4936/The Quiet Game

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The Quiet Game
Date of Scene: 29 January 2021
Location: Astral Realm
Synopsis: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen face off against the Aztec god of winter. With a bit of sweet talking and conning, no one dies. Yet.
Cast of Characters: Meggan Puceanu, Anthony Druid, Amora, John Constantine, Julio Richter, Jacqueline Falsworth

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
The frigid approach of dark, horrifying winter recalls glacier-crowned volcanoes and the moaning crack of ice. In this aspect, Itztlacoliuhqui towers over frost-shrouded bones he stands upon, the size of a respectable building. He dwarfs even Amora by a significant span, though crooks forward slightly and leans but a little on the man-sized broom clutched in a bony hand with fierce, formidable grace. Stars shine on the jaguar skin cloak pinned over his shoulder. That black face under its blindfolded shroud turns with unerring ease towards the interlopers on the path, sickle frown just barely framing black teeth behind white lips.

Light dwindles bit by bit until only the lord of frost and god of cold emanates much of a natural glow. The music beyond the hill veers between celebratory and choral, the same chant played in a rising and falling threnody that threshes the saccharine pop song.

The world shakes, not a little, when he speaks. Like the Enchantress, he is understandable regardless of one's native tongue, for all his is a brutal application of Nahuatl. "You dare to come onto my road?"

Anthony Druid has posed:
Anthony Druid can feel the chill, even as he wields fire, the elements that come to his command swirling a wreathe of flame that wraps and spins around him. The man called Druid hovers, holding his hands out to the sides.

"We dare. We dare much. We dare all to protect the life of the innocent and the sanctity of our world. Who are you, then, to invade us? A god? Show us your followers. Show us your temples," he says. Yes, he's probably pissing the deity off, but he has gods of his own and he's not going to bow to this one.

Amora has posed:
With Anthony moving forth to challenge the God (As Amora sort of expected to happen), she takes the change of that distraction to take a step to the side, hopes of countering it's arrival now dead in the water.. Or more like dead in the ice.. It's very quiet gestures that she does, using her most subtle magic to conceal herself from magical and normal sight.. In her place she leaves one of her images.. A measure of concentration needed to have it interact, but it should do the trick..

With the cover of her magic (hopefully), she begins to step forward, giving Itzi a wide berth, the aim not really to go *against* him, but more to circumvent so she can take a peek down one of the other paths... Not that her 'image' doesn't interact.. Eyes go to Jacqueline and her heart..

"That's the heart that woman used to empower herself. The victim should lie beyond that portal over there.." she nodding to the mural on the end of that left path. Then she asks her, "What did you see on those other paths?"

Perhaps hoping a key to getting out of here will be there. "Regardless, think we may have to just get to his followers so we weaken his hold in this place." easier said than done!

John Constantine has posed:
Constantine moves cautiously forward, hands lifting in a gesture of non-aggression. "No one's doing anything just yet, mate," he bids the puissant god. "Let's just say we're all here to talk. Sure we can find a compromise or something where no one has to die or get hurt, aye?" he offers. "Maybe you shuffle on, head back down to Mexico. Leave New York alone. We've enough problems of our own at the mo' without adding you harvesting fresh sacrifices," the magus suggests.

Julio Richter has posed:
For his part, Julio is buried behind some kind of shadowy veil of spectral earth, thrashing in slow motion against the tangling, serpentine body of Cipactli. He looks like he's trying to shout, or gasp for breath, or... oh, no, he's biting. He just bit the Aztec God of the Earth. Who is not only notoriously hungry for human sacrifice, but an actual //crocodile.// What if he bites back, Julio? What is your plan then?

Jacqueline Falsworth has posed:
Still curled around the heart, Jacqueline hears Amora's voice and glances towards her. The winter god isn't something she can combat directly. Not unless she can get better footing. And unless she can find some way to protect the heart from freezing completely.

"There's a building down the far path," she tells Amora, referring to the righthand path. "The music comes from it. But the path to it stretches out the closer you get to it. The center path is silent, save for the cries of fear. But I couldn't get very far down it, either."

She looks down at the heart in her hands. "I don't know if this is useful or not," she admits. "But if it can help a victim, I think we need it." Otherwise, it's a huge liability.

She's happy to leave the mages to fight the god, if it means she can rescue the innocents. She tucks her feet beneath her, moving into a position she can sprint from. "Let me see what else I can find."

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
"What do you offer, Liar?" The vibrations from the god's voice ripple away. Cool, almost intellectual dispassion deviates from the bloody, belligerent tales preserved in codices and popular culture. Snow showers fall in whirling dervishes, flurries that sweep the visibility beyond a narrow band including him to almost nil. Wander away a few meters and good luck finding your way back to your friends, making the disembodied music that much more surreal in a place defined as surreal.

Fires wink black or pale, pale shades of their former self, even where magic is invoked. The monochromatic realm itself practically defies any intense colours. "With no warm breath or rich harvest laid before me--"

His head lifts. Turns, but a fraction, possibly seeing beyond Anthony's great stand to Amora's glamoured form. His white lips lengthen, teeth flashing. "Only the smallest of offerings to draw my attention. I hear everything."

That cold breeze ripples around him, but he holds still. The dimmest melodies of sighs and rattling bones or reeds accompany him. "I ask again. What have you to give me?"

Anthony Druid has posed:
Anthony Druid stands defiant, or rather floats defiant. Monochrome or not, Dr. Druid almost cuts an impressive figure here, hard to believe given how he is often seen as something of a figure of fun in modern pop culture. "Your bloodthirst does not impress me," he says, "My gods, too, have taken sacrifice and deserving are they of it! ALATOR! CERNUNNOS! BRIGIT! MORRIGAN! UPON THEIR POWERS I CALL, SHIELD US, MIGHTY ONES, FROM THE BLASPHEMOUS POWER OF THIS WRETCH, WRAP US IN THY GLORY! I CALL US WARDED AND UNTOUCHED. YOUR VICTIM SHALL BE RESTORED, MONSTER, AND YOU SHALL BE LEFT IN THIRST AND DESPAIR!"

Amora has posed:
Drat. Amora hates these types that pierce her illusions. But this is it's domain afterall... She frowns a touch, thoughtful, looking around.... Eyes go to Anthony and his defiance, then to Constantine and his bargain ..., mmmm.. Then to the heart. "We are facing an aztec God. In it's domain, Dr. Phil." she STILL has to learn Anthony's name damn it! "Brute force won't get us through." or at least it's not her preferred manner! She then looks at Jacqueline, "The person who used to have that heart won't need it anymore." she is being practical, not callous! "We can offer it in exchange for the other woman's life perhaps." she suggests. "And for our passage."

Her images appear to shimmer and coalesce together back into one. No sneaking past the God apparently!

But now she frowns. Apparently someone did disappear. "Where's the druid..?" she asks of Julio.

John Constantine has posed:
John rounds on Druid and hisses through gritted teeth. "Cool your bloody jets mate, this is not the time and place for it," he tells the magician. The magus makes eye contact with Amora when she flickers into existence, nods subtly. Her gambit apparently resonates with his pragmatic side.

"Oye then," John bids the god. He starts walking a half-circle, distancing himself from Anthony and moving towards Amora's orbit. "Let's call it quits on good terms, eh?" he suggests. "You're just doing what you do. Can't change the color of a jaguar's spots, y'know? So what say you take the heart from the lass, hand off your captives, and you shag out of here unmolested," John offers. "You can take all your worshippers with you too, I'm not one to stand in the way of a personal choice."

Behind his back, Amora would see John's fingers waggling to weave magic on his fingertips like a cat's cradle. It resolves into a tiny willow-the-wisp, flicking this way to guide Amora's attention while it searches for the missing mutant magician.

Julio Richter has posed:
Good question, Amora! When we last checked in on our boy Julio, he had been metaphysically buried alive and, in his desperation to escape, bit down hard on the apparition of Cipactli, the primordial caiman monster whose dismembered body formed the Earth from nothingness in Aztec mythology. He's hard to find because he has been deliberately hidden behind a cloak of spectral Earth to shield him from the sight of Itztlacoliuhqui. Anyone with the eyes to see past that cloak might discern that chomping down on Cipactli was -- let me consult the judges, here -- a really dumb thing for Julio to do! His body is being wracked by some kind of spasms, like he bit down on the third rail instead of just the ancient god who governs his mystical domain, and his eyes are aflicker with some kind of psychic vision as Cipactli tries to commune with him without overloading his puny human brain!

Sorry, mutant brain. Was that racist? We can remove this in post, right?

Jacqueline Falsworth has posed:
"Do we really want to feed the beast?" Jacqueline asks of Amora, her British tones clipped. She certainly doesn't want to feed the beast. That said, she suspects the Enchantress may be right about the heart's utility.

Then, of course, John's offering the bloody thing up -- bloody in a quite literal way, given the red stain crystalizing on Jacqueline's fingers. "Brilliant," she mutters sardonically to herself.

She eyes the way back to the other paths, particularly the one in the middle, where it's possible the girl, Leena, may still be.

"Right," she says sharply, scowling. "Be right back, mates." She gives her companions a tight, humourless smile she expects none of them to particularly notice or care about, and then takes off toward that middle path. Her spitfire lights up the trail behind her.

The heart is still in her hand.

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
"Heed us, sister seed, who is sustenance,
Heed us, Curved Obsidian, for we entrust
Into your hands our sister."

That eerie refrain rings out in falling and rising voices, redoubled against kick drums and high-tempo EDM refrains from the snow-shrouded path stretching some unknown distance behind Itztlacoliuhqui.

In their favour, he hasn't unleashed that broom or engulfed everyone in a towering block of ice. Julio does not seem to register much to him any more than Amora, so the woman's question brings a pause. "Yes. Now that you have my attention, consider carefully your offers. Can you afford to rouse my wrath like the Sprout can?"

The blindfolded being slowly shifts posture, bending forward until his great head is more in line with their collective height. "The tithe is mine by right."

A glowering pause. "Do not hold out scraps and expect an emperor's feast."

Vibrations tremble through the ground when Jacqueline runs at lightning speeds, speeds that might warrant lightning. He could turn and rush, but that bleak visage remains firmly upon the two -- Constantine and Enchantress -- currently bargaining. Anthony mouthing off is part of the wider awareness, and perhaps those curling, leering white lips in something worse than a rictus grin is all he will answer. Air turns blisteringly cold to the point lungs burn to even breathe in.

"Or shall I cease to deal, tlamatiquetl? You may regret my forfeit in favour of a better contract."

Anthony Druid has posed:
Anthony Druid continues his dual attempt to both distract the ancient entity and to unleash his best defense against it. Channeling the power of the Celtic gods, waves of golden energy mingled with veins of green like vines, creating an intricate and interlacing pattern through the energies he wields, a gleaming dome that envelops both Druid and those below him as he hovers even higher. He's struggling a bit, sweat running down his brow, and his ears feel as if they're going to pop and bleed. He knows he's stepping a bit above his usual pay grade, but Constantine and the others will be better suited to skullduggery and underhanded methods.

Still, he's not so fool as to attempt to use his mind against the god, not about to draw upon his mesmeric powers, his cleric's sorcery instead doing the best he can. Sprout he might be, but he is blossoming anew with every passing hour, nourished by the faithful response of his deities and the millions who watch him weekly on live television. He is empowered with trust, with power, with faith, and he whips those tendrils of power aggressively, as if to slap at the god in defiance.


Amora has posed:
"The exchange is fair." Amora muses, gesturing towards Constantine and the offer he made, "We get the woman back, the one you are wanting to sacrifice now. We are granted passage. You go back with your followers." she goes to look at Jacqs again but then the woman is off.. Oh how she hates speedsters! The good thing about them is that they can be back in the blink of an eye too.

"This heart we have though, this is not just some heart." she says, an adoring smile starting to creep up to her expression. "But one that was sacrificed and was intended to Apollyon." a beat, letting that sink in, "It's a sacrifice that can instead go to you." because what God doesn't like robbing sacrifices from rivals?

She loves it at least!

In the meantime she does glance subtly to those will-of-the-wisps forming up, continuing to follow it in the periphery.

Julio Richter has posed:
Some of the others might not appreciate Dr. Druid's posturing -- Itztlacoliuhqui certainly doesn't -- but, much as Julio might be loath to admit it, the two men are at least on a similar mystical wavelength. The druid's bellowed exhortations might not get the reaction he's hoping for from Itzi, but they do reach down through layers of Earth literal and metaphysical to find Julio.

Predictably, as he hears those words, the young mutant rolls his eyes.

And that flicker, the crackle of psychic energy between one man's bombast and the other's disdain, creates a tiny bridge between the two men. It's just thread of magical force, but it's there, and it's enough for a lifeline. Julio snags it and, with a surge of willpower, sends himself flying up the thread like he would, in better times, a ley line.

As he blinks out of the caiman's coils, Julio flips the beastie to start all beasties a double bird and yells, "Chinga tu maaaaaaaaaaaa--"

"--aaadre!" Julio screams as he bursts, fully formed, from the firmament. He's flipping off the ground, for some reason, and can't see behind him to note that he's on a perfect parabolic arc toward the hovering Dr. Druid, whom he momentarily collides with, ass first, knocking both men back to the ground.

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
The god does not laugh, but just might. Anthony's bold declarations backed up by the pantheon of the ancient Britons earn reply first. "Yes? Then you sense the shape of it." A low pause there when the ground shakes, cracks, opening to reveal a human-shaped bolt flying back at the druid.

Turns out he'll owe Cipactli a dram of rum and a bucket of chicken thighs. Something to tally up later. Cipactli may need to have a talk with Julio about motherless gods.

He slowly smiles. "By agreement the tithe is mine, Green Lady. The sacrifice is his, as is the enforcement of violations of the contract." He points one long, blackened claw Julio and Druid-ward but his general countenance remains pointed to the other two mages as much as a blindfolded deity can be seen to direct words.

"You deal with me or the Prince of Ruin comes." They're buying Jacqueline time. He's not running after her.

"It is just to acknowledge personal choice."

John Constantine has posed:
Julio's spectacular arrival is exactly the cue John was waiting for. With Anthony and Julio tangled, the magus jumps back into the fray to regain Itzli's attention.

"Right mate, but--" John lifts a hand again, moving his fingers in subtle ways. There's nothing mystical about the motion. It's magician's patter, a little erratic. A little hypnotic.


"I'm just confused why you're letting Apollyon make you his bitch." John's hands rise quickly in apology following the words. "To borrow a phrase, I mean. It seems like he's getting the lion's share of this deal. It's a deal you two've made, innit?"

"I mean, Apollyon's got you doing all the hard work." John paces in a slow, tight circle, and makes eye contact with Julio and Amora. Eyes flicker towards Jacqueline's location and he tilts his head a fractional inch in that direction.

"Your people are doing the real work," he concludes, before Itzli can take a guess at the body language. "Scouting the sacrifices. Recruiting worshippers. Hell, they're holding the bleedin' knife, aren't they?" he asks, rhetorically. "Meanwhile Apollyon does fuckall but hand you a trinket or two. And he wants *souls* in exchange for it? Nuts to that, mate, he's playing you," John advises Itzli. "And guarantee, you're the one'll be left holding the bag if word gets to the other gods that you're on and about stealing human souls. I hear that sort of thing is frowned on." A brow raises with a speculative, silent question.

Jacqueline Falsworth has posed:
The ground beneath Jacqueline's flashing feet changes from ice to rough concrete and then, as she continues to pelt forward, to soaked and swollen floorboards. The lurid colours and grotesque display of living murals bar her way, but the speedster acts on a hunch and refuses to slow. One arm rises to cross before her face, just in case the mural is more solid than she thinks it may be, but the other stays cradled around the heart... rather like a bloody, spongey American-style football.

Yeah. That's not creepy at all, Jacques.

She bursts through the colour, past the mural with its grotesqueries, specifically seeking what lies beyond it. She's unwilling to turn over the 'ball' to the other team without first seeing what the prize truly is... and whether it's what they think it is, or not.

Besides, if she can get the girl -- or whomever else -- out AND keep the Big Bad from having his bloody spongetoffee snack... so much the better.

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
"You would give a bigger feast? What, then?" John is bargaining still. The black god of winter darkens, the frost-fire air plaguing lungs and sending thrills of frostbite into bared skin not protected by Celtic shielding. Or scales. Or fabulous skin that never needs a cream.

The air stinks of dry sweat, urine, and paint. Teal paint drips in concertina wire swirls across the broken maw Jacqueline steps through, tearing scratches where she goes. Immediately she crashes into stifling, airless darkness. Chill weight bears down on a chamber with the low ceiling of a root cellar and graffiti-streaked cement pillars of a gutted building.

Something stirs in the darkness. A rattle of bones and a sheen of chain sliding on pitted concrete. A muffled moan of fear blooms with sick terror. "S'coming, Brother. I'm next."

"Shh, Daniel, fear not," whispers an older man. "The Lord wraps us in His grace. Stay with me now."

A faint film of silver glimmers over a low figure for a moment. Just enough for her to see. The shine comes from a corner, behind rows and rows of bars formed into claustrophic cells barely big enough for a dog. Or three people, each bent and folded in a cell, cowering on the floor.

Anthony Druid has posed:
Anthony Druid took the impact from Julio and finds himself careening through space, tumbling head over heels and crashing to the ground. There's a bit of a snap as his collarbone breaks in the process, his head bouncing off the ground as the old magician is left in a crumpled heap, his butt sticking up in the air and his knees bent beneath him, left sprawled like a fish on the deck of a boat as blood leaks from his nose and his ears. His power snaps from existence, his Gods having lost their conduit as he's left battered.

Amora has posed:
Amora goes to retort when she finds there's an incoming Julio, crashing right into Anthony... That's.., something. And one less defense in case this turn into a sour affair. Ah well, these mortals better know what they are playing at.. There is a moment in which she just stares at the two druids and then she proceeds on, talking along Constantine as if nothing had happened just now. Move along, citizen!

Cintillating voice joins in with John's as she speaks in agreement, "Word that may very well come out once I leave, as I am well aware you know who I am, are you not?" Amora, thrower of parties, entertainer of Gods! Or well, at least that's what she likes to think.

"But besides all that, it's indeed quite against the rules to steal souls like this. I wonder what Hela will have to say about this." Right? Threaten them with Asgard's own God of Hel!

Julio Richter has posed:
Julio is not the world's biggest Constantine fan -- in fact, when did he even //get// here? -- but if the English mage wants to be the one face to face with the curved obsidian while the rest of them vacate the premises, he's not going to second guess the plan. He gets back up to his feet, rubbing his sore behind with one hand, then glances backward and rolls his eyes again when he sees the state Druid has been left in.

"It's not //that// tight and rock hard," he mutters disapprovingly. Still, all things considered, he kind of owes the guy, so puts some of Scott's dorky rescue training to work, crouching and lifting Anthony into a fireman's carry, draped across one of the younger druid's shoulders. Then he looks down at the little nosebled stain on the ground. It's not a river, by any means, but even a puddle of blood is better than nothing, right? He taps his foot next to it loudly, like a kibble scooper against a puppy's bowl. Here, Itzi! Here, boy! Got a treat for ya!

With the lord of all that is frozen bedazzled by the dual pitchmen and the O negative, he scarpers in the direction John indicated, already feeling around for the telltale rapid-tap-tap of Spitfire's stride.

Jacqueline Falsworth has posed:
Jacqueline continues forward, skidding to a stop only when she reaches the cages and sees the bodies huddled within. The ghost sheen that surrounds them is troubling. She may need mage help with this, but the faces... She kneels down near the cage with the old man. "Are you... Brother Theo?" she asks him gently, her body blocking the heart in her hand from his view.

She looks also to the others, blue eyes sharp as she memorizes their features. "My name is Spitfire. Flora Lopez spoke of you."

John Constantine has posed:
Constantine continues that stupifying pacing, and his body language echoes strong concurrence with Amora's offhand comment about Hela. It's all quiet misdirection, of course. Constantine's reputation as a con-man is well-earned.

"See mate, I'm not going to bullshit you by pretending I can give you a bigger meal. I'm trying to save you a lot of grief," John bids Itzli. "Imagine who else besides Asgard is going to get up in arms if word of this gets out. Olympus? Takamagahara?" he posits.

"Apollyon's left you well and truly screwed, sirrah," Constantine remarks. "He knew you were hungry and dangled some fresh meat in your way. I've done reckless things for a hot meal, truth," he acknowledges. "But surely you can see the bind you're in. Even if Lady Amora--" he nods graciously at her-- "goes back and tells her people you're just Apollyon's stooge, he'll be out of reach. But you aren't. You'll end up shouldering his share of the blame."

Hands spread in mute appeal. "How is that remotely fair to you? Shag out of here now, let us take the survivors home. We'll tell everyone Apollyon misled you and the heat will land squarely on his shoulders."

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
Is not every negotiation something of a tango? An act of flourish and drama, of the tension woven into every movement when forced to circle around an invisible point like wolves as much as dancers? So it is with the dark-faced Aztec god and the mortals working in his orbit. Already the druid is down, speckling red drops that turn to black ice in seconds. Itztlacoliuhqui is nowhere near Anthony, but drags long claws into the snow. A little blood is better than something. Drops sink into the snow and sweep towards him, a taste of power but not deference. Of purpose, and not intent.

But it's not a heart beating only in spirit, not in life, hidden in a woman's hand somewhere up the central path. He tongues dark teeth.

"Shall we see, Liar? A night's passage to you. I hear all. If her words slide slant then it is not upon my head." With that, a ghostly crackle of ice splits open and the dark god retreats down the bone road. He moves infinitely faster than he arrived, but such is the nature of winter, retreating in the snow while the storm always takes forever to come.

A name. It comes to the fore, and a man turns his head to Jacqueline. Bumping against the bars, deflected with a groan as he flinches back. White hair sweeps around a kind, weathered face suffused with more light than any person here would have. That any body itself would have. His gnarled fingers stretch through the gaps to her, trembling. "Are you come for another so soon?" He sighs. "Then take me if another it's needed. Leave the boy." A sacrifice to a stranger, given without a jot of doubt. Theodore Faneuil fits the images she's seen.

The boy quails back, clutching his head in a rictus of shaking, stiff fear. His face presses to the floor. A teen still filling out, bound to be a strong man but not fully grown into it. Here his clothes are practically ephemera, his tattoos writhing ink.

John Constantine has posed:
John holds his breath until Itzli fully withdraws, then exhales all his tensions from puffed-out cheeks. "Bloody fucking hell," he remarks. The magus digs his cigarettes and a lighter out from a pocket and starts after Julio and Spitfire, leaving Amora to her own mysterious devices.

"Is this all of 'em?" John inquires. He gestures around the room with the hand holding his cigarette, then takes another strong drag from it. "Best we shag ass out of here pronto, boyos," he advises the group. "Lest the dread god rethink his position and decide we're his next round at the buffet line."

Julio Richter has posed:
Julio dashes through the rending fabric of the helltag, which is like a hellgate but with graffiti, and also full of freezing, intangible knives because the universe hates him. He skids to a halt as he catches up to Jac, his face going slack with horror at what she has found. In rapid-fire Spanish, he says, <<Relax, Father, we're friends. Here to get you out of here before those freaks catch us.>>

He shrugs off his parka, drops it to the ground, then sweeps from left to right across the front of the cages, flicking a little burst of green, vibratory energy into each bar in succession. Then he stands back, and motions for the others to do the same.

A couple of seconds after he does this, all the bars pop free of their mounts, one by one, either flying off into the darkness at speed or bending themselves to such an extent that they simply crack. Having retrieved his coat, he quickly offers it to the first person to clamber out.

He gives John, of the perpetual overcoat, an extremely significant glance as he does this. Ahem. "Vamanos. Exit's this way," he says, directing the former prisoners toward escape.

Jacqueline Falsworth has posed:
Jacqueline's monstrous countenance has faded -- faded before she knelt to speak to the bright souled man. "No," she tells him gently. "I'm here to find a way to rescue you." She just doesn't know how. She doesn't think she can pull their souls into the real world. And she doesn't know how to absorb them into herself to carry them with her that way... the way Flora has carried Constantine. It's not her gift.

At least, she doesn't think it is.

But even if she can't do that, maybe she can at least free them from this prison. She glances over hr shoulder as John and Julio both approach. "Help me," she calls to them, setting the useless heart aside so she can use her strength to pry open the cages. Not that it matters, when Julio uses his abilities to make it a moot point.

She flashes him a grateful smile before turning back to the cages. "Come on," she tells the prisoners, trying to coax them out. "We'll get you home. We need to find your bodies and return you to them." She wipes her hands on her thighs and extends her hands to them. "Come. I'll keep you safe. I'll get you free."

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
Rush how they will up the frosty middle path and it leads to that dramatic explosion of colour in a mural of twining serpents and bleeding figures. Warriors watch them with frozen eyes and bleeding smiles. When they come through, barriers fall in ink strands lashing, biting, cutting. No one gets through without some pinprick scratch bleeding or a bite.

Bars aplenty mark cages in the dark that won't be much visible without sources of light. A cigarette's not enough but even that glow is enough to make someone unused to light flinch away. Just three.

Which means so many more are gone, with room for at least fifteen. Wood and concrete are carved by long ago fingers. Chains linked to the wall anchor to thick rings, to shackled wrists. The marks on them are hard to see, marked in strings of vicious runes and symbols of binding in not the complex Aztec canon but something a great deal older, crueller, fundamentally wicked in a way to make the soul quail.

Ribbons and rivulets of broken metal slide together, burning with brimstone and hellfire at every sundered rivet and cracked bar. The last of the three -- a young man of indeterminate age -- hides behind Jacqueline as Julio strips things to flinders. Brother Theodore patiently awaits the others, guiding them with nudges. With a soft word here or there. He looks less tired than they, less spent, despite being four times the two other prisoners' age.

"Come now. Out into the light," he urges them like a particularly soft-spoken, retired pensioner trying to encourage dogs to go out in the rain. "I fear my knees aren't what they used to be. Mind me a bit." You try being a near octagenarian Jesuit priest trundling around without a body in the astral.

John Constantine has posed:
"Best hustle along padre," John advises. The vaguely corporeal figure walks around the room, examining the bindings and the infernal runework that establishes the prison. It doesn't just hold the prisoners still, it binds their souls in this novel little bubble floating in the Astral. Asserting some properties of the physical world to keep the bit of dreamspace from just dissolving into the aether if left unattended.

Constantine starts scratching out runes around the perimeter of the prison using a knife from his pocket. "Bloody cheek of these two, carving out a little home for themselves," Constantine says sourly. "Bleedin' shag cabin for those daft wankers."

"Hurry along the rescue," Constantine calls to Jac and Julio. "I'm going to collapse this place behind us on the way out. No sense leaving free real estate lying about the place."

Julio Richter has posed:
Julio is deeply confused when his fully material parka drops straight through the fully immaterial imprisoned soul he tries to drape it around. He looks from the parka, to the soul, then back down to the parka, eyebrows furrowed. "Pinche mierda mágica," he mutters as he retrieves first the coat, then the dead-weight druid. Lucky for him, though he doesn't have a light source, his powers work such that even little vibrations in cavern-like space like this will give him basic forms and shapes. The voice, soft or not, from Theo will more than suffice. He extends a hand toward the soul. "Come on, abuelo, we don't have too long. I can carry you, too, if I have to."

Jacqueline Falsworth has posed:
"Let me," Jacqueline says gently, intervening between Julio and Theo, taking the oldster's hand before the youth can. "I need his help as much as he needs ours." It's the best explanation she can give for accepting this burden. "And we may need your magic before we're out, whereas my strength and speed is better suited to this."

Once all three souls are sufficiently aided, however, in whatever manner that takes, she moves with the group towards the exit back into the real world. It's time to blow this popstand and let Constantine bring it crashing down.

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
With a little push, a bit of a shove against protesting forces, they can be guided out. A long cold walk awaits with the rush of pinching off those spaces of limbo where the earth's draw is thin and reality walled off. No one really wants to be in proximity to the filthy mirror of evil percolating up or the Hellblazer doing whatever he does.

Though a Catholic exorcist really has some hangups about riding anyone, do as one must. He murmurs his regrets to Jacqueline. His poor weathered expression is equal parts mortified, apologetic, and clearly uncomfortable. Vanishing into a woman is a newfangled thing. How does one compact down? Alas, knowing the principle of banishment is easy to reverse.

Julio being the cheval for the clearly terrified man about his own age is a whole lot easier. Jumping in means just grabbing something, some kind of signalled agreement and riding the green glow fantastic.

Out they go, to hit the earth and breathe the cold, bitter air. To feel watched by every shadow.