RP:Why Aren't Cenril Witches A Thing?

From HollowWiki

Summary: Hudson and Uma are having dinner to discuss two important Cenril policy objectives: placing an embargo on Larket and getting Frostmaw to back them up. They are interrupted by Astrid, a fellow witch, who has been displaced from Larket. She seeks advice about furthering her magical training, and Uma promises to send her a beginner's grimoire that she used once. The two discuss the possibility of better organizing the Cenril witches, who have now swelled in number thanks to Larket refugees. Hudson, who is disturbed by her resemblance to the late Valrae, walks Astrid back to the inn. Hudson tries to make himself sound important but Astrid is very focused on the fact that his mum writes best-selling trashy romance novels.

The Whaler's Bar, Cenril

Uma and Hudson have been engaging in what Hudson calls a “working dinner”. Hard to roll up to the mayor’s office when you’re the mob, it’s better to at least put up the pretense of separation of government and organized crime. Hudson had been good friends with Fitz, Uma’s late husband, so a dinner between them might seem somewhat normal. And so they find themselves at Whaler’s washing down a large basket of hot wings with ale, discussing important policy objectives. Hudson is explaining that he’d like Cenril to place an embargo on Larket, both for punitive reasons (re the barbaric execution of Valrae) but also with the idea of his organization profiting through black market dealings. The plan would be more effective if other regions participated. Uma listens with a pained expression, pointing out briefly that Larket is an aggressive city and that the only way this would work is if Cenril would cozy up to Frostmaw for protection in the event of hostility. “Well,” muses Hudson, sinking back into his side of the booth and putting his arms up, “look into it. We need a military ally, it’s clearly not gonna be Larket.”

Astrid hadn’t stepped foot in Cenril since Desparrow’s attack, and the outbreak of lycanthropy from the wolves he unleashed on the city that night. That was the first time she had lost her home in Lithrydel. Now, years later and with a new regime in place, she finally returned and moved along the street toward the Mayor’s office where she then learned that the Mayor was not present, but could be found down at the Whaler. Astrid eventually made it to the bar, after meandering through the streets to take in the changes to the city, and as soon as she stepped over the threshold of the establishment, her blue gaze trailed over the faces present before finally finding Uma. Having never met the woman before, she was relying on pure description alone, but she did pause to ask the bartender if that was, indeed, the Mayor; no need to make a fool of herself unnecessarily. Astrid approached the pair, just hesitant enough that when she spoke, she wouldn’t interrupt someone mid-sentence. “Sorry to intrude like this,” she began, pausing only long enough to offer an apologetic smile to both Hudson and Uma, “But I was hoping to speak to you, Mayor Abelin.” A brief glance thrown toward Hudson indicated perhaps she wished to do so in a more private setting, or with less of an immediate audience, but she wasn’t going to outright ask or suggest it. She wasn’t that rude.

For the record Uma looks like herself presently: black flats, loud, floral print dress and face otherwise bare of makeup except for a gash of red lipstick. She turns when Astrid approaches, her focus shifting to the other woman and quickly appraising her: fellow witch. She smiles reflexively, revealing perfect white teeth. Hudson is likewise appraising Astrid. He thinks: she reminds him of Valrae. The old Valrae, the one he knew, before it all went sour. The Valrae who wore hot girl dresses but never shoes, who screamed at him in a cramped bodega once. The memory feels foreign. Uma seems to be of like mind that there’s a resemblance for she briskly looks at him in the manner of a knife point before returning her gaze to, and addressing, the woman: “Absolutely, let me scoot out of here so we can chat privately.” Uma gives Hudson another warning look as she slides out of the booth, but he’s drinking his beer and feigning disinterest. Uma may be his puppet mayor but she’s friends with his wife, and besides, he’s done flirting with beautiful women, he reminds himself, watching Uma touch Astrid’s elbow to indicate that they should move a few booths down, where they can speak with relative privacy. Uma is a better, more composed politician than Fitz ever was, he reflects, watching her sink into the seat opposite Astrid. She extends her hand across the table. He can’t hear what she says, which is, “Blessed be,” but he can see her sly smile. “Could I get your name? How can I help?”

Astrid shifted beneath the twin appraisals, but maintained a friendly and warm smile which grew slightly wider as Uma extracted herself from the booth. “I hope I’m not pulling you away from something important,” she said softly, both as a formality, and yet another touch at an apology. Before Uma could lead her to a new booth, she turned to offer Hudson a murmur of thanks; she didn’t know the man, but she still felt a twinge of guilt for interrupting his conversation and making off with his partner. Once settled into the booth across from Uma, Astrid accepted the woman’s outstretched hand and shook it in greeting before withdrawing to cross her arms over the table. Unlike the Mayor, Astrid wore no makeup, and instead of a dress, she wore a pale blue blouse over black leggings, and simple, black slippers. Her mass of blonde hair was bunched up at the nape of her neck, with a wand stuck through to keep the messy coiffure pinned where it was. She wasn’t one to dress up unnecessarily, and apparently, meeting the new Mayor of Cenril wasn’t a necessary reason to bust out her best. “My name’s Astrid Beckette, and I- well, I’m not -exactly- sure where to start.” She paused, chewed her lower lip habitually, and then sighed in resignation, having already given up at trying to have a formal conversation. “I’m looking for someone who can teach me, I guess. I’ve got the magic, I just don’t know how to use it.” She paused again, manicured brows furrowing as she looked down at the table, her expression almost sheepish. “When I lived in Larket, my neighbor was helping me. She taught me a few menial spells meant to keep up with the housework. But then the fermine plague hit, and she ended up dying.” If there was one adjective to accurately describe Astrid, it was ‘talkative’. She would have continued to spill out her story, were it not for the belated realization that she’s, perhaps, already overshared.

“He can wait, and if he doesn’t feel like it he’ll just go home to his lovely wife and children,” says Uma with cheerful intent, flicking her wrist dismissively in the general direction of Hudson. Never a bad moment to drop a wife bomb! She’s got Alvina’s back. (Hudson is now reading sports scores in today’s paper, which he took from a nearby table.) “A beautiful name,” murmurs Uma politely as the other witch introduces herself. Her eyebrows lift at Astrid’s request for magic lessons. This request comes with a lot of unnecessary, somewhat awkward detail. Mentioning a death always throws a pall over things, yikes. Uma frowns sympathetically but is thinking, in her dry way: nice girl, but wow, that’s a Lot. Uma sucks in a careful breath of air. “I am so sorry about your neighbor, that’s terrible.” A beat. “And, well,” she continues, now wondering why no consortium of witches exists for this exact circumstance. “We should really be better organized in Cenril,” she sighs. “Perhaps with the influx of refugees from Larket.” She taps a finger on the table and then resumes speaking, “Did you have a particular type of magic you were studying? I have a grimoire of basic spells I can lend you, but as you no doubt know many witches specialize.” She puts a hand over her heart. “I modify agricultural yields to make um, well for example, seedless grapes,” she smiles weakly, because it seems silly now, in the wake of Kahran, “but when I was younger and hadn’t quite ‘sold out’ to big agriculture I specialized in barriers and shields.” She folds her hands and considers Astrid expectantly. “If you haven’t chosen ... Might I recommend, in present times, planar or shadow magic?”

Astrid didn’t appear the least bit embarrassed about her overshare; it was a long suffered compulsion, talking, and one she had grown used to overlook despite the usual discomfort others found themselves in. She was an awkward duck. “I never got far enough in my teachings to actually consider a particular area of focus,” Astrid said, shrugging. The offer of Uma’s grimoire thereafter was met with a short, enthusiastic nod, “I would appreciate that so much! I promise I’ll take great care of it.” As the other witch continued with the mention of agricultural magic, the expressive blonde eyes widened with a genuine look of interest. “Man, if I knew how agricultural spells, I wouldn’t have had to spend so much time in my garden!” A brief pang of wistfulness washed over her features in memory of that aformentioned garden, but the expression was there and gone again as Uma continued with her explanations and suggestions, replaced instead with mild confusion. “Planar or shadow magic? What all does that entail? And who could I speak to in regards to that?”

Hudson watches as Uma reaches into her handbag to slide a notepad and pen across the table to Astrid. “If you write your address, I’ll have it sent to you,” Uma says, her mouth curving into a smirk at Astrid’s excitement over agricultural spells, of all things. Witches need some sort of cultural center to train with one another, she thinks. “Planar means dimensional magic,” Uma explains, not providing more context for its use beyond that. Astrid seemed an unlikely spy for Kahran but maybe that’s why she’d be the perfect one. “Shadow magic involves manipulating shadows.” The words have barely exited her mouth but Uma pauses, feeling silly. Astrid says she barely had mastered housework spells. To suggest that she suddenly become Ms. Shadowcaster is ludicrous, reveals to Uma just how frayed she has become. No, shadow or planar magic isn’t right for this young woman. The war will be front on all fronts. They’ll need people making food supplies, too, and healers. Uma sighs. “Perhaps we should start with the basic grimoire and you can tell me what interests you,” she suggests instead, glancing up Hudson, who has paid the bill and risen from his table to head outside, where he has a smoke. Uma, believing him to have left, turns her smile back on Astrid, glancing at the notepad. “We should really organize the witch community in Cenril,” she remarks. “Larket was a good example, before.”

Astrid took up the pen, and quickly wrote down ‘Frostmaw Tavern/ Fort’ before sliding the utensil and notepad back to the Mayor. “I stay at both, so if I’m not at one, I’m likely at the other.” The explanation of both areas of magic were met with looks of uncertainty, born from her limited abilities with magic and lacking skills, rather than the actual subject matter. It would be rather interesting to manipulate shadows, or bridge dimensions; but that would be a while yet to come. “I agree. Basic spells is a good starting point for me.” Less intimidating, for sure. Her attention followed Uma’s then, and she watched Hudson leave before returning to the mayor once again, more interested in their conversation than the married man. “I’d gladly help with the organization. To provide a more centralized location for refugees of Larket and all. How many witches have taken up residence here in Cenril? Is there a local coven already established?”

Uma tucks the notepad and pen back into her handbag. She nods in agreement with the revised magical education game plan they’ve established. This offer of help in organizing is music to her ears, though. She looks at Astrid like she’s been sent a literal saint to help her make sense of the madness that is Cenril in the wake of Kahran and a flood of refugee witches. “Not a formal one to which all are invited, but that should change,” she says. “I don’t know the number now but we should take a census of all inhabitants, that’s a good idea, or at least count the number who show up to the coven.” Asking just the witches to identify themselves would be too triggering. Uma smiles wanly at Astrid. “I’m going to head home as I have to relieve my babysitter and care for my son, but you’ve given me a lot to think about,” she says, pulling her handbag over her shoulder and sliding out of her booth. She waits for Astrid to get out too, and the women move to the door of the establishment. Outside, with their coats on, Uma turns to Astrid and shakes her hand. “Thank you, I’ll send the grimoire very soon,” she promises, squeezing the other woman’s forearm before peeling away to step into the street, where her formal mayoral carriage escort has been waiting this entire time. Hudson waits until it pulls away to speak, he’s been smoking an herbal cigarette off the side of the building. He stubs it out now, funnels smoke away from them as he emerges out of shadow. “You look like somebody I knew once,” he tells Astrid, smiling genially. “A witch, too. Do you need a ride home?”

Astrid followed Uma out of the booth, and the tavern, but rather than immediately pulling on her coat, she slung it over her left arm, while her right moved to accept Uma’s farewell. “I look forward to the next time we meet,” she said, smiling genuinely before stepping back and allowing the mayor to depart for home. Used to the frigid temperatures of Frostmaw, she forwent pulling on her coat immediately, and instead left it slung over her arm. Immediately pulled into her own thoughts once the carriage began pulling away, Astrid hadn’t expected Hudson to still be present, let alone speak, so when he broke the silence, she visibly jumped, squeaked, and spun to face him, her hand fluttering to her heart. “Oh you scared me,” she breathed through a sheepish grin, pausing thereafter to take a few seconds to recover. “I’m staying at the Inn tonight,” she explained once her nerves had settled, gesturing to the northeast, “So, it’s not too far a walk.”

Hudson grins boyishly as Astrid tells him he’d scared her. “Woah woah. Easy,” he says, watching the tension leave her. He falls into step beside her, inviting himself on her walk. “I’ll walk with you, I’m heading that way anyway, and Cenril has more than a few things that go bump in the night,” he says, amusement undergirding his tone. “Don’t worry,” he continues, glancing at her with a mild smile. “Many of them work for me.” He extends a hand, introducing himself, “Hudson Landon.” He used to lie about what he does for a living. Sometimes he still does. But sometimes it’s fun to carry a little swagger. To match the attitude, he’s brought with him a musty air of herbal cigarette with him that dissipates as they walk. He puts his hands in his pockets and glances intermittently at Astrid as they walk. The resemblance is uncanny. It takes him back to his earlier days of putzing around with Valrae in the city, before they’d both made all the bad decisions. “Uma’s good people,” he says casually. “Doing a great job as mayor. Her late husband was one of my groomsmen. She’s very good friends with my wife.” He’d just wife bombed himself out of an abundance of caution. He feels a cheerfulness now having done it. Like he’d strapped himself into a seatbelt. Not that he felt reason to be concerned about his conduct but the woman’s resemblance to Valrae has raised his hackles. “Where do you live normally, if not around here?” he asks pleasantly.

Astrid wasn’t ungrateful for the company on her walk, especially given the seedy reputation Cenril had last been able to boast when she was a citizen, and Hudson’s confirmation that things hadn’t quite improved further concreted her impression of the town. “Thanks,” She said, her gratitude expressed with a warm smile before taking up his hand in a friendly shake. “I’m Astrid. Astrid Beckette.” Where typically she might express hesitation at the idea of walking back to her place of residence with a stranger, his connections with the Mayor had given her excuse enough to trust Hudson, “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She fell silent then as he continued, and as he spoke, she mulled his name over, but put on a decent show of listening by nodding here and there. ‘Wife’ and ‘groomsmen’ manage to make it past whatever thought had claimed the majority of her attention, leaving just a wide enough hole that his question of her permanent residence finally managed to snag her attention. “I have a house in Larket. Buuut, I don’t exactly plan to go back there anytime soon.” If at all. “So, at the moment, I’m staying in Frostmaw with a friend.” She a sidelong glance onto him following her answer, and a touch of tempered suspicion settled in the crease of her eyes. “You aren’t related to E.L. Landon, are you? The writer?”

Hudson wonders, for a second, if Astrid’s familiarity to him is not Valrae-related but rather a result of their having met before, like when he was drunk or something. Well before he was the mob, from back when he was just living with his mum and hitting the bars. But he doesn’t think he’s heard that name before, it doesn’t even sound familiar. No, her familiarity to him is all Valrae. Well, vintage Valrae. It’s weird and comforting at the same time, as if by being kind right now he’s apologizing to Valrae, who died so horrifically. “She’s my mum, actually,” he answers Astrid’s question. “I can get you an autograph if you’re into the trashy romances, Astrid Beckette,” he adds, taking a tiny amount of amusement in repeating her name. They continue on and Hudson’s mind wanders, he tries to guesstimate where his wife is in the bedtime process. He’d like to catch his daughters before bed but he doubts he will. Alvina will wait up for him, though. He should stop for dessert on the way home, she’ll like that. Cannolis, maybe. They’ve reached Astrid’s destination, and Hudson opens the door for her. “Here you are. Have a nice night,” he says.

Astrid wasn’t a die-hard fan of Landon’s novels, believing the rumors that the trilogy was born of fanfiction, but she was a coinsurer of trashy romance novels, so when Hudson not only divulged his relationship to the author, but also offered an autograph, her breath hitched and she barely managed to bite back a squeal of excitement. Now was -not- the time to fangirl. “A girl can never get too much romance,” she stated, “and, if you just skip over all the sex, the plot of her books are pretty good.” E.L Landon had a way of ending on a cliffhanger that forced her readers to buy the next installment- or at least, Astrid would argue such. “Do you think she’d sign my book copies?” Where anyone else might be embarrassed of their seedy collections, Astrid showed no signs of blushing. When they came to the Inn, she smiled, offered a short wiggle of her fingers in a quick wave, and crossed the threshold. “It really was a pleasure meeting you Hudson. Travel safe.” And with that, the blonde disappeared deeper into the inn.

Go figure, the woman's more impressed by his mother's smut novels than his position in Cenril's criminal underbelly. Hudson can take that on the chin, it's a frequent occurrence after all. Has been happening literally his whole life, it's just only recently has he had a chance in this competition. He's not sure he knows a lot about the plots of his mother's books, though, but it's a mite bit awkward the way she says 'all the sex.' It's the addition of the words 'all the' that had done it. He grimaces and releases a chuckle or two, the kind that suggest this topic can kindly come to a close now. "Hey, I know she would," he says, about getting Astrid's copies signed. "If you bring 'em to Cenril, yeah," he adds, lifting his hand to mirror the blond witch's wave. "Take care," he says, after her, before turning back into the night and heading in the direction of the desserts place.