Blood Bargain

October 29, 2018:

Constantine arrives to bargain with the Darkchilde. Darkedge and Pepper Potts escape before deals can be made.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Stark Tower. The epicenter of a demonic maelstrom, a fortress of innovation and capitalistic excess now forged into a citadel of darkness and consumption; there's an ironic synergy to the entire affair, if you ask John Constantine. He's not out to be a class warrior tonight, though, no sir. He's out to be a— sewer worker?!?

The Hellblazer clambors back up to street level with a shove of a manhole cover that he doesn't bother to replace; this place is fucked, anyway. A smooshed pack of Silk Cut finds its way into his free hand, a deft flourish of artistry freeing a cigarette without utilizing the other, before tucking the cigarettes back into his rumpled trenchcoat, bearing new stains that shall not be named. He lights up, again artfully, effortlessly utilizes one hand.

The other hand, you ask? Why, that appendage is occupied holding aloft a small vial of blood-red crystal that paradoxically projects an omnidirectional blue-white glow. Contrary to initial appearances, this likely has something to do with why the myriad of demonic footsoldiers patrolling and lurking about this close to the heart of darkness pay him virtually no mind. He's a passing tingle on the back of the neck to demonic entities, a whisper on the wind easily ignored.

John takes a deep drag off his smoke, and eyes the Tower before him dubiously through the resultant cloud. This is absolutely a great plan. Seemingly solo, apparently fearless, -surely- arrogant and swaggering, John paces smoothly right up to the front door of Demon Central, and walks inside.

The mistress of these halls is no demonic footsoldier, no fiendish lieutenant— his warding isn't going to hide his interloping, at least not for long. So, the warlock abandons it, slipping the artifact back into his coat as he schluffs what looks like a bum's carpet roll off his back. The remnant smacks loudly on the floor and unfolds, revealing an intricately drawn circle of protection that Constantine smoothly steps inside.

"ILLYANA NIKOLIEVNA RASPUTINA!!" John bellows out impertinently, obviously choosing the path of stealth and subtlety to accomplish his aims, "HELL BITCH OF LIMBO!! DARKCHILDE OF BELASCO, BASTARD AND BELLEND!!" All pomp and circumstance, respectful politesse aplenty, this one. "I'VE COME TO FUCKIN' BARGAIN!"

Totally alone, too. There was definitely no mysterious parcel left right where Darkedge was sure to find it the night before, with a time scrawled and a room in the tower circled, and John is definitely -not- several minutes late to the appointment he himself set. He arrives exactly when he intends to. He takes another steady pull off his cigarette, and runs a hand through his unkempt blonde locks.


The trouble with wizards and warlocks, they do tend to arrive just when they mean to. Having gotten the parcel, it took the elf days to decipher the meaning of the drawing, but when he did he realized it was a map, like the ones Pepper had talked tohim about on those evenings he would stop by just to talk. Among the things she was attempting to teach the elf: maps and counting in base ten. He still couldn't translate numbers from three-hands-with-two into fourteen. Human number names were SO weird. The number symbols were odd as well, so Darkedge just ignored them. Instead, he took to stalking near Stark Tower, staying in the shadows, silent and unseen, until the mage arrived.

Arrive, John did.

With Constantine in place, Darkedge makes his move.

Magic is not imployed. Darkedge can't run the risk that the demonness will sense its use. Thus, the elf slips in the old fashioned way, moving physically from shadow to shadow, deftly slipping into a window or a door that was ajar, broken open, and creeping along the halls in search of any hint of the Lady Pepper, from the feel of his magic on the jewelry he made for her to the faint rustle of her human mind. His diamond blades were shaped and at the ready before he even made his way in.


Stark Tower.

A place of woe and darkness. Of demons and death.

A place that might literally be Hell on Earth. A place where most people don't try to purposely enter. Until now.

John Constantine slips past guard and gargoyle, past two-legged demons and four, past all the foot soldiers that carefully patrol on behalf of the Darkchilde.

When his carpet of protection rolls outward and he steps inside it pulls the attention of the nearby demons. They step toward the man who stands so casually within their realm, only the demons steps falter as Constantine calls upon their Master - The Darkchilde.

Their pupil-less eyes flick to one another and as one the demons step back and away; melding into the shadows.

Then, for all his pomp and circumstance, Constantine waits.

And while she's heard him, and her name, the Mistress of this fortress deigns not to answer quickly.

Finally, after perhaps a foot-tapping amount of time, the Darkchilde makes her appearance.

Or rather, she makes her move.

While she typically would have simply teleported the man to her location, his circle of power affords some protection and so -

The room which he stands within trembles suddenly and with the sound of cracking cement and shearing metal, the floor (and John) itself is engulfed by a stepping disk.

That portal deposits the disheveled man in another room, high within the Tower, that looks a mesh between Stark Tower and something far more gothic. A room with massive flagstones for the floor and high arching columns that support an equally magnificent stone ceiling above. The only source of light within are smoking torches, that offer a flickering atmosphere to the already dark Throne Room of the Darkchilde.

Within the center of the room sits a large obsidian throne, upon a raised dais, and within the chair sits the Darkchilde. Her expression is terribly bored as she looks at the man that's now within her realm.

"Speak quickly or die just as fast, John Constantine. I'm in no mood for games."

Idly the demoness tilts her head to the side, a slight narrowing of her reddened eyes commencing with that movement of hers.


How many days has it been since that man's astral projection was in here? Pepper is really not doing well with keeping track of time anymore. She's taken a shower already and eaten another of the dwindling supply of vile, pre-packaged meals, and she's got … oh, ALL the time now to do quite literally nothing. She paces back and for a bit — the best she can do for cardio exercise — all the while thinking mostly to herself, 'Why didn't you put in a copper wire phone line, Tony? or, or a can and some string?'

Giving up on the pacing, she starts a simple yoga routine, as it's something she can do in the limited space she has. And because it's her only way to have music since her phone died over a week ago, she mentally tries to replay a song in her mind.
Annoyingly, the only one that she can run through right now is Rick Astley.


It's fine, really, waiting. All these demon lords love to put on airs, and besides— it gives John a minute to finish smoking his cigarette. He's about down to a duck when all hell breaks looser and the floor he's standing on is ripped through reality and conjured anew in an even darker place; the Hellblazer weathers it like it's /exactly/ what he expected. Which truth be told, may not be that far afield from actuality.

"Pity, luv." John observes with a very good facsimile of disappointment. "Games are my forte', and I'm a most magnificently mischievious playmate." His reputation obviously precedes him, so he's not telling Illyana anything she doesn't already know— just owning it!

Still, despite the playful tones, he's following the letter of her request; only a fool would imagine the warlock doesn't have a grasp of exactly the stakes he's playing at. Constantine tosses the spent cigarette butt heedlessly aside as sparkling, enigmatic baby blues settle right back on the crimson of the Hell-Queen.

"I know you're busy with this destroying everything you've ever loved and could ever love you thing, so I'll make this easy, up and up, straight and simple…" Seems unlikely, doesn't it? "I'm here for the pretty little— the other pretty little blonde stuck in this Tower of Doom you got goin' on, the one you care so much about you haven't even bothered to kill or possess her."

John smiles sweetly, innocently, totally sincerely. No ill will for anything the Darkchilde is up to her, not this warlock. "What kind of unreasonable bullshit you want to let your inconsequential houseguest walk out of here alive and intact?" The million dollar question. He -is- a bit curious.


John Constantine speaks reasonable words.

Truly.

The Darkchilde's expression shows very little in the way of any true emotion; beyond a lack of interest in anything he says.

His flippancy, the sarcasm, or even the more serious question at the end.

She lets him stand there in his protected circle of power, upon that carpet. She lets him flick the cigarette off to the side.

She lets him continue to exist and live even as he lies to her face.

"Games." She states solemnly, "Yes, you do like them, don't you." And here the Darkchilde's voice becomes icy with her anger, "You come here saying you wish to bargain. That you want to make a deal, but tell me John Constantine, is that really the truth?"

And while she could make grandiose gestures, or intone words of frightening power, she does neither. Instead she raises her left hand and flicks her fingers and from that gesture power swells within the room itself.

It forms a column of invisible might and it rips toward John Constantine, intending to burn through his circle of protection. At the same time a second and third strand of power breaks free and reaches outward into the Ether. It bypasses walls and shadows, cement and drywall, to locate two specific targets.

Darkedge and Pepper Potts.

When it finds the Fae man and the mortal woman, the power literally snatches the two from their respective rooms and brings them into the Throne Room itself.

The teleportation is a harsh ride and the portals drop their passengers painfully at the flagstone floor, specifically in front of her throne.

"I think not." Comes the answer to the question she asked seconds before. "Instead you come bearing lies."


Meanwhile, the elf continues his search. No trace of his magic can be felt. Not amid the stink of Hell in this place. Instead, he focuses on the feel of a mind, Pepper's mind. She had surprised him, in hearing his mind. She had surprised him further that her mind was sturdy enough that if he focused on her and her alone, he could hear bits and pieces.

The song is an odd one.

Undetered, Darkedge uses the feel of it as a beackon, fixing his mind on the location and working his way there as quickly and stealthfully as possible. And, to try to make the egress smoother, the elf risks a send.

** Lady Pepper. Stay calm. Stay composed. I am nearing you. ** the elf sends, locking the thought from his mind to Pepper's, using the weight of what he is to help masking the feel of his thoughts, using his own soul's name to try to block anyone but She Whom He Is Sending To from hearing him.

** Be ready to-!** The thought is ripped in half, torn by the harsh demonic teleportation. It drops Darkedge to a knee in front of the throne. Despite the almsot too bright of the flickering hell light in here, he lifts his gaze to find Pepper near him and he moves to slide himself on that bent knee to her side. And his silver eyes lift to the Hell Queen.


Was is a small favor that Pepper had been sitting on the floor in lotus pose when Darkedge addressed her telepathically? Probably, considering how badly the sudden thoughts startled her. ** Darkedge? Ohmygod, where are you? I've heard th— **

The only teleportation she can remember experiencing is Darkedge pulling her through shadows after him, and that felt NOTHING like this. It was bone-chillingly cold, and nothing else. This… this she has no words to describe. Ending up sitting on the flagstone floor, dressed in extremely rumpled slacks and silk blouse with fluffy half-dry hair and bare feet, it takes her a good few seconds to get over the disorientation and nausea.

Looking around doesn't improve anything, though. She's gone from one person's version of hell to another. At least the walls here are farther apart? The black-clad figure that suddenly blocks a good portion of her line of sight makes her startle and recoil, and then she recognizes the tinsel-silver hair.

Totally NOT registering Darkedge's defensive stance, she lunges forward to grab one of the elf's arms, as if to reassure herself that he's actually real.

And then she notices the Darkchilde and freezes like prey caught in the gaze of a predator.


"Tch." John clucks, this time with -sincere- disappointment. It's not the disappointment of a man who's had his game ruined, however. It's the disappointment of a man who just watched the person across from the chess table do something -really- unfortunate.

The carpet, see, it's got more on it than a decidedly above-average set of protection glyphs and sacred geometry. It's laden down with holy oil, and when the demonic magics touch it, it does burn— but it burns in a brilliant, holy fire that reacts to that invisible might as if, indeed, it had been orchestrated with this exact eventuality in mind. Ancient magics of oppositional alignments clash in a spiralling column of holy and hellfire that does little to touch John at its center, consuming his carpet, consuming his spellwork… and leaving a new iteration in its wake.

In a flash of brilliant, metal-melting fervour, elder sigils are suddenly flash-charred into the very ground around him, fusing in defiant opposition before the outpouring of power. He couldn't have done it without her, truth be told; or well, he could— but it would have cost him so much more. "So black and white. That's the problem with you demons, so many of you lack nuance. May not have spoken the frank, complete truth— but if you'd been reasonable, I /was/ speaking -a- truth, luv."

John's smile returns, but it's not as disarming, not as warm. It's dangerous. It's devilish in its own right. "Can't tell me honestly you'd have been happier to negotiate with an -idiot- who walked in here with no contingency plans." Yes, that was a plural, and it's another tidbit of honesty; he might not have been entirely forthright, but neither did Constantine utter pure falsehood. In theory, hypotheticals are fun like that.

"I was even straight up in expecting you to be unreasonable." Another truth that, well, is kind of proven in action now, isn't it? Constantine isn't wasting all his time on talk, though. In this passage of instants, amidst the ease of his disarming, too-assured banter, Constantine has produced three items: an old lighter, a StarkPhone, and a hollowed ram's horn. The first he nonchalantly ignites as he produces it, as if by magic, so smooth and unseen is the sleight of hand, and tosses it languidly out before him. The device is consumed as if by its own flames, and all throughout the tower, sprinkler systems surge on.

They may have been damaged, they may have even been destroyed— but strangely, synchronously, it works for the Hellblazer. Burst pipes spew water even where previously sealed, ceiling and wall mounted units blast it as designed, and suddenly there's a flash flood warning in Stark Tower— a flash flood of holy water, from a pre-emptively blessed water main beneath the street.

A button on the phone is pressed, and back into his pocket it goes; as ancient Hebrew bellows forth from every available PA in the place, and the external speakers themselves. An exorcism rite, an old one, a Psalm of power as old as Judaism.

The ram's horn? That stays in Constantine's grasp, its sharpened edge drawn in parallel lines down each of his cheeks, across each of his palms, cutting deeply as his own blood stains the ends crimson. "Get her the fuck out of here, Alabaster Snowball." John advises Darkedge, as he lofts the horn towards his lips…


That last command of John's brings the gaze of the Darkchilde upon Pepper Potts and Darkedge and with something like a smile, the Demoness says, "No."

"Sit, stay, heed my words, Azryl, and none other than mine. Come take your place by my side while we bargain for your friend's life."


Pepper grabs Darkedge's arm. Good. Physical touch makes teleportation easier. He pulls up to his feet, shaping his daggers back into the coils under his sleeves as he goes so he can reach back to haul Pepper up with him. She's stock still, but he needs to move, to get her to that deep shadow a mere three strides away. He starts that way even as John is calling out to him. One stride: Get her the fuck out Two strides: of here, Alabaster Three strides: Snowball. No..

Darkedge turns on Pepper, calling up the shadows around them. He's pulling her close, knowing she's not dressed for the sudden plunge into the icy cold of the Void. Thre's no time to warn her, not as the Hell Queen commands him, and worse, commands with his Name. Pepper can see the way the name pulls his eyes wide, the way his pale cheeks pale further. His hands tremble against her arms just before his fingers tighten almost painfully. She's witness, front row, to the sight of that inner fight, of the way he is fighting himself to finish the call into the Shadows. Even in the darkness he drags them through, she can feel how he's shaking. When they arrive to a place he was told was safe, a church of some sort, he's visibly shaken, drops to his knees holding his head before scrambling back and away, into another shadow and gone.


Luckily for Darkedge (maybe?), when he hauls Pepper to her feet she doesn't put up any kind of resistance, and by the third stride she's moving with him instead of being pulled along. But then the demon-woman says something and Darkedge looks like it was something truly awful… and then there's the bone-deep chill and they're suddenly somewhere else again.

It's too sudden of a shock for her to register the cold quite yet, so she can only stare as Darkedge scrambles back and disappears again. "Darkedge?"

Slowly, realization kicks in along with the violent shivering, and she looks around. Older building, mostly stone architecture, wooden …benches? No, pews. Pews, and candles. A church. She's in a church. But where?

"Hello?" she calls weakly past her chattering teeth as she hunches over her tightly crossed arms. "I… we… I need some help here."


Magic flares. Magic not of her creation and it burns.

The ire in her gaze only heightens, as she turns a look off of Darkedge and back to John.

"You are like all the others. Pompous words for a fool who thinks they have the upper hand." She says slowly, "And yet, all that attitude will not save you."

Now Illyana rise upward and stands upon the raised dais.

She feels the holy water burn through the tower. Feels the death of her demons. Feels the havoc that now plays out within Stark Tower.

It continues for many minutes and then one, by one, the sprinkler systems shut down, the pipes mend themselves, and the flow of water ceases. It's up to those demons who currently burn to survive or die. Some will definitely die.

The prayer of exorcism thunders forth and while it causes the woman to flinch and hiss, it doesn't stop her. Instead the Demoness opens herself wide to the power of Limbo and she draws upon the dark wellspring of energy. It bolsters her defenses and fortifies against the call for purification and it allows her to break the right of protection. No matter the fact that it was her own initial magics that fueled John Constantine's spells.

Heavily the woman steps down from the raised platform that holds her throne and with that echoing step, power surges forth once more.

It's no longer just a blind slam of power, this is something insidious and clever. It reaches out with greedy fingers to smudge those protective sigils that encircle John, and while it shouldn't be an easy task for Illyana Rasputina to remove those protections here within Limbo it is.

What she wishes happens, what she wills comes true, and currently she wants John free of any wards that try to give him sanctuary against her might.

So, with each step of the Darkchilde's, he finds a sigil fading, disappearing, becoming nothing than a memory. Then the second and the third, until he's freed from all that armors him against her.

"Congratulations, your friend is free." Her head cants to the side, "Now the question to be asked is 'are you?'."


There's an inherent problem, here, where the realm of Illyana's limbo superimposes itself over the material plane, where it seeps into Stark Tower, and vice-versa. See, exorcisms are great— but they just send demonic entities and evil spirits /home/. Here, the Darkchilde is, at least as far as the mystical fundamentals are concerned, already home. In a philosophical and spiritual sense, it's a very arguable thing, but the mechanics of magic are disinterested in the duality of Illyana's heart and destiny, when she herself is so very immersed in only the singular extreme thereof.

To an extent, John planned for this— the verses being spoken are not simple exorcism, but sealing, protection, purification. Thing is— purifying a /demonic hell-plane/ is a very big job. If it's not impossible for Constantine (which it very well may be), it certainly would cost him /way/ too much to be any kind of wise play. Not that he's always a wise man. Case in point: despite the situation, he /laughs/ at the Darkchilde, and with genuine mirth. "You /really do/ think I'm a moron." he observes, with nary a hurt feeling about it.

The upper hand? No, never. There was no way the Hellblazer was ever going to win this fight, and even less chance once they were all pulled into Illyana's bastion of power and protection. Everything he's got was purpose-built to slow down the inevitable, to make her expend more power refreshing her army, just to make himself a gigantic pain in the ass as a metaphorical middle finger to the conductor of this orchestra of insanity. She has it coming— and Constantine might wish he could give her more of that 'it', but a man makes do.

The ram's horn is pressed to his lips, and the sacred instrument, imbued with his own blood, his own magic, sounds loud through the chamber. It's a penetrating tone, a practiced, perfect pitch, then a second, then a third. The first breaks down demonic protections, that same resilience she refreshes from Limbo to oppose the ritual, the second rattles and wracks the brain, its pure note a dissonant, horrifying thing to the ears of the infernal.

The third is pure pain, disruptive, dispelling— were they back on the 'real' Earth, it might even be enough to drive some of that influence out of the queen. Here, the warlock simply counts on it -hurting- her, not to mention any demons still filling the chamber, as John himself fucking books it. He sprints like a man who knows he's about to die, lickity split and— straight for one of those massive, gothic pillars, apparently. Maybe he -is- a moron.

The cut on the Laughing Magician's hand is utilized to smear substantial blood on that support structure, and then a fingertip draws a series of sigils both similar and entirely alien to the ones outlying his poor, ill-fated circle of protection. Is he free? "Every minute of every goddamn day until I fuckin' die."

Constantine steps past— or is it -into- that stone, it's hard to tell if the entire space wavers like superheated asphalt, or if it's just the ringing in Illyana's ears. Either way, he doesn't emerge out the other side, and the section of Hellrealm he penetrates erupts outwards in his wake, violently shredding itself in protestation of the contrarian energies wielded against it.


The notes of the horn do their job well.

The first sunders many of the protections around the throne room itself.

The second cascades painfully within Illyana's own self, both brain, heart and soul. It causes her expression to twist in pain, her lips peeling back away from sharpened teeth.

The third brings the physical self into that same arena as her metaphysical self. It pulls forth pain that shivers down her limbs, her spine, her body.

But if there's one thing Illyana knows and understands is pain. She grew up with it, was raised upon it, and while it allows John Constantine to escape, the Darkchilde recovers from the three notes from the ram's horn far quicker than most would.

Reddened eyes open and the Darkchilde surveys her now quiet throne room. Her eyes flick this way and that and then the woman stretches a hand outward, to the last pillar that John touched. From the stone column, dark red globules lift from the surface and float over to the Demoness. Carefully she cradles the self-contained droplets of blood in her hand, even as she turns her back upon the room at large, and walks toward her throne.

"Death can be arranged."

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