2019-10-30 - Sanctuary of Shadows


Spider-Man is accosted by Mystic's Mistress, who learns some things not known to them.

Log Info:

Storyteller: None
Date: Wed Oct 30 00:00:00 2019
Location: NYC

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Theme Song



Shadowcrest Manor has existed for longer than it's been in America. It's existed for longer than America has. Its presence is rather subjective, a locus of mystical power that tends to be wherever it needs to be and retroactively have been there for as long as it needs to be there, today seated atop a minor but unstable knot of ley lines its presence is smashing down like a baker smashing a rope of dough into a cohesive pretzel. It's not the best possible simile but Zatanna is hungry, okay?

And she'll stay hungry for a while. She wouldn't dare bring food into the library. One grease smudge on a book might defile its spirit, or smear a letter that serves to bind something horrid inside. No, she reads the book in her work clothestop hat, tuxedo jacket, frilly blouse, a subtly three-toned cummerbund fading from pink to purple to blue, a bikini bottom, fishnets, knee-high leather bootswith one subtle difference: her gloves are plain, rubber, medical examination gloves to keep her oils off the ancient pages. Time doesn't flow normally in this building, and the books aren't subject to the kind of decay their age has earned, but failing to respect an enchantment like that is the best way to break it; and Zatanna is not an amateur.

She began with necromancy. It's an art she has no talent for, but enough working knowledge of to suspect immediately. Morlun seemed like a vampire, but not a true vampire; a true vampire is a mystical being and wouldn't have been driven through the street like a nail into a board if he was a spirit being. Whatever horrid mystical abilities he possesses, they're tied to a physical body, which suggests he's more sorcerer than monster. That's a dangerous assumption to make, though, and it would be embarrassing to spend time studying counterspells just to find them useless.

So, for now, she looks for hints about Morlun, who hunts totems.

There is no real Google for this sort of thing, except there are…sources. And like any hunter, Morlun has left some clues to his backtrail.
The report Helena provided has some telling bullet points. There is, of course, the fact that he has come from another universe. Not just a plane of existence in this universe, but another one entirely. Another adept of the magical arts had reported HUNDREDS of totemic victims, their essence devoured by Morlun. Ghosts, really. Nothing but the fingerprints of those long-since deceased in, as Jake told Roland, other worlds than these.

He was susceptible to some magics. He had been "portaled" into another place in New York, but that had slowed him down for an hour. Then, he had gone on the pursuit again. Spider-Man was, even now, moving fast enough to stay ahead of him. It had been three hours by this time, and Morlun showed no signs of stopping, or even slowing down.
Strong enough to flip cars like they were made of balsa wood. Fast enough to run at 40 MPH for hours with no signs of fatigue. Agile, smart, and single-minded in purpose.

And then, the next point. The reason why.
"He is the Center of the Web." Something about him affected others. Killing and eating him would affect others somehow. But it was vague.

Zatanna was right about Morlun's name being familiar. She knows it from old references to other dimensions, shadow realms that exist as mirrors to our own. He's mentioned in de Vermiis Mysterius, one of the books she does her best not to read unless she has a reason. She reads the testimony written by an insane monk who was later excommunicated and burnt as a heretic, and frowns. It's not helpful in the way she'd like, not in a goal-oriented way, but describing Morlun as a cosmic parasite burrowing between universal membranes is… well, it seems apt, at least.

Her examination gloves are filling with sweat. Zatanna stands suddenly from her seat and closes the book (you never leave a book open in a magic library; there's no promise the words won't run off the page), deciding it's time for a break. Maybe she should go talk to Spider-Man for a minute, see what testimony he can offer. She stalks out of the library, peels off the soaking gloves and throws them into the trash, then selects one of the rugs from the front entry to roll up and carry outside where she unrolls it again and takes a seat on it.

"Ylf em ot Nam-Redips," she commands. The rug, a perfectly mundane thing she's pretty sure she bought at a Trader Joe's, pretty in blue with black lines suggestive of mandalas, rises into the air by about a quarter of a mile, then zooms toward New York Citplfplfblaugh

"Ria elbbub speek em mraw dna sgub tuo!" she chants, then spits over the side of the rug. It's okay. No one needs to know that happened.

The rug does make good time, and you don't have to get clearance from JFK for flying this low. However, the rain forecast does seem to have started earlier than planned, and it is raining briskly as Zatanna homes in on Spider-Man.

He's moving at a pretty good pace for someone doing it for three hours plus. He stays fairly high so he can switch gears and head high or low, or switch direction at any moment. Right now, he is giving Morlun a nice view of the Brooklyn Blitz, the smashed-up city blocks that is still being reclaimed and repaired.

So when the woman in the top hat and tails and the fishnets shows up, he idly wonders if he's getting more exhausted than he thought.

"Hey…hi there…Aladdin…Ali Baba…the Forty Thieves…couldn't make it tonight?"

Zatanna doesn't carry her phone in her work clothes. Ruins the mystique. Thus, she has little advanced warning of the chase in progress before she sees it with her own eyes. "Evig em eht snier!" she cries at the carpet and seizes the front two edges like Remy grabbing Linguine's hair. Obediently, the carpet picks up some speed and dives down toward Spider-Man. Zatanna isn't used to casting spells and dogfighting at the same time, but she does her best to pull out in front of Morlun and then tug the metaphorical handbrake, spinning the carpet into a tight, 180-degree drift to face him so the wind rushing past her will be sure to carry her words as she shouts, "Llab fo latot ssenkrad sflugne S'nulrom daeh!"

The effect, at first, is rather startling. Morlun's head suddenly becomes a round black ball.
He is smart enough to slow to a stop, He turns to face Spider-Man, and Zatanna can see the ball beginning to lose cohesion at the edges, blackness coming off the ball like motes of black dust. He sits on a bench nearby…and waits.

Spidey is not wasting time, putting as much distance as he can between himself and Morlun, without slowing down himself. He's still making good time, even in the rain.

Zatanna frowns. That ball shouldn't be degrading nearly this quickly, but that confirms some of her suspicions about his ability to consume energy; and the news isn't all bad. He is indeed dependent on his senses to function.

Press the advantage and risk giving him more energy to consume, or retreat and plan?

The not stupid option. Let's do that one.

Zatanna spins in place again, grimly managing not to be sick at the tactic, and floors the rug's imaginary gas pedal. It soars toward him and she yells, "Come with me! He can't enter my home!" It does not occur to her that at this moment, in her outfit, she probably more than half looks like Morlun's sister or something, but maybe Spidey is a trusting sort?

Spider-Man does have one thing in his favor—his Spider-Sense. When it senses Morlun, it is wonky as heck, like static or the mental equivalent of biting aluminum foil. Her, on the other hand…although she might have made a better offer than Jasmine, she isn't triggering his Spider-Sense at all.
And that is the deciding factor.

At the upswing of his last webline, he lands on the carpet, his hands pressing against the fabric…and staying there.
"No Disney tunes, please?" he rasped.

"Right." Zatanna nearly adds 'hang on' but catches herself just before saying something very stupid. Instead, she steers the carpet in a wide circle, aiming back the way she came and climbing at the same time. She'd be much more comfortable with about a half a mile between the ground and herself. Morlun doesn't need to see her or be able to reach her, thanks.

Then, sheepishly, "Do you have a GPS? I have NO idea how a person flies home without following the road."

Spidey blinked at her. But of course she was right. It's not like there was a compass or radar on this thing.
"Gimme a street address, I'll set a nav point."

One address later (they're past the point of being coy), Zatanna kicks the speed up to about eighty. She could go faster but feels the protection spell around the carpet already straining just to keep up with the atmospheric drop; no need to degrade it further with G-forces. That still leaves some time to talk while en route. "So, I know Blackbird. She wanted my help with this situation. I'm Zatanna, Mistress of the Mystic." She glances over her shoulder at Peter to grin, an expression that's almost impossible not to be sexy, and doffs her top hat playfully before returning her attention to the road. "And you are in dire need of an exorcism, Spider-Man. So tell me about yourself and Morlun."

Spidey tilts his head.
Don't say it. Don't say it. You are about 200 feet up with empty cartridges. Just be polite.
"So, let's hope Mystic's wife doesn't find out."
STUPID MOUTH! Change of topic, QUICK!

"Morlun? He's a big game hunter, going after Spider-types. Hops universe like going to the bodega down the street. Dresses like Dracula. An alien. Me? I'm your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Schmuck, with the special skill of getting everyone around me hurt or worse because of the low-rent universe-hopping General Zaroff type back there." His voice is saturated with guilt.

"She hasn't found out yet," Zatanna returns easily. "Is that all you know about him? The more specific you can be, the more I can help." She doesn't add that in mystical matters, defining things is often the biggest part of the battle; trapping an irrational being in a form defined by self-decided rules. Best not to worry Spider-Man with details.

Spidey, don't be flippant. Not now. "I just wish I had a blood sample, something to ANALYZE. If I had that, maybe I could tell you more. I've just been spending my time running, out-maneuvering, and getting my clock cleaned by him. My arm still hurts from when he clipped me with a shard of concrete."

That's not much to go on, which means either Morlun confessed it himself or Spider-Man is operating on intel given to him by someone else. That's fine, Zatanna's used to having to do the research to know what she's up against. "Alright. Wait a second. Er'ew elbisivni ot lla sredistuo," she informs the carpet and starts homing in on Shadowcrest Manor. Its gothic spires seem to aim at the carpet despite not moving, like a painting that's always looking at you. It's a little trippy. Zatanna sets down at the front door under the eaves and finally lets all her spells drop, then makes her wand appear and points it at the carpet. "Kcab ni ruoy ecalp," she commands it. It obediently rises off the ground and drifts through the open door to lay itself flat on the floor: an unnecessary bit of flash, but at the point it is very, very important Peter has faith in her magic.

Spidey checks out Castle Dracula, but isn't that scared. Right now, Morlun scares him more.
Spider-Man walks towards the front door, and that's when it happens. As he walks through the door, SOMETHING is peeled from his body, a whip-thin leathery-looking thing that looks like a viper. Except this viper has a human(oid) face. It hisses at Spider-Man, who doesn't seem to hear it. The question is, why does Spider-Man have a demon from the principality of Powers persecuting him? Those things were run by Carreau, and this one was fairly-well entrenched before it was pulled loose.

So WHAT is so important about a low-level vigilante hero that a major-league tempter is assigned to him?

Zatanna smiles at the viper. It is not a nice smile. "You dare approach my threshold?" she asks it almost conversationally as she lifts her wand to point at it. "Little monster, I will bind you to the devil's cooking pot so your essence will blister for all eternity as your master makes its unholy meals—"

Her tone remains almost chatty, but her anger is real. Her hair, already dark as night, is disappearing, becoming a portal to some alien night sky in which cthonic constellations twinkle in rainbow colors. This little servitor demon is staring down the wrath of a Mistress of Magic whose whom it defiled.

The tiny-yet-potent demon snarls at Zatanna, then gives a look to Spider-Man. A demon's worth of hatred.
Then it runs, and as it runs it vanishes into the street and the people beyond.

"Uhm…who are you talking to?" Spider-Man asks, honestly puzzled

Zatanna shakes her head. "It's gone now. Do you feel any different, Spider-Man?"

Spider-Man raises a finger…then stops. "Uhm…yeah. I didn't think I'd feel it walking in here, but I just…feel like I'm going to make it after all. Like Mary Tyler Moore." He smiles slightly under the mask. "Maybe it's the atmosphere."

Best not to mention the demon, then. Magic works on belief more than fact. Poisoning his certainty with knowledge won't help. Zatanna just nods and says, "Good. Let's go to the study and talk. Someone is putting a lot of effort into hunting you, Spider-Man. I'd like to know why."

Sounds kind of insulting when you put it like that, but done is done. Zatanna rests her hand in the small of Spider-Man's back as she guides him down the hall. Best not to let him wander in Shadowcrest.

Spider-Man doesn't fight it, walking along dutifully, as if sensing the potential as well as the immediate danger. "Study. One of my favorite pastimes. I happen to do a lot of that. I'm hoping it helps, somehow."

"Good for you," Zatanna says, leading Spider-Man past a standing Egyptian sarcophagus on the left side of the hall toward a snarling lion statue set back against the hall's abrupt end. She pauses before it, looking it in the eye a moment before nodding and turning to open the black door to her right. Inside is a perfectly normal study, to the degree any study is normal. With all its velvet-lined seats and antique furniture, it's tempting to glance back and see if there's a pallid bust of Pallas above her chamber door.

Zatanna releases her herding grip on Spider-Man and invites, "Sit anywhere you like. Maybe I should tell you about your problem and you should tell me what you think your problem is, hm?"

Spider-Man nods, moving to sit in one of the seats, looking slightly nervous. "Well, I've told you a lot about what I know…and what I wish I knew. What is bothering me is this Center of the Web stuff. It's why he's going after me instead of…well, instead of any of the other Spider-People in New York."

"Center of the web?" Zatanna echoes, like an anime character. Then she ruins it by adding, "Let's start there. What do you know about that?" As she asks, she is producing teacups from nowhere to fill with tea from a long-necked pot that was probably old when America was young. She uses a tiny pair of tongs to set two lumps of sugar on the cup's saucer, pours a tiny amount of milk into a tiny cup that presumably exists only to pour milk into before pouring it into a teacup, and she walks over to Peter to hand his drink as he talks.

Spidey sighs, taking a careful sip. "Never had tea like this. Not bad…but I think I like my Arnold Palmers more." He paused. "He…Morlun…made it sound like I'm someone important, someone influential. But I have no way of knowing for sure. I think he's making it all up. Just torquing me around."

Zatanna nods, which is tricky to do in a top hat but she's practiced it enough to do it with style. She returns to the table to pour herself a cuppa and suggests, "Well, you can look at it two ways. One is he's telling you the truth because he thinks there's no reason to bother lying, which means he's so arrogant he thinks you can't fight back. Another is he's lying to you because he thinks it's too dangerous to let you know the truth, which means there's information he's afraid of you having." She stirs her tea and turns from the table to look directly at Spider-Man. "Which do you think?"

Spider-Man thinks for a long moment…then sighs. "I think it doesn't matter. I think that I have to stay alive. I think that I have to keep being who I am, regardless of how it affects anyone else. Because I have to do what is right." He smiles crookedly. "Having said that, the concept DOES arouse my scientific curiosity. Is there some way you could find out with what you know?"

Zatanna takes a seat, legs crossed, and sips her tea. "Oh, I already know the general shape of it. Spider-Man, you have become an avatar of a spider-deity. I don't know if it happened when you got your powers or if getting your powers caused it to take interest in you, but the difference is academic. You've become a figure of legend, maybe the first of your kind if Morlun is telling you the truth, and it wants to consume the power of your legend to make it his own."

Spidey nods. "He also think that killing me will weaken all the ones connected to me. Somehow, I didn't exactly see myself in Chosen-One territory." He puts the tea down. "But as I said…it doesn't matter how important I am. If we don't find some weakness…"

Then a husky warm voice is heard. From Spider-Man's suit.
<Spider-Man…hello, Miss Zatara…Gwen Stacy is calling.>
Spider-Man blinks. "Uhm, sorry, Miss Mystic Mistress. Gimme a sec." He says, "Hey…Gwen. You okay?"
The reply is immediate. A girl's voice, quick and alert. Different from the first voice. "I'm not the one Morlun's after, I'm nothing more than a fishing lure to him. Are you okay?" A short pause. "I'm at home. My Dad has something that he left here after he encountered Morlun. His clothes, and his army knife - they're bloody, Peter. Morlun's Blood."

Zatanna sips her tea to cover the expression on her face as she realizes her wards apparently allow wifi through. That's something to work on. She smiles wryly at the way Gwen Stacy says 'Morlun's Blood'it sounds like a curse someone would use in a D&D game, which she resolves to steal at the first opportunityand asks, "Is that your cue to leave, Spider-Man, or do you have more time?"

The first female voice speaks up. "Morlun is approaching the building. I think he will be trying to get in. My name is ALICE, by the way. Excuse my poor manners. I am the virtual intelligence of the suit."
Spider-Man looked to Zatanna. "Can he get in?"

Zatanna looks unconcerned, largely because she is. "Hello, ALICE." To Peter's question, she answers calmly, "Possibly. My home is well-protected, but if he can get through, he'll still have to deal with thousands of years of guardians inside and both of us. Still, no reason to be complacent." She rises easily from her seat, teacup set aside for now. Shame. It won't be the same when she has to reheat it. "You should get to the knife while I slow him down, but first, follow me."

Zatanna walks out of the room, trusting Spider-Man to follow her. It's hard to be sure through a body stocking, but he sure looks like he's too nervous to stray, so she foregoes the usual shepherding bit and trusts him to follow her to the Yellow Room.

Spidey gets up, but grabs the drink and follows, speaking to 'Gwen' as he walks behind Zatanna. "Okay?Gwen. Listen VERY carefully. Get that blood over to my basement lab in Queens. 20 Ingram Street. There's a rear entrance under the leftmost heavy bag on the back porch. Go in through there. When you get there, turn on the desktop computer in the far corner."

"No password on your computer? Might want to set one up," Zatanna remarks conversationally as she leads Peter into a room full of THE TACKIEST CRAP YOU'VE EVER SEEN. It's fitting they're collected in a room whose walls are marigold yellow, screaming their yellowness at you no matter where you look, daring you not to wince. Statuettes made of precious gems sit sentinel on the floor at random intervals, crowded around devices like wooden pyramid frames from which black iron braziers hang, coffin-sized wardrobes, displays of jewelry only a preschooler would dream of weari—

Wait, Zatanna's headed to one of the jewelry cases. Is she—? No. Please no.

She is. Oh no. She's pulling out a necklace. A PENDANT, with a wide, gold setting in which odd figures (presumably magic runes) have been etched around the edges and its center is a large violet gem so clear and flawless it looks like it has to be just colored costume glass. She holds it out to Spider-Man. "You will want to have this on you at all times. It will keep Morlun from sending demons after you. When we've defeated him, I'll get it back from you."

A magical pendant. This is what it comes down to, Peter Parker.

He looks at it, then shrugs and hangs it around his neck, stick it under the neckline of the suit. "Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it…" he stops, then says, "You know your way around a lab, so here's what I want you to do. There is a rebuilt mass spectrometer. I want you to get a blood sample from the clothing first. If you want a walkthrough, I'll give it to you, but I feel pretty confident in you, considering you're on the biochem track. The mass spec is hooked up to the computer, so we'll both be able to see the results." He looks to Zatanna. "Sorry. We're analyzing the blood. Trying to figure out how a New York cop actually drew blood from the monster. ALICE, where is Morlun?"
<He is right outside. Ten feet from the entrance, but he's stopped."

Zatanna is pretty sure she knows how, but it's better to let Spider-Man find out himself, especially since her knowledge is more general, and the specifics will be important. "He'll be frozen for a while." She smiles, not pleasantly, as an idea occurs to her. "This is your best chance to return to your lab and do your work. I'll buy you some time, but don't tarry. He's part of my world and part of yours, so I'll probably lose control of the situation once he figures out to stop trying to dominate me on my terms and start working on his own." This last is said with a hand on Spider-Man's elbow and a subtle squeeze. Here's hoping the advice lands.

But whether it does or doesn't, time is a factor. Zatanna raises her wand and calls, "Teprac emoc ereh!" After a moment, the carpet from the hallway flies into the room and stops at her feet, hovering above the ground. Zatanna nods at Spider-Man. "Have a seat and it will give you a ride. How close to your lair do you want it to get?"

Spider-Man looks to her. "Is…it okay if I stay here for a bit? I would like to rest up, and…well, finish my drink. It feels like I've been running forever. Just point where I can go to leave, and I'll be sure to lock the door behind me."

Spidey pauses. "Actually?I'm in a safe place. I can't give the person's name, I respect their privacy?but Morlun's outside, but he can't get in. For the moment, anyway. He's?remember that Bible verse about Satan, prowling around outside, trying to get in? Yeah?he's like that. But I'm safe, for the moment." A pause. "And I don't think it's going to take as long as you think. I've?made some improvements."

Zatanna nods. "You can stay as long as you want, then, Spider-Man. Follow me to the foyer, please. I think what you'll see will make you very happy." She winks one long-lashed eye and lets Spider-Man leave the Yellow Room first so she can shut the door firmly behind him. Nothing in there should be allowed out.

To the mezzanine and down the stairs to the foyer, flying carpet following like a dutiful pet dog. Zatanna opens the front door to reveal a nauseating sight: Morlun straining to reach toward the door, but no matter how far forward he reaches, his position never changes even though it IS changing as he reaches forward, like the nightmare where the monster is chasing you but you can only run in place. When such a thing happens purely in your dreaming mind, it's scary but comprehensible. To see time and space warp the way they must to make it happen in the real world… the eyes and brain want to rebel.

"He'll be stuck like this for a long time. And, when he's free?" Zatanna smiles sweetly at Morlun, raises her wand, and informs him, "Tnemevom semoceb eci."

The curse doesn't take effect right now because he can't move in any meaningful sense of the word, but once he figures out how to break the temporal loop, he will have a bad time dealing with that little gift.

Zatanna shuts the door in Morlun's face with a little blown kiss at him, and smiles at Spider-Man.

Spider-Man isn't smiling. He's just looking at Morlun with his mouth pinched with dread.

Morlun looks back at him. He is scowling darkly. With great effort, he lurches backward, moving back and walking like Frankenstein with the giant boots. He backs away…and then tilts his head.
It is odd to see Morlun reaching into the inside pocket of his formal suit to pull out a cellphone. He listens…and then the frown freezes. He looks to Spidey, nods, and hangs up the phone. And then he starts moving away. Slowly at first, the curse holding him down, slowing him, but the further away he gets, the faster he becomes.

Spider-Man then says, "Yes?after this insanity is all over. I just realized, tomorrow's Halloween. The monsters showed up early this?"

He stops, his face completely blank under the mask. For a moment, the puppet-master moving Spider-Man around seems to have temporarily left him idle.

Zatanna watches ice form around Morlun's body as he tries to move. He's good enough at either energy-devouring or counterspells that the curse isn't holding him, but it pleases her heart just to see great blocks of ice encase his body every time he tries to move. Sometimes, spite really is pleasure enough.

Not super useful, though, so she turns her attention back to Spider-Man. His sudden paralysis is worrying. "Levaer," she commands herself, feeling her ajna chakra open, her invisible third eye, the seat of magic. If Morlun managed to do mojo to Spider-Man, this should give her the taste of it.

What has made him pause is not some spell. It seems to be some sudden realization.

But it also reveals something else.
She can see the Web.
It is like a spiderweb, Strands of deep power radiating out from the momentarily-distracted Spider-Man. Some are black and dead, but most are alive and a deep, rich green. Lifelines, reaching out to penetrate the walls of the universe, reaching out to others. Hundreds of thousands, it looks like, all humming with life. It is intricate, like living sculpture.
And Spider-Man is the one point where they all converge. If he is corrupted…or killed…the strands would turn black. The others he is connected to would not spontaneously die, but their worlds will be darker, their days overcast, and hope would be that much harder to find.

And Morlun would take them like SHEEP.

Then Spider-Man blinks, the pause broken, as he says, "Wait?Gwen, I might have something. Radioactive weapons might not be good. He can probably sense them, since his resistance to them is so low. There is?"

He goes silent for a long time, but Zatanna can see his eyes flickering, his mind working.

"?I might know something I can do."

And then ALICE speaks. Her voice is calm, but the words chill him to the bone.


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