Your Own Personal Hellmouth

August 25, 2018:

Flamebird tries to stop what looks like an everyday theft which quickly gets out of control when the stolen item in question is Tom Judge's mystical demon summoning artifact.

Upper Manhattan - New York City

Not known for its tourist trade, Upper Manhattan is generally considered to start at the base of Central Park, along 59th Street, though you're just as likely to hear New Yorkers tell you to look north of 96th Street. It's one of the most affluent areas in the U.S., a center of business and commerce and upscale residences ranging from the mansions of the Upper East Side to the high-end condos and luxury high rises of the Upper West Side. While its most northerly neighborhoods may not quite rival the two sweeping swathes of ritz and power that flank the great park, even traditionally poor Harlem has seen considerable gentrification over the past two or three decades.
A neighborhood of about one hundred fifty thousand people at the northern end of Manhattan, Washington Heights is chiefly famous for having suffered a devastating crime wave in the 1980's related to the crack cocaine epidemic, though during the 90's the crime rate was driven down by aggressive policing and urban renewal. Presently it has one of the lowest crime rates in the nation.

Harlem used to be a mostly African-American through the decades, though this is no longer true (African-Americans are presently about 40 of the population.) The neighborhood has been the site of a number of amazing artistic booms, usually followed by equally devastating busts. Presently the area is slowly gentrifying, as is much of Manhattan. Other places of note include the Harlem Dance Theater whose troupe has toured internationally, the Harlem School of Arts, two well regarded hospitals and the City College of New York.

Morningside Heights hosts Colombia University and several other educational institutions and seminaries. Because of the proliferation of schools it's often known as the 'Academic Acropolis.' It's also the location of Grant's Tomb and several famous restaurants. What housing exists is mostly split between students and teachers/residents.

As the name implies Upper East side is the north eastern part of Manhattan Island. Once known as the Silk Stocking District, this is one of the most affluent areas in New York City. Collectively the neighborhood has about two hundred thousand inhabitants, and is home to some of the finest residences in New York, including the last of the River Villas.

Guggenheim Museum is a famous art museum located at 5th Avenue and 89th street. It's cylindrical profile is quite distinct. Originally established as a place to display non objective art, the collection later transformed into the one renowned today under a series of distinguished curators.

Carnegie is the iconic music hall of New York. Other venues are newer, sleeker or lager (though Carnegie can hold a bit over 3600 in three auditoriums.) The Hall puts on about 200 shows a year, and is further often rented out so that there tends to be always something going on any given day.

Located, as might be expected, in the northwest end of Manhattan Island, Upper West Side mostly serves to house the people who work in the Midtown commercial districts. It has a reputation for being the intellectual and cultural center of New York. Of other particular note is the Bloomingdale District along Bloomingdale Road which houses several landmarks.

The American Museum of Natural History (abbreviated as AMNH), located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City, is one of the largest and most celebrated museums in the world. Located in park-like grounds across the street from Central Park, the museum complex comprises 27 interconnected buildings housing 45 permanent exhibition halls, in addition to a planetarium and a library.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

Nightime in Manhattan, and the city is almost as busy as it is in the daytime. Morningside Heights is home to Colombia University, and with classes starting almost a week from now, the place is lousy with students making the most of their freedom while they can, spilling out from bars all over the place. There's a few altercations here and there, but it's largely petty crimes — just something to keep an eye on.

Out of one of these bars spills two people, into the alley beside it. A tall, thin looking man wearing a loose priest's collar, leaning heavily on a much shorter red-head.

"What… what did you do?" comes his surprised, slurred words, as he heavily slumps into the wall, one shoulder bouncing off, his hands too slow to break the gesture as he collapses onto the ground. He struggles for a moment to stand, failing miserably.

The red-head smiles winsomely. "Just a little addition to your drink, Tom. Not to worry. You'll be okay in a few, I promise. I just need to borrow this—" she leans over him, reaching for the chain around his neck on which swings an odd looking artifact — it looks almost like a double-barrelled cross, in silver.

The man sounds alarmed: "NO!" he yells, grappling for a moment to try and stop her, unsuccessfully. Immediately, the woman smiles, turns, and starts walking away.

*

Manhattan isn't the usual stomping grounds for the masked vigilante Flamebird. That being said Bette does have to pass through on her way to and from places more in need. And sometimes, like tonight, you just blunder your way into an ongoing crime. A mugging for a poor drunk guys necklace no less.

From up on the rooftop Flamebird does a quick pre-engagement gun check. With, hopefully, little chance of immediately getting herself shot she fires a line into a nearby building and swings down. Her costume is fairly loud, all reds and yellows, and the mask makes it pretty obvious she's some sort of super-type. "Look ma'am I'm in a bit of a rush, so if you return that mans necklace and promise you'll give up mugging people I'll consider letting you off with a warning."

*

The red-head stops, abruptly, when Flamebird lands in her path. Rather than looking alarmed at the appearance of one of the bat-family, she actually laughs, and deliberately places the necklace over her head, settling the heavy weight of the silver artifact against her chest, her hand curling about it.

Her smile widens. "Will you, now?"

At first it just feels like a slight darkening in everything — the buildings, the lights even, taking on a gloomy sort of cast. It's odd but not alarming, as such. A short moment later, is an odd thought: How could you possibly beat this woman? It was a certainty a mere moment ago, but somehow, there's a sudden, nagging doubt.

*

Bette Kane glances around as Manhattan suddenly starts to look a lot more Gotham than anyone would prefer. "That /was/ the plan," she admits, drawing an extendable baton from her utility belt. "But I'm going to go out on a limb and guess you aren't really looking to mend your ways peacefully?" Thankfully Bette is no stranger to going up against people (or should that be things?) that outclass her. After all you don't become a world class athlete by just giving up at the first sign of trouble!

She takes a step forward. "So I guess we're doing things the hard way huh?" Flamebird twirls the baton around to extend it to the full size, using the flashy maneuver to draw attention from her other hand as she palms something else from a belt pouch. "Shame, because that thing clashes /horribly/ with your outfit."

*

The red-head actually laughs, looking pleased despite her failure. "My! You're something! That or…" she frowns briefly down at the necklace. "I haven't fully mastered this yet. But give me time. I think I can—" she looks to her left.

It's like a tear in the sky, for half a second — heat washing out, the sound of screaming — and then something comes through. It is a demonic entity, that much is clear — its skin a weird mix of shadow and scales, spikes and teeth. It walks upright on two legs, its triangular head twisting towards the red-head for a moment, then towards Bette, rushing towards her. There's no nuance to the gesture: its intentions can be clearly anticipated.

*

"Whatever that something is I'm not sure mastering it is a good idea," Bette points out as the sky rips open. And then some sort of hellspawn monster comes out, suddenly a possible gun doesn't seem quite so bad, and charges.

Flamebirds reactions have at least been drilled endlessly until some things are as easy as breathing. Like triggering the blinding light pulse built into her mask as she hurls the gas grenade she'd palmed at the mysterious magic user.

There is a brief moment in which the street is lit up like a nightclub, pulsing light too bright to look at, and then a foul smelling choking gas fills the air. Flamebird doesn't even try to stop a charging demon with her baton, that too gets hurled through the air and likely bounces off the demons head. If she's lucky it slows it down by a fraction of a second, just long enough to throw a vial from her utility belt and dive to the side at the very last moment.

This time it's a lubricant that turns the section of street between Bette and the demon into a slip'n'slide.

*

While the demon is not subtle, it does have strength on its side. Its arms end in fingers — albeit with sharp claws — that come dangerously close to catching the Flamebird as she dives out of the way. It makes a noise, perhaps of frustration, but before it can turn, momentum carries it onto that lubricated stretch of road — and it tumbles, end over end — sliding away.

For a moment, the red-head watches Bette clash with the demon she summoned. Then, looking supremely satisfied, she turns and begins a quick stride in the other direction — not interested in the outcome. That's right when the gas grenade hits. For all the abilities the necklace conveys, its users are still effectively human — albeit with some advantages — and breathing is still required. She immediately doubles over, coughing violent, fingers again twisting into the necklace.

There's a groan from the alley way. Half slumped against the wall, an unfocused looking Tom Judge — sans necklace — stares blearily at the scene. "Fuck me," comes his belated reaction, blinking at the sight of a demon sliding awkwardly down the road past him, and the doubled-up red-head. He pushes himself straight, sways, grimaces, and hastily reaches out to the wall to steady himself. "Hey — hey!" he takes an unsteady couple of steps towards the red-head, pushed back by the gas cloud, coughing violently before he gets anywhere close.

*

"Everyone run! Demon on the loose!" Flamebird yells, just on the off chance any innocent bystanders are close to be in danger, as she bursts into a sprint. Chasing after the red-head with the stolen necklace. Thanks to her mask she's pretty much immune to the gas grenade and she's remarkably fast for a normal human. Plus that angry demon gives a lot of motivation to move quickly.

"And you, drunk guy, if I take the necklace away does that monster go too?" She yells. Hoping volume will get through the substance haze. "Oh and so help me god if you're evil too I'm going to kick the crap out of you."

*

Flamebird's yell earns a few confused looks from nearby patrons spilling out of the bar, but some people do listen and hurriedly take off in the other direction — if only to avoid what is clearly an altercation.

"What? No," Tom says, as he uncurls from his coughing. "The demon is already in this plane. We have to," he starts towards the demon, weaving unevenly, then stops as if frozen in indecision. Without his powers, he is practically useless, helpless. He makes a frustrated noise. "Great," he sighs. The demon seems to notice him, gets up carefully — now on all fours for additional traction — and races towards him.

The red-head's still moving — albeit at a much slower pace, coughing. She looks back, eyes widening as she sees Flamebird coming in, snarls, "You get any closer and I'll pull a dozen more, right into that crowd—" there's a line of people, further up the street, waiting for entrance to some venue, completely oblivious to what's going on further down the street.

*

Flamebird probably doesn't have the luxury of time to stop before she slams into Red-head, after all the time it takes to utter the threat is probably close to the time she needs to catch up. But that momentary eye contact is all Bette needs to trigger another blinding pulse from her mask and, in that moment of blinding light, a pair of bird-shaped throwing weapons cover the gap between them.

One bird-a-rang is simple clean sharp metal and arcs through the air towards the chain attaching the weird artifact to the evil Red-head. While the other is a taser bola that, if it connects, will put the same voltage as a police taser into her.

In a way though those are both distractions that will hopefully prevent more demons being summoned. Because something else is flying through the air following after them. Flamebird, springing off a fire hydrant, hurtles through the air to deliver a flying kick.

*

Tom exhales as he spots the demon coming for him. His lack of attempt to run — to move — is marked. Not just drunk, but drugged, maybe — too-wide pupils fixed on the scaly-dark creature as it leaps towards him, bearing him down to the ground under its weight. A moment later, he screams, as its teeth tear into his shoulder.

Meanwhile, the flash from Flamebird's light disorients the red-head successfully, though the metal bird-a-rang oddly perhaps zings uselessly off the chain, failing to sever it. The woman, however, is not so lucky. She goes down, twitching, to the ground, moments before Flamebird's kick connects successfully, making a groaning noise as she slides into unconsciousness.

*

"Hey /Ugly/!" Flamebird yells at the demon as she tries to pull the necklace off the unconscious woman. Hopefully it's not cursed or otherwise magically warded. "You want this old thing? Shiny old cross. Probably magic. Bet it'd give you untold power. And what ugly slathering monster doesn't want mystical power?"

If all goes to plan with removing the necklace she'll even hold it up and jingle it enticingly as she moves away from the unconscious Red-head. Hoping to lure the monster into chasing her rather than chewing the artifacts presumably rightful owner.

And if that doesn't work she'll shoot it in the back with her grappling gun.

*

Flamebird successfully manages to retrieve the necklace from around the red-head's neck. Which is good… and bad. It'd be hard to miss, even if she's focused on the demon — the way the buildings around her seem to crack and darken into some weird, moldering facade; the way there's suddenly a scent of smoke and a rush of oppressive heat in the air; the way the road underneath seems to suddenly melt, somehow.

Of course the demon wants the cross. "It belongs to us," it hisses, teeth stained with Tom's blood as it looks up, leaping towards Flamebird.

"No!" Odd that the drunk (drugged?) thin man seems more alarmed about her offering the necklace to a demon than it tearing a chunk out of his shoulder. Just. Weird. With his good arm, he tries to grab the demon's leg before it leaps away, succeeding only in delaying it by a few precious seconds before it manages to shove him off, sending him into a heap.

*

Bette Kane cringes inside as the demon talks. This sort of thing works a lot better when the monsters are stupid. "Well I guess you'll have to catch me first," she calls before leaping up onto the roof of a parked car. "Maybe I'll just find a nice church and dunk it in holy water for you. After all it looks pretty old and dirty."

The necklace gets jingled a bit more as Bette waits until the very last moment before the demon can reach her before firing her grapple gun and zipping off towards a nearby rooftop. Once she's taken to the air Flamebird begins swooping from building to building, round and round in circles, looking for a chance to swoop down and snatch up the injured stranger without the demon catching and eating them both.

*

The roof of the car — as she leaps onto it — looks odd, too, rusted and burnt out, where before she was sure it was fine. It still holds her weight, however, though it rocks alarmingly as the demon slams into it, intent on shoving it — and Flamebird with it — over onto its side. Fortunately, her zip line lands and takes her safely out of the way. The buildings she soars from are broken down-husks, windows smashed or missing like some kind of decrepit, abandoned town. The oppressive heat is only abated by the fact that she keeps moving.

Tom remains huddled on the ground, one hand now clamped over his shoulder, a painful groan escaping him as he tries — and fails — to stand. His gaze, too, tracks Bette almost as closely as the demon's does. It won't be long before she'll find an opportunity to snatch him up while the demon's struggling to catch up.

*

"Oh god I actually miss Gotham," Bette exclaims as she runs along a strangely run down rooftop. She gives the demon the illusion it's gaining on her, just long enough for it to climb it's way half way up a building, then she throws her ace in the hole at it. A small vial of what she was reliably informed to be holy water, straight down onto the creatures head and slathering maw. There isn't a lot and who knows if it'll even work. But hey it's better than nothing!

Regardless of how effective the holy water is Flamebird uses that moment to leap off the roof, fire her grapple and swinging dangerously close to the ground, snatch Tom up and haul him to the opposite side of the road. "Can you use this thing to fix… /everything/? Because there's only so long I can outrun this thing and Manhattan is getting a lot more infernal than I like!"

*

The demon convulses as the holy water splatters over it, twisting away from the stream. It topples to the ground with a sharp thud, but it's not long before it's up and moving again — towards them.

There's a stifled yell from Tom when Flamebird snatches him up, settling unevenly on his feet when she deposits him again. One bloodied, shaking hand reaches out for the necklace. "Yes," he says, with absolute confidence, despite the fact his pupils are totally dilated and he's bleeding pretty heavily from his shoulder. With shaking hands, he takes the necklace, sliding it over his head. Almost the moment she releases it, the heat is washed away by a cooler New York evening, the decaying images of the surrounding buildings fading back into something more suitable to lower Manhattan.

The demon races at them, and this time — as before — Tom just kind of stands there. Fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice — well, it doesn't quite go the same way. In a display of strength that was nowhere present a second ago, the tall, thin man reaches — punches forward, his hand caving into the chest of the creature as if it were made of little more than jelly. He yanks something out — and a moment later, the creature collapses into a pile of dark, unpleasant smelling goo. Tom's shaking hand drops whatever it was he pulled free, and then he looks back at Flamebird, kind of anticipating her reaction to that.

*

Bette Kane lets out a sigh of relief. "Not what I was expecting, but it worked so I'll take it…" she shrugs, then leans over to look at the street below. "Is she going to be a problem? Because I'm not sure I'm okay with you dealing with a person quite so… finally. I can take her to a police station if they'll be able to hold her?" She pauses for a moment, then adds "Also I'm not entirely sure how to ask this but… the demon remains aren't going to make people evil or into monsters?"

*

Tom presses his still shaking hand back onto his injured shoulder, pressing down against the bleeding there. He eyes the red-head with a narrowing of eyes. Not the gaze of someone considering killing someone — just unsure how to deal with a thorny problem. "The only person I might think of giving him to, I.. can't guarantee…" he exhales. "I'm not sure what the police would hold her on, but it will at least give me some breathing space. So I'd appreciate that." He shifts his shoulder, teeth clenching momentarily at the flash of pain. "No. It just smells horrible and is impossible to get out of carpet… or clothing," there's a hint of wry resignation there. "Hey, look. Thanks for… thanks. You have no idea what would happen if she'd… anyway. Thanks. Name's Tom," he adds, though he doesn't offer a hand, given one is bloody and the other is probably still covered with demon-gunk.

*

"There's a small camera built into my mask," Bette explains with another long sigh. "She /did/ threaten to summon demons to kill people. Which I believe could fall under acts of terrorism /or/ just plain old attempted murder. And after carrying that thing around for less than give minutes I'm pretty sure I can guess what might have happened. Some sort of hell on Earth scenario? Don't answer that I'm pretty sure this'll already be nightmare fuel for the rest of the year."

"Oh I'm uhm. Flamebird. It's an alias but that was probably obvious from the costume. Look I can't say I'm super happy leaving whatever that thing is with you but… I know I'm not really equipped to deal with it any better than you seem to be. Are you going to be okay getting treatment for your shoulder I can get you back down to the street and call the emergency services..? Personally I'd recommend you visit the Justice League or your heavy hitting superhero team of choice, see if they can help."

*

"Just, um. If you can keep me out of those," Tom gestures towards Flamebird's mask, "That'd be, uh, good." He starts to roll his shoulders, stifles a noise when he remembers. "Yeah, it's ah… one of those damned if you do things, you know? Trust me — you wouldn't want it, or what it brings with it. I'm… I'll be okay. I've had worse," the tall, thin man admits, wryly. "I'm just going to…" he gestures, and then turns and starts walking off, like that's normal. Maybe it is, for him.

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