After witnessing the Warden's true feelings about Stonegit and thus the rebellion as a whole, Haddock now had an insight to the Warden that he did not previously. The Warden decided to use this new relationship to both of their advantages.
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The Warden: The Warden sat Haddock down in the front room and sighed, slipping mostly out of his body, giving him momentary control, and manifesting in front of him. It appears we need to speak, Your Majesty.
Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: If you wish it, Haddock said with a deferential bow to his head.
The Warden: Although unnecessary, she sat down on a chair across from him, putting her chin in her hand and watching him steadily with smoldering eyes. So you saw what happened with dark-eyes. It was not a question.
Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: Haddock shuddered in response. That was… most extraordinarily unpleasant for the both of us.
The Warden: Yes. She continued to watch him expressionlessly. But I don’t suppose you know about the deal concerning him and yourself?
Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: I’m afraid I do not get what you mean. The king then flinched, worried his response could be taken as insubordinate. …sorry.
The Warden: The Warden twitched her ears. Unnecessary, Your Majesty. It just so happens that the life of your bodyguard depends on you growing a backbone. While admittedly I was the one who ripped it out, I am also responsible for helping it grow back. So we might want to get back to butting heads again, if you will.
Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: Nothing but wordless shock pulsated through his mind.
The Warden: Yes, yes, I know. I needed you broken before, but that is no longer the case and it will not help either of us, not to mention dark-eyes. So let’s start with this. She sat up straighter and put her hands over her knee diplomatically, eyes cooling and flicking towards the ground. The Warden took a deep breath.
Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: I bet you are, Haddock hissed - very quietly - but skeptical and angry nonetheless. I bet you are just as sorry as this is a truthful apology. You’re just warming me up before you torment me more.
The Warden: A smile curled across her face. That’s it. Get angry, Your Majesty. She leaned forward eagerly; dark-eyes’ recovery was within reach.
Let it out. I’ve done awful things to you and your Rebellion. Come on, tell me how you feel.
Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: You’re provoking me so that you have more fodder to punish me for.Haddock shuddered. I - I - I - I can’t. I’ve done what you’ve wanted. All of it. I’ve listened to you. Let you do you - your - your monstrosities. Not even a word of internal criticism for those actions. Begging. Please, please just leave me alone so long as I’m obedient… for that one scrap of peace and sanity I still have left.
The Warden: The Warden sighed in frustration. I’m sorry. I am. I don’t know what I can do to get you to see that. She stood up and paced the length of the room, tail lashing. This isn’t in my nature, human. Or…rather, it’s supposed to be, but I haven’t…quite got the hang of it yet… Her voice dropped to a mutter. According to my family.
Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: …why this change of mind then, demon?
The Warden: Fine, she growled, wheeling around to face him again. The gatekeeper of Helheim offered me an ultimatum. Either I encourage you and dark-eyes to get back on your feet, or you remain captive and he remains comatose. Her eyes shifted downwards again. I couldn’t…I couldn’t bear to see either of you as such any longer. But I cannot force you to gain what you once had, Your Majesty. I can only be a crutch in this quest to regain dark-eyes’ soul. I need your help.
Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: This all looks like help to save your own skin. Why should I do it? Haddock spat. He did not appear to realize that his own retort against the Warden’s comment was exactly what she needed. Of course, in the back of his mind, he was also worrying about Stonegit.
The Warden: She shrugged, putting her hands in the air defensively. I assumed you cared about the bodyguard as well. However, if that is not the case…
Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: There is no end to your monstrosities, Haddock hissed. However… he paused, recalling the incident where he and the Warden were locked together outside Stonegit’s room while Blunt faked the bodyguard’s death …I don’t think you’re capable of it. Despite everything. He shuddered again, recalling the images of his family dying violently before him. That is a threat you shall not act on.
The Warden: Threat? That was no threat. She struggled to keep her joy in check as the King responded more and more hotly each time they spoke. It’s working, it’s working! No, I was merely pointing out the consequences of your pigheadedness, Your Majesty. Your hatred of me is blinding your worry for the guard. Reverse it, Gareth. Dark-eyes needs to outshine me in your mind. Focus on your pleasant memories of him and let them block out the negative ones.
Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: So what? You’ll find ways of harming him in my mind’s eye, too? There was equal worry and anger in that comment.
The Warden: The Warden stared at him a moment with an inscrutable expression. There are some times when I wish our paths had never crossed, she complained. What can I do to gain your trust, Your Majesty?
Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: The feeling is mutual, believe me, Haddock responded when the Warden said she wished they had never met. Then he continued on to respond to her second comment. So then are you going to make a bargain with me, foul fiend?
The Warden: I have already offered you one, she replied impatiently, choosing to ignore his insult. Or, rather, Hel has. Fight back, stand up on your own two feet, and two things will happen: you will not be hurt, emotionally or physically, and the bodyguard will live.
Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: Two things back at you, Haddock returned. First, what if I don’t comply to that? You can’t take away anything more from me. You can’t harm me any more than you already have. His thoughts faltered on that last point, though; he knew she could resume the torment to his mind, which would be a notable worsening of situations on his end. And that Stonegit could… Haddock hurried on from that thought. And secondly, he then said to her, resuming his tirade, even WITH that lame excuse of a Jotun’s ass bargain, I still WILL be enormously harmed because I lack something. I think it’s called FREEDOM.
You are a demon. A horrid, despicable spirit who has possessed people for centuries, I imagine. You’ve probably feasted into all their thoughts and know by now the common misery of being utterly helpless. That is what you DO when you take over another. You’ve felt exactly how completely horrible and traumatic it is for a man to FEEL his hands be moved, but those movements were not his own; for his feet to step forward, but not on his own volition; for him to hear his tongue and vocal cords move, but every single sound, every word, every idea, is not his own! To experience - to PHYSICALLY FEEL - himself do exactly what he hates… and do nothing to stop that… you know EXACTLY how horrific it is.
It’s an unmatched helplessness. There is no way a human can be more powerless than watching his own hands turn against his wife. A shudder full of disgust, horror… and anger.
And yet you keep on doing it. And you would do it onward and onward to me, regardless of this bargain.
You can take nothing more away from me because you have stolen my very body. I am a drifting nothingness feeling every action you commit, every word you speak aloud. I am nothingness! And thus you give nothing back to me unless you give me back my volitions.
So what are you going to do, demon? You cannot crush me down without igniting Hel’s ire, can you? That question was slightly worried, but he seemed to believe it. And yet if I act ‘with a spine’ but still refuse to work with you, you suffer nonetheless.
The Warden: The Warden rolled her eyes but there was still a slight grin on her face. Amusing how every time you resist me you comply to my demands. That’s a good fighter, very good. Keep up the good work. But you must know the point at which fighting becomes dangerous for those around them.
You are a king. You know of battle. You know of the term…crossfire, I believe it is? Two or even three opposing sides with their aim set straight, their morals aligned with their actions, intent on obliterating their enemy. The sides may be just in their cause of annihilation…but when one wanders through the midst of the battle…one that is blind, perhaps…who cannot see who cares for him and who does not…a few casualties may occur.
Her amused tone grew dark and serious. I am not threatening to kill him. I would never attempt such a thing. If today’s events are not enough to convince you of that, I am not sure what will. But you appear to have difficulty believing me. So here is another facet to the bargain. She paced around behind him and leaned her head close to his ears.
You get better, she murmured, and that seal—here she nodded at the marred symbol on the back of his hand—will be broken. I will be out of your mind faster than you can kiss your wife. How does that sound?
Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: Haddock stared at the seal on the back of his hand. He hated the feel he was being potentially manipulated by the Warden, but he hated that mark on the back of his hand more. Loathed it, loathed it with all his being, for it was the mark of inhabitance of his single greatest enemy.
It still was possible the Warden was playing him with her offer. The last time he had given her any thread of chance, she murdered Vox - someone to whom he felt incredibly dear. And the Warden had done far, far more to the king over the time they had crossed paths than that! Threats and deaths and pain and even his own torture.
Those… those were all things he, too, had done to others over his life.
And while he could never call the Warden “good,” not with her motivations, not with her horrid history, at the same time Haddock acknowledge a part of her was good.
She was not all monster.
She was not all fiend.
She was no longer his worst enemy.
The Warden had admirable traits, very, very buried within her, but somehow present nonetheless. She tried to deny the fact that she seemed to actually care for Stonegit, and not just for her own self-preservation, or that she felt guilt when some wrongdoings occurred, such as the incident with Tezz and the dragon.
i do not know if I can trust you because you said you were bound to me outside of your own choice. I thought you could not leave, Haddock at last told her, feeling very, very strange as he communicated his uncharacteristically peaceable thoughts. I would like to know how you will manage to break the seal and leave. But if you can fully convince me it can be done, I am willing to enter a deal with you. I have but a few terms I would like to add, but nothing which I believe would ire you. So explain to me the end of this seal, Warden, and we can make an official bargain.
The Warden: The Warden opened her mouth and hesitated, realizing that they were nearing the deal-breaker. Hel had said that if the king improved, the seal would return to Stonegit and she would live out her days in his mind until she found another susceptible, suitable vessel. And she got the feeling that Haddock would not approve of that in the slightest.
Hel has the details, she said with a wave of her hand. The seal will not be broken of my own accord. I have not the ability. I told you that information before I knew there was a way out, before such a powerful being came into play. After all, who better to deal with the laws of nature than a force of nature itself? But I will no longer be with the rebels, I can assure you. Brushing off the lie, she swirled around him again and held out her hand, bending to be eye-level with him. And you will not be alone in your quest to regain your mental health. I may be able to break minds, but that means I understand how they work and I am able to heal them as well. I am not sure how much you trust me as a tutor, but…I suppose there’s only one way to find out. She lifted an eyebrow. She could feel the color of his thoughts changing, although she kept out of them for his sake. Let your newfound knowledge of me be evidence enough of my changed ways.
The Warden extended her hand out farther. Do we have a deal, Your Majesty?
Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: Haddock still did not take her hand, but stared her intently eye-to-eye instead. It felt discomfiting in some ways - he wanted to keep glancing submissively downward - but the fire rekindling inside him kept his pupils glaring. I don’t know if I trust some vague ‘Hel has details’ comment. And we still have not said my terms.
I will work with you if you make changes in your life subsequently. Haddock made sure to formulate his propositions in such a manner his language could not be manipulated through technicalities or vague semantics. There could be no wiggle room in this bargain. You will not provoke anyone in the Grounded Dungeon Rebellion. You will not harm anyone in the rebellion or related to the Rebellion, be it physical or psychological, not to the slightest degree, and not go about any indirect or third party means of harming them either. You will not possess anyone against their will or take over their bodily actions completely or to the point they make actions out of their own consent.
Lastly, I think that if Hel is to be involved in this, we tell her all and have her monitor your goodwill. And that if you break your word, she sees to the consequences.
The Warden: The Warden dipped her head. Your initial demands will not be a problem. Those changes had to be made regardless. And I would love to see you attempt to make a deal with Hel herself, but yes, eventually we will confront her with our arrangement and discuss it openly. She winced as she said this; hopefully she could find some other way out before the day of reckoning came. Another vessel, perhaps. She supposed she could move into a turtle if need be. As long as Hel could change the deal on her end and destroy the seal instead of transferring it back to dark-eyes. And keep in mind all of this is only benefiting you, Your Majesty. You have nothing to lose. Cocking her head, she stared just as intensely into his gaze as he did into hers. Her hand remained extended.
Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: He extended his arm, breathed out heavily such that his cheeks puffed for an instant, and then clasped his fingers firmly around hers. Haddock shook hands resolutely, stating, We have a deal, may the gods preside over it, and I by my own honor shall not break it.