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#1 Posted by Grimmwald (3174 posts) - - Show Bio

Excalibur Tower, Gothic City

Gothic City was cursed. Cursed by a hunger that pulled at all the good in it's people. A hunger that made it America's worst city. A city where schoolchildren were taught to hide under their desks, where civilians took refuge underground when the light of an explosion flares across the sky. Gothic however, was cursed no more - or so the Horned Saint believed. The Purge'd cast so thick a fear of damnation in the air that no thief dared pick an innocent's pockets. For now, Gothic City was quiet. And in his return to the city, Kellan wondered how he'd feel had he not lost his soul.

And if flayed flesh still hung from flagpoles and street lamps.

"Richard"

Still, he felt something. And it compelled him to seek out the one person who mattered; Richard. His brother. Gripped by silence, the air hung still as if lying in wait for the shadows to move. And move they did as the Kellan climbed out the dark feet of a corner, clad in neither red nor black, but in a smile more alien than man. Draped in a trench-coat, he strode forward, his footsteps soundless and his eyes behind the red lenses of glasses he didn't need. His smile, calm yet unfamiliar, held as his dermal senses swept the building for Richard. Two floors above, he thought, seconds before stepping out a shadow in Richard's office.

Meeting eyes with his brother now, Kellan's heart should be clamoring in his chest. Yet it held cool, as though the hulk of a man behind the ebony desk meant nothing to him. "Richard", the Horned Saint greeted, voice flowing deep and with something it'd been lacking - feeling. "You and I are due this conversation".

"Don't worry. I'm not here to eat your soul", his smile twitched, his humor still dark.

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#2 Posted by Hawkshade (4789 posts) - - Show Bio

For once the sun shined. Birds chirped and twittered in the sky outside, oblivious to the carnage and tragedy that gripped their city. Richard could see it outside the floor-to-ceiling window that made up the wall of his corner office. Clouds floated in a sky of blue.

The big man stared out the window. The beauty of nature, a rare sight in Gothic, did nothing for him.

Under his black suit his ribs were wrapped in bandages. Fractures. Abrasions. Lacerations. Every part of his body hurt and he had a wound in every limb. His legs had only recently recovered.

Kellan came from the shadows.

The black leather chair turned and Richard faced his brother. "Kellan."

"You're alive."

He smiled.

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#3 Edited by Grimmwald (3174 posts) - - Show Bio

Richard breathed, his chest grew - and Kellan heard the creak of his brother's ribs. Ribs he had injured and left a creaking mess like a wooden floor ready to break. And for the first time since he'd lost his soul, the Horned Saint felt an emotion that separated predator from prey; guilt. Stepping forward, it was strange to feel again, as little as it still was. But there'd been a change in him. The secrets he'd unearthed from the Keijijo scrolls he'd stolen had afforded him something. Not his soul no - but an immaterial construct of qi that returned his emotions to him. Most intact, but some twisted into something distant from the human condition.

"You're alive"

"Barely"

"Barely", Kellan chuckled, his laughter calm and brief. Was one truly alive with no presence of soul in body and mind? "But I'm glad to see that you are. I haven't heard any criminals whispering about the big hawk in the shadows", he joked, mouth smiling. "Then again, I haven't seen much of any criminal activity recently". A silence followed his words, and his smile vanished into it. His heart and mind still clung to the belief that he'd done what was necessary, what no hero had the inner steel to. That only he had the presence of mind to rise above the good men who did nothing, and stop the triumph of evil while they stuck to the naivety of their moral beliefs and no-kill rules. Yet he recognized that in pursuing the Soul Lavaliere's power, in choosing to play God, he'd gone too far.

"I went too far. The Soul Lavaliere's power is incredible. But that kind of power, to have the fate of everyone's soul in the palm of your hand...", he almost smirked, "How can it not magnify my pathologies? Confidence becomes arrogance. Efficient brutality becomes cruelty. Ambition becomes a god complex. No man is meant for that kind of power. And there are other lavalieres in existence". Plucking the red shades from his face, Kellan's eyes - ruby instead of the orange of a lavaliere - met Richard's gaze for the first time in what'd felt an eternity. "I'm not going to stop killing supervillains, terrorists and so on. I can't give evil a second chance. Even if it means doing something you disapprove of, brother".

"Rejoining the Shadow Knights is just a dream. You and the others don't kill. I do. And I've gone so far that I've destroyed their ability to trust me again. Can't blame them", he shrugged. "But you saw the power of the Soul Lavaliere. All of Gothic did. And rumor has it that there are five other lavalieres, each one with a dominion over something different than the other. All six combined would make someone unstoppable. Not the kind of power I want to see in anyone's hands. Especially if they're crazier than me", he chuckled. "I'm going to search for them, and destroy them. And if that's impossible, then I'm going to find a prison for them. I want you to help me find them".

"And if we can't destroy them, you take them, create some crazy chamber for them. You're not short on resources anyway. Or give them to Ashley", his mouth almost drying at the thought of her. "She's harmless. Won't even kill an ant much less use any of those stones after seeing firsthand what they can do".

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#4 Posted by Hawkshade (4789 posts) - - Show Bio

Richard leaned back and listened. While Kellan spoke he crossed his right ankle over his left knee and rubbed at a scar on his chin with his thumb.

"I'm on vacation." A hint of a grin. "Got a bad limp."

I went too far. Richard paused at those words. "I think you did. Your heart was in the right place. But it's not all about efficien-" He paused. Chuckled. "Nevermind. We already had this conversation."

"Soul Lavalieres." The CEO of Excalibur filed away the information in the steel trap that was his memory. He didn't have to ponder the request for long.

"Of course. You know I disapprove of your methods but the Soul Lavalieres are too dangerous. If they fall into the wrong hands.. What if someone like Satar found one? Imagine the cost."

"I only have one requirement. No killing. I won't help you find people that you kill. I won't be the bloodhound to your assassin."

"If you can agree to that-" He stood, burying a wince, and extended his hand to his brother. "-then my resources and aid are at your disposal."

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#5 Edited by Grimmwald (3174 posts) - - Show Bio

"No killing"

The demand - and a silence - hung thick in the air between them. In the past, such a demand'd earn a scowl from him at worst, and the urge to mask it - at best. Yet as he stood before his brother, eye to eye and with a mind governed by laws foreign to the human condition, the Horned Saint thought only of how trivial his brother's concerns were. Infinitesimal in the grand scheme of things, the Soul Lavaliere had helped him see that much, at least. "You and I both know I'd never come to you about killing. I'm a few years late for that", he smiled, body still motionless, breathing and heartbeat still soundless.

"A Satar or Charlemagne finding a Lavaliere would be dangerous. But", Kellan paused, his smile fading and the shadows dancing, "A Kratesis finding one would be disastrous. Because while they have the strength of character to win the war of wills over that kind of power, Kratesis has the strength of knowledge to master it". Time and space, he imagined, would never recover should every Lavaliere fall into such hands. The hands of a Kratesis, or worse, the Secret Masters of the Strigidae. "In any case, I have a lead on the whereabouts of the Soul Lavaliere".

"I last had it in Black House, and according to one of my Blackdaggers, when I was unconscious and the Lavaliere fully in control, Ashley and Rosso the Crimson were there. The Soul Lavaliere'll be with one of them. Hopefully with Ashley".

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#6 Posted by Hawkshade (4789 posts) - - Show Bio

"Agreed." A nod.

"Anyone immortal. Anyone with that sort of mind. They would be unstoppable and there is no limit to the evil they would do." If the Lavaliere's could turn a good man like Kellen what would they do to a bad one.

The powerfully built CEO and vigilante stood. He hid his wince. Tapped a button on his desk and a secret door slid open at the rear of the office.

"Elevator." He nodded toward it. "Leads into the old Gothic sewers. There's a tunnel into the underground river that leads to the cave. We can meet up with Ashley there and ask if she has the Lavaliere."

He entered the elevator and tapped a button. Assuming Grimmwald followed he explained his plan as they traveled.

"The Lavaliere's are too powerful. Too dangerous. As long as they exist the world is in danger. I have an idea as to how they can be destroyed."

"First I need to do some experiments. Measure the resting energy frequencies of the Lavaliere. Energy cannot be created or destroyed but it can be rendered into entropy using something called an antiphase. With things like the Lavaliere one can never know. But it's worth a try. But first I need to record the energy frequencies of it's output. Then replicate them separately to see if an antiphase cancels them out-- but safely away from the Lavaliere. No room for error here. The Lavaliere is too powerful to take risks."

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#7 Posted by Grimmwald (3174 posts) - - Show Bio
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Standing with his weight loaded on his cane, Kellan watched as Richard stood to his full height. And his dermal senses couldn't help but catch the subtle groan of his brother's joints. "You might need this more than I do", Kellan smiled, glancing at his cane - red like his eyes - then back at Richard. Though soon his smile vanished, and his face returned to a mask of coldness. While Richard nodded towards the elevator, the Horned Saint stood still. He needn't turn to see it. His dermal senses'd felt the dust shift in the air as the elevator doors parted open. Instead, he turned round only when Richard strode by. "Richard I think it's best I stick to the shadows for this one".

Trailing behind him, the Horned Saint, or the Shadow King as he'd been crowned by Gothic folklore, continued. "Having you there with me might prove counterproductive. Ashley might just think I'm there to reclaim the Soul Lavaliere for myself. So I'll stick to the shadows. I'll be there, but no one'll know". Kellan's concerns were valid. After all, in saving Gothic he'd eclipsed the light of Ashley's hope with the blackness of truth and necessity. Inside the elevator, Kellan drowned out the cold chorus of it's metal parts and paid mind to Richard's hunch. "I wonder what they're even made of. But, science has never been my strong suit. I only know what the Soul Lavaliere told me".

"That I was far from mastering it. And that had I mastered it, I'd have had control over every single "soul" in the universe". It was a heavy claim, and it's weight grew tenfold as Kellan locked eyes with Richard, "Definitely too powerful to take risks".

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#8 Posted by Hawkshade (4789 posts) - - Show Bio

He looked at the cane and chuckled. "You might be right." Then he turned serious. "This must end. As long as even one Lavaliere exists the world is in danger. We can't stop until they are all destroyed or locked away forever."

The elevator exited in the old Gothic sewers. They smelled of mold and must and a cold breeze drifted through them. Richard illuminated the gloom with a piercing LED light from his watch.

"It isn't far."

It wasn't. They passed quickly through the abandoned section of sewer and to a door Richard had hidden behind a false wall. He pushed a brick in and the facade slide aside, revealing a steel door which he opened with a combination of fingerprint and retina scan.

A steel ladder was mounted into a vertical tunnel. It was several hundred feet. Richard placed his palms and boots on the outside of the slick steel and slid down the later, a controlled fall. At the bottom he hopped off onto a platform of galvanized steel bolted to the wall of the underground river that lead past the Cave.

There was a motorized inflatable raft there. He climbed aboard, yanked the pull cord to start the engine and then set off down the river after Kellan boarded.

Thirty minutes later Richard tied the raft to the dock beside the Cave and climbed out. He waited for Kellen to go into hiding and then looked around the cave.

"@ashley_knightfall? Are you home?"

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#9 Posted by Grimmwald (3174 posts) - - Show Bio
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Their journey was a quiet one. No words echoed between the two brothers, only an ember of hope that the Soul Lavaliere was indeed in Ashley's hands. The seconds flowed, and the sight and sound of familiarity greeted his eyes and ears. His skin felt the distant thrumming of the underground river, and his mind was pulled back to memories of his time in the Cave as a Shadow Knight. A simpler time, if such a thing even existed for a former Strigidae. Following Richard onto the motorized raft, the Horned Saint stood with a balance too perfect to be human, body still and never wobbling as the raft rocked along the river. And half an hour later, the raft slowed to a stop, and the two brothers stepped out it.

Kellan said nothing. He merely watched Richard fasten the raft to the dock before meeting his eyes with a chilling calm. Richard'd blink, and the Shadow King'd return to his kingdom of dark, disappearing as though he were never there to begin with. But he was, lurking in the shadows with a silence more unnatural than metahuman. He lurked and he waited, watching as Richard called out to the purest woman Kellan'd ever known.

Ashley Knightfall.