Follow the Yellow Brick Road

March 30, 2018:

This is during the Warehouse 13 log - Dani, after being zotted, finds herself battling for Coulson's soul.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

One minute, Dani Moonstar is careening towards a sparking, spluttering electrified puddle of water with not much apparent chance to stop herself.

The next, she's in Warehouse 13, with most of her team apparently gone, the damaged shelves casting long, impossible Escher-like shadows across her frame. The floor is bone dry. And after a moment she'll realize it can't really be the warehouse. It's too big, or too small, or too randomly shaped depending on what she looks like, and there are thirteen of everything. Thirteen of every kind of crate, thirteen shelves, thirteen elevators, even.

She's not alone.

Azazel from the Department of Transitions is there. He's sitting on a huge crate, one too big for warehouse shelves, and he's playing Billy Joel's "Piano Man" on a harmonica. His bright golden wings stretch out behind him, and he's got one knee propped up. He's just wearing loose-fitting black pants and a black t-shirt now, and has even arrived barefoot. His long, golden hair is pulled back into a tight ponytail. His lanyard is missing too. One earring in his right ear; a little skull and crossbones.

He pauses at the end of of the chorus, and says, "Don't worry, when I take him I'll wear the suit. But since I had the feeling you were in the mood to be stubborn…"

He hitches a shoulder, as if everything else is self-explanatory, says, "Take your time, your own potential impending death as a victim of electrocution probably has your teeth a little rattled. Unless, of course, you're actually going to do the smart thing here, back off, let me do my work. Then you can wake up with a headache and nobody any the wiser about your own near-miss. Doesn't have to be your time today."

And then he goes right back to playing the song.


One minute Dani was fighting and the next - well - not so much.

The transition is almost seamless from the real world to this one, but almost seamless doesn't mean completely unnoticed. When the woman rises to her feet a chill settles around her shoulders, felt at the back of her neck, and as she looks around herself Moonstar frowns.

Her first step is decidedly casual, but by her second step the Valkyrie within her comes to the forefront. A winged headdress reminiscent of two ancient cultures settles upon her head, a pauldron of silver segmented armor appears over her left shoulder, and a spear finds its way into her right hand.

The number of crates, of shelves, of elevators even, isn't lost on her and when she manages to find her way to the Angel of Death, Dani's expression is tight with tension. She pauses several feet away from him, her knuckles white as she grips the spear, "Stubborn?" She asks rhetorically, "Yup, I can be downright stubborn." She agrees then, before his next words cause her chin to tuck down a moment in surprise.

Then her chin rises, her eyes moving to meet the Angel's, "There's truth with what you say - it's all our time eventually, but not his yet. SHIELD needs him. The world too." And to emphasize her point, Dani brings the end of the spear down hard against the floor.

Now she waits.


Azazel lifts the harmonica away from his lips. Amusement sparks in depthless emerald eyes. "The world, is it? My, my. One aging spy."

Still, he twists his fingers and the harmonica disappears. He hops off the crate and pulls a long sword of some sort of black metal. A shorter sword manifests in his other hand. He doesn't bother with visible armor, but he does wriggle his toes. Soft-soled combat boots are there. They weren't, and then they are. He stretches his wings, long and powerful enough to reach either end of the warehouse. A flare of golden light, and then he simply folds them and they aren't on his back anymore. He could be any guy, just some random 21st century dude, in stark contrast to Dani Moonstar's manifestation as a true Valkyrie.

Except for those eyes. His demeanor may be all angel-may-care. His bodily movements all betray an economy of deadly grace. But the eyes are warm and gentle, filled with compassion, love, and light. Ancient as the sea, and filled with just about as many secrets.

He offers her a bow, then slides into a fighting stance.

"I mean. I suppose I should ask you if you want to do a duel. I've done foot races. Chess. Poker. One guy wanted Parcheesi, that was a weird day."


"The world." She says again, firmly, then she continues, "He wants to make a difference, the world needs that, it already has so much going against it. Especially for those that are different. Differences are seen with fear, with prejudice and we need all who care for those of us who're different here on Earth, fighting alongside us."

The sight of that black sword causes Dani to roll her weight to the balls of her feet, anticipating the need to move quickly and with a lightness. The butt of her spear is lifted from the floor and while the spearhead isn't necessarily pointed at Azazel it'll only take a second to do so when the time comes.

But first, before that time does indeed come, Dani can't quite stop the small quirk of her lips at the mention of Parcheesi. Damn this aspect of Death and its sense of humor. "I can't say I'm a Parcheesi fan." Murmurs the black-haired woman, "And I'd say debate, but it seems we're out of impartial judges." She adds even as her gaze flicks around the area, as if looking for said judges, "But I will ask this - Why is it his time now? What causes the Great Spirits to look down on this world and say 'yes, it's his time now'. I have seen miracles, I know miracles, I know there is so much more to this world and the spirit than what I can see, but can you answer the question of why him now?"


"Because someone, by his own free will, betrayed him after he, by his own free will, refused to surrender. Plunged a knife into his heart, then plunged it into his stomach," Azazel says, balancing on the balls of his own feet. He'll talk, at least for a moment. His lips quirk into a half of a smile.

"But maybe the simple truth of free will is not enough. Maybe you want to know that there's some grand plan, perhaps. That the world, even, might be better off without him. Because there's some grand design, or Fate. Maybe this sad thing has to happen to rally you all together and to make you stronger against the storm that is to come."

He cocks his head to one side, that mysterious smile still playing over his face.

"And maybe that's true. Or maybe it only might be true, in the hindsight of human perception, something you'd only see or understand in 20 years. What is and Must Be are tapestries woven by mortal choices, and the lynchpins of those designs do change. Maybe you save him, and in 20 years you look back and think: I was completely right, the world needed him, and here are all the proofs I can point to as to why. When you can see all realities and all possibilities, even why stretches from infinite to infinite, until it defies my ability to place it into words a human would understand. I could show you, and for one moment you'd understand everything. And then it would slip away, and you'd spend the rest of your life mourning because you saw it for a moment, but now cannot see it any longer, yearning only to have that perfect moment of understanding anew. Understanding can be a cruelty in that way."

He then turns his left palm over at her, his kind smile widening a fracture. He makes the classic 'come at me' gesture.

"But then, so too, can uncertainty. You can't even be certain you're doing the right thing right now. You know only what you choose. So the only definite answer I can give you, my dear Valkyrie, is this: we do not take him to punish him. We take him because in this juncture of time, space, and circumstance, our nature demands that we take him. Unless, of course. You stop us."


Balanced - that's currently what Danielle Moonstar is.

She's poised on the cusp of action, but before she can swing her spear out, or do anything else to start the ball rolling, she listens. She listens to all Azazel has to say. For some of his words there's understanding, after all her Grandfather is a Shaman, the recent conflict with the Demon Bear has likewise opened her eyes to Fate and the other assorted goings on of beings higher than herself. For the rest of what he has to say there's only a grim determination to stop that final outcome. Stop the death of Phil Coulson, Agent of SHIELD.

"I may not see everything you do, or know all that there is to know, or even wish to know the master plan as it were, but I do know one thing -" The Cheyenne woman says, "I must do what is right. I must place my faith in what I know to be true and in my understanding of all the worlds that are around us." She resolutely states, even as she sees that come-at-me gesture.

"You cannot have his soul. I will stop you." Dani states resolutely and with that resolve written plainly upon her features, the woman strikes.

Her weapon of choice is now gripped tightly in both her hands and with a step quick-footed step forward, the woman offers a sharp stab towards Azazel. It's aimed for his torso, his stomach, there's commitment with that attack of hers, but truly she's using it to test just how the 'de-winged' man responds.


And now the time for talk is done. Azazel seems unsurprised by her choice; does not see the need to reiterate that she, too, could fall here and now. Instead, she comes forward, resolve written on every line of her face, and, indeed, in the smooth motion of her stabbing strike.

He sidesteps. He moves like water, flowing, swiftly taking his body to the right so that what her spear stabs at is merely air. There is no testing when he whirls the blade in a swift, smooth upward slash, one that is blatantly meant to gut her like a fish. She now faces the Angel of Death, wings or no wings, and his movements have grown pitiless. His eyes, moments ago a fount of universal care and understanding, are now twin stones, pretty but uncaring.

He is here to reap. The Work has begun. And he will not dishonor his opponent by giving her less than his best, which means she faces a foe who does not hold back anything that he is, save what he must to remain within the boundaries of the ancient ritual which binds them now.


Moonstar is aware of what should happen if she falls. If she fails.

Then two souls will be lost this night.

It's something she doesn't plan on letting happen.

His sidestep is anticipated as is the sword strike and because of that, Moonstar is already moving. While her movements lack that flawless, flowing, quality of Azazel, there's still a swiftness there.

As such, the Cheyenne woman throws herself away from that sword strike, narrowly avoiding that most painful of guttings. The whoosh of air from that strike is still felt, even as Danielle flings herself backwards and away, tucking herself into a neat and tidy roll. It opens up a small space between them and as Dani rises to her feet the weapon in her hand shifts. Instead of spear there now sits a bow in one hand and an arrow in the other. That arrow is nocked against the bowstring and with an economy of movement the arrow is drawn back and then loosed upon the Angel of Death. As it flies towards the man's heart a vague halo of light enshrouds the projectile.


The movement is nothing any human would attempt. He steps forward, a blur of motion, towards the arrow. He strikes down, his own crackling magic meeting it as if he intends to strike it in half, or at least knock it away. In either case, he's not struck by it, not yet; he's closing distance between them, not wanting to give her that advantage. It's possible he could go to projectiles himself, but chooses not to; he did, after all, have a pair of guns the first time they met.

Then again, this entire battle is as much metaphor as it is physical. It is a form of debate carried out on the form of vibrating atoms on a field of whirling electrons, of clashing stardust at creation's epicenter. Battles for souls are far, far more than they appear, and from time to time that sense of being more than can be felt even now.

The blade completes its block, celestial winds howl, and it sings its way towards the arch of her throat. He is dancing darkness and a knowing smile, he is the whispering decay of entropy's mindless inevitability.


The softest of hisses leaves Dani's mouth when Azazel cuts the arrow in half. There's a flare of magic (from the arrow) before it falls placidly to the ground with a faint clatter.

Some might allow themselves to feel fear, to feel doubt, to wonder if they'll survive this, but Danielle Moonstar isn't some people. Not after all that she's so recently faced - not after the Demon Bear tore her soul out of her own body, imprisoned it and shrouded her in ice, in darkness, in her own variation of death. And while this particular death is much more natural and his soul could easily flit off to the next life, or the next plane of existence, Danielle still fights for it.

The winds scream in her ears as the blade sings for her neck, striving to bite deep into the flesh, and while he smiles that knowing expression of his, Dani has enough time to jerk her head backwards. Along with that movement of her head the woman brings up her bow - an archaic looking thing, made of bone and wood and sinew. But even with the seeming fragility of the bow that doesn't stop Moonstar from bringing it up to block the cut of Azazel's sword, and when sword meets bow, sparks fly, but the bow remains intact.

With a strength that is more mentally fueled than physical, Dani pushes back against that dark blade. "His soul is not for you to take tonight." She grits out, "We still need him."

And even as she strives to hold that sword at bay, her foot flashes out to try and hook around one of the Angel's. She's trying to knock Azazel's feet from beneath him, or at the very least, unbalance him in some way.


"So you say," Azazel says, pushing against that blocking bow for half a minute or half a century, before letting himself be pushed back…

Only for her foot to hook into his.

Unbalanced, he hits the ground but nimbly rolls, narrowly missing a distorted crate. He puts his back to said crate, sword out and up, but she robs him, in that second, of the ability to go on the offensive, buys herself a moment of time. It seems to be all she accomplishes, but she does accomplish it. The tides hold their breath. Electric stardust pauses in midair.

He is, for half a moment, on the defensive. His eyes are cool, his body ready for what she might throw at him, but she has nevertheless forced him into this stance.


He moves away, rolls even, on the defensive versus the offensive. It's enough to bring a second of breathing room, of space, and it allows her to say, "So I know." There's unwavering determination in her voice, "Or I'll die trying."

And with that promise given, Moonstar launches herself at Azazel. Her bow flashes again becoming something longer, though not spear, and when the shape stabilizes, Azazel will find a blade within Danielle Moonstar's hands. It sings with both life and death. Of hope and vitality, of sadness and passing. It holds the duality of what this woman is -

Human and mutant. Midgardian and Valkyrie. Guardian of life and death.

Her attack is a powerful overhand onslaught, one where the blade is brought swiftly downward, where she strives to crack his skull open with that strike. Where she tries so valiantly to bring him to his knees, knowing she only has one chance, knowing her life and Coulson's hang in the balance. It causes the woman to reach with all her will, her might, her fortitude within herself, to find the resolve and power to win. From this there's an overlay of her own self, where her form blurs and is replaced by an overshadow of another figure. An echo of a being of demented hunger and power, where winning is the only answer, and losing is never an option.

Where the softest touch of winter reaches out to chill the stardust that hangs midair.

Where the baring of flat human teeth brings forth the faintest of rumble from another plane. The soft sound of a bear's growl.


Blade meets blade in the space between breath and breath. In these moments, a knife could be turned just so, just missing a heart, a dire injury but nothing SHIELD medical couldn't take care of. And a burst of electricity could be enough for a knock-out blow, but not for a kill.

They sing in harmony, those blades. Life meets Truth. Death sings to Death. Hope is a point of silver starlight in an infinite sky of Void. Vitality meets the very breath of creation. Sadness and passing meet rest, surcease.

There is no duality in Azazel, though. She is soprano and bass, twin ends of a spectrum, he is baritone at the center, steady and steadfast: he is what he is, though he wears a thousand faces. A drum beat, a harmony line.

It is, in its own way, a thing of beauty.

Her onslaught is met with a ringing overhand parry. He is not forced to his knees, but forced to hold her attack at bay, a locked grip that seems to stretch on for an eternity.

The Bear makes his form known, the shadow of a demon who tries to save a life.

His wings flare out once more, the blazing form of a golden-white angel who seeks to take one. Where she is winter, he is summer, all heat and light.

In that one tableau a Question hovers, whispers, unspoken, a seed in the ground trying to germinate, attempting to push a shoot past a shell to be given voice.

It remains dormant, the Question, even as stardust chills and stills like snowflakes arrested. Even as light fills the warehouse, obliterating shadows, illusions of crates and cartons, leaving them face to face on a glittering snowfield under a blazing dawn sky, pink and purple, blue and red.

Daybreak.

Emerald eyes narrow. Golden wings strain.

And a brow furrows.

"We stand matched," he rumbles, "A stalemate. This…has not happened before. I can feel it, so too can you, I think, if you focus on it. In this we could dance for an eternity and never gain so much as first blood."


Life and death and everything in-between.

It hangs upon a balance and for Danielle Moonstar she feels as if she's on a precipice. Dangling just on the edge of a cliff, ready to tumble over, but still feeling sure-footed enough to keep pressing her attack.

The question that hovers within the air is glimpsed, or sensed, but not looked at. Not yet. It's something to possibly be asked about later, to be contemplated later, as the scene shifts from Warehouse to something more.

The brightness, that light, pushes aside the darkness and along with that the shadow of the bear. It tucks itself back within the woman known as Danielle Moonstar, where it stays a wound that continues to heal. Continues to scar over even.

The Valkyrie strains to win this match, her grip upon the hilt of her sword viselike. That grip only loosens when Azazel speaks and his words penetrate the intensity of her onslaught. Stalemate. Feelings. It's something that Moonstar considers, before she stretches her senses outward. Both mundane and otherwordly senses bring back the truth of the matter - they are stalemated. Slowly now, Dani eases off her attack. Her sword lifts from the edge of his own and carefully the woman says, "So what's this mean?" She asks, before she adds with a hint of sardonic humor, "And please don't tell me I only get half of his soul back. I'm pretty sure that'll leave a mark on Agent Coulson."


He steps back and shields his blade. Her quip gets a half of a smile.

"It means…I must speak to Upper Management. I suspect the deliberations will be long. For now, you will live."

He frowns off in the distance, as if taking in…

Well. Maybe Phil's soul, though there's no visible indicator of it.

"His heart has been ripped to shreds," he says. "The deliberations will mean that I can't…fudge it…the way I would have done if you'd won this contest. He will die. But…I will not take him farther than…"

He struggles to explain it, then lifts an elegant shoulder in a shrug. "A waiting room, Dani. I'll take him to a waiting room. Events will…leave a door open for him. If they rule in his favor, he'll be able to pass back through it. If they do not, he will be ushered onward. Whole soul or not, I'm not sure this will be…without consequence. It has truly never happened quite this way before."

His endlessly compassionate eyes are back. He raises them to meet hers, and asks quietly, "Are you sure you don't just want to let him go? The way it will have to happen now might well pave a difficult road, should he be returned to the lands of the living."


Upper management.

That leaches whatever humor Dani feels from her expression. Her features turn sober as she considers what that means, knows what it means. His announcement that she will live earns a small nod from her.

Then with his description of Coulson's grievous wounds the black-haired woman grimaces, her eyes briefly closing. When she reopens her eyes she immediately looks to Azazel, her expression thoughtful when he struggles to explain just where Coulson's soul will be. She nods and opens her mouth to say something more, but that last question of his causes her to pause. Others might offer a quick 'yes, I'm sure!', but in this case Dani stops to consider the outcomes.

"No, I can't let that happen." She states, "We've come this for and I'll see it all the way through." She continues with, her sword dropping to her side now, before it simply fades out of existence.

"How long do you think it'll take? And will Agent Coulson remember any of this?"


"It rather depends on how he comes back," Azazel says slowly. "Human free will— it will play a role, if it is allowed at all. And that is all I may say. I suggest you seek others who will wish to intervene. Already some do."

A moment of faint humor:

"Seek the Tin Man and the Technical Lioness, the Woman of Numbers. The threads of probability gather most strongly around those. Be wary. The forces of darkness already move and seethe, seeking ways they may capitalize upon this. Nothing about the way forward from here will be simple or straightforward, even should Upper Management rule in his favor. Good luck, Danielle Moonstar."

Drip.

Drip.

Drip.

Something icy drips onto her face from overhead. She's cheek down in a puddle that still sparks and sparkles a little bit.

Agent 13 is calling Beta Team for an extraction, her voice cracking as she exclaims an Agent has fallen.

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