First Labor Part 2: Back 2 Labor

July 17, 2018:

Angela, having located the pelt of the Nemean lion and secured the assistance of a witch, escorts Hercules to reclaim his property. It turns out were-lions exist.

Somewhere in Washington state


NPCs: Eugenius Hult, PMC were-lions



Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…


Angela stood outside of the dive bar that Hercules dragged her to hide out in following the Hell's Kitchen bombings. The sun was leaving the sky, but the city made its own light. She had parted ways with the man to leave him to his current whims, which involved some attraction to a mortal. He had given her a task before leaving, once she had invited him to do so. Payment promised and all.

The pelt of the Nemean lion. Even with it being a uniquely singular pelt, it had been missing long enough that it could be anywhere on the planet — or even off planet. It perhaps spoke to Hercules' confidence in his guess that she was immortal that he had trusted her with such a ridiculous search.

Angela looked up toward the sky, unable to make out the stars. First, she would need to secure a few helpful items from the locals.


Angela watched her target from a comfortable crouch. She had positioned herself a few treelines back from the one that actually broke into the clearing surrounding the compound. Her senses gave her the advantage in observation, and she had observed for long enough to know that none of the sensing systems employed here would catch her at this specific moment, in this specific place.

She looked down at her phone. It was a useful local device, and a vital one for navigating activities in this part of the planet. Its ubiquity meant that it was only a matter of perseverance to find someone dealing in versions for people who preferred to interact with these systems in ways that were not transparent or legal.

Washington state. Near enough a major urban population center for plausible access, but far enough in the patrician-managed wilderness that one needed a certain level of wealth to live comfortable and freely. No matter how many planets Angela visited, she found that civilizations held more in common between each other than they could claim differences.

Armed guards. Material- and spectrum-based alarm systems. Limited magic. If Angela was to do this without drawing too much attention to herself, especially if bringing Hercules, she needed a witch. Fortunately, one had said those potent few words: 'I owe you.' The only problem was her lack of information on whether or not the owner of the house would be present. Watching guard patterns gave some sense of when to strike, but Angela didn't have the luxury of enough time to track the itinerant comings and goings of a rich man.

Angela stood. She would complete one more circle around the property to confirm her assessment, and then use the second of the three disposable astral tethers she purchased to return to New York City. Finding a shadow market dealer for magical goods was more difficult than finding one for a phone, but everything that can be sold has someone holding who will make a trade.

It was only a matter of knowing the worth of things.


Angela actually came through. She found Hercules again to tell him — some trust-fund baby with a love of underground and illegal art collecting added it to his collection and had it holed up in his private retreat-slash-gallery in the wealthier 'wilderness' outside of Seattle. She is willing to take him on the trip and let him enact whatever kind of dramatic reclaiming ritual he thinks is best. For Nico, she was called upon twice — the first to notify her of a changing of the day, the second to request her presence.

Hercules and Nico were both bid to join Angela in an area of central park that could be charitably called secluded. The reality is that at an odd evening hour on a weekday, certain areas were simply less predisposed to frequent foot traffic. It is enough for meeting, brief conversation, and then disembarking.

The redhead waits for the other arrivals while leaning against a tree just off the walking path. She's still wearing her white button-up shirt and gray slacks with Oxfords, but they seem to have been laundered. What a peculiar possibly homeless person. For whoever arrives first, she is not an easy woman in terms of casual conversation. Functional talk is saved for when both her erstwhile associates are present. When this occurs, Angela pushes herself off the tree and removes something from her pocket that seems like an oversized matchstick.

"I must first explain the reason for our rescheduling," she begins, referring to the abandoned plan to strike last week and not today. "Our means of travel is magical in nature. On the day initially chosen, unexpected astral distortion made use of this teleportation item ill-advised. It is only now safe to move. The enchantment requires us to share a three-foot radius around the effect."

Angela switches her grip on the matchstick in her hand, holding the bulk of it between curled fingers while pressing her thumb lightly on its head. She pauses, either to gather her thoughts or to wait for Hercules and Nico to move closer.

"We will appear outside of the retreat estate of a man named Eugenius Hult. He is independently wealthy due to prior family investments. My investigation of his purchasing of the Nemean pelt suggested that he claimed it unfairly through murdering the dealer who had come to possess it. There is no fair claimant of ownership by any sensible law. As our target is himself a criminal, I trust there are no objections in circumventing legal methods of reclaiming the pelt."

Angela holds up the matchstick. She waits to hear arguments or agreements before continuing.

I wonder, Nico thinks, if this is interning. Probably kind of.

Nico approaches Central Park without much drama. She had to take the subway but she left early, so it works out. She has a different haircut than Angela would recall, asymmetric and blue highlighted. She has a one-shoulder top with a mesh sleeve to the left, looped like a bridal gauntlet around that hand's middle finger and held in place with a chunky silver ring. The other arm is bare. The front of the top has an engraving of a Death's Head moth with 'acherontia crepuscularia' above it. The back is blank and dark.

Since this is kind of a working day she is wearing cargo pants below it. Pouch count: two if you count the thigh pockets. They've been fitted in and have had black mesh sewn in over the backs. The Doc Martens have blacked-out metal chrome spikes.

"hi" she says to Angela when she arrives, kind of subdued. (Secretly, this is because she walked all the way here while trying not to sweat.)

Angela explains. Neat, Nico thinks. That saves me a spell. But - Nico exhales. "Just a second, if we're going straight there I need to…"

What? She digs in one pocket and brings out something wrapped in scotch tape. She worries part of it free and the gleam of the razor blade is revealed. After this, with a sort of furtive turning-away, she digs the edge of it into the side of her forearm. It takes a second or two.

Then her eyes glow magenta. "When blood is shed - let the Staff of One emerge," she says, and the featureless black ovoid of the Staff slides with phasic ease from her breastbone. She grips it beneath the head and pulls it out of herself the rest of the way, breathing out with relief afterwards.

"Ready," she says, ooching nearer to Angela while pressing her arm against her top. The moth gets blood on it, but it seems like the design was made to accommodate this possibility.


Hercules bathed naked in the Hudson River, a feat only those of truly divine constitution can accomplish. A crowd Snapchatted furiously while police hovered near the banks, uncertain how to approach this situation.

While slapping a displeased American shad against his back, Hercules loudly sang 'Love Is A Battlefield'. His version of the song contained three versions of unknown provenance.


Therefore, it is a fortunately cleaned Hercules who meets with Angela, clad in the raiment he'd previously been carrying with him, his lone remaining headgear scraped and polished. His golden mace hangs on his back. Truly, a subtle man.

Despite eating what appears to be a quadruple Baconator, he approached through the nature of Central Park with far less noise than might be expected of such a giant lumbering asshole.

Last time Nico saw Hercules, he was somehow wearing less and blasted with soot due to a point-blank explosion. Still, it is difficult to mistake the Prince of Power for another! Certainly that will never happen! He arrives just a short moment after she does - the girls have to wait, but not tortuously long. He's got about a quarter of his burger left as he blasts them with an enormous, slightly greasy grin. "Ahoy!" he booms. He looks Nico over. "Ah, yes, from the sacking. Good to see you avoided the flames."

He doesn't seem surprised. Quests always collect questors like flies to honey.

The details of the magic explanation kind of flow past him. "Three feet. Sure." He jams the last of the burger into his mouth as Nico displays her absolute loyalty to Hot Topic. While normally jaded to magic displays, the whole thing is a little dramatic even for him. He grimaces and says, mouth full, "Maybe it could just be… a tack. Or a coffin nail, if you're worried about the uh… aesthetics of it."

Finally shifting closer, Hercules stretches his neck back and forth with two loud pops. "Not entirely surprised. I lost it to a Russian crime prince, I think, some few hundred years ago. Once artifacts move into that circle, they rarely shift without bloodshed."

Angela waits when bidden to do so by Nico. Though she makes no attempt to see what Nico is hiding when the other woman turns away, she does watch her through the whole ordeal.

Nope. Not even breastbone staff gets an eyebrow raise from Angela. Her gaze lingers longer on the blood than all the special effects.

"This man is considerably less deadly than a crime prince," says Angela. "Unless he has something in his basement that I did not see."

She presses her thumb down. The matchstick SNAPS — and then the world briefly becomes light and shadow.


This was supposed to be an easy job.

Art theft. The bougiest crime of all, save for charging seven goddamn dollars for a mimosa that should consist of a gas station's finest sparkling wine and OJ. This kind of job usually requires most effort put toward getting past an alarm system, with guards — if any — representing a novel break from the monotony of mechanized monitoring.

Some guy gets intimidated out of a painting by some other guy, both guys are really just little rich men playing at being gangsters because they read too much about the darkweb in the Financial Times, some mercs get to play capture the flag with whatever thing the clients are arguing over, eventually it all ends when too many bullets come into play and someone gets spooked.

None of this explains why Domino is currently locked down in the courtyard with multiple heavily-armed men pinning her with military-grade hardware. Bad luck on their part may be frustrating their attempts, but there's enough aggro coming from enough directions that even subconscious probability manipulation might have trouble keeping up with it all if danger gets pushed just a little too hard.

None of this was supposed to involve magic. There was nothing that even smelled like magic in the intel until things went south here. Magic is a beast far more unpredictable than security-related applications of the internet of things turning refrigerators into potential snitches. Domino might have to call this mission a bust.

Unless something really, really lucky happens.


A flash of light deposits three figures on the edge of the courtyard. The compound is a multi-building, hyper-modern estate surrounded by a wall with a trendy geometric aesthetic. Everything is built with sleek, sharp lines and a little too much glass. The centerpiece of the estate is a large building that must be the primary house — the huge array of windows that allow the sprawling living room to face out into the center of the compound has been haphazardly shattered because there are currently men shooting rifles like it's their job to waste ammo.

Maybe it is. It's 2018.

Angela frowns, seemingly heedless of the bullets for a moment. "We were not meant to arrive in this spot."

A bullet whizzes toward her as a man clad in black tacticool gear half-crouching behind an ATV realizes there's someone else to shoot at. Angela's hand is very suddenly raised next to her face. She opens her fingers, dropping the fragments of a rifle round.

Angela looks over to Hercules. The slightly hapless widening of her eyes communicates something like 'ah, well.'

In the thick of a firefight, enchantments that intermittently rewind the clock to turn grievous injuries into wasted ammo have a way of mitigating the effects of luck. If she'd thought to bring something heavier - a shotgun, an automatic rifle, even a bigger caliber of pistol - this might not be an issue: whatever the hell spoiler Hult arranged to have woven around his home - his security? - doesn't seem to work so hot against bursting skulls or statue chunks through the gut. Opportunities for the former have been as rare as Nemean fur; the latter was a two in a thousand stroke of good fortune. Beyond that, she's stuck in a battle of attrition against targets with rainbow lifebars and dwindling clips; the numbers in no way work in her favor.

The calculations that tell her so in no way distract from unclipping a grenade and winging it over the enormous, pockmarked planter she's currently buckled down behind. The one thing she did bring plenty of was smoke; her latest toss adds another blooming red cloud of the stuff to the colourful whorls wafting through the courtyard. It's thanks to the smoke - and the preciousness of time spent looking much of anywhere beyond her cover - that she misses the flash at the courtyard's edge and the three figures it leaves behind. Instead of counting her blessings, she just counts bullets - tries her damndest to get a read on when clips might begin to run dry and give her an opening to move, if not fight.

When some those bullets start to shift away from her planter, well — that, she notices. Popping her head up, she narrows her eyes on the man who's found himself an angel to slay, squeezes twice, does a quick scan, then drops her head while the distracted man's pops.

A beat passes.

"Get DOWN!" she shouts to the seemingly uninvited trio, popping up again and cupping a hand around her mouth to make sure she's heard instead of taking her own advice.

The Prince of Power makes his entrance. Nico turns her head to look at him - he does fill a room, even if that room is Central Park.

"Oh," Nico says to Hercules. "Thanks?" She then purses her lips as she is given the blessing of the wisdom of Hercules on regards to what to do for the future implementation of this problem, solution, whatever-of-hers.

On the one hand, screw this old man.
On the other hand, he's kind of right, Nico thinks. The razor blade is efficient but is kind of try hard.
On the other other hand I don't really feel like experimenting here.
On the other other OTHER hand a coffin nail, Nico thinks further. Maybe I could work it into jewelry.


And they're there. The air is thick with the smell of cordite and there is the nearby crack-a-tat of riflefire aimed at… something, somewhere. Nico Minoru's eyes widen and she does the thing drilled into her by years of high school active shooter drills: she dives for the ground, screaming as she does, "Get down!!"

A moment later - when she looks at Angela with a sudden burst of dizzying fear that dissipates like an icicle falling into a blowtorch - she says, "Are you — what the shit!?" Someone yells at them to get down. "I TRIED!" Nico shouts back, hectically.

Her eyes flick around. Internally she reviews what she's done. Gun Free Zone — no that was gone in like 2016, she thinks. Gun Control — did I use that? I remember getting pistolwhipped but did that one actually go off?! I can't chance it, Nico describes. The Staff of One is swung forwards, brandished from her supine position. "Grand Theft ATV!" Nico declaims.

The ATV's motor makes a curious sound, as if it questioning its new role in life. A moment later it goes in reverse with abrupt enthusiasm, peeling out in a muddy streak towards Nico's position and turning to protect her frail, squidgy body with its extremely tactical exterior.

'Get DOWN!'

"What?" yells back Hercules, sticking a pinky in his ear. "Cursed teleportation makes my ears ring."

'Get down!!'

"Down where?" He pinches his nose and blows, shaking out his thick hair as his proper hearing returns, blinking into the light. He looks over at the diving Nico, awareness coming into his eyes. "Ohhhhh."

A bullet slams into his cheek, causing the skin of his face to ripple like a struck boxer. "Ow!" He slaps at it like a mosquito, pinching the hot, flattened lead between finger and thumb. Pivoting on his heel, he throws the bullet right back.

Hercules takes quick stock, mind shifting gears now that he knows this is a battlefield. He is briefly concerned as the vehicle slews toward Nico, but sees her aiming her staff. He isn't worried about Angela, having more confidence in her than to do something foolish like try and block bullets unnecessarily.

His eyes fix on the rest of the guards, noting their deep interest in the planter, and he grins. "So willing to fire at greenery, are you? Come and test your wills on the Prince of Power!"

He leaves the mace on his back as he outright charges them, heedless of the bullets. By habit, he checks his swings enough to leave broken bones, but not broken necks.

The weaponsfire sputters and slackens, but doesn't fully die. The holding pattern of keeping Domino locked down until — something — happens is still the basic order, but now there's a vast new set of information to deal with.

Nico magically steals an ATV. The person taking cover behind it is already laid out flat with a fatal incident of skull penetration, which means that if you think about it, Nico actually has salvaging rights.

Hercules makes himself a very large, very priority target. His charge is met by a fusillade of rifle-fire, but nothing involved here can do more than swat annoyingly at his freshly-bathed skin. The guards evidently get the message a few rounds in, because the ones he's charging at immediately abandon their position and try to retreat back to the house while their partners keep the pressure up. It may not be glorious battle, but at least they stopped shooting that the planter. It'll just take another second or three of charging to get to them, besides.

Angela steps forward. Her foot enters Nico's field of view. "Stay there and we will handle this part. Make noise if you have need of me."

Angela's foot raises as she prepares to step off, but something makes her hesitate and then settle back into her stance. Nico cannot see it, but a man has opened the doors to a balcony on the third story of the main building. He is somewhere in his mid forties, well aged and with a full head of black hair despite the healthy amount of tanning he's partaken of. He is also wearing a fluffy red bathrobe, so he must not give too much of a fuck.

"I am paying best in class prices but not receiving best in class services!" he shouts down. "Why is —"

A pause. A few more bullets hiss through the air. Angela studies the man with clear thoughtfulness, though her gaze inexplicably moves toward Hercules for a moment.

"Ah! Oh, wow is that — hey, everyone, stop trying to shoot these people for a moment. Truce, truce, no, seriously. Are you Hercules? Come onnn I've seen pictures."

The gunfire takes a few more moments to die down in truth. Some of the guards try to take the moment to reposition.

"Thank you Based X-Gene," Domino exhales as Hercules throws a bullet back at its owner and charges.

Then the prick who arranged this mess pops his head out and calls for a truce. He gets her vote in the form of a bullet that ricochets off of ornate stonework. Lucky for him; less so, perhaps, for the guard who happens to be under the balcony when a careening bullet bounces betwen pillars on its way to reflecting off of the balcony itself, locking it into a trajectory pointed squarely his way.

Instead of press the issue further, Domino decides to use her moment to upgrade: darting from the planter, she makes a bee-line for the rifle laid out where the ATV was, then decides to break for the vehicle itself. It made for pretty good cover before the guy behind it took his eyes off the prize (her, she is the prize; it's good to remember these things in the middle of an uphill firefight) and the fact that it seems to have developed a will of its own only somewhat changes that. Sure, the roll bars probably won't be as safe as ducking behind the body might've been, but on the other hand…

"Yee-fucking-haw!" she exclaims in the middle of a somersaulting leap that leaves her in the passenger seat as it squeals to a halt beside Nico.

On the other hand, this is way better than ducking, covering, and counting.

"Hey, you ASS!" she shouts up to Hult. "Call 'em off for real so I can come get your stupid painting that ISN'T EVEN YOURS! I'm in a self-driving ATV, and I DEFINITELY just saw the guy with the pecs catch a bullet!" Beat. "With his fingers!"

Hult doesn't get anymore munitions afterwards because she's busy sweeping her new rifle's barrel across the courtyard and waiting for a guard to show themselves.

Nico doesn't look at Mr. Tactics. She doesn't want to think about it. Also she has bigger problems, or at least things in front of her. The Prince of Power lunges forwards, and Nico says, with a weird sort of annoyed wonder, "He really IS Hercules. Wow. -"

Her attention turns to Angela. She looks up at him. She feels short for a moment, then says, "Right." The ATV rumbles in acknowledgement. It's probably alive, at least for now. It adjusts its posture as if sensing the angle of potential incoming fire, headlight flicking on and off.

"Keep it down," Nico tells the ATV, which shifts into a lower idling gear.

At this point Domino leaps down out of nowhere and Nico flinches, though she is desensitized by all this chaos and mayhem and burning gunpower and Hercules and blood to the point where it's a startle, not a shriek. "Guh! - Painting?? Who are you?? I'm Nico," she tells Domino, flatly.

Yeah, she thinks to herself. Cool introduction. She does NOT get in the driver's seat, although she does grip the side of the ATV and hold onto one side of the handlebar with her hand, the other occupied by the Staff of One, of course. This keeps her low, so there's less of her to be potentially perforated.

"He's Hercules," Nico says, indicating Guess Who with the Staff of One. "She's Angela. - I think this dipsnatch is in trouble. Uh… You didn't destroy a warding stone or anything in the gun battle, did you? Or see one?"

"I'm Domino!" she exclaims over the sound of a bullet whizzing past someone's head, just to keep them honest.

"What the hell is a warding stone?"

Nico adopts the expression of one who is trying to summarize a complicated thing that is not well understood by the self-same person. Hopefully nobody shoots her.

"It would have been in the basement," says Angela, who looks pretty calm for a woman standing next to a possessed ATV in the middle of a firefight, no matter how paused it is.

Hercules looks up at Eugenius Hult as he emerges. "Trying, for sure," he mutters. While the last few bullets are still thumping into him, leaving tiny bruises that rapidly fade like rain upon water, he swings the mace off his back. Its head thumps solidly into the ground and Hercules props one elbow on it, picking debris out of his beard. He isn't all that irritated that the people he'd charged melted away from his advance. The ifrit fight will tide him over for at least a week.

"Could I be another?" he calls up, grinning. Nico hands out introductions. Herc glances over, eyes Domino, and tosses her a wink before looking back up at Mr. Bathrobe. "You have an old possession of mine, Eugenius of Hult - and I've decided it's time to reconsolidate." Beat. "And the young miss wants a painting, as it happens." He smirks toward the now-holding guards. "I've got a feeling you may not want me to press the matter. Fortunately, if you'll just toss me down my lionskin and…" he pauses.

"Which painting?" Herc calls over to Domino. "This guy looks like he's got a shitload of paintings."

"Oh! Uh."

She's just standing there. She's seriously just gonna stand there. The bullets could start up again at any moment —

"The one he threatened to shoot Horst Eismann over!" Domino supplies.

"Yeah, what painting? I'm gonna drive closer," Nico says.

Nothing happens.

"Get closer to Hercules," she tells the ATV, which immediately goes into low gear to very slowly creep forwards.

"Is that some Nazi painting?" UGH I AM BABBLING, Nico thinks. But this motor vehicle protects me.

"I CALLED A FUCKING TRUCE!" Hult roars (instead of flinch) after the bullet ricochets wildly around his drama platform and ends up finding a forever-home inside someone else's skull. He gestures angrily down into the courtyard, but makes a big show of calming himself down by physically restraining his arm with his other arm.

He places his hands on the railing and purses his lips out, visibly running his tongue around the inside of his cheeks. He listens to the deliberations going down below him.

"I do, I really do," he says on the subject of paintings.

Hult holds up his hands. "Now wait. As a show of honesty, I'm gonna be right back. Seriously, wait."

He turns and disappears back into the room. A few moments later, he returns dragging an enormous carpet-like thing that he slings over the side of the railing. Not fully — just enough so that the edge of it hangs over the bar to see. It's a pelt.

"So, I picked this up last year, intending to make some dinnerwear out of it — you know, a nice coat, something like a statement piece. Get really freaky avant-garde with it. Then I find it can't be cut. So I'm thinking, okay, maybe it really is everything it's cracked up to be, and I look up the myth again — and wouldn't you know it."

Hult spreads his hands wide as if he's expecting the answer from a studio audience.

"Right! Teeth. You had to use the lion's own teeth to cut the pelt. Now, my thought — my theory — is still based on teeth. But I've got zero lions here " he curls his fingers to make a zero gesture " and I've got one big Greek guy."

He holds up one finger in his other hand and then makes a show of trying to balance them.

Angela begins walking forward at a leisurely pace to keep up with the ATV. She has a big stride. "Get ready for the dogs," she says, though only Nico has the tools to parse the reference.

"Anyway," Hult says, apparently losing enthusiasm for his showmanship. "I also noticed there was something about were-lions in the myth so I paid a pagan guy from Minnesota to help me figure out how to make those."

Someone moves near where the guards took shelter. Someone or — some… thing?!

Something like a giant lion man padding into view from around the corner of the building, tacticool armor ripped to shreds off his upper body. He snarls, raising wickedly-clawed hands. His growling is joined by several other voices as more lion men reveal themselves. A few are holding rocket launchers instead of rifles now. The most terrible thing about this entire situation is that their high-and-tight haircuts are still represented by their buzzcut manes.

"Surprise, fuckos!" Hult yells from the balcony. "Giant lion hands only work with giant triggers! BRING ME HERCULES' TEETH!"

The night lights up as one of the lion men levels his launcher at the ATV and pulls the trigger. The brief flare of ignition is enough to illuminate the improbable sight of Angela leaping into the air and kicking the projectile in the side. It goes careening off into the far wall, providing further dramatic lightning as the redhead lands.

"BULLSHIT!" Hult yells, though he's drowned out by the cacophony of roaring and rocket launchers, which really shouldn't be used in the same sound mix.

Hult roars with authority. Nico can't really see him although she sort of gets a better idea of where he is given that he's talking. She purses her lips. And then - hey, she thinks. The pelt! This is easy.

I knew this was a good plan, Nico tells herself.

Hult talks about the arcane details of Greek mythology and Nico looks at Domino because her instinct, her very nature, says that she should tune that out. Until - Angela's keeping pace with them, which isn't surprising, but she's bringing up the dogs.

Nico's brow furrows. Then her eyes widen as she keys in on a word, calling out, "Pagans don't —"

Shoot rockets at people? Angela kicks one away and Nico's eyes get wider yet. Lions roar! Rockets flare! And to add insult to injury, Nico is abruptly thrown when the ATV roars in its own turn and pops a sick and unexpected wheelie, dumping the young witch onto the ground hard enough to rattle her teeth. "What —!"

Why did the ATV do that? Because the ATV serves the bearer of the Staff of One. It is stolen… and it is grand! Highlit in the chaos of burning propellant, the ATV absorbs a second rocket that came in from what is probably a leonine pincer maneuver. That rocket rattles it - and that means that a third hits it and sends the entire vehicle spiralling up in the air, the fuel tank igniting gloriously.

A brief pause and interlude of that musical sting from The O.C.

One of the Lion Rocketeers surges forwards, running in a low loping feline stride to build momentum. He leaps off the tumbling wreckage of the ATV, perhaps having diagnosed Nico as the frailest of the group or at least the least clearly armed. He raises huge taloned paws, four deadly claws and the jagged tearing cut of the worst, the thumb itself -

"Little Lion Man."

The leonine trooper smashes into Nico Minoru's shoulder and is immediately scruffed, because he is now exactly four inches tall. Before he can process this turn of events, Nico pivots on her heel and hurls the kitten-sized genome trooper as far as she possibly can.

"Does he think your teeth can cut that stuff?!" Nico shouts at Hercules afterwards. He may have bigger catfish to ball, right now, of course.

The ATV crawls towards Hercules. Brown eyes flick several times between a languidly turning wheel and a clinging goth before she settles on the latter.

"Sooooooo…?" she expectantly trails. Another, more pointed glance towards the wheel, then down at a barely depressed pedal.

Whether she gets an answer or not, Hult doesn't give her much time to dwell on the mysteries of the self(?)-driven ATV because he's got a monologue to give. The mercenary slouches, leans her head back—

— pulls the trigger again to let the guard creeping out from behind a horse sculpture know she sees him—

— and sighs through her teeth. She raises a boot to prop against the console and listens.

Then he spreads his hands wide, expecting an answer.

"Booooooooooo!" Domino offers up through a cupped hand. "Where's my — shit, is it a Nazi painting?" The question's softer than the rest. Between that and her breaking off from heckling to peer curiously between Nico and Hult, there aren't any further interjections from her section of the gallery.

Them "FUCK!" that comes out shortly after he releases the giant lion men doesn't really count because it's immediately drowned out by rocket fire and roaring; ditto the, "oh, okay," when Angela kicks a rocket aside.

The ATV bucks while she's watching the redhead's landing. Pushing off with her braced leg, she escapes it with a backflip moments before it's sent spiraling up after her. Backlit by an exploding vehicle that spent its last - nearly only - moments of life doing its duty to the fullest, she unleashes a fusillade that leaves another Rocket Lion reeling, pissed, and slowly but surely lifting his weapon squarely in her direction. As he prepares to launch, Domino spots something adorable next to a hill of armor and a rocket launcher.

She's already moving by the time he pulls the trigger but the shockwave catches her, buoying the lunge she inevitably makes to scoop the launcher up and tumble along the ground with it cradled to her chest. When she comes up kneeling, the barrel rises - and rises, and rises until it's level with Hult… then snaps back down to ground level so she can send a rocket into her leonine admirer's gut.

Best not to push it too far. The chances of another group of magical and/or bulletproof strangers appearing out of nowhere are—

— no, yeah, best not to push it.

"I get it - I guess - but it's still pretty fucked up!" she shouts Hercwards after Nico.

"Hey," calls Hercules as Hult drags out the Nemean pelt - he identifies it immediately - "You forgot the painting! We had a deal!" They didn't have a deal.

Otherwise, he permits Eugenius his monologuing. It's the proper thing to do. His eyebrows knit together when he mentions were-lions. Were there were-lions? Herc loses the plot for a moment as his focus turns inward, scratching at the side of his head with one thick finger. Wasn't there just the one lion? There was a cave, and…

His teeth?! That gets his attention. His head slowly tilts up, rocking back on his shoulders. "Wait, you think…"

Hercules starts laughing, long, hard, and in earnest. He puts the toe of his sandal into the head of his mace, swinging it up to a proper grip. "Baaahahahahahaha!"


Herakles, son of Amphitryon, collapses against the side of the cave wall, sweat pouring from his nude body, mingling with the blood. His hands ache yet - from the strain of squeezing the life from the Nemean lion, from the efforts of trying to separate its hide from its meat, and most of all from the stump of the middle finger of his left hand.

He swipes at the sweat with the back of his hand, letting the knife and rock he holds fall to clatter on the stone ground, dropping to his knees beside the dead lion, broken arrows strewn about himself. The first labor. He cannot fail here. A manic light comes into his eyes.

A severe woman leans out from behind a pillar within the cave, a few locks of light hair drifting from her white-plumed helmet. With one eye narrowed, she asks cautiously: "Would you like me to… give you a few more moments?"

Herakles looks up at the goddess Athena, teeth fixed uselessly on the hide around the lion's mouth. "Grfftngs," he muffles.


The lion-men focus on Hercules, Prince of Power, their chosen target. Two of them drop to a knee, three standing behind them, weapons up. They fire in unison, an arc of rockets streaking for the Greek, the backblast pulverizing a brace of shrubbery.

Hercules stomps one foot into the ground, pushing it into the greenery to brace himself as he swings his mace with a backhanded blow. Some have assumed the weapon is just another treasure, an ornate weapon he keeps around for the aesthetic value. The golden color comes from divine adamantine - while not enchanted with the power of the storms, it is every bit the equal of Mjolnir itself.

The mace emits a deep, pleasant tone as it crushes through the arc of rockets. They of course explode, but the sheer force of the swing hurls the conflagration back onto the five lion-men, launching them through the already-damaged shrubbery. "No dentist," Hercules bellows, "has ever laid their cursed tools upon these magnificent pearls - and until time stops, I will see that they never will!"

"Aah, Jesus, dude," Domino yells over explosions, "gross!"

Lucky her, catching Hercules' dental habits amidst the carnage.

Hercules says, "IT'S 2018"

Nico thinks of Gert's orthodontics.

What was a very calm and predictable firefight is now a roaring cacophony of several kinds of excess on both sides, ranging from feline to dental. Fortunately, everyone here except for Nico is a professional, and Nico still has enough teenage sullenness left over to muddle through things.

The first wave (first wave?!) of rocket lion troops meet stern resistance: Hercules unleashes the munificent might of his master-crafted maul, disturbing the air such that the explosions distort and expand away from him, but more importantly sending back a nasty collection of shrapnel. His werelion aggressors stagger backward at the same time, each simultaneously coming to grips with the fact that they've not got pointy bits of metal shot through their chests and arms.

At least two of their rocket launchers are visibly ruined, but something — do werelions have rage problems? — seems to make them all wordlessly agree that now is a time for eviscerating. They all throw down their weapons, popping wicked, curves claws from their massive paws before charging in with great, loping strides and bounding lunges.

Domino comes up blessed and swinging, leveling a rocket launcher at Hult's command/taunting balcony. Hult has time to dive and shout "FUCK!" before Domino can shoot her shot. The balcony goes up in flames, a shower of stone raining lightly over the courtyard below.

Moments later, when the haze of destruction clears, there is still the shape of the enormous lion pelt in the hole left in the wall by the rocket. It writhes, and then Hult pops his head out.

"THE PELT IS INVINCIBLE, YOU UNCULTURED ASS!" he crows. A piece of ceiling comes loose above him and bounces off his head. "Ah, shit —"

A few stragglers to the rocket party turn up. Another tactical werelion, mercifully minus a launcher, bounds over the wall and surveys the scene before locking his gaze on the closest target — that's Nico, hi. He bares fangs, a low and dangerous growl burbling up from his transformed throat.

Angela once more chooses to enter by silently appearing in Nico's peripheral vision. She flexes the fingers of her right hand, eventually forming a fist. The lion hesitates in his attack, sizing the both of them up.

"'Little lion man' had a low chance of coming up again, didn't it," says Angela, musing. Then: "It is important for a witch to be clever, much as a hunter should be precise."

Angela's body subtly tenses. The lion, keen and focused, responds in kind and much more visibly so, with waves of rippling muscle. Then, in dreadful decision—

An engine sound comes blaring closer as a helicopter sweeps into the clearing over the trees. It is a single engine with a bubble dome cockpit, meant to seat two people. It has been converted so that inside the bubble sits instead one werelion, who implausibly has an eyepatch fitted over one eye that bears an old, healed scar.

The helicopter swivels on the courtyard. Two underslung gatling guns begin to spin up. Angela, already looking over her shoulder, responds with a "Tch."

"I trust you have this one, witch girl," she says, right before breaking off into a sprint toward the helicopter. The grim pilot, spotting the incoming threat, adjusts enough to unload the first salvo of rounds at Angela. Angela leaps into the air, getting impossible travel time as she hurtles toward the helicopter. Tracer rounds splash off her upper body, going ricocheting off in wild directions. She lands on the bubble dome with a THUD, rearing back to punch a hole through the glass, and then again and again to widen the breach.

The pilot climbs the helicopter dramatically and then swoops off, perhaps planning to shake off Angela in the ride. The both of them disappear for now.

Hult manages to push himself a little further back from the gaping wound in his secret mansion. "Shit," he calls out. "Okay. Maybe I overestimated Hercules. AND ONLY HERCULES. But I planned for attracting heat sooner or later."

Hult dashes off out of sight. He must have hit some kind of giant red button, because the room he's in lights up with red lights and sirens.

The enormous loading bay door of what seemed to be a utility warehouse begins to lower into the earth. The room beyond is dark. Something enormous and primal moves in the shadows. Two giant, cruel eyes glint as the shape comes closer to the light.

It's a giant elephant-sized lion wearing a sparkly collar that has DADDY'S PRECIOUS BOY bedazzled on it. It roars loud enough that it hurts to hear.

"HAHAHA!" Hult bellows from his new balcony hole. "Behold, shitlords, BEHOLD!"

The mace isn't as useful in a close-in melee with opponents that won't likely be swept away like chaff. For Hercules, it's more like a tool than a weapon - sometimes he just doesn't want to have to touch something. He slings the mace onto his back again (his raiment has clever catches!) and cracks his knuckles with a grin.

At least that's hard confirmation that the pelt is the genuine article. "Eugenius!" Hercules roars. "Thief in the night! If you are the scholar you claim, then you know the fate of those who play silly bitches with Hercules !" He dives into the fray with the charging lion men. " the Prince of Power!"

A claw rakes along his arm as he drives his fist out like a piston down into the chest of the first werelion to engage him. He has stopped holding back. With all of his charging momentum behind him, the first lion is driven down into the ground like a shot, denting the earth as he bounces back and away, ribs cracked or worse. There is a very large KA-POW! and WHAMMO! on the page for this one, we're talking like the whole top half.

The indulgent spread takes too much of Herc's attention, another lion jumping onto his back and raking a claw toward his throat. He barely catches the wrist in time, a droplet of blood welling up from his neck as he starts inexorably forcing the lion back. He stomps a kick at another charging beast, backhanding yet another as he slams his foot back to earth to regain his leverage.

A brilliant light of exultation is flashing in his eyes. It has been far too long.

"Co-pilot!" Hercules shouts, wrenching the lionman on his back off with a violent pull that leaves the flesh on his other shoulder ripped, hurling it up toward the helicopter with outrageous strength.

"There will not be a brick of your asylo left standing if you do not return to me my pelt!" Beat. "And that one painting of whatever! AND SOME WINE FOR OUR TROUBLE"

He looks across the fight at Nico. He's not sure what to add for her.

There are only so many rockets to go around: one for a werelion's gut; one for Hult's balcony after thinking on it again and deciding that, actually, pushing it too far is basically her brand. No more unloosed shells seem to be rolling her way from Hercules' party, leaving her with an unwieldy tube and a handful of options—

— and giant fucking lion. Where the fuck did —?!

"God, this guy sucks," the mercenary's able to sigh while sloughing off the launcher and watching hell on four legs bound out of the darkness. She spends the precious few seconds it takes the monster to enter the field properly to snatch the nearest fallen rifle, but rather than line up any shots, she just slings it over her shoulder while sprinting towards the lion. It's bigger than she is - stronger, more clawful, maybe even faster, given its extranormal musculature - but she's reasonably confident that she's smarter than a giant lion.

And she's definitely luckier.

The lion pounces, she rolls, and rather than being crushed beneath a giant killing machine's worryingly agile bulk, she comes out of it with claw marks along her back and side when one of its falling hind legs catches her instead. When it twitches its heavy body towards her, she briefly flicks her eyes towards the leash trailing wildly from its collar before focusing on the claws swiping towards her face. A flying cartwheel brings her clear and keeps the lion swinging violently in pursuit.

Several swipes and circular evasions later, Domino finally sees the leash swinging into arm's reach, prompting her to grab it, hang on—

"Hercules!" she shouts as her body whips through the air, towards the Prince of Power's melee, "Catch —"

— and trust that things will work themselves out when she lets go and curls into a heavily armed ball spinning in the god's general direction.

"— throw! Balcony!"

MINORU: Amateur enthusiasm. Professional quality.

Nico Minoru is pleased to find that she is not immediately dead. She exhales, the ringing in her ears from the explosions and the fraught scent of gunpowder and chemicals in the air sticking in her nose. Something growls. Sweat runs down Nico's back as she looks towards the creature, slowly. Slowly…

And Angela appears. There is a sudden feeling inside of Nico, a complicated twinge. It is a feeling of vulnerability and exposure but it is also not bad. Not even hedgingly 'not entirely bad' or 'not entirely unwelcome,' no, it actually feels good. "Yeah!" she says, and it comes off as a slightly off-key bleat rather than the cool, poised statement of legitimate but reasonable enthusiasm Nico had hoped for.

Angela then leaps off to fight a helicopter WHICH ALWAYS HAPPENS TO HER. Not the helicopter part so much, Nico thinks in a flickery silver flash as she stares at the lion man, but now she's in charge, she guesses? No, she meant the lion. Probably. Nico stares at the creature as its attention returns but before it can reach the 'scream' phase of 'scream and leap,' Nico speaks words of power:

"Laser pointer."

The Staff of One erupts with a coherent ray of light for the first time in fourteen hundred years. (You may ask, did someone in the Heian period know what a laser was? That's a very good question.) The shriekingly bright dot of red probably blows out the lion-man's retina as Nico walks it onto the ground, the backscatter throwing a suitably hellish red on the area. Nico knows what to do here: she wiggles it.

"Yeah! Wine! Full course ing luxury treatment, you sanctimonious prick!" I can swear when I'm around Hercules, Nico assures herself.

Sirens start wailing.

Nico pivots the laser dot to shine on a tree as she starts running after Domino and, you know, the Prince of Power, dude with a plan and the body hair to back it up. She reaches up to rub the top of the Staff which seems to put the laser emission point on her hand, somehow, possibly in preparation for further magic.

It smells like the zoo, Nico thinks further. Well, yeah, she curses further. OF COURSE IT DOES. But even more so. The laser point is swept away from the distant tree, towards the ground near the great creature. But can a beast of such purr-sance be foiled and fooled? The laser beam does cast impressive ray-traces as it intersects the fog of war.

The helicopter comes swooping back. Angela is still lodged on the front, except during the brief absence she's ripped off one of the gatlings and is now using it as a club to bash off the rest of the bubble canopy. Hercules calls out to her — and throws her a big furry gift.

Angela turns to look down and give Hercules a quizzical look. The lion pilot takes the opportunity to reach out and stab his claws at Angela's head, but he ends up skewering the gatling that Angela holds up to block him at the last moment.

Hercules' thrown lion comes hurtling up. Angela leaps from the helicopter, reaching out to grab onto his arm. The both of them are propelled further into the sky by Hercules, uh, herculean strength. In the precious few moments before the helicopter gets too far away, Angela clambers over the dazed lion, getting on top and grabbing him securely by the shoulders. The both of them begin to fall, arcing back down, spinning fancifully, heading dangerously toward the rotors—

Angela pushes off at the last moment, having successfully izuna dropped a werelion into a helicopter. The helicopter makes a horrific shrieking noise of metal on metal on fur, spinning wildly and throwing bits and pieces of machine and fur in all directions. It drops out of sight beyond the complex walls, its final resting place marked by a tremendously tall explosion. Angela has also disappeared beyond the wall, but odds are on her being alright somehow given what just happened.

Domino plays cat and mouse with an actual giant cat, which is probably something anyone who has owned a housecat has had a nightmare about at least once. The lion is seems confident in its abilities inasmuch that it's leisurely chasing Domino for murder rather than frantically chasing Domino for murder. Its leisure is still most people's full aggro on account of it being the double-king of the double-jungle.

"That's right, I cloned that fucker!" Hult shouts. "Science and money make me a god! Functionally I mean!"

The werelion facing down Nico opens its mouth, but Nico is faster at talking because of inherent youth power. The lion hissing as it recoils from the initial display of light, quickly refocusing so that it can finally get around to tearing out Nico's throat.



it is


Something deep inside the werelion's skull overrides years of military training. His tail twitches. He coils up, eyes tracking every wiggle. Nico throws it to the trees. The lion makes a ridiculous leap that takes him clear over the wall and into the distance, where he starts scrambling midair as he realizes that he didn't calculate his landing at all before pouncing off.

The giant lion turns in place to follow where Domino went. It spies Hercules. Its pupils focus. Does it remember, somehow? Are the last moments of its DNA donor somehow burnt into its genes? Can lions hold grudges across clonings?

The ultra-lion comes barreling toward the assembled group of Hercules, Nico, and the as-yet-unlaunched Domino. Its plan seems to be trample, pin, and maul. It is very good at plans like this. Unfortunately for Nico, it seems to like this plan more than laser pointers.

In the distance, there is another howl as a werelion sounds like he's being beaten about the head and neck. That probably means Angela is fine and found Nico's lost friend.

Whew! Good thing Hercules is one of those kill-ey heroes. Someone less stout might have felt bad about that lion getting a straight up Indiana Jones.

He doesn't really have a lot of time to dwell on it, having to grab and wrench another lunging lion arm, popping it neatly out of its socket with a pankration twist. While it howls, he grabs its head and slams it into the head of another, dropping them both and dealing with most of his attendants.

Domino does a sick stunt. Hercules is dripping blood from a number of wounds, some even appearing to be severe - but as the superficial wounds are slowly sealing themselves already, he's probably not too bad off. It takes a great deal to slow a god.

"Ayyy-yup!" he says, his eye happening to catch on Domino with just enough time for him to set himself, clamping his hands together like a volleyball player. "To you!" he shouts obscurely, intercepting the mercenary and launching her toward the balcony. POSSIBLY harder than she may have anticipated. He is very excited.

Beyond the Domino is another matter entirely. Hercules clenches his fists, popping his knuckles as he stares the lion down. One finger twitches, a faint echo of distant agony. Some of the joy slips out of his face, replaced by a grim mask.

While Hercules often enjoys telling of his Labors, they also bring back many memories he can't escape from for long. His brow lowers.

"No amount of science can recapture the essence of a myth," he says. He speaks quietly, but his voice still carries. "You lose the lessons trying to recreate the reality."

Hercules's heels sink into the ground as he spreads his arms wide, sweat and blood shining on his broad back. A wind tousles his thick curls. His knees flex, aiming to lunge under the lion, catch him about the chest, and hurl him off his legs.

For a moment, he doesn't even look like a lout. Something ineffable settles around his shoulders.

Domino is an old pro at making uncomfortable landings; she manages to come away with bruises, light singing, and a sharp knife to the lungs with every breath after rolling through the Prince of Power's enthusiasm. Rolling leaves her a few feet inside of an opulent study, and while she doesn't - can't - transition to her feet as smoothly as she likes, she manages to pull herself into a sturdy crouch with a minimum of wincing while snapping the rifle into her hands. A quick sweep of the room leaves her eyes on Hult. She cracks a friendly smile.

"The big guys respond to commands, right?"

Bullets scour the study in a wide arc, trailed by a a whirl of shredded canvas, powdered porcelain, and pulped first editions. The barrel tips up between a towering marble sculpture's leg rather than take another bite of the room.

"I don't give a shit about the first one of these paintings," she continues, "or sculptures, or books you've definitely read - call 'em off. Shout, whistle, whatever - this' done, we get our pelt, and painting, and wine — or I keep redecorating. Deal?"

Angela returns. Nico's eyes flick upwards from the situation to watch the sleek and sinuous motion and for a moment she feels clumsy and OH GOD, she tells herself, STOP GETTING HOT RIGHT NOW, NICO MINORU, THIS MAN CLONED THE -

"You cloned the Nemean Lion!? WHY! You already have a freaking mountain estate! You can BUY the hide of the Nemean Lion!" Nico cries out in dudgeon and dismay. The were-lion that leapt free from her is not coming back - oh, she thinks, as the unique sound of a lion being beaten up echoes over the boundary wall. She must have…

Well, now I know what a lion sounds like when it's getting beat up. Alex would be proud.

The Prince of Power is bleeding but he's not… bleeding… as much as he was a moment ago. No, Nico thinks. That's not clotting. That's healing. Relief twinges her over-abused spine: I won't have to magic THAT up to stop Hercules from dying. The shaft of the Staff gets held all-the-tighter as she answers Hult.

"You don't get to keep your toy!"

The memory of Alex feels like she scraped something in her soul. That's good. She thinks it's good. Nico's eyes start doing the magenta glow they've done before, the laser pointer emission on her palm fading as she pivots round and points the staff dead on on the Lion Reborn. Even as the Prince of Power lifts the massive creature, Nico speaks her judgment:


The light in her eyes fades afterwards. The staff is brought down, bracing her for a moment. In the mean time she hears gunfire and chaos being brought by Domino, the mysterious X-Factor (or potentially X-Force) that came here at the same time.

"Now he ought to," Nico calls to her.

Then she flicks Hult off /with both hands/

"Now who's the shitlord?!"

The wall soaked most of the damage, leaving the study that Domino rolls into largely untouched. It is a tasteful refuge for quiet contemplation and reading amongst a mentally-stimulating collection of art. Hult almost certainly uses this room for impressing people and maybe napping on that leather couch over in the corner. Oh, yeah, there's the wet bar right there.

Hult backs up as Domino survives the Hercu-throwing. He tentatively raises his hands, then realizes Domino isn't the cops, and lowers them. Then he raises them again a little bit because Domino is brandishing a gun. He fidgets, uncertain.

"Uh," says Hult.

The rest of the art in the room proves to be sadly not as invincible as the Nemean pelt. Hult flails wildly in alarm at the weaponsfire before diving to the ground and trying to crawl underneath the pelt again. In the meanwhile, Domino does millions of dollars worth of damage to make a point. It's only after Domino has established that she's started talking again and isn't going to immediately go back to shooting that Hult peeks his head out from underneath the pelt. His face contorts into some bizarre ragegrief hybrid expression as he sees what she's done.

"You — rghghh — you just think —"

Hult falls silent. He squeezes his eyes shut and murmurs something that sounds like 'visualize your success. you are a proud alpha.' before exhaling.

"I do this and you just… leave, right? Me and my pile of lion man corpses that's I'll need to pay someone to bury now."

Hercules wrestles with the lion. It has been so long that, in truth already testified, no beast could measure favorably against the myth. Yet this monster tries — it is a mountain of predatory muscle, now swelling with true fury as Hercules fights back and finds himself winning.

The ground compacts underneath him. The lion bellows. Hercules exercises both the blessing and the skill of strength. The lion, unseated, unstanding, thrown to the ground. Its massive body strikes with two distinct thuds, one after another. It is dazed enough that making its way to its feet again is an unsteady affair bereft of its previous grace.

The lion shares one final staredown with the god. The look in its eyes is what makes it final — for one who has seen so much battle, there is no mistaking that fatal bloodlust that sometimes overtakes a being. Animal, human, god. This they share.

"Because I'm not sure I can call it off," says Hult, pulling the pelt over his head again.

The lion lunges across the entirety of the courtyard at Hercules, claws outstretched—


Angela pushes open the gate that leads into the courtyard from the outside, shattering the lock in doing so. She steps in, surveying the carnage. Were-lion mercenaries are strewn about in various states of disabled. There is a hole in the building, through which she can just barely see Domino standing unopposed. Hercules is healing his wounds, surrounded by the disturbed ground of a truly massive wrestling match.

And, in front of Nico Minoru, the cloned lion has catloafed with a bowed head.

"Ah," says Angela. "We have carried the field. Artful work."

"Yeah," Domino says while idly surveying the room for the most expensive looking ways to further punctuate her point, "You give us the shit that isn't yours, and we'll leave. Not like you've got another giant lion, right?"

She takes a moment to rub her Hercules-agitated ribs, watch Hult, and tense semi-expectantly.

"I mean," she appends, relaxing and briskly circling her hand, "sorry about the dead lions." Her attention settles on him and she dials the smile down to a neutral line. "It's kinda on you, but I guess the clean-up's gonna be pretty… not… great." She stands and briskly walks towards the remnants of the balcony, braving flames with a grimace.

"Hey!" she calls down while waving her free arm around. "Thanks for scolding the shit outta that thing — he was giving me attitude! He says he'll give us whatever we want if we promise to leave after! He's real pissy about the dead lion-men that he hired-slash-made!"

Hercules surges back into place after the titanic throw, blood draining from his muscles, restoring his body from its reddened surge. Old memories settle around him as he steps forward toward the charging lion. His hand drops. It will leap. Step forward. Strike to the throat.

Grip. Apply force until dead.

Herc feels the pulse of magic from Nico to the lion. The power is unexpected - it is an elemental and direct command and carries with it a commensurate gravitas. He staggers, his uppercut going wide.

The leaves on the tree directly above him explode off, spiralling into a skyward column.

The Prince of Power slowly lowers his fist, his head turning toward Nico. He watches as the Lion turns instantly docile without a hint of resistance, his eyes narrowing.

Distrust. Distance. "Good work," he says, forcing a smile that fails to reach his eyes.

He turns away then, crouching down and leaping up into the blasted hole in Eugenius's home, impacting with a crunch and a thud on the wreckage.

He starts approaching with heavy footsteps. "Welp." Hercules slaps his hands together, rubbing them. "Where do we go from here, friend?"

Hult doesn't answer. He's still hidden underneath the pelt like a particularly large tumor.

When Angela appears, Nico is stroking the Nemean Lion's immense snout. It's soft. She is considering going for the ear. She looks up to Angela and visibly straightens up in an effort to appear more mature before answering her, "Thanks. Yeah."

Domino! She reports. About death. Nico looks at the ground for a moment in response to her, not, it seems, in a mood for demands. Though she does interject to Hercules, "You said something about wine, right?"

He's looking at her. It's tense. Some crest in Nico falls a little, though it's not a /new/ fall kind of thing.

Then he moves away, towards the man.

To Angela Nico says, "I ensorcelled him." She does go for the ear, which requires her to walk like three feet and stretch her mesh-clad arm all the way up. "I don't know if you had a plan for that, but I guess you kind of don't plan for cloned mythic beasts out of nowhere, usually."

Back to Domino, she calls up, "HIS EAR IS REALLY SOFT"

Herc stands over Hult. He crouches down over him. He turns his head and shoots Domino a wink.

"So, you've studied the labors, right Eugenius?" He stretches out his hands.

He lets one drop down on the lump. "After all, the pelt is invulnerable, but still a pelt. It still bends. It still flexes." Hercules closes his hand down on whatever he's grabbing.

"It still compresses."

Clone ultra-lion is immensely well-behaved. Lions cannot purr, but they can chuff, which does rank on the cute meter to some degree.

Angela continues walking into the courtyard. She ends up next to Nico, inspecting the lion while Hercules attends to the matter of reacquiring his property.

"I likely would have attempted to twist his neck until his spine broke," says Angela. "It is not so complicated a surprise."

The lion chuffs at her. Angela tilts her head as she considers it. "He will be very difficult to conceal from the authorities."

The lump in the pelt wriggles around. "Hey!" Hult's heavily muffled voice comes out. "Hey stop it I YIELDED ALREADY OKAY."

"Oh, shit —" Domino hisses, shifting from grim-faced astonishment at yet another, casual demonstration of Hercules' power to grim-faced surprise when he begins to squeeze.

Both arms reflexively coil around her ribs as her surprise melts into an outright grimace that doesn't ever seem in much danger of turning away from the spectacle.

"Where's the painting, Hult?!" Beat. "And the wine cellar?! I heard something about wine down there! You don't just want us to ransack the place, do you?"

Once that's out, she cups a hand around her mouth, turns towards the courtyard:


then gives Nico a big thumbs up and a smile.

Nico literally bites her tongue tip because she was fixing to apologize.

Domino shouts distantly at a wealthy man. She looks up towards where the two of their allies went, and gives Domino a thumbs-up in return. There is no associated smile but, well, that might just mean she's on brand.

"I could send him somewhere where he'd fit in," Nico says, not asks, but there's definitely an interrogative sense. More quietly, she says, "I think Hercules is mad about it."

Hercules isn't, like, an /extremely/ good person! He is chaotic good usually.

So he reaches down and grabs another part, effectively pinning Hult under the pelt he obviously should've just given up to begin with, because he's Hercules and it's his.

These are not the healthiest thought processes.

"Come on, man, be a little more forthcoming. It's the least you can do after all that nonsense out there!"

"Let him be mad," says Angela. She walks around the side of the lion, inspecting his form more fully. "You owe him nothing. As it was your spell that tamed the beast, it belongs to you as a spoil of war. Its fate is your decision."

Hult doesn't stop squirming, but he definitely stops squirming effectively. "Come on, man! Agh — okay, okay! The basement! It's all in the basement! The storage is down there! You can probably just — augh — break all my security doors if you want, christ!"

"I had enough trouble taking care of a velociraptor," Nico says, even as Angela walks around the Lion. She trails after, because it's a conversation.

Also being on the other side of the Lion spares her from having to hear tears. "So all of this stuff here's 'a spoil of war' now, huh?" She pauses, occult senses telling her a place where - yes - she raises the Staff of One and uses its butt end to scritch the flank of the Lion. Tina Minoru turns over in her shallow grave.

"MY PAINTING'S IN THE BASEMENT!" is Domino's first, immediate response when Hult cracks. After that update, she shuffles towards Hercules and lays a hand on his mighty bicep.

"You can probably let him go — like, he did give — oh, wait, shit —!"

Domino shuffles back to the window.


Back to Hercules.

"… up," she continues, "a lot. A few times… he's good. You're good, right Hult?" Without waiting for a response, she looks up to Hercules. "Herc? You good?"

"m'gud," Hult mumbles.

With that, Hercules stops, standing, as Domino lays a hand on his iron-hard arm. Exerting the power felt good. It let him feel in control.

Though there is no way for the women to know this, it isn't the lion that got Hercules upset.

As he stands, he pulls the pelt up with him, swinging the massive bolt of fabric around and onto his back. Once its there, the head hanging over his shoulder, it… shrank. It didn't visibly wither, there was no puff of magic or anything like that. It's just… smaller now, hanging about some of his front and back.

It has been drawn like this. It has also been drawn in the form it was in Hult's possession. These things are always inconsistent. "Excellent!" he says, flashing a grin. He booms at Hult, "just imagine the stories you can tell now!"

Hercules turns away, headed toward the stairs. "He'll be fine," he mutters at Domino. "He probably won't look for revenge. One hopes he's learned better."

"Hult is in violation of numerous local, national, and planetwide laws," says Angela. "His possessions will soon be claimed by the relevant authorities. As unsanctioned adventurers, we must claim our fair payment outside of the legal system."

Angela stops and looks back to Nico. Her expression is, as standard, affably cold. "If Hult did not wish to risk his lion, he should not have brought it into conflict."

Hult remains curled up on the ground when Hercules takes the pelt off of him. He shrinks into himself a little further. "Could you put a rug on top of me or something until you're gone," he says. The rambling continues in near monotone. "There's a rug right over there, it'll work. It's from Isfahan. Hand knotted, 100 percent wool. So classic."

Hercules keeps on walkin'. "Don't press your luck, sneakthief."

Domino detours over a pile of what was once a vase painted with mythic imagery to grab that rug. She takes a little time to drape it over him, then a little more to make sure it's tucked in decently around him after processing that monotone.

Once she's done, she jogs - and grimaces - her way back to Hercules and murmurs, "Basically fine," in agreement.

Nico gazes back at Angela. She explains matters, the same way, Nico thinks, that she did before. Her eyes turn to the ground. "I just feel bad for it," she says, not really knowing why.

As she scritches the flank of the Lion a little more, she says, "He didn't ask to get made or born. He doesn't even have whatever story was behind the one Hercules fought back in a million years BC. So he just got made by some jackoff because the jackoff could… it's like an ego thing, I guess. It bugs me."

Nico is silent for a moment, but then comes to a conclusion, internally, it seems. "Hey," she tells the Lion, with authority but respect. "Hang out here. I'll be back in a minute."

She looks to Angela once more. "I'm going to get some of that wine."

In the house she goes.

She passes by Hult before he gets covered and favors him mostly with a disgusted sneer.

"Hey, Hercules! Do you know a place where like, a lion like that could… live? And not hurt anybody?" she calls ahead.

Hercules looks over at Nico for a moment. Still a little distant. But…

"I've got this spot out in Greece, kind of a" mancave "sanctuary. Out behind one of my temples. People know not to go there."

He rubs at his forehead. "That sounded more threatening than it should've. A respect thing. We could, like… put together a pen or something?"

Angela listens to Nico's reply in full, remaining attentive during the little pauses. When the other woman is finished, Angela returns her gaze to the lion. Her tone is more subdued, but it is a slight thing that some would ignore.

"Ah. I see."

The lion chuffs at Nico.

Hult is tucked in for the night. It doesn't seem like he's going to be causing any further trouble.

The group can find their way to the basement. There's security doors in place as promised, but the three of them all have various kinds of breaking and entering methods that work just fine. The basement floor is a warehouse-like space with rows of items in storage, including the important bits: wine, and (after some searching), Domino's target painting.

When the group returns outside, the lion has shifted position. He is now lying on his side, curled in a crescent around Angela, who is sitting cross-legged with her hands on her knees. She is looking at another one of those teleportation matchsticks from earlier.

The lion twists his head and sticks out his tongue. Angela's left hand gets blepped. She rubs the lion's muzzle, which convinces the lion to withdraw his tongue.

"You'll treat it nicely, right?" the mercenary wonders in passing after she hears talk of a sanctuary and pens.

Eventualy, Domino returns to the lion and the redhead with a painting under one arm and a bottle of expensive wine — the first one she grabbed — in her other hand.

"So," she exhales, gesturing her stolen bottle around the carnage, "does Nico just kinda go 'Get Us The Fuck Outta Here', and…?"

Her eyes settle on the lion. She contemplates it for a couple seconds, then gingerly leans the painting against against its body so she's gota hand free to see how soft that ear is; it takes a good few seconds longer before she withdraws and collects her double-stolen painting.

Nico walks down the hallway and the stairwell, a pace or two behind Hercules. That feels right. "So, what you're saying is -"

A door is ruptured asunder. "Go to Greece and make, like, a lion pen."

Nico picks up a wine bottle. It looks dark and rich and red, like her *soul*. She is able to pop it without using the Staff, apparently.

She raises it to her lips and, a moment later, swigs a whole mouthful down.

Her face burns. Sweat glistens on her forehead. She wants to choke /but a cute mercenary and also Hercules/ are watching. She swallows.

The world feels warmer. "I absolutely accept," she tells Hercules.

She picks up a couple more bottles and when she emerges she says to Domino, "Angela brought us here. I have to be /cautious/ with my spells. Hey, kitty," she calls to the Nemean Lion, "We're going to go by where I'm crashing, okay? Just for a little while!"

Nico explains to Domino, "I'm staying with cool people. They'll be fine with this."

"Do you want these?" she asks Angela then. "I probably should /not/ go back there with alcohol."

Angela holds up her hands in polite, empty dismissal at the wine. "I am unable to accept this gift at this time. I appreciate the offer."

She gives Domino an appraising look, and then reaches forward to pick the matchstick off the ground. "Our business is completed here. We are returning to New York City by means of astral teleportation. As appreciation for your assistance, you may join us if you wish. You are a mercenary, yes?"

"Yep," says the woman who's idly checking to be sure she didn't get any of her blood on her client's painting. "They got my bike early, sooooo…"

Hercules, a bottle of wine in each hand, folds his arms at Domino. "Of course! It's a tamed beast. I only kill animals that try to eat my ass off."

He drinks one of the bottles in a single shot.

Nico takes the opportunity to finish off her own bottle, kind of shuffling around the others. She can't figure out where to hide them.


Nico Minoru Learns A Lesson About Alcohol


"Is your client Tony Stark? - I guess you probably can't say."

"I am as well," says Angela to Domino. She stands with a smooth, controlled motion that lets on her unique athleticism. "Perhaps we will have use for each other."

Angela balances the matchstick in her fingers, thumb on the head, ready to break it like last time. She gives like zero consideration to Hercules comedy chugging an entire bottle of wine because this is natural.

"Together, now."

When the group closes in, Angela raises the matchstick. The lion lifts his sleepy head in idly curiosity. She presses — and, with a snap, everyone is once more elsewhere.

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