RP:A Distant Star
Part of the What You Leave Behind Arc
Summary: Encara demands she be made part of the Shadow Plane expedition. Lionel refuses, citing the drow's injuries -- which he himself inflicted. Distraught, the proud drow dares to reveal her mysterious connection to the Shadow Plane: the dark magics swirling like scars over her arm. The mark, whatever its purpose, changes Lionel's perception of the woman and prompts him to promise he'll make it back home alive so that one day she can be taken to the hostile alien realm to find answers. It's hardly what Encara was looking for, but she takes it, holding the Catalian hero rigidly to his word.
Encara :: To Encara, the days since the fateful wraith battle have passed in a muddled blur of blindingly searing pain and dizzy, medicated confusion. She barely remembers being dragged to the camp and taken into Bereth's care, nor the majority of the journey back to Frostmaw. This evening, the drow awoke to find herself in the fort's infirmary and feeling more coherent than she had in days, but surrounded by injured soldiers and busy, chattering nurses. Needless to say, she absconded very soon after that, acutely aware that the medical staff weren't so sad to see the back of her.
Encara :: Bare feet now pad silently over the stone floor, though Encara hardly has a need to be quiet. The place seems almost deserted at this late an hour and she encounters only a few dozy guards as she crosses the fort, making her way… well, she isn't sure, actually. Despite years of living around Frostmaw, Encara has never been here before - the guards at the main gate are, understandably, not particularly fond of drow. Dressed in dark pants and a loose, borrowed shirt (who it belongs to, she can't say, but it definitely isn't her own), with a thick quilt serving for a warm makeshift shawl, she drifts like a ghost along the fort's cavernous halls. The black gauntlet encasing her left arm from elbow down is markedly out of place with the rest of her attire and the only piece of armour she fought against having removed, no matter what state she was in. Outside and high above the City of War, the stars are distant and veiled, as though trying to hide from some unseen enemy. A deathly cold gale skirls around the sturdy timber building, stray eddies sneaking in to toy with Encara's hair and bite harshly at her cheeks, but her pointed ears pick up the sounds of men at work elsewhere over the whistling winds; a telltale sign that she is not quite as alone as the night would have her believe. Yet she doesn't investigate the ruckus, for it's not where she should be. There's an ache in her shoulder that goes beyond the burning of Hellfire's mark - Encara follows the sting of the wound like it's a map and, whether by luck or some twisted fate, it leads her to the quarters of Frostmaw's Steward and the man who started it all. For a moment she stares at the door, worries her lip beneath her teeth and briefly considers knocking, then scoffs under her breath and simply slips in… uninvited, as always.
Lionel | A disquiet follows Lionel’s soul. There’s never any calm before the storms for him. There is anxiety blended sharply into trepidation, swollen by the fear of losing lives. Long ago, an old friend and staunch ally named Donovan Keane informed a very young Lionel O’Connor that waging war without proper rest would get him killed. Against all odds, this has not been the case, which is luck made manifest to help offset the misfortune of his gloom. He has never found sleep an easy thing, and stepping into the dangerous unknown of the Shadow Plane leaves his bed untouched as his lanterns burn near to the wick. For a time, Esche joins him, and the two men do as they have often done before operations: a few words in low voices to discuss the plan, followed by a psych examination from elf to human and small phrases of elven comfort which help Lionel’s blood pressure… if barely. Then there is silence between them, and then Esche departs. It’s become a motif between them, as much as what follows. Lionel stands alone with a lean against his cold stone wall. He watches the flames of his fireplace dance at the cedar logs, melting them inch by smoldering inch. He watches the subtle movements of his raven, head jerking almost imperceptibly in its cage. He studies the contours of his books, a collection of studies only recently assembled by Lithrydelian scholars with regard to the Shadow Plane. They’re all the same book, really; a small deposit of theories and a wealth of withdrawals where academia runs wild with shallow supposition. The men and women who are depending on his leadership tomorrow will find no wisdom there. They’ll have to be ready for anything. Hellfire’s prismatic sheath seems to shimmer iridescently; the sword within has detected something awry. Lionel kicks off the wall and makes it halfway through his nearly-empty quarters before Encara steps inside. He swears beneath his breath. “This is a bad day and age to go barging into a man’s room unannounced. But then again, I guess I don’t have to tell you about the…” He was going to say ‘the intrusions of the wraith’. He refrains. “Crazy world we live in,” he redirects. “How are you holding up?”
Encara's eyes find Lionel silhouetted by fire, and for a short second she is transported back to that dead clearing in the middle of a winter forest, and the instant she felt hot steel cutting straight through her. There's a flinch, barely — she is not afraid, but the memory is unexpectedly vivid and her wound burns at it — and the drow suppresses a shiver, the chill air feeling like the touch of the wraith against her skin, just for a moment. Frowning softly, Encara shrugs awkwardly to Lionel while moving further into the room, door swinging shut behind her as she seeks out the warmth of the fire. "That suggests there's a -good- time to do it. Anyway, it's not as if you can do any worse than you did last time." Her gauntleted hand lifts to lay itself gently over her right shoulder, carefully wrapped in layers of bandage beneath her borrowed shirt. The look she gives Lionel is not accusatory, but edged with curiosity. "Though I asked that of you myself. Better than the alternative." With a slight scrunch of her nose, Encara turns her gaze to the crackling flames, watching embers glow in bright orange veins through the wood: slowly, hungrily devouring. She inhales, tastes the scent of cedar smoke, before exhaling it in a sigh. "I'm fine. It aches, but… it will heal." Hopefully. Encara has yet to see the patchwork of scarring for herself and know the full extent of the injury. "You don't seem the nocturnal type," she muses after a pause, glancing sidelong at the man and letting an expectant silence follow. What has him up so late, she wonders - asking counsel of the fire, or chasing shadows perhaps?
Lionel carries a softness to his face these days despite the gaunt. The thinner he’s gotten since the war began, the deeper the kindness in his features. Eventually, the only thing left of him will be his compassion. His emotions come in at the eyes; azure and striking, they can no longer conceal feelings the way they once did, when the rest of his countenance had greater range. So Encara observes the flames, and sorrow threatens to wet Lionel’s eyes, making him grateful he’s not being looked-upon. In the heat of battle, the warrior emerges. Nigh-instantaneous decisions are made. Flesh is charred, burned, pierced through in order to save the mind. “That was a dreadful resolution we made. I cringed to see you make it. But I didn’t hesitate. To hesitate would have been to fail. And I don’t think there was another resolution to make.” Painful memories jolt Lionel’s eyes wide open. Under orders from Khasad, the Dark Immortal that Kahran himself once followed, enemy soldiers subjected an imprisoned Lionel to all manner of mental horror. Enemy soldiers deep within the tunnels and hovels of subterranean Trist’oth. Enemy drow. To think that he’d one day save a drow from that self-same horror.
His eyelids lower to their resting crease just as Encara’s gaze returns. A close call. He chuckles dryly, suppressing any racial troubles nesting like thorns in his brain. There’s no place for that kind of hatred, and not just because there’s an all-consuming war for survival on the line. It’s unworthy of him and he knows it. But that doesn’t make it easy. “I’m not sure I’m the diurnal type, either. Sleep’s a fickle thing. There’s a lot on my shoulders.” It’s a statement of fact, delivered as such. No hint of woe or self-pity; pure calculation. “Tomorrow, I’m leading a team to the Shadow Plane. I’m taking the fight to the enemy -- for the first time since the fight began. And you, Encara, need to heal. Every step we take over there will be as a ripple, threatening to alert the hordes. The local flora and fauna are just as deadly as Kahran’s invading armies. And I…” He pauses, grimacing. “I want you in the Alliance. Your abilities are surpassed only by your pragmatic approach. You’re desperately needed in the ranks. If anyone gives you grief for it,” he says, not specifying the elephant in the room called heritage, “I’ll give them worse. Or you will. Whichever comes first. Should you accept my offer, there’s only one term: you’re benched until after this expedition. I won’t have you by my side unless you’re at full strength. I won’t lose an ally just after recruiting her.” The softness to his features remains. All but for his eyes, which reflect the flickering flames.
Encara :: "Most would've been happy to take your place," Encara snorts, as if she's aware of Lionel's thoughts in some form despite not laying eyes on him, and without possessing any powers of telepathy. It isn't difficult for her to imagine what might be going through his head at this exact moment. "Most would've driven the blade deeper and left me to bleed out… maybe they'd be right to do so. You didn't." The curiosity has returned, visible in her expression when she meets his gaze again - it's left open and unguarded in a rare moment where the drow allows herself to be read, rather than disguising everything behind stone-cold rage. "…Why?" she asks then, a loaded question delivered knowingly with a single word.
Still, it might go unanswered, and perhaps it should, as Lionel begins to explain the reason for his lack of sleep, the heavy burdens that lie upon his shoulders, and the coming storm he plans to march straight into. Encara's jaw tightens at his every word, eyes hardening until they're once again ruby-sharp with a ferocity that doesn't match her current appearance. Normally she would agree with him; as irritating and damning as it is to admit weakness, she cannot fight at her full strength with this injury. But it's the Shadow Plane, and that place has yet to answer many of her own questions, like the one she asked of Lionel. "I have a right to join you. I have a right to go there, and—" Her right hand is shaky and difficult to move, pain lancing through her shoulder every time she so much as twitches it - scowling, Encara reaches anyway for her left, and the gauntlet, and tugs at its straps and clasps until she can yank the thing off. She holds out her exposed forearm for Lionel to see, palm upturned. "Look at this and tell me I don't have the right to know why this happened, or to fix it." Marks cover her skin, darker than her own flesh, that at first look to be merely scars— except that they're in constant motion, flickers of inky darkness curling lazily like smoke across her arm, shying away from the light of the fire. The shadowy taint emerges from a mark on Encara's palm that is as black as the void. "I was a child when the Shadow Plane did this to me. I want to know -why-." Her voice is strained with desperation.
Lionel | For a time, at least, it seems as if Encara’s original question will indeed go unanswered. The woman’s ire flares, as Lionel had wondered if it would. He withstands it like a breaking wave. The lanterns’ light is all but dead; the room’s a colder place for it. The fire still roars, but the logs are low. Standing there, listening to her with a growing sense of empathy, Lionel puts one hand on his desk and the other to his hip. It’s a supporting gesture, helping him to endure the wave, letting him keep quiet through it all. His eyes narrow at the twitching of Encara’s arm, and then his brow lofts, and Hellfire’s shimmer returns. He tilts his head to acknowledge it, a fear emerging in his heart, a fear for the coming of evil. His first impulse is to order her to take cover while he shines the sword’s steel into the room and locates the origin of their shared shuddering. The impulse withers into an awkward half-beat when the source is revealed. The hand on his desk is swiftly retracted as the Catalian comes closer to watch the swirling scars. The softness in Lionel’s face finally cracks, replaced with unambiguous concern. “I do too,” Lionel admits. “I had no idea.”
Lionel | He searches for a meaning but comes up blank. The Shadow Plane is as enigmatic as it is dangerous, and tonight, its enigma has increased exponentially. “Encara, I can’t know what it’s like to need answers of this magnitude and be told not to venture where you might find them. I only know that Kahran’s armies are all over the Shadow Plane now; it’s walking into death’s door, and the answers you seek cannot be found tomorrow. Not when every second we trek could bring the armies down upon us in full. Listen to me. Please.” His tone takes a pleading push, matching the lilting tones of his light Catalian accent. “I wouldn’t have left you to bleed out because you’re drow. Anyone who would has a lot to learn. You’re a free-thinking, willful person who I don’t believe wants to inflict harm upon innocent lives. That’s all I need to know. And whatever -this- is,” he gestures to her forearm, “that’s still who you are. And it’s still all I need to know. We’ll find the answers for you. You have to believe that. But if you come with us, if you follow where we tread, and you aren’t completely healed from the wound I gave you?” He shakes his head vigorously. “That’s the end. For you and for your questions. Don’t do it. Stay. Recover. And then you and I will go there and we will find your answers.”
Encara does not fear death - any doubts on that front were likely cast aside when she dove for Hellfire with the clear knowledge, and likely assumption, that Lionel could have very easily given her more than just a nasty scar. For a moment, the rage is all-consuming and she does not care if Kahran's armies or the man himself stand in the way of her seeking answers, scoffing derisively at the notion and at Lionel's attempt to talk her down. Still, something he says seems to strike a chord within her; is it his empathy, or his pleading tone? Is it the words themselves and the claim that he would not have abandoned her back there, even when she wears a face too similar to so many of his ghosts? Whatever it is, it's a balm for the drow's anger. She stares at him for a long couple of seconds, surprised to find she believes his words and more than a little unsettled by that fact, too - the lanterns go out and the shadows deepen, lending her bright eyes an almost unnatural glow while the strange markings consuming her arm dance more rapidly in the darkness. There's a tense instant where it almost looks as though she's about to argue… then Encara huffs, admitting defeat, and falls into a chair before the fire as if the very act of doing so has sapped all of her energy. "If I can't go," she bites out, obviously displeased about this result even if she has to agree, "then you'll come back. You'll keep your word, you'll come back, and we'll go and find out together. And no self-sacrificing bull, Lionel O'Connor, because I swear if you die there, I'll resurrect you so I can kill you myself. I owe you my life - at least give me a chance to repay that debt." Were she anyone else, these harsh words would surely be disguising concern… with Encara it's a bit more difficult to tell.
Lionel snorts and smirks and smiles. Absentmindedly scratching his ashen hair over the nape of his neck, he lets himself fall into a chair as well -- albeit gingerly. Not for the first time, someone has told him not to die on the other side. If he were a superstitious man, he’d almost be worried now. But instead he takes it to heart, feeling his mood lighten in so doing. “I’ll come back. You’ll repay the debt by helping me to end the bastards who have torn this realm asunder. Your realm and mine, Encara. The drow are as much a part of it as the rest of us -- even if it takes the rest of us longer to admit it sometimes than we’d like.” The evening drones on in relative silence. The fire crackles its last embers and the room goes darker still. Whenever it is that Encara sees fit to leave, Lionel will hope that she can truly trust him. He will stand by his word, and despite his past dealings with drow, he’s somehow positive that she will too. Valrae’s spirit swirls past him in the darkness, watching over him. Night soon fades to day. The mission begins.