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Tezzeret Verdile: Home… home…

The thought had been his mantra as he trudged back to camp, playing through his mind with each step. The dragon trailed behind him, the reptilian body sliding almost noiselessly through the cover of trees. The camp stood before the two of them, the western gate open in the midday sun. He was about to pass the threshold when the ancient dragon moved in front of him, cutting him off. It lowered it’s body to the ground, bending its head around in a motion to show that it wanted Tezz to sit on its shoulders.

Tezz was still in the holds of the trance as he clambered onto the dragons back, his vision clouded as he grabbed onto one of the spines protruding from between the porcelain. The dragon moved the two of them around the outside of the camp, as though acutely aware of the danger of being seen by Stonegit and his Bewilderbeast. It stopped by a gathering of the people of the rebellion, letting out a puff of smoke to announce its arrival.

Tezz shook his head as he regained full control of his mind. “Oh, dear.” He muttered to himself.

I do not recall mounting this dragon…

Treepelt Halfpaw: Treepelt whirled around at the sound of something approaching and gasped as she saw a large, sinuous dragon approaching from the outside. And…Tezz was riding it?

“Tezz!” she shouted. “Where have you been! I’ve been worried sick, I thought Stonegit…” She shook her head, staring up at the strange, plated dragon. “What is that thing?”

Tezzeret Verdile: "I wish I could tell you…” The dragon turned it’s head back around to facing Tezz as he spoke. He could see muscle tissue between some of the plates on its face, the heavy amber eyes narrowed as it focused on Tezzeret. His head snapped straight forward, staring into nothing.

“Where is the one you call the Warden?” A heavy grinding voice came out of Tezz’s mouth. The onlookers shuffled uneasily.

Elia Rehan: Elia stared at Haddock in terror. To her, he was glowing like an unnatural flame, every fibre of his body dyed in red. The red was everywhere, too, reaching out for everyone’s minds and creating the Warden’s image in their eyes.

Elia would have stayed petrified but another, smaller cloud of darkness nearby attracted her attention.

Tezz.

And…someone else?

After a few agonised seconds’ worth of thinking, Elia dashed away, leaving the group behind as she raced towards Tezz. She was just coming into sight of him riding a large dragon, Tree beside him on the ground, when the shadow around him exploded outward, too.

Oh, no.

"Tree,” Elia said urgently, “the King is alive, but the Warden is possessing him! He’s threatening—Tezz, what—?”

Tezzeret Verdile: “Possessing your King? That reeks of her pride… Take me to her current shell.” The dragon turned his head back around, facing Elia and Tree. He blew another puff of smoke as Tezz shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs sitting inside his mind.

Treepelt Halfpaw: No.

No, not again. Thor, no, please, anything but this…

“T-tezz!” Tree reached for his shoulders, paused, and then grabbed them, shaking him slightly. “Tezz, no, please, n-not again—you can’t be—” She gulped, releasing him and pressing her hands against her mouth. “Tezz, are you there?”

“Yeah.. yeah it’s me…” He gazed at Treepelt before the dragon pushed him forward brusquely. “I… have to go though…” Tezzeret continued to shake his head as he walked away. Everything was so fuzzy.

The Warden: He was here.

Haddock snapped his head up and the Warden stretched her consciousness across the camp, sensing a familiar, brooding presence.

No. Not now.

The King’s heartbeat increased and she looked down in alarm and winced, feeling a strange, cold sensation, accompanied with a flash of inexplicable panic. Touching her heart, she glanced around with his eyes, wondering briefly if she’d be able to hide from him.

Tezzeret Verdile: Tezzeret felt the dragon urging him to move faster, towards whatever the destination was. The pair of them rounded the wall of a cottage when Tezzeret saw… Haddock? But he didn’t have long to think on it, his mind became fuzzy again as smoke washed over his back.

“Hello little sister…”

The Warden: Too late.

Haddock gritted his teeth and glared at the young boy, and the dragon that stood behind him. It cocked his head, seeming to smirk at her. His eyes flicked down at the one being controlled and back up again. The anger was slowly beginning to simmer.

“Let him go.”

The Archon: “Not even going to exchange pleasantries? Pitiful… You know what I’m here for… and this mortal will not leave my side until you can prove to me that you have learned the lesson Mother has placed before you.” Tezz’s body was rigid as he spoke, arms snapped to his side and face staring blankly forward.

The Warden: “What do you want me to do!?" Haddock yelled, fists clenched at his side. "Say something specific? Perform some arduous task? I’ll do it, just let him go, if the cat-child ever foun—”

She suddenly clamped his mouth shut and looked down, abashed, and closed his eyes. "Please.”

The Archon: “Prove to me that you care for these mortals. These pitiful little humans.” The dragon breathed more smoke onto Tezz, his body laid itself down on the ground in front of the dragon. It lifted one of the porcelain claws and rested it on Tezz’s throat. “Show me that you’re willing to protect them. You can figure out the best way to display your affection.”  The amber eyes glinted in the sunlight, you could almost see a smile cracking on the dragons face.

The Warden: His heart was pumping extremely fast now. The Warden vaguely wondered if that was normal or even healthy.

“What do you want me to do?" he said in disgust. "Grovel? This is utterly ridiculous, Kiaama. I’m not…I won’t do it, not for them." She attempted to keep his face stoic, but the corners of his mouth were twitching as her mind flew into a state of utter panic. "You’re resorting to unnecessary measures.”

The Archon: “Unnecessary? The threats from Hel are on our doorstep and still you refuse to acknowledge your purpose. If you weren’t so stubborn, then this one would be free to go.” The dragon applied pressure to the claw, the sharp edge of it broke through skin and a trickle of blood ran to the snow. “But your pride, your adamant pride… will not only cause the death of this mortal, the mortals in this rebellion, but of all humanity.”

The Warden: He reached out involuntarily, and then drew his hand back, pressing his fingers together. “I’m not stubborn. I’m only…you’re…you’re wrong. I don’t care about them. I don’t need them.”

But her gaze never broke from the boy as the lies spilled from his mouth. His head was beginning to pound.

The Archon: "Then what’s another mortal, to the oh so powerful and independent Warden?”

It was sudden, the claw traveled down through Tezzeret’s throat. His neck collapsed, crushed by the demonic dragon. The dragon flicked the corpse aside and approached Haddock’s body, slinking along as a snake. He spoke now to her through their minds.

It’s your fault he died… Nalaagura. The dragon made a guttural laugh as it circled her.

The Warden: With a broken gasp, Haddock shut his eyes and turned away from the gory scene. The broken, lifeless puppet of a body was burned across the Warden’s mind. NO. NO. IT WAS YOU. IT WAS…YOU… The slinking body made it difficult to focus; the lingering smoke was dizzying her vessel. It was you it was you it was you it was you it was you—

Why were Haddock’s eyes burning?

It’s the smoke. It’s just the smoke.

The Archon: It was me… responding to your inability to admit that you care for these humans. Shall I fetch another, or should I take the tears you’re fighting back as proof? As I searched the dead one’s brain… I recall a child? And… two half-breeds… Do they need to die for you to realize the lesson Mother set before you?

The Warden: Don’t…stop…stop, please…

The pressure in his head was rising into a throbbing headache, and the Warden internally screeched from the pain. The eyes were itching uncomfortably now, the lips trembling, the hands shaking. Stop it! she snarled at herself. Stop being weak!!

But she groveled.

“Please, I’m begging you…" His knees felt oddly quivery and numb. "Don’t touch anyone else, I…I…”

She gulped.

“I care about them. I’d save them, I’d…I want to protect them, please, don’t take them away from me, d-don’t take any m-more–please…”

The Archon: Oh… so now you grovel before me… Ah.. who’s this? Your king has a family too? With two more children? And it seems you have a special connection with one of the half cats… I might have to get acquainted with her first…The dragons throat rumbled in a deep malicious laugh.

The Warden: That was it.

.

“D̞͖͔̪̭͉͓ͤ̈́ͨ͒̀͗ͥO̠̺̱̅̾N̼̘͈͖ͨ’̼̣͕̀̆̔T̯̾̔ͫ ͍̠͕ͦͯṬ̩̠̜̐ͬͯ̆̏̿̅ͅỌ͔͙̝͎̦̣ͬͥͬ̋ͣ͆̅Ù̟̜̀ͭ̿ͩC̤̩͖̙͔̥̮̈́̀̎̈́̇̽Ḥ̬̼̜̮ ̟̗̬̜̊H̠̻͎͔̠̤̳̍E͚͍̣̫R̙̤̞̼͔͑!̲̤͚͇̞̝̩͋̆̽!̹͎̗̄̂ͥ̈̍ͪ”

The King drew his sword out faster than cracking a whip and attempted to slash the dragon across the side, blinded with a burning rage, moisture finally spilling over his cheeks, why did it hurt, why did it sting so badly, she just wanted it to end and the only end in sight was with her brother dead and impaled on the sword of her vessel, blood, blood, she wanted blood—

The Archon: Yes… YES!

The dragon flexed open one of its wings, knocking back the body she was possessing.

Come now Nalaagura… little sister… show me your true form…

He let his spiritual form emanate from the body he was inhabiting, it looked almost identical in shape. But the colors were blues and silvers as opposed to the whites, blacks, and maroons of his body.

Show me that your ability to fight hasn’t fallen into disrepair squabbling with the humans.

The Warden: Haddock flew backwards and bit the dust, grinding his skin against the ground. Physical pain began darting through her along with the emotional agony, and he screamed aloud, arching his back and clenching his fists. I won’t!! she shrieked mentally. You can’t make—no! I—won’t—I can’t—!!

Not a single coherent thought was left in her mind; everything was focused on not letting go, on keeping as close to her vessel as possible.

The Archon: Hit me. You want to do it little Nala. Hit me for the mortal you let die, for the mortals that are going to die… Which would hurt more?The one they call Treepelt? Or maybe one of the children… Melira… Sygny?

His form swirled around the body crumpled on the ground, he let his laughter echo through her mind.

The Warden: His eyes snapped open.

Shut.

UP!!!!

With a massive explosion, and only the barest strings attaching her to her now-unconscious vessel, she ripped clean out of Haddock’s body and began sinking her claws, her fangs, anything she could into the Archon’s ethereal form, giving a wordless scream of rage as she unleashed every last bit of her fury upon him.

The Archon: He laughed jovially as she attacked, it had been so long since he’d been able to spar with any demon other than the Praetor… He took the blows, lashing out with his tail and wings.

I think you’ve proved yourself little one…

He reached forward and grabbed her skull.

Mother will be pleased to hear this… you might just be ready to come home soon…

The Warden: LET ME GO!! LET ME GO!!

She raged on, even as his massive claws stopped her from surging onward, how she hated the feeling, how it made her feel so small, so powerless. She fixed her flaming eyes on him, huffing, becoming exhausted as she used her energy for shouting, and wishing he were dead, dead on the spot. She wanted to take back all of her sniveling, to take away his new weapons against her, but she didn’t dare amend what she had said for fear of the Archon going after someone even closer to heart: the cat-child or her lover, or going even lower and harming the offspring of the rebellion.

I don’t WANT to go home! she screamed. When are all of you going to get that through your THICK HEADS?! I want to stay here! Go and tell Mother THAT! LET…ME…GO!!

The Archon: The Archon released her.

Go then…. Play with your toys. Just know that we will call upon you when you’re needed. He chuckled darkly as he sank back into his body.

But before I go, a parting gift for all of the birthdays I never got to give you gifts on. He breathed smoke onto the body of Haddock. I’m not as evil as you’d like to think...

Tezzeret’s body lay where it was before the Archon had swept his body to the side. His body lay unmangled as he blinked and coughed, he regained control of his body.

I never killed this little doll of yours, I gave you an illusion to test you. But, this mortal has seen your true colors. He knows of your… compassion. Do with that as you will.

The dragon opened his wings, jumping from the ground he glided North, back to Bloedrest.

The Warden: She stumbled backwards, stepping back inside the king’s body in shock. Y-you didn’t… Every one of her instincts told her it was a trick, but how could he be lying when he had just unmasked the trick…?

Haddock sat upright and stared at the madman as he stirred confusedly. “You’re alive…”

Tezzeret Verdile: “Was I ever anything else?” The past few hours were a blur to Tezzeret. It was muddled and blurry, and there was a lot of smoke. But why was he here… and… “..wait… Haddock?”

The Warden: “Not entirely." Haddock stepped forward and grudgingly held out a hand to help him to his feet. "I expect you can draw your own conclusions.”

Tezzeret Verdile: “Oh… Warden… I’ve heard so much about you…” He grabbed the hand and brushed the snow off of him. “I.. uh… a lot happened.”

The Warden: “Yes. It did.”

She spent a moment looking him up and down, and then, without quite thinking it through, Haddock suddenly rushed forward and embraced him, burying his head in his shoulder.

Tezzeret Verdile: “Oh… uh..” Tezz was taken entirely by surprise. He was reaching to hug back when his hands fell back to his side, he stared straight ahead again. “I like this conduit… I may use him to talk to you yet again. Another thing you should know. The mind mages of Central have tampered with this ones mind. I fixed the damage as best as I could. He should be regaining his memories of the past few hours soon too."

The Warden: The surprise the Warden had felt before was nothing compared to what she felt now. Releasing Tezz, Haddock stammered, "I—ah—Archon, I…" Her feelings were still widely negative towards him…and yet…

She shook herself. "Please…please don’t do that again. But…" He worked his jaw, closing his eyes. She was going to regret this later.

"Thank…thank you." What alien words.

Tezzeret Verdile: "Uhn… Why does that keep happening?” Tezz swayed where he stood. “Actually… this is weird.. having a normal conversation with the Warden… Do you have an actual name?”

The Warden: Haddock rolled his eyes and glared at Tezz. “That is not for you to know. And…" He peered at Tezz closely. "…how much do you remember?”

Tezzeret Verdile: “Bits and pieces are coming into focus… I remember walking here now.. and laying down in the snow?” He scratched his head.

The Warden: “That is all that matters, then,” he said hastily. “You…you fell unconscious briefly. I stuck around to see if you had fell victim to an accident. Unfortunately you were fine." She swept Haddock’s cape around and stood with his arms folded, jaw locked. There was no way she was admitting anything to this…this upstart.

But she couldn’t stop a touch of affection from coloring her words and she berated herself fiercely for it. Not now! Do NOT get emotional now, you’ve already ruined enough…

Tezzeret Verdile: "Unfortunately? I… wait… I remember…. You… I saw…” Tezz was blinking in disbelief looking at Haddock.

The Warden: “What?" Haddock looked around sharply, his heart racing. "What do you remember?”

Tezzeret Verdile: “I remember… you… you cried. I remember the Archon speaking through me… At least I think that’s his name…” Tezz played with his hands nervously. “You have compassion, Warden.” He looked up at Haddock’s eyes.

The Warden: “No, I don’t." The answer was so automatic that she didn’t even register the lie. "You’re all ants to me. Every single one. Why would I…why would I stick around you beggars? I have half a mind to leave right now." She kept Haddock’s arms folded tightly.

Tezzeret Verdile: "You wouldn’t dream of it, not after what you just said to Archon.” Tezz smiled up at Haddock. His voice fell to a whisper as he stood on his toes to address him, “I know your secret now, friend."

The Warden: There was a smack of flesh on flesh; Haddock had struck out suddenly and hit Tezz across the jaw. "If you speak to this to anyone," she hissed, "I’ll do much worse. Are we clear?”

Tezzeret Verdile: “Crystal.” He smirks as he massages his jaw. He turned to walk away, making a flourish with his hand that threw a dusting of snow at Haddock. “But just remember… The Archon would probably notice if you did anything too drastic.” Tezz turned his head and winked. “I’m off to find Clover.”

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