October 09, 2018:

A missing Meggan! A most grand wedding reception! A simple question: does anything exist on the other side of the mirror?

Radio City Music Hall

It's Radio City Music Hall, thrown for a few loop de loops.


NPCs: N'astirh, a beautiful reception of fashion-forward demons



Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Meggan Puceanu was showing signs of fatigue in the last few days, but it did not seem as if it would be a matter of critical severity. Being tired out, especially in a situation as difficult and challenging as the siege of Hell upon New York City, is just to be expected. For about a day and a half she had made little meals at Tony Stark's safehouse-apartment for Hope and for Rachel and for anyone who had come in. She was just tired, she said.

Well, not that tired, apparently.

At some point nobody but her was in the apartment. Upon returning, Meggan was gone.

The balcony windows had been smashed asunder. The furniture wrecked. A burnt midden of bones and liquor bottles - not Tony's, for once - sits in the tasteful kitchen. The master bedroom has been thoroughly and comprehensively demolished, with the bed itself rent apart and defiled beyond repair. (The room where Meggan had been crashing is untouched.) A pillar of salt stands in the living room, approximately human in shape. The pillar is holding a Bible - it may have once been a living person.

There is evidence of what has happened.

One is the sudden screeching spike in emotional trauma and despair in the immediate area of the apartment. Immediate in this case means, broadly speaking, 'midtown.' People fly off the handle. They blame their spouses. Violence, domestic and otherwise, is on the rise. The demons have begun behaving differently too…

They just watch and clap.

Another is what was left on the granite countertopped kitchen island in the apartment.

A piece of silky-smooth cardboard declares that


OCTOBER ##, 2018

please join her for a

The back of this reception announcement has a note in flowery script. It reads thus: "Just delighted by how everything went! I'd apologize for the mess but, well — that would mean I regret it — even so it's great! I'm so ##### now. Don't worry about the time! Fun and games! Prizes for all!" And then a lipstick print in lieu of signature. Those with long familiarity with Meggan would immediately know something is up — for one thing, she never wrote in cursive, except for the Cyrillic she had begged Piotr to teach her.

There were also cards, mentioning people by name. Despite their tone they are all in an extremely plus-femme engraved script.


There are a few others… but you get the idea.


Radio City Music Hall is a gorgeous piece of Art Deco architecture, a shining jewel of interior design. It is also as near to the epicenter of the emotional disruptions as makes no difference. Get close enough to see it and the emotional disruptions - which are palpable to any sensitive, or really to anyone, and which have the feel, the touch of Meggan on them - suddenly fade away.

The eye of the hurricane. The neon lights glow. If there are demons in the area they are not immediately in evidence. It's quite a hush, really. The building itself has a faintly unreal sense to the probing of any and all extranormal senses - a slight twisting - a feeling that you're almost certainly not in Kansas any more, if ever you were.

One of the doors on 6th Avenue (is it really 6th Avenue?) is held open by an emergency fuel jerry-can filled with dirty water.

And inside…


The lights are a little more luminous than you might expect.

There is a salon chair in the center of the lobby floor. It's one of the lever-controlled models with the foot rest. A woman is laying in it, fully reclined. She is wearing a drapey cloth as if she'd just had her hair done, although she has her left side facing the entranceway. She has some reddish-gray gunk spread out over her face, as if it were a facial mask. Based on the leaf-like ears and the long flowing blonde hair, this is Meggan.

Meggan raises her left hand and waves vaguely as people approach. In the quiet she would easily hear footsteps. "Nearly done with my face," she says. The light glints off a bright silver ring on her hand.

Rachel isn't sure how Tony Stark will feel when he finds out that she turned his hideout apartment into a base of demon-hunting operations. It's not like there was much incriminating personal material to find in the area. Practically nothing. Nothing she's going to mention to him during polite conversation, anyway.

Rachel has been running herself ragged. Everyone has. She can tell the operation is getting sloppy around the edges, but she doesn't know how to slow down. There's so many people who need saving and demons who need slaying. Slowing down, even to make sure they're pacing themselves correctly, feels like a betrayal. Besides, they've made it this far, right? Hopefully if they push just a little bit harder, a little bit longer…

But Rachel, hypocrite that she is, has all the care and understanding in the world for Meggan even as she has none for herself. She practically forced the other woman to take downtime when the fatigue became apparent. She even asked Meggan if she wanted to be escorted back to the mansion, up in Westchester. She could rest there, and still help with the evacuees, so it's not like she would need to feel guilty or anything —

"This is all my fault," says Rachel, standing in the middle of the ruined apartment. Her face is a mask of numb flesh. Her hands feel like they've been dunked in a bucket of needles. She is trying her hardest to not think about the frighteningly humanoid pillar of salt as she looks at the message left for them.



Rachel's expression cracks into a manic, terrified smile.

And this is how Rachel gathered everyone she could find to help and then tapped into the ugly and indisputable efficiency of her hunting instincts. Anyone who can't move fast enough to keep up with her may be given a telekinetic lift, because Rachel is too panicked to move at the speed of the slowest person.

By the time they get to the music hall, Rachel is pale and quiet. Her psi-link, for everyone who is on it, burns with an irregular heat that is alternately weirdly cold and stiflingly hot. She walks, slowly and with a special kind of muted horror, toward the jerry-can and nudges it aside with her foot while holding the door open. Glancing back at the rest of the party, Rachel steps inside.

Like a stage. Oh god, like a stage.

The solid boots of Rachel's new-model combat bodysuit make muffled noises on the carpet. She seems a smaller figure than her normal leading-heroine poise as she walks into the lobby. She hesitates, unwilling to approach the salon chair too closely.

"Meggan?" she says, well after Meggan has already spoken. "Meggan, we're worried about you."

The entire thing is suspect as far as Kitty Pryde is concerned. Perhaps the first tip off would be the ransacked apartment. The second is the cursive script. Probably the only thing about that wedding invitation that sounded like Meggan is that her plus one is any Peter she could find.

However, if Meggan is sending this, that means something has either gone wrong or (at the very least improbably) well she is going to be there for her friend. However, much like many of the other X-Men and first responders in Manhattan, she's been running herself quite a bit more ragged than usual. While some of that has been for rescue, the other parts have been trying to locate Illyana. She has attempted to use the medallion she has not taken off and generally keeps hidden beneath her shirt to locate her wayward friend and has generally come up with some worrying conclusion.

The rest of her exhaustion rests in the fact that she hasn't had a proper nights' sleep since the demons arrive. She'll go to sleep at the regular time, but every time she finally falls asleep far enough to dream there are nightmares. Demons screaming, dragons roaring, pain, magic, being trapped…all of these come in visceral and painful bursts which have her snapping her eyes open to find she's only been asleep for maybe two or three hours. And then she won't really sleep again until she tries it the next night.

Now, Meggan needs her help. So she has brought a wedding gift in her bag in the form of her katana and a small purple dragon that is also rather fond of Meggan. She doesn't even open the doors to Radio City Music Hall. She phases right through them with the group. Her own thoughts are slightly jumbled and certainly worried: darker than the phasing mutant generally lets them run.

Kitty looks to Rachel. She is the one that will be best to be up front with her ability. She moves up next to the salon, kneeling down to be nearly level with her friend. "We're here for you, Meggan." She'll let that take on multiple meanings: for her wedding or for them to take her away from it.

Jean Grey arrives from The Sound Stages.

She felt it. It was a strange feeling, like a straining welcome mat that's been stepped on too much, too often, until the fraying threads start to show. Ground down until there's nothing left but the rawness of it.

She felt it. And now she sees the immediate consequences of that sentiment as she roams through the ruin of what was meant to be a safehouse with an appraising frown. The sound of bone crunching beneath her bootheel is a familiar one that anchors her readily, if not grimly, to the situation she sees before her. Violence and madness, not entirely unbidden. She stares at the sight of that salt pillar of a person, bible clutched in hand. She tries to look at the tome as best she can, before making her way through the rest of the apartment, dismantling and mulling over the aftermath piece by piece. It's something she hasn't seen before, though the broadstrokes are familiar enough. Everyone has their breaking point.

Hope Summers felt it. She saw it coming, even if she couldn't grasp the shape of it. And now, as she turns that slip of cardboard in her hand, and stares at the message left for her, her frown deepens.

This is all my fault.

"This isn't all your fault."

She felt it, and didn't stop it. And now this is at least partly on her.

Which means now, Hope's going to help fix it. No matter what.


Hope Summers' choice of attire for the happy day is a classic for celebrations of this nature: desert cloak, damage-resistant uniform that she is almost entirely sure is going to do her no good in this situation, and a plentiful array of firearms.

She isn't sure if the guns will come off as threatening. She debated it for a time.

Now that she's here, Hope isn't certain whether or not Meggan's the one that ought to feel threatened.

She maintains that psi-link with Rachel, for now, as she approaches, a cool, steady contrast to the the bristling, contradictory temperature scale that is Rachel's thoughts — her own are like threaded heat wound carefully tight, held just beyond the point of snapping as she lets a single hand disappear into the volume of her cloak to find comfort on the hilt of one of her weapons. She knows well how much Meggan means to Rachel, to Kitty even. How much camaraderie like that means. She thinks of what she would do if she found Nathan in a similar situation.

So that is why she keeps her hand on her gun.

"Hey, Meggan."

While she also quietly copies the powers of the unstable blond.

"Time to come home, right?"

Prepare for the worst. Hope for the best.

Piotr Rasputin arrives from The Sound Stages.

'Whatever you need, I'll do what I can.'

It's been the operational creedo for Sloane since the moment she had arrived in Westchester with Parambir Ghai, trying to foster good communication with the X-Men and the students at the school. She's done her best to meet with faculty and staff, but the moment that her work was done and the golf cart tour of the grounds was complete, she was back in a car bound for Manhattan. Whether it be TCLEC or her new position as liason, whatever SHIELD does to try to enforce some down-time with the young Inhuman, she throws herself right back into the thick of it whenever she can.

Merrow's certainly one of the ones that requires a bit of assistance along the way, also open to the loop should it be opened to her — and this time, she gets the mild noise of a novice out of her mental voice as quick as possible. While the arrival of an alien was a big deal, this is clearly, decidedly personal to the X-Men.

"Whatever you need," she said, and god damn she meant it.

Clad in her close-fit tactical wetsuit sans the cropped SHIELD jacket, the tractioned soles of her shoes are muted, but not wholly quiet. While Rachel has that horrible, tired look in her eyes, while Kitty has /a freaking dragon what the hell/, while Hope carries a literal arsenal on her person, Sloane carries three bottles of water between her fingers, each a good 32 ounces and the type you'd pick up for way too much money at a corner store.

Who is she?

Just a wedding crasher, flanking the other X-women.

Back then, Meggan had declined a trip back to Westchester. She'd promised that if it got too bad she'd hold her breath really hard and take a big long arc back herself, so Rachel wouldn't have to worry.

"Are you?" Meggan says, right now.

Her arm slouches down, swinging a little afterwards. It rocks back and forth like a dropped and very resistant pendulum.

"Time to go home," Meggan says, with a tone of laughter.

"You mean well, I know," she says. "I mean. If that means anything." She shifts in the seat, feeling with a leisurely groping for the handle.

"'Home' is a state of mind, isn't it? But that's the exact thing. The state of /mind/… minds don't really exist. At least not for us. All that there is is a big echo inside of a bell. This bell," and her hand sweeps up to tap at her head with her knuckles. "Yours. All of us."

And speaking of bells something goes 'ting!' It's an immense magnification of the sound of a standard timer, the kind of thing you set to track your eggs or your cakes.

Meggan grasps the seat handle and levers herself upright. "Here we are," she says as she reaches up and peels off her face mask and reveals nothing at all.

It isn't a sheath of flat skin, it isn't an opening into bone, it is a simple space of absolute nothing - not even void - where her face ought to be. The peeled-off mask is tossed, inerrantly, in a high arc towards Sloane. It topples like frisbee thrown sideways and the eyes turn to look at Sloane as it does, looking at her with blind excitement, Meggan's flattened-out lips stretching into a leer parodying gladness-to-see!

That's Sloane's present.

What about Meggan's friends?

Meggan raises up her arms as she rises from the chair. "It's all a bunch of meaningless twitching but you DID come to my reception and I am SO happy to see that. So let's not waste any more time!" She claps her hands twice, the covering on her body falling away. It is probably a relief that she is wearing a filmy silver dress with a neckline down to the navel. The alternatives could have been so much worse!

The curtains rustle (metaphorically) and the demons rise (not metaphorical). A veritable legion rising up from behind the concession stands, from behind the information desk, from along the upper galleries from whence one might go into in order to queue for the great high seats in Radio City Music Hall. How many are there? 'A whole bunch'.

Three in particular appear one level up. Their voices may sound damningly familiar to those who were in Limbo during a certain recent event.

'See,' says one to the others. 'Shiny.'
'Princess indeed.'
'Shine the spotlight on her!'

They have a spotlight indeed and it is flicked on with a SNAP and turned onto Meggan. Her dress was not silver so much as a mirror; the light condenses and scatters outwards as she raises up her arms, the light's touch almost hot enough to burn even as she swirls around, hair heavily swinging behind her and glittering with a net of jewels wrapping it up into something high and heavy. She is turning towards the grand staircase. The mural on it moves, becoming more than art-deco imitation Chinoserie.

Another demon, a horrid parody of a butler, walks down to meet her, carrying something on a silk pillow. Meggan addresses everyone meanwhile: "Rachel, I hate what you're wearing, it doesn't suit you. I can't even see it but I can hear your boots."

The half-dozen concession demons boil out and lunge for Rachel, cackling in horrid chorus as they go. Two of them have fashioned bridles from velvet ropes.

Meggan turns towards Hope then. "You brought that gun! I'm impressed. That's why," and the dragon in the mural behind her leaps out of it, an immense carmine-red serpent with four - no - eight clawed arms and eyes of blazing ire, forty feet tall and with only a single shimmering law in its copper belly. "him," Meggan concludes, jerking a thumb up as the worm turns and descends towards Hope, mouth agape and intent on comprehensive and immediate consumption.

"Now Kitty," Meggan says, "I know I can't touch you very well, even with everything my darling has given me." The butler has come to her and is starting to put something over that uncanny void of her face, probably a relief. Meggan's voice isn't distorted. "That's why I'd like to ask you to come up here with me. We'll have a little cake, and I'll tell you why our existence is meaningless." Meggan's hands come up to finish smoothing out -

A new face?

It's not her. It looks like the person she was trying to be at that military base, but for realsies. There is no softness, even in the smoother lines. Meggan smiles like a slash in a melon.

"I think the others already understand. Oh, and introduce me to the blue one!" Her ice-cold eyes turn towards Sloane, who she points at. As an extra gift, the shimmering light all focuses on her. THe carpet near Sloane catches fire, quietly.

Rachel is silent while Meggan responds. She takes an unsure step forward, physically mirroring her mind's attempt to focus on the words. They don't exactly make sense to her, but they sort of do — they make the kind of sense that your friends do when you're all too drunk at three in the morning and someone keeps trying to convince you to start watching Dr. Who.

She opens her mouth to speak. The word it will be is already obvious, from the look on her face, to the shape of her mouth, to the connection that she and Meggan can't help but share.

It never comes. The timer goes off. Rachel looks wildly away toward its direction, then back, by impulse reaching out to stop Meggan from something she isn't even sure is going to happen. There is a formless pounding in her chest, not quite her heart, not quite someone else's heart. It is a growing and relentless march of despair, an unwilling synchronization of Rachel and Meggan.

This is not great for Rachel.

When it's all said and done, grisly done at that, all Rachel has is a sharp intake of breath and a wide set of sleepless eyes. She's seen stranger things during their cross-time wanderings, but not many, and fewer than that to someone who lives in her. Figuratively. Except for that one time.

"Meggan, this isn't you," Rachel begins to say, stepping forward more quickly, arm still outstretched. She recoils from the salon chair when she gets too close, then circles it to try to follow Meggan up the stairs. She can feel the demons rise up but it's hard to pay attention to anything other than Meggan.

"Meggan —"

This is all her fault. She should have been a leader. Dad was right, she wasn't one. Scott isn't even her dad. He says he is but he's just being nice. Now she's too tired and she dragged Kitty and Hope and Sloane here to get murdered because she can't bear to be alone for anything, not even getting killed, because she's so SELFISH —

And, with mosaic-like intensity in their unified lunge, the demons come for Rachel while she's barely up the stairs. Rachel can feel them before they're upon her, and what her soul wants to do is scream in inarticulate rage and destroy them all, so that's exactly what she does.

Or tries to do.

The scream is there, and Rachel spins around to lash out her arm, signaling a vicious telekinetic pulse that not only knocks away but knocks apart. Rachel lurches unsteadily to her side, feeling her consciousness briefly gray out. She grabs hold of the bannister and tries to steady her arm again, but the rest of the demons get into that psychic-dangerous melee range before she can collect her thoughts.


Rachel screws her eyes shut, reduced to shoving and kicking at monsters that are far stronger than her — for the moment. She can wind up for another pulse —

And while the rest of the team has been running themselves ragged trying to help New York City, Piotr's been benched. Blinded by his own sister, or as Piotr prefers to think of her, a demonic twisted mockery of his sister, he is of little use to the team. He instead has been spending most days in the danger room, trying to get his bearings both with and without the aid of the soul sword. The blade offers him some mystic sight, a bird's eye view of his immediate surrounding, but the field of vision is narrow and the orientation confusing.

And so he has spent most days and many nights running through the basics in the Danger Room. Most of the active X-Men are too busy to notice the danger room is nearly booked solid, the few students who might have access and a desire to train are met with the terrifying blank glare of a giant metal Russian mutant. None have made a second attempt.

But Piotr does still have his communicator on and so any discussion of the nuptials and the resultant reception gets picked up. Maybe if it were a different member Piotr could force himself to sit this one out in his injured state. Maybe? Okay, there are very few teammates Piotr would ever let himself opt out of saving even in less than top shape. Maybe Remy? Probably. But most everyone else, he'd go rescue even powerless. And he's not powerless, just (mostly) blind.

Now getting to Radio City Music Hall would normally not be a problem, but in his beleaguered state and not being on the active roster and his usual magical taxi service in a very evil, stabby, state of mind, he's at loose ends. Instead, Piotr manages to guilt a fellow X-Men into letting him ostensibly tag along as backup on a demon fighting raid. And though he feels guilty in the deception, Piotr considers it necessary. And so he turns to the pilot when mid-flight, over the Radio City Music Hall, he opens the hatch.

"I am sorry. I must do what I can to help Meggan."

And with that Piotr, clad only in his workout gear, an old uniform consisting of very tight, very small red shorts and a sword in it's back scabbard, turns into a hulking pile of metal and falls like a meteor to the earth below. Normally he would care more about not causing damage, but New York is just a smidge past that phase right now. And so Piotr lands in a crater, destroying roofs and walls and many floors on his way down as he enters … some building a block away. Seriously it's hard to get used to this weird magic sword sight.

But some minutes later, after getting directions and free hotdog from a street vendor he saved, Piotr arrives, soul sword held out in front of him.

Kitty stands as Meggan does. Her back stays rather rigid, her eyes blinking here and there as things progress. While she keeps her attention focused on the woman they are here for, she can feel the presence of Hope and Sloane through the mental link established by Rachel. It's a familiar and welcoming wave of thought and emotion as they attempt to make sense of this situation.

Meggan's face is plucked off and then tossed aside to land at Sloane's feet and Kitty gives it a horrified look. Lockheed quickly slithers out of her bag to grip onto her shoulder. His wings flap outward in a display of protection and worry. Things are not right here.

As the demons slither out toward Rachel, Kitty is immediately on the defensive. However, she also doesn't want to leave Meggan. She can get close. This may be what this simulation wants, but she can't just leave Meggan. Indecision wracks her for quite a few moments.

"Lockheed, help Rachel." The purple dragon hesitates only a moment, worried about leaving his friend and then he launches off of her shoulder toward the demons surrounding and attacking their friend. Hissing, fire careens out toward the demons that hold her in what will hopefully help the woman escape. Dive bombing, he claws at the eyes of the one closest to Rachel with the shriek of combat.

Piotr's explosive entrance is met with a grin, but still she follows Meggan in a quickstep. The new face put on is both a relief and a horror. Frowning, she moves up as close as she dares to Meggan and the butler. Looking at all that is wrought about them, she asks, "Okay, I'll bite. Why is our existence meaningless, Meggan?"

All there is is a big echo inside of a bell.

It's a sentiment that makes Hope Summers' face scrunch up as if trying to parse the exact meaning of it — or, more likely, understand how someone like Meggan could hold on to a belief like that. The bridge of her nose crinkling, her gloved fingers wrap a little more firmly around the grip of her weapon.

"Home is where you need it to be," she says, after a long moment of tense, cautious silence. But sometimes…

The thought never materializes. Not yet. Not when Meggan is peeling away her face to reveal the nothing beneath, as if in that single maddening moment she could prove her point by making all gaze into it. Hope has seen many things that someone her age should never see, at an age much younger than that. And yet this? This brings an icy feeling to fester in her gut. It's not just the sight of it; it's the sight of who it's coming from. Meggan, who made her her first real breakfast. Meggan, who taught her the wonders of Doctor Who. Meggan, who could barely handle a gun.

And as Hope appropriates that very same Meggan's genetic code for her own use, it's what she feels as the source behind those words. Green eyes widen. She makes out a single, choked sound, like someone trying to form words and failing. Because she sees the shape of Meggan.

And what she sees is that endless ouroboros of despair that is a perfect match for the faceless shape of the bride-to-be.

She is lost in it, briefly, the intensity of it, the unnaturalness of it. In her own fledgling understanding of that empathy and the full scope of what it means for everything around them. Her hand slackens off of that weapon for a brief second.

And that is all the time Meggan needs to capitalize on her weakness. From the mural emerges a dragon, and Hope, looking upwards, barely manages a,

"Ghk — suh-seriously?!"

before she is quite abruptly tackled up off her feet by forty feet of slavering-jawed monstrosity.

Maws open. Maws snap. And Hope would most likely find herself cleaved in twain to become a more easily consumed dragon snack if it weren't for the sudden and unexpected resistance those sharp teeth find; beneath cloak and combat suit, flesh has begun to harden and change into graphene reflexively, subconsciously, like her body were attempting to adapt to a demand. It does little to protect her more vulnerable internals from the concussive force of a giant dragon biting her, however, and as Hope struggles in those jaws, trying to pry them apart with steadily mounting strength, she feels blood vessels burst in unpleasant ways that would be much more painful if she wasn't trying to keep herself afloat in a metaphysical miasma of existential dread that is Meggan. Rachel's in trouble. Kitty's in trouble. Everyone's in trouble. And Hope can barely notice Piotr's arrival as she grapples with that flood of feelings — tries to concentrate — tries to focus past it —

— while desperately trying to grab hold of at least one of her guns to shoot plasma up this thing's nostril.

"Get — off—!"

Sloane feels at a disadvantage: This is a friend of theirs, someone whom she hasn't yet met, and they clearly care for her a great deal. Pangs of worry and paranoia sit at the back of her mind, even if she presents herself a cool facade — fiery orange eyes listing from Rachel to Kitty and Lockheed, to Hope, hoping in her own way that they know how to reach this strange, fae woman.

As Meggan slips off her face and casts it into the air, her gaze is briefly lost in the void that is where face should be— when her attention flicks up, the spinning object is recognized for what it is. In a manner most unbecoming a SHIELD agent, she stumbles back a half step, bobbling the face in one hand and dropping plastic bottles one after the other. A few even crack open, starting to spill their contents.

In another moment, she gets her coordination correct. The face-pile flops against her before it's flung to the side, hurriedly wiping her hand against her hip with a wide-eyed, unnerved stare.

Demons. They just keep getting WEIRDER. And then, things start to /happen/, like that weird catastrophic crashing nearby a few minutes ago, and now — Piotr!

"Rachel!" she calls as the swarm descends; while Kitty is called out, and the light is set to focus on her. Her pupils react by pulling into tight and tiny slits.

Who is she? "Merrow!"

The Agent's hands turning palms-down toward the floor, asserting control with a flicker of thought. The water spilling and spilled reacts, starting to swirl up around her in a tight ring. She ignores the fire kicking up around her for the moment— instead, she turns her attention toward the source: Her arm hooks up in a heavy swing, flinging a condensed, high-speed sphere of water toward the bright shimmering spotlight!

"Isn't it? Who IS me, Rachel? I know there's something inside of me," says Meggan, her voice having that slightly flat, brassy quality that comes with a mimicking of an American accent. "There's something in a BELL too. Do you understand me?" Her voice raises. "I always THOUGHT so, but this is what's left when you have nothing else. There's NOTHING THERE!"

She slaps her chest with one hand. And indeed, somewhere, a bell rings. It is probably notable that it is not from within Meggan; it seems like it is deeper into the music hall. Deeper…

Deeper like the demons upon Rachel! Her psychokinetic backlash hits one of the demons that come for her - things about a meter tall, hunched mockeries of a human form - with enough vigor that much of its skeleton is forced into its immediately rightwards neighbor. It is a messy outcome, and that demon drops its velvet-rope halter. A third demon loses a leg, which it holds, absurdly.

It would be funny really, if it wasn't for the remaining three. Rachel kicks one in the sternum. Another runs up her back, aiming to get that bridle round her neck. The rope itself seems marinated in despair, woven with horror.

"Don't call my name," Meggan answers Rachel, quietly. She puts a hand on the bannister of the great stairway, so far and yet so close. It's at this point that Lockheed intervenes with the would-be Rachel-rustler; a gout of flame makes the demon hiss and spit fire /back/, but at least that horrid toil isn't placed on Rachel! YET.

Meggan then looks at Kitty, and she keeps walking up the stairs. It would be clear to Kitty that she is contorting her head, like an - an owl; that's a nice way to say it. Yes, that's a good way to summarize it. "Well it's obvious, isn't it. We all just echo what we're taught. I suppose there's a little bit in us that's innate; sex, hunger, trusting the Tories, but everything else is learned. Do you know what HE said was unique about me? He said I was mirror smooth inside, Kitty."

Meggan swings an arm around, sending light scattering. The spotlight remains on her as she gets near that second-story mezzanine. "He'd known SKRULLS but he said they didn't change in their HEART. They weren't empty, polished! He said something about a telescope, maybe you'd understand it… something about being absolutely pure and clean? It's why HE wanted me. And you know how I am. All I was, was reflecting HIM."

Hope has not gotten Meggan's direct attention yet. Probably? There is the dragon and there is the emotional-genetic derivation from her very soul. NOW Meggan looks at her - and she calls to Hope, "You see? You SEE? You're polishing yourself out, Hope! You can't have HIM - I got HIM first!" It is a performance of jealousy that does not impact the black, absolute despair within her heart.

But there's still the dragon. The dragon is not a metaphor. The dragon attempts to worry down into Hope even as she struggles her way free. The jaws are spread apart when they were already moving to open, and Hope is let loose for a moment. Hope fires her gun up and cuts a sparkling ruby-quartz shower of shards outwards - maybe that's informative: it was made of ruby-quartz. A familiar stone to any X-Man. Suggestive of — what?

Then Hope is spared by Russian interference.

Colossus joins the party late but not unwelcome. He can 'see' the ripple of the Radio City Music Hall most clearly with the aid of the soul-sword - he can see how this is not the real place, the actual historical landmark. It does look dammably like it but he knows, for certain, that it is not.

The great red dragon's fiery eye turns to regard him. Leaving Hope aside, even as one of its clawed arms falls loose (still animate, it aims to lunge up and try to gut Hope), the dragon spits at him. It is a spit the size of an above-ground swimming pool, bright red. It is sorcerous material. Should it engulf him it will flash to solid ruby.

Of course… Piotr has something to say about magic in his hand, doesn't he?

As Kitty keeps up with her, Meggan reaches down towards her hand. The butler demon gazes at Kitty with eight eyes as Meggan says to her, "It's hard to believe, I know. We're all conditioned to think we're real, that we matter. But think about it, Kitty, so to speak. We all just imitate one another and anything new is just someone putting old things together. There's nothing real in there at all. Not except when we find something that came from Outside."

Meggan's new face cracks round the eyes and lips. "You understand, don't you?"

The good news of all of Meggan's reaching around is that Sloane is not being subjected to the horrible torture of SOLAR POWER - so to speak. She is free for a moment, free from assault and free from anything save the ringing mocking laughter from the mezzanine.

'Marrow?' opines one of the lightsmith demons.
'No bones about it.'
'Like to crack her open,'
'Suck her dry'
'Looks like a sweet heart'
'Like the Princess but more sporty'
'What's she doing there?'

The sea-spawned horror hits the spotlight. The spotlight was not a daemonic appurtenance, or at least not, like, special for being one. The lens doesn't break but the immediate cooling touch of the water means that there's just a momentary beat before the entire thing explosively breaks down, chopping off half the head of one of the peanut gallery demons. As that demon reaches up to feel gingerly around its brain pan, take a piece out, and examine it philosophically, the others shriek.

As does Meggan.

"STOP IT!" Meggan sobs, past Kitty. "You're RUINING it! You're ruining EVERYTHING already you - you - I don't KNOW you! Why did they bring you!? They saw the cards, didn't they?! Rachel: You saw the cards, didn't you?!"

Then her eyes focus on Sloane. Meggan breathes in.

The emotional energy of the room changes. There had been a pervading sense of distress and despair which shifts now. That is good - that may be a sign that Meggan is still 'there' despite everything. The real problem is what is being drawn from is a sort of photo-negative of what Sloane, perhaps, would hate the most.

The entire landscape changes. The stairway flattens as the lobby floor rises. The concession stand and the carpet and the chandelier all melt away. (The dragon does not.) The mezzanine lobbies distort, invert, turn inside out, throwing more demons outwards in a comic-tumble cavalcade. The lighting grows cold, stark and efficient.

It /feels/ like a meeting room. One the size of a convention center. Proportions distort - the actual situation is clearest perhaps to Piotr but everyone is being moved around because space itself is twisting itself into a pretzel. Rachel is dragged nearer to Meggan, who, now over six feet tall, puts a hand on her shoulder, silver-painted fingernails digging into the fabric of her suit.

Space itself dolly-distorts as Meggan looms over Sloane and says to her in a low and threatening take on her earlier voice: "And /who/ authorized /you/, Agent Merrow, to INTERFERE with a CELEBRATION?" Hope is dragged through distorted space to a nearby position.

Curiously enough, Kitty and Piotr have not been moved materially. (Nor Lockheed, if he didn't stay affixed to Rachel.) Kitty does have the new problem that the Butler is looking towards her and seems to be reaching out with one huge, thick arm to grasp at her shoulder — doesn't it know? Maybe not. And for Piotr there is the dragon to contend with.

"Christ, you're hideous," she tells Sloane. Then she smiles again.

"Rachel," she says, leaning down as if to confide in her. And Rachel - this close, this sensitive - could tell something is wavering there beneath this performance. Meggan is genuinely (if childishly) angry, and feeling authentically sadistic. "I can fix her, you know. HE taught me how. What do you think I should make her into?"

And perhaps there is the frail green shoot of empathy.

Rachel can't argue with the flatness, or seize upon the argument. She's being kidnapped by demons right now.

One of the remaining demons gets its restraints around her face, taking her screams from her. This is it, she thinks, tasting the crippling doubt upon her tongue. This is how I die and get most of my best friends killed and my ex-boyfriend and my brother's daughter and this woman I just met because I'm a terrible person to know, I'm toxic, I'm toxic, I'm

Lockheed spits flame. The demon holding her primary restraint slackens enough to let it drop from her mouth. She sucks in a breath enough to make her lungs ache. A brief, desperate telekinetic *ping* tells her exactly how bad her situation is.The other two are holding her down on her left and right respectively, and they are distressingly solid.

But the demon at her head needed to crouch down on the stairs to get at her, facing and reaching downward. This is an awkward poise. She can feel his muscles tensing to maintain his center of balance. That's all she needs.

The first demon only has a moment to spit fire back at Lockheed before he's launched into the air, cartwheeling upward until he crashes through the ceiling. The other two demons look sharply down at her, sensing that she's gotten too lose for their taste. One reaches up to strike her face, but Rachel bares her teeth in a snarl and the demon, without immediately realizing it, has instead chosen to put his fist through his partner's head instead.

Rachel seizes telekinetically upon the stricken demon's limp body, lurching him forward and using him as a club to beat her remaining captor repeatedly in a baffling bit of limp demon aerial assault on soon-to-be-limp demon.

Rachel staggers to her feet, stumbling down the stairs. She came here in a bad way, and the despair funneling into her from her link with Meggan has caused everything holding her together to come fraying apart. Behind her, the two demons continue smashing into each other until they both stop moving. She clutches at her face, trying to focus. Focus on the psi-link. Account for your friends, account for your team, account for Meggan.

The world shifts uncomfortably. Meggan, somehow, is holding her. Rachel has to look up at her — oh no, she's tall again. Rachel tries to comprehend the blast furnace of anger that is shaped like a woman before her. For a tense moment, she looks at Meggan with pained horror. She needs to act. She needs to solve this. She needs to be a leader, like dad said, she needs to, she needs to —

There, in the clearing, a sprout amongst the snow.

What do you think I should make her into?

"A friend," says Rachel.

With every broken shard of herself that she can find, Rachel pushes into the empathic link between herself and Meggan. She pushes like a true psychic, piercing for the defenseless inner sanctum of Meggan's mind, where all the levers live. She is strong and on familiar ground. These are important advantages.

But, when she is there, she does not touch a thing. Rachel only gives.

An image — a thought, a memory, more real than only sight, more real than every sense at once. Meggan, standing in the astral plane, a luminous being of soft and sure brilliance. A million million mirrors, all turned outward, each reflecting a mote of someone. But they are all contours, contours of her, of a woman named Meggan with a gentle smile touched by bemusement at her friend's expression.

"What is it? What do I look like?" Meggan had said, back then.

Rachel didn't have the words. She still doesn't.

She only has this.

The sounds of action around him drive Piotr into the fray, even though he can only see a little around him. He can hear the voices and easily pick out Rachel and Kitty, though Sloane and Hope are familiar, but not as easy to place. He can also hear Meggan, but only get a gist that something is terribly wrong with her from her words and voice. He is spared the whole taking off her face bit, thankfully.

The ability to discern that this place is not what it seems just adds to his disorientation. His lack of traditional sight is difficult, and adding magical senses on top of magical vision is not so much helpful as it is confusing at this point, despite his practice. «Rachel? Perhaps it would be best if you pointed me at what most needs hitting? I am.. »

The oncoming rush of 'breath' from the dragon stops him mid thought. He doesn't have time to explain to Rachel his predicament, or that all is not what it may seem. But somehow he knows that now is the time to raise the sword. Instinctively, Piotr feels like it should be able to stop the oncoming onslaught, but he's very new to this magic weapon game and is constantly learning new and terrible things about it.

He may be holding an extremely powerful weapon for fighting dark magic and demonic beings, but the big man is no magic wielder and he's barely able to get his bearings in a quiet hallway at the mansion let alone here in this chaos. Should he still be standing, Piotr is rushing for the dragon next, taking a big swing at it's head.

As Piotr moves, Kitty can feel the medallion beneath her shirt and against her chest hum slightly at the presence of the sword. She looks at it and then Piotr with a narrowed look. It's brief, intense, and then her attention is back to Meggan as she continues up the stairs. Her steps are measured to Meggan's. She's not attempting to overwhelm her, but she is also not attempting to let her get out of reach. The Butler remains in her vantage point but she tries to keep herself nearby.

Intent on answering and attempting to stop whatever it is that is going on around them, she shakes her head as Meggan discusses why things don't matter. "No, Meggan, I don't understand. You do matter. All of us do. If someone is trying to tell you that you don't? That is someone trying to control you. Maybe we're making old things new, but that doesn't mean they don't have a value of their own. It's what we make of them that makes it different."

Around her, the stairs flatten out. Behind her, they rise, in front of her they fall. It's a Dali-like moment where she feels completely encased in red velvet that is moving about her in an acid-trip like fashion. For a moment, even if she is not moving she feels dizzy by association.

Behind her, Lockheed keeps up his assault on the creatures attacking Rachel. He careens backward against the counter-measure of fire and swoops to dive at the monstrosity. Any of the demons approaching Piotr, Hope, Rachel or Sloane are met with an attack from the air. As he seems unaffected by the strange shifts in dimension and space he attempts to harry and help his allies as best he can.

For her part, Kitty sees the approach of the Butler. The outreached hand is given barely a thought. While she is most used to phasing through all threats, she has no desire to do so at the moment. Instead, she uses the strange movement of the stairs and her own ability to remain stable to attempt a sidestep of the stretched hand of the Butler. Then, she charges Meggan.

There is no attempt at an attack: instead she extends her arms to hug her. "Meggan, we're here for you." She repeats her opening phrase, making a very clear emphasis what matters here.

The sound of an improbably large dragon and a reasonably tiny Hope colliding with a nearby wall is deafening in its sheer violence. Her body adapts to the context of her environment, becoming what she needs when she needs it — the cure for what ails her. As the dragon bites, her skin becomes some of the strongest carbon material on earth, reflecting a resolve she clings to tenaciously even as she finds herself gulping down deep draughts of emotional despair. She's already growing by the time that the dragon's jaws slack around her and she hits ground with a -=WHUD=- of cracking marble, to become a meal it can't just as easily gulp down. If she'll be eaten, she'll make him choke. She adjusts. She compensates. She survives. It's like she told Meggan, that day.

Surviving is what she's good at. She can survive, she can adapt (now very literally, thanks Meggan!) to whatever is thrown at her. It's who she is. Who she's had to be.

It's the other thing, the important thing…

Green eyes focus blearily upon glittering strands of ruby quartz, not nearly knowledgeable enough about the X-Men to understand its significance. She hears Meggan's words like a distant ringing in her ears, echoes of a bell, maybe — and that thought alone makes her expression harden. She forces down the feeling of pain. And as the dragon lunges for Colossus, as its claw detaches with a will of its own to turn its attention on Hope, Meggan's words are still ringing in her ears. And, ironically, they help her. Help her to find an anchor in a storm. Help her to find a suitable counterpoint. By the time that claw is upon her with intent to gut, Hope is moving, gripping onto sharp talons that carve at carbon fingers. She pivots sharply on her right foot, and with the heave of her body, uses that claw's own momentum against it, flowing with it in a way Nathan taught her to send the scrabbling structure straight for a collective group of demons to helpfully skewer them instead.

And then she blows up whatever's left with a ripple of searing pink-white heat from her plasma launcher.

The explosion is still rocking through the foundation as it shifts and alters; the rumble amplifies itself even as the heat is sucked away and the wounds patched in the structure as if they had never been, and Hope finds herself moving — or at least, moving in with the shift of the building. It makes her stumble to her knees, feeling the protest of mild internal injuries as the halls rush to meet their maker. And there she is dragged before Meggan as if she were some queen presiding judgment. She feels the crackle of anger — she can't not. They're reflections of each other now, in a way. Green eyes tilt up, to stare at Meggan, as she smiles, as she judges, as she holds on to her aunt to and speaks those foreboding words. Her toughened fingers curl into her palms. Slowly, the darker hues of graphene skin bleed away to the more vulnerable tan tones beneath.

"Home is where you need it to be," she repeats again, in slow, measured breaths. "Where you go when you need to remember who you are. But sometimes… sometimes you don't know what home you need." She thinks, of every time she rebelled against Nathan, every time she tried to run away, every time she wanted to be anywhere, anywhere else, and yet everytime she ran, she just felt…

So scared.

So empty.

Her body tenses.

"That's what comrades are for. To remind you. To get you back home safe and sound."

And she lunges.

"So if I have to, I'll cold cock you and drag you back kicking and screaming myself!"

And as Rachel pushes into that old empathic link, Hope looks to make one of her own, by gripping onto the front of Meggan's dress and rearing her head backwards.

And those green eyes are full of concern and reckless resolve, even as Hope aims to knock some sense into Meggan, forehead-first.

It's a bit of raw, physical pain to complement the empathic touch that rides along with it. Hope is a girl full of feelings, full of passion, full of a life she has never managed to live. It makes her compulsive. And that compulsion makes her open herself up to Meggan like a raw nerve, sharing with her in that moment every ounce of what she is, what she's feeling. The spontaneous well spring that does not ring like an echoing bell, but roar like a sparking flame. Her determination to help Meggan; her fear they might fail; her guilt at not having helped when she sensed something amiss; her anger at not being able to do more. Her happiness, being treated to Meggan's cooking.

Her hope, that they'll get another chance to have more again soon.

She opens herself up. Leaves herself vulnerable. It's partly a distraction, to help Rachel to get to where she needs to be. But it's also a great risk for her, too. Because she wants Meggan to know, in as real a way as possible. She's here. She's her comrade.

And she trusts her.

She is a wedding crasher, and good lord did she crash this wedding.

Sloane's body lowers a little to adjust for the floor suddenly rising, her footing unsure as everything twists and bends and becomes the worst carnival fun-house in history. Her hand touches the floor, down to one knee as the ginger-haired Inhuman gets her balance. She looks up — up, up, and up — to the looming form of Meggan. She's had this nightmare again.

She's had these fears dragged out of her again, again by these demons.

Merrow's hand grips her side as her mind hits the spin cycle; phantom pains or memories or /whatever/ this vast void is, reeling and recalling things that she's tried to keep buried under her fist keeping demon heads buried in the asphalt: Loneliness, fear, and—

'Christ, you're hideous.'

Sloane doesn't see Meggan — she sees her parents. Angry, confused, and … scared at what she had become.

The Inhuman's head hangs, closing her eyes and sucking in a breath. 'Don't freak out,' she tells herself. 'Don't freak out. Don't freak out /again/.'

Piotr and Hope work at the dragon while Lockheed, true to his name, provides air support. Agent Merrow balls up her fists, pushing herself back up to her feet. If there's air, there's water— and even if she has to force it out of the air, press together molecules, and yank it all into being, she will. "I don't care if you don't know me — they asked for help, and I'm going to give it to them."

The Hope Torpedo Attack seems to punctuate that sentiment pretty well.

HOPE's weapon smashes into the severed arms, audaciously - they melt, they shatter. But she has been called to court.

PIOTR faces the dragon.

The dragon is a fearsome foe indeed, strange as it may be. Piotr perhaps has less to fear from its mighty jaws than anyone else present - he could simply become organic steel and would, at the least, be LESS edible. And he bears a sword of potence. His weapon is raised and as the plasmic red flows towards him, it distorts - if he could but see with his eyes he might think of Cerise - but forward he is carried. The weapon is raised, and the dragon rears up, and then something TWISTS -

And he and the Soul-Sword are expelled abruptly onto Sixth Avenue. He moves with sufficient speed to body-check another of those little demonlings, which goes flying in front of someone's ride-share. The demonling hits a tire and - oh!


That's that… but to Piotr's immediate left is Radio City Music Hall's entrance. A man in a ticket booth asks him, soberly, "Uh, sir, are you an Iron Demon?" (Sitting in a nearby newspaper vending machine is the Daily Bugle: "IRON DEMONS" SIGHTED NEAR STARK TOWER! (Spider-Man in cahoots, sez Prez))

EVERYONE ELSE does not get so lucky.

Meggan looks towards Kitty in a momentary distraction, lips pursing for a moment. Her mouth works as if to form a word, a phrase, but what comes out finally is a strangle of "he NEEDED me," before she looks back at Rachel and lets that connection between them twine closer. She is reaching for a vision.

She finds one.

Rachel leans on the levers and Meggan's eyes water and the cruelty pours out of her face. Pours inwards; her eyes are the last things to thaw and she says to her, "But - I can't make - I can't make her a friend with the ARTS - not - I - wh -"

Kitty slides out of the grasp of the Butler even as the little dragon cleans up what few demons remain nearby. There is still quite the crowd but they are some distance away and, thank God or the Vishtani, they don't seem to be much for ranged attacks. Kitty hugs Meggan, expanded as she is - she goes "ooff—" deflates down, a warm shivering contortion as she reaches what you might call her proper size. Her teeth tighten, her lips pull back. Her eyes squeeze tight shut.

She strains herself. One last resolute moment of stout vigor. "I," she begins to say, and Rachel can feel the next word coming, it's going to be 'can't' EXCEPT

That Hope comes in like a freight train. She can feel the black choking despair that still freights Meggan, holding her so deep in the metaphorical water even if she's managed to peek above the surface again. It pours into Hope. Hope is however moving already, and she grasps Meggan's dress.

Hope looks into Meggan's eyes.

There is something tiny, like a creature with a horse-skull for a head, peering from outside of her left eye. It's holding onto her pupil like it was a windowsill.

Then their foreheads collide.

Meggan's eyes cross.

The lights go out. Not in Meggan's eyes - ALL of the lights. For a moment the room is plunged into an absolute blackness like that which preceded the Big Bang. There is the subtle terrible sense of NOTHING.

But it's brief.

When it comes back Meggan is in the same position but she's seated on a high stool and she has her face in her hands. "Oh god all of you — I — nh - oh, Christ, what did I say. God I feel wretched. I - I'm sorry, Miss, miss Merrow, or whatever, I didn't MEAN - I mean, I know what - what it's like -"

There are wet, haunted sobs, but not for long.

"… Thank you all," she says, face still in her hands. "But I can't go. Y-you can just walk out, if you want. I'll try to make you things to take with you, if you need them." Meggan sniffs inwards, and her hands come down as she makes the weakest smile in the world.

"HE told me - N'astirh, I mean - he told me I was his perfect, precious mirrorgirl. There couldn't be anyone more perfect in every world and every heaven and every hell. For what he needed, at least." Meggan's hands clasp on her knee as she looks round, her silvery dress now just… well, silver.

Where ARE they? Ah: it's the stage at Radio City Music Hall, or something near to it. The house lights are low, but there's a cherry-heat glow to the naturally warm interior. The seats are filled with demons, but they're not saying anything. (The second row has the one with his head cut open. He seems to be eating his own brains.)

Meggan sniffs again. Her forehead has a bruise mark on it, a Hope-shaped one.

"I didn't understand it," she says, "but - I was so terribly tired, and, it felt just like it did back then. H-he told me I ought to try and run you off, so you wouldn't keep trying to rescue me - it wouldn't work, but he figured that you'd all kill yourselves trying, eventually."

Meggan looks at Rachel. "… I promise I'll listen to you if this ever comes up again," she says with gallows humor. (The devil inside of her eye ducks down - perhaps not fast enough to avoid Rachel's notice.)

Meggan looks to Kitty. "You're right," she says, "about being controlled; but some things you can't take back." As she says this she rubs miserably at the quicksilver ring on her hand.

To Hope, Meggan says, "I'm sorry we couldn't know each other better. But - it's not all bad. In Limbo time doesn't work the same way. If you ever have to, I mean, you'd survive; after a fashion. Isn't that worth it?"

"They say I'm like a princess," Meggan says, looking out at the ranks of the silent demons. Space distorts in front of them - the straightish rows of seats forming S-curves as the back entranceway, manned by that eight-eyed Butler demon, seems to come all the way up to the stage. It would only take a few steps to be out, to be free, to leave.

"I wish I weren't," Meggan confesses, "but - well; you can't complain." She looks upwards, her eyes welling up.

"Thank you," she says. "I'll be cheering for you all."

Rachel's friendship empathy gambit is swiftly joined by verbal persuasion, personal affection, and, because Hope is here, physical assault. Rachel is too tired and focused to really understand what just happened in that flurry of people except on an intuitive level where she can very clearly imagine what comes after Hope launching herself head-first at someone.

The world goes black again. Very black. Rachel feels herself falling even though she isn't. Then she is, and she is unceremoniously dumped onto her tight shrink-wrapped arse. Her heart leaps for a moment when she makes out the familiar shapes of a stage and feels the pressure-weight of an audience behind her.

She doesn't look. She doesn't want to look at them. She wants to look at Meggan. Fortunately, for once this day can be fortune, she is sitting right in front of Meggan's monologue stool. The link between them is briefly numb from overload. Rachel is cut off from the endlessly deep despair, but she is also cut off from her friend.

And so she has to watch her cry.

And she does, because Rachel knows when it's time for a leading lady to have the moment that makes her a leading lady. While Meggan explains, Rachel slowly gathers herself up and shifts her poise to tuck her legs underneath herself so that it will be easier to stand up when she needs to stand up.

Oh, Meggan, her heart aches.

In some ways, they really are too much the same person.

Rachel forces a smile when Meggan manages a quip. Meggan looks to Kitty immediately afterward, so she may not notice how Rachel's smile is frozen as she plays something over in her head.

The eye — the eye —

«Everyone,» the disused psi-link crackles warmly back to life. The image of the demon eye flickers across so that everyone is on the same page. «I have a stupid idea.»

Rachel places her fingertips on the ground to steady herself. She rises, with only a hint of imbalance, to her feet. Meggan is still talking, now to Hope, and then turning toward the demons.

«I'm going to open my connection with Meggan again. Hope, I want you to copy me and go through the link and after Nasty. Shock him good. Kitty, can you phase Meggan out? If I'm right, the demon won't phase with her, and then Sloane can punch him out without hitting Meggan.»

Meggan's eyes well up again. Rachel's had started to shimmer much earlier in this part of the scene. She takes in a breath, exhales, and for a moment thinks of the ruby quartz.

"Meggan," she says, forcing the words through a throat that feels a bit too tight to talk. She steps forward. "Before you tell us to go, I want you to know…"

Right in front of the stool. It's very high. Rachel considers floating. How close? How close until the demon gets too wary? Until it tries something. Rachel bites her lip. She leaves the ground, her aches and pains falling away with the gravity.

Eye to eye with Meggan.

Eye to eye with N'astirh.

"You're my friend," she says. "And I love you."

Rachel glides forward with sudden decision, throwing her arms around Meggan and pressing her lips against hers. The empathic channel between the bursts back to life again with renewed sentiment, all of Rachel kaleidoscopic fracture of memories briefly aligning with the cosmos to make her feelings feel as true as she knows they are.

There was a moment where Kitty wasn't sure she would collide with flesh and bone. Or, worse, that Meggan would completely sidestep her physically attempt at friendship. However, she holds onto Meggan tightly as soon as she has a grip.

"You're a caring person, Meggan," Kitty tells Meggan softly. "Of course you'd help someone who needs you." Her grip is firm and she keeps trying to move her backward away from the Butler. "It doesn't matter who they are. But if N'astirh actually cared about you, he'd let you use your own face. He wouldn't tell you that you needed to be someone else. He wouldn't think you were a mirror. Maybe you can't take it back."

Plans are starting to form and then Rachel's voice rings clearly through her mind. It's a solid plan as far as she is concerned and there is absolutely no hesitation on her end. The only thing she thinks back to those linked as she is «Keep an eye on Lockheed.» He can get feisty and protective.

In fact, the little purple dragon launches himself forward toward the demons that might attack them at any moment, attempting to create an a defensive atmosphere he hopes no one else will dare enter.

The thought is quick and then she gives Meggan a smile and continues her sentence from before. "Maybe you can't take it back by yourself. But that's why you have friends. Take a breath."

And then she phases. Magic does weird things with her powers. This entire thing is a crap shoot. She's prepared for pain, for molasses, for a multitude of things that may fight her in phasing. However, her grip is tight on her friend and she does it anyway. She is determined and no matter what, she will see this through.

She sees it.

The crack of bone on bone is still throbbing its angry presence into Hope Summers shockingly (or maybe not so much) thick skull when she sees the glimpse of it — of him. Like a tiny little unobtrusive passenger, hopping on the rails of someone's existence like a ride along. She sees that equestrian skull peeking out as she rears back, frown severe and hands loosening from the white hot fabric of Meggan's dress. She feels the despair still threatening to pull her down with it. It takes all she has not to fall down into the quagmire.

And then the lights go out, as if in surrender.

"… That wasn't me," notes Hope's voice in the dark, almost certain her headbutts aren't that strong.

There is nothing, there. Absolutely nothing. But it prefaces a return to form, a return to sense. Of a sort.

And there stands Hope over Meggan's fallen form, her forehead reddening and her squint a bemused one that just grows progressively squintier as Meggan talks. There's something there, inside her. Something… controlling her? Influencing her? Urging her to give in to that despair, knocking at Meggan's existential door.

If you ever have to, I mean, you'd survive; after a fashion. Isn't that worth it?

"… Nope."

But Hope refuses to let it win.

"Surviving isn't enough."

She hears Rachel's plan, reverberating in her thoughts. She knows the way out is the other direction. The way to just make it out alive another day. And as Rachel floats upward to join Meggan, Hope's expression gentles into a smile. Her genetics become a familiar imprint of Rachel's as a psychic flame sparks in those green eyes to match the warmth of her features. She extends a hand out, a symbolic gesture at best, as Rachel enacts the plan.

"I'd rather help you get the chance to live instead. We can get to know each other better, then. Right?"

She lifts off her feet. Hair rises and curls like wild, dancing tongues of flame as she reaches outward. And her presence burns, white hot, as she touches upon the alien presence taking up residence in Meggan's body. As she reaches out the burning talons of a psychic raptor to curl them around that mind…

… and shock every single one of N'astirh's infernal neurons into a hellacious overload.

Meggan answers Kitty first. "He isn't a human, or anything near," she says to her, sadly. "So I've tried not to judge. I can't describe a lot of it. Perhaps sometime we can visit - if -"

She laughs at what Hope says, shaking her head for a moment, looking away. Her eyes are closed… /so she doesn't see what Hope is doing/.

Meggan's eyes brim over. She breathes out, "Oh Ra-"

And then she's interrupted emphatically. Her eyes widen as the 'chel' turns into 'mMMmMmmmmpphhF~?!' and the force of Rachel's impact knocks her back on many levels. Her body falls back from the stool as she's embraced; her psyche is momentarily freed from the dismal delve into which she's been so deeply ensconced by sheer shocking force, like a megaton bomb going off in a shallow harbor and baring sand and wreckage alike. The tide will return, perhaps -


Kitty crosses forwards, forming a temporary demonic rhombus with the three figures visible and the one invisible. Her hand, phased, travels through her head and reaches a barrier of sudden imperishable resistance as it touches Meggan's left eye, as if it's been warded from inside.

And yet simultaneously:

Hope rides through the borrowed psionic powers of Rachel Summers' mutant metacortex and reaches SOMETHING. Flame licks up through subtle channels and into a thing that is a swirling globe of mirrors in mirrors and mirrors and sitting there in the centerpiece is N'astirh the Eternal, the demonic visage of the creature far, far less ridiculous now that he is shown in his proper form and scale. Blank eyes turn as he says with scorn, "Fool! Do you think I did not know her? Everything within her has been scraped dry by me. Now perish, mutate! ERUCH MORTUUM RACHEL SUMMERS."

The spell throbs lethally in the air.

Were Rachel Summers present in that psycho-astral space - sealed both ways by the mirrorwards that N'astirh has carved, no doubt quarried from the brimming depths of Meggan's heart - she would surely have been blasted once more. Perhaps those memory fragments would have been blasted to sand.

Rachel Summers is not present.

The wards withdraw as N'astirh gathers his occult power. His intent focuses on the figure present. "What manner of -" His gathered occult power removes the wards!

Kitty's hand passes through Hope's meta-perception! It takes N'astirh with it.

N'astirh passes out of Meggan's head and seems to ripple as it goes. He returns to what must be his proper and native size - something nearer to a horse, if approximately bipedal - as he topples onto the stage, skidding on the glossy wood as he moves. Recovering himself in an instant, he rears up to look at Hope - what he has lost in physical imposition he has gained in the gathering nimbus of strange, crackling light.

"Scarlet woman! Attend -" N'astirh says, raising his left hand, whose middle finger is clad in a hooked sheath of cinnabar.

He was probably going to cast something big. Lockheed breathes fire on it. Cinnabar does not have a very good melting point - and, no doubt, Lockheed /means/ it - and what rally he might have brought to bear ends as the Limbo-spawned ore drips hot down his hand. Rachel may notice this as the moment Meggan starts to kiss back some.

Incredulous, N'astirh says, "You DARE, whelp? Do you know what you defy? What -"

The ring on Meggan's hand melts into a drizzle of mercury (that's hazardous!) and N'astirh is thrown bodily from the stage, jerked as if gripped by some hidden point within his body and thrown aside. He lands in the demons, rending a half-dozen of them by chance, and howls a shriek of indignation.

"Miserable, misbegotten, mutated meddlers! What freakish force compels you to interfere with what is rightfully mine! Bought and taken - you deal in treachery and bad faith -" And then his head turns to look at Sloane.

To whom he extends his right hand.

"You are not of their race," the demon says. "I see your pain. N'astirh offers liberation - the pain is momentary, the pleasure eternal. Grant me your aid in this moment of ill dignity, Agent Sloane Albright, and you will have more than my boon - but gratitude undying!"

The door opens back up, and the hydrokinetic's first flickers are of a demon inside an eye. However she spoke aloud, there is a distinct, thick Bostonian accent inside her mind.

«Rachel, that's stupid.»

A femtosecond passes.

«Let's do it.»

Rachel and Hope work in tandem through mental link and the psychic assault. Kitty touches the metaphysical and manages to separate N'astirh and Meggan, leading to the large demon being met with the flames of Lockheed as well as being thrown into a tangled mass of demons.

'You are not of their race!'
'I see your pain!'

Eyes half-lidded, it sounds like for a moment — just a single, solitary moment — Sloane pauses at the edge of the stage, silent and still. Her hand closes into a fist.

"And I am so sick of demons in my god damn HEAD."

Though she's far from the strongest person in the world — hell, in Manhattan — Sloane is pretty strong in her own right. It took weeks of focused control and training just as much as her hydrokinetics to get a good grip on; buttons pushed too hard, glasses and coffee mugs crushed in her hand, doorknobs ripped right off. The Inhuman has spent a great deal of time over the last year and a half keeping it in check— it isn't something she can turn on or off, it's simply part of her.

Sloane comes down at N'astirh with a step, a tight arc of her arm… and then she punches right down at his head with all of the force she can possibly muster; an impact that would jar even the Inhuman's enhanced constitution, fracturing armored scales from digits to knuckles.

N'astirh seems to wait for Sloane's reply, which was not, in itself, a clear yes or a clear no.

She unleashes the Horse-Slaying Fist upon the long bridge of N'astirh's skull. There is a feeling of bone cracking; his vast body sways for a moment as he bellows, "TREACHERY! So be it! Remember this moment!"

("I will," Meggan says - no, feels, thinks, so loud that it might as well be aloud.)

Space twists so hard that it /rips/ - and N'astirh and nearly every one of the demons who were present have vanished. It was perhaps not unlike the portals that have plagued New York for some time, but N'astirh held control over them. Perhaps he - no; he absolutely would not have told anyone anything useful until he was King.

Meggan mmpfhs - and her lips draw back as she tilts her head back, saying breathlessly, "RAchel!" Her cheeks blossom with red, but she's smiling. It's a half-thrilled sort of surprise. It has purity again: the waters run sweet to the sea.

"Oh god," she says. "Kitty. Oh gosh what did I SAY to that fish lady. Oh no oh GOD. MISS, I AM SO TERRIBLY SORRY!"

A maintenance worker steps out from the back. He's holding a shotgun - which he shoulders, whistling innocently, and calling ahead, "Hey y'all, uh, fire exits' that way, follow the sign… uh, devils, right? Yeah…"

He disappears backstage again. ("Was that a frigging dragon?" he mutters to himself.)

"thank you," Meggan then says, shyly, meaning everyone.


"Four," says the demon with his brain pan open.

"What?" N'astirh says, turning his head to look at the demon. (Their location is indescribable, a place of fume and horror. Limbo has regions that you cannot properly understand - not, of course, without great training… or the blessings of the Darkchilde.)

"You'll have four fights with them total," the demon says, eating another part of his brain. "You'll send Gloriana here in the third pitch."

"Which?" N'astirh hisses.

The demon does not reply to his better, for he ate the part that let him talk. Were it not for this moment of frustration, perhaps the demon would have moved on to new conquests. But some things just make the matter stick with you.

Rachel needed help with this plan because she's very busy right now.

As the demon N'astirh is plucked and punched, and as the hall is returned to some kind of normal — there is a demonic invasion still going on outside, after all — Rachel and Meggan finally find the floor after the painfully soft-lighting floating arc they took.

Rachel rolls off of Meggan and onto her back. She stares up at the ceiling. She hears the Meggan in Meggan's voice again, and that's enough to make her feel safe closing her eyes in what feels like a long time.

A maintenance worker starts gesturing them out. Rachel lies upon the stage for a few moments longer.

Eventually, before she finally stirs to begin moving, Rachel says in a tired monotone: "You have to admit, I'm better than Brian at a few things."

In the aftermath, Hope watches a demon get suckerpunched all the way back to hell, or some inoffensive union equivalent more popularly known as a fun party game.

It's a good feeling.

Booted heels settle once more on solid earth as the adoptive Summers girl stares at the empty space that N'astirh once occupied, dwelling for a brief moment on what he might have tried to do to her. She considers for a moment, decides she needs to ask Cable about what demon lord killing armaments there are in the Grymalken and which ones feel especially painful, and then turns to survey their surroundings.

Evreyone looks varying stages of alive. That's good.

Piotr is nowhere to be seen. That's bad.

And Hope feels… feels…

And this is where the redhead just kind of slumps onto the ground, knees folded underneath her as she releases a long, slow exhale. More exhausted than she thought.

"Nice work, dragon girl," she mumbles under her breath, giving Sloane a weak thumbs up. "… an' also actual dragon I guess, you too."

And with that, Hope just kind of… falls over, waving a hand in Meggan and Rachel's direction. Did Rachel just kiss Meggan better? Is that one of her powers?

Deep questions to ponder at another time. For now:

"S'ok, don't stop on my account, you're welcome." And then she just rolls onto her side.

"'mma take a nap"

The subsequent snoring?

That's the snore of victory.

Everything seems to be back to normal, asterisk.

Sloane's shoulders shift as she breathes heavy and hard, her hand still clenched and shaking with a hint of uncontrolled anger she's trying very hard to get back under control. She's trying to keep it off the psi-link, pushing it down like the bile rising in her throat by swallowing hard.


Sloane's back stands to the X-Men for a few moments longer, tired eyes lidding halfway while her mouth is a pretty solid frown. By the time she's turned around to face Meggan, taking note of Rachel laid out on the stage, she's got a chipper smile on her face and a hand lifting just a little to wave dismissively. "Hey, it's fine. This has got a lot of people all twisted up."

She gives a small wave back to Hope. "Nice moves."

"Just… let me know if you need a hand again, okay? 'Cause I totally have two of them," Merrow says, holding up her non-mangled hand in a fist. "Or if I have to carry you home or something, 'cause I'd have to hold it over your heads basically forever."

Almost as if to prove the point, Hope falls asleep on the spot.

The Inhuman heroine wants to know how she can fall asleep like that. The Agent of SHIELD in her wants to know if she has a liscence for any of those weapons.

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