IC Stannis & Drukarus | Fort Nektann | One day after Grime's disappearance
Clad once more in his apparel of fur and steel, Drukarus made his way through the steadfast fortress of Nektann, maul lashed to his back. His eyes were keen and searching, as they surveyed among the Skakdi host that called the fort home, in a futile attempt to ascertain some semblance of quality or discipline among them. But it was as Drukarus feared, these Skakdi were nothing more than brutish rabble, whom held a over-reliance upon raw strength and intimidating displays.
If these Skakdi ever hoped to claim Metru-Nui, then Barius must allow Drukarus to impose some order among the ranks. But as Drukarus continued on his survey, the familiar cloaked figure of the prophet Stannis caught the warlord's eye.
Approaching the warmage, Drukarus spoke out, "So...You heard of Barius' proclamation...What do you think of it, and what wisdom can you share upon it's success?"
"On the declaration of war?" Stannis asked to clarify. "Or on something else?" He looked up from his hands and at Drukarus. He looked tired from a long night of meditation, but wholly sober and alert.
"The proclamation, and whether or not Metru-Nui could be taken...The League still hold dominion there, alongside the Vahki...And I doubt Pridak nor Ehlek would consider a surrender..." Drukarus left the last part of his statement to linger, as if the idea of surrender would be more of a disappointment than a pleasant surprise.
Stannis glanced his eyes to the side in brief contemplation, though the gesture of his pupil-less silver eyes was lost on Drukarus point of view. He looked as though he simply stared dumbly for a moment before he finally spoke up.
It was curious position to be in. The Wanderer had invested his efforts on many fronts, applying knowledge to leaders hither and thither and on all sides of the war, all while never seeking to hold power over them, only influence and the ability to learn ever more. He'd done the same thing in the Ark during the great civil war, and he'd amassed all there was to know about the efforts, or so it seemed until Pridak broke into Metru-Nui's defenses through magic. Now, in the midst of the Xa-Skakdi who wanted to war against Metru Nui, in the presence of an Ark Skakdi warlord who wanted something other than mindless conflict, and in the possession of the very crown the Skakdi would seek to conquer, Stannis stood as an ultimate arbiter. What they didn't know would indeed kill them, tahtorak or not, and he alone controlled the flow of information between those factions.
"The League does hold control over Metru Nui," he said at last, "but they would never consider surrender. If Barius struck at the city it would be a doom for everyone because the League's king is unpredictable, cruel, and fearful."
Drukarus took in the elder's words, his thoughts hidden behind the stoicism of his visage, but the nod of his head belied what Stannis could already surmise the Bo-Skakdi knew; Metru-Nui could not be taken as is. "I see... Unfortunately, I do not think the words of you nor I could dissuade the inexperienced warchief, for I believe all he seeks now is to prove his mark...A foolish idea, one that has led to the fall of many warchiefs before him..."
As Drukarus said his words, upon Barius' foolishness, he could not help but linger upon his own foolish and selfish reason to take the city. Though Metru-Nui was indeed a city of legend, it was one long-since shattered, its value long since lost. What Drukarus sought within the city should've been a menial task, one easily forgotten...But the bitter stubbornness of his pride prevented him from denying it and was why he spoke the next words.
"...But Metru-Nui will fall regardless. Whether as swiftly as it did to the Barraki, or forced into a decade long siege...I do not care, for the Barraki will understand my wrath and why they should've simply put me down instead of keeping me as they're war hound." Fury faintly lined the disgraced-warlord's words, the claws of his gauntlet clutched into a grip that could rend Protosteel...Or the neck of a particular warlord."
"Cities rise and fall—that is the cycle of entropy—and Metru Nui will do the same, in time. But you are not a warmonger like the natives here, however, and you, as well as Gore and any other with the wisdom age gives, knows that death always, only, begets more death. So why do you want them to fall sooner?" he asked. "It was Dume and the Matoran who made your Zakazian fellows cower under oppression, and they no longer possess that city. What is your motive?"
Silence pervaded between the two, as Drukarus contemplated the equally, if not more wizen, Toa's words. What Stannis speaks is the truth, a truth that Drukarus could not help but agree with, no matter how much it seared at his pride.
"You... are right Stannis. I am not a warmonger, not like those of my other kind... Nor do I seek the end of Metru-Nui, nor the League in truth... All I seek is the one who first came to Zakaz, to claim dominance over my kin, to drag them into their war... And aho I seek... is Barraki Ehlek."
"It is a petty reason, I know. But it is a dishonor that I have bared since I lost my home. Tell me Toa Stannis of the Maru, do you not understand such shame?"
"Perhaps I do, perhaps I don't... but I would not feel it as you do, Drukarus, and that is all the difference it takes for me to only provide sympathy and nothing more," he said, sidestepping the inquiry into his own story. The time for that could come, but he did not feel obliged to share his personal journey's chronicles with the warlord at that time. He was too distracted by the graver matters on Xa to focus on filtering through what to say about himself.
"Perhaps it will only be a small abatement of your urge to obtain justice, but I do hold certain knowledge for you. Barraki Ehlek does still live but he is not in Metru Nui, and neither is he in command of the League. Your life would be wasted in a march on the city, and your rage, justified though it may be, would fizzle out like a smothered candleflame."
"I... see." A deflated, yet ponderous tone in the warlord's voice. This was news, whether it was news of good or foul nature was to be decided at a later point, as Stannis once more brought the main matter of concern to light; the eventual attack upon Metru-Nui.
"And the King in Metru Nui has no idea where he is, either," he added, "... in case you were considering that as well."
"No... No that was not what my mind was set upon... Now I concern myself with how to advert Barius from the folly of his own making, how to prevent such needless loss of life, upon both sides...I am unsure of my ability to convince Barius, and am doubtful in the persuasion of the tyrant Pridak."
The Wanderer's lips twitched in anticipation of spreading the next bit of news. After a few seconds of hesitation, he said, "Oh, no, Lord Pridak is not the one who rules, either. The current king is not a diplomat but a thief, and there would be no effective dissuasion forthcoming from him."
Drukarus, though he attempted to hide it, couldn't help but express a vague look of surprise at Stannis's words. "Do you intend to tell me, that the kings of the League have either all fallen or abandoned their people? That Pridak, the Takean King, has fallen and lost his throne to another?"
The Bo-Skakdi raised up his hand, and rubbed at his chin in thought of such news, at such revelation. "You said that this king was fearful... Fear is a tool that can be used... And if this new... king... be nothing more than a thief, lacking in Pridak's cunning or Ehlek's pragmatism... than how easy would you believe him to fall into mistake and exploitation?"
Sudden realization struck the warlord's mind, as the prophetic words that Stannis proclaimed concerning the outcome of Barius' attack lead him down a line of thought.
"You said that doom would fall for those involved... Yet, you did not speak of a winner, of whom would prevail in the end. Tell me Stannis, if this thief was made to heel, to understand in the folly of resisting, to be made witness of the loss of such a conflict... Do you think Metru-Nui would then fall?"
The ancient man chuckled mildly. "Not so fast, old timer—one question at a time.
"Fear is a sharp weapon that cuts both ways. I said the king was cruel and unpredictable, also, traits which feed from the same trough as his paranoia. He is just as keen to hide away as he is to ensure mutual destruction." He pointed at the far-off monolithic head in the horizon. "Within that edifice lies a citadel Barius and his bands of warriors could wail their fists against until they are nothing more than bloody stumps without the knowledge to overcome it. And within the Coliseum is a tyrant of a different sort who would much rather be king of a cemetery than to give up his crown. I should know," he said dangerously. "I'm the one who put him there.
"Pridak no longer lives. His last gasps were at my hand as I offered his very being to the new king instead. Everything you knew about waging war against the League—indeed, everything you have told Barius about what to expect—is historical trivia now. The benefactors of this new crusade now would not even be a party to the war. Doom would be had by everyone, but there would still be a victor."
The look upon Drukarus' face grew stark and cold, as Stannis revealed the nature behind this king of Metru-Nui, and of they're weakness. A weakness that made them seemingly untouchable.
"So then... What do you suggest. If coercion would fail with this thief, no matter the threat, whether upon he or his people. What is it you suggest, seeing as this thief and cowards is of your own machination? Surely he has a purpose... Or is it by this purpose you now stand here to make me believe they are untouchable?" With his accusation came his gaze upon the prophet, an equally accusatory glare in Drukarus' eyes.
"Drukarus," the Wanderer said slowly, then, wearily weighing his words and tone as an idea was knit together in his mind, "consider matters beyond petty grievances and timeless feuds. Consider the thing that binds all things together, that tears ignorance and assumption asunder, that inspires as well as awes, consider what I promised Barius only yesterday. Consider: Knowledge.
"You know my name for my deeds throughout the League's war of conquest, yes? If I may, by what names did you know me as?"
He listened closely to what Stannis spoke, as he allowed himself to be lured by the words, some deeper semblance of shrouded away point in the Po-Toa's words. But when Stannis asked his question, Drukarus could not help but ponder, ponder upon the answer that Stannis wanted and not what he himself thought it might be.
"I... I have heard you been referred to many names. Prophet. Warmage. Toa of the Maru. Each of these I have heard in reference to you, Stannis...But the name from which I first learned of you was among my own kind, from those few Skakdi who had lived to tell the tale of their encounter with you...They called you...A demon..."
"Demon!" Stannis said with surprise. "That's a new one to me."
"But not inaccurate from the tales that I have heard... Though Skakdi are bound to exaggeration, I consider myself to be a one who can discern the truth from many varying accounts of the same tale...And from what I have been able to discern from the tales concerning you, the most striking was your visage...The flapping of your cloak, as its shadow clung to your frame, the cold, almost unnatural look in your eyes, and...Your seeming refusal to die, no matter the wound inflicted, as if you were a being made of nothing more than destiny and fate?"
"All of them rather fitting descriptors for me, I do realize," he said, dwelling on that revelation in turn. He was always interested in how other people perceived him, and he was no less fascinated by Drukarus' stories. "I have a multitude of these titles, some more frightening than others, all of them borne from people's glimpses at mere fractions of what I truly am. Truth be, if I were confronted with a choice between factions at the precipice of wartime, I choose the one that doesn't want war. I fight because I must, I explore because it is essential, and I exist because people want to know more.
"I am not what people think I am, Drukarus. I embody something within everyone, and I do not revel in bloodshed. I disdain barbarism, and only wish for everyone to know all they need to be their best. Wars are not kind to me because they are not kind, but it is through the rose-tinted lenses of war that people have been able to see me."
With each word, Drukarus nodded in turn; intrigue and acknowledgement with what Stannis now spoke, for Drukarus could not help but imagine the words if they left his own mouth.
Drukarus did not desire war nor did he desire bloodshed. All Drukarus desired, was a peace for his kind. "You speak with great truth Stannis, a great truth that I find myself already compelled too follow... But tell me, you say that there is more to you, that you exist because people desire to know more... What are you Toa Stannis? For I am finding myself starting to believe more and more that you are something besides a Toa."
A small, wry smile wrinkled at Stannis' mouth as he pondered how to answer the old Skakdi's question in the most amusing fashion, as many geezers are want for. The opportunity hadn't been presented for Korruhn, and Parnassus' reaction was pleasant at best thanks to the younger one's skittishness, but Drukarus was someone wise enough to peer beyond the veils of half-truths.
"In the body, I am Toa Stannis and have carried on his legacy of chivalrous kindness as best I know how. In mind, however, I am indeed something else. You know what I am, Drukarus. You've already met my sister, after all."
Silently, Drukarus admired his own ability to discern the truth before speaking once more, "So then... the title of demon may have been the closest any from our old home got to guessing the truth of your nature... Unknowing or otherwise."
As truth came to light, and darkness was revealed, one question lingered in Drukarus' mind... An offer left by another. An offer that could be fulfilled by the other.
"Tell me then demon, kin of Miserix, bearer of the guise of Toa Stannis of the Maru...What do you desire from me for the knowledge you know I seek?"
"I do not ask anything of you, or of anyone, old one, I only offer what I have and will have, and in exchange request only what you would part with willingly. I am not my sister, or my brothers, and do not seek power for myself alone. But if you wish for knowledge, as I do, then we can work as one."
Planting his hand upon Stannis' shoulder, Drukarus leaned in close, as his next words were for Stannis and Stannis alone and no other.
"Then grant me this. Grant me the knowledge to rule, the knowledge to lead, the knowledge to sway my fellow kin. Grant me this knowledge, but not through fear like many others would see fit to utilize. Grant me the knowledge to hold sway in the court of lord as I already do on the field of battle. To rule with a wisdom that none could compare...Do this, and in exchange, I will give you my life, but not in service mind you. For I truly mean, my life. It has run so very thin now, and if I may achieve my goal before the end, than my death will not matter none."
The wizard's damnably silver eyes bore through Drukarus' like lasers through fog. He understood what was meant. Stannis Caedast had never done as the old Skakdi wanted, only heard of it in theoretical practicums and unconventional rituals. Whisper had done it to Taja, at the very least, and it had come with grave consequences for the desecrant who was forever altered from the rite. It had turned out alright, in the end, but it had been done recklessly and without consideration for the possibility of death.
But Drukarus was not Taja, who was transformed into a Kra-Toa while only being a mere toa babe unceremoniously dumped in a strange world. Drukarus was old, seasoned with experience and wisdom, and already lived a life full of regrets and triumphs alike. "You would risk sacrificing your own life in the pursuit of knowledge to benefit others, choosing top spare anyone else the deathly cost of your enlightenment?" he asked, legitimate concern in his voice, tinged with... admiration.
"If the cost was to be the life of one of my kin, then yes, for I'm sure you would not waste your time waiting for one not of my kin to arrive to this fortress. I have already, long ago, forsaken my own desires in favor of my people. So now, grant me my wish, demon."
"Then so be it, Drukarus." Stannis placed his hand on Drukarus' chest, then, and prayed the Rite of Desecration upon the old Skakdi's heartlight with a slow and pained cadence. For all the Aspect's knowledge, for all his mastery of lore, he did not know what would become of the warlord then. But whatever did happen, he took pleasure in knowing Drukarus chose it willingly, with knowledge in his mind of what could happen.
"Goodbye, hello," he began. "Hello, goodbye," he finished, and then Stannis waited to see if he would ever bid hello to Drukarus again.
— Music —
Within the shadows of an alcove, the two figures stood and talked. And as the words of Caedast receded into memory once more, the shadows that lightly clung to Drukarus' form receded as well. Looking towards the Skakdi, genuine concern was apparent upon the Aspect's face, the light of Drukarus' heart now gone and empty, cold and cast off.
And then a sharp breath assured Caedast of his concern, as Drukarus took in a ragged breath before straightening back up, his hand momentarily clutching where his heartlight once was. Drukarus lived still, his body and mind intact, his contact with darkness being but a light brush. Drukarus was now desecrated, free from the sickness of the void, free from the corruption of shadow, his only sign of the pact...Being his now darkened hearlight.
Lifting up his eyes to meet those of Stannis, Drukarus spoke, a genuine hint of gratefulness within his voice. "Thank you... Caedast." A thin silver trail of blood flowing down from the nose of the Bo-Skakdi.
"Knowledge always carries a price," the ancient Aspect said in warning, "and it seems your gamble allows you to pay it in credit.
"Your heartlight gives you the power to read minds. The more you listen, the more you'll know; the more you know, the more you'll be influential. Apply your wisdom, old one, and your use of knowledge will serve you and others well. And should you truly need me I will always be in your shadow, one thought away."
A thin tight smile spread across Drukarus' face as he took a step away, wiping away the trail of blood upon his face, looking back towards Caedast before walking away, "Once more, thank you Caedast. I shall remember this. And... if I ever need you, I will call."
And with that, a secret meeting, between men of wisdom, those molded in wars they wished they didn't have to fight, ended as the two split paths, one day to converge once more.
"Goodbye," Stannis said. He would linger in Fort Nektann for a while longer, but had at that point resolved the need to leave the place soon thereafter. The Wanderer never stayed in one place for too long. There were always answers to be given elsewhere. A few days later he left much as he had arrived with the Ambling Alp, without companions that time... but certainly not alone.
OOC | Drukarus' desecration result was rolled by Unreliable Narrator. New and updated profile for Drukarus shortly forthcoming as he has also gained the need for a new character flaw.