From HollowWiki

Part of the What You Leave Behind Arc

Summary: Lionel, Brand, Meri, and Khitti seek out where the Vandal's Heart was headed, in order to lure them into a trap, and capture the woman in black, who is now known as Vylyra Waesberos. The plan works and while they're there, they manage to happen upon a prisoner of Vylyra's, causing Lionel to take another step back into the past.

Baron's Cove, Somewhere Near Chartsend

Lionel | Most evenings at Baron’s Cove were full of wind, even as summer drew near. The fjord that fed the bay with rushing water from the Southwest Sea raced past ice-capped mountains where the sky was frequently overcast and grey. As far as Lionel could tell, the tumultuous weather was the only reason this hidden piece of prime anchorage was so infrequently mentioned, let alone traversed. Most evenings at Baron’s Cove were full of gusts and thunder. But as the sun dipped below the watery horizon, it occurred to Lionel that this would not be like most evenings. The air was thick and silent. An uncomfortable dampness could be felt all around him. Not wanting to stand as still as the air, he trotted back and forth aboard the ship’s deck, trying not to dwell on how much harder it would now be to maintain cover at this little inlet within inlets where the Tranquility was -- hopefully -- hidden. In a little under an hour, the Vandal’s Heart, capital ship of the Catalian Royal Fleet, would enter into Baron’s Cove. Alone. Lionel had been tempted to investigate the inevitable base of operations that the enemy had established near here in order to keep the fleet supplied, but he restrained himself, knowing it would tip the team’s hand and Vylyra Waesberos would not anchor here again.

Lionel | Admiral Auditore maintained a stoic distance from Lionel but otherwise seemed in relatively good spirits given the danger of what was about to go down. He was flanked by an officer on either side -- Tymure, a young man with patches of stubble and an unremarkable face on his left; Rowan, a middle-aged woman with thick, long blonde locks on his right. They both appeared more pensive than Auditore did. The old sea dog awaited the arrival of Khitti, Meri, Onyx and Sundance, as well as whomever else had decided to embark on this mission alongside Lionel and Auditore’s pair of officers. Once all had gathered, he took a small swig of ale from his sheepskin-wrapped mug and eyed them one by one. “This rocky outcropping we’ve snuck behind is as ideal a spot as we could muster. There are two ways we could go about this, I wager. The Vandal’s Heart will have to pass perilously close to us on her way into the cove, which means this ship will have enough time to shove off from here and catch her as she slows down. But there’s no frakking way we don’t take considerable fire from the Heart’s sixteen cannons. She’s the pride of Catal, armed to the teeth for it. And that is why I say we do not engage her head-on. Better we goad her, and I know just how we do it.” Auditore pointed a wrinkled finger at the narrow waters beneath the nearby outcropping. There was enough space -- just barely -- for the Tranquility to maneuver through it unscathed. The Vandal’s Heart would fit, too, but again only barely. “Captain Brand, if you or yours would be so kind as to make a lot of noise when the Heart cruises by, and then swiftly bring your boat in through that… maw,” he said, “you can lead that scurvy bitch straight through the tunnel while those of us courageously stupid enough to sneak aboard her ship cast ropes to her stern and invite ourselves in for a bit of kidnapping.”

Lionel shrugged. “Not a bad plan, or else I wouldn’t have signed off on it already. But you never answered me at the meeting -- how exactly do you plan to get the Tranquility safely out of harm’s way after she pulls off her little diversion? We grab Waesberos, but that doesn’t stop her little minions from warming those cannons.” Auditore grumbled something beneath his breath before answering. “All that big, flaming steel on your back and you’re still asking questions like that?” Lionel furrowed his brow. “You’re fine watching me burn the men and women who used to be under your command? Because if that’s what it comes to, that’s what’s going to happen. There won’t be time for most of them to jump.” Tymure, who had worried the most over the matter when the officers had first met with the Tranquility’s crew, was the one to speak up now. “They’re not people anymore,” he said shakily. “Put them out of their misery.” That was that, then. Lionel did not reply. The still air felt even thicker now as night gathered overhead.

Khitti || ‘They’re not people anymore’. How many times had Khitti heard something like that? Had to tell herself the same thing? She’d… really lost count at this point. Crimson brows furrowed as she eyed the kid, a frown lining her lips, but she said nothing. She’d heard the plan, of course, and tried to focus on that, but only found herself to think not quite optimistic thoughts. Khitti was reminded of one of her many fairy tales--the one about the ship captain that tried for years to return home after a war, only for there to be problem after problem after problem lumped on top of one another. Getting turned into lions and pigs by a witch was bad, but not compared to having to sail into a cave with a hydra on one side and a whirlpool full of teeth on the other. This maw could end up being just as dangerous and she was glad to have left Dominic in Cenril with Victoria, the head waitress at the bakery. Auditore’s words had held an ounce or two of irritation towards Lionel (or maybe a few pounds) and once Khitti finally registered it, she shook her head at admiral, “-Stop-. Please.” She meant the bickering and guilt-tripping and whatever else those left in the royal fleet wanted to pile onto Lionel. “You had plenty of chances to snark and bitch at Lionel before this. Now is not the time.” Occasionally, Khitti’d glance briefly in Onyx’s direction, that frown of hers ever present, but otherwise, she’d say nothing more and do nothing else other than watch the waves until it was time to act.

Meri arrived at the same time that Khitti did, dressed for the occasion. That is to say that Meri is clad in a whole lot of black, which is not that abnormal to an extent, except today she has found a long sleeved black shirt to wear. Her platinum blonde hair was pulled back into a braid and hidden beneath a black bandana. Overall, didn't have too much to contribute to the way of a plan, not this time around. It was not her ship, so ultimately she felt as though it was Brand's call as to which plan was taken up. Or Onyx's? The point was, this was not her ship. A brow is lifted as Lionel and Auditore have a little bickering session, tense much. Then there was Onyx and Khitti. This mission seemed to be full of a whole lot of awkward, some of which Meri was more concerned with than others. But! She was not going to allow herself the chance to be distracted by it, she instead chooses to chime in with, "What's a little cannon fire when you have a psion tagging along..."

Brand had started the day with a flagon of ale, not for the first time. If he regretted it now, it was only because his head was starting to pound. Otherwise, booze made the concept of this whole affair go down more smoothly. “Aye, what’s a little cannon fire when you have a psion, an undead assassin-mage-thing, an ex-shadowmancer paladin, a speedy fire-sword-guy... am I forgetting anyone?” Dramatic pause. “Oh yeah. And a whole gaggle of people that could just as easily be turned inhuman as the rest of Catal’s navy. I’m a bit more worried about that than the cannons. How do we know Miss ‘I Prefer to Stand’ doesn’t show up, zap us with her black magic, and add us to her zombie crew?” Needless to say, the more Brand thought about this plan, the less he liked it.

Lionel | Auditore shook his head. He didn’t seem completely convinced that any congregation of uber-powered people could handle the cannons, but he held his tongue on that front. He even glanced at Lionel, who shared his apprehension. “We don’t know,” he conceded. “We don’t know if she’ll do that. What we -do- know is that she didn’t do it to us in the first place. And I doubt she wouldn’t have if she could have.” Lionel kicked his foot off from a high-rising wooden post. “It’s one of two things,” he said with certainty. “My sword or Khitti’s magic. I guarantee you it’s one or the other. If I’m wrong… well, seven hells, we pay the price for it. But I’m asking you to trust that I’m not. I don’t like the idea of charging head-on any more than the admiral does, by the way. I know we’ve packed more than our fair share of punches in the past, but those cannons will fire faster than any of us can handle. I’ll stake my life on that, too. That’s why…” He paused. The stillness in the air was gone. There was a breeze, but it didn’t feel… natural. It felt like what came from a parting in the waters, or a gathering of waves. Lionel didn’t have time to investigate in detail. They all heard it now -- the Vandal’s Heart was early. Very early. She was still in the distance, tilting from sea to bay, but she’d pass them in mere moments. Now was the time to decide. “Something’s got the sea bitch running today,” Auditore said. His one eye darted around almost comically. “Captain, it’s your ship.” He bowed his head slightly. “I defer to you. Make the sound and scatter, letting a small party board… or go straight for the Vandal’s Heart and take on whatever damage you will. If you want to abandon the plan altogether, there’s still time. Can’t say I’ll be a fan, but your house, your rules.” Lionel approached Khitti. He shook his head solemnly but didn’t speak. She’d know what he meant: things would not go well if they overestimated themselves and made a run for it.

Lionel | The Vandal’s Heart was a warbird. She was sleekly-built and her hull was smooth and glossy. Eight cannons swiveled in several directions on either side, covering a wide array of angles against those foolish enough to meet her in battle. As her stolen ship moved gracefully into the bay, Vylyra Waesberos swallowed the last of her red wine and threw her goblet into the sea. Not only was she a tyrant, it seemed, but she was also no environmentalist. “Have the prisoner brought aboard as soon as we’re docked,” she said in a dangerously hushed tone. A nearby man, his once-blue eyes now red and his once-brown skin now pallid, made a whimpering sound not unlike a scared beaver and rushed out of sight. Vylyra was in a hurry today. The prisoner was more important than any bushel of grain, any repaired sail, any influx of orcs or avians to bring to camps anywhere. The prisoner had vital information. Vylyra was sure of it. She couldn’t allow them to fall into enemy hands. It would be her blood on the scales if she did.

Khitti eyed Lionel as he approached her, but kept silent still. He’d not seen the woman in black take hold of her circlet. He’d not seen her give absolutely no fraks about Khitti’s magic whatsoever. Khitti would’ve voiced this concern if it mattered--well, it did… but it was far too late to say anything now. Auditore’s lack of confidence in the group only made things worse. Khitti tried to quell the Amarrah-like butterflies in her stomach brought on by her anxiety. They raged at her, told her she was going to fail. That they were all going to fail. That they were going to die because her magic wasn’t enough. It’d not even been enough to sense the evil that permeated from Vylyra herself. Khitti didn’t bother helping to alert the Vandal’s Heart if that was the path they chose; she couldn’t really find her voice right now. Her sword was drawn and her attention focused… anywhere. Anywhere else besides the people around her, the ones that were counting on her. Whatever they’d do, she’d be ready, but whether or not she’d succeed was a different matter entirely.

Meri had never counted herself amongst the uber-powerful, that's a level of self-flattery that the blonde will likely never reach. Everyone is putting in there two cents, it is pointed out that the cannons are faster than anyone can handle. Meri shrugs. Well that's that then, the tattooed woman resolves to just fly by the seat of her pants and find some way to be useful to the team. Meri was right there with Khitti, Auditore's lack of confidence in the abilities they did have to offer was anything but inspiring. The werewolf's thoughts did not stray so far that she was convinced that they would fail, but she was not exactly feeling great about her skillset and what it brought to this endeavor right now. In the end, it was too late to turn back and abandon this mission now. The ship they were after was in sight, decisions needed to be made. Meri was silent just like Khitti....and she readied her own weapon just like the red head, except it was her bow that she opted to rely upon for now.

Brand frowned, suddenly unsure why he’d agreed to this in the first place. Maybe he’d just been swept up in the delight of having more salty sea captains to work with. And then there was the whole fact that Lithrydel would succumb to darkness if they didn’t do anything to thwart Kahran’s plans. He’d met a good portion of the citizenry by now and most of them were… less than impressive when it came to protecting themselves, or even recognizing that there was an existential threat in the first place. So, yeah, there was that. Minor detail.

Brand || “Alright,” he sighed, “let’s do this.” He began barking orders, bringing the ship around, enacting Plan A. Be big, be loud, then hide away in the watery maw. Not Brand’s preferred sort of tactic, but undoubtedly the better one for this scenario.

Brand || Onyx, for their part, cast their gaze across the battle-ready portion of the crew, their weapons already held aloft. “I’m not sure what anyone thinks they’re going to do with a sword at this distance.” Khitti’s sword wasn’t just a simple sword, and Onyx knew that, but a couple of unseasoned men had drawn up their plain jane regular swords after her and tried their best to look fierce. “Maybe you two sit this one out and live long enough to learn something.” If that glare was any indication, it wasn’t a suggestion.

Lionel || If a description as clipped as Auditore’s could ever do a ship justice it was the Vandal’s Heart. She was precisely as fierce as he claimed. Lionel himself had never laid eyes on the flagship of his country’s fleet. He prepared for the worst but the worst exceeded his expectations. The ship was covered in some sort of alloy, a cunning, expensive move that Lionel had only seen on a small handful of vessels in all his days. Whatever the wood of her frame, it was hidden from view entirely, covered in a metal few cannons could even hope to pierce. The Heart’s own cannons were massive. Each of them was easily twice as large as all of the Tranquility’s combined. Perhaps more so. Whatever she fired, it was probably enough to force a city’s surrender in three shots or less. She’s almost stupidly strong, Lionel thought bitterly. Overpowered. The sort of thing that some would hear in taverns and refuse to believe. And others would claim the game is no longer fair, or believable, for her mere existence. Yet for all her grandeur, the Vandal’s Heart was still -- as Auditore estimated -- just compact enough to follow a fleeing ship through that rocky enclosure. “Seven hells,” Lionel muttered. Auditore merely nodded. But Tymure fetched the rope and set out toward one of the Tranquility’s rowboats with haste. This is really happening, Lionel heard himself think. If it worked, it would be the only way in his mind that this mission might succeed. If it failed, he would be dead and so would anyone else crazy enough to follow him onto that boat.

Lionel || The enemy ship was fast. The next minute was going to be pivotal. Auditore hopped aboard the rowboat followed by Tymure and then Lionel. The rest of the away team, whoever they would be, needed to act fast, for Tymure was ready to cut the line and cast off as soon as Brand made some noise. And if Brand did not make noise in good time… Well, at least we’ll live to die another day.

Khitti || Onyx’s words did not evade Khitti’s hearing and the undead was gifted with a glare that would rival their own. She might not be their captain, but seriously… what the frak did she just say about fighting with each other? Pseudo-child from an alternate reality be damned, the entire ship had enough problems as it was and didn’t need more stress added onto it. She’d follow Lionel onto the rowboat, her sword left to hover beside her as she lowered herself down off of the Tranquility.

Khitti || Once Brand gave the go ahead to start making a ruckus, Khitti wouldn’t do any of the shouting, but she did still help to draw the Vandal’s Heart to them. Standing carefully near her seat on the boat, she’d throw balls of holy fire into the sky, letting them explode somewhat like fireworks once they reached high enough above the Tranquility. If people were going to be making noise, might as well have a light show to go with it.

Meri || As per the normal for this group, the plan was barely hashed out. In most cases this would not be something that upsets Meri. They've been on a few missions, but it's clear that a feeling of doubt lingers in the air between the people she trusts with her life.This was the first time in a long, long time that Meri was lacking in confidence in the team's ability to succeed in this mission. The part of Meri that wants to abandon this mission? She would almost rather remain on the Tranquility with Khitti, making a ruckus. Yet Meri is fully aware that her skills will not serve those on the ship as well as they would those in the boat. Rather than sticking it out with Team Tranquility, Meri finds herself hopping into the boat only a quick second after Tymure cut the line. It might have been before, but she hesitated there for a moment. Hopefully their little dingy is not blown to smithereens during all of this. That'd be a shame for poor Fleur.

Brand is muttering a long string of curse words. Does that count as making noise? The Vandal’s Heart makes The Tranquility look like a hobbyist’s rowboat, and that’s no small feat. Brand stares out into the distance before giving his command, holding a moment of silence for the grim-looking fate of his ship before he hollers the order to bait the enemy ship toward them. All is a cacophony of sound and light as The Tranquility makes haste into the cavern. The captain will stay with -- and hopefully not go down with -- his ship, while Onyx boards the dinghy with the rest of the away party.

Lionel | It was a good thing this mission’s plan was as hashed-out as most Hollow RPs wished they could be. When Brand (and Khitti) made some noise, the next phase went off without a hitch. The Vandal’s Heart slowed almost to a crawl, her great hulking hull proving her one inarguable weakness in times like these. Vyryla Waesberos said quite a few things about the lunacy of an enemy vessel meeting the Heart head-on in the several seconds of time before Brand brought the Tranquility to stern at a comparably rapid pace. ‘I know what you’re doing,’ she thought -- and she did. Almost. She understood that this was some kind of bait-and-switch. But in Vyryla Waesberos’ mind, the most likely conclusion to this little cat-and-mouse chase was to be greeted by the three vessels of the Catalian Royal Fleet still under Admiral Auditore’s command. This estimation could prove her downfall. ‘You’re fools to believe even four-against-one will bring down the Vandal’s Heart. Perhaps I should be the one called Catalian and you the devils. Only, particularly stupid devils. I shall sink you as such.’

Lionel | Her failure meant the dinghy’s unrestrained success. The away team caught up beside the Heart and the ropes were tossed over to her deck. And Admiral Auditore knew his ships; he knew where to toss those ropes such that the absolute minimum number of sailors would be there to greet them. As it happened, the old sea dog was even better off than he’d anticipated, for there were not three sailors as he had gauged, nor two, nor even the one. In fact, the only thing truly surprising to him -- and to Lionel as well, once they were both up the rope and aboard the Heart -- was that in a foggy distance they could all espy a standard-class Catalian Royal Fleet ship rushing up behind the Vandal’s Heart at maximum speed. Briefly, it seemed almost as if it was one of Auditore’s, going rogue to offer support; there was just so much speed and so suddenly at that. “Can’t be,” Auditore said aloud. “No, she isn’t mine. She’s one of theirs. Whatever the frak she’s up to, let’s scamper in search of Vyryla before that newcomer’s crew spots us up here.” Under cover of total darkness it wouldn’t have been an issue, but the away team had to make do with dusk. Dusk would not be enough.

Lionel concurred aloud. “The Tranquility can still outrun them both,” he said with confidence, knowing Brand’s modifications from their insectoid-era adventures better than most. “But I agree. Let’s get a move on.” He led them across the deck, dispatching a pair of zombified Catalians along the way with swift, unlit sword strikes. Auditore did his part as well. Before the team reached Vyryla at the Heart’s bow, they would have run afoul of several more, each of whom could be dispatched by Khitti, Meri and Onyx however they saw fit. Then, when Vyryla came into view, she expressed real shock. The kind of shock that simply wasn’t anywhere to be found in Rynvale’s Broken Barrel. “Your worshipfulness,” Lionel snarked. “Go ahead and toss some tables around. Blow up another priceless artifact. I’ll wait.” Lionel knew Meri’s psionic powers could probably hold Kahran’s wicked woman general in place now if she tried. Either that or Khitti would do a thing. Or Onyx would do a thing. Or even Auditore. But for the time being, he was expecting Meri to do the thing. Then, when the thing would be done, whatever that thing may have been, the away team would snag the ruthless Vyryla and make back toward the dinghy. With the Vandal’s Heart in swift chase of the Tranquility, the team would make it back to Brand’s ship in no time.

Lionel On their way out, however, it would become clear why that other ship was making haste as well. Evidently, her crew feared reprisal in case the Heart’s routine supply run was a failure due to this unexpected set of circumstances. Grain, wheat, barley, bombs, scythes, torture devices -- the usual -- was being brought aboard, as well as a prisoner covered against their will in a beige burlap material. Whatever the prisoner’s identity, Lionel wasn’t going to let the enemy keep them against their will, so he yoinked them and tossed them aboard the dinghy just before the away team took off and caught back up to the Tranquility. How did Lionel do it? Very carefully.

Khitti would indeed do a thing, the typical sword-swinging and simultaneous magic used against the Vandal’s Heart’s crew. There wouldn’t be any flare of the dramatic today nor did Khitti snark away at Vyryla once they reached her. She’d not do anything with her magic towards Vyryla, for the black-clad woman had already proven that whatever sort she wielded was far superior than the abilities granted to Khitti by the holy sprite in her katana. Instead, Khitti resisted the urge to use that sword, flames and all, on Vyryla; the want to kill the woman was strong in the back of the redhead’s mind. Maybe in time she’d get to take out her anger on the woman, the emotion spurred on by Kahran’s obvious return, but now unfortunately wasn’t the time. Instead, she kept quiet, offering the occasional glare to Kahran’s general, playing quiet guard duty until they got back to the Tranquility.

Meri was on a dingy, until she wasn't. A lot of faith was put into this Admiral Auditore, who she really did not know that well, not him or his crew. Yet there Meri was, rushing through a ship that is manned by zombies, but everything that was transpiring was happening so quickly that it was such a blur. Meri would do her best to support the group when it came to fighting off the zombie crew but they had a mission in mind...so she ultimately tried to keep up with Lionel. That way she is present so that she is able to also do the thing...and help with restraining their target. Before she really knew what was going on, she was apparently being swept back into the little boat so that they could very carefully make their way back to the Tranquility. Apparently they were absconding with a prisoner being held by Vyryla also? Full boat ride home…

Brand || Onyx had really been looking forward to showing off with that bow and quiverful of arrows. At least, that was Brand’s guess upon meeting the undead’s gaze. If that glare was any indication, they’d hardly had the opportunity. And now the away crew had returned to the Tranquility, and Brand was full of questions, and there was no time for any of them. The Tranquility had one advantage over the Vandal’s Heart, and one advantage only -- speed. With their prisoner boarded, now was the time to make their escape and shake off their pursuit. Above all, Brand had to hope their enemy had no further tricks up their sleeve.

Lionel | Without Vylyra Waesberos, the crew of the Vandal’s Heart despaired. They were still capable of doing their jobs almost as well as they had in life, but each ship in the Royal Fleet had been assigned a lively attache (usually in a leading role) for a reason. The only thing the crew could think to do now was to not let up on the speed as they rushed through the cavern. But fate was on Captain Brand’s side. As Auditore had deduced, the Vandal’s Heart could destroy cities if tested but could never catch up with a ship so swift as the Tranquility. As the Heart disappeared into dusk’s horizon behind them, Lionel tossed a seething Vylyra into a hold. Sundance shackled her accordingly while Lionel asked anyone with the capability, especially Onyx, if they might be able to cast some form of magical ‘blanket’ over the woman to prevent her from exercising the fullness of her power. Regardless of whether or not anyone was capable of doing so, it was plain to see that Vylyra had been caught completely off-guard. She said nothing but delighted in meeting her captors in the eye. There was a spark of prideful defiance in her glare. Whether or not the allies would be able to crack her facade and learn the things they wished to know would remain to be seen. “I can take her on one of my ships, Captain Brand,” Auditore offered, “or you can keep her here. Either way’s fine by me. We can meet up in a few days and see if we can’t remove that stupid smirk from Vylyra’s face over there.” Once Brand made his decision, Auditore and Tymure made plans to climb aboard their ship as soon as the Tranquility rendezvoused with it. But not before Tymure bowed. It looked a bit silly, but he tried his best. “We appreciate your aid. Here’s to our united success in avenging the fallen.”

Lionel was left alone with the mysterious prisoner of Vylyra and her minions. He had requested it. He took a deep breath, all his hopes and dreams on the line… it had to be Esche. It had to be. “I hope you are who I think you are,” he said, exhaling. “But uh, if you aren’t… I won’t judge, right? I won’t judge.”

Lionel | The prisoner’s identity defied all sense of belief. Briar Ku Risu looked at Lionel with her own apparent disbelief, tears welling up in her eyes. “Is it really you? It’s… been so long,” she said weakly. More weakly than the Briar that Lionel had known had ever said anything. Back then, two years ago. Back before King Macon’s chief military officer killed her. Of words, Lionel could only think of three. “What the f***?”

Khitti stared daggers at Vylyra as everyone went about their business dealing with her shackling, dampening her abilities, and unmasking the mysterious prisoner. When Auditore gave Brand the choice of what to do with the woman in black, Khitti voiced her own opinion, watching as Vylyra glared and revelled in her capture. “I think we should keep her here.” She said it, perhaps, a little too quickly, the templar leaping at the chance to possibly beat some answers out of Kahran’s general. There was no joy in Khitti’s tone, however, nor in the look on her face. “Onyx is likely the most capable at keeping her contained properly, so we might as well,” she added at length, using the undead’s reappearance to what she hoped was her advantage. Whatever the decision, Khitti’d stalk off to her and Brand’s quarters in the belly of the ship--she needed a drink and the fact that she didn’t have a kid to take care of currently made it all the more tempting.

Brand nodded in silent assent. Onyx wouldn't guard Vylyra alone, of course. But this would help keep the undead pinned to a predictable place on the ship. All the better for Brand to keep an eye on things. He still wasn't sure what to make of this new 'Onyx' -- or of most of what had happened lately, for that matter. He, too, found himself pining for a drink.