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RP:Worthy of Survival

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Part of the What You Leave Behind Arc


Part of the What Dreams May Come Arc


Summary: Uma and Hudson hold a meeting with Lionel to discuss Cenril's weakening magical barrier. Should it fall, the city will be wide open to renewed attack from Kahran. The alliance's only hope in saving Cenril may rest with a woman whose death shook the realm -- a woman who Lionel believes may yet help turn the tide in the war.

Fort Frostmaw

Hudson has become a person who doesn’t know his own schedule. When Joanie had fetched him to inform him that he’d be meeting with Uma and Lionel concerning Larket and Kahran he’d gone through emotional stages. At first he been at first annoyed - no way, he’d wanted to play golf that afternoon, even though it was cold (more like arctic golf) - then confused - when had this meeting even been set? - and then, slowly, he’d accepted his fate. It’s fine. And so they’d picked up Uma (is it just him but she’s looking kind of hot these days?) and it had become pleasant. Of course they’d bantered and LOLed over their children for the commute to Frostmaw. Hudson is self-aware enough to be mentally asking himself Why Are U Like This by the time they’ve been received into the meeting room. There’s a bowl of mixed nuts and he gets a handful while Uma looks on with polite distaste. The merry mood has calmed between them now. “Men never wash their hands,” she says.


Lionel is drifting. Meeting to meeting, issue to issue, merchant to merchant, soldier to soldier, he’s outside himself -- never truly there. Everything fades into nebulous sameness. The handshakes, the agreements, the troop deployments; even the wine is like water to him now. Why is he here? What was that it even compelled him to return to his station, away from the front lines, away from the missions and the expeditions and the trepidation? Tried as he might to forget, he remembers the answer. It wasn’t duty that summoned Lionel, briefly, back to Frostmaw, nor was it honor or shame. It was the skull. Drifting through a dimly-lit hall, half-smiles used as shields against the random, muttering inquiries of whoever keeps asking him questions in the drifting, Lionel runs his hand inside the burlap bag hanging from his shoulder. To his fingertips, the skull feels alive in its death, like some vestige of yesterday that refuses to acknowledge tomorrow. He shudders, pulling his hand out instantly. “It’s the same as Kahran,” Lionel mumbles heatedly. Not three meters away, a serving girl’s eyes go wide and she scampers past him, visibly flustered. Whyfore? Has there been an attack? Lionel glances here and there, at the old murals and the way the lanterns’ light flicks over them. The swords and shields and halberds on Fort Frostmaw’s walls have not been withdrawn. The only battle here today is the one inside his mind. The City of War is the city of Aramoth, and its shamans are renowned. Perhaps not so renowned as that Mulgrew, vile woman she is, her purposes unclear -- how she consumed Lionel’s will to act, how she controlled him so to stand slack-jawed and fetch this skull without question -- but nevertheless, the elder Frost Giants here are to be respected eminently. And yet none of them had a word for him. He came back here to know why it was that Mulgrew could compel him so, and to understand his closeness to this absurd artifact, and to gauge how much of a liability to the cause he may have become. He was met with stares and shaken heads and quick dismissal. How can he tell anyone of this? He’s alone in the web, hoping it isn’t a spider’s. There’s no time for treks through starry skies in search of answers; there’s a war on, and it will determine the future of the realm from Rynvale to Chartsend. Lionel’s only recourse, his only chance to cease this drifting, is Uma. The witch has proven a steadfast ally, and she’s his closest -- and, perhaps, only -- contact in either witchcraft or the city she leads. Lionel pauses, leans his right shoulder against the cold stone wall, takes a deep breath, and prays. Not to any damnable god, but to some nameless ideal. Let there be an answer. He swings open the door to the meeting room, forcefully collected, his posture as self-assured as he can muster. “Sorry to keep you waiting.”


These peanuts could be more than just lightly salted, reflects Hudson, turning at the sound of the door opening. Uma likewise pivots, her dress flaring out a little in the turn. She pats it down in place. Must be nice to show up at important meets in sweats, she eyes Hudson. She shouldn’t have flirted with him in the carriage just then. She only wanted the attention for a hot second and it felt nice but this is her friend’s husband and men are idiots, it would be bad for him to get the wrong idea because she was Pleasant and Laughed At His Jokes. Very bad, he’s the mob. She makes a mental note to turn down the friendliness a bit until things have returned to normal. Their being in battle together has made things too chummy. On the outside, Uma still maintains her gracious demeanor. “We weren’t waiting long, no problem at all,” she says brightly, sensing that she should respond for the two of them because he’s still chewing. “I thought I might bring Hudson, I hope that’s alright,” she adds, gesturing to some nearby chairs. Somehow she’s inviting them all to be seated. She thinks, to herself, This wouldn’t happen if I were a man, tho. Hudson looks at Lionel and says, “Yo,” and “Nice color,” because Lionel’s wearing red. “We would like to invite Frostmaw to participate in placing economic sanctions on Larket,” he says. Uma is quick to jump in. This is her job. “Yes, given the brutality of how Valrae Baines-Older was executed, we believe some sort of message is appropriate and it would be a stronger message if a unified one.” She smooths her skirt and her face freezes in an awkward smile as Hudson immediately repeats what she just said, in a different way, “Yeah, basically, if both Cenril and Frostmaw agree to do this thing, we think it would be fair punishment for what is an inhumane mode of execution.”


Lionel isn’t much for chairs, but since taking up office here he’s long since learned that meetings don’t go as well when he’s pacing back and forth in a room where everyone else is seated. Once the three of them are no longer standing, he pushes the painful ebb of half-smile into a slightly brighter, fractionally more convincing attempt at a full smile which winds up looking more like a smirk -- because most of Lionel’s attempts at smiling look like smirks. Probably because he smirked his whole way through adolescence. “Hey,” he greets Hudson, blinking when the man makes mention of the color of his scarlet silk garb. Few have verbalized this to Lionel, and it’s gotten to the point where it simply feels inappropriate to wear any other color. Of course, he knows why he’s doing it, but it’s woven its way into the drifting, reducing his self-awareness. “Thanks.” It comes several seconds later, more as a realization that he ought to add a word than any profound thought. Lionel looks a little thinner, too, and -- in a certain light -- maybe a bit paler. Valrae’s name snaps him to Uma like a whipcord, but he masks it by keeping a stunned expression for the duration of her explanation. Better to appear appalled at mere mention of Larketian atrocity than invite awkward misunderstandings elsewhere. “I agree, you two.” Lionel’s voice is a masterclass in casual; it’s his true tone, unfiltered, shining through the grimness of his life experience. “I’m totally onboard. I’ll have to check with the Queen, of course. Her decision is final. But given that she’s the one who tore up our kingdom’s peace agreement with Larket, I’d be hard-pressed to learn she’s against sanctions.” He bites his lip. That might have been too much public assumption of Hildegarde’s probable actions. At least Lionel can trust Hudson and Uma; it’s not like he blurted it in front of some pompous upstart from wherever. He scratches his forehead, stretching. The skull in his bag feels like it’s summoning him to speak of it, but he twitches and refuses. For now. “I’d sooner punish her murderers more directly,” he breathes, eyes lingering off into the stark abyss of the room’s large corner, his thoughts still tugged by that skull. Lionel blinks again, this time toward himself for having said it. “But we’re too busy staving off realmwide fires of another color.” He says it quickly, only half buying into it himself.


Uma’s smile grows to a more broader one when Lionel is quick to agree with their proposal. As he continues to speak, Lionel’s tone undergoes a certain shift though, that she doesn’t miss, and that Hudson doesn’t miss either. She tries to keep their focus on the more placid and boring topic of economic sanctions. Uma understands that there’s a certain cadence to these conversations, even if Lionel is being more candid. “I’m very happy to hear that we might reach an accord on that, of course the Queen will have to consider it. We’ll have the proposal sent right over for her to look at, take your time,” she says, glancing nervously at Hudson. He is coolly studying Lionel. Uma clears her throat to break up this would-be joint brooding session. “Yes,” she agrees, hiding her teeth behind a thin smile. “That is also why we are here. You see,” she continues, “the barrier in Cenril, which was raised by witches, is weakening.” Hudson didn’t know this, while he doesn’t say this is news to him, you can tell: he is very alert now as he watches her continue. She isn’t meeting his eyes. She is looking at Lionel. “I believe it is weakening because Willow and now Valrae have died. A spell like this held by two living witches....... Well. I’m afraid it will fully dissolve if it continues this way.” She sucks in a breath. “I am also afraid that successfully casting the spell was a miracle to begin with, so we can’t just,” she laughs uncomfortably, “make ‘a new one.’ The easiest way to TRY to repair it, or to buy more time from it collapsing, is ah,” she wrings her hands together, “to resurrect one of the deceased witches. I have made some tentative inquiries... I feel Willow’s spirit might have passed on.” Hudson is looking hard at her now, and Uma can feel it, she can also feel her face heat. She knows now why she’d flirted with him in the carriage. Nervousness. Buying goodwill. To drop this proposal in front of third party Lionel, a situation where Hudson can’t simply tell her Absolutely Not, We Cannot Resurrect That Woman. “So you want to resurrect Valrae,” he says, slowly, with a certain weight that only the two of them can fully decode but perhaps Lionel can hazard a guess. Uma smiles thinly at them both. “It is an idea,” she says delicately.


“I know,” Lionel interrupts. He knows the barrier’s weakening. “I sent Esche to tell you, but he was besieged by one of Kahran’s camps and his squadron’s holed-up now awaiting reinforcements. He realized it too… with a little help from a woman named Astrid, if memory serves.” In truth, Astrid merely learned a bit about how Esche conducted his experiments on the barrier, and held her hand in place where he requested, and the more Lionel thinks about it the flirtier the memory becomes, but… he shakes his head anew; Esche is perhaps the only person he knows less likely to fall for someone than he is. Lionel returns to listening; he’d hoped that Esche would have reached Uma, and that -- indeed -- a new spell would be as simple as Uma is currently saying is out of the question. His strange smirk fades into grimace. Lionel drifts. The drifting comes easily to a man who has always placed the weight of the world of his shoulders, and always of his own volition. Uma carries on, and Lionel, half-listening, dreads how easily Kahran might take Cenril without the barrier. They can’t let that city fall; it’s become a beacon of hope despite its checkered reputation, a symbol of first resistance, a unifying breath for the cause. Bards sing songs of the witches who saved Cenril, and even just imagining Macon’s displeasure over those songs is enough to make it worth the while. Maybe the bards can sing about resurrecting Valrae, too; a bit more hope to rekindle a realm divided. That’s when it dawns on Lionel that his drifting has blended with the world around him. The thought didn’t come to him in a vacuum; it was placed there by Uma’s lead-up to Hudson’s slowly-spoken revelation. The Catalian’s azure eyes narrow, then widen, and then finally they narrow again. Lionel is utterly incapable of decoding the weight behind Hudson’s tone, not for lack of knowledge as to the man’s past with Valrae but rather because there’s too much weight involved in Lionel’s own reaction. Valrae, a woman with whom he’d spoken all of six words, at a dingy bar in a backwater town whose name Lionel cannot even remember. She was nothing to him -- only another life to save no matter the cost, like all the rest -- and then she died, fiercely, boldly, and he watched her die and remembered all the things that he’d forgotten. He remembered what it means to be a rebel, to truly rebel. He remembered how to fight, and how to resist, and it gave him courage against Kahran but shamed him for having allowed himself to forget Larket in favor of ‘bigger threats’. Lionel has not stopped thinking about Valrae since; her martyrdom only swells his rallying call. Whatever that connection means, however minute and impersonal it truly is, it’s important to him that Lithrydel know the color red. “Will this help?” Lionel startles himself with how abruptly he asks the question, and once again he’s unnerved at the feeling that he might not be entirely in control of his actions. It’s the skull -- the damnable skull. All too simply, he pulls the crystal skull, emerald in shade, from his bag and places it down upon the stone table. Irony’s a frakker; the table’s hard Larketian stone. But the skull thuds upon it and pulses magic, and in that moment, it seems so much stronger than the fruits of any quarry. “That crazy woman who slew the Ouroboros left it behind when she left. I… took it. I don’t know what it is. But I…” He stammers off.


Hudson has the unpleasant prickling sensation of realizing that he is hearing something important for the first time, in front of Lionel. That sensation intensifies when it dawns on him that it relates to Valrae, no, her literal resurrection. He knows he must be giving Uma a highly jagged look but he doesn’t feel inclined to contain himself. He tells himself that he is mostly angry because Uma blindsided him, not because of what she’s proposing. But, in truth, he is also thinking about Alvina, and how his now being complicit in this will affect her. If Uma thought she was doing him a favor by keeping him in the dark, she’s not. The ancient wound of Valrae is, these days, a carefully waged trench warfare subject between himself and his wife and a permanent stain on their marriage. This wasn’t supposed to be the plan. They were supposed to have this new baby and be good to one another and well and truly get BETTER. He tries not to audibly sigh in response to this ‘it’s an idea’ Uma says. Hudson’s having a moment himself keeps him from noticing the one Lionel is having. Uma, however, notices, as she’s waiting for Lionel to say something. What a surprise it is that he should imply his assent with her proposal by, suddenly and like a magician, drawing forth an extremely valuable witch artifact which is posed on the coffee table as if it were nothing. It is clearly not. Her throat closes up, and she puts her head in her hands and gazes through her fingers at its eye sockets, pregnant with magic. “Yes,” she says at length. She swallows the lump in her throat, and then looks up at the heavens, wiping her eyes in an act that reveals she’d shed tears. “Goddess,” she sighs, straightening her posture and looking at Lionel. Hudson shifts his weight uncomfortably, leans forward to look at the skull up close. “What is it—“ “DON’T touch it, it might trigger your wolf!” cries Uma, waving him away. Hudson, who has recoiled, retorts, “Well what is it?” “A witch talisman, DON’t touch it,” she repeats her warning because he looks about to not listen to her. Uma talks quickly, “Witch talismans, if you can collect a number of the same family, increase the likelihood of successfully performing powerful spells.” She takes a breath. “Such as a resurrection, or a spirit binding. They are far more effective than human sacrifices.” She is thinking aloud. “I think we’d want to do a spirit binding since her body was burned.” “Human sacrifices?” interrupts Hudson, to which she promptly replies, “Shhh. Please.” Hudson looks at the thing but does not touch it. Uma turns her attention to Lionel. “How did you get this?”


Lionel feels on the verge of waking up from a dream. This feels too neat, too clean, too good to be true. Something catches in his throat, preventing speech. The wheels are turning in his mind. Mulgrew wanted Lionel to have this; of that he'd been certain. But the possibility that it could be a force for good -- that she did this to help, not hinder -- had never even occurred to him until now. For all she’d done to crush the Ouroboros, there was something -wrong- about her, like a wound that never healed. There was something suspect. His momentary weakness, his lapse in judgement, his dumbfounded stare and the swiftness with which he took the skull… spinning through him, all of it feels dangerous. He still fears that power, that total control she surreptitiously ensorcelled, but he cannot help feeling thankful, too. “It was that woman, Mulgrew. The one who killed the Ouroboros and spoke prophecy. Or whatever; I really don't know. She did something to me, something I can't explain. Something that scares me. I felt helpless to her from the moment she arrived, and I don't know why. It's like nothing I've ever experienced. But…” Lionel takes a breath, sighs. “It is what it is. I can't let those questions consume me now. She gave us this chance, and I think she knew what she was doing.” He looks between Hudson and Uma slowly. “The world lies on the brink of ruin. Our enemies will stop at nothing to see its end. Some lurk in the shadows. Some lurk behind thrones. None will see this coming. Valrae is the key to saving Cenril. Before that, she was a beacon to saving Larket. And before that, she was a person, just like all the rest of us, worthy of survival. Let's get her back.”


Lionel feels on the verge of waking up from a dream. This feels too neat, too clean, too good to be true. Something catches in his throat, preventing speech. The wheels are turning in his mind. Mulgrew wanted Lionel to have this; of that he'd been certain. But the possibility that it could be a force for good -- that she did this to help, not hinder -- had never even occurred to him until now. For all she’d done to crush the Ouroboros, there was something -wrong- about her, like a wound that never healed. There was something suspect. His momentary weakness, his lapse in judgement, his dumbfounded stare and the swiftness with which he took the skull… spinning through him, all of it feels dangerous. He still fears that power, that total control she surreptitiously ensorcelled, but he cannot help feeling thankful, too. “It was that woman, Mulgrew. The one who killed the Ouroboros and spoke prophecy. Or whatever; I really don't know. She did something to me, something I can't explain. Something that scares me. I felt helpless to her from the moment she arrived, and I don't know why. It's like nothing I've ever experienced. But…” Lionel takes a breath, sighs. “It is what it is. I can't let those questions consume me now. She gave us this chance, and I think she knew what she was doing.” He looks between Hudson and Uma slowly. “The world lies on the brink of ruin. Our enemies will stop at nothing to see its end. Some lurk in the shadows. Some lurk behind thrones. None will see this coming. Valrae is the key to saving Cenril. Before that, she was a beacon to saving Larket. And before that, she was a person, just like all the rest of us, worthy of survival. Let's get her back.”


“Well, I’m inclined to agree with you, on everything,” says Uma, matter-of-factly. Hudson is only half-listening, he’s taking stock of the fact that he wants to touch the skull. Very badly, he realizes. Or rather, his wolf wants to touch the skull, Hudson himself can be self-aware that this part of him is attracted to the magic heft in the crystal object on the coffee table. He sits back. Uma has been watching him intermittently. He feels baby sat and doesn’t like it. He doesn’t like sitting in the presence of this irresistible talisman and he doesn’t like that they have to bring Valrae back. But he especially doesn’t like that the entirety of his focus is on NOT touching the skull, that the threat of Valrae feels an afterthought, a little deal, if only he could touch the skull for a small while it wouldn’t matter. He takes a ragged breath. “Hudson,” Uma, growing concerned, says simply to him. “I’m not,” he replies, feeling the pull of the skull snap and the urge recede, and like that Uma’s attention returns to Lionel. She smiles thinly and knowingly in the manner of an observation made silently: Do you see how powerful it is? “We need to find your talisman’s other family members, and secretly. The more the better.” Goes without saying that rescuing an executed enemy of Larket might ruffle some feathers. She continues, “I’m just thinking the easiest way to do find the others is to have a bard sing a finding song over a map. Which means we need a bard we can trust with our project.” She looks at Hudson, who has crossed his arms over his body. “No,” he says. “Yes,” says Uma, adding, pointedly, “Your children live in Cenril.” “I’d rather we not involve her, it seems dangerous,” says Hudson, his mind racing. He can’t have this conversation in which he tries to shield his wife from embarrassment and simultaneously looks at the skull. “Please,” he begins to say, and Uma, sensing it, takes the talisman and gives it to Lionel, for him to put away out of line of sight. Hudson exhales with actual, audible relief. “What the f—“ he breathes. “What Alvina is doing is simple bard stuff, not dangerous, it’ll be fine,” says Uma. She finishes the statement with a dainty smile, one that’s well aware that she’s played him well and fully today. Hudson rubs his face with his hand. “I need you to ask her.” “Done,” she says, glancing between him and Lionel. “Sound good?”


Lionel retrieves the skull with greater haste than he’d intended. There’s something about Hudson’s peculiar blend of talisman intrigue and wifely apprehension that has him a little worried for the thing’s safety just now. It’s not that he can’t empathize a little, but Valrae’s possible return looms large in his mind, and complications will need to be resolved swiftly and deliberately. Once the skull is safe, he leans back and lets out a deep breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding in. “Well then, it sounds like we’ve got the underpinnings of a plan going on here.” He chooses his tenor very carefully so as not to sound overly enthusiastic. On some level, despite all the drifting, he’s aware of how odd it would look if he let himself express as much joy and relief as he’s feeling. Valrae… alive. The realm needs this. “I’d better call things here. Catching up on paperwork isn’t exactly my idea of a good time on the best of days, but with everything up in rampant discord now, I’d be lying if I told you I don’t rush things so I can get back out there. And now,” he permits himself a small smile that -- this time -- really does look the part, “I’ve got something good to strive toward, too.” He’s standing and looking to Hudson and Uma sincerely now, shoulders arched a little higher. He’s still pale, and he’s definitely lost a few pounds he ought not have misplaced, but Lionel seems stronger than he did when the meeting began. “We’re not letting anything happen to Cenril. Your wife and children, and all the rest, will be safe, Hudson. And Uma, I’m sorry for the loss of your husband. I’m sorry the demons of this land’s past couldn’t leave well enough alone when their asses were kicked the first time around.”