14th Rain's Hand 4E208, Jerall Mountain Dwemer Excavation Site, 7:30pm
While winter may have been ending and the first breaths of spring began to thaw the frigid North, the nights were still wretchedly cold, some nights and particularly up in the mountains where the tree line's courage wavered in climbing too high as no living thing should be so far from the safety of the ground. Up here, among the rocky peaks and crags, perhaps only moss existed along with the occasional stubborn stunted sapling that had been carried so far up by the coastal winds to the North where the tree would never reach more than a meter in height and its roots would starve for nutrients in the rocks and dirt that would offer none.
Up in these mountains a discovery was made; a landslide had unearthed what appeared to have been a well-preserved Dwemer ruin of colossal proportions, concealed beneath the rock for centuries. It was Rhea Valerius, a famous Imperial explorer and renown scholar that had a reputation for world-changing discoveries and working past the political climate to bring in experts in their respective fields from across Tamriel, who was credited with the discovery and began to set up an expedition to excavate the ruins to discover the history that was buried for so many years. Using her substantial financial resources, as well as a significant investment from the Elder Council in Imperial City and donations from private investors.
At 36, Rhea was a strikingly beautiful woman who could have easily made a fair deal of coin from her blessed looks alone with a full-figured body with a healthy olive complexion, straight black hair kept in a nape-length ponytail, coffee coloured eyes, and a disarming smile that could win over even the darkest of hearts. It was often her looks that got her an audience, it was her words, wit, and considerable capital that saw her getting exactly what she wanted. Rhea was a woman driven by adventure and understanding the history of the world, and her enthusiasm for wanting to share it with everyone else was infectious. She won people over easily, having a sense of empathy and genuine concern for people that garnered respect and trust, and she was generally a person that was hard to dislike. It certainly explained how 87 people agreed to hike up the Jerall Mountains to set up a large camp, overlooking Skyrim to the North and Cyrodiil to the South, with another 26 on the way.
Among these people was a Khajiit named Daro'Vasora, a Cyrodiil native with the authoritative dialect of the upper eschelons of Imperial society combined with a raspy, yet smooth, dialect of a South-Central Khajiiti accent, not dissimilar to the cities to the West in the Kingdom of Anequina. She was currently sitting around a sizable fire constructed from lumber dragged up from a few hundred meters down the slope by the labour force with a group of 10 other so-called experts that a large Nord named Knuut had been instructed to gather up to inform them that Rhea requested them for the descent into the ruin tomorrow to explore the 7th level of the seemingly endless complex, which was proving to be one of, if not the largest, Dwemer ruin ever discovered in Tamriel's modern history. The Nord clearly had a disdain for the Altmer, telling them with a shit-eating grin, "May Talos guide you," as a way of parting after telling them to meet up with their fellow explorers.
And so, the group of mostly strangers were seated around the fire trying their best to keep warm on the cloudless night, able to see the faint light of cities in the distance and the endless sparkle of the stars above. Even Massar and Secunda were pale tonight, both deep into a waning stage. Khajiit born today and tomorrow will be Dagi-Raht, Daro'Vasora thought, staring up at the moons and considering the small Bosmer-like breed that lived up in the trees, their entire bodies covered with light fur, effectively looking like the half-way point between the feline bipedal Khajiit and the Bosmer-like Ohmes. It had been some time since Daro'Vasora had seen any sizable community of Khajiit, so most she had run across were Cathay or Suthay bipeds like herself... most who fit outside of the "traditional" mold often found their way back to the ancestral homelands of the Khajiit, using channels that even the Empire wasn't wise to. Though the Imperials tended to pride themselves on being cosmopolitan and open-minded towards diversity, they hardly left a place in society for the Senche tigers that came about when Massar was full again.
Daro'Vasora sat quietly near Judena, an Argonian acquaintance of hers who had an infuriating mental tick where she barely remembered things. Judena was a kindly soul with a big heart who had not once treated Vasora differently than anyone else on account of her race, and it had almost become a greeting to say, "Journal three, page six" to remind the Argonian where she had taken notes about her Khajiit acquaintance from their previous run ins- their lines of work often crossed, and Vasora had occasionally brought one of her finds to the Argonian for appraisal and to tap her considerable knowledge to ascertain what value something might have possessed. It was a comfortable arrangement between the two, and Daro'Vasora seldom had to worry about the Argonian prying about her history, since a simple white lie of saying they've already been over it was sufficient to quell her curiosity on the surface, at least.
The Khajiit had her mostly-finished bowl of venison, beef, and potato stew sitting off to the side, already cold due to the chilly air, just above the freezing point, and a bone jutted out from between her lips as her hands were preoccupied with the small lock she carried in her pack, a rhythmic series of quiet clicks followed by a more audible one every few seconds as the lock released; it was one she was so familiar at using that one could be forgiven for mistaking her for using a key instead of a lock pick. She'd carry a variety for a challenge, but finding locks without chests or doors wasn't common and most were unreasonably heavy, so this was mostly just something to keep her hands busy so she wouldn't grow restless from anticipation.
The group assembled around was an odd bunch, to be sure. An Imperial man who looked to be good in a fight given his equipment and its lack of luster from extended use, a hulking older Orsimer who had an axe that was taller than Vasora was, a trio of Altmer who somehow managed to maintain an air of annoyingly smug superiority given they were way outside of their element, a pair of Nord women who could not have been more different if they tried, a Redguard who had a pale complexion and a sly look about him, and most interestingly for Vasora, a Breton who had made a reputation for himself as a bard; she'd heard him sing in camp over the past week and had taken a quiet liking to the man who mixed story with song. It was nights like tonight that brought the Khajiit back to her younger days with friends in Leyawiin, telling stories to one another around a fire and trying to scare the shit out of one another with folk tales about what horrors lurked in the swamps outside of the city walls. It was an enjoyable set of memories that stayed with her and ever since, she'd always found herself gravitating towards taverns and city streets to listen to performers where she could lose herself in imagination. If there was one thing about herself that wasn't readily apparent by her near-permanent air of casual disinterest in other people, it only took a few strums of a lute and a voice like honey to make her ears perk up and a stupid little smile to cross her lips.
"So, have any of you actually been down in a ruin before, or did you all lie about your credentials?" She asked suddenly, not looking at anyone in particular. "I'm not saying most of you wouldn't step on something that will get us swarmed by spheres and spiders, but most of you are definitely going to step on something that will get us swarmed by spheres and spiders."
If Brynja were a wolf, her fur would have bristled at the Khajiit's remark. Was she suggesting that the majority of those gathered around the fire, were nothing more than dumb, towering klutz? An itching sensation crept up her hands as she gritted her teeth, lifting her eyes up from the dancing flames to look across the fire at the Khajiit. What was her name? Tara'vasari? No, that didn't sound quite right... didn't matter right this second anyway.
"Ever dealt with draugr?" She asked in a low raspy voice.
In nature, Brynja wasn't an angry person, but when people questioned her capability to handle a task, she struggled to keep her head level. Quite frankly, she didn't want to be sitting around a fire with her so-called companions late at night. Her joints ached from the labor of the day, a chronic problem that had begun to surface after her eight-and-twenty name-day. Not only did the ale help with the pain, it let her sleep without trouble. And sleep was all she wanted right about now.
Judena laughed, the excess skin beneath her chin expanding a little at the amusement. Her long red tail looped onto her lap, little tufts of fur poked out from her mage robe collar. "I have never had much luck in being sneaky, but those draugr are of a rather sour sort! Much like a good whisky, you age them a century and they'll kick your ass!" She paused squinting at the others about the fire then giggled, a sound caught between a hiss and throaty chortle.
After her own laughter quieted, thoroughly pleased with herself, she rooted through her bag and went searching for Daro'Vasora's reference to date. Making a small 'ah-ha' sound, then snapping the logbook shut. "I never forget a face, hello Daro'Vasora. I believe you wouldn't lead us into certain danger where spheres and spiders are concerned. Your pride would not allow for it."
Judena sat up straight, rubbing her hands together generating some warmth while her claws clacked quietly. Her wide head surveyed the bristling nord woman, tall and a warrior - that much was clear as day to the Argonian. "Daro'Vasora is quite the energetic one and so are you... Ehm... Br- Bryone? No, no. Brie?"
She visibly struggled, Jude knew full well of the Nord's name. With that much certainty, her eyes flicked to her logbook.
"Brynja. My name is Brynja WhiteHand." She replied, her shoulders sagging. She had seen the Argonian around the camp, and by word of mouth, she learned that she struggled with remembering certain things.
"Ah yes! Of course, Brynja Whitehand." Judena quickly retrieved her logbook scribbling away.
"WhiteHand. Of course it is." Daro'Vasora didn't look up from her lock. Click., the lock opened and she reset it. "Never had to deal with Draugr. It's easy enough to avoid hideous clanking things when you watch where you step and don't stomp around like a clutz. Can't say the same thing about a camp fire, however. Some monsters are just unavoidable." she interjected flatly, as if remarking on the weather to make small talk.
'Of course it is.' Daro'Vasora's remark irked her, as if she had done anything wrong to this cat. She had an inkling to toss her into nearest basin of water, see how she liked that. Brynja switched her gaze from Judena to Daro'Vasora, as she had called her. "Is there a problem?"
"Only if you get us mauled by some contraption that was manufactured two eras ago and still is somehow more pleasant company than you are." The Khajiit remarked with a shrug.
"On the contrary, Rhea hired me for the simple task of keeping you all alive. WhiteHand, my family are healers, and so am I." She stretched her long legs out in front of her, relieving the pressure that was building up in her knees.
Judena perked then quickly scratched what she had previously written. "Excellent! You don't look the frail sort of cleric healer, absolutely fantastic. Ruins and expeditions make mince meat out of greenhorns." She commented brightly, she finished a sentence then put the logbook back down.
Surrounded. Utterly surrounded by lesser beings. Mortalmo resisted the urge to crinkle his nose in distaste, held back the retches that threatened to hack from his throat, and maintained a mask of immaculate indifference. He supposed that when it came to savages, the ones encroaching on him from all sides must have been the cream of their crop. It would do him well, to forestall final judgement until he had seen them in action. A shiver took Mortalmo by surprise. A momentary quake of his form, a slip on his expression, and then the gates to his inner self were drawn shut once more. It wouldn’t do to say that he feared the dwemer, no, no. Mortalmo had conquered his fears, faced them down one by one and ground each into a fine powder. Even the nightmares of his childhood he now had the capacity to summon at will should he wish it. No, he did not, could not fear the dwemer. He was apprehensive, slightly apprehensive. The automaton were dangerous and took the lives of countless fools by the week. Mortalmo had seen their remains on more than one occasion.
Still, there was some comfort to be had. His anonymity remained intact, and he had found an unexpected surprise in the presence of two more altmer. Two more than the amount he had expected. Anifaire seated to his left and Solandil to his right. Already he felt a growing kinship with the girl, a meek thing, but with potential. The albino would take more work, but Mortalmo was determined. Safety existed in numbers, and the only numbers an altmer could truly trust were those of their own kin. Paranoia had not yet slipped its poison into Mortalmo’s mind, but there was a lingering suspicion of the other members chosen for this expedition. He knew the reputation the Dominion had, and if anyone were to link him properly to the Thalmor, blood was sure to be shed. He eyed the nords with a particular amount of foreboding. Especially the impudent oaf that saw them off to this point. “May Talos guide you” who in Oblivion did that savage think he was?! It was almost enough to make Mortalmo gnash his teeth.
He needed to turn himself away from his growing annoyance before it was corrupted into something far more foul. He addressed the group. “What function, exactly, does each of you serve? It would be good to know, so that we may coordinate ourselves more efficiently when -and it will happen- our lives are put on the line. I must confess, as well, that I’m not entirely familiar with each of your names. Aside from Solandil and dear Anifaire here. I am Durantel.” He showed little concern as to whether the others were finished conversing, even if his tone was, for the time being, mostly pleasant.
The eclectic group around the fire was more than Anifaire was used to, even at the Arcane university. Her nerves overcame any desire to speak, so she turned her attention instead to gazing intently on the fire. Golden hair, loose, fell around her face, tumbling down past her shoulders and helping to hide her face. The utter strangeness of the situation she found herself in was terrifying.
Durantel had become a strange source of comfort to her, a familiar, if not actually, face in a foreign land. Out of all the companions on their journey, she had scarcely spoken to anyone else, and even now passed up the opportunity to speak. 'Speak when spoken to' was a concept that had been ingrained into Anifaire, while not around her family or friends, while among strangers or, frequently, diplomatic guests of her fathers'. It had become a default, and she now wrapped herself in that comfort of familiarity as they prepared for the descent deeper into the ruins. Up until this point, she hadn't found herself face to face with a Dwemer construct, about to tear her to shreds, but now she found her stomach clenching with nerves at the very real possibility of experiencing that in the near future. The thought makes her glance around the circle, guessing at people's capabilities.
When Durantel noted Anifaire to his side, completely ignoring his question in the process, Judena leafed through her current log looking for reference. Her name rang a faint bell, there had been so many new faces and mages she had worked with as of late. She pointed her charcoal pencil at Anifaire, "You are apart of the historical team yes? Uh..." She read her own notes. "Ah! Yes! You are an alteration mage, like myself."
Anifaire glanced up in surprise. The... lizard... was speaking to her. She'd spoken with the other mage on occasion, working, but it was still an alarming thought that an animal such as her was able to do such normal things. Especially strange that it--she--could do magic. It surprised her every time. "Oh, I-- yes," Anifaire replied quickly, finally breaking her silence. The words almost stuck in her throat. "I've studied alteration and mysticism, though my primary research focus has always been the Dwemer. It's my first time delving into one of these ruins firsthand, though." She thought that admitting the last part would perhaps prepare her companions for the expedition. It was better that they knew to watch out for her.
"An actual greenhorn, then." Judena remarked. "That is very exciting."
A what now? Anifaire flushed lightly, letting her hair fall into her face to hide her embarrassment. "I'm hoping to find some Dwemer writings." She brushed past the topic at hand, delving into something she is comfortable with.
Alim lounged, one arm propped up on the short log he was supposed to be sitting upon. The other arm held an apple he was casually taking bites of every now and then. One knee was up while the other leg lay stretched. Rhea had gotten a varied group, it seemed. Though he had to admit there were more than a few pretty women here. Never having actually taken much note of it, being too preoccupied with the mysteries and trinkets he was bound to find below the ruins. He'd been in a few underground lairs before, and he knew better than most there was always something valuable in unexpected places.
Sitting around his companions before their foray, however, gave him a good glimpse at who he might be trapped underground with for weeks on end. Most of them looked tough or intelligent, though he'd seen more than a few tough and intelligent people lose their lives. It was never a guarantee of survival. That took a bit of luck.
"Alteration, you say?" He pipped in to the interesting looking Argonian, and the comely but stuck up Altmer. He tossed his apple up into the air with one hand and focused on it for but a moment. A small magical light enveloped the fruit, and it fell at a fraction of gravity's normal pace, having casted 'feather.' "Small world, it seems."
The lone orc of the group blew another plume of smoke from his nostrils. The weed-embers in his pipe were a tiny speck of light in the dusk’s gloom that surrounded them. He sat a little further away from the fire than the others. The cold never bothered Balroth and, well aware of his size, he did not want to take a place closer to the flames that one of the others might need to stay warm. He had grabbed the folds of his fur-hemmed travel cloak and pulled them in around himself, obscuring his silhouette against the backdrop of darkness, and one could easily be forgiven for mistaking him for a boulder at first glance. His enormous battleaxe lay at his feet.
He had kept to himself and his smithy so far, observing the rest of the group and their work from a distance. There had been plenty of work in repairing broken pickaxes and forging nails, among a myriad other things. That had suited Balroth just fine for the time being. Now that he finally sat with them up close he eyed the three Altmer with unwavering concentration, the gaze of his dark eyes hidden in shadow. He could tell that the woman and the golden-skinned man were from Alinor, as opposed to Empire elves. Their expressions and the way they carried themselves were unmistakable. The third was harder to read; what little skin Balroth could see did not look anything like any high elf he’d seen before.
After the topic of conversation drifted towards the respective qualities of the party’s members, at Durantel’s request, Balroth felt it was about time for him to finally speak up and let the Altmer know where he stood.
“Nice trick,” he said in response to Alim’s spell. He had never really understood the need for Alteration magic. Balroth spoke softly, but even then his voice was so rich and deep, like a bear’s growl, that all of them could hear him clearly. “My name is Balroth gro-Umanak, warrior-smith, formerly of stronghold Dushnikh Yal, now a citizen of the Empire.” He looked at Brynja and Vasora, and hearkened back to an earlier point in the conversation. “I have dealt with draugr, if that’s any reassurance. And dwarven contraptions, bandits, monsters, beasts… even elves…”
Balroth’s voice trailed off and his eyes flitted back to Durantel. A ring of smoke silently floated the elf’s way. “But the war is over. We’re all friends now, right?”
Mortalmo breathed in the smoke deeply as it meandered towards him, and stared intently at the orc. “Balroth? A brutish name, yet your demeanor indicates, to me at least, that more is rattling around inside that tusked head of yours than baser instincts. I hope I am correct.” He smiled, a sickly sweet thing that made no effort to reach his eyes. “You are correct, the war is over. We’re all friends here.” Brynja snorted in response to his final comment. Her objective was keeping them alive, not to make any friends.
The elf's cold gaze reminded Balroth strongly of the Thalmor wizard that had been his nemesis during the Great War and Durantel's venomous words didn't do anything to lessen the impression. “Good. Let it stay that way,” the orc replied flatly. He didn't bother returning the smile. It was obvious that Durantel was not the right Altmer to practice getting over his prejudices with, but Balroth wouldn't give him the satisfaction of letting Durantel get to him.
"Gee, I haven't witnessed such an insincere use of the word 'friend' since a highway man tried to rob me last month." Daro'Vasora said dryly, sparing a glance for the Altmer and Orc who were getting along oh so well. "Like I said, you guys are definitely going to get us swarmed by automata. I can find and mark traps and unlock all sorts of things, but it'll be for nothing if the tourists behind me act like you fellows."
Balroth raised an eyebrow at these words - he had been in this line of work since before the little kitten was even born - but said nothing.
For her part, Meg was sitting rather quietly as she observed her companions and the way they were interacting with one another. She had to admit she was suitably amused and she didn't mind that it showed; the expression on her face was something between a smirk and a smile, as if unable to decide between the two. It had been a while since she had sat in the company of so many people of different races; why if she was being sentimental, it was almost nostalgic and reminded her of the scumbags she had been friends with in Riften when she was still mostly a child. Luckily for her, she doubted these people would attempt gutting her just yet.
Well, to be fair, she wasn't quite sure about the two golden skinned Altmers and the one rather pale one, never having the chance of actual conversation with the folk until now. She had heard all sorts of things, just like she had with Khajiit and Argonians, but common sense and experience always told her to test the waters before throwing judgment around.
Even as she sat on the ground, knees pulled up halfway to her chest, her legs shook the slightest bit, filled with excitement at the prospect of going back on an adventure. It hadn't been more than a year since the last one, but to her it felt like ages. A dwemer ruin of all places... she had only heard of them, never having delved into one herself. Nordic ruins and draugrs on the other hand, now that was something she was familiar with.
"Megana here." She finally spoke up, stretching out her legs before her and crossing them at the ankles. "I like Meg better, though. Short an' sweet an' easy to remember. Nice to meet y'all." Her fingers tapped at her knees, and truth be told she looked like the sort who would set off any trap just by moving a little too much. "I've seen draugrs before too, nasty things. They die just like anything else though, once you hit 'em enough."
The Khajiit blinked at Meg. "What on Nirn are you doing here? You don't have Molag Bal's mace shoved up your ass like everyone else." Jutting a thumb at the Nord, she looked at everyone else. "She's probably the only one who thinks we're all going to get along."
Meg couldn't help but chuckle at that comment, shrugging a shoulder before replying. "It's not as hard as it seems, truly. And pretty useful to at least pretend to get along when you're about t'go underground." She knew very well she couldn't expect others to see it the same way she did, but that hardly meant she was going to change the way she behaved.
Balroth grunted in agreement. "Don't worry about me, Daro'Vasora. I'm a professional and I am sure Durantel is one as well. We'll behave.” He glanced at Megana and winked a fatherly wink as a small smile tugged at his lips. It was obvious she was excited and optimistic about the venture, and that's what Balroth liked to see. It would do good to follow her example.
The reaction was appreciated by the younger Nord, who quietly laughed under her breath. At least the older orc -Balroth, she reminded herself- seemed a little less uptight now.
"Aye, aye," she agreed, giving a small nod of acknowledgement in Balroth's direction.
The incessant scratching of Gaius' quill pen ceased as he sealed the inkwell, sighing heavily as he looked at the ground before the fire. His notebook was open, displaying an intricate series of interlocking blocks he'd drawn to fill the time. "Apples," he muttered, almost unaware of his own speech, and looked once again at the apple still slowly bobbing its way to the ground. He stared at it flatly, debating whether or not to snatch it from the air. Deciding against it and snapping his book closed, his raised his eyes, looking around the rest of the people clustered around the small fire.
"Gaius Milonem the third," he began somewhat quietly. "I've been a soldier in the Legion for over twenty years. I've seen draugr, I've been in ruins. Never any as big as this one, but for what it's worth, I'm still alive after all these years. As for why I'm here," he continued, taking his sword out of the sheath and laying it on the ground in front of him as he stared impassively at Durantel, "I'm sure you can guess."
He stood and walked slowly to his tent, divesting himself of his heavy armor and laying it carefully down beside his bedroll. He slipped on a clean tunic of pale green cotton and rolled his shoulders as the heavy weight of armor was lifted from them. Returning to the fire, he reclaimed his seat before resuming his looking around. That Durantel fellow is going to need some watching, he thought.
"If the careless footsteps of someone here does not bring the spheres to us, worry not." Latro's high voice came almost unexpectedly from the din of the crackling fire, crickets and soft breeze, to anyone who wasn't facing the direction of his approach or noticed the cease of plucking and strumming and humming, "They'll hear all of that saber-rattling."
Despite the quip, his voice was full of good humor, or as full of good humor as his usually flat speaking voice could've been. His soft steps brought him to Alim's side, where he took his seat. If the night was not so cold and the ground not so treacherous with the darkness a setting sun was inviting, he'd have been comfortably barefoot and sans shirt, he lamented. He grasped up his locks and tied them off at the back of his head in his usual bun, his hands returning to his lap and he smiled at the rest of the crew gathered at the fire, "My name is Latro, for anyone's acquantaince I have not made. I'm the one who makes potions, poultices and song about camp." At his remark on being able to make potions and poultices, Brynja breathed a quiet sigh of relief, alchemy of any sorts wasn't her favorite task.
At that, his attention turned to his polished stone he'd idly toy with since boyhood. He wished he could say it was a more innocent time. As he looked from face to face, he couldn't say any of them were more interesting to him than that certain Altmer, white as white and always covered. At that subject though, he knew some errant vitriolic thought was stalking through that other Altmer's head since his first word at the fire. He did nothing but give his soft smile to the mer. He wondered how such a person could live so long while letting everything around him effect him so deeply. Not but a handful of years ago, though, he was just like him. "You know, of all music I've heard across the few lands of Tamriel I've walked, I have always loved Altmer music the very few times I was lucky enough to hear it." He figured trying to build some sort of connection was better than nothing.
Mortalmo's gaze softened as he turned his attention towards the newcomer. "I am reminded once again that not all of Lorkhan's spawn are baser savages." The corner of his mouth tugged into a smirk. "You have good taste, Latro. I would not be opposed to playing for you all." This he said to all gathered around the fire. Without waiting for any kind of response, he fished around in his pack before drawing out his instrument, wrapped in soft cloth. Unfolding the fabric gingerly, he grasped the flute with a delicate touch, and raised it to his lips. The melody was soft and simple, borrowed from an old hymn made to honor the aldmeri pantheon. Mortalmo's eyes fluttered open and shut as he swayed slightly to the music.
As Brynja listened on to the others speak of their skills, and introduce themselves, her eyes wandered to the third Altmer of the group, he had yet to speak up unlike his kinsmen. She studied him closely, or at least from what she could see.
Perched beside the other two Altmer of the group, Solandil would have been quite happy to remain quiet and not introduced. He was a guard for the group, and he was there to protect the expedition and get his money; while he could see the point in the group describing their talents, he had never been one for idle conversation - people could look at him and usually draw their own correct conclusions about his talents.
However, Durantel ruined his chance to remain quiet, as the older mer introduced Sol to the group himself. Darting a sour look of disapproval at Durantel (Which went unnoticed thanks to the weathered scarf wrapped around his face), Sol waited momentarily as the group talked, bickered, and boasted. Some seemed to be quite capable in dealing with whatever dangers lay ahead; others, not so much, but then again, Sol had learned in his travels that people could be surprising.
Deciding that he should coin in now, lest the others think Durantel always spoke for him, Sol removed his hood and scarf, snow-white hair spilling down and across his nearly equally-white face.
At his sudden removal of the hood, her brows raised at the realization that this Altmer completely lacked the typical golden pigmentation of the Altmer people. Her brows lowered, lips turned down into a frown as she nodded at him, he hadn't spoke a single word, "What of you, pale one?" She asked, though her tone wasn't judgemental by any means, but rather as if she were making a statement.
Sol's sharp grey eyes shot to the Nord who had spoken to him, typical frown in place. He didn't hold the same hatred for the Nords as most of his kin; it was more a general dislike for most people who approached him, regardless of race. Still, the title this Brynja used for him struck a chord of annoyance.
"I kill things." He breathed icily, not breaking eye contact with her.
Brynja cracked a grin for the first time this night at his words, "I-Kill-Things, is that your name?"
"Oaf." Was the first thought to cross his mind; expression growing colder as his lip curled up slightly in irritation. Looking away from the brutish-looking woman, he adressed the group as a whole. "As Durantel stated, my name is Solandil. Sol is also acceptable." His tone was neutral, though as he glanced back to Brynja, his eyes narrowed. "'I-Kill-Things' is not."
"Good." She said nodding at him, "I kill things too, Solandil."
"Hopefully we won't have to put your skills to use then, Sol," Latro said, hoping to break one of the many airs of tension that had blown through the group since the kindling took the first spark. He smiled to Brynja, "Nor yours."
He cleared his throat, softly chewing his bottom lip while thinking up subjects of conversation that wouldn't immediately ignite a flame in someone, but with how things had gone so far, that seemed an impossible task. He released his lip from his canines and returned his soft eyes and smile to Sol and Brynja, as well as to the others, "We have names and occupations. Brynja heals things and then kills things, Sol, you stick to the one, though. What of home?" He asked.
Visibly bristling up at the question, Sol's gaze landed on Latro for only a second before darting back to the campfire in the middle of the group.
"I travel. There is no home." He replied flatly, indicating quite clearly that that was the most he would speak on the subject.
"As do I." Latro said, unperturbed by Sol's stubbornly taciturn demeanor. "And from where does Brynja hail?"
"Whiterun. Born and raised. That's where my folks live, but not me. I lived in Windhelm for several years after the war, serving as Housecarl to Rorik Bone-Breaker, Thane of Windhelm." She said with a shrug of her shoulders. Family wasn't a topic she enjoyed talking about as of late.
"I can not say," He was interrupted by a stretch of his arms toward the sky and then a covered yawn, "I have met the man. A name like Bone-Breaker leaves so much to the imagination." He laughed quietly as he laid back to prop himself on an elbow.
Gaius found himself listening to the conversation being carried out a small distance away from him, and shifted closer to them, listening as it played out until an opportunity came for him to chime in; "The Imperial City," he said. "Talos Plaza district," he added, glancing at Durantel for a brief moment as his voice lowered slightly. You could never be too careful around those snobbish Altmer types.
"My home is in Cyrodiil too," Balroth said quietly and looked at Gaius. "Harlun's Watch, near Cheydinhal." It wasn't an interesting statement and he expected no response, but it seemed only fair to answer Latro's question regardless.
Gaius nodded, meeting Balroth's eyes, a grin flitting across his face. "Cheydinhal...I've only been once or twice, and I never stayed long. Seemed like nice country, though. A good place to live."
"Aye, it is," Balroth replied and smiled in earnest. He had a feeling he'd grow to like this Imperial sooner rather than later.
"Home is a long way for the both of you." She added, noticing the Orc and Imperial. "We're all a long ways from home it seems."
It took a while for Meg to come up with an answer, seeing she didn't really know how to answer Latro's question. "I'm from Whiterun myself," she said at last, interlocking her fingers as she set them on her lap. "Kinda. I was born in Riverwood, like my Ma. We moved to Riften for a bit after she died, an' then Pa decided to move to Whiterun. I mostly just travel here an' there now." She grinned before shrugging. "You could say taverns and inns are my home."
"A fellow sister then," Brynja turned her attention to the small woman, "and they have become my home as well." That much was true, she hadn't had a bed of her own to call in over a year, she slept where she could, when she could, in taverns and inns, in the forest and in the fields. She had trouble discerning if she was a Nord, simply due to her height and stature, but anyone born in Skyrim was a sister or brother.
"A man or a woman that has a Name like that is given it by their fellow kinsmen. We do not chose our Name, Latro." Brynja turned her attention back to Latro, remembering his comment about namesakes. It was common in Skyrim, part of the culture, a fact she never questioned.
"So does 'Ass-Scratcher' or 'Sheep-Shagger', but Nords never tell tales of those they give the real interesting names, do they?" Daro'Vasora chimed in, having momentarily lost her interest in the topic to enjoy the Altmer's flute playing. For a culture of prideful snobs, they at least had some claim excelling at the arts. If you played music more and talked less, people might mistake you for being pleasant. she thought, looking to the group's speakers.
"And so we're clear, "I kill things" is about as basic of an animal instinct and capability as one can muster. What sets you all apart from trolls or wolves, I wonder." The Khajiit said quietly, focusing on the lock.
"Killing...It goes deeper than that," She started, shaking her head at the Khajiit's words, "There is no glory or honor in the act. Every person, and every creature dies. There is a reason why I chose the sword. I am bound by my word to protect you all once we set foot inside those ruins. I will kill to protect each and everyone of you, even if it means putting my own life on the line. Call me foolish, I don't care. It's how I choose to live."
Despite being a Nord herself, it was hard for Meg to keep her amusement from the Khajiit's statement hidden in an attempt not to offend her fellow Nord. Which she was glad for; while she enjoyed the small banter between the others, in particular Brynja and Daro'Vasora, she could appreciate what the woman said. In some ways she already reminded Meg of her mother, or at least in the way her Papa described Ylva.
Solandil found himself nodding along slightly in agreement to the Nord's words. While he certainly wouldn't have said it quite as emotionally as that, he lived by the same basic premise. Kill to survive, or kill to protect others.
"What she said." Sol tacked on simply, jerking his chin towards Brynja. "We're hired to be protectors. That's what we'll do."
For the first time that night, Latro's calm smile faltered into a frown, his eyes drooping to watch the glowing ember and ash at the fire's edge. He swallowed, clutching his polished stone close at the talk of killing. He had killed before, for causes and for revenge, but he'd wanted to leave even the talk of it behind him in High Rock. Memories of the night hidden in trees outside Wayrest laid their callused hands on his throat for the first time in a while. He breathed in through his nose, closing his eyes and let the breath go quietly past his lips.
He held a fist to his lips and coughed, moving to keep the conversation from heated subjects, "And what separates Daro'Vasora from the trolls and wolves?"
The Khajiit leaned back, a leg over her knee. Her eyes lit up, her disposition engaged interest. "Simple, I have purpose and drive. I was provided with every need in my youth and desired more than my base urges. I began to study, the world expanded within my mind, and I realized that beneath the soil thousands of years of lost knowledge is just waiting to be found by me to take advantage of. Oh, and perhaps pawn off some priceless artifact so my name opens every door in the Empire because a reputation is priceless, and seeing what people are willing to pay for something that was lost long ago. That or I'm just jaded with money and dodging ancient horrors is how I scratch the itch that is boredom. Take your pick." Daro'Vasora said, setting her lock and picks down, leaning forward suddenly to rest her elbows on her knees. "Life is far more enjoyable when you live it on your own terms and do something no one else has since they locked these dusty old tombs for the last time. It's far more stimulating than simply looking for coin and food, no?"
"It helps if you have a purpose," Brynja commented, more to herself than to Daro'Vasora.
Mortalmo looked at the cat with curiosity, drawing the flute away from his lips as the song came to its end. "I do agree with... Daro'Vasora? A bear excels in slaughter when pushed. Reason and drive are the things that can set some individuals apart from baser creatures." Some. His eyes flickered to the nord cow, and then to Solandil. He had written off the former upon sight. The albino he still held out some hope for, though he suspected it might be a waste of mental energies. Perhaps the taint that warped his appearance had seeped into his brain at some point. Still, he hoped.
Latro was altogether now too conscious of the weight of the roundel dagger sheathed at the small of his back, hidden under his cloak, at that point. He appreciated his hands then, musician's fingers now, and accustomed to making potions and healing poultices rather than poisons or holding garottes or blades. "Indeed it does. I find warm beds warmer, hearths more welcoming, and songs that much sweeter when on the road." He sighed, grasping up his lute and strumming out a few notes before going back to plucking out a tune, "My purpose is to make people feel with nothing but my music. And what of you, my friend?" He said to the Redguard at his side, who had remained silent throughout the long exchange. "Your home, your purpose in life and in this most recent outing?"
For Alim, it was good to gauge the quality of his allies in this coming endeavor. The fire before him danced light across his caramel skin, and biting lazily into his apple, he turned to the talented Breton who had addressed him.
"Oh purpose?" Alim echoed, chuckling. He didn't find the question itself funny, nor did he do it to offend. He just honestly did not know what to say for himself. "I suppose..." He grunted, pulling himself up onto his feet, knees bent. He lithely hopped up on the stump he'd been leaning on the most of the night. "Adventure, as cliche as that sounds. I don't see myself going back to High Rock anytime soon."
Brynja recognized his words as a touch of romanticism, plundering ruins, finding precious treasures, the adrenaline coursing through one's veins in locked combat, the fear that tonight would be one's last night to live... She nodded more to herself than to Alim. How many caves had she trekked through, following behind Rorik? And how many times had she thought that she would die defending him? Seven years. Seven years was a long time to commit to an idea, a noble one of adventuring. Yet, here she was, about to start the process all over again. Her eyes lifted to settle onto the mysterious Breton at Latro's side. He had remained strangely quiet until now, just like Solandil.
He realized just what people might say, as he was very much not a Breton like some of them. "I find life is sweetest when you're on the knife's edge. Though it also brings quite a lot of rewards too, if you know where to look." He gave a wink to Latro, giving a jovial closed mouth grin. "Worry not though. I'll share what trinkets I find for the expedition. It seems many of you will be in need for some dextrous fingers on this outing."
Latro chuckled, for being so quiet, Alim was charismatic if you shined the light on him. He nodded appreciatively, "Only the gaudiest of trinkets for me, if you find one." Latro smiled, "What of the grey-heads, perhaps you have wise tales and the like for us younger folk?" He said to Gaius and Balroth.
Mortalmo bristled internally, was he not the eldest among the group? Still, he remained silent. It was a compliment, if anything. His twilight years were centuries off.
The orc snorted at that. It was true, though - his hair had turned grey years ago. "Wisdom, eh? Very well, let me think." He scratched his beard and looked up at the night sky. "Don't touch anything if you don't know what it is. If you hear a twang, drop to the ground. If a wizard can see you, run." They were all things he had learned over time, but the last one had been an especially poignant lesson and Balroth instinctively wrapped his arms around his abdomen. "Learn to forgive", he added after a few seconds, lost in thought.
Oddly enough, Alim, having sobered a bit from his introduction, gave a nod at his last bit of wisdom.
Latro was unexpectedly hit hard by the last bit. He pursed his lips and nodded, "Harder than one might think, Elder." He plucked a slow, wistful tune as he too let his gaze go to the stars, "But wise it is."
Mortalmo's thoughts drifted to Faewynn. He scowled into the fire. "Some deeds cannot be forgiven. Some actions deserve no clemency. At some point, the blame must fall to the fool who pardons."
At Durantel's first sentence, Latro's plucking twanged harshly and out of tune from a limp finger placed on the wrong fret. The young man cleared his throat uncomfortably, eyes flitting first to Durantel and then the others before he whispered a curse under his breath in feigned frustration. Soon enough, as it always did, his soft smile returned to him, "And what of the other grey-head?" Latro teased in good nature.
Gaius considered his response in silence for some time after biting out a brief "my hair's not gray yet, is it?" (It was true; though there were a few gray hairs shot through, his hair remained its glorious brown.) That was the question, wasn't it? Was there any wise advice he could give? His mind drifted back along the lanes of memory, and he found himself in front of his mother's grave, holding a dragon's-tongue flower and standing in solemn silence. His siblings, ones that he'd barely known the faces of, stood on either side of him, and he'd found that if he focused even marginally on something—anything—else, he could forget they were there, forget their names, their histories. Suddenly, he'd felt deeply, unbearably lonely.
Ah. That was it.
"Remember those around you," he murmured. "Don't ever forget them so you can focus more on yourself, because I can promise that they won't forget you. If you have someone close to you, keep them close."
Brynja found herself nodding along to the old-timer's words of wisdom. Much of this she had learned from her time in the war, and from Rorik. While Ivor might have taught her to swing a blade proper, it was Rorik that taught her how to apply that knowledge. She shivered, not at the cold, but at the thought of the dangers ahead. But forgiveness, that was something she struggled with, a fact she was well aware of. Her lack of forgiveness had made her so bitter to begin with.
Huh, things got gloomy real fast. Meg had never had to deal with forgiveness, at least not in such a personal sense like these fellows here seemed to be talking about. She was a lucky lass who had been forgiven after giving her father so much trouble as a young one. Hm... Her gaze shifted from the others to the fire, watching the dancing flames. There was J'raij, of course... it had taken a long while before she realized she wasn't to blame for his death. But then, that had been loneliness more than yearning for forgiveness...
No, no, no. She scolded herself inwardly. Other thoughts. Now.
Judena scribbled on, noting the names as it cropped up adding to the growing list. She added some identifiers, physical ticks and little jot notes on personality. The argonian hummed guessing at the spelling of some names. Everyone present had their opinions, quirks and history. It was all very exciting, as it always was with new groups and such a large and well funded expedition attracted all walks of life in the best way, Jude surmised.
She found herself liking the youthful Meg and Alim, their attitudes seemingly flexible. Latro was helping to skim the basics in their conversation, Gaius and Brynja were taking a more serious route, balancing the sarcasm from Daro'Vasora out. Judena had enjoyed listening to Balroth, his deep baritone voice was very pleasant. She wondered if Daro'Vasora were to turn her sarcasm upon Durantel how he would react? He used such harsh language as if this was his first venture away from Summerset, while Solandil was not the first she had seen of pale elves. Highly uncommon but she knew in her heart of hearts to guess or prod would certainly err on the side of very rude.
Maybe after a few drinks.
She tapped the side of her head with the heel of her hand, she hadn't even introduced herself! She used her spear to lift herself from her seat, letting her tail fall back.
She said, "The expedition thus far has been turning up new discoveries and always, am I thankful of the new faces and experience. My name, is Judena Callisar." She enunciated her name, always taking care with her speech in the common tongue, beaming at the others around her. "I volunteered for this expedition and have been apart of the documentation and academic teams. I specialize in artifact appraisal, retrieval, and restoration."
A snake of irritation coiled around Mortalmo with each passing second as the lizard continued to run its mouth. The thing was disgusting. A horrendous sight to behold, and the wet rasp that escaped from its throat did little to offset the disturbing air that clung to the reptile. Mortalmo wondered idly, if it smelled as bad as the dismal swamp it likely crawled from. He fixed Judena with an icy stare. "Judena Callisar, volunteer for the documentation and academic teams, that specializes in the appraisal, retrieval, and restoration of artifacts, that is thankful for new faces and experiences... I am still at an utter loss as to how you will be of any significant help in the ruin."
The Argonian turned and locked eyes with Durantel, his eyes icy as a glacier. She stood still as a statue, a moment passed then she laughed, "I already have you see. It takes a full team of minds to fully catalogue and document the findings. You must be a bit of a greenhorn yourself, if you are ever interested I can run through the basics in such a dig. It is..." She searched for the word, "A very complex machine. I understand your ignorance, completely. There was once a time I was in your boots. I empathize." She opened her logbook once again, exaggerating a scratch across the page. She took her seat.
Then again, Judena thought idly, she could bribe Daro'Vasora to push his buttons on her behalf. For reasons.
The Argonian that had originally questioned Brynja, revealed herself as Judena Callisar, and and much to her surprise, she was able to handle herself quite well when Durantel mocked her. She raised her eyebrows in astonishment, her eyes switching between the two figures.
Though the lizard seemed to think it had some bite to match its incessant barking, Mortalmo was unconvinced. How dare the animal talk to him in such a manner? Matching Judena's japing tone note for note, he began his rebuttal. "Though in some small part, I admire your perceived cunning, it was a wholly wasted effort. I understand that you're a bit of a greenhorn, but my meaning seems to have completely flown over your head. The deeper one goes into these ruins, the more peril they place themselves in. You should be scouring the ruins in our wake, after those of us that are capable have cleared out the automata. Though I have my doubts as to if you truly provide any modicum of help to this expedition, I won't ignore the possibility that perhaps your intellect is... present. That being said, you are either a fool, or foolish for thinking you have a place amongst the vanguard. Even if your only capability is that of a floor sweeper, you would still have more use alive on the surface than dead down there."
The flippant backhanded remark from Durantel left her with a bitter taste in her mouth, as if it were more possible. How many Stormcloak supporters had she seen in Whiterun, talking down to the Dunmer, Khajiit and Argonians? She wasn't sure who was worse, the Altmer and Thalmor, or those cursed Stormcloaks. Brynja had no place in her heart for those that looked down upon others just because of their skin color or race.
"You're a talker for someone full of piss and spite." She snorted in disgust, "Don't forget to breathe during your next speech, lest you run out of breath, and force one of us to bury you."
Judena laughed again, genuinely for Brynja's comment. "It has been quite a while since I have had my fair run in with such a prickly personality. Keeps one humble. Durantel, I feel no need to prove to you, specifically, that I am of use. You are not my first experience with Altmer hot branded wordplay." She said lightly, adjusting herself on the upturned treetrunk. "I hope others here understand the value of over three decades worth of experience in this line of work. I would gladly let you borrow my reference guide to dwemer artifacts, Durantel."
"Hey, Durantel. More flute, less mouthing off." Daro'Vasora said, offering him an impatient smile. "I know you're probably used to people slobbering over your three stone long pride and joy between your legs in Alinor, but you're acting like you've never met someone who wasn't as tall and obnoxiously golden like you." She pointed North, towards Skyrim. "Feel free to try and impress the Nords over there. You'll find a much more lively audience who are rather quite fond of empty boasts and S'rendarr knows what else you have going on in that sloped head of yours.
"I can vouch for Judena; I've worked with her before. For all I know, you're going to get down there and try to tell a Centurion how it's an inferior construct to the architecture back home and be mighty surprised when it ventilates your entrails with a spike. How about you step off your awfully high soap box before you fall and snap your neck from the weight of your hubris, yes? Your prattle is tiresome and unless you prove to me you're actually worth getting a portion of the cut, I'll be more than happy to let whatever nasty clanker down below drag you off to disect you, hopefully mouth first. You're in our world now, High Elf. Best not forget that." The Khajiit said, tossing the bone from her lips into the flame, the meat fragments igniting instantly.
Mortalmo held a languid finger up in Daro'Vasora's direction, his focus still on Judena. "I am not unfair, Judena. You claim three decades of experience under your belt. It will take only a few minutes for me to determine if those three decades have done you any good." Mortalmo was aware that some amount of humility now would serve him better than it would to continue arguing with what was an ever growing number of indignant fools. "I was unaware of your supposed qualifications when formulating my initial statement. I will reserve further judgement until I am certain of your capabilities. You have..." He paused. "You have my apologies, Judena."
Turning his head to look at Brynja, then Daro'Vasora, Mortalmo made the conscious effort to rise to their bait. "Cat, I trust you are quite finished with your tirade? At this point, the original concern of this discussion has been washed away by the immaturity and imputence of children. Bandying empty words with you two will prove to be a fruitless endeavor for all involved. I do not seek to waste my own time, and it would be unfair of me to seek to waste the time of others. This, at the least, we can agree upon, no?"
"Aye, I'll settle for that. If you can hold your tongue before judging others so readily next time around." Brynja said, a bit caught off guard at his sudden turn about. While he still rubbed her the wrong way, perhaps, as she had suggested to him, he would prove her wrong?
Judena listened, nodding along. Brynja and Daro'Vasora springing to her defense, energetic as hunrgy slaughterfish. Durantel was pulling back on his reigns, whatever had originally gotten his hackles up had simmered down. Jude did not fail to notice her isolation in Durantel's golden eyes. "Peace, Daro'Vasora, Brynja Whitehand, and thank you. Both of you." She said sincerely bowing her head toward her peers, truly grateful. "I find it interesting that as each in turn have introduced themselves and their job, it was me that sparked such mockery and questioning of my use to the expedition. Curious, is it not?" She tapped her cheek, lifting a dead scale.
"Nevertheless, water under the bridge Durantel." Judena replied, "Truly." She found herself letting it go easily, to her it would be a hazy recollection at best the following day, if not the following hour. Thankfully, her logbooks always remembered the harsh words and good deeds equally.
Crossing her arms and settling back against the rock, closing her eyes to soak in the faint heat of the fire against the cold, Daro'Vasora simply nodded. A quiet lingered for a few moments before she spoke again. "All that I'm concerned for is doing the job and getting out alive, with possibly a bit extra weighing down my pack along the way. After this, none of us have to speak again and we can go back to wherever we each come from. Let's just make sure we get there. I don't like working with a crowd, but we all work for Rhea, so best put our good feet forward, yes?"
Meg let out a small sigh of relief. Gloomy thoughts were better than whatever this was. Half of her had wanted to interrupt and tell everyone to just get along, the other half had simply wanted to enjoy some food before her stomach announced that it was still hungry. She looked to her pack which was on the ground beside her and pulled it up on her lap, unbuckling it and pulling out an apple. She dusted it off before looking in the direction of the others.
"I have more if y'all want," she offered.
Mortalmo resisted the juvenile urge to roll his eyes. "I think I will pass on that offer."
Anifaire rubbed the back of her neck nervously, shifting in her seat next to Durantel. Harsh words discomforted her, and she only hoped the rest of the journey would smooth relations out a little bit. Even if these people were strange, she didn't like being in a position where she has to defend herself. She glanced up at the offered apple and shook her head slightly, as she was not sure of the stranger who was doing the offering.
"I just finished mine, but I'm in a hungry mood." Alim called to Meg, holding his hand up to catch an apple if she'd toss one his way.
"Alright, here you go." Meg grinned as she tossed the apple she'd just cleaned over to Alim, pleased that someone decided to humour her attempts at keeping the peace by way of food. That done, she pulled out another and set to cleaning it as well.
The dashing Redguard caught the apple casually on his wrist, letting it rolled down his shoulder to be caught by his opposite hand. He tossed it up a bit and balanced it on a finger for a moment. "Ah, thank you," he said, feeling the weight of the fruit. Seemed just right. Well balanced also.
"No problem," Meg replied, chuckling. She took a bite of her own apple, contemplating. It would be a rather long expedition if everyone was going to act as if... What did Daro'Vasora say? Molag's mace up their asses? Just about right. Then again, adventures like these created or destroyed bonds; seeing no one here really knew the other, she was optimistic for the former.
The scowl on Durantel's face when he rebutted Balroth's wisdom while staring into the flames had been food for thought for the orc, and when the Altmer actually apologized to Judena for his hasty assumptions Balroth was even more surprised. Perhaps there were better reasons than merely inborn racism for Durantel's behavior. Having mulled it over, he finally spoke up again, directing his words and his gaze towards the caustic elf.
"Some deeds cannot be forgiven," Balroth said, repeating Durantel. Strange words coming from an Alinor high elf, given their country had committed unspeakable atrocities in their pursuit of victory over the Empire. It had given Balroth the impression that the high elves did not believe there were any means that the ends couldn't justify, but perhaps he had overestimated their cruelty as a race. "That's what you said." He paused again and took a deep drag from his pipe and when he continued his voice was heavy from the smoke swilling in his lungs. "What have you done that cannot be forgiven, Durantel?"
"You presume much, orc. You presume much." The flames flickered across Mortalmo's eyes as his gaze was drawn back to their source. He looked up, back towards Balroth. There was little enough malice in Mortalmo's stare, and something else dominated his expression. Something much harder to place. "My tale is one that spans centuries, and I have little enough time to share it." He rose, then, and stepped away from the campfire. "Please, excuse me. I must say my prayers." Resting a light hand on Anifaire's shoulder that soon slipped away, he began drifting towards the darkness without pause for a response.
The elf's lack of a vehement denial and the inscrutable look in Durantel's eyes were enough to confirm Balroth's suspicions - the Altmer had done bad things that he sorely regretted. The orc watched him go and hummed to himself. It was... relateable.
"And some of you might wonder why I keep myself a few paces from the fire, usually." Latro chuckled, watching Durantel go. A man named Pale-Feather might have been like that Mer if his path had not changed so. But Pale-Feather died alone and angry outside of Wayrest with the two men he hated. He ended his plucking with a flurry of sweet notes before they slowed gradually into silence. He sighed, "And with that, I take my leave. I will see the lot of you on the morrow."
He rose to his feet with a grace to rival Alim, something of a constant trait since childhood, and the only one he kept. His soft footfall faded into the night with him. Now, where's my wine?
Gaius nodded at Latro, watching as he vanished into the darkness beyond the campfire glare. He hadn't missed the interplay between Balroth and Durantel. He chose not to speak; he simply observed. He liked the orc; there was a quiet sort of confidence about him, and Gaius found him well-spoken, yet not overly keen on filling every void and gap with conversation simply for the sake of breaking the silence. He appreciated it. The elf...he wasn't as Gaius had initially believed. After that exchange, Gaius wasn't quite sure what to make of Durantel. There was something underneath the Altmer arrogance he exuded. The Legionnaire wasn't quite sure what it was, but knowing it was there was enough to put him on edge.
"I think I'll be heading to bed as well," he said, climbing to his feet and dusting his tunic off habitually. He leaned back, groaning as his back cracked. "Eight watch over you." The words tasted bitter in his mouth, as they always did. He'd grown to hate the number eight. Some unknowable emotion flashed behind his eyes.
He passed through the divide between dark and light, the fuzzy, blurred boundary delineated by the campfire's glow, and vanished into the darkness.
Judena watched them leave waving slightly as they left, opening her logbook again to ensure her notes were sound. The gathering grew smaller, all over the camp small fires were slowly dimming as others so to, turned in to sleep for the night. Of those remaining for their own reasons, guard duty or good company, they quieted as well. Wrapping up another night for another day of work to follow.