The step through the portal is cold – it pulls at the mind and the body in equal measure, a darkness that touches thought and being. Of course, it’s only momentary, passing quickly – and it leaves the two, the Cavalier and the Leafy Assassin standing at the edge of a large courtyard surrounded in high, shadowed walls.
Across the open space – on the far side of a well, and encompassing the servant’s quarters? There is an encampment – far too real tents, cookfires – the sounds of conversation, laughter, and – yes – music vie with the ringing of the hammer at a forge and the sounds of children. The great keep stands to the left, the castle rising high and forbidding – windows flickering with bluewhite light that is far colder than the camp’s more traditional orange fires and torchlight.
Great gates stand behind the pair – currently open, and drawbridge down – two massive, half-real, armored forms stand sentinel of the swirling land of mists and strange geometry beyond.
Maya seems amused – and unphased – by the transition. “… not so awful, was it?”
It’s like returning to the pod, though not nearly as warm. But it’s filled with thoughts and voices that aren’t his own, seeping into his own consciousness. It’s there, but in the next instance it’s not. Though Tadhgn’s emergence was years away, it was still close enough to call on the memory for comparison.
But he doesn’t seem to mind it. Or if he does, he doesn’t show it, other than a small shiver the chill leaves in it’s wake with a sound akin to the rustle of leaves in the fall wind. Golden eyes are wide, and a smile on the Sylvari’s face. The energy and excitement he exudes is nigh palpable, and does a fair job in of itself warming up the air again. In fact, he’s practically vibrating as he takes his first step forward, eager to start this adventure.
“When is the next one?” the thief asks, giving one of the guards an exuberant wave.
“Next one what?”
The guard doesn’t even so much as indicate it notices Tag – there’s no face under the helm. Bits fade in and out..
Maya grins, and heads forward, sweeping off her hat and running gloved fingers through her hair. “You know, I know it’s oversaid, but there’s nothing quite like coming home. C’mon – I need to check on a few things.”
“Bye Edgar,” the Sylvari all but whispers with a hand cupped to the side of his mouth as he trails after Maya, a bounce in his step. However, he doesn’t answer her question. Whether he was being intentionally cryptic, or his attentions had already been diverted elsewhere was really uncertain.
However, he does at least keep close at Maya’s heel; somewhat reassuring.
The two sweep in among the tents – Maya explaining as she goes – “… when we first started venturing out, we focused on the failures of the Seraph and the ‘queen’ – ” One can /hear/ the quotes around that word – “And I spent most of my time rescuing humans from the Centaur and Krait – that’s who all of these people are.” SHe smiles, proud – “Well, the ones that chose to return with us instead of go back to lives they didn’t really have. Hiya, Serena!” A young woman gets a quick hug as Maya passes by.
She goes on – “I love this part of the castle – it feels good to know we’re doing something worthwhile. See there? We rescued that whole family from a Centaur raiding party – ” She waves to one of the children. “Hungry?” That gets absently tossed to Tag – “I need to check in with Vance – he’s the local… mayor? I suppose? Leader. But there’s always something on at the big tent there.”
The way Tadhgn gazes about the camp might suggest aimless curiosity; like a child in a shop full of candy and toys, overwhelmed with where to look first. The expression on the Sylvari’s face seemed to match the metaphor. His steps were light and quick, crisscross and dance like on his toes. Even if he fell paces behind, in the next instant, he’d be back in step with his cavalier escort. None of this would betray the underlying observations he was making.
Something was off here. It didn’t take long for that nagging to settle in at the back of the sprout’s mind. He didn’t know just what yet, but something.
He made note of every face. Their expressions and body language. Their faces were down cast, and evasive. Worry, tension, un ease lined their every move until Maya crossed their path. A change would occur. It was fleeting and only lasted as long as Maya’s presence. It was a sense of relief, familiarity, like seeing an old friend. But the moment they were clear of her shadow, her embrace, her smile, they returned to their shells like clams shutting in the tide.
Every slope of a tent or lean-to. Each as spartan as the next, though a few were strewn with personal affects to make it seem as much a home as possible. The feeling they all came close, but not quite there, was heavy.
“Aahh~,” Tadhgn says with wonder in his voice, waving in turn to the child Maya hailed. It was no less energetic than the one he’d given the guard.
“What kinds of somethings?”
“I dunno. Let’s find out? I do need to check in, though. I’m overdue for another supply run. As you can probably imagine, it can be challenging to get everything needed.”
Maya smiles, looking to the camp. “It’ll definitely be nice when we can get everyone back to solid ground. Hopefully, it won’t be too much longer. ”
She breezes into the long tent.. where the smell of food is far stronger. Simple faire- bread, cheese, wine and water, a surprising amount of game meats. Some vegetables, yes, but probably too few of those. Maya thieves a small loaf of brown bread, giving the cook- a too thin older woman- a one-armed hug.
“Maya!” The woman hugs back. “You weren’t due back for another twoday!”
“I’m not really back, Greta.. just showing a new friend around the camp. But… I haven’t forgotten. I’ll get that fabric to you when I’m really back.”
“Good. Marta desperately needs new clothing.. she’s growing like a weed.”
The two talk about inconsequentials for a moment.
He can hear the hope, but also the trepidation in Maya’s voice as she vents her wishes for the camp’s future. But he doesn’t express the notice, save for how he dips his head to catch her gaze with his smile.
With that, he continues to follow her lead, slipping into the tent just before the flap falls shut behind him.
While the sylvari doesn’t take much, his sticky fingers can’t but help themselves to a few stacks of jerky. And maybe a bottle of wine. The items disappear into the seemingly endless void of his pockets, as if they had never existed in the first place. Snack for the road. Or something.
Once Maya’s eyes leave him, he wanders. Not far. For now anyways. But he wanders. And he listens as he wanders. And he observes…
The camp.. and the servant’s quarters beyond it aren’t a terrible home, by any stretch- but the sheer strangeness of the Mists is telling on these people who were never meant to be here while living. There’s a tiredness to the place, nervousness at the faceless, half there soldiers that guard it, worried glances at the cold blue lights of the keep.
It perhaps is telling that everyone here is human. The Sylvari isn’t treated poorly, but he’s never completely welcome.. with many unsure glances at the silent guards when he’s near.
He rummages through food stores.. noting just how low they really are, sees threadbare fabrics and secondhand clothing, sees the small library and the limited stores of simple things like fuel for the fire.
They’re making do, not terribly badly, but…
And yet. There is music. Laughter. Near the main tent a group of very amateur musicians strike up a dance. People everywhere will find an excuse to enjoy themselves.. here is no exception.
Maya finds him eventually, with a smile, having set aside her coat. “No one gave you any trouble, I hope?”
The fact he is not only a stranger among these people, but the only non-human that walks in their midst was not lost on the plant. He was accustomed to the looks thrown his way and the prejudices harbored against his kind in a world post-Mordremoth, even if he would never truly understand them. It didn’t phase him so much as the sheer lack of anyone else and their dwindling stores. And their fear of the keep.
Perhaps Kessler was right, Tadhgn found himself musing as he trailed aimlessly around the tent. Of course, it wasn’t any secret of how the humans arrived on Tyrian soil, known even to a fresh budded weed like him. Though the thread he follows is more… perhaps this place is the closest thing from where they came-
Of course is thought is cut completely short and practically forgotten as he nearly runs headlong into Maya herself. Those golden eyes blink at her in the seconds it takes him to process her words, before his own smile quickly returns. “Me? Trouble? Nah.”
“Good. He has me negotiating with the Asura and your people, but … well. I think he still harbors a great deal of suspicion toward the Charr, and it carries over to a native lack of trust.” She waves a hand – “One day it won’t matter – he’ll come around.”
She smiles back at the camp – “These are good people – I.. just wish I could do better for them. Connections between this world and ours are hard to maintain – It usually falls on me to ferry supplies, and I can only carry so much. It would be easier if people were allowed to believe in our cause.”
Maya offers him a hand. “So. Dancing or more wandering? I promised to show you what we are – I want you to see. I want the chance to earn your trust – and the Vanguard’s. We don’t have to be enemies – your commander is my commander, after all.”
“The King?” Tadhgn asks, again dipping his head to catch Maya’s gaze. He knows the answer. Or he can infer fairly well. One of his many talents that had landed him somehow in the Whisper’s radar. But he plays the ignorance quite well. “Who is he anyway?”
The sylvari keeps pace this time, placing his hands behind his head and lacing his fingers as he bounced on his toes. Though he watches the changes on Maya’s face, taking note of her tone, her expression. More bullet points on the growing log of his observations.
The cold light of the king’s keep, however, kept lurking in both his peripheral, and his attention.
That attention seemed hard to hold, contrary to his rapt observations.
“I wanna see everything!” Tadhgn exclaims, spreading his hands out in front of him, and then over his head.
“He is… the King. The rightful king of Ascalon, both when it was and now.” …. her eyes. Oh, her eyes – brilliant blue shifts from one blink to another to black – and then there’s nothing there but pits of shadow, one that grows darker as she speaks.
“It’s impossible, I know – but it is. You won’t be allowed to truly believe me, but his rule was never meant to fall as it did. All of this? It’s the beginning of correcting it – of getting behind the … working, or curse, or whatever you’d like to call it that literally won’t let anyone see.”
She sighs – regretful – “Would that he could break it across Tyria – but so far, he’s only managed to do it for us three, and that at great cost.” She leads him toward a set of outbuildings.. stables? “So… we try to do what we can. Once the false queen is brought down, then perhaps we can actually, finally, have everyone see and understand. We can’t wholly undo the horrors of the past – but we can start where we should be -with real freedom, looking at the world without blinders.”
Tadhgn won’t even pretend to understand Krytan- or human for that matter- politics. A good bit of knowledge had filtered through the Dream, shared by those before him who were far more interested in studying the subject. And he did have a fairly decent grasp on the history of Ascalon and it’s neighbors through his studies with Isolde and stacks of books and papers in the Whispers Library, and several sealed files he’d managed to peep a glance at before he was less than gently ushered away. And while none of those had referred to anyone directly in such a manner, he was able to make his own deductions.
Curious, though, how her eyes turn. If a bit disconcerting. But the smile on the thief’s face doesn’t change as he stares into them perhaps a bit to intently, and perhaps a bit too long. The phosphorous glow through the grooves of his face brightens ever so slightly.
Still, he follows.
“Is it freedom, though?”
“I have always thought so – ” On this conversational ground.. her eyes clear to that soft violet-blue. “Freedom is the capacity to truly choose your destiny – the one thing that can’t be taken from you under most circumstances… and the reason Kralkatorrik was as horrid as he was. Taking that – taking the shape of someone’s future – that’s the real horror.”
She sighs – leading the way into a stable filled with fantastic shadowed beasts – some winged, some hoofed, some raptor-like, all of them flickering and dim, sometimes there, sometimes bare outlines. She pats one shadow fondly – like all the others, its stillness is unsettling. “I know the others fight for different reasons. Dasha, for loyalty, Izzy for the joy of it and the challenge. For me? It is.. a bit more esoteric. I can’t abide how the world is .. locked in a lie, prevented from seeing it… I can’t imagine anything worse.”
The pep never leaves the Sylvari’s step. At this point it’s getting harder and harder to decipher whether it was a ruse, or if this was just in his nature. He flits about the stable like a little moth, curious about each creature in turn.
They’re incorporeal. Yet she sees them as whole.
He reaches forward, perhaps against his better judgment, to stroke a figure he assumes is a raptor. Shadow swirls about his hand, and his touch finds nothing solid.
Curiouser and curiouser.
“Izzy?” he asks, his insatiable curiosity piqued yet again. She’d have his full attention for another few seconds, even if the rest of her words were not lost on him.
Locked in a lie, hm.
He feels a twinge of sadness on Maya’s behalf as the shadow raptor trills, and the shadow coils about his arm now.
Maya shakes her head. “Just a friend.” She moves on through the stables, taking a back door to a long … garden? Garden.
It’s more like the faint memory of something garden-like, with half-formed trees and various ‘sketched in’ bits of bench and rock and landscaping; the great wall of the keep is thin here, with holes that slowly move across its surface; the Mists beyond are dark and deep and forbidding. Maya moves through the space as though all of the … things.. here are real.
They are no more substantial than dreams.
“How… how is the Commander?” That question has been on the tip of her tongue for an hour or more, and she finally lets it out. “I know.. he’s forgotten almost everything. That’s what the… let’s call it enchantment?.. does. But – he’s.. at least happy?”
He keeps watching her with interest, and can’t help but wonder what it is she sees. It’s becoming clearer their experience, closer and closer to the keep, is vastly different.
The shadows, the mist, the missing pieces. They all should instill a sense of forboding and dread in a wiser man. But instead, Tadhgn finds himself wanting to know more. There was a certain thrill to it, and the unknown that pushes him further ahead, eventually overtaking Maya’s lead.
“Hm?” he asks, spinning on the ball of a foot to face her, and continuing to walk backwards, “Oh! Mr. Riathan? He’s pretty great.” He spins again. “And he seems to be happy! And really glowy.”
“… happy?” Her voice catches a bit. “Oh. Y.. yes. I’m glad. He deserves happiness.” She sighs – then.. assumes her tour-guide role again, as seamlessly as she can manage. “The east gardens – I like this one. It’s quieter than the King’s Garden, and a bit more private. Unsuitable for Tyrian plants, but.. these mist lilies are nice in their own way.” She moves around a planter that isn’t there – “I can’t take you into the Keep proper – but we can at least hit the library wing. If we’re quiet.”
The grin that crosses Tadhgn’s face is just impish as it is ecstatic. Combined with the mischievous gleam in his now glowing eyes, it was difficult to determine just how much truth his next words held, “Okay, I’ll be good.”
Another twirl, and he falls in step beside Maya, allowing her to once more take the lead.
She takes him in through a postern door into one of the wings of the keep proper – the ‘east’, for what that matters in this strange space – and the Keep itself is far more ‘solid’ than the rest of the courtyard and walls. The stones are cold to the touch; they feel… strange. Like stone and somehow the memory of stone, more literary than real.
She leads him past several doors – most are open, and show empty storerooms, or spaces piled haphazardly with broken furnishings and rolled tapestries.
It’s odd, really. These spaces are what one might expect for a castle-under-siege, not an operating space; it lends more credence to the idea that this is more a memory of a place than a real one, frozen in some moment in time. Two rights, a left – and she pushes open a pair of heavy doors into a library, lit with blue-orange lights from wall sconces that burn without fuel, and whose flickering light casts odd and pale shadows.
The room is grand and large, sweeping up through two levels of bookshelves, with ladders and grand staircases – grand tapestries soften the two largest walls, showing events from the great kingdom long before its fall. Writing and reading tables occupy most of the floor, a great catalog to one side just waiting for someone to look through it…
…but there are so few books. There are hints and shadows of books on every shelf, wavy and wan – and spread throughout the space are perhaps fifty, maybe a hundred actual volumes, tucked on shelves here and there. The nearest volumes? When Tag goes to touch them – they are either brand new, that is taken from Tyria proper – or old to the point of flaking leather covers and barely readable titles. It is clear however, that that isn’t what Maya sees – she takes in the library with the look of an avid reader; this may be one of her places of retreat.
“It’s probably just us at this hour – I’ve got a couple of things I need to get. If you want, feel free to look around for a bit; I’m sorry to add a bit of work to this, but… you know how it is.”
The grin that remains on his face is comparable to that of a troublemaking child, sneaking into places they should not be in order to be up to no good. It’s perhaps infectious as he darts about Maya, taking in the oddities that surround him.
And odd, the scene was. Completely puzzling, even. To say he’s starting to put pieces together was a lie, as he’d been laying them down as he’d retrieved them. But the picture those little tidbits and morsels of observation and information were painting was becoming more and more clear.
But what wasn’t clear, exactly, was just to what end… and why. Surely it wasn’t as cut and dry as his escort made things out to be, right? Though, the Elder Dragons and the Imperator had similar superficial motives, themselves. Or something.
With a nod, he takes Maya’s offer, and runs with it. Well, figuratively, though it may as well have been literally with how quickly the sprout could disappear once left unattended. He’s inspecting the shadows and figments of books and empty pages… holes in the facade… and where they may lead.
The shadows and figments… are nondescript at best. There should be books, and so there are books – or at least, perhaps the memories of books. Maya seems oblivious to it all as she moves down among the shelves, humming slightly – not really paying any attention to Tag.
He was, after all, being good.
From somewhere deeper in the castle, the sound of a heavy door slamming shut can be heard, and Maya? She finds one of the volumes she’s hunting (alone on a shelf, halfway up a wall) and pages through it.
To the sylvari’s credit, he was behaving. Well, that was certainly a word for his current but fleeting hyper fixation. He’d managed to amuse himself for the time being by sticking his entire arm though one of the gaps of shadow, and watching gleefully as he waved it through a new hole in the illusion each time, sometimes on the opposite side of the room.
At least, until something else far more interesting grabbed his attention.
The beat that follows has him tossing a glance from his periphery toward Maya, judging her reaction. The whole while, he listens. How does it echo? does it echo? What follows? Nothing seems to happen. Maya is undisturbed. Silence falls around them. Still, he casts a curious glance down the void corridor.
There’s a battle waging in Tadghn’s head. His desire to chase whomever stalked the rest of the keep was directly at odds with snooping over Maya’s shoulder, and wheedling more out of her. It was a short lived one that the ensuing silence from the depths of the keep managed to lose.
“Whatcha readin’?” his question comes directly over Maya’s left ear, as he hovers behind her, having situated himself on one of those phantom shelves.
Maya actually jumps… and laughs, despite herself. “… political theory. Trying to get my head around something a couple of nobles told me in the Reach.” She offers the book – On The Houses of Kryta by some stuffy academian… it’s fairly new, as books go, perhaps only a year or two old.
“The troublesome part of changing the world is that most people in it do not have the noblest of motivations. That means having to appeal to their self-interest – which is often conflicting and messy.” Maya pats the book, absently – “And figuring out what’s really in that interest can be more difficult than blindfolded tapestry weaving.”
“Which is not fun, no matter what you’re thinking.”
“Being honest? I don’t much care for nobility. I didn’t when I worked in Tyria, and I don’t now – heredity as a source of ongoing influence strikes me as self-defeating.” A pause. “… that, and I still remember begging and dreaming of having an actual house when I was young, and to hear some stuffed-shirt jackass fluff his feathers about how important he is makes me want to strangle them. Thus, why Izzy rarely lets me into parties.”
Tadhgn stares at her, unblinking. Anyone else might have been unnerved, but it was fair to assume Maya had quickly become accustomed to the sylvari’s quirks in the time they’ve spent together. It’s only when she finishes talking that he dares to blink, all while kicking back to lounge precariously between the lip of the shelf and the unoccupied rung of the ladder.
“Sounds boring,” he replies, crossing his legs at the ankle, and his hands behind his head. “You should meet my friend Roderik. He says the same thing.”
A beat goes by. “Do you have parties here?”
“…no. There never seems to be time.” Maya sighs, and leans against the bookshelf, looking wistfully out at the main door. “Oh, the refugees do. Dancing, music – but… before they came along? It has just been.. fighting and planning, mostly. Now.. well. It’s lonelier. With the Commander gone, we always seem to be moving in different directions, you know? Just too much to do.”
He’s unconvinced. She’s standing there, not doing anything right now! She has plenty of time. There’s a short burst of a laugh that comes from the back of his throat.
“Well there’s his problem!” Tadhgn exclaims as he throws his hands upward. He stays surprisingly balanced. “No wonder no one wants to come here. No parties, no fun. Big failure on Mr. King’s part.” A scoff, and he kicks his legs down, sliding to stand right next to her.
Shoulder to shoulder, he leans against Maya, tilting his head to look at her, then glance back at the book, now closed in her hand. “You’d get a better idea of where to look by talking to someone. Also Izzy’s not here…”
And if she would cut her glance to him, she’d find him suddenly look away, whistling an innocent little tune.
She leans back – with a a laugh. “No, she’s not. And you’re not wheedling /everything/ out of me, and cute only gets you so far.”
She reaches up. Boops his nose with a finger, because why not, she can – “Okay. I promised the overprotective and yet rather stoic Captain I’d get you back today. I have a couple of things I need to get from my room – and no, you can’t go with me. So. Courtyard in ten minutes?”
The faith intrinsic in that question is likely both deliberate, and serious.
A sound lurches through the keep. A droning that practically vibrated the walls. Hushed whispers that even to Maya would be spooky and unnatural. The few lights present started to dim for a moment. Rushing winds started to push against the windows and rattling door frames.
Maya… frowns. “… That’s.. new. Stay here.” Pointed. “And stay quiet.”
Tag is ghostlike when he wants to be. Maya proves, in that moment, she, too, is very good at what she does. She stalks forward, her blade almost seeming to leap from its scabbard at her side, glowing blood-red and shadowed in her hand – the rapier almost.. hungry.
And then? she flickers to the library door – peers out. Then? She’s simply… gone.
The booming increases closer. The actual walls shaking. Maya would see in the hallway, an inky blackness rolling through the halls and clinging to the walls like a dark mist. A flaming blade clutched in the hand of a hulking giant hand. A face hidden by a cowl and a flaming crown.
The bark of his face scrunches as her finger presses against his nose. But it does little to wipe the grin off his face. “Just trying to help you do less work~,” he croons, expression smug and ever mischievous.
There might have been some follow up about the Captain, something about not being his keeper or what not. And then of course the unspoken concession among the Vanguard that the only person Tadhgn even remotely listened to was Nukkal (and even this was a stretch). But it was interrupted the moment he opened his mouth to continue.
Like startled deer, both his and Maya’s attention snap toward the sound.
Her fading into nothingess.
The sylvari was left there, unmoved from the seconds that passed. But the smile? The smile was gone. There was a certain sort of intensity that crossed the thief’s face, though none of it dulled the gleam in his golden eyes.
The cacophony of the rattling windows swells in the moments that settle in Maya’s wake. His hesitation was only to ensure his escort had truly left in pursuit of her quarry.
After all, waiting here would do no good would it?
It did seem that Tadhgn had the uncanny ability to vanish the moment one took their eyes off of him. And this was perhaps an exaggeration to the fact the curious little leaf was prone to wander. But there was a very distinct difference in the way the sprout carried himself when he didn’t want to be found.
And Tadhgn slips into the shadows, as though he had never existed on this plane at all. The library is left as empty as it was a phantasm.
Exploring the castle is an exercise in gathering ominousness – the Keep is labyrinthine at best, with side passages that double up on themselves, empty rooms that seem oddly familiar despite being in wholly different areas of the building, and stairs that go up while the view outside remains at the ground level.
Tag’s poking about takes him through a kitchen that has never seen real use, pots and pans and dishes all with no more substance than a dream, through a shadowed atrium with glass ceiling that shows only an empty void, a rookery filled with the skeletal remains of ravens.
He finds one hallway that actually has real rooms, furnishings – four rooms and one great ‘war room’ with a large planning table and chairs, the other four rooms personal and with various states of ‘living in.’
One is a riot of cloth and color and light; a vanity with large mirror plays host to a pair of ceramic masques, with an empty weapon rack near the door. Another is severe – austere, even, with a dog bed that looks like it’s never used and a bed that is at least half dog hair, clothing in a wardrobe that ranges through shades of green and brown only, and is strictly utilitarian. And, incongruously.. a potted ficus.
Another? It’s like a library threw up in there – books on almost every surface, a selection of clothing from smart to casual, and at least three different plumed hats.
And the fourth? Masculine, neat as a pin, as orderly as the ‘library bedroom’ isn’t. Carpeted… waiting.
The hallway continues on from there- up and up, through a spiral staircase and a pair of locked doors that serve little impediment to Tag’s skills.
The door on the right, would lead to the King’s chambers empty of any life. Battered tables, and a once lush bed that was cracked and sunken. Mirrors broken and descerated portraits of what could have been a young man with no face. Flickering between a healthy one and a scarred, undead one. Open windows howled with wind passing through, shadows of leaves and other debris passing through.
The door on the other side, was filled with glass tubes. Huge, big enough to contain a body inside. Magic runes lined the tops and bottoms, figures floating in shadowy miasma, faces flickering in and out of existencce inside them. One would immediately stand out to Tag.
A familiar strong jaw, long hair floating out behind it. A set of shadow crafted armor, sheathed sword resting on a shield. And a staff laid out below this tube. Another next to it, contained a figure very similar to Maya. Another duplicate set of equipment laid at it’s base. Darker than the original, again shadow crafted.
But these were just two. Rows upon rows of glass tubes. All filled with forms. The deeper that Tag looked, the more and more familiar they would look. Tag’s friends, and comrades, not all human either. Some were a bit wider to accomodate charr, and norn figures. There was an odd one though, empty, a piece of fletching laid on the ground.
Truthfully, Tadhgn’s intentions had been to tail after Maya, aiding her in whatever spectre she had come across. She was no good to the Vanguard dead. Maybe that would come later? He wasn’t sure. But definitely not now. But the keep, as incomplete and fragmented as it was, proved difficult to navigate. Especially as it shifted and changed, doors leading to nowhere and everywhere.
This proved, however, to be fairly welcome. He was getting his own impromptu tour, self guided at that. Self guided, and with a few souvenirs tucked away within the depths of his pockets. Some perhaps more meaningful than others.
He takes particular interest in the King’s room and it’s disarray. A painting of anger, frozen in time. Rage and decay, bottled into one. It intrigued him. He rifles through drawers and blankets, filtering through papers and the rubble. looking for any scrap of information. Yet, he finds a ring; solid, and glittering.
After a fleeting moment of gazing at it the way a moth might a flame, it too is slipped into the void of his wrapped robes.
The sounds of the castle tell him it’s time to go. And go he does, quick and silent as a cat to the next room and out–
This was nothing close to what he’d expected to find within these halls. Not at all. The entire operation looked more akin to an Inquest laboratory, and all the unethics it implied. Yet somehow, worse.
The change is jarring, causing the leafy spy to nigh halt, and compose himself. He commits every inch and tube and wire to memory. Every single detail. Faces, names, everything in between.
And in that instant, Tadhgn utters a phrase below his breath, one that so seldom, if ever had passed through his lips, with no one but the shadows to hear:
A roar sounds from downstairs – a mighty voice raised in anger; there is the sound of something wooden being smashed to splinters. The words are indistinct – but they shake the keep itself.
A voice was heard from the back, followed by a hiss. The hiss wasn’t from a person, but from one of the machines activating. The voice was an echo from the mists, as an essence pulled through the air into one of the tubes, forming, swirling, a young, slender human male. Quite short, but possibly very dextrous by his build.
The machines were still making members of the Vanguard. The king was making an army alright. He found his copy.
Down below, more shaking and cracking, and through the open door Tag would be able to hear the booming voice of the King. “I’m so disappointed with you. You invite danger into our home! Clearly you’ve been compromised. He’s getting to you. I’m sorry my child. You cannot be trusted!”
The door behind Tag banged into the wall as very disheveled Maya doesn’t quite make the turn, moving at speed.
She flickers through shadow, catching Tag’s arm. “You have to go. Now. I made a terrible mistake. He can’t find you here..”
That. That is when she sees just what here is. Her eyes- deeply shadowed- go wide. “By the /six./” She turns in place, stunned… and is dragged out of it by a heavy tread on shadowed stone from the hall, a muted roar of a flaming blade.
She takes a breath. Focuses.. shadows swirl and form into absolute void- a hole in the very fabric of this strange place.
For once, he doesn’t quip or question. Even if it was a wonder she’d manage dto locate him here, or if it was just some insane stroke of luck on both of their accounts given the labyrinth of the ever changing keep. His reaction is immediate, and pointed.
Tadhgn’s hand closes around Maya’s forearm. The intensity had not left his eyes, though it had turned a great deal in seriousness. Not a hint of playfulness or mischief remained, replaced by something almost pleading. His grip is sure and strong as he pulls her toward him, with him, before even considering stepping through the opening portal.
“And he can’t find you either.”
“… he can. Anywhere I go.” Softly – “He is my king. But – he isn’t yours. When he’s in this state – I will be fine. You won’t.”
With a wry, lopsided smile, she leans in, rests her forehead on his. “… go on. I’ll be fine. I talk very fast when the occasion warrants it. Tell the Commander something for me?”
Oh, there’s a glint of mischief in /her/ eyes. Perhaps they’re not too different, the sprout and the cavalier – because that’s when she kisses him. Firmly. Exuberantly, one might say.
She doesn’t do it for /long/. Y’know – pressing impending doom and all that – but grins as she pats his cheek. “Got that? You can embellish if you want.”
Perhaps hoping the distraction was sufficient, she nudges the sprout toward the portal….
…at about the same time a flaming sword and shadowy figure make the corner into this space.
The door SHATTERS open, and for the first time, Maya, sees the king for what he is. Not the stoic looking, noble looking king. But a creature of shadow, leathery wings arched up off his back, the kings face embedded in it’s chest, shadows twisting around it. A monstrous maw above his head. The voice is like grinding stones and thunder. “Mmmm. Child…. you should not be in here. My Maya… already Dasha must be replaced… but now you. Sad…. but inevitable.”
As the king steps into view, another figure steps into view, a complete copy of Dasha, with Talon and Fang beside her. Eyes of ember looking out at them, bathed in shadow. The tube that held the copy of Maya hissed as well, slowly lifting into the air, shadows spilling out of it. The Shadow Maya kneels and begins donning her armor and weapons.
“Take her…. lock her away for all our protection. I must be a noble, and merciful king, must I not, My Shadows?”
“Yes My liege.” Both shadow clones spoke in tune with their response, but the voices were unmistakably theirs.
Tadhgn’s hold doesn’t lax. It perhaps tightens as Maya resists. He’s quite serious, whether or not the King might follow.
He’s unconvinced by her bravado, as the inhuman, gutteral shrieks echoing through the keep made a much better, forboding argument. This seemed to show in his expression, which gave all the ‘sure, okay, if you say so’ he needed without voicing it.
And even if he had, it was cut short by the pressing of her lips against his.
Well, it did take the twig by surprise, but not nearly as much as the shock of the room itself. And he recovers in a fraction of an instant, his smirk ghosting across his face.
“Oi, you can confess your true feelings for me- I mean the Commander when you get there–” the King roars, the span of his wings blocking the cold light flickering from the doorway, solely illuminated by the tubes and workings of the machines, “We have more pressing thing to worry about.”
And with that, he falls with her nudge into the portal, his grip secure and intent on dragging her with him.
There’s an expression of such sadness as she.. flickers in place; his hand falls through her arm.
She turns, as he goes into the portal – her bloodstone and shadowed blade glimmering with something very dark. and launching herself at that thing that isn’t Dasha – and /that/ distracts the King and the shadow gathering around his not-hand, likely something intended to close the portal, or, worse, reroute it.
After all, this will be interesting.
“I always wondered if I was better than you – ” and with a careless laugh, she proves just how good a swordswoman she is, blade moving like lightning. “Let’s find out, shall we?”
The portal spirals closed as she engages with Fang, Talon, and the ranger, while the King looks on.
It happens too quickly. Way too quickly. More quickly than anyone can really process. One moment, Maya was in his grasp, falling through the portal with him. The next, she was slipping through his fingers like grains of sand and wisps of shadow. Tadhgn twists and scrambles to catch what remnants he can, but the portal snaps shut, and his back hits something hard. The blinding gold of the Gilded Hollow greets him with the heavy, humid embrace of the Maguuma jungle.