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(2013-04-13 - 2013-04-13)
Garland is not happy and nor does he forget.
Avira Bevelle, though hardly untouched by the darkness, certainly does not seem like a world under seige today. The weather is pleasantly warm though that warmth is stolen by a strong breeze very easily felt by those congregating in the upper levels of the city. Around here, business is brisk as usual as the beautiful Bevelle enjoys quite a bit of off-world traffic thanks to its lovely layout.

It wasn't unusual to see Avira out and about alone, even in the wake of the Manhattan incident. Sure, she had been hunted for a week but now no longer held a large amount of light inside of her. Heartless no longer followed her and the Shadow Lords had not sought her out for any reason. In her heart-what remained of it-she knew the reason very well. Her role must have ended that day. Maybe she wasn't even supposed to survive in the first place.

The incident weighs heavily upon her mind right now as she walks across one of the sky bridges, enjoying the sun on her skin and the breeze through her hair. In a way, it was nice to be free of that responsibility.

Stopping in the middle of the bridge, she leans against the railing, looking to the sky. Flying, she realizes as she looks out over the city.

She really missed flying. "...maybe that eventual airship will satisfy the need."
Mercade Alexander A shadow looms behind Avira, a dark presence that slinks from hiding place to hiding place. Avira is distracted, consumed with her considerations of her situation.

The time is ripe. With a sudden motion, the dark figure STRIKES!

And suddenly Avira is hugged from behind, a bouquet of flowers brought into her view. "Hello Avira!" Mercade says, grinning like an idiot as he spins around, leaning back against the railing as he holds out the flowers for her. "You look like you're having some trouble, Avira. I figure more beautiful things together would help." He tips his hat slightly as he arches an eyebrow.
Garland There is nowhere that is safe from Garland.

The Champion of Chaos has no barriers. The Champion of Chaos has no borders, no limitations; nowhere is off-limits to him, if he so chooses to make an entry. Not the strongest walls of Archades, not the fiercest fortresses of the World of Ruin, and certainly not an utterly unguarded bridge in Bevelle.

A moment ago, there were no shadows; the sunlight in Bevelle banished them, leaving a heated, but beautiful experience. A moment ago, the sea had been calm, unbothered; a moment ago, Bevelle had been welcoming, and Mercade had been giving her flowers like a romantic fairy tale prince.

Now, the fairy tale is being ripped open, and so is the world. Like a fragile book, reality is torn asunder by the dark claws of the Champion of Chaos; shadows emerge where none were, the light quailing in terror as the portal opens. From within it, silent despite all reason stating that a figure so large and so armored cannot conceivably be so quiet, Garland steps, his massive iron boots landing on the stone bridge of Bevelle. The rip in time, space, and sanity seals behind him as his cape follows him through.

Someone screams. People begin to flee.

They are the wise ones.

Garland does not speak, not for a very long moment. The silence, Garland knows well, is more terrifying; the silence of the massive man in his massive armor, his face concealed by the terrifying mask, even his eyes shrouded in the darkness he calls his servant. Words are confirmations; they remove the fragile tremors the imagination can set forth and bring a person's fears back down to earth. Better to let his victims' minds spin out in terror and despair, imagining the torments the dark champion could inflict upon them within the Samsara of Battle; better to let their thoughts turn to thumbscrews and blades than speak.

Finally, Garland's head inclines, a tiny, nigh-imperceptible fraction. He regards Mercade Alexander curiously - of course he remembers the man, and of course he knows far more of the man that the detective knows of him - far, far more. Then his head returns to level, staring calmly into Avira's eyes.

"How delightfully saccharine," Garland's cold, dark, echoing voice notes, in the tone of a man who just stepped into something unpleasant and now has every intention of wiping it off his shoes and not thinking about it again for the rest of the day.
Avira Truth be told, Avira is not an easy person to pass a stealth check around. Awareness of her surroundings in multiple environments was something she's dedicated plenty of time to practicing. As a hunter of beasts, it was a skill in high demand, especially if she chose to hunt alone. Or go anywhere alone.

Someone is following her. Avira knows that much, but so far, she tolerates it knowing that in a public place like this, whoever it was was unlikely to inflict violence upon her-unless they are just damn brazen and powerful.

Brazen and powerful like GARLAND, but his appearance had yet to be addressed in this moment as Mercade sweeps her hands around her from behind.

The scarred woman lets out a small squeak of surprise. "Mercade~!" she exclaims, not turning around. Flowers aside, she knew it was him-she actually recognize his smell once he started hugging her. "Oh...just with those dreams and all there's a lot on my mind." she says, taking the offered flowers. "Thank you-"

The moment is coldly interrupted by a shriek of terror, drawing Avira out of her happiness. The shadows have lengthened and the sunlight seems to flee from the point where the portal, which is clearly no mere corridor of darkness, opens. A huge figure emerges, one which is instantly recognized by Avira. Two things happen for her: the bottom drops out of her stomach and her free hand immediately draws the Spine.

She makes eye contact (or at least the equivalent of eye contact since she cannot see his face) and her throat grows dry.
Mercade Alexander Mercade is about to compliment her again and maybe give her some more presents (his coat has a high storage capacity, after all) when all hell breaks loose.

Mercade is a simpler man than many. He doesn't hold many pretenses. When Garland himself appears, the Detective's teeth clench and he tightens up, immediately drawing his revolver.

The silence draws out, the sheer /presence/ of the being of Chaos pressing down upon him. Beads of sweat roll down his brow as he exerts a force of will to not just crumple before it. It seems to go on forever... But Mercade's simplicity seems to keep him from just breaking down for the moment.

Garland finally speaks, the terrible moment broken. He could ask many things. He doesn't bother, most of the answers and responses are self-evident. He does, however, comment. "Don't get a lot of this where you're from, then."

There's no point in running. Anywhere they go would just potentially draw people into collateral damage events.
Garland "Stow your blade, girl; it shall avail you not, not this day." Garland's voice is low and menacing; every word he speaks drips with malice and loathing, every sentence packed full to bursting with hatred. Garland begins to pace, as he ever does - the great apex predator, observing his prey. He is like a monstrous cat toying with a pair of cornered mice - at any moment he might strike, at any moment shifting from the passive stance into an aggressive and murderous one without sacrificing even a tiny bit of power.

Slowly, slowly, and silently, silently, he moves back and forth along the escape avenues of the bridge. His motions make it tremendously clear - there is to be no escape from him. This audience will end when *Garland* is ready, and not until then. Nor does he comment, or even /acknowledge/ Mercade's statement; it is as if Garland's world, and their world, are two completely different things. Perhaps they are.

There's a slashing motion; for a brief moment, if they're paying careful attention, they will see Garland's terrible and monstrous blade appear, and then vanish. Then he moves to the other side of the bridge, calmly.

The side of he bridge he just slashed explodes. Chunks of rock go flying everywhere, the clean cut either mistakenly slashed, or (far more likely) intentionally cut. It's as if someone just reached down and ripped the area apart; the bridge wobbles, suddenly unbalanced. Then comes the flames - a wall of flames leaps forth from the divide, black and terrible flames that do not illuminate or warm. Quite the contrary; they are cold, sapping the heat and the light from the area. The black flames do not move, nor burn anything else; they simply crackle and hiss, an ominous backdrop to the dark champion.

Garland stops on the other side of the bridge. He does not face the lovers; he simply stands, still once more, his iron claws clenched into fists.

"This is *not* a social call. I am not here to test you. You will stand, and you will listen, and when I /ask/ for your opinion, or your /explanation/, or your wretched /excuses/, you will /speak/. Know that you have earned the wrath of Garland, and that it is a testament to my *unending and merciful kindness* that I *permit* you to speak in your defense at all."

Garland whirls on them suddenly, his blazing red eyes suddenly visible for an instant as shadows coil about his form.

"You defended the thieving elf-child from my justice, little girl. You and your nauseatingly saccharine and idealistic companion defended her from my /anger/, and thus, that anger has been /transposed/ to those who now *share* that sin."

"I am."



By Garland's voice, the very concept of /happiness/ has long since escaped him.

"Now. You will tell me *why*."

"I advise that you speak...swiftly."
Avira Typically during the "lessons," Garland did not say anything before attacking. He just attacked, expecting her to respond accordingly and not die. It is this reason that Avira isn't questioning his presence to begin with, assuming that he is here to initiate another trial by fire.

If only. She's able to pick up on the difference pretty quickly, even before he tells her to not bother with her weapon. Though he says so, she doesn't lower the Spine, keeping her grip firmly around the weapon. Should Garland decide to end her life, she didn't want to go down fighting.

With his words, Avira edges just a little bit closer to Mercade. Their way is barred and they remain trapped between cold flames and the embodiment of Chaos with his back so callously turned to them.


Avira swallows again-so this was about that Tree incident with the horrific-looking Lich that Morrighan managed to summon. The incident that she was hardly punished for and not stopped.

She takes a deep breath, spending this second to collect her thoughts, before she speaks. 'It wasn't MY idea.' she wanted to say, but would that have even mattered? Just by association she was guilty and she could have very well protested against Isaac's decision to take Morrighan away and place her under the TDA's protection.

"Because I had held onto the hope that, given the right circumstances, Morrighan would /change/ and ally herself with groups much more constructive than the Shadow Lords." Avira cannot really help herself-there is no small amount of bitterness in her voice. "I met her once after Manhattan had fallen and she all but begged me to take her life because of what she did to help. I decided not to kill her-" What a moment that had been too, resisting the darkness that was tearing her apart inside, "-and took her with me so she could pay us all back for what she did. I /knew/ she could feel regret."

She looks up at Garland. "There would have been little room for her to change constructively if she was dead or in your clutches." Frankly, she didn't want to imagine what Garland would have done to Morrighan.

Avira steps backwards, looking to the barrier of fire on the bridge. She seems a little angry now.
Mercade Alexander Mercade isn't sure whether to be insulted or pants-wettingly terrified. For a moment, he considers trying to /make/ Garland pay attention to him, but then he realizes that's a /god damned stupid idea/. The partial destriction of the bridge causes him to hunch down, getting his balance as he frowns. This is getting even more dangerous.

Garland lays down his rules. Fine. Mercade can deal. He waits for Garland to demand answers. Mercade lets Avira answer, and Mercade folds his arms. Maybe Garland will acknowledge his words this time. "Giving Morrighan to you would be little better than to consigning her to eternal torment. Punishment she might deserve, but not from you, Garland. Giving her to you has no justice, no redemption, no forgiveness."
Garland Avira makes her declarations; Mercade backs her up. For a moment, Garland considers simply unleashing his nuclear annihlation upon the both of them here and now. He considers ripping them apart with mystical atomic fire, obliterating this bridge, the lovers, and a good portion of the surroundings, and vanishing back to the nightmares from whence he came. It would satisfy his rage - rage that dearly needs to be satisfied at the moment, based on the shaking of his hands, the barely-contained malice simply pouring off the Ironclad Nightmare like water. The monstrous demigod simply *exudes* the stuff; it's less like he's a person and more like he's a pot containing pure hatred, about to bubble forth and spill over from the lid.

"Allow me to ascertain the situation." Garland's voice, despite his shaking fists, is perfectly and menacingly steady. "/In its entirety/."

"You protected a pitiful, broken, miserable excuse for a woman, a traitor who conjured forth one of /my servants/ in the hope that she might /steal/ power she has not rightfully earned, a /backstabbing whelp of a girl/ whose greatest virtue is her limitless ambition and whose greatest failing is her *sheer and unbridled incompetence*, thus *denying* me vengeance for her stunningly bold and stunningly stupid betrayal in the vague and distant belief that by showing her some tiny shred of /kindness/," Garland practically spits the word, "That she will *change*, and become a /productive/ member of your little Detective Agency, or your insignificant, mewling valkyrie whelps?"

"And you saw fit to stand between my vengeance and its target, knowing full well the fate of all miserable little quislings, in favor of an enemy that /I aided in rescuing you from/?"

The flames suddenly leap, the black shadows crackling as if to respond to Garland's sheer, unbridled fury. His eyes blaze, that dark and terrible blood-red glow illuminating exactly nothing within his helmet, as if two pinprick stars of blood were shining from within a great void.

"I see."

Garland turns away from them both, staring out at Bevelle. "Then the failure is, of course, my own."

Garland is silent for a long, long moment. Raise their hopes, of course; let them believe that Garland may yet show mercy. Then...

"The failure of the student is always the fault of the teacher. I have evidently not made it *clear* to you, what these lessons are truly about. I have evidently failed to show you that the path to strength is not compassion, but rage. I apologize."

..drop the hammer.

"A mistake I shall not make again." His voice becomes as sharp as a blade as Garland's single visible red eye tilts backwards through the slits of his helmet to land on Mercade and Avira.

"Your loved ones will suffer. Your friends will suffer. Your family, should you find one, will suffer. I will set aflame all that you call home. I will burn the lives of those who have even tangentially touched your own to the ground. Then, when you finally see that there is no /kindness/ in this world, when you watch the truly innocent stained red with blood for the crime of *knowing your name*, when you embrace the hatred and strength that I have sought to stamp into your very being, then and only then shall I be satisfied."

"And I expect that /next/ time you see fit to impede me, you take this into account - do so with malice in your heart, or you shall not survive for long. Garland never forgives twice, mortals. Remembe that."

"Are we...*understood*?"
Avira Avira doesn't have to look at him to know what exactly he's considering right now. That malice is /palpable/ to Avira. She hadn't fully comprehended why Garland was so angry about what Morrighan did, but did it really matter when it made him tremble with apocalyptic rage?

Couched in his own terms, he explains what she did, though expanding the magnitude so now she does understand exactly what had transpired there. Her eyes do narrow ever so slightly when he declares her own band of VALKYRI as insignificant.

"Yes." she says as the flames suddenly roar larger behind her, making her raise her voice in order to be heard. Why deny it? "That's exactly what I did."

But it was a mistake. That woman would not change. Her trip into the Underworld had shown her just that. Not all the kindness in the world would reach that damnable dark elf.

In a way, it was tremendously unfair. Morrighan should be suffering right now, not her and her friends. Life wasn't fair, though, was it?

Then Garland says the failure his his. Wariness is upon her face. She is not foolish enough to think that he would just leave it at that since Garland had proven to be full of trickery in the past.

When he continues, her face grows white. It'd be a lie to say she hadn't hoped that this irritation of his would result in him dropping his "instruction," perhaps writing her off as unworthy. Not...this.

"If this is your 'forgiveness', I don't want to see what happens when you don't." Avira says angrily, "Yes, I get it."
Mercade Alexander Life isn't fair.

People make it fair. You want fairness? You want justice? People have to choose to make it. Sometimes this means not doing the most efficient thing to deal with a situation. Sometimes this means trusting someone who can hurt you again. Sometimes this means giving people chances.

Garland unleashes his words of malice and spite. The one-two punch almost sends Mercade's balance reeling. The Detective's fists clench, his teeth grind. That look Garland loves so much begins to show on his face...

And then it vanishes, the rage draining out of him like water. That's what Garland wants. He wants them to face him with rage in their hearts.

Mercade steps forward, inclining his head as he stares into the Darkness of Garland's visage. "The Darkness came for my world once. My loved ones suffered. My friends suffered. Everything I loved and cared about was destroyed. I know what it means, Garland. I know how it feels. You believe there is no kindness in this world. You will seek to show us it does not exist with your murder and carnage."

Mercade shakes his head, and turns away. "You will do no such thing. Because no matter how much you kill, no matter how much you destroy, you will never extinguish our belief in the good in people, in the hope for a better world and a better tomorrow. Rage and hatred are not the only source of strength,"

He looks over his shoulder, back at Garland. "You will come for those we care about, and we will be standing there to stop you. IF you strike at those we love, again, you will see us there. Attack where we are not and you will find others prepared to stand in our place. Because our light and hope have touched others, allowing us to work together to protect what matters in these worlds. And when you come for us, and we have stopped you, we will come for you, and we will cast you down. Not with anger in our hearts, but with a desire for peace and a love of that which you seek to destroy."

He smiles, tipping the brim of his hat. "So I am sorry to say, I do not want or need your forgiveness, because you are not offering it. You are just offering threats and pain. How long has it been since you've forgotten what it was?"
Garland Garland is about to say something to Avira when Mercade speaks. Garland had mostly been ignoring him up until now - he knew the Detective, but he had had very little actual opportunity to speak with the man or get to know the measure of him. Now, however, Garland is given the measure of Mercade Alexander in one fell swoop - the moment the words spill out of his mouth, he knows Mercade Alexander inside and out. Oh, not personally - certainly not *personally*. Mercade Alexander is one more tiny speck of life infesting the great dome of the world; Garland has no interest in knowing the man personally. No, it is the.../words/ that he speaks, the nauseatingly just and kind words that Mercade spills out, that gives Garland the measure of the man. He talks of hope, of peace, of justice, of love. He talks of defying Garland to the end, of light and hope and standing together.

And Garland /laughs/.

It has been some time since the world last heard Garland laugh. That echoing darkness reverberates through his helmet, filling the air even over the sound of the crackling black fire. That laugh is filled with shadows; it is malicious, cold, cruel, and low, a mockery of all that Mercade has ever held dear. There is no amusement in that laugh, no joy, no light; it is not the laugh of a man who even conceives of such concepts any longer. It is the laugh of a man so foul, so black-hearted, that the concept of a /heart/ may not even apply to him anymore. He laughs, and laughs, and laughs, his helmet shaking with dark and cruel mirth.

And then he stops, and holds up a single, long, iron claw.

"I see. Allow me, if you will. You will stand with your friends and your allies, your loved ones, the people you have defended and touched. No matter how many I, the great monster, hurt, you will never be demoralized. Your hearts will stand together as one, and eventually your love and light will beat back my darkness, for I stand alone and you stand together. My threats are meaningless against the power of your love, because a million hearts together are stronger than one alone, and the light from your hearts will banish my shadows forever. One day, you will even manage to defeat me."

"And, of course, I shall do no such thing, for it does not matter how much I hurt you, there will always be someone else to rise against me. Evil never prospers, for it is self-destructive and limited; in the end, goodness always triumphs."

Garland folds his hands back behind his back and laughs again, that terrible laugh. "Yes. I am certain that you even believe that."

The dark mirth vanishes from his voice as immediately as it came. "I have heard your words a hundred million times over the aeons of my life, Mercade Alexander. I have heard just these words - just these same statements, repeated to me ad infinitum by those who believed the same, by those who believed that *love* and *kindness* are the paths to power."

"Did your *kindness* give you anything but a betrayal? Of course it didn't. But you will insist that the self-sacrifice was worth it, because you could not stand idly by and let a monster like me exact my tortures on anyone, even one of your worst enemies. You will insist that it is better that you suffer than any innocents; you will insist that it is better that you suffer than your friends. Your friends will insist the same, and you will all suffer together, a great net of suffering to catch my hatred and diffuse it."

Garland moves directly into Mercade's face. Literally, right up next to the man. He towers, a colossal, wide armored figure in front of a much skinnier detective. Then he leans down, so that Mercade gets a good glimpse of the same horrible darkness that drove Faruja near to madness, the horrible, self-reflective nightmare in iron.

"That is why the people I will kill are not your friends, nor your allies, nor those who can defend themselves. I will butcher the innocent, torture the harmless, and ensure that all who know your name associate it with misery and despair. This is not a threat, Mercade Alexander - Garland does not make threats. Garland simply /does/."

"And you know, in your heart, that there is nothing you can do to stop me. For all your bravado, for all your bluster, you know that alone, you are powerless. You know that you could not possibly cover the whole of /Traverse Town/, that you could not possibly watch ever single building next to your precious little Cloud Nine Hotel, that you could not begin to survey every single home. You know that."

Garland rises, then turns. "I give you credit, Mercade Alexander, solely that you have the sheer brazen courage to defy me to my face. But I also know that your words are not meant for me. They are meant for her."

Garland taps his long claw against his gauntlet. "They are meant to reassure her. To remind her that there is another way. That there is another, kinder method to power, or so you believe. They are meant to stop her from falling under the spell of my words, from trembling in mortal fear at the promises I have made."

"I consider this...a most /intriuging/ challenge. So I shall partake of your game, Mercade Alexander. I will inflict this suffering in this little war of the souls. Let us see if your love can overcome when I know everything that she does, every grocer she meets, every child she greets, every harmless innocent who passes her on the street and stops to say hello. Let us see if your /love/ and /kindness/ prevail as I turn Traverse Town to a hell of your own making."

"I /accept/ your challenge. Be honored; Garland has not seen fit to accept a challenge for aeons."
Avira That random people that barely even know her would be the ones to truly suffer over this is devistating. Avira's facade starts to crack beneath this thought, deep sadness brought into her mind. How could she stop it? There's a bitter look that follows at the realization that this would just be giving in to Garland's demands, in some way, seeking to appease him. Did she really WANT to appease him? Would doing so actually stop his planned massacre?

She didn't want to regret doing the 'right thing' and giving Morrighan a second chance, but in the face of this, it was hard not to.

Mercade speaks up and suddenly all of her thoughts stop. Sure, he had warned her that he was going to do something stupid, which amounted to defying Garland, and slowly she turns to stare at the detective. It's pretty noticable in the way she watches him as he speaks and the admiration she is no doubt feeling for his words.

Garland begins to speak again and the admiration high ends, replaced with fear. The outcome of Garland simply killing Mercade on the spot was a definite possibility-but that would be too simple, wouldn't it? As he demonstrates again, Garland was anything but simple.

Something in his words makes her wonder, though, and the rational part of her brain wrenches its way through the dread and despair she's no doubt experiencing right now. How does he /know/? How can he know everyone she meets? How is he capable of finding her wherever she goes?

Reaching out, she grasps Mercades arm and moves closer, standing beside him even as Garland puts himself right up in Mercade's face.
Mercade Alexander For a moment, Mercade thought he could get one over on Garland. That he could cause that infinite self-assurance to crack ever so slightly. That defiance that he could bring to bear, possibly get the man to shift his bearing...

But he forgets what it means to be /immortal/.

And as Garland leans down to let Mercade take a good look at what he just spouted his defiance at, Mercade learns in an instant a tiny fragment of what he's up against.

The Detective goes white, his face flushing as his gaze is locked there. There are precious few in the infinite worlds that can look into the Abyss as it gazes back, He begins to tremble, incoherent syllables spilling from his lips as he struggles to remain standing against the mind-shattering truths being laid bare before him.

And as Garlans pronounces the future, Mercade collapses to one knee, shaking and staring at the ground. Avira rushes to his side, holding his arm, and it is that support that keeps him from falling over, that brings a sense of focus back to his eyes.

"You are a coward, a liar, and a manipulator." Mercade rasps, hoarsely. "Don't put your murder spree on her. You are responsible and you alone. You are trying to use her guilt and empathy against her, you sadist."
Garland Garland, on the other hand, is enjoying himself immensely. He laughs his mocking laugh again as Mercade spits out his defiance, continuing in his willful arrogance despite gazing into the Eye of Garland and gaining some tiny glimpse of the Champion's true nature, the ancient and ageless shadows from which he drew his strength.

"Of course I am a liar and a manipulator, you ignorant child playing Hero. I am Garland. You think to insult me with these words? I could play your part like a puppet, little one - your words are the echoes of a million would-be heroes who stood against me and found that time ends all vendettas."

"But Garland...ah," Garland raises his claw again, tracing it in front of Mercade's face carefully, as though he were imagining sheering Mercade's face off with the sharp point of his finger. "Garland is eternal. Garland is /patient/."

"And Garland is no fool, Mercade Alexander. Your words are a bravado dug forth from the depths of your soul to fight what it is you see when you gaze into my depths. Your prattling nonsense is not meant for me, Mercade Alexander - it is meant for you, as you try to deny the inevitable. As you attempt to futilely convince yourself that what you see is nothing but a trick of the light and shadow, as you feebly justify your own words even as you know the truth is so much more, so much greater, so much more impossible than that."

Garland straightens again, casting a meaningful look over at Avira. He lets out a bleak chuckle, then turns away from them both, mercifully breaking his line of sight entirely. "Repeat whatever false platitudes you require, Mercade Alexander. If you wish to believe me a coward, so be it. If you wish to pretend as though you did not know there would be consequences - as though you were *ignorant* of what would happen when you covered for that impudent little witch - then so be it. Of course I am responsible, Mercade Alexander - it will be my hand that executes, that torments, that burns my mark nto the foreheads of the dead and dying and suffering so that all may know it was *my* wrath. But do not pretend that you thought you would escape without consequence. Do not pretend that you thought that rebuffing the Hunter would not come back to you. I pay what I owe, and you have gained a very large debt from me indeed."

Garland paces for a few moments more, as if he's considering something, his back turned to both of them. Then he stops, his head dipping down a bit. "Of course I will wield her guilt and empathy against her. They are *weaknesses*, Detective. You are...familiar, I hope, with the concept of /exploiting weaknesses/? It is a simple concept. You attack your enemy not where they are strong, but where they are weak." He's mocking Mercade, now. Openly, abjectly mocking the man. The lecture is cold and detached, like a teacher delivering a monologue to a student who just didn't /get/ it; Garland's cynical, black sarcasm is thick in every word.

"You see," Garland spreads his arms, "I have taken an *interest* in the girl. I have every intention to see what I have invested in her *pay off*. So I am teaching her, Detective, the ways of strength. And when she truly knows the Samsara of Battle - when she truly feels the strength that comes from the endless cycle of war - I will be satisfied. Until then..."

Garland rips open a hole in space and time with a very visceral slashing motion, his claws dragging through the air, followed by shadows. He steps in, one foot, and looks over his shoulder. "Another time, my dear. Another time, detective. I shall give you one week. In one week's time, when the bells of Traverse Town toll the funeral dirge, you will know that our game has begun."

And then, mercifully, the suffocating presence, the nightmarish shadows, the burning black flame...they vanish with him, and the door closes behind him in an instant, leaving the two of them alone on a lopsided bridge, the sunlight beating down on them as though it had never left. In the distance, guards arrive - guards who will never know how lucky they are to be so late.
Avira Her grip upon her arm isn't entirely free. That bouquet of flowers he had brought her is pinned within that grasp. Avira still has not put away her weapon, fearful that he could attack at any moment. His meeting could end at any time and it could just as easily become another one of those fights for survival she finds herself engaged with at his whims.

As Mercade starts to falter, her grip becomes tighter upon him and he moves closer. With each word the detective says, her heart aches a little as she holds him, nearly clinging to him, each other serving as the others anchor to sanity in the face of Garland's abyss.

She forces herself to look at him as he speaks and mocks Mercade's bravery. With each word, she holds him tighter, her voice caught in her throat, rough as she speaks. "They aren't false. Mercade means every bit of it, Garland. That you've heard it so many times before from countless other heroes doesn't change that." she confirms firmly.

But she cringes. Of course her weaknesses were being exploited. This was punishment for defiance-so she thought, but with mounting dread she realizes it's even more than that.

She doesn't say anything else, relieved to find him gone, though his parting words fill her with guilt-as expected. "One week..." she mutters blearily, her hand finally releasing her grip upon her weapon, allowing it to clatter to the ground. Turning, she buries her face in Mercade's chest.
Mercade Alexander Mercade wanted to strike. But that gun he has... It's just a regular gun. Even backed with a strong will, Garland is no mere Heartless. He can't hurt Garland significantly with such a thing. He holsters the weapon, and stands, slowly, his body still shaking from the exposure to that infinite Darkness.

This is not something he wants to get used to. Garland leaves, and Mercade looks up into the air, inhaling the sea air. "One week..." He looks back down, and hugs Avira as she buries her face in his chest. "We'll figure something out, Avira. We can do it."
Avira Her back trembles after not very long and wetness starts to soak Mercade's coat near his throat. "We have to..." she says, her voice choked up, "We have to...I can't let innocent people suffer for what I've done. Not when they have no chance...they can't even fight back..."

She couldn't even fight back. She wasn't strong enough to fight back against Garland. Fight to survive, maybe. The mocking words of Lavi from months past come back to her, disparaging her strength and resolve. She could barely stand up to him now, as afraid as she was.

Pulling away, her eyes are red and full of regret. "L..let's get back to town." she murmurs, bending down to pick up the Spine and put it away.

This scene contained 18 poses. The players who were present were: Mercade Alexander, Avira, Garland