Racing the sun usually was something where one comes up short while travelling long distances since any number of factors could prevent one from reaching their intended destination before nightfall. Providence shined this time, however, and the small, squat abodes of Dawnstar came into view just down the road and the dying light was still beaming its last breathe between the mountainous peaks to the Southwest, as if leaving a convenient beacon of where one should travel if they wished to reach Markarth. Khazki adjusted her rucksack, the straps weighing down uncomfortably on her pauldrons despite the padding involved. It was a familiar pain, and one that the Khajiit rarely paid mind to, but after marching for the past 8 or 9 hours without more than a half-hour break in between, it was beginning to feel like a load of bricks. She’d seldom been more enthused to see a crappy Nord fishing village than she was at this point; it meant she beat the Kamal advance. Her biggest fear was arriving too late and finding Dawnstar occupied and having nowhere else to flee. The noose was tightening around the Pale, and more than a few of the refugees she’d bumped into seemed to confirm that sentiment. Windhelm, just North of Whiterun… the Akaviri invaders were getting bolder and pushing further in-land and word was that Tamrielic races were either forced to serve them or did so willingly.
It wasn’t something Khazki fancied for herself. And so, not trusting her ability to make it to Solitude before her luck or strength ran out, she headed North, knowing Dawnstar was the last bastion of safety for getting out of the frigid waste the locals called Skyrim. Up until very recently, it had never occurred to the Khajiit that Dawnstar was somewhere anyone would want to go willingly, and yet here it was before her own eyes, the most beautiful eyesore one could imagine since docked invitingly was a high-masted ship, her ticket to safety. Laying her greatsword across her shoulders to give her arms a break and to appear less fight-happy to the guards she’d spotted up ahead, Khazki pressed on, thinking that a bowl of mutton stew sounded damn fine at this juncture. It had been two weeks since she ate a meal she didn’t have to prepare herself.
Off the road and distinctly outside of the town like some kind of quarantine zone was an Argonian encampment, likely because the Jarl was one of many who thought Beast races were little more than wildlife that forgot their station in life, but in this instance, Khazki couldn’t say she blamed the decision; Argonians were alien, strange, and if the tales of their homeland were to believed, probably disease carriers of unparalleled capacity. Just because they didn’t get sick didn’t mean germs didn’t thrive in their bodies. It was reason enough to give the camp a wide berth, and grip her sword tighter when she made eye contact with a small group of them. They didn’t approach, which worked out best for both parties.
Arriving at the guards, both Nord men were visibly tense. “Halt! Stay your business!”
“I’m chartering a ship.” Khazki replied. She suspected she’d be answering that particular line of inquiry a lot. “There’s a bunch of Kamal a lot closer to here than I’d like.”
That apparently was the wrong thing to say. The guards stood closure, shields held much more at the ready position than before. “Where’s your caravan, cat? Did the damned elves send you?” the younger of the two pressed on, far more assertively than he looked like he could muster. Idiot looked like he barely knew his way around a razor blade, let alone a sword. Was everywhere this hard up for reliable fighters?
“Oh, for fuck’s… I’m traveling alone!” she retorted, her legs far apart and tail flicking irritably. “Look, sir, boy, whatever. I’ve had a long day and if I’d been a Thalmor stooge, I’d have snuck in the dead of night in the numerous blind spots and not be wearing heavy steel armour. The golden pricks were enough a problem in Elsweyr, and I came up here to get away from their sneering horse faces and sickly complexions. I really don’t care what you all do here, I just want a spot on that ship when it sets out, or is that too hard for your frost-addled brain to process?”
“That’s what a Thalmor agent would say to make us let our guard down.” The youth pressed on.
“Ugh. You’re one of those.” Khazki rolled her eyes. “Look, asshole. Mister asshole. Can I call you that? A whole bunch of displaced vagabonds are making their way here, and it’s a mixed bag of what you’re getting. You going to question every single prick that shows up at your gates like they’re all potential spies? Besides, you over-eager bog sniffer, Pelletine hasn’t been a part of the Dominion for years, so their well of Khajiit puppets is well on its way to drying up.” She stepped closer, pressing up against the shield, looking the man dead in the eyes. Jutting her thumb back towards the Argonian camp, she said, “Look, if you aren’t going to give me passage, I’m going back there and telling those fine walking handbags that you guys slipped up and were planning on sending in an extermination squad to clear out the camp to free up resources. They may not believe me, but it’ll stick, trust me. I can either be a slight pain in your ass or the biggest you’ve ever dealt with.” Reaching into the coin purse on her belt, Khazki pulled out a pair of coins. “For your trouble.”
Minutes of arguing later, the guards acquiesced after conceding that if she was a spy, she wouldn’t go out of her way to be so memorable. And so after a short spell, Khazki was standing well within the limits of Dawnstar, looking up at the ship she’d spotted from outside of the town, and for potential crew to speak with. None stuck out from the usual dock workers. Deciding to give one of them a try, a voice came behind her,
“Pardon this one, but he does not believe he’s seen you around. It’s rare to see another Khajiit.”
Turning to face the source of address, Khazki was confronted by a Suthay-Raht, a rusty coat of fur, a pitted ear, and kindly amber-orange eyes looking up at her invitingly. He was garbed in a grey budi, a staff in hand. He also wasn’t wearing boots; an exceptionally stupid thing to do in Skyrim.
“I’m new to town. You know who owns this vessel?” she redirected the question, gesturing at the ship.
The other Khajiit pondered that for a moment. “A man named Gustav, this one thinks. The captain is one Karena Wave-Rider. Currently, they’re hired by this one’s mercenary outfit. Why, are you looking for passage?” he inquired.
Khazki stared at him incredulously. “You? Are mercenary? What, do you fight with that stick?”
That prompted his expression to sour somewhat. “Of course. And well, Do’Karth might add.”
“What do you do, inconvenience them to death?” Khazki sneered. “And Do’Karth? What, you fancy yourself a warrior, do you? No one uses that prefix unless they earned it.”
“This one was the Mane’s bodyguard, in Torval.” Do’Karth said defensively, deciding rather suddenly he did not care for this stranger. He’d expected a new Khajiit would have been overjoyed to find out they weren’t alone in Skyrim, which was hardly welcoming at the best of times.
A tight-lipped smile did not match Khazki’s eyes. “Stellar job you did on that one. Mane’s dead, you’re out of work and run out of town. That how it all went down?”
Do’Karth scowled. “Do’Karth had left long before that happened!” The nerve of this woman!
Khazki extended her hands out on either side dramatically, looking up at the sky. “All the better! You deserted your post and weren’t around to make a difference when it actually mattered. Thanks for that, a civil war was just what we all needed. You from Anequina?” she asked.
“Gods, that explains so much. So, Do’Karth the Deserter, where’s your boss? I want on that ship, and if the likes of you is what’s on offer, it won’t be hard to get signed on.” She prompted.
He gestured haphazardly. “Go on then, make a fool of yourself. He’s in the big tent nearest the docks to the East. Be warned, he tends to like his brutes to have some manners.”
“’A fool’, says the guy who confuses a stick for a weapon.” She said, stepping away with a lazy parting wave of the hand. It didn’t take long for her to find where Do’Karth’s boss was holed up; it was the tent with the very mercenary-looking guards standing watch, a mixed-race rabble with mix-match sets of armour and weaponry. At least she wouldn’t have to worry about wearing the team uniform.
After addressing the guards and saying she wished to enlist, the guard closest to the door, a big Orc, requested she turn over her weapons when speaking to the man. Pulling her dagger free from her belt and handing over her sword with the blade towards the ground, the tent flap was pulled aside and she had to adjust her eyes to the candle-lit quarters of a Redguard man dabbing at a split, swollen lip with a damp cloth. He looked at her with a mixture of curiosity and irritation.
“State your business.” He announced in a voice that suggested he was a reasoned leader, at the very least.
“Boy, you look like shit.” Khazki replied flippantly, arms crossed, her stance askew. “I heard you’re the man to talk to about getting on that ship docked outside. The big one.”
If Ashav was rising up to the bait, he didn’t give an indication of it. “My company is chartering its services, yes. If you’re looking for transport, I’m afraid it’s dedicated to the war front, and unless that’s where you intend to go, you’re better off talking to one of the fishermen and seeing if you can bribe him to take you where you need to go.”
“So, let’s say Dawnstar’s about to be overrun by our Snow Demon friends, you’ll be taking that ship somewhere where they aren’t I trust?” Khazki inquired.
“Something like that. We were stationed in Windhelm until it was overrun. It’s likely we’ll have to relocate if Dawnstar looks to share the same fate. Looking for work?” the Redguard asked.
“Something like that.” Khazki replied with a shrug. “I know how to fight, if that’s what you’re wondering. I don’t care much about the pay, although I won’t say no to the usual rate. I wouldn’t be here if I weren’t desperate looking for any chance off this rock before the Kamal show up, and if I have to work my ass off to get that chance, then so be it, I’ll fight for you and my baton spinning brethren I’ve already met. Besides, I reckon I stand a better chance fighting alongside others when I run into the Snow Demons than if they caught up to me. When they catch up, let’s not delude ourselves.”
Ashav considered this for a moment, studying Khazki with stoic dark eyes. For someone who looked like they’d been mugged, he still maintained an authoritative manner about him. “Sounds like you’re just planning on using us to escape, then what?”
“I like big boats, I cannot lie. But let’s make this simple. You sign me in for a one month contract, if I try skipping the ranks before the signed date, I’m a deserter and we both know how that works out for people. At the end of it, maybe I reenlist, maybe I part ways. But let’s be frank…”
“Ashav.” Khazki acknowledged. “Nowhere’s going to be safe from what’s going on all over Tamriel. Everywhere sounds like it’s a festering wound that’s been torn open and if I’m being frank, I’m an adventurer that’s looking for a claim to fame. I’m not keen on selling my soul to a uniform, but if you’re willing to hire an idiot with a stick without demanding he change, I’m a golden saint in comparison. I’ll fight your war, Ashav, if you’ll have me.”
After a moment’s consideration, Ashav extended a hand. A handshake and a signed contract later, Khazki secured her way out of Skyrim when the time came. Folding her copy of the contract and stuffing it in her armour, Khazki made her way out of the tent, secured her weapons, and made way to hunt down that mutton stew that danced tantalizingly in her thoughts.