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Ignoring Lunise's tone, her suggestion was not actually badly received by most of the council. As organized and "civilized" as they had become, they were still lycans under the rule of Hircine. Individual strength and prowess formed the foundational structure of most packs, and it extended into their leadership. Challenges such as what Lunise described were certainly more common among them than with most other groups. Such parts of their culture were hardly a secret to their allies, so they might not have been surprised to see the slight hint of a subtle grin along with Meesei's confident response. "I am no stranger to challenges, I assure you both. That actually would have been my suggestion as well. This responsibility is one that relies upon personal combat ability, so a test of that ability should naturally lead to the best result. I do think your military leaders could be persuaded to agree to send a champion, or champions, of their own. I should think they would be quite confident in their ability to defeat some 'Argonian cult leader', as you say. And if they wish to keep any sort of diplomatic trust, then they will have to abide by the results."

Saras kept any emotional response to Lunise's suggestion close to his chest, but he had no objections to it. "I am sure this council is confident in our Champion, but regardless, we shall honor the results as well, whatever they might be. Ultimately, we all just want to defeat Vile by whatever means necessary. I can say that I am pleased to hear that our plan for a cooperative invasion is seeming more...plausible after speaking with you both. I am under no illusions that it will be easy, but it may be possible to convince your superiors to take on this endeavor. I have become familiar with the proceedings and habits of both Imperials and the Dominion in my work, and I expect that both of them will want to keep close eyes on such an important endeavor. They will want to have their eyes on every detail of preparation in the months leading up to the invasion. I do not know of any military leader that would be willing to invade Oblivion itself without having a hand in the preparation. I expect they will want to assign one or more people to represent their interests here, and given your history with us, I fully expect that those people shall be the both of you."
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"Do not get ahead of yourself, Dunmer," Lunise said as a matter of fact. "The decision of whomever is given the task of overseeing preparations is out of any present person's authority, least of all your own. Do not presume to assign either of us."

Marod raised a hand. "That said, I shall try my best to convince my superiors to keep me around here. I am sure Lunise shall, too. Tossing in any old veteran officer into your midst without any knowledge of you is likely to only cause drama."

Vera smiled. She was beginning to think that the Dominion was giving them support proportional to Lunise's arrogance. "Are there any further concerns either of you had?"

"Just one," Marod said. He tilted his head forward, locking eyes with Meesei. "Champion. If a Dominion soldier wields the axe, the Empire will be unable to support your invasion. I am afraid that is a point beyond negotiation."

Unlike Marod's previous casual and almost jovial tune, he spoke with utmost seriousness. Whether intimidating or not, he clearly meant every word.

In response, Lunise's upper lip peeled up in disgust. She retorted slowly. "What makes you think the Dominion wishes Tamriel swallowed by a Daedric Prince, Marod!?"

Marod was unperturbed. "Whether it is on the Dominion's terms or not, Lunise, you know we have reason to be reserved."

"And what!? You shall let it happen instead?" Lunise stood and leant forward on the table.

"I never said that," Marod declared. "I merely said supporting this invasion shall not be an option."

"Those documents clearly stated-!" Lunise's anger simmered. Her voice lowered drastically. "You were given instructions, weren't you?" She blew a quick hiss with her teeth and lowered herself onto her seat. "Lapdog."

Marod did not respond.
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"I was not making an assignment, merely a prediction." Saras clarified, though their concerns quickly shifted after Marod's comments. In several ways, Meesei did agree with Lunise, but she avoided being so direct with Marod regarding her thoughts on it. Her expression was cold, and mostly emotionless towards Lunise.

"Regardless of what opinions Marod himself may or may not have, I am sure it is not him who would get to make that decision anyway. I am sure we all know how irrational politicians when there is some 'advantage' to be gained." She said, casting her gaze onto Marod. "Even if it means endangering their entire nation. But, I hold this position because I have never lost such a challenge, so ideally, it shall not be an issue. Although, if you can convince your superiors to send a champion or two of their own to participate in the duels, then it might pressure them to accept the results, regardless of what they may be. It is unwise for any nation to renege on their diplomatic agreements. Now, unless there are any other points to be made, I do not believe there is much more we can meaningfully discuss right now. Not without having spoke to your respective superiors. I can take you both back to them as soon as possible, if you wish." Meesei offered.

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"I shall present them the option to send champions," Marod said. "Though I hope it shall not become too grand a tournament." He chortled, completely dropping his serious demeanour. "As for heading back, yes, I do not see any point in tarrying. The sooner I can present this to the council and the legion...or perhaps even the Emperor, if required, the sooner we'll have an answer for you."

Lunise looked as though she wanted to spit in Marod's face across the table. She managed to blink her eyes slowly to Meesei and straightened. "I know not the exact length of time it shall take for the Dominion to respond to your proposal, Meesei. In the meantime, if you want your Imperial steel-clad lampreys to help, you had best be in peak condition to meet who the Dominion sends to challenge you."

"At any rate," Fendros cut in. "We'll have your encampment sites ready. I have ranged a distance in these caverns and I know those who have ranged further. I think, if your superiors are positive to this, you could see them when you next visit?"

"Good," Lunise responded, crossing her arms.

Marod nodded to Fendros and smiled.

"If that is all, Meesei?" Vera asked. "I believe we all have tasks ahead of us now."
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Meesei nodded. "Indeed, we all have much to prepare for. Marod, Lunise, we can simply stay here and I can create the portals to bring you back."

With the meeting at its end, the council, and the members of Meesei's pack in attendance, started to file out of the room as Meesei began to open a portal straight to the same room from which they had left in the White-Gold Tower the day before. She decided that she would allow Marod to walk through first, in the event that the room was occupied.

As Meesei was forming the portal, she did make a few comments towards the pair. "Even if we do not all have the same...ideas for what needs to be done, I can say that I do appreciate that you are willing to work towards a compromise. I know that you two are ultimately not the ones making all of the decisions, and I doubt your superiors will appreciate everything you have to say. Hopefully, the compromise we found will be enough that they will accept it. And if Saras is correct in his predictions, you both may be spending some time among us. Should that be the case, I shall do what I can to help make the transition easier. We are actually having a feast in a few days, something to help raise morale among our people in preparation for the information we will eventually need to reveal to them. Such a gathering might be beneficial for you to attend, should you finish your deliberations with your superiors in time. It could give you some insight into what we are like that is not easy to convey in words. Besides which, I doubt you will have another opportunity to dine on a dragon." She remarked just as she finished opening up her portal.
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Marod and Lunise each stood to attend Meesei while she opened her portal. Marod stood with his hands clasped behind his back, nodding where appropriate to Meesei.

Mention of the main course of the feast made Lunise raise an eyebrow, but Marod proceeded to respond as if by habit. "Hm, I shall have to make haste, then! Nothing more would give me gratitude than a meal in good company. I am a simple man in that respect. Thank you, Meesei, for the hospitality and the transportation."

The room beyond the portal was mercifully empty. Marod stepped through as he was motioned to do so, but spun on a heel as soon as he was through. "Pardon me," he said as he looked back through the portal with sudden doubt. "Did you just say dragon?"

Judging by the twitch at the corner of her mouth, a part of Lunise wished Meesei would close the portal without responding to give Marod something more to think about.
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Meesei had stepped through the portal to make sure that Marod arrived safely, though she kept it open so that she could return just as quickly. She did end up responding to Marod, though it was with a wide grin. "We do lead such interesting lives, do we not?" She laughed before stepping back through the portal, closing it behind her.

---

It was just a few days before the clan was ready for their feast. To ensure they had ample space, they had set up for the event in one of the clearings just outside the walls of the city. There had been a time in the past where there might have been some danger in gathering everyone outside the protection of the walls, but all of the dangers of the cavern had been driven back far from the city years ago. Now, few would think twice about allowing even their children to go outside the walls unsupervised. They had chefs experimenting with small quantities of the dragon's meat for a few days to make sure they would have something worth presenting to the clan, so everything seemed to be ready.

After a knock on her door, Meesei stepped halfway into Sabine's room and leaned up against the door frame. Sabine did not have any defined responsibilities for the day, and she was not going to have to give any sort of public speech if she did not choose to, but it was true that she was going to be receiving a great deal of public praise for her actions. Meesei knew that she was not the kind of person to seek that kind of attention, so she wanted to be supportive all the same. "Do you think you are ready for today?" Meesei asked.
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Meesei walked into Sabine's room to see Sabine with her head nestled in her arms on her desk, asleep where she was seated over some parchment and writing. A quill and ink lay next to the page, and what little Meesei could see from the door looked like Sabine's handwriting. She was much improved from her late start learning to write Cyrodilic, still wonky in places, but overall vastly better than a decade ago. As Meesei's eyes were drawn to the small pile of discarded parchment next to Sabine's desk, a familiar voice came from Sabine's bed.

"Oh, Meesei, it's you," Karl said quietly, sitting up in the bed and looking vaguely in Meesei's direction. Though he looked as though he was only just startled awake, he relaxed after hearing Meesei's voice. He glanced to Sabine. "She insisted on staying awake to put together a speech for the announcement. But she insisted I let her do it on her own as there are some council secrets to it, apparently. Whatever it is, it's very important to her." He breathed in a stretched his arms in front of himself. "Would you prefer to speak with her alone? I can be out of your way if you like."
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Meesei raised up a hand briefly. "It is quite alright. I do not have anything confidential to say, I merely want to check up on her. Strictly speaking, she does not have to give a speech, but I certainly respect her dedication. I think I shall be counting on you to help calm her nerves today; Sabine is not one who normally likes this kind of attention. I believe that your support means as much to her as mine." She said before giving a slight grin. "Almost."

Meesei stepped up behind Sabine at her desk and placed her hand lightly upon her shoulder. She spoke in a soft voice and slowly shook her just enough to make her presence known. "Sabine, I think it is time to wake up. The feast will be starting soon enough."
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Karl must have just made out the white of Meesei's teeth from their distance, as he returned the amused smile she gave. "Of course," Karl said.

While Meesei woke up Sabine, Karl stretched, stood up from the bed, and began to dress himself.

Sabine's eye slowly opened and she produced a small, tired groan. She took in a deep breath and sat up in her seat with a frown. "I did not sleep too late, did I?" She asked, rubbing her face. "How much longer do I have? I am not yet done."
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"It is not necessary to burden yourself so much with this, Sabine." Meesei replied to Sabine once she had brought herself sufficiently to consciousness. "I for one just hope you were able to get some rest. I still have some hope that you might be able to enjoy today. It is a feast, after all, sort of in your honor. You do not have to give any sort of complex speech if you do not wish; just a few words would be all that is necessary. I believe that, to most of the clan, your actions will be enough to speak for you."

Meesei's smile faded just slightly as she started to show a bit of remorse. "I am just..I am sorry if this is not exactly what you wanted to happen. You have always been humble with your accomplishments, and after this, well, you may be made into a hero for many. I just want you to know that I truly appreciate that you are willing to do this. I think it will do a great deal of good for our people's morale."
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Sabine took a deep, thoughful breath and half-twisted in her seat to better look to Meesei. "I...still want everyone to know why I did what I did," she said. Her eyes cast down to her hands in her lap. "It will not be a long speech. And I am still a bit nervous." She lifted her eyes. "But with how busy I have been settling Rhajul and Yerig, and thinking about being a pack leader now, and...seeing Saraya, I have not had time to worry about getting unwanted attention."
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"Then you should not add any more to your worries." Meesei commented. "Today is a celebration, and with all that will be revealed, you will not need to say much to impress the clan. I think the most important advice I can give is to ensure that you speak with confidence, that you maintain a strong presence. The way you speak is as important as the content of what you say. If you can keep confident in your words, then I do not believe you will have a difficult time."

Meesei placed her hand on top of Sabine's, gave her a smile, then offered to help her to her feet. "I think it is time that we get out to the clearing. After a stop or two. We should stop by the vault and get the Staff; you should carry it for this. For how you dress...I would say to present yourself as the kind of huntress they would expect to be a dragonslayer. In fact, I made you something."

Reaching into her satchel, Meesei produced a necklace of bone and tightly woven string. It was quite simple, with its defining features being the three, rather large teeth hanging down near the bottom. They had been cleaned to the point where they shined in the light, and still looked to be quite sharp. "I thought you deserved some trophy for your kill, and I am sure the crowd will like it."
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Sabine, after standing up with Meesei's motion, held the necklace in both her hands. She looked at the dragon teeth nervously. Whether or not she had been avoiding the weight and prowess of her actions up until this point, the teeth made her face it. She turned up to face Meesei and smiled lightly. "Thank you," she said, tying the cord around her neck. She stepped up to give Meesei a hug and Meesei could tell she was tense.

Karl, who's interest was piqued by Meesei's words, walked carefully up to the pair when they pulled from their embrace. He looked at the necklace curiously. "Is that...are those what I think they are?"

"Mhm," Sabine stepped up to Karl and held the teeth closer to his eyes.

He took one in his fingers. "Exquisite..." A grin grew on his face. "Few in this clan would claim many others to come close to you with this, Sabine."

Sabine huffed some nervous amusement and turned her head to the desk.

"How have you progressed?" Karl asked.

"My words have not changed much since I started writing them," Sabine explained.

"It sounds like you know what to say already," Karl said, placing his hand on Sabine's shoulder. "Go on ahead with Meesei. You will be fine without spending any more time thinking on a speech. I'll see you after I run a few errands of my own. Perhaps the staff will make you feel safer in your words as well."

"Okay," Sabine smiled and gave Karl a quick kiss. As Karl gave both her and Meesei a farewell nod and turned to leave, Sabine took a deep breath to wake up properly. "Should I...wear anything else in particular? This dress is not what I would wear on a hunt." Sabine tugged on the skirt of her plain dull blue linen dress. Something in her tone hinted at an irony picked up from asking Meesei -- the former treeminder from Black Marsh and seasoned wilderness wanderer -- advice on what to wear to what amounted to a party.
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Meesei gave a brief look over Sabine's clothes. "Ultimately you should wear what you like, but I would recommend something aside from an old dress. I would say something that would make you feel like you could be a hero. Something that could make you feel like an accomplished hunter or powerful mage. Perhaps something that goes well with your necklace? In any case, I think we can find something that can help you look the part of a hero."

After taking some time for Sabine to prepare, the pair stopped by the vault to retrieve the staff, then headed out to the location of the day's feast. They had selected a clearing outside the city, though not far from the walls. The fact that they had to accommodate the majority of the clan meant that they had gathered enough tables, chairs, and other furniture outside to fill a ballroom. They had a mix of the wooden furniture the clan had built themselves, and some of the original Dwemer stone tables and chairs that were not physically built into the floor in the city. The table for Meesei, her pack, and the council was at the most elevated point in the clearing to make it easier for the rest of the clan to see them when it was time to make their announcements.

The majority of the clan was still in the city, as it was not quite time for the feast. The only ones who were present at the moment were the higher-ranking members of the clan, important guests, and those who were actually setting up the feast. As such, the clearing was far from crowded, and it was easy for those who were there to see Meesei and Sabine approaching from the city.

For the Champion's pack, many faces from the ranking members of Tamriel's clans were familiar. They had traveled Tamriel and met most of the leaders at least once through the years, through there was one face they had not seen for quite some time. Just as they were reaching the clearing, Meesei and Sabine were greeted by a black-furred Khajiit carrying a warm smile on his face. His clothing was colorful and distinctly Khajiit in style, though perhaps with more trophies made from bone, and some feathers. Ra'kalesh, or rather, Ri'kalesh as he was known now, had taken over the former Senchal clan after Ri'nakhad stepped down due to his ailing health. He was the leader of what was now the Torval clan, and with the destruction of the Orcrest clan, his clan was now their only presence within Elsweyr.

"Champion, Sabine, it has been too long, hasn't it? This one is glad that our reunion seems to be under good circumstances." He greeted, offering his hand for a handshake.
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While somewhat lost in dressing with heroism in mind, Sabine went along with Meesei's suggestions. They eventually settled for some simple, practical clothing with a thick pelt-lined cloak. The fur was not only warm and cosy, but performed a small measure of making Sabine look bulkier than usual. The cloak also made her necklace more focal. However, during the selection, Sabine was not especially picky. She was distracted. Likely by her upcoming speech.

Sabine remained quite all the way to the feast itself. Holding the staff did make her stand up straighter and put her shoulders back. The anxieties that pervaded without the power in her hands were not overcome just yet, it appeared.

Seeing Ri'kalesh put an excited smile on Sabine's face that she realised she had not shown since Karl left her room. "Ra-...Ri'kalesh!" She remembered the proper title at the last moment. "It is so very good to see you again." Sabine took Ri'kalesh's hand, hesitated, and then pulled him into a hug. "How is La'khay? How is Ciinriel? How is Tzirret? How...how is everyone?"
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Ri'kalesh returned Sabine's smile, patting her back through their hug. "Ri'kalesh suggests you ask them yourself. They are here too. Well, his pride is, at least. Your friend Tzirret is back home in the clan. This one cannot say he has kept a close eye on him, but he seems to be doing well. Ri'kalesh has not heard of any trouble from him. Khajiit seems to remember seeing him among those helping the survivors we received from the Orcrest clan a while back."

Pulling back from the hug, Ri'kalesh kept his hands on Sabine's shoulders. "But Ri'kalesh is also curious about you. He only just arrived here last night, but already he has heard some almost fantastic-sounding rumors floating around. Something about a teleporting Dragon, of all things. Would that be just a fantasy, or is this feast going to be even more interesting than this one thought?"
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The combination of her improved mood and the absurdity of the rumour made Sabine let out some high-pitched laughter. She shook her head. "The dragon did not teleport on its own. I think that is enough of a hint about that." She closed her mouth, still smiling. Her tone sobered quickly. "Much has happened only recently. The announcement will sound big and happy, I think, but..." Sabine lowered her eyes and sighed. "I think...you will understand when you hear it. You and your pride."

Sabine blinked twice and forced a smile. "But I do not want to dwell on that. I do not think you should, either. I am happy you are here, Ri'kalesh. I hope we have time to catch up with all your pride and my...my pack, like before."
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"Indeed, I do not think you will be disappointed in the news." Meesei added. "I believe that the situation shall improve for your clan, and Elsweyr as a whole."

Ri'kalesh grinned and nodded. "Well, this one is looking forward to it. You have never disappointed us, Champion. None of you have." He said. Giving a glance over his shoulder, back towards the others gathered around the clearing, he looked back and motioned for the pair to follow him. Near the council's table, several of the others were gathered. Namely, Ciinriel and La'khay looked to already be catching up with Janius and Kaleeth. Although, they were hardly halfway over when La'khay took notice and came rushing at them with her arms outstretched.

"Ah, there you are! Meesei, Sabine! It has been far, far too long since La'khay has had the pleasure of seeing you both. And you are just as beautiful as ever." She said enthusiastically. It seemed clear that little had changed about La'khay in their time apart, except now she evidently had more time to devote to her appearance. The only actual clothing she was wearing was an elaborately embroidered loincloth, woven with vine-like patterns reminiscent of Kaleeth's tattoos. Speaking of which, she now had a few tattoos of her own, or perhaps just dyed fur. Once again, it was a nature-inspired pattern of leaves connected by flowing lines on her chest, arms, and a small part of her stomach. She had piercings and jewelry seemingly anywhere she could put them, and wore thin violet ribbons draped around her neck and loosely over her arms. Very little of it was practical, particularly the piercings, but it unquestionably made her stand out in a crowd.
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La'khay's appearance took less time for Sabine to recognise than her voice and enthusiasm.

Sabine laughed and embraced La'khay firmly. "Thank you! I am so glad to see you, La'khay. It has been too long." She slid free and looked over her old friend's various bodily modifications. "You look amazing. Did La'tahne do all this for you? Is she here as well?"

Not forgetting even though they were intercepted, Sabine gave Ciinriel a warm smile and a wave. She would hug her in a moment, too, after saying hello to La'khay.
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