Dark City: Darkness Rising III

April 11, 2014:

As New York shifts and warps around them, a Superman finds himself fighting rats in a broken reality that's right out of a steampunk horror story.

Manhattan -- The Dark City

It could have been New York… in another life, another world, another time. Lights are dimmer here, the sky slate, tinted with sickly reds and yellows. Smog, or perhaps simply dark fog, hangs heavy in the air, pressing close to the flesh with a thick, oily humidity despite the chill. Streets are cobbles, rather than asphalt. Buildings are brick and plaster in a 19th century style. Harnessed electricity and electrical devices are unreliable, though not entirely unusable. In fact, the same could be said of any power used in this place — natural, meta, or otherwise. Everything is just a little 'off', like the whole world skews to sinister. Murphy's Law has freer reign in this city than it does in the normal universe. Entropy is king.

Characters

NPCs: Scene emited by Wonder Woman. Cameo by Rune.

Mentions:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

A busy Friday evening in downtown Manhattan. With the weather having turned nicer, even if it's still chilly after sunset, more people are out and about than have been over the course of the winter. Not, mind, that the area around Times Square is ever not crowded. The mood is, as always, frenetic, full of life and the irrepressible spirit that is New York.

For all that, however, the city is not without its darkness. It's hidden, really, behind the bright neon lights and the blare of street music, car horns, and hawkers. To say it lurks in alleys is cliché… and, in this case, completely wrong. Because, even the alleys are bright, compared to the dark grey mists that seep down the damp streets from the busy New York Harbor. It's unnoticeable, at first. A scuff of dust, perhaps. Or maybe just the putrid air from the subway vents and sewer grates. Nothing extraordinary in that.

But, slowly, the fog thickens. Lights dim first around the docks themselves. Machinery slowly falls silent, and workers move lethargically, at best. It's almost as if an odd lethargy settles over them — one they're not really inclined to fight… even were they actually aware of it, which most of them aren't.

As the mist drifts further inland, the bright street lamps take on an odd cast, more like flickering gaslight than halogen, fluorescent, or sodium. It can't quite decide if it should be garish green or sickly amber. The streets themselves take on a completely different cast, as well, shifting, it seems between now and then, past and present. Sometimes asphalt, sometimes cobbles. The people that walk the street grow quieter, somehow, as if they're not quiet in one time or another. Their garb shifts like the streets do, neither one era or another, their manners morphing much the same way.

All in all, it's an odd night in New York, this night. And it brings with it the oddest sensation of being completely isolated, no matter how large the crowd around may be.

*

"Thank you, Mr. Kent. That will be all." The secretary behind the desk shakes his head at Clark Kent so abruptly that a stand of hair shakes despite the large amount of hair care product."

Far be it for the man from Smallville to be rude, but his patience has been toyed with too many times now. "I don't think you understand," he protests, trying to keep his emotions withheld. "I've been asking for this interview for 6 weeks. It's been rescheduled 4 times, and now that I'm all the way up here in New York, you're telling me it's been cancelled? That's downright unprofessional."

"Be that as it may, Mr. Kent, but Mr. Osborn is unavailable at the moment. I suggest you enjoy your stay in New York and call back tomorrow to see if the meeting can be rescheduled."

Clark sighs. He can see it happening before it does. There's not going to be a meeting; Norman Osborn is just playing with him. "Thank you for your time," Clark says as he grabs his satchel and pulls it over his tweed jacket. He turns and begins to do the walk of shame out the futuristic doors of OsCorp and onto the city streets outside.

Those futuristic doors flicker from glass and chrome to glass and wood — more wood than glass, really. The sleek concrete, steel, and glass that creates the tower can't decide if it should stay that way or change into stone and iron. The people on the streets pay the business-suited reporter little mind, each going about their own business as the oppressive fog rolls in and the bright lights of the city dim to something paler, less capable of piercing the darkness.

Clark continues to walk down the dark street, looking more and more comfortable as he does so. Blue eyes behind coke-bottle glasses dart around with confusion. His right hand slides his glasses partway down so that he can get a better look at things with his x-ray vision. His left hand digs in the pocket of his jacket for his cell. Pulling it in front of himself, he scrolls through the names looking for the name of the person in New York who might know what in the world is happening to the city.

His finger scrolls on the name Diana Prince. But he pulls the thumb down to go to the next name up on his list. Dana Hunt.

X-rays don't reveal much, except, perhaps, a slightly higher concentration of lead, pewter, and iron where once there was steel and chrome. And even that flickers back and forth as New York itself seems to wrestle with the changes wrought upon it by the dark fog. The display on the cell phone in Clark's hand flickers as well, though it's a flickering echoed by the street lamps and lit signage, the light of which seems to simply be swallowed up by the darkness. Consequently, although the phone does ring, the connection is tetchy at best. There's a lot of static on the line, and when there isn't there's as much a chance of simply dead air as there is the sound of the voice on the other other end.

"Clark?" It's Dana's voice, to be sure, when the line picks up, but she sounds distant, as if shouting down a long tunnel. "n you-me?"

"Dana," Clark says yelling loudly into the phone. ""I'm on West 55th and Avenue of the Americas. Are you seeing anything weird where you are?" Clark tries to relax, breathing in the city air and trying to notice if its scent is odd. Usually these sorts of things wouldn't bother him at all. His normal strategy would be to walk around, find the bad guys, and punch them up.

But when the shadows and fog come, that feels a lot like something magical. And magical makes Clark act a lot more cautiously. "Dana can you hear me at all?"

"connectad. It's notna hold. Something's messI thinkneed to find—" Dana's voice comes in fits and starts as the device flickers and threatens to lose power. Wherever she is, she's having no better time of it, though she may be more cognizant of the forces at work in the city than others. Whether or not she can help? That's harder to say.

Clark sighs and hangs up the phone, instead shooting her a text. He's not sure if it will go through, but it seems a much more likely chance than trying to piece together their words over the air. His thumbs move at superspeeds as he texts out the message. "Something strange. Fog. Mist. You know anything about this? Heading south on Ave of Amer-CK"

Last parlor trick. Clark closes his eyes as he stops on the corner and focuses on his hearing. He's listening for conversations about the fog, and searching the high and low frequencies in an attempt to hear if there is anything coming from up there or down there, so to speak.

Most people in the city seem… not so much oblivious to the fog as accepting of it. There are a few grumbles at its murkiness, but nothing that suggests they consider it unusual. However, more distant noises suggest subtle movements beneath the streets, perhaps in sewers and subway tunnels, as well as in dark alleys and other hidden corners of the city. The sounds vary, of course, but there's often a scrabbling, perhaps a growling now and then. In places nearer to the harbour, screams occasionally ring out, but briefly. They stop all too soon. And the feeling of 'wrongness' never entirely lifts.

Clark reaches up to his dark tie and pulls it open with a practiced yank and twist of his fingers, unveiling his blue undershirt. Within a split second his satchel and clothing are stashed behind a dumpster in the alleyway amidst a giant whoooosh of air.

As the fog still circles around the wake of his jet stream, Superman is headed towards the docks as quick as possible, rocketing down the Avenue five stories up, with his cape billowing out behind him. He's streaking towards those screams as his hunch is now closer to being proven correct.

Even at speed, by the time the Man of Steel is soaring over the quays, the harbour appears deceptively quiet. The fog really is thick, though the Kryptonian's x-ray vision can compensate for its density, true enough. But, then, the harbour also shouldn't be so quiet. Not the New York Harbor, anyway. In this Dark City, however, the red moon rising, it may not be quite the same. Those dockworkers furthest the inland, closest to the city proper, can be seen moving about their business, though a handful are obviously fleeing something. And when they catch up to their fellows, they can be heard to shout, "Ratlings, boys! Move yer asses!" Which causes the others to run as well, the lot of them heading sensibly away from the heart of the harbour. Some few, however, have not been so lucky to escape, and the sounds of their struggles drift skyward. There's a small trio of battered men, clutching makeshift weapons amidst broken wooden cargo crates, surrounded by…. creatures.

The creatures look humanoid, but with limbs too long and back curved badly. A closer look, however, reveals something more akin to what a wererat might look like were it caught in mid-change. Humanoid features mix with rodent, muzzles elongating jaws and filled with sharp teeth. Long fingers and toes are tipped with sharp nails and, in some cases, there's even a tail thrust out of the back of ripped and dirty trousers.

As Superman sees the monsters, he knows he must act quickly. If these beasts are magical as he surmises, they'll be able to hurt him. He must use speed to his benefit.

As he approaches, he lets out a massive amount of superbreath in an attempt to knock them off-kilter. He then makes his pass quickly, attempting to make like a bowling ball and knock them each down.

After he passes, he tries to land far enough out of striking distance from the rodentmen and turns to face them.

"I'm not sure what you are or what you're doing, but I'm going to ask you to stop. Now."

Both creatures and men are bowled over by the surprising wind, which also has the effect of pushing the fog away, though it seeps back in quickly enough. The ratlings respond with preternaturally fast reflexes, scrambling back to their feet in an effort to combat the flying battering ram that bowls them over and tosses them away from their prey. They snarl and snap, turning now to this larger threat. If they understand what Superman says, they certainly don't respond favourably to it. Indeed, more like animals than men, they let out loud snarls and strange barks before surging forward to engage him again. As they do, however greater numbers of them swarm out from across the harbour, rushing towards the fray.

The three dockworkers struggle to their feet, makeshift cudgels gripped tightly in their fists as they try to get their bearings. Their eyes are wild, panicked, and as they see the oncoming swarm, they turn and run, trying to climb the crates to higher ground.

Superman takes three steps to put himself between the creatures and their targets. When the men try to catch their prey, Superman creates a diversion for them. The veins around his eyes begin to glow just before the sclera in each of them begins to glow the same color.

Suddenly the space between the dock workers and the monsters erupts into flames. Superman doesn't want to hurt these things, but he's not going to allow them to kill either.

The ratlings and the men all startle when the fire erupts. The creatures hiss and pull back, though only to the edge of the heat, beginning to look for ways around the line of fire. The men, however, start scrambling over crates to try and get away from both the creatures and the fire. Because this isn't the same harbour it once was. Asphalt and concrete has been replaced by flagstone and cobble. Metal shipping crates are now wooden and largely stuffed with straw. Fire is a dangerous business here. And God forbid it spreads to the rest of the city.

Fire's not much of a concern for Superman, despite the danger to the surroundings. It's a tool, and easily disposed of with a few well placed shots with his breath.

As the fire dissipates, Superman is already moving with a superpowered fist to the first jaw. Then, grabbing its fleshy hide, he begins using it to bash some of the others. If they won't yield, and won't be scared away, they must be defeated.

The area around shakes from how fast Superman's moving. He knows he must not slow down if he wants to remain safe from their attacks. He has no idea what would happen if he would be bitten by one of these rabid creatures, and has no real desire to find out.

He smashes around with flying fists towards chests and heads, trying to knock them unconscious.

The three men take this opportunity to get the hell outta Dodge, as they say. They're limping and running as fast as they can toward the city proper. The ratlings, meanwhile, are being tossed around like coloured balls in a child's bouncyball play palace. There are a lot of them, however. What dock is ever without its swarms of rats, after all? The disturbing thing about them, however, is that the late-arriving swarms seem more interested in eviscerating and devouring their fallen comrades than they do in engaging the Man of Steel that tosses them around.

The look on Clark's face is one of disgust. For them to go after each other like that bothers him on a deeper level than the normal, run-of-the-day violence. Inside he wants to gag; to see them begin to rip each other apart. For a split second he's at a loss for what to do. But, being close to the water that seems as good of an idea as anything.

He leaps at one and grabs it. In a move he spins around and flings the beast into the nearby harbor water. What rats don't hate water after all.

He curses as he looks towards the others; at a loss for the meaning of any of this. One of the burning critiques that has always bothered him has been that he was more reactive hero than a proactive one. At moments like this, with so much more unknown than known, he can't help but feel that maybe those critics are right.

The ratling thrown into the water thrashes in an effort to get to the shore. There are, in fact, rats that like water. Indeed, the rodents have been known to survive being flushed down a toilet… and have gotten their revenge by returning to the building the same way they were ejected. The ratmen tossed into the bay, however, are not quite equipped for swimming so well. So, for them, returning to shore is sure to be a definite struggle.

Superman sighs and the jingle from the Wichita Pest Company begins to ring in his mind. Clark spent a lot of time watching Royals baseball during the summers and would see the commercial about 13 times per game.

"When you need a clean sweep, call Rick Van der Streep at …"

Superman grabs a giant light pole from along the street and wraps his arms around it. Lifting with his powerful legs, he pulls the pole away from the ground amid a shower of sparks and turns the pole on its side. His hands pull their way towards the middle so he can be more balanced.

With determination in his eyes, Superman grits his teeth and launches himself towards the beasts and attempts to knock them off the docks straight away and into the water en masse.

Pushing the ratlings into the water creates something of a mass panic among them. The more enterprising of them start crawling up on the backs of their brethren, until, effectively, there ends up a collection of clumped bodies, the top half-dozen or so on each pile still able to breathe and to try to stand up and leap frog their way back to shore. Fairly quickly, it becomes obvious: ratlings are scroungers, scavengers, and survivors. They're not pretty, they're not fussy, and they're not remotely concerned about the well-being of anyone other than their own selves. Any remaining humans in the docks vicinity, however, have either gotten clean away, or have already become rat food. Distantly, a clanging bell begins to sound and smoke can be seen drifting up over the city some neighbourhoods distant.

Superman again with the wind, trying to push those beasts back down into the water as he tries to think. As the bell rings and the smoke drifts upwards, so does Superman. Slowly he floats upwards, continuing the stream of air downward in a constant blow, but his eyes float over the horizon. He scans left to right, trying to figure out where the smoke is coming from, and more importantly, who is up to all of this.

In the distance, smoke rises over a portion of the city somewhere between what would be Times Square and Central Park in New York. The silhouettes of a half-dozen or so men wearing mechanical daVinci-style wings can be seen swooping down low through the smoke and, if he concentrates, Superman will no doubt catch the sound of screams and the calls of alarm. Within minutes, the flying men have risen back into the air, clutching a quartet of modern-garbed people in their arms, though one also holds a girl dressed more in the Victorian styles that have overtaken the city. Behind the seven of them, a man made of fire flies, apparently with the group, all of whom make their way back across the night skies to the place that New York recognizes as St. Patrick's Cathedral, almost directly east of the district on fire. Smoke and cries, however, continue from that burning district.

Out of the frying pan, and into the fire. Superman groans as he just came from that area of town and now he's headed back. Superman soars back towards where he was originally came from. It pains him to leave those monstrous rats there, but it seems that there's something more going on here and he hopes that whatever is at that church is the epicenter of it.

He touches his belt as he flies towards the church, hoping to get the fire department to the fires and the SRDs to protect the docks, but his communicator doesn't seem to be working. Just like everything else electronic he's been using.

As he approaches the Cathedral, Superman's eyes go white and he tries to look through the walls to see what's going on inside.

The cathedral is constructed somewhat differently in this Dark City than it was in New York, insofar as it is surrounded by walls and made into something of a small, holy fortress. Men stand along the walls, and some of them even notice the Man of Steel approaching. In the main courtyard, however, the flying men who have landed can be seen removing their harnesses, their charges unharmed. Indeed, one of them embraces the girl in the dress in a brotherly fashion, holding her weeping form close to his chest. The modern garbed people there seem largely unharmed — a man with a bow and arrows, an albino woman with black hair and a black eye patch, a younger woman with long black hair carrying unusual weaponry, a man in black cowboy garb with a stetson and a pair of pistols, and, of course, the flaming man who extinguishes his flames to reveal metal skin and blonde hair. Apparently, Superman isn't the only hero to survive the transition.

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