RP:We'll Always Have Vailkrin
Part of the What You Leave Behind Arc
Summary: Lionel and Kasyr: two old friends who have also been enemies. Of all the stories they have shared, none seem more poignant than the city of Vailkrin, where one is blamed for its destruction over a decade hence and the other became king of the ashes. After two years away from Lithrydel, Kasyr returns to find it ignited by Kahran's War. In light of the realm-wide conflict, Lionel pleads for the man's renewed partnership, sending the former tiefling on a mission for revenge.
Lionel | Shivering in the cold, a family of felines curl up and cry. A silhouette traipses past them in a nearby bush, terrifying the children to tears. Their parents, keen of vision even for their race, spot three more silhouettes, the unknown forms developing texture as moonlight pours down into the shallow cave. Holes in the creatures’ faces cause even the parents to tremble. Pockmarked and full of worms, these abominations stink of decay, and maggots roll across their limbs to forge the suggestion of moving skin where otherwise there is only odorous flesh. The first of them rejoins the other three, and the quartet, each armed with black sabers held forward, sniff through big holes for noses and chitter to one-another like insects. The feline mother abruptly lets go her husband’s hand, leaving her three offspring in his care. The father wants to scream at her, but fear catches in his throat. The creatures tilt their ugly skulls and strike before she can reach even the first with her outstretched claws. The father’s scream finally sounds, but he cannot so much as make his way in front of his motherless children before his head is in the sandy ground.
Lionel | “The Worms That Walk,” Esche observes matter-of-factly, but after the human and frost giant to whom the elf speaks have grimaced and departed, the curt elf secretly frowns upon what little remains of the feline family. Their blood, splattered upon the stony cliff in which the cave is set, has been smeared into profane phrasing. Some among Kahran’s legions take pleasure so perverse in the killing. “Enastal enastazi,” Esche whispers a prayer in his native tongue, tucking his robe against his body to shield himself from a sudden chill. His green eyes follow the dread creatures’ tracks down the basin, but he himself does not follow. Instead, he returns to the newly-pitched Alliance encampment, where two dozen multiracial soldiers loyal to the cause have gathered to break their fast only to have their quavering appetites well and truly broken by the scene. Lionel, lithe and forlorn and with a gaze that seems to look beyond the veil and into despair, stands alone at the edge of their carved-out perimeter, his scarlet silk shirt flapping against the wintry gusts. Esche purses his lips and opts not to approach. It’s just another day in the war to end all wars: the war that Lionel returned to Lithrydel two years hence in hopes to prevent, but the war he frightfully knew, deep down inside, he could not stop. He can only fight it until he no longer can.
Kasyr may have been a denizen of this land, but he feels more akin to a stranger now- as he found his arrival heralded not by friends, but tales of a land wrought in turmoil. There was no familiar faces waiting for him when he had landed at Rynvale, and even now, as he travels along the pass towards Vailkrin, he'd be hard pressed to recognize a single soul as he strode down the desolate path. Not for the first time that evening he found himself pulling his beaten up trenchcoat closer to his body, the chill evening air biting his hands, and what parts of his face weren't covered by his scarf. "Maudite espece de. . ." Still, as lonesome as this journey was- there was a part of him that was grateful for the anonymity, for the lack of assassins on his heels, and the murderous intent which so oft hung in the air like some sickly malign miasma, made ever so palpable by his empathic senses. That relief could only last so long, however, when he catches sight of something flickering ahead. Steps once determined grow more tentative, his pace slowing down, even as his left hand falls to the bandaged bundle which firmly mounted to his back. The bundle's presence is a reassurance, one of the few he has- though it's continued existance doesn't answer the questions now bouncing around in his mind. Is the light ahead a campfire, or some trick of the moonlight off the rock face? Were there checkpoints now, and so close to Cenrils borders? For a moment, the Kensai finds himself hesitating, before he steels himself and presses forward, the ears on his head flattening. "Just a trader passing through, c'est tout. C'est tout."
Lionel can’t afford his distant gazes for long. He refocuses, turning toward the gloomy faces of the people who have just finished following his instructions to establish Alliance presence here in the pass. Humans, elves, halflings, giants -- Cenrili citizenry, rebel witches from Larket, Xalious folk, Frostmawian Aramoth-worshippers -- one and all, they’re sad. Lionel blinks once and Caedan Navarre is staring at him with sad eyes too. He blinks a second time and she’s gone. Ever the specter, more transient even than the spirit of Valrae Baines which haunts him and guides him true, Lionel has long since given up discerning when the girl is following him and when his thoughts of her hatred for him are following him instead. The only thing he knows is that Caedan never surfaces from whatever real or false abyss in which she travels until death is on his mind. “Bury the dead,” he orders through lilting Catalian tones. “There ain’t much to bury, beggin’ pardon,” a Venturilian with salt-and-pepper hair replies. “Bury what’s left, then,” Lionel answers. The patience in his voice is thin. The Venturilian lowers his stare and sets to work with a pair of half-elves and a human woman of unknown origin but shimmering golden locks in her hair, and together they dig. Lionel takes a few steps closer to the fire. He blinks again and sees Kasyr. “Taking new forms now, Caedan?” Esche’s elven ears perk and he raises a brow. “Lionel?” Both men tilt as a frost giant trots, halberd raised, toward the ‘trader’. “Hold,” Lionel shouts. The image of Kasyr has yet to vanish and now he’s not alone in seeing it. He leaves Esche behind and sprints to a face he’s not seen in years. His mouth moves but he can’t think of words for it, so he stands, slack-jawed, for several fleeting seconds. “I feared you were dead. I’m glad you aren’t.” It isn’t the first time he’s found reason to say it lately, and he isn’t sure how that makes him feel.
Kasyr had been in the process of unslinging his bundle from his back upon the rather... pointed reception when he catches wind of Lionels shout, those cat-like ears of his cropping up in response. And really, he's all but ready to offer some sort of retort until he actually catches both sight and empathic sense of the person sprinting towards him- something which leaves Kasyr staggered for just long enough to drop the his wrapped package with an extremely loud thump. "I. Yes. You know. Hard to kill, permanently. All that." He pauses there, to stop down and retrieve the wrapped object, seemingly at a leisurely pace, "I ..had to leave things unfinished. And resolve some other things. I'll go into depth er, later. It is good to see you, however. I'd heard you were still about- intended to find you even, though I've been looking to address, uh, other errands, as well." The kensai can't help but find himself glancing in the direction of the pair making a makeshift grave for the defiled remnants of the family, "Things have gotten...rather bad since I left, haven't they?" There's another pause there, and Kasyr awkwardly adds, "Have you been..faring well, at least? Or .. well, is it business as usual, as ever for us."
Lionel isn’t planning on paying more than peripheral attention to the bundle Kasyr carries, but the loudness of its thud prompts a quick cursory glance. “Well,” he answers slowly, lifting his eyes back up to the kensai, “I don’t doubt its importance, wherever you went. But yes. Yes, they have.” Esche appears behind Lionel’s shoulder, his graceful stride covering the distance in little time. “Greetings,” the elf says with a deep and practiced bow. “This is Esche. Esche, Kasyr.” Elven ears perk in tandem with a lofted brow. “I’ve heard much, most of it good,” Esche says bluntly and yet with such courteous timbre as to pass for royal cordiality. Lionel can’t suppress a light smirk. “In fairness, that’s probably better odds than what you heard about me, depending on which route you took on your way into the realm.” Lionel lets that hold; their proximity to Vailkrin’s borders speaks for itself. His companion doesn’t dispute it. “I don’t suppose you’ll remember why I returned,” Catal’s Last Prince reverts his attention to Kasyr. “If not, I understand. We had some unfinished business back then, you and I, and I’m only glad we were both spared for it. But unfinished business is… exactly why you found me, in those bleak undead streets three-and-a-half kilometers up that ridge.” He points imprecisely for emphasis. “The war changed me, you know. I was a wisp of a man after Alexia’s death by Elazul’s…” No, Lionel. “By my own hand.” He’s come far enough to say it without shattering, so it ought to be said.
“It was four years later that Catal was destroyed. The Dread Lords had allies who survived their own demise. That’s why I couldn’t help myself, Kas. It’s why I came back to Lithrydel, because it’s the only home I ever truly had, and if a broken man has nothing else to live for, isn’t it best he dies defending it against the darkness he knows on painful personal memory still lurks?” Lionel shakes his head. “I was a mess. Good people here patched me back together through the months but my mission remained. I had to gather allies for a war I knew was coming. Whoever scoured Catal would fester in all the unseen spaces and one day strike as Khasad and Elazul once struck. I threw those allies at a saurian incursion, I threw them at an ancient insectoid race that tried to harvest the surface like a culling. I threw them at King Macon. Each time, it was dire, but each time I knew in my heart it was just a stepping stone we’d either survive or tumble, and if we tumbled, then when the remnant forces of the Dark Immortals emerged, that would be the end of it unless some other brave souls emerged with them.” Some of the soldiers in the camp have come closer to nod curtly or stare at Kasyr. Whoever prompts Lionel toward so many words must be worthy of attention, perhaps even respect. A handful seem to recognize the kensai, a token to the renown the former tiefling built through toil and tears. The sun’s early rays play at the shaded spots of the ravine, almost blinding away the profane bloody etchings of the creatures who slaughtered here just hours ago.
“All along the path to the here and now,” Lionel continues, “I suspected that the challenges we endured were pieces to a greater puzzle. It’s why I first approached Queen Hildegarde, back when you were still among us; I was desperately convinced something was stirring, and I needed to be heard. I hadn’t expected to one day serve as her Knight-Commander, nor Frostmaw’s Steward. I just needed someone to know.” The frost giant in this group fixes the Catalian with an appreciable gaze. Earning their trust wasn’t easy, but solving the riddles behind the slaughter of a Frostmawian battalion and the mysterious culprits behind a substance abuse outbreak which led to the deaths of hundreds was eventually enough. That both incidents were far-flung early signs of things to come -- that the culprits were none other than the vanguard of the black armies ravaging Lithrydel today -- only helped to validate the grief-stricken Catalian’s warnings, previously viewed as ramblings from a man who could not escape his own past. Perhaps it’s still true, but it’s nevertheless pertinent.
“He calls himself Kahran.” Esche interjects with this, grimacing. “He brought Catal to ruin and he seeks to do the same to Lithrydel. He follows in Khasad and Elazul’s foosteps and now commands the ranks of tens of thousands. Wicked generals, wraithen overseers, mind-controlled orcs and drow. Trolls, slaadi, avians. Naga loyal to the usurper queen, Jaize.” Esche tilts his shaven head toward the message left behind by The Worms That Walk. “Assorted other abominations.”
Lionel doesn’t look at the message, but his eyes narrow and his jaws tighten as he takes over discussion again. “All we can do is repel. The only time this realm has left is bartered for through all the lives we have lost along the way. I tried to unite the world because I knew what was coming. I failed.” He says it lightly, but it lingers. “Larket was lost to inward strife and tyrants long before Kahran announced himself in sudden slaughter. Alithrya is torn in two; Vailkrin is as well. Rynvale feels distant; Schezerade’s isolationism became its downfall. Chartsend hangs by a thread; Cenril, an ally in the night, hangs only by a fast-weakening magical barrier hastily erected to thwart Kahran’s invasion. Venturil is too remote; Frostmaw is only one city no matter its might. Villages are ruins along the countryside, their populations butchered or vanished. We’re losing, Kasyr, and we need you.”
Kasyr's ears twitch at Esches address of him, the Kensai gradually tilting his head towards the man to better commit him to memory, "C'est un plaisir. I'm honestly surprised there wasn't efforts made to paint me far worse - I would have thought Vailkrin high society would have made me a scapegoat by now for some of their ills." There's a faint mirthfulness apparent in the Kensais features, though the tone carries no faint amount of bitterness. Still, he can't help but shake his head at Lionels words, "I remembered clear enough- it was part of why I didn't hesitate as much when I realized I needed to go. You were a man determined ... obsessed, peut-etre, - yet I figured that would be more useful than. Well, the state I was in." Heaving up the bundled item to a standing position, the Kensai can't help but sigh quietly, " I should not have departed as I did- with no word or warning. That was an unkindness, especially since I know you would have appreciated my aid. The departure was necessary, but the method ..." he shakes his head slowly, "You had said before that you would do what you could to aid me, and it's only just that I offer you that in return here and now, mon Ami."
With an exhale and a roll of his shoulders, the Kensai can't help but add, "I think it might be telling that business as usual for us, and what we've both prepared for is the word burning, though by and large from different sources. If I'm to intercede here, to be useful to your cause now, I am going to need to know more- as I confess, I do not have the same pull here I once did, especially in the ...state I am now." A pause, and he quietly amends, "For now." With a faint nod, the Kensai glances over towards Lionel, "Vailkrin was dear to me, et to hear that it es afflicted by Civil war ...Well not entirely unexpected. I am curious as to the cause. The factions. Et likewise with the naga's City." The kensai pauses, before quietly adding, "That said, If you have need of moi to meddle in something specific, I won't say no. There es something specific I was seeking to do upon my return, but the path there es anything but straightforward." And likely falls under the purview of, things the Kensai is chosing to be semi evasive in public about. "Wait. Also. Slaadi?" That catches him, but the whole 'emissary of the dark immortals thing seems to be fine by him. Go figure.
“Le plaisir est pour moi,” Esche responds without pause. Lionel doesn’t appear the least bit surprised the elf is familiar with yet another language. He gave up feeling surprised about these things the day Esche left the late Tratt Milous utterly flabbergasted, the Catalian dwarf grabbing at his full white beard haughtily whilst the foreign elf spoke brisk sentences blending Old Catalian, Lithrydelian High Elven, Veltharn, and the guttural noises of the ‘skin clerics’ of the Demon Archipelago. “Vailkrinite socialites,” Lionel answers, some of the edge in his voice taken away by the odd sound of the two words so close together, “have been painting me their butcher for a decade, Kas. They mumble endlessly about you, too, but it’s all we can do to ignore it and carry on.” Or secretly take the blame to heart, as Lionel is often prone to doing, but he leaves that fact unspoken. Kasyr and Esche both know it full well without him embarrassing himself by spelling it out.
“Think nothing of your departure,” Lionel continues. There’s a warmth in his voice now. The early rays of sunshine begin to creep their way over the trio, drawing a more striking color to the bundle the former tiefling has stood upright against him. “Just focus on your arrival.” He says it confidently. “Esche here has a knack for saying a lot of things without taking a breath, so I’ll let him do the honors on those twin inquiries of yours. By the way, uh, what’s in the bag?”
The elf tilts his head into a formal bow again and clears his throat as if to confirm Lionel’s description of his verbal talents. “To begin with, then, the slaadi are amphibious creatures of great blubberous girth larger than any man and with claws and fangs to rip targets asunder indiscriminately. They also produce beams of powerful bubble from their mouths which can knock down and drown most humanoids if left exposed for more than a few seconds. Their origins are unconfirmed. I suspect this batch may be native to the Shadow Plane, the multifaceted and exceptionally dangerous realm which serves, in part, as the seat of Kahran’s power.” He straightens his slanted robe as he goes on. “The Alliance possesses relatively little knowledge of Vailkrin’s internal strife. We’ve not had resources to investigate in the midst of continental catastrophe by way of Kahran. Larewen Dragana is believed to have instigated, or otherwise responded to, threats by other Houses. The limited data in our grasp suggests she plans to overthrow the other rulers and stand alone above the region. We will not support this, nor the opposition. Their foolishness may cost Vailkrin dearly should Kahran seize the chaotic political environment to spread further death, as he has previously done in Larket to the tune of thousands dead.” Evidently, Esche has considerable feelings on this matter. Lionel only flinches, grimacing at the idea of leaving Vailkrin to its fate. Kasyr, should he notice the reaction, will know that he isn’’t alone in wanting to help -- even if neither of the two men will ever be welcome in the Dark Land.
“Alithrya is split between Reginae and Jaize,” Esche states matter-of-factly. “The naga city itself is controlled by Jaize, however, with Reginae on the run. Jaize suffered defeat by the combined arms of the Alliance, Kreekitaka’s uyeer horde, and the local militia just weeks ago after attempting to conquer the city of Chartsend for her own. Naga soon began to fill the ranks of Kahran’s armies, and it was quickly confirmed the disgraced Jaize has tied herself to the warlord as she once did to Vuryal. Kahran’s strength only grew as a result.”
Kasyr shrugs slightly, before he draws his right hand up to his face, breathing onto his fingers to bring some warmth back to them, before burrowing them into his scarf, "I appreciate your courtesy in focusing upon the present." He doesn't elaborate further, however, his attention locked upon Esche during what is essentially an impromptu intelligence report. The mention of the Slaadi earn a 'Fun'. Yet for the most part, the kensai's able to retain a fairly impartial expression- though the mention of Larewen & Reginae both elicit a faint pursing of his lips. Until the very non subtle "Oh come on!" at the mention of Vuryal and Kahran in close to the same sentence. "I still can't believe people ever actually supported that parasitic sociopath. He had a chronic backstabbing disorder et a penchant for annihilating his own allies. Who would even recruit out of his former cronies unless they needed ..oh. Cannon fodder. Right. I suppose I can appreciate the tactical savvy in reaching out to a highly ambitious individual with a claim to being a ruler, whose low on pattern recognition et foresight. Grants an army essentially at Kahran's disposal- et the Naga aren't slouches."
The kensai makes a few grumbling noises, his posture shifting so he was leaning on the packaged item, which he finally remembers to address by way of turning his head towards Lionel and offhandedly mentioning, "Vesper. Not sure if you remember it." Regardless, the Kensai's attention drifts back towards Esche, his expression a bit more grim, "Vailkrins social order has generally been a ... mercurial thing for it's ruling class. In part, that turbulence and ambition seems ingrained in Vailkrins culture, yet the inherant balance of the city has been severely destabilized in recent years with the myriad invasive organizations and powers which have exerted their control over the city in both overt and covert manners. I can't say I would have liked to have seen what had happened if I hadn't intervened in the civil war, the enslavement of the dead - but I can't say I'm absolved of my part in it's current situation. ...Especially since I had endeavoured to put into place a successor once I made the decision to abdicate." The Kensai pauses, and then very quietly adds, "With most of those who shared my bloodline having dissapeared, I looked outside of my house - to house Dragana. I had figured that if I could have felt out for those who might support or at least be neutral to such a claim it would ease such a transition. But I should have accounted for what my absence would allow. What would entail from that decision." The former- revenant sports a contemplative expression, all the same. "There had been long peace talks between Vailkrin et the naga City, due to us being...neighbours of sorts. I can't imagine much can be done with that however, so long as both citys remain in turmoil. Or Jaize draws breath." The Kensai withdraws his hand from his scarf to scratch at his beard, before simply turning his attention towards Lionel, "So, what's the plan then? I had been of the inclination to meddle et speak with the lady Dragana, but if you have a more long term strategy in mind, I would certainly be inclined to listen. I have very little to go on save information gathering et seeking out those who might be receptive to my return." A pause, and he can't help but smirk, "Well, that, et to try my hand against the sort of adversity I'm used to Lithrydel spitting out. I could use the practice."
Lionel had taken his leave of Lithrydel in the conclusion of the Second Immortal War, as much for heartbreak as to take back Catal from its internal oppressors. He, like Donovan Keane, could no longer stomach the fight here. It was the first and only time he's ever left, and it spanned seven-odd years. The rise of Vuryal was but a whisper on stranger tides, and -- as with the Ascendi crisis -- Lionel never intervened directly. He resents himself for that. It played a direct role in his change from devastated fallen hero to ceaselessly self-sacrificial hero reborn; not only did Lithrydel’s enemies torch Catal only three years later, but native Lithrydelians suffered simultaneously at the hands of a self-proclaimed Time Lord and his megalomaniacal empire. Never again. “Vesper,” Lionel breathes. He nods. All the better for it. Just seconds later, the man is back to his long-standing cynical wit. “Frak him,” he comments on Kasyr’s apt Vuryal-bound commentary, “and frak Kahran for picking up the pieces. That's what he does, Kas: he picks up the pieces. Like he's trying to tie up narrative loose ends that have no business being tied up, and as a result of his literary perfectionism, everyone dies.” Esche blinks but doesn't argue the metaphor. “You know Vailkrin better than I ever will, fates willing.” Lionel snorts at himself. “Maybe we lean on that. Maybe you have that chat with House Dragana.” It's hard enough to say the surname; he doesn't bother to label Larewen personally. “But if you want practice, I think I know where you should go. Esche,” he turns to the elf, “we’re clearing out from here.” Esche gasps, albeit in a stately manner. Only Esche, from an unknown elven land with his unspoken secrets but unbeatable courtesies, could ever truly gasp in a stately manner. “But we've only just arrived, and the slaadi caverns still remain.” Lionel waves his hand impatiently. “Yes, and the Worms That Walk are likely in league inside those caverns, too,” he finishes Esche’s thought. “And we’re clearing out from here.” He repeats it for emphasis. “Kas, somewhere in the dark forests further ahead, an enemy encampment dwells. It's Kahran’s, of course. A few dead felines cannot have been the plan. Whether the slaadi and their saber-rattling overlords intend to cause further chaos in Vailkrin or just barrage travelers or lurk in Trist’oth or what, you should go find out. Do you want backup?” He doesn't mouth the implication: Kasyr needs to go frog-hunting, leaving no survivors in his wake.
Kasyr may be well practiced at diplomatic endeavours, but there's something to the way that those feline ears of his crop up, and the feral light that flickers in his eyes that betrays his enthusiasm. An enthusiasm that's only slightly dampened at the sight of his own breath in the chill air, the grim reminder of his pulse, of his faded strength. "I think, I would be remiss in turning down the offer of company on such an expedition. I may be reckless, des fois, but I'd rather not chance leaving something half finished. Especially if I'm going to be paying house calls to nobility, after. Was there someone you had in mind?" There's a moment of contemplation, before the Kensai adds, "Are there any plans to reach out to Reginae, or has she gone to ground?" With that all, the Kensai does look like he's at least ready to venture forward, hefting the bundled blade up from the ground and over his shoulder. Sure, it doesn't look anywhere near as effortless as it used to, especially given he's still wearing that damnably heavy trenchcoat, but it doesn't look to be stopping him. "I'll save the rest of my questions for when I can ask them over a drink. Probably can get introductions with more of your people, then. Et I'll fill you in on why I came back."
Lionel nods. Despite the situation at hand, he smirks. “Esche, send a raven to our uyeer ambassador. Kas, I think you’re gonna like the guy I have in mind.” Esche offers a pleased nod of his own before scurrying off with one final bow. There’s a makeshift rookery in one of the tents at each of the Alliance’s many camps; it’s a communications grid spread throughout the land with routes, reroutes, and hidden tertiary routes even most routers are in the dark about. “Reginae had agency with Queen Hildegarde,” Lionel explains. “Things went to hell in a handbasket and I’m barely privy of her present whereabouts. But I could find out for you. And, um.” He winces. “When you meet Kreekitaka, try not to get him talking about his exploits. His one and only weakness: bragging so loudly about his strengths that you lose any element of surprise you might have had. Well. And the hornet bombs are loud, too, but at least they’re effective.” In the background, some of the troops are receiving Esche’s orders and making ready to grab gear and haul. “It’s good to have you back,” the Catalian ends with, giving Kasyr one last glance before helping pack.