5110/A Wise Man's Fear

From Heroes Assemble MUSH
Jump to navigation Jump to search
A Wise Man's Fear
Date of Scene: 10 February 2021
Location: Astral Realm / Chapel
Synopsis: Jacqueline comes to ask questions, John comes dressed as Flora for a fight, and both discover how deep the conspiracy of Apollyon goes. Enter Sister Caterina, the harbinger, apocalyptic oracle and the Gate of Entropy.
Cast of Characters: Meggan Puceanu, Jacqueline Falsworth, John Constantine

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
Except for some specific traditions, bodies tend to be a one soul-per-vessel arrangement. It's an experience when another willingly rides along. Privacy becomes a thing of the past even when making a conscious effort not to 'spy' on thoughts. Hard when souls get tangled up without the benefit of Flora's innate expertise in mediumship or, say, a houngan walking a cheval through the steps.

It might be quite a bit worse given that soul happens to belong to an ordained Jesuit, a sect and a faith definitely known for not sharing space. Truly he does his best not to step on Jacqueline's toes or thoughts. Apologies exchanged for those involuntary intrusions really do mean well; lying with someone in her head would be an act of manipulative deceit beyond his abilities.

<<I hope we can find a proper resolution from this. I will not forget your charity.>> A private thought for Jacqueline as she takes care of the physical transportation matters. <<She serves a splendid cup of tea. Afterward, you might inquire. I've not had better.>>


Brother Theodore's silent and private recommendation for help comes as a name: Sister Caterina de Silva. Finding her isn't hard at all given Spitfire's previous research. All it takes is a phone call to set up a time and a place.

In Riverdale, the Sisters of Charity maintain their headquarters. Heading up a looping ring road brings guests to a lovely brick building in the Bronx, the grounds peaceful even in the dead of winter. The anointed set here is exclusively on the older side, and any visitor is received with genuine warmth and welcome. With initial introductions out of the way, the best place to retire is a private chapel marked by green carpets, a cross on the wall, a picture of their founding saint and no more than two pairs of pews.

Sister Caterina might be something of a surprise, a fine-boned woman about forty at best with the look of a lady who lunches or teaches at a private college. She doesn't fit the nun profile in the least, wearing smart secular clothes. Theodore certainly recognizes her and she just smiles wanly. "Where's the chap in the coat? He should be here."

Jacqueline Falsworth has posed:
<<I hope so, too,>> Jacqueline tells the priest within her mind. It's strange, having this rider. She's experienced telepathy on occasion -- rare occasion, given her mind's tendency to reject mental domination by others. This is decidedly different. And it must be rather strange for the old man to be stuck in the body of a female who looks less than half his age but is, in fact, old enough to be his mother. Beyond any 'Oh, dear Lord, don't look in the mirror!' moments (and Jacqueline has been scrupulously polite about being as modest as she can for the old fellow), there's the simple reality: She's in many ways everything he's been schooled to avoid. At least she was 'raised right', even if it was Church of England and not Rome.

<<But, don't fret, Brother. As odd as this is... I've seen odder.>> Oh, the joys of being an MI-13 agent. <<And I do appreciate a good cup of tea.>> That should come as no surprise.

Presently, dressed in pressed trousers, a neat blouse, and stylish jacket rather than her Spitfire suit, she finds herself in the private chapel, awaiting her hostess. She spends a few moments looking at the windows and the altar, turning when she senses the sister's approach. A smile touches her lips, as she takes in the casual attire. "Sister Caterina, I presume? Chap in the coat? I'm not entirely sure." She extends a hand. "I'm Jacqueline Falsworth. Brother Theo suggested I speak with you."

John Constantine has posed:
"It's nice to be missed." There's a woman standing in the doorway, and for a flickering moment as she's backlit by a change in the light, the slouching posture might look almost familiar. But it passes and Flora enters the room. No makeup, hair pulled back in a sloppy ponytail; she's in a cheap black-and-white tracksuit and wearing low trainers, and a lit cigarette dangles from her lips.

"Lovely to see you again, Cat, you're looking lurvely as ever." Flora slouches towards Jacqueline and Catalina, occupying a point equidistant from them. She drags on the cigarette and gives Catarina a speculative 'how-you-doin' look. "Don't mind the meatsuit," she advises them. "The proper owner's off site, so to speak, so I've, uh, 'borrowed' th' corpus, so to speak. Still me in here," she says, and taps the cigarette-holding hand to her temple. Eyes dance with a roguish merriment. "Your favorite Brit. How've you been, luv?"

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
"Ms. Falsworth. Delighted to meet you. Brother Theodore suggested that how long ago? Is he doing well? He hasn't been in touch for weeks. I had several questions, but will satisfy myself if you can confirm he's in good spirits." Caterina gestures to a pew but won't sit unless Jacqueline herself does. She presses her hands together and locks her elbows to a convincing show of tranquility, careful about the way she moves. "Yes, I was expecting a chap in a coat. Battered thing full of howling faces and awful stains? He should be on his way. Maybe out there on the garden paths, perhaps?"

Speak of the Devil.

She turns to the small woman shown in, and her brow creases. Her hands smooth down her smart sweater, and those tailored trousers whisper as she steps away. Familiarity can be plucked from the mild rounding of her lips and something mildly stricken that she covers up well. "I could say this meeting is a surprise, Ms. Falsworth, but I have been expecting you. Not Ms. Lopez. She is supposed to stay with..." She gives a shake of her head, regaining her composure. "No matter. Welcome in, then."

Jacqueline Falsworth has posed:
Jacqueline turns as 'Flora' makes her presence known. She suppresses a sigh, though Theo will likely sense the Englishwoman's pity for the poor girl playing host to the soul of John Constantine. "Are you still abusing that poor woman?" she says, a mildly chiding hint to her tone, though there's no venom in it. She knows how it happened, after all. And she understands that transferring back may not be so easy. Doesn't mean she likes it. But she understands it. "What do we need to do to get you your own ride again, Mr. Constantine?"

Never let it be said the businesswoman doesn't know how to be direct.

She returns her attention to Caterina. "More recently than you know," she admits, in answer to the nun's question. "I'm afraid the good Brother is in much the same state as Mr. Constantine, here." She taps her own skull in emphasis. She then glances back to John-in-Flora, beginning to walk with the nun. "Which does beg the question, Mr. Constantine... Where *is* Ms Lopez soul, right now? I trust she's safe, at least. You haven't irrevocably displaced her, I hope..."

John Constantine has posed:
"I can tell you that Ms. Lopez is in the /safest/ place in the entire bloody universe, luv," John assures Jacqueline. Flora falls into step with the two women, with a eerily familiar shuffle that would look listless if it wasn't for the darting alertness of those soft brown eyes.

"But the nice lady with the angry thoughts is currently not on the premises," Constantine admits. "Trust me, though-- I've no desire to live out the rest of my life wearing a girdle. She'll have her skin back just as soon as I'm able to attend to it."

Constantine grimaces and scratches under Flora's collarbone when they pass the tabernacle. Tiny, impossibly intricate red runes are briefly visible on Flora's dusky skin. Constantine spots the marks rising in a polished reflection, and adjusts the track suit to cover them before anyone else notices.

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
Caterina's dark brown eyes move between Jacqueline and John-in-Flora. She sinks to the edge of the pew. It easily supports her weight, but then a toadstool or a robust hollyhock might for how slim she is. She doesn't like the situation either. That's probably with far less information either.

"I've been concerned for Brother Theodore. I needed to speak with him about something rather important." The troubled lines on her forehead aren't going anywhere either. Reaching for the Bible and a small slip of paper and pencil, she pulls them into her lap. They sit there inertly, immaculate and tidy. "Ms. Lopez isn't safe at all. Being here changes things greatly. Not for the better. Are you the man in the coat then?"

The pencil she fidgets with, rolling it between thumb and index finger. She starts to speak again and catches herself. Brother Theodore, unseen, exudes nothing short of outright concern.

"You need to put things back where they belong, that's why you are here, isn't it?" she asks.

Jacqueline Falsworth has posed:
Given the waves of horror Jacqueline feels rippling off of Brother Theo at the very idea Flora's soul might be floating out there, alone and prey to any number of psychic predators or astral threats, she certainly *hopes* the woman is somewhere safe. Because, inside the speedster's head, Theodore's horror colours the world in stark refrain. He utters a mental gasp and dismay tarnishes his normally bright thoughts. They tend to be a clear cyan blue of sorts, but not like this. <<Holy Mother, what has been done to her? Was another soul lost on its way? I have always warned her to be careful. She is too close to the spirit world to walk them safely.>> Worry, fear, concern all cascade automatically. A terrible flutter of knowledge ruffles like an index of evil things: demons, ghosts, psychic predators, tainted monsters. All in the canon of an exorcist, of course. <<Too many forces would tamper with her if she is open. The less of this, the better, the safer for her.>>

Privately, Jacqueline agrees with the old man. <<If Constantine isn't protecting her, I will find someone who can,>> she promises him seriously. She worries about her, too.

"Where is that safe place?" she asks John bluntly. "Brother Theo would feel better, I think, if he knew." Or not. Hard to say. Would the Jesuit Exorcist actually trust the Limey Sorcerer? Jacqueline's not so sure. Especially given Caterina's words.

"Since I'm given to believe Appollyon is on the loose, I'm, frankly, not certain *anyone's* truly safe," she says with a soft sigh. "Perhaps you could fill us in on what 'things' have been changed, Sister? If you wish to speak to Brother Theo, I can accommodate that. But, yes. Setting things to right, and putting them back where they belong is a rather high proirity right now." She sits down beside her, hands resting in her lap. "Can we do that without the bodies, here?" Because Constantine is, as far as she knows, at SHIELD and... well, she has no idea where Brother Theo may be.

John Constantine has posed:
"She's holed up in a nice little Chelsea loft," Constantine asides to Jacequeline. "Corner of Business Street and Nunya." Flora's face twists into a look of derisive reprimand and the magus drops Flora's rear into a pew with a boneless lack of grace or propriety.

"Listen, Flora's fine. If Apollyon pulls this hat trick off, she's arguably safer than any of us are going to be. Meanwhile--" Constantine ashes the cigarette with a flicker of Flora's thumb, and takes another drag. "My skin's fine where it is. I'd prefer to get old Theo in his meatsuit sooner rather than later, though. More immediately, we need everything about Apollyon you can wheedle from the Concilio Exorcistae," he tells Caterina. "I'm not exactly the Church's favorite exorcist to begin with, and trying to explain--" he gestures vaguely at Flora's body-- "this situation is just going to delay things. I need everything. Sigils, signs, auspices, prophecies. If Apollyon tries to project himself into our world I want to be ready to punch him in the snout."

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
The pencil lead scrapes over the prayer card. It fills out a corner in bits of grey, hazy curves not resolving into much. Scratches fade into a generally blocky shape, a trailed scrape defining edges in rapid detail. The pencil rolls back and forth, hatches and scrubbed smudges bleeding shadow and dark. Caterina listens to them, that much is plain. She works in the contrasts of light and dark, an emerging block blurred with her thumb in lieu of much else to work with. The media available on a bench is limited. The prayer card on the Bible acts as a suitable flat surface as it balances on her knee.

"My expertise is not in daemonology," Caterina hesitates. What she calls John-in-Flora is an open point of stumbling, so it forces her to press on. "That's Brother Theodore, it's why I called him. My confessor advised me to after disturbing thoughts, and I might have them interpreted. Brother Theodore eased my mind. I found out he vanished the next morning. Worse, when I called to warn my confessor, he too was nowhere to be found. Two men gone cannot be coincidence. Now Flora is-- somewhere. You aren't her. Gottfried is dead. You have your signs that matters are going very poorly. Have since the seal in Boston fell." The elderly countenance on the prayer card recedes into a black clergy shirt and slacks, a bare outline for a cross in the gap. Shades of a woman's face in the outline, paler hair fallen in waves. Bleeding lines curl and twist around, arching up in the splay of her fingertips guiding them to the edge of the cardstock rectangle. She's hardly looking.

"Please don't say his name." She recoils a little as they mention Apollyon. Not a happy spot. "The name draws attention we cannot really afford right now." She shakes her head again. "I had no sign of Father Marco or Brother Theodore. You have a way to reach him, he would know the signs and the marks of terrible things. I only see them."

John Constantine has posed:
"Izzat right?" John leans Flora's head sideways and looks at something behind Catelina's left shoulder. When the nun turns to follow Constantine's gaze, the magus deftly lifts the card she's been doodling on. Flora's brow furrows and Constantine turns it towards Jacqueline for the speedster to look at. It's a good representation of the speedster's face, buried in a twisting morass of familiar spine-tipped vines.

"Didn't know you dabbled in art, Cat," John points out. Flora's eyes narrow minutely. "The vines look a little familiar, eh?" Constantine never takes Flora's eyes off the nun though.

"I've a sudden sinking feeling you're not being entirely truthful with me, luv. Now, don't let the svelte figure confuse you," John says, and gestures vaguely at Flora's form. "I'm still the irascible bastard I've always been, and I don't like it when friends try to nurse secrets away from me. When did you seen these vines?"

Jacqueline Falsworth has posed:
Like John, Jacqueline is studying Flora's drawing. She recognizes her own face. She can guess the elderly man's is the Jesuit's. In her mind, she listens to Brother Theo's thoughts on the matter. He's being polite, considerate even. He's trying not to intrude unduly on the forefront of her consciousness. Still, his memories are seeping into hers.

<<Sister Caterina has been disturbed by troubled dreams. They became worse. I was trying to help her interpret their symbols and meanings before-- until the place you found me.>> He's reluctant to speak it. Think it. It hurts to remember some things. His pain is soul-deep there, and it resonates like grey fire that manifests as a physical tightening of the lines around Jacqueline's own eyes and a tension that runs through her shoulders and spine.

The priest's words continue, however. <<She keeps sketchbooks of them with permission from Father Marco. Her confessor, that's who she speaks about. Sister Caterina sometimes receives glimpses of what may be, or happens when she is not present to observe it. It is a delicate matter. The Vatican would not recognize her gifts. Not officially. I wanted to comfort her and to know what God showed her. She's seen great devastation. A ruined city of falling towers. Vines growing uncontrolled and a terrible darkness with locusts and crows.>>

"Give me one of those?" she asks, reaching for a prayer card and pencil for herself, beginning to sketch the signs Theodore's mind shows her. She pauses though, unwilling, perhaps because of his guidance, to fully complete the mark of Apollyon. She points to it with her pencil point. "This isn't complete," she tells John. "I don't want to complete it. Not here. But there are lines here... and here--" she points out places where the mark of Apollyon on its own would be clear, and where the right strokes would change it into the Boston Seal the nun spoke of.

She glances between Caterina and John. Then, she relays some of what Theo has said. "Brother Theo says the Sister, here, has seen visions of a ruined city consumed by those vines, covered in darkness and home to locust and crows." She lays a hand gently on the woman's shoulder, perhaps unconsciously mimicing a gesture the old man might use. "Is that right?"

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
"When you broke the seal on the cage and loosed the darkness through the sundered bars," Caterina replies with her smudged, graphite stained fingers calmly plucking one of the prayer cards from the pew. There's quite a stock of them. "The man wearing the coat in a halo of blinding light. You would come for me."

She stares at the crucifix on the wall, while the painting of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton looks upon them all with soft eyes. "The vines grew after plagues of insects crawled through the streets and consumed the faithful, who cried mercy. The boy cried for me before he called for you. Did you hear?"

A slow, ponderous shiver runs over her. The pencil dances across the page, a jagged outline followed by another, a third barely taller. All the edges are sawed off at irregular angles, broken bits of a column until the vague cornices and windows fill in with quick jots. "The first seal is broken. When ravens fled on black wings, the vines crawled out from the shadows. Now they choke the towers falling one by one. Do you see them now?"

Those errant scribbles make a pattern of grape leaves twisting around a stocky building, two-storeys, intact more or less. A gaping square entry with shades of incomplete circles, taking form. A stack of them. "The seals are breaking, and where one goes the next will follow. I told Father Marco and Brother Theodore. I told them, and the next day, they were gone. Silenced. Swept away by the darkness that shook free from its cage. It cannot get completely free without the key."

Under Jacqueline's hand, her thin-boned shoulder trembles with anger and grief. "A week ago a box came for me from Father Marco. I haven't looked at it or touched it. It's the Canticum Fracta Promissa."

John Constantine has posed:
A sour, angry look crosses Flora's features, and Constantine stands up quickly. "For -fuck's sake-, woman," he fumes. "We've been running arses off around this town trying to scrape together *something* to stave of an apocalyptic invasion from the depths of hell, and you're sitting on the keys to the nuke?"

A frustrated lungful of air escapes Flora's lips. "Bloody hell. Well, let's get it," John bids the Caterina. "I'd just as soon have that where I can keep an eye on it, and frankly somewhere that is more routine about keeping the doors locked."

Jacqueline Falsworth has posed:
Broke the seal... Jacqueline's thoughts drift back to the evening she first met Flora -- the strange package with its evil surprise inside, the wax seal that was on it. Her eyes close, brows knitting. *Oh, dear god, tell me this isn't my fault...* She looks almost in pain. Nevertheless, lips pressed firmly together as she inhales a slow, steadying breath and lets it out. What's done is done. All that matters, now, is that they stop it.

"I've still got those pages," she tells John, thinking about them tucked away in a fireproof safe in her temporary apartment. "The ones with the ritual on it. It had a prayer on it and a rite that required the exsanquination and flensing of 10 men."

Her fingers curl around the pencil in her hand and she frowns, sifting through her memories further. "Flora... she wrote something... in blood, I think. It still on the floor of the apartment when I went back the next day. Hang on."

She begins digging through her purse, pulling out a cell phone. Unlocking it with both biometrics and a pass code -- apparently she takes her phone security fairly seriously -- she flips through her files where she has buried the photos of the aftermath. "Here," she says, showing it to them. "I've got photos of the pages and everything else I thought might be useful, too."

The image shows a cascade of letters that almost make words when strung together:


"I don't know what it means, but..." Could 'Cathe' refer to the Sister, she wonders. And does that mean there's someone hunting the woman? Or that the woman is the key? Perhaps to this Canticle, even... "I don't think we should leave the good Sister here alone. Not with what happened to Brother Theo or Father Marco. She needs protection."

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
Flora - or someone who looks like Flora - is the type of woman that Caterina has dealt with before. She sits up straighter and adopts that calmer, professorial reserve of patience. Even if it means suppressing a cough tickling her lungs. "So it may be. You see everyone I knew to reach is gone or dead." She thumbs the pencil, then puts it back in the little slot in the pew shelf. "I'm the last. The last with only One to turn to."

She smoothes the cover of the Bible and puts it back. Getting up from the pew, she nods to them both. "Credit us somewhat better than that. We deal with many funds entrusted to us. It's properly locked up. I hoped to return it to Father Marco. Such a thing doesn't belong with here."

John Constantine has posed:
"Right, and the Vatican insists that the Swansea Devil is under lock and key, but the bloody thing keeps popping up in Wales," John mutters.

They're moving and walking, and he reaches for the note in Jacquline's hands to examine it. "He Hunter... Hunts? He hunts. Run... Key is.. Catherine?" John hazards. "Best I can make of it. Catherine." Constantine frowns and digs in Flora's pocket for his little notebook. Pages are flipped through. "Huh. We've had a laundry list of victims, right? Lissen here. Names were... Catalina... Ekaterina... Kathy Green... 'Leena..." The magus pauses, and Flora's eyes slant sideways towards Jacqueline.

"Looks like someone on the opposing side's been on the hunt for girls named Catherine. Maybe they're chasing a prophecy or sign that's a little occluded to them as well, eh?"

Jacqueline Falsworth has posed:
"And *Sister Caterina*," Jacqueline says pointedly, "who's a bloody, apocalyptic oracle, fits the profile." Like she said: They need to protect her. She gently puts her arm around the woman. "You need to stick with me," she tells her. "Me and Brother Theodore."

She can hear him in her head, his sharp disapproval of John. <<Does he shout at the clouds and whip the sea?>>

<<Yes,>> Jacqueline interjects. <<It seems one of his favourite pasttimes. Don't ask me why. I don't know him that well.>> There's wry, dry humour in her tone.

The priest is unimpressed. <<Marco insisted on his involvement. This display makes me worry about his judgment. We failed her. In our way, we failed you. If he must rage, let that poor lost soul turn it to me. Not the messenger. The messengers have done all they could.>>

Private thoughts crackle with a gentle man's quiet anger, hot and clean as an adamantium blade. He tries to quell it, but it's quite hard. <<It is always the way of evil to cull the weak and sow discord. The infernal servant that seized me wanted to remove something that stood in its way. Blame only feeds our enemies. Sister Caterina is no more responsible than you are. You do not do evil when you are afraid. When you forget. When you doubt. We are all alone in the wilderness of existence without one another.>>

Outwardly, and for no apparent reason to those she walks with, Jacqueline's lips twitch wryly. <<Thank you, Brother. I've learned that lesson, but a century of war tends to make it difficult to recall, sometimes.>> And to believe.

"Let's go see this Canticle and see what more it can tell us..." No rest for the weary, it seems.

Meggan Puceanu has posed:
<<Does he know it worked out poorly for Xerxes?>> Brother Theodore's thoughts are still tinged with anger, but it's reduced a good deal. English humour has an effect sometimes. He may be an American but he is not immune. <<There are better ways to turn one's anger away.>>

But being mollified helps ease his growing concern, receding back into the shadows of Jacqueline's mind again. The time for manners has returned.

The vault isn't somewhere they just walk because an organization on the scale of the Sisters of Charity -- especially with that 'of Saint Vincent de Paul' bit -- means a lot of money. Not that they keep donations on hand, but Sister Caterina can access those vaults for the sacred relics, silver, and occasional other precious item without too much issue. "I do philanthropic work" is her only explanation.

It's not her who brings out the box but a 60-something woman dressed soberly in black who brings it out on a handcart. Bit much for a box about the size of a house cat, but she crosses herself and looks over her shoulder. She should, even without realizing it.

Everything is intact as it should be. The USPS flat-rate mailer, size large, has all the requisite stamps and labels. The return address? Boston, MA, to a zip code that Jacqueline can trace to be identical to her own package before all Hell broke loose. Same writing, except this is properly marked with M. dos Reis listed on the return address too. The recipient? Caterina de Silva.

If John wanted a living nuke of blackest-of-black energy besides actual oblivion magic then he has it. That thing radiates an intense darkness unto itself, seething with a chorus that makes the murmurs heard by Flora practically subsonic. It eats slowly at the world in a dimming pool, swallowing hope, inverting calm, building on anxiety and doubt and distrust. Listen without trying to listen and the bleak words bleed together, whispered, chanted, laughing, sobbing, all of it blending together.

The vines on the prayer card ooze across the psychic aura of the thing, in thin detail, like a pale magical etching.

Behind it? Entropy so tangible that it practically thins reality around it.

The Gate of Entropy.

And the Key.