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Seventeen-year-old Gina Saperstein had an axe and was dragging it down an alley two blocks past Yancy Street.
This by itself would be concerning, but the trail of blood behind her - leading away from the front door of an apartment building, which was ominously open and swinging in the December breeze - was more than enough to push it over the top from 'concerning' to 'emergency situation'.
"He pulled back the curtain from the yawning oceans and showed me a window behind the skin prisons." Her eyes were vacant, rolled up to show the pale sclera, as she staggered jerkily over the pavement. "The cup of his wrath is flowing over and even now the gathered days of the fall are moldering in the cellar of the human condition." Her voice was a low murmur, delivered in steady monotone. Bland. As if this was a completely normal situation. "He's far away in the glass pane and the forced perspective but his laugh echoes in the halls of my marrow."
Having done an Extremely Bad Thing, Gina's chances of having this day end decently were plummeting by the second, but if she was bothered by that fact, there was absolutely no indicator. Indeed, the girl's expression as she trudged toward a nearby daycare center was...empty, for lack of a better term. Entirely mindless. Like her muscles were moving on their own, without any input from her brain.
Case in point: the approaching sound of sirens, and the flicker of red and blue in the distance. The police were definitely on their way to the scene, and things would get even worse then. Gina didn't seem to care - didn't even notice anything until the massive form of a stranger darkened the alley in front of her. There was a moment of contemplation, and something seemed to shimmer in the air behind her. A distortion of some sort, vaguely humanoid in shaped, glimmering with malice and demonic intent.
"All the things in the yard have turned red. You know, as those things often do."
She turned, neck craning like an owl, and lurched toward the newcomer with the axe raised.
Ben didn't know why he kept coming down here. He wasn't wanted. He wasn't wanted anywhere. Yancy Street had changed. It wasn't the small little street he grew up in. Each day he barely recognized more and more of what he had once knew like the back of his hand. Now he barely recognized it at all. Even the feel was different. Spots new, it was the same layout but not his own.
Ben walked down the alleyway, pulling his jacket tighter around him. He was tired, but had no plans on going home. He walked, moving across the alley to another. He stopped when he saw a woman. She didn't look right, carrying an axe, moving toward him. Ben tried to rub his eyes, it almost didn't seem real.
"Heyah lady. You okay. You need a doctor or somethin' maybe the police." He stepped toward her, seeing the whites of her eyes. As she lurched forward with the axe Ben raised his arm taking the blunt of the blow. The jacket tore but it would take a lot more than a swing from her to harm him. "Geez lady what drugs are you on, this used tah be a good clean place yah know that?" He watched her, judged her.
He swear he saw something behind her, something shimmering. Shaking his head he reached for his phone. He knew his head was just playing tricks on him. He was tired, it was late. He drank one to many. Whatever excuse he wanted to use it wasn't real. But this lady was, and right now she needed help.
"Just uh. Stay right there. Don't swing that at me again." He flipped his phone up and went to dial the numbers. His big finger hitting more than one at one time. The operator voice came on the other end.
"We are sorry the number you are trying to dial is no longer in service...." Ben clicked it shut and tucked it away. Stepped closer to the girl once again he eyed the axe.
"What were yah doing with that thing anyway? Gonna hurt someone going about like that." Ben shook his head again. What was he going to do about her? He couldn't leave, not if she would hurt someone else. But he wasn't looking for an axe to the back either. Maybe someone would wander by and call for help. Sure he saw how it would look. Big rock monster and some little girl defending herself. He'd be the bad guy, always was.
To be as clear as possible about this, Ben was presently in no danger whatsoever. Few things posed much of a threat to a six-foot-tall stack of rocks, admittedly, and a teenager with a fire axe was never going to measure up to any of those things. The worst that could happen was an easily-repairable gash or two in his jacket.
Well, for now.
Gina, for her part, paused in bewilderment as the axe totally failed to accomplish its intended goal. She wavered in place, swaying dizzily amid the shadows, and blinked at the sight of the stone man and his total refusal to be demolished into a weeping pile of limbs.
"Oh," she said, momentarily nonplussed. "I see the sky is here again. This entire street is divided by the chain of the burning machine, building with sweat. I watched the heart release its feathers. The world is still embarrassed."
There was a distant, high-pitched whine, kind of like the onset of tinnitus, and she reeled for a moment, the axehead clattering against the pavement. The light shimmered behind Gina once again, ephemeral, and a tangible chill raced through the air.
"He is standing in the stars and dancing beyond the ragged edge of belief and all the holy ghosts are singing his name." Her voice was a low, feverish murmur - a comical contrast to Ben's rumbly bass. "He never sleeps. He'll never die." She raised the axe and took another overhead swing, which ended rather pitifully at a stone pec. Didn't even chip him.
This only appeared to make her angrier, and Gina's voice dovetailed off into a whispery hiss. "It's all gone upside down." The axe fell from her hand and toppled onto its side. "The whole world is Ichabod and the houses are burning in the sunlight and it's ALL YOUR FAULT--"
This crescendo of a screech steadily escalated into outright violence, as she threw herself straight at the huge man, wrapping herself around his neck and shoulders. He was twice her size, and - as mentioned - not really in any danger - but it was remarkable how inhumanly strong Gina had somehow become, and the torrent of shrieking nonsense pouring from her mouth, and the general bizarreness of this whole situation, was just a bit unnerving.
More so, perhaps, was the man in the white suit who was lounging under a neon "payday loans" sign next to the pair. He definitely hadn't been there before, although judging from the amused look on his shadowed face as he puffed on a cigarette, it was clear he'd been there long enough to get some amusement out of this whole thing.
"Hell of an evening, huh?" he asked in a lilting Scandinavian accent, grinning like a jackal. "You know, Benji, I don't mean to alarm you or anything, but--"
This next part was delivered in a mock hush, behind the back of one hand.
"--I think some of the people in this town might be crazy."
Ben kept an eye on the girl. She sat there, wavering back and forth. He shook his head as he watched her. She wasn't alright. She started going off about something. Ben barely understood half she said. "What are yah saying? This some of those new dance songs? There ain't no chain in tah street girl. And heart and feathers? Tah hell yah talkin' about."
As the high pitched noise went out Ben didn't even flinch. He could hear him, but it didn't bother him. Seemed to bother the girl though. She spoke again and it sounded like more gibberish. "Who yah talking about? He do this to you? Whoever you're talkin' about? He give you these drugs. Look at yah, none of this is real. No one is up in the stars. Trust me, I was up there. No ghosts singing for him either. Now who yah talkin' about?"
When she raised the axe again he didn't block himself this time. It clipped him in the chest, just bouncing off with a spark of the steel blade. As the axe fell and she went talking again Ben stepped closer to her. "So ichabod did this. Sorta old fashioned, where is this ichabod?" Either she was crazy or she was confessing everything right now. Either way the words didn't mean much.
No sooner had the axe fallen and the girl leaped. She climbed onto the back of his neck, shrieking and hanging off. Ben stagger back, trying to reach up to pull her off. He spun around and looked at the guy standing there. The girl still on his back he looked at the guy, wondering why he was standing there and not helping. Was this ichabod?
"Where'd yah come from buddy? Maybe want to help out a bit. Think she's one something." The girl continued to shriek as the man spoke. Ben just stepped toward him, paying little attention to the girl on his back. "You know anything about the girl? How long you been standing there buddy?"
Reaching up Ben grabbed the girl by the back of her shirt and ripped her off, setting her to the side and keeping her at an arms length away. He then grabbed the axe that had fallen, snapping the handle in two over his knee. Tossing the pieces aside he looked to the man. "Call 911 would yah. Think she needs an ambulance or something. She ain't right in the head."
Gina was definitely on something, although it wasn't the kind of thing they typically sold on Yancy Street.
"Oh, I just got here," D'Spayre said genially, as a thin trail of crimson trickled from the corner of one eye and rolled down his cheek. "Don't know too much about Gina here, except she was terrified of not getting into Dartmouth, always checked behind the curtain for spiders before she got in the shower, and turned her boyfriend into firewood about fifteen minutes ago with that axe." He gave a jaunty shrug. "Other than that? Ehhh, nothing really."
The girl was obviously no match for Ben Grimm, even on her best day, and the effort of getting her off him was less of a life-and-death struggle and more like retrieving a cat from under the ottoman: frustrating, but not terribly urgent. As the white-suited man casually dialed his phone in the background, Gina squirmed in place and finally settled into sort of a sullen holding pattern once she'd been set down.
"I saw it in the back of the closet," she murmured, wild-eyed, slumping back against the wall. "The Voynich Manuscript. How can it be real if we don't have eyes to see it with? He is sawing at the world's spine and the blood is pooling in my mouth and it tastes like hearing a child being born for the first time." With that, she collapsed, hugging her knees to her chest, and fell silent. Like a puppet that'd just had its strings cut.
"Good news, Benny Boy," D'Spayre announced, finishing the call and tossing his phone over one shoulder. "Help's on the way. It's a good thing there's about six inches of rock separating you from a normal human being, or else she might've done some damage there, huh--"
There was a brief weeeow and a flash of red and blue lights. A cop car had pulled up at the entrance to the alley. Which was odd. They'd gotten here very quickly, and there was no siren, and about eight or nine policemen were emerging from this single vehicle, eyes wide and heads twitching back and forth on their shoulders. Guns were drawn, a spotlight was shining from...somewhere, and suddenly the sirens were very loud and there was shouting everywhere and---
"PUT THE AXE DOWN"
"DROP THE WEAPON, FREAK"
"STEP AWAY FROM THE GIRL"
"HE'S NOT COMPLYING"
As a barrage of distorted commands pelted the pair from all sides, D'Spayre put a finger to his chin, making an 'oooooh, that sucks' face in the Thing's general direction.
"Well, no good deed goes unpunished, I guess." There was a note of crocodile-tear sympathy in his vice. "What do you think, m'boy? I bet we can take them on. I mean, what's the worst they can do, shoot you?"
He had not, admittedly, been prepared to run into someone of Ben's magnitude tonight, but the demon was nothing if not a skilled improviser.
Ben watched the red trail trickle down from the man's eyes. He was shocked, but didn't show it. "Hey buddy, I don't think you're to good either. You on the same thing as her? You give her whatever she's on?" He tilted his head to look the man over. "You saw her kill someone and didn't do anything. You ichabod? You do all this. Hurt this little girl." He stepped closer towards the guy, looking to do some damage if he had to.
As he did the girl dropped to her knees. She hugged herself and Ben looked back at her. It was like a switch went off. She went from her incoherent babbling to instantly in a ball, falling silent. The alley way went silent as the other man spoke. Everything he said sounded like an insult and a warning at the same time.
"She won't do much damage. I just don't want her hurting anyone else. Yah said she hurt someone? You have proof of this buddy? Maybe it was you hurtin' people. She seems like she's in shock of somethin'. Scared outta her mind." Ben folded his arms.
The flashing lights caused Ben to lowers his arms. He turned to see the headlights of the police cars shining on him. He raised his hands to shade his eyes from the light. Mixed with the blue and red lights it was quite distracting and he couldn't make out the officers speaking and talking. They weren't happy though. Ordering Ben to drop the axe, he did. Step away from the girl. He was helping her. He was trying to help her. He was the hero. This is how it always was.
The sirens were loud, almost enough to faze him. He squinted his eyes and tried to shake the lights and noises away. It was hard to focus, hard to concentrate. He couldn't even hear his own thoughts it. It was unnerving and he was growing impatient. Stepping forward Ben stopped when the other man spoke. He turned to look at the man.
"Uh uh. I'm not hurtin' no one. These boys are out here doing what's right. Not gonna happen." He turned back to the area he thought the police were at. They didn't start shooting, maybe he had a little bit of time. Maybe he could distract them or convince them to no shoot and let him go. He was the good guy after all, just walking down an alleyway, trying to help.
"Hey I'm the good guy here. I'm with the Fantastic Four, you know them. We were in the papers. This is just a misunderstanding, I'm just trying to help. I don't want to hurt anyone. We can work through this. No one needs ta shoot anyone." He looked back at the other guy. Moving closer to him he went to grab him by his coat.
"Alright buddy. You're gonna answer to these guys. You're gonna tell them everything. I didn't hurt no body and this girl needs help. That's all this is." He still didn't know what this guy's deal was, but he hoped to soon find out.
"Oh, I definitely gave her what she's on, friend."
Nobody should ever look as bemused by everything that was going on here as D'Spayre did right now. And yet here he was, grinning like a skull, pearly whites shining in the dim streetlights. The more he talked, the pointier and spindlier those teeth seemed, and they glimmered more and more as the darkness closed in around pair. Like nothing quite so much as an anglerfish in the black depths.
"You know, Benji boy, maybe it was me hurting people, but I'm not really the axe-murder type," D'Spayre announced, producing a cigarette (which was already lit, somehow) and taking a nonchalant drag. He sounded as if he were discussing the weather that evening, rather than a shocking act of violence. "I like to outsource. Besides, death....ehhhh, it's necessary, but it's not my cup of tea. You want that, you should meet my niece. Well, one of my nieces. I can never keep track anymore--urrk."
Being grabbed by the lapels was an intimidating gesture even in the most normal of situations, but when a stone titan picked you up by them, it took things to a whole new level of scary. D'Spayre looked....mildly inconvenienced.
"Well, you got me. Take me away, boys."
"Kill it! Kill the creature!"
One would expect this to be followed by an attack on the demon, and instead a gunshot whizzed over Ben's shoulder, almost grazing him. They were swarming at him now, swinging batons, tasers....hammers? Wait, these were cape-killers now. There were no cops in sight, only power-armored superhuman response troopers.
"Uh-oh," the man said as the SRU began dragging Ben away from him. "Weren't these guys supposed to be on your side? Looks like your faith in society isn't so well-placed."
Where were they trying to take him? Everything was sort of chaotic, with all the action and the grabbing hands and the garbled, radio-static bleating of the twisted armored men. It was hard to tell where they were headed....wait, no, it was toward an old ash tree in the middle of the street, right on the painted yellow line. Massive and gnarled with age, the tree sprawled across the street's median, roots gnashed deep into the asphalt, branches stretching overhead like a threadbare canopy.
There was a thick, yellowed noose dangling from one of the limbs.
"You're not really surprised though, are you?" D'Spayre was floating along with them now. The shadows had coiled, serpentine, behind him, and his eyes were glittering with a sickly yellow malice. "This is how it always goes, isn't it? How it always will go, from now on. Yeah. I can see why it'd scare a man, living like this."
"I knew it. I oughta smash you inta this wall. See if you'd be hurting anyone else with brick in your teeth."
Ben glared at the man, brow going down. And he was grinning, grinning like a freak. What the hell was this guy, what was he? Did he need back up, he reached for his communicator but couldn't find it. This situation was as bad as it could get. This freak was going to hurt more people unless he did something. Maybe see how he took some clobbering. He turned back to the guy, darkness all around him. It was just him and this freak. He was seeing things, this guynwas changing, why was it so dam dark all of a sudden.
He was so dam calm. Ben just wanted to smash him. "You get pleasure from all this buddy? Hurtin' some innocent girl. Think this is some sorta game. This make you a tough guy, druggin' and hurting little girls. You should be ashamed of yourself." Somehow he felt this guy was affected my none of it. Ben was getting fed up.
The police spoke up again and Ben looked back. "Good you're finally going to..." He was cut off by a bullet whizzing past him. Then they rushed. First with batons and then teasers and hammers. They changed from the police to the SRU as Ben fought them off. He tossed one to the ground, releasing the grip on the weird guy. The SRU only dragged him back, Ben fighting the entire way. Their weapons didn't hurt that much, he could take it.
"I'm the good guy. Why won't yah listen. Call Reed Richards, or Susan Storm, I'm the good guy. The Thing. Fantastic Four. We're on you're dam aside." He swung one man into another, swinging his fist at one of the others. They continued to beat and drag him away.
They were in front of some tree now, the roots in the ground, right in the middle of the road. Ben fell to his knees when released. Where were they? Where did this freak take him, this wasn't Yancy Street anymore. He looked up at the noose. Sitting there, swinging in the eerie wind. Ben looked back at the suited guy.
"Are you doing this? This some sorta sick joke? Playing tricks. Where'd you take me. I was at Yancy Street, I'd recognize a dam tree in the middle of ta road." Ben pulled himself up, fists balled once again. He wasn't stopping, other people may quit but not Ben Grimm. He watched the man float above them, eyes all yellow and creepy like. Ben just folded his arms.
"Yeah so what. They don't like me. Big whoop. Ain't nothing changing anytime soon. Look at me, I'm a freak, I deserve it. But I ain't the bad guy, they'll see that. I was just helping. Let them talk and joke, but Ben Grimm ain't hurtin' anyone." He looked to the guy. "Knowing I ain't gonna be normal again scares the shit outta me, you're right. But I ain't gonna run from it either." He looks to the noose and then the man.
"What do you want? What's your goal in this, scare some big rock guy just tying ta help. Pick on the freak. Ain't ta different from you there smokey." Ben looked at the tree. "I ain't dead are I? Expected something different than this."
D'Spayre was old - very, very old. He had seen the day when the oceans drank Atlantis, and the conquest of Vanaheim, and the sealing of Amatsu-Mikaboshi. And one of the things he had learned during that considerable amount of time was that some people were better prey than others. Children were ideal, really, but the exceptionally intelligent were also delicious. It was all based around the degree and sophistication of the fears they could muster.
Perhaps this was why, as Ben voiced his defiance, the mutated cape-killers began withering even as they gripped his limbs. Their muscles and armor twisted in place, shrinking and diminishing, and their strength seemed to wane. Even the noose, reaching ominously down from the twisted tree towards the Yancy Streeter, halted its advance and swung limply. It was quite unexpected, and it drew a scowl from D'Spayre's ghoulish countenance as the whole tableaux kind of ground to a halt.
It was impossible. Ben was just so...sincere. Rock steady, if you'll pardon the pun. The demon found it absolutely maddening.
"You...." He paused, fingers drumming at his hip. Luke Cage had put some serious damage on this avatar - with a single punch, even - but this was a whole new kind of inconvenience, and D'Spayre's frustration showed in his eyes. "....god, you have such a limited imagination."
There was a sweep of his hand, white sleeves flashing in the moonlight, and the end of the alley shifted and warped. Jagged metal and saw-toothed ridges wrenched themselves into place with an unearthly shriek, and then it all began to spin and whir in a blur of rusted steel and flying sparks. The sound was like playing a chalkboard on a phonograph - fitting, as this was clearly some kind of horrifying improvised grinder. Or cuisinart, really, judging from all the blades and toothy edges twirling and shaking in it.
"All right. Gina!" The girl jerked back to consciousness, bolting upright with a jerky motion that seemed almost like her earlier collapse played backwards. "Go prance into that and keep our friend here busy while I come up with something to kill him with."
Gina glanced back at Ben and D'Spayre momentarily, then turned in place. "Well," she mused in a vacant, trembling voice, "I suppose when you pass anti-trust laws, you eventually end up in a restaurant like this one." With that, she began a shaky (but very steady) march towards the grinder's shrieking maw. It was quite obvious what she intended to do, and just as obvious that if Ben was going to do anything about it, it'd need to be quick.
...and it'd need to involve taking his eyes off the demon, who was busy muttering some kind of incantation around the collapsed bodies of the "cape-killer" apparitions.
The mutanized SRU seemed to be back off. They loosened their grip, backing off. It was almost as if they were withering away. Even the noose around the tree was growing smaller and smaller, stopping its motion. Soon it stopped moving completely and Ben just looked at the man. Seeing the disappointed look on his face Ben just grinned.
Whatever was happening, this guy was responsible. He was getting joy from this. Seeing him displeased meant something was working. Ben didn't know what it was, if it was something he said or did. But it worked, that was good enough for him. Best keep it up.
"Yeah I save the creative stuff for someone else, I prefer sticking ta the ass kicking." Ben folded his arms. "Whatcha trying ta get at there creepy? You need someone ta be creative ta do this? Play with their mind? Yah get your kicks when they're as crazy as you?"
Ben watched the guy flash his hands and looked to the end of the alley where a massive metal grinder was spinning. He looked at the jagged teeth, his fists balling as he did. The high pitched noise didn't affect him. "What ya trying now? This supposed to hurt me like all those puny SRU fakers?" This guy was starting to get on his nerves. He went to move forward when the girl from before shot upright.
The girl started to walk toward it and a look of panic fell to Ben's face. He started follow after the girl, leaving the guy behind. Ben started to pick up speed, calling after the girl. "Hey. Hey, get back here. Where yah going. Need to stop this lady." He moved forward, rushing up to her and leaving the other guy alone.
Ben ran towards the girl. Grabbing the girl in his arms he picked her up, flinging her over his shoulder. He let her dangle, moving back to the where the demon guy was. Tossing the lady down he reached for the rope that had been dangling on the tree branch. Tugging hard he tore it from the tree. Moving back to the girl Ben wrapped it around her, tying her legs the best he could with his large fingers. When he was satisfied she wouldn't be going no where he turned back to the creepy guy, pointing his finger when he did.
"Alright chump, you're gonna get whats coming to you. It's clobberin' time."
"Less 'creative' and more 'able to beat an ant in an IQ test'. Philistine."
Even as Gina started staggering towards the grinder, D'Spayre was already drawing his arms inward, becoming the center of a nexus of gnarled, limp bodies. The 'dead' 'cape-killers' were tumbling across the pavement towards him, end over end, as if blown by an intangible breeze or pulled along by strings from the heavens. And if Ben were to look over his shoulder as he scrambled to save the girl from being smashed into a gory paste, he would see the corpses converge upon him, and more importantly, he would see D'Spayre begin to change.
He would probably miss that, though, since rescuing the beleaguered teenager took priority at the moment. She had almost wandered directly into the whirling mass of teeth and gears when Ben seized her around the waist and scooped her out of harm's way. Surprisingly enough, Gina didn't really do much in the way of resisting him, outside of a token effort at struggling. Perhaps she was cognizant enough of her circumstances to know what would happen if she'd succeeded, or perhaps D'Spayre was just focused enough on other things that his control wavered a tiny bit.
Either way, by the time he'd successfully restrained her with the noose, she wasn't much of a threat anymore. Uncomprehending eyes stared out at the Thing, followed by a totally blase "Oh. The stars have fallen down on us again. Sometimes that happens when you're made of edible things".
He turned around, letting out his famous battle cry, and was met with something out of an acid nightmare.
It was fever-dream-esque, almost. A dozen carcasses had integrated themselves into his flesh, twisting and warping into a grotesque cacophony of legs and tendrils and faces. D'Spayre's voice was impossibly deep now, so deep it shook the manhole covers on the streets as he bellowed, and if Ben listened closely, he might have heard the sound of distant voices screaming somewhere inside the words.
"FORTUNATELY I'M A MAN OF MANY, MANY STRATEGIES."
The beast stormed forward, rearing back on several of its hind legs, and heaved its massive oozing bulk into the air, blotting out the street lights around them. It let out a shriek through its tertiary mouth, trailing of into a staticky gargle.
"YOU KNOW WHAT'S SCARY, BENJI? DYING'S PRETTY FUCKING SCARY--"
This was all the warning Ben got before D'Spayre came crashing down, buffeting at him with an onslaught of claws and hooves and tentacles.
Clobbering time had taken a turn for the dreadful.
"Okay crazy, yah stay here. Don't move." He turned to the creepy guy. Stopping his tracks he took a step back. The guy was gone, so were the SRU. Instead there was some horrific creature. It made a horror movie monster look tame. He didn't know if this beast was new or a combination of all that had been there before. He didn't know what it was, only that it felt easier to smash this thing than the guy in the suit.
"Here I thought I was ugly. Guess I missed a few branches of the ugly. You hit them all," Ben cracked his knuckles. The voice of the best boomed as it spoke and Ben only walked towards it. Sure he may be scared as shit, but he was still gonna hit it. Now or never Ben, didn't have all day. Maybe if he hit it hard enough it would stay down. Only worth a shot.
Ben laughed, "See the thing about it. I don't fear death. I don't quit, I sure as hell don't let whatever the hell you are boss me around. So I'm gonna smash yah and see how yah like them apples." Ben started running, charging at the beast. He wished Johnny, Reed, and Sue were here. He needed back up with something like this. Still he could manage. Was now or never for some clobbering.
The beast was faster though. He strikes hard and fast. Claws and hooves coming down. Ben barley blocked the first few. Still, his rocky hide only scratched and chipped. Lots to go, wouldn't be days before any damage was done. He may be ugly, but he was tough as hell.
Ben swung his fist toward the horrific monster. He aimed for the main head up top. The ugly one with patchy hair. He swung low and high, trying to hit as hard as he could. When the beast got to close he kicked his leg up, aiming to hit the beast in the chest. Where ever the chest was.
"Gross, you're sticky to touch. What the hell are yah?" He swung his fist again, bringing his full force into the punch. If this didn't work he would have to get creative. "Gonna have to get worse than this if yah think you're gonna scare me slimey."
Despite his sorcerous tendencies, D'Spayre could acquit himself pretty handily in a fight. He'd been a conqueror of sorts in his youth, and becoming an eldritch demonic horror generally helped out a lot when it came to brute force. With all of that said, he was having some issues with Ben's steadfastness, and at this point, a lot of his capacity for terrorizing was limited to being sort of like a comedian trying out half-finished material at open-mic night.
Of course, that didn't mean he wasn't dangerous, or totally unknowable for that matter. Case in point: the first roundhouse Ben landed on his gape-mouthed, leering head rocked it back with a fairly solid impact. But then the follow-up kick to the chest seemed to meet with gooey flesh that was a bit too yielding, and the punch that followed, well...it got stuck.
It was kind of like trying to beat up a jello mold. Ben ended up with his arm glued inside the squamous mass of parts and ectoplasm, and the monster heaved its roiling bulk closer, trying to engulf him altogether. With his considerable strength, he might still be able to break free, but it was going to take some effort, and possibly time he didn't have.
The creature reared back and its face began to split, peeling apart at the mouth like a centipede's mandibles. Six snapping jaws, all festooned with rows and rows of needle-teeth, dripped with streams of drool as the enormous maw loomed over the Thing.
Normally, this would not be terribly concerning; after all, a man made of rock is not going to worry about being bitten, even if it's by a twisted hellbeast from the Festering Dark. Ben would be well within his rights to be a bit concerned, though, because as D'Spayre's head drew closer, the waterfall dribbling from his horrible splayed mouth began to smoke and hiss, eating pitted gouges in the pavement wherever it landed.
Acid. Industrial-grade, probably.
"OH, I THINK I CAN DO 'WORSE'." Oh, it was all watery and half-slurred due to the whole 'six different jaws' thing. Gross. "WON'T BE THROWING MANY PUNCHES AS A PUDDLE, WILL YOU?"
Ben had landed the first hit. So whatever this was it could be hurt, it could get hurt. But the second punch ended up getting stuck. He could feel the goo around his fist, sucking it in. It got intomthe grooves of the rock, he'd need a shower after this for sure. He hand still balled he could feel it closing, squeezing.
The creature moved, only pulling him in, sucking his arm deeper. Ben tried to plant his feet, though the creature only moved closer to him. Ben could feel his arm getting sucked in, he was almost shoulder deep at this point. He tried to pull back, was no use, it was stuck. This wasn't going to be an east feat. But he could a manage, he was The Thing, superhero. He had been to space and back, he could handle some overgrown drool monster.
As the mouth snatched up, Ben looked up to see the snapping jaws, and rows of teeth. He was about to reach for the tongue of the beast when he heard thenhiss on the ground beside him. Looking down he could see the hole it dissolved, acid. As he pulled away he could feel a drop on his shoulders, it hurt, move down to burn into his rockmand flesh below. He let out a cry of pain and only gritted his teeth. Not to self, don't get close to the mouth.
This monster wanted to play, Ben would play. He got low, squatting his legs. His other hand found the chest of the demon. As he pushed himself up, he sent the demon up over his head, and crashing to the ground. The force ripped his hand free, as he moved back, keeping a distance from him and the beast.
"Still ain't scarin' me slimey. The only one who's going ta be goo here is you're sad face face when I'm done with yah." Ben moved to where the tree had been in the centre of the street. He sent his fist through it, breaking it where he hit. It was old, dying, he knew he could manage. Grabbing the falling, broke tree he held it like a bat up by his shoulders. Ben circled the beast, keeping the tree up as if he were going to swing.
Slowly he managed his back agaisnt the grinder that had almost taken the girl's life. He motioned for the beast to come get him. "Come one slimey, we don't got all day." If his plan worked the beast would charge, they'd either both go into the grinder or he'd side step just in time sending the slims monster after it. Either way he was ready. Ben Grimm didn't quit.
He swung the tree out, keeping it at an arms length away, "See how yah like some bark in your teeth buddy."
Metaphysics were sort of a two-way street. The rules could be bent, as D'Spayre frequently did, but they were still rules and you still had to abide by them. If he could make someone believe that the 7-11 on Yancy Street had turned into a massive saw-toothed industrial grinder, enough for it to hurt them, it meant it could hurt him, too. The rules were universal.
Hold onto that thought; we'll return to it in just a minute.
The amorphous blob of roiling gray flesh was not terribly easy to pick up and slam, but the fact that it was basically glued to Ben's arm helped a lot. Still, it was quite the effort, even with all his strength, and the streets shook underneath them as it crashed to the ground. There was a wordless, feral bellow - and inside it, the shrieks of a thousand damned souls - as his arm popped free from the gooey mess.
At the moment, D'Spayre was more or less beyond supervillain status and well into natural disaster territory. Gone were the usual taunting monologues, the subtly-disguised spells that wormed their way into the psyche; this was just brute force, all swiping claws and spewing acid that scalded the ground around him. The creature slashed at Ben with a claw, glancing off his rocky hide, and scrambled forward, dragging its mass on grotesque talons. It was just barely at a safe distance, staved off at the end of the massive tree trunk, but from the way it reared back, it was clear the beast was about to give a mighty shove.
This, of course, was exactly what our hero had intended, and as he dove to the side, the end of the tree caught itself in the grinder and the monster went with it. One of D'Spayre's numerous grasping arms got snagged in the gnashing spikes, pulling him in closer as they spun and shrieked. Sparks flew everywhere, and there was an ear-splitting screech of metal and flesh and wood as the creature was dragged in further and further.
Jagged steel nails rent gouges in the pavement as the beast tried to pull itself free, but if you remember what we were discussing earlier, the laws of metaphysics apply to everybody equally. There was no magicking himself out of this one - slowly and inexorably, D'Spayre was being drawn deeper and deeper into his own slaughter mechanism. Blood and bits of necroplasm sprayed several stories into the sky, showering gray and black and red everywhere, as the creature bellowed and lashed out and---
A tentacle had caught Ben around the ankle. D'Spayre was all the way up to his waist (if that thing could be said to have a waist), but he was clearly intent on dragging his target the rest of the way in with him.
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