RP:Eight Years Out

From HollowWiki

Summary: Chronicles Lionel's return after an eight-year absence, the extent of the hallucinations spawned by his damaged psyche, his fateful meetings with two very different characters (Hildegarde and Xersom), his impulsive move to spring fellow the Catalian named Caedan Navarre from her imprisonment, and his dark realization that freeing Caedan is the action which will force him to face the past or die in shame.

Rocky Shore

Lionel O'Connor is a haunted man.

Lionel has returned to Hollow after eight years away. He hails now from the wreckage and ruin of his beloved Catal, his birthplace and birthright and the land he had won back through bitter war after departing these shores. Catal is nothing now; the man's enemies have seen to that. To his unending grief he has learned that foes one makes on one side of the known world can collude with those at the other end and collectively defeat him. In his dreams, the dead have eyes and they watch him, crying. In his waking hours, they appear just the same. All those Catalians he has failed; all those in Hollow he has failed. Valaria and her child; dearest love Alexiaisis herself. The names, the faces, they flow out of his broken mind when he thinks he's found a moment's peace, there to break him further. Those who know the history of this realm called Hollow will know his name; most text paints him as a cynical hero who has waged wars against great evils and lived to boast the tale. Reality is a crueler mistress than all that. No matter the infamy of the colossal bloodstained claymore at his side, that wicked blade with its pulsing flames the world calls Hellfire, no matter the truth of Hellfire's restless spirit which grants him power enough to withstand considerable physical turmoil, no matter the whispers of his era as a time of men larger-than-life, Lionel is still but a man. And men can survive wars, but wars will hurt them. Wars will knock them down. And when a man has survived the things that Lionel has endured, he changes. Usually for the worse. Here now in his ebony armor atop a trusted mare named after his late wife, the only woman he's ever loved, the haunted Lionel ascends this rocky shore in search of a long-ago friend who has beckoned his arrival. The journey there, to Frostmaw, is rife with reminiscence. "Memories flutter like bats out of hell," someone once said. It is apt. Everywhere he turns, a battle remembered. A lover's embrace recalled. An old ally's specter emerges, only to be set aflame in his mind's eye as he is forced to envision the brutal ways in which so many of them died. The journey is weeks in length. When at last Lionel and his mare reach their destination, they locate the spot at which Griff Morivan told them to wait and they venture forth, trepidation hanging heavily in the dark knight's sorrowful heart.

Forgotten Catacombs

Lionel descends the path to this theater of archaeological ruins with a skeptical face and a heavy sigh. "This is an odd place to meet, Griff, even for you." The chemist of considerable whimsy simply shrugs, but even his shrug is flamboyant. "Maybe I thought you'd be interested in the runes," he offers dryly, sorting through his bag. "Maybe you thought wrong." Lionel stretches. "How many times did we express an interest in runes only to end up with me death-dueling some pleb who thought they could use said runes to destroy the fabric of space-time?" Griff chuckles. "Lionel, my friend, you have the worst luck meeting new people. Those costumed freaks were going to ham it up at you no matter what we found. Ye of little faith, I present to you: the veilscroll." He whips out an emerald green rock, beams of soft light pulsating through like veins. "Stupid name for a slab," Lionel counters. "I didn't name the damn thing," Griff counter-sues.

Lionel doesn't have an answer to that. Griff uses the silence to explain the artifact, pacing to and fro in so doing like some kind of grown-up schoolchild. "So you see, I found this the last time I visited Demon's Archipelago. Did you know? Did you know that's what they're calling it now? It seems word spread of your little sortie with that crazy woman eleven years ago. What was her name again? The crazy woman?" Lionel is losing patience. "Which one? There were so many." Griff stares. "The one you went to Demon Archipelago with." The Catalian yawns, smirking. It's hard to smirk while yawning, but the Catalian is a man of many talents. "It wasn't called that before." "For Keane's sake, Lionel! Aeryn! Her name was Aeryn!" Lionel nods. "Keane, though? Why are you swearing on Keane?" "Well, an atheist like me needs to swear on something, and I can only swear on mine own name so many times before it's old hat. And I'll not swear on yours -- never that." He composes himself. "So," he prattles on, "I'm there, right? And there's this giant spider. And, well, farbeit for me to fight a giant spider, but there's this brute of a man, forget his name, and he thunders on to the scene, and he squishes it as if it were a tarantula. Which, I mean, I wouldn't go near a tarantula, either, but --" "Morivan," Lionel growls. "Alright, alright. so. I befriend this giant man, because I'm terrified there are more giant spiders, and he leads me to this cave. And, well. That's where I find this." Lionel grimaces. "That's it? That's your story? You found this in a cave?" The chemist bristles at that, and he shakes the stone about haphazardly; it flares up, a deeper shade, and Hellfire responds with a brighter red pulsing throughout the veins of its sheathed steel. "Yes, Hero of the Obvious, I found it in a cave. But it was on the very island that you and that she-devil slew a great evil or whatever you two were actually doing there, hint-hint, I won't judge, and as you can see plain as day, I do believe it's Ishaarite." Lionel does not miss his blade's response to the rock. He does not miss anything his blade ever does. "Wonderful," he sighs out.

Lionel stares at the thing in mild horror, until Griff holds it in such a way as to nonverbally communicate a transfer in ownership. "No," he replies. "No, chemist. I can't sleep at night. I'm haunted by it all. I won't take in anymore stowaways. Whatever's in that thing stays with you." The chemist fidgets, paces some more. Lionel's eyes follow him closely. "What's one more ghost?" Griff asks him, back turned. "Let's be blunt, here, Lionel. With so much on your shoulders, you aren't long for this world. We both know what exists within this stone, and, I... I worry about you, man. Take it. You can as much as master these things now; master this restless spirit and stick around a little bit longer. For me." He swings around, refusing to make ocular contact, and keeps the stone held outward. Lionel wants bitterly to refuse. But he also doesn't want to offend one of the few friends who haven't perished. Lionel also wants to perish, but he isn't going to say that to Griff Morivan. Silently, he takes the stone. Without another word, he exits the catacombs. He can hear his friend muttering and shouting, but all around him, he can see the faces of the dead. Lionel won't dare speak when he feels their remorse all around him.

Lionel may never know he could have spoken freely in an empty room. Griff Morivan is long dead.

Frostmaw Tavern

Lionel slides the stone between his fingers. To the patrons of the tavern, he looks utterly mad; a well-clad knight with an aura of familiarity flinging his hand around like a drunken fool. There is no stone, after all. He sits there for hours, but none dare disturb him; he pays well for his ale, after all, and he carries an incredible sword. He snaps out of his total delirium when he overhears two large men make mention of a crazy woman in a cell in Rynvale whilst betting one-another all sorts of things neither one of them owns amidst a bawdy game of arm-wrestling. The woman's name is Caedan Navarre. Lionel knows that name. The man is not who he once was. His fragile mental state has given birth to an extreme variation of the come-what-may charge-head-first personality he's fabled for. Whatever the reason he's hallucinated Griff, it's all symptomatic of a broken man's desire to fight evil at any cost. Perhaps his soul is crying out to right all the wrongs of his past. Caedan is a former citizen of Catal itself; he's known the name for so long. Younger sister to Jack and Quinton; he's never met her, per se, but for the briefest of times, when Lionel and Quinton became one through Halycanos' strange, distorted ambitions, he did encounter her. "She was always unhinged," he says to himself, drawing the attention of nearby patrons who snort at the irony of it. "She was unhinged because of me. She was unhinged because I couldn't protect Catal, because I couldn't prevent Halycanos from his spell, because I couldn't make Hollow free of wickedness." He doesn't notice half the bar is staring. He rises from his seat, collects Hellfire, and bolts out into the night. In the stinging cold, as he gathers his horse from her stable, he speaks one last line. "I have to free her."

Road to Milous

Lionel travels the silvery road by nightfall, dressed as he is in a fine set of ebony armor with cloth-of-gold trimming and something akin to a crimson mane. At his belt is the infamous monstrosity of a claymore that is Hellfire; even through the scabbard there are pulsing ripples of incarnadine like barely-concealed flames. He rides his pale mare, itself well-fortified in a custom suit of silver; he looks every bit the dark knight of legend. He cants his head to and fro, weary of the realm at this hour.

Xersom was a stark contrast to the hero clad in ebony armor trimmed with gold and topped by that crimson-mane-esque accents; he ambled along the silver-gravel path that sliced the famous little town in two by a hobbled limp that was aided with the presence, and use, of an old, gnarled cane. Where Lionel wore grandoise and- to be blunt- more ceremonial appearing armor, the man who so identified as an enigmatic single letter wore old, faded gray robes much like a hermit would, or some roaming madman. It was weathered and well-traveled, like the broken-in soles and straps of his sandals, which only were evident in glimpses beneath the hem of the robes. Each step lacked haste, as if overcoming some difficulty in movement and giving every stride a distinct pride, but there was a glaring juxtaposition of old and young with this stranger. His mannerisms and garb were suitable for some wizened, grayed old and crooked-formed man, but his actual body was... youthful; it was almost startlingly youthful. The hair atop his head was rich and full, as well as a deep raven in color, and his face was flawless and presented neither blemish nor misplaced crinkle. In fact, it was eerily flawless, because upon closer inspection it lacked age-lines and wrinkles of worry or laughter. The rest of his skin, made apparent by his hands and glimpses of both arms and feet as well as his exposed neck, was covered in lines and lines of tiny script. The language instantly could be recognized even in the most base of consciousness as something dark and unnatural, though only demonkind were privvy to read it; it was an infernal litany, and as 'X' drew closer, it could be clearer in sight that each tiny letter was carved into his flesh, not merely tattoo'd or written. Which further emphasized the flawlessness of his face, more easily recognizable as a mask by the line along the contours of his jaw, of which overlapped the verses upon his skin. As that pale mare's hooves brought steed and rider closer, the man, who bore all the slowness and movements of a crippled old storyteller, paused in order to bring vivid, almost luminous green eyes up toward the steed's navigator; he stood right in Lionel's path.

Lionel has no trouble commanding his mare to do as bid, for she ceases her trot and tilts forty-five degrees westward seemingly all on her own. At this angle, the man has an able appreciation of the stranger who stands silently before him. Eyes so blue they defy conventional accord scan the bizarre being with scrutiny, only to widen as Lionel tenses almost imperceptibly. If one is gifted in the art of reading a subtle man’s ambitions, they might notice his left index finger has drifted centimeters closer to the hilt of Hellfire, but when words are spoken, they are marked by a tone as casual as can be. "Friend, you block my way."

Xersom 's own gaze was equally as intense, almost glowing and especially contrasted by the darkness of the night that surrounded the two travelers -one on foot in wayward path, the other on an apparent patrol. "Friend?" The voice that escaped the ancient being was, by far, the most staggering aspect of him; it was both sinister and soothing, like a madman's lullaby; it was intoxicating and dangerous all the same, like poisoned wine; it was enticing and yet foreboding at once, and put to truth the age-old idiom 'said the spider to the fly'. It might become apparent then, with the attunement of the divine and spiritual awareness of the human, that what stood before him occupied two levels of existence; 'X' existed both in the spiritual realm, with starkly different aesthetics and mannerisms were Lionel to actively try to look at him in that plane, as well as the corporeal world, as this juxtaposed aged youth. Yet, there were startling revelations available to merely the gentlest of curiosities. One of which was a haunting. Some people had a few or a single spirit or soul attached to them, following them around both unfelt, unheard, and unseen, usually victims of a murder, though upon few instances love or comraderie, loyalty or oath. The number of spirits that followed Xersom stretched behind him like a cape that extended for miles and miles, and these were not of any benevolent sort; they were all not just murdered, but apparently slaughtered by him, and perpetually follow him en masse in unheard cries and clamors that call for his death. "It is curious one might address another by 'friend', a stranger no less, in lands such as these. It takes either confidence or trust. Which are you?"

Lionel allows his vision to document the miles of restless dead, but betrays no semblance of recognition. Still, his muscles do tighten a bit further, and it’s likely all the clearer now that they do so. Through Lionel’s eyes, indeed, there is a mass of contradictions, a creature who exists on several levels and may well be possessing of considerable strength. There is also something else – he can feel it, coarsing through him like a wave, something sinister in birthright, something vehemently familiar, something not far removed from... an Immortal. The mare neighs, softly, and the man places a black-gauntleted hand upon the top of her head to soothe. At this time, it must be said, Xersom may be sensing something powerful emanating not only from the fabled hero, but from his sword as well. Of Lionel, it is a kind of warm, ethereal glow, its precise identity difficult to ascertain unless one is directly aware of long-forgotten magics from a far-away realm, a place called Ishaara, where humans and other sentients can be gifted a spirit’s own level of spiritual awareness. Of Hellfire, it is also warm, but to the point of spectacular violent impulse, a charger’s will to charge. "I am Lionel," he replies. "Dwell on colloquialisms until the sun rises, but I'm headed east and your ghosts are blocking the road for leagues."

Xersom was not directly aware of this far-away realm, though Immortals had taken their legions through many realms and destroyed a vast majority of them in their perpetual wars of light and dark; the fragment of the Nameless King retained some sort of instinctive recognition of far-away lands as well as barren, decimated worlds. Ishaara might have been one, or might not have, and 'X' would never know its name or consciously be aware of its existence without stepping foot there, himself. But in these dueling emanations and auras, where the ancient's dark was magnified by the complimenting entanglement of benevolent light and violent justice which drew from Lionel and Hellfire, respectively, there was something distinctly 'off' about the enigmatic wyrm that stood before the great hero. It was buried, or more accurately, entombed, beneath that thick darkness of not only his corporeal self in the form of Immortal residue and infernal magicks, but also (though much more diminished) in the very heart of that near-impenetrable darkness of some armored silhouette that was the vague cursory description of his existence in the spiritual realm. It was a light. A faint, tiny, flickering light that was both foreign, as if placed there by means that could only be divine, and resolute, as it existed steadfast despite the suffocating darkness that surrounded it. It was by no means a warm glow, or even anything violent as one might expect bordering the line of good and evil; it was weak, and it was tiny, but it was there. Perhaps that separated this being, that lived for a time so long his age was counted in eras rather than quantified years, from the even older antagonists and newer tyrants. "Ah, yes, well," he continued, his voice ever enthralling and tantalizingly dark, "The guilty are punished eventually, one way or another. Mine just happens to be more visible -and perplexing- than others. I'm afraid you will have to wade through them, at least until they get what they seek." The man then, with apparent difficulty that aided to the aspect of age in his duality of young and old, took a slow method to hobble out of the steed's path.

Lionel is every bit tense but for his smile, which many have found alarmingly sincere even in the most twisted of life’s moments. Alexiaisis, the mare, tilts back into a straight line at once, and Lionel’s ethereal light seems almost to shift in frequency, to diminish slightly. Is it in response to acknowledgement of Xersom’s tiniest fragment of divinity? If so, what might the shift signify? It should also be mentioned that Hellfire’s violence is at this time curbed, or even tempered somewhat. Those with a prediliction for perceiving the conscious thoughts of another will note that Lionel does not see just the nigh-endless stream of spirits trailing Xersom. No, he seems something else, too – men and women, some going about their day, some burning alive, some screaming and some conversing of the weather and of the scent of bread. There are so many, and the man is flinching to avoid eye contact with them. But they are not spiritual in nature, so only he or she who is by all counts telepathic will view them at all; they are mere psychological haunts of a man more damaged now than the old records would ever have predicted. And so the fallen, all those Lionel has failed to protect, mingle quite like dancers at a ball with the wretched ghosts of Xersom’s doing, and Lionel cuts a path through them all, into the east.

Rynvale Jail

Caedan | The jail is quiet, locked down and secured for the night. The night guard has traded with the day shift in staggered shifts to avoid reproducing patterns that savvy prisoners might recognize and use to their advantage. Dinner has been delivered, and a lone guard walks the center aisle between cells, checking on each prisoner before returning to his post near the first set of security doors. There, he chats with another guardsman behind a second set of security doors.

Lionel | The guardsmen discuss all manner of things. Surprisingly, they’re well-versed in the goings-on of the realm, and one of them – a man from as far away as the so-called Demon Archipelago – has so much to say about his young daughter, who has only just taken her first steps. All told, neither of these men are bad news. Hence the damn shame of it when a lone figure descends from the rafters, thin and taut, slitting the first man’s throat and spinning his corpse in circles to distract the second man long enough to thrust his knife deep inside his belly. A great spray of blood spirals about and deposits all over the doors and into nearby cells as well as the slit man’s body goes limp and collapses. Prisoners bellow and scream, banging on the bars. The murderous intruder glares, scanning the surroundings. Two more shadows drop down from above; now, in better light, it can be seen that two are male, one is female; one male is human, as is the female, but one man is a towering orc. "He was supposed to be here," the orc thunders in disapproval, banging a steely fist into nearby bars and crushing an unruly prisoner's six small fingers. To the sound of squealing, the orc thunders some more; "he was supposed to be here."

Caedan senses a disturbance. It’s not the usual kind, the kind that visits her in the dark, in the maddening quiet, the nothingness that surrounds her. It’s a … commotion. There have been commotions before. Some, she has started herself. This commotion is different. It seems tinged with … possibility. With competence. The psychic fluidly stands from the corner of her cell that she’s been haunting and stalks to toward the door. A single hand emerges from behind the bars on her door, slender fingers wrapping around the cool steel as she waits and listens.

Lionel | “Well I dinnae what to tell ye,” the human intruder calls back, wiping blood from his knife with his bare hand. “Sometimes, when people says they’s gonna be somewhere, they dinnae go there, and that’s just criminal, but ‘tis what ‘tis.” The orc continues roaring. The prisoners continue shouting. Mixed in with the frenzy are a few discernible sentences – requests to be let free, requests to be left alone, at least one insistence that a sheep is all someone wants at a time like this. The woman cants her head in a certain direction and follows her intuition. “He never said he was coming, Brenn, you fool,” she snaps quietly, approaching Caedan’s cell, her eyes curious at the sight of someone so calm. But she doesn’t say a word to the psychic; instead, she merely watches. Some meters behind, the orc pounds into the bars of a cell with such might, they bend considerably; the woman within, a drow, steps back too late and the orc leaps through, breaking in and grabbing her by the throat. “Where is he?” The beast asks. “Where is Lionel?” The drow can’t possibly answer even if she knew; she’s held too tightly. Brenn winces as the orc pulls tighter, but they’re all three of them interrupted when a man, dressed in ebony mail with cloth-of-gold trimming and wielding a sword so large, so fierce, so pulsing with waves of flame that it can only be Hellfire, appears seemingly out of nowhere, as if generating next to them. It should be noted that the woman of the group remains very close to Caedan, and her back is now turned, neck exposed.

Caedan listens, scrutinizing, studying speech patterns, trying to ascertain if this is something that is happening outside her head, or in it. A woman approaches and the psychic narrows her eyes in the dim light that comes with her. In truth, she’s hardly recognizable, a dark swath of hair so matted that it conceals her features, eyes too dark to be the semi-lucid blue they once were. Caedan’s grip on the bars tightens, pale knuckles turning a sickly green from her grasp. The woman turns and Caedan eases a hand through the bars, fingers snaking forward to the woman’s exposed neck before a presence, a force seemingly stops her. She can hear the sword crackle, but she can feel who wields it. Her hand withdraws back into the cell and there is an ominous quiet there once more.

Lionel takes a single calculated step forward, gripping Hellfire’s faded iron hilt with arms outstretched, keeping the tremendous blade’s tip pointed westward, away from the opposition. He angles his left leg so that it bends at the knee some inches ahead of a rigidly-locked right leg, scanning the area. The orc drops the drow, who gasps for air she only barely locates, collapsing to the floor of her cell. Both men move forth, the orc with a great bone club and Brennan with his beloved knife. The woman, unaware of her recent brush with death, crosses her arms; but her hand was so swift with the fetching of a poisoned dart from her belt, which she now obscures behind outstretched fingertips. Lionel does not move, but he does speak. “You will leave.” Brenn bursts into a fit of laughter, twists his body into a dance, spins forth swinging his knife as he ducks beneath Hellfire like it were a balancing beam, and falls lifeless to the ground when the sword’s fire shifts from the steel like a restless spirit and envelops him in a blaze of agony. Lionel remains still.

Caedan can hear words, words that bend into sentences that surely mean something to their recipients; but for her, it is just noise, a few semi-familiar sounds within a cacophony of voices, all screaming for attention. She’s been in and out of the minds of her cellmates for years now, learning them, knowing them as intimately as one can without ever coming face to face. But now there are so many more minds, so many more voices. And then there is one less. She tilts her head.

Lionel cocks a brow as the orc chooses to cease his assault, holding the bone club at the ready like some kind of bat. “That’s right,” the Catalian mocks openly. “Now be a big boy and scoot on out of here.” He flashes a quick look at the woman, whose tussles of curly bleached blonde hair stretch so comically low to the floor that he can’t help a chortle. “And take Miss Curl Up n’ Dye with you, if you would.” Whatever any one of them would have said or done next, they’re all interrupted when a cockney male accent shouts from up the stairs, brimming with confidence. “Mehster Lionel, then, I know you’re down there. Ye should know you’re surrounded. There are five of us – hell, fifteen! – ‘cause we tracked those three scoundrels, who said they was coming after ye. So that makes us the lucky winners, then, don’t it?” Lionel rolls his eyes, swings his sword as if it was a common house rapier, and sends a burst of flame around him like a hot shield. As his gaze shifts to the stairs, the blonde woman’s dart is thrown; he hears the whir, but a second too late. It strikes true between shoulder greaves and he screams. Now he sees her – behind the woman, hardly recognizable even if he’d ever known the face. But there’s something patently odd about her. There’s something so very Caedan.

Caedan shifts her attention past Lionel to the staircase, listening to the voice, the threats it spews. She pushes, just a bit, trying to discern if the man is lying — but she still isn’t entirely convinced this is really happening outside her head. And then, all at once, there are a series of events. The woman manages to throw her dart; it hits; Lionel screams; the cacophony within the jail grows as does the occupants’ collective desperation. The jailers have modified Caedan’s cell so that they never have to come within arm’s reach of the cell to keep her alive within it. the woman, unfortunately, is not aware of these modifications. Her neck is snapped before she can revel in her victory. Again, the psychic listens, head canting to an awkward angle, fingers twitching at her sides.

Lionel feels surer of it now. That woman, that slender disheveled tangle of psychotic frustration, is Caedan Navarre. With a renewed sense of purpose, he bolts toward her cell, even as poison drips into his bloodstream. Lionel is, after all, no ordinary man; he is a man who can vanquish conscious response to physical pain, to a degree. He cannot, however, vanquish his own psychological demons. All around him, the faces of the despairing occupants shift in his mind’s eye and become Catalians who have perished when the homeland was torn asunder. He knows these faces, he knows the familiar curves of his people’s noses, arches of their temples. Suddenly the dart is felt and he screams for a second time. Behind him, the orc is stupidly moving in for a blow, but he’s stopped dead in his tracks by a crossbow bolt. A crossbow bolt...? Then surely the cockney fellow up above has let his patience run thin and there are enemies behind him even now, seconds away from the kill. Lionel has little time and perhaps even less sense – he swings Hellfire through the bars as far from Caedan as possible, the unnatural blade cleaving them fresh through. “I’m setting you free,” he says.

Caedan steps back a fraction of a second before Lionel swings his famed sword, slicing cleanly through warded bars. She reaches out to touch one of the mangled bars, sizzling from the effects of Hellfire. She sears her fingertips and pulls her hand away. Probably real, she concludes. She shifts her transient attention back to Lionel when he speaks, but his words don’t appear to register. She regards him silently, without movement, without effort to leave the confines of what was her cell, even though freedom has now been granted. She stares emotionlessly at the great warrior before taking a single step backward.

Lionel visibly twitches. It isn’t from the dart. It isn’t from his latest freak-out hallucination. It isn’t even from the line of mercurial bastards coming up behind him intent on killing or maiming him for whoever it is that’s bought their violent affections, not really. No, the twitch is all for Caedan, whose decision not to run posthaste may have cost them both their lives. “I don’t have time to spell it out,” he says with some struggle, tilting his head to register what’s going on in the distance. To his surprise, the injured drow woman has taken down one of the attackers in a frenzied leap, stolen his dagger, and is stabbing repeatedly. That’s one down. But four more of them, mixed races, mixed genders, mixed weaponry, mixed just-about-everything, are glaring hard, and the one with the crossbow is reloading. “I reckon maybe you an’ me got off on the wrong foot,” the cockney lad muses, all cheeks and no backbone. “Might be I’ll let you live long enough to bring you to – eh? What’s with the girl? Why’s she look that way?” Lionel arches Hellfire forward defensively. “Might be ‘cause she sees a man as ugly as you,” he suggests. “Caedan! You’re Caedan, right?” He’s frantic in his half-whisper. Mr. Cockney stares, puzzled. “Run! Now! Leave this place! You’re free!”

Caedan has nothing to offer Lionel, no words, no glimmers of recognition — this, even though she knows exactly who he is, the exiled prince of her homeland. She can see those that haunt him as though they haunt her, too, but without the venom, without the weight of guilt that the Catalan bears. She flicks a quick glance toward the crossbow-wielding man when he references her, and it’s a dark stare, flat, void of emotion one way or the other before she refocuses on Lionel as he tries to coax her into … running away? Like he’s done? After a moment, she daintily holds her hand out of him, evidently asking for his assistance in slipping through the bars. But as soon as he’s presumably extended his own hand to help her, she’s a wild woman, twisting around him, raining down blows with atrophied muscles against metal armor. It’s not highly effective. She needs a weapon, something sharp to fit between the plates of armor. She needs to stay away from his weapon, the heat from which she can already feel arching toward her, trying to parry her attack without explicit instruction from its wielder to do so.

Lionel | Wiggles is a proud man. In school, they used to tease him about his height, so he’d make them squeal. They used to tease him about his name, too – nobody wants to grow up ‘Humphrey’ – so he devised an even more absurd name and bit the ears off of all those who mimicked it. Now Wiggles is amused; he readies his crossbow and keeps it firmly affixed on the raving madwoman as she beats into his bounty, his illustrious Lionel, hero of the long-ago, fabled dark knight, fallen prince of some far-off land of who-cares-what. Caedan, that’s what Lionel had called her. Caedan. She’s kind of pretty in her own primeval way, Wiggles thinks; aye, Wiggles should like to take her out and treat her right. He can hear Lionel coughing and realizes he’s coughing up a spot of blood, and he finds that just darling. He waves a hand at one of his lackeys to finish off the drow prisoner who’s become such a hassle, and the lackey nods, and goes for the kill. “This is so fitting, I almost don’t want it to end,” Wiggles says, all cockney-like as ever. He notes that Lionel doesn’t appear to be resisting at all. He notes that Hellfire is practically dangling from his grasp. He notes that the sword will soon be his, and fancies that all the tales of its spirit-within are probably just tales, after all. He’s about to say something poignant, something that will be quoted for ages to come, when the sound of hooves storming down the stairway and the screams of his backup men floods his ears. He turns slowly and his eyes bulge in horror as an armored Venturil mare bursts down the hall, crushing him beneath her frenzied pace. Wiggles is just a puddle now.

Caedan does not relent. Things are happening behind her, behind Lionel, but she’s hellbent on hurting him, of doing something to him, to making him pay for inhabiting her brother, maybe killing him in the process; she isn’t quite sure. But she hadn’t felt Quinton’s presence in a very long time. It’s a loss felt more severely than Jack Navarre’s, older pragmatist brother. This is her brother with heart, with faith in a humanity that deserved none of it, and he’s missing. She beats at Lionel’s chest and tries to pry apart the pieces of armor herself. But she is malnourished and weak and makes little headway. She’s laboring, sucking in deep breaths of oxygen as she tries to bring the knight down herself, as though she were in some kind of jailhouse gladiator bout. A horse appears in the jail and Caedan pauses. Maybe this is in her head. In which case Lionel would not be feeling any of this, in which case he would be impervious to pain, as he is fabled to be in actual reality. She shoves at his chest one last time, muttering under her breath and stalks back to her cell to wait out the hallucination.

Lionel lays on his back, finally thinking to pull out that damnable dart. He’s got a cracked rib; Caedan’s malnourished hits punched through the lining of his armor and did a bit more damage than she might have suspected. He thrusts himself up into the air, bringing Hellfire ahead of him; Alexiaisis, his mare, stands there in all her glory, absurd against the backdrop of a Rynvale jail, neighing softly as if in want of a meal. Prisoners behind their bars have all seemed to become as disillusioned with events as Caedan herself; the drow, it should be said, is still quite alive. A couple of stragglers from the assault, survivors of Alexia’s incredulous display, nearly trip on their way up the stairs, fleeing posthaste. Lionel nods to the drow woman, who nods back. “I’m letting some of these chumps go,” she comments, pilfering the key from one of the dead guards. “Your princess doesn’t seem interested in a rescue, Shining Armor. Maybe you should leave her be.” Lionel bites his lip, hard. He turns to Caedan, who seems like she’s in another world. “Caedan,” he says softly. “Hate me. Kill me. It matters little. But you don’t belong here. Soon, the authorities will return. This is your chance to be anywhere else at all.”

Caedan shudders at the mention of her name. It is how her brother spoke it so long ago — a hint of pleading, but evenly, infused with rehearsed calm. She closes her eyes and wills Lionel to vanish. When she opens them again, he is still there. The hallucination is tenacious. It is tenacious and she is exhausted. Despite the night’s entertainment, she nearly wills it to go away. But it doesn’t. Lionel remains. His armored horse remains. The deadline looms, the offer of freedom counts down with it. She’s sure it is a trick, some cruel invention of her mind. But her mind always cedes to time. And it has not ceded this scenario. “I don’t believe you,” she speaks at last, her voice little more than a barely coherent rasp. What exactly she doesn’t believe to be true regarding Lionel’s quiet recitation of a few gentle facts is not entirely certain. “You should be dead. Too many times.” She emerges again from her cell, but not to attack the warrior. She isn’t entirely sure what to do with herself. She’s a mess, wheezing for breath, gaunt, but her gaze is sharp, her words sharper. “You are not going to get rid of them by doing good. It’s not how it works. You will never know peace. Your sins have been too great.”

Lionel stands there, aimlessly, his blue eyes watering. Caedan is surrounded by ghosts. He sees them everywhere – the faces of the Catalians, true, but also the faces of his dead wife Alexiaisis, and Valaria and her child, and so many more. He sees Griff, too, and ponders at the peculiarity of it. Surely, Griff is alive. Well, no matter. He’s seeing things and he’s seeing them because Caedan Navarre just struck home. Lionel can’t remember a time anyone has said anything so valid. He nearly falls, but the drow woman catches him, observing him with a curious, cautious countenance. He waves a hand at her, allowing her to go about freeing her friends, and he almost falls again. Without words, he drops gold by Caedan’s side, and some clothing, too. Then at last he says, “I know.”

Caedan observes Lionel silently, which is a modest step above murderously. She stares at the accumulation of things around her, sidestepping something that comes too close to her space. She shows no interest in the things he offers her, choosing instead to watch his face, the way he tries to reconcile helping her with the atrocities he’s committed, or avoided. He staggers and she briefly sees the face of her brother there. She squeezes her eyes closed and shakes her head. When she opens her eyes, it is just Lionel, wounded, struggling. She steps past him to one of the bodies on the floor and she slides two knives free — one from a proper sheath, and one from a fleshy one. “Killing you only sets you free. You must live with the pain as we all do.” She curls a lip at him. “For now.” Without further comment, she moves past his horse and disappears into the darkness.

Caedan exited to the east.

Hanging Corpse Tavern

Hildegarde had only ever been to the Hanging Corpse tavern once or twice in her life, having met her liege lord here when eldritch creatures roamed the streets and threatened the occupants of the tavern so very long ago. It seemed like a different era. It was, really. She had changed from happy-go-lucky girl who wanted to be a knight to seasoned battle-commander. With every step, she clanked and clinked under the weight of her armour; the butt of her halberd tapping against the floor with each step. The knight passed the bar, spying the armoured man nursing his pitcher and nearly doing a double-take. He looked familiar. But he couldn’t be the same man, surely. That man she met so many years ago looked like a homeless vagrant, he looked like a man in need unlike this armoured man now. Perhaps he was a relation? Or perhaps, since she had lost her eye, her vision was not quite what it was. The Silver claimed a spot at the bar a little bit away from Lionel, waiting patiently to place an order.

Lionel knows pitchers. He knows their shape, their size, the best way to hold them. It is in fact their handle. He knows when they’re wooden, he knows when they’re tin. He even knows when they’re glass. But above all, what Lionel really, truly knows is what goes in them. Now this is a fine pitcher; it’s full of mead, which really ought to be nursed in single goblets, or at least poured into one if a patron is so bold as to order this much. Yet there is no goblet here; rather, there’s a man, wounded at the cloth-covered shoulder in resplendent armor of ebony allure, drinking highly potent golden alcohol from a pitcher made of pewter. In walks Hildegarde, a woman whose face he can’t remember, but she carries herself like a knight, and she looks like a knight, and sits like a knight, and she’s got herself a great big matching halberd to go along with all that knightly get-up. She’s here for a drink, he figures, and that’s all well and dandy. Here in the Hanging Corpse, where the dead roam the streets, the ale’s cheap and there’s so much silence. Lionel breaks the silence with a single, simple word. “Yo.”

Hildegarde might walk the walk and talk the talk, but she didn’t drink the drink. She had only been drunk once or twice in her life and she found it quite a frightening – albeit exhilarating – experience. To have so little control over oneself seemed risky and dangerous, particularly when one possessed a most lethal skillset! Instead, the knight requested a pale ale because this tavern didn’t have much in the way of non-alcoholic drinks that weren’t blood or seemingly ritualistic. A nice pale ale in a plain tankard and a plate of steak to go with it, the only thing she didn’t seem to mind being bloody. “Greetings,” she replied with a little smile, though she doubted Lionel would take his attention away from the pitcher to catch said smile.

Lionel doesn’t take his attention away from the pitcher to catch said smile. He takes another shot of it, lips at its spout to bring in a most blessed honeyed taste. Some might say such behavior is not befitting, but then, Lionel has enough voices buzzing about in his head to block out the nonsense. When he’s had his fill – for the moment – he sets the pitcher down and stretches, although the stretch is cancelled midway when he groans at a sharp pain in his still-healing fourth left rib. There isn’t much to say, really; Lionel is isn’t the wordy sort these days, not like he used to be. He’s damn near stoic now, and his looks sure sell the part. No matter how he might play at pitchers, he’s every bit the dark knight of legend. Whereas once he fought against that fate, now he wears it well, although it would be foolish to say call that pride. After all, he’s fucked all that pride, living now only to vanquish evil until he is vanquished, himself. A moment passes; Lionel beckons the bartender and gestures at Hildegarde. “Fetch me one of those steaks, Steadmen, not so bloody though.” Steadmen bristled. “Fine, bloody as you like. No one here seems to understand the point of eating anything that isn’t oozing, anyway.” When Steadmen steps away, he lays out too many gold coins by tenfold in payment for his purchase.

Hildegarde has no right nor place to question what a man will pay for steak, so she passes no comment on it. Instead, she watches Lionel for a while. He winced; so he was wounded. He drinks, but is it to forget? “We’ve met before,” she finally says to him, hesitating for only a moment. He wouldn’t remember her. She wasn’t exactly that memorable and she had changed much since then! “It was a few years ago,” she explained quickly, before he could protest ever having met her, “and you were outside the tavern in Kelay. Meditating, if I remember right.”

Lionel bristles. Insofar as his chaotic mind is concerned, he’s not been back here for eight years or more. In truth, he had been making annual visits for a scant few days at a time, to keep abreast of any great menaces that might have plagued the realm. Particularly those of Immortal design. That was how they had met; he’d come here, dressed as a commoner to dispel societal awareness that one of their so-called heroes had returned, so that he might observe. As he did so, he had been almost more wizard than swordsman, moving about like some awfully-young ascetic. At times, he’d let slip entirely the truth of who he was, depending on what he’d had to drink the previous eve. Nothing grand ever came of it, gods be good, but at one point in time he did in fact meet a younger, less traveled Hildegarde. Lionel won’t remember it, though. He can’t remember it. He cannot be made to remember that he was watching Hollow for Immortals when vengeful demons set his homeland ablaze in his absence. “Are you sure?” His words are so carefree. So unlike his countenance. “Come on, now. I have one of those faces.” He really doesn’t.

Hildegarde did not reply for a time. She had seen that it had made the man uncomfortable and that was never her aim, truthfully. So instead of lying or persisting, the knight offered him a smile, “Perhaps you do,” she said in response; allowing him this victory. “My pardons for interrupting your dinner with the assumption we know one another,” she excused herself, “will you, perhaps, stow away your gold and allow me to pay for your meal? As recompense for my terrible memory!” her tone was light and hearty, as if to say she was quick to laugh and slow to anger.

Lionel cocks a brow, giving Hildegarde a thorough glance for the first time. This woman has seen things, he senses. There’s something in her eye. She’s known war. He feels a bit foolish now, although who’s to say why? He’s positive they’ve not met before, even if she does look eerily familiar. That’s probably just his reflection talking. He’s seen men and women of war and they all have a bit of a commonality to them. His steak arrives and he starts to cut, wincing at all that blood. It’s a funny thing, Lionel’s aversion to bloody cow. “Think nothing of the mistake,” he mumbles between chews. What a charmer. “But think nothing of the cost, either. I’ve got all this gold, right? And I’ve got nothing to do with it except buy steak. Grim times, eh?” He shovels another forkful into his mouth; this time he chews and swallows. “I’ll tell you, though, I wouldn’t mind a little uh, intel on the what’s-what around here. Would you describe current events as involving countless hordes of malevolence wreaking havoc upon people? Anywhere? Like, here to Venturil, there to Rynvale, anywhere in-between? Forget the Underdark, though. Lost cause, that. Trust me.”

Hildegarde ’s face was not something people could look upon for a good period of time. She was plain ugly. Or at least plain of face and just terribly scarred. Her left eye is covered by an eyepatch; the mottled flesh of her right jaw and cheek implied she had been burned terribly at some point in her life; her nose is crooked and red looking, it was an angry and hideous break from what could only have been a particularly rotten fight. “Hm. Intel,” she repeated the term before taking a forkful of her own meal, though she is forever careful to chew and swallow before speaking again. “Knowledge is power and all that,” she said with a cheery little smile, before taking a little gulp of the pale ale as if that would aid her in talking a little. “There has been some creature unleashed in Xalious. Evil thing. But it has seemingly disappeared; chased off but still alive. It’s connected to some sort of… Order, I believe. I unfortunately do not know as much as I would like to know, but civil war has occupied my thoughts lately,” she said the latter almost absent-mindedly, ignorant of the froth of ale on her upper lip. She’s a real knight now, with a foamy ‘tache.

Lionel contemplates that last bit of information, putting a hand up to his chin and staring off into the rafters. Hildegarde’s visage, it should be said, hasn’t escaped him; but rather, he’s seen demons scurry about with their heads inside-out, he’s seen spider-women with a head for every leg, he’s seen talking eyeballs foam at the ill-fitting mouth, skinless high elves talk through their hands, and he’s even seen Mesthak in love. He’s seen everything Hollow at its ugliest; next to all that, Hildegarde remains a woman of considerable beauty no matter how mottled. That’s the way of it for Lionel O’Connor. “Thanks.” Surprisingly, the man still owns a modicum of decency about his manners. “That helps a fair bit. What is this civil war over?”

Hildegarde dipped her head graciously at his thanks, “You are welcome,” she replied, before stuffing her mouth with a few bites of steak to chew on until Lionel poses his next question. What was the civil war over? Well, it felt as though it was over her very life at times! “My kingdom,” she replied gently, “and my people. I, er… I shan’t bore you with the details, but my people are endangered and bullied by a brute of a man. A man who has an army when I am but one. If I run off – as much as my heart wishes me to – to face him, I will die and my people will suffer under the rule of him and his line. But if they suffer now while I gather strength… they suffer now to know freedom soon,” she reasoned, though it embittered her to know her people suffered. Though she had seen war, the woman hadn’t shaken off that unmistakeable optimism of a new knight. That young knight who believed deeply in virtue, honour, justice. The young knight who felt they could make that all happen.

Caedan appeared from the north.

Caedan trails into the tavern from above, slinking down the stairs one slow step at a time, a sword gripped in her right hand trailing behind her, scrapping down each wooden tier. She shuffles past the once-sentient fireplace, dark gaze fixed on where Lionel and Hildegarde hold discourse over steak. She makes her way to the pair and reaches Lionel first. Her free hand lifts to trail over his armor-plated shoulders, a slow, fluttering caress. But it’s Hildegarde that holds her attention. She stops next to the knight, her sword still gripped in her right hand, blade dragging along the floor. “No,” she answers, responding to some unasked question. “You can have your meal.” She slices a sharp glance at Steadman. Steadman shakes his head at the psychic. “Caedan, the cow has been dead for years now. We don’t have any milk.” The psychic seems to vibrate in place, her grip tightening.

Lionel could have been told any number of things by this battle-hardened knight, this woman Hildegarde, and they would have gone as he’d predicted – age-old retellings of the same bitter blood feuds and crude awakenings of vicious predatory warlords. There’d been a civil war in Larket on that long-ago day some thirteen years past when he had first arrived upon Hollow’s shores, even, and he wouldn’t have doubted that her description might mimic events from that very conflict. What Lionel has not anticipated is that Hildegarde will speak to him of something that is so reflective of his own origins. It needs to be stressed – Lionel is a haunted man. It can’t be mentioned enough. When the psychological manifestations of all the dead he’s failed don’t fill his vision with fear, when he isn’t holding idle conversation with a close friend who’s been slain for years, he’s doing everything in his power to forget. Certain words, like ‘lover’ and ‘damned’, play at his mind like a harp, stringing him along into memories he wants gone for stray seconds at a time. This, though… this is too much. He snaps out of his delusions and fixes the knight with a steely grimace. Gone is his whimsy, his cynical discord. All that’s left is a man and his demons. “You can’t let them suffer,” he speaks quickly, diligently. “You cannot let them suffer. I lost Catal. I lost my entire realm. I lost them all. I thought as you did. I did so much here. I am Lionel. You may have heard. I fought and I fought and I fought and I fought and I fought and I fought and I fought and I fought and I fought, woman. And then I fought some more. And while I was fighting, my people, they were suffering. You cannot let that fate befall them. For when they are done suffering, they will die. And you will not be able to live with it.” He’s about to carry on this tirade when his wounded shoulder sends shockwaves through his body. By now he’s suited for war; he feels it, numbing his compassion and building on his killer instinct. Then he sees her. Caedan Navarre. That girl he rescued who hates him dearly. Her chat with Steadmen goes in one ear and out the other. His jaw drops.

Hildegarde would not shrink back at the first hint of a man ranting. The whole rant doesn’t bother her, though that use of ‘woman’ made her eye twitch a tiny bit. She had pummelled lesser men into the ground who thought her to be weak of body and weak of mind and heart just because of her gender. But she has also been there, in that grip of trauma and fear and terror; when the world has all but spiralled out of control and the faces of the dead haunt a person during night and day without relent. “I will not let them suffer,” she said it firmly, “I gather strength now. I’m gathering it quickly. But I will not let them suffer. I will protect my people,” she assured the older warrior and warrior of great acclaim. She’s even ready to reach out and offer her forearm to grasp in the sign of the warrior’s shake, but she is distracted by the scraping of blade on wood. The thudding of footsteps and sudden presence of a strange and intriguing girl. Her hand caressed the knight briefly, until those strange but intense eyes were upon Hildegarde. ‘Will I ever enjoy a meal in peace?’ she had begun to wonder, only to have Caedan answer her question aloud. There’s no doubt what Caedan was answering. The knight stares at the girl, but there is no disdain nor discomfort in her gaze. Only that concern and yearning to help if she could, along with a good dollop of confusion. “Hello.”

Caedan tilts her head as she studies Hildegarde, silently scrutinizing her. She flicks a brief glance toward the ale the woman drinks before back to her marred visage — which she doesn’t seem to fixate at all as her stare seems to rest solely on the knight’s eye. Abruptly, she smiles — a rehearsed, put-upon smile that’s not very sincere … but it’s not malicious or insincere, exactly, either. It’s more like a very concentrated effort to not deviate from social norms. “Hi.” The smile fades, just as abruptly, but her expression still lacks the malice it had when she’d approached Lionel with so gentle a greeting. “I have a home.” Perhaps another answer to an unasked question. “You worry too much for your own when you will return there so soon.” Without looking, she extends to Lionel her sword, because she needs someone to hold it, and as much as she hates his very being, she knows he will be the last to use it against her. There are children here and they make her twitch, but she swallows and forces herself to keep her attention on Hildegarde, aside from a brief, telling glance at her former clan mate.

Lionel comes and goes from that mental brink. He’s spoken his piece and revealed far more than he’d intended. He can’t recall all that he has said, because his mind won’t seem to let him. When Hildegarde reaches out, having spoken her words of confidence, it delivers him back to something more like reality. His shoulder hurts, that’s for sure, but the look he gives her is one of sudden understanding. ‘It’s not that simple, though,’ he thinks. ‘You’ll never know when it’ll all fall apart. I pray you truly never know.’ He reaches out to that extended forearm, and feels as if he’s brushed it, maybe, but won’t check to be sure. By now, however, Caedan is talking of having found a home. Without looking, Lionel accepts the offered sword; with Hellfire standing upright beside him like some massive pulsating tournament blade, he’s free to place it at his lap protectively. He doesn’t know how long he’s expected to wield it, but it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that Caedan has her way. It’s a strange, spontaneous devotion, one which he had not anticipated projecting. Go in. Get the girl. Leave. That’s how it used to work, anyway. Except when it didn’t. That hurts to think about, so he swallows down quite a bit of that mead of his. “Ah,” he answers Hildegarde. What a stupid thing to say.

Hildegarde glanced at Lionel when he prayed that she never need know when it all fell apart. But she knew all too well the feeling of being haunted. Perhaps not to the scale and same effect as Lionel did, but she had known it well enough. Too many had died while in service and in friendship to her. War was an ever hungry beast. But now Caedan was once again looking at her, smiling in what was probably a very odd manner. Like someone was stretching her mouth into that pose before letting go again. ‘Does this girl have somewhere to stay…? Is she safe?’ Hildegarde is already asking these questions in her head, as her sole eye roams over her form to assess her appearance and wellbeing. Ever the one to want to help, the knight is feeling it now until Caedan once again answers her mental question. “W… What?” she asked, taken a tad by surprise! Before it could have been a coincidence; that the girl would say things in answer to what she could guess Hildegarde was thinking but that was all. But it seemed difficult to support that reasoning now. The knight clears her throat a little, “You are very wise, aren’t you?” she asked Caedan, smiling a little. Had she offended her in asking what she had meant? What was her name? Who was this girl? Did she need something or some kind of help from the knight?

Caedan ignores Lionel to the very best of her ability — and she’s rather good at it, like she’s had many years’ practice. She hones in on Hildegarde, her full attention taken solely by the knight. She leans in, invading Hildegarde’s space, which is less dangerous now that she’s down at least one visible weapon. “One of your allies is considering betraying you. Do not trust the one you want to believe in. Listen to the very small part of you that wants to think ill, to think the worst. Do not throw away your kingdom on the perceived goodness in another, Hildegarde the Silver.” She takes a step backward, so that her back is close to Lionel’s shoulder. Her gaze remains set on Hildegarde’s single eye. “And this man wants to kill you.” She sweeps an arm toward Lionel. “You should kill him before he does it to you.” And just like that, evidently Caedan has learned to lie — and she is now using it to her greatest advantage.

Lionel is having himself a nice bit of steak. He’s lost in his own little world just now, with his big giant sword, and then with Caedan’s significantly smaller sword at his lap, and this piece of meat fast approaching his lips. He’s using a fork, too, because that’s how he eats steak. He doesn’t like that it’s bloody, which we’ve covered is ironic, but he needs to finish this meal before it all runs cold. Caedan’s spouting nonsense and he’s oddly taken in by it. Now that she isn’t beating him with every fiber of her strength, he’s free to realize she’s crazy even in the best of times. Lionel opens his mouth, hears her lie, and flicks his wrist just as the fork goes in, sending it slamming into the grooves between his front teeth and piercing his upper gum. He drops the steak, spins about in his barstool, and stares her down, hard look of disapproval replacing whatever forced casual air he’d tried (and likely failed) to exhibit beforehand. His mouth stings, his shoulder aches, his cracked rib throbs as he twists. Lionel has known a thing or two about Caedan, indirectly, for a while now, but he’s never been told she can lie. In fact, when he and Quinton had so briefly shared an existence together, there was a distinct sense that she couldn’t lie. Now here she stands, innocent as can be, profiling him as Hildegarde’s would-be assassin. To wit, he has but one thing to say, one golden peerless defense: “Nuh-uh.”

Hildegarde listened intently to Caedan as she spoke of allies and a possible betrayal. She didn’t have an awful lot of allies so far… who would dare to betray her? Why would anyone? There was little to be gained in betraying Hildegarde. Then suddenly she is being told that the man she had just been speaking to wanted to kill her. It seemed… odd, to be sure. The knight looked between Caedan and Lionel once again, silent for what must have felt like a long time until she finally shrugged her shoulder and said: “If he is to try to kill me, then so be it. But I shall not strike a man down without a just reason.”

Caedan blows a sigh of frustration when Hildegarde does not relent and attack Lionel, especially after Caedan has so kindly warned her. “You can’t be sure,” she murmurs to Hildegarde, voice quiet, gentle. She reaches up to tuck a strand of Hildegarde’s hair behind her ear, tenderly, like someone who knows the Steward intimately might. “You can’t ever be sure. One day you will learn that to survive is to strike first.” She wheels on Lionel and grits her teeth. She can’t contain herself. His very presence is this awful, grating pressure on a mind that can’t withstand much more. She needs a release..something. She stares at him for a second before she lashes out, a sucker punch meant to impact his broken rib — maximum pain with minimal consequences for her.

Lionel is hurt in a few key places. He notes Hildegarde’s calm, collected rebuttal and makes a point to thank her for being Donovan Keane reincarnated, when next he gets the chance. For now, though, all he can do is gaze into the mental oblivion that is Caedan as she rants and raves, all-too-close-like, insisting in her utterly captivating manner that he’s a terrible human being. It’s funny because it’s true. At that, he snickers, and then he laughs uncontrollably. He reaches for his pewter pitcher, that soothing vessel of mead there to ease his tortured spirit; speaking of spirit, it’s right about now that the violent thing that is Halycanos, Lionel’s very own monster-within, begins sending out dim red spirals of flame to encircle Hellfire in something like a warning. It isn’t that the dark knight is unaware of the signal; he’s had thirteen years to make peace with his sentient blade and thirteen years to slay his enemies with it. Moreover, he simply does not care; come what may, he isn’t flinching. Caedan’s aptly-titled sucker punch rings true, shoving his bandages deep into his abdomen and forcing the Catalian straight off his seat and onto the ground. He wheezes for a breath that will not rise, his rib screaming at the rest of him. Caedan’s sword does not escape his grasp. He is silent and makes no effort to defend.

Hildegarde hadn’t expected Caedan to unleash her fury upon Lionel, the man she had entrusted her sword to and had touched so delicately. It seemed as though striking him was the last thing she would want to do! “Hey!” the knight exclaimed, surging out of her barstool to stand upright though she made no move to apprehend Caedan or anything of the sort. Indeed, rather than apprehend the very odd girl, the knight instead crouches down to try and assist Lionel. “Are you all right?” she asked him gently, ready to lend her immense strength to help him up onto his feet. Should he accept her help, she would see him to his feet and try to assess his health. Should he reject her help, she would still stand close by in case he changed his mind. Regardless of what Lionel did – accepting or rejecting her help – the knight would glance between the two of them, flexing her fingers around the shaft of her halberd. “I ought to be going… but I hope we meet again,” she said. To the both of them.

Caedan stares down at Lionel as he falls. She knows she didn’t hurt him that badly, that she wasn’t strong enough to knock him so cleanly from his stool just like that. There is something more at play here. Hildegarde surges past her to assist and Caedan doesn’t interfere. She watches quietly before shaking her head. She stalks away, hands lifting to run through her hair in frustration. “You do not understand. You have to strike first. You have to. It’s the only way to survive. You’re being tricked. They are going to put you in a very small, dark room for the rest of your life and you’ll have to account for your sins and there will be too many to remember! So you will be there forever. And it isn’t where you belong. You don’t understand.”

Lionel waves a hand to reject Hildegarde’s offering, gritting through his teeth to force himself up from his pathetic sprawl. Still, it wouldn’t do to say nothing at all. That’s the thing about Lionel; he showcases a measure of salvation at the oddest times. Maybe the things Donovan used to snap at him about had really struck true, to some sliver of a point. Or perhaps it’s Alexia, from beyond the grave. She had always told him to mind his manners, after all. Alexia... he sees her now, judging him. Weighing his actions. He retracts his hand before Hildegarde can respond and allows her to ease him up. For that warm fraction of a minute, Lionel is as he once was. Proud. “Thank you, knight, and we may indeed meet again,” he speaks. So formal. So rare. Caedan rants. The words are familiar; the words are Lionel. The dark knight tilts his head and returns to his seat, her sword in his lap. “Caedan,” he says. And then he stops. He stops and he looks at her, really looks at her, for the first time. “I do understand. I really do.” He sips of his pitcher of mead. “Let me know when you’ll be wanting your sword back. Stab me with it if it suits you. I hope you’re enjoying your new home.”

Lionel looked at Caedan.

Caedan gestures and paces wildly near the staircase, gesticulating in violent circles, even as Hildegarde leaves. But it’s her name that makes her stop, spoken by Lionel, in the tone that Quinton would use when he wanted—needed her attention. She stills and closes her eyes, willing Lionel to stop there, to stop, just stop. But he continues. She keeps her eyes closed. “I don’t want it back. Death would just be a release for you and I’m not that kind. I don’t have a home.” Another lie (to Hildegarde, currently she is speaking truth) — this one told a tad less skillfully than her first, but she’s learning deception on a curve, making up for lost time. “If killing you would bring my brother back, I’d do it in a heartbeat. So now you must suffer with the rest of us. That is your fate. You suffer like you’ve made your people suffer.”

Lionel grimaces hard. Without a word he kicks off from his seat and fixes Caedan with another steely stare. He wants desperately to leave, but she has him in check. There is nothing about this woman that isn’t calculated, yet there is nothing about her that is. She is the biggest contradiction Lionel has ever met. He wants to leave, to step out that door into the chill eve and be anywhere but here, but he’s holding her sword, and there isn’t a single thing he will not do for her. The weight of his realization hits him harder than Caedan’s frenzied punch; he sighs and steps over to the fireplace, clumsily leaving his fabled Hellfire over by the bar. “My people, “ he repeats. “Why won’t you take it? Why won’t you take your sword?” He won’t ask her. He knows already, she has won. In every conceivable way, she has claimed victory here tonight. “I used to duel ‘em, you know.” Who is he even talking to? “I used to duel ‘em, and that’d shut them up right fast, wouldn’t it? Some poser in a black cloak, come to this land looking to slaughter. I’d kill ‘em. That’d be that. They’d die. They’d be dead. Now all I see is dead. I don’t want to see it. And I can’t just duel you, because you know I’d rip my heart out hurting you. But I’ve hurt you bad, so bad, so bad, so bad.” He’s just muttering incoherently by now. He collapses by the fire, a shadow of the man he once was. Absolutely pathetic. Caedan’s crazy. Lionel is crazy, too.

Caedan crosses to Lionel, staring down at him and finally, finally she takes back her sword. But she only takes it enough to put the hilt into his hands. She places the pointy side of the blade against her stomach and menaces down at him. “Then you should finish it. If death is such a release for you, who are you to withhold it from me, Lionel O’Connor? Who are you to keep me from peace? Who are you??” She pushes into the sword angrily, not enough to puncture, but to feel the dullness of the blade. She knows he’ll be scrambling to stop this any second. “I’ll tell you who you are. You are a landlubbing coward.” It is the worst insult she knows.

Lionel panics, but he spares a split second to regard the woman cynically at that ridiculous insult. It just goes to show, Catalians come in all shapes and sizes, even if all that’s left of them is crazy. He pulls away quickly but softly, careful not to dig any deeper. Wouldn’t that just be the icing – Lionel inadvertently murders Caedan. Indeed, there’d be two dead Catalians here tonight, and the thought of it is briefly appetizing; his face flickers an array of emotions, but finally settles on stalwart. “I’m a madman doomed to survive by your own holy decree, o princess of the nether-sense, but I’ve still just enough of me left not to kill an innocent.” He spits at his own description; calling Caedan ‘innocent’ feels off somehow. But she is. She absolutely is. “Torment me day and night, woman. Find me in the morning and kick me in the face. At lunchtime, tell tall tales that I’m plotting to do all those things I once dueled to end. When dusk comes, hand me your sword and try to make me pierce you with it. Do whatever compels you. Just leave the rest of these people out of it.” He gestures to the crowd. Half of them are undead; he’s picked the wrong tavern for this argument. “Who am I? I am Lionel. And you are Caedan. And I failed to save our realm. And I am sorry.” He spits the word. “I am sorry.”

Caedan stares hard at Lionel, emotionless, but for an expression of disgust, which she wears like it’s the natural set of her features. She releases the sword, surrendering it to Lionel. “Your apologies,” she seethes at him, trembling in anger, “…mean nothing to me. They do not bring my brother back. They are just words. And for many years, that’s all you’ve had. Just words.” She leaves, disappearing up the stairs. If Lionel should follow her, he would discover that she’s simply appeared to vanish from the establishment entirely.

Lionel does not follow Caedan.