RP:The Art Of Self Destruction

From HollowWiki

Part of the The Whisperer In Darkness Arc

Part of the What You Leave Behind Arc

Summary: Khitti's mind continues its descent into darkness with a nice bottle of whiskey as she summons Encara, Valrae, and Lionel to the heart of Venturil. There, Khitti's new aide-de-camp, Camina, recounts what she found on her mission to find out what's going on in the other byrgs, and Khitti lets the three know that she now has a mindlink with Gabriel and their master... whom Khitti thinks is a mind flayer--one more ancient and powerful than Khitti's come up against before.

The Fallen Star Inn, Venturil

Khitti || Was it a good idea for Khitti to return so soon to Venturil after the things that transpired that day in Aedrebyrg? Probably not. But, that didn’t matter. What did matter was that things were getting progressively worse and Khitti needed more help than what Meri, Encara, and Zahrani could provide. Quite unlike what it had been like days ago when she met with Encara at her room in Frostmaw’s Fort, the redhead’s demeanor was a stony one. As she waited for the drow, the witch, and Catalian to show, Khitti sat at one of the tables while her newest scout, Camina, sat across from her and recounted all that she saw. Every once in awhile, there was a slight twitch here and there on her face, but otherwise, the templar sat there as still as stone as the half elf’s islander-yet-not-quite accent flowed from her mouth and over to Khitti’s ears, all of which was bad news. While Camina was just recently added to the Warrior’s Guild’s roster, Khitti trusted her unquestioningly. What was it Camina had called herself? A belter? Apparently, there was series of islands to the east of Rynvale that’s shaped a bit like a belt, somewhat like asteroids around a planet. Didn’t matter. She was an outcast, a half elf that neither parent or their families wanted. This was mostly the same story of all the belters, all were outcasts of varying degrees. Of course, Khitti would feel a kinship with Camina. Of course she would. She hated to admit it in the beginning, but the half elf did her job and she did it well, and that only made her even more likeable.

Khitti || It took a few moments for Khitti to process all that she was told. Things were not good--in fact, they were worse than expected. “I want you to tell them all exactly what you told me, when they get here.” The things that Gabriel had said to her… was she fighting a losing battle? Was there truly no hope now? Was he right about her? Did she miss the darkness? The light wasn’t the same. It would never understand her like the shadows did. She should come back… He could help her. All these questions weighed heavily on her mind, chipping away at the walls she’d made against the shadows just as easily as the mind flayer’s bloodlink strengthened as each day passed. “Thank you, Camina. You did well,” Khitti said at length, her olive-green line of sight shifting away distractedly as she picked up her much needed glass of whiskey. She thanked all the gods, her ancestors, and anyone else that would hear her that she wasn’t pregnant anymore. She understood why Brand drank like he did, and if things continued to progress as they did, she’d join him in alcoholism just as she’d eventually be joined with him in matrimony. The drinking would absolutely continue even as people started to arrive, Khitti’s newly appointed aide-de-camp moving from across the table to sit at her boss’ right side.

Encara feels naked without her bow. Walking the streets of Venturil, she keeps her hood up but her head held high and proud, unwilling to be seen as something weak and vulnerable; an easy, unarmed target. The Kuronii natives make for burly, broad obstacles to the tall drow - she slips between the crowds as she makes her way to the Fallen Star, an unassuming shadow on the road, and escapes the grey overcast sky by ducking into the inn. A confident stride carries her through the other patrons to Khitti's table and Encara shakes off her hood as she goes, revealing scarlet eyes as hard as gemstones and a stone-cold expression that proves to be as intimidating a deterrent as a weapon across her back would. Her frown does soften, however, when she snags Khitti's gaze. "You look like hell." It's said with some small measure of affection, almost impossible to pick up, but Khitti likely knows Encara well enough by now to catch it. With only a glance to the redhead's company, the drow slips into an empty seat and makes herself comfortable, propping her legs up on another chair and waving to a passing bar maid to take her order. Her long silver hair is pulled back into a dishevelled bun and she's dressed in her usual armour and travelling gear, dusty and mud-splattered and worn. The trip through the mountains from Frostmaw is no walk in the park. "Think he'll be long? Road's muddy today. His carriage might've gotten stuck." A wry little smirk passes over Encara's lips before she turns her focus to the stranger… a half-elf, she notes. "And you are?"

Lionel || The human mind can only process so much when it’s being lugged around inside a body moving sixty-seven kilometers per hour. The smell of ozone in the air after Hellfire sucks oxygen into a vacuum, the flashes of red-hot light as flames sear into the grassland and roar into pillars, the charred flesh of roasted orcs and pungent trolls, the futile efforts of archers to pierce Lionel’s own flesh with poisoned arrows. All of these things are felt on a deeper level than mere vision; they assail Lionel’s heightened senses and leave an indelible mark. They keep him occupied through the thrum and rhythm of fierce battle. Something has to give -- some event has to slip through the cracks in his mind, unnoticed. Vizio’s head bursts into goo. His scalp slides off and his thin strips of cranial flesh float up into the vortex of the wraith’s gravitational magic, hovering over his exposed brain like a science experiment. The wraith cackles and twists its sinewy fingers into a snap, letting the dead man’s corpse fall to the burning land in peace. Lionel misses it, too busy spinning Hellfire in skillful arcs and corralling what remains of the wraith’s platoon into his blaze. It’s only when the dust settles, the wraith is felled, and all the orcs and trolls have ran or been destroyed, that Lionel finds what’s left of his ally in the war against Kahran. He shrieks bitterly, sheaths his sword, and buries the farmer-turned-warrior on a nearby hill. Next time a villager insists they won’t take no for an answer, Lionel will simply go silent and walk away. He’s through burying farmers on their own hills.

Lionel || It’s been months since the Alliance’s full-scale expedition into the Shadow Plane. Months since Kahran lost dominion over the portals and reduced his number of assaults. Months since the Alliance had last gathered in the open. Months since such a meeting invited peril. Months since Lionel O’Connor decided that the best way to combat a wicked warlord who has returned to the shadows is to fight in the shadows, too. In the past, his companions have been invited to delegations where, again and again, they’ve been ambushed. Even without half as many portals under his command, Kahran still has enough dark tricks to continue these ambushes into infinity. There are limits to Lionel’s belief in such actions, but for now he has contented himself battling the bastard on his own terms, thinking like him and acting like him and remaining unpredictable. But too many farmers have fallen. Too many farms have been destroyed. Too many times, Lionel has had to tell too many widows and widowers that their husbands and wives have paid the ultimate price. Along the road to Venturil, passing wrecked hovels and obliterated hamlets, the Hero of Hellfire makes a choice: the time has come for the Alliance to stand brazenly again. This war will not end if he does not pull his friends back into it.

Lionel || His left arm is aching again. The toxins from Kahran’s blade were extinguished, but the wound will not seem to heal in full. It’s left him a bit more sluggish and notably winded. What once came to Lionel with ease seems to take that much longer now, and sooner or later it’s bound to kill him. A cut mars his brow and his pace is held back by a visible hobble. Before its final death, the wraith had grabbed his leg and twisted. His horse is dead, or else he’d ride. Lionel enters the city gates swifter of mind than body. He enters the inn with little ado, spotting Khitti, Encara, and an unfamiliar face. Whoever Camina is, she’s clearly earned his sister’s trust, and that’s enough to disarm him. “I came as soon as I could.” Lionel sounds a touch winded. “Valrae will be joining us momentarily. An elderly man kept eyeing me on my way in. Either a spy or an innocent fellow with too much time on his hands, but just the same, we might do to keep our voices down somewhat.”

Valrae always feels uncomfortable without the familiar swelling power of the barrier around her now. She’s grown so accustomed to the old magic that protects Cenril that she feels similarly as vulnerable and naked as Encara without her bow. The witch had taken Fury, her shadowy stallion familiar, and the wind had torn through the hard work she’d put into her curling dark hair. She’d wasted so much time trying to fix the delicate little braids that pulled from either temple and secured her low bun that she was already late. If she’d bothered to use half of her brain she’d have known better. Valrae wastes even more time outside of the inn watching Fury slip away in the shadows and trying to soothe the flyaway hair. When she finally enters an annoying amount of time has passed since Lionel’s own arrival. After a quick scan of the tavern she sweeps over in a movement of dark silk and gossamer fabric and wild curls of hair. Her smile is bright and apologetic as she approaches. The witch nervously smooths her violet riding skirts and mumbles greetings to both Khitti and Encara. “What have you done?” She asks Lionel quietly, her tone concerned as her dark eyes look him over. She moves with the comfort of familiarity to give him a light kiss on the cheek before inspecting his cut worriedly. “I have something for that in my bag,” She whispers, “Later.” Val turns her attention to the group as a whole while her hands move with practiced ease to fish in her oversized and plum dyed bag. “Sorry I’m late.”

Khitti || “Her name’s Camina,” Khitti said as she drained her glass, the stone-faced look trying to stay planted on her face as best as it could. “She works for me. Pretty much does what I do for Lionel--and I don’t just mean the paperwork--except ten times better because she’s got her head on straight and doesn’t have family and friends to worry about.” Sometimes, Khitti missed those days. “She went to the other byrgs for us.” The redhead didn’t acknowledge the ‘you look like hell’ remark. She knew it and she didn’t care. Were she in a better frame of mind, she’d likely have joked about wanting to make babies with Camina because of how much of a badass she was, but tonight wasn’t the night for jokes. Khitti didn’t even have much sarcasm in her. Instead, that was replaced with resentment, guilt, confusion, and frustration. Lionel would make his way in, and Khitti would pour herself another drink. And then down it. And then poured herself another drink. This one she took a bit slower. It wouldn’t do for her to get too drunk just yet--she’d save that for when she got back to Cenril. “Indeed. Perhaps he was just lonely, it does happen to people from time to time.” Khitti seemed to acknowledge his warning, however, her voice low, albeit with a sharpness that told all she was not pleased. Camina eyed Lionel briefly, then gave a polite nod to the boss of her boss before eyeing Encara, and then returning her attention back to Khitti.

Khitti averted her line of sight away from Valrae and Lionel as the witch gave the Catalian a peck on the cheek, hiding her disdain in her whiskey as she took another drink. “It’s fine,” she said at length. “Things are not so great out here and I thought I’d bring the two of you to the heart of it so you can hear it for yourself. I’d do more than have Camina here relay information to you, but unfortunately, I don’t have the time or energy to give you the grand tour of Venturil.” That glass was suddenly finished a lot sooner than she wanted, but the templar ultimately resisted the urge to get more. “I need help. That’s not a word I use often. Despite that meeting you two were privy too a couple months ago, some of the guild members have gone their separate ways again, as solitary people often do, and time is running out.” She sat back in her chair, eyeing the witch and the Catalian carefully. “Aedrebyrg has been wiped out.” She didn’t go into detail--maybe Cara would if she felt like it. Telling the two of them about what had happened there… could she even do it right now? No, she needed to say -something-. “There’s likely few survivors. We found three. I’m sure you remember what the Lydia-Amarrah abomination looked like,” her words focused on Lionel for a moment,” They weren’t much different. Boils. Open, festering wounds. Madness. We dealt with them, in the middle of the gore they left behind, made of the other villagers. Camina can fill you in on the rest of the byrgs, as she just recently returned from her own scouting mission.”

Encara says, "Ah." Her brows raise somewhat at Khitti's words but the drow makes no comment, though she does offer Camina a civil greeting and introduction. The two exchange brief pleasantries before Encara falls into silence and takes the opportunity to rest a little while the company waits for Lionel and Valrae. Food arrives, steaming hot and hearty; Encara is halfway through a plate of meat and potatoes when the door opens and Lionel makes his entrance, and she sits up just a touch. After a moment, she stands. He smells like lightning, blood, and death, and there's a trace of something darker, of the familiar, lingering about him that's at odds with the wayward hero he often portrays. A heady and dangerous concoction, it is not enough to break the hardened line of her lips. She holds his gaze when he speaks, when Valrae enters - the softer side of the drow he last saw in Frostmaw is not here today. Her eyes are leonine, predatory. Lionel O'Connor is the prey. "Lionel," she begins, inclining her head to him. "You've been busy, I hope." While Khitti explains the recent events surrounding Venturil, Encara breaks eye contact and moves to Valrae, offering a small smile and gentler touch to the shoulder while leaning close to murmur in her ear, "I need to speak with you later. Alone." Drawing back she adds, "It's good to see you," before reclaiming her seat at the table.

Encara || "Aedrebyrg burned," the drow states plainly once she's sat down. "We left it to spread, to consume whatever abominations remained. There was no good life left in that place." Her voice takes on a sharper edge then, barbed-wire words cutting the air and a clear indication of Encara's frustration as she levels a stony look on Lionel. "Had you been here, we might've gotten there sooner and there might have been someone left to save." She says nothing of what else transpired in the byrg, though the memory crouches over the table like a ghost. Crossing one leg over the other, the drow lifts her glass and takes a long drink before continuing. "I have my own scouts in the field as well. We recently destroyed a nest of wraiths, but I'm certain there are more out there. Whether they're Kahran's, or connected to this plague, I can't say— I just know it isn't good."

Lionel offers Valrae his customary weak-willed shrug, which reveals more about his lame duck efforts at making light of the perils he puts upon himself than the perils themselves. “Later,” he agrees with her, clasping her hand in his softly. “Busy as heck, you know how it goes,” Lionel makes smalltalk with Encara, blissfully unaware of any predatory inclination. News of a town’s total destruction hardly fazes him anymore, but he’s sick to his stomach with the revelation of that grim truth. His eyes water and he breathes a sudden sigh, but he tightens his fist and suppresses further anger. There will be time for mourning… later. But now he’s found a way to answer both Valrae and Khitti simultaneously, and he seizes it for all it’s worth, much like he seizes a small glass bottle of wine, deposits appropriate coinage, and pours enough for Valrae and himself. Light, delicate pear notes accentuate his despair. “Yeah, I ran into some trouble a scant two miles out of this town at break of day. No way of knowing if it’s related to all this -- those wraiths appear wherever they damn well please -- but there’s no sense ruling out a connection wholesale. Needless to say, my blade is yours, Khitti. Camina,” Lionel says willfully, “if you’d be so kind as to do as my sister suggests I’d rather appreciate it. Anything you can tell us about the byrgs, anything at all, is valuable information.” As for Encara’s pointed tones and insinuations, he tactfully ignores them. No good will come of taking that bait. If his ally wishes to know where he’s been instead of alongside her, she has but to ask.

Valrae brushes her own finger’s over Encara’s in a small returning welcome. Confusion rolls through the emerald depths of her eyes but she only nods before taking a seat. The tone the drow has taken with Lionel wasn’t lost to her. Her brows furrow momentarily but she doesn’t comment. The witch listens to Khitti’s recounting and a chill slides coldly up her spine. Valrae shudders. Encara’s biting remarks rolls over her with the same sharp feeling. Her lips tilt into a frown as her eyes move to Lionel. The witch studies the lines of his face and tries to discern his expression. Her own was a carefully crafted mask of neutrality. The wine he shares was accepted with a smile but would remain untouched. “Whatever I can do,” Valrae suddenly chimes in, looking to Khitti and beyond the tension that suddenly crouched between them all. There was guilt and doubt churning in the pit of her stomach. Even her first life she hadn’t been a ‘front of the line’ kind of person. The biggest taste of war she’d ever known was the night she’d tried to lead the Larketian Rebels into the labor camp and Kahran had broken all hell loose. She’d been captured then too. It wasn’t exactly a confidence inspiring record. Her eyes glance around the table and her inferiority suddenly only seems more pronounced. “I’ll make myself as useful as I’m able.” She twists a curl around her finger nervously.

Khitti had thought to correct Encara--she hadn’t exactly invited Lionel along to the mission in Aedrebyrg. But, she shrugged it off and let the drow speak as she will, instead choosing to pour herself another glass of whiskey. How did it get so close to empty already? If she got up, she’d surely fall over. Struggling to keep her wits about her, she merely nodded at Lionel and Valrae, her stare not quite focusing on him or the woman beside him, but somewhere in between, back towards the fire that roared behind them in the hearth. The flame itself caused her heart to ache in her inebriated state. After Khitti gave the go-ahead with a half-hearted nod, Camina began her retelling, “As per Khitti’s instructions, after her excursion to Aedrebyrg and finding out about its unfortunately diseased and deceased inhabitants, she sent me to check out the rest of the byrgs, those north of here.” The half elf’s words didn’t skip a beat as she went on, uncaring of whether or not her thick accent was decipherable. “Berendebyrg, the farming town northeast of here, is plagued by pests--locusts eat at crops, flies and mosquitoes taint livestock, laying their eggs wherever they can find an open wound on the animals. There’s no end to them. The denizens of the town have been carefully persuaded to kill their firstborn children, in the name of Vakmathras, in hopes that their prayers would be answered. They’re nearly out of firstborns now, from what I was told. The entire town is entirely carefree and nonchalant about these things. They’re certain Vakmathras will help them, that they just haven’t given enough blood yet. A farmer on the outskirts there told me they’d move on to the rest of the children if it doesn’t let up soon. They would do it for as long as it took, for more children could always be birthed for the cause, because all of them would die if they didn’t.” Khitti remained silent the entire time, her attention still fixed on the flames.

Khitti || “In Denubyrg, the wildlife have lost their senses. I barely made it out with my life,” Camina didn’t sound bitter about this. It was merely a fact. “The walls surrounding the village have been toppled in areas, though it was clearly not made by wolves or bears. My suspicions that it was something much bigger were confirmed when a few people tried to escape one of the holes in the wall, only to be chased after, picked up, and eaten in two bites by the minotaur that’s also been affected by this area’s plague.” Camina’s upper lip curled a little at the thought, but she ultimately continued. “And, Diernebyrg… is surrounded by a giant bubble of darkness. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the shield in Cenril, but the magic was much darker… more ancient… It was almost as if they were trying to recreate Vailkrin’s darkness. I didn’t go in there--I couldn’t possibly be drunk enough to go in there.” Khitti was very much likely drunk enough to willingly go in there, however. Getting near to the end, the half elf sighed, her attention flickering briefly towards the one who took her on as aide-de-camp, who’s attention had not left that of the hearth and her drink this entire time, “And finally, someone left the area--actually came right out of the darkness itself like nothing was wrong. It was Bradyn Mahara, and two people who were likely of his house, for they too were vampires.” For a moment, that twitch in Khitti’s eye and another in her upper lip returned to her; the name ‘Bradyn’ was the very thing that did it before. It seemed like there would be silence for a time, until Encara or Lionel or Valrae spoke, but ultimately, it’d be the redhead who called them all here, who said simply, “It’s a mind flayer.” How could she know such a thing? The Illithid usually worked behind the scenes, letting their servants take care of things; they wouldn’t make themselves known unless necessary. Even before Khitti fully realized it days after, those brief seconds after she’d tasted that blackened, putrid blood, she knew it was a flayer. If if she hadn’t wanted to admit it to herself.

Encara || "I would know if you'd sent word. I haven't heard anything since—" Since Valrae's resurrection, Encara means to say, but somehow it feels improper to mention it by name when the woman herself is sitting at the table; much like bringing up one's recently deceased relatives can cast a pall on an evening, "—since that night. It's hard to put any of my men in Cenril and I can't spare the scouts to keep me updated on you when you could just as easily write a message. You stranded us, Lionel." The hostility in her tone strains and threatens to break with something closer to despair, but she won't allow it, not now. Her own grievances can wait and it wasn't her intention to go off on him like that - the drow waves him off with a weary sigh and casts Camina an apologetic glance, keeping her mouth shut and her gaze now firmly averted from the Hero of Hellfire. Camina gives her findings on the area and the other byrgs and Encara's frown deepens with every passing word. It's ill news, all of it. The ball of darkness enshrouding Diernebyrg is unsettling despite the familiarity of such magic, and Encara doesn't like to think of a corrupted minotaur roaming the land, lips pursing into a tight line at the thought of such a beast. The world is falling apart and she needs more scouts of her own out there.

Encara || Eventually, after Camina finishes her report, she turns to give Khitti an affirming nod when the redhead brings up the mind flayer. "I've fought one before, a long time ago." Khitti herself is already aware but Encara states it again for Lionel and Valrae's benefit. "I'll do what I can to help using what little experience I have, you know this. Berendebyrg is closest to Venturil, Denubyrg after that. Diernebyrg lies further out, in the Dead Forest." She stabs a chunk of potato with her fork but doesn't bring it to her mouth. "It might be a good idea to send Thom and Kren in to Diernebyrg to see if they can find anything more, or I'll go myself if need-be. Darkness, magical or otherwise, is of little hindrance to drow." Her sharp gaze shifts to Valrae as the drow props an elbow up on the table and rests her chin atop her knuckles. "I can teach you a thing or two about using a bow, if you'd like," she offers with a sip of her drink. Notes of foreign spices and fire fill her lungs and the flames in the hearth burn brighter, just for a second. "It'd be better than nothing at all." She's quite certain Valrae is capable enough on her own, but it's always a good idea to have a back-up weapon.

Lionel has great confidence in Valrae’s abilities. He’s seen only a fraction of her magic and knows it to be powerful. More importantly, however, her spirit is unbroken. Given the trauma that spirit has endured -- with and without a body -- he can’t think of very many people he’d think capable of standing stalwart and valiant for as long as she has. Then again, he’s glancing at Khitti and Encara, too. Pretty much everybody that could rival Valrae’s indomitable spirit is right in front of him. As for Camina, well, there’s bound to be a reason Khitti picked her, right? An impressive crew, then, through and through, and he’d trust them all with his life and anyone else’s. “I know you will,” Lionel tells Valrae crisply and calmly. And then he’s silent, for the full duration of Camina’s grim tale. By the time she’s describing Denubyrg, he’s come to realize just why Khitti has such faith in her. Stoic is the word for this woman. Stoic and unflinching. But someone else is flinching, not far from Camina’s right side -- someone who has had entirely too much to drink in entirely too short a span. An odd blend of hellscape plagues the Catalian as he soaks in the state of the byrgs and the not-far-off state of his sister.

Lionel || He even catches Khitti’s dim glance between Valrae and himself, and while he is incapable of deducing complex psychological thought from a relational standpoint -- that is to say, he’s dumb as a box of bricks when it comes to ‘peopling’ -- the simple likelihood occurs to him that Khitti is perhaps feeling lost with Brand so far away. He has half a mind to storm outside this tavern right this second and ignore the byrgs to drag Brand back by shirtsleeves from whatever far-off port he thinks he needs to attend, which would surely be ironic considering how oblivious he is to the hostile thoughts Encara and -- indeed, maybe also Khitti -- harbor toward him for his own galavanting. If he were pressed, Lionel would undoubtedly detail just why exactly -his- galavanting involves the fate of the world just as well as anybody else’s, but impatience and fire don’t mix well, and he’s convinced Brand is being problematic and he himself is not. Just as well, then, that when Encara chomps into Lionel’s fragile balance he makes the most of the last thing she does -- waving him off. He scoffs, shakes his head and resists the urge to defend himself. There’s no point. Not here, not now.

Lionel || “This is seven ways to frakked,” Lionel sums up Camina’s saga of damnation. He ignores the rest of his wine and pours a tall glass of ice water from a nearby pitcher, coyly placing it in front of Khitti. To cover up any lingering embarrassment she may feel at having hydration shoved upon her after too many shots of whiskey, he pours himself a shorter helping of water and chugs it like beer. “I can channel my flames to the locusts in Berendebyrg. Draw them off the crops and out into the open and swallow them in… well, in hellfire. It might not stab at the heart of the problem, but it should give us more intel. Denubyrg…” He pauses, wincing. “I know a few dryads who might be able to tell us what exactly has been inflicted upon the local fauna. Probably, Esche could chime in, too. As for Diernebyrg… hell’s bells, I’m glad we’ve got Encara.” He won’t get drawn into an argument with Encara, but he’ll gladly recognize her strengths. He’s spoken in-between her analysis, played off her suggestions as best he can, and offered insight wherever he can provide it. Bradyn’s name doesn’t elicit much of a reaction from Lionel. He’s met the man once, briefly and distantly. He files it away. “A mind flayer,” he repeats Khitti’s proclamation. “Seven ways to frakked,” he sighs, but he nods bravely just the same.

Valrae || The slow sinking dread in Valrae’s stomach only increased with Camina’s retelling. She felt in a little over her head, if she were being completely honest with herself, but she could understand the severity of the situation without a full grasp of it’s intricacies. Sacrificial magic, ancient magic, a tainted barrier, vampires. The witch shudders again. Valrae was no saint, nore did she hail from a line of them as evident in the Baines Book of Shadows, and she’d even trafficked in the darker side of magic when she’d been desperate enough to try it. And even still... Pestilence? Child sacrifice? There were lines. There was a Rede. Her stomach turns again and she gently slides the wine further away from her, the soft fragrance only furthering her nausea. The curl she’d wrapped around her finger is loosened as she turns thoughts over in her mind and a small quiet swells. The low sounds of the Inn reach her ears distantly and she frowns. “I’d like to see it,” She admits, looking toward Lionel again and she shrugs. “The barrier, I mean. I’d like to take a look at it if I could. And some of my people can help with the fauna or give it their best to try.” She feels a touch of guilt roll through her as Encara speaks. “Since my return?” She ventures aloud, finishing the drow’s sentence. The look she give the other woman is one of understanding and apology. The feeling of being the lowest common denominator at the table is underlined. Valrae can feel the rise of fire behind her and her brows twitch upward in surprise. Distantly, she had picked up on Khitti’s mood, though not to the extent Lionel would have. Her eyes carefully avoid the passing of water, Encara helps by snagging her attention fully. A smile lights her face brightly. “I’d appreciate that!” She chirps, her tone bubbly and bright against the tension and dark tone of conversation. There was a sting to her pride to think that Cara might have picked up on her sudden insecurity or drawn her own conclusions about her usefulness. It was unclear which would feel worse so she pushed both possibilities and the dark feelings that came with them away. The words ‘mind flayer’ mean nothing to her. The title was colorful and ominous in all the wrong ways. Valrae, with little to nothing to add to the conversation, resumes fishing in her bag until she finds a little silver container that she turns over and over in her hands and nods along to Lionel’s colorful descriptor of the situation.

Khitti || “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea, Encara,” Khitti said eventually, after all had spoken their thoughts and offered up ideas. “They make sacrifices, daily. I’m sure they’d sense your presence once you were inside the dome and try to do the same to you.” She knew Encara wasn’t an easy target, nor her own scouts, but all the same, she couldn’t take that chance. “I will be the one to draw out Gabriel and his master,” she said nonchalantly, the ice water ignored, her olive-green line of sight finally settling on her brother, “History repeats itself not only for you, apparently.” There was a smirk finally, though a bitter one. “Once upon a time, a little girl was made to drink the blood of a mind flayer, before several hellish months of torture would ensue… and it has happened a second time. Without the torture, this time around.” The smirk faded, those same lips twisting into something like a frown, but didn’t quite reach its mark. “It can’t hear us--I’ve become far too adept at blocking out voices in my head--but I’ve spoken to Gabriel in my sleep.” Khitti failed to mention that his offer was entirely too tempting; she was long since past the point of being tired of fighting and gods, she missed having her own magic. “We will leave Diernebyrg for last, and then we will give Gabriel exactly what he wants.” That meant, of course, her. “I’m sure that there’s likely enchantments in place to keep it up even after they’ve both been disposed of, so once the flayer is dealt with, you can certainly check it out, Valrae. Neither of you saw what Aedrebyrg looked like, and that was miles away; it’s far too dangerous to just walk up to the place where it’s all stemming from and waltz on in. For all of us.” The last of her bottle of whiskey was poured and the contents, now within her glass, was eyed, “Maybe you can decipher where or not there’s some sort of spell on the people sacrificing their children. If Camina just walked right in there, then they’re not concerned with us, only themselves. Lionel is right about his fire, it will only be a temporary solution. There’s no telling if, even if the pests were taken care of, that they’d stop.”

Khitti finished her drink, taking care not to spill a drop, savoring every last bit before addressing the other byrg and its cow-man issue. “I don’t think we have any choice but to cull the herd, so to speak, and remove those minotaur. But, perhaps we can figure out something else.” She sighed, sinking into her chair a little, the lack of sleep she’d gotten lately starting to show more fully as her drink made her head swim more, “That’s… all I’ve got. Is there anything else?” Because… there was always something else. She looked to Lionel, but only briefly, finally giving the floor to explain his continued absence before shifting her attention back to the flames.

Encara is not here to argue, but with her dissatisfaction growing and the continued lack of an explanation, that nearby pitcher of ice water is starting to look very tempting. Just as she's thinking about smashing it over Lionel's lovely brick-like head, he snatches it up as if having guessed her inner thoughts - Encara balefully watches him pour Khitti a glass, then tips her head back and swiftly downs the rest of her wine. Leave it to men to drive her to alcoholism. Valrae gets a grim nod when she gives voice to the words Encara swallowed, though truthfully, the drow doesn't blame her for any of this. Her lips quirk into a small smile at the witch's enthusiastic response to her offer, however. "They can try," she says to Khitti in a tone that suggests she has complete faith in her own abilities and very little in those of Diernebyrg's citizens. "If you need someone to get in there unseen, I'm all you need. But if you plan on storming in headfirst…" A small shrug follows as she trails off into silence once more. There are two people at this table with flashy swords and one whose death and resurrection were both quite public events, and Encara's confident any of them would suit the job just fine. Khitti's the first to volunteer, which is of no surprise to the drow considering the link between herself and the mind flayer. The reminder of said link has her frowning again, this time with concern. She slides Khitti a sideways glance, close enough to pick up the strong scent of alcohol, brow furrowed softly. "I can take care of the minotaur problem, then," she suggests eventually. With the templar's final words, Encara leans back in her chair, fixes Lionel with a steely look, and gives it to him plainly. "Yes. What has kept you so busy that you couldn't even write, Lionel O'Connor?"

Lionel is disappointed when Khitti ignores the water. He purses his lips and thumbs a jab into his hip nervously. Forcing the issue would do as much good as engaging Encara’s snark, so he thinks better of it and makes a mental note to assist Khitti’s movements if she should begin to fall down at any point during and/or after their conversation. All this talk of Gabriel and giving him what he wants will need to be chased with further dialogue between Khitti, Brand, whomever else wishes to intervene, and himself -- preferably when she isn’t drunk off her ass. In human cultures, folded arms often indicate defensiveness; for Lionel, the action just as often suggests depression. He leans his back into the bar and grimaces, sparing Valrae a considerate glance. There’s apology in his eyes when he does so, although it’s meant for all three of them. To Valrae for dragging her into awkward interactions, to Khitti for letting her sink far enough to drink whole bottles of whiskey without water, and to Encara for her sense of abandonment.

Lionel || “After Kahran lost his dominion over the Shadow Plane’s portals, he returned to trickery and manipulative strikes. The realm’s seedy underbelly became his playground, as it had been before he made his existence known to us. It occurred to me that each and every time we’ve drawn the Alliance together publicly, we’ve proudly announced our location and subsequently been attacked or otherwise weakened. We had to fight him on his terms for a while. I had to stop calling meetings to confuse the many-splendored spies waiting around every door and corner with their daggers for the stabbing. I can count no fewer than sixteen plots and schemes Kahran and his general had prepared for us that fell by the wayside in the confusion we’ve inflicted. But I couldn’t speak of this directly, not even to any of you, because I was tipped that a wraith had been tailing me for weeks on-end. I couldn’t find it, Halycanos couldn’t sense it, even Esche was at a loss. Until that wraith was felled -- and it’s been felled -- I couldn’t come out of hiding or whoever its would-be victims were might have been assassinated posthaste.” He sighs. “It’s dealt with now. That’s all I’ve got. Glare at me all you need to -- I -am- sorry I couldn’t say anything more. But do I regret doing it? No, I honestly do not.” He finishes his water. “Enough with the deception, though. Kahran’s plots and schemes have been revealed and the byrgs here face a more immediate danger besides. It’s high time the Alliance declared itself anew.”

Valrae keeps her eyes on her hands and her hands busy as words are tossed around her. She feels as much of an outsider as ever and Lionel’s look of apology seems to only reinforce the cold feeling that has fisted in her chest. She had winced at both Khitti and Encara’s words. Khitti’s because they described horrors she’d rather not attempt to imagine and because they moved her heart to pains of sympathy. Encara’s words had pulled the witch’s mind back to memories of Frostmaw and a vibrantly red dawn. She’d been nothing more than an echo of her old life, a ghost, a reflection. Still, she’d felt a connection through the line that seperated the living from the dead. Valrae had felt a kinship with Encara then, for all the ways they were similar and even for the ways they were not. She’d know the feelings she’d harbored for Lionel because she’d carried her own in her hollow chest. Her own words haunted her now. She’d never have uttered them if she’d thought she would be sitting her in the flesh now. Val accepted Lionel’s given reason while privately wondering if he’d avoided writing the drow for reasons that related more to herself that he would say. Chewing the inside of her cheek, she suddenly drops the silver container on the table in front of Lionel and smiles. “For that,” She taps her own forehead, mirrored to the place he was cut. A hissing sigh escapes her clenched teeth. Her face was suddenly drawn in more serious lines, missing the false brightness she’d been wearing like armor. “Well, if nothing is left to be said.” She looks to Encara questioningly, wondering if they still needed to have words or if her offer to help her with a bow was what she’d hoped to mention. Regardless of the answer, Valrae stands and fidgets with her skirts again. She nods to the table, smiling sadly at Khitti, Camina, and Encara before brushing a hand over Lionel’s shoulders. “Good night,”

Khitti || For once, this entire time, Khitti’s brows furrowed together, in a mix of concern, frustration, and a bit of sadness. First, Encara was addressed, a shake of her head given, “I’m not going to rush in. I have a plan and I will tell you all when it’s time.” And then, Lionel and Valrae, “I get it.” She wanted to say “but we talked about this before”, but she didn’t. There was no point. “It’s just been… abnormally difficult, lately.” He didn’t even know about Onyx. Didn’t know about the things Meri had revealed to her. There wasn’t a point in telling him that either. “We’ll meet separately, and deal with each of the byrgs, before moving on to the last. I can’t help the continued sacrifices, but none of you are going in there. None of you have seen what he does to these people and I’m not letting it happen to any of you.” Despite her fatigue, her words were firm. When Valrae made it known that she was to leave, Khitti only nodded, a faint apology muttered before she forced herself up out of her chair. “Please take me home, Camina,” she said, a hand pressing into the half elf’s shoulder to keep herself from wobbling about. The dark-haired woman nodded, moving out of her own chair carefully, so as not to get Khitti anymore off balance than she already was, as the templar gave a half-hearted wave to Encara and her brother.

Encara listens to Lionel in jaw-clenched silence, her expression impassive and betraying nothing of the drow's inner thoughts or feelings. She is, for all intents and purposes, a statue weathering the storm— only this storm is out of sight, hidden deep beneath her armour and skin. But maybe Val can feel it; the emptiness that swells within her like a ghost desperate for something more than the hollow memory of life it has become. They are, after all, quite alike. She has her own insecurities, her own doubts, and the worry that Lionel never wrote her for fear of fanning the flames burns painfully in her chest. Does that mean he knows? A wave of nausea rolls in the pit of her stomach at the thought and Encara's mouth twitches ever so slightly. Her gaze remains on him though, intense, until long after he's finished speaking and Valrae has left her seat - only then does she shift her focus to the witch and offer a soft, faintly apologetic, "Good night," followed up with a quick, "If you're staying in Venturil, I'll find you. If not, I'll write." Khitti earns herself a similar goodbye and a wave to both her and Camina, before Encara's eyes come to rest fully on Lionel again. "You have ways to contact me discreetly, and there's likely no one better than I to track a wraith. You should have found me." With her arms resting on the table, crossed casually at the wrists, she casts a quick glance down at her gauntleted hand. "They've been drawn to me, recently. But it's too late now, and it doesn't matter. It's fine," she murmurs, shrugging and moving to stand. "I have only been transparent with you, Lionel O'Connor. No lies, no tricks, nothing hidden in the dark. All I ask is that you do the same for me, if you can. That's all I need." There is little she can give the Catalian to assure him of her loyalty other than what she has, including her even demeanour and lack of action now. Were he anyone else, she'd have already tried to kill him simply for the trouble his absence has caused… to say nothing of the wounds he's opened in her chest. Instead, Encara merely gives him the faintest of smiles and inclines her head in silent farewell. Almost on accident, her hand brushes his shoulder as she passes on her way out into the evening chill.