Katabasis, Part IV



Scene Title Katabasis, Part IV
Synopsis In The Divine Comedy souls in the second circle of Hell were violently blown about by strong winds, preventing them to find peace and rest.

The battle of Verdun is nearly over.

There is a cold stillness outside of the triage tent.

The wind has stopped blowing.

That nature has taken a moment to catch its breath feels cosmically significant to the moment Lukas Maes finds himself in. Behind him, in the tent, General Mangin is making a recovery in no small part to the supernatural gift twinned with his own spirit. A pair of French soldiers briskly depart the tent, not even stopping to acknowledge Maes before breaking into a jog to deliver the news of the General’s miraculous recovery to the other squads engaged with German forces.

The shelling will begin again soon enough. There’s a hint of certainty about that in the back of Maes’ mind. A feeling of serendipity mixed with predestination, as if he were to somehow be sure of how this battle was now going to go. Were he a pious man, it would feel like the hand of the divine on his shoulder, reassuring and guiding him. But he is not. It does not.

There is a weight to all of this, a weight that presses down on Maes’ shoulders and makes the stillness of the wind feel something more like an ill omen of things to come.

The whole ordeal felt like an out-of-body experience. It’s in this moment that Nathalie LeRoux feels apart from Maes, and as she no longer experiences the world from his perspective she—



Three poles on the nearest stage.

Three poles and two skeletons vermiculate in their sensuous grip and grind, spectral phalanges barely gracing white hot steel. Translucent flesh fills in bare at a sporadic strobe of ghostly blue light, flickering viscera and taut muscle nearly in time with the bass thump of music appropriately themed to the setting. Rare glimpses of the costuming find their way in every once and a while and tend to linger once they have — teasing independently of whatever conscious effort each girl is devoting to her craft.

They dance while a third pushes a skeletal hand through the hair of a woman seated front-and-center to this display. Another skeletal hand finds its way under her collar. The skeletal dancer is on her way into the younger woman’s lap, but she's only just received her first beer and brushes the dancer off to ply at the metal cap instead of at her zipper.

Nathalie is the only one here. There was another—a bouncer? the owner? someone she knew?—but the only evidence of their prior existence requires awareness of the visible light spectrum to detect. Specifically, the ability to see red.

The girls don't mind, though, and so long as they don't, neither does Nathalie. Back slouched low in her seat, knees angled wide apart and cold beer balanced at her quad, she watches at a distracted distance, too accustomed to the weave of metal piping through the walls and wooden struts to be bothered by the entire world being inside out.

The world exists solely in shades of blue, black, and white to her. A monochromatic landscape that makes bones glow and flesh vanish into the background noise of her environment. Strangely, her own body looks corporeal if tinted in these ethereal hues. A single living being in a world of bones.

Nathalie doesn’t remember coming here or, more worryingly, why. It feels like slowly waking from one dream into another.

And like a dream, confusion is replaced with acceptance as Nat becomes aware of her scene change. The display is a curiosity; Nathalie tilts her head to take in the moving x-ray. Usually reserved for doctors' offices and bad news, this version has an almost comical effect, to her. Satirical.

What occurs to her a moment later has its own comedy— she was more comfortable on the battlefield. More confident, at least in that she knows what to do in a fight. Here, she's not entirely sure but she assumes it usually doesn't involve looking at fibula and scapula. Her attention shifts to the pipes in the walls, the wiring of the lighting, as she tries to focus on forcing her vision back to normal. Turning stubborn abilities off is something she considers herself pretty good at, but she isn't entirely sure the rules are the same in someone else's body. What she is sure of is that having non-x ray vision would help this feel less like a dream.

“You're not supposed to be here,” is slightly less helpful. Especially when it comes with a clap of a hand on Nathalie’s shoulder from behind.

A skeletal hand squeezes her shoulder, and the man attached to it states a radioactive blue glare down at her from the hollow pits of his empty eye sockets.


“This is my anxiety hell,” Flint Deckard says with all the dryness of a man who hasn't been dry in decades. He slips to the side, hand coming off Nathalie’s shoulder as he circles the couch she's seated on and comes to settle on the arm like a bony gargoyle.

“I guess the next question is why are you here?” Flint asks. “Moreover, why’re you wearing my face?

Nat looks up at the voice, a wry smile for the comment. She's not supposed to be anywhere, she's dead. But she turns, crossing her legs on the couch as she moves to face him, picking up the beer to turn between her hands. "I'm on a trip," she says, which isn't a helpful answer, but it's the only one she has. "I'm supposed to learn something. I think."

It's a little odd. Flint Deckard is a name she knows from the people she grew up with rather than a collection of memories. They are in there somewhere, but she's less familiar with his than some of the others. Part of the ocean rather than one of the islands. "I'm wearing your face because we share something. Shared. But there shouldn't be two of us. Are you a duplicate? A shapeshifter? Telepath?" Her eyes narrow, not in suspicion, but like she's trying to figure out a particularly tricky jigsaw. She looks away, back toward the skeletal dancers. "What a way to see the world," she says, almost off hand. She was pretty sure she understood the lesson from the last leg of her trip, but this one…

Time will tell, perhaps.

Flint scuffs a hand over stubble Nat can't see but knows is there. “Yeah it's a trip,” he says, slouching off the arm of the couch to land on the seat next to her.

“This is hell.” Flint explains, motioning to the dancers. “All that flesh,” he says as if mourning what can't be seen. But it isn't as simple as that. “She's not here. She never comes here.” He adds, slowly turning to look at Nat. “So if you're here to learn something, maybe it's don't care about people because they'll always disappoint you.”

He reaches for her beer without another word.

She doesn't argue with him over the beer; she knows the cheap stuff when she smells it. Instead, she laughs at his guess at her lesson. "That's a ridiculous lesson for edgy teens, Flint." People, she knows, aren't as easy to pin down as that. "No need to go on a metaphysical journey for that one. Especially not in the afterlife." Where such a lesson would be useless.

"People have their reasons, even if you don't understand them. That's your disappointment— that something is going on that you don't know and can't understand." She tips her head in his direction, then looks over at the dancers. "Plus, no one should come here, it's depressing." Moreso, she figures, if all you can see are skeletons when all you want is skin. "Unless you can enjoy the absurdity." Which is probably why this isn't her hell.

Flint scrubs a hand over his skeletal mouth where stubble would be, then tips back the beer and it runs out of his skeletal jaw and down the front of his chest. It would appear, in some regards, things are as they seem.

“Yeah,” Flint says dismissively. “Well, not all of us can be enlightened teenagers or whatever the hell you are.” He admits, pushing himself up off of the couch.

“Your tour guide isn’t here.” Flint explains, apparently aware of what is transpiring between Nathalie and Maes. “But I can take you to him. Shortcut some of this Dante’s Inferno bullshit. Trust me, once you’ve seen the first two circles you’ve seen them all.”

He motions with his head to a door behind the stage. “C’mon.”

"You'll get there one day," Nat says with a warm chuckle, "I believe in you." The oldest, most dead enlightened teen ever, maybe, but one day. She stands up from the couch when he does, lifting an eyebrow curiously at his awareness of her journey.

"If you know the way out," she says as she moves toward the door, "why don't you leave? Find a better afterlife?" She glances to the skeletons, their hints of costume and skin, their apparent eternal torture of promise never meant to be fulfilled.

Afterlife,” Flint echoes with a bitter laugh, tipping back more pointless beer to spill down the front of his suit. “Kid,” he says as they reach the door, his skeletal hand winding around the doorknob, “this isn’t the fucking afterlife.”

He turns the doorknob and

The Ruins of Midtown
New York City

April 5th

the door opens into the driving snow of a blizzard. A drift nearly three feet high greets them in the threshold, which Flint kicks apart before he steps out into the snowy landscape. Nothing beyond the doorway has that radioactive x-ray glow. Though Flint still bears the skeletal visage of some kind of corpse-come-man.

He strides into the waist deep snow, motioning for Nat to follow. “I know a shortcut.”

"Oh," Nat says as she sees the blizzard, feels the cold on her face, and hears the crunch of Deckard's steps through the snow. She gestures between them, the two of them, a twinning that was easier to accept in a metaphysical setting than a real one, the confusion is much clearer now on her face. She turns back toward the door, glancing back to where dancers entertain at what very well could be an end of the world, and end of their world at least. And then back to Deckard as she catches up to him.

"That's all a lot more bleak in there than it was when I just thought it was literal hell."

That's apparently a rhetorical observation, thought, because she continues on a beat later. "A shortcut to what? Maes isn't here." Here, now.

“No,” Flint agrees, marching out between the looming skyscrapers, “but neither are you.” He directs Nat’s attention to the mostly-shattered facade of the storefront they’d emerged from. It looks familiar, a building that was tunneled into by the Ferrymen and used as an exit point to bypass the checkpoints around the Midtown ruins.

But that isn’t what Flint is trying to show her.

“How much is that doggy in the window?” Flint asks without so much as a hint of lyricality. In the broken glass, under the dim glow of distant, ambient lights, Nat sees not herself reflected in the glass, but a blonde woman in a winter parka carrying a satchel of paramedic supplies. As soon as she sees that reflection, Nat recognizes that she’s carrying the satchel herself. She recognizes the medic.

“Grand Central isn’t far,” Flint says with a tiredness and sadness replacing his usual dry wit. But then, reaching inside his suit jacket he produces a crumpled pack of cigarettes. “Mind if I smoke?”

"Maybe my body isn't here," Nathalie says to a reflection that isn't her own, "but I definitely am." She plucks at a strand of blonde hair, evaluating it and the face she wears before dropping it again to return her attention to Deckard. Her own body is both a smear of dust on a far away floor and locked away in a lab, just as out of reach. A dichotomy she would rather not think about. "She's just lucky I don't intend to stay for very long." Or more accurately, that she likely cannot stay for very long, if her previous body hopping experience was anything to go by.

She shifts the satchel, mentally grateful that she knows enough to be able to use what she carries, should her power falter.

"Smoke all you want," she says, a healer who has accepted that sometimes people make unhealthy choices. Even herself. "How bad is it there? In Grand Central?" How overwhelmed will she be? How much of herself and her borrowed self will she be expected to give over? In her own time, she avoided these exact situations as much as she could, at least once she was aware enough to understand the implications of being a healer in an ocean of the sick and dying.

“Beats me.” Flint says with a shrug, though he then motions to a barely visible single trail of prints he’s following. “But you just left there, so, maybe think of a good reason why you had to come back.”

The prints are enormous, waffled in their impression. Snowshoes. Arguably, a type of footwear that Nat is currently lacking.

Flint places his cigarette between his teeth, then takes out a book of matches. The cover reads Old Lucy’s in a script font. He strikes the match and impossibly lights the cigarette against the driving wind, then tosses the match over his shoulder. In that atmospheric dissonance, Nathalie notices that Flint isn’t leaving footprints in the snow now that he’s beyond the threshold.

“So…” Flint says as he guides Nathalie past a wreck of a sedan buried in the snow. “This whole trip, are you actually sticking through to the end? Maes actually going to drag you the whole goddamn way to the bottom of this pit?”

"Thanks for the heads up," Nat says about her assumed identity. She idly wonders how the classic Epstein stoicism would play on the blonde. But perhaps being rude to all her friends wouldn't be the kindest way to treat her time in someone else's body.

"I'll stick to it as long as I'm on it," Nat says, tilting her head in his direction, "stubborn that way. And curious. Although, I thought the frozen level would come later." The devil himself is supposed to be in that one, if she remembers her literature correctly.

Maybe it's a less literal allegory than all that.


Flint is silent in his ignorance, guiding Nathalie the rest of the way through the ruins toward a derelict subway entrance, down through the snow drifts that have swallowed the stairs. Even though Nathalie herself has never walked this route before, there is something inherently familiar about it. Nostalgic, even.

Their path leads Flint and Nathalie down onto the rails of the derelict Orange Line, following the ice-crusted rails into lightless tunnels. Soon, all Nathalie can see of her spectral guide are a pair of glowing blue eyes in the dark and the glowing head of his cigarette. The flashlight in her satchel, however, reveals Flint’s skeletal form, casting a cadaverous shadow on the graffiti-scrawled tunnel wall.

It’s a long walk through the bowels of Midtown to find Grand Central Station, navigating by Flint’s familiarity rather than the coded graffiti waymarkers. Eventually, past checkpoints and dead-ends, they arrive at a source of warmth.

A pair of electric space heaters blaze at the arched entrance to the Ferrymen safehouse. Construction lights illuminate the mosaic tiles of the ceiling and the cracked concrete underfoot. To the side of the entrance, Nathalie sees a stretch of wall where the tile has long-since been stripped, where residents have made a mural of brightly colored fish. Old newspaper and buckets of paint still linger by the unfinished mural, new additions made with every person saved by the Ferry’s good graces, or lost in its service.

“…no, we heard the Company was keeping the data on something called a hard card.” A man says as he crosses in front of Abby.


Nathalie only met Alistair McKeon once after she had been exfiltrated to Canada at the onset of the war, before she vanished. Seeing him here and now is mildly arresting. The blonde woman he’s talking to, though, isn’t familiar at all.


“So do we have someone looking for it?” Meredith Gordon asks as she breezes by Abby, continuing her conversation with Alistair. “And who inside the Company even leaked that info to us? It could be a…”

At some point, as Meredith and Alistair’s voices fade on their passing, Nathalie notices Flint has disappeared. Perhaps it is the presence of the living that did so. But when she looks around for him, she finds someone else entirely.


It isn’t the battle-hardened member of Wolfhound that loiters by the entrance to the old Grand Central Station ticketing booth, but the wiry teenager living in the margins of history. Colette’s bright red hoodie stands out sharp against the gray walls, and her voice lacks the confident inflection Nat is accustomed to.

“I mean, no, it—it’s fine.” Colette says to someone inside the booth. “You can stay as long as you gotta. I’m just—I’m gonna grab some’f my stuff n’then I’ll be out’f your hair.” She dips her head down, then glances over her shoulder at the sound of footsteps. One green eye and one blind eye lock with Nathalie's.

Nat was bracing herself for the dying, the half frozen, the sick, and while she knew there would be people there she knew and knew of, she was not prepared to walk into a woman she had come to think of as family. As a sister. A girl in front of her, but her heart breaks for the life she left behind with the woman Colette will become. She tries to keep tears from reaching her eyes, not entirely knowing the relationship she's stepping into. But the struggle doesn't last more than a moment. She drops her bag and steps forward to pull Colette into a sudden hug. Impulse and grief driving her more than sense.

The noise Colette makes is somewhere between a yelp and a squeal, and Nat can feel her tense up at the sudden embrace. Twisting like a cat in Nat’s arms, Colette only stops struggling once she recognizes who it is doing the hugging. Her brows come together, lips purse in thought, and she squints in distinct confusion.

“Jesus Christ Abby,” Colette mutters, “this some kinda’ weird—hug the gay away thing or something?” She extricates herself from the embrace, pulling her hood up to cover her messy hair.

"What?" The question baffles her for a moment, and then settles in after a beat. "Oh," is said with realization and understanding. She keeps the internal reaction of disgust hidden, her sudden and profound dislike for the body she's found herself in. "No, just happy to see you," she says, stepping back from the hug and giving Colette back her personal space from this particular person. "It's really bad out there," she adds, as a way to change the subject. "How are things in here?"

It's difficult, putting a distance into her tone, speaking to Colette like an acquaintance instead of someone she has bled and shed blood with. It brings a frown to her face, having to do so and also seeing the casual ease with which her friend asks such a question.

Colette stares her down for a moment, then turns sharply and reaches inside of the ticket booth and snatches a backpack from the floor. “Whatever,” she says in a frustrated reply, side-stepping around Abby. But the man Colette was talking to inside the ticket booth steps out on hearing a familiar voice.

His eyes are wide, hair tousled, and expression sullen. But the pang of haunting familiarity that Nat feels on seeing him isn’t some sort of sympathetic vibration from a ghost, but something more personal. Memories buried deep. Repressed.


Doctor Darren Stevens looks like he’s seen a ghost himself. “I’m sorry,” is the first thing he says, averting his eyes. “For slapping you. I didn’t think you’d—uh, come back.”

He isn’t yet the Institute researcher Nathalie remembers in fragmented visions of her time in captivity. He’s just a man on the run from his past.

The whiplash from grief to trauma is also not something Nat was prepared for. Seeing Darren there, it takes moments to sink in and she can't quite grab onto any solid memory. But she knows where she knows him from. Even if he isn't quite that man yet.

The war was easier.

She's tortured doctors from that place— tortured and worse— and she has to lean back against a wall for stability. "Hit me again," she says, "and I'll hit you back." A warning, even though she has no idea what his and Abby's conflict is about. She straightens up and very pointedly focuses on picking up her bag and actually checking on what's in it.

“Fair.” Darren says with a raise of his hands. “I—I don’t have an easy time accepting help from other people. And I don’t—I know you’ve been through your shit, but you don’t really know what it’s like to have an ability that is a fucking curse.”

Darren may not realize it, but he may in fact be talking to the right person. As he talks, Nat finds the bag filled with basic essentials. A first aid kit, high-protein granola bars, energy drinks, a spare flashlight and batteries, extra gloves, scarves, and a ski mask. Things she’d need to work and survive in this cold.

“Did you… come back to give me another lecture or…” Darren glances around. “Or did you forget your keys?”

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Darren, a phantom has returned from whatever ethereal realm he vanished to. Flint Deckard stands a few yards down the station, leaning against the wall next to a utility closet door. His radioactive blue eyes land on Nat and he beckons to her with a skeletal finger.

Nathalie barks a laugh. It is true that the body she's in cannot understand his experience, and it's true that she herself can perfectly understand, but once she sees Deckard again, she's reminded that she's not intending to stay. And Abby cannot help him after Nat leaves her. Nat herself isn't entirely sure she would be willing to do so if she was stuck here, in any case.

"I didn't come back to see you, that should be obvious," she says, shouldering her bag and leaving the doctor behind. The blue eyes and skeleton fingers get her attention rather than anyone else in the room as she moves through it to join him. Darren Stevens is left to his fate, and she to hers. Both of her.

Darren makes a face, frowning deeply at Nat’s back as she walks off. He turns away, stepping back into the ticket booth and shuts the door loudly behind himself.

“He looks fun.” Flint says in a rasp as Nat approaches. He gestures with the cigarette in the air to the metal door beside him that reads Electrical Access, then closes that hand into a fist and hammers the flat of his fist against the door. It clicks and swings open from the impact.

“Your shortcut,” Flint says, nodding to the opening. There’s just a dark flight of concrete stairs going down instead of an electrical maintenance closet. “You don’t need any of this catharsis bullshit.” He motions with his cigarette.

"Super fun," Nat says, glancing back to try to catch a glimpse of Colette rather than the doctor. She lets out a sigh when the door swings open and looks back to Deckard. "Catharsis or reopening an old wound, it's hard to tell the difference sometimes." Last time she tried for it, catharsis got her more blood on her hands than she was comfortable with.

Always tempting though, like a lot of vices.

"Good luck," she says to him, or perhaps to herself as she steps into a closet. If this was Wolfhound HQ, she could certainly expect this to be a prank for them all to chuckle about later— Berlin locked herself in a closet. Seeing her friend leaves her with enough homesickness that she almost wishes that were the case. Death and running from life to life, hopping through time all part of the elaborate plan.

But as she descends the stairs there is no laughter. No prank. Nothing other than the cosmic joke she has found herself living.

The stairwell is dark, more so when Flint slams the door behind her. The descent is spiraling, so much that it becomes hard to tell if Nathalie has made any downward progress at all, save for the fact that the walls are becoming subtly damp as she does. Like descending into a leaky basement.

After what feels like forever, Nathalie passes by a steel-reinforced window overlooking… something. There is frost around the edges of the window, a dark vista of a rural village of small houses. It is snowing, but not like it was in New York. Wet, heavy, sleeting rain. Someone is kneeling in the middle of a dirt street, screaming, sobbing. But it is muffled and distant and there is no way out to whatever place or time that is.

As Nathalie turns and continues the descent, she notices she is no longer carrying the medical satchel. She recognizes her own hands, the clothes she died in, and her own sense of self. In a way it is relieving, in another it feels harrowing. Being herself, here, has more opportunities for vulnerability than anywhere else.

Another several turns of the dark stairs past and Nathalie finds another window. This one not rimed in frost. It shows a desert vista, cracked plateaus and windswept mesas. Somewhere in the American southwest. There are two fingers of smoke rising up in the distance, slow and irregular pops of gunfire. A horse with a saddle but no rider gingerly trots by the window, blood dappled on leather and in the horse’s fur.

But again, there is no way out to this moment, to whoever or whatever life that is. There is just the descent.

And yet down again, and another window. This time impossibly showing a crashing ocean at night. High-masted ships are anchored side by side under a pale moon. The kind of great galleons she read about in history books, of times pre-dating any of her ghosts’ memories. One of the ships is sinking, lifeboats are scattered in the choppy surf. Dark shapes huddled together for survival.

But past this moment, past that epitaph in memory, the descent finally comes to a close. There is an old, wooden door set in an anachronistic concrete frame. The fleur-de-lis handle on the door is elegantly sculpted and made of a subtly tarnished copper. Muffled voices echo from behind it.

And as Nathalie reaches out to take that handle, she hears the crackling of flames roaring in her ears. In the Divine Comedy, the seventh circle of Hell was reserved for heretics trapped eternally in burning tombs.

Maybe Flint Deckard was right.

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