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RP:Doubt Truth To Be A Liar

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Part of the What You Leave Behind Arc


Part of the What Dreams May Come Arc


Summary: Lionel assembles his ragtag alliance in Frostmaw to discuss their next move. But while he and Leone announce bold new quests to take the fight to Kahran, Valrae's spirit lurks unhinged, prompting forlorn Lionel to find hope in strange spaces. It's a haunting yet beautiful moment cut tragically short when the enemy launches a surprise attack upon the gathered crowd, killing few but narrowly missing many more. Kahran's orcs quickly threaten to run roughshod on the alliance but they're set upon by the unlikeliest reinforcements Lionel could ever expect: Larketians. In the aftermath, Chisel's presence is decried and the wounded are healed no matter their national affiliation... but at Frostmaw Fort, Lionel and Khitti stand resolutely against terms of peace with Queen Josleen despite her timely arrival. Enraged, Josleen storms off; Lionel, seeing Valrae's smile in his mind's eye, believes his morals over Josleen's relativism.

FROSTMAW: SNOWLESS TRAINING YARD

PHASE 1: FOR THE LIVING

Lionel | In Frostmaw, warmth is where the hearth is. Warrior’s Guild commanders and their hard-working initiates have spent the waning hours of the afternoon digging a temporary trench into the center of the snowless training yard and then filling it with firewood to provide much-needed heat to what will surely be an important meeting. Joining them are a company of Frostmawian troops within the kingdom’s army, a handpicked crew set aside for this one particular purpose, mostly giants but with numerous humans and elves and dwarves intermingling. Lionel’s command here has brought with it a partial blending of races and philosophies -- for his enemies are enemies not only to the City of War but to all of Lithrydel. Mercenaries gifted to Beldur the Knight-Errant, hailing from all walks of life, have also assisted in the trench work, as have a pair of Chartsend militia inspired to stand beside some of the men and women who have helped to save their frontier settlement not once but twice. Numerous refugee witches and their supporters, who flocked to Uma in Cenril, stand in circles near the yard’s perimeter. They’ve had it harder than most, but they’ve found something here to believe in. This is Lionel O’Connor’s ragtag alliance against Kahran, and as Kahran razes the countryside, the opposition against him only grows.


Lionel | Night blankets Frostmaw, and the stars reflect the roaring fire. Lionel’s scarlet silk shirt seems to glow against the blaze. “You’ll need to be judicious in these assignments,” Esche, his elven advisor, prattles on. Lionel is only half-listening; it’s nothing he hasn’t heard before, and there’s no reason to hear it again. “I will be, Esche.” The Catalian smiles agreeably and pats his friend on his shoulder; Esche frowns and lofts a brow upon being patted. It’s almost enough capricious whimsy on Lionel’s part to convince even himself that things are fine. He’s taken his sister Khitti’s words to heart; it’s time to show more hope, to demonstrate his leadership abilities in his carefree manner. It’s time to overcome his perpetual gloom for long enough to be proud of the alliance that they’ve built and the heroics they’ve accomplished and let a little bit of that pride show. Deep down inside, he knows it’s not that easy. Kahran’s conquest spreads, his list of victims grows longer, his war generals grow bolder. In Alithrya, Jaize, defeated but not destroyed, lurks somewhere in the shadows. In Schezerade, foul forces conspire to sow chaos. In Larket, Macon and Josleen still rule. And of Lionel himself, there is an unspoken fear that the woman, Mulgrew, who slew the Ouroboros tribe and left behind a crystal skull, has done something to control him for her own mysterious schemes. The word on Lionel’s tongue tonight is ‘hope’, but the word on Lionel’s mind is ‘fraught’. “Mulgrew claimed we’d soon know the location of the first of several dungeons which could hold the key to stopping Kahran,” Lionel says to High Priestess Leone, and not for the first time, just as familiar faces begin to gather. “Let’s focus on our tasks here, but... be ready for anything.”


Leone stands near Lionel as the meeting patrons begin to filter in. She's dressed in her usual smithing leathers, remnants of sweat and soot smeared along her brow. The smith has been hard at work, though not of the religious kind, it would seem. As she lingers near the Steward, the High Priestess leans over, perhaps even across Esche, to whisper at Lionel. At him. Not to him. "Relax," the farrier says sympatheticly, "Remember that your dispostion, your outward behavior sets the tone here. If you're nervous, they'll be nervous. Be confident and firm, but friendly. These are volunteers, people who want to be here for their own accord, not a bunch of disgruntled gladiators," the advises toward the Catalain. The smith presents the Hero-in-charge with a small nod, a display of affirmation and understanding before she moves off to greet some of the incoming attendants, eager to hear what the meeting is about.


Brennia keeps to the outskirts of the crowds, donning a cloak over her tucked away wings and the hood of the cloak pulled up to shadow the features of her face. The thing about trying to be all ‘incognito’ as an avian is that people still seem to smell their favorite scent around them - it can be quite telling and at this realization Brennia makes a mental note to whip up some perfumes to go with her collection of pigment changing tonics. She watches and waits while sitting alone, but trying to not look nefarious at the same time. It’s proving to be difficult work this far to be hidden and nonchalant without looking like you’re……. Up to something. Possibly champions who know her such as Kreekitaka and Lionel would sense something familiar of the height of the woman or her chilly timbre.


Khitti wasn’t here before the meeting started, like she was before, in Cenril. She took her time getting here because, really, she wasn’t sure if she should be here at all. Things felt like they couldn’t be any more pear-shaped lately and despite the fact that Khitti, Brand, and Lionel had talked about things recently, she was still rather unsure of whether or not she should be near the Steward and this priestess of Aramoth--it had been said, after all, that Khitti could sow discord amongst people better than anything else could. It was something she thought she was past, but apparently not, and it rattled her to the core, whether she showed it or not. How was she ever to master Tenbatsu Kaji and its mysteries when she acted the way she did? The still heavily pregnant and now magic-less redhead found herself a seat amongst the witches, their supporters, and the various Warrior’s Guild members that found themselves here tonight to hear her brother, dressed in a few layers of maternity clothes and the outerwear that was much needed for survival in Frostmaw, that aforementioned katana of Cyris strapped to her back. Lionel would, of course, be notified that Khitti was here, and that sword right along with her.


Zahrani smells fire and smoke near the temple of Aramoth; and plenty of it. As she approaches the training yard, the feline lowers the fur hood covering her head, the wind occasionally gusting about the hem of her cloak. She sees plenty of familiar faces, the light from the roaring fire casting an amber hue to her fur and her cyan eyes. Within a few moments she had approached Lionel, smiling warmly at the man, her tail swishing at the sand beneath their feet. "Good to see you again." her rough tenor voice is calm. A light scar is nestled in the fur on her cheek, a memento from their scouting mission.


Blut was here much earlier than most. Simply due to how close this area is to the temple of judgement where Blut spent the remainder of his free time cooped up withing. Blut could be seen sat down by the fire and writing within his journal. He muttered to himself constantly in a inrecognisable language so much time in the temples and libraries and not enough interaction with the world has been getting to him. Bluts hair was long and a beard was developing showing he had not been in contact with civilisation for weeks. Most people did their best to steer clear of the man others that tried were ignored. He had no time to waste on the narrow minded probably only raising his head from his book temorarily for a few moments as Lionel entered the sceen and the first few words of Leones speech. Blut whilst still dressed in his garbs assassins garbs were dusty and covered in snow as if they haven't moved in weeks.


Zahrani turns to see Khitti. The paladin notices the katana strapped to the witch's back, but makes no mention of it. To the woman, she asks, "How have you been since we last traveled together?"


Hudson is standing among the witches with Uma, Cenril’s Mayor, and Joanie, who is in a bad mood with him because he forgot about this meeting and scheduled a squash game over it and had to be fetched from the squash court and a clean set of clothes had to be found on a rush basis and it had just been Annoying. Joanie as a result of her Annoyance is talking to Uma, who is telling her about a need to gather certain powerful talismans in this time (skulls, in particular) in case a powerful protection spell needs to be cast at a moment’s notice. The conversation quickly segues into nerd levels of detail, as the witches discuss various known talismans of power and their alternatives, such as human sacrifice, which are slightly dodgier in how reliably they transfer power. Hudson, cut entirely out of the conversation, decides to make jokes at the somewhat attractive witch standing on the other side of him. She commences showing him miniature portraits of her cats, Buffy and Pepper. Plainly she doesn’t know who he is, which is both endearing and a little frustrating because he’d have liked her to be wow’d and trying to please him a bit more. It’s fine.


Khitti managed a smile for Zahrani, “I’ve been well.” The glowing gold aura of the sword flickered a little, whether it was because of Khitti’s minor lie or simply because of Zahrani, or perhaps both. “I’d like to speak again with you soon, if that’s alright. Some -things-… have come up.” If Zahrani was paying close enough attention, she’d notice a distinct lack of necromantic energy coming from Khitti. She didn’t seem to be pained by the aura the sword gave off either. Strange.


Zahrani had noticed, "Of course. I'd be happy to speak with you again." She crosses her arms beneath her cloak, surveying the other attendees with mild curiosity.


Gilwen wasn't much of a gladiator, but she was disgruntled; the cold never sat well with the elf, and she was dramatic in her displeasure with chilly temperature, making sure to huddle into her heavy furs, which included not only a hooded cloak, but also a furred mantle, an oversize hand muff, fur trimmed boots, earmuffs and woolen scarf. While the wind and lack of snow flurries helped decrease the frigidity of the area, as well as the fire that had been built to ward off the cold, Gilwen had never acclimated to the weather of the City of War. So she lingered near the fire, just close enough that a stray ember could set her aflame at a moment's notice. Clearly, though, she cared naught.


Josleen, Thane of Frostmaw, was not made aware of tonight's meeting despite the fact that it is led by Frostmaw's Steward and High Priestess with the approval of the city's Queen. Queen Hildegarde's decision not to include her Thane not only deepens the fractures in the Larket-Frostmaw relations, but also reveals the friction between the two Queens who once trusted each other as confidantes. Not only is Josleen clueless about this meeting, but she is also en route to the City of War not on Frostmawian business, but on a Larketian diplomatic mission on behalf of her king. A royal counselor and several troops accompany the royal caravan. The fact that Josleen is still the Frostmaw's Thane, even if only in name, is a sign that at least on a personal level both Hildegarde and Josleen hope that their friendship may yet be salvaged. From within the confines of her Royal Carriage (down the mountain and not yet arrived in the City), Josleen racks her brain for topics unrelated to politics with which to engage Hildegarde. It shouldn't be this difficult to find something in common. The global threat to humanity and civilization as we know it comes to mind…


Eleanor arrived in silence, the hem of her shadow-laced cloak shifting noiselessly about her as she circumnavigated around the gathering of people. She kept, at first, to the outskirts of the group, hood pulled low over the iron diadem and its turquoise gem before eventually her tall boots carried her closer to Leone. The woman kept her tongue stilled, full lips pursed into a nebulous frown as she folded her arms over her chest. Despite hovering near the priestess, she didn't seem to make any overt recognition or greeting to Leone or anyone else. Lurker.


Valrae || For the living, time passes the way water flows through a river. In death, it’s more similar to the unmoving water of a lake. How long had she been suspended here? No longer alive, not yet dead, but caught in a place outside of time. At first, the echo of the witch that once was traveled down all the roads her life had taken her. She walked the shores of Cenril, the streets of Larket and the ruined garden of her home… For what was an eternity to the waning spirit she was, she clung to those places again and again, an endless loop of what had been. And she had felt herself fading, leaving more and more of herself behind. In life, Valrae had never seen the snow blanketed land of Frostmaw. She’d never felt the biting wind, seen the trophy lined hall, heard the howl of the wind over the frozen ground. Why now, only in the final throes of her death, would she be drawn here? Was it the huddled circle of her people? Her spirit moved around them now, fleeting as smoke and as visible as the wind, as they spoke in hushed tones while the fire cast dancing shadows over thin faces. The names of those she’d fought for and with, those she loved and some she’d never really known, such as Khitti, echoed in her mind.


Valrae || Without life, a body and all the sensations that come with it, the spirit of the witch had only been left to feel. As she moved around her people, some faces familiar and others strange, she felt. The echoes of anxiety and fear rolled in burning waves that, at first, she flinched away from just as as she did the fire that blazed near. If it wasn’t her people that called her here, was it the larger group as a whole? Her ghost whispered through the crowd, leaving the air colder as she went. She curled around Brennia’s figure and passed through Joanie and Uma. She avoids Josleen altogether. Though she noticed on no level of her own form of consciousness, the energy of the people gathered here had bled into her and bolstered her cursed existence. Unseen, she continued through the crowd. Her movement was erratic and abnormal, she circled around and around the burning image of scarlet in the crowd… Was this it? The reason she was drawn here? But it was like looking into the sun. The more she tried to focus, the less she saw. Still, her spirit circled, reaching out tentatively toward Lionel. When she was near enough, in a body she could have extend an arm and touched him, something unexpected happened. Valrae remembered the taste of smoke on her tongue.


Lionel offers his best nod to Khitti and Zahrani as they greet him. Between his sister’s arrival and Leone’s words of affirmation, he might just have a handle on things after all. That’s when Lionel feels it: something hauntingly familiar. It almost chokes him, but not from terror -- from strange familiarity, from deep remembrance suddenly come rushing in from on-high. What the hell is this? It must surely be an effect of the skull, or one of Mulgrew’s machinations. Could it have come at a more dire time? Perhaps if he were on the field of battle the consequences would be downright fatal, but even so, he needs to stand firm and focused. The alliance has gathered to hear his and Leone’s commands. He cannot afford to tell the truth of his burgeoning weakness to them now -- not when they’ve placed so much trust upon this cause. He cannot. Lionel balls his left hand into a tight enough fist to take his mind off the sum of all his fears; when next he speaks, it’s a calm and lilting defiance of this haunting. “Our enemy has kept us on the defensive since before the war even began. With the Ouroboros destroyed, it’s time we pressed the advantage. Intel’s given us a possible upper hand on three separate fronts. The first is the location of an enemy necromancer named Qybek. He’s a war general, which means he’s a high value target. Taking him off the map might mean making that map just a little bit safer. Beldur’s fought Qybek’s troops before, so Beldur’s on the team. Blut supplied this information, and I’ll remind everyone he supplied us with the information that helped save Chartsend, too, so I want him with you. Gilwen, heck, this is your turf. I’m sure you’ll want in. Kreekitaka, your powers are needed here more than elsewhere, I think. Pilar, Bastion, I’d be glad for your assistance as healers. Qybek’s holed up in a network of caverns a few kilometers west of an old shrine. He’s likely fortified himself too well for sneaking, so you’ll be taking a solid number of our forces with you. Get in there, hit them hard, eliminate the target, and get out.”


LIonel | His balled fist has kept him centered, but the haunting’s mental crippling continues. “The second lead’s all rather vague, but nevertheless, it’s crucial. Seabound scouts have reported strange lights coming from an island off of Chartsend’s shore. The folks who live out there have stopped coming ashore for trade and they’ve not responded to letters either. If that doesn’t sound like a…” There’s a pressure building in his temples. Keep it together, Lionel. “If that doesn’t sound like an enemy base to you, well, it sure sounds like one to me.” Surely he’d initially planned to deliver that sentence more smoothly than this. Esche steps up beside him, covertly eyeing him for signs of abnormality. “You’d better start a book,” Lionel mutters for only Esche to hear. Then, more loudly: “since we’ll need a ship for this one, I’m hoping we can rely on the Tranquility, under Captain Brand and, of course, Khitti. I’d like Zahrani and Rorin to tag along with you, and…” Kanna catches Lionel right in the peripheral. She’s a stranger, but she seemed savvy to help during their recent meeting. “And Kanna, if you would.” The haunting wins his mind and he purses his lips in discrete agony. Perhaps it would be best if Leone took over from here, citing the third and final lead -- the ongoing preparations for a small expedition into the Shadow Plane.


Leone casts a sidelong glance at Lionel and his odd behavior. As the blonde man goes through the details of the first two missions, and quickly declines in attention and ability, the smith delivers a curt nod of understanding before dutifully steping forward. "Our path into the shadow lands is fraught, but not impossible. We'll be taking off from a neutral location, so no one city can be associated with the expedition, and therefore become the target of Kahran's retaliation. The Shadow plane has myriad dangers and issues that we must be prepared for. We'll have a separate meeting in about a week for those going on this missing, to wholly familiarize them with the realm," she says rather matter-of-factly. After a short breath, and a brief period to allow people to absorb what is being said, the smith continues on, stating, "This expedition is being led by myself and Lionel. I'm insistent that we take Eleanor as her assistance during the previous mission was indispensible. We'd not have made nearly the progress that we did, had it not been for her actions and abilities. I think we likewise need them here. Krice has expressed an interest in going as well, though that needs confirmation. We have room for a few more, but a full team isn't necessary, as this is an intelligence and reconaissance mission; it'll work well with what we have. Still, if you are interested, please feel free to speak up." Once she's finished with her spiel, the farrier turns toward the hooded, lurking form of Eleanor, and presents the green-and-gold woman with a sly wink. From afar, the farrier fangirls over Uma. A bright smile and a cheerful wave is gesticulated at the Mayor of Cenril.


Brennia felt a chill in the air and a caramel hand reached to pull the cloak tighter around her form, but she felt lightheaded... The strangest thing happened. She suddenly had the image of a beautiful golden haired woman with wide and kind mossy green eyes and clad in a billowy dress. Who is this? It’s etched in her mind and she finally came out of the fog when Lionel speaks up, but her head maybe tilted up too far and teal eyes focused on the words forming from his brivato. Hope continues to rest as a small ember within herself even though she was torn from her home, but tonight it felt stronger and she will do all she can to help if need be.


Blut looked at lionel takeing note of his odd behavior before wondering. Blut took off his wraps revealing his crimson eyes all he looked over all the combatants everyone has a mana source no matter how small or lacking as he walked forward.towards the comander. He spied the holy energy eminateing from Khittis blade and whatever colour her mana would be now. He saw the rightous energy of the various paladins. He spied Eleanor wrapped up in her magics as he continued to walk forward as he looked over Lionel trying to spy anything suspicious anything related to Kharan. Seeing the mans mana more than once he was more than familier with it.


Zahrani keenly listens to Lionel and Leone. A look of mild concern forms on her face, seeing the haunted look on the man. She turns to Khitti, offering a slight smile and saying, "Traveling together should also give us time to talk." The smile fades to a neutral look as her nares flare with curiosity. She looks around to Bastion, to Blut, to Rorin, Khitti, Kanna, then finally Lionel. Something strange is at work here; her divine aura feels like it had just...brushed up against someone. Someone who would otherwise be...gone. The panther remains silent, not sure if the cold and wind were playing tricks on her.


Khitti :: Lionel’s strange behavior had not gone unnoticed. It was too bad, really, that Khitti no longer possessed those dark magic abilities of hers because she’d likely sense ~something~. But, alas, things were no longer like that. Khitti would mouth a ‘Are you okay?’ to her brother, then blinked a few times as her name is directly brought up. “Uhhhh. I, uh. I’m sure that’d be fine.” Hopefully Brand will be okay with this. Things had still not entirely recovered since the unfortunately large fight her and the father of her almost-child had had days ago. If there -was- a problem, well… she’d just make Lionel deal with it, right? Yeah. This is good plan. As if to give more conviction to her words, she’d nod to Zahrani, and then give a wave to Kanna, as if to say ‘Hi, I’m the Khitti he speaks of’. Once that was dealt with, however, her mind returned to the more important thing at hand: What the frak is going on with Lionel? (Moreso than usual, that is.)


Gilwen watched Lionel intently throughout his speech, and though she lacked an understanding of his person or character from beyond an acquaintance's position, something felt off by his delivery and his general persona. However, the mission she was supplied with was met with a nod to show her acceptance, before she glanced around the crowd as if the names listed along with hers would clue her in to who, exactly, she'd be undertaking this task with. Alas, no luck there. When Leone began describing the venture into the shadow plane, Gilwen immediately took interest, and only after the invitation to throw one's name into the hat was made did she speak up. "I expressed my interest to Lionel about wishing to lend my assistance on this trip," she said, her words and attention directed to the smith, "My offer still stands. I would like to be considered for this mission."


Kreekitaka was always rushing everywhere. Always. He'd had to rush here, in fact, all the way from Cenril. He was starting to consider bringing a caster with him everywhere he went in order to expedite his travel. That, or acquiring a flying mount. Speaking of which, he'd need to get his people together for a proper meet-and-greet to discuss his special project, but that was an issue to hurry about another day. He made it in almost exactly as Lionel outlined the mission he had planned for him, and nodded at first, then paused and tilted his head. "Why am I going inTAH!oo HHHTHe caves, an' noTAH! going wiHHHTH HHHTHe TAH!eam which travohs by sea?" he asked, as he moved closer to the fire for warmth--and also closer to Leone, who spoke about going to the shadow plane. Heck yes he wanted to go to the shadow plane. His claw shot up like lightning when she asked for volunteers.


Hudson is mercifully spared from further tales of Buffy and Pepper by the commencing of the meeting. Hudson too notices a strangeness in Lionel, and his mind immediately goes to the skull. U OK DUDE? He exchanges a look with Uma, who then pats his arm and smiles tightly as if it were all an inside joke. Stop looking so alarmed, Huds. Pls. She is expecting to be brought on the magical missions, if there are to be any, and is delighted when she discovers that Leone will be leading one. "She is the one I was telling you about," she whispers delightedly to Joanie, before raising her hand in a wave right back at Leone. Hudson, in the spirit of keeping tabs on his mayor, likewise raises his hand, thinking that to be the right thing to do, and glancing in the direction of Eleanor in what constitutes a silent confirmation that he'll be keeping her company as well. "I was waving! Stop that!" hisses Uma at Huds, who indeed stops. Uma shakes her head, clicking her tongue and addressing Leone in a raised voice so as to be heard: "Lest there be any confusion, we will come with you, Leone!" "Not Joanie," Hudson is quick to say, privately between them. "Yes Joanie!" they exclaim, in sync. He physically recoils. "Wow, OK," he replies, in a certain tone.


Blut regardless if Lionel had anything on him Blut would still express his intentions to join the expidition. Turning to Leone "I would like to take part in this trip to the shadow plane and could you show me the faces of the people I'm supposed to work with." Blut asked as he put his wraps back on to see faces rather than mana.


Eleanor angled her chin in a nod of deference to Leone, her gem catching the glow of firelight before she lifted her chin again, enshrouding her brow in shadows once more. She would join the priestess on their trip to the Shadow Plane without objection, and the nod given, the woman went back to quietly observing the other people gathered, gaze swinging toward Lionel with veiled curiosity now and again. At some point, she lifted her gaze to regard the Uyeer, her pursed lips twitching from a tempered smirk. He was just one of many familiar faces though, and apart from the nod she had given Leone, El went back to studying those gathered as a whole rather than risk sharing glances with anyone in particular.


Khitti smirked at Kreekitaka, “No offense, but I’d rather not have your shenanigans frakking up the ship that is also my home. It’s good to get out of your comfort zone once in awhile.”


Khitti just shook her head at everyone, “I cannot, for the frakking life of me, see why all of you are so damned intent on going to the Shadow Plane. Literally none of you, but Lionel, Esche, Brand, and I know what’s over there. You have no idea what the frak you’re getting into.”


Josleen is welcomed into the city by her generals, with whom Josleen has served in many wars past. Queen Hildegarde is not in the fort at the moment, but will arrive in the morning. The Queen is invited to dine with the generals, and her staff and soldiers are fed in the kitchen elsewhere. She asks for Lionel and is only then clued in to the meeting. Josleen smiles to hide her displeasure. King Macon will not enjoy sitting on the sidelines for this.


Blut looked over at Khitti "Your telling me you wouldn't be curious to see what another realm intails. After seeing all this world has to offer its nice to see something new". Blut joked hideing the fact he has been there before. Maybe not for long but he was there.


Valrae || Whatever was happening eclipsed the world around her. Suddenly, violently, there were flames climbing all around her. They didn’t burn, though there was warmth. For a moment, a mirror of her last alive, all she knew was the dance of flames rising in jagged, lashing tongues around her. They ended just as quickly. Snuffed, without so much as leaving smoke, by the sound of Lionel’s voice. He spoke to the crowd and her spirit spiraled away with the scent of smoke following her. Her spirit billowed through Zahrani. Can you see me? Tentatively, she neared the pregnant woman who sat amongst the witches. Can you see me? She passed around the body of a bard, lovely and dark Brennia, almost playfully. Can you see me? Leone was speaking now. She circled around Uma and Joanie and even Hudson, who her spirit recognized and swelled too. Can you see me? Can you see me? Can you see me? A desperate question with no voice to ask. Damned to the space between, unallowed to influence the world around her beyond the chill of the air and the fleeting scent of smoke that it carried on it. Unseen, unheard. Hopelessness washed over her in waves.


Kreekitaka harrumphed at Khitti. "I have no iDAH!ea whaTAH! you're speaking of." What shenanigans? He didn't know any shenanigans. Last time he'd been on the Tranquility, he'd freaking saved it from being eaten by Matu'Omi. "YasTAH! TAH!ime I was on your ship, I was HHHTHe one who syoweDAH! DAH!own HHHTHe guarDAH!ian enough TAH!oo save HHHTHe ship. You're weocome, by HHHTHe way."


Khitti said to Blut, "I've been there. Many times. I'm the reason any of you know anything about the Shadow Plane whatsoever. One does not simply walk into the Vale and expect things to go as planned."


Blut said to Khitti, "sigh "Well all the more reason to go. I could go with some more excitement in my life.""


Zahrani 's eyes close for a moment. That same feeling again. This time, her aura begins to glow...just ever so faintly...with amber light. Her presence is warm and calming to be around; at least, she tries to be. It's almost like it's...reaching out, unseen by those of flesh and blood ~Where are you?~ she thinks to herself.


PHASE 2: SLINGS AND ARROWS

Lionel | Fire. Elsewhere, a fire. At first, the memory flickers, like dying embers, and then it returns to him in full: a woman’s death that shook the realm. A spark of hope born on her own martyrdom. The quiet, hidden thing that’s kept him fighting whenever that hope has threatened to falter, whenever even his sister’s words, even Brand’s words, even Esche’s, have not been enough to quiet the screams in his raging mind. If it were only just that, Lionel would remind himself of his and Uma’s plan to put his crystal skull to test, but it’s somehow more -- impossibly more. A woman beneath a gossamer white veil, too thin and moving like smoke through the night. A woman, foreign yet known? What is Mulgrew scheming now, or Kahran, or -who the hell ever,- and why doesn’t it feel wrong to him at all? ‘Are you okay?’ Khitti’s mouthed the words just as Lionel’s forced his eyes away from the apparition. ‘I will be,’ he mouths, just so, discreet enough that few, if any, will notice them. Only, his eyes are immediately drawn back to that thing, that specter, that machination or magical what-have-you. “Kree,” he says, still staring at a thing he’s not sure anyone else will ever see, “you’re going to the cave because the boat’s doing recon and you’d fight an ostrich if it crossed you or its feathers could be sold for a copper. The cave mean you fight things. A lot of things.” There’s bickering between certain comrades now, but it’s distant. Perhaps it’s too distant; Lionel is a leader, and he can’t let things fall apart. But isn’t that their nature? For things? To fall apart? Isn’t that why the woman that perhaps only he can see is now asking things that perhaps only he can hear? “I can see you,” Lionel says, hoping she will hear him. Several nearby attendees turn and frown. Lionel’s muscles tense and his veins feel like ice despite the fire; he said it aloud and now these people who look up to him are expecting something more. “I can see you,” he repeats, praying to the gods she hates that ghost will know it so. “Each and every one of you.” Now to prevent disastrous chimes of his insanity by any means necessary. “You’re the light that burns the darkness away. You’ve fought, struggled, and you’ll fight and struggle some more. I would place my life in your hands, my allies, my friends.” He studies Khitti. “My family. And now we’ll move forth with our missions, and we’ll make our enemies bleed just as they have made us bleed.” He still sees her.


Leone immediately accepts Gilwen's offer of accompaniment. "I wouldn't have it any other way," the priestess says above the general din of the gathering to the elven woman. Kree's raised claw is met with a nod of confirmation, as well as Blut's query to venture forth. "I think you know almost everyone that's going, already, don't you?" The question is posed to the mana-seeing assassin with a perplexed and bemused tone. A smirk filters over the farrier's face at Eleanor's response. Afterward, the smith's lime green gaze floats back toward Hudson & Co. to precise land upon the glory that is Uma. "Oh, I'd love to have you," the petite plover begins, "If you're sure it's safe. I would not take the City by the Sea's Mayor away from them when she's just recently been elected." Her attention circles back to Lionel, and she reaches out, intent on grabbing the warrior's forearm with her smithing hand, in a steadying motion that is disguised as a display of solidarity.


Brennia vowed to herself never to do this, because it was rather morbid, but there is a way for a bard to know if there was something else on the wind she was feeling other than air. Slowly she backed herself away to be able to see the whole crowd and send out one simple note through the crowd, it was inaudible to those untuned to bardic abilities, but other than two life forces coming from Khitti she saw a faint burgundy aura hovering Hudson, Uma and Joanie. “I can see you,” her slightly raspy voice was barely a whisper on the wind just as Lionel confirmed it too, but the force didn’t malevolent - only lost. A caramel hand covers her gasping mouth as the thought that someone was here with them who is gone, but not and she’s tethering to something.


Chisel enters. The frozen thundra outside barely halted her, not one bit. She should've frozen to death, her body cannot provide heat to counter these temperatures and yet she stands by the doorway with almost no cover from the cold. The dryad wears but a simple garb of a white dress and a woolen cloak, neither of which would be enough for this climate. She opens her cloak and produces her lantern, glowing still. Approaching the group and extending her hand before her as vines began to grow from the ground, providing a chair for her to sit on. No one expected her to be here... to the point that no one was able to stop her from just waltzing in... too stunned of her audacity it seems. "Go on... continue." She could hear something humming from her lantern, curious but ignored it.


Blut looked at the woman with a confused face "Their names I've never meet the individuals nor have I even seen their faces." Blut sighed before shakeing his head "never mind I'll find them later." Blut claimed as he walked away before takeing off his wraps one more time to look at lionel. The man spied the unique properties of the skull on Lionels person. Blut walked over to the general "Lionel you didn't pick up anything fishy dureing our last mission did you?" Blut asked raising his eyebrow before putting his wraps back over his eyes.


Kreekitaka paused a moment. "I'd charge more HHHTHan a copper," he answered, toying with a facial crusher the way a man might toy with a handlebar moustache, thinking it over. Exotic materials which he'd have to go and acquire himself? Ostrich feathers would be worth at least twenty gold, depending on how many there were and how long he'd need to track down the ostrich... Lionel, you may have just given him an idea. Regardless, he was satisfied with the answer he got--more fighting meant happier Kree, certainly.


Khitti does not see Valrae, but oh, the spirit inside Tenbatsu Kaji does. The sword’s glow strengthened, and if that had not caught Khitti’s attention, then Seika’s voice surely did now. [Do you see her? She’s talking to you.] The redhead’s attention was pulled from the meeting itself as she whispered to the sword, “What are you talking about? The only one talking to me is that oversized lobster.” [Her spirit yearns for freedom, now in death, as it did in life. It calls to me, as it will call to you in time.] Still, Khitti struggled to see. [Your brother… he sees her though.] Khitti’s line of sight fixed on Lionel once again, crimson brows furrowed in concern. Is -that- what’s wrong? “Who is she?” The spirit within the sword seemed sad now, only furthering Khitti’s unease. [Death. Murder. Injustice. Hope. Light.] “That makes no sense. You can’t be all of those at once.” [Why not? You were.] Lionel and Leone continued their parts, and Khitti was only left to watch the Catalian in silence with that pensive stare of hers.


Zahrani opens her eyes once more, her feline ears turning towards a new voice that had entered. Cyan eyes turn to Chisel, the feline's sun-like aura brushing against the dryad before withdrawing once more. The being is unnerving in every way, yet at the same time, there is something heartbreaking about her. The lost soul that was among them seems to have reached other members, and though the paladin doesn't know her name, she has a feeling that Valrae's presence will not go neglected.


Hudson | Uma waves a hand playfully at Leone. "We're all big girls here. This is the REALM," she comments. Meanwhile, Hudson is suddenly aware of a strangeness in the room, indeed this awareness has spread throughout those gathered here like a silent but deadly fart. A chill passes close to him, and he feels the hairs on his body stand on end in response. Call it self-involved paranoia but it happens to be the truth: he believes Valrae's spirit to be nearby. He looks at Uma and Joanie, the former of whom is straining to listen to the speaking but the latter of whom holds his gaze for a long enough time for it to be knowing. Lionel says, "I can see you," and Hudson abruptly turns and looks at him. Hudson knows, again without really knowing, that the other man means Valrae. Almost as if to confirm, Joanie slips behind Uma and takes her place on the other side of Hudson, displacing the mother of Buffy and Pepper. "You promised Alvina you'd get dessert," she tells Hudson, in the smiling tone women use to order men around sometimes.


Khitti finally turned her attention towards Chisel. Why did things feel as if they were going to go pear-shaped again? Hadn’t she had enough of that this week? On top of the confusion that Valrae’s ghost provided and the stress of literally everything else right now, Khitti regarded the dryad with hesitation. “Lionel.” The fire that had been there in her voice minutes ago was now gone, replaced by fear--something that wasn’t often heard from Khitti. Today was probably a day that she should’ve stayed by her brother’s side.


Eleanor ;; The gem in her crown flared, pulsing as it sensed Valrae, but unfortunately there was a lack of communication between the gem and its wielder, leaving the spell-rogue ignorant of the spirit's presence. Meanwhile, her full lips twisted into a mildly annoyed scowl, and her fingers rapped a pattern on a bicep after she crossed and re-crossed her arms.


Josleen eats cheesecake as an appetizer, because when you're a queen, they let you.


Gilwen met Leone's acceptance with a rare smile and a short nod before edging closer to the fire- it was for this reason, and the many layers she wore, that Valrae's presence was neither felt, nor seen. She had noticed the more obvious reactions exhibited by those around her, but felt totally left out from the information. She looked around the area for signs of whatever everyone else seemed to see or feel, and instead of a ghost, was met with a dryad. She hadn't paid much attention to who exactly was battling for or against Larket at the time of the invasion, she had simply fought to protect herself and the defenseless. Whatever grievances Chisel might have caused were completely unknown to the elf, and so the dryad is simply offered a passing glance.


Brennia seemed to have meandered her way closer to the other hooded and cloaked woman, Eleanor. Not by any purpose, but she didn’t want to stay in one spot for too long. Within a certain range, Eleanor would pick up on her favorite scent coming from the avain - she’s not as good as hiding yet… Maybe Eleanor can give her some tips.


Zahrani is hearing more than one voice in close proximity to Khitti, but her eyes remain on the newcomer. Ears turn every so often with the voices of her comrades, but the cat doesn't blink as her feline face remains very much focused on Chisel.


Lionel | “That creature killed my husband,” a woman whispers far back within the crowd. Those nearest to the woman turn in horror as Chisel takes a seat. “In Larket, she did. Right when Kahran assailed. You think it mere happenstance?” The whisper grows a little louder and the number of people surrounding the distressed widow increases. Lionel isn’t near enough to hear it said. He’s near enough to Khitti, however, and he’s near enough to hear her fear. Instinctively, he approaches her, rigid-postured and protective. Nestled inside a sturdily-locked room deep inside the Royal Academy of Aramoth, the emerald-shaded crystal skull that Lionel received from Mulgrew begins to vibrate and pulse through unseen witchcraft. It happens the instant Chisel arrives, and it causes her strange magical lantern, a gift from Kahran which she had learned to master through training with the now-extinct Ouroboros tribe, to vibrate and pulse as well. The effects are subtle; Lionel, separated from his curious artifact by many meters and several walls, at first is none the wiser, and Chisel will find no clues to the odd reactions of her lantern should she even notice its resonance. It’s eminently doubtful that anyone else will detect a thing -- except, perhaps, for Valrae’s spirit, which will feel a surge of cool and vital energy as if the crystal skull is teasing her with lively prospect.


Lionel | The convergence, whatever it is and whatever it portends, saves Lionel’s life. His head throbs as it struggles to make sense of a spell that only he can feel, knocking him half a meter back and toward the roaring fire. A poison arrow falls to the ground directly where he’d previously been standing, its magic toxins seeping into the soil and killing its nutrients on impact. It came from above and to the alliance’s immediate east -- there, upon the academy’s roof, where a human silhouette quickly crouches behind the stone railing, hiding him from sight. Multiple orcs can be heard snarling, and then in unison they stand up and fire bows of their own. An arrow strikes a dwarven Warrior’s Guild initiate named Bailey, melting her flesh as she dies horribly. Another takes a Frost Giant in the leg, and he screams as he meets that self-same end. The shower of arrows must be stopped. Lionel has his blade Hellfire unsheathed in one fluid motion, and he shoves its steel across the flames to coat it in its telltale style. He deflects two arrows before they find purchase upon his companions, then sends a pillar of inferno upon the roof to scorch two orcs and caution the rest of the enemy party. His allies are quick to follow suit, the guild members and their swords, the witches and their spells, the mercenaries and their many-splendored death-dealing tricks of the trade. “On me,” Lionel shouts, desperate to leave no survivors.


Leone is nearly missed by one of the poisoned arrows. The smith jumps a foot in the air (at least) and quickly wheels around. She's just in time to be greeted by the sight of an entire troupe of orcs aligned atop the academy's roof. She recoils, footsteps backpedaling toward the fire pit. In an easy manner, a dagger is produced from beneath her jacket. The tip is pressed to the inside of her arm, and drawn swiftly across. Blood, the farrier's iron-tinged blood, spills into the fire causing it to pop and hiss. A few sparks shoot off in several directions. The flow of blood is stanched by a finger, the ichorous runnings then utilized to scribe a series of sigils up her arm. The bloodied, inscribed limb is then held out, directly into the trench's leaping flames. A low hum infiltrates the area, like an oversized mosquito has been drawn to the place. As if it were the gossamer wings of an insect, a crystalline shield spreads out along the edge of the rooftop. It is a ward against arrows, daggers, throwing stars, hatchets, and other projectiles from the enemy side into the training yard. To those aligned with Lionel inside the training yard, it would seem perfectly penetrable.


Josleen || News of the attack in the Royal Academy training yard travels quickly to Frostmaw’s Fort, where Thane Josleen dines with generals who are the first to hear of it. Kahran’s name has already been uttered, without proof but with a damn good hunch. The generals stiffen only for a second, then rise with such purpose that their chairs knock back onto the ground with a thundering clack. They shout orders at couriers as they storm towards their command center with the Thane on their heel. Those soldiers already dressed for duty must move to the Royal Academy! Those not dressed for duty must be roused and deployed! They don’t have the numbers at the ready for this, but the City of War was caught on the back foot, not expecting an attack today. Kahran’s war is unconventional. The mountain has always given the frost giants a bird’s eye view of attacks from the ground, and The Eyrie has always watched the skies, but what to do when your enemy zips out of thin air? Leaps from shadows? Josleen shouts over the frost giant’s voices with the help of her bardic gifts,, “Larket’s soldiers are ready. Go, take command of them!” Frostmaw’s fur-leather-and-iron clad troops make for the west alongside Larket’s gleaming suits of steel emblazoned with Larket’s gold and purple lark. Foot soldiers wield kite shields designed to interlock in a phalanx, a perfect shield against arrows. On the scene, Larket’s soldiers leap to the defense of the defenseless, not distinguishing between witch or not, and join their arms with the armed. Among the foot soldiers are several mages who, after identifying Leone’s magical shield, layer on top of it an anti-magic effect that nullifies the necrotic magic of all missiles, and prevents magical attacks from above by dispeling them on impact. Having collaborated with Leone on her shield, the mages focus on finding the orcs, enchanting them with a glowing light that makes them easy to spot for all combatants, even through walls so that the orcs have nowhere to hide.


Zahrani calmly takes a step back, an arrow missing her head by inches. From her cloak, an arm raises, deploying a divine ward like some ethereal riot shield. With the other arm, a crossbow. She fires upward, aiming for the head of one of the orcs, a bolt slicing through the air faster than most arrows would dream of sailing. When other soldiers with shields begin to arrive, she forms up with them, reinforcing their phalanx against the surprise attack with the rallying strength of holy magic.


Kreekitaka rippled his paddles up and down his back and tugged the ripcord that dumped potions into his water, immediately hauling his jawblade from its holster. Absolutely, Kree was going to fight these jokers, but he decided against rallying close to Lionel--after all, his shockwave splashes a little bit when he uses it as a jumping tool. The uyeer began swinging, charging it up, the rhythmic "thump, thump, thump" of the weapon against the ground accompanied by the faint sense of power building up. The sound grew heavier and more intense as the potions began to enter Kree's bloodstream, and then he immediately broke formation, leaped, and fired the jawblade downwards, using the recoil from the shockwave to launch himself up into the air on an arcing, catapult-like trajectory for the orcs which lined a window. "Heeeere's Kreeki!" one of the survivors would later swear they heard him shout as he swept his jawblade across their ranks.


Blut just barely lucked out from getting hit by the arrow as it flew just infrom of his nose. A coupl of centimeters forward and he'd be dead. Blut materialised a large crimson tower sheild useing it to deflect any incomeing arrows quickly peaking in and out of cover with his crossbow in order to take out the archers. Blut motions for others to get behind him. As much as it hurts his pride as a assassin he will need these flashy constructs to protect the people who will ultimately act as his meat shield in the battles to come. Blut breathed swiftly as he leaped from behind the shield putting away his crossbow and materialising a mana blade effecctivly useing up all of it to maintain the shield for his allies and his blade. But the blade being pure mana did not mix well with the squishy flesh of orcs. He cut through the orcs leaveing wounds that looked like he seered through them with a hot knife. As long as Blut can see the archer he can react to the arrows displaying a remarkable amount of magic control and reaction speed.


Valrae || A voice rings out in answer, clear as a bell. It was like taking the first gulping and desperate breath of air after being caught underwater. It was the voice of man in scarlet, the man of fire. Not long after, the voice of the bard as well. She circles away again from Uma and Joanie, to pass Brennia again as she moves in a winding path to Lionel. She winds through the crowd slowly, stopping near the sword that hummed with power and the woman with it. Valrae brushes a hand through her hair, though it doesn’t even stir the air around the fiery locks. The closer to him she moved the higher visions of flames speared. Slowly, her winding path ends in front of Lionel. Her spirit had been too weakened, too drained to form sound or sold image… Until now. The power of the skull pulsed through her. For one shining moment, it was almost as if she were alive again. The night cold on her skin, the air stretching her lungs. For a heartbeat in time, Valrae’s form, golden haired and cloaked in red, stood before Lionel with her hand outstretched. It ebbed away, but the feeling of being empowered did not. “No!” A voice, hers and not, would echo out as the first arrow thudded into the ground. Another passed through her harmlessly. The training yard flares to blood, writhing motion. The power that echoed through Valrae was nothing, a false hope. Fire burst from Lionel and she flinches away, into the blurred colors of Larket. Panic, useless as the worst has well.. Already happened, grips the ghost. For one long moment, she stands in the heart of battle. The world passes around her, through her. With one last curl of smoke, she disappears.


Chisel : as soon as she stood up, two poisoned arrows landed upon Chisel's chest, taken a back a bit as the projectiles found its mark, embedding on the wood. "Hmmm. Interesting." Looking around the room as most of them began setting up defensive positions. "I have slain many, please specify which one." Replying to someone as if apathetic of what is going on around her. Clearly they are too busy to give her space to get out of the door, the dryad simply sighs and sits back down, humming a simple tune.


Brennia is ill prepared for any fight this day, still mostly recovering from Schezerade’s battle and burning the jar, but there is one thing that needs protected in her mind and this person needs to get to safety first. Brennia was quick in her long legged stride, dodging and weaving through arrows, and when she reached Lionel and Khitti she pulled her hood back. “May I?” She asks the pair while taking her cloak off to reveal large black as night feathered wings save for a blank spot where a wound healed recently. Once give permission she would throw her warm cloak over Khitti because flying in the cold is… cold and gingerly picks up the expecting woman. A wondrous forceful flutter of her rather large wings propels them into the sky and away until she’s banking towards safety. There Brennia would apologize for such a hasty action and stay with Khitti until she was retrieved.


Eleanor's reaction was immediate. As toxic missiles began to rain down on them, the spell-rogue backpedaled, a rune-etched palm curling around the familiar, cold metal of her chakram. Within a heartbeat, the runes on the circular blade began to thrum with life, and darting fluidly through the fray, she whipped the chakram away from her with a snap of her arm. The blade whistled through the air, slicing cleaning through the stumpy necks of two orcs descending into the chaos, their heads thumping to the ground as the blade came hurtling through the air back to her. Grasping it once more in that runed palm of hers, the spell-rogue dodged out of the way of a frost giant, spell-ink glowing beneath the swirls of her shadow-cloak as she raced to Leone's side. Again, she threw the chakram, again and again it whistled through the air as she made her way through the panic, droplets of blood flying at the behest of its remarkable speed. At last, she joined the priestess, chest heaving with ragged breaths. The hood of her cloak had fallen to puddle around her shoulders, revealing the woman's iron diadem, the gem in its center pulsing with each pounding heartbeat. She would remain with Leone until the fight was at long last over, the unyielding edge of her chakram offered up in their defense.


Khitti moved to stand behind Lionel as he reached her side, drawing Tenbatsu Kaji from its sheath. [Stay calm. Breathe deep. Do just as I instructed you.] Seika spoke to Khitti, sensing the redhead’s fear. [You must rid yourself of doubt lest it will consume you again as it had before.] Khitti nodded, to herself, to Seika. She could do this. She could do the thing. She could kill this orc that was charging towards her. Khitti fell into the fighting stance that Seika had taught her, attempted to feel the sword as an extension of herself… And she was so ready to fight that orc too, but then Brennia showed up and Khitti didn’t have to do any of these things. There’s a moment’s consideration, and even hesitation because Khitti so does not like flying. But, ultimately she accepted the avian’s offer because that soon-to-be child that was as fiery as its mother and father had just started to assault its mother’s insides. “Why must you do this now? Are you going to like fighting as much as Brand and I?” Khitti hissed at the unborn kid. When Khitti and Brennia would land, she offered the woman a nod and a smile, “Thank you. It’s much appreciated.” Quite suddenly though, the aftershock of flying finally hit her… and Khitti lost her lunch. Thankfully directed away from Brennia.


Hudson is about to take the hint and go get the dessert and stop dwelling on the ghost of his ex-mistress when suddenly there's an attack and the venue roils with discontent as their number are herded toward Lionel. Uma and Joanie are quick to act, mouths moving in silent incantations, hands weaving the air. Uma bolsters the spell cast by Leone. Call it magical encryption. Good luck dispelling it, bad guys. Joanie, for her part, uses a wand and has a different, albeit equally defensive ability: her spell detects the orcs and makes them visible to their party, not literally but in the mind's eye. Almost as if everyone had suddenly gained a bad guys radar. Having done that, she closes one eye and commences steadying her wand in the direction of one orc, a ranged attacker who is distantly placed, and concentrating intensely before, after a time, twitching her wrist violently. A convulsive shudder seizes her target, and he collapses beside his allies. Everything's happened very quickly, and it takes Hudson a second to realize that he doesn't need to protect Uma or Joanie, who apparently despite being his 50-something secretary, is a very capable sniper. He feels useless, but he gets to punch a guy who gets too close. Joanie promptly melts him in the face. Damn.


Khitti took the water gratefully, drank it, and kept it close for the time being. She pulled the cloak around her more tightly, unsure of what to say now. The sword, now back in its sheath, glowed somewhat as the spirit spoke to her again, [Perhaps nothing needs to be said at all. I’m certain she will protect you though, until Lionel can resume doing so. You and I have many things to work on soon, Khitti.]


Lionel has no sooner flung his pillar of flame into the enemy orcs and their unknown human commander on the academy’s roof than the night sky has hissed green tendrils to foretell the arrival of more orcs. He steps back and curses a Catalian curse, holding his arm outstretched ahead of Khitti. “Nowhere is safe now,” Esche says, suddenly beside him and flinging his freezing spells wherever his staff finds foes. Lionel slashes into a skull, then arcs his sword to take another in the ribcage. His allies fight valiantly, but it’s already inevitable: some won’t see home again. Brennia comes into view, offering to spirit Khitti away. Esche’s most recent words ring cynically in Lionel’s ears, but he nods; right now, anywhere is safer than here. “Please,” he says, more of a beg than he’d wished to reveal. An orc’s hammer slams into his outstretched arm only seconds later, causing him to shout as the pain reverberates through his body. The orc charges ahead to finish the job, but Lionel slides down low underneath, and the blood from fresh wound to its torso gushes in splatches. He breathes, raggedly, and rises to meet another in a bladelock. On the roof, the enemy commander, who’d come so close to killing him, fires another arrow but it flings through Valrae and he moves to take her hand. Valrae? “Valrae?” It can’t be real, and his hand sifts through hers as if to confirm it. She runs, right into Larketian battle lines as generals Lionel once tried and failed to kill come around him in a proud phalanx. He pauses, and Esche pauses too, and there’s bitterness and disappointment in their eyes, but unenviable gladness for the arrival of a legion that should not be here. The orcs are crushed beneath their rallying cry, cornered between the alliance and its unlikeliest reinforcements the realm could ever send, they’re shattered. Chisel, seated through it all in apathetic wonder, may find occasion to tilt her self-made chair wayward of the corpses that pile up on her person. “Valrae!” Lionel shouts, heedless as he charges through Larketian ranks in search of her. Larketian soldiers -- some of the very foes he’s just declared. “Ser!” A Frostmawian shouts to him, visibly trembling. “Do we attack? Ser! Do we attack?” The orcs are gone; their anonymous human commander has slipped away through a portal to report his failure to Kahran himself. The battle is ended, but there are those in the alliance’s ranks who would see it continued. “Do we attack?” Lionel emerges ahead of Macon’s men, mystified. Hellfire is sheathed. “No,” he says. “We do not engage.” He looks between his companions as they stand down, some more nervously than others. His lips quiver and he still sees -her- wherever he looks. “That… concludes the meeting. Everyone, you have your orders.”


Blut watched as soilders came over to cover their escape. Blut took this opertunity to just skip out of this battle slipping out before anyone even noticed he was gone.


Josleen || In the aftermath of the battle, the Larketian soldiers check on the few civlians gathered. A keen observer may notice that while they do not ignore the witches completely, they do seem to have an unacknowledged preference for non-witches, and seem to naturally spend more time tending to the needs of non-witches. There's no use accusing them of this. The witches were not ignored. They themselves are not aware of their own biases. At Frostmaw Fort, the generals and Thane cheer when the good news finally reaches them. They linger in the war command room to discuss what happened and analyze new information as it rolls in, among that information the number of dead and wounded. Both Frostmawian and Larketian soldiers fell side by side tonight, and the wounded may not recover to rejoin the troops. Nonetheless, the generals are confident that Larket's timely influx of soldiers-at-the-ready reduced casualties, spared lives. Despite the fact the two cities are at odds once more, the frost giant generals appreciate Larket's intervention, and perhaps their good mood is aided by frost giants' longheld magic phobia. Larket's policy on witchcraft, while not endorsed, also doesn't ruffle their feathers as violently as it ruffles others. The generals and Josleen wait in the command center for the Steward (and possibly the High Priestess) to join them.


Chisel wants to leave... she can't. Maybe sitting on the center of a battlefield is never a good idea. Upon her body, more than a dozen arrows pinning her in place, restricting movement. "I've been in far worst position before." She calmly say.


Leone pulls her arm from the fire once the imminent threat has subsided; disappeared through a portal. The smith then wheels on a heel, firmly plants a boot into an already dispatched orc's head. How she hated these infernal attackers. Now the City of War has been added to their portal invasion, albeit at the much lower, much reduced level than others had received. The now squelching rubber sole is pressed again and again into the soft soils of the training yard, and the farrier makes her way over toward where the Larketian forces and Lionel stand face to face. She frowns, vision wheeling from the blond Steward to the Men in purple and gold. "Thank you," she says solemnly toward those willing to risk their lives for a one-time (still time) enemy. The blistering, burned and bloodied smith wraps her arm close to her, the reinforced shield plied against projectiles and magic alike crashing down as she takes her leave. "I have to get this seen to, Lionel," she says sternly, a raised brow glance tossed toward him, "You take care of you. Not them," the farrier advises on her way out.


Gilwen had uncharacteristically come unprepared for a fight, having assumed that this meeting would be mundane enough. But it was Lionel in charge, and she had heard him referred to as Murphy on many separate occasions. While she wasn't sure -why- the Steward was referred to by such a name, she was aware that, around Lionel, things that could go wrong, often did. She had only managed to meet the barrage of arrows with the viney vegetation she habitually wore around her arm, and the ensorceled tendrils acted as a sentient whip, striking arrows away from herself, and any other person nearby who were incapable of defending against the attack. The foliage had been too small, and weak to effectively kill any of the orcs the group battled against, and thus, Gilwen took to herding the helpless toward those with shields. Once the thick of it had died down, leaving behind only soldiers of two kingdoms, Gilwen set about assisting the civilians, and gathering what was left of the bodies, if anything had been left behind.


Khitti would stay where she’s at with Brennia until Lionel retrieved her. When he did so, that fear that had been there before would have melted into shame. It was clearly written all over her face. It didn’t matter that she was pregnant; she should’ve did -something- instead of run away. She’d not say anything however. She’d not bring up the ghost. She’d not bring up the slight amount of jealousy she had about that--who’d’ve thought that -Lionel- would be the one to see ghosts and not the woman that’d been a necromancer for most of her life? Seika would do its best to soothe her worries, but there, in the back of Khitti’s mind, those worries would remain.


Kreekitaka had started getting into the habit of wielding his jawblade with both claws, and this battle had been a lovely test of the technique's effectiveness. The blunt tip of the weapon bowled orcs over as if they'd been hit by a battering ram and the extra leverage meant that he could knock the people in their armor clean over the railing of the houses. Had this been a Super Smash event, the crowd would have gone wild and there would have been a little organ solo every time. Eventually, however, he ran out of orcs to slug, and had to pause a moment to acquire new targets--however, before he could lock onto the one who seemed to be a commanding officer, the man vanished. Having been too far away to follow him through to the shadow plane and beat him until he told the uyeer how to get to Kahran, he was instead forced to settle down a bit and be okay with the fact that the battle--and, by the looks of things, the meeting--was over. Very well. He holstered his weapon and made a note--next time, bring his throwing-drills as well.


Lionel finally pulls his eyes away from Valrae, and then, as if from ashes and back again, she is gone. Only the quiet, gruff grumbling of Larketians and Frostmawians and all the rest of them remains. The wounded are sought-after, but for Leone who tells him she’ll see to herself in private. Lionel’s hard look softens at her advice. He cracks the smallest of smiles and nods to her departure. “Chisel? What in seven hells?” He approaches her not because she’s surprised him (although she has) but because it’s something, anything, to take his mind off the vanishing ghost and the blood enemies in his kingdom. “She killed my husband!” The woman from earlier shouts again, pleading despite the carnage left in the wake of battle. Lionel shakes his head and sighs. “I’m very sorry,” he starts, but the woman interrupts him. “At Larket. At Larket!” She shouts now so the Larketians can hear her, too. “This creature was there! She killed your loved ones!” Lionel bites his lip so hard it almost bleeds. He has to see Josleen, but he has to quell this first. “Chisel, this is a bad look. I don’t know what’s going on here, but if there’s truth to it, you should leave. And if that truth needs explaining, meet me in three days’ time and I’ll hear you out. But…” The woman beside them glares daggers at him and spits. “But this is a bad look.” International incident at the vines of a dryad.


Hudson's feeling of uselessness quickly dissipates. They're being mobbed. He gets to swing his fists at more than a couple more guys. His dark wool coat can hide the blood stains but they seep through and stain his salmon polo shirt and grey joggers. He doesn't care. A dark joy lights inside of his heart. This is better than squash. He's on the front line, protecting the witches. Uma, who's always conscious of the macro battle at large, who minds her barriers, and Joanie who has a micro, singular focus, who throws heaters made of black death with dirty precision. But then, suddenly, everything's gone, and Lionel has spoken Valrae's name. That woman, she was here... He feels a confused rage in his throat, and then suddenly it's gone, his world's in slow motion. He's conscious that he's walking, with Joanie. They are leaving. Uma has stayed behind to assist the healing efforts, he's not sure when they lost her. "What did you do, Joanie?" asks Hudson, realizing only belatedly that he's missing a gap in his own awareness. Joanie has hailed a carriage and given the address to its conductor. He climbs inside without realizing why he's doing it. "I'm helping you," she says, shutting the door. Embarrassing, he thinks.


Josleen || Larket's soldiers start eyeing Chisel funny. If this witness can produce any evidence or a more convincing accusation, Chisel may find herself interrogated soon. She's lucky they have no right to arrest anyone here.


Eleanor rubbed the back of her left wrist against her cheek, unintentionally smearing someone else's blood across the sunbrushed plane, before she pinched the bridge of her nose, exhaling as the dregs of that burst of adrenaline seeped from her muscles. At least she hadn't had to use much of her stolen mana, and as the battle came to a halt, her collection of tattoos faded beneath the drapes of her shadowy cloak; some even disappeared altogether, expended by her exertions. Wiping the blood off her chakram with the edge of her cloak, she tucked the circular blade back within its folds on a hook on her belt, celadon eyes wearily sweeping over the aftermath. There was no one left for her to help - or really no one else she wanted to help - and as people began to disperse, as did she. The spell-rogue pulled the hood back over her head, ignoring the dull headache that crept into her temples, before weaving her way from the scene. It would be a long trek back to Cenril; there would be no magic portals to shorten the trip if she was to continue conserving the magic she'd stolen from the Ouroboros tribe's barrier.


Chisel tries to stand again but cannot. Sighing as she finally wisked her hand, causing the chair underneath her to wither, finally freeing her. She soon stood up, still riddled with arrows as she finally turned to Lionel. "I thought this council is to deal with the Kahran menace but all I saw so far is the bunch of you, talking around doing nothing." Moving her lantern back underneath her cloak. "Three days." Looking around, before finally walking away


PHASE 3: TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE

Lionel | “Well,” Lionel says, Chisel’s awkward analysis so dumbfounding that even the raging widow gasps and stares, “there was the bit with the three separate missions to weaken his power base,” the raging widow throws her hands up, her rage subsiding, “and there was the part where we were all of us attacked by flesh-eating monsters, no offense to any orcs present tonight, you’re golden,” the raging widow is now a startled widow, and she rushes away distraught, “and hell,” Lionel continues, “there was the arrival of an ostensibly hostile force to help us clear out the rabble thereafter, and,” Esche taps his shoulder, “Lionel, end your run-on sentence; she’s already gone.” Lionel takes a breath and immediately glances around for Valrae. “Khitti,” he corrects himself. “It’s Khitti I need to find.” And just like that, he’s back at the epicenter of a barrage of revelations that brings him back down to earth. Maybe Brennia’s brought Khitti back down to earth by now, too. “Follow the healers’ advice, and follow Gilwen, too,” he tells those nearest him. “Esche. Walk with me.” They step through corpses, they step through shattered steel. They step past the Larketians, which elevates Lionel’s anxiety all the more so. “I’m going to see your Queen,” Lionel declares when he and his elven friend are dead center within their ranks. | The walk through a startled Frostmaw is taken swiftly and without conversation. Civilians watch the two men as they move, but soldiers like Guard Captain Kara Thrace wave their hands and insist these onlookers head back inside in case the worst should come to pass. And so it is that Lionel and Esche move through silent streets, and Esche examines the Catalian as if on the brink of words before the both of them nearly stumble on a body in the darkness. Lionel moves to strike, but it’s Khitti they find, deposited en route to Frostmaw Fort. “Well,” Lionel sighs, “things that can calm down -will- calm upward.” He reaches out and hugs his sister lightly, whispering something only she will hear before speaking louder for the rest of it. “Are you alright? Did they get you? I’m afraid the night is still young. Queen Josleen awaits.” His words are like venom. “Come with us. I need you both so I don’t start a diplomatic incident.” And then there were three. They’ll soon stand before Josleen, and then it will begin.


Lionel whispered to Khitti, “I saw Valrae.”


Khitti mustered the faintest of smiles for Lionel when he approached, and nodded to him. “I’m fine. We’re fine.” She wasn’t fine. He wasn’t either. Khitti’s child, Lionel’s niece or nephew was, at least. Those whispered words didn’t fall on deaf ears, but given the situation, all she said was, “I know.” How could she have known? Well, he’d have to find out later--there was a crazy bitch of a Queen to deal with and Lionel needed the support.


Josleen looks out of place in the war command room. Where the fort is cold, severe, and practical, she is warm, soft, and glamorous. Her deep purple and gold dress trails slightly behind her (who doesn't travel with a train?), her hair is perfectly coiffed, skin radiant (so many night creams), and posture composed and relaxed, despite the fact that she is quite nervous to meet Lionel after his dramatic protest at the terrorist's public execution. Nonetheless, when he and Khitti enter the room, she smiles sadly to both of them, like old friends meeting again at a funeral. She takes both his hands in hers, squeezes them affectionately, and, if he seems amenable to it, leans forward for a cheek-to-cheek air kiss that never makes contact. If he greets her coldly, she abandons the air kiss to save face. She then turns to Khitti and smiles faintly again to hide the fact that she cannot remember whether or not they've met before. "Good to see you," she says in a tone that obscures whether or not she believes this is the first time they meet. One of the generals steps forward to greet Lionel as well and asks for a run down of what happened. Josleen is relieved to cede the floor and await for an opportunity to execute Macon's wish.


Lionel is not amenable. The only thing that stops him from recoiling at Josleen’s touch is the disquieting knowledge that she and hers have just saved numerous lives. He swallows hard and steps back uncomfortably, but she is ever the cunning woman; Frostmawians watch their steward for a reaction, and could judge him harshly if he returned warm kindness with immediate vitriol. A smile tugs at his lips while a Frost Giant leans over to investigate his battered right arm. Ointment is applied by Esche; Lionel’s tight smile lingers. As one of Josleen’s generals inquires, his eyes only slowly move from the Queen to her man, but a quick glance from Esche reminds him of his place here and he wills himself to relax. “My alliance against Kahran was ambushed by a small but stealthy legion. Attack first came from the academy roof, meaning a portal from the Shadow Plane would have opened out-of-sight; thereafter, further orcs drove at us from within our very congregation. Your assistance is appreciated,” Lionel’s azure eyes return to Josleen, “but unexpected.” And unnecessary, he wants so desperately to say. But if Larket has saved even one life today, he knows he cannot. It would be a gross disservice to the fallen. What’s more, he’s never for an instant believed the bulk of Macon’s soldiers to be the demons here; only Macon himself, and perhaps his wife as well. And now the regal demoness stands before him in all her glory, warmly. “You know I count you among our enemies, Queen.” Not Thane. “If you didn’t, you do now. I don’t deny it, and your timely intervention doesn’t change it.”


Khitti was not the glamorous, perfectly coiffed, radiant-skinned, completely composed being that Josleen was, but she at least attempted that last part. The warrior woman-esque demeanor was slipped over every worry, doubt, and layers of shame like a mask as Larket’s Queen greeted them. “Likewise,” the pregnant redhead said in response, though the last time either of them were in the same room together was so very long ago, at Hildegarde’s coronation. Khitti was very much undead then, and much like now, likely seen as a peasant in Josleen’s eyes, purely because of her rank in society. It didn’t matter; Josleen would’ve never remembered something so insignificant. She had better things to do, like burning witches. Khitti’s olive-green line of sight shifted between Queen, Steward, general, and anyone else that spoke. When the word ‘enemies’ is spoken, a slight frown made itself known, but mainly just because she was unsure if this was the best way to go about things. Enough had happened today as it was.


Josleen can feel the cool hatred emanating from Lionel and directed solely at her. Summoning all her theatrical grace, she manages to maintain her performance of warm composure, but the cracks are beginning to show in her wounded gaze. She truly does not understand this level of hatred. The directness with which he rebukes her truly surprises Josleen. Genuinely, she cannot understand it. "It saddens me to hear that. Truly. I do not understand Frostmaw's position on the execution, but I hope to understand it better by speaking to Queen Hildegarde. As for today's timeliness, a fortuitous coincidence, though I did come with troops to add to your effort to fight Kahran. He is an enemy to us all. Any disagreements we have now seem small compared to that threat, and hopefully our misunderstandings won't get in the way of cooperation against such a threat."


Lionel‘s gaze lingers a little overlong on a ceremonial shield hanging above a perfectly ordinary oaken chest. The shield’s been polished to a mirror sheen and its reflection covers a wide array of the considerably-sized room. He studies it, but cannot find Valrae. Yet even still… of all the nights Josleen could come, she’s come on the very night that his heart has found even fresher resolve in the belief that that witch was murdered coldly, and the injustices committed upon her peers cannot and will not be tolerated. “There’s a logic to your words.” Esche looks up, startled, as he finishes tending to Lionel’s wound via curative spells. “I can’t deny that.” Lionel waves both arms in the air, struggling only a little when he forces his throbbing limb into action. He paces, scanning Khitti’s frown knowingly. “The realm must unite. I’ve said it for years, Josleen.” The title is gone completely, now; one of the Frost Giants is surprised. “And now the reason is here, coming at us on its own terms, slaughtering people from one corner to the next, and it paints me a hypocrite to say this now, but so be it: I cannot unite with you.” He shakes his head and resists the urge to spit. Valrae’s imprint smiles at him; it isn’t her, her spirit isn’t here, but it’s checkered him somehow, left him longing to find it, and his subconscious needs the encouragement if he is to finish what he has to say. “You crossed a line. You and your husband crossed a line. However it started back there, whatever compelled you, whoever it was that lit the first match, a fire has spread in Larket that my own sword could never rival. You’ve murdered and you’ve condemned. Women like Uma are the only reason some yet stand and fight, and I would -leave the realm to its fate- before I made your surviving victims suffer to stand and to fight beside the very people who have so wickedly mistreated their husbands, their wives, their mothers and fathers, their sons and their daughters. Your camp disgusts me. Your public execution enrages me. Now I am -truly- sorry it has come to this in Lithrydel’s most perilous hour -- I’m sorry for me, I’m sorry for you, and I’m sorry for anyone who may die because I said no.” Lionel breathes. His rage extinguished, his face is sincere sorrow. “But if you want to talk terms, it’s Queen Hildegarde and Queen Hildegarde alone you will face.”


Khitti watched Lionel out of the corner of her eye as he spoke, her mind toiling to ignore her thoughts and dwell over his words. The Khatalian nodded somewhat, and found her resolve only when Lionel finished, “We do not need your aid. You bring murder, death, and injustice, where we seek for hope and light.” Seika’s words regarding Valrae’s spirit earlier was repeated now to Josleen, Khitti’s frown vanished from sight and a stony expression replacing it. The sword heard Khitti, heard the steadfastness Khitti tried to show and its golden aura glowed all the brighter. “-We- don’t need you. -The realm- doesn’t need you.”


Josleen retains her composure throughout Lionel's tirade up until he says 'You crossed a line. You and your husband crossed a line.' Her mask cracks open like a walnut and she scoff-laughs to the tune of 'are you effing kidding me?' Mouth open, expression incredulous she shakes her head at Lionel, then Khitti as she reinforces Lionel's point. "You sound like a lunatic," she says as a matter of fact. "Some madness has taken you, Lionel, and I pray to the gods you are cured of it because Lithrydel needs every last hero it can get." She looks towards the door as if she's about to leave, then turns back on Lionel as if thinking better of her own good sense. Though she attempts to keep her tone cool, it is clear that Lionel has struck a nerve: "Your account of what has happened in Larket, and of my husband's decisions, are so twisted and -insane-" she leans forward like a viper, lips curling away from the word, "that I suspect you are intentionally framing -everything- my husband has ever done and will ever do through the lens of your hatred for him." Furious now, she speaks through a sneer. Her tone cuts through her own affected layers of softness and warmth to reveal the sharpness at the core of Larket's Queen. "A hatred that goes back to Frostmaw and Larket's -foolish- war. You -never- gave him a chance. You -never- in good faith accepted Macon as King of Larket, and now you twist everything he does into vile fantasy!" That's when Bastion is admitted and calls her name. Perhaps he's caught the tale end of her tirade. Bad timing, sweet monk. Her glare slips from Lionel to Bastion, and without even acknowledging Bastion's offer, she storms out of the war room and slams the door human-sized door behind her so hard it rattles on the hinges.


Bastion was admitted, as he often was, with the full trust that his unique path in life afforded him. He spent his lifetime proving he was worthy of that trust. "Your Majesty Josleen? Pardon the intrusion." He had a smile on his features, as though naught in the world was wrong. "It is very difficult to get a hold of you in Larket, anymore. I've meant to ask after your son, and offer my services for his well being, and yours if you perceive a need for it, in this chaotic time. Your husband as well, if he desires it. I simply wish to extend my offer of service in perpetuity." He'd give a humble bow. If she were to grill him on his reasons then, of course, he would be obliged to disclose the fullness of the truth to her, or to anyone who asked, his motives.


Lionel holds onto his remorseful countenance for all it’s worth. There is sadness in knowing he can never accept a lesser evil like Macon no matter the greater evils abound. His own words echo as his sister stands beside him; truly, there will be further loss of life because Lionel will not take Josleen’s invitation. But a pride begins to swell. Valrae’s smile, Khitti’s resolution, and a remembrance of all those who came to his cause because Larket forced their hand. It’s a hero’s pride, a kind of pride he all but never feels. A kind of pride that reassures him, for all the things he sees that no one else is seeing, for all his fears that Mulgrew pulls his strings, that he -- like Valrae -- is on the right side of history. There is an unquenchable irony to be had, that Josleen will boil over him and call him lunatic. This renewed sense of purpose, this belief in himself no matter the odds -- even the odds he may have tilted ever in Kahran’s favor for his moral rigidity -- could not have come at a better time. He endures it when she dares to say he’s twisted Macon wrongly; he gloomily, but steadfastly, stares in silence until she leaves. He does not falter. “Never,” he breathes.


Khitti felt a little better now. She’d done -something-. It may not have been the fighting back at the training grounds, but it was still a fight nevertheless. “Let’s go home. There’s many things to be discussed--like how I’ve realized today that I hate flying by avian moreso than wyvern.” You learn new things every day, even if Brennia had been kind enough to help her. “Hopefully Brand’s not in a foul mood again.” An apologetic smile would be offered to Bastion as Khitti took Lionel’s arm to head towards the door. Sorry you got caught up in that, kid. “We’ll be fine. We’ve always been fine. Now we’ll be better than fine, because they know we don’t need them and it scares them,” she said finally, regarding Josleen and her storming out of the room. “They have nothing and we have everything--even the spirits and gods are helping us now.”


Bastion gives Khitti a bow as she passes him in the door, and looks to Lionel. "My services are available to all, sir. Let me know if you have need." He'd give Lionel a bow as well, before waiting for permission to turn to leave. He was old school like that.