2019-11-12 - Held Up in the Park


A routine magic show in the park turns into a day of terror.

Log Info:

Storyteller: None
Date: Tue Nov 12 04:05:07 2019
Location: Central Park

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Theme Song



Card tricks are some of Zatanna's favorites. The big stuff, the stage stuff, that's all well and good and bill-paying, but she really likes the up-close magic, where people can watch her as closely as they want and still never see the way she lies to them because they don't want to see; they want to be amazed, to be active participants in their own enjoyment. Thus, a waist-high table in Central Park with a green velvet top and a black skirt, a deck of cards, and no stool, which adds a level of difficulty she hopes any magicians in the audience appreciate. She has a strict rule that she will never cheat a magic show by using sorcery, but there is one spell involved, cast just before the show begin: "Annataz syats mraw rof eht wohs." When you do a show outdoors in New York City in November basically naked from the waist down, it's an important spell.

"People think the magic is in my hands," she explains to the gathered crowd, brandishing her white-gloved palms for effect. "But really, magic takes place in the mind of the beholder, as I will prove to you." She flourishes her hands and a pack of blank playing cards appears to the applause of the audience. She fans the deck, explaining, "You can see, these are all blank slips of paper, nothing on them. They'll stay that way until you all choose to see something on them, but that's hard to do without a little prompting, so I need some help from you." She scans the audience and points at Lydia, smiling. "Maybe you can help me. Do us all a favor. Pick whether you'd rather see a number or a face card, then pick which one, then pick a suit, please. But don't skip any steps! We need everyone to have time to picture it the way you are in your mind."

It's a crisp November afternoon, which means it's a good time for a walk in the park, so Lydia decides to take a day off from classes to go and wander around. She's dressed warmly in jeans and a pull over turtleneck sweater, the colors of which washed out by the ever present bioluminescent green mist that always surrounds her. It was during these wanderings when she spies.. could that be? The famous Zatanna doing card tricks out here.

So she finds herself in the small crowd surrounding the magician, watching with rapt attention to the tricks so far. And then Zatanna calls on her. Her! Well, it's not that surprising since she does tend to stand out in a crows.

"Um….. Number!" she says enthusiastically, getting into the spirit of things. Then, "Seven of…. " she thinks for a bit, "Hearts!"

Zatanna's eyebrows raise and her smile widens. "Wow, that's my favorite card!" she declares as she squares the blank deck back into a brick of white paper. "And I'm definitely not just saying that as part of my patter!" The audience laughs and she grins easily, clutching the brick of cards in her right hand and holding it face out as she sweeps from one side to the other, showing the audience the apparent nothing there.

"But now everyone can see the seven of hearts in their minds. Good. Keep imagining it, and imagination will become reality. You can see it happen…" She shakes her hand from side to side as it on a pivot, slowly at first but speeding up. The deck blurs with speed, becoming a stunted figure eight like a black widow's mark, but in its center color begins to spread too fast to follow, a red dot that swells out into a heart flanked on boths sides by growing columns of more hearts, and as she slows down the numerals appear in the corners. "The seven of hearts!" she declares to an applauding crowd, then sinks with with comedic relief. "Oh good, you're clapping. I can't see the card so I never know if that trick worked until people clap."

Lydia watches with amazement at the show of skill. Sure she knows that there's real magic out there, but this is more impressive since it takes years and years of practice to pull off something like this as flawlessly as Zatanna did. When the trick is done, she grinning like a child and clapping along with the rest of the crowd.

Zatanna lays the card down on the table, near Lydia, pointed at her. "Since this wonderful young woman"

There are some snorts from the audience, since Zatanna looks no older than Lydia, but she's okay with that.

"already has you thinking of sevens, you can already see the other red seven in your minds. So again, you focus on it, and imagination becomes reality." She turns sideways, holding the deck in both hands, face still turned out toward the audience. With a finger on one corner of the deck and another on the opposite corner, she spins the deck in place slowly with a motion like her arms are pumping the pedals of a bicycle; and with each pump, more diamonds reveal themselves until the seven of diamonds is exposed. She flicks it out of the deck to arc up into the air and settle, face-up, on the green velvet surface.

"Two cards down! Just fifty more to go." The audience laughs, and Zatanna winks at Lydia over her grin. Someone in the audience claps Lydia on the shoulder in camaraderie, heedless of her green aura.

The guy who clasps Lydia on the shoulder, recoils in surprise, due to the mists tingly numbing effect, and eyes the mutant suspiciously. Lydia turns towards the guy and gives him an apologetic look, mouthing the words, "Sorry," to him, not wanting to interrupt the performance. She turns back just in time to catch Zatanna wink at her, which causes her to grin and wink back.

"Maybe we can speed it up," Zatanna admits to the audience, who's getting lost by the reaction to Lydia. Time to reel them back in, get the focus on herself, get it away from green aura girl (which Zatanna had foolishly assumed only she could see; she'll probably pay for that later). She peels two blank cards off the top of the deck, sets the deck down, and fans the pair in her hand, then closes the fan like scissors. When the fan opens again, the back card is the seven of spades. She closes the fan again with the seven in front of the black card, flicks the cards with her middle finger, and opens it again to reveal the seven of clubs. The crowd is clapping now (and some people are stalking away in the bizarre brand of angry amazement only magicians ever seem to provoke), and Zatanna sketches a little bow, grinning. She lays them both out on the table, all four sevens pointed at Lydia, as she continues aloud, "Now, this seems like an opportune moment to move on from the sevens." The crowd laughs its agreement. "Each of you is imagining a card right now, so keep that image in your head and we'll all see it soon, see the color filling in the deck step by step." She lifts the deck to her mouth, purses her lips (that's a bit of flare most audiences love to see her do), and puffs softly on it, then flips the deck to reveal the back of a card, red and baroque in design like a Persian rug, no off the rack Bicycle deck for Zatanna. That's impressive, but when she fans the deck again, every card is showing a back; and when she flips the fan, there's a well-shuffled deck of playing cards, minus the sevens.

In the crowd, on its very periphery, two men watch. Both are clad in trenchcoats, both are broad and intimidating in their own way, and both are decidedly unenthused at the show.

"Thorne, I'm gonna level with ya. I never understood magic, and I don't know why the boss cares so much about it. It's just cards and shit." Carlo Abruzzi was never one for analytics. He's a prime example of the 'brute' archetype - all shoulders and arms topped with a slicked Classic Men's Cut that doesn't quite fit the trenchcoat and body armor he's wearing. Somebody put a mobster into a private military group.

"First, don't mention any names. You know why we're here." Beside Carlo, Adam Thorne frowns at the magic show - it's sort of like watching a boulder give birth to emotions. While he's quite the opposite of Carlo's beefy profile, there's no denying the military crispness to the man's solid frame, the close-cropped cut marking him as an alumnus of some military training or another. Anyway, Thorne isn't buying any of Carlo's shit.

"Light her up, yeah? You know the rules. I'll watch, you'll play, and we'll figure out what the girl can do." Thorne isn't there anymore - as he speaks, he fades into nothingness, though a faint shimmering indicates his general presence. That presence shifts towards a nearby tree, well removed from the scenario.

Carlo frowns. "F***in' chain of command," he grouses, stepping forward, reaching into his coat, and pulling the shotgun free. Screams preempt the register of the weapon - a duo of cacophonous blasts, angled skywards.

"'EY MISS MAGIC! YOU WANNA SHOW US A REAL TRICK? Everybody drop yer wallets on the ground and scram!" Carlo is either an *IDIOT* or VERY WELL EQUIPPED.

Unseen, Thorne winces. That was the worst opener he's ever heard.

Lydia claps with glee as Zatanna finishes up this set, and doesn't notice at first the guys in the trenchcoats until it's too late and the thugs bellow out their commands. It's a miracle she doesn't freeze along with the rest of the crowd. All that time spent in the Danger Room to help her hone her abilities had situations just like this programmed into it.

The young woman whirls around, her green mist flaring to life with her emotions. It coalesces and hardens around her like a suit of glowing green armor, stylized like a dragon.

"Oh, I'll show you real magic," she shouts at them, throwing a hand out. A green pseudopod whips out from the armor to wrap around the shotgun, keeping it from being leveled at the innocent bystanders. The grip of the tentacle is strong… much stronger than that of your average human, making it very difficult for the shotgun to be pulled free.

Zatanna Zatara has traveled to worlds beyond human comprehension, daily grapples with forces in which sanity is a liability, lives her life in a near-constant battle with evil in her role as an avatar of the cosmic principle of justice. She's ready for almost anything but a stick-up in a park. Wallets? Who the hell still carries cash enough to make a stick-up worth it?

Is it misdirection, the magician wonders?

That thought snaps her out of her stupid surprise. "Everyone run!" she yells at the audience when Lydia grabs the shotgun, and when they start to disperse she barks over the sounds of screams and fleeing people, "Stalfs!" The heels of her boots flatten out into a shape more combat-appropriatesorry, boys, but not every situation calls for footwear that brings her butt three inches closer to your eyelinewith a flash fortunately concealed by the table's skirt. That done, she does the only thing the can think of: she picks up the card table like a riot shield, spraying playing cards everywhere like giant confetti. With it in front of her, she charges the gunman, meaning to tackle him.

~Two. Hm.~ Unseen, Thorne takes some photographs of Lydia. His attention is evenly split between Lydia and Zatanna, but that's twice as many supes as he'd figured would be here. Unfortunately for Lydia, her Quip + Mist combination isn't doing much for a low profile!

"What the f-…" Screaming ensues! His ploy worked! Maybe fifteen wallets are thrown to the ground - half because green mist has flown everywhere and now people are panicking about shotguns AND bioterrorism - but generally, everybody's sprinting to safety. Carlo, meanwhile, has made an incredible mistake. He doesn't let go of that shotgun right away, but he doesn't realize that Zatanna isn't the one impeding his attempts at bad-guying. So his eyes are on her, beady and sharp, and he's going to wrestle with the pseudopod.

His grip is that of a normal human.

~Carlo. There are TWO. Do the test and get out!~ A transmitter in Carlo's ear carries Thorne's voice, but Carlo's already panicking. He hadn't anticipated a tentacle monster. So when Zatanna's rushing him with a card table and *tackling* him, the thug goes down like a - ha - house of cards! The tentacle's left with the shotgun, presumably waving about triumphantly in the midst of the anarchy.

Zatanna will feel the pleasant *THUMP* of a sack of vaguely Italian bricks hitting the ground beneath her makeshift ram, but she's sort of on the right track here. Things are maybe just a bit too easy. Carlo let go of that gun quick enough. The panic reaction isn't… all there. Carlo might've just done this before. And as any magician well knows…

Keep your eyes on the hands.

One of them is holding a techy-looking sphere that just might be some kind of futuristic ordnance - maybe an explosive? Maybe something else.

"Huff— Aight, girlie, see if you can tentacle your way outta this—!"

His thumb depresses. The sound that follows is *shrill*, pitched, keening, and objectively horrendous.

"Ha!" Lydia shouts triumphantly, as she successfully pulls the shotgun out of the hands of the thug. She's in the process of dismantling it to uselessness when that horrible screeching noise comes from the sphere and drills right into her brain. Unfortunately, as tough as her armor is, it isn't soundproof.

Of all the scenarios that was run in the Danger Room, this wasn't one of them. The tentacle dissipates into a puff of glowing green mist as Lydia tries to block out some of the sound with her hands over her ears. It helps some but it's still painful enough to break the concentration needed to maintain her armor. It wavers a bit, but eventually it too puffs into mist.

Zatanna has been a magician all her life. Every memory she has lives through that filter of psychology, misdirection, sleight of hand: of performative deception. How she perceives the world is determined by those principles. So when the noisebomb goes off, even through the icepick of pain piercing her skull and contorting her face in agony, she's aware that this isn't a random event, this is planned specifically for her, to hurt her, to disable her.

So she drops. Specifically, she drops onto the table lying on man with the bomb. Her vision is blurry with the pain of the screeching, and it takes a shocking amount of her concentration to focus on not covering her ears against the sound. The concentration slows down her reflexes, makes her grab at the ball clumsy, probably creates openings even around the protective shield of the table and her body weight still bearing Carlo down.

~Too strong. You *AMATEUR*.~ Unseen, Adam Thorne's brow arches imperceptibly upward, and his lips curve imperceptibly downward. He and Carlo both had earplugs on for this eventuality - the activity was a poke-and-observe, after all - and as such the shrieking isn't bothering him so much as it is disabling the heroines. Too much, as a matter of fact. Who's to say if Zatanna's really disabled by being unable to be heard, or if she just can't function in this mind-breaking noise? Lydia's down for the count, as well. Does Lydia have a sonic weakness? Is Carlo a damn fool? Dropping the petri dish in lava doesn't tell you if a bacteria has a vulnerability to high temperatures!

In Carlo's hands, the noisemaker's small capacitor runs out of energy - the noise fades seconds after it had begun, and pinned as he is, Carlo isn't able to do much more than hold the thing aloft. Zatanna will find it an easy prey for her misguided gropings - Carlo's got fat fingers, but thanks to some negative reinforcement from his peer, the hired thug's not finding much in the way of motivation. He attempts to get his other hand up from beneath the table, but Zatanna's all but ensured that won't happen. Frantically, the guy looks up and away from the pair he's engaged, towards a nearby tree. Adam's tree. He needs *help*. Two supers, pinned, and trapless? This wasn't the plan!

This was just a probe!

Unseen, very much a hidden figure whose name probably didn't even need to be written in this scene (whoops), Adam finishes communicating with his superiors. It was unfortunate, he explained. Unforseen factors complicating the probe. A rookie field agent - hired help, really - failing to understand the scientific process. The bosses would understand. While Carlo didn't necessarily know enough to be a problem if he'd talked, he did know *enough*. Names. Locations.

Unseen, very much a plot catspaw intended to force the narrative in a certain direction, Adam levels a pistol at the card table between the two writhing women. The chapter'd basically been written by now - it just needed punctuation, an exclamation at the end of the last sentence. Quite fittingly for this case, a silenced pistol acts as a silencer. Beneath Zatara and before Lydia's eyes, Carlo Abruzzi's temple blossoms in a spill of crimson, his eyes go glassy, his fingers limp. The useless noisemaker falls from his hand, and the sheer drama of it all is more than enough to distract our heroines from the crackle of ozone nearby that tree in the distance.

Adam Thorne is gone, but there *is* evidence to investigate, and companions to engage. Just what the heck happened?

When the ear-piercing scream finally lets up, Lydia's armor snaps back on, and she looks up to deal with whatever threat is left, but all she sees is Carlo pinned beneath Zatanna. She relaxes a bit and moves towards the magician to offer help when the goon's head just…. explodes.

Lydia's eyes go wide in horror, her hands rising up to her mouth in shock. Again, the Danger Room prepared her for a great many things, but actually watching a man get murdered before your very eyes.

"Oh… oh my…" she stammers, not able to tear her gaze away from the horrible mess before her. "He… he…" She's not even able to finish her thought.

Zatanna's response is somewhat worse. Lying atop Carlos, she feels the final convulsion of his body as chemical terror floods his system in a final, futile attempt to keep him alive. She feels the splash of blood against the back of her head and the thicker, spongier impact of a chunk of gray, fatty brain tissue raining down on her shoulder, its gelatinous weight apparent even through her tuxedo jacket. She watches as his arm and hand spasm in their last agonized efforts to keep life pumping through them, and she isn't even given the luxury of mourning the murder she witnessed because she has to grab that ball and shut it off. Only then can she shove herself up to her knees and scrabble back away from the cooling body.

Don't think. Act.

Zatanna whips a her head to look at Lydia. "That's ectoplasm," she snaps. "Are you connected to the etherium? Can you contact his soul before it fades?" She can'tthe study necessary to become a necromancer does horrible things to you and to the people you studybut this woman seems to be a medium of some kind, so it's possible.

Lydia is snapped out of her horror by Zatanna's call. Her hands still at her mouth, she looks over at her, eyes still wide. "What?" she asks, barely registering the question. She shakes her head, trying to get her brain engaged again. "No. I don't know? I just…. I just … it's like sweat for me. If you need me to make more I can" She looks up to meet Zatanna's gaze and blanches. "You've … you've got some brain on your cheek."

Zatanna flicks it off her cheek with a fingertip, an act she privately observes with sour amusement: she doesn't want to get her gloves dirty after her outfit has been ruined by someone's murder. You can learn a lot about yourself by watching your reflexes, and today Zatanna learns she's an idiot.

So be smarter, then.


She scans around for a shooter, knowing it's fruitless. The murderer took his shot and ran, as murderers do. Based on how much of Carlos's head is still present, he was shot with a handgun, which means the murderer is probably carrying the gun, at least for a safe distance; that also means he's off the path and avoiding anyone who might smell the cordite. So all she needs to do is figure out where he is, and track him like a bounty hunter in a Dragon Age game. Yeah. Probably not. Bruce could do it, but she's not Bruce.

What can she do that Bruce couldn't? She could comfort the girl, at least.

She puts on an encouraging smile and rests a hand on Lydia's shoulder. "Hey. You did well. When you jumped in, you saved people's lives. Are you okay?"

When Zatanna comes to comfort Lyda, she manages to break her line of sight to the corpse. She too, would feel that cool numbing sensation that the ectoplasm gives off when touching skin. Lydia nods, and starts taking some deep breaths to calm herself down before answering her. "No," she says matter-of-factly. "That was… that was terrible." She wraps her arms around herself. "I've never seen anything… anybody…" Die. That's the word she can't bring herself to say.

"What are we going to do about that?" She asks, motioning towards the body. "I mean…. the… whatever it was. Sonic bomb?" Right. That. Not the body. Try not to think about the body. "I know some smart people who could take a look at it, back at the Institute."

"Turn around," Zatanna suggests gently. Turn your back on the body, in other words. In the meantime, she snags the bombor rather, it's just a speaker with a kind of violent shape, isn't it?and stows it inside her jacket. "I know someone who can probably reverse-engineer this, or whatever it is Pauley Perrette does on CSI." Is Pauley Perrette on CSI? Zatanna doesn't actually watch TV. Never mind. "More important, what are you going to do? The police will be here in minutes, and no offense, I don't think you can hide very well."

Lydia dutifully turns around, still controlling her breathing nice and slow to prevent panic from seeping in. "I don't know," she confesses, not knowing who Pauley Perrette is. "Never heard of her?" Still. There is that question: What now? "I don't know what I'm going to do. I stick out like a sore thumb so I'm probably going to get a visit by the cops anyway as soon as they talk to any of the other witnesses." She squeezes herself tighter. "I want to go home and take a nice hot bath, though."

Zatanna nods sympathetically. "Me too, but so you know, that won't happen for a while. They're going to question us, and photograph us, and question us, and question us. If you want to get away, do you know the words you have to say?"

Lydia scowls at the question. "Words?" she asks, confused. "Like, 'I want to speak to my lawyer?'"

"Close, but not quite. When you want to leave the police, you have to ask them, 'Am I free to go?' If they don't arrest you, then you're free, and anything they say is just to trick you into complying. Don't let them. You shouldn't have to deal with it." Zatanna squeezes Lydia's shoulder, not interested in the ectoplasmic aura. She's felt worse.

Lydia nods slowly taking in Zatanna's advice. "'Am I free to go,'" she repeats so she can lock that into her memory. "I can do that." A the squeeze, Lydia reaches up and squeezes the hand back and turns to smile wanly at the magician. "Thanks. For this."

Zatanna smiles back. "Thank you for saving all these people." She pauses, considering what she's about to say, but eventually decides silence isn't helpful. "You know they were probably coming for you specifically, right? To test your weaknesses?"

Lydia scowls, not having thought that before. "But why?" she asks. "It's not like I do this professionally. I'm just an English major at NYU." She sighs as she hears the sounds of sirens. "Okay. I'm going to stay. It's just going to be easier that way. I'll tell them I don't know what happened to the bomb."

The show is pretty officially over, which means Zatanna's spell to keep herself warm is too. It was probably over minutes ago, but she was too jittery with adrenaline to notice how frigging cold her legs are. Now that the fight mode in her mind has been turned off, the flight mode is slightly active, leaving her knees literally knocking together like a character in one of those cartoons so old you never actually watched them. "Oh hey I'm crashing," she observes, voice high and breathy with delayed reaction. "Sorry, give me a second." She trembles her way over to the card table and grimly peels the skirt off it to wrap around her lower half like a no-fucks sarong. It helps a little. Probably also made it harder for the police, but whatever, they were never gonna solve this mystery anyway.

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