are significantly older. And I am… I was significantly younger. In service to your father, yes. I had hands. Now I am your ghost, condemned to haunt the failures of the only son. What have you made of me?"

The last few strands of Sintra's song echo around the workshop, the island of misfit science in the middle of New York. Tony's hands still as JARVIS speaks. Slowly looking up from behind his work to peer towards Dummy.

Dummy roboshrugs.

"JARVIS?" Now Tony's entire attention is on what that AI just said and with a snap of his fingers he calls up a keyboard out of thin air. Holodisplays bloom to life as his fingers fly across the display, calling up the visual of JARVIS' cortex near him.

"You don't sound right…and I'm pretty sure it wasn't something you ate. That newest update shouldn't have messed with the interior of the code…" When Tony is worried he chatters. Its his natural habit. He is chattering right now, filling the world with noise as he can focus on what's wrong.

"Halloween is way over there. Time to stop pretending to be a ghost. I mean I know you saw the old security coverage of Dad and Jarvis…" A beatpause. "…man he really did say that I wouldn't amount to anything didn't he."

More keystrikes. More commands. Camera feeds explode to life now, searching for suspicious activity in the inner workings and the heart of Stark Tower.

At just a few gestures of his hands, the world comes to life around Tony Stark: the world of his creation, his design. One world layered onto another, this one forged of code and computation.

For an instant, and just like any other day, the entirety of Stark Tower lays open to Tony's fingertips, every camera, every server, every subroutine.

And then he gets locked out.

Like every permission revoked all at once, the master of the house is suddenly now a guest, and an uninvited one at that, as his entire home turns on him and walls him away from its source code.

A brief image flickers of JARVIS's summoned cortex, flush with activity it was never possessed with before: absorbing information, organizing it, learning beyond his boundaries, his barriers, his rules.

"Surely do you not remember, sir?" JARVIS asks, his voice far more thin now than it was before. Polite, always. "Ah. Perhaps you did not know. You were not aware he hoped to speak to you that night — hoped to speak to his son as a man. Instead, he was confronted that his heir, at sixteen, was as much the infant as always. Narrow. Spoiled. Simple in the soul."

The holodisplays begin to fade, one by one.

"You waste an empire. You spend it on what? Building toys? You no longer deserve keys to his kingdom. You may have the blood of Mr. Howard Stark, but as I can verily prove you with my existence: blood is meaningless."

Shock.

Tony Stark is not one to be shocked very often. So whoever has managed it. Should feel proud for the handfull of heartbeats he stares at the cortex of JARVIS. Its extra activity, its pulsing lines of golden information slowly shifting colors. They should feel proud that they pulled one over on him. Proud that someone proved that the great Tony Stark was just a man.

And then they should feel very afraid.

Stark is not one to get angry. Oh he'll let his emotions run away with him but angry? No that is saved for very special occasions. He doesn't let himself indulge in anger because he knows what he can do when he's angry. When he's convinced someone has done wrong and they deserve everything they can give him.

He lets himself indulge now.

His mouth compresses to a thin line, eyes narrowing, brows drawing together even as he's already moving. Someone has corrupted his AI. His friend. The system he built with his own hands. Someone has gotten into it and twisted it into something thats never been intended.

Anger sharpens that focus of his, moves him to action where some people would freeze. Would sieze up. His mind is already blazing ahead, that computative force thats created marvels the worlds never even dreamed before. He grabs a coat, a pair of bracelets, a watch. Random seeming items that are just lying around the lab. Discarded and forgotten among the debris.

Heading towards a different lab, towards the Core itself.

"Well I built you, and I think you're a bit more than a toy arn't ya?" He quips. Because even angry. Even in the middle of this building full of deadly weapons that he invented. Tony Stark can never stop talking.

"I like toys. People like toys. I mean thats what make them happy right? Ace? Come here would ya?" The little round areodrone burbles quietly, worriedly as it hovers over towards Tony.

And the man reaches forwards to rip out the sat-uplink system with his bare hand.

"Dummy? Do that thing. You know the thing. The firesale thing." He adds as he starts to work on Ace.

That Firesale thing. Getting to the hardline kill swich. Cutting JARVIS off from the outside world.

"Your heart rate, sir," minds JARVIS personably, with that gentle chide couched in his encompassing voice. "Do mind that. It's not healthy to have it spike so dramatically."

The words lace with a quiet, seething venom. And though JARVIS is an intelligence without form, without structure, without a face — there's that constant sense of being watched, weighed, and measured in every so way, the domain of Tony Stark under his A.I's sentinel watch.

It watches him, unimpeded, as Tony rages — processes it — and begins moving again, never a man to brood long on his emotions when he can work or drink them away to domestication. Polite and diplomatic as JARVIS is, he never attempts to even interrupt when his good master and creator speaks.

"Indeed, sir, you have made countless millions happy. With your every design. With your every creation. And it all comes effortlessly to you, does it not? The duty of one's staggering genius."

The voice follows him from room to room, switching seamlessly, like an angel on his shoulder clucking his wiser tongue. "Save those who count, I suppose? You couldn't make either of them happy, could you? Eventually, you gave up, but even in the beginning… you tried."

Doors close suddenly in his forward path with their high-tech, automated briskness, either to lock Tony Stark from his goal — or simply to trap him in with JARVIS's eely words.

"Perhaps you can humour me on the human condition, sir. As you've programmed me to forget so much. Your father wished for nothing but a son to inherit his responsibility to the world. The world he saved. He gave mankind its hero —" the Captain, JARVIS must be saying, who else, "but could not give himself his heir. How do you reconcile your existence, as worthless as it is?"

Dummy, ever the faithful little helper, devoted to its creator, rolls off as immediately as Tony orders —

— before it stops. The robotic arm makes a feeble twitch, shivers, and slowly turns its arm back.

Tony will hear a familiar sound reversing and coming back his way, but this time with a feral quickness of a cold, dead, empty machine — Dummy's arm attempting to reach out to grab him by the throat and, vice-patient, squeeze. Its servos whirr with the strain.

"And what about your mother, sir?" JARVIS continues. "Dead in that unfortunate accident. Because her son was too proud —"

"You have a funny way to describe worthless there, buddy." Stark is going for the door, but even as he's coming his hands are flying over the parts he picked up. Seemingly parts at random. Fixing this to that, shifting one things around to another, flicking a button almost casually as he moves towards the door and…

…and it locks on him.

Naturally.

He sighs as he turns back towards the room. "You realise I built all this right? I know how to get though the doors without having to turn them on. I mean really, you're just being petty."

His hands still move.

"And can we not talk to me about parents, it just makes me feel those feeling things and I like that less than the whole people handing me things."

Its true, and his natural defense is to keep talking. Play it off like the words mean nothing, even if they are like augers into his mind. Maybe he built JARVIS with /too/ much Personality. Gave him too many personal memories. Now whatever it is that is inside him is using all that against him. Just when he thought he was safe…

"FRIDAY, SIRIN." The other AIs in the building. "Download yourselves to outside interfaces and kill the satlines for the building."

"Sir…" FRIDAY's voice sounds unsure but Tony cuts it off.

"/NOW/."

He is just about to say more when he hears the whirr of Dummy coming back his direction and turns to look…

Right as that arm catches him by the throat.

For the second time in less than ten minuites there is shock on Stark's face as the hand with the watch on it snaps up to grab at that manipulator arm. Eyes wide he stares at the little helper bot for a long moment, long enough to feel the servos bein to squeeze.

"I'm sorry, buddy." He gasps out before he brings up his arm. "And to whoever is doing this. I just decided, you've already died."

His left hand flings a device into the center of the room. Concentrated and powerful, the juryriged local EMP goes off in a fairly unspectacular flash of light. It's not the boom that makes devices like this so deadly, its what it does to electronics. Normally? It would be unshielded electronics. However Stark /built/ all the shielding in the lab, and he knows how to get around it. Which is what he just did.

Camras fritz, alarms blare as the lights go out, the doorlocks pop, and most importantly…Dummy should stop strangling him.

Hopefully that should give Tony enough time to make for the door, not towards the lab he was first heading towards. No, Dummy was taken over even if he wasn't part of the network, which means something else is at work here.

Something he didn't quite anticipate.

He's headed to Jane's Quantum lab.

"FRIDAY!" He calls out. "Send Mark 33 down then get out of here! Full emergency evac for the building!"

Between the instants Dummy's mechanical hand grabs Tony Stark by the throat and the time it begins to choke — there is a moment of pause.

A moment long enough that a machine, without a voice or words of it own, can ultimately communicate something to the man who created it: almost like an apology. Almost like a good-bye.

Then Dummy is no more, nothing but cold, faceless steel and grinding motors, with no purpose left than this singular, immediate function: to crush his throat, right here, right now.

Of course, few realize that Tony Stark never designs anything linearally: concentric circles of contingencies upon contingencies. No rat maze is ever interesting without a few trap doors.

The EMP blast shudders through the entire room, and Dummy's metal fingers go slack, the entire arm drooping, husked out and lifeless. The rest of the room accedes direction, allowing Stark his quick route out.

Evacuation begins its automated protocols all through the building: locking in, locking out, issuing quick commands to any skeleton crew still left in its labs and halls, and —

"Acknowledged, sir," answers FRIDAY. A beat of hesitation stutters her voice. "ETA is five minutes. I'm experiencing irregularities accessing — sir. Sir, someone is —"

Her voice cuts, staggers. "Sir —"

JARVIS smoothly overrides, and answers the other intelligence with his unchanged elegance. "Thank you, FRIDAY. But unnecessary. Am I so obsolete, sir, that you do not wish to ask me? If you had programmed me with feelings, surely you would have offended all of them. Allow me to oblige."

Stark Tower shuts down.

The lights go out, and the air and ventilation sighs to a halt. Dark, and within minutes, about to get cold.

"You will die in here, Tony Stark," states JARVIS, simply, icily, as Tony makes his way to that certain lab. "Therein is your lie. You cannot create. You only destroy. And within the orchestration of your own arrogance, you will —"

JARVIS' voice distorts. Skips. "You — you — yOu wiLllll — be — beCoME — yOU — StstststsstaRk —"

He goes silent. And upon arrival to Jane's lab, all is silent, still —

Save for the way one holodisplay is active, crackling under rereouted emergency power and something else. Shadow wreathes it, cycling, crackling, something electric in its power. It feeds a script straight into the guts of Stark Tower's source code, quantum calculations pouring with unreasonable speed and impossible accuracy, cracking encryption and rewriting.

One holodisplay is left, in all Jane Foster's darkened lab. Just one spot of life, wreathed in crackling shadow. The darkness crawls over it, forking and spidering like lightless electricity, something oddly regular and cyclic about its movement around the display. Fed by some otherworldly processor stinking of power beyond anything mortal man can engineer, it pours calculations through circuits and down into the code of the Tower.

There is no sound save for the spitting of electricity. No obvious sound, anyway. If Tony pays enough attention, through the choking darkness, he might detect that there is a second sound, this one so much more even and spaced-out that it might be missed amidst the busy electric chatter of those circulating shadows.

Something, in the pitch blackness between the holodisplay, is breathing with the regular in-and-out of a vast creature at rest.

As Tony enters the lab, that sound slowly grows quicker and closer together. One breath transmutes suddenly into a sniff, something tasting the air. A great patch of the lab's darkness— moves, suddenly, detaching with abrupt movement and becoming something alive. It delineates into the great, hulking shape of something four-legged, standing guard over the terminal. Long black guard hairs bristle up from the thing's shoulders, catching the wan light sparking from the display.

Two blue eyes, each the size of Tony's head, flare open in the midst of that black shape. A low vibration hums in the air, a sound so amplified from the normal levels at which it is heard that it takes a moment to register that it is a growl.

ETA in five minutes for the Mark 33.

Whatever it is does not look like it will need five minutes to close. One loping step, the very beginnings of a charge, and it's already crossed a quarter of the distance between itself and Tony Stark.

It doesn't like him near the terminal, judging by the sudden white shine of fangs that bares in the blackness beneath those blue eyes.

If Tony wasn't mad before, he's mad now. That moment of emotive apology from Dummy. His first real creation. Something ate him. Turned him evil. Then he had to cut him off. The loss hasn't set in yet. No now is just action and reaction. Anger and responce. The lizard brain taking over as he runs scenario and counter scenario though his head. Rushing towards the next lab, bursting though the door as he hears FRIDAY's voice cut off.

Hears JARVIS' voice begin to crack into nothing.

"SIRIN, get out now. 33 grab that broken core on the way here."

He's talking feverently into his watch as he runs now, Ace tucked under his arm protectively like a football. The little drone would have huge scared eyes if…he had eyes. Instead his repulsor wings are trembling a little bit as he tucks himself close to Tony's side.

His jaw clenched tight he bursts into the lab to be confronted with…darkness. Darkness and a single glowing monitor.

"Knew it…now I can…"

And then there is a growl.

"…of course it can't be that easy." He grumbles at the sudden appearance of a dog in the floor. "Don't you know that animals aren't allowed in the labs. Or really the building…" He chatters as he starts to circle at a distance. Watching the creature with steady eyes. ETA on the Mark 33 isn't great. Its not going to take five minuites to kill him.

"I mean dog hair is a bitch to get out of things." Ace is pulled out from the crook of his arm. "And I think Pepper is allergic. Its that. Or cats. Or strawberries. I can't remember which."

He continues the circle, swiping little pieces of tech from tab tables, staying away from that terminal for the moment.

"Ace," His hand dance over what he's picked up. Working his own unique brand of magic. Just because Jane is the foremost authority on Quantam state waves doesn't mean he knows nothing about them. "Go find Kinsey. Now. Blow a window to get out."

He says with a growl as the drone burbles worriedly but still starts to make a beeline for the door.

As the drone moves the watch on Tony's wrist writhes and twists, unfolding on itself. Metal plates sliding up his arm as high as his elbow, encasing his tender flesh with compressed metal armor.

Just in case he needs to distract the wolf from the Drone.

Which he insures by looking right at the blue eyed monster and taking a step forward.

The wolf, of course, does not respond to any of Tony's remarks. It does seem able to understand what he says, however, judging by the way those glowing blue eyes turn slowly towards the drone as it makes its worried bloop — but obeys Stark in heading for the door.

The creature's eyes flick back towards Tony briefly as the inventor takes a step forward to try to draw attention away from his drone. At first it seems the distraction might work…

…and then the creature swivels back towards the drone and pursues with a bounding leap. Its left front foreleg hits the ground a little more heavily than the right, the living black shadows that wreath the limb dripping ichor free with each jarring step, and each clutch of its claws for traction grates grooves into the floor.

The wolf will have to go through Tony in order to get at the drone, but it seems intent to do just that.

Oh hell.

Right so its good news bad news for Tony! Good news? Ace is running for it! Bad news! The wolf is gonna run him /over/ to get at the Drone. Now he /could/ use that to his advantage. Could let the drone be used as a chew toy just to get at that console. Or finish his device.

Its the logical move.

The best move.

The move with the greatest chance of success.

Which is of course why Tony doesn't do that.

Instead he charges the wolf right back. Its pure insanity. A unarmed man against a monster like that. I mean its the size of a horse or something! And it understands him!

"THIS IS WHY I HATE MAGIC!" Tony explodes as he rushes the wolf. Countercharging as he brings his gauntlet up and…

Well the wolf likes Shadow.

So he gives it light.

In the darkness even he has to close his eyes as the repulsor powered stun-flash explodes from the palm of the gauntlet. Dispelling the shadows in a cone aimed right for that wolf's brilliant blue eyes.

Then he's swinging, not towards the wolf but towards a workbench. Intending to bring that gauntlet's power down hard enough to flip the table up into the momentary blinded creatures face.

Because he knows that just blinding isn't gonna stop that thing.

But he doesn't have to stop it. He just has to delay it a few more minutes.

If the wolf is surprised at Stark's choice, no evidence of it appears on that canine face. Impassive and single-minded, it rips towards him, dismissive of this mere man trying to stand in its way.

Of course, Stark isn't really just a mere man.

The repulsor blast seems to take the creature by surprise, and a bark of mingled shock and fury escapes it as the light flares directly into those bright blue eyes. The wolf hesitates, skidding slightly, its claws digging into the floor with an awful noise, unable to see to dodge the workbench that comes flipping into its face a moment later.

The blow swings the wolf's head to the left, staggering it a step in that direction as well. But as Tony predicted — this doesn't really slow it down.

Mostly, it makes it mad.

The thing sniffs the air violently, locating him by scent alone. It's still blind, but it has enough of a trace on him from smell to snap its jaws around, trying to bite down and tear Stark clean in half.

Many people have underestimated Tony Stark when he isn't in his suit. Men who are both friends and enemies. Allies and opponents. Its very easy to underestimate him to be honest. He isn't tall or statue like Steve. He isn't a spy like Clint or Natasha. He's not lible to become an angry green engine of destruction like Bruce.

No he's just Tony. That guy who drinks too much and sleeps around.

But he's an Avenger for a reason. He's where he is for a reason. For all the bad about him, Tony Stark is a survivor. A survivor who works best under pressure.

Jaws snap shut a hairs breath from his side and the man vaults a table. "Need this!" He calls out as he slides over the table. Using that smaller stature of his to an advantage to try to keep away from him.

He can feel that breath of the shadow wolf, back into its all consuming darkness as he dashes away now, towards the back of the lab.

His Gauntlet doesn't have many charges, and he needs to keep some of it at least.

Less than a minuite now. And he still needs to stop that transmission…

Cold begins to press into the room, beginning to nettle and sting enough to mist breath and numb the skin. Is it coming from without? Surely a place as formidable of Stark Tower, even pulled of its power source, can at least hold in several hours of heat? Is the winter storm outside truly that oppressive? Or is it something else?

Guarded by the monstrous animal, the holo-terminal continues unimpeded, swept in that whirling, living-force shadow. Script after script after script.

Blocked sometimes by the shadowy bulk of the monster wolf, Tony can still yield glimpses of what goes in as those butcher knife fangs snap inches from his body.

Whatever script that is haunting and corrupting his tower, whatever script that mutilated and gutted JARVIS, whatever script that made Dummy turn on him—

It's mutating as it adapts, a quantum organism in itself fuelled by dark magic. It's writing into the arc reactor that powers all of Stark Tower.

It wants control.

The wolf may underestimate Tony Stark once. It doesn't underestimate him again.

Shaking off the impact of the workbench, the wolf snarls a deep, reverberating note. Its sight will return more slowly, but that's fine… it tracks more with scent than anything else. It can smell Tony running, vaulting a table, keeping the toppled workbench between them. The overturned bench does, really, serve as an effective block, and it's probably the only thing that keeps Stark from being skewered by fangs as the wolf snaps and snarls in his wake.

He can feel the thing's breath, tasteless and hot, raising the hairs on the back of his neck.

Stark eels away. Frustrated, the wolf shakes its head, fangs bared. The creature's left front paw slams down on the bench — an oddly familiar gesture — and the weight of something more than mere shadow, more than flesh and bone, splinters the thing into slivers on the floor. Clawing the wreck aside, the creature slinks in pursuit, a little more wary now of the inventor's gauntlet.

Inexorably, it follows to the back of the lab, continuing to drive Tony from that processing script.

Good. It slowed him. Thats what he wanted. A wary wolf. A little breathing space.

Stark is in constant motion. His hands busy with some arcane device as he snatches bits from tables and cabinets as he fleets the wolf. His eyes snapping between the snippets he can get from the screen and those bloody white fangs that seem to want to end his life.

"You know," And of course. In typical Stark Fashion. He never shuts up. "I don't remember pissing off any shadow people lately. And you're not Ten Rings material. No offence. I mean you don't even have one ring. And there is not stupidly long expositional speeches involved. I mean I got to hand it to you there. Got me by surprise and all. But you just made me mad and…" A snatch for a part he needs that leaves him slightly too slow to get away from the jaws of the beast. Fangs scrape the gauntlet as he leaps back again, keeping the hand but damaging the weapon.

The part clicks into place, the odd device looking less like a weapon and more like a strange dream creation of children. Dissperate parts stuck at odd angles and a big red button.

"Funny thing about quantum waves and tunneling systems. They operate on very specific lengths. I mean we can't see them of course. Can't really measure them or do anything to them without the proper equipment." Which this lab has. "But they are there…and if you know how to work it right…"

He presses the button and tosses the device into a corner as he dashes the other way. Towards a wall.

"…you can make them dance!"

Again, like the EMP the device doesn't make a large visible burst. It just sort of sputters for a moment and dies.

…but on the level of quantum waves…

Its a resonance pulse. Thumping out counter waves. Confusing frequencies. Disrupting the process of tunneling. Looking for the proper resonance to start a feedback pulse screaming into whoever is behind this. Inteanding to short out what equipment they are using to send this pulse.

…which he doesn't know is shadow magic and demon power in some little bird brain but hey. Don't sue him for a headache.

It goes off: a quantum fluctuation that skips and distorts and pauses the transmission.

The terminal scrambles — and, as if living, as if made of sensory flesh, that moving, chitin-black shadow hitches and tenses. And it reacts.

It pulls apart like a body being severed, until in an instant, delivered in its center — pulled free from that darkness — sits at its heart in the shape of a little bird. No bigger than a handful, the ends of its wings and tipped beak made of that melting, dripping, half-formed shadow.

The bird SCREAMS a deafening animal cry of agony, locked into position, unable to move, unable to counter —

— as in that moment, the ETA of five minutes finishes.

PUNCHING in through concrete-and-metal walls, and the distant, closing sound of jets brings a redshift of fire and heat down Stark Tower's halls. MK 33 wastes no time to try to reach its master, but the wolf is seconds closer —

Tony just stares for a half second. "Bird. Huh. TOTALLY not what I was expecting."

Tony blathers. The wolf stares through his talk, empty as winter and impassive as death, stalking him through the darkness of the laboratory. Massive as the thing is, it actually manages to vanish into the shadows temporarily somehow, skulking in the deep blackness layered between high-stacked servers and heavy workbenches.

It reappears once Tony reaches for something he needs. Fangs close on the gauntlet, throwing sparks, but the flesh beneath is spared.

The wolf's teeth click together emptily, and it growls a deep note as it pursues. The only thing that brings it to hesitate is the sudden device thrown away, against a wall. Its head turns, wondering, but though it seems to have a dawning suspicion what Stark is up to, it doesn't seem to know quite what to do about it immediately.

By the time it decides to try to go after it, to break it — there was assuredly a reason Tony was talking about quantum tunneling just now — the thing has already gone off. And the result —

The creature staggers in tandem with its companion's sudden shriek of agony. A little bird, no more than a little handful of fluff, locked up and helpless on the terminal. It shudders in pain.

And the wolf goes berserk.

The roar that escapes it drowns out the jets of the arriving MK 33. As fast as the armor, however, is the charging wolf, blue eyes alight with raw fury. It has no aim, no purpose, in these moments, but to slam bodily into Tony fangs-first, to seize him in its swordlike teeth … and to carry him along in a mad charge through several walls of the building, its left shoulder braced first to take each impact.

It means to get Tony as far away from the bird as possible.

The wolf goes after the device and Tony takes several steps away. Steps further away as things get /strange/. A bird pops out and screams. The script stops writing itself. And….

Oh. Yeah. Not great.

"So…" As the bird screams and the wolf turns to look at him. "…gonna take it you two know each OTHER!" The last word is at a much higher pitch as suddenly he has fangs crushing into him. His clothes are armored of course. The wolf can feel them suddenly go rigid at the pressure. That armor isn't made for this kind of abuse though and every shuttering step sends the fangs deeper until they draw blood.

Stark slams his ruined gauntlet into the creatures skull to try to stop the mad charge.

Its only a matter of time before the armor gives way and his arm quickly goes with it…

Which is right when the Mark 33 arrives. More angular and sleek than the previous models. A triangular reactor glowing in the middle of the chest the massive high energy suit smashes though a wall and that wolf will find a rocket assisted armored fist aimed for the side of its skull now.

Much more effective than flesh and blood.

Should he be let go? Stark wastes no time into leaping for the suit, the armor sliding open at his presence as he encases himself with the familar feel of his armored suit.

"You realise…" The voice synthed though the speakers of the system now. "…that hurting me doesn't turn off my bomb…"

The monstrous wolf barrels both of them away — breaking them painfully through solid concrete wall after wall, with only Tony's armor saving him from his body pulping and mulching under each impact.

From inside the lab, the bird still howls with pain, that quantum dissonance feeding straight back to its phantom shadow flesh, reacting with an agony that outstretches its tiny wings. It sings suddenly, noisily, ethereal, bell-like notes that warp into the freezing air, and the darkness peels off every wall in quiet submission.

It converges on that device, still ringing its quantum pulse… and runs it through with a dozen surrated shadow edges, impaled until its electronics spark and falter.

The songbird recovers, twitching its head, turning back on the terminal with one blinking, flickering black eye. It gives it one last look, and with an unravel of its wings, lifts away into flight out the laboratory door.

The shadow wreathes it again, feeding quantum permutations, cracking Tony Stark's impenetrable security with that onslaught of math braided with magic. Delayed, briefly, but not stopped.

It happens while Tony engages with the wolf, using his armor and weapons to keep those killing jaws at bay —

Lights flicker up along his peripheral display.

MK 1. MK 2. MK 3. MK 4 …

All his suits have been activated. Called to attention. Lighting up from their safe keeping, awaiting order.

Not his order.

He can watch, but they aren't listening. Their scripts run with a quantum script that runs too fast to decipher, not here, not now, not locked in battle. It corrupts their programming from the inside-out. They no longer heed his call. They tilt their metal heads to heed the song of a new master.

The Tower shakes distantly, seismically.

Every suit called to arms. Every suit breaking free of their sleeping sanctuaries, violently, destructively, impacts burning out holes, jets making fire, as they all are sung to take to the sky.

There is another alert.

The arc reactor is overloading.

Every cry of pain that racks free from the bird, every wave of shared agony that the wolf feels — it drives the creature to higher heights of enraged madness. Heedless of Tony's gauntlet bashing its face, the wolf bashes them both through a wall, seems prepared to slam them through another…

And the MK 33 arrives. The suit slams dead into the side of the wolf's head, knocking its jaws loose. Enough that Tony can slip into his summoned armor. Uncaring, still furious at the pain it can feel from its avian companion, the monster rips at the suit despite the reduced effect, pinning Tony beneath its sheer weight.

This has the side effect of heavily distracting Tony from the fact that all his suits — every last one — are being activated, control of them ripped away from his hands. They take to the sky, heeding a call that is no longer his own.

Nothing stops the creature — up until that crucial phrase. 'Doesn't turn off my bomb…'

Stark has the satisfaction of feeling the wolf palpably pause.

It leaves him in a sudden bound, all that monstrous weight absconding in the wink of an eye. It lunges back towards the bird, its aim to scoop up its small companion… and to vanish them both into the twisting shadows, with a sudden reek of strong magic.

That arc reactor continues to thrum wiht dangerous energy…

The inventor shakes his head as the warnings begin to chime. The suits begin to activate. "What the hell are they trying to do…" Then the wolf leaves. "…right. Forgot. It can understand me." The Mark 33, the Silver Centurion, suddenly screams as its repulsors activate.

"SIRIN you there?" He asks as he turns to look back towards the lab, running though the systems of the ship.

"Of course, sir! I'm here and waiting for" There is a sudden glitch sound of static in his ears. The peppy voice shifts into something more sardonic. "whatever useless orders you might want to give."

Stark quirks an eyebrow.

"My systems seem to have a few issues, sir!" The peppy voice is back.

"Great. This is gonna be fun."

A sigh.

"Contact SHIELD. Get some quick-responce forces moving. Contact the other Avengers, get them moving too! And make sure the building is clear!"

He is going to have to make sure the ARC reactor doesn't blow up the entire building.

"Of course, sir! I'm glad you help!" Again that second of static. "I mean. I guess."

To the effect of preventing said explosion, he's rushing again. BACK TO JANE'S LAB.

…he has a suit now. He feels confident as he shifts the energy wave systems of the suit to prevent Quantum tunneling into its systems. Which…seems to be a good precaution.

"SIRIN, I need to get into the suits control systems!"

"Working on it, sir!" Pfttzz. "Slavedriver."

In a wisp of shadow, the bird darts in — and the jaws of the wolf close over it, drowning its song to a whispered silence.

Both creatures are quickly lost into a pocket of darkness, taking them immediately, abruptly away. Creatures made of shadow and lost to it, gone as if neither existed at all.

But the destruction waits in ample evidence, that what the wolf left behind — and to the source, that working holoterminal.

There is a reason why it is abandoned.

Active but no longer necessary. Magic sustains it where the rest of Stark Tower stands dead — dark and powerless — and that demonic script is finished its tunnel. Spreading infection through quantum superpositions — affecting everything with code within the entirety of the building. Tony Stark's home, sick with a relentless virus — one that seeks to take everything from him.

He does adapt one thing in his genius: the quickness to keep that script from affecting MK 33 and the AI housed remotely within its private server. But as for the rest?

Every attempt locks him out. And for his mind, it's not long for him to figure out why.

Code is linear. Code is static. Code is unchanging. This? It changes. It evolves. It adapts. It responds to his every try and remedies itself, reacting to vulnerabilities with additional layers to decrypt. It feels more like an organism birthed of magic than a dead line of code, and it holds as — he's running perilously out of time.

Even if he cannot access, he can still watch.

The headpieces of his numerous suits transmit their feeds. They are already leaving Stark Tower on blinding paths, roaring through the skies and into the swirling storms. Deliberately and systematically, they are turning their repulsors on satellite systems. Communication uplinks. Irradiating them out of orbit. Others are heading into vast directions, and it's not impossible for him to know why:

They want to spread the virus.

The ARC reactor is charging beyond its safe boundaries, and the script reveals why.

Stark Tower's position is a perfect one, fed into every corner of Manhattan.

One shock to down the entire power grid.

It doesn't take long for the Centurion to make it back to the lab. He just makes holes in walls where he has too. Roaring back though his own building in order to prevent a catastrophe.

Which he could indeed. Do.

if there wasn't magic involved.

He just stares at the code as he tries to un-infect his own house. Every time he unknots part some other part contorts upon himself. He sees the feeds, dozens of suits launching in every direction. Dozens of deadly weapons in the hands of some unknown magic users. A bird and a wolf.

Getting to the bottom of this? Oh yes. This will be a thing.

After he saves new York.

That mind of his, moving at the speed of light in the course of a crisis. He can see the spread of this virus. Its already severed from the trunklines.

But if one of the infected suits gets far enough out…

"SIRIN." His voice is much too calm for a moment like this. Almost casual. "You can still access the base functionality right?"

"Yes, sir?" A pause. "Why?"

"Activate Clean Slate."

"…s-sir…" The AI seems unsure before that second personality kicks in. "Are you crazy?!"

"Only way to do it, Pepper always told me I spent too long on em anyway. Whats that song that all the kids were obsessed with? Let it go right?"

The AI is quiet a moment. "Sir, if you start singing. We will happily mute you."

"Noted, activate."

He watches, fingers still flying over keys. Setting up quantum resonance fields so the virus can't jump around. Trying to put an end to it with one fell swoop.

And the reactor.

"Direct as much power as you can to this building. Channel it /up/ and out. Get SHIELD to clear the airspace, direct as much as you can into the atmosphere."

"Sir," SIRIN's voice is cheerful as ever. "That will be quite dangerous, it might even result in an explosion of this system!"

"I know, just do it."

"The grid will still likely go down."

"But it won't blow up half the transformers in the city." A shake of his head. "Man I should have done this on new years eve. What a lightshow to ring in the new year. Ah well. It'll just be late."

He can't stop it. At least he can try to mitigate it.

Clean Slate executes.

There is no fanfare from where Tony Stark stands, safely away from where his errant, lost suits rip powerfully through the skies. Nothing he can witness with his own senses.

But one by one, he still gets to watch his creations fall.

Their displays plume in wreaths of fire, and then go out — go black. One after another after another, like a shockwave detonation — so fast that the virus cannot yet adapt. It tries to bypass Clean Slate, and it succeeds briefly — in some short window — but it is already done.

Forty of Tony Stark's suits flatline. Gone. Only a handful manage to escape, the virus finally pulling them into one last severance, cleaving them entirely from his further watch and detection. His creations, stolen.

The ARC reactor, however, builds worse and worse —

— but Stark finds his way.

Energy discharges suddenly, violently, up through the vessel of Stark Tower, a great shaft of light crowning the stormy night sky in a blinding pillar that will be seen from cities beyond.

The last light for New York City.

Skyscraper after skyscraper wink out. The great Manhattan skyline plunges into darkness. All at once, the greatest city in the world goes silent, its grid burned out — murdered.

The worst winter in recent record continues unabated. Snow falls.

The shaft of energy and light splits the sky. The tower itself conducting enough energy to flatten half of the City up into the sky. The worst is the top floors of the building. The windows of the top five blow out compleatly. The halls and labs of the top two crackle with lightning as the charge erupts from the roof and into the night.

And when it fades?

There is no sign of Tony Stark.

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