RP:Good Tidings Amidst Fatalistic Prospects
Part of the What You Leave Behind Arc
Summary: Gilwen meets Lionel, whereupon the elf offers her hand in alliance. The discussion shifts to the Shadow Plane, the rogue drow Kahran commands, and the grim reality of a world that may be in its death throes.
Gilwen entered the Fort, accompanied by three elven guards, and immediately sought someone who could provide the whereabouts of the Steward; she wasn’t sure of the man’s status within the hierarchy of palace employees, and hoped he’d be able to find Lionel. As she waited, she peeled off the thicker layer’s she wore, shedding the black fur mantle and relinquishing it to one of the similarly dressed elves- who stared in fascination at the array of heads that decorated the walls. Murmurs of fascination drew her attention to the mounted trophies, and she wrinkled her nose in distaste. Thankfully, Gilwen wasn’t subjected long to the barbaric decorations, because the man she had sent of returned to lead her to the Steward’s quarters. Her entourage remained behind, unneeded, and too engrossed with the heads of each conquest. Once they reached the closed door belonging to Lionel, the palace employee knocked before realizing he wasn’t made aware of the woman’s name, let alone her status. “Lady, uh-..” He started, stumbling over the awkward introduction. “Gilwen, of Sage.” She finished, taking pity on the poor man and dismissing him with a nod. “I need to talk to him about Kahran.”
Lionel is many things, but he isn’t a magical empath. If he were a magical empath, the profuse staring he’s committed upon his desk over the past three hours would surely have resulted in the scorching and disintegration of the many stacks of letters which lay on the desk’s surface, challenging him to kill himself with clerical duties. He wants to see these papers burn. No granary report, no diplomatic liaison gone right or wrong, no thorough count of the number of lanterns lighting Frostmaw’s streets will prepare the world for Kahran’s next assault. To be sure, plenty of these letters will regard Kahran as well, but none will give him what is needed: formal allegiance and military aid against the opposition. And, with Lionel and Queen Hildegarde having burned the treaty with Larket to ashes two nights hence, there’s no shortage of vitriol from angered merchants and nobles and tribesmen who fear Kahran more than ever in a month when Frostmaw has made Macon its enemy again. “You should be afraid,” Lionel mumbles, tossing one such letter into the flames of his fireplace. Stewardship was never his calling. Now more than ever it feels a fool’s errand. He’ll return to the war posthaste and that is the end of that. His day-long grimace begins to twist into a confident smile just as a knock on the door snaps him out of the momentary victory of his dilemma. “Oh, for frak’s sake, I told you already, I’m not hungry.” There is a pause, followed by a clearing of the throat from that treasured chap who showed Lionel’s unanticipated guest the way to his quarters. “Gilwen of Sage to see you, suh.” He furrows his forehead and sighs. “Right, sure. Dandy. Rad. Bring her in.” The door swings open as requested. “Hello. What’s up? Fancy a drink? Maybe the cooks will have better luck getting you to eat my rabbit stew than they will with me.” He winces. “Have you ever eaten rabbit? I can’t bring myself to do so. They’re soft and cute and sure, they frak like animals, but they -are- animals. It’s a decent enough excuse.”
Gilwen blinked at the barrage of questions she’s met with upon entrance, a touch of confusion. Furrowing her brows; she didn’t know what to expect of the Steward, but it wasn’t a man who swore like a sailor. “Uh. Yes. Or no.” She paused, cleared her throat, and began again. “I’ve eaten rabbit before. It’s not my preference. And I’ll pass on the drink for now, thank you.” She glanced around the room then, taking in the obvious aspects before finally settling on the stacks of letters, amusement written across her features. “Your desk looks much like my own. So,” her green stare returned to Lionel then, a single brow lofted quizzically. “I initially spoke with Krice regarding this Kahran character, but he told me I should consult you on the matter. Given your… history. Who is he, and why is he here?”
Lionel | “He’s a jackass to end all jackasses. Prime jackass. If history were to line up every jackass that ever stepped foot upon this realm -- and I’m sure you can agree it’s a longer list than it ought to be -- he’d be… well. No. I guess he wouldn’t be at the very top. But the jackasses who employed him would be. And he’s steadily working his way on up there.” Lionel turns from the fireplace to offer Gilwen a real, earnest glance for the first time. His ashen hair is somewhat unkempt and his black button-up is left unbuttoned. Nothing about this man -- not his lithe frame, not his casual stance, not his thoughtless shrug -- suggests formality or poise. “I suspect you want a better answer. And, clinging to the desperate strand of hope that you intend to help do something about him before the whole world is dust, I’ll happily provide. At the height of the Second Immortal War, which ravaged Lithrydel over a decade hence, the Dark Immortals Khasad and Elazul very nearly succeeded in bringing wholesale apocalypse upon us all. Cheesy name for a pair of right-royal bastards, but I wasn’t laughing for long.” The Catalian’s glance turns meaningfully dire, albeit briefly. Before long he’s right on back to casual. “Cities burned. Thousands upon thousands died. Look, in light of recent events I’m sure it all sounds remarkably familiar, and besides, you might have been here for it, anyway, so I’ll spare you the details and skip clumsily past the part where damned near everyone I knew and loved dies miserably and we’ll hop, skip and jump to the here and now. Kahran is a remnant from that time. I don’t know who, exactly, but if I had to guess? Just some battle commander I failed to pick off. He scoured my homeland, killed ‘em all, and now he’s back in Lithrydel. Same plan, I reckon. Don’t really care, if I’m being honest. He’s dead or I’m dead. Or both.”
Gilwen wasn’t typically a woman who expressed much emotion, and the rare times she did, it was usually false and forced. However, the more Lionel spoke, the more her features gradually expressed her bafflement- but the moment he began with the Second Immortal War, the mention of Khasad and Elazul, a spark of recognition forced both brows upward in surprise. “Yeah, I remember,” she murmured before falling silent again, allowing the Steward to finish his depiction of the man. “I was there, during the attack on Larket.” She eventually stated, lifting a hand to rake it through her loose, fiery locks. “Our army isn’t large, but they’re expert bowmen. I can pledge what we have to your cause; I’d rather not see another slaughter as I did in Larket.”
Lionel nods. At first it’s a simple little motion, but as Gilwen finishes her response it grows in intensity until it’s perfectly clear he’s satisfied with what he’s been hearing. The sight of it -- this 30-year-old man so eccentric in his enthusiasm that he nearly jogs over to his desk to grab a letter, flip it over in marked disregard, and fetch a quill to confirm the elf’s declaration -- would be enough for plenty of the realm’s denizens to wonder how this office has been given to such a fellow. “Good,” he says briskly. “And while we’re on the subject, an associate of mine by the name of Beldur brought down one of Kahran’s forward camps deep within the Southern Sage. There were elves present, kept prisoner long after their original captors -- drow, of course -- vanished. The elves lived; they ought to be arriving safely by now. I hear-tell some necromancer chap with a typically necromantic love for mustache-twirling villainy was feeding on them to buff himself up to do gods-know-what. Thought you should know. Thought you should also know some of the drow who fought at Khasad’s side back in the day are fighting for Kahran now.”
Gilwen liked to think she was more progressive than most elves her age when it came to particular cultural taboos, but she had yet to hurtle her racism. The mention of drow alone was enough to set her jaw in a hard line- she hated them. But the fact that her people had been held captive for so long without anyone knowing about it, brought an uncharacteristic snarl to her face, and an elvish curse slipped past gritted teeth. The only redeeming factor is that those captured were still alive, and on their way to the enclave. She’d have to get word to Syelnar and Maegus as soon as possible. “Krice said Kahran’s army comes from a different plane of existence? I saw the portal they escaped through… so this army isn’t from Lithrydel then?”
Lionel throws his hands up, shrugging. “During the Battle for Chartsend, my companions Khitti and Brand crossed over into a dimension called the Shadow Plane, confirming our suspicions that Kahran’s been kicking it over yonder. That’s how he strikes so suddenly.” Cenril and Larket flash through Lionel’s mind. “So effectively.” If Lionel were the under-his-breath type, he’d be mumbling an old Catalian curse right now, himself. As it happens, through a stalwart combination of life experience and exposure to Brand, all his Catalian curses are louder than all that, and he quips one. “Seven hells. The Shadow Plane. Barely anyone can even get there -- Khitti can and High Priestess Leone -might- be able to; we haven’t tested it as yet. The problem with that place is it’s as big as this one and deadlier by far. Which, when you stop and consider just how deadly this one is, well...” He bites his lip awkwardly and reaches for a leftover wine goblet, chugging it unceremoniously and then tossing it down upon his desk like a rag. The clang of it knocks a few papers off a pile near the edge; they then float into the fireplace. Lionel smirks at his achievement. Some men pat themselves on the back in games of darts and hunting expeditions. Lionel’s appreciation stems from inadvertent stick-it-to-the-man stories like this one. “Getting there won’t be easy, and I daresay openly seeking Kahran’s bases of operations is comparable to a suicide mission. But it’s all we’ve got right now, so it’s happening, and sooner rather than later. As for the army’s origins? I don’t know. There are some real fine freaks in those battalions. Frogmen the size of carriages, savage skeletal wraiths, bipedal worm colonies shaped into men. That stuff is pure cringe and I don’t mean bad comedy. They might be from the Shadow Plane, aye. But then there’s the orcs, the trolls, the drow. Deadly as they can be, they’re just too plain for that place, if you catch my drift.”
Gilwen’s gaze followed the flutter of papers, watching them drift into the fireplace and catch shortly thereafter. How did this man earn his position? Clearly not for his clerical work, that was certain. “Wait. Are you planning on through to where -he- is?” She could mildly understand the tactic if that were the case. At the same time, however, the aforementioned dangers left her feeling uncertain; she had seen the slaad in Larket, and they had been some of the toughest creatures she had ever been pit against. But bipedal worm men? Skeletal wraiths? Her men had never fought against such things, and it was unlikely they would know instinctually how to defeat such monsters. “Wouldn’t it be more advantageous to fight his army on lands we know?” Her confusion and uncertainty was rife, and she held up gloved hands to ward off potential argument, a gesture she was want to do in war talks with her own council, so call it habit. “Of course, I have no idea the plans you might have in place. But-“ Gilwen paused, unsure what exactly she meant to say, and ultimately, she shook her head. “Are you expecting another attack from him?”
Lionel | “I’d be a fool not to.” Lionel snorts derisively. “Meaning no offense. But he’s already struck thrice in two months. He’ll strike again. And soon. What’s worse, he worked for the Immortals, and all signs thus far point to him donning the proverbial signature bad guy mask in their absence. In fact, I’d argue that’s the one and only thing we’ve got against him, is that he’s so obsessed with their legacy that I can at least venture his modus operandi on a dime.” Just where exactly did this man learn to talk, anyway? “Advantageous? Sure, in the short term. We’ve been able to hold steady against his battalions -- barely, and at great cost of life -- so far. But how long does that keep? How many cities, how many towns, how many farms does he raze before the people lose the will to defend? How many men, women, children do his armies slay, scorch, mutilate before all hope is lost? How many elves do you command? How many Frostmawians do I command? The last time I fought these bastards, the board was filled with different playing pieces, aye, but it’s the same board. Those same questions have to be asked.” Lionel sighs. “No, we can’t just blindly defend. We got lucky in Chartsend because an assassin named Blut had a vision of things to come. Don’t ask; it’s a long story, and it barely makes sense, anyway.” Meta. “But people still died in droves. They just weren’t civilians that time. Every week I receive reports that villages and hamlets and shantytowns between Lithrydelian kingdoms are disappearing. They’re -disappearing-, Gilwen. Sure, it’s a veritable suicide mission, I’ve said it myself and I’ll say it again. Sure, that’s a rotten pitch. No one wants to hear they probably aren’t coming back. But if we don’t gather clues on how Kahran’s attacking out of thin air, he’ll keep attacking out of thin air. And then we die.” His last four words are solemn as the reaper and his face is abruptly haunted. His azure eyes could pierce souls. Lionel means this.
Gilwen's typical mask of neutrality usually held shape amidst strangers, every now and again a flicker of emotion would be allowed to cross her features in a hint at her thoughts. But now, it broke completely, and she scrubbed her hands over her face and paced the length of the room. What had she just consigned her army to? She wouldn't go back on her word, her offer to help still stood, and given the severity of the situation, not to mention the lives of every man, woman and child across the land on the line, she couldn't take back her pledge of men. But what would be the cost? How many more kinsmen would she lose? How many more orphaned children, or widowed lovers would she have to look in the eye and inform them of their lost ones. She cared about her people before she cared about the safety of others, and she was damned either way. At length, she stopped before the fireplace and stared at the blaze held within, her arms crossed over her chest, and her features saturated with uncertainty and worry. "What would be your intentions then? Would you send a small group across for reconnaissance? Or throw everything at him in one fell swoop?"
Lionel eases the tension in his neck, rubbing a hand over it. It can’t do a thing for his migraine, but it’s better than nothing. “Small group. Reconnaissance. I’m not sending an army to the other side without knowing what awaits us. We need to sneak. Alerting them to our presence, or, hell, alerting any number of things on that side of the fence to our presence, would be the last mistake we’d ever make.” He doesn’t mention that he’s actually been there once before, in the year of shadowplay and unknown enemies leading up to Kahran’s dramatic reveal during the Cenrili election night. But it can be inferred that he has some experience through legend and tome and peers. “If you’re worried about sending good elves to their deaths, I can empathize.” Either Gilwen’s pacing gave it away or Lionel has had this conversation with others in the past. “Every minute we stand idle, even every minute we act, is another minute that chimes by when our common enemy can materialize in droves as if out the aether. But I won’t ask you to send your people to the Shadow Plane. The reconnaissance mission has to be small, it has to be deft, it has to be quick and damned close to silent. Now, granted, elves can be pretty good at that.” Lionel shoots Gilwen a look. “More than pretty good at that. Aces at that.” He seems genuinely glad for it. “But I’m thinking no soldiers for this one. Just a few. Just a ranging. If we can find out how and why he harbors such control over the place, good. If we can find out where he’s holed up? Even better.”
Gilwen's worry wasn't lessened with the knowledge that she wouldn't be sending her army into unknown territory, because the fact that Kahran had the ability to materialize out of thin air still stood to be the main threat of it all. If there was one silver lining to any of it, at least her troops would be on home ground when the time came. "They know the dangers, and are willing to take the risk." She stated firmly, more to herself, to assuage the feelings of impending doom she felt twisting in her gut. Gilwen's gaze met his then, during the topic of reconnaissance, and she quirked a brow his way. "Are you asking me to join this mission then?" She had years, decades really, of experience in this field, and while it was not her main area of expertise, she was good. "Regardless, I'll throw my name into that hat."
Lionel | “In a roundabout sort of way, I suppose I -was- asking you. And if I were a wearer and/or purveyor of hats, your name would be in it posthaste.” Lionel smiles gingerly, as if suddenly they’re speaking of the weather. It’s a neat trick, filing near-certain doom into an open slot in his mind just long enough to stay sane. “I should warn you, though: your magical ability will likely be greatly diminished. Yeah, I know, this deal’s getting worse all the time. But we’ll avoid combat as much as possible and stick to our weaponry abilities if the going gets tough. If the going gets tougher, eh, well, then we die, I guess. I’ve really got to stop ending these little dialogue exchanges so fatalistically.”
Gilwen met his mention of her control over magic with wry smirk. "My magic is gone anyway. At the moment." She said, her tone conversational, as if it were a natural thing, for magic to simply disappear. "And I'd rather not die, if it's all the same to you, though." She preferred non-combative roles when in situations where the outcome wasn't favorable, so the aspect of silence and careful advancement was a tick in favor for the mission. "But yes," she agreed, shooting him an amused look, "Fatalistic endings in conversation don't really boost morale. Do you have an idea as to when this might happen?"
Lionel doesn’t appear terribly fazed by Gilwen’s magical evaporation, although if pressed he’d concede it’s a rare and raw deal. “I’ll sincerely respect your preference toward living,” he wryly remarks right on back. “ETA’s currently MIA, but I’ll send word to you or find you personally as soon as…” Lionel is interrupted by another knock at the door. It’s a familiar one-two, one-two-three-four rap that immediately sees him sprinting over to the knob and letting in his trusted advisor, Esche. The shaven-headed male elf has been through thick and thin with Lionel, and there’s nothing but warmth on display in their interactions -- albeit warmth in Lionel’s sense, which means somewhat awkward and standoffish. It doesn’t delete the smile, though. “My apologies for the interruption,” Esche says with a bow before rising to meet Gilwen’s eyes head-on. “Avellesan tamrie, Lady Gilwen.” Elven for some high-standard formal greeting; this much Lionel knows. The exact details are lost on him. “This is an unexpected pleasure. I am Esche, a humble man in Lionel’s service.” Lionel snorts. “Humble,” he mutters sarcastically. Esche’s lip twitches ever so slightly but he maintains almost-flawless composure. “Lionel, I came to inform you that the delegates from Rynvale have arrived and await your convenience in the main chamber.” Lionel rolls his eyes and crosses his arms, leaning against his desk in an amateurish display of false disobedience. “My convenience is they pack their bags and skedaddle. You know they’ll be on about the rice shipments, again. I’m so sorry, your royal pains in the ass, that cargo boats are less keen on crossing icy waters that may or may not be infested with imminent -Kahran-. Gilwen, it’s been real, but it seems like this is where we leave off for now, eh?”
Gilwen's attention followed Lionel's to the door, and the appearance of Esche, and she surveyed the interactions between the two men curiously. The Steward was a strange man. Drawn from the uniqueness of Lionel by the elf's greeting, she returned it in kind, murmuring her reply and punctuating it with a nod. "Pleasure to meet you, Esche." The title of 'humble' was met in tandem with Lionel's snort, but she said nothing against the claimed characteristic. Instead, she began moving toward the door with a sympathetic smirk. "Isn't it fun to have this much reasonability?" That was the extent of her farewell, and she moved past Esche to return to her entourage who still waited for her in the main hall.