Part of the The Whisperer In Darkness Arc
Part of the What You Leave Behind Arc
Summary: After some time apart, Lionel and Khitti finally catch-up a bit.
The Whaler's Bar, Cenril
Lionel | The bar was steady but not quite busy. Sailors whose shifts recently ended came in for drinks one after the other, and a scantily-dressed man whose career was probably not sailing tried his best to convince several of them to head upstairs with him to no avail. Two dwarves sat quietly by the window stuffing mutton stew down their throats between hits off of elegant cigars. A bard strummed her lute lazily in a corner, but only an elderly woman politely paid her any heed, and no one had paid her in gold. “I have something for you,” Lionel said at he and Khitti’s table by the fireplace. Digging into his burlap traveler’s sack, he procured a piece of parchment with its seal plainly broken. “It’s a missive. Give it a glance and tell me what you think.” He handed the parchment to Khitti.
Lionel | “An awful lot of puffed-up fluff in the wordage, but the gist is clear enough. Strange elvenfolk with shriveled skin and glowing white eyes lurking on the outskirts of Chartsend. Rumor has it they’re responsible for multiple recent disappearances.” He shook his head. “Of course, rumor also has it they’re responsible for cattle infertility, a middling harvest, choppy seas and at least one two cases of infidelity. People have a knack for blaming ordinary woes on the inexplicable. Whatever the case may be, this could be tied to your investigations in and around Venturil. Or it could be related to Kahran. Or it could be none of the above, but regardless a bounty’s been put out to deal with an undead menace, and I figured the Paladin’s Guild ought to be informed.”
Lionel reached into his sack again and followed up the missive with something more unexpected than any news of undead elves -- a loaf of bread expertly baked into the shape of Tenbatsu Kaji, complete with flourishing grooves and a sturdy-looking hilt. It smelled strongly of rye berries. “Should we choose to ignore the no-doubt-perilous mission with few rewards but for simple peace of mind, we can sit around and eat bread instead.” He placed the loaf down on a brass platter, its handle near Khitti and its tip directly facing his abdomen. If Khitti still resented his absence, it ought to have made for a striking metaphor. “I picked up the recipe from a line cook in the Demon Archipelago on my way back from tracking Kahran. Unsuccessfully. I lost track of Esche, too, and three other soldiers. But at least there’s… this.”
Lionel | He studied the bread as though it were an exemplar of its kind. In truth, it probably was. “We can add it to your menu. Starting tomorrow, I’ll be working in your shop to help pay off my prior unavailability. I’ve taken the liberty to hire myself, you see.” It was clear in his expression if not his words that he felt guilty for needing to have been elsewhere for so long while Brand was elsewhere too. The bread sat between them, its rich aroma filling up the room.
Khitti eyed the parchment briefly once it’s handed over, unpainted lips twisting into a slight frown, “Is it awful of me to say that I’m getting kind of tired of elves? Elves from the Shadow Plane. Elves from the Underdark. Vampire elves in Vailkrin. While there are -some- exceptions, it’s just all getting repetitive.” The parchment rolled back up in her hands and a sigh was uttered, “Alright, yeah. I’ll have Ulah and Camina--” They were some of the aforementioned exceptions of course. “-- keep an eye on things in Venturil and make sure whatever this is isn’t spilling over into the hell that’s already there.” The still ongoing hell. The one she’d been avoiding lately. The one Tenbatsu Kaji’s holy sprite inhabitant, Seika, had been constantly pestering her about. At the same time the sword-bread was placed in front of her, this thought crossed her mind. It was ill-timing, unfortunately, but Khitti said nothing about it. She did blink a few times at the baked good, however, and peered over its design. “What the frakking hell. I didn’t know you could bake.” Welp, no time like the present to start eating it. So she did, making sure to grab someone from the waitstaff for a bit of garlic-herb butter to accompany it. “This is absolutely going on the menu,” she agreed. “I haven’t come up with anything new since the truffle I made for Ony--”. It still hurt to talk about that ‘kid’. The kid who was apparently her kid in another timeline. She’d still not gotten around to telling Brand and Lionel yet, and she wasn’t sure she’d ever be ready to. Secretly, she’d hoped that word of those truffles getting around might -somehow- bring Onyx back, but it didn’t. They were gone. Trapped in that necklace she wore even now. “--the new truffle I made forever ago,” she said, quickly amending her statement.
Lionel || When Khitti mentioned elves, the first one on Lionel’s mind was, naturally, Esche. His occasionally elitist diatribes were almost as tiresome as his frequent scholarly subjugations, which were very nearly half as irritating as his insistence that Lionel keep to a strict schedule and avoid fatty foods. Even after losing track of Esche, Lionel still had not consumed a single doughnut, so the lesson stuck -- and that was the most frustrating thing of all. “Me too,” Lionel agreed, stifling a sigh. Although there was one in particular he hoped was alright. Khitti took the missive well, and it sounded like things were under control. Either Ulah and Camina would return with news that everything that could go to hell in a handbasket had gone to hell in a handbasket anew… or they wouldn’t. There were ultimately just the two directions these things could go. The Catalian snorted at Khitti’s surprise appraisal of his baking ability, but the look on her face was almost enough for him to go along with the charade. “I misspoke,” he admitted. “The line cook built that piece to my precise specifications.” He pointed at the bread as though it were fresh from a forge rather than an oven. “That’s three days old, but still smells great. Not bad, huh? But uh, my role at your shop will be as a server and routine helper, not a baker. If you set me back there, I’d be as likely to blow things up with Hellfire as to produce visually identifiable sustenance.” Damn, Lionel thought. He was even starting to -sound- like Esche. He would have cringed if he hadn’t been interrupted by Khitti’s pause in stating Onyx’s name. It must have been rough for her, barely beginning to process their betrayal only to soon learn they weren’t so bad after all. Whoever they were, they did a good deed in the final telling. “Yeah,” Lionel remarked somewhat awkwardly. He was saved from needing a follow-up when a raven-haired woman of approximately twenty-five approached with a fresh round of drinks. Whatever it was that Khitti was drinking, Lionel was sticking to coffee with vanilla flavoring. Indeed, Esche’s chastising shadow loomed large. “So, how are things?” Trite but effective.
Khitti || “If you were going to blow up my shop, I would’ve preferred it be before it was remodeled.” There might’ve been a slight eye-twitch at the thought of the newly renovated bakery, with the added apartment on top, just kinda bursting into flames and such. You know, like it did when the former bakery was in that same location. She sat back in her chair a bit, the business owner part of her brain clicking on briefly, “Well, you’ll bring in customers at least. Or people will try to trash my shop because some of them probably are still kinda upset about the Kahran thing. Nothing out of the ordinary for Cenril, of course.” That last part was a definitely a joke. “I’m sure things’ll be fine. If you mess up, I’ll just send you to work with Albert. He makes sugar sculptures.” Lionel would probably do horribly at this and Khitti knew it, but… that was the point. And then that question was asked. ‘How are things?’ How -was- things? Did -she- even really know? Well, she sort of did. “Same as usual at home, I guess.” Which meant Brand was still doing the work thing and there’d been no change with that aspect of her life. “Things have sort of gone quiet in Venturil, but that’s more because I’ve been ignoring it than anything.” This is not a thing she should’ve been doing and she knew it. “Larket’s gone batty again and is forcing their people to worship Vakmathras in hopes it’s going to help their “curse” problem. They’re even keeping tabs on me and Zahrani while we’re there. We’ve had to bring refugees from Cyris’ chapel to the Paladin’s Guild headquarters in Kelay, just to make sure that more people weren’t going to be put to the stake. So. You know. Same stuff, different day.” She finished her first drink, a delicious tequila and strawberry milk concoction, and would go on to the next when it was brought, taking it much slower than she’d been lately when she drank whiskey.
Lionel snickered at that. Nearby, the two dwarves were finishing their first bowl of mutton stew and waving frantically at the raven-haired woman for seconds. Lionel listened keenly to the rest of Khitti’s commentary, laughing at the appropriate times and looking elsewhere when she mentioned the rest, and when she stopped talking he turned back to her and centered on one particular subject. “The Kahran thing,” Lionel said dimly, “is bound to make them upset again sooner or later. He’s at-large and we know for a fact he still has a headquarters somewhere inside the Shadow Plane. What’s more -- and possibly worse -- my scouting mission took me beyond Lithrydel’s borders, and there were telltale signs of his presence even there. He could be anywhere in the world right now, and there’s no clear reason why he’s left. We dealt him a blow several months back, sure, but it wasn’t a deathblow. It couldn’t have been a deathblow.” He picked up his coffee, brought it to his lips, exhaled over it while biting his lip, and placed it back down as if he’d forgotten why he’d picked it up in the first place. “As you know, his holdouts are still camped up here and there. But by and large, the war’s gone cold, and somehow that’s a lot less comforting than I’d hoped. Sorry,” he added abruptly, “I heard the rest of what you said. It’s a fixation; I can’t stop thinking about this. All things considered, you probably understand.” He bit his lip again thoughtfully. “I don’t think there’s much we can do about Larket without inciting an international incident. And I think if there were one thing Kahran wants the most, wherever the frak he is, it’s for international incidents to be incited while he’s away. The best we can do is precisely what you’re doing. Give alms and asylum to them that ask for it, and keep both eyes open to the ever-swirling insanity of that kingdom.”
Khitti nodded in understanding as Lionel spoke of his ‘fixation’. “Yeah, I know all about that. Not specifically that, but something like it. And it is comforting enough to know that there’s one less evil bastard running around--for the time being anyway.” She sipped her pink drink, swirling the liquid around the strawberries in the glass in between drinks. Eventually, she’d sigh and set down her glass, olive-green eyes settling on her brother. “Meri told me what happened to her in the Shadow Plane awhile back… and I really haven’t been able to talk about it much. Mostly to Meri. Vaguely to Encara.” She paused, reached into her glass, and plucked out that strawberry, promptly devouring it. “Onyx…” Another pause, though this time it was clearly accompanied with a twinge of heartache. “Onyx showed Meri some things there. They showed her their past. How they came to be. Do you remember when I told you about those visions Brand and I had? The ones of the strange, alternate universe with the moving metal boxes for transportation and all of those objects powered by non-magical electricity? The place I got the inspiration for my band from?” She’d wait, hoping it’d jog his memory a bit. Hearing the electrified instruments in that universe opened her eyes to a whole new world of music and she’d absolutely loved it and did her best to recreate it in this one--with quite a success. “Onyx was from another world, like that. An alternate one. One where Facilier won. And you, and Brand, and Meri, and everyone I’ve ever cared about, even a little, were dead. Onyx was my child, by way of Facilier. The dream both Brand and I had, where I became a lich, was real… just not here. Because I sent Onyx here to help us. They said they were five thousand years old once and it’s true, because they tried stopping Facilier from winning for so very long.” Speaking about this, letting that wound open up again, warranted another drink--and this time she downed the tequila entirely. “I know it’s a lot to take in. It practically made Meri’s head spin talking about alternate universes and time travel and such.” She frowned. “I haven’t told Brand yet. I… haven’t really gotten the chance. It’s been too painful, really. To know that I doomed my own child to an existence like that, to take away their childhood, even if it wasn’t really me. No wonder they hated me,” Khitti said, finishing her thought with a bitter laugh.
Lionel nodded. He remembered his sister telling him about her and Brand’s visions -- vividly. Few things had stuck in his head so much, in fact. The mystery of those visions had led Lionel to blame them for relatively mundane things, much like the people he’d only moments ago criticized for doing the exact same thing. Hearing the truth had him wondering if he’d secretly spiked his own coffee. By the time Khitti concluded, his mind was spinning quite like Meri’s in rare and unusual ways. “I’ve seen a lot of crazy things,” he said slowly. “Warlords from hell, ghosts without faces, insects the size of this bar. Even Rorin. But that -is- a lot to take in.” The goings-on throughout the bar may have quieted down, or maybe Lionel had simply tuned everything else out to the point that it didn’t even register as white noise anymore. “We always suspected there was more going on with Facilier than we’d been led to believe,” he continued after further pause. “I’m… so sorry, Khitti. I have no idea what to say. Wait. No. Yes, I do. It -wasn’t- really you. You said it yourself, and painful or not, it’s true and bears repeating.” He considered stopping there, but decided he needed to continue. “It’s something I’ve had to wrestle with for half my life. Did I kill Alexia? It was by my own hand. She died by my sword. I felt the action as the blade was swung. I saw her look of shock, her sadness, and her blood. But I wasn’t in control. I had to learn, through so many years, that it wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t me. I only hope it doesn’t take you as long, sister. It’s going to be a long, grueling road.”
Khitti made at face at the mention of Rorin. It was one where it was clear she was trying not to laugh out loud too much, despite the dourness of the conversation. “Rorin -is- certainly something.” That look on her face would soon fade however as Lionel took to telling her about Alexia. “I killed Onyx too. I’m the reason they were undead. And yet… they still did what they were told. I don’t even know if they were helping because they wanted to, at this point, or if it was because the other Khitti told them to. From a necromancer to her creation. If free will isn’t given, there’s a link that remains there, one where the necromancer can force their will onto the undead. I’m sure you can see why I didn’t dabble much in raising the dead. Had enough of people forcing their own will upon me that I wasn’t going to do it to someone unless it was really dire.” She shifted uncomfortably in her chair, never quite seeming to find that sweet spot where she didn’t look so lazy, but likewise didn’t hurt her back from sitting straight up all the time. “And yet… despite all those issues with necromancy. Despite the trouble it’s caused. Despite the goings-on in the Shadow Plane…” Khitti sighed again. “I miss it. Working in the shadows to serve the light was so much easier when I actually wielded them. It’s why I’ve been avoiding Venturil. Because ever since Gabriel pointed it out to me, it’s been looming over my head like an angry rain cloud. But I feel like I can’t go back down that path again. Because of all we’ve been through. Because of Onyx. Because so many view it as not right. I get judgement from people in my own guild because of it.” Like that aforementioned half-elf paladin.
Lionel kept quiet again until the end. He took it all in, sipping his coffee. “No,” he said. “I can’t say whether you’re right or wrong about what it would mean for you to go down that path again, because the only person I know who knows what it’s like to do the things you did… is you. But our lives are too short for me to agree that the judgment of others should damn you out of doing whatever you deem best, in this situation or any other. It would be that much harder to run your guild without the approval of your members, I understand, but I’ll support you whichever ‘path’ you choose, and I’ll help make our peers consider why you chose those powers again if you do.” The bard finally stopped strumming her lute and passed them by on her way out the door. Lionel noticed her just in time to toss a few coppers into the empty hat she’d clearly carried in search of coin. She blushed and bowed, seeming on the verge of saying something -- probably a thank you -- but one glance at the seriousness of Khitti and Lionel’s expressions was enough to prompt her to exit silently. “It’s late,” Lionel said. “How about I pack my bags from here and stay on the ship tonight? In the morning we can speak further on Onyx, necromancy, and everything in-between. I can’t say much that you haven’t doubtlessly already considered, but someone once told me that sometimes listening is better than any speech.”
Khitti had barely heard the bard, but not for the bard’s lack of trying to get listeners. Lately, there was a different noise going on in Khitti’s head. It was a low, droning sound. Like the buzzing of bees, or the cacophony of cicadas, or the sound of static from electricity as it crackled around an electromancer’s fingertips. It was hard to hear much of anything lately, aside from that ringing in her ears and the thoughts running through her head. She’d managed to throw some coins into the bard’s hat as well at the last minute and muttered approval for her music that’d gone unheard. “Yeah. That sounds good,” she said at length, as she finished her drink and left a tip on the table for the waitress. “I guess it’s time for me to finally start talking about this stuff for once…” If she didn’t, it was going to drive her mad. Or maybe it had already? She couldn’t tell.