|EVENT: A Savage Game, Part IV|
|What: Our Heroes head into the heart of Hell to save the world from Vandal Savage unleashing the Elder Gods on earth.|
It would be nice if they could have had all of the planets' heroes. But that likely still wouldn't be enough. Not for what they're going up against. So, when heroes won't cut it...
Illyana stayed at 'Berto's along with Nate and Superboy the last few days. But after having her meeting with Someone, she let them know it was time to go. A call to Sam to join them. He'll know the place.
It's that abandoned subway tunnel where Vandal ripped the Soulsword free and the disappeared to Limbo. It's shadowed, lit only by the flashlights that they brought. Sounds echo against the stone, adding to the creepy vibe the place has. "Limbo changes." She warns them. "From moment to moment and more so when its' ruler changes. But the Citadel will be there. That's our target. That's where he'll be. Try not to get split up. Time moves differently there. If you get cut off from the rest of us what might be moments for us might be days for you. I'll stick with Sam and we'll be trying to break the Undying One's connection to the sword. Get it back, we get Limbo back. The rest of you need to buy us that time and keep him off of us. However you need to do that." Sam's been a good student, right? This magic stuff should be a piece of cake! ... Right? Illyana's in her white costume as Magik. Not that she's got magic or even really her teleportation going for her at the moment. But fighting the bad guy in jeans and a Xavier's hoodie seemed tacky.
Sam's done his best. If nothing else, he trusts Illyana implicitly and when he's not trying to keep from using her magic, it comes pretty easily. He's dressed the way he always is--plaid shirt, jeans out at the knees, boots. Today, under the buttoned shirt, he's got a white T-shirt with a struck-through O screenprinted on it. Thank Spider-Girl for the team spirit. If Sam's going to Limbo, he's going as he is, and he's sticking close to Illyana.
From the Darkness comes the soft scrabble of claws and hissing of scales on concrete as a small group of somethings approach the group of heroes as they walk. Red eyes, a dozen or so, peer from the shadows, vague flashes of light glint from scales and leathery skin in shapes that are decidedly not even remotely human. From the center of the mass steps a pair of yellowish eyes, and slowly, as if protective, the shadows relinquish him, allowing him to step out into the pathes of the flashlights. He's a little over six feet, his body covered in an almost insect like carapace of spines and razored edges, his fingers end in wicked claws, and from his back sprout spines almost akin to spider legs carved from obsidian. His face is completely covered by a silvery bone like mask that forms no features, leaving only a pair of glowing eyes and dark long hair hanging free. < I hope you have a way to get us there that doesn't involve me. > the man says, his voice distorted as if spoken through broken glass, < It's not pleasant to travel my way. >
Costume? Roberto didn't know there would be costumes. Fact is, he's fought a few muggers and the like, but he's never actually felt the need for a costume. The fact that almost everybody else has a costume is... well, maybe just a little intimidating. And so, for the sake of fitting in, he powers up while nobody's looking. There: shadow guy with glowing eyes and teeth. Nobody can tell he doesn't have a costume now!
He's grown used to Nate and Superboy, of course -- they've been living at his place, along with Illyana. And he met Sam once before. Without the knowledge, of course, that either of them was a mutant at the time. The Darkness, on the other hand, is like nobody he's met. The Darkness is creepy. "Yeah," 'Berto mumbles to himself. "I'm thinkin' I'd rather go another way. Maybe take the bus." But he'll to what he's got to. That's the point, isn't it?
The past several days despite being at Roberto's place Conner has been rather scarce even when present either he hasn't had much to say or just doesn't talk a lot but he has been around several of the others enough to grow acquainted. A non-tacky outfit isn't an option for Superboy as he hasn't really established a costume wearing his usual black t-shirt with the red S logo on it - topping that off are olive cargo pants and black combat boots. Simple, functional, it works.
"Keep things off your backs. Got it..." About to say something about the incoming shadow zerg that gets less surprise than one would expect out of a threat. "One of us or an enemy?" The question more or less getting an answer on its own.
Nate is impatient. This is not new, Nate is usually impatient, but he is particularly impatient lately. Recovering his eyesight has been a slow process, and even now he can see afterimages that make reading difficult. They have waited too long, though. According to Illyana their enemy, that First Priest guy, will be stronger the more time he can spend consolidating the control of Limbo. He is not particularly worried by the numbers of the demons, rather looking forward for a chance to cut loose, something he has not done since his last day in his dead homeworld. "Chances are good he will be waiting. After all he has not tried to get back for the 'key', has he? Or maybe he thinks he can make a new one." Jackie gets a curious look. Illyana has some weird acquaintances.
Magik looks towards the sound of claws and scales on stone, but she doesn't seem alarmed. When Superboy asks, she glances back to him. "He's with us." Which really, once he emerges, should be a hell of a lot less encouraging. Of course, have any of those assembled seen Illyana as the Darkchilde? That wouldn't be very encouraging either. The blonde shakes her head at the Darkness' question. "We've got our own way in. He knows I control the Stepping Disks, so I figure we try to get in that way and it'll drop us where he wants us, and he's already got enough on his side. Cannonball will get us in." She says, giving a nod to Sam. "Darkness, I'm hoping you can keep the demons off of us." So that the others can keep Vandal off of her and Sam. "Stay focused people. We don't need Limbo getting a chance to exploit our weaknesses on top of everything else." Because oh yeah, the Realm wants to corrupt folks too. And that's when it's under Illyana's benign leadership! She gives Sam a nod. "Ready when you are."
To say that Sam's nervous would be a vast understatement. His own powers tend to run out of control, and that's on a good day. "Here's hopin' I don't send us right out the other side," he says to Illyana. After a moment's concentration, feeling for the magic, he says what she taught him. |"Sihal Novarum Chinoth."| It's like magic.
If Hell is a place of flame and pain, then this is its less kind and crueler older brother that used to beat it up just to hear it squeal.
The sky here isn't black, it's a the gray of the wet ashes that fall in a continual drift like snow, sticking to all and everything that is here, coating it all in a flat charcoal like muteness that sucks color and life from even the brightest of things. Where Hell has fire, this place seethes with jutting black and gray rock structures, devoid of life as if nothing had ever grown here, and staring at its desolate landscape it is suddenly hard to imagine any world ever having possessed vibrant life like that of the Earth that's already starting to fade from the collective memory of all who touch foot here.
Where Hell lives on pain, this place feeds on sorrow and hopelessness so vicious it sucks the joy from the hearts of those that breath it's air like a dry sponge, absorbing happiness and laughter until the memory of them seems faint and distant. In this place there are, nor have ever been, good things. This is a place of emptiness, of lifeless absence, of hunger and void that steals all one is until only husks remain.
It's easy to imagine laying down and dying here, just giving up and realizing the hopelessness inherent in the mission, in the /idea/ of fighting a God on his own turf. This none to subtle attack isn't psychic in nature, so will is no defense against it, it isn't fought on the battlefield of the mind where some have undue advantage, but rather on the battlefront of the soul. Innocence, purity of heart, goodness untouched by petty cruelties, unhardened by loss or pain, these are the things needed to fight the first salvo fired by Vandal Savage, God of Limbo, and in this day and age these are nearly forgotten things.
At about a miles distance, in the center of a flat section of stone and dusts, rises the Citadel, an absolutely massive structure of black and gray stone in the style of a castle of yore, but carved from the earth in a single pieces, without bricks or mortar to be seen anywhere. It's doors are sixty feet high and made from the fused bones of countless beasts, it's walls wickedly spiked with jutting glinting needle like protrusions that seem to actually move from time to time, as if alive and wishing someone would come near enough to skewer. But for all of its impressive size and intimidating architecture, it is forebodingly silent.
'Berto glances at Sam. "Bless you."
But blessings, upon their arrival in the grey-black wasteland that is Limbo, seem insufficient, and the Brazilian shadow fingers at the crucifix that hangs under his shirt -- both cross and clothing blending in with the rest of him under the circumstances. "Ave Maria, cheia de graca," he mumbles under his breath.
"Citadel right? We just walk in the front door?" Superboy as he speaks it looks like he is about ready to just take off flying or leaping towards it. He is eager, clearly and already feeling the oppressive weight of this place on his inner self. Thankfully he is a genuinely good person at the core; that purity of heart does exist in spades he is after all a genetic offshoot of one the original Boy Scouts anyways we just won't mention the other side that would love to run with the opposing side.
"Let’s do this!"
Killing a God in his own turf is exactly what Nate was born to do, or created to do. The desolation of Limbo is not unfamiliar terrain. If you add a few husks of wheeled vehicles and maybe a few ruins of human-made buildings, it would be pretty much an Atrocity Zone. Except Limbo is not radioactive, at least not physically radioactive. "At least it is not raining," he deadpans. It would be a rain of ash or corrosive sludge. He would argue he has few of the required qualities to resist the bleakness of Limbo, but he is stubborn and full of anger, and that has never failed to keep him going in the past.
Illyana may not have her demonic taint at the moment, but she left innocence and purity behind long, long ago. The weight of that oppression of the soul threatens to drive her to her knees and one of her hands tightens around Cannonball's arm as she uses it for support to keep her upright. She gives a nod, jaw tight. "The Citadel." She agrees. While it looks only a mile or so off, she knows all too well that distance, like time, is deceiving here. "He knows we're here now." Her voice is rough-edged, like she's been screaming when she obviously hasn't. "Quickly. Nate, can you grab 'Berto?" Because walking will take too long. Too long by far.
Sam takes off slowly, keeping Illyana close. He's incredibly, incandescently angry right now, and that gives him the ability to push back against the oppression. What he wants is to tear the place to shreds with his bare hands--then pull anything left down on himself and sleep forever. The fire of his lift-off is dark red here, the shield around himself and Illyana is orange streaked with black. None of that bright golden glow he usually wears.
"We'll be done soon," he assures Illyana as he takes off for the Citadel. One way or another, he's probably right.
<UGH!> says the broken glass voice of the Darkness as Jackie falls to his knees amid the stone ground of Limbo. Unlike the others, even Illyana, Jackie is not a good man. He has bodies in his past, stacked like cord wood, innocents and guilty alike. He's tainted to the core, a man of wicked intentions and on a good day a cynic, and a bad one? Downright filled with the very hopelessness this place seems to be cramming down his throat. To help matters less... It's Dark here. Naturally the air seems to swallow light, and with no moon, no stars, no sun, the only light is a sort of bleary gray haze that coats all things into a uniform 'ick' that can't be shaken. Even here though, in this place, he is a man and in every man lives the potential for goodness, no matter how small. 'Be a better man, Jackie. Do that for me? Be a better man...' the words stab at the Mafioso like a knife, cutting beneath his ribs and to the core of him. Even in the Darkness can the ember of Love be found.
<Jenny...> the voice whispers in soft longing before he looks up, glowing eyes wide in sorrow before they narrow into slits of anger. He doesn't push himself to his feet so much as the shadows surge with him, raising him gently. < This is a trap. > he states simply, and as he speaks his voice becomes less and less human and more... something else, < I will take point, spring the trap. He may have an army, but he will not expect to see me here. It will give you a moment and then... > his eyes cut to Illyana, < When the fighting starts I will hold your perimeter for you, but /do not/ let them enter the Darkness until it is over. I cannot vouch for what will happen to them. > his face ripples as if something alive beneath his skin were writhing, and suddenly a pair of chiropterean wings nearly twenty feet across explode from his back. He's off in a single great beat of the wings, kicking up ash and dust. He's not as fast as other flyers, but there's an animal grace to the glide as his wings skim him hurriedly over the ground, a mere twenty feet from the dusty earth. He cuts a straight line for the great bone doors far beneath the glowing arc of Sam's flight
His jump ahead gave him a head start, and it was one he needed for what comes next. As the Darkness glides towards the gates of the Citadel, the air around him darkens further, taking form, shape, and in his wake, like a great cloak of black silk spreading out behind him, creatures begin to appear, clawing their way up from the earth as if it were a gateway to another realm, nightmare beings to spines and armor and tentacles, of oiling skin and acidic breath, winged beasts of the air and furred slavering creatures of the night, dozens, hundreds, thousands... an army. And beneath him forms something larger still...
Roberto has frequently been one to react with anger to the injustices of the world. But in the face of this monstrous realm it is to his faith that he turns. He was raised Catholic, believes in a good and benevolent (and occasionally vindictive) god (sometimes God when he isn't reading about Thor in the newspaper), and he keeps chanting to himself as he approaches Nate for his ride to the Citadel. "Bendita sois vos entre as mulheres; bendito e o fruto do vosso ventre, Jesus." He pauses long enough to nod to Nate. "Oi, gajo. I'm ready. Let's do this."
Superboy has displayed he is capable of flight in the past but doesn't tend to prefer it. Not after getting lectured for half an hour for flying through a billboard on accident after a week before that of knocking over a banks gargoyle. Garish thing shouldn't have been there in the first place. Jumping is easier and currently covers just as much distance at the same speed. Sailing through the air with the others in rapid ascends to descends he drops between two of those summoned creatures of the darkness, "Creepy." He grunts before another spring jets him away from them so he is keeping pace with the rest of this ad hoc team. Every knuckle jutting out of balled up fists.
Nate nods to Illyana and glances to Berto with little grin, "don't worry, I am getting good at flying and almost never crash anymore." Light banter because he is not feeling very well himself. Because maybe he should have died with all his friends when the High Council nuked America, it is not fair he was the only one to escape. He shakes his head and mutters a curse. Golden light, turned orange-red by the light of Limbo, surrounds him, and spreads to Roberto, and they take off, matching speeds with Cannonball, flying just a little higher and about fifty yards behind.
Illyana lets Cannonball carry her since she can't fly and really, the sense of hopeless oppression is so thick that walking would be just too much work. That means she has a very up-close view of Sam's expression and she reaches up, grabbing his jaw with one hand to turn his head to look down at her. "Don't." She manages between clenched teeth. "Don't make me quote Yoda. Don't let your anger lead you here. Remember why you're doing this, Sammy. Think of your siblings and your Ma. But don't let the anger and hatred mire you down. Limbo's evil will slide under your skin faster than you can outrun it." And he's already carrying her burden. Most people wouldn't have risked bringing Jackie, knowing that he could so easily fall to evil. But she knows how Darkness itself feels about the Elder Gods, and she's banking that, at the end of the day, that Limbo's passive corruption and evil can't bring the Darkness itself down. "Just get us in." She calls forward to Jackie, voice harsh, like she's choking on the grey ash all around them.
The Darkness stands atop a great Wyrm a mere hundred feet before the pale bone gates, his clawed hands wrapped in chains made of razor wire that circle the great beasts head and at attached to iron spike driven deep into its chitonous hide. It's maw opens, a sixty foot wide gateway to endless hungry made of hundreds of rows of nauseatingly rotating teeth, Creations largest deep core drilling device given life, form, and control. Frank Herbert's nightmare slams into the bone gates at a tremendous amount of speed, the enchanted gates, made to withstand the assault of a hero by sapping his hope with the images of his dead loved ones, or his righteousness with guilt by revealing the twisted corpses of his failures, is not however built to withstand The Darkness. Jackie has no guilt, not in the manner the gates can sense, and he's no family for them to show. He has Love however, a single solitary bright light in his soul, a frittering spark amid the endless shapeless void of shadow that is his being. And no image of her death could match those The Darkness itself has shown Jackie a thousand times or more in an attempt to break his spirit. Gates made to destroy heroes shatter like panes of glass before the Darkness, the bone exploding into dust and rubbles, the massive Wyrm taking a goodly portion of the wall on either side with it and opening a hole large enough for an army to pour through. The second wall, the third, the fourth, fare no better. Clever laid plans and emotional manipulations set out by the creator of psychological warfare matter little when he knows not his intended victim. He built his defenses to keep out the innocent, to twist the pure, and instead he is assaulted by that which defines the corrupt. The defenses crumble, and in their center is a great ring of open space leading to the great doors of the Keep itself, to the Inner Sanctum where, no doubt, Vandal Savage himself awaits. Between them and the gates however rests an army.
Illyana would not recognize a single demon here, as they were once formed by the kinder, gentler, softer soul of Illyana Rasputin, now they are the embodiment of murder and sadism, twisted forms vile to look upon. The crash of the two demon armies sends a shockwave through the air and a scream of tortured ripping flesh and armor and pain as twin militaries of infinite numbers and endless wickedness pit themselves against one another. Jackie is instantly swallowed up beneath the churning bodies, his clawed hands leading the way as he disappears into the belly of a massive spidery demon in a great spout of gore. In the shock, the surprise of the attack, the Keep's doors are left defended only by a token contingent, the rest of the horde currently doing battle for it's life against it's equal.
Illyana's right and her words are cold water on Sam's fire. He goes looking for his center like Shan taught him, the place where he keeps all his memories of home and the kids, all the things that matter most. That Illyana never had the chance to build up the same store of happiness is exactly what makes him so angry. But anger isn't helping.
"You're right, Snowflake. I'm sorry." It's hard, not being angry, but the light of his memories slowly spreads thought him and gives him some relief. When he raises a hand to fire bolts of energy at the guards, doing a decent impression of heavy artillery, they're streaked with gold and tangled up with magic.
"You got such a way of instillin' confidence," 'Berto observes to Nate as he's lifted into the sky. It's a dry tone, but he's not going to worry over Nate's flying ability. He is, instead, fretting over the oncoming battle, still mumbling to himself in prayer. Illyana said there was no God here. But everything Roberto has learned in his life says that God is everywhere. Even if he doesn't so much feel protected here.
"There," he says, breaking off mid-sentence, pointing to the guards, and to Sam's attack. "Drop me." And without further ado he rips himself free from Nate's grip, diving toward the demons, fists swinging. "Agora e na hora da nossa morte!" It leaves something to be desired as a battle cry.
Who needs a battering ram when you have a giant abyssal wyrm and a out of your pocket siege army like that Darkness guy is apparently capable of pulling out of his pocket. Creepy like Superboy stated earlier but of course creepy in a scary impressive (UN)HOLY frick kind of way.
Powerful legs launch the Kryptonian clone through the air like a trebuchet missile himself, mimicking Sunspots own intended tactic . Fully intending to slam down on top of one of the guards with both fists and start up his own Superboy style of mayhem. A loud excitement fueled shout coming out of him on his path downwards.
"Sure," mutters Nate, dropping Berto as he requested. Around him Darkness monsters clash with Limbo demons and he... has problems focusing with the current task. What was it? Someone stole a chunk of Illyana's soul, and he promised to help her to get it back. Finally, he joins the fight, a blast of overwhelming telekinetic force sweeping through the ranks of defending demons, enough force to crush tanks as if they were bugs.
Illyana doesn't have her sword, doesn't have her magic, doesn't even really have her teleporting. She just has her. As they get to the gates, she gives Sam a tap so he can let her go, letting her drop down to the ground in a crouch as the boys send the demons at the door back on their heels. "Inside!" Powers or not, she leads the way, trusting to those at her back. While Limbo twists and changes at a whim, the Citadel, the heart of the place, tends to stay the same. They need the ritual room, located over the literal promethium heart of the dimension, and she leads the way. "He'll be waiting." She says, softly enough it is perhaps only to herself.
The small contingent of demons puts up a courageous fight... or would have tried anyway. But their attention was fully on the giant surge of Other Demons that frankly they're a bit worried about, and so their first hint of other danger is the sudden splorchy exploding bodies of two of their buddies as golden magical light hammers down from the sky like rocket fire, followed only a second later by a pair of human shaped missiles who's synchronized impacts both bring small craters and more splorchy exploding corpses that were once demons. This is /not/ what their new God told them the War would be like! Even as the remaining demons prepare to leap upon the heroes, unseen force bats them aside, sending the remaining demons airborne in painful arcs that end viciously against the walls of the Keep. The gates give way before the might of the heros, and as they pass through The Darkness takes up his post at the gates, his back to them, his front towards the demons. He has no encouraging words to offer, no 'ra ra go team', instead, as the gates close behind our heroes they can hear the rending of flesh and snapping of bones as he wades into the battle once more. Somewhere the roar of a dragon echoes through the air before the gates seal and block the heroes off before a gout of magical flame could roast them. After the boom of their closing finishes its own echo, they find themselves in silence, the din of battle outside entirely cut off as though it didn't exist.
There is a long hallway here, stone floors and high vaulted ceiling, with torches guttering in a blackish gray flame that does little to light anything. The layout is entirely different from when Illyana was here, but the beating Heart of Limbo can be felt before them, down the long hall and somewhere near it's end where the 'sense' of a throne room awaits. Lining the hall are statues, each of a single man and each different, showing various forms and shapes of Vandal throughout time. A historian would kill his children for a glimpse of such a place, the tapestries that line the great walls depicting battles and great moments in history as seen through he eyes of a man likely responsible for more of them then he'd ever admit aloud. The hall seems to go on forever... in fact... the longer they walk...
Sam stops dead in his tracks. "Stop walking. All this, it's feels like his ego. His pride. He's doing something to us and it'll go on forever if we let it. He'll never run out of it, we'll walk this place until we can't walk anymore." He puts a hand out, testing ahead of him, but he can't make the magic work. "I don't know how to do it." His voice has an edge of despair in it. "I have all this power and I can't... help. You should be using it," he says, reaching to grab Illyana's arm. "Tell me how to do it."
'Berto reaches out to smack Sam on the arm -- gently. He's not burning through his stored power any faster than he has to, and he has no desire to break the arm of one of his few allies in this place. "If this is his ego," he observes, maybe we gotta take him down a peg or two. I don't think any of us are feelin' so good, man, but we can't stop." Of course, this doesn't mean they have to keep walking, either. He turns, regarding the statues that line the walls. He is no historian. If these are the faces of the man they've come to fight, well, a lesson in humility seems to be in order. "Pai nosso, que estas nos ceus," he mumbles, swinging one black fist into the face of the nearest statue.
The head of the statue Berto punches explodes into dust, but as the bits reach the ground they begin to once more climb upward, reassembling as they go until a black stone decapitated head rolls over the statues shoulder and right back where it was. Only now it's grinning a crooked arrogant grin.
"Niño insolente" it says before freezing back into place.
Superboy displays those conversational skills once more contributing nothing as far as the talking goes just strolling along behind them, unsure what he would add in anyways. This isn't his element not entirely. "Looks fun. I like you more and more." He says to Sunspot and instead of pummeling a statue he lets loose a wide and wild blast of heated vision that sweeps out towards several of the statues. Why not let loose the energy, smash some stuff, cause some havoc, every desire and urge to do so is just there may as well flow with it.
Nate is uncharacteristically quiet, following the others hesitantly. The gallery means little to him; he never had a chance to study ancient history. However, he grabs the head of the statue Berto smashed as soon as it is whole again, and rips it from its place. "Yes. Now, stop hiding and come to fight. With the Key you could fight off the Darkness easily." Nate can feel Vandal's mind somewhere ahead, but the distance feels impossible to gauge. On the other hand, he is speaking through the statue, so he follows the connection, and /pushes/. |"Come here and fight! Coward!"|
Illyana draws to a stop as Sam does, nodding. "Time's fluid here, and if he's going to trap us going nowhere fast, he'll take advantage of his captive audience." She steps over to Sam, holding up one of her hands so that he can press his palm against hers. "This has his active attention. We can't just break it. But we can fold space to get to the end. Repeat after me." Illyana knows magic far beyond her age. All of Belasco's grimoires, she'd memorized by the time she was sixteen. But now, all that knowledge is useless. Or next to. And Sam holds her power. Enough to challenge the lord of this place. But he lacks the knowledge. She's fotten Sam familiar with spatial magic, and matters of dimensional folding are something she's fairly expert at. She says the words slowly, so that Sam can follow, and repeats them. Her eyes stay locked with his, to try to help him keep his focus. Vandal's having them walk through the history of his accomplishments, but with Illyana/Sam's magic creating a dimensional fissure and Illyana's own control of the Stepping Disks, hopefully they can skip all the way down to the end.
The statues that Superboy slags, just as the one Berto smashed, begin to heal themselves and regrow as soon as Kon is done blasting them, the effort wasted. Nate's mental assault is met with mocking derisive laughter, and every head of every statue in the hall turns to face the heroes, their voices raised as a chorus, "I don't have to fight the Darkness children. Or hadn't you realized that yet? Do you know the power I will wield when the Host falls? I cannot beat him, nor he me, but his spirit is mortal, his love as well, in time the spark that keeps him sane will fade, die, and in the end he will fall. Do you have /any/ idea what he is? What awaits inside him? Like Limbo itself I will rip the power from him and lick his soul from it before devouring it for my own. I don't need the Key children. You brought me something better then the Key, you brought me a hammer to smash the lock to dust. And all I have to do... is wait for his dark soul to lose its last dying light." the heads all throw back in victorious laughter. "I have all the time in creation to wait, but you... how long can you hold out before you fall? Nathaniel Summers, the man who would kill a God, Kon-El, Pinocchio who wishes to be a real boy, Samuel Guthrie, a good man ignoring the darkness that taints him inside in the hopes it goes away, Roberto da Costa, praying so hard to a God younger then I am and hoping it will save him while knowing it will not. Flawed. Weak. Mortal." when Sam begins to speak the words all the heads turn towards him and frown, "Clever girl." they say in unison. Then, as if an afterthought, the headless statue absently swats a stone hand outward at Berto's face, a halfhearted and contemptuous, but strong slap in punishment for its previous blow.
Sam can follow instructions, that much is true. He's also gotten good at following Illyana's magical instructions in particular--she's a good teacher and her magic knows her ways. He presses his hand to hers and focuses on her as though somehow she can simply use him that way.
It takes a few moments--it's hard to hold the magic and her words when Limbo is pressing down on him--but Sam finally gets it right, time and space crack and fold, a gap opens in Vandal's construct that cuts through to the goal. Vandal has the truth, though, some part of Sam is hoping that this will all just go away and he's ashamed of himself for being cowardly.
'Berto is too surprised by the statue lashing out to dodge it -- but really, it's a casual blow, and while he feels his lip split, feels his cheek bruised, he can shake off the pain and shock pretty quickly. Hitting back is pointless, but -- is 'Berto grinning? "Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek," he tells the statue -- or Savage on the other side, "turn to him the other also." But Sam's spell is doing as it should, and now 'Berto steps through the gap with the others -- to face that smiter, one presumes.
"It is Grey, old man," grumbles Nate. Fine, Vandal is not coming, but perhaps he can cause some damage even from here. Illyana and Sam spell makes his half-formed plan unnecessary, and he tosses the statue's head aside. "Good, lets finish this," while he still feels able to fight.
A frown creases Superboy's brow and he truly has no idea what Sam and Illyana are doing - that isn't really his task to be concerned about either beyond keeping them guarded while they do it so. "How does he know that na- and what is a Pinocchio?" A reference he is missing but somehow gets the idea Vandal is taunting him just like the others. "I am a real! You s-stupid... statue." Eye blast. Eye blast. Eye blast. Yeah, totally working out well for Superboy probably just about as good as his comeback. Right, the gap... one more blast for good measure and he follows suit, entering with the others.
The throne room, for that is what it is, is immense. Two hundred feet across if it's an inch, just as high, and circular. The floor descends in great circular steps to a pit where a massive ritual circle is laid out in all manner of undecipherable glyphs. In the center of it lays The Heart, a great stone of mystical properties, laid bare for any and all to see. None who've ruled Limbo before dared display it so, leaving it buried and hidden away, locked down for fear of someone getting to it. But you only fear that if you also fear someone unlocking it, when that is your intention however... why bother hiding it away at all. Opposite the entrance to the room a dais is raised, above the pit in the center of the floor, above the landing the heroes enter on, and a great throne rests there, made from stone and bone and the bound contorted bodies of still living men and women. Apparently he's summoned some from the mortal plane just for this purpose, stolen human beings on a lark, random people of no important and for no reason, now bound by barbed wire and chain into unnatural position to offer Vandal a comfortable place to lounge royally.
Sprawled at his feet are a handful of demon, these are not like those outside, their eyes shine with intelligence, their smiles malevolent. Their twisted forms are vaguely reminiscent of heroes of earth. A Captain America with great curling horns and a shield made from the rounded skull of some great beast stands to Vandal's right, human skin stretched over the shield complete with a screaming face in it's center. A Superman, with glowing eyes and clawed hands, hovers an inch off the ground, his twisted grin showing serrated sharks teeth and the S on his chest is more curvy glyph then recognizable letter. A Wonder Woman lounges at his feet, sprawled there in a revealing costume and in a manner that's anything but wholesome, subservient to Vandal in a rather obvious and icky way, her limbs entwined with that of a ... well ... an Illyana actually, just as revealing in her 'Magik' costume and just as obviously ... obedient. Horns curl from her blond hair and cloven hooves bend backwards where her pale shapely legs stop at the knee. Before them all, nearest the heart, is a great hulking creature, twisted and warped, it's skin is heavily armored in thick plates with even thicker horn like protrusions, and when it looks up, it's spittle sizzles as it drops to the floor, hatred and rage and power radiating from it's eyes. A collar with inwardly turned spikes rests around it's thick neck, the chain leading back to Vandal's hand where he idly swings it back and forth with lazy motions. "Clever girl indeed." he mutters, his eyes blazing with amusement.
Seeing herself, or a version thereof is something of a shock, but Illyana grew up here, and has at least some knowledge of the twisted minds of others. She shoots a thought at Nate, |"The big one in the middle is the biggest threat!"| before turning her attention to what she and Sam are here to do. She needs to trust the three physical powerhouses she brought with to fend off the others long enough. She hooks an arm around Sam's shoulders, having to go up on tiptoes to do it, "Put us right down on the Heart, Sammy." She hisses at him. Later, she'll have nightmares. If she lives that long.
Jackie's eyes narrow, as if he can hear her thoughts, listen to her whispers, "Kill them all, eat their flesh, and bring me the girl, alive and unharmed, when you're done. I will need a consort." he says, his voice ringing across the throne room even as Yana's words reach Sam's ears. The demons rush forward of one accord, hurtling towards the heroes, the big hulking one in the center leaps the Heart ahead of the others, his massive bone spurred fists aiming to flatten Sam like a pancake.
Sam does as he's told, carrying Illyana to the Heart of Limbo. He keeps his shields out around them, collapsing them in just enough to let their feet touch the ground. When they're rushed, he's staggered by the impact but he pushes the energy through him and back out his shields to reject anything that comes at him. It's all he can do to stand up, he has to hold on to Illyana for a moment, and red light crackles over his skin as the burn from the power overload kicks in.
"Whatever you need to do, you do, Snowflake. I'll hold on." Limbo is horrifyingly heavy on the soul no matter how pure it is. Sam would like to lie down and give up but with Illyana right there in front of him, he's likely to die before that happens.
Keep them off their backs? Keep Captain America, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Illyana herself off their backs, let alone that giant bone-armored monstrosity? 'Berto briefly, very briefly considers the odds lined up against them, then glances at Nate and Superboy. "Well, guys, it's been real," he says, crosses himself, and then launches toward the twisted Superman figure.
"How messed up is this? What a freak." Superboy growls. "I guess... I get that one... or you." Having been stunned by the appearance of the Superman mockery he hesitated and in that moment Sunspot is already in motion. Becoming a virtual blur the Kryptonian hurls himself towards the Captain American doppelganger aiming to slam, grab and toss him at the females. His positioning not allowing him a chance to get near the Abomination like thing or he would have thrown himself there... no doubt all of these things will be descending on them soon; try for a surprise mix up and the imitative the tactic of choice.
Nate scans at the demon 'heroes' and frowns. Vandal is the only one he can really read, so they are not transformed humans. Still, he reacts slowly again, fighting the insane urge of doing nothing. Seeing Illyana in danger prompts him to act, and he flies after Sam and the hulking monster, avoiding the other demons and reaching to grab the monster with a telekinetic 'claw' of golden-orange light. Then he turns suddenly, and gestures with his arm, sending the demon flying at nearly supersonic speeds towards Vandal. "Eat this, yourself."
As Illyana and Sam land on the Heart and chaos erupts, the blonde girl looks over to Sam. "You need to cast the spell, Sam!" She says, having to raise her voice over the fighting. While most of the spells she's given Sam to do have been as stripped-down and simple as she could manage, this one is rough. One of those that takes time casting even for those with a wellspring of power. It would be rough under ideal conditions and this? This is far from ideal. "Come on, with me now!" She holds her hands out in the first of the intricate gestures of the spell to try to sever Vandal's link to the Soulsword and through it, Limbo. She speaks the first chain of words that a human mouth shouldn't be able to say, waiting for Sam to follow her. "Come on, Sam!" She says when he doesn't start immediately. "I can't do this! I don't have my magic!" He does. And so it's all on him.
Sam's skin is burning from the power rushing through him, it's far worse than the feedback from his throwdown with Klaw that left him sunburnt and blistered. He focuses on Illyana and starts speaking when she prompts him a second time. Everything hurts and though he's good at just getting through, it's hard to hold the shields and speak the spell. Still. No choice. Too late now.
Vandal remains in the chair, watching the first clash of monster and man with a small smile on his bearded lips. He's wearing clothing made from the hides of what one hopes are demons, sewn with gut threads, and his hair and beard are wild, his hands and feet bare. He looks the savage caveman all the way to his toes, it only... creepier. As S'ym hurtles through the air at him, Vandal moves with shocking speed and grace. He can't run super-fast, but his reaction time is on par with nearly any speedster, his body twists to the side, hips twisting out as the large demon crashes into the throne he was lounging in... and crushes the hostages Vandal who's spirits Vandal had broken and made into his living furniture. "Oops." he says with a quirkiest grin, his hands summoning a shining spear from midair, forging it out of the power that Illyana once made a sword with. It glows brightly in his palm, though veins of twisting black corruption writhe in the light. "Bet that makes you mad. Guilty? Sad maybe?" he says, "You should stop fighting me Nathaniel, like you failed to kill your last god you will fail to kill me. As you always fail. At everything."
Captain Demon turns to try and take Superboy's hit with his shield, but it's not, for all of it's mockery, Cap's shield, and the blow sends the demon flying with a crack. The pair of women demons simply vault the body as they hurtle straight at Superboy, a lasso of razor wire in Wonder Woman's hand and a magical sword that looks as though it has teeth for a blade in Demon Illyana's grip. Superman meets Berto head on, his mouth wide as he foregoes an attempt at a punch or claw and simply tries to bite the mutant's throat out, a slavering tongue flicking at Berto's face to taste him. Vandal's eyes snap to Illyana as she cries out, "S'ym!" he bellows and points, "The girl! Stop the girl!" the large creature pushes itself to its feet and eyes Illyana with malevolent fury.
Roberto is not a stupid boy. He knows full well not to let demon Superman get his teeth into him. This is not Superman, he tells himself. This is not the man of steel. He can win this fight. He dodges away from fangs, suppressing the urge to gag when the demon's tongue brushes his cheek. He twists, and plants a fist up into Superdemon's jaw just as hard as he can.
Success! No, not success they dodged and now they're busting out weapons he didn't expect or should be more prepared for. Clueless how much they will hurt even if Illyana had warned him beforehand he aims for being as cautious as possible. The lasso snares a forearm cutting in to it; binding up his left limb. Evading in a quick half turn Superboy skips away from the sword. It's clear he is not a highly experienced and trained fighter this is all speed and gut instinct he is working with. Maybe he is in over his head. "We got this!" He yells out despite himself, trying to sound motivational to him and the others.
Vandal's words strike Nate like harder than physical blows would, and he pales visibly. There is no happy memories of a caring family to shield him, or faith on benevolent deities; his world breed cynical, though survivors, those were the kind of people Apocalypse believed where the only deserving to live. He can't even find a comeback to Vandal's words, much less the will to attack again.
But then Vandal command S'ym to attack Illyana again, and that wakes Nate up. "No!" He lands between S'ym and Vandal, and the Heart of Limbo. "No, I don't need to kill you, just keep you at bay, and that I can do." His left eye glows brightly and he surrounds himself with a telekinetic force field.
Illyana's gaze flicks over towards Vandal as he yells for the demons to get her. If she had time to think, she'd be paralyzed with the fear of what Vandal wants with her. Being beholden to Belasco as a child was bad enough. This man, as a woman? Beyond terrifying. Whereas she can deal with the minor distraction of keeping track of things around her while performing magic, Sam can't. First it's a word pronounced not-quite-right. Then it's a slip in the cadence. He's trying to hold off the demons and perform incredibly complicated and powerful magic with only days of training. The spell comes apart, magical energy arcing off of Sam's shield around the room like a whip of electricity. Illyana's blue eyes come back to rest on Sam and for a moment the world, at least for her, moves in slow motion. Sadness turns her blue eyes dark with grief and she steps closer to Sam. They're still standing on the Heart, the gleaming silvery metal beating with a constant pulse under her feet. Her other hand comes out from beneath her cloak with a wicked-looking dagger. "I'm sorry." She tells Sam, her words just barely a whisper. And then she chants again. But it's not the same as the spell she was walking Sam through. Her touch on Sam's shoulder presses down, to take him to his knees and then pulls the Beatrix Medallion out from beneath his shirt. Another step closer and Sam's head is pushed back as her chanting rises. The Heart beneath her feet pulses brighter. Hotter, in time to her words. The knife in her hand flashes and red spills out from Sam's throat, splashing her white uniform, spilling down over the medallion which seems to drink it up, starting to glow until it's blinding. Then the chain unlatches, the medallion dropping away and into Illyana's hand. Illyana lifts her head, looking towards Vandal as Sam's body falls, her eyes hard and merciless. She starts the spell again. But this time she's not showing Sam how to do it. This time, the magic is hers again.
Wonder Woman whips the lasso through he air, tossing a loop up and high, trying to snake a second twist around Superboy's throat while Demon Yana darts in low, thrusting the saw toothed blade for Kon's dangly bits. Demon's fight dirty. Demon Cap pushes himself to his feet and growls, his arm hanging uselessly at his side. He removes the shield then hurls it towards Berto's back as his fist removes the bottom half of Superman's jaw completely, sending it flying away from him with a wet rending noise. Superman spins slightly in the air and then turns back, launching himself at Berto in a wobbly manner, a little punch drunk at the moment.
S'ym meanwhile hammers a fist into the ground, shaking the floor of the throne room and sending up cracks throughout, his intent to knock Sam and Illyana off their feet inside the shield, disrupt the spell casting. Moving quicker than a being of his size should be able to, his arm whips out, sending a chunk of the floor the size of a car door at Sam's shield with a speed that'll make it impact like a well punned cannonball. The stone careens off of Nate's shield and S'ym roars irately before launching himself forward and rams his shoulder into's Nate's shield with force equal to a blow from Apocalypse himself. It's this blow that Vandal uses for cover, the size and bulk of S'ym he uses to block Nate's view of him, so that when he uses the demon's back as a vault, no one could have seen is coming. He sails over S'ym, over Nate, his super powered leap carries him to Sam as the boy's life blood splashes out and his shield's fail, Vandal's weight baring the mutant to the ground in a bone breaking crash, and the mystical spear thrusts outward...
Vandal Savage invented the spear. He invented all weapons in fact, but the spear is near and dear to his heart and with it there is not one being, past or present, equal in it's use and application. He taught the Spartans the art of it, the Chinese it's proper use, the Mongol's, the Greeks, the Romans, each a varied style, each only a fraction of the whole that is his knowledge. He pours these thousands of years of knowledge, or training, of instinctual perfection into the thrust. For all things there is a Price. Vandal paid for Illyana's magic with the blood of dozens of innocent people, dozens, spread over the globe, killed in the proper manner, with the proper words. But none of them meant anything to him. They were coins, pennies in the bucket of price. Dozens of souls worth less to him then his morning coffee. But the price Illyana pays to have her power back is only a single life, and a single soul. Not Sam's, that was merely a token, but rather her own. The pain the sacrifice causes her, the effort it takes to kill her friend, to slit his throat and bathe in his hot blood, it is a single cut worth more to Limbo then the thousand cuts, the gallons of blood, the countless screams, the mutilation of the bodies Vandal cared nothing for. And it pays for the power. The spear's tip thrusts straight into Illyana's eye, or so it appears, but as it's glowing edge touches her eyelashes, it sizzles and begins to vanish, back up the shaft, past Vandal's hand, and then completely, disappearing into nothing. For a heartbeat it appears as though he won, he sunk the blade into her skull, but he's the first to realize the truth of it, the first to react as he always is. He chooses to begin casting a spell of translocation. Quickly. It is time to go.
In battle against the demonic Superman, 'Berto cannot see what has transpired behind him -- the way Illyana has just taken the life of her old friend. He doesn't know -- and so he does not feel the horror that might freeze him at the wrong moment. Still, he's not exactly in the best of circumstances himself. He thrusts another punch at the demonic Superman, and another, gut, chest, and, staggered as the demon is, perhaps they'll land. But the impact of that skull shield striking his unprotected back is enough to send the mutant to his knees. He's going to feel that in the morning. IF there's a morning in which to feel it.
Cheap, dirty tricks not the ladies their fighting style of course! He is sure they're wholesome lovely family oriented demons. Panic urges Superboy on as he reaches up for the razor lasso that is already carving coil in to his forearm with his other hand and grips on - he is bleeding, not anywhere near what Sam just poured out but he is bleeding. Jumping backwards again to dodge the vicious slice from Not-Illyana his hip opens up revealing some pink underneath. This really really hurts and inspires fight or flight mode in to overdrive; ignoring the pain of hand, forearm and hip he tries to use Wonder-Witch's own weapon against her jerking it harshly with him to try and collide her with the midrocks mangler assaulting him. He's too prideful to call for help from his new comrades besides they're all in their own life or death struggles. He can do this.
Nate is keeping an eye on Vandal, and a mental eye too. But S'ym's attack break his concentration a second, the demon is so strong his shields waver and he is pushed back. He retaliates with a forceblast, and then spots Vandal jumping past him. "No! Damn you!" He turns to chase the ancient conqueror, to see Sam in a pool of blood and Illyana... absorbing the spear? He still charges, though, trying to tackle Vandal away from Illyana.
Sam is not the first that Illyana has killed. Nor is he the first friend that she has killed, sadly. Limbo has a way of demanding things of you. In the quiet, dark nights Illyana will tell herself that Sam understood. That he'd agree. Maybe she'll even believe it. Maybe.
As Illyana's magic comes rushing home to her and Sam's body falls into a heap at her feet, his blood spilling over the silvery Heart and down to the stone floor beneath the demonic psishields she's been without suddenly snap back into place and her mind is hidden from Nate again. She has time to look up as Vandal is suddenly just *in front* of her, and eyes widen as that spear thrusts forward. It vanishes and she still standing there, still for a long moment after. Then her eyes close. Her head drops forward and silver eldritch flame erupts from the Heart beneath her and licks upwards. It burns away the white costume. Burns away the girl and what strides forth holds much in common with the demon-Illyana that fights Superboy. Cloven hooves, tail, horns that rise from her head and eyes that blaze white with power. A belt around her hips holds flowing panels and her upper body is covered in silvery armor. In her left hand she holds a blazing sword. "Leaving so soon?" Illyana's tone is dark and cutting. "But you worked so hard to get here." Her arm lifts, pointing the sword at Vandal just as Nate charges in to tackle him, power crackling from its tip towards the caveman.
Vandal is older than the counting of time, so... honestly he's not sure how long he's been fighting. Not really. But he knows that when he grew up the world was less civilized, less pleasant then any Apocalypse or Doom or any of a thousand villains would make of the one that exists now. It's why sneaking up on him is hard. It's why standing toe to toe with him is harder. And it's why when Nate leaps at Vandal's back, the immortal's elbow is already snapping back with inhuman speed and strength to smash an overly dense bone into Nate's much softer and much more evolved face. The blow is enough to wickedly reverse the mutants trajectory sending him back the way he came. Some of Nate's blood splashes on the sword, sizzling, and some on Vandal's back and shoulder, "I have waited Ages and three evolutionary cycles for this." Vandal says as the blood finishes his spell for him and it's presence on his skin 'marks' him as an ally to Yana's magic, at least for a moment, allowing him to slip her imprisoning spell before it can fully solidify around him. He is fading from sight as he speaks, pure hatred present in his gaze, "Do not think this is over child. I will come for you again, and this time I will not let the Key slip through my fingers." he pause, his grin remains suspended in the air as the rest of him fades Cheshire Cat style, "Oh... Do you feel that child? The time? I wonder, while you were inside this room... how much time has passed outside the Keep Gates?" his laughter echoes as he vanishes, a soft and mocking Fuck You, his final monkey wrench to make certain they cannot follow him. Illyana will know what he means of course.
As Vandal fades, the demons falter. Their assault does not stop per say, but they change tactics, altering to a more defensive posture, looks of vague confusion on their faces. Demon Cap leaps upon Berto's back and throws a choke hold on him while Superman rolls down the circular steps, blood leaking from the hole in his face, the fight having long since left him under Berto's barrage. Wonder Woman hisses as she's sent sailing through the air, and her and the Demon Yana impact in a tangle of sexy (well mostly sexy) legs and hardly useful 'armor'. The razor wire lariat slips from her grip, but doesn't loosen from where it bites into Kon's flesh, refusing to give up its hold easily. S'ym remains in place, frozen now that he is without a master, the iron nails of his collar prickling his skin as he breathes heavily and looks around... then... he roars and charges Illyana. Heck with it, he'll likely not get a better chance than this to smoosh her flat and take her place! Obviously she's been weakened, and weak things don't last in Limbo.
'Berto -does- gag now as he feels the demon wrap a thick arm about his throat, but he's strong -- even if he can feel his power starting to fade. He grasps hold of the Captain Limbo's arm and pulls on it as hard as he can, attempting to free himself. He has some idea that things are coming to a conclusion -- but still unaware of the things that have occurred while he's been occupied.
Struggling to get the lasso from about his arm Superboy's eyes flare up brilliant crimson while doing so and he fires another salvo of heat beams off. This time showering over both the demonic women with a little less restraint than he should be using. No doubt Superman would have just precision blasted the lasso off somehow then skillfully captured the duo but no, not Kon-El, he didn't want to lose his arms in this process or you know, die like Sam. So focused right now he barely has any realization on what is transpiring around him; team fights are something he also has to learn! Especially while trying to survive in that process.
Protected by his telekinesis, Nate was pretty sure Vandal wasn't strong enough to really hurt him. Not without some weird magic. Apparently he could, somehow! Because although Nate rolls back to his feet in an instant, he is bleeding from a broken nose. And Vandal is fading. He tries to the villain's mind while it is still within reach, but there is just not enough time for a real attack. |"We will find you first."| He promises. Oh, and S'ym is coming again. So Nate attempts to blast him again with telekinesis, full force, aiming to his ugly head.
As S'ym roars and charges the Darkchilde Nate's blast hits him, slamming him into a wall. Literally. Like a good foot into the solid stone. Then Illyana lifts a hand and with such a small, gentle gesture magical energy bursts forth. It slams into S'ym and sends him the rest of the way through the stone wall and into the next room. Then she turns and speaks. "Stop!" The air, the castle itself, seems to shudder with the force of that single word. The other demons stop, cringe back and away from those they're fighting. She looks to the three who still stand. There's no sorrow on her face, blue eyes gone white and empty of mercy and compassion. "The fight is over." She waves a hand and a Stepping Disk opens on-edge. A glowing doorway back to Earth. "Leave, before Limbo turns you into the very demons you've been fighting." A pause, and then she adds, "I'll see you all soon. After I attend to a few things." Like Jackie, gone mad outside her gates. And Sam's body, lying in a pool of blood on the floor. And Limbo, still twisted by Vandal's touch.