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"Valkyrie's Challenge" is a Season 2 thread from November 23-24, 2014 which leads directly into "Stonegit Prepares for Battle."

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Vox Arnason: Vox awoke very slowly, twitching his fingers to ensure that they still functioned. Balling his hands into fists, he used his arms to sit himself up against the wall alongside the bed he had been placed in. This place was familiar — it wasn’t his home. It was very much the camp he had been to many times before.

His body felt numb. The last thing he could recall was being kept alive by a man who appeared out of nowhere after his sporadic cardiac incident.

Who was he?

Does he know who I am?

Vox glanced over to the door across the room. He could see shadows below the frame, discussing affairs he couldn’t distinguish.

Tezzeret Verdile: "I told you already, I needed to get away for a bit… something… happened. I heard a door slam open, I rushed over there, and then you saw me carrying him back. He just fell over, he stopped breathing, I think he almost died. I was able to stabilize him, but I couldn’t care for him more than that. I thought to bring him back here, how was I supposed to know who he even was Tree?" Tezz was nearly in tears again as he spoke to Tree, trying to calm her panic.

Treepelt Halfpaw: "ALMOST DIED?!"

Treepelt’s panic was absolutely erratic now. She didn’t dare shove him aside for fear of lashing out like she had earlier, so instead she balled her fists and attempted to tower over him. “You couldn’t have—you couldn’t—just—Tezzeret, let me in!!”

Tezzeret Verdile: Tree! He’s barely alive!" Tezzeret shouted back up to Treepelt. "I need you to calm down, please. He’s fine as far as the healers can tell." He stepped aside to let Tree and Akkey into the room. "Just be aware that we don’t know if there’s anything else we can do…" He spoke solemnly as they passed.

Vox Arnason: barely alive?

It made sense. Something wasn’t right — he could feel his blood as it passed through the various veins and arteries. Something had made it so his entire body was hypersensitive to any movement. 

His joints were stiff, and he could barely speak. His mind wasn’t comprehending anything as well as it could before. A lack of oxygen, perhaps? None of it was too concerning for Vox. He was just happy to be alive.

"…guys."

He called out towards the shadows whispering behind the door. I have to be louder.

"Hello?…anyone?…"

Treepelt Halfpaw: Treepelt gasped as she passed through the threshold and ran to Vox’s side, dropping to her knees. “Oh…oh my gods…Vox, come on, listen to me, Vox, stay with me—are you okay?!” Her hands hovered anxiously above him, afraid to touch him once more and starting to get a terrifying sense of deja-vu. With tear-filled eyes, she looked at his pale, tired face and gave a shaky exhale, some of her angry indignation coming back. “I leave you alone for one afternoon and this happens! What did you do?”

Vox Arnason: "I’m sorry, Tree… I don’t know what happened."

I wish I knew what to say. I don’t know what’s happening to me.

"I just… I felt my chest tearing apart… and…"

The look on her face was enough. He needed to stop talking — this was definitely opening old wounds (OOC: PUN TOTALLY INTENDED BOOYAH).

"I just needed help. This man came to my aid; he was keeping me alive. Did he bring me here?"

Treepelt Halfpaw: "Y-yes, he carried you back from the cabin. We saw him and we…talked to him for a while." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Tezz slip away and felt irritated and relieved at the same time.

Then Vox’s words started to sink in and she slowly turned her head to look at his chest, putting a hand to her mouth. “What…what do you mean, ‘tearing’..?” she whispered. “Was it…?” Her hand moved forward, nearly touching his chest, then stopped and drew back again. “Was it the…” Treepelt tapped the spot over her own heart. Gods, I can’t even say it, I can’t say it to him, I can’t live through this again.

Vox Arnason: "…well, I guess that would make sense." Vox coughed into his hand, unable to catch his breath once again. He knew he needed someone to figure this out.

"I mean, I haven’t felt like myself since I came back. Physically or emotionally. My body is weak, and I just can’t get back to where I was… before all this."

He was careful in choosing his words this time around.

The pain wasn’t the issue anymore. It was his acceptance that this wasn’t over, even if he was out of Hel. There were too many things left unresolved.

Akkey Black: Akkey followed Tree into the room and peeked over her shoulder as they talked. She worriedly watched as Vox gingerly felt his chest and coughed. She felt the tension rise in the room, Tree whispering her words and him avoiding her eyes.

These two, honestly…

"Hello…" she said carefully, showing herself fully. She tried to sound as lighthearted as possible, as out of the loop and confused as she was, "Glad to see you…? I heard you died, or something along those lines…"

She tipped her head to the side and met his gaze, holding it for a moment. He looked very much alive to her, aside from the delicate movements and the constant coughing and painful groans. 

She contemplated this and observed him, when suddenly a shadow passed over her eyes and she twitched as a dull throbbing began at the base of her head.

Not again… she whined and fell to her knees.

Vox Arnason: …the pain increased tenfold in a matter of moments. Vox clutched his chest, mentally begging for this to end.

He didn’t want Tree to see him this way.

The coughing fits pursued. His hands were sprinkled with the blood exhaled from his lungs. It was getting worse.

He looked to Akkey for support, but it wasn’t going to be found from his old comrade. She grabbed at her head, moaning and pulling at her hair. She was in visible pain, and Vox had no way to help.

Treepelt Halfpaw: "Vox! No, please, come on, Vox, not…not again…" She looked frantically behind her and saw Akkey in pain. But there was no outward sign of damage to Akkey, and it tore Treepelt to turn away, but Vox was in danger.

She put a hand behind his head and another over his hands. “Just breathe, calm down…just breathe…it’s okay…” Tears were threatening to spill but she clenched her teeth and forced them back. This wasn’t the time. Vox needed her.

Vox Arnason: "…just breathe…"

The words were faint. He could barely understand her at this point. The ringing in his ears and lightheadedness were almost calming.

…it’s okay…”

It wasn’t.

He fought to keep himself with Tree. He didn’t know where passing out would lead — consciousness was his only hope at this point. He needed an answer as to what was going on. Behind the comfort of Tree’s words he could hear Akkey in pain. It tore him apart inside; he wanted her to live too.

"…Akkey. Help her, please, Tree."

He strained his sight to focus on Treepelt. He blinked to clear the tears from his eyes, and suppressed his coughing for as long as he could muster.

"She’s more useful to you guys right now. I’ll keep myself alive for as long as I can. Please, Tree, do this for me."

Treepelt Halfpaw: "You idiot."

The tears were running quickly now. “You stupid, selfless idiot,” she choked, running a shaking hand over his head, through his hair. “I’ll be fast, I swear. I won’t let you die again, not when I’m in control.” She touched her lips to his forehead and then rapidly turned to Akkey, supporting her once more. 

"Akkey, Akkey you have to talk to me…where does it hurt? What’s wrong?"

Akkey Black: She tried to push her away and failed. “N-nothing…”

She started gasping, the pain was almost unbearable now. She couldn’t think straight. She retched on the floor and tears streamed down her cheeks. Her head felt like it was about to explode, and images started flashing through her mind at light speed.

There was a fire. The flames engulfed her home, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. Her family’s lifeless figures were on the ground, soaked in blood. She was screaming. Weeping. She tried to get to them, reaching for them. But someone held her back. She looked behind her and saw them, a crowd of half breeds and dragon riders, their smiling face grotesquely illuminated by the flickering light.

One of them, the one with the crown resting on his brown hair, grabbed her by the arm and started dragging her away, “Dey ded, Miss. We killed dem. Ye ain’t got nowhere to go, Miss.” She shouted and struggled, trying to get away, but he was too strong. They took her with them. A boy in a hood laughed and pointed, the cat-girl beside him joining. They were mocking her. They killed her family and enjoyed every second of it. They won’t stop. They refused to stop.

As quickly as it began, the images ceased. The headache disappeared, the room was no longer spinning. She could see clearly and her pulse slowed, her breathing calming down.

She looked up, wondering who was holding her. Her gaze was met by green slits, her eyebrows creased with worry. Cat ears twitched as the girl shifted her hold on her.

I know that face…

A trembling hand shot up, and closed around the half-cat’s neck. She stood and glared at her, tightening her grip.

"You… you were there."

Treepelt Halfpaw: Treepelt gave a strangled gasp as Akkey’s fingers pressed into her neck. The sudden change in her demeanor frightened Tree, and she pulled at the hand around her throat, choking for air. What could have possibly coursed through Akkey’s mind just then? Did she think Tree was still possessed? "A-akkey…p-please…I w-wasn’t—"

The Chief’s hand squeezed like a vice and Tree’s words hitched in her throat as she slowly began to suffocate. She refused to draw her claws on Akkey, though, not if it resulted in another death. 

Vox Arnason: Vox pulled the air into his lungs as if it was the first he had ever taken in his life.

The relief he felt was incredibly welcome…

…but short lived.

When his vision returned to him, his sight was met with the hand of Akkey around Tree’s throat. The anger in her eyes sent chills up his spine. Before he could even comprehend the situation, he threw himself off his resting point and tackled Akkey.

"STOP! What are you doing!?"

He got to his feet and rushed to Tree’s side. He felt awful about asking her to aid Akkey — he didn’t expect this.

"Tree! Are you okay? Look at me — Tree, please, look at me."

Stonegit Brotchurn Elmiss: Stonegit was on his way back from his conversation with Skye when he heard the commotion. He hesitated only briefly, but then shook of his doubts and ran towards the noise. The King was still in a crowded room of friends eating a meal, and Snag was guarding him. This sounded like an emergency. He burst into the room, seeing Akkey choking the life out of Tree. Thinking the worst, he thrust forward his pike, catching the back of her shirt with the hook, and hauling her back with a yell. This cause Akkey to slide backwards across the floor and Stonegit placed a foot solidly on her chest, the point of the pike leveled with her head. Ready in case she tried anything.   

Treepelt Halfpaw: The pressure disappeared from around her throat and she crumpled, head spinning and vision spotty. For a moment her respiratory system was unresponsive, and panic surged within her as she struggled to breathe. With an enormous cough, she inhaled and stirred faintly, still dizzy from a lack of air.

"…Tree, please, look at me…"

She blearily opened her eyes and saw Vox, off of the bed and down on the ground beside her. “Vox,” she croaked, “how…you’re all better…” Her head rolled sideways and she vaguely saw Akkey lying on the ground. “What happened…?”

Akkey Black: Nix felt hands grab her and wrenching the girl from her grip. She slid across the floor and had the wind knocked out of her as the soldier from before planted his foot on top of her. He pointed his weapon towards her, threatening to pierce her with it. From the corner of her eyes, she saw the half cat and the hooded boy huddled on the ground, comforting each other.

"You…" she said, breathing hard, "Aren’t you supposed to be with Haddock?" She knocked his weapon away and pushed him off instantly, rolling away from them.

She stood slowly, her hand hovering above her waist ready to pull her sword out. “You interrupt at the most inconvenient times, Mister.”

Stonegit Brotchurn Elmiss: Stonegit gritted his teeth. “Do NOT…draw that sword.” he said clearly. He raised his weapon, starring deep into her eyes. “I know you’re in there,” he said. “I’ve known since the day Frosti was killed.” he shook his head, his fingers tightening around the weapon. “Why you gave me the means to save Haddock before I do not know, but your treachery is clear to me…am I right? Akkey?” 

Dust: Darkness pooled in Nix’s eyes. Her mouth split in a ghoulish smile, teeth snagging on her lower lip. “Why, Stonegit, however could you have guessed?”

Stonegit Brotchurn Elmiss: Something broke in Stonegit’s mind in that moment, his grey pupils contracting and an enraged scream erupting from his lungs. A part of this of the thrill of knowing he had been right. But that was just a droplet compared to the massive amount of fear. Fear of knowing his King was in mortal danger, and fear of knowing that whatever Hemlock was, it was very powerful. He lunged forward, whirling the pike over his head, swinging it at Akkey’s legs.  

Dust: Her smile widened. Behind her, Nix’s shadow grew larger and thicker, rising off the ground. “Well, that won’t do, Stonegit.”

The pike passed through her legs without the barest disturbance. Stonegit, stunned by the lack of resistance, fell forward.

Dust grasped his shoulder and pulled his face to eye-level. “You wouldn’t want to hurt your poor chief, would you? Odin knows she’s gone through enough.”

Stonegit Brotchurn Elmiss: Stonegit pulled back, his eyes wide. He backed up a few paces. “Why?” a fire blast started to form in his hand. “I always knew you were a snake! But why let me learn this magic? Save the King? And what you did to Frosti…you tortured him didn’t you?” he stepped forward, firing the blast at the shadow behind Akkey. “Now you’re possessing Akkey to get to the King?! Nothing you do makes sense!”

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: Dinner had been a rare moment of respite for Haddock. So many problems pressed upon his mind. As a king, it was customary to be swamped with work, yet the recent events occurring now - Akkey’s return with no memory, Pitch’s escape, the insane possessed madman in the jail cell, the recent fight between Stonegit and the men of his old village… Haddock could barely handle it. He needed more breaks, even if they were simply the breaks of eating a meal.

Gods willing, nothing more will heap on top of me, he prayed.

And then he turned the corner. Saw a fire form in Stonegit’s hand, pointed toward…no. What was going on? Fuck!

Haddock pulled out his sword and charged into the mayhem.

Dust: "There’s nothing more entertaining to watch than the highest fall possible." The blast passed through the shadow, exploding against the far wall. "Oh, your suffering is just beautiful. The tragic backstory, the devotion to Gareth, all your hopes and momentary victories. The magic was another step to the staircase. Believing you saved your king? It makes his eventual death so much more delicious.”

With a casual flick of her wrist, Haddock collapsed to the ground, sword flying from his hand.

Stonegit Brotchurn Elmiss: "NO!" Stonegit yelled, angered by Hemlock’s treatment of his king. He starred up at the shadow, the Warden’s visions working through his eyes. The image flickered and his eyes got wider. The form in front of him, it was something that had only been seen in books of legends. “Oh my gods…” he breathed, his hope of ever matching this thing in combat getting crushed. “What…are you?” he asked, even though Stonegit feared that he already knew the answer. 

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: Haddock did not know what hit him - it came that suddenly. Yet suddenly he was writhing on the ground, groaning from the horrid pain. The shock of it was so much that his vision whitened for a moment, and he could do nothing but lie there, writhing, before his vision cleared. And yet when he looked up, he could make no sense of the image, could make no sense of what was happening.

But he did hear that threat against his own life.

Gritting his teeth and staggering to his feet, having to put a hand on the knee of his bad right leg, Haddock again pulled himself upright and snarled, “No. You may fight me, you may attack me, but you will not kill me. Not either of us. We stand.”

His eyes searched around to seek where his sword had fallen. It was a bit of a distance away.

Akkey Black: Nix followed Haddock’s eyes and spotted the sword. Dust extended a shadowy tendril and pulled it towards her. She picked up and swung it nonchalantly, keeping an eye on the other four. 

She grinned and cocked her head towards Dust, “What an audience we have, Dust. I thought we were going to wait a while before we revealed anything?”

"Although I do suppose that was my fault…" she looked pointedly at the hooded boy, "I don’t know why, but when I looked at you… all these memories started flooding in. Admittedly at a painful pace, but at least they are my true memories…”

"Dust here helped me realize all the lies you’ve been feeding me." Her shadow flicked behind her.

Dust: The shadow detached itself from Nix, stepping up beside her. It flickered into a dark image of Hemlock.

"Of course, Nix. All the lies they’ve built Akkey out of—you want revenge for those, don’t you?” Dust flashes her startlingly white teeth. “You want to {{kill the king.}}”

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: Haddock recognized the shadow flickering out of Akkey and shuddered. He recognized that face. Hemlock.

Someone whom he had always trusted. The one magician he had always trusted…

…had possessed his dear Akkey. Taken over her.

And was now trying to kill him.

Haddock stood firm despite the fact his sword was now gone. As substitute, he pulled out a pair of knives he always kept tucked up his sleeves. They were at least blades of some sort to stand against… against this monster.

"Lies?" Haddock hissed at Akkey. "What do you mean, lies? If your memories are coming back in full, you should know we have spoken nothing but the truth to you!”

He glared at the shadow - that Hemlock-esque shadow. “Get away from her. Quit controlling her - whatever it is you are doing. Come here in your physical form and fight me yourself.”

Akkey Black: "They are coming back!” she clenched her fists and pointed Haddock’s sword towards him, “I know that my family died! I know you had them killed! I know that you “took me under wing”, pretending to care for me… when you were actually manipulating me and my memories! You! And everyone else here!”

She furiously gestured towards the others, “All of you were in on this! I saw it… I saw you three! You were there, lover boy, you were laughing! And your girlfriend was no different! You three were mocking me, with this… King!” she spat out that last word, “When I tried to save my family… you stopped me! You killed them!”

Shadows crept into her eyes until all the light was gone. Her arms were tense, her skin slowly tinged with black, “My memories are returning, Haddock, and I know you’ve been lying to me. Dust has helped me realized this all. No one is controlling me; these are my own actions, and let me tell you this right now…”

She snarled, “Someone will not leave this room alive.”

Dust: "Of course I can’t fight you in my physical form, Gareth.” She raised an eyebrow. “I have none. This is my manifestation, and this is how we will strike you down. Nix, who you have deceived for so long…she will not stand for it anymore. {{The world will be freed from the foolish, cruel king.}}”

Darkness crept through Nix’s veins, clouding her skin. A wreath of smoke formed around her hands.

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: "Nix? Who is that? Is that what you’re calling her?" Haddock glanced at Akkey. "Gods. You won’t even give her her real name? That’s proof right there you are the deceiver. And who is the person attacking whom? You are the enemy. I asked for none of this, did not come in to attack you, but I will defend my life, and I will defend hers, too.”

He raised his knives.

Stonegit Brotochurn Elmiss: Stonegit charged the form again. He didn’t care if he hurt Akkey this time. Anything! He had to do anything to stop Hemlock from killing Haddock. He let out another yell, swinging the pike with all his might, but a blast knocked him back and he rolled across the floor, coughing. Through his bleary vision he looked at Haddock, back at Vox and Tree, and then at his own weak self. They were all going to die…unless. But no! That would just be suicide. He blinked. “But the King might make it out alive.” he whispered to himself. For a second fear swelled up inside him. Sliding into magical water was one thing, but getting torn apart, beaten, and viciously murdered was another. Tears almost came to his eyes at the thought, but then he stuffed it down, his eyes hardening. “Do your job.” he growled to himself, and stood up.

He turned to Tree, walking over to her and cupping her face briefly. “I’m sorry for what you’re about to see.” he said, his eyes sad. He faced Hemlock again, and set his jaw. "Warden…she’s a Valkyrie. A godlike creature from Valhalla.”  he inhaled deeply, stuffing the sick fear rising inside of him. "We can’t win this fight…but we can prolong it….you know what to do."   

The Warden: Whatever happens, dark-eyes…I will defend your king to the bitter end.

  The entity’s attention shifted and she finally allowed her presence to spill through the room after being contained for so long, expanding past Stonegit’s mind, and directing her focus towards the Valkyrie. There was no fear left, only grim reservation and determination. You know what to do, Stonegit echoed as he let her take control of his body once more.

"You," she thundered, using Stonegit’s voice to channel her own. "I wondered whether I would ever see one of your kind, she-devil…but not like this, in such a broken, fallen form. What shame you must feel."  

Dust: "Shame?" Her sharp canine bit deep into her lip. "You, childish young demon, presume to exalt yourself higher than me?" Smoke issued from Nix’s dark eyes.  

Stonegit Brotchurn Elmiss: Stonegit switched places with the Warden momentarily, the two of them switching back and forth rapidly. The bodyguard hissed through his teeth in a pained laugh. “Wouldn’t take much to do so,” he said. “You…a Valkyrie, chooser of who enters Valhalla or not…is stuck on earth, playing a little revenge game she can’t even justify.” he stepped forward, holding his side and sticking out his chin. “You NEVER deserved to see Valhalla in the first place!” he snarled. “Me, as a wretched human was allowed passage, while you, were thrown out. You…are a disgrace!” he spat.      

Dust: Can’t justify?” she roared. “You might as say your devotion to this foolish is unjustified! I did it for love, you impudent bug. I did all of it for her, and you insult me in this way? I cast myself out, disgusting boy! We deserved to rule the heavens together, but my sisters took her from me.”  

The shadow swelled in size, features becoming twisted and sharp, black smoke wrapping around Stonegit. 

"I challenge you, undeserving mortal, to a duel."  

Akkey Black: Nix flinched, staring at the Scarred Boy. He had changed demeanor, and there was something oddly… familiar about him. She can’t quite put a finger on it.   

When he spoke, everyone else gasped. His voice… it was the same but not quite. No, this is a different person altogether. She can feel something nagging at her from the back of her mind.

"Shame?" she heard Dust speak. "You, childish young demon, presume to exalt yourself higher than me?"

What in the world…? Young demon?

She listened to their angry tirades towards each other. About Dust, about Runa… She felt the shadow rise from behind her, creeping slowly for Scarface. She instinctively raised sword in her hand, pointing it towards him.

All this time, one thing was still gnawing at her. That boy… something’s wrong with him. Inside of him. She whispered under her breath, confused.

"I know you…"  

The Warden: The Warden surged forth again and she projected herself into Stonegit’s vision, a tall figure with feline features. The image was shaky at first, but as she and Stonegit grew more in-tune, her face became stronger. Her black eyes glinted as she turned to glare at the Valkyrie. No mortal in the room could see her except for her own vessel.   

"Take up this duel if you will. But I shall not leave this vessel, as I know that you will not evacuate yours." Stonegit raised an eyebrow and the Warden folded her arms, figure rippling hazily.  

Stonegit Brotchurn Elmiss: Stonegit took control again, spreading his arms. “Three hours!” he declared. “The last dual of honor that took place here had no preparation time. None for prayer, good byes, or strategy. We do not wish to reflect such villainy. He code of a dual like this demands a time and place. I accept your offer, in three hours, at the center of the courtyard.”   

Gareth Ragnar Haddock the Second: Haddock loathed - absolutely loathed - what Stonegit agreed upon, but he noticed that the decision to duel seemed to be settled. So, instead of pursuing aggression with the enemies directly, he solemnly approached his bodyguard and murmured. “Let’s prepare.” If Stonegit would fight, then he would help in all the ways he could.  

Dust: "Three hours. Fine." With a sharp whoosh of air, all the smoke funnels back into Nix’s eyes. Her shadow returns to normal.  

"When the victory goes to me, Stonegit Brotchum Elmiss…," reverberates Dust’s voice, “The King is mine.”  

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