Call the HOA

June 16, 2018:

Nico Minoru's new hideout in Gotham isn't perfect: No running water, way too many demon-worshipping neighbours. Things take a turn when the Titans (coincidentally) show up.

Abandoned Harborfront Factory, Gotham

It's seen better days, what with all the blood, and the satanic graffiti, and the dead goat.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Batman, Zatanna

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

EARLIER

"Ngh… THERE," Nico Minoru says to herself. The staff stowed, she leans against the open brick wall and gazes upon her works: the open plan space in the second-to-the-top story of a decrepit harborside business, destined one day no doubt for lofts or reprocessing into luxury apartments. But for now, it's hers. All hers. As she clicks closed her Hungarian dictionary and puts her phone in her right side pocket, she brushes a little dust off the front of her laced-up dress.

"I wonder if they'll actually come crash here," Nico muses to herself. "They better, after I hauled those dumbass beds all the way up here."

The grey skies stretching out over the Atlantic darken slightly.

"At least the neighborhood isn't bad," Nico says.

In the distance a goat shrieks, peculiarly humanlike. It is a shriek of death. No, not the distance. Downstairs, just across the courtyard. "," Nico says.

NOW

Once this place was a break room for hard working stiffs packing typewriter parts into crates that went all over America, even the world. You can still see a couple of old faded union posters underneath the caustic fume-scars of the meth lab that was here much more recently, and beneath the spray-painted veves and eschatological iconography.

On top of the break room table is a recently dead and eviscerated goat. It steams gently, because it's kind of chilly in Gotham when it's gray out. Or for other reasons.

On the other side of the table Nico Minoru raises up a bloody hand. Blood stains her white lace cuffs. Some has gotten onto her lips and a single stray fingerprint from her pinky sits on her throat. Her eyes are wide, her hair in mad disarray (or did she mean to do it up like that?)

"I know how this looks," Nico says, gripping the ancient artifact that thrums with subtle ominous power in her other hand, "but I can assure you, it's fine, this is my blood; it's fine."

Something goes 'drip' and, in the distance, 'creak'.

Nico's mouth tightens slowly.

The thing about Gotham is that there's always something weird going on.

Now, to be fair, there's always something weird going on in New York or Metropolis, too, but those weird things are probably more likely to be colourful bank robbers or mole-men or something. Gotham tends to run more towards… Well, ritualistic goat sacrifice. Murder clowns. That sort of thing.

In recent days Red Robin had been investigating a string of frankly creepy incidents, the sorts of thing that so far stick to the gray zone between 'definitely spooky stuff' and 'definitely not spooky stuff'; he's had cause to be a lot more careful about those sorts of things in the past year and a half or so, having fallen in with actual magic users and going on fun adventures* to Hell.

(*it was not fun)

Normally, the Red Knight would've brought Zatanna with him, but the Princess of Prestidigitation has a pretty full plate currently. So, in a move that's definitely not going to bite him in the ass later where she's concerned, he instead brought along the new recruit: Raven.

The charnel house scent of viscera is something that the former Boy Wonder has (unfortunately) long since gotten used to. He sticks to the shadows, like the Bat Himself, the black of the cape and cowl of his current costume blending in with the dark, making the featureless white lenses that cover his eyes gleam a little brighter in comparison as they fix on the bloodstained young woman standing across from them, an eviscerated goat in between.

The cowled head tilts slightly when she insists that it isn't what it looks like. Disbelief fairly radiates off of him.

"Hn," is his only verbal reply.

And there Raven is, mostly silent ever since the time they first arrived. Under the shadow of her voluminous hood, she continues stare at the grisly scene, taking in too much of the details as her eyes lift from the remains of the goat carcass to Nico's appearance, her tight-lipped expression.

"…A likely story," she replies where Red Robin chooses not to, the dryness in her soft, gravelly tone present. Although she says this, she does notice that Nico's current state of mind doesn't match or reflect upon the overall setup before them. "First of all, you should take care of yourself. And second, what exactly happened here?"

Nico lowers her hand slowly. She seems obscurely relieved.

(Thank God, she thinks. They're human. Ish.)

"Thank you for worrying about me," she says to Rachel, with a faintly soured politeness, "but I'm fine."

"I recently moved into the area and had been finishing some home renovations when I heard the distinctive sound of a goat being killed," Nico says, indicating the victim with the tip of the Staff of One. Her lips thin again, at the absurdity of this, but she soldiers on.

"Then I got here. I haven't touched anything but OBVIOUSLY whoever it is isn't far away, so, if you passed anybody or saw someone peeling out: Probably, it was them."

She spins her staff's head around to indicate all the occult stuff on the walls. "I think most of this is just gang crap. Um. So, you're from around here?" Sweat runs down the back of her spine for reasons unrelated to the gathering ocean storm.

In this case, at least, Raven is hogging all the -ish.

Red Robin, despite his nearly unnatural level of stealth, is of course a perfectly normal human, straight off God's factory floor. Already, his hidden blue eyes are absorbing the scene, his suit's imaging systems scanning on multiple wavelengths. Thermographic seems the likeliest, and the detective moves - heavy-looking boots making nearly no sound at all as he steps carefully around the crime scene, such as it is.

"Interesting place to move," he muses, his own voice blurred into inhumanity by a concealed, throat-mounted voice changer giving him an electronic burr. Many people find it intimidating. They're supposed to. "There are worse parts of Gotham to live in, but not by much. Not exactly typical student housing." Her age was an easy guess, or at least a narrow range of probabilities. "So if that's your blood, and you missed all of this happening… Why are you bleeding?"

Yes. Human-ish. Red Robin can be some of the -ish too. If he wanted to.

As they speak, Raven decides to turn, drifting effortlessly around the space to examine the occult-related stuff all over the walls. Or, one of the walls just as Nico points it out with her staff. "Depends on how neat their handwriting is," she comments, squinting at some of the scrawls. She reaches out as if to touch it, but her fingers flex, keeping a safe distance to keep everything 'clean.' Second thought also keeps her from going any further, unsure if it's just nonsense or actual demonic cantations somone was crazy enough to write out in full. Better safe than sorry?

"I'm not," she answers the side question plainly. "I've been here but not…here." A vague gesture is made in the direction of the desk and the goat.

Maybe he's a robot, Nico thinks. That would make sense. Or like, a cyborg. "Well," she says, "I don't think I have to tell you this because you aren't a cop, but if you really want to know, I cut myself."

A beat passes. "On broken glass, getting in here, I mean." (Nico tilts her head to try and see if the cut on her wrist - which is totally the wrong angle to be truly gothique in its self-destruction - is actually gushing. From her frown, it's not what she expected it to be.)

Her attention turns towards the wall. And Raven. "Do you recognize it?" she asks, flatly.

Then her eyes turn towards the Red Robin and she tilts her head a little as if to say 'see? she's the suspicious one.' She also tries to clasp her wrist against her collarbone on a low-key basis, to put pressure on the wound. "Do you mean the… neighborhood?" she asks Raven.

(The scrawls appear to have been done by someone who's actually read some books but don't seem like they add up to anything. Morbid decor. But did something just move inside of the goat's abdomen? Or was it just… settling.)

When Nico points out - quite rightly - that he's not a cop, a faint, wry smile tugs at the visible portion of Red Robin's face. Probably because the actual cops wouldn't be caught dead around here if they didn't have good reason to be: The GCPD might be better nowadays than it used to, but they don't have the resources or the manpower to go poking around in random abandoned buildings near Amusement Mile. Which is probably why whoever sacrificed a goat decided to use this particular stretch of urban blight. And also probably why the mystery girl was holed up there, too. Squatting.

"What do you think, Raven?" he wonders of the Daughter of Darkness, a suitably vague question. It could mean the graffiti, or the dead goat, or the presence of the staff-wielding girl. Towards whom the possibly-robotic vigilante extends a hand, his cape parting as his arm stretches out: Offering out a roll of gauze and some antibiotic ointment. It's not a good part of town to cut yourself on.

"You're probably going to want to find a new place to squat, miss," the vigilante tells her politely, for all that he's accusing her of living there illegally and also telling her she needs to live illegally elsewhere.

Look, it's Gotham.

She doesn't answer Nico right away. Her gaze reads, rereads every line drawn out, making sure that it isn't complete drivel.

"Yes. That's what I meant." Turning halfway to look back at the other girl and Red Robin, Raven lets the thought transition into her findings. "And I think this is over the top. It's old, but it has nothing to do with what they did here." A shrug. "In other words, it's more like someone wanted to make everything more dramatic- "

A pause. Blue eyes coolly regard the blobby abdomen of the dead goat. "…and unsanitary."

"Raven? Really?" Nico says, but the outflow of unpleasantness is small, and the Red Robin stems it almost immediately. With an offer of ointment and gauze.

Nico hesitates - but then reaches out to pluck the proffered things up. Shifting her staff to the crook of her arm, she squirts the ointment on the cut with a grimace and starts wrapping it up, after getting the pad in the right place.

"They keep telling me that. I've put some real investment into my space, I want to put it that way, so I'm not eager to get out of here. I'm only in this part of the world because I have a friend in school /but/ her school doesn't admit people like me /so/, here we are, in some ancient urbex room, with a dead goat."

Nico looks at the goat.

Then she looks at "Raven."

Then she looks back at Robin. "I'm Nico," she tells him. "hi."

Most of the sigils and signs on the walls are in fact pretty much the equivalent of slapping a random character of Chinese onto the side of your truck or tattooed into your sweaty flesh in order to indicate your deep devotion to something-or-other, but all this moving around - and a particularly ill-aimed streak of blood that landed JUST so, with an improbable zig-zag, makes something on the ground make sense, if you take into account the little pivot made by spilled meth acid.

Maybe. The light's bad.

"Is Raven her… /normal/ name," Nico asks Robin, meanwhile.

Of course, it wouldn't be Red Robin running things if he didn't have some sort of backup plan. Yeah, bringing Raven along to investigate potential spooky stuff was the main crux of the strategy, but if there's anything he's learned over the years it's that you can't say no to having a superstrong metahuman in your proverbial back pocket. Which is why, despite the Dark Knight's general disdain for allowing metas into the city if at all possible, the former Boy Wonder did bring along a third Titan. Close enough respond quickly in an emergency, but not so close that… Well…

Let's just be upfront about it: The dude is not very stealthy.

"Doesn't look like whoever's responsible for this is still here," he says into the Titans communicator in his cowl. "C'mon in."

And really, if Nico thinks 'Raven' is ridiculous, wait until she meets the other guy.

"As far as I know it's her real name," the caped and cowled vigilante says. It might not be the name she uses for civilian purposes, but given what he knows about her… Unusual upbringing, he finds it hard to second guess the choice. "You can call me Red Robin. We've got an accidental bird theme going."

That's exactly the reading she's getting from all of the sigils and lines. Everything doesn't connect, doesn't make any sense whatsoever that it's beginning to get under her skin because of how wrongfully used it all is. Obviously the person who did this didn't care because it's showing in all of the writing, all of it.

Raven's nose wrinkles, either due to the goat, the atrocious misuse of sigils, or Red Robin's comment about the accidental bird themenaming. She chooses to say something about the last part. "I thought it was funny."

She does take a moment to meet Nico's gaze again, her half-obscured expression unchanging. "Hi."

At least this goes a little smoother than her meeting with Zatanna. A little.

But back to the sigils. She lets her eyes drop back onto the marks made, following the zig-zag that makes her arch a brow. She isn't sure if it's supposed to be written like that or if it's by accident, but it does draw her attention. "…Huh."

Gotham is a tricky place to be in, if you're a superhero whose first name doesn't begin with 'Bat' and end with 'Wayne's Privileged And Creepy Pseudo-Children' (sorry, not you, Tim); the first time he tried to help out a very heated situation in Gotham, the Bat instantly showed up and yelled at everyone to leave. He's been assuming that the guy has been holed up in his basement ever since, watching over the whole city with a slew of Bat Drones and Bat Cameras and Sentient Batarangs combing through the city every hour of every day, especially the night time hours, since apparently those are the coolest.

Which isn't to say Spider-Man hasn't come back to Gotham since. It's just to impress upon the fact that it is difficult, and he is not supposed to.

Even though he does.

Fairly regularly.

Take that, The Man!

This is all, of course, thanks to his ability to be incredibly stealthy (shut up, he absolutely can be); this might explain why the red-and-blue-wearing vigilante is hardly even heard the second he drops in on the gathering of teenaged superheroes; one second, there's nothing. The next —

"It's her spirit animal."

— the next, there he is, landing -right- behind Nico Minoru from, apparently, the ceiling with nary a peep nor hint at how he got here save for that sudden and abrupt answer from nowhere; springing back upwards with a hop to his step, the menace of New York known as Spider-Man makes his grand arrival in a colorful flourish to offset the brooding palette that has been so thoroughly established. "Maybe, like, literally. I don't really know. She's a mystery wrapped in a Hot Topic hoodie wrapped in an oh my god what the heck is all that!"

And here, the colorful metahuman jabs an accusatory finger towards all the grim scenery, white lenses whirring in towards a scrutinizing squint. "This looks like I stumbled into like, one of those found footage movies. You know, not the usual, bad ones. The really bad ones. Like. Ghost Dimension bad. You know? You know." The masked menace rubs the back of his head, looking around. "So, uh. … What'm I looking at here exactly, guys? Baby's First Satanism Ritual? And who's this? Are we just, like, collecting goth people now? I feel like we're gonna have to change our name soon. 'Spideysie and the Banshees,' maybe, that has a pretty nice ring to it…"

Hey, he asked at least one valid question in all that. It's a start.

Don't mention Sister Grimm, Nico tells herself. Don't mention that. Don't bring that up. Do not volunteer it to the nice guy. Just because he's being friendly and moving smoothly and gave you a damn bandage doesn't mean you should trust him. He probably works for somebody. Like the government.

He introduces himself. Nico looks at him dead on and smiles, which takes some effort and looks artificial, but it is the only way she can suppress the second thing in her mind which Must Not Be Mentioned.

She looks at Raven instead. There is a half-snort, a moment of suppressed laughter. "Hah. - What do you s" Nico begins to ask, when from the ceiling descends, with aplomb and vigor, the threat, the menace, the Spider-Man.

Nico leaps up into the air a full three feet and twists around in a twirling of lace as she whirls her staff around, pointing it straight on at the red and blue visage, saying to him, "Dirtbag do not CROSS me who the HELL are you and why -" She falters underneath the flow of Spiderwords. Her brow furrows. Her lips pout. The Staff of One is, slowly, raised, and she turns to look at Red Robin when —

Several things happen at once!

Raven sees that sketching on the floor. Maybe it's an accident but it looks like deconstructed Hebrew. Some kind of Bible quote, possibly, but it wasn't written backwards so much as inside-out. The shape of the phrase is there, but it doesn't mean anything on its own.

Spider-Man experiences some Spider-Senses about the Spider-Goatcorpse, which for no discernible reason becomes 'a gross object in the room' to 'a really enormous threat, like two and a half tigers' despite no visible change. Then the belly of the poor beast ripples and it, like the phrase Raven is examining, /turns inside out and lunges straight at Spider-Man!/

Fortunately for everyone, after a horrible splatter of blood and goat juices, the resulting… SOMETHING is like an articulated, skeleton-armored sausage with a blunt bony tip made from the goat's skull. This is less fortunate for Spider-Man of course, as it goes /straight/ through where Nico's abdomen would have been four seconds ago on its way to try to hit him.

"Gah!!" This is Nico's input.

See, this? This is why Red Robin didn't bring Spider-Man along on the sneaky sneaks part of things. It's not that he doesn't appreciate a bit of banter now and again, but the webslinger is a banter machine with apparently no off-switch. Like if somebody had given a young Dick Grayson amphetamines.

Of course, if the former Boy Wonder knew that his attmepts at professionalism were making him come across as some kind of government agent, he'd probably be offended by the assumption. He's spent enough time 'working for somebody' after all… His recent projects have turned out to be more along the lines of other people working for him, instead. Also, he might have to reevaluate how he deals with civilians. He doesn't want anyone to think he's a cop.

The appearance of the Spider-Man heralds a real change in the room, though. First, Nico spooks, and in so spooking reacts like the wall-crawler just burst into her doss, though anger gives way to confusion and hopefully less aggressive staff-pointing. Then there's a body horror monster.

"Great, good," the Red Knight mutters, moving more on instinct than on considered strategy to get himself between the meat terror and the apparent civilian, Nico. His own staff appears as though by magic, the collapsible weapon produced through sleight of hand rather than sorcery, telescoping out to a fighting length. "Stuff like this really gets my goat."

At Spidey's comment seemingly out of nowhere, Raven doesn't even move. She has almost forgotten about him. Surely Red Robin mentioned something about a Spider when they first headed out, but that moment had passed. Right now, it just feels like she's shooting a look in Spider-Man's direction while simultaneously studying the markings.

"It's- " The second word, the rest of her observation, doesn't even make it past her lips when she also senses something among the mix of clashing emotions (thanks Spider-Man), catching a glimpse of the freaky-looking sausage thing emerging from the goat carcass. The goth forces herself backward, cloak fluttering after her as she bumps into one of the other desks within close range. Arms snapping upward, Raven summons the darkness with a murmur, allowing it time to form a barrier coming up from the floorboards.

She may have also shot a look at Red Robin for that joke. "Really?"

"Whoa whoa whoa!"

"Whoa!"

This is the sound of Spider-Man, lifting hands palms forward in a defensive 'I surrender!!' position as he gets a Staff of Indeterminate Threat pointed directly at his person. He doesn't really get magic all that well, but his experiences with Zatanna have let him know that it is really bad and confusing and best to be avoided lest someone tell you to pots and your world just ends. Who the HELL are you, Nico has demanded, and by the time the webbed vigilante's tirade is over, he just kind of… slowly points at himself.

"I'm… Spider-Man," he ventures, slowly. "Y'know. Of the friendly neighborhood variety? It's — I mean, you know what, it's probably better you don't know who I am, because, like, that might be the difference between you just waving that Stick of Spider-Slaying +10 at me and using it to turn me into some kind of Man-Spider and OH MY GOD INCOMING!"

He feels it, of course, before he sees it. The tiny hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, and everything seems to slow to molasses as SOMETHING rips out of the goat like today was Aliens Day. He's already jumping upwards into the air by the time the thing LUNGES at him, flipping gracefully in the stale room air such that the creature just barely grazes under his head.

"Gah!!" is Spider-Man's echo of Nico's input.

Seconds later, he is landing upon the ceiling of the building, having just barely, maybe, avoided certain death, possibly. "OhmygodIalmostgotfacehuggeredohmygodohmygod have you guys ever seen that movie?? The old one?? With the aliens?! BECAUSE THAT ALMOST HAPPENED." And there he goes, trying to web that… whatever it is, bone sausage, to the ground as best he can with the 'thwip thwip thwip' of his webs as Red Robin makes his puns.

Really?

"She's right, you're too much of a young buck at the pun game! You need to leave it to the pros, kid! It really cheeses me off when people go too far with the wordplay, you know?"

"Hey, you ever think about how 'Billy the Kid' is a really redundant goat pun and oh my god I almost died!"

"Oh my god," Nico says, at the remark, or perhaps the inverted goat-sausage thing that is, really, a lot bigger than a goat ought to be. Goats can be deceptive in their volume of course, so perhaps it just has large enclosed spaces.

The creature has two ends, and a four-sharded macelike tail swings at Raven — though it rebounds off her barrier with a noise like someone playing an electric guitar with a hacksaw. The tail S-curves in the air, as if considering its next move.

That next curve is to try to dive down and sine-wave up to rip open the abdomen of the Red Robin! Fortunately the creature moves with decision and force, but not, like, a huge amount of both. Just strength. A lot of strength. The table snaps in half from accidental passage.

"I'm from LA! I know that movie but I don't know who you are! Are you a mutant?!" Nico shouts at Spider-Man because he seems like a good person to shout at. She leaps off the chair and the creature's skull-ram slams inconclusively towards Spider-Man several times, easily anticipated, before it is given a sound thwipping. The webs cling to muscle groups, to bones - they lasso the creature. Impair it.

Mostly.

The skull pulls into the meat and nuzzles out about a quarter of the way down, facing (primarily) Nico and (sort of sideways) Raven and Spidey. It has eyes in it now. It speaks and the voice is surprisingly intelligible - no more distorted than Red Robin's own. If in a different way.

"New friends?" it asks Nico in mild, intelligible English. Nico's eyes widen immensely.

"I'll do you a favor," the skull-creature says. "You should leave her; every human she spends time with dies young." The eyes turn to focus on Nico.

"You're welcome," it tells her even as the tail thrashes around in an arc aimed to crush into Red Robin and/or Red Robin's rapidly-cooling corpse.

Nico hyperventilates for a moment, grips her staff more tightly, and brandishes it forwards. "Goat to Hell." The circle in the top of the staff glows with a luminous purple-blue, pastel and unnatural, enough to gently illume the room for a moment.

The goat skull does a lazy three-sixty degree rotation.

The visible bones start to glow a dull sulfur red. The surprisingly pleasant smell of barbecuing goat meat rises, quickly filling the room.

"It's taking too long!" Nico complains heatedly, failing perhaps to specify 'it,' although Raven probably got the idea. "Like… hit it! Break the bones!"

The skull returns the rotation. "That would probably work out," it admits, before trying to smash headlong into Raven's barrier again.

Rule one of being a squishy human being in the high stakes world of regular ultraviolence: Wear armor.

Peak human performance is a great (if sort of vague) thing, and Red Robin is highly agile… But he's nowhere near the superhuman levels of grace and flexibility Spider-Man demonstrates. So while he is pretty good at getting out of the way of trouble, the armor is a nice fallback. The result of this, then, is the sound of leather and kevlar tearing apart as jagged bony blades saw through them… But no blood, no viscera aside from what already decorates the room, a red scar across the belly of the vigilante's red suit ruining the formerly pristine finish.

It's okay, he's got more. He's rich.

Just… So very rich.

The monster, or whatever's actually pulling its proverbial strings from Elsewhere, falls into that old trap of villains everywhere: It starts talking. It talks to Nico, addressing the mystery girl directly, it talks like it knows her. It reminds the Red Knight, abruptly, of a night a year and a half gone. An abandoned tannery in the Red Hook. A serial killer who turned into a meat puppet for a Prince of Hell. It was a rough night.

"Don't talk to it," Red Robin instructs, with the certainty of someone who at least projects the idea that they know what they're talking about. Raven would know, he's sure. It's the others he's worried about.

He should, perhaps, be more worried for himself as that tail comes crashing down at him, smashing roughly into the floor of the fouled room as the vigilante rolls out of the way at the last moment.

Then what is unmistakably magic happens. Nico speaks words with a kind of fundamental authority, and the staff glows, and Red Robin feels the subtle tingle at his wrist of a trinket fairly given.

"I have another idea," Red Robin says conversationally in the aftermath of Nico's complaint about her own spell. "Duck."

Which is, of course, when he sets off the bomb he'd planted on the thing's tail about half a minute beforehand.

This is how Raven dies. Surrounded by puns.

That may have been an exaggeration, but she sometimes has second thoughts about 'joining' the Titans. Then again, social interaction is something she needs more of, and this is how they are. She just has to accept it.

Aside from refraining from cringing at all of the verbal commentary being thrown out, there are other important things happening at the moment. She can feel her barrier weakening under the single tail swing provided, fluctuating against the sound it creates. While it protects her just fine, she's not fast enough to help guard Red Robin from its next attack. "Red Robin!"

Thankfully, he's armored and still aware of the situation. He's been doing this for a long time, there's nothing to worry about. Spider-Man was also on the 'to check on' list, but it appears he's doing okay, webbing everything up like that.

And then it starts talking. Speaking words Raven feels like she has heard before, like she's the one standing in Nico's shoes. "Don't listen," she emphasizes, her own voice on edge as she recollects herself. "The second it gets to you, the easier it is for them to try anything…!"

At least Nico is trying her best. She'd rather not have this take any more time than it should, though. As her eyes go blank white, the goth speaks again, voice echoing as she surrounds the bones with a black, stone-like structural energy. An attempt for it to close in on itself goes hand-in-hand with the breaking bones idea, but the bomb adds to the effect.

Don't talk to it, he says.

"HAVE YOU EVER MET ME"

Really, Red Robin should know to stop asking for the impossible. All it's doing is setting himself up for disappointment.

Still, Spider-Man does his part, trying to keep the Inside-Out Goat Monster in place to keep it from turning everyone into a fine, pasty paste. It doesn't -entirely- work — what is that thing even made of — but it at least helps to slow it down a bit. Slow it down a bit — so it can start talking at them. Warning them.

About their new, gothy friend.

Behind his mask, Peter Parker's eyes narrow, a frown settling on his lips that is reflected only in the narrowing of those lense.

"… Is it because of all the Cradle of Filth?" wonders Spider-Man, tapping his chin from where he hangs upside-down.

"I bet it's because of all the Cradle of Filth. Well, you know what -I- always say:"

And, spider-sense going haywire at both the thrum of magic and Red Robin's words of warning, Spider-Man can tell what's probably going to happen next. Which is why he does the sensible thing:

He swings right for the red-hot goat monster.

"Whenever a goat doing its best impression of a sea slug tells you not to do something, you should probably do the opposite!"

And so, superhumanly strong soles -hammer- into the goat creature in a battering ram blow; knees bend upon impact as Spider-Man attempts to springboard off the creature to launch it into a corner just as Rachel conjures up that shell of bleak blackness, to cage it into the opposite side of the area, hopefully

… at which point Spider-Man will land next to Nico, attempting to web a barrier up for her as swiftly as possible. Just in case. Besides — it's easier to ignore a thing if you don't have to look at it.

"You're not really into Cradle of Filth, are you?" Also: easier to ignore when you're being distracted. "Because if so, I might have to revise my statement a bit."

"And of course I'm not a mutant, I got my powers from a spider! Not that — oh my god, I mean, there's nothing wrong with that if I was! I didn't mean — ugh!"

"Some of my best friends are mutaaaaanope nope nope ignore that."

… …

"I'm not a speciest, I swear!!"

Things go pretty badly for the Astonishing Goat-Sausage. Its big problem, heretoforth, was the restraints placed upon it by the Spectacular Spider-Man. Its bones were also steadily glowing but the creature may have had a plan.

The fact that Red Robin does not die does not seem to trouble the creature, though it would be hard to be sure. The stony darkling force of Raven ripples out though, restraining the creature - magic does not burn, at least not as easily as flesh, but it does mean that the fluid, bouncing, /damnably organic/ nature of the Thing can't help it when the bomb goes off.

The ripple travels visibly up the length of the thing. Veins rupture. It's gross. The four bones towards the tail end crack asunder, releasing reeking sulfur fumes. From the front, Spider-Man gives it a skull-fracturing kicking, getting a "ngghu" from the creature. The advice of Robin gets another wide-eyed glance but there is no defiacne on THIS one, and Nico crouches down low in a swirl of lace and fasteners. Nico is spared its sight…

By a webbed barrier, and the words of Raven. The knowing words. FAMILIAR words. It - they -

The skull decouples from the rest of the meat, which droops limply, steadily cooking up from the superheated bones. One of the goatling eyeballs ruptures but the other turns up to Nico, and the creature says, with the amiability of a customer service representative, "Be seeing you."

The fracture of Spider-Strength makes bone crack. Wisping steam escapes… …and hey, the threat is gone!

The smell does not go away. This is not a well ventilated room.

A heartbeat passes. Then two.

"Uh," Nico tells Spider-Man. "I understand what you - mean? I think you're, uh, taking a good perspective. Just, you know, I thought that because you were doing the thing, with your - " She makes a hand gesture in midair that doesn't really match the thwip thing. "Webs…?"

("You know Cradle of Filth?")

"Red Robin, I think I completely see why you were warning me," Nico adds afterwards. Raven gets looked at, but she doesn't, exactly, find the right thing to say, in the aftermath of a goat demon explosion.

"Gross," notes Red Robin, a font of sage wisdom.

His cape made for a decent shield, but fortunately Raven was well ahead of them with her own barrier of… Whatever she made that barrier out of. Some kind of arcane energy, he assumes, although he can't help but feel a certain tingle of anxiety at the obvious visual comparison to the Primordial Darkness, or even the less all-consuming shadow of the thing that had crawled out of astral space and into his lab.

Sometimes he misses when his life was easy, you know? Just murderous gangsters and themed lunatics, elaborate deathtraps and maybe occasionally getting tortured a bit. Gotham's always had a certain level of spooky stuff to it, but since he fell in with Zatanna he's gone from dipping his toes into the occasional horror movie to wading waist deep in ooga-booga craziness.

"Cradle of Filth," the vigilante says as he collapses his staff, stowing it on his utility belt along with various other useful gadgetry. "I presume that's a band? It's not literally a cradle of filth?"

He does shrug a little in response to Nico's words, after making his obscure reference, looking around to make sure everybody is at least reasonably intact after their battle with the cronengoat.

"As saturday nights in Gotham go, this was pretty mild, honestly."

Raven exhales a breath she's held in during the summoning of the dark shell, barely realizing she's held onto it all throughout the Spider-Man kicking and the subsequent explosion therein, now smelling cooked and burnt goat in the non-pleasing way. The tension running through her body releases, slowly, carefully, finally reaching her arms and hands as they're brought in toward her under the folds of her cloak. With the threat gone, it's nice to be able to ease back into a sense of normalcy.

However normal it can get after experiencing everything prior, anyway.

Her eyes return to normal during the pauses, blinking as she sweeps a strand of dark hair away from her line of sight. She also has nothing more to say, glancing back at Nico to share the look. It's not fun dealing with the occult, but they seem to have gotten past this one all right.

Web shields: the number one defense against infernal goat giblets since Spider-Man used them for that purpose not fifteen seconds ago.

… Weird, primordial darkness (not Primordial Darkness) shells might be better. Might.

"Wow, so that a creepy creeper goodbye, huh?" wonders the webbed menace in the aftermath as he stands in front of his webbing shield, just kind of… frowning at all the goat chunks just pretty much everywhere as he rubs at the back of his head. "I mean, is it weird when the most off-putting thing about the inverted hell goat is the way it says goodbye? It's not that weird? Right? Guys? Ri — oh okay you've all moved on."

And so it is that Spider-Man just kind of throws up his hands in the background, defeated by trying to logic his way around the creeper goat as the others slowly readjust to the fact that there is no longer a cronengoat trying to murder them all. Hands on his hips, just kind of toeing a bone chunk before making a face (yes, he can make a face, the lenses are /that good/) and edging backwards from all the ungodly mess with a little "yuck," Spider-Man eventually turns his attention back towards the others, head cocked to the right.

It's not literally a cradle of filth?

"Ooh, no. That would be — that would be horrible," is Spider-Man's response, lenses resizing into an approximation of a blanching expression before he turns his gaze back toward Raven, and Nico. "So, you guys know like — spooky sorcery occult elder thing stuff, right? What was that? Why'd goat boy turn into inside out boy? Is there a practical application? Also, do you know a lot of goats, or is this one a special case?"

That part is directed at Nico. Indicated by a helpfully jabbing finger.

"Either way, uh… looks like you have some… problems. Like, I'm not an expert, but 'reanimated hellgoat stalkers' seem pretty high up there on the 'I need some help' rankings."

"Yeah," Nico confirms.

She looks at Spider-Man and only the recent affray and the fact that he has kept her from being killed or sprayed in goat chunks keeps her from judging him.

Much.

"Yeah,' she says. "It's a band."

Her lips purse, which takes some effort. "So, here's the /thing/," she says. "I actually don't. I mean, I understand that was some kind of a devil and I can kind of, like… guess, that probably it was using the body like… a costume? So it could do things. But my parents did all of this shit and, well -" She waggles the Staff back and forth.

Her lips struggle to not smile. "Yeah, this one's new. On me, I mean."

She looks back to Raven, as if hoping for insight. "… I know you have, like, missions and everything but if you could walk me to a diner or something I would really appreciate it."

"And if you could all turn around for like five seconds," Nico adds a moment later.

Despite the satisfaction of a reference recognised and followed through on, Red Robin can't feel completely at ease… Mainly because of some of the very same points that Spider-Man brings up about the whole situation. It's all well and good for the former Boy Wonder to joke about it being a slow Saturday in Gotham, but usually there's less talking cronengoats. Less something else from somewhere else trying to get into the heads of seemingly random citizens by bringing up their own worst fears. It raises a lot of questions: Was it targeted? Was this Nico just in the wrong place at the wrong time? There's almost certainly more here than she's letting on, but…

"You want to go to a diner covered in blood? It's not that bad of a neighbourhood." Actually, it might be. But, obligingly, the Red Knight turns around. This might be one of those 'give a lady some privacy' things, but for the magic set. Or it might be setting themselves up to get blindsided by her, so while he does turn around, the vigilante remains attentive to just where Nico is, in case she does anything sudden and untoward.

He also, in so doing, looks towards Raven.

"That was pretty impressive, the way you contained it," he tells her, because encouraging your teammates is an important part of building rapport. And also because it was, in fact, pretty impressive. "It's a good thing you were here, Raven. You too, Spider-Man."

There's a split-second reserved for Spider-Man and his chattering; the goth's withering look helps in guiding the teen back on track (sort of). And an answer Nico will get, but maybe not exactly the one she wants. Still, it's better than having nothing.

"…There's a tendency for that kind of thing happening," Raven nods, sighing a bit in the process. She's not annoyed, but some form of it lingers in the way she's managing her thoughts about the whole ordeal, how her arms fold over each other out of view while she also turns in the other direction. "Things borrowing bodies, parents dabbling in the occult…it all starts to sound common practice." The parallels she can draw from this. "Even if this was poorly done, whoever did this succeeded in bringing about something that could have been more of a problem."

As she looks to the other wall, she gives Red Robin a sidelong glance. "Thanks. I guess." Despite how uncertain her choice of words, there's a degree of confidence in them. "The last thing we needed was goat everywhere."

When everyone's back is turned, Nico turns hers. When she turns back, the staff is gone.

Immediately owned by Red Robin, she presses a hand to her face. Which gets more blood on it. "Do they… know you? You could say I… fell off a clown or something. They'll have running water and stuff."

I should've blown a spell on that, Nico thinks. I could've been really specific. UGH

After this she steps forwards, looking at the ground, arms folded, practically carrying a cloud over her head. Fortunately, it starts raining.

"Yeah, don't think I'm going to be eating any mutton for a while," Red Robin agrees when Raven says they didn't need goat 'everywhere'. The fact that the demonic body horror they just witnessed didn't completely put him off his appetite really says a lot about the kind of upbringing he's had. Most people would probably have started throwing up at just the charnel house the sacrifice had turned the long-disused breakroom into, even without any cronengoat followup. He's just thinking about how he'll just have to stick to beef for a few days.

But if he let horrible disgusting things turn his stomach then he'd never be able to eat anything. So it goes when you spend your teens hunting maniacs.

"Anyway, strictly speaking I'm a criminal vigilante, and most people around here either don't believe I exist or would flip out if I showed up. Do you have anywhere safer you could stay, with less evil goats? Otherwise, we've got the T-Jet parked nearby. We can at least get you cleaned up at the Tower."

No points for guessing who he got his habit of picking up strays from.

At this admission, Raven smirks. With what they just saw, she should be sick to her stomach as well. "Chicken's sounds like a safe choice," she suggests, since it's one of several choices to pick at. "Maybe even fish."

Once Red Robin gets into the routine of asking more questions about where Nico is staying, Raven just listens, nodding in time to his offers. "If anything, it would be better than staying here."

Carefully tip-toeing his way through those stray bits of blown up super-cooked infernal mutton chops, Spider-Man stretches arms over the top of his head and laces fingers at the back of his mask. That withering stare from Raven elicits the smallest of "erks" from him, lenses going just a bit wide. "Uh, sorry! For — I don't know, I can't remember what I said in the last couple minutes, just a general sorry? Was it the inside-out goat questions? Or maybe the Cradle of Filth stuff? Are you a fan? Should I be shutting up now? I'll shut up now."

He knows they're teammates. He knows.

So why did his Spider-Sense go off with that stare……?!

Still, his fear for his life notwithstanding, Spider-Man gives a final scope of the room to make sure everything is free and clear before turning his attention towards the others. "Yeah! The Titans Tower is great. Real clean. Neat electronics. And we've gone, like, three whole weeks without an explosion!" A few seconds of silence passes by after this, uncomfortably. "… I did that thing where I said too much again, right, I did that. Uh. Don't worry. It won't explode while you're there. Probably."

A second passes.

"Man, I could really go for a gyro."

Nico's stomach twists. Not from the gore. There's a catch here, she knows, but it isn't showing itself.

They're in some building, she thinks, glancing momentarily at Spider-Man. If it's awful I can leave. Buildings have walls. And— "You have a what jet?" she asks, her tone skeptical.

Spider-Man tells her the odds. "I've seen worse," she says. "/don't talk about food right now please/"

Not wanting to undercut Raven's potential intimidation value, Red Robin doesn't try to intercede there. Besides, glaring at people seems to be one of her primary methods of communication… It would be wrong to keep her from reaching out to a teammate like that.

"T-Jet," the vigilante repeats, starting to head out of the room - and from there, out of the building - with every expectation that the others will follow. "Short for Titans-Jet. It's not actually T-shaped." A short pause. "The Tower is, though. Kinda stands out." But that's the Manhattan skyline for you, isn't it? Stark has a building with his name on the side, a bunch of teenagers live in a T-shaped tower…

Indeed, the jet - parked in an abandoned lot not far away - isn't T-shaped, though it does have a fancy optical camouflage thing going on, the back ramp opening up like a hole in the air, revealing the transport's high-tech interior.

"Although you know," he says as he boards the jet, headed directly for the pilot's seat. "A gyro does sound pretty good right now…"

She does have a pechant for glaring. She does it again, albeit briefly, as Spider-Man does another round of prattling ending with the hankering for a gyro. Of course, a bit of it trains on Red Robin's afterthought, but nothing more than that.

Sometimes it's nice to have that kind of effect on people.

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