Turn 6 Thread

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Re: Turn 6 Thread

Post by The GM on Wed Oct 05, 2016 5:40 pm

[I envision Gracious, Laval and Marina meeting Leonard and Titebite at the gates of the Grand Makuu, then Gracious and Marina's conflict (possibly involving a time skip between), and then Gracious and Laval's future (probably involving a time skip between). I won't be able to do that tonight, but maybe we can have that Interaction tomorrow.]

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Re: Turn 6 Thread

Post by wren on Wed Oct 05, 2016 5:42 pm

[It is very possible that meeting Titebite may be the resolution to the Marina conflict (in that he has a massive blast weapon and is really good at surprising people). But yes.]

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Re: Turn 6 Thread

Post by The GM on Thu Oct 06, 2016 10:26 pm

Laval, Gracious and Marina make their way from the Grand Makuu, having waited in the safety of the cellar for some time. The organ music is dying down, rendering the screams of agony and despair more easily perceivable as the heretics pick their way through the remains of the cathedral. The soldiery and the priests, who took the lion's share of the food and thus the poison, have destroyed themselves at each other. There is no resistance left, no obstacle to simply walking up to the gates.
 
The group finds the gates broken open by the fanatics of Kifodini, but the mob has fortunately already ventured inside the Grand Makuu to satisfy their bloodlust. Instead, the heretics face a familiar figure. Leonard Schneider, looking bruised, torn, exhausted and bloodied, smiles weakly beside a tall, bulky figure in heavy carapace.

"He-hello, Gracious," Leonard ventures, still a little in shock at what he sees.

Gracious smiles weakly, feeling horribly hungover. "Leonard. You made it."

Laval and Marina are both covered in blood not their own and look drained. Laval hangs back a little, content to follow Gracious for now. Marina looks the stranger up and down warily, clearly suspicious. The tall figure stares. He has ginger hair and plain features - his most notable feature, perhaps, is his height: he is easily more than 6 foot.

Leonard similarly hovers, not particularly trustful of Laval or her strange accomplice. After a few moments, he steps forward to embrace Gracious. Gracious returns the embrace.

"I am so very pleased you survived," Gracious tells his friend, "How is the villa? How is Patrick? ...and who is this?"

Remembering, tactlessly, Marina grins at the mention of Patrick. Leonard frowns as he holds Gracious. "What have you been doing in there? You reek of amesec..." he collects his thoughts, looking a little put out. "The villa is fine, Patrick is injured but recovering, there's - there's just... I was in a battle, Gracious! We were trying to draw the soldiers away so you could escape... have you... have you just been drinking?"

"Yeah," Marina responds unhelpfully, "I think I'm still drunk!"

"...Leonard, it's a long story," Gracious pleads. He smiles. "Thank you."

Leonard frowns at Marina, but nods, slightly mollified, by Gracious' gratitude. "This man is called Titebite, Gracious. He said he knew you, and wanted to help you. Haven't you met one another?" He is somewhat anxious at the prospect that he has just taken Titebite's word at face value.

Gracious stares at him.

Titebite stares back. "I believe you knew my friend, Twisby?"

Is this going to be trouble? Laval asks.

Gracious looks blank for a moment, and then a look crosses his face - fear? elation? - something, anyway. "Ah. Yes, I... right. I'm afraid Twisby - um - a travelling companion of mine, Leonard - was caught in an... incursion."

Titebite raises an eyebrow. Leonard looks entirely blank at the strange wording. For her part, Marina yawns widely, not bothering to cover her mouth.

"Say, should we, perhaps, move away from the screams?" Leonard suggests.

"Oh!" Gracious exclaims. "Yes, yes, of course... I had - oh, it's awful, but you know I had almost gotten used to them... it was truly awful in there."

"Aw. But I kinda wanted to..." Marina sighs. "Fine."

"I imagine I would have taken to drinking," Leonard returns forgivingly, before leading the group in the direction of the bottom of the hill.

"The creature that wore the Deacon is dead, Leonard," Gracious tells him. "Your family is avenged. Thought... thought you ought to know."

Laval shivers a little at the mention, but says nothing. The movement catches Gracious' eye, and so he reaches out to her. How are you holding up?

I'm alive.

Are you... how are...

I'm alive.

Gracious expresses concern, sadness, but no emotion is returned. Meanwhile, Leonard nods. He is silent for a few seconds. "Thank you, Gracious," he responds, very quietly.

Marina inspects Titebite as they walk. "So what's your deal?" she asks.

Titebite looks at her and shrugs. "Not sure I have to tell you."

Marina thinks a moment. "True, that."

This man is part of the warband that hired me, Gracious explains to Laval. Though I guess you may have picked up on that.

I... yes. Is it going to be trouble?

I don't think so.

Okay.

I was meant to be acting as support for their agent... Gracious continues. Well, you know how that went.

Yes, Laval acknowledges.

There is the matter of payment to discuss, I suppose, Gracious remarks. I just can't work out if... So this warband follows a mixture of Change and Blood.

Okay.

I... am trying to work out which one he favours.

Oh, Laval returns.

"So, Gracious, do you have a place to stay?" Leonard asks, still a little dazed. "I'm not quite sure what my plans are, but I know I would like to see my son again as soon as possible."

Gracious turns. "Well... not as such. I had thought perhaps - well, I made some friends in Imani when we passed through - it would be good to see them again."

At this, Titebite grimaces. Leonard goes white. "Gracious... our battle was there. Imani... it fell to daemonic powers..." he bows his head. "I'm sorry."

Gracious shakes his head. "Well, thank you."

"I want to go home," Laval says quietly.

Is home on this world, for you? Gracious asks.

At the moment.


... do you... could I...?

Yes, comes the instant response. Please.

Relief flows from Gracious' mind. Good. I would... I would like that very much. He smiles at Leonard. "I think for now, Leonard, let's certainly get to the villa, and then we can discuss things?"

Leonard nods. He turns to the others. "I suppose you can all stay too," he says. To Gracious' eyes, he seems more confident, more assertive. The tailor turns to Laval. "But you mustn't steal any more of my daughter's clothes."

"Do you still have ham?" Marina queries, "I'm hungry."
 
Leonard pauses in confusion. "Hm?" It is very clear that Leonard does not recognise Marina. Whether it was because Marina was too badly burned, or because Leonard did not have much interest in viewing a blackened pseudo-corpse, he does not know her to be the intruder on his household. After all, that individual is dead, in his mind.

Laval looks between Marina and Leonard, expression blank. "Okay." She digs in her pocket, retrieves a very sad-looking bread roll and passes it to Marina.

"Thank you, Leonard," Gracious notes, "That's very generous. And thank you for coordinating with Titebite here. It sounds like you were invaluable!"

"Yes," Laval seconds, "Thank you."
 
Marina loses interest in the conversation, starts eating the bread with gusto. Leonard smiles modestly. "Well, I did my part. I was mostly running on instinct, really, and I saw that dear Patrick was in danger, and then..." he pales again, "Well, I suppose I did what the situation demanded."

"You stepped up!" Gracious insists, "I'm impressed."

"I very much hope I never get used to the business of killing," Leonard returns, by way of half-reply.
 
The group reach towards the bottom of the hill. It is early evening, and the sun is starting to fall, casting brilliant, orange waves across the Swaadi plains.

It occurs to me that Titebite may represent a solution to my Marina problem, Gracious remarks to Laval.

Yes? Would he help?

There is the matter of his warband's payment to me...

You deserve something more than that. I should kill her myself, Laval insists. I could do it now.

Um... Gracious thinks. He registers Laval's mute request to clarify. I'm worried for you.

Laval does not respond.

Should I not be? Gracious asks.

No, you're probably right, Laval acknowledges.

*****

The group trek their way over the Villa von Klossner, night having just broken by the time they reach the mansion gates. It is noticeably empty, to those that have been here before. There are no guards on the gates, and Leonard pushes it open himself, explaining that Fiametti Agosti thought it best, given diminished numbers, to focus their forces inside the building itself. The group makes their way up the garden path, before using the ornate knocker to have them let in. 

The front door is opened by Fiametti Agosti. She appraises each of the guests. She nods to Titebite, smiles towards Gracious and Laval, before her gaze settles on Marina. "Sig Schneider," she announces, "This appears to be the woman who tortured tuo figlio."

Marina looks put out. Her hand goes to her sword. Agosti immediately reacts with violent intent, but Marina is quicker. She darts forward with a blaze of energy, but Agosti is quick on her feet, darting back. Gracious, drawing his sword, joins the fray, swiping ineffectively at Marina: who finds her worst suspicions about the heretic confirmed.
 
Titebite heaves his great axe and swings, but Marina spins to parry, sparks flying off the hilt but the axe holding firm. With an anguished scream of hatred, Leonard stabs at her with his sword, but she beats the blade away, cutting the weapon in two. But she is overwhelmed, and distracted. Agosti draws her chainsword, and buries it into Marina's shoulder. It thirsts deeply, and the killer hisses in pain.
 
Superbly trained, the rapid reaction of the rest of the mercenaries sees them appear almost instantly on the scene. They emerge into the entrance hall, weapons ready. Laval, taken aback by the sudden violence, tries to comprehend the reality of what is happening.

Marina darts wildly, realising that she is outmatched by the sheer numbers against her. She makes to run, but she must first run the gauntlet. Gracious swings at her, but catches his blade on the doorway. Titebite cuts downwards with a mighty blow, but, at the last second, Marina turns and parries the weapon in two. She dodges nimbly from Leonard's grapple, and howls as Agosti's blade finds her again, painfully twisting her leg. Nonetheless, she makes it out of the combat and begins to run.
 
Gracious fires after her, but she is too hard a target, ducking and weaving across the gardens. Titebite, however, takes more time over his shot, an ancient, Swaadi gun soon in his hands. He aims, and fires, an arc of lightning rushing out and striking Marina's body. It cooks her flesh badly, but doesn't slow her down much, and Leonard screams in frustration as he gives a slow pursuit. Agosti brings out her gun and fires, but the hell-round whips past Marina by a whisker as the rest of the mercenaries reach the door, getting ready to fire.
 
Laval steps in the direction of Marina, her face contorted into fear, anger and distress. The gargoyles on the Villa von Klossner walls begin to weep tears, a cosmic force gathering as a scream rent from the veil strikes Marina's mind. Marina howls like a rabid beast, blood pouring from her orifices and she staggers forwards to a walking pace. She steps forward, afraid and betrayed, a growing pain bursting outwards at the back of her mind. When she places a gauntleted hand on the gate, her skull explodes outwards in all directions, and she totters, ungainly, to the floor.
 
But the warp is not done. Laval's mind is thrown out of her body and into Gracious' flesh, and vice versa. They blink, shocked and confused, as they feel what it is like to command each other's bodies. Though it is not quite telepathy, finally Gracious has a chance to see what it is like inside Laval's head.
 
It does not last long, and the immaterium returns both back to their bodies in a few seconds. They reel, fundamentally changed by their experiences, as the rest stare dumbly at the corpse of Marina.
 
[Gracious gains 5 Corruption Points. Laval gains 2 Infamy and 8 Corruption Points. Titebite gains 1 Infamy and 3 Corruption Points.]

Gracious screams horror through the mind-link. Laval briefly echoes numb surprise.

Gracious turns to Leonard. "I'm sorry for bringing her here. She's been with us for some time - friendly but... with the promise of violence underneath. I didn't think... I didn't think we could get away from her."

Leonard has not moved from where he gave short pursuit. "But I..." he stutters. "I don't understand."
 
"Una strega..." Agosti mutters, "But we shall not hold it against them, si? She pauses. "This time, I think, I will confirm the death," she announces, before stepping out towards Marina's body.

"She's dead, Leonard," Gracious urges, "It's over, it's finally over. We... you can't hold on to all this. It will just play inside you, for ever..."

"'Strega' means wych," Leonard responds, uneasy.

Laval looks between Leonard and the soldiers, still visibly frightened but slowly beginning to relax as nobody immediately attacks her.

"Yes," Gracious admits. "Laval... I trust her, Leonard, I trust her implicitly. But... yes." He pauses. "Leonard, I want you to leave here- not now, but soon. I think - I hope - that my friend here can see to it that you and Patrick are safe and well..."

Leonard sighs, but does not press the point. "You had best all come inside," he suggests.

Laval nods mutely, hesitates, then says quietly "Thank you."

"You will be happier if you never see or here of me again, I think," Gracious continues. "But I will miss your friendship, your...." Gracious shrugs, his face upset.

"You're not staying?" Leonard returns.

"Leonard, I..." Gracious's voice chokes a little. "We can talk more inside. But I can't, I don't... you don't want me to stay." I... he begins, to Laval. A rush of emotions pours uncapped from the mindlink. Gracious's mind is racing, the normal careful reservation replaced with a whirlwind. Laval offers comfort in response, but the feeling is hollow, unconvincing.

"No, no, of course," the tailor manages, gathering his poise. "I understand." He pauses at Gracious' words, smiling slightly. "But whatever do you mean, I don't want you to stay?" he asks. "I dare say I cannot stay here either. Lord Klossner: he'll hear about this soon enough. He'll send his men, or pay Agosti, and I will be dead, along with my son, to join the rest of my family."
 
He rests a hand on Gracious' shoulder. "Without your presence, my dearest friend, I think I would have accepted that terrible fate. I would dearly like you to stay beside me, whatever you say. But I understand, too, the enormity of what we have done the last few days. I understand that we must part." He smiles again, a tear running down his cheek. "I just - thank you, Gracious."
 
He chokes slightly, nodding. "You should all stay the night, at least, and take food and water for your journeys ahead. No doubt we've all got long walks ahead of us."

"Thank you," Laval repeats, but finds nothing else to say.

"You have my gratitude too, Laval," Leonard responds, if a little awkwardly. She shakes her head in response, tears welling in her eyes.

Can we sit and talk, alone for a little while? Gracious asks her.

Of course.

Gracious briefly speaks to Titebite - asking him to talk to him later. The tall man nods, face expressionless. They make their way into the Villa von Klossner. It is instantly apparent that the servants have long since left the mansion. It is deathly quiet, once a bustling house of servants and socialites, a brooding ghost of its former glories. Nonetheless, the mercenaries have been brewing a pot of something warm, and Leonard is more than adept at providing the tea. He hurries to find his son after playing host, whilst the mercenaries and Titebite leave Gracious and Laval alone in the tearoom.

Laval is crying again, quietly, holding her teacup tightly as if it could provide comfort. Gracious turns to her and moves a little closer, arms open, but hesitant. "Laval?"

She puts the tea down and goes to Gracious. She too is hesitant at first, then abruptly clings tightly to his clothes and starts sobbing. He holds her close, and begins to quietly cry himself. After a moment's hesitation, the mind link opens as well, Laval finally letting her emotions spill forth. Grief, misery, self-loathing, and a fear so deep that it feels like it will never go away. Gracious responds with wordless thoughts of comfort, as if he cannot find the words to see as he feels.

I am so very glad I met you, he tells her. The notion produces simultaneous spikes of warmth and guilt. All that you did, all that we have done, together... We... you were incredible. And I know... I understand your guilt. I... yes. But... oh! Oh I can "barely find the" words.

Words... Laval mutters. I'd read your mind, but my soul's flayed raw and I'm not sure I could take it. Her tears slow, and she reluctantly disengages one hand from Gracious to wipe her nose with a sniffle, before holding on tight again.

Talk to me? Gracious begs.

What... what about? Laval asks.

What you are feeling, I suppose?

There is confusion. You already know.

Ah, I... Gracious thinks. Why are you so afraid? We're... we're safe. Whatever else...

I'm not sure I remember how not to be, Laval admits. I've been afraid since... since I set out, I suppose. I can't believe it's over.

Yes. I... how long has it been? It seems... do you remember when we met, all that time ago?

Yes, clear as day. I was going to try and drive you out of town, but... well, now look at us.

Ha! I can't remember what I thought. I think I hoped to find a diplomatic solution.

I suppose now I never will have an excuse to poison you.

Ha! Gracious mentally laughs. It's strange. If Twisby hadn't died... Well, he would have been there, every step of the way, keeping me on track. I doubt things would have... they would have been different. Fate.

It's many-stranded, Laval agrees. I make poisons, you know? I'm not sure why I've been holding that back...

Ah, hence the... Gracious twigs, Yes.

I guess I thought you'd appreciate the joke if it came to it, Laval remarks.

So you know chymistry too? Gracious exclaims. You never said!

There is tentative humour echoing from Laval's mind. It never seemed like a good time.

No.

I'm not as good as you by a long shot, though.

Oh, it was non-stop, wasn't it... 

Laval shudders, rests her head against Gracious shoulder. At least Marina's dealt with.

Yes. It happened so fast, and then... Gracious pauses. Did you feel it too, did you... I thought I had gone mad.

Maybe we did? Laval darkly notes.

I saw the world behind your eyes. And you?

Vice versa. It was... certainly the weirdest side effect I've ever had. I shouldn't have drawn so much power, but she was so far away...

Emotions of warmth flow from Gracious to Laval. You ended it. Imagine our fear now if she had lived. She was a strange one. I don't know... she lived her life by a weird code.

Another thing I never wanted to know I could do, but... Laval trails off. At least I can defend myself a bit.

One puts down dogs when the frothing mouth takes them, Gracious tells her. I think... oh, I don't know. I never quite understood her.

How do you mean?

I understand the need to hurt, to control - I recognise... yes. But she was so... why did she come here? Gracious wonders. She seemed so unable to see the possibility of her... She's gone, I suppose. That's what matters. Will your own people care? She wasn't part of them, no?

I don't know, Laval thinks. Maybe she thought she could take them on? I.. don't think she expected us to betray her. No, they won't care. She's not one of us. There is weary resignation in her mind. Sometimes when people break they just never put themselves back together again.

Did you look inside her mind, deeply? Gracious queries.

Yes. Regret echoes through Laval's mind.

Gracious pauses. ...when we leave, do you want to... I can't even remember what happened to Vex's remains. I thought you might want to... say goodbye.

Bodies are just vessels, Laval returns.

Yeah, somehow I thought you might say that, Gracious remarks. I suppose I saw that first hand today.

Laval shivers again. I'm glad that didn't stick. Not that there's anything wrong with your body, she adds, But I prefer mine.

No, Gracious assures her. I know the feeling. I'm used to this one, even if it's rather more worn than it was. I'm not sure the wounds that demon left will ever heal completely. I still... it still hurts a little, under the mark.

If I practice, I might be able to figure something out, Laval offers.

Well, you know... Gracious responds. It's a reminder of you saving my life.

Vex was... Laval continues. Vex was convinced it's possible to regrow limbs. Loosening a little scar tissue shouldn't be too hard...

Huh.

He had a mad plan involving standing half in the warp to make time go faster.

Perhaps I'm done with rituals for the moment, Gracious returns.

Agreement readily returns.

*****

The hour late, the weary heretics rest in the beds of the Villa von Klossner for the last time, guarded by the Aventine mercenaries. They sleep soundly. In the months that follow, perhaps the nightmares and dreams will come, of the exploits they pursued to destroy the Grand Makuu. But, tonight, they are simply too exhausted.

In the morning, the various parties prepare to be going forth. Leonard and Patrick are travelling with the Aventine mercenaries, Agosti having promised to see them on a shuttle before she checks for instructions from Lord Klossner. They plan to head for one of the distant Imperial cities, where they can sell some of the mansion valuables to secure safe transport out. Titebite, meanwhile, plans to return to his warband, the task done.

Gracious makes his way to Titebite, pausing to ask if Laval wants to join him.

"I don't know the man... unless you want me there, I... I don't care."

"Sure. I'm not sure I mind that much! I'll... I'll see you in a bit, I guess."

"Mm," the wych responds groggily.

Gracious find Titebite, and brings him into a small sitting-room. "So," he begins.

Titebite pauses. "My brother's death. What happened?"

"He... uh... so... he tried to do a ritual, in... in Imani, when we first arrived. He died, but not before... it wasn't pretty".

Titebite grimaces, and suddenly draws his axe at high speed, stopping it inches from the floor, letting out a frustrated grunt. Gracious sees a thin scar across its handle, where the armourer has welded his weapon back together after Marina's assault. "Foolish boy!" Titebite exclaims. "Magic... He always failed to respect the law of the weapon. It claimed him." He turns to face Gracious. "Why did you fail to report this immediately?"

"I had no means to... and it was hardly..."

"And by then you had made different allies," Titebite scolds, "Perhaps you even thought to betray our compact?"

Gracious cocks his head. "Ah... you wound me. Look what I have wrought! You brought me onboard - you brought me to this gods-damned rock! - because you wanted someone with my skills. Well, I delivered."

The silver-tongued heretic continues. "There were other warbands with other agents here. In one case, I... allied... with them - and it was your plan, your goals, that succeeded. In the other case, we defeated them. When the people of the gods tell the story of this place - and they will - The Weapon is the War will be the warband they speak of." He nods. "Oh, they'll know me. And Laval, I think. And that strange soul who walked as a ghost, I suppose... But it's all in how you tell it. And the winners get to tell the story."

Titebite sits and waits for Gracious to finish his mini-tirade. "Are you done?" he asks.

"I've said it as I called it," Gracious returns.

Titebite smiles. "I can't really deny it, I suppose, filthy little Slaaneshi that you are."

"Which brings us on to the delicate matter of payment," Gracious ventures.

"...go on."

"I think our initial talk was of some large-figure sum?" Gracious remarks. "But you said you'd reward based on success... Given that, here's what I want. I want a way off this world myself, when I decide to leave. I'm going with my... I'm going with Laval, for now, and she's based here. But when I need to - and I'm sure I will, one way or another - you'll help me leave, just as you got me here. Before things go totally to hell."

"Secondly, I want..." Gracious tells Titebite, "It's Leonard. I want you to swear on the Star of Eight: you will find what resources you can give him, what wealth you can set him up with, you will get him off this world, and you will use every contact you have to find him and Patrick somewhere safe. He... the Prince will call to him, one day, I think. He has beauty in his soul. But he... he's not ready yet."

"Finally," Gracious smiles, "Please, you know, recommend my services. I solve problems. Well... problems change, around me."

Titebite sits back, thinking. Slowly, he nods. "I will do these things, I suppose. You're getting soft: I heard you didn't care about anyone at all."

"...well, you know, I suppose there's a first time for every experience. But I'd thank you not to spread that sort of... I have a reputation to maintain. Consciences are bad for, you know, reputation."

Titebite smiles, and laughs a deep, booming laugh. "What a strange sort of weasel you are, Gracious Obscura! Weasels die, you know, they get skinned by hunters. The weapon is the war, and the war is all there is. You can't run forever from it."

Gracious shrugs. "Perhaps. You haven't seen me run." He leaves, whistling, leaving Titebite still chortling to himself.

"Gracious? Laval? ... Mr Titebite?" Leonard calls from the entrance hall. When the heretics gather, they find hiking bags waiting for them, stocked with supplies of food, drink and clothes.

"Leonard! Oh... thank you."

The tailor smiles in response. "Patrick! We're going soon!" he calls up the stairs. The mercenaries make their way out from the banquet hall, lazily checking their weapons.

"You are kind." Laval is wearing her own clothes again, tattered as they are.

Leonard frowns in response. "I've thought about it, and... I'm not taking Gerhild's clothes with me. It shouldn't be left for that brutish man. Take what you like, but remember who wore them, please." He chokes up slightly, producing a handkerchief and wiping at his eyes.

"I..." Gracious begins, "Leonard. Mr. Titebite has agreed - I am owed some favours from him. Long story. He will help you leave, help you find a shuttle, give you enough money, a place to go... I can't guarantee you'll be safe, you know. It's a big world."

"You think I should go with him, then?" Leonard asks, with some trepidation.

"I have a feeling that... well, perhaps he'll find you some place on the edges. A new sky. New stars." Gracious nods. "I think he still has some business on this world. But for now... yes. I... perhaps one day, we will meet again. Who knows, you know? Fate is a funny thing."

"We are to go our separate ways, then, Sig Schneider?" Agosti queries with a slight smile.

"It appears so..." Leonard responds distractedly, his attention mostly on Gracious. He steps forward towards the heretic. "I believe in my heart we will," he tells Gracious, with such certainty that it is hard to disbelieve him.

Gracious embraces him. Inside, he wills the mark that lies beneath the shirt and coat he wears to speak to Leonard, for the path of excess to call to him... in the fullness and rightness of time. The hairs on the back of Leonard's neck rise slightly, but he embraces Gracious tightly.

"Well," Agosti remarks, gathering her things and signalling to the soldiers. "Arrivederci! You are all strange. Perhaps it is best we never met, if anyone asks, no?"

"My lips are sealed," Laval assures her.

Gracious grins. "Well, it was good to have never met you."

"And you, Sig Obscura."

The Aventine mercenaries file out. They number five in all, one carried on a makeshift stretcher, groaning from savage burn wounds. They make their way to the gate, and begin their long journey back to the Imperial lines.

Titebite easily lifts the rucksack, and turns to Leonard. "Well, Leonard, it seems we shall be together a little longer. You... well, who chooses their friends, I suppose. Where is there peace, in this universe? But perhaps you can find some respite, for a time."

"I have left everything behind for my family once before," Leonard responds. "What is a second time?" He smiles fondly at his son as Patrick makes his way down the stairs. He is bruised, and looks exceptionally tired, but some light has returned to his baby-blue eyes and he takes his bag with a slight smile to his father. 

Titebite appraises him. "And young Patrick! Perhaps we can teach him a little of how to defend himself. A young person should know the weapon that calls to them." 

Patrick grimaces at Titebite's remark, grunting slightly.

"Well, I suppose this is farewell, for now," Leonard announces. He reaches out to shake Laval's hand.

She shakes, looking a little surprised. "I wish you the best of luck."

Leonard nods. "And you." He turns to Gracious. "We'll meet again," he promises, holding back tears. He nods to Titebite, and they begin making their way in the direction of a brighter future, his son close behind.

Laval picks up her bag after a few minutes, grimacing a little at the effort. "So. Sure you don't want to lose our minds, hole up in this house and declare ourselves rulers of this little patch of arid dirt?"

"I think that's the goal of every two-bit cult leader in about a hundred-mile radius," Gracious admits. "I say, leave them to it."

"I suppose we'd better start walking then."

He nods, smiling. "Well... you know the way."

*****

It is a very long walk, back past faltering Imperial forces and burned out villages into the territory firmly claimed by Chaos. Laval's mood improves as the days pass, though she frequently wakes screaming from nightmares. By the time they draw near to the town claimed by the Lightbringers, she is animated and jittery, enthusiasm mixing with fear that something may have gone wrong in her absence.

Within a few miles, she suddenly relaxes, smiling as she establishes telepathic contact. By the time Laval and Gracious reach the town proper, a small crowd has gathered to see them arrive - both wary locals and armoured off-worlders. A small cheer goes up as Laval waves, but it is only a few voices. The mood seems mixed, a little tense. Gracious stands close to Laval, slightly wary.

"It's okay," Laval tells him. A woman steps out from the crowd, arms open, and suddenly forgetting her weariness, Laval runs forwards to embrace her, starts crying. Gracious stands, relaxing a little, looking out across the crowd. He realises he is relieved to see people again - an inherently social person, he has missed the possibilities of a crowd.

"Who is your new friend?" the woman asks. "Come closer."

"Sajin, this is Gracious," Laval introduces him. "A good friend. Gracious, Sajin. My tutor."

Gracious approaches, offering his hand in polite greeting. "Lovely to meet you."

The heretics gather closer around Laval, while the locals shrink back. It is obvious that these are Laval's people, she knows them all and is returning to friends. Sajin shakes Gracious' hand with a warm smile.

"You've grown stronger," someone comments, and then suddenly everyone is talking at once, demanding to know what happened, asking about Vex, asking about Gracious. Gracious looks at Laval, smiling. She smiles back, tears in her eyes as she tries to answer a dozen questions at once. 

After a minute, the hubbub is cut through by the quiet sound of someone clearing their throat. The crowd quiets down in deference to the newcomer, a scarred and robed woman wearing the sign of Tzeentch prominently about her neck. "Laval," she acknowledges, then beckons. "With me."

"Of course," Laval responds, suddenly nervous. "And... Gracious?"

"Yes, bring him."

Gracious follows, trying to get a read on the woman. The woman carries herself with obvious confidence, and does not seem well pleased. The air shimmers about her, and as she turns to lead them into one of the buildings, the tip of a barbed tail is visible moving beneath her robes.

Laval follows obediently, through a guarded entrance-way into a room decorated with blue curtains and many lanterns. The woman seats herself in a chair at the head of a low table. "Sit," she instructs, and Laval does so. Gracious sits also, projecting an air of careful respect.

"My lady," Laval acknowledges, her tone deferential but with an edge of defiance. "Is there a problem?"

"Don't play coy with me, Laval. This, I presume, is Gracious Obscura?"

"I am," Gracious answers.

"Brave, coming here," the woman responds.

"I prefer to think of it as stupid," Gracious smiles. She does not look impressed in response, but perhaps unimpressed is her resting state. "I came with Laval," Gracious adds.

"I noticed."

"Perhaps you're better asking her, then, why I am here?" Gracious responds, a little defensively.

"I'm not a slave, Azine," Laval speaks up. "I'm free to choose what I need over your glory."

The two make eye contact, and hold it. After a few seconds, Laval starts to flinch with discomfort, but she does not look away. Less than a minute after that, the moment passes. Laval makes a small noise of pain, looks down. Gracious tenses. He looks from Laval to Azine, his face distrustful.

"It's fine," Laval tells him. "Just... making my report." Gracious relaxes a little in response.

"And what do you have to say for yourself, hm?" Azine addresses Gracious.

"I'm really quite excellent at what I do, and I was wondering if you had any jobs avaliable?" he responds cheekily.

Gracious feels the pressure of her mind against his defences, sharper and colder than Laval's approach, yet not a wholly unfamiliar sensation. He pushes back, perhaps not expecting to win, but all the same... 

Azine delicately peels back Gracious' defences, but pauses at the surface thoughts. His name is Gracious Obscura. He is wary, masking a level of contentment threatened by this exchange. He carries a permanent wound from the dungeons of the Makuu, tiring more easily than before. Resounding through his mind is the fear that everything is going to go horribly wrong, and that he and Laval will have to part.

"You will fly with us when we leave, then?" Azine asks aloud.

"That was my plan," Gracious acknowledges, "Though I suppose I would like to know where you're going."

A flicker of communication passes between the wyches, only subtle shifts of expression betraying the silent conversation.
"Neither of you need to know that yet," Azine tells them.

"So that's a yes on the job, then?" Gracious asks.

"I have no intention of paying you beyond feeding and sheltering you, if that is what you are asking."

"That I'll accept," Gracious shrugs.

Azine sighs, her expression softening some. "Children." She pauses. "Go then, celebrate. I will concede you have done well." 

Something Azine says silently makes Laval wince, but it is followed by a smile, if perhaps a slightly embarrassed one.

"You are dismissed," Azine clarifies.

Gracious nods, smiling, relaxing properly, and walks towards the door, waiting for Laval. Laval goes to him, takes his hand, and smiles as she returns, with Gracious, to her waiting friends.

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