The Paladin

[21:44] <Minaplo> [For Raphael, entering the silence had made it impossible to breathe. It felt as though something had been placed over his face, suffocating him. His lungs began to burn.-
[21:44] <Minaplo> [The white-armoured, heroic figure stood a little away, his shining sword planted into the ground, held there by his hands. The figure watched Raphael impassively.]
[21:55] <Raphael> He tried to convince his body of the need to avoid panic, but try as he might it was impossible to ward it off as the seconds passed and the first black specks began to float across his vision.-
[21:55] <Raphael> Raphael’s aim on the figure ahead of him began to waver, and then he was taking a few careful steps forward. He couldn’t waste the air a call for help would require, but the fear was clear enough on his face.
[21:59] <Minaplo> ["Do you want help? You should, otherwise you'll die."]
[22:01] * Raphael 's eyes narrow fractionally despite the situation, but there's no choice but to nod.
[22:02] <Minaplo> [A light smack on the face- barely enough to shake Raphael's cheek, let alone cause proper damage- and suddenly, the air's back, blessed and clean and fresh.]
[22:10] * Raphael breathes so fast and so deep that he's left coughing, stumbling back a step as he swallows air in greedy gulps. It takes a second or two for his vision to clear, but eventually his gun finds his target again, and the last few seconds don't seem to have endeared him to the figure ahead. "… What are you?" He asks coldly.
[22:11] <Minaplo> ["Will my response change whether you want to shoot me or not?"]
[22:15] <Raphael> The image of the coin flashed through his mind again. "… Perhaps not." He answers with a slight shrug. "However what I want needn't be the same thing as what I do."
[22:16] <Minaplo> ["Ah, so you'll want to shoot me, yet stay your hand? How many times have you -actually- shot someone that you genuinely wanted to shoot, Raphael?"]
[22:21] <Raphael> "I have no intention of engaging an Angel's shadow puppet in debate." He says flatly. "It's failed to stop us with violence, and so now it seeks to use words. Just wearing my face isn't enough to make me forget why you're here."
[22:22] <Minaplo> ["Why is that? Remind me."]
[22:22] <Raphael> "Stall us. Break us. Kill us." He shrugs again, making the bolter shift slightly. "Pick one."
[22:23] <Minaplo> ["A question for you, then."]
[22:24] <Raphael> "If you really must." He says with a quiet sigh, glancing around at room and failing to spot an exit.
[22:26] <Minaplo> ["You assumed I am some Angel's shadow puppet. Why?"]
[22:35] * Raphael does pause to consider that, inclining his head as if trying to look at the figure from a different angle. "… It's an assumption, I admit, but in the midst of an Angel attack it seemed to be a safe one. Striking at us with our own forms is a tactic that's worked before."
[22:37] <Minaplo> ["Perhaps, but there are other perfectly reasonable assumptions to make. Perhaps the one who created me wasn't the Angel, but you."]
[22:39] <Raphael> … if anything, that only seems to make Raphael tense further. "Like Surov and the child." He finishes, giving his double a wary look.
[22:40] <Minaplo> ["Yes, like Surov and the child. And if you're willing to protect the child, you should at least be willing to give me the benefit of the doubt for now."]
[22:41] <Raphael> "… Fair enough." He says after a tense few seconds of thought. "Then you'll stand aside and let me find the other two pilots?"
[22:42] <Minaplo> ["No, you cannot. For your safety as much as theirs."]
[22:43] <Raphael> "You understand how difficult that must be to believe, I hope." Raphael says slowly, voice carefully level.
[22:43] <Minaplo> ["I will make you understand. Imagine that what is happening now is happening to the other pilots."]
[22:44] <Raphael> "Mmm."
[22:45] <Minaplo> ["Be honest, now- do you really want to find yourself sharing space with any sort of shadow puppet created by -any- of the pilots?"]
[22:49] <Raphael> Dead silence. "… Right." He says, not entirely successful in keeping the tinge of amusement from his voice. "Yet on the other hand, that's exactly the reason I'm concerned."
[22:50] <Minaplo> ["Well, if that's the reason you're concerned, by that logic, I'm just as big a threat as they are, no? Perhaps you should be focusing your attention on me, for better or worse."]
[22:55] * Raphael gives the double a thin smile devoid of humor. "If you're really any part of me, sir, you should know there's no need to worry about me not considering you a threat."
[22:56] <Minaplo> ["If I really am a part of you, then the idea that you would consider a part of yourself a threat is alarming. No better than Surov, as a matter of fact."]
[22:57] <Raphael> The smile remains fixed. "Mmm."
[23:01] <Minaplo> ["Is it hard, sometimes? The job which falls to you, I mean."]
[23:03] <Raphael> "Of course."
[23:05] <Minaplo> ["Why?"]
[23:06] <Raphael> "If you're part of me, you know."
[23:08] <Minaplo> ["Then you shouldn't have any problems sharing the reason with a part of you. Unless you're trying to hide something from yourself, which, if I am a part of you, is perfectly useless."]
[23:09] <Raphael> "And yet, I still haven't made up my mind about whether you /are/ a part of me. Hence my hesitation."
[23:13] <Minaplo> ["I'm not going to try to convince you, either way. Nothing I say can offer absolute proof of anything." The warrior turned away, brow furrowed for a moment, staring at a nearby wall. It slowly began to dissolve into an elegant stone corridor. "Her death weighs on you. You miss her, greatly, still."]
[23:22] <Raphael> Behind the armoured figures back, Raphael forces down a look of fury. "Of course it does." He says tightly as he moves quickly towards the door.
[23:24] <Minaplo> ["Why?" He turned to stare at Raphael. "Why anger? Why does it -infuriate- you that your pain should be mentioned here? If you cannot speak of it here, then where else can you speak of it? If you cannot let yourself feel it within your own soul, then all you can do is snuff it out."]
[23:31] * Raphael 's mouth is shut, but the muscles of his jaw are working slowly as he stares at the double. Gun still raised, he tries to step around the man without further comment.
[23:32] <Minaplo> [The man lets Raphael go ahead, following after him.-
[23:33] <Minaplo> [The corridor seems- long. Endless, in fact, and after about a minute of walking it begins to develop windows. Windows into an older world. A living room he once shared with a brother and sisters, a bedroom within which he would sometimes have to stay in for ages, reading bedtime stories to the occupant.-
[23:34] <Minaplo> [And in between the windows were pictures, children's scrawls. Happy ones, of himself and his parents, or of the whole family, or even of just him.]
[23:42] <Raphael> Even with his eyes fixed firmly ahead, it was impossible to stop himself catching glimpses of what lays to either side. It seems to go on for a lifetime, that trek, and when he finally speaks up - still not slowing or turning - there's a slight sheen of sweat on his forehead.-
[23:42] <Raphael> "Stop this." He says, and even those two words are enough to reveal the slight shake of genuine rage in his voice.
[23:44] <Minaplo> ["You tried to stop seeing this, didn't you? You didn't want to, so you took it and you buried it away, not to keep it safe, but to keep it quiet. To keep it dead."]
[23:44] <Raphael> "Enough."
[23:46] <Minaplo> ["You were angry. Angry wasn't nice, but it was better than being sad, better than hurting, better than yearning. And in the very darkest moments you found yourself wishing that there were nothing but anger, because everything else was pain, and suffering, and hurt. Because if you were angry and hateful, it'd feel better, in its own sad way, than loving them and their memories."]
[23:54] * Raphael turns on his heel before the figure behind him has even finished speaking, bringing around the butt of the bolter in a short, sharp arc towards the other Raphael's face.
[23:55] <Minaplo> [But it was as if he had been expecting it, the flashing sword suddenly between them, the bolter butt stopping inches from his face. With a push, the warrior breaks the guard and jumps back.-
[23:58] <Minaplo> ["People try all the time to hide pieces of themselves, to strangle them, to snuff those unwanted things out of existence. But it's impossible." Said the warrior. "Those pieces will always, always exist, and the more you imprison them, the more you try to shut them away, the more they struggle and scream and try to break out. And here? In this place, where reality is almost nonexistent? It's the pieces that want it most that appear."]
[00:25] <Raphael> “What a ridiculous, selfish excuse for a philosophy.” Raphael spits as he’s forced back a step. “You recall Lucas, I hope? I assume so, if you happen to have all my memories at hand. Do you think /he/ would have been pleased if I’d followed your lead and allowed myself to succumb to that grief? Would it have been more moral to let it consume me instead of doing what was necessary to allow myself to move on? If you’re working to show me I chose the wrong path, /try harder/."
[00:26] <Raphael> He straightens up, speaking with forced calm. "Now. I will ask again: Release me, and allow me to recover the other Pilots."
[00:30] <Minaplo> ["I will not." Said the warrior firmly. "I was never the one who said you should have succumbed to that grief. But I am the one saying you shouldn't have succumbed to your hate. Are you even listening to yourself?"-
[00:31] <Minaplo> ["What kind of person sees images of his family and reacts with hatred, instead of love, Raphael?!"]
[00:32] <Raphael> The brittle mask of calm snaps instantly. "The sort of person who's having them used against him as a weapon!"
[00:37] <Minaplo> ["THEY'RE NOT WEAPONS!" Roars the warrior, his face twisted into grief. "Weapons, hatred- is that all you can say about them? Don't use them as a weapon- I am you. The only weapons I wield are the ones that you have made with your own damned hands, you fool! If you truly do not want them to be used against you, then let the hurt live."]
[00:45] <Raphael> Raphael stares in silence for a long time, before finally all of the fight simply seems to drain out of him. His shoulders slumping and hands falling down by his sides as if a decade’s worth of exhaustion had settled on him all at once. "What do you want from me?" He says softly.
[00:51] <Minaplo> ["To acknowledge me." Said the warrior quietly, turning to look at the window. "I would have died for them. It was a fair trade, my life for theirs'. It's what a big brother should do, isn't it? His duty. To help his mother, his father, and look after the little ones." He smiled, a sad smile. "You should call her again, you know. I bet she misses you a lot." The warrior started to cry, the tears building up in his eyes and splashing down on his cheeks. He didn't move a hand to wipe them away. "She'd want to make you happy, to see you happy, she'd want you to think of her, to be happy that she existed at all- not to be angry. That's all. That's all, Raphael. It- it should be little one here to speak with you. Not me. Not this shadow."]
[01:00] <Raphael> "… but that's all she would be as well." He murmurs, swallowing hard.
[01:03] <Minaplo> ["But that's alright." He said quietly. "Because if she were here, then it'd mean deep down inside, she would be with you forever, just like I am. Just like she still is, Raphael. She never left you, Raphael. You were the one who turned away. All she wants is for you to call her again. That's all."]
[01:12] <Raphael> "…"-
[01:13] <Raphael> "… C-Caitlin?"
[01:27] <Minaplo> ["Raffy?" Came a voice, that of a girl. The end of the corridor was visible now, a small room with a sturdy-looking wooden chair and table. The room itself was overflowing with pictures, bright and sunny and happy pictures.-
[01:29] <Minaplo> [On the chair sat the girl, Caitlin- she had wavy black hair, tied back into a braid, and bright eyes of clear amber. She looked just as he remembered- sharp, angular little nose, a curt chin and thin lips. But she was smiling, at him.]
[01:34] <Raphael> He closes the distance between them - slowly at first, warily, gradually growing faster until he’s tearing up the distance in long strides to gather her up in a hug, the shade behind him forgotten. "H-hello, little one." He murmurs, voice choked with tears and ancient grief.
[01:39] <Minaplo> ["Raffy- you're back." A hug just as tight and real as the one he gave her. "I knew you'd come back, I knew it… I missed you…"-
[01:40] <Minaplo> ["I made these drawings, I know I'm not the best drawer, but you liked them. I've been drawing for awhile, but… But I couldn't just stop. You wouldn't, Raffy, I know you wouldn't."-
[01:40] <Minaplo> [The Warrior stood at the doorway silently, not speaking, but smiling a little.]
[01:52] <Raphael> "O-of course not." He manages, still not letting her go.
[01:53] <Minaplo> ["I love you, Raffy."-
[01:54] <Minaplo> [There was a hand on Raphael's shoulder for a second, a squeeze- a show of support, before the edges of the room began to simply fade from existence.-
[01:55] <Minaplo> ["We won't be gone, Raffy. We'll be here, with you. Don't forget that."-
[01:55] <Minaplo> [… And for a second, Raphael didn't see or hear or feel anything except the warmth of Caitlin's arms and the support from the warrior.]

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