Darkness Rising - Part 3

Summary:
April 11, 2014: As New York shifts and warps around them, a handful of heroes find themselves in a broken reality that's right out of a steampunk horror story.

Manhattan The Dark City

It could have been New York… in another life, another world, another time. Lights are dimmer here, the sky slate, tinted with sickly reds and yellows. Smog, or perhaps simply dark fog, hangs heavy in the air, pressing close to the flesh with a thick, oily humidity despite the chill. Streets are cobbles, rather than asphalt. Buildings are brick and plaster in a 19th century style. Harnessed electricity and electrical devices are unreliable, though not entirely unusable. In fact, the same could be said of any power used in this place — natural, meta, or otherwise. Everything is just a little 'off', like the whole world skews to sinister. Murphy's Law has freer reign in this city than it does in the normal universe. Entropy is king.


Characters

NPCs
Rat-men and Cabbies and Dangerous Dandies, People on streets who've had too many Brandies, Dark Lords and Huntsmen with Aetheric Wings…

emits by Diana


Mood Music:
[*<http://insert.video.or.music.link.here>]


Times Square, but something seems to be a bit off. There's fog, when there shouldn't be.

A busy Friday evening in downtown Manhattan. With the weather having turned nicer, even if it's still chilly after sunset, more people are out and about than have been over the course of the winter. Not, mind, that the area around Times Square is ever not crowded. The mood is, as always, frenetic, full of life and the irrepressible spirit that is New York.

For all that, however, the city is not without its darkness. It's hidden, really, behind the bright neon lights and the blare of street music, car horns, and hawkers. To say it lurks in alleys is cliché… and, in this case, completely wrong. Because, even the alleys are bright, compared to the dark grey mists that seep down the damp streets from the busy New York Harbor. It's unnoticeable, at first. A scuff of dust, perhaps. Or maybe just the putrid air from the subway vents and sewer grates. Nothing extraordinary in that.

But, slowly, the fog thickens. Lights dim first around the docks themselves. Machinery slowly falls silent, and workers move lethargically, at best. It's almost as if an odd lethargy settles over them — one they're not really inclined to fight… even were they actually aware of it, which most of them aren't.

As the mist drifts further inland, the bright street lamps take on an odd cast, more like flickering gaslight than halogen, fluorescent, or sodium. It can't quite decide if it should be garish green or sickly amber. The streets themselves take on a completely different cast, as well, shifting, it seems between now and then, past and present. Sometimes asphalt, sometimes cobbles. The people that walk the street grow quieter, somehow, as if they're not quiet in one time or another. Their garb shifts like the streets do, neither one era or another, their manners morphing much the same way.

All in all, it's an odd night in New York, this night. And it brings with it the oddest sensation of being completely isolated, no matter how large the crowd around may be.


It's not unusual for Sara Pezzini to be isolated in the midst of the city. Normally she'd probably be stuck down in her dungeon of an office at special investigations, or else holed up in her home with her usual order of Chinese food. Normally. But tonight, the Witchblade is restless, flickering at the back of her mind and driving her out to the streets of the city. It doesn't take her long to start to come across the strangeness on the streets, or the Witchblade to start creeping over the hand stuffed in her jacket pocket. Something here is most definitely out of balance.


Jonathan Storm, youngest member of the Fantastic Four (and the hottest, in several senses, write that down if you're interviewing him) has just dropped off the young lady he had taken to dinner tonight, because 'Reed wants us to get an early start investigating the Negative Zone tomorrow morning' … actually because she used a fake ID and the cool custom-smartphone Reed made warned him about it.
He decides not to flame-on yet, no desire to wreck this set of club wear. Instead, he walks to the street and tries to signal a cab. For some reason, the one that passes is a horse-drawn hansom looking brand-new and fresh, like it was just delivered to the taximeter carriage service yesterday, in 1854. He hops up into the passenger compartment.
"To the Baxter Building please."


Strolling down the street, Evelyn is wearing just her street clothes. A faded black jacket with white fuzzy hoodie, a button up dress shirt with small white dots, and a red crew tee beneath that. Her hands are stuffed in her pockets as she navigates against the flow of pedestrians, bumping shoulders now and then with people walking past her. The New York experience. Two earbuds are in her ears, serenading her with 'The Waltz Must Go On', played by that snobby Andre Rieu. It's too bad the music is just too good to not listen to. Her eyes are glued to the pavement in front of her, not quite realizing the precipace of smog upon her.
The wave of awfulness hits her all at once, breaking her stride as she stumbles into a man in 19th century longjohns and a white-stained shirt. Her reactor failed, the light beneath her skin flickering as her battery recovers and restarts the plasma system. If one were to see inside of her chest, the once blue light usually warmly glowing through the aerogel casing beneath her skin is now a sickly orange. The man she collided with earlier pushes her upright with a solemn look on his face, and she stumbles forward a bit more, muttering "S-sorry." What is happening?


Fog continues to drift lazily over the streets, swirling around ankles and knees, cascading like a flow of water down stairs into subway tunnels and filling the low-lying areas of the city first. The lights on the street and on heretofore brightly lit signs flicker and fade, not so much blinking out as simply being swallowed by darkness — effectively dimmed rather than extinguished.

A pair of dandies in pinstriped waistcoats and sharply creased stove pipe trousers, bowler hats sat jauntily on their heads, laugh loudly between themselves as they fall in step behind the lady cop with gauntletted hand.

The hansom cab driver tips his newsie cap at Johnny, as the modern dandy crawls into the coach. He says nothing to the young man, however, merely clicking at his horse and urging it on through the dimming streets with an expert hand.

The man Evelyn collided with gives her an odd look, but pushes on past her, leaving her to try to sort things out on her own. The music in the earbuds, however, crackles and fades, the smaller electronic device far less robust than the expert systems that keep her more-or-less upright.


Sara glances over her shoulder as she steps through the fog, brows furrowing in a brief frown when she sees the anachronistic fellows behind her. She can't quite seem to form an actual objection, though, shaking her head slightly and continuing down the street, past where a street performer's plastic buckets flicker between plastic and tin, adding another element to his drums routine. The Witchblade clamors in the back of her mind, a warning that things are not quite right, but the detective can't quite put her finger on it just yet. Tendrils creep up her fingers and forearm, but even they take on a different form, more shades of gold and delicate filigree than the usual dense armor.


"A bit murky out, ol' chap?" Johnny asks the driver, wondering whether the city forgot to pay its gas bill or if it's just too much lampblack built up on the inside covers of the gaslights. He reaches out to the flames, his cousins, to ask them why they burn so dimly tonight. There is a brief flare of light, whether from his urgings and encouragement, or from sheer chance, revealing the unescorted woman being followed at predator's pace by boisterous gents, and he calls to the driver.
"I think I'll stop here, after all." He glances at the taximeter, and hands two silver dollars to the man - overtipping, but on a night like this, he deserves it. Departing the vehicle, he adjusts his bowler as he moves up behind the two. It won't do to be too precipitous; they might simply be inebriated louts, but they might well mean to trouble her night.


Evelyn removes the MP3 player from her pocket as the music dips out. Standing alone in the crowd of anachronistic individuals flowing to and fro beyond her. Staring at it, she clicks the buttons a few times to try to turn it back on, as if it were at the height of her concern, but one would think it to be the easiest mystery to solve out of all the oddities happening all at once. Clicking the power button reveals no new answers, so she removes her earbuds and looks around her, looking quite fatigued.
Because of the mere improbability of a clockwork device containing even a fraction of the complexity her electronic and digital systems contain, she remains quite electronic inside. On the outside, her attire has changed to an urchin's outfit. A pair of brown trousers over a grease stained white shirt. A newsie cap is atop her head, with her hair knotted in the back with a simple pair of hairclips. Startled, she steps back and looks at herself, "What is happening?"


The dandies behind the cop are boisterous, and might prove a threat, depending on just how inebriated they are, this evening. But it's the piercing scream from down a side street that really catches the attention. It's sharp, more like a shriek than a prolonged wail.

The cabbie tips his hat to Johnny, taking the money and pocketing it before he clicks to his horse to send the old nag off on its way. If he hears the scream, he doesn't react to it at all, except, perhaps, to hurry the horse a little faster.

As Evelyn pauses to look at herself in one of the dark store windows, other passersby continue to give her odd looks — mostly at her odd exclamations. As far as they're concerned, nothing is amiss. Though, to be fair, though nearest the vicinity of the shriek do seem to be moving a little faster… away from the sound.


There. A flash of normalcy in the strange. There's a scream, and no matter the time, the bearer of the blade has been drawn to that sort of thing. Sara hardly notices the change in her attire as she jogs toward the sound, save for the absently reflexive motion to lift her sensible skirt out of the way to move more quickly. The Witchblade glitters at her wrist, a far more slender thing than usual, but as it covers her hand and forearm, the nagging in the back of her mind increases as well. Wake up, wake up, wake up.


Johnny watches the dandies skeptically until the sudden shriek grates all the way down his spine, setting the flames dancing in his eyes for a moment. He says, "Well, that'll bring the coppers in due time," referring to the foot-police with their billy-clubs. "Probably not the best place to be tipsy in public, eh?"
Whether or not they move aside, he sees the woman with the gauntlet, beginning to head for the source of the sound, so, doffing his bowler, "Would you want an escort for the nonce? It's become a bit too foggy to gad about safely alone, I'd wager."
Slick. Because he's clearly trustworthier than the two gentlemen who had been following her. Clearly. At least he's keeping up with her.


The scream sort of startles Evelyn from her reflection in the mirror. She was lost in the drift, sort of absorbed by her sudden shift. Stumbling backwards, she collides with another person, 'Get a job, drunkard.' They say, shoving her back onto her feet. It's just the push she needs to actually get moving. Taking off in a short jog which quickly turns to a full out sprint as she moves through the crowds of people heading hastily in the opposite direction.
But not before she accidentally trips over a patio chair while attempting to leap over it, and nearly falling on her face. For as quickly as she's moving, it's actually a bit reckless given her apparently lack of grace and maneuverability. Onwards. To the scene of the scream.


Wake up, indeed.

Down the alley and around the bend into a narrow lane is the source of the shriek. A young woman runs toward Sara as the cop, and her solicitous escort — not to mention the reckless urchin, rushes toward her in turn. Her dress is torn and there is blood on it. Tears streak her face and her expression is a mask of fear. Behind her, what seem to be thugs, at first, come pounding after her. But they move strangely — more like half-loping animals than true men. And, indeed, as their dark figure become less indistinct, the nearer they get, the more the look of them bears that out.

The manlike creatures are stooped, their faces twisted as if half-melted between man and monster — rodents, perhaps. Indeed, the best analogy is that they look like wererats caught at mid-transformation. Their hands are clawed and their limbs long and sinewy, shaped wrongly. Their jaws are extended with muzzle like protrusions and the teeth behind their lips are as sharp as the claws on their hands and bare feet.


Sara glances at Johnny, though it's just long enough to make sure he isn't a threat either. "I can handle myself, thank you," she says as she moves toward the source of the scream. "Besides, I'm N-" There was something more to that. Something about who she is. A reason she's running toward the disturbance instead of away from it. The victim goes tearing past her, and as the perpetrators come into the dim light, Sara comes up short, the Witchblade flashing up her arm and across her chest, a slender rapier forming in her right hand, a narrow dagger in her left. "On second thought, sir, you're quite welcome to join in if you like."


That ratlike appearance gets Jonathan Storm's attention. "Incendius," he says "fiat integumentum ignium," and his eyes flash with fire; a wall of flames interposes between the fleeing woman and the rat-men, feeding on whatever detritus is on the ground and around. It seems to take more effort than Storm expected it to, and he glances at the woman he'd planned to escort, even with her assured statement of self-sufficiency, and is startled by the appearance of eldritch armor.
"Thank you, I think I shall." A dagger of his own appears in his left hand, but this one is made of flames, not metal.
Stumbling into the scene, Evelyn shouts towards the Eldritch armoured officer, "Sara!" Just as she reaches the opening of the alleyway, just in time for the crying woman to run past her. Instinctively, Evelyn halts next to Sara and looks towards the direction the woman was running from. "Holy shit," she mutters, eyes taking in the half-transformed rat-like people. "Are they? What are they? Is everyone fucking mad? What is going on here?"


No time for talk, really. Deprived of their prey, the ratlings swarm toward the heroic trio — or, perhaps, the heroic duo and the mad urchin — their eyes alight with their own brand of madness and fury. They do have numbers on their side, to be sure, but not so much that the three don't stand a chance. Still, it's only a heartbeat, maybe two, before the first wave is upon them, claws slashing, teeth flashing, and bodies smashing ahead, headless of the danger the flames or the wielded blades may represent.


Johnny isn't the only one who's startled, as Sara looks toward the fire and then back at him with an arch of her brow. "An excellent question," she answers Evelyn with a faint grimace, the warning in the back of her mind sounding louder as more of the Witchblade covers her. "But I think it's going to have to wait." The last comes with a grunt as she lashes out at the nearest of the rat-men, blades flashing in the unnatural gloom. She opens up a wide cut across the chest of the first, though the sheer weight of it slams her back toward the wall of the alley.


The ratlings are clearly the demented work of a fell alchemist; Jonathan Storm knows he will have to contact his brother-in-law, Professor Richards, and warn him that someone, possibly his old foe Lord von Dume, has been experimenting again on the animals, or worse, the people, his vile concoctions making them over into suitable lackeys for the mad occultist. There is no hope for it now; Storm calls on the elemental essence that was imbued in his mortal form on that day when Professor Richards took him, his sister, and the doughty master dirigible pilot Benjamin Grimm, into the upper reaches of the atmosphere, encountering there a thoughtless, incidental dismissal by the aetheric masters - and that when they were recovered from the wreckage of the craft, they had each been aligned to one of the terrestrial elements. Jonathan Storm is now the master of Fire, and he calls upon the symbols that he was so strictly drilled in: Guardian of the Gate. From his back, fiery wings erupt, lifting him from the ground, and from each hand, a burning sword. He begins striking and lashing at the rat-men, to drive them back, to disperse them, to slay them only if he must, lest they be innocents caught in Dume's machination.


Evelyn startles a bit as well as she raises her fists in a standard pose. The first rat to reach her gets a solid metal fist to the gut. As it reaches out to scratch her, she deflects the blow with a sweep of her arm before kicking the creature in the groin. More creatures have swarmed her in this time, and one grabs her from behind, binding her arms as another tries to get at her. The ratling holding her gets a nice surprise when Eve kicks back and stomps down, grinding the side of her shoe against the nerves of its leg, toppling it. The rats swarming her get in little scratches and nips, tearing some of Evelyn's clothes as she aims to punch another ratling. Military hand to hand comes in use.


The ratlings swarm forward and find themselves torn in more ways than one. There's the physical, bloody mess, of course. Bodies go down in lacerated heaps, some of them reeling backwards, alight with grease-fueled flames. Others simply get in the way. At first, it seems as if they are seeking to pull their downed comrades to safety. All too soon, however, skirmishes breakout among the ratlings over the torn bodies.

Apparently cannibalism isn't frowned upon in ratling society.

Regardless, there comes a point when a choice must be made: Whether to pursue the creatures and wipe them out, or to flee and find a way to circumvent them.

Whatever the choice, this certainly isn't the same world it was scant hours ago.


Johnny may be going for incapacitation, but Sara has apparently categorized the ratlings under things that must be destroyed. That, or the Witchblade is gaining something of an advantage from the disorienting situation. Either way, the detective moves through the creatures with prejudice, slicing and stabbing in ways that are not conducive to preserving life, or the material of her period-correct skirt and blouse. One gets an elbow to his toothy face, another a small blade to the gut, and when they start to run, she extends her hand and a lash of gold and silver from her shoulder flies out to loop around one's neck. "Not so fast," she growls, starting to wrap the length around her forearm.

The flames die down to an extent, and Johnny alights on the ground. His dandy's attire has burned away, leaving an odd, thin, samite-weave tunic that extends to his knees, no sleeves, and a vee collar and side slits on the 'skirt' of the tunic to allow him ease of movement. The fabric is a deep blue, but has silvery threads woven into it. On his right deltoid, an ornate triangle has been inked in many colors, the symbol for fire, while around the neck of the tunic, the symbols for the planets are written, with the open-curve "4" of Jupiter prominent over the sternum. Note that the flaming wings remain.
"Are you all right?" he says to the young, presumably Irish girl, whose language had been so full of the streets and the docks. And then he watches the capture of the ratling. Not from any rudeness, but simply because it's astonishing to see such ferocity in a woman. Other than his sister.


Knowing full well that murdering everything usually isn't conducive to things she wants to happen, Evelyn backs off when the ratlings begin to duck and flee away from her punches and dirty fighting. Backing up, she eventually comes back near Johnny, still facing the ratlings should they come back for more. there are some tears in her shirt, one of the shoulder straps to her trousers has snapped off, and there's a little bit of blood on her shirt. None of it is hers. Lowering her dukes, she looks back to Johnny and replies, "I'm fine, I think.. they were nothing, they didn't know how to fight." Looking to Sara, she says, "Sara, why is everything so .. old? What happened to New York? Do you know what's happening here?"

Leave it to the 'droid to be able to keep the timelines straight. Probably a good thing, too, given the sounds coming from the ratling feast some yards yonder. It's neither pretty nor pleasant… nor particularly safe to linger, one might imagine.

In the distance, a soft rumble of oncoming thunder can be heard and a fire bell begins ringing in a neighborhood several streets distant. A dark billow of smoke can be seen rising above the brick buildings and the faint sound of a mechanical whir and flap of sailcloth can just be caught on the wind as a shadow wings overhead.


Sara Pezzini looks over her shoulder from roping in the ratling, frowning for a moment at Evelyn. "I know you." she says slowly. "We met…" And there it is, the missing piece to what the Witchblade has been telling her. "Metropolis." She blinks, glancing down at herself and the odd attire and letting fly a very un-ladylike: "What. The. Fuck." The ratling struggles, and she turns back to face it, giving the Witchblade a grimace in turn. "Probably something you did," she mutters under her breath. "No, I've got not idea what's happening here. I mean, we're just outside Times Square, it's just…Well, obviously not our Times Square." Any further speculation is cut short, though, at the shadow from above.



Jonathan Storm has a moment to realize and regret the loss of his attire, but thankfully, the acolyte's robes that Prof. Richards had created to help them all properly master their elemental resonance, do not burn in his flame. The sound of large wings, the clamor of a firebell, tells him that his mastery of fire is needed… and then the Irish girl, clearly one of the thousands of orphans sent out on the Orphan Trains for adoption, who fought her way back in the guise of a boy - wait. What. She. Said. What am I WEARING?
Johnny shakes his head. "HEAD RUSH. OK. I can't… whoops." His hair is replaced by flames. "Uh, I kinda have to let the other guy run things, sorry, if I lose it, the whole city will burn."
He shakes his head and the flames go out. "Ladies, there is something of interest, and a fire to be put in its place. Will you join me?"


"Thank god you both are back to your senses. Something must be affecting you, whatever is doing this." She gestures to the ratlings and the city. Staring at the ratlings for a moment she looks at both of them, then the creature in the sky. "Okay, we need to get out of here right away. Let's find what's doing this so we can get back to our time." With that, she'll follow whoever leads.


The shadow above is the silhouette of a man with broad, mechanical wings like something out of a daVinci drawing. He wears a flyer's leather helmet and goggles and sports a pair of wrist-borne ray weapons of some kind. The fact they actually appear functional, when so much else isn't, is probably noteworthy.

Also noteworthy is the fact the flyer pays the alleyway, its ratlings, and the three heroes clustered in its shadows no mind whatsoever. He swoops on forward toward the sound of that distant bell and the screams that are heard in the distance there. As he passes by, two others sweep along behind him like a flock of mechanical birds.


"Figuring out where we need to go might be-" Sara cuts herself off as she follows the flight of the rocket men toward the smoke, nodding slowly to herself. "Sure. Right. Follow the men in the flying suits." Says the woman with the magical gauntlet. Sighing, she turns her attention back to the ratling and the Witchblade. "Your lucky day," she murmurs, stepping close enough to club the thing in the back of the head, sending it tumbling. "Right then." Johnny gets a long look as she starts toward the mouth of the alley. "Just remember that there are a lot more flammable things and a lot fewer fire suppression systems here, right?"


"I am Master of Fire," Johnny replies, "It will obey me." He goes to the mouth of the alley, and yanks a feather from each wing - not the flight feathers - and offers one to each of the women. "You may have need of light, and this fire will not burn you," he says.
Then, he starts walking quickly through the alley, a circle of light around him from the fire of the wings.
"The other me says that the men in the flying suits may have something to do with this, and I agree with him."


Evelyn follows Johnny and Sara, taking the offered feather. "Thank you," the android says in return. The alleyway all but swallows up the trio, as they run past detritus and debris. Again, the android's reactor flickers, her battery barely charged from the last time it tried to reboot the reactor. Drunkenly she stumbles into the side of a waste dumpster with a loud thump as she hangs off the corner. "Fff.." Another spark of life, her reactor boots up again, dimly offering some meager power to get her rubbery legs back to status. Panting, she pushes herself away from the dumpster and moves to catch up with the group again.


Down through the ragged streets of the darkened city, the trio run, until they can clearly see the flyers firing their deadly rays at something another street or two over. There are sounds of people screaming, and roaring in defiance, the whine of the aetheric rays, and the shriek of a terrified young woman. There's also the sound of that fire bell and cries of alarm as the flames begin to spread. The flying men swoop down below the easily seen tops of the buildings, only to soar skyward again, men and women held in their arms — all but one of their charges appearing more a contemporary New York superhuman than a denizen of this twisted place. Five flyers bear the rescued, though Jonathan may be surprised to see a flaming man following close behind the group, his own flames much like those of his contemporary counterpart. The flying men bank around and are soon seen to be heading back they way they came, their precious cargo carried away to safety while the city continues to burn ahead of the small trio that bear witness.


To be continued…


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