Glories in Godlessness

September 09, 2018:

Angela and Nico attempt a ritual in the dead of night, only to be interrupted twice. The second interruption becomes much more deicidal. Angela finds greater reason to be furious with Gorr while Nico and Jackie are introduced to the concept of god-butchery. GMed by Spider-Man.

Bronx Park

A path in the parks around the Bronx Zoo.

Characters

NPCs: Tepeyollotl, Necro-Angela, Gorr the God-Butcher(?!)

Mentions:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Cities are difficult collaborators. They provide all manner of opportunities, this is true, but assured privacy is rarely one unless you are a person of certain means. Those means are more difficult to come by when the kind of privacy you seek involves the occult. There are many sorts who can track the smell of magic, and unfortunately hotels on this planet have not yet developed the means to provide complementary scrying defense.

This is why Angela once took Nico Minoru (and Hercules Yes-That-Hercules) to a park for their teleporting-required adventure to recover the pelt of the Nemean lion. This is now why Angela has taken Nico to another park, though fortunately this excursion promises to have fewer cross-country dimensional jaunts and were-lions.

Angela found a trail in the park along the Bronx river that is as near to abandoned as one may expect a place to be in this city. That it is the middle of the night definitely helps. Angela seemed sure of the isolation, but it is perhaps easy to believe this clearly supernatural woman when she makes declarative statements.

Angela spreads a map across the rough-hewn wall of the bridge they are under, because of course the park has scenic bridges and scenic paths going under them. The map is old and damp-damaged and only vaguely seems to correspond to the usual land masses. She is clad in what passes as one of her usual working outfits — for those just catching up with the tale, this involves a casual butch look involving dress slacks, a button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up, Oxfords, and a stoic expression that heavily implies this is not a woman who says things like 'a casual butch look.'

"You should be able to power the map without expending the resources of your artifact," says Angela. "Attempt this, and tell me if it is so."


Nico, paradoxically enough, was glad for all of this. And she's not lion.

Nico has put on a salvaged leather jacket that she took the sleeves off of - so it's more of a vest. It is zipped up and has had faux-fur put around the sleeve holes. Beneath that, a faded pink skirt cut from something older and longer and the perenneal classic of dark striped leggings. And the boots. The boots are big.

She hasn't pulled the staff.

"Give me a moment," Nico says, putting her hands on either side of the map, leaning a little to get the right angle without butting her shoulder into Angela's Angela.

OK, she tells herself. Do this right. Her eyes close. Her teeth set. You did this when you were snooping for demons, she tells herself. You said it looked like a peanut and Raven -

The power flows!

The letters dance. Water flows. "Hey!"


When there's a lot of weird asks moving through the local black market, it usually means trouble's not far behind it. It's one thing when someone's trying to buy a bunch too much cocaine — that means it's time to do some insider trading. It's another thing entirely when somebody is trying to get a bunch of spooky Satanic stuff, or at least that's how it was put to him by Vinny the Shirt.

Jackie Estacado got information from his people about a person looking to make big buys. He waved the rest of his goons off from pursuing her. If this is somebody with insight into occult matters, it's better that Jackie skip to the end and deal with it directly rather than getting four or five guys killed by having their skin turned inside out or something equally horrible.

The dead of night makes life easy on Jackie. The Darkness takes him to the park, allowing him a moment to get his bearings in an ink-deep shadow cast next to a bulletin board. Jackie wears a summery Armani seersucker so that the crushing heat of early September in New York doesn't leave him mostly dead. The venting and lining help tremendously. It's a black suit because it always is, and the Italian leather shoes are monkstraps because sometimes he ends up running.

But maybe this can be a cordial meeting, Jackie thinks, starting to walk up the darkened path toward the bridge.

The Darkness feels something it doesn't like immediately. Magic begins moving, and something else, something persistent. The stinging swimming feeling at the corners of his vision irritate Jackie, but he can feel the hackles of the thing shudder around his spine. Danger. Jackie doesn't know what kind of threat, but he's learned to at least listen to the Darkness when it starts writhing and spitting in his mind's eye.


Angela shifts her positioning, holding onto the map long enough for Nico to get in and put her hands to steady it instead. She lingers nearby from then on, crossing her arms and watching as the younger woman works her — well, you know.

"Hn," Angela comments. She is silent for several moments longer as the ink on the map swirls about and rearranges itself. The shapes become more complicated, and then less, and after awhile there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason emerging, much less an obvious meaning.

"Attempt to focus —"

Angela falls immediately and harshly quiet. She turns her head to gaze down one of the shadowy paths. A second later, she drops her arms to her side and turns to walk a few paces down.

"Put away the map," she says, her voice quieter but no less stern. "I will deal with this."

The persistent thing is a difficult feeling. In the weave of magic, it is woven together in a way familiar to several things, but it is not clearly any of them. There is one point of clarity: it is thick and strong and dangerous.

And it feels like it came from upstairs.

When Jackie comes into sight of the bridge, there is a tall woman with red hair and strange, pale eyes blocking the path. She stands with her hands visible and not enough bagginess on her to hide any kind of large weapon. Her poise is sure and unmoving. She does not speak first.


Jackie walks up the path. He can feel that other presence, and the closer he gets, the louder the Darkness gets about wanting to do something about it. Jackie is wary, but the Darkness sometimes doesn't know what's good for him. More often than not, things that make the Darkness this upset are things Jackie would rather not attack blindly.

Jackie is armed, but he doesn't want to walk into a situation with his gun out when it might be some Wiccans playing with the spiritual equivalent of matches. Maybe the Darkness is over-reacting. He keeps his hands empty as he continues along, not knowing what to expect.

Jackie comes into view of the bridge. He sees a woman standing there and immediately gets that imminent fight feeling in his stomach. Jackie keeps walking, maintaining a moderate pace and not displaying outward signs of aggression. In his mind's eye, the Darkness is spitting in his ear in fury. Jackie consciously ignores it.

Jackie stops at a respectful distance from the woman. He looks her evenly in the eye. It's a strange feeling to look a woman dead in her eye without having to tilt his head down, but he'll do that for this person. This is not a trifling person.

A few seconds go by before Jackie decides to break the silence. "Ayy," he says, a man who has spent his entire life within the twenty-five square miles of the Five Bouroughs. The interjection is a mixture of question and greeting.

Jackie decides to elaborate. "You talked to one of my business partners a while back about some goods. I figured, you know… it's good to follow up."


As the map is activated, Nico feels an obscure pride. She smiles at Angela then, and it's a hesitant, real thing, before Angela falls silent and Nico's eyes try to follow after hers. Nico doesn't spot anything, not right away.

She rolls up the map then. She also rolls up the smile. For safety she tucks it into her jacket/vest/thingy's inside pocket.

Nico shifts her position but does not step up to keep up with Angela, nor does she keep her pace up when she hears a guy call out 'ayyy' as if a 'how you doin' is mere instants from manifestation. Instead she reaches into the opposing pocket for the tape-wrapped X-Acto knife blade, though she only grasps it, doesn't move it.

Business partner, she thinks.

Nico bites down hard on her lower lip before she can blurt out 'oh you know hercules'? She tastes a little blood and a lot of inexpensive lipstick /but/ it keeps her from bellowing out her position so who is the real winner here? It is Nico Minoru, that's who. Especially since -

Nico can feel her soul quiver a little. God dammit, Nico thinks, teeth frozen. If I relax my jaw this is gonna get worse, but is it going to get /worse enough/?


There is a curve in the path that matches the angle of the bridge. It hides what is behind the woman, which is logically the place where the magic was coming from. Though she may very well be the more concerning of the things to be found here tonight, blind surprises are very rarely fun surprises in this kind of situation.

The woman remains eerily still as Jackie draws closer. When he stops a distance enough away to maintain the universal 'let's not do anything hasty' signaling, she finds herself content to look across at him. Gaze to gaze. Silence to silence. Seconds tick, one, two, three,

ayy

Angela subtly tilts her head to the side. Jackie elaborates. She evidently finds this worthy enough of response.

"I do not know you by anyone who I have dealt with recently," she says. "Explain who you are and what you want."

Her tone does not leave much room for argument, though granted finding room anyway is a fairly common talent around here.


Jackie isn't trying to push this into a fight, but it's very hard not to listen to the Darkness. It's the voice in his head that tells him that every gesture, every word, every unwanted inflection is a challenge. It feeds his desire to assert dominance over people. He's got to fight it. Every time he goes into a situation not knowing a thing and starts shooting, it gets way worse and never gets better.

"Vinny the Shirt, he sometimes does work in antiquities," Jackie says, and the way he says 'antiquities' clearly shows that he's said this word in his life maybe ten times. "I'm Jackie, and he comes to me when he has questions."

Jackie gets a dim sense of someone past Angela. He doesn't act on it. No, she's not a problem, this woman is. It's clearer now that the woman has some kind of antithetical relationship to the gibbering mad thing writhing in his hindbrain.

Jackie has to focus more on keeping the Darkness from bursting out from his sleeves, and so some of the professional distance rubs off:

"He's not really a guy who has a lot of insight into magic stuff," he continues. "So I wanted to know what you were doing because when a lot of high-end magic shit moves around in Little Italy it causes problems for the whole neighborhood. Then like there's demons and shit and it's bad. Not a super fan of demons. Like you probably aren't either, am I right?"


NICO MINORU, HERO OF THE BEST COAST, is slowly trying to unflex her jaw to get her teeth out of her lip.

s l o w l y but, Nico thinks, OK, it's working, I think it was below the threshold… okay… whew.

She straightens up and relaxes. Oh my god, Nico thinks. Vinny the Shirt, are you kidding me. What the nuts.

At least he doesn't like demons, Nico thinks further. That's good? But, she thinks further yet, that's also kind of like, baseline.

Nico sucks on the inside of her lip. In a moment a wound is going to widen just enough.


There are no sure things. Everything is a calculated risk. A roll of the dice, perhaps. Another woman who isn't here right now would say that calculated risks work until the celestial narrative finds it more compelling for them to not. It was a matter of time.

Another silence stretches out. The redhead seems to find no awkwardness in letting the pauses grow awkward.

That intensity in her eyes. The paleness of the irises. What does she see when she looks at Jackie?

"Hn."

Evidently Vinny the Shirt introduced himself as Vinny the Shirt to this woman. That's a noise of acknowledgment. She shifts the weight in her posture and is still once more. Her expression does not shift at all through all the demons and shit and bad that gets dredged up. Being this is impassive is either a talent or a damage.

"Do you take administrative responsibility over this area?" she says. "Disclosure was not included in the deals I made. If you seek this information, I will require something in turn."

Her hands move. In a tense moment, it is noticeable. She flexes her fingers, and then curls them slowly, ever so slowly, into fists.

"My privacy has a high value."


Jackie has no idea what to make of this person, but the one thing that will get him to chase after something is a mystery. This is a dangerous person doing dangerous work. If he gets involved it will only put him in a bad way. But that's his whole life, isn't it?

Jackie notices Angela's hands moving. The muscle fibers in his arms tense slightly. He's a fast and fluid gunfighter. His posture tells Angela that he's got two pistols, one under each armpit, at minimum. He's still not going for them, though the Darkness is chewing on his brain in frustration. It makes it hard to think, but Jackie is mentally strong in a way few humans can be.

"I'm good at finding things for people," he says. "Exchanging goods and services. I got things. Whatchu looking for?"


Nico Minoru sucks on the inside of her lip just a little too much and she feels a tiny wince. It's not a big pain - everyone's had it happen, when you bite on a popcorn and the hull scrapes your cheek, or you bite into something that fragments, or perhaps you try to slurp the last traces of yogurt off of your yogurt lid in the eternal quest for more of that key lime flavor.

Nico had been on the cusp. The cut in her mouth widens and she tastes blood - actual blood, not that low-key taste of your own soreness that comes from the burn mark of pizza cheese.

The feeling comes upon her like a swoon as a familiar spiritual blackhead gives way. From around the curve from Angela there is the dread invocation from a young throat: "When blood is shed, let the Staff of One emerge!" Nico contorts back slightly, and the Staff itself slides outwards with enough force that its round and geometric loop of a head may directly slide into Jackie's field of vision. Nico avoids the ultimate in shame by grasping its lower base and pulling it back.

The disgorgement of the Staff sends an echo through the subtle ethers. Is it a setup??


His name is Tepeyollotl. Eight Lord of the Night, ruler of the third day. To the Aztecs who worshiped him, the fury of his pounces were what made their lands tremble with the violent quake of the Earth. As the years passed, as stagnation and decline and conquistadors laid waste to what was once a grand civilization, people believed less in Tepeyollotl and his violent power over the earth. But he was still a god. He is still a god.

And it makes him just as much a target as any other.

It comes, just as Nico Minoru conjures forth her staff. As it disgorges from her body, a shadow casts in the cloud-clotted skies above her. Something coming. Descending, fast. She need only look up to see it:

A staff.

Just not hers, probably, a fact easily deduced by how it has a circumference like a large tree's.

Also, with how it's threatening to crush her.

She should have enough time to get out of the way — should, hopefully, if she notices in time, before that staff, white and at least twice as large as her and decorated with vibrant green feathers, CRASHES into the grounds of Bronx Park with an expulsion of dirt and debris and trembling ground. There it lingers, as some few citizens look on in shocked silence…

… before a drop of red splatters over pristine white. And another. And another. A small rain of bright crimson that hits with the scent of a warm summer rain mixed with iron.

A strangely refreshing prelude to the sight of the large jaguar god once known as Tepeyollotl making his last earthquake as he crashes upon his staff, bloodied and dead, with cratering force.

The sight of an entire horde of black, eyeless creatures like lizard men made of liquid shadows silently butchering him for every drop of blood he is worth as he falls prefacing that violent impact.


Jackie may never know what Angela is looking for. This is because behind her comes that mystical announcement of intent, which finally draws an emotion from the tall woman's face. It's subtle, and it's dark right now, but it's there.

The slight lidding of her eyes. The faint tilt of her head. The hint of exhaustion in her shoulders. Yes, it's true: that just happened and it was the worst possible time.

But as something changes in the air, something changes also in Angela's expression. She tenses and straightens, turning her head as if listening for something almost too faint to be heard. A moment later, the dark shape of the falling mass plummets into view. Torn between keeping her eyes on Jackie and turning to address the girder-like thing about to pierce the bridge and possibly whoever she's keeping hidden behind her, Angela whirls about to face her destiny.

She thrusts her arm forward. From her sleeve writhe out a mass of thin shapes — ribbons? They're like long strips of parchment, runes all down their lengths. They smell too pure.

Nico has about a half-second of consideration before she's wrapped up in ribbons and pulled firmly out from under the bridge and into Angela's waiting arm. The redhead is very casual about all this. It is with stoicism that she watches the godly staff shatter concrete twice, once for the bridge and once for the walkway underneath it.

Even she has to look upward when it begins raining blood. It runs down her cheeks and stains her shirt. Nico can feel Angela silently exhale a long, measured breath.

The drama comes quick. A corpse joins the party atop the staff, shattering the ground and prompting Angela to steady herself with a wider stance — which Nico, being held onto, can reap the benefit from. The redhead drops the arm that she raised to shield herself from the kick-up of dust, revealing the hungry, gnawing hordes that have silently come to claim what they have killed. Angela's eyes narrow in recognition.

"Merchant, flee," she says, raising her voice enough so that Jackie may infer she speaks to him. Quieter, to Nico: "Defense first. Run to safety if the fight turns."

Angela releases Nico from her grasp, ribbons slithering back up her arm to hide beneath her shirt. She takes a few steps forward to make herself the first target, and then unceremoniously reaches over to rip a bench out of the ground — one handed — and hurl it like an ungainly spear at a cluster of the creatures.

First step: get attention.


Jackie thinks what this person might want. Occult artifacts? They're rare, but nothing is that limited when you have access to the black market. Maybe he could work out an arrangement where he could get a finder's fee percentage. Ten, fifteen percent for some of this stuff is a tidy payday. Can't get too greedy. You don't kill a golden goose.

Nah, Jackie thinks. It's got to be something different, weirder. Maybe she wants somebody's skull. Rappers are into skulls. He knows a guy who would know a guy. Yeah, he can get somebody's skull.

Jackie's eye tracks to Nico. His pupils dilate as she makes an invocation, the pressure of sorcery washing by him. The Darkness rages in his hindbrain. He's barely keeping the power at bay.

stop holding back!
stop resisting!!!

Shut the fuh, Jackie manages to think, just before the missile-like staff races into the park. Jackie instinctively dodgerolls, throwing himself back and away from the point of impact perhaps a few frames of a second before impact. Angela is safe from him, at least for the moment. The Darkness' armor is already starting to overtake him as he rolls, fully manifested by the time he comes to a four-point stop.

The dust cloud hasn't even cleared by the time blood starts pattering down from the sky. Jackie can smell it well before he can see that the streaks left across his optics are red. There's another point of air pressure rushing down at them, so Jackie leaps back with all four limbs into a tree, putting himself further away from the impact of Tepeyollotl.

The Darkness itself enjoys being lightly sprinkled with blood. Jackie feels it being momentarily soothed, burbling in wet delight across the primordial part of his brain.

Things that look like Darklings swarm over the body of the jaguar god. Jackie doesn't know how he feels about this. Jackie barely knows what he's looking at. Angela tells him to flee, but Jackie's terrible at doing things he's been told to do. The Darkness sees ribbons and has to make a decision about order of operations. Jackie still doesn't get it.

"Were you trying to summon this guy?" Jackie calls out from the tree. "Because if you did, you fucked up!"

interlopers!!

What? Jackie thinks, looking into the middle distance. The Darkness guides his eyes onto the creatures.

servants of all-black the necrosword!!
kill them!!!!!

Oh, well, Jackie thinks, pulling out two hand cannons from behind his back. They crackle with Darkness energy as he vaults up out of the tree and starts firing down rounds of supernaturally-enhanced lead into the not-Darklings that are swarming the dead jaguar god.

At some point Jackie will remember to ask the Darkness who that is. It will probably be several days from now.


Nico Minoru would owe a vote of thanks to Tepeyollotl if she knew he was there, present, and existed. He was just a real amazing bro. A shadow falls over towards her as she straightens up with a firm grip with her left hand on the staff. The left hand, the hand of power, of authority.

Nico looks at Angela who spins to face her and is unleashing some kind of ribbons at her. Nico leans back but that's as far as she gets before she is suddenly grasped and pulled forwards. For a moment she thinks: oh god, but then she doesn't think at all as she ends up on the arm of Angela. Her ear jewelry is jostled enough to jingle faintly.

A drop of blood lands.

Another.

Nico knows this smell, this taste. Truly, Tepeyollotl has covered for her. EXCEPT THAT HE IS DEAD! Nico's eyes widen out as she recieves the baptism of blood, blinking away from it. The impossible surges. But she's seen horrible things. Straightening up, she says to Jackie, "No!! This is the Staff!" and brandishes it at him, albeit without impact. Looking back at Angela, she is Instructed. Without hesitation, she accepts.

Half-accepts. The ribbons go away. Nico stares after them for a fraction of a second - and then towards the… the things. "Are they vampires?" she asks in disbelief, perhaps hoping God or Jimmy Mafia over there has an answer. Grasping the Staff of One firmly, she contemplates spells.

Nothing screams to her. "— Who is that - he looks Native or something -" Nico says, and it is mostly the presence of Angela (and her hurled bench) that keep her from hollering.


There is something else up there. It is hard to see, floating and indistinct above the burgeoning cloud cover. Another beast? Another god?

Whatever it is, for now it lingers. Perhaps for the sake of dramatics.

Perhaps because any good hunter knows to wait for the perfect opening.

For now, though, the most pertinent and immediately recognizable threat remains on ground level. The shadowy forms so recognizable to Angela as the Black Berserkers of earlier seem not to register the existence of anyone else in their immediate vicinity, so single-mindedly focused on their task are they. Clawed limbs become the blades of butchers as they carve and dessicate the vaguely feline corpse of what was once a god, siphoning the warm red wellspring of blood like the apotheosized jaguar was a resource to be mined. Their maws open and chatter almost as if trying to make noise, but nothing comes. It is sacrilege in utter silence save for the sounds of violence, and perhaps that is what makes it most unnerving of all.

But it is a work that does not last long before a bench-turned-high-speed-missile seeks to interrupt it with abrupt and brutal force. A broadside of wood and concrete chunks slams into the back of at least three of the Black Berserkers with such an impact that it -shatters- against them as it bowls them over. One, who received the bulk of the impact, is literally broken, black ichor spitting from its perfectly bent body as its lifeless figure loses its cohesion and breaks apart. The other two go tumbling across the ground, eyeless heads snapping -directly- at Angela…

… before, with the sound of staccato booms of firepower and Darkness, those heads simply cease to exist.

Lifeless and boneless, the black beasts slump to the ground. And it is only then that the rest of the horde's gazes lurch upwards, all in unison, all upon Angela and Jackie. They tense. Their maws open in hisses that never come, dripping cold black nothing.

And they -lunge-.

Three leap into the air, aiming to tackle Jackie straight out of the skies he twists through. They are strong, incredibly so, driven by single-minded purpose as they are, and the cut of their shadow-woven claws feels like the chill of a void that does not exist — like a cold, sinking certainty that they are antithetical to anything that is.

The rest of them? The rest all barrel en masse towards Nico and Angela. They come in considerable numbers, as if something was making them fixate on Angela in particular, lunge for her with the broad swipe of claws and limbs that transform into various weapons from maces to axes, trying to violently separate Angela from the witch stylishly decorating her arm. Herd her away, away…

… until that something else drops from the sky. And it drops fast. Faster than the blink of an eye.

Faster than lightning.

Drops with a spear tip drawn down intent to run the wingless angel through at a moment of perfect opportunity. Like a good hunter should.

And it is only when it has landed, that it is visible. A woman. Long hair wild, floating, and a pale, reddish gray. Dressed in a button-up shirt, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, and slacks. Skin a pale almost white gray…

… and the eyes, that would normally be solid, pure white, colored an utter pitch black. She is easy to recognize. After all, coloring aside…

… she looks exactly like the woman she is attempting to impale with extreme prejudice.


There is much for Angela to respond to. Her cosmic senses sing with a predator's clarity: the Berserkers before her, unearthly silent and scentless themselves but able to be known by the gluttonous paths they carve. The rip-torn body of a dead god, already almost unrecognizable. A feeling high above, indistinct but present and in want of confrontation. Nico moving to react to her instructions, moving with a human's frailty but a sorcerer's potential. And, further behind her —

Angela spares a glance over her shoulder as the thunderous report of Jackie's guns comes again and again. She has enough time to only begin to snarl.

"Hellspawn?!"

The Berserkers are too close. Angela throws herself into the fray with a professional's efficiency and a veteran's expertise. A veteran of one battle with these things, maybe, but she is a quick study.

Claws and teeth and limbs. Pack tactics. Groups moving with some kind of communication, taking turns to lunge and retreat. Angela paces herself, refusing to be baited into a poor position. She moves with freakish foresight, sidestepping to precisely the correct places when one of the Berserkers is already committed. Any one of them that comes too close finds themselves at risk of a brutal counter: arms ripped, heads torn apart at the jaws, strikes that shatter and send flying.

Several times, Angela does not pursue opportunities to strike back that seem stacked in her favor, or ones where the risk seems even slightly present. These Berserkers find themselves spared for another go — but neither are their friends afforded an opportunity to break Angela's guard.

A long game. But Angela has all the time in the world to handle bonethieves with the care that they require.

Angela has raised a berserker over her head, pulling at its arm and leg to tear its shadowy body in half when the situation worsens. For those without the means to keep up, it is as if Angela was in one moment triumphant, the next halfway slammed onto the ground with her attacker looming over her, the rush of displaced air kicking up another cloud of dust and debris. The only thing keeping her from being sprawled on the pavement is the spear shoved through the right side of her chest, piercing her to the ground but keeping her torso aloft through friction.

The air rushes out of Angela. Blood spurts from her mouth along with the near-soundless gasp. She slides an inch down the spear, pawing weakly at the ground to hold herself up.

Then there's a snarl.

Another windstorm. A roar and a nasty shriek of metal scraping through pavement. In a flash, Angela has somehow wrenched herself to her feet, and in the process used the spear piercing her as leverage to hurl her attacker into the treeline. She staggers for a moment, pulling the spear forward out of her. Beneath her shirt, flesh knits together. While she waits for her lung to heal enough to allow her to breathe fully again, she looks out into the darkness to see who has executed this masterful strike.

Her eyes widen.

"How dare you!"

There's the lung.


Jackie sails through the air, firing down into the not-Darklings with gusto. Being made out of magic means never having to reload until it looks cool, and right now Jackie is still falling and has not yet finished his 'thought.'

Jackie hits a string of headshots. He counts as he fires each shell, trying to be artful while he has the element of surprise. Skulls — he had those on the brain — and brains! explode as he lands what are likely too many bullets from guns of that size into the not-Darklings. Nice.

Jackie doesn't make it to the ground and can't even get off a snappy answer to Angela. Three of the gruesome creatures spear him out of the air, driving him into the dirt and sending him skidding away from the jaguar god. They start tearing at him, forcing him to drop his guns to defend himself. That's okay. He always has more.

The Darkness' forearms sprout weird jagged tooth-like spines, with his fingers becoming more obviously talon-like by the second. He drives his spiked thumbs into the eyes of the creature on top of him, pushing back into its brain even as its comrades continue to rip at his armor. The monsters are strong enough to start leaving ruts in his nearly invulnerable shielding. The feeling of non-existence is a fresh, bracing sort of pain. Jackie is reminded of the time in the orphanage when he was dared to lick a flagpole in January. Sometimes he still gets toothaches.

Jackie curses in an incoherent string of broken Italian as he wrenches his thumbs out from the eyes of the first creature, raking his serrated forearm across its throat before folding back his legs to mule-kick its thrashing body away. Less entangled but spattered with nothingness-gore, Jackie slashes across the throat of the second, taking another goring hit across his back as he tries to roll free of the second and third at the same time.

Jackie is fast. Turning on the gas, he regenerates through the initial volley as he gets maybe two strides free of his remaining companions, but is critically distracted by the arrival of what looks to be Inverse Universe Angela. Not that he knows that name yet, but he's got eyes to see.

The two creatures rush him down in that moment of distraction. One drops low to try to take him out at the legs, while the other leaps in to rake its claws at his chest. Jackie barely blur-dodges past the charge, stumbling into a roll to collect his fallen guns.

Jackie riddles the two remaining creatures on him with shots, focusing on the chest and head in an efficient, artless manner. He's still punch-drunk from the initial ambush and is focusing on trying to get his bearings. Fortunately, Jackie has started to get used to having entire organizations of superpowered beings descend on him for no apparent cause.

"I ain't a hellspawn," Jackie finally manages to say, flicking his wrists to reload purely for show. There's always bullets in his guns when he decides there are. He fires into the group of creatures trying to race at Nico, seeing that Angela's got a big problem of her own.

"I'm just Italian."


A new challenger appears with great force. Nico begins to think, 'oh no, /she's/ hot' but she realizes swiftly enough even as the creatures move that this new arrival is mimicking Angela.

She has bigger things on her mind, though, like this creature barrelling towards her. The claws distort as the creatures come and Nico sees her opening and remembers what she learned in that great crucible of sorcerors and Satanists — BIBLE STUDY!

"Your Weapons to Plowshares!" Nico thinks, the Staff flaring to light as it reaches with transmogrificant force to the creatures' limbs. Maybe they can overcome its compulsion but the Staff of One has a great deal of weight behind it. Nico wonders, too late, what exactly a plowshare is.

Maybe the Bible will help if they're from Hell, Nico thinks further, twisting the Staff round and holding it in front of her, as if it were a polearm. The nimbus of apocyan light around its head may help keep these eyeless things at bay if they can feel the magic - without eyes, of course, the effect is limited.

Nico's eyes turn back towards the mob guy Angela (the regular Angela, not her evil clone) was here to talk to and sees him erupting into living glossy black material that seems - it's impossible to tell why but to Nico it looks, tastes, smells different than this blackness. Surrounded by two distinct forms of throbbing, serrated blackness, she begins to feel a certain comfort.

It helps that the Thing that had gotten nearest to her, which had only had to do a sort of briefly-delaying side-lope to avoid Angela and Alegna, is immediately shot repeatedly by the mob guy. It may be some kind of alien horror-creature, but bullets are small objects going real fast.

The spell crackles outwards as she calls to Jackie, "Thank you!" His guns are weapons. They may very shortly be plowshares.

To the Creatures, Nico says, "Get the FUCK away from my planet! I have the secret FUCKING fire and you can hit the FUCKING bricks!" Perhaps this too is Jackie's bad influence. Her voice raises to call out to Angela - plaintively, a little - "Is exorcism gonna work!?"


~ANGELA~

Impassive is the fact that stares down upon Angela. Like it has inherited every aspect of her down to her impeccable stoicism, there is not even a twitch of facial muscles as her mirrored double watches her struggle.

Just the faintest edge of some sadistic pleasure, the slightest sliver, to indicate the echo of someone else within that mercantile mix.

It is an expression that does not shift, even as Angela wrenches herself upward along the black, blood-blotted tip of that spear. It is her reflection in every way. And for those ways it has yet to account for…

… it adjusts.

A fact that Angela may well find herself acquainted with as she uses the momentum and placement of that bloodied spear to toss her assailant through the air; as she rips free the spear, soaked in an existential absence, from her chest, she might catch sight of something from the corner of her eyes.

Tendrils BURSTING from the back of the Inverted Angela, shadowstuff that twines together, reconstitutes itself, grows long and flowing…

… until black and gray ribbons are snaking out to ensnare the wingless angel and YANK her along on her doppleganger's violent ride.

And a violent ride it is. This creature, this Angela-That-Is-Not, is as efficient as it is cruel, a combination of the ruthless practicality of the Mistress of the Hunt and… someone… else. As soon as Angela is close enough, there is an elbow — sprouting a spike at its end — that seeks to drive towards her still-heeling chest, to hammer the mending, weaker flesh and reopen wounds still trying to heal. If she can, she breaks -off- that spike, and the abyssal black of it will start to work through her system, to make the wingless angel work harder, and harder, and -harder- to heal, that inky black protrusion blossoms its way into her like a cancer as they both go careening towards the Bronx Zoo's Tiger Mountain.

"HOw DaRE yOu!" shouts the negative Angela, thusly dubbed Alegna, the voice distorted, pitching higher and lower as if adjusting, LEARNING the way Angela speaks… flanged with another, coarser voice on its fringes. Something cold. Purposeful.

"FUnNY hoW you ALL sAY ThAt. AS IF you merit somethIng moRE.

"it USUallY comEs jUST beFOre the SCREAMs."

~JACKIE & NICO~

Thumbs find eyes, only to find nothing but cold darkness to dig into, as if these beasts, whatever they're made of, wherever they come from, have no -need- for them. Every cut, every pint of blood scored off of the man, he will feel get almost literally -dragged- out of his body, absorbed by the claws, by the swords, by the plowshares—

—wait, what?

This would be Nico Minoru's intervention, as magic washes over the battlefield just in time to turn sharpened swords and jagged claws into tools for manual labor. It's enough of a sudden shift that the Berserkers look momentarily confused — and more than enough of a distraction for Jackie to capitalize on. Distraction for distraction, as Jackie yanks himself past, the Berserkers twist their heads about to stare upon Nico —

—only to be gunned down in a spray of viscous black for their efforts, painting the cratered earth beneath them so many hues of black (and slightly darker black). The two beasts fall.

The others, however, are now staring directly at Nico, as if perplexed. As if curious. And even as the malleable voidstuff that composes them struggles to warp their bodies back into their proper states…

… the reptilian darkbeasts bound towards Nico on legs and plowshares, the ridiculousness of it undercut by how swiftly they are adapting to their new anatomy to make for a wholly unnerving sight; one lunges for the witch, attempting to tackle into her. And yet, for strength that could easily paste someone as (relatively) fragile as Nico, this one seems to almost hold back. To try to -restrain- her, not kill her, a fact proven by how the others try to grab for limbs, to hold her down. Not even try for her blood.

Broken bones, however, well. That's something wholly different.

Jackie, of course, has a choice; help Nico now that the Berserkers' attentions seem to have been stolen by her, he could just leave, like Angela suggested. Or he could try to save Nico. Or something wholly else. The shadowbeasts all seem suitably distracted —

— save for one, still gorging itself upon the god-carcass of the former Aztec deity. A Berserker that seems to just… break apart into wisps of shadow and fly towards the heavens as swiftly and bizarrely as it came as soon as its work is done.

~ANGELA~

And as Angela and Alegna bomb towards the zoo enclosure, she too might get a brief moment of opportunity, as her doppleganger's attention is stolen away — black-eyed stare snapping in Nico's direction, perilously briefly, at the exact same moment as the Berserkers.

What -that- might preface is probably nothing good, either.


Oh, her name is Angela, Jackie thinks. That's not… that's like naming your son Boy. What the fuck, God?

In the midst of combat, Jackie feels Nico break out some kind of transmogra… transmitigr…

"Fuck that's some kind of transforming thing," he says to himself, feeling the energy wave pass through him. Jackie could theoretically counter it, but all this magic stuff is complicated and he usually doesn't think too hard about what he's doing. The less he thinks, the better things work.

Jackie's hands get heavier as he finds himself holding a pair of long-handled plowshares. He takes a moment to feel surprise, but then the gangster mindset kicks in. He got into an argument with Sister Callaghan that making a sword into a plowshare didn't disarm anybody since the wood and metal was still sitting there waiting to be used, and besides, a man back in Bible times could fuck up a dude with a rock and a slingshot.

And now there's an angel right there, so God is watching. An angel and an anti-angel? Is that canon? No, put that aside. There's a more important thing to be done today. At long last, Jackie Estacado is going to make a point in front of God and everyone.

Jackie charges into the reptilian beast-men with his dual plowshares. He swings in great raking strikes, his absurd strength capable of shearing flesh from bones with these impromptu melee weapons. He carves into the group, rending off one's plowshare-arm before stabbing into its back with the other plowshare. Spearing the beast through, Jackie swings his now-weighted plowshare into another reptile-man, clobbering them both away before clearing the weapon of the awful void-stuff.

Jackie keeps going, having not even noticed the other creature feeding on the jaguar-god. He's in the groove now, swinging in for another reptile-man's head with one plowshare to try to clobber it off, twirling to parry another Berserker's strike before punting it in the stomach to knock it away.

"Hey witch lady," Jackie asides to Nico, before trying to stab the Berserker trying to hold Nico down in the back with an increasingly battered and warped plowshare. "Maybe you should get away from these guys."


Angela, still recovering, turns her head slightly in Jackie's direction when he corrects her. She does not respond. There are more important things here than the nature of Italians and their dark powers.

"No," she says in ragged-voiced response to Nico. "Hit them until they burst."

Using the spear to push herself fully upright, Angela looks across the way at her counterpart. The Berserkers seem satisfied with her cut off from Nico and the Italian and, for the moment, Angela must accept this state of being.

As she takes the thing's measure, those black and gray ribbons rip out from its back. Angela tests the spear's weight in her hands, getting a feel for its heft. It will not be a good close-in weapon. She will adjust. Her first adjustment: charging in.

Angela throws herself into the thing's tendril-ribbons. She is yanked from her feet by sudden force, but she prepared herself for enough of this. Spear readied, coming closer —

But the mirror of her is ready, having made its arm into a new implement. Angela is forced to twist her spear aside, knocking the first spike-tipped blow from her center of mass. When the next one comes, Angela shoves the center of her spear forward like a staff, throwing the strike off by bullying her foe's shoulder. Another — Angela turns into it, letting slash across the side of her shoulder instead of pierce her through.

It's smart. It learns. She can't let it know anything else.

The thing presses its many-limbed advantage, this time having abused the awkwardness of Angela's position enough that she can knock the spear away. Angela immediately tenses her body to prepare for a vicious straight punch across the jaw, but a ribbon is there to stop her wrist.

The thing speaks. Angela grits her teeth. She can feel something winding its way into her where she was cut. Something cold and sick. Her body isn't fighting back as fast as it should. Just before the screams —

The thing's attention shifts away for a perilous moment.

Angela knows her moment.

Ribbons erupt from her back through her shirt, snaking outward once more to seize the spear even as it cartwheels away. Wrapping firmly around, they turn it home — and bring it slamming back down toward Angela's doppelganger.

All debts repaid.


The creatures are baffled. That's good. The creatures have had their limbs turn into - into - those look like chisels, thinks Nico "I never took an agricultural class because the California educational system was focused on making me college-ready" Minoru.

Chisels are still a step up. Chisels are only pointy on the end. Right?

Then they come for her. She swings the staff forwards as if unafraid of breaking it but this manages to slow down the one that was coming right at her - makes it so that instead of being full bore tackled and, perhaps, pinned with a soft option on crushing her bones, she is instead knocked over with her right leg soundly thumped and pinned down. Restrained by one leg, she has few options on this. "Hahh," Nico half-burbles.

Another one loops a plowshare-bearing limb in between her left arm and the staff, pulling at her. She clings to the Staff of One and does not relent but is pulled towards the ground, which is the belated point where she starts to kick, swearing internally BEFORE

Her leg is free! The one that had been binding her arm is clobbered as well and Nico half-wriggles out of the grasp, answering Jackie according to her nature, hot and fast. "Why, so I won't see it when they stab me with the plowshares!?"

Then she parses what Jackie said. "Oh," she says, and she rolls away from them before attempting to rise anew. At this point Angela gives her a suggestion - an advice-point, a tactic.

Nico fixates on one word of it.

Burst! She blew that one back in California. Think, she thinks. Think quickly.

The Staff of One is brandished towards every black un-thing Nico can see and she speaks her judgment with a single dark phrase, unhallowed since the early days of history. "Espresso Grind."


~NICO & JACKIE~

They have no words. They were not bred for discourse. The Black Berserkers were bred for one thing, and the butchered body of Tepeyollotl lays as testament to what that is.

It makes the way they silently seek to disarm and restrain Nico Minoru all the more harrowing in its way, as if to ask a simple question:

'If they do not want her dead, what DO they want her for?'

It is a question that, perhaps, will unanswered for today, thanks to the efforts of Jackie Estacado. Wordless to the end, they make no sound save for the hard than soft sound of shadowed skulls crushing into squishier ichor as Jackie brutalizes the creatures attempting to arrest Nico with masterful strokes of his plowshares. Shadow is scraped from shadow, spines severed and bodies manhandled with expert violence as two of the creatures collide into each other in a mess of body parts that seem to merge with each other into an indistinct, cronenbergian tangle limbs and other various extremities.

There are more though. So many more. Even as Jackie frees her, the remaining Berserkers are circling. Pack tactics. Cutting off points of escape for both of them as their limbs finally begin to reshape into be-taloned normalcy. Their jaws open, dripping with darkness (but not Darkness), a few cocking heads in faint imitations of curiosity as they stare at the witch and the Italian with the power of a god. As if they — or the one riding them — find themselves fascinated by what they are seeing.

Fascination only carries so far, though. And so they lunge —

Espresso Grind.

And immediately pause in mid-air, as some unseen force presses upon them like the Espresso Machine of God. Friction mounts and mounts as they all compress, all around Jackie and Nico, almost comically flattening like pancakes —

— and then one by one, those Berserkers just rupture in wet gouts of all-black, splattering them both in horribly, existentially cold gunk as those beasts are ground down, down, down into wet, sloppy granules. Like coffee grains.

Probably not advisable to try drinking them, however.

~ANGELA~

One moment. One perilous moment.

One opportune moment.

*SHHK*

That's all it takes, for scales to be balanced.

The monochrome doppelganger stands there, spear running through its chest; black drips from the tip, mingling with the crimson that decorated it from its earlier stroke upon the thing's opposite number. Abyssal blood mixes with the blood of something else, something it is already composed of, and the shadowy duplicate just… stands there. It does not discorporate, like a Berserker would, or should. But the pain also does not seem to quite register, even as it coughs up a thick chunk of black from its lips. That stoicism is Angela's. The gargled, fluid choked voiced, Angela's.

"… IT's fuNnY, in a WaY."

That cruel, empty smile is someone else's.

"i HAd nO InTEntiON of DEalINg with YoU aGaIN. ColLateRal to a HIGHer pUrpOse. And THEN i sAW the BLUePrINTs of yoU. SaW whAt yOu ARe. AND now HEre yoU aRe AGain." The doppelganger's hand wraps around that spear. Ribbons tangled with ribbons, that cold emptier smile splits into an emptier grin, white teeth stained black with blood.

"I wONdeR if it's FATe. RegARdLeSS…"

And as it RIPS the spear free from itself, that wound starts to try to mend itself. Just like Angela.

"… I hOpE yoU live for a VERY LonG TImE."

And then it BREAKS off, attempting a violent, blurring rush that obliterates trees and structures in its way with the sheer, blinking speed of it. Within a moment, Angela's double is there —

— within the next, it is upon Jackie and Nico, attempting to seize both of them up in whipping ribbons that seek to ensnare their limbs and lift them both up off their feet. To hold, if only for a moment, so that flanged voice can pose a simple, blood-choked question.

"Hello. TEll me, humans —"

A simple, blood-choked question, as all the disassembled Berserkers start to funnel into the Negative Angela, with all the blood they have stolen.

" — dO you BELIEVE in your GoDs?"


Nico boggles at the coagulation, the combination of the creatures even as she finishes the spell. The spell takes a moment, because the Staff of One appreciates a good set-up as much as anything else.

The spell fires forwards. It does not betray Nico…

Except in so far as she is drenched in fundamentally clammy, horrid black goo. "Uh," she says, then "ughk," then, "Jesus Christ!!" Which is probably a pretty fair reaction to all this. She wipes off her face and eyes in particular just in time to feel that the material is coming off of her and the reason why is, oh, so much worse. Staring dead ahead the creature is there in front of her.

She is grasped four-point and raised upwards, feeling her body lurch. It isn't the first time she got elevated like this but it is unduly forceful. Whatever this trick is, Nico thinks, daze threatening to sneak into her awareness, it's able to do it too. Great!

Then the creature wearing Angela's visage asks them a question.

Nico focuses. It is more than the cloudy flustered focus she had had at minute-one of this particular encounter. Confusion evaporates as she regards the question because nothing focuses your mind nearly as well as being held helpless by a creature. Fear quivers there, but:

'do you believe in your gods?'

So, Nico thinks back on life.

She imagines the feeling of being part of something greater in her brief tenure as an altar girl. She remembers, transiently, the wonder of meeting Hercules, the Prince of Power, and the curiously guarded sensitivity he seemed to have.

Against this she weighs three hundred and fourteen unanswered prayers, two dead friends, two dead parents, and the sleepy-eyed six-fingered looming straggling form of the Gibborim.

"yeah," Nico says, "but they're not gonna save you."

I wonder if she'll get me in the belly or in the neck, Nico thinks even as she keeps talking, turning the Staff a little in her hand, which it has not left. "Not gonna save us, I mean. We have to do that our own damn self." Her voice changes timbre as the magenta gleams back in her eyes. "Mistrial," she casts.

The spell forms — did she mis-pronounce it? — before it descends down towards Jackie Estacado. The spell slides down and he would for a fleeting moment have the profound interior experience of HAVING GOTTEN AWAY WITH IT — but that's just a side effect because Nico had to think laterally to get this one off, because the real point for an Italian tough guy with a friend named Vinny the Shirt is that a mistrial—

Means you're free to go.


Nico weirdly answers Jackie. Jackie can't emote well with the mask on, but it's not impossible to imagine how confused he might be. These are monsters, and Nico doesn't seem to be built to fight hand-to-hand like Jackie is. Run off, Jackie wants to say, but he needs the air now to keep killing these things with what are rapidly becoming metal cudgels.

Nico starts getting clear, which is about as much as Jackie can do right now. Jackie smashes another Berserker with a plowshare, blurring around another charge. The creatures are becoming some horrible mass of limbs. Jackie sees the increasing impossibility of this fight as motivational, breaking into a side roll to evade one strike, leaping over another, and hurling himself at the mass with both plowshares extended like he was going to climb a mountain.

Jackie drops through churned Black Berserker as the espresso grinder starts up. He stumbles through his landing, disoriented by the sudden lack of mass and the massive Gallagher-like splash zone he entered in. The terrible coldness of the void rushes around him, and for a moment Jackie thinks he's managed to make a deadly mistake. Is he going back to Hell? AGAIN?

The pool of horror passes. Jackie's plowshares are back to being firearms. He's already starting to turn toward Angela and her double when the furiously fast thing is upon him!

Jackie is hoisted into the air, the ribbons wrapping around his limbs and pulling uncomfortably. Critically, the ribbons keep Jackie's guns from aiming at the center mass of the Inverse Angela but leaves him face-to-face with her. It heals like he does. It's fast and strong, just like him. Angela's got to be a tough customer, even if she did get a bad draw on names.

It speaks to him. The Darkness screams at it inside of Jackie's mind, but Jackie considers the question. Does he believe in his God?

Well. He ain't here, is He. Jackie has seen Hell, but he's fought agents of what claimed to be God and found them just as able to bleed and die as anything else he's shot full of holes. Maybe God is just another guy, only older and bigger because He got here first. The God that he was sold in the orphanage? That isn't what God is.

It's not like believing in God kept the Darkness away. Not like being good and decent protected Jenny from all the evil in the world. God didn't look out for Jackie, the Darkness did, and the Darkness is about as far from anybody's conception of God as you can get.

The girl is talking brave. She got sand, Jackie thinks, even as he prepares to give people night terrors for the next twenty years. Some magic starts happening, which is unexpected but not unwanted. He knows what the word mistrial means. Jackie's gotten FOUR of those.

The ribbons fall away in a bloom of sorcery. Jackie is still elevated. "My turn," he says, as his back erupts into shadow tendrils. The Darkness, the primordial force of creation and chaos, begins reaching back into the universe through him. The tendrils have the vantablack light-devouring depth of deep space, but start pulsing with carnal, luminescent red like the arteries of a giant.

The tendrils race in at the Negative Angela. Some taper into arrowhead-like points before starting to punch into the creature, boring into her to start pulling muscle from bone. The larger ones develop heads that sprout row after row of serrated fangs, multiple glowing red eyes appearing just over their wet lips.

"THIS IS MINE!" the Darkness screams through its many mouths. Some of them dive in to start biting at the Negative Angela, trying to rend flesh and bone between baying in its mad wet gibbering hate. "ALL OF THIS IS MINE! MINE! MINE FOREVER!"

As the Darkness howls and rages, Jackie brings up both his guns and starts firing into the center mass of the Negative Angela. He doesn't try very hard to miss the tendrils because his shots don't hurt them anyway. Jackie fires off an absurd volume of rounds, yelling as he burns through the bottomless drums of ammunition he conjures to slake his id.


Spear planted. Angled downward. As much mass pierced, as many muscles damaged. Angela couldn't count on hitting the right internal organ this time. The two come skidding to a halt, Angela planting her feet firmly to arrest her forward momentum even as her ribbons keep the spear shoved down enough to do the same for her attacker.

Silence. Angela stares down the other. Their ribbons, white parasympathetic organism against shadowy something, struggle in a dozen places. Angela's little assistants steadily work her free from the monster's grasp.

And THEN i sAW the BLUePrINTs of yoU

Angela pulls her lips back in a snarl, silvery-white eyes catching the moonlight.

SaW whAt yOu ARe

A ribbon works her wrist free, allowing her to tear her arm loose. She immediately reaches over to rip another shadow tendril loose to free her other arm.

I hOpE yoU live

Angela presses forward, seizing further shadow ribbons as she goes, trying to fight her way to the creature who wears her face —

for a VERY LonG TImE

But the wind takes her. Angela is knocked away by the thing's sudden rush, leaving Nico and Jackie to fend for themselves for a dangerous few moments.

They manage. They manage, but they do not understand. If Gorr knows what makes an angel — if he truly knows, and did not merely approximate — then there is little to be done here to stop this creature without the proper tools. Tools that would draw Asgardian eyes.

The darkness-wrapped man makes a go of it, as many Hellspawn have done in the past. He is strong and confident. If he is truly not one of them, then the legions have missed an opportunity to recruit one of their finest. But the young Spawn are always so confused.

A shadow drapes over the murderous pair below. It is a warning, of sorts. If Jackie has a mind to notice that a shadow in this position means someone hovering over him, that is.

Above them, silhouetted by the moon, Angela hangs in unearthly silence midair. The ribbons exploding from her back float serenely in a nonexistent breeze, arranged in two branching formations that suggest wings. The thing's spear is in her right hand. Angela looks down at the gathered from behind the stoic, subtly alien quality of her face. She looks into the thing's being, and beyond it, into the remote intelligence that seems to speak through it.

"I will come for what belongs to me."

A flicker. A rush of wind. A hole in the clouds above where there was not one before. Angela is gone — and then, a horrible, howling second later, a blurring shape comes crashing down from the heavens with outstretched spear reaching for the face that does not belong to its wearer.


"yeah, but they're not gonna save you."

The thing that wears Angela's face tilts its head. Screws its brows in a muted display that almost physically cannot express itself any further beyond subtleties, as if it were ingrained into its inherited genes. And yet it speaks, in its mild way, to someone attempting to decide whether to be affronted… or something else.

The ribbons coil tighter.

"We have to do that our own damn self."

… And then they begin to loosen, in those brief moments before Nico weaves her spell. And the precarious balance of the Inverted Angela's expression weighs towards one end.

Nico and Jackie might see it, that faint hint of respect, that mote of fascination, before the Darkness manifests itself in all its babbling, violent chaos.

The hint of a smile.

"gOOd. I will let You sEe it. The glORies of the GODless age—"

Mistrial.

With one word, the Darkness is unleashed. So similar, and yet, on some deeply fundamental level, completely different. The chaos that underpins all of creation clashes with the blank slate of something that came BEFORE, before there could be before. Shadow tendrils -spear- through the Not-Angela over and over as its ribbons are unwound into nothing even as they regenerate themselves, even as every hole punched through it starts to mend themselves around those sharpened points. Gouts of black — nothing but black, all black — sputter across those multitudinous appendages as the Negative Angela goes bending violently backwards, pinioned on multiple spears of the Darkness even as its great, red-eyed maws gorge themselves on flesh that tastes somehow both divine and celestial yet everything those things are absolutely not. An unholy union that should not, could not, have ever been, and yet is. She tastes cold. Warm.

And utterly repulsive to the very basic senses of all that is.

Teeth and bullets rend and blow apart the replicant angel, but for every chunk that goes missing, the shadow spurts long, ceaseless tendrils of inky black that net themselves together to reknit, recreate, make whole again. The sheer, absurd volume of firepower, however, might yet catch up in time. But as Jackie unloads, the Not-Angela reaches out. Its fingers become tendrils of nothingness, snaking towards him, blowing apart with gunfire only to reform.

"YoU weAr sOmethINg SpECiAL. RePUlsivE. I WOndEr what it will THInK, whEn i shoW it my vISiOn—"

And then a shadow casts. The Inverted Angela, half-destroyed, half-reforming, looks upward. Looks above. At the wingless angel, brandishing its weapon, leveling her promise.

I will come for what belongs to me.

And Angela's mirror smiles its cold smile.

"I dO hOPe yOu mAnaGe."

"I would be terribly disappointed if we did not meet again."

BOOM

Velocity accounts for much, when it comes to the sheer damage it can cause. The velocity, the momentum, of an angel, smiting its counterpart?

Within the Darkness that makes the not-angel struggle to maintain its form, the impact of the two Angelas is a blinding white light.

And in the aftermath, there is nothing.

Just wisps of black rising into the heavens…

… and the murdered god those heavens so recently disgorged.


Jackie loses himself for a few seconds in psychopathic carnage against the Inverse Angela. Bullets fly. The tendrils rip and tear. The Darkness rants and raves, screeching through its many mouths about its ownership of creation. For those blissful few moments, Jackie is entirely subordinated to the glory of destruction.

But he comes down. Physically. As the Inverse Angela is spear charged, the Darkness loses its grip on her. Jackie clatters onto the ground. Once there is nothing left to bite for the moment, the Darkness' tendrils evaporate like dreamy afterimages.

Jackie ends up on his back but with his pistols still raised at the patch of air the target previously occupied, chambers symbolically cleared, a collection of ejected brass laying around him that is slowly evaporating as Jackie stops thinking about it.

Jackie brings his arms down, the guns disappearing in a few spare motes of shadow. As he pushes himself up, the Darkness' armor also evaporates, leaving him once more in his immaculate black suit. Jackie seems tired, but otherwise unharmed from his ordeal.

Jackie looks around. He looks back at the jaguar god, then to Nico, and then to Angela. He makes a decision. Jackie's got to help these people. He knows exactly how.

"Okay," he says, "so… so our stories are straight for the cops, when we got here the furry was already dead."


Angela twists and pulls the spear from the crater than she made with it. Floating backward, she alights firmly upon the ground again. The ribbons slither back beneath her shirt, wrapping themselves around her torso — this much is visible now with how many holes she has in her shirt.

For a quiet moment, she studies the spear left in her hands. Then, with abrupt disgust, she drops it.

Angela looks from Jackie, to the furry, then back to Jackie.

"He seemed already dead," she says.

The redhead turns away, reaching up to brush her hair back. "Nico, let us leave before the magical enforcement authorities arrive. You who say you are not a Spawn —"

Angela glances over her shoulder one last time, weird-irised eyes gleaming.

"— I will find you to finish our conversation."

There's not much more room for conversation as she starts off down the path that isn't blocked by a dead god.


Nico will realize that moment of smile, that touch of respect, later. It will come to her as she's dozing around 11 in the morning and despite the early-fall light that will be coming in off of Long Island Sound in the glass synthetic halls of the tower the Titans have opened to her, she will think mostly of darkness, and feel only cold.

Right now she has bigger fish on her mind's fry. She is loosed and she lands and she stumbles and she raises her eyes in time to see -

That.

The interplay of gun and darkness in three different levels flows in front of her eyes. It is thrilling in some obscure corner of her soul. For a moment Nico forgets her body is a relatively frail thing that she has tried to test to destruction in desultory moments; she forgets just about everything but marvelling.

Angela returns, too. The harsh shine of the light throws a huge shadow behind Nico Minoru. She raises a hand and half-turns away from the sudden spike but the shadow behind her seems to be reaching towards it, thanks to that trick of the light —

And then that too has ended.

Nico feels something wet run down her back. It is a horrid layer-parfait of godsblood, residual slime, and her own sweat. She drips. And she reaches into her vest and when Angela comes to speak of her she has already gotten out her telephone, which, mirabilu dictu, did not die.

"J-just a sec. Hey - Reaper dude - Jackie. Get out of the frame for a minute," she calls to him, and then the phone comes up. The electronic shutter noise whirls several different times and the flash feature fires several others.

The phone gets put away. "Thanks," she calls to Jackie.

And then she turns, and she walks with Angela. Her boots squelch as they do. Nico Minoru's feet are immersed in the blood of divinity. It sucks a fatty.

"… You want the map back?" she asks Angela. And then, "Those things - were they Spawn?"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KP6p4S5rIxs

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