It seemed to Angel that the entire world had been undergoing a very long, very agonizing carriage crash, with new complications and fatalities by the day. The casualty figures kept snowballing, rolling up more and more of Angel's world and the pillars that supported it into a carefully packed, dense sphere of loss. One of the last, and possibly the shakiest, of those pillars was now sprawled out on the couch of the Captain of the Guard's office, spinning the square glass decanter in a circle on the coffee table that divided them. The Toa of Iron, ever the social vampire, had at last revealed his true self without a room of acquaintances for his petty mischief to feed from. On the outside he looked as good as he ever had, except for his eyes - blue hollows that had become deadened by the weight of death - eyes that seemed to welcome the chance to court his own. It was hard for Angel to think of someone who had become so unimaginably wizened and hollow on the inside while retaining such a surreal state of beauty on the outside.
Actually, no it's not. We just arrested her.
And now Dorian Shaddix, Mark Bearer of Rage, lieutenant of Bad Company, Ta-Koro Guardsman, ladykiller-at-large, heartsick polyanna, by turns a friendly enemy and an unreliable friend...was here before him, recounting the events of his trip to Ko-Koro in a dead monotone, the weight of millennia of life experiences, atrocities, and unsung good deeds having crushed him at the premature age of...
They were all so young.
"Did you bury him?" Angel asked. His voice sounded far away and crystalline, both adjectives that could also describe the decanter that Dor was hogging. The news of Joske Nimil's death required more than one gulp of whiskey - and a toast. Joske's life deserved a toast. He went to the grave a hero; it was easy to see how an ending like that could tantalize someone like Dorian, who had spent so long chasing the basic needs like gratitude and concern that he'd once surrendered his rights to.
"Of course I buried him," Dor sulked. "He's at the Temple of Peace. The rock closest to Ta-Koro. I thought he might'a liked to--"
He broke off.
"--Echelon has his mask. Otherwise I would have brought it to hang in one of the halls here. Or given it to Cael. Sorry."
"I can't believe that thinking of doing a good deed is what you're going to start apologizing for."
"Hey, ###### you right back, boss. You know, you owe me a lot, you little savage twink. You would still be spear-fishing on the edges of the jungle if it weren't for me, remember? I made your career, your friendships, Karz, chasing me even got you a girlfriend. Did I ever get a thank you?"
He probably wasn't being serious, but Angel was still in the early stages of mourning - or, maybe he wasn't. All he knew was that he was stuck hard on anger.
"You were too busy killing, robbing, and crossing lines in the sand for me to thank you for the hookup. Do you want me to start a couple lineups, Dorian? All the people who have ever earned something believing in you versus all the people who were better off not giving you a chance? We might have time to get through one, but by the time we're done with the other, Echelon could open the Vault a hundred times over."
Dorian looked like he'd been shot in the gut. It was the betrayed look of someone who had skated through hard conversations for years off the back of his bantering ability, a true creature of habit being spurned, a puppy robbed of a toy to chew. He had the same look whenever something really pierced his armor. It had probably been the last look Joske Nimil had ever seen in his life.
But at least he'd been there.
"...I didn't mean tha--"
"You really did."
Dorian slumped back on the sofa and stared up at the ceiling listlessly. Angel felt guilt gnawing at his stomach, even though he knew he had nothing to be ashamed of. Dorian always responded well to reality checks eventually - usually. A grieving Dor was capable of anything, for good or ill. It would probably mean a lot of pouts, sulks, and self-pitying...but it was also a source of hope. Dorian Shaddix had always been enraged that no one really believed in him. It was a fair complaint. Some of the things that people like Angel had said to him over the years, even when he was at his most helpful, had been earned. You didn't commit the crimes the Toa of Iron committed without earning yourself a lifetime of doubt and suspicion.
But a lot of it wasn't earned.. Especially right now.
"Did he tell you? What's in the Vault?" The hurt was still in his voice, but again, he had deflected the topic of conversation. "He didn't trust me with it. But I know he had to have talked to you before he left."
"We talked," Angel answered truthfully.
"Did he tell you what's in the Vault?"
"No," Angel answered, half-lying.
The truth is, Joske had to have known, but Angel didn't ask; he'd assumed the information had been compartmentalized, with Joske telling his various friends various parts. Talks with Agni and Merror had made him realize he was wrong. If anything, Angel had found himself outclassing both elder Toa when it came to the big picture. If he'd known all that Joske was hiding, he may have asked for more, just in case. But who would have ever assumed Joske would just...die?
"Figures," Dor sighed. "Well, it's Echelon's, until someone goes down there and stops him."
"Yeah. It's gonna have to be someone really sexy, someone with the charisma to stand as a monument for all the generations to come, someone with no fear, someone who's fought off the temptations of evil time and again over the years, someone who needs a good excuse to finally put all his chips on the table..."
"Someone," Angel repeated, his heart sinking into his stomach at the turn this conversation was taking. He can't be serious. He's a Toa of Iron. He's tried before. He'll be torn apart. No. No. No.
"Yeah. He'll probably have to be hung like a Kikanalo too. Just to be safe."
"I'm not going to approve someone going down there by himself into Karzahni."
"You probably didn't approve when I slept with the girl you love, either, but you were too cucked to stop me then. I made up my mind days ago. I'm just not going to make Joske's mistake and not tell anybody." Dor tilted his head towards the desk, but his eyes looked far past Angel, scanning the Ta-Koro skyline wistfully. "I always hated this town."
"I know. The heat...it's not even heat. It does nothing but suffocate you."
"Should rename it Utu-Koro."
Silence fell over the Captain's office.
"You know you'll die."
"Ye-aaaaaaah, I'd say I've kept everyone waiting long enough. It's okay. It's not everyone who gets to call their last shot."
Again, silence fell over the Captain's office. Unbidden, Angel's eyes started to water. He had never really appreciated how much he hated Dorian Shaddix before. He had always seemed like he'd be there to hate forever.
Dor, for once, turned his head and said nothing.
"Who would've ever thought it'd be you making the eleventh hour play?" Angel asked rhetorically into his hands, trying to dry the tears in his eyes. The momentary sting would be worth avoiding having to show Dor that people cared. It would be easier for them both if he could pretend they didn't. "I remember when you left early with Heuani instead of trading in your Mark. I remember watching you walk away from the Temple while Utu screamed at you."
"I do, too. Both times."
"I remember how scared you were of dying."
"Yeah, me too."
"Are you still?"
"Nah, man. It's all one big void as far as I'm concerned. Wherever they throw me, I'll make my own fun there." Dorian sat up at last and grabbed the decanter by the neck, taking a long drink of whiskey with a sigh. He looked into the bottle longingly, as though he could spend the rest of his life with only it for company. The bourbon was the vice that most people had thought would always do him in. It would certainly have been an odd time for him to start cutting back now. "It's everyone else dying that scares me now."
"Nothing. That's just..."
"That's a really good answer."
"I'm a poet and everyone knows it. I should probably roll out. Every second we sit here and ###### in Boyfriends Anonymous is another second Echelon has to open the Vault. I've had the time of my life, Angel Foodcakes. Hey, some parting advice: take it from an old hand like me. The inside of the closet may be kind of comfy, but once you're outside it, you'd be amazed all the types of wood it's made from."
Angel, the tears still in his eyes, was silent a second before he began to chuckle into his hands.
"I hate you so much."
"Everybody does. You don't get to be special."
Angel stood up and moved to the wall behind his desk, looking at the ornament that hung down there before he lowered it with a kind of reverence and twirled it in its hands. The sword had never been used before; it was a weapon forged from wishes, the kind of weapon that belonged in the myths that, Spirit willing, would be told about them all long after they were dead. He had practiced with it daily, sometimes for hours at a time, but the great foe he had dreamed of fighting with it had never met him face to face. Their foes now were dark and kept to the shadows, biding their time until the forces they commanded couldn't be stopped by any weapon - even a sword from a fairy tale. He had taken it promising to be proactive in meeting all threats, forevermore. He had failed.
Joske was dead. Dorian was going to die.
The Captain held out the sword to Dorian, hilt first.
"A friend gave me this, the night before Makuta fell," he explained. "A companion. Someone who saw me as an equal. We were from two different ends of the world, and we had lived through too much to agree on a lot of things. But he was my friend. When I asked for a shield, this is what I got."
"A sword. Ask for a shield, get yourself a sword." A soft, bitter laugh. "Joske really was an idiot. I think he had left and right written on his boots too."
"No. He knew what he was doing. I do, too." Angel pushed the hilt into Dor's hand when the Toa of Iron wouldn't reach for it. "This may help you against Echelon. If he tries his usual tricks on you, block with the sword. It may be your best chance...it may be our best chance."
Dorian's fingers slowly wrapped around the sword, taking it in his hand. He spun on his heel slowly, assuming a ready stance against an invisible opponent - one with a flamberge the likes of which had never been seen on Mata Nui. One wielded by two of Makuta's fiercest Dark Toa. Only Dorian had survived duels with both.
"You're just...giving it to me?"
"I'm lending it," Angel corrected. "Don't die in that Vault, Shaddix. Bring that sword back to me with Echelon's blood and Echelon's head...and I'll call you hero from now until the suns go out over Mata Nui. Just don't die in that Vault."
Dorian's mouth was curled up at the edges in a faint, amused little smile, but he sheathed the sword behind his back anyway. It joined his spear and his Vortixx sniper rifle there, a trinity of fearsome weapons that would have made anyone but Echelon fear to stand against him. The revolver at his hip was the same story; by now, in fact, that weapon was so synonymous with Dor that Angel might have even preferred that the assassin choose the sword if it ever came to blows with them again.
"So that's my debrief, then..." Dor trailed off, a little hesitant to walk out. He was absorbing every detail in the room with his eyes, trying to commit it all to memory for the last time. "Any other helpful tips?"
Dorian started to trail out of the room reluctantly at that, taking it as a dismissal.
Shaddix stopped at the door frame, gripping it with both hands like a little kid and standing in the archway.
"Good luck, Toa Dorian." Angel hardly got the title out without choking up.
For his part, the Toa of Iron just grinned and arched his back, pushing his core and the center of his body into the frame seductively.
"Goodbye, Cap," he said softly, before slapping the wood he was gripping twice and rounding the corner forever.
OOC: Dorian out of Ta-Wahi.