RP:The Nature Of Prophecy

From HollowWiki

Part of the Through A Glass, Darkly Arc

Summary: Uma, Joanie, Marcie, Astrid and Valrae restore the barrier that defends Cenril. Marcie pays the ultimate price for the magic and the spell triggers an ominous vision for Astrid.

An Empty Basement

Many things happened after Valrae's resurrection.  That night, Uma  let her four year old son Marco sleep in the bed with her, which she never does.  He was delighted.  After he drifted off, Uma listened to the creaks and sighs of the house and heard in each and every one of them her execution.  Eventually, she slept poorly.  

The next day, she awaited a summons at work.  It came in the form of Joanie, Hudson's secretary.  

"Am I going to die?" Uma whispered to the older witch, when they were alone in the carriage sent to fetch her.  "Did you know?"

Joanie shook her head.  "They kept it from me too," she replied.  "I told him that it's not your fault.  But he is a little angry.  You should cry, it might help."

Uma took that advice after Hudson leaned over his desk and shouted at her:  "You have one job, and it's to do what I say.  I told you to cancel the ritual."

"I did, but I can't control everyone," Uma sobbed.

"Apparently not.  Get out."

Uma spent the rest of the day in a daze.  The blade had been lifted from her neck but she felt a trepidation because she knew her conversation with Hudson wasn't over.  He showed up before she left for the day, sending her assistant Marcie - whom Uma had yet to fire - scurrying out.  

"You can't just show up here, we have to pretend I'm the mayor," Uma, flustered, told him.  

"I don't care right now, Uma.  This is what you're going to do to fix this."


It's late, and Uma is waiting with Marcie inside the basement of a luxury housing development that's being constructed by the water.  One of Hudson's legitimate projects.  It's not ready for occupancy yet, so it's a safe place to meet for now.  Marcie is feeding a fire that warms a cauldron, suffusing the room with the smell of herbs and the tingling of untethered magic.  Uma is pacing, her heels clicking in the open space.

After the resurrection, Astrid had led not only Valrae, but Lionel to her humble loft apartment. With the Red Witch returned to the living, it felt as if a fog had been lifted from Astrid’s thoughts and spirit. She felt lighter, and the pull of her crystal skull didn’t seem so strong anymore. She could still hear the temptation, but instead of a loud, insistent screaming in her ears, it was a passing conversation caught on a breeze, here in gone in seconds.

Given the likely trauma of being forced into a new, strange body, Astrid had provided Valrae use of her bedroom indefinitely, which meant free reign over the bed, her clothing, shoes, and any hair and skin care products, as well as makeup, that Astrid had to offer.

“The store down stairs is for rent, and I’ve been thinking of setting up a little boutique or salon.” Astrid explained the following morning. Despite the uniqueness of Valrae’s current situation which might inspire others to tiptoe around the woman, or provide her with indefinite space to gain her bearings within her new flesh, Astrid continued her life as if it were any other day; she had barged into her bedroom, stripped out of whatever clothes she had fallen asleep in, and began dressing for a day of work. “You’re more than welcome to come help if you get bored.”

Over the next couple of days, Astrid had spent the majority of her day cleaning up the vacant shop, which provided her distance from not only the skull and distracted her from the slowly growing itch to reach for it, but it also provided Valrae with space enough should she choose to sequester herself. Give the time Astrid spent in the shop, where in the window a ‘Coming Soon: Curl Up & Dye Beauty Salon’ sign sat, Hudson’s goons would easily find her and deliver the summons.

Astrid had arrived to the predetermined location with Valrae, having chatted the entire way about wall colors and lighting fixtures, and whether or not Uma might know a spell to vault the ceiling of the salon without changing the actual structure of the building, “Or would it just be an illusion spell you think?” Excitement was rife, but a measure of unease settled around Astrid as they descended into the basement- why, she wasn’t sure, but she reached for Val’s hand to give it a quick squeeze before releasing her once more, and turning toward the Mayor. “Hey Uma.”

Valrae has been crashing in the loft since the night she was reborn. Beyond helping Astrid with the shop and the daily visits to Lionel, who had left them both after walking them to the door of the loft and set up camp at the Whaler’s Bar with Esche, the reborn witch hadn’t been too keen to venture into the rest of the world.

The morning Astrid strolled in and continued her life as if Valrae had always been a part of it, she’d followed along without hesitation. The slight awkwardness of staying in someone else’s home and wearing their clothes managed to leave quickly. Cenril helped, it was familiar and sentimental. She’d fallen in love here, taken her first steps in the craft here. She’d worked and lived here. Astrid helped, the other witch’s similarities to herself moving beyond the fairness of her hair. Before Larket, Val made a home in a little one room apartment and worked hard for her coin. She used to drink beer on the beach, and laugh with friends, have hobbies beyond attempting to overthrow a monarchy… So life with Astrid was like stepping into the past. It had quickly become a safe harbor from the storm of Valrae’s waiting obligations. It would be increasingly obvious that Val was turning her eye to the responsibility that begged her attention and was instead choosing to live in the ease of her past. Barrier? What barrier? Skulls? What skulls? Instead she would to spend her days working with Astrid, enjoying the activity of it and the easy friendship in her company, and her afternoons with Lionel. It was easy, because the blonde witch made it so, for Val to pretend she was a normal woman for a while.

The arrival of Hudson’s people, like looking in a mirror or catching sight of her own reflection, shattered the illusion. Val knew the mob lord’s goons by sight alone, before they’d even tapped on the glass of Astrid’s shop window and given them the standard attempt at intimidation. The look in Hudson’s eye the morning he’d resolved himself to keeping her quiet was suddenly pulled to the front of her mind. A chill ran the length of her spine. Though her recollection of the night of her resurrection was spotted and missing in some places, the conversation between a retreating Macon and Uma remained clear. Any conclusion Valrae could attempt to draw from what events might have lead to that point were grim. It wasn’t a stretch to assume Hudson had preferred she stay dead. It also wasn’t a stretch to assume he would take the initiative to see her back to the afterlife now if he thought it would protect his family and the empire he’s built.

She doesn’t voice these fears to Astrid, though she seemed to recognize the unease on her own, because Valrae was arrogant enough to trust her own value. Cenril needed the barrier. If she couldn’t use it to bargain for her own life, well, there was no reason to harm Astrid. 

“An illusion charm would be more simple I think… And leave room for you to make changes whenever the whim crosses,” She offers thoughtfully, slipping easily into the chatter as they walked despite the fear that settled into her stomach. Val returns the squeeze of Astrid’s hand and gives her a confident smile she struggles to feel. Emerald eyes dart around the shadows of the basement before landing on Uma. She doesn’t smile or call a greeting, letting Astrid take over the pleasantries while she struggles to gauge the situation. The basement was clearly prepared for craft work. A frown crosses the features of her new face. Her feet pause at the bottom of the stairs, her hand gripping the railing until her knuckles go white. “If you’re expecting me to mend the barrier without knowing how close to the axe my own neck is,” Her voice is clipped and icy, without the hint of fear or nerves that pulsed through her veins, “Then you sorely underestimate both my intelligence and my desire to continue living,”

Uma can hear some of tonight’s meeting attendees enter the unlocked door on the ground floor and make their way down the stairs.  She smiles in a pained way at Astrid, who arrives first.  The young witch had quickly proved very trustworthy, despite the whole resurrecting Valrae thing (which, low key, setting aside threats to her life, Uma wasn’t that upset about).  Her smile falls at Valrae, who shrewdly asks the right question.  Before she can answer, however, there are footsteps behind Valrae and Astrid on the stairs.  The muffled shuffle of sneakers.  It’s Joanie. 

“Peace,” she says, lest Valrae spook at being hemmed in by women under Hudson’s control.  She holds up her hands, away from her wand.  “We should talk about that first,” Joanie continues down the stairs and looks at Uma, who has followed the older witch’s lead and carefully placed her her wand on an end table alongside Marcie’s.  On the basement ground level, Joanie lets herself be relieved of her wand.  The five women naturally align in a circle to the side of the bubbling cauldron and face one another.  

“Thank you for coming,” says Uma, who means it.  She looks at Valrae.  “This is his space and he knows we are meeting here but I swear on the goddess no harm will come to us.  I’ll fight him myself.”  Her gaze flicks to Astrid, who may need to be read into the situation, and then to Joanie, who nods.

“A man named Hudson Landon runs Cenril,” she tells Astrid, unaware that Astrid has met the man.  “As noted, this is his space.”  She gestures at the cavernous room around them.  “He paid for Uma’s deceased husband to be elected and now he tells Uma what to do.”  

Uma shakes her head.  She misses Fitz, even with all his flaws.  This should be his problem.

“I’m his secretary,” continues Joanie.  This is purely for Astrid’s benefit; everyone else here knows this.  “And Hudson has been a friend to witches for a long time, likely because of Valrae.  They had a relationship a long time ago.  I think, probably, it’s very complicated now.”  She looks at Valrae directly before continuing.  “Due to a leak in Uma’s office, Larket found out about the ceremony and threatened Cenril.”  Leave it to Joanie to softpedal the personal reasons why Hudson might have said yes to such a request.  “Unfortunately, that leak is also how they found out it was going forward anyway.”  A beat.  “I feel like I’ve been talking for ten years.”  She swings her gaze pointedly to Uma.

“Hudson is in a difficult situation, which means we are in a difficult situation,” she acknowledges.  She takes a breath.  “He has said in no uncertain terms that Cenril must return ‘Valrae,’” she uses scare-quotes, “to Larket.”  Now it’s Uma’s turn to look directly at Valrae.  “He doesn’t mean you.  But you have to disappear.”

Astrid was a talkative person; the best way to deal with her in most cases was to let her run her well of words dry, or feed her. But the situation presented before her, Valrae’s words, Joanie’s arrival, and the cauldron had found Astrid in a drought, and her mouth gaped slightly. She felt torn between her loyalty to Val and her respect for Uma, and she moved to form the circle only once Valrae had, abandoning her wand to the table that held the others.

The information Joanie presented to her was greedily soaked in, because who doesn’t like gossip? But a weariness surged again, and Astrid’s gaze flicked between Uma and Joanie while occasionally stopping to watch Marcie. “Well, Hudson’s a dick.” She grumbled sourly after a moment; she had reason to be fearful of the man before, given the fact he could have killed her on the beach during the retrieval of the skull, but now a steady dislike for the man thrummed through her that turned to near hatred the moment it was announced that Valrae had to disappear.

“No,” Astrid argued, her brows furrowed angrily. “She can’t.” A beat. “You can’t.” She turned toward Valrae with a whispered plea, as the thought of loneliness and the fear of being left with the skull resurfaced. She had known from the first night Val had stayed with her that the inevitable would occur: Valrae would eventually find her feet, and need space that Astrid’s one bedroom loft couldn’t provide. But like one does with unpleasant thoughts, she pushed far away. The petulant want to refuse to help not only Hudson, but Cenril swam in the forefront of her thoughts due to the situation at hand, but she shut her mouth tight against her anger and childish wishes and stared at the cauldron. Astrid had lost herself within her thoughts, struggling to reign in her anger, but after a moment, she lifted her furious gaze back to Uma, “Have you at least found the leak?” Her anger at not only Hudson, but Larket, and the mole permeated her words; she’d have to send Uma and Joanie both apology baskets later.

Valrae bristles at Joanies arrival. As she turns, her first thought is: I didn’t tell Lionel where we were going. But it was only Joanie. The familiarity eased some of the tension from her shoulders. Her lips move into a heavy frown as she watches the other witches place their wands on the table. Val’s eyes move to Astrid and she can see the struggle play across her face. She shares a pained look before they’re moving into the circle together in solidarity.

Around the cauldron, Val meets Uma’s gaze carefully but doesn’t respond to her promise of safety. Joanie takes up the telling of events and her frown only deepens. “In spite of me,” She interrupts with a humorless snort, crossing her arms protectively around herself. Val looks to Astrid again, old frustration pushing the words out of her lips, “Complicated in this instance means we were sleeping together while he was already engaged to his wife,” It was hardly the worst morally questionable decision she’d made in her life but it surely had the longest lingering consequences. Joanie continues, brushing over Valrae’s snapping interruption with grace. She quiets again, her face thoughtful as the other witch fills in the blank spaces of the story for both Astrid and Valrae now. The diplomatic phrasing would be seen for what it was for everyone in the room now. It was personal.

Some small part of her felt the ache of old wounds, ones she thought might have been healed by now.. Maybe it was being in Cenril again, living with Astrid and feeling as if she’d stepped into the past. Maybe it was her naive notion that regardless of how tangled things had become between them there was a small thread of loyalty that extended just far enough to not wish each other dead. Memories move through her. Cenril’s prison, the meeting in Vailkrian when she’d been freed, the night above the nail salon and prison again, the Shadow Plane..

Uma’s words pull her from her reminiscing. Their eyes meet over the cauldron. Astrid’s colorful, and astute in Valrae’s opinion, comment teased a laugh from her. The tension the room lessens, if only by a fraction. The weight that had been pressing on old bruises releases itself from her. The rules had changed again because she was living again. He wouldn’t throw her back at Larket. The smile was short lived, with Astrid’s whisper her face fell again. She met the other witch’s gaze with a determined one of her own. “I wont,” The promise rolls off of her tongue so quickly it surprises even herself. Her eyes move around the cauldron again, she lingers on Marice, who has escaped her attention for the most part until this point.She contemplates the other witch as Astrid asks the older women about the leak and a nasty little thought skitters across her mind like a rat through an alley shadow. What if Alvina had been the leak? It passes quickly though, because how would she have known about the witches plans to defy both Hudson and Uma? No, it couldn’t have been her.  

“We’ll restore the barrier then,” Valrae pulls a hair band from the pocket of her borrowed pants and gathers her dark curls away from her face. “And I’ll ‘disappear’.” She looks to Astrid and gives her a small smile. “I hardly recognize myself, it won’t even take a powerful charm to do the trick… If you’re okay with a terrorist and fugitive sleeping on your couch…” She shrugs. With her hair situated in a high pony’s tail, Val gives Uma a bright smile. “Where do we start?”

Joanie handles the criticisms of her employer with grace.  She can understand the frustration.  She runs Hudson’s life and knows that sometimes he asks for the impossible.  That he has a tendency to want to control a situation and the people in it if he thinks he can.  Power corrupts.  But he also pays her.  And she still sees good in him.  She also sees good in Valrae.  She’s had a long relationship with her too, and for a long time has been one of the pair’s secret keepers.  Joanie looks between Astrid and Valrae, appraising the way Valrae is quick to reassure the other woman.  “Yes, we know who the leak is,” says Joanie.  “She will be taken care of,” she adds, in the enigmatic tone used by people in this line of work.  She looks at Astrid, as if gauging whether the newcomer could be trusted with the grisly details.  Marcie, of all people, nods with conviction.

Uma, who regrets that she is presently part of a criminal conspiracy, clears her throat.  “Let's talk about that after.  Valrae is right,” she says with a tired smile.  “It's easily done for her to disguise herself.  We just have to be careful with the secret.  Perhaps an oath-keeper's spell on those of us who know.”  Her gaze shifts to Valrae, meaningfully.  She appreciates the other woman's compliance with what must feel like an insane ask.  Valrae is just rolling with it.  Isn't that what they're all doing?  Uma gestures that they should shift to move themselves around the cauldron.  "Let's do this.  Space yourselves out, we'll need to lock hands like we did on that night."  Joanie takes her place beside Valrae.  Marcie is on the other side of Joanie, and next to her is Uma, who holds out her hand for Astrid.

The anxiety and anger that thrummed through Astrid vanished as quickly as Valrae’s promise had been made, and a small smile found her features again. The relief that came with those two words was magnanimous, her sudden found hatred for Hudson dimmed, and her wish to assist Cenril returned in full; a sheepishness fell over Astrid, and she admonished herself silently for her mercurial reactions. She was an adult, damnit!

Joanie’s promise that the leak had been discovered and will be dealt with derailed her internal disciplining, and she nodded in acknowledgement. Astrid had never been one for violence, and despite the fact that Valrae was returned in spite of the shadowy dealings to undermine the resurrection, and Macon’s hostile attempts to stop the proceedings, she felt a slow, violent burn in her gut for whoever plotted against them. Valrae’s determination to repair the barrier grounded Astrid’s thoughts once again, and she gathered her hair into a messy top knot with her own band. “Of course I don’t mind,” Astrid promised through her own smile, before reaching out to take not only Valrae’s hand, but Uma’s as well.

“I’d like to say that I know quite a few spells, especially given Uma’s kindness and her grimoire, but you’ll have to lead me through this.” Both the oath-keeper’s spell, as well as the magic to fix the barrier. Astrid looked at the cauldron with a touch of uncertainty. “I’ve definitely never done this before.”

Valrae is no stranger to rolling with the punches. She returns Uma’s gaze and gives a small appreciative smile of her own. She considers this, her eyes moving back to Marcie quickly before giving a small nod. They move, spreading into a circle around the coudron and the low fire that glows beneath it. Valrae takes Astrid and Joanie's hands and gives the blonde witch another reassuring smile. “It’s old magic,” She says, giving her hand a squeeze. Again she struggles to feel the confidence she’s showing Astrid as warning bells trill in the back of her mind. Her eyes find Joanie’s and she thinks she recognizes fear cross her face too. “We’ll start the chant,” She says, for both Astrid and Marcie, “Uma will lead. You’ll catch onto the words, all you need to remember is the barrier. Think about it growing stronger, think about the light and the protection it offers,”

As the first word leaves Uma’s lips, the flames leap and tongues of orange fire lick over the round bottom of the black cauldron. Joanie adds her voice and power, followed closely by an eager Marcie who only stumbles over them once. Valrae looks to Astrid one last time before nodding and letting the words spring from her own lips. The fire flashes emerald. A familiar, hungry power now crouches in the room and curls around the witches like black smoke. As if one of the crystal skulls had been placed in the cauldron, the dark energy permeates the spell and calls to the witches greedily. A ring of light slowly forms around them, growing brighter as they chant. The fire belches out one last time, a pillar of flashing flame between them, before it dies completely. The last thing Valrae sees in the flash of light are the wild, desperate eyes of Marcie.The power leaves them like a thunderclap and in the new dark someone screams.

With the spell finished, Val’s hands slip from Joanie and Astrid. She fumbles in the dark, falling back on her butt as her legs give underneath her weight. Someone’s power flashes out at the candles spring back to life. The witch blinks, the heel of her hand pressing against her temple to ward away the ache that’s started to pound inside her head. Someone screams again.Valrae scrambles to her feet, frantic until she spots Astrid, and cannot make herself move around the cauldron. Dread sinks in her stomach painfully. Bubbling, wet coughs fill the silence of the basement and echo impossibly loud in her mind. She can see a small, pale hand spasming wildly on the floor.

Valrae doesn’t need to see to know what was happening. Marcie was dying. Beyond the cauldron, scarlet ran from the woman’s eyes and bubbled from her lips. She thrashed wildly and clawed at her throat as she drown in her own blood. As her body stills, Valrae pulls her arms around herself and finds Uma’s eyes.  

Ancient and powerful magic is like a game of Russian roulette.  Sometimes it claims a life, sometimes it doesn't.  Uma had dared to hope that they would make it unscathed - surely lightning cannot strike twice - but with that clap of darkness the weakest among their number, Marcie, is snatched from them.  The spell kills all light and Uma and Joanie feel a sharp tug as Marcie's body crumples and her slight weight sags between them.  

"Marcie!" exclaims Uma, as the young secretary yanks herself free of her grasp.  There's only darkness and the sound of someone writhing about on the ground.  Their eyes are still adjusting.  "Light!" she calls out, belatedly, like a person honking too late after being cut off in traffic.

It's Joanie, now having found her wand, who illuminates the space, in time for them to watch Marcie's eyes dim forever, her body twitch one last time before slumping in a pool of blood.  

Uma is trembling as she meets Valrae's gaze.  "I thought maybe this time it wouldn't--"

"Old magic is greedy magic," interrupts Joanie, squatting beside Marcie and pulling from her pocket a handkerchief, which she uses to wipe the dead girl's face.  She manually closes the girls eyes, murmuring, “As we all come from the Goddess to experience life, in death so shall we return to Her to experience peace.”  

Uma is wiping away tears with the heel of her hand.  "No, no, no," she is whispering over and over, looking at Marcie.

Joanie rises to a stand beside Uma.  There is some blood on Joanie's white sneakers.  "I'll have some people come get her and we'll have a funeral," she says, soberly.  By the dim light of her wand, Joanie's face, which usually bears lines and other signs of age, looks younger, a shadow of the young witch she used to be.  "Sometimes horrible things have to happen," she says.  Joanie's face is composed but tears continue to slide down Uma's face.  Joanie reaches out and strokes her hair as if Uma were her daughter.  "I can feel the barrier.  It feels stronger than before."

"Of course it does," murmurs Uma, still looking at Marcie.  She wipes her face with her sleeves and finds what passes for resolve as she looks at Astrid and Valrae.  "This city belongs to the people and he won't take it."  A beat.  Her eyes still glimmer with wetness.  "I'm glad you're back."

As the magic coalesced and grew, Astrid had felt an insistent tugging at her core, as if hands were pulling on a rope tied to her soul. She stumbled through the words of the spell, her focus split on repairing the barrier, and keeping her soul within her body. It wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling- it came to her each time she reached for the power that resided in the skull she had retrieved. But something heavy hung in the air around her, and her senses felt the crackles of energy in the air as the spell grew.

It wasn’t the familiar voices of the residents of her crystal skull that called to her this time though, but the power itself. While her mouth moved to mumble a semblance of the spell out, her mind was at war, simultaneously begging the gods, the goddess, the powers that be to leave her to her task. ‘Not me, not me, not me,’ she repeated eternally, and the grip she held on Valrae and Uma tightened until her knuckles whitened and her bones ached. And then, darkness.

She swam the darkness, searched for purchase, pushed up, and up, and up still. Hands clawed at her, calling her home, demanding she stay. But a final shove, a desperate fight and she surfaced in her consciousness again. Around her, she heard the panic, felt it growing in her own gut until she met Valrae’s eyes, but the fog remained, and when she tried to shake it off, it thickened, constricting around her brain until her vision darkened once again. “Val- val, I can’t -.”

A greedy inhalation filled Astrid’s lungs cut off her words, and the sound of her gasp echoed through the room. Magic leaked from the young witch though her words, bolstering them to the point they reverberated through the room despite the whisper on which they were spoken.

"Gilded, Boneblack.

A rend, a crack.

Faces, people, things mirrored back.

Like calls to like

-Claws to like.

One becomes many, and many- one.  

-Foement, Gudgeon, Dungeon,

… Haven.

Shadows born from what you leave behind,

Are blinded by light from fates entwined."

Astrid fell silent, and collapsed into herself, her body curling into a fetal position. The power that spilled from her had stopped, but her words seemed to hang in the air long after the final echo died away.

Valrae was collecting herself, forcing her lips to untwist from her dismayed frown and into something that could resemble a smile for Joanie and Uma when power filled the room again. She looked to Astrid and felt her heart drop from her chest. The witch moved across the room quickly, her hand outstretched to her friend as she called her name. Something stopped her though, instinct barring her reason and emotion to stay her hands. Instead, she waved Uma and Joanie away and whispered, “Don’t fight it,” as she watched the vision take Astrid.

The whispered words hung in the air long after they were uttered.

Valrae was stunned and moved too late to catch the other witch. She cursed as she crouched beside her and ran her hand soothingly over her hair. She whispered a jumbled mix of promises about getting her home and letting her rest while eyeing the other two witches in a silent plea for help.

Getting her home wasn’t terribly difficult. Val said her goodbyes and the unspoken ‘until next time’ hung in the air without any of the women voicing it. Marcie was quietly and discreetly removed. Hired muscle saw both of the younger witches to the loft. Valrae filled the time with bouncing between relief and worry for Astrid. The words of her prophecy rattled around in her brain until her stomach hurt. What did they mean? Boneblack. Claws… None of it sounded particularly appealing. She turned it over and over again, curled on Astrid’s couch and drinking enough to tea to make it all taste bitter. Dungeon. She picked at the word until it no longer held meaning. Lionel filled her thoughts and dread settled back into her chest.

When she finally worked herself into exhaustion she curled into the bed next to Astrid and let the sound of her breathing lull her to sleep.