2020-02-13 - Hollow Man


An interrupted meal reveals more about Oliver than Ambrose wants to know. Probably

Log Info:

Storyteller: None
Date: Thu Feb 13 07:28:54 2020
Location: New York

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How exactly these notes keep finding Ambrose is not quite clear, but it had come when the man was taking a meal with Astryd and Fenris, slipped under the door. In beautifully written, delicate hand it says 'Ambrose, old chum. I am so sorry we got off to the wrong foot. If convenient, please come find me in Central Park. During the day, this time. I'll be waiting near the Obelisk in front of the Met. Cheers. Oliver."

Succinct, to the point, ever so slightly ominous.

Fenris had been relatively insistent given what happened last time and given who seems to be involved that he not go alone. So. Off to the lawn in front of the Met it is. With a stop to get a hot dog. With whole grain mustard.

Mmmm Mustard. Yes he just ate. Yes he wanted a hot dog. Shut up.

It hadn't been Ambrose to open the note. He'd gone pale and clammed up tighter than a geoduck in his seat; his grip had nearly cracked the wine glass in his hand and only when the bulb gave a sound of distress did he put it down with alacrity, nearly spilling it.

"Oh…fuck me," he'd whispered before putting a hand over his mouth, as if someone might hear his frantic thoughts further spill out — or maybe attempting not to feel suddenly nauseated. Astryd's cooking had been so delicious too, not need to upchuck it.

For once, the Jackal hadn't been adverse to company, and so with both the Dread Wolf and the Raven in town, he makes his way to the Met's lawn. He's dressed similarly as to last, armed similarly as to last, and he's still got a good glower going on, but he's now as leery as a cat on a hot tin roof, ready to flee at any second. A quick motion adjusts his scarf about his neck in a nervous fuss with gloved hands.

"I do not see him," Ambrose reports in an undertone to both immortals. He's not happy about it. "And I do not want to play nicely, but I shall try to be…polite," he forces out, " — if only to garner further information as to his ploy."

Astryd is none to pleased at having their meal disturbed. Even less impressed when Fenris stops for a hot dog. Oliver is quickly becoming someone who doesn't rank highly in her books - which might be bad for the … man … possibly.

"We have to assume it's a trap and that something else will happen." The blonde looks at Fenris and presses a kiss to his cheek before they get too close to the lawns. In an instant, where once there was a tall stern woman is now a raven taking wing, banking around to scout out the area.

Fenris is just finishing the hot dog. He wipes a bit of mustard off his chin and licks it off his thumb. The whole grain stuff is the best and if you ask him about it he will give you a small novel's worth of reasons why. Astryd did. Once.

Oliver is approaching. Astryd sees him first. It's the turtleneck he's wearing. It's a very old drab tan color. The same color, Ambrose may note once he sees it, that used to be in old English army uniforms.

Astryd is able to confirm that THIS time, Oliver has come alone. That's probably for the best an attack here would require a lot of explaining after the fact. New York City takes such a very dim view of super brawls in the park.

Well, super brawls in general, actually.

There is time for Astryd to land before Oliver ambles up within hailing range and raises a hand, both to greet and to show that he isn't carrying anything. He didn't see the raven circling, so it seems, so Astryd has the option of remaining in that form and being all 'Nevermore' OR landing and making a Big Entrance (TM).

He seems… subdued. His mannerisms are different than last time. MUCH closer to the Oliver that Ambrose remembers which might be just a touch disconcerting.

"Wise," murmurs the Jackal to Astryd before she does that impossible shift in forms. It still makes him blink and squint to watch her rise into the air, swiftly becoming one bird amongst many within the air space above the Met's lawn. He gives Fenris and the culinary appreciation of his hot dog a flat side-look, but it's out of stress — that, and Ambrose is both jealous and mad that his stomach won't let him appreciate one. It smelled amazing.

It's when he idly glances to the left that he spots the familiar figure. An instinctive shift brings him minutely towards Fenris in a display of instant distrust. Oliver gets pinned with a keen, nearly officious stare from a face gone stone-cold, the master-thief's jaw set and showing his cheekbones for the unconscious grit. Still, even if he doesn't return the wave of hand, he does nod.

"Oliver." Long ago, Ambrose mastered the art of sounding both polite and deeply, deeply irritated; frost rimes his words and the Bane's glow burns deep in his pupils.

Astryd had indeed asked Fenris about mustard - once. She's never done so again.

Circling around in the dark, the raven is easily missed - she's also very good at achieving that. Just him, Fenris. She communicates to the God Wolf as she wings in from behind.

When Olive stops and Ambrose greets him, she remains Nevermore - planning a Grand Entrance TM when the time is opportune.

"Hello Ambrose." Oliver approaches Ambrose and Fenris and draws in a breath before letting it out in a long sigh. "I'm sorry about that business before, old chum. I wasn't quite myself. If you'll let me, I'd like an opportunity to explain what has happened. I imagine you're rather shocked to see me alive."

Does Ambrose believe that Oliver is alive?

What about Oliver himself? Fenris asks silently. There is indeed an odd marking on the back of his neck which Astryd can see even with the turtleneck in place. While she can't see the whole thing, what she CAN see should put her very much in mind of a Norse Rune by way of HP Lovecrafts 'impossible geometries'. What you get if someone corrupts nordic script.

It can't be helped, how Ambrose's hand emerges from his coat pocket as if he might begin reaching for the revolver kept at his hip. Thankfully, Oliver stops at a length away that the Jackal doesn't feel the need to actually produce the weapon…yet.

"It's Lieutenant Atherton, soldier," he reminds the other man in a delicate spike of temper. Alive or not, this might be a good test of 'self' in whatever Oliver truly is. In a rare showing, military poise cloaks Ambrose now. "And a ruddy explanation is in order, yes."

It's mostly a bluff right now and in desperate willpower against his composure cracking. God, Oliver looks just as he did that century and more back, and it's the familiarity, down to the cadence of speech and that stupid, lackadaisical way the man could never stand without a slight hitch in one knee that stings.

A strange sense about him, my heart. Astryd answers. She's got very little magic but she does have a sense for the dead. Like he's not quite dead but is. One foot in the grave, if you will.

Bird eyesight isn't the greatest at the best of time, and even less so in low light. Astryd wings her way closer, perching in a tree, just behind and above Oliver, peering. He's … marked. I've seen something like that before. Long ago, before we were reunited. On one of those paths I travelled to find my way here. It's Nordic, but it's not … It's much, much older.

I'm not very surprised given what we know, but this is not something that I would have put in Rabid Wolf's toolkit before. Do you remember where you saw it or under what circumstances? Fenris is already thinking that if Gurim Ur travelled the void, survived it, he may have learned something there. It would have in fact been nearly impossible for him not to have done so.

That marking isn't doing anything at the moment but Astryd can feel the power behind it. There's life in it, as there is in Fenris' essence. But this is different. Fenris life is vibrant. This feels… sickly. Fevered. Is this how Oliver has survived for so long? Or is it something else?

Oliver sighs and straightens up. He salutes. "Yes Leftennant." He uses the British pronunciation of the word. "Beg to report on my life altering experience sir." That's a formality. Officers seldom refuse reports.

"I made a deal with something to stay alive. Ruddy hell, Leftennant, I didn't want to die. And I didn't. But it asked things of me and… showed me things. Things that humans aren't meant to know. Or see. And now it… well sometimes it all makes sense to me, clear as day, clear as you standing here talking to me right now and I know what I have to do. And sometimes it's more cloudy. Like now. And I feel a bit… I don't know. More present. More here. Less consumed by the things I know and have seen."

"Report, soldier." Permission is granted. This exchange is eerily easy to slip into and Ambrose even takes a moment to engage his hands behind his back, chest up and out, chin lifted — more layering over the panging of his heart. He listens and it hurts more yet. His throat moves in a thick swallow around the sudden lump.

"And who offered you this deal, soldier?" It comes out calmly enough, ironed nearly devoid of emotion otherwise. "I cannot assist you unless I know the finer details." The Bane still hasn't reneged on its low-frequency hum felt only within Ambrose's bones; whatever's in Oliver, the ancient curse is either uncertain or outright defensive about it.

It was deep in the Underworlds. I had trekked for days to find it. Getting through … // Fenris can feel Astryd shudder mentally. Even now, all these centuries later. //… was a nightmare, even for me. The things that lived down there … Only one person has ever written of them, Fenris.

The raven doesn't move from the branch when she's perched. The power on him - it's corrupt. Oily. Heated. This is not really Ambroses friend, not anymore. It might have his memories, but he's been … hollowed out.

Who wrote of them… wait. Don't tell me. A man dreaming of Elder Gods and impossible geometries and cities beneath the sea where dread things slumber for eons. One man who inadvertently wrote of some of the greater horrors of this reality. Fenris doesn't utter his name but it's fairly good guess. Yes, if this man is dealing with The Void, then hollowed out makes sense.

"A spirit. A spirit in the form of a great wolf. It put a mark on me and gave me blessings and power to get out of that damned cave in. I accepted. Of course I did. I thought I was going to stave to death if I wasn't crushed by another cave in." Some of this Ambrose heard earlier, but Oliver reiterates it anyway.

"After that, well. It was only the beginning. The great wolf came and showed me things. Parted the veil and let me see the Truth behind Everything. I spent days curled up, near catatonic after that. Eventually I started moving. East. I had to go east. I stopped in Delhi on the way to Peking…"

This is one of the ways you can tell that Oliver really is that old. Peking instead of Beijing. "Sometimes I just… existed. Lived life. Other times He came to me and asked things of me. And other times I just… knew I had to do certain things. Over time I found others who had been saved from certain death by him. We began to gather regularly. Organize. I wanted to come talk to you. See if I could explain it all. Show you the truth, and see if you'd consent to join us. But… my fervor got the better of me last time."

Fenris snorts. Fervor. More like fever, he suspects.

Ambrose listens and despite his poise, he can't help the thinning of his lips or the way a quiver drags down his spine like an icy fingertip.

East. Delhi. Peking — no, Beijing. It flickers through his mind in a flurry of panic: had Oliver been hunting him for so long…? Skirting his shadow without ever making true contact out of sheer dumb luck or fate?

The Jackal works a swallow past the tight lump in his throat. Quickly, it wings off down the kythe to Kent: «Azizam», listen, it is Oliver. Just as quickly, he relays the past conversation to the mentalist at the speed of neural impulse. Aloud, at least, he manages to say calmly, "It sounds to me as if you are part of a cult, soldier, and I have spent enough time in one to know better of it. What truth do you offer me?"

Some say he didn't just dream of the Elder Gods, my heart. The raven communicates. Some say he actually went there or communed with said Gods. It's also said that Author wasn't entirely sane, but then again who would be after that.

What do you want me to do with him? I … could take him to the underworld and let him find his rest. It's possible that it will be a struggle with the Ur wolf, if she does.

No. Why don't you come down here and help me press him. I don't want to risk a direct confrontation here. Gurim Ur was powerful enough and bold enough to risk a direct attack on me two thousand years ago. If he has spent all that time walking the void, who knows what he has learned or how he has applied it. It could be dangerous, to us as well as to the people here.

Fenris steps back slightly, to make room for Astryd when she makes her entrance. Maybe a Valkyr will put this 'supposed to be dead man' off his game. Maybe not though.

"Maybe I was. But unlike most cults I have actually met the spirit I revere, and I have seen behind the curtain of reality. I am happy to show you. I'd understand if you didn't want to see though. There's no way to really understand without it though. The universe is built on…"

Oliver sighs. "It's like a tapestry. And there's a giant loom. Weaving. Always weaving. With threads connected to all of us. To every little thing in our lives. Tugging. Moving. And we don't even know. We don't even see."

Fenris pales a bit. THAT is not something he wanted to hear this man say.

That horrid slinking feeling that would raise hackles if Ambrose had any in human guise doesn't desert him. Ambrose listens, and Kent listens, and he can't help the narrowed look upon Oliver now. A slow inhale and exhale. I cannot tell if he means what he says. Now, «Azizam».

There's a moment where a minute ripple works its way across Ambrose's face. His lashes flutter to a blink before a subtle shift of expression marks it no longer entirely his own. Rather than forced to neutrality, there's a cool and judicious quality now, a subtle tuck to his chin, and the barest inclination towards a smile that won't be anything near to such — and it sure as hell wouldn't be echoed in his eyes, now half-lidded. When he next speaks, his voice is a touch higher and with a noticeably crisper British accent but for a slip of sussurance here and there.

"This idea of a tapestry does sound familiar," he says with an infuriating mildness. "It sounds quite similar to Fate. This, I am well aware of. It is no new secret or truth to me." His hands lift from his pockets to rest palm to palm before his chest, thumbs up, a foreign gesture to Ambrose's own personality.

And as he talks, Kent reaches out with mental feelers to see what he can skim, if anything, from the soldier arisen from the Jackal's past. What is Oliver, precisely? Alive, dead, a puppet truly in flesh? What are his weaknesses, if any?

The raven chuckles and ruffles her feathers as she launches herself from the tree. In the space of an instant, the tall stern blonde stands beside Fenris, wrapped in the fur lined coat again.

"Hello Oliver. A Tapestry you say? And you've met the spirit that is … or has … responsibility for it?" That's *terrible* news. It won't be the Fates, she knows that. There's one power, or set of powers, that influences them … and if it is …

The blonde winds her arm through the God Wolfs and offers a smile, a feral one, to Oliver.

"Zounds!" Oliver jumps when Astryd lands and transforms. He backs up a couple of paces, looking at her with more than just surprise. He's looking at her like he knows at least a little what she is and what she represents.

"Uh… a tapestry, yes. A giant, massive tapestry fed by an immense, grinding machine. I've never felt so small and insignificant. Or… angry. That our lives should be toyed with by such uncaring forces…"

When Ambrose - well when Ambrose's rider that is - reaches out there's something. It's perfect timing. Oliver is distracted. Start with the surface. He's alive yes. His spirit is still firmly attached to his body and it's the original model but Astryd wasn't wrong about him being hollowed out. Something has left him then and stretched. And he seems… metaphysically ill. There's heat. Burning, as if from fever or delirium.

Look behind. There's a rush of something past Ambrose' senses. He doesn't get the full effect but he gets enough. A glimpse of the vast machinery behind reality. A look at a huge, impersonal uncaring universe in which humanity with all its hopes and dreams - in which life itself - is a mere speck before forces that have crushed a million-million civilizations and will do so again with unfeeling inevitability.

Look further still. Gaze into the abyss. Ambrose can briefly, just briefly, see the void. To call it black is utterly inadequate. It is not simply devoid of color but of life. Of hope. Of anything even remotely human. And yet still he feels presences. Things of unreality. Of unexistance. He feels terrible wills that exist in the spaces between spaces - the places that are defined only by what they are not - and sees a pair of burning, mad lupine eyes gaze back at him. Gaze right into his very soul.

And then it is gone. He's back in Central Park, with the heat of the fever and the chill of nothingness clinging to him, slowly taken away but the sun's wan winter light.

Ambrose knew something was wrong. He knew in his heart that this wasn't the Oliver he once rode along with in jaunts about Basra and in patrols along the dunes. The Bane had him nearly convinced off the bat with how it recoiled at what was within the other man, this husk still enacting all that he once was.

To see the bleak despair beyond the parted veils of reality and beyond another set of curtains yet? To be leered at by eyes devoid of humanity and rife with a hunger countered in intensity only by the Bane?

Kent evaporates from the kythe like water on a sidewalk in mid-August.

And Ambrose, with his full senses washing back into his control, can do nothing except let out a horrified broken yelp of sound and attempt to claw his way up the nearest thing — which happens to be Astryd. He's gone nearly blind in base panic now and the Bane is radioactive around him in defense of its host.

"Keep that look to yourself, soldier." Astryd warns lowly. "Many have looked on me in that way and lived to regret it. Or not lived, in some cases. I am a Raven, I am Fenris' Raven bound and sworn. You can tell your … master … that."

"That is Fate. What else did you think we were? Just threads in a loom to make a pretty picture for someone and you, soldier, are playing right into their hands."

She's no idea what's happening with Ambrose at this moment, but the warrior woman is watching carefully. It's why she manages to catch Ambrose as he clutches at her, holding the man with her Asgardian strength. That strength is no proof for the Bane though and Astryds arms tingle painfully as little jolts of energy flow through them, followed by cold, a bone deep cold despite the fur lined coat she wears - yet she doesn't struggle to free herself, just holds the Leuitenant and grits her teeth. "Steady, Ambrose …"

Fenris will see his Raven go so very, very pale.

Fenris lets out a low growl now and steps forward, between Ambrose and Astryd and Oliver. "Cease." It's only one word but the weight of it rumbles the ground they're standing on.

"I'm not doing anything!" Oliver protests, backing up a pace. And in his defense, he wasn't. Someone took a look at things that are usually best left hidden. But the Old Wolf has no way to know this.

"Astryd, are you alright?" He saw her go pale yes. Hopefully she will get it under control but here Fenris constant aura of dread probably works against them, making it just that little bit harder for Ambrose to calm.

"I don't want to play into their hands, Maiden of Death. I want to smash the Loom. Break it into a thousand pieces and let them spin into the Void. The Great Wolf promised me it could happen. All we needed was time and support and just the right actions at just the right places."

An understandable, even noble go. But the way that Gurim Ur wants to do it, by invoking the Destroyer Wolf, will END this world. And the Gods with it.

"Ambrose?" Fenris prods without looking behind him.

Astryd's quiet words are an anchor in the moment and he stops mindlessly scrabbling like a cornered rat against her when her strength brings him to a trembling stillness. It takes until Fenris asks of him for Ambrose to regain enough self of sense to find words. He stares past the Old Wolf at Oliver and continues shivering, his hands twitching at empty air now that they're separated from the Raven's form.

"N-N-No, Oliver, that isn't — " His teeth literally chatter hard enough to stop up his words momentarily. "That is wrong," he forces out with a desperate upsweep of emotion. The Jackal's eyes gloss over in equal parts horror and distress now. His pupils glow brilliantly carmine now despite the ambient light. "N-No. No, I-I-I-I refuse! I will not be part of that fuckery! You c-cannot subvert Fate, they have lied to you, don't you see it?!"

Astryd doesn't answer Fenris. She's shivering like she'll never get warm again, trying to keep Ambrose upright and not letting the Bane devour her.

She barely hears what Oliver says as she holds herself straight when Ambrose separates from her. "I am here, God Wolf." That will tell him she's not, but she's not admitting to any weakness. "The Loom is not a lie, Ambrose." the words come ever so low. "It is rumoured that if it is destroyed, it will break those who sit in shadow above's power."

Astryd is thankful that Fenris' back is to her. There's a fever burning in her eyes.

Oliver looks sad. Maybe a little hurt. He takes another step back. "Maybe we can't, Ambrose. Maybe it's hopeless. But I am an Englishman. I won't just lie down for this. I need to try. Because maybe… just maybe… it will work."

The marked man looks at Astryd and then Fenris. He heard her. He marked what was said. "Maybe you will see in time Ambrose. And maybe not. I… should go. I have a feeling we'll be seeing eachother again though."

Fenris does not move to stop the man as he turns and departs. Once he's about twenty or so feet away he turns to look at Astryd and Ambrose.

"Shit." Is all he says. Is that burning out of Astryd's eyes by the time he turns back?

Somehow, Ambrose wrenches his attention back to Oliver. He'd been staring at Astryd after she'd shared the truth at the base of the revenant soldier's plea — that, and somewhere in the back of his mind, he's noted that she doesn't look very well right now. Did the Bane take so much? It doesn't feel like it, not even after he rudely yanks its reins and pulls it back into check, even as he looks dead into Oliver's face across what might be a gulf rather than a few yards.

"I suppose I shall p-prepare," the Jackal replies bleakly. He makes no move to stop Oliver either. After all, he's still fighting the wish to give up on his knees and plop to the ground in sheer shock.

When Fenris turns back? Ambrose nods. "Shit," he echoes in a papery whisper.

The burning is *just* fading when Fenris turns back. He'll get a glimpse of it as he takes his Ravens pale face and shivering body.

"He knows where the loom is…." She says, eyes watching as the man walks away. "… I hope we do meet again." Oh dear, that doesn't sound good.

She shivers again though, drawing her coat closer about her. She can't get warm at the moment.

"We should … go … and find something warming. And you Ambrose can explain what he did to you."

Fenris blows out a long, long sigh. "Agreed. There's a place to sit down and have a stiff drink not far from here. I think we could all use it at this point."

The Old Wolf makes sure his companions can move. He may move to help Astryd with Ambrose. But soon enough they set off.

The sun is shining. The world is still turning. And Fenris' thoughts drift back to a night over two thousand years ago when a family tore itself apart and wonders how those arguments and growls have echoed through the centuries.

Soon, all too soon, they're all going to find out.

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