Young King, Young God

November 10, 2017:

The Black Panther has arrived in Gotham to gather information. Along the way, he is presented with an opportunity to address a forbidden trespassing in Wakanda during the Mizizi incident. But the woman he meets is not the same who he forbade entry to the country many months ago.

Gotham Warehouse District


NPCs: None.



Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

Gotham is a city on the brink.

Most who have never been here would not understand. They might think it a microcosm of the worst of what New York has to offer, but the very air will tell a different tale. It is a presence almost spiritual, a decay that leeches the good from men's souls and pulls on the tired strings of those who would dare stand against it. Still there are bright spots, but even bright spots take on a dark bent in this dismal place.

Standing in profile of moonlight is the slip of one of those souls who would push back, though she is far from the innocence one might expect is required to be a bastion of good int his place. The secret is to mire yourself in it, to become part of it. She lives in New York now, but this place was where she was born again.

This is where she became The Devil.

She looks every bit the part, though some might balk at her size. Military style pants, covering for a thin bodysuit beneath. Black on grey, with a stylized Bat Symbol on the front of her uniform, the wings arcing upward to almost resemble devil's horns. Though she wears her mask, those who know her soul can find her easily enough, perched atop a warehouse down by Gotham's docks. She stares into the void below, looking for something near the water, but yet to find it.

Claws cut into the pier.

The fact that Gotham was one of the most emotionally derelicted cities was a fact well known to Wakanda and its delegation, an entire city of Hell's Kitchens. Each block as a tragedy and on it, a guardian who was either corrupt or a nightmare. In the wake of the affairs of the motherland, T'Challa has found himself increasingly preoccupied with the troubles and trials of the Americans and their roots. As a man of details, even minor threads rouse his mind, even when the mission is something altogether different.

This is why he arrives in Gotham today.
This is not the way men should live, he thinks.

The Panther does not land from the sky. It is true that not all cats can swim, but to imagine that he could not would be folly. He shoots from the water with arrowflight's quickness and no more sound than a leaping fish tumbling against the wood of the pier. Claws made for much more than heartwood sink into the supporting pilings, and with a twist of the trunk of his body, he pivots on his claws, up and over onto the deck of the pier, sinking low on his haunches, compressing himself into a small point smaller than any man his size should be.

Dockhands load a nearby ship no further than a stone's throw away from him.
He is in plain sight.
But he is not seen.

Men place crates with no more alarm than the caution of not placing one on one another's foot, grumbling and grunting instructions and implied jibes as the Black Panther moves by, up the dock and towards the warehouses. He moves fast, and he moves low, speaking to no one.

It is not a measure of vision so much as spirit, something she may not have noticed just a few weeks ago, preoccupied by an inner demon who has now become her other half. Something is moving, something that was not there. She does not wait to find out what.

The Dark Devil leaps from her place atop the roof, moving sidelong, her silence born of training that she herself never received. All of it was inherited, some would say stolen. But no matter how much of it she deserves, she does not hesitate to use her knowledge to find a point where fates can collide.

The space between two warehouses becomes her hill to die on, dropping from on high and falling into a crouch at just about the time The Panther reaches this, the gateway to the warehouse district. Here she feels even, at ease, but looks lethal.

For the King, it will be easy to sense the change in her, not some broken half-thing, trapped around the soul of a woman who sought to keep it at bay. She burns like a spiritual sun, bristling with a power that simply did not exist when they first met in that cage, a single soul containing it inside a frame perhaps ill fitted to show that power. While she is diminutive, Azalea looks strong, not the feeble, sweating, miserable thing T'Challa met before, but someone at the pinnacle of her existence.

Just like the creature that once walked into Wakanda and sought to destroy it so long ago.

Wherein a devil meets god's messenger:

The majority of the communication between the king and the charge that meets him tonight is nonverbal. It's a story told in the way the water sluices easily off of the fibers of his uniform, and the trails of runic symbols that crawl across it, flaring briefly in shades of black violet when Azalea lands in front of him. A story told in the uneasy hitch in the warrior's step as she crosses the path of the black panther. A story told in the telling way his helmet shifts to regard her. There is nothing about him that is fast or reactive. His thoughts are precise, deliberation clear.

This close, her scent flares to him, his body settling low into a wary stance, his claws loosing from fingertips. The devil has no business bowing before a king. But then, it is a very different thing, their meeting. Before it was glass separating them. Now, there is nothing.

He says nothing.
Instead, he moves for her.

A man who hunts a devil is mad. There is nothing in T'Challa's mind that hesitates, nothing she can sense in his spirit but resolve. And when he jumps, he jumps as if to kill. But then and there, it is notcannot behis intention, at apparent. If the young devil stays in her place, and at her side, the Black Panther will leap over her, clearing with little trouble and with his jump landing past her soundlessly. If she does not look fast enough, she may lose sight of him, as he disappears around a bend in the grime-soaked brick, moving in his and on his own way.

If she does not act fast enough, he will be gone.

There are few things that would thrill Xiuhnel, her Dark Passenger, like a chase. It was what he lived for, the first moments when someone took flight, fear clear in their wake. But this was not that, and she was not Xiuhnel. Still, she could not divorce herself from her history. She jukes sidelong when the King makes his leap, watching his body as if it were a book to be read, admiring every line, every muscle translated through his habit.

It takes her to the wall, lets her determine his trajectory and leap. Not at him, but up and over, using strength she could never summon as Azalea Kingston alone. The wind will tell the tale, a disturbance that precedes her arms closing for his waist from behind and above, momentum meant to carry them both into a roll, one she will will release immediately.

The Devil would not seek to subdue the King, only demand his audience and attention. It does not set the tone of such a thing, for while she has memories of the land T'Challa rules over, she knows every man is different. This could end very badly. Hit or miss, she will land in front of him, rolling to knees and hands and skidding to a stop before she rises again.

"I never had a chance to thank you properly, for your gift. I never had a chance to apologize to you properly, for everything else. If your mission is dire, tell me, and I will not delay you. But tonight or another night, you will hear my words."

Like his native lands, the panther can be cruel.

The king finds himself tackled by the comparably diminutive sentinel, the weight of her body throwing off his momentum just enough to send the two into an uneven roll across the concrete. Were she any normal person, he would have had no trouble throwing her away in mid-air. However, strength beyond her own embattles him, and in truth he is surprisingly easy to throw down in the midst of his passing. The only peculiarity of their meeting is the flare of those runes as she throws herself into his arc, a reaction there the same as any other.

As the two break position, the panther rolls quickly and easily, coming to his feet in a low crouch as if he had trained for that exact moment for years, and in truth, he may have. Rising with the slow deliberation of a man who knows his own mind above any other, a faceless mask turns slowly to regard Azalea, and what the blazing sun has to say to him.

Even outside of his mask, they have said that the King is a hard man to read. He has never shown a manner that he did not intend, and some interpretations, his face has been said to have been cut from a stone of Wakanda a mile thick. In certain cases, his pitiless mask is more evocative than his true face. This is not one of those occasions. Without even appearing an ounce of the obvious in being impeded from his goal, even his spirit is a smooth, featureless plain, an expanse whose only storm is the one that was born with him since his birth. He rises, and looks at her as she speaks.

In truth, she doesn't get far.
Right around halfway through her words, the Black Panther simply leaps straight up.

One would imagine that if his goal were to put her off the path, he may have selected a less roundabout way of doing so. He is infuriatingly silent on the subject, simply electing to leave the alleyway straight up this time, landing on the wall and then leaping further up, to the rooftops. It is not a thing that someone can easily understand, where T'Challa means to go, or what his attitude is concerning her. Wakanda is not an easy thing, and her mind is not easily known. There is only the next day, and what it means to live it.

The courage to continue onward, despite all warnings to the contrary, is a hard feeling for many Americans to comprehend.

Of all the things she has seen in her life and past lives, it does not fail to impress her to watch The Panther move. The Devil stands in awe, a gift to herself and a human moment that thrills her soul. More and more she has found these small tidbits of mortality, a reminder of the other half of her she thought was lost.

Azalea certainly remembers this feeling, of that boy in class she had always wanted to notice her but never did, no matter what she did, it draws a little smile and she leaps after him with the chase in her blood and the hunt in her mind. To hunt a Panther is certainly dangerous, and to hunt a King might invite the wrath of an entire nation, one that knew wrath better than any other country in this world.

Xiuhn'azel, Aspect of Redemption does not care.

Her focus is keeping pace, making up lost ground with intimacy of terrain, rooftops she often haunts and places she uses as ambush points for those who try to use these warehouses as another way to rot the city from within. Where feet will not be enough, she leaps in the way he might, prodigious strength carrying her across the space between one roof to the next, until she is all but a few steps behind him.

Perhaps he will not hear her out tonight, but she will know his purpose here in Gotham, unless he wishes to change the game as she has tried. But she has patience now, a gift from John Constantine and Zatanna Zatara, one that she has vowed to use in place of raw aggression where ever she might. But simply chasing him is not her only way to sate curiosity and move the needle where she might.

"I know your game."

The Devil does not remember all of the secrets of all of her many lives, but she remembers enough Hausa to to convey the spirit one must infuse in every syllable, a meaning that English could not hope to approach. It is something she should not have, taken by force by a life she never should have had the right to claim, save for the courage of The Forgotten King.

All things return to the blood of who we once were and always have been.

The Black Panther is somethingsomeonewho moves like a ghost, accustomed to being the predator, and rarely the prey. He keeps himself moving along, shifting in strange ways just barely beyond the reach of a human's achievement. When he moves, he moves just ever faster, and when he bends, he does so just an inch farther. It would be immaterial, to the stretch of most metahumans, who move buildings and outpace jets. Still, he is infuriatingly challenging to keep up with. It is indescribable, how much an inch or so matters.

He vaults quickly over the rooftops and spires of Gotham, old brownstones and warehouses stacked side by side becoming little more than roads for the dauntless, their expanse vast even to a champion of the veldt but fearlessly navigated all the same. Hunted as he is, the panther's speed lags only in the finest threads even after she whispers in the language he uses only with his closest and most trusted retinue. In this, he is aware of her shift, the course correction attempted. Mounting a water tower and diving across an abandoned sign regarding some election three years past, he moves deep into the warehouse district.

In this, the devil clashes with the king. He sets the rules and enforces them, in as much as the devil wishes to cause them an unkindness. This is their blood, in and of them both, and to it, the Panther's reply is mild, the sharp tones of a razor sliding across the whetstone.

"Do you," he asks, in incisive Zulu.
"Explain it to me, then. If you can keep up."

He moves quickly, but his challenge is not insurmountable. Not for a Devil, and certainly not for Azalea. One might wonder why.

The exchange makes her realize how poor words are, really. At least for this, a part of the whole. It turns her inward, to old memories, to what she knows of this man's land. She should not look, these memories were stolen. She should not seek this, and she knows it might only end in pain.

Her hand finds his ankle, making up that inch here and that microsecond there, twisting through the air to tag him, to impact his balance, but the move is not meant to stop The Panther King. Instead she means to force re-orientation, to make a shift in direction, so that she might take the lead. If the King is not here for her, if she is wrong about his game, then he will have this moment to leave. To pass from her view, to decline her invitation to become the hunter.

"Wakanda does not stop testing those who walk her Earth. To tell a foreigner this is to warn them. To tell a Wakandan this is to welcome them home. But here you are Wakanda. Here you are the test those that might touch your land."

The last word ends with her vaulting a railing and finding nothing at all but air, until suddenly she's hitting a rooftop and absorbing the impact in a forward roll. The Bat could do these things. Even the Bird he keeps at his side. But not forever. Not like this. This is not human, and it shows in her resilience, an unending reserve that pours from that blazing light inside her, feet hammering the rooftop to try to make it to the edge before the King can catch her.

He turns, but not as she means.

Self-doubt is crippling. One of the things that Barnes quickly realized about the panther and those who form her claws is that they do not move in the same ways that a human does. To strike the panther, or to lay hold of him does not produce the normal, expected response of a human being. Taking hold of his ankle, trying to force his balance. As she turns away from her own place of Wakandan memory for that lapse, she will realize it all the same, all the same and instantly.

One might as well try to grasp the river.

He does not deviate from his direction, his body seamlessly tucking into a mid-air roll and then dropping, into the black between buildings. And for a moment, he is gone.
It is hard not to imagine an end to the chase right there, an end to the game. And why not? For Kings, there can be no such thing. The silence as she mounts the rail is powerful. For a silver moonlight-strung second, her lithe form cuts through the air and she is free to do as she wishes. The grace of her form is magnified in solitude, for she has heartbeats to ask herself truly who she herself might be, under the sun of Wakanda.

The attack comes from the void beneath.

It takes only a moment of indecision, a moment of question for the weapons to materialize. Sailing out of the alleyways with the tell-tale click of metal on stone, matte black disks fail to catch the light as they click off the brick and metal of walls and railings, tumbling through the air as the thrown weapons are expertly tumbled around the young scion. One to her left, the other to her right, activating as she lands. The timing the supernatural. Each of the devices fuse themselves almost instantly as they trigger, disgorging their energy and becoming inert in the process. A hyperaware mind such as hers may realize that he is all too aware that he is in the city of the World's Greatest Detective.

The twin flowers of force bloom. She will recognize them as a unique form of ultrasound, a kind of net. Though a normal human being could not hear the deep bass sound, the shockwave emitted by the energy weapons is enough to temporarily displace all of the air around her, disturbing her movement in vaccuum just long enough for it to crash tightly again. The effect is kin to being caught by the crash of the tide, for only a few seconds. A debilitating sound net? For a human, it may have been enough to cause immediate unconsciousness… for them? It is a sound net. Did the King expect to be attacked here?

The pulse of Azalea's life is not like others. Not one heartbeat, but two, one pumping blood or something like it. The other pushing energy in a continuous pulse, but neither come with the expected breath, for she does not breath. Yet, when T'Challa moves like water through her fingertips, certainly, an unneeded breath catches. For a creature who had awoken something inhuman, The King reminds her where the best parts of her come from.

It is humbling.

It is also her undoing.

Hesitation washes over her moments before the devices activate, the effect forcing the hair to stand up on her arms and goosebumps to race lines across her skin, her hair flaying outward as if caught in a wind-tunnel, and her body tumbles end over end in place before the momentum is released and she finds cold concrete her only savior.

The wall cracks, pieces of it tumbling to the alleyway she lands in just moments later, a rough, unkept place where trucks might usher cargo to and from the places they are meant to be stored.

When she rises, dust falls, her hair wild and untamed and her gaze holding the bent of a predator's focus, razor sharp as she stands full and looks once more for the King. If that was meant to hold her, it could not do so forever. If it was meant to disable her, by grasp or fall or combination of both, she seems still whole.

"To test me you will need more than toys, King of the Cradle. To know me, you will need to look into my eyes when you draw blood. If you draw blood."

Her hands curl to fists, her body stills in the cool of the evening air as her senses sharpen on the slightest movement, calling on training from long ago, from a time when Xiuhnel was paired not with a serial killer or a Khan or a King, but when he was paired with Kor Kon Klem, Leader of the Fifth Circle of the League of assassins.

Now she was ready to face a man not a man. Now, she felt lethal.

He lands soundlessly.

It is a different situation, to playfully engage over the rooftops, than it is to put test to a man aligned from birth to the hunt. It is a different thing to want that entirely, and when he lands in a deep crouch from the air, with only the faint reflection of his helm's optic filters visible in the dim light, he appears a different man entirely. Claws cut into the concrete, claws and boots anchoring tightly to the stone beneath him.

He watches her, measuring the lines of her. Her hair wild and untamed, her primal nature in the count of her twicefold heartbeats. He can catch the scent of all of her minds and souls. In it, he has a grudging respect for the creature who once laid siege to Wakanda, and the primal grace of the woman who bent it to heel, a task that even a Black Panther could not accomplish.

But respect and deferrence are two distant things.

"All of life is a test," the panther replies coldly, rising.
"The terms are not dictated by us."

Energy slides between his fingers. Light purple energy threads between his fingers, thickening and broadening as a spearblade blooms from the end, neutralizing energy crackling like glass. This is a Black Panther that is much different from the worlds of old, but the toll of an old bell still rings the same no matter how well polished. Elongating into the annals of ancient tribal arts, the young king throws a spear of pure neutralizing energy, searing through the air towards the natal god in one great blow.

It is not at all what she expected. For this, for underestimating the complexity of him, she feels shame. Perhaps it was how he had handled Barnes. Perhaps it was the warning he had given her, one she failed to heed. In truth it was all these things and more, and she had only expected from him a violent hunt, a retaliation for deeds she could not undo. Instead she finds a man painting in fine strokes, not broad ones, and when the violence of it comes it does so only when she all but asks for it.

His words cut the night like a knife, searing into her mind. /All of life is a test./

Perhaps all of her lives were.

Light reflects in her pale blue eyes, mixing with a shimmering purple that builds and builds, carrying with it the weight of history along with force untold.

/The terms are not dictated by us./

Azalea Kingston returned to this country a different person. A new person. Perhaps not a person at all. In struggling to find herself she has pushed her limits. Spared with A Soldier. Flirted with a Queen. Cradled a Bomb.

Her decision was made well before she saw him tonight. She would turn away from nothing, embrace the test for everything it was. Life was a test. The terms are not dictated by us.

"Some terms are."

The impact is blinding, paradigm against ingenuity and spirituality, and explosion of power that tears into Bat-Technology that she wears as a crutch. No more. No time for that. The wall behind her cracks with the force, concrete tumbles from where she had impacted it prior, and for a brief moment in the flash of, most would think she was all but annihilated.

A dark shadow emerges from the haze of crackling energy, of a force that does not know many counters on this world, crossed arms lifted in defiance, but bare arms now, her thin armor stripped away. So it at her shoulder and clavicle, and her neck where it bound high, smeared against her skin in a fine soot that prevents the rest of her garment from simply tumbling from her skin.

But she does have her skin. Does have her hair, and when she steps forward The Panther will know what his forebear saw those centuries ago, a dark haze rising as ozone burns anything and everything that is not her, as she leaps at him with the fury of Destruction, a sailing punch followed by a sweeping kick, strikes meant to upsend, not the brawling nonsense she was so famous for, bare knuckles against vibranium fiber, she will test herself again. God-Flesh against a God's chosen, she will test him too.

There is something assured in the panther as he stands at the far end of the alley, his arm low in his statuesque throwing attack. He is something incomprehensible, something deadly as he rises to meet the young god as she recovers from his energy spear attack. The blow never would have proven lethal, the frequencies of energy he uses commonly for his weapons the same as his daggers, meant to interfere with the nervous system, to incapacitate more than kill.

But Wakanda's version of incapacitation is a little harsher than even the one Gotham City may have become accustomed to.

The crush of the following blow is only dampened by the swath of skill in the Black Panther, the strike of the god's hammer against his boneless body dampened from the crushing force. Despite the diminutive body that burgeons it, the force against him is a tidal wave, and though vibranium and body combine to make the blow feel a lot like dipping one's hand in water, the young king is thrown aside all the same, twisting his body so the blow drives him to one side rather than directly back, his body curving and responding more to the scything arc of her kick than her punch. As a result, he skids down the side alleyway, his boots skidding as he struggles to maintain his height. Leapins up and back, a blade of energy whirls in the air around him, the channelling device woven into his suit flaring down the length of ghis arm as he forces the bolt in his hand into a great staff. He lands, on the opposite site of a chain link fence from Azalea, his body lifting and falling fiercely with cool exertion.

His boot sets hard against the concrete as he assumes a strong castled position.

"Think hard, on why it is important to you," the black panther warns.
"In this, I will not give you any leeway."

Fighting this man is like fighting no one else. Not Batman, not Red, not Bucky. He moves like her mind moves, and like her body wants to. In her memories, she is like him. Bigger, stronger, fluid, attuned. For Azalea, this is part of learning who she is, but not just as a matter of facts and limits. She must know because she must atone.

When she rolls and comes up again, she will find him separated from her, and she advances not as a warrior, but as someone who is considering his words. A mere few feet and some metal separate them, and as her fingers lift and curl in the fence, as metal strains and begins to break under her grip, she leans in, parting the curtain. Stepping forward. The unerring tide with tears in her eyes.

"What I did to your people will haunt me forever. What I've done to countless others, people not born to the tests of your land, haunts me even more. I returned The Lost King to his home, laid him in Necropolis, and I could feel Wakanda call out for more. But what, I do not know. I owe your people an unpayable debt, T'Challa, King of the Cradle."

She steps through, reaches out, her hand closing on his staff. Energy sizzles and sparks but she does not flinch, not a measure of resolve but one of forces primordial, a magical paradigm that leeches into the spirit world. "Nothing made by another can harm me. It would require flesh and bone, and spirit. If I cannot repay the debt I owe the world, if I lose my way and become a monster again, the man I owe the most should know my secret. He is the man most likely to stop me."

In part, she asks how she can make it right, knowing it is likely she never will. In part, she hopes he passes a sentence, takes her by the neck and snaps her into oblivion. It would be easier.

The test would be over.

He scents the saltwater in the well of her eye before it even becomes a tear.

The gate could never keep the two separated from one another, T'Challa's stance unmoving as she tears chainlink apart like so much tinfoil. He doesn't move as wire pops like brittle driftwood, and the only sound he emits is the sound of his crackling energy staff, a blade not yet materializing on the weapon as he holds it in defense of the oncoming natal goddess.

And yet, in this, Azalea is the brave one, to approach the Black Panther.

Holding onto his staff and proving the incapacitative energy impotent, the panther's head tilts forward slowly, in an unparalleled focus and resolve. She admits her crime, the crime that has carried on with her from the generations through in her blood, as clear and sound a debt as anything else.

It is curious to imagine what the Black Panther is thinking, what he thinks of the small girl fending off the end of his staff like it was nothing. But as it happens, the panther only meets her with the crushing expanse of silence, as broad and thick as the night sky over the savannah. She waits for judgment, and none materializes. The physical clash between them is not the root of this thing. The Black Panther breathes slowly, evenly.
Her secret weighs on him, the beginning of many. But he does not show emotion. He does not evince relent.

"Your debt.. remains unpaid."
She will only then begin to realize that he hasn't intended to harm her in the slightest, and that every step she has taken has been by his own design. The concrete buckles under her, crumpling into a fine powder.

In the end, she will realize that he was not trying to outpace her, or elude her, but only bring her to a specific place. Every step he has taken thus far has been to lead her by her own mind and her own curiosity. She proves a wily woman. This is not as close as he would have wanted. But it will do.

In the end, it will only take the movement of a single arm, the rotation of one wrist, the slip of one thigh, to throw her with his staff bodily, in the moments she has to regain her standing. He throws her over his head and past him, knowing full well she will recover. Knowing full well she will land with little risk of injury. But where she will land, he aims to make his decision.
He moves to throw her into the wall of the warehouse just ahead. He moves to throw her into a wall that ceases to exist the moment she touches it, plunging her into darkness.

He moves to throw her into another world entirely.

It is not that she is resigned when she understands the truth, and hears his voice pass something other than judgement. Her eyes go just a little wide, beautiful and clearly reflecting the dark feline countenance before The Panther moves.

The physics of this world still have hold over her, and while the staff cannot harm her, she is not immune to it's presence as an object that can move her. It will let T'Challa know that he can leverage her with objects, in some regard, let her know that some part of her so anchored to this place still responds as human.

In this, she has little choice. Her reaction is stunted, it lets her fight against the throw only so much as to try to land on her feet, but then the distance was not measured ahead of time, was not considered, and feet meant to impact a wall to give her some repose simply pass through it.

The trap is sprung and she tumbles in darkness, her body forced to hit whatever lays behind it without stopping. The best she can hope for is to roll, to correct herself on the ground - if there is one. If there is? She will come to a kneeling skid, opening her senses to the darkness to search for some weakness in the whole of it's oblivion.

Beyond it, a world of light.

Entering the world of Wakanda is like entering the river. Passing curtains of darkness and confusion, by the time the devil and the new god's knees hit the ground, she carves great furrows in warm dirt, the dust stinging as it raises in a great plume from her passage. Here is not like Gotham. Here, the scent of the grasslands is omnipresent, and even now, with the rainclouds causing the sky to grow dark, it is still warm and kind, mother to life.

The young woman finds herself at the foot of the rocky steppes, in the shadow of a distant mountain, probably in the northern portion of the country. The great shadow the mountain casts buffers against the warmth, the cool touch of dark bringing to mind the encroaching winter, an omnipresent freeze in frigid Gotham.

But is it Wakanda? There is energy all around, the same threads of lifeblood that unify any city in that distant country. The earth feels real, as does the grasslands. A projection, thoughtfully and accurately recreated. It seems natural, to the extent that one may feel the undercurrent of mass forces throughout the earth beneath. It does not feel like a sterile recreation of electricity and light. What portion is mystical, and what portion is technological? Is it truly artificial? Or..

"I had planned to use this against the Bat, if he strayed too close to my path, or stood in its way." T'Challa explains, approaching her. He no longer wears the habit of the Black Panther, but his voice is echoed by several who appear on the steppe, men and women wearing the same suit of black, panthers all.

T'Challa stands at the same level as her, his brown coat hovering only inches over the blades of grass through which he strides. "But I knew, when I began to catch your scent, that purpose must bend to need. You speak of the atrocities committed against my people. A crime for which I forbade you to return to Wakanda's shores. This is an edict you chose to disobey, to return to us the bones of the always-known king."
His face is unreadable, and when the shadow falls across it, it casts him in harsh and contrasting light.

"Tears are fresh on your cheek, but your soul weighs heavily with your sin," he observes.
"You have your audience," T'Challa finally explains. "Now make use of it."

Not long ago, Azalea Kingston had walked into this very land because a man she called friend was in danger. It was not until she smelled the air again, not until she felt the ground under her feet, that she knew the truth. Wakanda itself was in danger, and Bucky's battle was as much about him as the soul of an entire people. She can feel it now. Projection, fabrication, it does not matter. The soul of Wakanda is here, because T'Challa is here. This alone assures that she will face a country's judgement, and feel humbled before the audience he has now allowed.

"You replay a thing over in your mind. Prepare yourself for it. Perhaps it is human. I know that the people here live in the moment, that tomorrow is the adventure, and yesterday is the story, and now is life. But even the King I Was thought forward to the day he would marry. To the day he would see his first son. Just as I have thought what I would say to you."

Where she stands, her head stays bowed in deference of those who would look upon her as more than a sum of her parts. It does not matter that this place is real, only that her spirit is real. That T'Challa can feel it, burning in her chest, swirling and blurring the lines of something that was once a monster and something that was once human. Here and now the King will see the difference, for while Azalea was in the cage she had a great gaping hole that her two halves fought to fill, devoid of a moral center. Devoid of the things that make one a person.

Now she has it. More than that, it was reclaimed.

Her eyes lift, blue meeting brown, and her expression grows dire. "My soul will always bear the mark of what I have done. The pain I have caused does not wash away. It is not forgiveness I ask of you, my King. I am not sure you could give it. I only want your permission. I only want your blessing. When I was remade, Xiuhnel's purview became a lingering hint of what it once was. To drive bullets from my skin or crush metal in my hands, these are not my power, only a faint memory of his."

Closer still, Azalea steps, looking up at the King. The tears have faded. Her resolve is clear. "I am the Aspect of Redemption, driven to bring those who have forgotten the light back to it's warmth. I cannot do this, or atone for my debt to Wakanda without your blessing. It would be another violation to do otherwise."

"I wonder the same."

There is no great secret in the admission. There is a pride in humanity, and in the human nature that does not always exist in the Western world, something T'Challa remarks on as he stands before Azalea, hands at his sides. It was his nature, the same as how the light casts a harshness over his expressionless visage. There is no excess of motion about him, nothing truly that the King does not intend.

Underneath his brown eye, there is a weight of judgment of the very harshest mind. It would be a simple thing for the King to be wrathful, and to impose his judgment on her for the simple reason of defying his word. This is the arbor upon which a King's blade cuts, both his right and his burden. But then, his father wuld say something different entirely.
His father would say that it is a King's burden to determine justice.

He does not move when she approaches him, in as much a part of the land as if she had approached the mountain itself. Those at his sides lower, appearing as great predators ready to pounce at one command. But the attack never comes, he never dismisses her. Would it even matter, against one such as her?

"You seek absolution, but you know the climb is long, difficult," he surmises quietly. He has no trouble meeting Azalea in the eye, his gaze incisive, cold. "What do you propose that you do… you, who would seek absolution? You, who would seek my blessing…?"

It is plain as the light on his face, and the threat of Panthers Past at his sides. Plain for the whole world to see, if they could look, but they cannot: She does not know what to do. But here, in this place, a great question looms and her gaze drops to hands that feel like another's. All the time, they feel wrong. Should be bigger, meant for killing. Hers look puny, barely big enough to wrap around her guitar. She is both glad they are not a killer's hands and dismayed that even now a certain dysmorphia still has hold over her.

But it is here she finds her answer, for while she has emerged from this nightmare to become the living dream, to help those around her with a breath of experience that defies her years, she is still not at ease. Not like the man in front of her, who is body, mind, and spirit a pillar an Eternal could not break.

"Let me help you heal your country. None of them, not the mystics, the detectives, none of them know what you know. None of them feel the unrest like I felt it. The soul of a people who have known prosperity and victory and yet find themselves at a crossroads. I will not return to your land again, this I swear, unless you allow it. Let me learn what I had taken by force so long ago, and give back in ways only one who carries the memories of a King can give. And in the times between, let me be your ally where you might otherwise have none. It will not repay my debt. Never in full. But I can climb the mountain, if only you will let me."

"You feel as someone who is not yourself."

T'Challa notices Azalea's glance at her hands, and the meaning of it does not escape him. But his voice is not unkind. He is a warrior by nature, and his voice may sound kin to the sharpening of the black spear against the rocks. But in that moment, his observations cut to the quick only by necessity. Her soul is not a thing that he can read easily, like some sorcerers might. He could not draw it on a canvas and put paint to the color. But the scent of a person, and one look into their eyes can tell a man given to wisdom more than a hundred of the magicker's spells.

Slowly, the young king walks past her.

"Through your crime, you have known the lands of the mother greater than perhaps any who even come to their shore. Though you cannot be held wholly responsible for it, your crime is carried in your blood, as your familial blood is chaos tempered. You are correct, in that you know our land. But you are not only of Wakanda. You are of many things. As someone with such a birthright, you may come to bring our land great prosperity. Or great disaster. You are truly a person of two worlds…"

"… this is something that I understand."

As a man who walked the world long before he ascended to the station of King, T'Challa knows moreso than any Wakandan the temptations and excesses of the outside world, something that tempers him as he looks over Azalea from the back. "You must learn to discard the world's whim, and become your true self first. You must do this, before you can be allowed to come to the aid of the people that I watch over. You know this in your heart, truer than anything else.

Judgment is not total, as the knowledge of things settle.
"Until then, I will forgive your trespass, and in care of it, you will be at my will. Do you understand?"

To hear another say it is like wiping clean a mirror, and she drowns in the clarity he brings to thoughts she cannot fully form. He knows her. She knows him. A good start, even if is only the bond of seeing one's true self across a short distance. She has so much father to go, so many steps to take. He moves around her and knows the scent of her hair and skin, the flush of her cheeks in the warm sun over her head, a sun she knows may go away at any moment. But here and now it is hers, and though she will not find herself in this place any time soon, she would know it's memory for these few moments more.

Finally she turns, to look at him as the offer comes. He will know her as a statue in that moment, and the next? Arms wrap around his middle. Her cheek to the place where his heart beats, to feel the life of Wakanda's favored sun and express joy not as a God. No, it is much simpler.

It is human.

This thing, this hug, is brief and momentary, a joy short lived as she is given hope renewed, pulling herself from him only moments later, to look upon him with a resolve of mission. A King should inspire, his people should look at him and wish to do as he does, to see him as a projection of the people's will upon the world. But how many men inspire Gods?

At least one, it seems.

"I understand. I swear to it." In this, she vows to support him as need be. In this, she starts the road back.

If he understands that he has brought hope to a God, then he does not show it.

It would just be pointless egoism to reflect on the good one does in the world when so much bad remains in it. His is never to rest on what is, but to agonize over what will be, and what must be. She is as young as she is old, as vulnerable now as he trusted the fractured god Xiuhnel to be. It makes her unpredictable. It makes her dangerous. But it also could make her strong.

When she buries himself into him, he is deeply concerned.
T'Challa's robes are warm with the sun, and scent strongly of the earth and the sea. It is a stark and bracing contrast to the chemical miasma pervasive to most of Gotham City, the clinging scent that never quite fades. His heartbeat is slow and even, his body unmoving as if cut from a great stone. Slowly, he cups her shoulders in broad, strong hands, separating the two of them insistently and gently.

"This road will be the longest you have walked. For those who walk two paths, it always is."

Leaving Wakanda from this place is simple, one only needs to walk far enough.
To walk until you see the sun go down.
It takes a certain kind of bravery to leave a dream.

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