Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Hank
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Hank J. Wimbleton

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The Sea Meets the Darkness

A Hank and Dervish Collab

Afternoon, 9th of Midyear, 4E208
Somewhere in Gilane, Hammerfell

It had been sloppy carnage, an attack based on desperation and an overconfidence that tended to come from either fanatics or those who would not grow old enough to have experience. To Zaveed, those were often the same people. He walked among the skirmish site, local garrison forces having long gathered the bodies of Dominion soldiers and insurgents alike, the latter of which were reputed to have died to a man, although a few claims of one or two escaping into the streets made the rounds. More often than not, they were simply tales conjured up by the wild imaginations of ordinary people who loved a good gossip and folk tale, the thought of some danger lurking in the streets that sent shivers down their spines without any real sense of risk.

The Khajiit felt a growing sense of loathing towards the crowds, with their vacant, gawking eyes. They were creating a spectacle out of what was very nearly an attempt on his sister’s life, a sister he hadn’t seen for over six years, and even then, briefly. The fact she was here and now felt like an impossible coincidence, but Sevari was certain, and given everything that’s happened since he came marching back into Zaveed’s life, the privateer was all but certain that the divines were mocking him by giving him the two things he wanted most in life, but keeping them so far away they might as well been the moons.

No sense being rueful, you have work to do. he reminded himself, and so began an hour of questioning the guards stationed in the area and questioning witnesses. Enough of them seemed to confirm that a Khajiit with a greatsword and an important looking Altmer managed to escape with two of their men, and it seemed they headed to the Northeast section of the city. It wasn’t much, but it was something to go off of.

There were tens of thousands of people in Gilane and countless buildings and places to hide, it was going to be an impossible task, but it would only remain that way if he gave up when he was this close. If anything, Zaveed of Senchal was remarkably talented at tracking people down. It was only a matter of changing his tactics for terrorists to someone he actually cared for.

That took away far too many options.

And so, heading in the direction provided, he set off, trying to comb his memories for habits his sister and himself had shared to survive Senchal’s streets so many years ago and hoped that Dominion indoctrination didn’t take away the part of Marassa that Zaveed would recognize.

Word of the attack against the Dominion envoy had reached Gregor as well; the innkeeper had been slipped an extra few septims to keep the Imperial apprised of any major disturbances in the city, and this qualified. He knew the Dwemer would undoubtedly investigate, and who better to send than their auxiliaries that could blend into the crowds? There was a chance that Zaveed would be there, or someone that worked with him, and despite the fact that it was broad daylight, Gregor gathered his equipment and set out through the labyrinthine underbelly of Gilane towards the scene of the attack. He did not tell Raelynn where he was going and had spun up some excuse of recovering some of his belongings from the hotel. There was no time to lose. If he was to ever find the elusive agent that had captured her not just once, but twice, he had to follow up every lead and he did not want her to worry or, worse, follow him. His path took him through the back alleys and narrow paths that he knew the city guard didn’t patrol, and when he did have to cross a street, he made sure to wait until nobody was looking his way.

Halfway there, he stopped dead in his tracks and instinctively reached for his weapons as soon as he saw the Khajiit on the other end of the alley. Why? Something about him set Gregor on edge immediately. The look in his eyes, the tension on his body -- there was a cruelty to him, a depth of malice that Gregor had seen before, but only very rarely. Could it be? Perhaps this Khajiit was just one of the Dominion’s agents, or nobody at all. He wanted to let go of the pommel of his claymore and apologize for his overreaction; until proven otherwise they were only two private citizens walking through the alleys of Gilane, after all, but something stopped him. Finely honed instincts told him that he was in danger.

“My, my… isn’t this a surprise? I must admit I am less prepared for this occasion than I would have preferred, but I can still give you a proper greeting.” Zaveed said from the alleyway, stepping closer, his posture loose, hands on the axes, but an underlying tension to his musculature. He stared at Gregor with a predator’s eyes, feeling a tinge of resentment that one of his quarry should happen to stumble into him in such a way when he was hunting for something much more personal. This would distract from that, but it would do much to soothe his frustrations. After all, one of the terrorists who had been responsible for trying to kill Marassa stood right before him, and this time, there would be no games.

“I’ve been looking for you, Gregor. Raelynn told me so much about you, and I quite enjoyed my time with her. A sweet girl, truly magnificent, surely you agree?” The Khajiit said, his smooth voice filled with an underlying maelstrom of malice and venom. His eyes narrowed and a cruel grin crossed his countenance, his claws tapping against the Dwemeri alloy of his axes. “Ah yes, and here you are, one in the same. Imagine my embarrassment if I had the wrong man, but forgive me for saying, a bearded Imperial man in dark garb and a fucking claymore paint quite the distinctive profile. She played her part; here you are, out of your hole, seething with rage. Nothing incentivizes a man quite like reminding him how impotent he is at protecting the one thing he actually cares about.” Zaveed stepped closer yet, the tapping growing louder. “Or maybe you wished to compliment me on my work?”

“Zaveed,” Gregor said softly, as much to himself as to the Khajiit, and drew his claymore from its sheath. The alleyway was narrower than he would have liked for the size of his weapon, but his skill with the longsword left something to be desired. He felt more comfortable this way. He inhaled slowly, trying to control his heartbeat and the simmering wrath that threatened to burst through the surface. He had no idea how good of a fighter Zaveed was, but the sight of the twin pair of axes did nothing to reassure Gregor. It was imperative that he remained calm. But this was him, Raelynn’s tormentor, the monster that had seen her unhinged and terrified, the beast that had carved up his sweetheart, and sheer good fortune now brought them face to face. This was his chance to make good on his promise to her.

It was obvious that the Khajiit wanted a conversation. Gregor wasn’t interested. He only wanted revenge. He dashed forward, mustering all the explosive speed his body could muster, and angled his claymore for a well-practiced thrust that would skewer Zaveed like a kebab if it connected.

The axes were out of their hoops in a flash, the bull charge telegraphed so far in advance Zaveed felt he could have been half asleep and still had time to sidestep and redirect the sword with his left axe while punching towards Gregor’s chest with his right axe held just beneath the head, clanging off of the armour beneath the heavy cloak as Gregor’s momentum slowed, giving the Khajiit a chance to land a hard kick to the Imperial’s flank.

“Look at that thing, you treat it like a spear, maybe if you actually took advantage of its weight… oh, right. You can’t, can you? Pesky walls, always getting in the way.” The Khajiit taunted, readjusting his blades with a flourish. Closing the distance, he bought one blade down into a cleave towards Gregor’s neck, an obvious but dangerous attack meant to occupy the sword as the spiked end of the other axe made for Gregor’s arm.

Gregor knew immediately that he was outmatched. He saw what Zaveed was doing with the two-pronged attack but did not have the skill necessary to avoid falling into the Khajiit’s trap; he deflected the axe that came for his neck with the flat of his claymore’s blade and sucked his teeth as the other axe’s spike grazed his arm. He twisted his body away as fast as he could after saving his head, sparing the flesh of his arm the worst of the spike. Zaveed was right. The walls were problematic. Buying himself time and space, Gregor turned the momentum of his pirouette into a kick and backed away a few feet, brandishing the claymore in an upright position. Even if the walls reduced his horizontal reach, there was no ceiling. He wanted to go on the offensive, but--

The kick connected, hitting Zaveed in the hip and forcing him to back peddle a few steps to retain his stance, but the effect had worked; it bought Gregor a bit more space to work with. Still, it wasn’t enough to keep him at bay for long; soon the Khajiit descended upon Gregor again, a flurry of axe blows coming from different angles as the nimble fighter’s footwork resembled more of a boxer than a berserker, weaving in and out at different angles and always keeping the claymore occupied as he struck shallow blows, often grazing the armour and occasionally tasting flesh. When he had an opening, Zaveed slammed his shoulder into Gregor’s chest and drove him into a wall, his axes coming down in a cross that Gregor managed to catch as it became a contest of strength and will to see who could drive their blades further.

“You will die here, gutted in this alley. And next time, I will not let her leave.” Zaveed snarled between gritted teeth. The mirth in his expression was gone, just a lust for battle and to dismantle the foolish man before him who was keeping him from his personal mission.

That did it. Gregor angled his claymore so that Zaveed’s axes slid off to one side as a terrible wrath came over his face, and his left hand suddenly shot up to Zaveed’s throat. His rage gave him strength and his fingers dug deep into his enemy’s windpipe, pulling Zaveed closer, and instead of saying something -- he was beyond speech -- Gregor looked at him wide-eyed and insane, murder in his gaze, jaw clenched and nostrils flared. The Pale Reaper had come.

Even if Zaveed wanted to, no sound could escape his throat, the deathgrip was far too tight; Gregor was incredibly strong, that much was certain. However, it also left the Imperial exposed himself, and in a controlled, but desperate move, Zaveed drove the spike of his axe into Gregor’s flank, burying it deep. The sudden pain of the axe loosened the grip; the other axe was brought down over the forearm, the hook of the underside of the blade pulling Gregor’s arm down enough that the Khajiit brought his head smashing into Gregor’s forehead, prompting the man to release him.

Zaveed coughed and wheezed, forcing himself to stand by driving his axe into the ground and raising to his feet, wiping spittle from his muzzle with the back of his arm. A feral grin bared his teeth as the arm returned to his sides, the axes hanging low and ready. “That’s more like it.”

With a growl, Zaveed took off at Gregor again, this time the weight of his blows came crashing down like a hammer striking an anvil, his momentum leading to heavy strikes and slashes that would certainly maim if they connected. A nasty cut bit into Gregor’s support arm, and the other axe hooked behind the crossguard of the sword, and with a savage kick to the gut, Zaveed pried the sword from Gregor’s hand, sending it scattering across the cobblestone behind him.

“So weak, so pathetic. You let me lead you like a bull by its nose ring, and the wound that is Raelynn was just so easy to rip and tear into; just who the fuck did you think you were dealing with?” Zaveed snarled, stepping closer, his axe twirling in hand to fling Gregor’s blood free of it. “One by one, you will all die. How do you think they’ll stand, these friends of yours, now their leader is gone and their healer is a despondent mess? Take comfort in knowing that you won’t be around to witness their suffering. All the pity.”

With that, he brought his axe down overhead and prepared to deliver the killing blow. “Death is too good for you, fool.”

The axe descended.

Like a flash of mercury, Gregor’s longsword came up to meet it. He deflected the coup de grace and stumbled backwards to his feet. The injuries that Zaveed had inflicted on him in a matter of seconds -- Gregor had seen a dozen men crumble in his position, yielding to their opponent and begging for mercy. But not him. He would never. Raelynn’s face flashed in his mind’s eye, the way she looked at him when they were alone, and he grit his teeth as he raised his free hand. The pain was almost unbearable. Magic coalesced in his palm and a stream of crimson light drained out of Zaveed and into Gregor. Almost immediately, relief was visible on his face and he straightened up, strength flowing back into his limbs as his wounds knit themselves back together. A healer would have to look at them later, if he made it out of this alive, but it was enough to stem the bleeding and keep him in the fight.

Shit, Gregor was a mage. The armour and the sword had made profiling him easy, albeit inaccurate. The drain health spell came unexpectedly after the sword deflected the blow, and Zaveed stumbled backwards, feeling his vitality weaken and a wave of nausea hit him. A torrent of vomit erupted from Zaveed’s mouth, who turned to grin at the feisty Imperial. “Do you always suck a man dry on the first date?” he mocked, steadying himself even though he felt somewhat faint, but regaining his senses.

“Shut up,” Gregor spat, his longsword in his right hand and a shimmering ward in the other. He attacked, the silver blade bursting into flames as he slashed at Zaveed, the air resistance triggering its enchantment, and he raised the ward to defend against the inevitable counter-attack.

Fire didn’t scare Zaveed, he’d known the pyromancer known as Felicia Hargrave for years and nearly been torched by her as many times, so the sword that was likely going to lose its integrity from the enchantment did little to deter the Khajiit. He allowed Gregor to get on the offensive, a flurry of flaming thrusts and swipes deflected and parried by the two axes that were so ingrained his his muscle memory, it was almost a game. A few times, the flames scorched at his bare arms, but minor burns didn’t bother Zaveed all that much; he’d endured so much worse.

Suddenly, his right axe pulled the sword across Gregor’s chest and a balled fist smashed Gregor across the face, stumbling the man as the axes slide down to rest upon the top of Zaveed’s hands as he began to pummel into Gregor’s chest, arms, and attempts at the face with precision blows that would keep the Imperial on the defensive. Ward and sword alike kept an admirable job at warding off most of the attacks, but the axes could still hook limbs and weapons out of the way to allow the other to make purchase, and Zaveed was much faster. An axe landed down into Gregor’s collarbone like a woodcutting axe, biting deep through bone and tissue, and it brought the men face to face.

“I tire of this. Enough games.” Zaveed snarled, putting his weight into the weapon to have it bite deeper.

The pain was immediate and excruciating, and the sound of bone being crushed beneath the axe was enough to churn Gregor’s stomach. He gasped and nearly dropped the longsword with trembling fingers; the ward extinguished, his concentration broken. Zaveed was simply better, there was no denying it. Gregor could not do this alone. He had never resorted to his darkest powers inside a city before and he knew the risks were immense, but it was obvious that Zaveed was going to kill him within the next few seconds if he did not act. The strain was so great that tears sprang in his eyes, but he summoned his iron will and managed to prepare another spell. A flash of purple light appeared behind Zaveed.

The Wrathman stepped forth from the portal. It was a towering, skeletal, undead warrior, ethereal energy swirling around its limbs and dark plate armor covering it from head to toe. Two bright, soulless eyes, infinite like stars, stared out from beneath a grim, horned helmet and in its hands was a dragonbone battleaxe large enough to split a bear in half. It raised its weapon overhead and brought it down on Zaveed -- it was a blow that he would undoubtedly not survive.

“What in Mundus…” Zaveed managed when he caught the pale glow off of Gregor’s skin and the sound of something behind him. The hulking undead monstrosity towered over the Khajiit and bared down on him with lethal intent. He was forced to release his axe, still buried in Gregor, and he managed to jump and roll out of the way in time to avoid being cleaved in two. Sliding his remaining axe back in its hoop, Zaveed drew the two pistols from his chest harness and took aim at both targets, gritting his teeth wided-eyed as he pulled the trigger; the deafening report of the discharge of soul gem energy to propel the iron bearing at both of his targets causing his ears to pull back in pain as the sound echoed off of the walls.

Gregor yanked the axe out of his collarbone and he almost fainted, leaning heavily against one of the alley’s walls. He wanted to drain Zaveed’s vitality again to restore himself but he could barely see through the agony. Instead, he swiftly placed his free hand on the grievous wound and enveloped it in the golden glow of Restoration magic, trusting the Wrathman to buy himself enough time for this. The broken bone was beyond his skill to heal, but much like before he could at least mend the skin. He looked up and made to move back into position precisely when Zaveed fired his Dwemeri pistols -- the bullet grazed his upper arm and he flinched, once again beset by pain. It felt like he had been burned. The Wrathman was hit square in the chest and Gregor watched with wide eyes, unsure of what would happen next.

It growled and seemed unfazed. Gregor exhaled a shuddering breath in relief. Now it was time to turn the tables. He threw Zaveed’s axe behind him and bent over to pick up his claymore; luck would have it that their deadly dance through the alley had brought him back to his favored weapon. Zaveed was trapped between himself and the Wrathman, and master and servant moved in to attack simultaneously.

The pistols went back in their hoops and Zaveed’s hands went for the remaining weapons on his person, his axe and the elven dagger at the small of his back. He was pressured on both sides, fighting with two vastly different weapons. The claymore was back in hand, and it took all of Zaveed’s strength to keep that monstrosity at bay while avoiding being run through by the heavy sword. The Wrathman beared down on him, swinging the axe without much finesse, but the dagger bit and tore into whatever was holding the undead together without much success, and he knew that he’d have to kill the master to free himself of the creature.

For the first time in a long while, Zaveed felt the panic in his heart that his life might actually be in danger, and he might lose.

“Damn you all!” He snarled, turning suddenly against Gregor and pressing the attack, hoping the monster at his back would hesitate to do anything that would endanger its master. The axe kept the greatsword at bay as the knife went in for slashing at vulnerable areas… but he was getting tired. His attacks were slower and less precise. He needed a moment to breathe, but neither of his foes would afford him a chance.

He needed his axe back.

Tossing his knife into a reverse grip, Zaveed made a plunge for Gregor’s neck, knowing the man would likely throw his weight out of the way, and he shoved him aside, scrambling to pick up the weapon he’d had discarded. It was stupidly risky; his back was exposed to both of his foes. It was a risk he needed to take, the battle was not going in his favour, despite how badly he had tore into Gregor already.

An overwhelming, exhilarating sensation came over Gregor when he saw the fear in Zaveed’s eyes and despite himself, despite his exhaustion and despite the fact that the Khajiit fought on like a man possessed, the Pale Reaper laughed when Zaveed dove for his axe. It was a cruel, terrible peal and it was followed by a gurgling, blood-curdling noise; the Wrathman was laughing too. Gregor mustered all the remaining strength he had left and flew after Zaveed, mentally directing the Wrathman to do the same. As the Khajiit’s fingers grasped around the hilt of his second axe, Gregor’s claymore, the blade arcing with lightning, drove into his back and dug in deep. On the other side of Zaveed, the Wrathman swung his battleaxe with hideous strength and struck Zaveed in the chest, the dragonbone edge splitting his armor and tasting blood.

The pain was excruciating, but the shock of it all kept anything but a surprised gasp from slipping through Zaveed’s lips as his trembling hands caught sight of the blood that coated his chest crimson; the axe had slashed through his armour and exposed his chest. An unbearable pain came from his back and his muscles were tensed up from the electrical current that was running through his body; it simply refused to respond. He was on his knees, at the mercy of a man without any, and tears began to well up in his eyes; there was nothing else his body could do as he waited for death.

I can’t… not yet he thought, pleadingly, to anything that dared listen to a damned man.

It was done. Gregor's breathing came fast and hard and the blood-soaked hands that were still wrapped around the hilt of his claymore shook with the sudden realization. In fact, it took every ounce of willpower he had not to collapse to his knees right now: Zaveed was, without a doubt, the most dangerous enemy that Gregor had ever fought. But instead of sinking low, Gregor rose to his full height, calming his shuddering breaths, as a sick and twisted expression of utter triumph unfolded on his face. He had kept his promise to Raelynn. Here Zaveed was, her demon laid low at Gregor’s hands, just like he said. Zaveed’s words from before rang falsely now: Gregor could protect what was his. There was nothing left but to carry out the Khajiit’s final punishment. He had originally planned to use Zaveed for a much simpler, base purpose, but Gregor had to admit that he was… worthy. Zaveed's soul was drenched in blood; it had to be. Rather than wasting the soul gem on an enchantment, Gregor realized that he would make a very valuable sacrifice. The willpower, tenacity and strength that Zaveed had displayed all but guaranteed it. Gregor let go of his sword with one hand and, with the very last dredges of his magicka, willed one final spell into being.

The soultrap wrapped its ice-cold snare around Zaveed's heart.

It felt like something intangible, yet so very vital, like an organ that encompassed his whole body was being pulled and beginning to tear from his very soul. It was then that Zaveed realized was was happening; he was being soul trapped, and he was powerless to stop it. An overwhelming fear encompassed him, unlike anything he’d ever felt before, and he struggled to fight it, to stay alive, anything to prevent such a cruel and twisted fate from befalling him, but he was weak, and with every heartbeat, he grew fainter.

“No…” he breathed, barely an utterance that faltered like a candle in a strong breeze. He accepted long ago he was never going to have a happy ending to his life, but not like this.

Anything but this.

Gregor smiled. “The long dark is coming,” he whispered forcefully. “I know you can feel it. You almost broke her, you know that? She was good and you broke her so bad I thought she was gone. Nobody does that to me. This is the price. I hope it was worth it.” Suddenly, pain dug into Gregor’s cleaved shoulder, and he noticed the thin hilt of a throwing knife sticking out of it. From the rooftops, a cloaked figure descended, from the billowing snakeskin fabric a short spear was produced, driving through the back of the Wrathman’s skull and riding the undead into the cobblestone. As she stood, the creature began to dematerialize, its bonds to Mundus severed.

The Redguard stood, almost like a pale wraith, staring at Gregor with cold yellow eyes. “Monster.” she said, a statement without malice, a simple utterance of fact. She descended upon him swiftly, past Zaveed, her spear angled for Gregor’s heart.

Too dumbfounded by the interruption to say anything, Gregor stared at the Redguard, eyes wide and slack-jawed. What the hell was this? He was so close. As his overpowering instinct of self-preservation kicked in, Gregor became aware of several things at once. The dagger in his shoulder hurt far more than it should, and the pain quickly escalated into something vile and seething: poison. Simultaneously, something clicked in his head and he saw himself kneeling before the Ideal Master again in the abandoned warehouse with Raelynn by his side.

A gift.

With unwieldy strength, a huge black steed emerged from a portal that coalesced into being on the far end of the alley. Thinking fast, Gregor pulled his claymore free from Zaveed's flesh and grabbed the reins of the thundering warhorse as it came charging through. Its eyes burned with the same pale, ghostly light as the now-vanquished Wrathman, and its skin clung to the apparition’s hulking frame with fragmented desperation. Gregor could see some of its ribs poking through. With the last of his energy, he swung himself into the saddle of the undead horse and out of the path of the Redguard’s spear. The black rider fled, cloak billowing behind him, bursting out onto the streets of Gilane at full gallop, much to the alarm of the citizenry, and retreated to where he came from. It was his turn to fear for his life. Unyielding venom coursed through his veins and he could feel it, the seething burn of it, seeking his heart. Panic threatened to overtake him. He had to find Raelynn. Only she could save him now.

Nadeen stared at the ghastly apparition taking away her quarry with buried disgust. So Samara cell was harbouring a necromancer… they would all have to be expunged.

But first, there was something she needed to do. She wasn’t a woman without mercy.

“I will end your suffering. Go in peace, Khajiit.” she said, turning to face the dying cat.

The alleyway was empty, with only a splatter of blood and ethereal energy to hint at what had occurred here. Zaveed was gone, and one could only wonder where he could have gone to.

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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Dervish
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Dervish Let's get volatile

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A Stormy and Dervs collab

Gilane Docks, 9th Midyear 4E208, sunset...

It’s a strange feeling, knowing you’re going to die. Stranger yet is being at peace with it.

Zaveed had tried to stay alive the best he could, mind you. He broke into an alchemist shop and drank a health potion within an hour of his duel and escape from that Nadeen creature and the monstrous Gregor, and while it stopped his bleeding and held him together, it didn’t replace his lost blood nor mend most of his wounds; the axe strike and being impaled by the greatsword should have been fatal wounds, but his determination to live kept his body going when it was resigned to fate. People fled him when they saw the ghastly wounds and trail of blood, the axes on his hips, and the crazed looks in his eyes. It was okay; they were not the company he wished to keep.

It was when he lost consciousness and collapsed that he knew that their company would have been infinitely greater. A world of darkness and inky voids appeared, and his own hands and arms appeared coal black with traces of blue energy imbedded to his flesh; he looked like the legions of other Khajiit in this land of perpetual darkness and cold, where the walls seemed to crawl with spiders and worms, and scores of sick and pestilent people wandered aimlessly, coughing and vomiting up sickly bile, but it was the Khajiit that stood out; the Dro-M’Athra, he knew. It was the Bent Cats that fell to the Dark Behind the World, Namiira’s realm, that worked the cold forges and served her dark bidding. They were Khajiit that lost their connections to the twin Moons and Lorkhaj, never to feel warmth again nor the taste of sugar. Their personalities were gone, any sense of the individuals that they had once been erased to the Scuttling Void. Their hideous helms looked stitched together, like some gruesome scarecrows, their armour very similar to that of the Khajiiti warriors in the Confederacy, but glowing with the same blue energy that permeated their skin. The longer he stared into the Dark, the more of their eyes turned to him. Hands reached out to grab him, and before they touched him, his eyes awoken again, the warmth of Gilane’s coast filling his nostrils and bringing him to life for a moment longer. He’d seen the Dark Behind the World, and he knew it was where his soul was claimed.

He was about to lose everything that made him Zaveed, and he knew it was up to him to use these last minutes well. Coughing up blood and forcing himself off the ground with his bleeding knuckles, Zaveed forced himself up, following the same path that he’d taken with Sevari not long ago to see the ship that had brought his sister to Gilane. The sister he’d failed to save, to redeem himself. There was no time to fight, nor scream, nor cry. He would be gone soon, and he knew that Marassa was better than him. He knew she’d survive anything, she had to.

One of them had to carry on for Sevari.

The sun was starting to dip down into the horizon, and it wouldn’t be long until the last light he’d ever see in this world would be swallowed by the sea. He couldn’t take his eyes from it, and he saw the dancing of waves shimmering in Magus’ brilliant light. The sea was home to him, it always was. What he wouldn’t give for one last voyage to sea, it was where he was meant to live and die. At least the docks meant he was close, and he’d be able to sense his home one last time. He looked up and saw Masser and Secunda above, the twin moons that were his people’s gods, where all good Khajiit went when they died. He knew for most of his life he’d never walk that moonpath, nor taste the endless dunes of sugar and the land of endless warmth. He never cared for the idea of his ancestors, if his mother and non-existent father were anything to go by; he was simply the last of a line of bastards that shouldn’t have even been born.

He was okay with that.

He set down against a bundle of nets, looking at the setting sun, a smile upon his face. It wasn’t ideal, but it was the last peace he was ever going to know.

What had seemed like hours of searching Gilane for Gregor had brought her finally to the docks. Such a beautiful and peaceful view that was exactly the opposite of how she felt inside. He had told her earlier that he had been going to the hotel to collect his belongings, that was a long time ago, and she had felt in her gut that it had been a lie. It had been a lie worrying enough to coax her from the hiding place of their inn room after days of being cooped up in there. Did he truly think her to be dumb?No, not Gregor. But she knew that he had gone tracking for the Khajiit. For Zaveed. He had been desperate for the scent of him since the first night she confessed to her Imperial Knight what had happened. In fact, she had been the one to really dangle that piece of meat in front of him - something she deeply regretted now that she had completely lost all sense of where he was. She sighed out at the ocean longingly. “Where are you my love?” she whispered aloud as she clutched at her chest where her heart was.

As she held herself there, she heard a gurgling, rasping cough to her left and behind her - she turned and saw him. How could her search lead her to Zaveed and not Gregor? He looked minutes from dying - covered in blood and his face seared with pain. She tilted her head to the side and moved towards him - drawn to him in this state. All at once, she felt powerful and had forgotten what she had been looking for entirely. He was there, dying. Her abuser, the monster from her nightmares. The one who had stripped her of her power and happiness. She stood before him - blocking his sight from the glorious view he had been enjoying so much. “Well well well…” she growled, almost unsure of where it came from, her brows furrowing as her eyes narrowed to thin slits with hardened steel in them.

His blue stare slowly shifted from the brilliant hues of the sunset to the figure standing before him… over him. He looked up at Raelynn, realizing who it was and in spite of himself, he smiled genuinely as he studied her brilliant golden locks in the Gilane twilight. “Hello, my dear. Care to join me in appreciating the view? I suspect it might be my last one, I was not anticipating company.” He said quietly, coughing hard into his hand, which came back red. He chuckled, embarrassed. “My, how undignified. I wish I could have cleaned up first, but unfortunately, it is outside of my ability now.”

She smirked at the audacity of it, “I’m not your ‘dear’, and I’d rather not. I’d rather look at you in your last moments. The sunset occurring in your eyes, if we want to be poetic.” She folded her arms across her chest and studied him with a scrutinous glare. “I did warn you about him didn’t I? Now look at you.” It pleased her to see Zaveed torn and shredded like this, but the fact that he was somewhat content with it sullied the integrity of that feeling. “You’re not quite dead yet though are you?” She said in a cold, monotonous tone as she lifted her foot and kicked at him just enough to shock his body with a sudden jolt of pain again. “Almost there though, I know that much…”

The kick jolted a pained hiss through clenched teeth, but made no attempt to shield himself. He tried to glance back at the setting sun. “I will not sully your moment. You deserve this, I am at your mercy. Do with me as you please.” he replied, looking up to meet her gaze. “You were right about him, but I was right about you, wasn't I? I am happy to see you escaped. I rather hoped you would, unharmed.” Zaveed said, a resigned sigh escaping his lips. “You were never in any danger from me. I resent that you forced me to hit you. I was going to come back and send you home on a ship, away from all of this.” staring down and shutting his eyes, he whispered, “Away from me.”

She kicked him again, harder this time, her foot catching him between the ribs - and yet - there was no pleasure in it. He’d already given up. His words disgusted her, and her lips turned over gritted teeth into a snarl. She sank down to his level. “Why?” She asked him, her voice barely more than a whisper now, “why do you care so much what happens to me?” Her eyes travelled down to his waist, at the dagger sitting on his belt - she reached for it. Clasping it in her hand and pulling his precious possession away. It was the one he’d driven through the heart of Roux. “Don’t act like you resent anything you’ve done to me, I certainly didn’t force you to do anything. We always have a choice. Besides, I thought you were proud of what you’d turned me into…?” She twirled the dagger in her hand with the point of the blade sat against her fingertip and she turned her eyes away from him to watch where the tip almost pierced her skin. She was distant, still no warmth lay in her eyes. Just emptiness.

Tears welled in Zaveed's eyes, and when he looked up at Raelynn again, he smiled apologetically. ”I made a terrible mistake. I am so sorry.” he coughed again, the pain in his chest searing unimaginably; her boot connected where the axe had. “I never thought I'd utter those words, I have never apologized for anything I have ever done. Not once. Ever since that first day we met, the day I hurt you, I have been haunted by it, by what I've done. You reminded me of who I was long before I became Captain Greywake, before my own innocence was destroyed by those I trusted.” the tears flowed freely now, but his gaze did not waver. “I just wanted to be an entertainer… I wanted people to love me. You… you were someone that I visited horrors upon that I had endured in a fashion from those who held power over me. For once in my life, I saw the consequences of my actions. It was way too late.” he smiled, blood running through his lips. “Keep the blade. It suits you… it's the only thing left of my life that meant anything to me. It was my freedom, a symbol of overcoming my oppressors. Use it in turn.”

He was… apologising? Really? That drew her forward, her softer side, her compassionate side. She clenched her jaw, how dare he? His story was sincere - he had no reason to lie now, and hearing it took the breath from her. Everything froze, she didn’t blink or move - the dagger stopped twirling on her fingertip. She remained motionless for a while - the only thing she could feel was her heart racing in her chest - pumping hot blood throughout her entire being. “Don’t say that…” she growled from the back of her throat, tears forming in her own eyes at his admission, at the emotional outpouring - it struck her too. The weight of the words and the absolute sincerity of the dying Khajiits apology. She couldn’t help herself - she had to take the parts that he took and stole and destroyed from her back.

“You don’t fucking mean it-” she hissed through her gritted teeth, without really thinking for pause she drove the knife into a spot between his ribs exactly where she had kicked him with determination. The way it created a new wound and just slipped into him as if he were butter, she could see why he liked and appreciated this dagger. Her own thoughts at that moment disgusted her and she flinched.

Immediately she regretted it. It was the sound of the flesh tearing that did it and she wanted to scream in his face - but even that she could not do, not even strong enough to admonish him in his last seconds. She was bored of his resolve, of his peace with death. She didn’t understand why he was just allowing this to happen. “Fight back, God damn you! Fight back!” Inches from his face, her eyes bore into his with a flaming intensity. A tone of desperation on her tongue. “Fight back!”

The blade sunk in, the final blow with his own weapon. His body was already in excruciating pain, the addition of another sharp puncturing his lung was just another reminder that he was still alive. It hurt to sob, but his body trembled and his nose ran as his vision blurred. He reached out, placing his hand over her own on the dagger’s handle. “Thank you.” he managed. His jaw grew limp for a moment before regaining his senses. He pulled the dagger deeper into his chest with a grunt, a pitiful yelp escaping his throat. “I just…” he wheezed. “Wanted to see… the sunset… a final…” the words choked him, and in his mind, he saw the darkness and blue lines reaching out for him again. They would take away everything that was rotten about him and replace it with something else. It was what he deserved, wasn’t it?

If he wasn’t going to fight then this was wrong, and yet the other option was not right either. She knew what she was about to do would indefinitely come back to haunt her. She knew it was wrong, but as she closed her eyes and took in one long, deep breath, she knew she had to do it. Killing him here right now wouldn’t give her back what she had lost - it would only take more of her away. Strip her down to someone she didn’t recognise. She was already halfway there, in her minds eye she once again pictured her child-self sat upon the shoulders of her father. That Raelynn would never do this, she still had a choice. She carefully removed the dagger from him, not moving his hand from hers and instead she placed her other hand on top of his almost comfortingly. She had told Zaveed in the warehouse that her compassion was her gift. That it was what separated her from the likes of him.

It was time to show him.

So Raelynn did as she had done many times before - with another long breath she let the flow of restorative magicka gather in both of her palms before allowing it to penetrate Zaveed’s flesh and work through his body to the wounds. It may have been the close proximity to the ocean, and that they could both hear the lapping waves breaking against the soft shore, but the magicka seemed to fall in and out of Zaveed like waves too. The golden light floating around him like an aura. She would give him just enough and no more than that.

She paused as she pulled her hands away and felt her lips trembling at the revelation of what she’d done. She swallowed down a bitter pill of regret and pain before opening her mouth and eyes again to speak, “every breath you take now…” she began as she ran her hand firmly up his arm to his shoulder, to his cheek, “is because of me.” Her tone was hollow - as if having helped him still managed to take her essence away.

“You are now alive because of me. Because of my compassion. Because of my mercy. Because I allow it.” It was horrible.

He would be alright - he might need rest and more potions soon, but his wounds were closed and he was out of the woods, she had removed him from the brink of death. How he chose to act now was on him. She tossed his blood stained dagger away from his reach and saw that his blood was on her hands too. To see it, staining her palms crimson - a reminder of what she had done… She couldn’t say anything. She couldn’t understand why she’d done it and Raelynn really didn’t feel any better at all.

Just as quickly as the claws of death had reached from him, they faded, and under her healing touch, Zaveed felt his body meshing, and the pain he had endured eroded away into little more than aches. He did not understand; why had she done this? He listened to her words, finding comfort in them, the hand upon his cheek. He looked at her with wide eyes, the sudden compassion and care for someone who had been so vile to her and people she cared for. Eventually, through aching lungs, he asked, “Why? Why would you do this for me?” he asked, bewildered and overwhelmed. She was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen in his life, and she had chosen to forgive him enough, to let him live. It was overwhelming. “After everything I’ve done, and taken from you…”

“Because if I don’t… Then I simply become a monster like you, and my dreams become shattered like glass… Like yours did...” her voice was suddenly defeated - despondent, as if the choice between letting him die and letting him live bore the same consequence on her conscience. She blinked back tears from her eyes and got to her feet. Stepping back from him slowly as she attempted to pull herself together. The Breton’s eyes glazed over, suddenly cold and hardened again. “I want you to leave me alone now, and my friends too. I never want to see you again… Do you understand that?”

She continued to walk backwards from him, but there was a maelstrom of emotions within her that stopped her in her tracks, and as if some other force had taken over her body she charged back at him, diving to the ground on all fours, her hand grasping at his mane of hair to pull his face to the ground too. She felt much larger than she was - much more powerful and intimidating and without flinching she yelled into his ear ferociously like a sabre cat, “do you understand?” Her words cut through the silence like a sharp blade would through flesh. She gasped in fright at herself - not wanting to wait to hear his answer.

She was done now and completely exasperated, the Sun was about to set behind her on this day and the whole of Gilane was amber and glowing radiantly and yet she felt so full of shadows and gloom and hatred - for Zaveed, and even more so for herself. So she got back to her feet and began walking away from him for good this time, her heart heavy and mind clouded with confusion, her only desire now was to finally find Gregor. She knew somehow that he was not in any better shape than Zaveed had been. Time was running out.

Zaveed didn’t move, watched Raelynn go, a smile crept upon his face. “Perhaps I do.” he said quietly, humming an old sailor’s song as his eyes watched as the sun began to dip below the horizon. It wouldn’t be his last after all. The world became the most vibrant at this time of day, and the first of the stars made their appearance above. He stared up in wonder, as if seeing them for the first time. “Perhaps I do.”

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Hank J. Wimbleton

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a Father Storm production

Evening, 9th of Midyear, 4E208
The Haunted Tide Inn, Gilane, Hammerfell

The pain was overwhelming. It had spread from his shoulder to the rest of his body at frightening speed and Gregor could feel his muscles locking up as the poison carried out its unholy purpose. He had dismounted from his great black steed to ransack an alchemist’s shop, scaring the proprietor away with his blood-soaked claymore, the deranged expression on his face and the foam clinging to his lips, taking what anti-venom he could before hoisting himself back in the saddle and speeding away. The undead horse was fast enough to outrun the city guard that were trying to catch up to him and he made it to the inn where he and Raelynn had made their home undetected. After the horse sensed that it was no longer needed, it simply vanished into a swirling mass of swiftly dissipating magic and left no trace behind of its existence. Under ordinary circumstances Gregor would have been amazed by its sudden appearance and disappearance, a power evidently gifted to him by the Ideal Master that had accepted Nblec’s soul, but he was far too busy trying to stay alive. He’d stumbled into their room, wide-eyed and calling out Raelynn’s name with a voice that refused to cooperate, only to find it empty.

She wasn’t there.

Mortal terror clutched at his heart with ice-cold talons. Gregor uncorked the anti-venom with trembling, stiff fingers and threw it back, coughing and gasping as his constricted throat almost couldn’t swallow the foul-tasting brew. His legs gave out beneath him and he fell to his hands and knees when searing, immediate jabs of agony roared through his collarbone, arms and sides. Horrified, Gregor felt a hot wetness on him and watched as blood began dripping onto the wooden floor. His wounds had reopened. Everything he had done to patch himself up after Zaveed had tore into him was being undone by the Redguard woman’s poison. “Gods, no,” Gregor stammered and rolled onto his back, clutching his wounds with his hands and summoning all the Restoration magic he knew. The panic and the pain made it impossible to think and Gregor could only send a raw, unsophisticated stream of healing magic into his body in a desperate attempt to stop the bleeding.

Where was she?

Gregor writhed and coiled on the floor, punching his chest with the claw-shape of his contorted fist, trying to keep his heart beating rhythmically -- every faltering flutter sent another spasm through his body, as if the very core of his being was fighting against an enemy to stay alive. His vision went dark and his limbs went cold and he could no longer feel his heart beating.

He was dying.

The forest loomed above him, trees towering even higher than before, the canopy overhead not even visible in the almost total darkness that reigned. Gregor immediately reached for his claymore this time, knowing what to expect, and he did not flinch when he heard the monster’s roar in the distance. He blinked, trying to remember how he got here, and came up short. He only knew that he was going to have to fight for his life now and that he could not allow himself to be scared. He stood his ground, blade at the ready, and followed the noise of the trees being knocked over and the vicious snorts and bellows of the beast as it circled him at a distance, hidden behind the dense woods. It knew where he was. Gregor could feel it. Slowly but surely, it came closer, and Gregor could barely make out trees being splintered some sixty feet away from him. He took a deep breath and steadied himself, but something was wrong. He felt… weak. Why?

Sudden and unexpected silence fell over the woods. It was as if the beast had vanished in the midst of its approach. Gregor could only hear his own breathing and watched it steam in the air in front of him. The absolute lack of sound was just as deafening as any noise could be and Gregor felt it pressing against his ears like a thick blanket. When he swallowed, it was almost unbearably loud.

“Gregor,” he heard behind him, the voice low and heaving.

He whirled around and saw it -- truly saw it, properly, for the first time, and almost dropped his sword. It was immense, like a mammoth, and shaped like one too: quadrupedal, with massive front legs that ended in cloven hooves, and black fur clung to its skeletal shape. But Gregor’s eyes were drawn to its head, or what existed in place of it, and he found himself staring at two pale eyes in a pit of impenetrable darkness. Two arms with horrifyingly long, black hands, the ones that had grabbed him before, hung on either side of the monster’s baleful gaze, like a twisted, hellish interpretation of a centaur. Above it, like a crown, was the splayed form of a decapitated human torso, antlers growing from where its hands should be. It was the single most horrible thing Gregor had ever seen.

Before he could even react, the beast had closed the distance and grabbed his head with its hands, lifting him from the ground to come face-to-face with its eyes -- infinite and lifeless, just two points of eternal light that stared at him with all the indifference of death itself. The antler-torso loomed above him. It had no mouth and yet it spoke again.

“No,” it whimpered. Gregor knew that voice -- he’d known all along, he just hadn’t realized it.
“Don’t. Please.”

It was the voice of Hannibal. When Gregor looked up, his own claymore pierced the torso’s chest, just like it had done when he had betrayed and murdered the Vigilant in cold blood. Was that what this thing was? His own guilt come back to haunt him? He wanted to cry, to surrender and give in, whatever it took for this to simply be over… but he couldn’t. The Pale Reaper did not allow it. He would not yield and he would not die.

Just like before, Gregor’s silver longsword sprang from its sheath with a musical rasp and cut deep into the monster’s flesh. The quailing voice of Hannibal was drowned out by the beast’s screams, like a dying horse, and Gregor could smell the rancid miasma of rot and decay. It dropped him to the forest floor and he hit the ground running, immediately setting off in a random direction into the forest. He did not know why, but he felt like there was a purpose to his own movements now, and he felt confident that he was running towards something, instead of merely running away. The beast followed and Gregor could hear its anger in its accusatory shrieks and the violence with which it threw down the trees in its path.

Whether or not it was because Gregor ran so fast or the beast had slowed down he did not know, but the noise of the monster’s pursuit diminished and Gregor came upon a house in the woods. He knew this house. It was his home. He fished his key out of his pocket and unlocked the front door, which swung open as smoothly as the last day Gregor remembered, and he slowly walked through the house. The painting over the mantlepiece that his mother had made, the figurines that Gregor and Briar had fashioned from walnuts and matchsticks standing in formation in the windowsill, the loose floorboard in the hall -- it was all so familiar, and yet so foreign, like he was visiting the home of a character he knew well from a book. He quietly climbed up the stairs to the second floor and pushed open the door to the master bedroom with a slight touch of his fingers. There she was, in the bed with the blue covers, her back turned to him, soundly asleep. It was a sight that he remembered well. A moment of clarity pierced the haze that clouded his mind and Gregor knew that this had been the last time he had seen Briar, the final moments before his departure.

“I’m sorry,” he breathed, the pain in his chest too much to bear. He looked down and remembered that he was bleeding. When he looked back up, Briar’s sleeping form had burst into flames and the fire spread rapidly through the room, and Gregor watched in horror as his former life was reduced to ashes. He flew down the stairs and burst out of the house and back into the woods, escaping the unnatural wildfire with inches to spare, and turned back to look at the all-consuming inferno. He wept.

“Burn it all,” Hannibal said, like always. Gregor did not turn around. He could feel the monster’s presence behind him. It was like he could see it at the edge of his vision, despite the impossible angle, as if its shape bent light towards it.

“Curse you, Gregor!” it continued, taunting him with Hannibal’s last words, and Gregor could hear in the wheezing, hollow voice that it was laughing. “Curse your whole family!”

Gregor turned and leapt at the beast in a single, fluid motion and drove his sword into the darkness beneath its corpse-crown, right between the eyes.

“We are already cursed,” Gregor spat bitterly.

She had ran as fast as her feet could have carried her over the sands of Gilane, through each winding back alley, past every person that seemed to clutter up the walkways as they ambled through the evening - nothing life or death happening in their lives. They had the time to spare to look and ponder and mosey around. Raelynn Hawkford did not, and she sprinted like she never had in her life, her lack of athletic ability a detriment to her mission to return to her room at the Inn. Instinct, and connection to Gregor had told her that’s where he was.

Finally she came upon it, throwing open the door and alighting the stairs to their quiet place. She could already feel bitter chills emanating from it before she had even grown close to the door - it was a chill powerful enough to make the heat from running simmer down. It was a chill powerful enough to run like the blade of a knife up her spine to the nape of her neck - the hairs standing completely on end. She slowed as she approached, the handle of the door as cold as ice. She pulled away from it only for a second, before braving it once more, forcing open the door to see Gregor splayed out over the floor in the very centre, surrounded by a thick layer of frost and ice, wisps of dark magic swirling around his hands as if he was trying to pull himself back from his approaching death. If it had been cold outside - inside was far worse, in the eye of the hurricane she did not falter and rushed to his side. Her breath a mist against his face.

Her hands moved immediately to his chest, to the place where his heart was always
beating it’s slow, languid rhythm - and sometimes thundering against his rib cage. However right now, there was nothing but a faint, dying flutter. A whisper of life.

“No,” she said as she pressed both palms to his chest now, climbing astride him, no time to really focus on a precise pour of Magicka - he needed all that she had, and he needed it now. She closed her eyes tightly and felt the warmth of it in her hands, and with all of her concentration she shot it into his chest with force, she could sense what was going on inside of him. Blunt force wounds, slashes, hacks, broken bones... She felt her Magicka envelop his heart and contract and release, contract and release… until it flowed throughout his whole body. When she opened her eyes again, she saw that she did not have just Healing Hands, rather that her whole body was cascading golden light into him. “Wake up, wake up..” she pleaded, finally falling to his face, planting a golden kiss on his forehead. “Please don’t die… Please don’t die Gregor…”

He watched his mother rearrange the floral piece for what felt like minutes, shifting one particular white flower back and forth until it was right, just so, and no other way. Gregor laughed when she finally stopped and took a step back to observe her work, and she turned her head abruptly to look at him. Her long brown hair was slightly wavy, like perfectly draped curtains, and the dark makeup around her eyes made them glimmer like emeralds. “How long have you been there?” Gaia asked and put a hand to her heart, clearly startled, but she smiled as well.

“A while,” Gregor said and held up his hand, showing all five tiny fingers. “This long!”

“Five? You were there for… five?” she asked and laughed.

“Yes, five,” Gregor said in solemn agreement.

She approached and knelt down beside him. Her earrings were pretty, Gregor decided, and he reached out to touch them but she stopped him. “No, no, don’t touch that. Those are not for you,” she said, but her voice was kind and her smile did not waver. She kissed him on the forehead and cupped his chin with her hand.

“Now go on and play outside.”

The touch of her lips on his skin broke his dream and he awoke with a start, eyes rolling back into focus and his abused lungs gasping for air. Gregor looked frantically around the room, searching for his mother -- why did everything hurt, and why was he so old? It took him a few seconds for reality to come back to him and when it did, his gaze fell on Raelynn and he practically fell over himself with relief. “You’re here, you came, heavens above, you’re back,” he stammered and took another deep breath, a trembling smile tugging at his colorless lips. It was going to be alright now, he could feel it. His heart was beating with strength again, fueled by Raelynn’s overwhelming magic, and his wounds were slowly knitting back together -- but hesitantly so, as the poison still fought back. “I killed him,” he said, his voice hoarse and unsteady. “I found him and I killed him, but someone attacked me, a Redguard, and there was poison--” He fell silent as he ran out of air and he focused on his breathing instead. He had lost an immense amount of blood.

Of course it was a poison, only poison could burn through the flesh like this, through his wounds and hold them open. No mind, she was a skilled alchemist and she would find a formula to halt and undo it soon enough - but first priority was to get enough Magicka into him to keep him steady, to buy that time. “Shhh,” she whispered, her lips against his. They were cold but hers were golden, and she kissed him on his lips, her hands still working against the clock to put him back together. That was not the only issue, she cried against him when she realised that he believed Zaveed to be dead. “I looked for you,” she whispered again, choking back a sob. Her Magicka beginning to run dry. She did not stop, she would pass out before she stopped healing him now. “I couldn’t find you… I’m sorry.” She wouldn’t lie to him, he deserved more than that. She reached across the floor to pick up her own bag, a Magicka potion rolled out and she grabbed at it, drinking the contents desperately. A small top up of magical stamina, it would be enough tonight. “I found him… I knew you had fought…”

Raelynn spoke but her words did not make sense. “You found him?” Gregor asked, having recovered enough to try speaking again, but he took deep breaths in-between each sentence. “You saw his corpse, you mean? Tell me he is dead, please,” he groaned and grabbed at the hem of Raelynn’s clothes with his white-cold hands. Cracks began to spread through the ice that coated every surface in the room.

Even now his grip was powerful, she didn’t have the answer he wanted or needed to hear. Avoidance. “Shhh, Gregor please. We can talk about this later… You need to keep your strength.” She kissed him again, and stroked his cheek. Knowing that her answer was not good enough, knowing that he would work out what had happened. She lingered over the kiss - wondering already how quickly she could move away from him should he lash out. “Be still… Please?” Her tone was almost pathetic, the inflection of her words like that of a small child begging, her eyes were begging too as her lip shook.

“Raelynn,” Gregor began, lost for words as the truth dawned on him. A horrible, sinking feeling spread through his guts, almost as painful as his injuries and the poison, and he had to resist the urge to crawl away from her -- without her help, he would still surely perish, and yet he could not help but feel disgust and anger. When he spoke again, the tone of his voice matched the frigid temperature in the room. “What have you done?”

Everything had consequences. This was just one of them. She forced herself upright, her eyes closed as if to block out everything, her entire body shivering - from the cold, or fear - she wasn’t entirely sure. She exhaled and whimpered, unable to move her hands from him, not yet. She was growing ever more exhausted and light headed too, she hadn’t much left of herself to give him now. If she had slain Zaveed then Gregor would have taken her in his arms, but she would have been a shell of herself. And yet, she was a shell now, and he was turning on her. All that she could do was turn her head away as her face scrunched, fighting back the tears. Somewhere in it… She felt the simmering rage too. “I wasn’t strong enough to kill him,” She croaked, her voice broken. “Let me fix you, damn it. Let me fix you then we’ll talk.”

“Great gods of nowhere,” Gregor breathed. His arms went slack and fell by his side, limp and devoid of their strength, as Raelynn’s confession knocked the wind out of him. She’d had the opportunity to finish the job and she hadn’t. What’s worse, Gregor knew that he and his Wrathman had inflicted mortal injuries on the Khajiit. For him to live through them… he would have needed help. Her help. He closed his eyes and felt everything spinning around him; his exhaustion was too strong for him to feel anything else. His anger ebbed away and the void it left behind was filled with bitter disappointment. It had all been for nothing. His victory had been snatched away by the very woman he loved, the one person he thought he could well and truly trust.

When he opened his eyes again, tears welled in them and the look of hurt and betrayal on his face was unmistakable. “I thought we were a team,” he whispered, broken, and began to cry. It was too much. He was done and he no longer had the strength to keep himself in check. Like a bursting dam, the tears flowed freely and he sobbed silently, so hard he almost gagged and choked on it. Not even the pain could stop him. He could no longer see Raelynn through his blurred vision, and that was fine.

Everything had consequences, she reminded herself, her eyes glazing over as her own tears stopped. The sight of him crying should have broken her heart and unmade her right there, but she blanked it entirely and ignored his words. Part of her wanted to bite back at him with that rage that had been forming, that had been planted there by Zaveed himself when he thrust the nail through her and into a table. It had been there the whole time longing for a moment like this...

Not now. In this fugue state, all she could do was finish her work. Her hands began to move methodically over each wound and she was completely silent - even if he was not sobbing, and the room was free of noise he would not have even heard her breath. She moved quickly now, feeling from him that he could not stand her presence for a moment longer than was required to save his life. Switching herself off protected her. Like a woman possessed by something otherworldly, each finger worked precisely on his body, finally closing all of the wounds, each left a terrible scar behind, like a map that traced out every attack of the vicious fight to the death. Still swollen and red and like they might tear open again at any moment. Raw. The poison was at bay at last, but too late to have flushed it and saved Gregor’s skin from the scarring.

No apologies in the world would make him alright now. And in turn, no amount of comfort that he could give to her in her time of need was enough either. Killing Zaveed did nothing, saving Zaveed did nothing.

The temperature in the room returned to normal and the ice disappeared. It did not melt, and instead simply evaporated as the primal, unconscious magic from deep within Gregor that had conjured it in the first place ceased its spell. His life was no longer in danger. His wretched sobbing, too, diminished until it stopped, and he merely lay there in sullen silence, too empty to even lift a hand to dry his face with. He kept his gaze averted, his head turned away from her, and Gregor breathed. It was all he could do. It killed him to know that Zaveed was still drawing breath as well. Any sympathy he might have felt for Raelynn’s plight was drowned by the depth of his rancor.

“Please leave,” he said softly.

She did not need to be told twice. She rose to her feet, she should have staggered from the exhaustion and yet she found a strength somewhere to hold herself upright long enough to move through the room. Her hands picked up her journal, which had been by their bed. She picked up a necklace she had left on the table, some alchemy goods - dried flowers and the like that were sat in a pile on top of a dresser. She took every trace of herself from the room, piece by piece until she emptied her arms into her satchel. Saying nothing, making little sound, all spirit and Joie de Vivre void from her.

No amount of comfort or affirmation that anyone could give her would be enough. Hurting Zaveed had hurt her, allowing him to live had ruined everything. Nothing was fair and the only person who could fix this was Raelynn herself. Time and space for Raelynn and Gregor both. As she approached the door, something inside screamed at her to turn and give him one last look, and yet her head was stuck facing forwards, it would not budge to her will and desire. Not this time. She closed the door gently, and gracefully behind her.

There was only one place for her now, Daggerfall.

Minutes passed before Gregor moved. He hissed through gritted teeth as he pulled himself up and shambled towards his bed. He held himself upright with one hand, leaning on the bedpost, while the other undid the buttons and fastenings of his armor and clothes with trembling fingers. He let everything fall to the floor in a jumbled mess and slipped beneath the covers, groaning and grunting with pain and effort, until he was comfortable at last -- as comfortable as he could be, in a room that seemed so lifeless to him now that Raelynn had removed every piece of herself. He pulled the covers over his head and curled up, his arms wrapped around his shins, and let himself drift away into sleep. Anything was better than being awake.

That night he dreamed of loss and regret, but the monster of the dark forest haunted him no more.

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Dervish Let's get volatile

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In a Nest of Vipers

A Dervs and Shaft Collab ft. Stormy

The table was set for a fine dinner, much like the one Daro’Vasora had enjoyed at Salosiox’s manor with Raelynn when they had first met. The room was dark and spacious, and only light seemed to come from above, despite the lack of an evident source. However, this time, she knew she was the host. A nice table cloth with a golden trim wrapped around the circular table, and her two guests were dressed in finery, much like herself. Roux, ever so dashing in a black and blue ensemble with a tulip on his lapel and his blonde hair kept in a nicely kept ponytail, and Raelynn was wearing a fetching and revealing white dress that the Khajiit found herself in envy of; Raelynn was beautiful in ways she was not, and she was effortless in her appearance. She frowned, instead focusing on the meal she prepared… which wasn’t much else other than stale bread and questionable mutton. It reminded her of her time in the refugee camp in Skingrad, yet her two companions were dining as if it were gourmet.

Raelynn cleared her throat from her seat at the table, a sweet smile on her face as a giggle of mirth erupted while she raised her glass, “a toast to friendship!” she exclaimed, in her honeyed voice. The Breton tilted her head to the side, to look Sora in her eyes, she blinked slowly and appreciatively in the direction of the Khajiit. “A toast to Daro’Vasora!”.

It pulled the Khajiit back to the present and she smiled, raising her own glass to the toast and a clang of three glasses touched. She was glad to be here, with friends; amends were made with Roux, and Raelynn seemed to be more herself after her encounter. Still, it was strange they were doing this in a warehouse and not the conference room at the Three Crowns, but still, she wouldn’t complain; the danger was gone.

“I’m grateful to you both, this is for you. I was never sure if I was doing the right thing by you, but here we are.” she smiled, drinking from the glass. It was surprisingly tasteless and not at all refreshing. Still, it didn’t distract from the quiet and private revelry. Roux smiled, his lips were red; that was strange. “I need to leave soon.” He said, his mouth was filled with blood. “My wife and daughter, they’ve been waiting for a while. I chose them over you, you know. It wasn’t a hard choice, to think I’d end up with a cat, but I’m glad you’ve come around again, Sora… maybe it was a bit too little, too late though. Was this way of getting back at me, for all those years ago?” he asked. Blood was dripping from his mouth on his shirt. Daro’Vasora starred, her mouth agape. “You’re not well. What are you saying?” she asked.

“You chose me, in the end. Not to carry on with you, but to gift to a killer. It wouldn’t have happened but maybe if you’d kept better control of your friends, we wouldn’t have had to say goodbye.” He sighed, wiping his bloody mouth with a handkerchief. “I never had a chance to make amends.” he said regretfully, his head slumping.

Daro’Vasora’s claws dug into the table cloth; something wasn’t right. “Roux? I don’t know what to say. I didn’t choose you, I… I tried not to choose anyone! I went there to save you both. I’m sorry! What more could I have done?!” she demanded, her eyes narrowing with tears. “I never asked for any of this!”

Raelynn reached out a hand to touch Daro'Vasora comfortingly, but it was almost a cold comfort - as if the woman were possessed with an entirely fake happiness. She turned her head and smiled at Roux, her free hand was placed on his shoulder. “You will be okay now, but I did tell you Sora, my friend, that you could pick me.” Her head turned swiftly to snap back onto the Khajiit. “I wonder why you didn't…” she purred as she picked up her glass and took a sip from it, clinking the rim of hers to Roux’s before finally adding, “let your rose bring you to green lands.” It was completely incorrect.

Both of Raelynn's hands were bleeding, but she was unperturbed by it. It was as if she hadn't realised at all, that the left had a hole through it and the bleeding would not stop. Momentarily her face slipped to an expression of fear - as if a mask had shattered and slipped away, “don't let me stay here, don't leave me, don't leave me, don't leave me,” she repeated over and over with more panic setting into her tone the more times she said it. Finally, the clink of a glass stopped her and reset the scene. Raelynn was smiling again, glass in hand, the bleeding had stopped and there was not a trace of the blood now. “To friendship!” she exclaimed once more.

There was a pit in Daro'Vasora's guts, but she smiled and clinked glasses once more. “To friendship.” she agreed, looking down at the table cloth, and at the center of the table was a plate covered in human fingers. She grit her teeth and her eyes went to Roux, who was missing all of his fingers and his eyes as he sat perfectly still, slumped in his chair. A dark figure came out of the shadows and stood behind Roux. The grey fur coat and black mohawk were in shadows, but the ice blue eyes seemed to be glowing. “Hmm, it would seem as if Roux has had enough for tonight, my dear. Don't worry; you won't see him again.”

Daro'Vasora tried to stand, but she found herself tied to her chair and she struggled as Roux was pulled away into the darkness. Zaveed's glowing eyes never left her, nor did they blink.

Raelynn watched as it all happened, a gleeful expression on her face - as if it were merely a game. “Have you come to join the party?” she asked the Khajiit with a beaming smile. Suddenly, as if she recognised him at last her face dropped and she turned her head away - eyes filled with dread and absolute horror. She hid her hands under the table and tried once more to smile - as if not wanting him to see her fear. “There is no seat for you…” she uttered quietly, in a sickly sweet tone.

An ethereal chuckle filled the cavernous room, Zaveed’s eyes a pale specter of death. Suddenly, he materialized next to Raelynn, caressing her hand menacingly. “It is okay to scream, my dear; Daro’Vasora cannot help you. No one can.”

Suddenly he was behind Daro’Vasora, hands on her shoulders. “You won’t get away, you know. How does it feel that others should take the punishment for you? That no matter what you do, it will never make a difference? I will get what I want. And I already have so much of yours…” he purred in her ear.

Suddenly, the warehouse was lit, flames consuming the ceiling, but from the rafters, hundreds of ropes hung around the necks of people she recognized from Imperial City, the Colovian Rangers, and her companions, all with ghastly masks upon their faces as they had struggled to their last breaths. Latro hung next to her family, blood running down from his eyes, and La’Shuni’s hands were wrapped around the rope on her neck, her eyes staring lifelessly into the flames next to their mother and father.

She tried to scream, but the rope about her own neck was too tight, and she felt tears streaming down her face as she stared at Raelynn, pleadingly.

As Sora watched Raelynn amidst the chaos, she would see that gradually her white hair was turning black from the root through its entire length - her expression foul - and somewhere off in the distance behind the flames stood a shadowy figure - imposing and strong. The black caught her dress as the absence of colour took over Raelynn’s form entirely, her smile bright and beaming as she stood from the table - blowing Zaveed a kiss as she looked upon Sora again, her eyes cold as ice even in the flames, “the things that frighten you drive me mad.” She said in a low hiss as she leaned over the table to Sora. “Drive me mad…”

“The power, the rage, the violence…” It wasn’t just Raelynn’s voice anymore. Lurking underneath it was Gregor’s deep tone - his drunken words. “The power, the rage, the violence…” She repeated as she began to walk backwards slowly - drawing closer to the flames and the figure. “The power… The rage… The violence… It drives me mad.”

The further that the Breton walked, the more tempestuous and furious the flames grew, threatening to consume all. As she got only feet away from the shadow, the flames caught her dress alight, and so quickly tore through the fabric down to her skin. She looked over at Sora again in horror as the flames engulfed her - reaching out a hand towards the Khajiit before shouting one final thing, “I thought you were my friend!”.

Daro’Vasora tried to pull against the rope, to reach towards Raelynn, unable to breathe or scream, until she noticed a nail hovering over her hand. “It’s time.” Zaveed purred.

The nail came down.

Daro’Vasora screamed, her eyes opening suddenly. She was in the room in the Dwemer palace once more, Latro laying next to her, suddenly awake from the sudden scream. Her eyes darted around in the dark, fearfully, and she stumbled out of bed, naked and feeling entirely vulnerable as she stumbled towards a pitcher of water, splashing it upon her face as she wrapped her arms about herself, moving to the balcony outside, the open air inviting. It had seemed so damned real, and she rubbed her hand, not believing for a moment that it wasn’t impaled. Burying her face in her hands, she began to shake.

Latro’s blood thumped in his head at how he was awoken from his already restless sleep. When he realized he was not, in fact, back in the brothel was the moment he realized the one sobbing and quaking was Sora, not Mirabelle. Unlike Mirabelle, though, Latro could comfort Sora. He slowly came to Sora’s side, cooing out, “Love? Love?” Until he sat beside her, pulling her into an embrace, her head nuzzling hard into his chest, “It’s okay, you’re okay.”

They stayed like that until they were ready for sleep again, which was not for hours.

10th of Midyear, 4E208, The Governor’s Palace,
Gilane, Hammerfell...

The cast had come off the day before, and Daro’Vasora could scarcely believe that her arm felt completely normal since Zaveed had broken it. The cast and the fluid that was pumped into it daily was some kind of healing potion that was gradually soaked into her skin, and while it took a while to completely dry out the fur of the almost luminous cyan liquid, but once she had, it was like nothing had happened. Her and Latro had both been bathed and fed well, and it was almost like staying in a fancy hotel, if you were not permitted to leave your room. The Dwemer had treated them well, those that visited never overstayed their welcome. The same medical attendant that had healed Daro’Vasora came by to top up the cast and check on her vitals as well as make pleasant small talk while asking a few questions about Khajiiti physiology, and attendants changed the linens every few days and provided reading material and changes of clothing for the two of them. Daro’Vasora had found herself in dresses not dissimilar to the ones she’d seen Razlinc Rourken wear in both of their meetings, and Latro similarly looked dashing in fashion that was befitting a Dwemeri citizen. Their old clothing was washed and brought back folded, and so far, Daro’Vasora wasn’t in quite a hurry to put it back on.

Both Daro’Vasora and Latro had made the most of their time together, it being the most private time they had since they’d first gotten together. They ate together, sometimes bathed together, made love and quietly read the books provided, and there was never a shortage of conversation for the two of them. She asked him about his life in the Crow-Wife Clan and the Forsworn, lessons on how to sing better, and tales of his travels and his experiences. Likewise, she told him of life at home, her relationship with her family, Zegol, and some of her expeditions and finds. It was entirely candid and welcome, and despite knowing that the both of them were prisoners and their friends were still in danger, it was hard not to feel somewhat relaxed and easy to forget that the Dwemer weren’t their friends. They just had to make the most of a bad situation, but Daro’Vasora knew that it was to help soften them up somewhat for when the Governor or her men came knocking.

And on the 10th, they did.

Sevari and some other foreigners, a Dunmer and two Nords, of the Ministry of Order greeted Sora as she opened the door. Some of the others pushed past her before Sevari, who entered last and nodded to her, <Your Reachman will be safe soon.>

“You fucking Khajiit and your foreign tongue. I bet you were happy when Krennic’s Cathay-Raht were joining us for this.” One of the Nords grumbled with a voice like distant thunder.

“You’ll know the exact moment when I’m happy, Thunderhead.” Sevari said, casually strolling to Latro and offering out a pair of manacles, “It’ll be when I’m responding to a scene and you’re one of the casualties.”

“What’s this?” Latro asked, eyes going from Thunderhead’s death stare at the back of Sevari’s head to Sevari’s own gaze.

“Prisoner transfer. Kerztar arranged one with your little group of terrorists.” Sevari smirked at Thunderhead as if he was sharing a joke with Latro, “You’ll be glad to know you’re valuable enough to be exchanged for three Nords.”

Latro ignored Thunderhead’s utterance of ‘fuck you’ as he lay his wrists inside the manacles Sevari held out to him, the things snapping shut around them. Once again, he was a prisoner, as if the Dwemer were reminding him of their respective stations one last time. He stood and Sevari lay a hand on his back, the Dunmer stepping forward and shoving a sack over his head, “Can’t have anybody recognizing that pretty face of yours and trying anything.”

Latro felt himself be guided by Sevari through the room, “I love you!”

He couldn’t tell if Sora heard him but from behind the sack he could hear Sevari speak in the Khajiit tongue, <He says he loves you.> Latro felt a bit of relief as Sevari relayed his words, he assumed, then added deadpan in Cyrod, “How sweet.”

Daro’Vasora resisted the urge to chase after Latro, calling after him. “I will find you again! I love you!” she said, her arms wrapped around her waist as she watched Latro being pulled away; she never knew if she was going to see him again, but she had to hold out hope that Sevari was genuine in his efforts to keep them safe. If this prisoner transfer was legitimate, it would at least mean Latro was safe. It was all she could do to maintain her composure.

Kerztar arrived at the doorway just as they left, nodding to Sora, “Razlinc wants you. Come with me.”

“Oh, this should be good.” Daro’Vasora said, giving an annoyed huff as she watched Latro marched off by secret police at Sevari’s guidance. She sighed, looking to the beardless Dwemer who remained and reflecting how strange it was. “Best not keep her waiting, then.”

“A wise precaution.” Kerztar agreed, gesturing for Daro’Vasora to leave the room.

“You look well,” Razlinc said, walking astride the Khajiit down a polished corridor, arches letting in natural light and the refreshing coastal breeze. “Had I not seen you when you were brought to me, I would have not believed you suffered your injuries. Was your room to your liking?” she asked.

“Sure, it was a regular stay at a luxury resort. I wanted for nothing, except freedom.” Daro’Vasora retorted caustically, exercising her formerly broken arm, not quite believing that there wasn’t a kink or fracture remaining; it simply was a miracle they managed to heal it as thoroughly as they had in such a short time. She decided that being combative at the moment might be the wrong tact to take, she sighed. “I mean, considering our opposition to one another, I have been treated kindly and far more dignified than I would have expected. I will admit it was easy to forget I am a prisoner at times. I still do not quite understand why you want me, however. What separates me from the rest of your insurgents?” she asked.

Razlinc offered a polite smile, gesturing the Dwemer jewelry Daro’Vasora still wore. “You may very well be one of our best options for connecting the people of Tamriel to ourselves. You understand our history, our materials; you value it. I can also sense a certain degree of acceptance or understanding towards us. If our return to Tamriel is going to be long lived and fruitful, it starts with making connections like yourself. Perhaps with some rehabilitation, I can offer you a position here. Have I not been accommodating thus far?”

Daro’Vasora looked out at the city through the arches, shaking her head. “My friends are still out there, and I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again. It’s hard to trust in your intentions when you have none to let them live.” She turned to face the Dwemeri governor, whose namesake was for her entire clan. “How did you think people were going to react to this violent uprising you’ve orchestrated? Just quietly and meekly accept new rulers who take lives by the thousands just to make a statement? You might not have indiscriminately slaughtered the citizens of Gilane like in Imperial City, but everyone in this city lives under the yolk of a tyrant. There’s curfews and secret police snatching people in the dark, and yet you think you are just and right in standing here in your polished, gilded tower? Have you even walked the streets to see the suffering these people endured?” The Khajiit demanded, not caring about the consequences of her words. A guard moved forward to strike her, but Razlinc put up a hand to stop him.

“And you might be right, Daro’Vasora. I’ve made mistakes, and plenty of them. Perhaps we could have done things differently, but we couldn’t put our entire race’s existence to chance. The bridge between Exodus and Mundus is fragile, and I fear that should it fail, tens of thousands of my people will perish. The actions of the Dwemer across Tamriel is that of a wounded and terrified animal lashing out at the shadows, not caring who it harms so long as it lives to see morning.” Razlinc replied, her countenance showing signs of sorrowful resignation. “I want to be a part of this world, to see it at peace, to show the world what the Dwemer can offer outside of fear and war. When you first came here, under the guise of a historian who wanted to see her life’s research in the flesh, I was so pleased and grateful. I had no idea that people took an interest in our legacy, what we left behind, to have a passion for our achievements. The people of Tamriel are so varied and beautiful, so inspired, I wanted to offer you the opportunity to learn from us as we learn from you. Tell me, Daro’Vasora… had I come alone to this city and asked for the land to rebuild a home for my people, do you think the Redguards would have tolerated my existence? To give up what they had to give us the gift of life?” Razlinc asked.

The Khajiit thought for a long while before shaking her head slowly. “No, I don’t suppose they would have. I don’t even know what I would have done, myself. I never thought I would have ever had the chance to actually meet the Dwemer, let alone interact with them like we have. The good and the bad… it was all interesting. Then airships showed up in Imperial City and killed my uncle and a lot of people I’ve known for several years.” Daro’Vasora replied tersely, clenching her fist until her claws dig into her palms painfully before releasing the tension, her face returning to an impassive mask. “You’ve said it before, it wasn’t exactly your fault or the rest of Clan Rourken, but you’re invaders, all the same. How many lives have been destroyed from you forcing yourself as rulers in a strange land?”

“Too many for my liking, but I will not apologize for securing a future for my people.” Razlinc replied, arriving at an elevator, where an attendant opened the gate for them to board. “We can talk in circles, Daro’Vasora, and our answers will always be the same. Wrongs were done, decency verses survival. I doubt you’d have many qualms about following in my footsteps if our positions and fortunes were reversed. I hope that one day, if a stranger comes asking for your help, you receive them well, because you and I both know how that usually goes.”

The gate closed and the lift begun its descent. “So, Daro’Vasora, since history is already written in the stones and sands of this land and our being here isn’t going to change, I want you to help me find a better way forward since it’s clear my approach isn’t quite as effective as I’d wish. You have a unique perspective that being isolated for centuries has robbed from us, and to make it more palatable to you, the more you assist us, the more we can take the boot from your friends’ throats and possibly offer amnesty to those who would take it.

“You were caught up in a war that was not your own, and perhaps you felt you chose the right side, but the fact you are here alongside me and not in a prison cell for your actions should be taken as a mercy and a show of my good intent. Zaveed is being watched, and he should no longer be able to harm anyone the way he has again. If he goes rogue, I have no issues putting rabid dogs down. So starting today, prove to me you are willing to work towards a brighter future for all of our people with me, and I will grant your friends a place in that future and do everything in my power to hold the other clans accountable for their actions.” she paused as the lift reached its destination, the gate sliding open. “Even if it may lead to war one day.” She added with grim determination.

That caught Daro’Vasora off guard, to the point where she didn’t join Razlinc stepping forward. “You would go to war with the other clans?” she asked, dumbfounded.

The Dwemer governor turned and faced her Khajiit companion with a smile. “It wouldn’t be my first choice, but what happened to Imperial City and the others is an atrocity I cannot forgive. But right now, I cannot do anything while Volenfell is in such turmoil and the rest of the world is looking for a weak link in our armour. If such an event were to occur, I’d want to do it with the rest of Tamriel at our back, understanding that clan Rourken is here to become a part of Tamriel, not subjugate it. We are powerful, yes, but we are not infinite in number and reach.

“You have studied history and war, Daro’Vasora; you know how hubris and cultural supremacy often falter in the face of a dedicated and numerous foe. Barbarians have sacked cultural powers many times before, and forgive me if that seemed indelicate. I do not think such things about the people of Hammerfell, but it is hard not to think of Dwemer having superiority when it comes to technology when the Redguard are still armed much like we recall the races of men from centuries ago. It’s surprisingly stagnant.”

“Unfortunately stagnant.” Kerztar added, “History marches on, times change, but it is almost the only thing that does here. I’ve heard stories of this Great War of yours, how it shattered Tamriel through to the core. It makes our war with the Dunmer look like a skirmish.”

Kerztar sighed, “This Empire from Cyrodiil, The Thalmor. Crowns and Forebearers. Stormcloaks. The Insurgency. We aim to help break a cycle.” Kerztar shook his head at Daro’Vasora, “A cycle that you must be tired of, all of you, am I wrong?”

The Khajiit shook her head. “Do you know how many times I’ve read the thoughts of great leaders who claimed the same noble intention? Nothing ever lasts past a generation. The next happens, and then the next, and the lessons that were learned in blood are lost before some other hotheaded warlord riles up a disenfranchised populace to war once more. Peace never lasts, it can never last. The only reason this war feels like a true injustice is because we’re living through it, not reading about it hundreds of years later. Yes, I’d love to live in a world where nobody’s trying to murder each other for nationality or religion, race and long memories, but I’m not an idiot. I’d rather read about someone like me suffering than be that person, but here I am, not sure if I’m going to survive the year or lose the few people I care about because I got caught up in some world shaking event that should never have happened.” she sighed, placing a hand on her chest. “That I had a part in causing. The only reason your people were able to return at all, I’m certain, is because of what I had a hand in.” the Khajiit admitted.

Kerztar froze, eyebrow cocking as he looked to Razlinc then back to Daro’Vasora. “What you had a hand in?”

“The Jerall Mountains.” Razlinc said, suddenly dawning on the obvious conclusion. “The Planebridge Coordinate.”

Excitedly, she looked to Kerztar and locked eyes with Daro’Vasora. Suddenly, she crossed the distance to the Khajiit, tears in her eyes. “Whatever you did, you saved more lives than you’ll ever know. You must carry a terrible burden for everything that’s happened to you and the ones you love since that day, but know that I will try to make this worthwhile in the end. We will earn our place here, and you will be honoured for what you have done for all Dwemeri people. Thank you.”

The Khajiit’s arms hung loose at her side, not returning the gesture. It was tempting to dig her claws into the woman’s back, but she refrained. “All we did was shove a Lexicon back into its housing. We thought it was a way to keep ourselves from being overrun by the Falmer.”

“It was so much more than that.” Razlinc said, releasing Daro’Vasora and composing herself. “It had the coordinates to where Exodus, the plane we have been banished to for so long, and it connected our plane to Mundus. It thinned the veil between us, not unlike the Oblivion Crisis or the Planemeld we had learned about after our return from exile. It was how we knew we could go home; our own Planebridge Coordinate became active suddenly and received an influx of energy from a far off source. Think of it like a lighthouse, a way to see the way through the cosmos and planes of Aetherius. The amount of energy required was incredible; you literally have to rip a hole in time and space to create the bridge between planes. The Jerall Mountains is well protected now, but because of it, my entire people won’t perish and be removed from existence when Exodus collapses in the not too distant future.” she smiled tersely. “To think it was what Lord Kagrenac had planned to do to the Chimer and Nords at the Battle of Red Mountain. Perhaps in a way, it being us who were removed from Mundus was probably a mercy. Have we not paid for our mistakes?” she asked quietly.

Daro’Vasora’s mind was racing; the lexicon they had inserted into the device had opened the bridge between this Exodus plane and Tamriel, and Razlinc said there was another device like it on the other side in Exodus. They needed to communicate with the same coordinates… was that right? It was a lot to take it, but the sudden revelation gave her hope; maybe it was information she could use and pass onto the others. Maybe she could learn more from Razlinc and the other Dwemer, but she had to be careful not to scheme. It would only close the governor off. “We… found the body, a skeleton, of a Dwemer who passed away. The jewelry I wear came from that body, the lexicon was by the body. Maybe they removed it on purpose when the device was activated?”

Razlinc stood in contemplation for a few moments, her hands behind her back, posture erect. “Perhaps, but there is no way to be certain without studying the location. Come, Daro’Vasora; you’ve proven yourself an unexpected ally and savior to my people, and for that you have my gratitude. Perhaps, in time, we can arrange for your freedom and you will be celebrated. There are more things I wish to show you. Please, join me.”

The Khajiit nodded and fell back in step with the Dwemer. “You do know that if I’d known then what I know now, I would have absolutely refused to go through with it.” She added, knowing a bit of defiance would seem much more acceptable and normal instead of gleeful obedience. Razlinc had been far more often than Daro’Vasora ever thought she would be, and she had to play her part of begrudging but idealistic prisoner.

“I do not doubt it, nonetheless, sometimes great things happen completely by happenstance.” She replied. “I do think, however, curiosity would have gotten to you eventually. All the answers and mysterious you’ve tried to solve, suddenly there for the taking.”

Daro’Vasora was silent, her teeth grinding, wishing she had something to bite down into. She wasn’t even sure if the governor was wrong about that.

They walked through the subterranean corridors, not nearly as presentable or opulent as the upper levels, and it gave a very industrial vibe Daro’Vasora expected from most ruins. A pair of large alloy doors loomed ahead, flanked by a pair of Centurions that watched with impassive faces as they approached. The giant cogs and gears of the door moved at their approach, and Razlinc stopped in front of the door. “What I am about to show you is impressive, to be sure. It’s how we will ensure peace in this city should we not find a compromise, Daro’Vasora. I need you to be aware of how much is riding on your cooperation. You will help us find our peace, or I shall be forced to make it.”

The governor stepped forward through the doors, leaving Daro’Vasora with an unsettled pit in her stomach. When she stepped through after Razlinc, she suddenly became aware of several subdued mechanical sounds until her eyes adjusted. A number of mechanical constructs that looked like Centurions, roughly half the size and without the mask that the large ones outside the door bore, moved nimbly and almost quietly given their mass and speed; they were sprinting. A number of large obstacles were in the way, and the machines bounded over them with agility and grace, climbing walls with almost athletic prowess without much in the way of a slow down. Rotary cannons covered one arm, along with a double barreled harpoon gun. The other was a hammer instead of a hand covered by a retractable wrist blade that seemed certainly capable of cutting through a man or penetrating even thick armour. The smile upon Razlinc’s face was menacing, and the low lighting did nothing to assuage Daro’Vasora’s impression.

“You have done more than one thing for my perception of this world, my friend; you made me think of how wasteful and tragic the blunt assault on Imperial City was, the needless bloodshed and carnage of so many people. So it occurred to me that there was a program we had started already that would minimize casualties and could surgically strike against those who would take up arms against us. These are the Assassin Centurions, the new face of anti-insurgency warfare that we have at our disposal. When we finish their design and architect their protocols, they will sweep through the streets like a flood and remove the terrorists that plague our city. If you do not wish your friends to be considered terrorists by this technology, I suggest you cooperate fully and entirely, Daro’Vasora. We Dwemer are nothing if not efficient.”

“Efficient.” Kerztar said, a hint of something in his voice, “Have you heard of the trade town of Al-Aqqiya? My team was sent there to validate intelligence gained from interrogations that Al-Aqqiya was a hub for the insurgency’s smuggling operations and a place they were funneling in foreign fighters.”

“They were pinned down and steadily losing ground after the entire town armed themselves, Krinnec arrived with four of these things you see now.” Kerztar frowned and sighed, eyes closing, “That was only the first generation. Al-Aqqiya is no more. Help us make sure that we won’t have to use these things to hunt down your friends and every terrorist and their supporters in Hammerfell.”

Daro’Vasora could only stare.
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The Blood of Martyrs and Tyrants…

10th of Midyear, 4e208
Gilane, Hammerfell

Freedom, they cried, Blood and Freedom…

“You look dashing.” Latro heard the Dunmer speak, “If you had bronze skin I wouldn’t be able to tell you were Breton under there.”

“Reachman.” Latro corrected.

“Hill-Scum.” He heard Thunderhead’s voice roll. “You Forsworn? Figure a Forsworn would find some way to go back to living in shadow and killing innocents.”

“Your Dwemer were the ones killing innocents in Cyrodiil.” Latro spat bitter in no particular direction, not knowing where everyone was situated, only that they were rolling in a carriage. “And don’t forget what Ulfric did to us in Markarth, Pale-Shit.

“Enough!” Sevari’s voice, “If I have to kill the both of you to end my headache I’ll sleep like a baby after.”

They were quiet again for a while, the carriage’s wheels crunching over the dusty streets of Gilane and the sounds of the Ministry Agents with him in it. A banging came from somewhere and it sounded like a latch was opened. Latro hated not being able to see but the faintest suggestion of light through his hood. “We’re almost at the meeting area, check your weapons.”

The hatch closed again, Sevari’s voice, “You heard him.”

All around him was whetstones working at blade’s edges, the curious mechanical sounds of Dwemer rifles and pistols being worked. The Dunmer’s voice, “Anything out of the ordinary, don’t hesitate. We’re all coming back from this, grab a drink and laugh about it after.”

“Aye.” Thunderhead’s grim voice.

After a little bit of a ride, the banging came again, the latch opened again. “Five minutes, we’ll be at the rendezvous point with Krinnec’s men.”

“Oh, Sevari, your friends are here!” The Dunmer said in a mocking sing-song. “Family reunion? Is Zaveed going to pop up again there?”

“Shut your hole or I’ll put the barrel of my rifle in it and make another one.” Sevari said, sliding the latch closed again.

Latro worked at the manacles around his wrist. He couldn’t go anywhere if he tried before he was stuck like a pig for the effort. Still, they itched, felt uncomfortable in more ways than one. He sighed, just wanting to get this over with, or even settling for taking this damned sack from over his head.

“Maulakanth not with us? I miss him.” The Dunmer said. “Don’t you miss him, Two-Shafts? What about your best friend, Zaveed?”

Latro supposed the annoyed grunt he heard was Two-Shafts. Supposed as well, that Two-Shafts didn’t like whoever Maulakanth was. Thunderhead’s voice came again, “If we had Maulakanth and Krinnec’s Cathay-Raht boys here it’d be something of a reunion.”

“And Gilane would burn just like Al-Aqqiya?” The Dunmer said, “I still can’t believe what Krinnec’s boys did to the place. I would have thought Maulakanth would’ve swept through them like that, but…”

“But nothing.” Sevari said, bitter, Latro wondering just what had happened in Al-Aqqiya, “It’s done, Kerztar doesn’t want it coming up again, so I don’t either. Talk of it is dead.”

“Like everyone there?” The Dunmer prodded at Sevari’s patience.

“If Krinnec’s team hadn’t shown up, we would’ve remained cornered and strung up in the town square for everybody to dance around and sing mighty heroic songs about killing.” Sevari growled, “Do’Jaffi is just a Khajiit that kills for killing alone.”

“You can relate, no? Bhaanu Sasra, you and them?” The Dunmer said.

Suddenly there was a powerful crunch and the Dunmer was wailing and whimpering, “My finger!”

“Now maybe you’ll think twice before speaking out of turn, Knife-Ear.” Thunderhead laughed a low growl.

The banging came again, though somehow Latro could feel the franticness of it. Sevari opened the latch, “What?”

“Krinnec’s men… their wagon-“

Suddenly the loudest sound Latro had ever heard set his ears to ringing and he was weightless inside the carriage’s walls. He only had a second to spare to think on how the heavy metal walls that seemed like protection at first now seemed like a cage. Then all was that much more black…

He came to. He didn’t know where he was, what happened, all around him was black and an all-powerful ringing in his ears made his head throb that much worse. He could tell he was breathing, then came the realization he had a sack over his head, his breathing causing it to cling damp around his mouth with each breath in. He went to get himself up, spread his arms but he was shackled. There was weight on him, heavy. The smell came to him first, just as the ringing began to die down.

Burning, sulfur. And something else, was someone cooking meat? He reached up and grabbed the cloth around his head, yanking it from over his eyes and finally, he saw the bloody horror that the sack kept from him. The weight on him was Thunderhead, lower part of his face missing and dribbling blood. He realized in bloody terror and disgust that he was still somewhat alive, his hand grasping at nothing before he inhaled like the sound of a tub being drained of the last bit of water before a final gurgling cough sent thick bloody spittle about the carriage, Latro feeling it warm on his face. He groaned and cringed at the feeling, letting go a pitiful whimper at the now-dead Thunderhead atop him. The sharp cracks of rifles and pistols resonated within the carriage. He was alone, wondering if Sevari and the Dunmer were still alive. He didn’t see Two-Shafts either.

He thought to call for help, but who would answer?

He made to sit up and his head swam, falling back to his side, he let go a thin, acidic spew from his lips. He tried again and fortunately was able to shimmy from under Thunderhead’s corpse, the blood from his face making his Dwemer tunic stick to his chest and stomach. He stopped, needing to catch his breath and wait for his head to stop spinning. All around him was the sound of battle, a battle he couldn’t see from inside the carriage. He swallowed, tasting blood on his tongue. He guessed he bit it after whatever had happened.

He sat there, waiting. Waiting for what? The battle raged on outside and it didn’t sound like it was going to be stopping soon. Either way, when it did, he didn’t want to know who would be pulling him out of this wreckage. With all his willpower he forced himself to stand, poking his head out of the door, which was pointed open towards the sky now. The scene that greeted him was no less gruesome than the one inside the carriage. Another carriage was in the middle of the road, huge Khajiit tied to it like ducks waiting to be bought on the market from a vendor’s stall.

They were charred black, so that’s the meat that had been cooking, he realized sickeningly. There was a blackened crater in the road behind the carriage, he guessed that’s what had toppled them, but he had never seen a fire rune give out that much strength to throw a carriage of Dwemer metal like that. He looked around, saw Two-Shafts loose arrow after arrow, nocking them effortlessly though his face betrayed his desperation. They were coming from everywhere, up and down the street. Sevari and the Dunmer’s Dwemer guns sounded out their cracks on the smoky air but the few bodies that dropped did nothing to make the wave of bodies bearing down on them seem any less bough there were plenty around still, Dwemer and others of every race, Ministry Agents and Insurgents alike.

Two-Shafts was the first to go, loosing two arrows at once that struck two of his attackers and dropped them. One through the eye and the other in the throat, dropping the Redguard with a sick gurgle. Even so, the other three closed the distance quick and he had no time to draw his messer before his head whipped to the side at a mace’s terrible swing. Bits of skull and skin flung from him before he dropped like a brick, the pinging of metal to bone reaching even Latro’s ears over the carnage.

The Dunmer turned to Sevari, yelling something and before Sevari could answer, he turned to see the Dunmer take an arrow to the side of his head. The Dunmer stumbled back and fell on his arse, hand reaching up to feel the arrow, face all confused as if it hadn’t donned on him yet. He let go a string of gibberish before he tried to stand, eyes going cross and finally he dropped with no ceremony, finally dead. Latro had not seen a fight like this. He had only known the quickness and drama of a duel in the town square, the ceremony of it. Only to first blood or when the other would yield.

Even during his time with the Forsworn, it had not been this chaotic. This disgusting and impersonal and horrifying. Sevari ran towards him, catching sight of his head. He screamed, “Go! Get away now!”

Latro heaved himself over the side of the carriage and spared one last look at Sevari, turning around and firing a shot into one of the men coming at him before forgoing the range and braining the other one with a mighty swing of the stock. Latro gasped as he saw Sevari jerk back at the dull thud of an arrow into his side. That was the last thing he had the stomach to watch before he ran. A dead sprint away from the scene down an alleyway to wherever was the farthest away from this huge, drawn-out and sick grand display of hatred and death.

He ran for he didn’t know how long, just that his lungs were burning and the only thing that stopped him were his legs buckling under the weight of themselves, the dull ache of overexertion making them dead and unwilling to listen to him. He was in the alley that he and Sora had sparred in, the alley that he and Sora told each other that they shared love. As he heard the pounding footsteps scratching on the dusty streets, the yelling of men coordinating their search like wolves on the hunt, he knew this was the alley he was going to die in. He looked down at his manacles and sighed resignation. To fight or just let it happen? What would Francis do?

As he saw the first of them come into view, axe in hand and murder in the eyes, he instead wondered not what Francis would do, nor Sevari. He wondered what Pale-Feather would do. With that, he got to his shaking legs and stood to his full height. “Come on then.” He growled, “Fucking coward.”

This was bad. Of course, words like that were useless in times like these. It was times like these where commenting on how bad it was was akin to commenting on how wet the sea is when you’re drowning. Similarly, he felt a rising in his throat and retched up blood. His lips were already wet with it, and Sevari knew the arrow had gotten his lung. He’d need a surgeon, a healer. And bad.

He had holed himself up in a house, had to kill the owner when he made to impale him with a chef’s knife. The same chef’s knife he’d taken from the old man easily and stuck in his throat. He looked at the old Redguard, feeling sorry that he had to do it, but it was either the old man or him. Sevari was never too keen on dying for someone else’s bloody fucking convenience.

So, as he coughed and gagged up another mouthful of blood, heaved in a rattling breath, he calmly sat behind the overturned table with his rifle pointed at the door one of the insurgents had been working at with an axe. He felt weak, all the strength in him being sapped away despite all the anger. All the spite. He watched the door idly being chipped away, hack after hack as the insurgent on the other side gradually was pieced together from behind it with each swing. He thought on how ironic his life was up until this point. Anger, spite, sorrow. Revenge. That’s all he lived for. Now, a thousand miles away from home, he runs into his estranged family and fate doesn’t even grant him the dignity of dying in a pool of his own blood among however many Justiciar corpses he could make.

No. He would die here, in the house of an old man he murdered, murdered in turn by the very insurgents he was sent by the Penitus Oculatus to help. How’s that for bitter ends, Sevari thought and managed a tired but all the more rueful grin despite himself, I always knew it’d be like this.

Finally, the opening in the door was wide enough and the man on the other side came clambering through. He only made it half way before Sevari squeezed his trigger, slow and even. The Dwemer rifle boomed louder than thunder in the small apartment’s kitchen, the familiar jolt of it in his shoulder. It caught the insurgent center mass, through the chest, forcing him to grunt and then go limp, the hole in his chest smoking. The axe dropped from the corpse’s hands and Sevari worked the lever, the spent shell spitting out of the smoking breech before he shoved another one in with practiced, deliberate hands.

Then the door exploded off of its hinges, sending splinters of wood hurtling through the room straight at him, saved by his ducking behind the table. He popped up again in time to squeeze off another round, another deafening crack and another insurgent stumbled and slumped against the wall dead. Quicker than he could reload, another one came bounding through the door, Sevari pulling his senche-claw dagger from the small of his back. He swung his rifle and batted away the mace coming at him, slashing out with the dagger and finding purchase. The dagger bit deep into the man’s guts and sent them flopping out of the deep, long wound the wicked knife wrought.

The Redguard went away from him squealing, grabbing at his gut-rope and trying to put it back in, shock apparent in his eyes. Sevari laughed at that, a dark humorless barking as they came at him. He stepped, or more stumbled, away from a swing towards his stomach by an insurgent armed with an axe. He slashed out with his knife and cut his cheek open. Without any more room to work with, he turned on his heel and ran as fast as he could away. Which, of course, was to say that he jogged haphazardly with dragging feet out of the room, slamming the door shut behind him and finding himself in an alleyway. He kept going, not knowing where his flight would take him but not caring, as long as it was away from there. He took the turns and straightaways as fast as he could, sticking to side-streets and alleyways before he found himself among the alleyway zen garden. The same garden he’d watched Latro and Sora spar in. The same garden he’d sent Latro and Jaraleet on the little mission in.

The same garden a helpless Reachman was being choked to death in. To his credit, there was a body with a face like a bloody crater next to him. Latro’s manacled wrists struggled painfully as he thrashed about in the grip of the Redguard kneeling over him, a Khajiit watching impassively. He took the few precious moments he had where he went unnoticed to reload, the working of his rifle’s lever cutting off all the noise of the scene. The Redguard stopped choking Latro to look up at him, Sevari’s barrel staring into his eyes. The Khajiit was brandishing his scimitar but had yet to move. Even Latro stared gape-mouthed at him from under the Redguard.

“Bad luck.” Sevari said, squeezing the trigger and hearing the crack of his rifle, the stock jolting against his shoulder.

Latro and the ground around his legs were showered with bits of brain and skull, the large bullet the carbine was chambered in eviscerating the back of the Redguard’s head as it exited, not to mention his ruined brow. “What the fuck!” The Khajiit yelped, stupefied, “You help this Reachman when your own kind stands with the Redguard? How do you look at yourself knowing you help the oppressor instead of the oppressed? The Thalmor in Elsweyr will fear me and my kin when we come back to its sands! Where will you be?”

Sevari let go a long, rattling cough and spat blood off to the side. He took a last look at his fellow Khajiit, finishing reloading as he flapped his gums at him about Elsweyr and oppressors and whatever the fuck. He frowned, “Fuck Elsweyr.” He raised his rifle, shouldered the stock and took in another wheezing breath, “Fuck Hammerfell.”

The loud crack echoed off the walls of the alleyway zen garden, the bullet catching the Khajiit in the neck mid-charge and leaving his head lolling about with half his neck and most of his jaw gone. The Khajiit dropped to his knees and then slumped over, dead. Sevari dropped to his own knees next to Latro, who pushed the Redguard’s body off of himself and came to his side. “Are you… are you alright?”

“Have you always been that fucking blind?” Sevari wheezed through rattling breaths, “I’m fucking dying. Take me to the safehouse.”


“In the slums, the safehouse I took you to in the slums, you fucking idiot.” Sevari said, trying and failing not to let panic grip him as he made to flex his hands and finding it difficult. Hypertension. He was losing lots of blood, and most of it inside his lungs.

“Right, right.” Latro said sheepishly as he hauled him up and helped him walk. There was no way of knowing if Irranhu cell had betrayed him. They had their blasting powder he’d procured for them and that was that, the fucking bastards. If they targeted his carriage, there was a chance they knew about Aries. He had to get to her, she’d grown on him and he’d be damned if he let her share the fate of Forosien, Thunderhead, and Two-Shafts. Killed like dogs in the streets.

One by one, Latro watched Sevari struggle with the myriad locks upon the door. Finally, the door swung inward and the Khajiit stumbled inside as the door no longer held his weight against it. Pitifully, he tripped over himself and met the ground with his back, letting out a long, rattling cough as he rolled over to spit a gob of blood from his lips, right onto the fur rug he lay on. Latro followed soon after as Sevari called out with grating breaths, “Aries! Aries!” He cried out, “Please…”

The sound of hurrying footsteps could be heard coming from around the corner, followed by the exasperated sigh of a woman as a voice complained, “So I take it the commotion outside was your doing? Great. You better be dead or close to dead, because if you’ve blundered something up again…”

When the auburn-haired woman came around the corner, she saw Sevari bleeding on the floor, and for a brief moment, her mouth hung slightly agape, rendered speechless mid-sentence. She huffed, shaking her head as she picked up her pace to hurry next to the Khajiit’s side. She sat on her knees next to Sevari’s head, lifting it up onto her lap as she muttered under her breath, “Now what did I say last time about blood on the rug… sanguine on merlot… what are you thinking?”

Suddenly she looked up at Latro, eying him with a look of suspicion. Sevari must’ve trusted the mutt enough to bring him here, but then again, he probably didn’t have the clearest mind at the moment. She barked at him and asked, “What happened? Do you know any medicine or restoration?”

Sevari lay a hand on Aries’, squeezing her bracelet and looking at her with pleading eyes, eyes that knew the pain that would come soon at his request, “The arrow!” His voice was harsh but was only a grating whisper as he coughed wet into his fist, “It needs to come out. If it’s too deep… you’ll need to push it…” he swallowed and shuddered, “Push it through. I could die.”

“You know, for an Oculatus…” Aries muttered as she carefully inspected the shaft of the arrow, “you’re mewling a terrible amount over a risk you knew you’d be taking.”

Her eyes darted up towards Latro. “This looks like a dwarven arrow,” Aries said to him, “which must mean it’s pronged and pulling it out isn’t a good option no matter how deep it is.”

In one quick movement, both of her hands gripped the arrow and snapped it below the fletching, the sudden twisting motion causing the shaft to splinter and Sevari to groan and let out a sharp yelp. Aries, still unflinching, summoned a fierce blowtorch of fire from the palm of her hand and began singeing away the loose splinters of wood that could potentially catch his insides. Without looking back up at Latro, she snapped at him again, “Well? Speak up! Can you do anything to help or will I have to do all the work?”

“I-I can close the wound.” He blurted sheepishly. He was not expecting her to be here, though he remembered wondering whose fineries were here last time he was in this house. Was this Sevari’s lover?

He shook that from his mind and knelt down beside Sevari, who grabbed him by the collar, “Once that arrow comes out,” Sevari’s breath was ragged and he swallowed hard, taking another breath that seemed to agonize him, “Aries is going to cauterize the wound from bleeding any more. I need you to close it, do you understand?”

His grip grew weak around his collar but Sevari suddenly jolted Latro towards him by his shirt, “Do you understand!?”

“Yes!” He said, grabbing Sevari’s hand, “I understand. Let’s do this. Quick.”

Aries propped Sevari’s body up for Latro to hold onto so she could get to work, the Khajiit wincing and hissing with every movement. Balling up her hand, she unceremoniously shoved the arrow deeper into Sevari’s body with the heel of her hand before it stopped, just barely protruding from the skin on his back, making Sevari squeal and kick out with one of his legs, eyes screwed shut. Aries pushed on it again, causing the arrow to burst free on the other side, and without hesitating, grabbed the bloody arrow and yanked it free from Sevari’s body, finally throwing it aside. The Khajiit fell limp, head lolling back with his eyes out of focus and staring at nothing.

“Hold him still.” She ordered Latro as screaming hot plumes of fire suddenly blossomed out from both of her hands. She barely gave him enough time to prepare as she planted her hands on both sides of his torso. Within only a second, she felt his skin beneath her hands bubbling -- a cue that she wasn’t sure if it meant that even a second was too long, but she extinguished the flames nonetheless and appraised her handiwork. The wounds were seared shut. She quickly took Sevari from Latro’s arms, struggling a little more under the Khajiit’s weight than the Reachman did, and nodded to him.

“Alright,” she said, “your turn.”

At the same moment he nodded to Aries, he set to work. His hands were glowing golden-white even before she’d cauterized the wounds from bleeding, so just the movement of his hands onto Sevari’s skin had the wispy tendrils of magicka pouring into the wounds like smoke. Slowly, the wounds crept shut, the blackened skin around the holes growing back into Sevari’s skin tone but held the pale of scars. After a long while, he fell back onto his arse, dizzy. He wiped at his brow, looking worriedly at Sevari’s limp form. “Is he,” he gulped, looking from Sevari to Aries and back, “is he breathing?”

“Don’t worry about him.” She replied, her voice sounding distant. When she let Sevari onto the floorboards, she searched his body, eventually finding where he kept his weapons. A dagger was found at his side. She abruptly pulled the blade from it sheath, and with it, closed the distance between her and Latro. Its sharp edge was mere inches away from his neck, and suddenly her cold and distrustful eyes were trained solely on him.

“Who are you?” She growled.

“Latro.” The Reachman said level, chin held high and hands up in mercy, the chains of his shackles softly clinking, “Sevari had me here once, he had me help him with favors.”

“Latro?” She repeated, a hint of recognition in her voice. “How do I know you aren't going to stab me in the back? The fighting outside -- how are you unharmed while Sevari lays half-dead?”

Suddenly, Sevari stirred behind them, a series of wretched wet coughs escaping him and shaking the whole of him, “Fuck!” He cried, before he grunted and his arms went weakly to his sides, knees tucking to his chest as he groaned, “Fuck. Aries, Latro, we need to go. They’ll find us.”

Aries’ eyes bounced between the Reachman and the Khajiit before she muttered something incomprehensible under her breath and took the dagger off of Latro’s throat with a huff, though she still kept her eyes trained on him.

“Help him to his feet.” She ordered as began walking across the room where the bed was. It was relatively small, though it gave the appearance otherwise with how lavishly adorned it was. Gripping the bedposts by the foot of the bed, she began dragging it across the floor, scuffing the wood along the way, before giving one last pull and exposing a locked hatch that was previously hidden by the bed. Aries pulled off one of her necklaces to reveal a key that was kept hidden underneath her clothing.

“I was hoping we wouldn’t have to use this.” She sighed as she went to work.

“So you were listening all those times.” Sevari smirked then immediately grabbed his side as he cringed. “Get it open.”

Aries side-eyed Sevari as the lock on the latch popped off. As she undid the chains, she replied to him quite casually, “We need to have a conversation at some point about your habit for speaking out of turn.”

She flipped the hatch open, revealing a short ladder that would lead them down into an underground tunnel. Aries turned her back to it and walked in the opposite direction, towards a vanity desk pushed against a wall, and her hand reached for an unassuming suitcase which sat next to it before returning.

“I’ll go down first.” She said, carefully lowering her suitcase down into the tunnel. “Then you can give me Sevari.” She didn’t wait for Latro to respond or give any indication that he understood what she wanted before she lowered herself into the tunnel after the suitcase, gesturing for him to bring Sevari down once she made enough room for him.

“Is she your commander or something?” Latro asked, only smirking when Sevari shot him a scowl. The Khajiit pushed off of him none too gently and Latro snorted as he carefully lowered himself down.

“Out of turn?” Sevari asked haughtily before finding the ground with his back as his hand slipped. He seized up on the ground as Latro watched, cringing for the wounded man. No matter how much enmity there was between them before, the fact he saved his life, not to mention came back to find him before doing so, meant something.

It didn’t mean he couldn’t chuckle at him as he lowered himself down after. “Old bones starting to give out on you?”

“Shut the hell up.” Sevari’s breathless whisper came from behind clenched teeth, “Help me get up.”

Latro offered out his hand to the man and he took it. He hauled himself up with Latro’s help, though he couldn’t stand to his full height for how compact the tunnel was. Instead, they continued on, the trio crouching to various degrees. “You built this?” Latro asked.

“Oh, yes, I’m a fast worker.” Sevari smirked, before it fell away, “This used to be a safehouse used by the Blades in the Septim Dynasty’s time. Now, I use it.”

“I hope the tunnel is suiting you well, m’lady. Wouldn’t want the bottom of your skirts to get too dirty. Haven’t swept down here in some time.” He said, words rife with sarcasm. “Oh, did I speak out of turn again?”

Latro supposed it was a good thing that Sevari still had some sort of sense of humor. Though to whom it was a good thing remained to be revealed to him.

“You’re talkative for a walking corpse; not even an ounce of humility. You forget your place.” Aries replied in a low growl. “Respective stations notwithstanding, my hands are still covered in your blood. If you preferred, I could have kept them clean and let you die.”

Aries stopped for a second and glanced over her should toward Sevari with a look of pity, “...But I seem to recall an ungrateful kit mewling over his fear of dying. I believe this is also in light of, I can only assume, the second failure of your mission. So tell me: where is it, you think, you rank in the grand scheme of things?”

“When everybody’s neck-deep in shit, everything looks pretty equal, doesn’t it?” Sevari said, Aries’ growl only making him smirk, “Face death without begging for life, sister. Then, maybe I’ll start considering stations.”

After a while of walking, Sevari spoke up again, “This wasn’t my failure, Aries. The plan, incite chaos, arm the insurgency, stoke Irranhu cell.” He found himself scowling, but carried on, Latro’s brows cocking at this candid admission, “I worked twenty years alone and I’ve done fine. I let you into the picture, I let other agents take the lead in my mission here in Hammerfell…”

“I was almost captured, strung up and gutted because of this vendetta against the Dwemer!” He yelled, the confines of the tunnel almost making it an unbearable volume before Sevari leaned against the wall and erupted into a fit of coughs. Long, wet, gravelly things that made Latro cringe. “Half the reason I even came back to the safehouse was because a small part of me, an iota, was worried. I could’ve left you alone. So, fuck humility.”

The sound of Aries’ suitcase hitting the ground followed soon after Sevari’s outburst. Suddenly a small flame flickered to life in her hand, illuminating the dark tunnel that they had been walking blind in. Aries was sitting on the suitcase, staring intently on Sevari with a gaze too similar to how she was looking at Latro earlier.

“Look at me.” She asserted. “We don’t have a lot of time, but I want to make sure who it is I have behind my back before I’m surrounded by enemies.”

She leaned in and continued, “This is a war, Sevari, don’t trivialize it by calling it a vendetta. You might have worked for twenty years, but as far as I’m concerned, this is the only thing you’ve been a part of that actually mattered. Those were your duties to see through, your failures, but you’re too immature to accept responsibility. Secondly, you didn’t come because you were worried about me. You came because it was the only safe place in the city; you couldn’t go back to the Dwemer on the Reachman’s shoulders and you couldn’t go to the insurgency because you’re the face of Dwemer lapdogs. You were worried about saving your own hide.”

The plume of flame appeared to swell a little larger.

“So, you can probably understand why I worry about having such a person behind me.” Aries finished. “So, convince me that you haven’t forsaken your duty to the Empire. We both know the penalty for desertion during wartime.”

Latro watched the exchange behind the face of a man who was completely enthralled by a play. It was like one, with this much drama being dropped in his lap. To tell the truth, he didn’t know this woman, she’d managed to hold a knife to his throat and that never seems to leave the best first impression on someone. He still remembered the beating he’d sustained on account of Sevari, the pain, not just physical. But he’d saved him. Come back when he didn’t need to.

Sevari hadn’t been breathing all too quietly after the wound in his lung, so it didn’t take a sharp eye or a keen ear to tell that his breaths had gotten sharper and quicker. The scowl also betrayed it. Anger. The Khajiit stepped towards Aries, “My entire life I’ve seen people I cared about die. Left them to fate. My brother and his sister, the woman I loved, two of them. I went to bring back Erincaro’s head to draw out his father from Alinor. The woman I loved herself was waiting for me.” His voice quivered with barely controlled anger, “Tell me that you’d tear down the lives of everyone who cared about and loved you just to fill a hole in yourself. Just to fulfill some shit reasoning of justice or duty.”

“Maybe you can.” He spoke, voice low, “So, pardon the audacity of worrying about someone like that at my back.”

It prompted a slight smirk on the face of the Breton woman, giving just a faint warmth to an otherwise cold and steely expression, but her eyes remained the same. She continued, her voice calm and measured, “Your care is limited to only a few, whereas mine sees over hundreds and thousands. The meaning of duty is the burden of the larger picture. Perhaps one day you’ll see that and understand the stakes are higher for me.”

“Normal circumstances under Imperial law would dictate your defense to be insufficient and sentence you to death…” She mused, but then suddenly lowered her hand and the flame shrunk to that of candlelight. “But right now we’re not in Cyrodiil. The circumstance is abnormal. If nothing else, I believe I can at least make do with your morals.”

Sevari coughed something ugly, hocking it up and spitting to the side, “Law.” he smirked, “Do whatever you want with my morals.”

Latro watched Sevari push past Aries and continue down the tunnel on his lonesome. He flicked a hand up and a magelight floated from his fingertips. “I cared enough about Latro to fight my way to the first place I saw him at. I care enough to give you two a fucking light.” He growled, “Forgive me for coming back to see if they’d gotten to you.”

“What would you have done if they had?” Aries asked simply, her voice following after him. As Sevari crawled deeper into the tunnel and no response came, she looked toward Latro from the corner of her eyes.

“Latro, was it?” She asked, waiting for his nod. “I want you to think about that question before we try to rescue your lover.”

“Mm.” Latro frowned and shrugged, smirking, “Difference is, Aries, I’ll probably have more friends and less arrows in me when I attempt my rescue.”

“I mean to say that you should prepare a backup plan.” She responded matter-of-factly, getting up and picking up her suitcase. As she resumed their pace through the tunnel, she added, “I want her on my side, so I aim to help you… but consider the possibility of finding a new suitor.”

Latro had continued down the tunnel as if he hadn’t heard the last part of what Aries had said to him. He’d already imagined and turned in his sleep with the image of Sora’s corpse, his own mind betraying him in sleep, he didn’t need Aries helping it while he was awake. He just frowned at her and kept walking through the tunnel.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of walking in the cramped space, Sevari held out a hand behind him as the magelight illuminated another hatch above them. Sevari produced his own key and slipped it into the lock, the sound of it popping open. Latro hadn’t realized how much he wanted to be out of the tunnel until then.

Thankfully, Sevari placed his hands on the trapdoor and pushed it open while riding to his full height. He stood with his head obscured by the opening of the trapdoor for a second before he ducked back down, “It’s clear.”

The Khajiit hauled himself up and over the trapdoor exit, leaning against the wall and panting as if he’d run all the way here instead of near-crawled like a sewer rat with him and Aries. He pushed off the wall as Latro came up. He was sure Aries would make a fuss about no one helping her with her luggage, so The Reachman took it upon himself to offer his hand out.

Once Aries was out of the hole, Sevari kicked the trapdoor closed once more, locking it topside. Latro had to help him up from his crouched position he’d taken to lock the trapdoor and watched the Khajiit replace the sandy brown blanket the had been over the trapdoor. It had a curious looking seal on it and as soon as Sevari touched it with the tip of his white-gold glowing fingers, the sheet disappeared and instead only a square of dusty alleyway ground was there in place of it. “Huh.” Latro said, impressed.

They continued on behind Sevari and soon came to an establishment that looked nowhere near as seedy a place as he was expecting, nor was it as opulent as the Three Crowns. The dusty street threw up a cloud of dust with the wind, obscuring the building somewhat through a haze of red dust. When it came away and dissipated, Latro saw the sign atop it, The Haunted Tide Inn.

“Alright. We’ll stay here a couple days, lay low. Then we can go to the Three Crowns.” Sevari was racked with a fit of coughs almost immediately after he stopped speaking, Latro stepping up to him and lending him his shoulder and the Khajiit took it. “Let’s go.”

Aries kept her pace with the two men, her eyes darting around the Gilane streets while keeping her poise. She eventually found herself at Latro’s side where she seemed to take great care in controlling the volume of her voice. She said to him, “You’re to refer to me as Janelle. I am a merchant from Rivenspire. If it is not too much to ask, I would like to use your eyes while Sevari recovers. I will request nothing more of you than that.”

“I’m Shiburi.” Sevari said.

“Just Latro. Just a bard.” Latro nodded, turning to Aries, with his easy smile, “I’ll do as much. Janelle.”
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Hidden 7 mos ago 7 mos ago Post by Hank
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Hank J. Wimbleton

Co-Admin Seen 7 hrs ago

No Country for Old Men

by @Father Hank and the ever talented @Leidenschaft

Afternoon, 10th of Midyear, 4E208
The Haunted Tide Inn, Gilane, Hammerfell

After having slept for what felt like an age or more, Gregor awoke to an existence of misery and pain. He stared at himself in in the mirror after he got out of bed, eyes tracing the prominent and fresh scars that now disfigured his upper body, and he sighed. Every fiber of his being still hurt from the ravaging poison that had coursed through his veins. He looked down at his hands and saw that his fingers trembled incessantly -- not enough to inhibit his functioning, and when he focused real hard he could keep his hand still, but the sight still filled him with dread. He had always been able to rely on his body. Closer to forty than he was to twenty, he knew that it wouldn’t last forever, but to see himself so suddenly and severely degrade…

He needed Raelynn. No, he thought and his knuckles went white as he clenched his fists. The anger, disappointment, hurt and confusion were still fresh. He took a deep breath and put her out of his mind. But the pile of armor and blood-soaked clothes next to the bed and the large, black pool of dried-up blood -- his blood -- in the middle of the room stared him in the face. He would have to clean everything soon, but not now. Right now, he couldn’t do much of anything. He needed a drink.

Gregor dressed himself in his Hammerfell linens and made his way downstairs, to the inn’s common room. His movements were slow and stiff and he supported himself wherever he could, holding on the railing like an old man. It was enough to make him grimace. He wasn’t familiar with poisons and their effects. There was no way for him to know if things would even improve. The thought was too much to bear. Drink, you fool. Stop thinking. He took a seat at the bar and the innkeeper, a stoic and discrete older Redguard, looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

“What happened to you?” he asked while he cleaned a glass.

“Got into a fight,” Gregor grumbled. He pointed at a bottle of Stros M’Kai rum behind the innkeeper. “Give me two shots of that.”

The innkeeper acquiesced and poured him his drinks. “Did you win?”

Gregor was silent for a few seconds as he downed the first of the two shots, but he nodded to himself afterwards. “Yes.”

The door opened and three figures hung at the threshold. A curious looking woman with wavy auburn hair behind two men. A Reachman in Dwemer cloth with an Ohmes-Raht at least a head taller than him making him strain under the weight of him. “We should get a room.” The Reachman said, voice hushed. “Get you into bed-“

“Get me a godsdamned drink. I’ll put up for the room while I’m there.” The Ohmes-Raht rumbled, and Gregor could feel eyes on him, “Latro, stay with Janelle.”

“Okay.” Latro said, letting Sevari go and disappearing with the woman.

With a series of pained breaths and snuffed grunts, the Ohmes-Raht brought his dragging feet to the bar, falling onto a stool. “Colovian Whiskey.”

“The embargoes already took-“

“Then what do you have?” The Ohmes-Raht growled, and gestured to Gregor, “Give me what he has.”

“Alright.” The Innkeeper poured out another shot glass for the Khajiit, who downed it immediately, glass clacking on the bar top as he set it down.

Finally, the Khajiit spoke to Gregor, not turning to him, “Those scars look fresh.”

The Imperial hadn’t turned to look when the door opened, his empty gaze fixed on the now equally empty shot glasses in front of him, and did not see Latro or Aries at all. By the time of Sevari’s arrival a few barstools over, they had already disappeared upstairs. When he did glance sideways at the newcomer it took him a few seconds to process what he was looking at. A tall, humanoid male of indeterminate race (how strange), obviously recently injured. Not a native to these lands. Part of Gregor wanted to be left alone but another part of him welcomed the distraction.

He caught the innkeeper’s eye and motioned for a refill. Alcohol had never been much of a companion to Gregor, who usually preferred to stay sharp and knew that his tolerance for it wasn’t particularly high. The two shots of the powerful rum he’d had were already hitting him and he blinked slowly, letting the feeling wash over him. It was exactly what he wanted.

“I fought the devil and I won,” Gregor said and stared at the swirling liquid that the innkeeper poured in his glass. “But he left his mark.” He lifted his glass Sevari’s direction and gave him a curt nod. “You don’t look so great either.”

Sevari gave a snort at the man’s poetics. For a second, he forgot himself. Forgot why he was at the bar in the first place, then the recognition came back to him. The news about his brother missing. Whoever had taken or killed Zaveed would not have gotten him easily. He remembered the party, watching Raelynn always on the arm of one man and only one man.

Him. It only made sense. It had to make sense. Because if it didn’t, If this wasn’t the man who killed Zaveed then he could just add his name to the list of lost brothers he’d have to avenge someday, but probably never will.

“Another.” He called to the innkeeper, having his glass refilled but refraining from it. “The devil swings axes now?”

Nonsense to anybody else, but he carefully watched the man to see if it was just that to him. He was in no shape to fight, at all. But any kind of reaction to the phrase, any at all, could bring him peace knowing he could cross one more name off of his list of men to put in the dirt.

Gregor blinked slowly and fidgeted with his shot glass. Inside his chest, his heartbeat spiked. He frowned, mind racing, and looked down at the scar across his collarbone that was left bare by the undone buttons of his shirt. “You can tell? Just like that?” he asked, voice as steady as he could make it. When he looked down at his glass, he saw that his fingers weren’t trembling anymore. He bought himself some time by downing the shot. Stupid, he thought to himself, furious at his own mistake, admitting things like this to strangers. Whoever this man was, he knew. He knew.

“Well, doesn’t matter,” he added and looked away. “I won but didn’t get to finish the job. Bastard had help. He’ll get to swing his axes another day.” Gregor took a slow, deep breath, trying to stay calm, and gestured for the bartender to give him another shot. Zaveed was still alive, that much was true, even if he vehemently disagreed with the way his survival had come about. Perhaps it would save him now.

Sevari only shut his eyes and sighed, finally moving in no amount of hurry to pick up the glass in his thick fingers and throw it back, setting the empty glass on the bar top. If it had brought him peace knowing he was sitting next to the man that had made Zaveed disappear wherever the fuck he was, he didn’t feel it all too greatly. “Mm.” He grunted at first, then lifted his glass to the innkeep, who filled it again. “Feuds and vengeance are a fool’s business, friend. Like a river dammed, it only finds a way to flow into another just like it, and on, and on.”

“You either realize that revenge isn’t for the dead, only you.” He paused, letting go a drawn out rattling cough that screwed his eyes shut before taking in a breath and continuing, “Or someone comes knocking on your door looking for the same. You should be careful who’s on the other side of your door… friend.

Gregor, sensing that the immediate danger had passed, dared to meet Sevari’s eyes again. “Is that what happened to you?” he asked and raised an eyebrow. He was eager to steer the conversation away from what happened between him and Zaveed. There were still too many options, too many possibilities, as to who this stranger next to him was, and Gregor was swiftly getting too inebriated to consider them properly. The best he could do now was to survive this bizarre chance encounter and figure it out later.

Sevari sniffled, wiping at his wet lip and looking sidelong at the man beside him. He took his moment, let the gaze carry on until he felt it right. Willing himself to feel hatred, to feel righteous indignation. To reach for the dagger at his side. Then he shrugged, “Doesn’t matter now too much, I guess.” He turned back to his glass to find it full again, “You go looking for the bad in men and you always find it. Sometimes it finds you. Looks to me like it found us both pretty good.”

It was odd. He felt no aggression, just a conversation. Perhaps it was the fact he’d almost died so recently, but he felt no need nor energy to go looking for another fight after the last one. “The devil. We’ve all got one.”

Gregor laughed and then immediately winced, finding cause to regret his mirth in the pain that stabbed into his chest. “Yeah, pretty good,” he echoed and rubbed his neck. He still wasn’t sure what to make of the stranger sitting next to him but something told Gregor that they weren’t going to fight, no matter what was said. He frowned. It was like… an armistice. Just two old, broken soldiers reminiscing on a war in which they had been enemies. They were both too tired to reach for their blades now. Gregor knew it. Sevari knew it.

He opened his mouth to speak, unsure. It took a few seconds for him to find his voice. “I wanted to teach him that, sometimes, he should be afraid of what lurks behind the door he comes knocking on.” He sighed and shook his head. There was no need to explain. The other man would understand what Gregor was talking about. “Does that make sense? I’m not sure it does anymore, or if it was worth it. Maybe you’re right,” he mumbled.

“Tell me about your devil,” he said before Sevari could answer him, once again changing the subject.

Sevari considered that for a moment. He knew that if he died back there in the carriage, in the street, in the old man’s house he’d murdered with the faulty, shit reasoning of defense. If he’d died on the way to the safehouse, in Aries’ arms as she tried to save him, it all would be deserved. Sevari knew Zaveed now realized the same thing. Maybe he thought he did, at first, in whatever musings he had up until now. But now he really knew, dead or not, and if he didn’t… Sevari didn’t want to think on that.

He thought about how many doors he’d knocked on, how many times he’d taught the same lesson to the ones knocking that Gregor did to Zaveed. But accepting that? Zaveed was family. Nobody would ever hurt his family while he was helpless to watch again. But as he looked at Gregor, forlorn and ragged just as he was now. He knew it wouldn’t bring him any more towards closure than the last twenty years did. When Gregor asked about his devil, he sighed.

“It was a very, very long time ago.” He said, “A boy watched his father die. Watched his mother die. Years later, he saw his brothers dead even though he now had the strength in himself to stop it from happening, if only he’d been there.”

“I have many devils, with many names.” Sevari said, face hanging in agonizing reverie, “The boy he knew as a child is all grown, and now he’s one of them. Wreaking his havoc on people who don’t deserve it. Ironic, I thought I had the strength to stop it from happening again. I let another of my brothers die and now some stranger fills his boots. If only I’d been there, a long, long time ago.”

Sevari chuckled, a bitter, humorless huff from his nostrils. Not even the smile lasted, “He had it coming.” Sevari said then, voice grim and low, “We both know it. I’m tired of knocking on doors in the name of other people, but I’d do it for him.”

He looked at Gregor. Of a sudden, he saw little difference between them in this moment. Two men who’d been scarred all to hell for quests of vengeance. Maybe that’s what they could be. Just two men at a bar and that’s it. But whatever evils and thistle ran across Sevari’s soul couldn’t let him. “I’d do it for him.” His voice gravelly and he let out another grating cough, “Just… not now.”

Silence stretched on between them as Gregor processed what Sevari had said. There was no doubt in his mind anymore; the man that was referred to as ‘another of my brothers’ was Zaveed. Sevari’s confession painted him in a new light. He knew all too well how extreme circumstances, suffering and loss could drive a man to ferociously protect what little he has that remains. Even if Raelynn hurt someone, Gregor would have her back. But that was a big if. The situation wasn't comparable. Gregor had defended both Raelynn's life and honour and his own when he fought Zaveed. She had been innocent and he had been monstrous. If Sevari were to kill Gregor in turn for what he did to Zaveed… for the sake of a cruel torturer and murderer? There was no honour in that.

“You shouldn't,” Gregor said sternly. “He's not worth it. Whatever man you knew in his place when you were younger, there's naught but a shadow of him left. Don't risk your life for vengeance in his name. Not now, not ever. It's a fool's business, remember? I fought him because he was a threat.” Gregor pushed the shot glasses in front of him away. He'd had enough. His head was as heavy as his heart.

An idea came to him. It was a gamble but he couldn't shake the feeling that this stranger knew much more about him and the others than he let on. “Raelynn saved his life,” Gregor said softly. Now it was his turn to observe Sevari intently to see how he would react.

Sevari froze just before the glass touched his lips. He carefully set it back down. Had he heard right? Raelynn? Saved his brother’s life? The life of the man who did everything in his power to break her? To break Gregor? To break Latro’s little family up to pieces and blow the dust to the winds? If she did that, maybe he did break something in her head, he mused. Or maybe she was just so much better than the two men at the bar discussing the possibility of killing each other when they were healthy again. “Huh.” Sevari pushed the shot glass away from him in turn. “Fool’s business. I guess I won’t have to be a fool one last time after all.”

He smiled, albeit a hint of sadness in the corners of it, weighing it down. He slapped some septims on the counter, “Two rooms, please.” Before he stood with some effort. He looked back to Gregor and sighed, “For what it’s worth… I’m sorry. For everything he did to her.”

He looked Gregor over, shorter than him, but thick despite his sickly appearance he had about him. A warrior. A fighter. A killer, just like himself. That, the two could understand of each other, even if Gregor couldn’t understand why he’d avenge the name of a murderous, whoring pirate. But now, they were just two men at a bar. That’s it. “Farewell.”

“Wait,” Gregor said and raised his hand. “One last question. Do you work with a Redguard woman that wields a spear and wears a snakeskin cloak?”

“No.” Sevari said. “Is that all?”

The Imperial did not show the surprise he felt. Who the hell had the woman been that had intervened and stopped him from killing Zaveed for good? “Yes, that’s all. Farewell.”

After watching him leave, Gregor thought back to the rest of their conversation. He had wanted the man to say something about Raelynn, about what she’d done -- to condemn her, call her a fool, anything at all. But he hadn’t. Gregor had seen in his reaction that he had been surprised but not confused. He frowned and rapped his fingers on the bar. Still, his gamble had paid off. The news of Raelynn’s mercy had placated Sevari in a way, whatever his position might be, and that was worthwhile. If Gregor’s reprisal against Zaveed would now no longer draw the ire from a man that called himself his brother… they did not need more enemies actively hunting them right now.

For a split second, he considered that Raelynn might have been right. Then his bitterness returned. Gregor stared at the empty shot glasses he’d pushed away and looked up to find the innkeeper giving him an inscrutable glance. “Water?” the Redguard asked, prescient, and Gregor nodded.

A realization struck him. Two rooms. Who else was here?
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Hidden 7 mos ago 7 mos ago Post by Greenie
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Greenie Follow the Strange Trails

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That’s My Spot

by Dervish and Greenie

10th of Midyear, Early Morning, Gilane Docks

The sun had barely peeked over the horizon, but to those waiting it meant the long night had finally passed and they were finally free to venture forth with their day. For the once pirate and now barmaid named Sirine, it meant she was finally off duty. It meant she could finally leave the confines of the cramped and stale smelling tavern and breath in some fresh morning air. Pushing a couple of rebellious locks of hair away from her face, the Imperial Redguard breathed in deeply, closing her eyes as she took in the scent of the city. Dusty roads and sand remained, but at least it was free from the scent of terrible hygiene.

Still, this wasn’t where she wanted to be anyway. Carefully securing her rucksack over her shoulder, she stuffed one hand in her pocket while the other held onto a bottle of wine that seemed a little too full by regular standards. Taking another deep breath of fresher air, the Imperial Redguard started on her way down the street, her steps deliberate and purposeful, as if she knew exactly where she was headed. Which she did, for that matter. It was her daily habit after leaving the tavern in the morning to make her way to the docks, sit down near the water and while away a couple of hours as she contemplated the waves crashing against the shore. It was a time of peace and sorrow, when she could finally be herself without having to worry about others seeing and assuming things.

The scent of the salty seawater had already greeted her halfway to her usual resting place by the docks, but it was never the aroma that truly made her feel at home. It was the sound of waves even before she could see them that had her quicken her step, a soft smile lingering on her lips. It was the sound of home…

There was somebody in her home. Sirine found herself a little surprised to see somebody else here so early in the morning- normally it was just her. It was a little disconcerting, truth be told, but there were a myriad of reasons why someone would be here. There was no need to act as if something was amiss. From what she could see, it was no Redguard or Dwemer, and a little more scrutinizing has her realize it was a khajiit; there was no mistaking those ears.

“That’s my spot,” she commented, words rather mild as she made her way over, dark eyes lingering over the blood spatters. "And now it's bloody..." That last bit was more to herself. She didn't seem particularly upset, just a little curious.

Zaveed’s eyes opened slowly, blinking the sleep out of his eyes and adjusting to the new morning daylight. He was being looked down upon by some Redguard-looking woman that looked vaguely familiar. He groaned, the aches and pains of his many wounds still throbbing despite being healed, and he looked this newcomer up and down studiously. “Yes, that tends to happen when you pick a spot to die and end up disappointed.” he croaked, his throat feeling incredibly dry. He coughed, relieved that blood didn’t erupt like it had been. His second chance at life wasn’t off to a great start.

“Don’t I know you?” he asked suddenly. “Tavern girl? Scorpion’s Song? I admit I am not as presentable as I would like, but I would like to imagine I leave quite the impression on my better days.”

"Perhaps," was Sirine's reply, casting a glance at the man. It was hardly a surprise if he recognized her from the tavern as that was where she spent most of her nights. "I don't recall seeing you there myself, but that could very well be due to being preoccupied with other... affairs." Giving the khajiit man a placid smile before settling down cross legged, she set to pulling the cork out of her bottle.

"You sound terrible," she commented dryly. "Now that you've been cheated of death, how about not sounding like you're still sitting with a leg in the grave?" Cork now out of the bottle's mouth, she took a gulp of the liquid before offering the man the bottle. It wasn't actually wine though- the bottle was merely a holder of water now.

Gratefully and labourously, he reached over to take the offered bottle. Expecting liquor, he nearly recoiled at the bland and unexpected taste of water before realizing that’s what it was. Drinking deeply for several gulps and feeling like the drought ridden fields that were his throat had finally seen rain, he sighed appreciatively, running his tongue across his teeth and gums. “Many thanks, my dear. Is this more to your liking?” He asked with an easy going smile. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Raising an eyebrow for a split second, Sirine's mouth lifted in a smirk. "Yes, that is much better, my ears don't feel assaulted anymore. As for my presence-" She looked to the water and motioned at it with a nod "-this is my spot. I come here on a daily basis; frankly I was surprised to find anybody here so soon after sunrise." Glancing back at the khajiit man, her eyes trailed over the blood stains. "Do you normally find yourself dying around docks, or was this perhaps a once in a lifetime goal?"

“An unexpected detour, I’m afraid. Ran into an overzealous admirer of mine and things might have gotten a tad carried away.” He replied, trying to sit up a bit better; his back was getting sore, and he was pleased to find he could still move decently well. “I was looking for someone important to me, but you know how the city is these days; interesting things lurk in dark alleyways. You seem oddly possessive over a bundle of nets; is it that you were hoping to catch a man here?” he grinned cheekily, feeling much more revitalized after the water, which he drank from again.

"Of course, I'm sure a man with your charm and wit has to spend a lot of time ducking into alleyways." Her common sense and sharp eyes knew he was hardly telling the truth, though part of what he said rung familiar to her, enough that she looked a little closer at the khajiit, if just for a moment. Someone important you say...

But for now she pushed that thought to the side, focusing on his cheeky remark with yet another raised eyebrow. "If I am, would you consider yourself caught?" Without waiting for a reply, she reached out and rested a hand on the netting closest to her. "Best be careful, I know very well how to use these." She tugged at it twice before letting go, returning her hand to her lap.

He regarded her with amusement and a sly grin. “I would be disappointed if you didn’t. And it would appear if it is good enough for fish and crustacean alike, it seems to be good enough for a Khajiit.” he said, wrapping his fingers through the rope, a frown crossing his face as he remembered his ship and his crew, lost to the waves and the Dwemer alike. What was he doing, throwing his lot in with them? His words he threw at Sevari, many times, came to mind; You always have a choice.

“I know this may be quite sudden in our newfound relationship, my dear, but could I trouble you to help bring me somewhere where I could wash up and get a change of clothing? I’m used to being showered in blood that belongs to anyone but myself, and I am not enthused at looking like a homeless cat again.” Zaveed admitted, his eyes meeting hers.

Sirine met his eyes with her own before looking the man over yet again. Homeless cat seemed almost a generous term for him in her opinion, and she could certainly sympathize with the need of not wishing to look like someone had just dragged him of the gutter- she just wasn't sure if she should.

Well, in his current state, there isn't much he can do... Letting out breath, she gave the khajiit man a nod and held out her hand in an offer to help him stand. "It isn't much, but I can show you the way to the tavern. The employees have their own bathing area in the back, as you can imagine. I may even be able to procure something less… decorated for you to wear. First though, a name would be nice. I would rather not have to keep calling you 'the khajiit man'."

Taking her hand, Zaveed pulled himself up to his feet with a pained grunt. “Zaveed of Senchal, a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” the Khajiit replied, stretching with yawn before limping over to where his dagger still remained from the night before after Raelynn tossed it from him. It was still covered with his blood, and he offered a disdainful cluck of his tongue. “That won’t be good for the finish. Such mistreatment of a fine blade.” he said, wiping it off on his trousers and examining it, thinking it would wash off with a bit of solvents. Regardless, he slid the dagger back into its sheath at his back. “As much as I’d love to call you beautiful, my dear, I’m afraid I should also like a name. I seem to be having a run of good fortune lately, and I would like to keep it that way.”

"Sirine," she offered in reply as she looked away from the dagger he had picked up, her interest a little piqued as she herself carried a dagger on her person, though for the time being it was hidden. "Or Siri. Whatever is easiest to say, I don't mind. Beautiful is fine as well, but only if you pay me first." She let that out so easily that it was hard to tell whether she was joking or serious.

Pulling a coin from his armour, he placed it gently into her hand. “Beautiful Sirine it is, then.” he grinned with a wink, gesturing for her to lead the way.

As she started walking, she decided to keep the conversation flowing. Banter was a useful source of information after all. "Zaveed of Senchel," she repeated. "Your accent differs from the other khajiit I have met though- am I right in assuming you haven't been to Elsweyr in a while?"

“You are very astute of hearing, but that would not necessarily be correct. It is my home base out of Senchal, but I spent much of my time at sea and different ports with a diverse crew of sailors, I imagine it has worn off on me in ways I do not readily acknowledge.” he replied, keeping pace easily despite his limp, his hands resting on his axes. “In Pelletine, it is less common for Khajiit to use third-person manners of self address due to being more developed and cosmopolitan than the North. The Khajiit of Anequina, the ones that speak often of warm sands, are likely the ones that you are accustomed to. They tend to be more spiritual than their brothers to the South, and they produce a number of nomads. Perhaps it would help to think of it in a similar light as Nibenese to Colovians, Stronghold Orcs to city Orcs, Green Pact Bosmer verses those who live outside of Valenwood. Same skin, different souls.”

Unknowingly flipping the coin in her hand, Sirine listened to Zaveed as she lead the way. It was interesting to be sure, and enlightening as well. She had never sailed that side of Tamriel even when she was working with her father and brothers, so the little she did know of the cat people was from former shipmates. "Yes, you're quite right," she agreed with a small smile. "I've heard about warm sands more than I can remember.

"So a sailor..." she commented after a small pause, more to herself than Zaveed, though she did spare a glance at the khajiit man. With that knowledge in mind, she could certainly see him on a ship. It did beg the question of why he was here of all places, but Sirine knew better than to ask that of a stranger she just met. There was one thing she could very much relate to with this meager knowledge, however.

"I can see why you would wish to come here even on the brink of death." She looked out at the distancing waves before turning back to continue leading the way. The yearning she felt to return to the sea was never really gone, simply quelled with more important tasks.

Zaveed smiled sadly, looking out to the gentle rolling of waves. It truly was a beautiful day. “Being out at sea was the one place I felt at home, like the laws of the lands and the restrictions that are shackled to you no longer apply. I was a king aboard my own vessel, my sailors were my retainers. I thought if my body had to be in agony, my heart and soul should be at peace near such a place. So much the better I am still here, so I may actually find myself aboard my own ship once more, to feel the shifting of the planks beneath my feet, that sudden shudder when the sails catch a strong wind. I miss the salt, the colourful waves that shine like gemstones. It’s been a few weeks, and already I am itching to get off of dry land and return where I belong.” he chuckled, feeling somewhat sheepish for waxing nostalgic with a stranger. “I must apologize for droning on; it must be a tale you’ve heard from far too many drunken tongues. Normally I’m not so… what’s the word… hyperbolic, wistful? Surviving things you should not have tend to bring out the world in ways you never dreamed of, it is like seeing things with new eyes.”

"Staring into the mouth of death does do wonders for the soul," Sirine agreed, her voice light even if her thoughts were much more somber than his seemed to be. "And yes, I've heard drunken tales of the sort, but it isn't an unpleasant one... and I very much doubt you are drunk- I washed that bottle more than enough times before filling it with water."

She gave the khajiit an easy smile. "So no need to apologize. The feelings you're describing are well known to me- I spent most of my life out there as well. In fact, I was told I was born at see. The crashing of waves against wood was the lullabies I used to sleep to as a child." With that said, she decided she might as well take a chance and ask the question flitting through her mind. "Why would you chose to come here of all places? The Dwemer certainly haven't made the seafaring life easy."

“Ah, so you do understand.” Zaveed smiled pleasantly, appraising Sirine thoughtfully. “And intoxicated, certainly not, except for perhaps blood loss. On the upside, less blood means it will take less wine for me to be put into an agreeable temperament.” he grinned before shaking his head at her further inquiry. “It is a long tale that I’d rather not get into with a stranger, as lovely and generous as they may be. Suffice to say, I lost everything in a storm, was not familiar with the seas and hit a hidden reef that stranded me here under the Dwemer’s all too thoughtful care. There are worse places to end up, to be fair, and certainly with worse company than what I am enjoying at the moment.”

Sirine allowed herself a chuckle and nodded in response to Zaveed. "That's fair," she agreed before continuing with a smirk, "it's good to see you haven't lost so much blood that your wits have left you as well." She looked ahead at the path, shading her eyes a little as the sunlight streamed between the roofs of the buildings lining the street. "And I suppose it's fair to say there are worse places than Gilane." She didn't hate the place, in fact she quite liked her father's home. It was the others who made it their home that caused her to flee. Until now.

"Over there," she called out, quickening her step as she pointed ahead at a medium sized building that stood a little apart from the rest. "Have you been here before?"

He looked over to the building, forgetting the name of it as he tried to remember. “Can’t say it was one of my usual spots, but I think I’ve been here before. Cheap drinks and crap food, as I recall.” he glanced over at Sirine. “I hope you aren’t the cook.”

It seemed like an out of the blue comment and it caught Sirine off guard; a spontaneous laugh left her before she could stop herself. "No, that isn't me, though I'll be sure to relay your message to the cook." She allowed herself to give him a wink before shaking her head. "This place is terrible and you'd be better off not eating here. Take it as sound advice- there is a reason I don't eat here, and you shouldn't be dancing so close to death having just evaded it."

She paused at the front door for a moment before shrugging and continuing onward to the side of the building instead. "No need to head through the tavern itself," she muttered. She actually didn't want to be seen by the owner, knowing he would most probably see this as a chance to work her overtime, but there was no need to mention that to Zaveed. The side door wasn't too far away, set one step high in the wall, clearly having seen better days. Reaching in her pocket, Sirine pulled out a single key and unlocked the door after a few tries. A slight frown creased her forehead as she mentally cursed Jamir, the owner, for not actually fixing things he said he would; the moment passed and she nudged the door open with her boot.

"In here." She stepped up and inside before moving to the side for the khajiit. The scent of alcohol, perfume and sweat permeated the dank hallway that lead further into the building. A door to the right would lead to what was considered the baths. "I'm fairly certain most are still resting after a busy night, so you shouldn't have any interruptions. I'll find you something to wear- you continue through that door there." She pointed it out for his convenience.

Smiling and offering a bow, Zaveed took Sirine’s hand and kissed it gently on her knuckles. “You have my thanks.” he said, walking down to the baths, a series of somewhat dirty stone basins that were by a large cauldron of heated water. Using a bucket to fill one of the tubs and draw the curtains, Zaveed disrobed and neatly folded his tattered clothing and armour in separate piles, while keeping his weapons close to him, pistol on a shelf just above where his head would be. Finding bland smelling soaps and oils, he climbed in and felt the warm water relieve his brutalized body, letting out an almost inaudible gasp as the hot water burned his sores, but quickly faded as he relaxed.

Sirine blinked a little before nodding in response to the khajiit's thanks. Clearly a charmer, she was sure his words and actions had worked on many women before. Perhaps even she would have been caught if she were younger. Right now though, she simply allowed herself a silent laugh as she headed for the sleeping quarters instead. Ignoring the door that lead to her shared room, she continued further until she came to the last door in the hallway. Pursing her lips momentarily, she pushed it open the slightest bit and peeked inside.

Sleeping inside with no care in the world and one of his barmaids by his side was the owner. Sirine couldn't keep from making a face- he was the last person she would want to lay with- but she was happy to see he was there and clearly spent; at least that meant she wouldn't have to worry about anyone else sneaking into the room. Keeping her footsteps light, she made her way to his dresser and carefully pulled at the top drawer. It was locked. Sirine kept that in mind for the future before pulling at the second one; this slid open easily enough, revealing quite a few pairs of clothing. She grabbed the top pair and hastily crept back out of the room.

Once outside, she looked over her plundered goods. In hindsight, it might have been better to pick something that was a little plainer- the tunic was a rusty orange and the trousers that accompanied it were a light beige- but Sirine refused to return to that room. Zaveed would have to make do with these, and she dared say he'd probably look better in them than their current owner. Without any further delay, the Imperial Redguard headed to the baths.

Cautiously she peeked inside; when she saw the curtains were drawn she stepped inside, clearing her throat. "I have clothes for you, I'll leave them out here."

The Khajiit smiled gesturing for her to leave them next to his current clothing. “I appreciate it.” he said sincerely, not at all abashed at his indecent exposure. He ran some water over his face and over his mane, appreciating the cleansing water. He leaned back against the curvature of the tub, his arms draped over the side. “You’ve been far kinder to me than you’ve had any right to. After recent experiences, it’s… unexpected, but pleasant. Tell me, Sirine, how do you feel about the occupation, the Dwemer?” he asked conversationally, rubbing the grime out of his hands.

"What, are you telling me that I did something no other kind soul would have?" Sirine let a hint of sarcasm sound in her voice, though she followed it almost immediately with a smile, setting the clothes down next to where his old ones were, though she did make sure the area she set them was relatively dry and clean. And then, even if it was merely for a second, she visibly stiffened at the question thrown her way. To be fair, she had been the one to bring up the subject earlier so she couldn't fault him, but it wasn't something she had expected to be asked.

"Well, it hasn't been easy," she started, forcing her mind to remain focused and not veer in an emotional direction. She had helped him, yes, but that hardly meant she trusted the fellow. "People have been living here in freedom for many years. To suddenly find oneself restricted by people who by all rights are supposed to be dead is quite a lot to swallow." And even as she said that, she knew that wasn't even the reason she hated them. The dwemer could live wherever they wished for all she cared- the sea gave her all the freedom she needed. At least… until they took him.

“And you?” she decided to ask, head tilted to the side in a show of exaggerated curiosity. "It's only fair that I receive an answer as well."

Zaveed stared up at the ceiling above. “In my effects, you’ll find a badge belonging to the Ministry of Order. I am one of the Dwemer’s foreign field agents charged with keeping this peace they are imposing. From your hesitation to tell me, you know the consequences of saying the wrong thing to the wrong people, but fret not; you’ve nothing to fear from me. I was forced into this position by the same elves to gave me the rather fetching choice of serving them or dying in a fighting pit. I hunt down terrorists for them, and recently, that’s become a rather complicated endeavor for me.” He looked down at her, his face a mask. “And to answer your question, no, very few people I’ve met in my life have done for me what you have, as simple and obvious as it may seem. One of these terrorists… I’m alive because of her. I am uncertain how to proceed.” he admitted.

Her hand twitched. She wanted to stay calm and only habit was forcing her to keep a straight face. Inside her mind was another story, a turmoil as the rebellious side of her urged her to pull her dagger from its sheath and strike him down.

Stop. He's not the one. But her anger remained. She helped an ally of the dwemer.

Her eyes remained on the khajiit for a good moment. "Well, all that blood certainly makes sense now." She took a couple of steps closer to the tub, eyes narrowing as she closed in on him. "I have nothing to fear from you, you say? I've heard that sort of lie many times so you'll have to forgive me if I don't immediately trust you're telling me the truth. Then again, I haven't been completely honest myself." She stopped by the side of the tub, grabbing the edge with both hands as she stared at Zaveed. "My thoughts on the dwemer? I hate them. They took someone from me, someone important, irreplaceable. The only thing I fear is that they won't pay for what I lost."

And then just as quickly she stepped back. What folly. She had let her emotions have the better of her after all. Calm yourself down. She took another step back, slowly breathing in and out, reminding herself that she was the one in control here. No one else

"I think it's clear to me how you should proceed." Her voice no longer held the heat from before. "You mentioned you were looking for someone important? That should be your focus."

“And it is. My sister, she’s missing somewhere in this city. She was a part of the Dominion envoy that was attacked, and I was trying to find her when I ran into… it doesn’t matter at this point.” Zaveed said, letting the woman process these emotions. He grabbed Sirine’s wrist, although not roughly. “I hate them too, you know. I’ve been forced into a life that has torn me in many directions, and my brother as well. Who did they take from you? What would you do to pay them back?” he asked quietly.

Sirine looked at the hand on her wrist, her first instinct urging her to pull away, but she squashed that almost instantly. She had already broken her mask once today and she had no desire to show any more vulnerability.

A humorless laughed escaped her as she shook her head. "My brother. We would have left, at night, without a trace. Gilane was never a haven for us, it was always the sea." Another laugh left her. "The dwemer? I wouldn't have given a fuck about them, about the Dominion, about anyone. But they touched him..." Her voice trailed a moment and she shook her head. "If I knew what I could do, I would have done it already, Zaveed of Senchal. But-" She spread out her hands. "I am but a tavern girl who serves drinks and turns tricks."

“Do you know who did it? The ones responsible for taking your brother from you?” he asked, his eyes narrowing dangerously as he started at the Redguard woman. “The way you carry yourself, you are more than just a tavern girl, aren’t you?”

"How could I possibly know who took him?" Sirine shook her head. "If I did, then that would be so much simpler, wouldn't it? I wouldn't be in this conundrum. I would have simply taken care of those people myself." She was tempted to ignore his last question, but the look in his eyes was enough to tell her that was no longer a choice, not with all she had revealed. "At the moment, this is all I am. But you are right... before I was forced here, I had my own ship, my own crew." It was hard to keep the wistfulness from her voice. “I was what people would call a pirate.”

Zaveed rose from the tub, unperturbed or uncaring about his undress in the state of finer company, and he toweled himself off, the three nasty wounds on his chest and through his back very much visible. “I am Captain Greywake, privateer of the Aldmeri Dominion, and for over a month now I have been little more than a slave to the Dwemer. I have done what they asked of me, as brutal and unflinching be as it may, all with the hopes of being a free man once more, a king upon my ship and ruling the waves. I was one of the best, and most feared. I will do everything in my power to reclaim my glory.” he said, his posture more erect and his hand clenching in a defiant fist. “I have no love for the Deep Elves, I care for my brother and sister, my crew, and my freedom. Everything else can rot.” he said, slipping on the clean trousers, fastening the string closure.

“You are wasted in this place. You and I are both castaways on an Island ruled by despots, and you could do so much better. You help me find my sister, and I will find your brother if he yet lives. One day I will stand upon the deck once more, and fly my colours proudly, but until then, I must play the Dwemer's game. It is much easier to move on the inside than to be hunted by them, yes?” he asked, slipping the orange tunic over his head. He looked to the woman with appraising eyes. “I am not your enemy, and I owe you a debt of gratitude. I offer you the choice of standing at my side and taking fate into your own hands, or languishing in this place with a few extra coins for your troubles.” he said, reaching into his armour pocket and placing a stack of coins on the shelf- a week's wages for Sirine.

For a while after Sirine couldn't find the words to speak what was going through her mind, despite her extensive vocabulary. At first it was the surprise at seeing the man completely naked and uncaring of the fact- she hastily looked away when she realized she had been staring. Then there was his actual words, even more attractive than he was. What she wanted, no, what she needed had eluded her for so long with her having no idea how to find it, and right now it was being offered to her on a silver platter simply because she had chosen to help a downtrodden looking man find a bath and some clothes. It seemed almost too good to be true- her heart clenched as she wrestled the choices she had. Eyes catching sight of the gold on the shelf, she had only to think of her previous night. So much useless work for only a few coins, none of which would truly help her. It was obvious what she had to do, and not taking the chance would simply leave her in regret.

Taking a deep breath, she spoke up. "Well then, looks like I was the one who was caught in the net." She looked away from the shelf and back to Zaveed, taking in the sight of the khajiit in the clothes she'd stolen. It pleased her that she had been right- he did look better in them than Jamir. "I accept then. I'll help you find your sister, you help me find my brother."

“Magnificent, my dear.” He grinned, fastening his armour and weapons to his frame. Before long, he stood as defiantly as proud as ever. He picked up the stack of coins and held them out to Sirine. “This should help you reacquire your gear, weapons and tools of your trade, then. I require time to recover, but I shall use it to try and locate your brother. I'll need his name, description, and the date he was taken to get started. If you are willing to suffer such indignities of a few more nights working in this den, I will require you to keep an ear open about a Thalmor ambassador and a female Khajiit with a greatsword. Patrons have loose tongues for gossip, and half the reason I come to shitholes like this is intelligence. When I come back in a few nights time, you will never have to step foot in this place again. Is this agreeable?”

Having carefully stown away the coins in the inner pockets of her rucksack, Sirine looked back to Zaveed as she readjusted it on her shoulder, giving him a nod. "It's agreeable," she replied, managing to return a smile that was more or less sincere. "A few more days here is better than a month or a lifetime. As for my brother, his name is Bakih. Bakih Al Nahel. He doesn't look a thing like me though. Around your height, light brown eyes. His hair is distinctive, almost a reddish brown I would say." From the way she described him, it seemed as if none of the family's Redguard genes had ended up in him.

A sound in the distance caught her ear and she realized it was probably best to conclude this meeting of chance quickly. "Probably best you leave now," she suggested. "I'd rather our partnership not be immediately sullied by my boss realizing I stole his clothes for you." She motioned towards the exit silently before heading out herself.

The Khajiit chuckled, tapping the axes on his hips as he stepped out the door behind her. “Oh, don’t worry about him. I have a particular way of winning people over, my dear.” he said, stepping closer to the Redguard woman and stroking her cheek with the back of his fingers. “I will have answers for you, I promise. You’ve shown me great kindness, Beautiful Sirine, I will not forget it.”

Stepping away and yawning loudly, he took off back into the Gilane streets, humming a pleasant tune. His limp seemed to have disappeared as he strode with purpose away from the tavern and into the crowds.
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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by LadyTabris
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LadyTabris kaiserin

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5th of Midyear, Gilane

The populace was unhappy with Dwemer rule. They were foreign invaders. The idea stuck with her.

Anifaire watched Gilane through a bubble. From her bench, she saw shopkeep-customer interactions; she saw mothers and children; she saw tired workers returning home before curfew, when she would return inside as well. She watched as a guard patrol travelled through the streets and thought nothing of it. She sat atop her bench and observed the surroundings, watching and passing judgements. Yes, Gilane was lovely. Yes, the Dwemer were there, in the flesh and fascinating.

Questions never came to mind. Sitting day to day, she feared heading into the city, thinking she would get lost or some other misfortune would befall her, like in the Imperial City. From the safety of her bench, she observed the world, wondering what it was like to be part of it.

It was like the way she observed the rest of the group, wondering what it was like to be part of it. Because she wasn’t. Not really. She tagged along, she made trouble, she got in the way. She bothered Alim. Her skills didn’t help. She was afraid of every encounter. She was afraid of each risk.

Anifaire immediately stood up, hesitating in front of the bench, hovering before she took another step. She would get lost if she left. She would run into guards, thieves, or otherwise no-good folks. She knew it. She knew she couldn’t handle it. She knew so much as being in a city on her own was beyond her capabilities. She deflated, her face falling, knees bending, as she dropped back into the bench in defeat. Her hands twitched, folding the trim of her shirt this way and that.

She wondered what it would be like to be like the others. They knew their strengths. They knew how to live in this world, while she didn’t know how to survive in any world save her parent’s manor. She berated herself. Pathetic. She wondered what it would feel like to be like Alim. He knew cities, familiar and not, he knew how to travel through them, he knew how to deal with a fight. And he wouldn’t consider her anything other than something to look out for. Or what it would be like to be Nanine. She was a mage, like Anifaire, but she knew useful things, like fighting. She was confident; she pursues her curiosities. She wasn’t a burden. Brynja - Brynja was strong and certain in her convictions. Anifaire wondered what she herself had.

It was pathetic, she thought, that she couldn’t so much as wander around a city while everyone else could fight Falmer and pick locks and scale walls undetected and conjure ice and fire and swing swords and axes.

She huffed. Standing up from the bench one more time, she didn’t let herself second guess. She set off, walking down the street without a destination, determined to see other parts of the city she hadn’t before.

Anifaire tried to keep track of landmarks as she walked, a signpost here, a shop’s sign there, hoping she would be able to find her way back. She didn’t travel too many streets away, fearing the worst.

It was more difficult to watch people’s interactions when she was one of them. The experience was completely different. Instead of watching as other made purchases and brushed past each other in crowds, she herself walked among them.

“Oh, I’m sorry, dear,” an elderly Redguard lady said as she bumped into Anifaire on her way out of a shop.

“Watch where you’re going!” an irritable young Dwemer snapped when she made the same mistake to him.

“Anything in particular you’re lookin’ for?” a shopkeeper asked her as she browsed his wares - fine fabrics, specifically. She had a fondness for soft clothes, and was delighted to look, even if she didn’t have the coin or a reason to purchase such luxuries.

Some people were friendly to her, and a few were irritable. The city wasn’t unlike her experiences in Alinor or the Imperial City, but being alone had her trembling with nervousness when she first set out to see more sights. By the time she reached the end of the street of shops she was looking for, perhaps one street away from the Three Crowns, she realized her fear had faded, replaced with something new: a simple fascination with life.

This time, Anifaire recognized the nearby landmark she had planned to stick near with ease. The Altmer traveled back towards the inn, as it was nearing dinnertime.

As she entered the Three Crowns and sat herself down to eat, she wondered what it would be like to experience something truly exciting. If a bit of window shopping was as interesting an experience as it had been, she considered what it might be like to explore an old ruin or to travel along the sea, to find strange landmarks and meet odd people.

The waitress set the plate of food down in front of Anifaire, a glass of wine accompanying it, and as she went to eat, she reflexively picked up her fork in a careful fashion. She stopped before eating, remembering what Daro’Vasora had said at the party, and her recent thoughts of adventure. She placed the fork back on the table, intending to pick up the drumstick with her hand, as she’d seen many people do. But, she couldn’t do it. After a bit of consternation, she lifted the fork and knife and began eating in a polite, delicate manner.

After all, Anifaire just wasn’t the type of girl who had adventures. She wasn’t the type who traveled, or ate with her hands, or spoke with new people, or fought with skill and precision. No, Anifaire ate with a fork and knife, precisely, and drank her one, small glass of red wine, and she couldn’t be anything else, she thought. But even as she ate, a part of her recalled the sense of excitement she had felt at exploring a new street with new shops and people, unlike Alinor, unlike the Imperial City, and wondered how she could be that girl instead.
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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Greenie
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Greenie Follow the Strange Trails

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A Day in the Life of Sirine Al Nahel

12th of Midyear, Early Morning, Scorpion's Song aka That Crappy Tavern

The sun wouldn't rise for an hour yet, but the same couldn't be said for Sirine. As they had for years at dawn, her eyes fluttered open and she found herself staring up at a very dimly lit ceiling. The candles she had lit before coming to bed were nearly melted out, letting out just enough light that she could make out the figure of a large man sleeping next to her. What was his name? Asher? Asif? Asfahan? It didn't really matter as long as she knew it when he wanted her to. But that was the previous night and this was overtime, something she didn't care for, especially if she wasn't going to be paid for it. With a barely hidden grimace, she slipped away from his grasp and let herself slide to the floor. Once she was sure he was still very sound asleep, she stood up and reached for one of the candleholders to light her way.

It wasn't hard to locate her clothes, and once she did, Sirine noiseless made her way out of the room and headed for the baths, wanting very much to wash off any remaining trace of the man she had lain with. All false smiles had left her face even before they had slept away, and for now the only expression on Sirine's face was one of passivity. Lighting a few candles for light and filling one of the bathtubs with steaming hot water, she eased herself in; after an initial gasp at the heat of the water, she let herself slip in further, enjoying the searing feeling. It was almost cleansing in a way.

After a little while, she reached to her neck, pulling at a small chain newly bought just the day before. That wasn't what caught her attention, though. She let her fingers slip over it until finally taking hold of a small golden disc, a septim with a hole pierced at the top through which the thin chain passed. Opening her eyes, Sirine gazed at the coin, flipping it from one side to the other, contemplating why exactly she had gone through the effort of intimidating that poor blacksmith to render the septim useless...

"Why?" he argued, clearly perturbed by her intentions for it. "It's a waste of a good coin!"

"Maybe, but it's my septim and I will do with it as I wish." Sirine pulled out another septim from her money pouch and slapped it on the blacksmith's working table. "I'm paying you for this. Now get to work otherwise I will take my business elsewhere."

It was unclear whether the other gold coin had spurred the man or the menacing look in the former pirate's eyes, but the deed had been done, and to the man's surprise he had found himself with another coin for the purchase of a chain.

Why was clearly on her mind as well. She sunk lower in the bath, dark locks floating in the water as she continued staring at the coin. It was the first one he'd given to her. Why had she chosen that one? Or any at all for that matter? Her forehead creased as she tried to come up with a reason that wasn't sentimental drivel, but alas, for the time being, such reasons were evading her.

"You better do as you said," she muttered as she sat back up, slightly annoyed with herself. "Or else I'll find your hide and make sure you do."

Soon enough she was bathed and dressed and frankly ready to leave the tavern, if only for a few hours. She made a small detour to her room to grab her bottle filled with water along with her rucksack, and once both were secured she slipped out of her room first and then the tavern. Once again her destination was the docks. By now the sun had risen, still dark but lightening as it rose higher and higher. By the time the Imperial Redguard reached the her lovely pile of nets, there was sufficient light that a person could walk easily without the need of any lantern. The blood spatters that had been there had been cleaned up by her when she’d had the chance, though there were still faint marks remaining. Sirine didn't particularly mind. Blood was part and parcel with the line of life she had chosen, she'd simply cleaned it because she liked tidiness.

Taking a gulp of water from the bottle, she then set it to the side and pulled out a roll of paper from her sack and spread it open on her lap. This was followed by removing a quill and an inkpot, and it wasn't long before Sirine was busy writing more intel she had gathered during the night. The fight night had been rather sparse with anything useful, though there was the mention of a fight taking place in the streets of Gilane that Sirine thought interesting enough to write down. The previous night however Sirine had managed to pick up something from one of the night's patrons, an old Breton seadog.

"The Sand an' Pearl," he hiccuped, wiping sloppily at his mouth as he set his tankard down. "Sittin' there are fancy-like. Tol' me t'get m'arse outta there 'fore he stuck a sword in me."

Sirine was actually familiar with that inn. It was someplace that relatively wealthier folk headed to, including her brothers and herself when she still travelled with them. It hadn't been odd then to see mer there, so she wasn't surprised to hear that the old Breton had seen an Altmer there... rather she was a little surprised someone like her current customer managed to sneak his way in.

Nodding to herself as she finished her writing, she carefully put her quill and inkpot away and then leaned back, waiting for the ink on the paper to dry. She watched the now bright blue sky, enjoying the sun as she listened to the waves. It felt as if it had been years since she had been out at sea. Every day at the Scorpion's Song felt as if she was being drained away, losing herself and the person she had become. Until two days ago.

Her eyes opened; she lifted the coin, watching it glint as sunlight hit against it. Focus. Purpose. Direction. That was what she had now. She would help find his sister, and in return...

"Just wait a little longer, Bakih." Her hand closed around the septim tightly, eyes narrowing. "We'll find you."

It was about noon when she finally returned to tavern, having bought some fruit for herself. While she did have the gold Zaveed had given her, she had decided to use it only in regards to important affairs and not for menial things like food and drink. For the moment the money she was using was what she made as a barmaid, which now that she thought about it really wasn't all that much in the grand scheme of things. Had she really been fooling herself thinking she could make enough money here to be able to... what?

Nothing. There had been nothing in her mind when she had come here aside from staying someplace inconspicuous and earning gold. And somehow, the solution to finding her brother would magically appear before her. She had never been that kind of person, one who relied on fate or coincidence or the help of others to further herself in life. The dwemer it seemed had changed all that, broken her so that she had no choice but to rely on a stranger with a handsome face and silver tongue.

Oh how she had fallen. The piece of apple she was chewing on seemed to have lost all of its former sweet taste, though she forced herself to swallow it; she would finish the whole damn fruit. Another bite, more chewing, and then it began- the stinging in her eyes. She could feel it all coming back to her, the grief, the anger, the helplessness-

No. Stop it. If she continued down this current direction of thinking, she would end up upset and incapable of doing anything, and this was something she refused to tolerate. She needed something to distract her, something to focus on…

As she passed through the hallway, she remember there was something she’d had planned which would certainly keep her silly emotions at bay. Glancing in the general direction of the tavern, hidden behind walls, she could hear chatter and laughter, and if she listened even more carefully, there was the sound of Jamir, probably sucking up to one patron or the other. Out of habit, she didn’t expect him to return to his room any time soon. Maybe it was folly, but it seemed she had been doing many foolish things lately. As long as she didn’t jeopardize her partnership, it wouldn’t really matter, right?

With her apple now finished with earnest bites and the core tossed away, Sirine quickly made her way to the owner’s bedroom, pushing open the door. Inside was the same as usual, a messy bed, clothes tossed about on the floor. Clearly no one had cleaned up, and she didn’t think anyone was planning to any time soon. Giving the hallway one last glance and making sure it was empty, she walked over to the dresser and pulled at the top drawer. Locked once again, but that was to be expected. Now where could a key be? Knowing her boss, she didn’t think he would actually put it someplace too complicated and hard to find on account of he himself forgetting where it was. Turning away from the dresser, she looked to his bedside tables. Maybe in there? Whatever key fit would be small judging from the keyhole.

The first table had nothing in its drawer aside from dust and a couple of empty bottles of mead… and was that a little spider in the corner? She didn’t waste time to find out, pushing the drawer back before heading to the other side of the bed to check that table-

Laughter could be heard clearly as a door leading from the tavern to the hallway was open. She knew who that belonged to instantly, and judging by the footsteps, there was more than one person. Damn. He was coming back to the room, completely out of habit. Did one of the other barmaid’s look particularly appealing today? Never mind that. She needed to hide, or else the only other way to get out of the current situation would be seducing the man, the thought of which made her want to throw up a little.

As the steps came closer, Sirine dropped to the floor and quickly crawled under the bed, grateful that it was larger than the cots she and the other girls were given. Spared from being seen, she was unfortunately not spared from the sounds that accompanied the tryst taking place above her head. Flat on her stomach and pretty much covered in dust all over, she put a hand over her mouth, very worried she might end up coughing or sneezing. Don’t. You’ll regret it if you do.

It was a tedious affair, simply waiting for the two on top to hurry it up. She was quite sure it would barely take a few minutes, but this was a rather uncomfortable position she found herself in. The most she could do was simply cover the lower half of her face in her arm and wait… Her eyes narrowed a little as she heard something clink against the floor from the shaking bed. Reaching out with her hand, she felt about until she finally touched something metal. It took only a little more feeling to realize she had found what she was looking for. So he kept it hidden under here… For a man who was normally a little careless, it was not as obvious a place as she would have expected, which begged the question: what was hidden in that drawer?

After what seemed like hours but was probably no more than a few minutes, Jamir and his current chosen were finally finished with their shenanigans, and it wasn’t long before they finally left the room. Sirine knew very well why any of the girls would want to spend extra time with him- more gold was more gold after all. Well, that wasn’t her problem at the moment. Waiting until she could no longer hear footsteps, Sirine grabbed the small key and wriggled her way out from beneath the bed, quickly standing up once she was in the clear. One look at herself and her shoulders slumped- she was going to have to bathe and change into something new.

But first… glancing in the direction of the door, she quickly headed back to the dresser. The drawer unlocked like a breeze and she finally pulled it open. Inside was gold, quite a bit of it in fact, enough for her to wonder why in Oblivion the Scorpion’s Song was such a detestable place as well as why his employees were paid so little. Along with a few other useless trinkets, she saw a couple of rolls of paper. Curiosity got the better of her and she pulled one open. Her eyes flitted over the page as her lips twisted into a dry smile. She reached for the second roll as well and was greeted with more of the same.

So not only are you a rat, but a snitching rat as well. I can’t say I’m surprised. Jamir was exactly the sort who would pretend to sympathize and support insurgents while giving names to the dwemer if only to keep his own hide intact. It was pathetic. For a moment she thought of simply leaving her findings, but then she folded both papers and hid them in her tunic. Who knew when random bits of knowledge could come in handy? Perhaps Zaveed could make something of it.

Night showed itself much more quickly than Sirine would have wanted. Having bathed, changed and eaten some more of the fruit she had bought, she had been busy copying down the names from Jamir’s list into her own notes as she’d rather read her own handwriting than his. She barely finished before it was time for her shift. Putting her things away safely, she left her shared room with a sigh of resignation, ready for yet another night of playing pretend with drunken men and the occasional women. False smiles and even falser words were no big feat, and it wasn’t long before the Imperial Redguard found herself lead away.

Her mind wandered, slipping into a world of its own, leaving behind the man, the room, the tavern. There it was… her home. Salt water and crashing waves, the sound of open sails flapping in the wind. Bakih’s eager voice and smile, always ready to learn. Calum with his serious talks, someone she could trust. Samer with his often lewd jokes that caused her to snicker along with him. Peaceful times before she realized the world wasn’t the land of wonders she had believed it to be. If she reached out, she could almost feel the spray of water as it hit against the side of their ship…

And just like that... it was all gone. Her customer left the bed to get dressed and Sirine turned to her side, hand wrapped around her coin as she gazed at the wall, looking for someone who wasn’t there.

Soon… soon.
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Hidden 7 mos ago 7 mos ago Post by DearTrickster
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Log it!

Mid morning, 6th of Midyear, 4E208
Gilane Coast, Hammerfell
@LadyTabris & @DearTrickster

The sun shone through a few clouds, rolling in off the coast were dark clouds but they were thankfully hours away at the very least. The waves lapped against the coast, no more energetic than what they usually saw. It was peaceful, the illusion and mask of peace was held even to the likes of a labelled pair of terrorists like the alteration mages that stood at the cliff wayside.

Much to Judena’s surprise, Anifaire approached her, always knowing the shy altmer mage to be kindly and polite. Rarely did she ever approach the Argonian for much of anything, it was not a matter of dislike but Judena fairly believed there was a level of discomfort underlying their relations. Jude felt she could never say as to why but Altmer prejudice was not far from her thoughts.

“This seems to be a reasonable space, nobody around,” Judena announced, it was a reasonable space to do what Anifaire asked.

Magicka lessons!

“I am truly quite surprised when you approached me, my dear.” Honest as per usual, “It pleases me greatly that you would ask for lessons! It is a wonderful honour to teach and mentor. It is not very often when someone will ask.” She grinned happily, scaly lips pressed a low hum.

Clapping her hands decisively, “Now. You are going to perform what you can do and I will decide what we can work on from there. Show me your most powerful spell.”

Anifaire, nervous after having asked the Argonian for help, but knowing she had skill in Alteration, was warmed by her words. After experiencing the mission in past days, she thought there must be some way she can better help the group she found herself with but didn’t feel her spells were practical. She considered what she has in her skillset.

“Well,” she paused. She didn’t think a demonstration would be polite. “I can paralyze. Or- breathe underwater!” But demonstrating that would entail a dip in the sea. She raised her hand and through telekinesis, raised a nearby rock into the air, about the size of a fist. “Or move things.”

Judena observed the rock and her telekinesis. “All very useful spells, excellent choice. Telekinesis, in particular, is an advanced spell, so - bravo! We can work on improving each of those spells, practical and consistent use will see your skills increase. That I can promise, Anifaire.” She said warmly. “Do you know any mage armour spells, something to protect your person directly. I simply cannot remember all the times a hardy armour has saved my life from falling debris, accidents or unavoidable combat.”

She demonstrated in the palm of her hand the blue diamond crystalline spell of Ironskin.

Anifaire watched in surprise as Judena channelled her magic. She shook her head. “No, I don’t know anything like that. It sounds useful.” Now that I don’t spend all my time behind a desk, she finished in her head. She never would have thought to learn something like that before.

“This is the perfect opportunity to learn then. Anifaire I say this next not to scare you nor to make you uncomfortable.” Judena said releasing the spell and the diamond disappeared in a blink. “You and I have been a part of this group for a long time now and to each new place we move onto the danger seems to increase. Now more than ever do we need to take time to learn how to defend not only ourselves but be prepared to defend each other. Alternation has always been seen… as a lesser school of magic compared to the likes of Destruction or Restoration.”

Judena certainly did not see it that way even when her magicka had always been applied in a more utility sense before offensive. It wasn’t in her nature to seek out ways to use it offensively but it was becoming clear creativity would be needed to protect themselves.

“Which is simply untrue, would you not agree? There is a great spectrum of use to be found in Alteration, we have the ability to change reality to how we see fit. Whether that is removing centuries worth of rust or being able to breathe water without gills.” Judena said. “I hope to inspire not only faith in our chosen school of magic but in your own abilities.”

Anifaire was surprised at Judena’s words. In the past, her mother had always seemed disappointed that her aptitude lied with such a useless school of magic, and how hard she struggled to learn others. The way of thinking had stuck with her.

“Do you really think it’s useful?” Anifaire asked quietly, urging the words out before considering them. Her words betrayed her insecurity; she cast her eyes downward, hands fidgeting with the fabric of her flowy, Redguard-style pants. “I didn’t really choose it. I’m not very good at anything else.”

Jude noticed the slight shift in Anifaire’s body language, the disbelief in her words. Judena stepped up to Anifaire, behind the kind and polite Mer was a young woman lacking in confidence. Alteration may not have been her chosen field but the elder Argonian felt a swell of determination in her belly. “I truly think so!”

“Anifaire you have a very long life ahead of you and so you have that much more time to decide and learn new things. There is no race.” Jude replied sincerity ringing through and true. “I sometimes can only dream of returning to my days of a student where each new lesson was an adventure when I was able to absorb new things like that of a coastal sea sponge.” She sighed through her nose, nostalgia nearly overtaking her.

“I believe in you, my dear.” Bright gold reptilian eyes met the golden hue of Anifaire’s. “Let us get to lifting larger and heavier objects with your mind, you never know when some debris will block your path or a rock will fall onto your companion’s leg trapping them. A well placed mammoth bone to distract your assailant or gently lift an ancient piece of pottery. You simply must open your mind to opportunity, your environment is yours to discover.”

Standing at her side Judena peered across the cliffside seeing an abandoned large piece of driftwood hanging over near precariously close to the edge. “There, that is perfect. Much larger than a pebble but not as large as a full tree.”

“I want you to use your magicka to lift that a few inches above the ground. You can try as much as you like, take a breath to center yourself if you need to. But-”

She raised a clawed finger, “You must concentrate. Focus. Use the sound of the lapping waves, the salty sea breeze.”

Such words of comfort took Anifaire completely by surprise. They were kinder and more honest words than she had ever heard from an instructor growing up. Even her mother’s teaching had been strict and professional, disappointed each time Anifaire didn’t learn as quickly as her siblings or the other children. The Argonian spoke with a kindness and an intelligence that had surprised her each time since meeting her, though this was perhaps the most shocking time. Judena was confident in her abilities; she didn’t spend her time doubting if she would be of help to the group. She chose Alteration on her own. Anifaire decided to focus on learning what she could in this time.

The sounds of the waves reminded Anifaire of home. Her favourite memories were of time spent by the sea. Instead of losing herself in them, she focused her attention on the driftwood log. It didn’t look difficult to move. She could do this much, she resolved. The branch twitched, one end lifting an inch off the ground hesitantly before she reoriented herself and decisively pulled the log into the air by about two feet. Concentrating, she began twisting it about, raising it a bit higher, trying to flip it in different directions with precision. Her results were adequate.

“Excellent! Good job. Now, do not drop it instead, I want you to propel it straight up into the air. Work against gravity. Give it a mental ‘kick’. When it comes back down, you are to catch it.” Judena instructed. “If you do not succeed on the first time we will keep trying. There is much to learn in mistakes as there are in success. Remember that.” She spoke clearly, eyes on the driftwood.

Anifaire was surprised at the physical aspect of training, but she decided not to comment. It was different in every aspect to how she’d learned growing up, from the teacher to the lessons, but it was what she had signed up for, and perhaps, it would make her useful.

Nervous, she hefted the log into the air, and it went. Farther than expected. Soaring up, the log spun, and Anifaire squeaked, stepping out of the way instead of attempting to catch it.

Judena quickly employed her own telekinesis to stop the log dead in its tracks, stopping it a few feet before it hit the ground. “That was close!” Judena laughed heartily. “That was a strong ‘kick’ if I had ever seen one, wonderful! Let us try again.”

She smiled guiding the log back to the ground. “You are ready to go yes? Or do you need a quick break to catch your breath?” She patted at her chest.

“I’m ready,” Anifaire decided. She took a step away from the log, focusing instead on slowing the toss down. This time, she threw it up gently, barely gaining any air above her arms, but it flicked up into her arms and she fumbled to catch it, nearly dropping it. She stood victorious with the log in her arms, disappointed she hadn’t given it a better throw. She sighed.

Judena blinked tapping her chin in thought moving around the log and gently tapping the side of her head, “Oh! I do apologize Anifaire. I meant for you to catch it with telekinesis. But! You showed impressive control, you slowed the trajectory and made it safer for you to catch. Well done, well done!” She said happily patting her student on the back.

“I… oh,” Anifaire muttered. Pink lit up her cheeks and she tossed the log to the ground. She ran her hand through her hair, turning back to the log. She’d misunderstood entirely. “I think I can do that,” she said, on the bright side.

The log zipped into the air again. If she wasn’t to catch it with her hands, she could put more of a spin on it. Jerkily, she tossed the log up again. It tumbled down towards the ground in front of her, slowing a bit late, but stopping about a foot from the ground.

“Good, try again. We are going to keep tossing it and catching it. Until you can catch it right in its tracks.” Spreading a hand out before them, “Consistency and practice!”

And again, Anifaire practiced. Guided each time as she tossed the poor, an abused bit of driftwood high into the air, occasionally missing, improving her reaction speed with each throw. Her magicka reservoir was impressively large, Judena knew she personally would have needed a break earlier.

Anifaire finally let the roughly beaten branch drop to the ground. Her magical reserves were low, but not depleted, though she couldn’t remember depleting them in their entirety since some more reckless things she had done when first learning magic.

Without thinking about it, she turned to Judena with an open, hopeful expression, looking for feedback on her progress. Her respect for the Argonian’s wisdom and skill had grown throughout the morning, to her surprise, as she had never expected a lizard to show such a disposition. Judena smiled proudly, pleased with the improvement.

The branch came slowly to the ground with a bare minimum of guidance from Judena’s hand and she nodded with affirmation. “Time for a break I think, give your mind a moment to catch up and breathe. It is essential to know your limits. You never want to lose consciousness when performing high profile spells such as these.”

She said and let out a small laugh, “I am sure you were taught as much. I would like a moment to write down what we have gone over.” She tracked over to her small pack then beckoned the Altmer to join her by the cliffside to sit and eat, gently laying out a cloth bound of some bread and cheese she had sliced earlier along with a skin of water. Judena removed her logbook and began to diligently note what they worked on and the results. She spoke while she wrote, multitasking. “Your reaction timing has improved even after the short while we have been practicing. Aiming for these spells to come to as a second nature, an…”

Judena thought, searching for the correct word - translating what she knew what it was in Jel. “Extension of self. As natural as it is to blink without a thought.”

Anifaire sat, feeling a comfortable tiredness in her limbs as she relaxed on the blanket. The practice had given her an appetite that says of travel in Cyrodiil could have contended with, and she readily ate the bread picnic. She listened intently as Judena spoke, feeling an unfamiliar warmth of satisfaction with herself inside. Patiently, she waited, eating several slices of bread before stopping herself in case the Argonian would like some as well. She wondered if Argonians ate bread. Did they eat bugs?

Judena instead pulled free a jar of pickled slices of fish.

“With your increased reflex and timing, your ‘grip’ upon the object has increased as well. You are fast to learn and have a large reservoir of magicka. Mental stamina, as it were. I feel like with more practice you will see visible improvement, Anifaire.” Judena said spearing a slice of fish and eating it vigorously. Beaming she continued to write her notes, “We will work on more than just telekinesis, we will work on paralyze and water breathing! Perhaps you can teach me in turn how to use those spells. Breathing underwater is a natural talent for my people.”

She gestured to the sea, “I quite like diving and swimming. Feels the most natural place compared to landstriders. I take comfort in the dark depths of a lakebed or the ferocious speed of a rushing river. Strange as it may be.” Her writing slowed as she stared out across the horizon and bay. “I am glad you came to ask for help from me. Nothing inspires the mind as a student to share your experience with.”


“I always loved the water in Alinor. That’s why I wanted to learn that spell. I worked very hard on it when my mother taught me,” Anifaire said. “And thank you for helping me, Judena. I want to be more of use to the group.”

Judena nodded solemnly, “You will find your purpose, Anifaire.”

Jude bumped her elbow against Anifaire’s, “You have time.”

“That is true,” Anifaire replied. She had many years left in her life to figure out what she wanted. “Thank you.”
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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Dervish
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Dervish Let's get volatile

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Echos of the Soul

A Shaft and Dervs collab
10th Midyear 4E208, Late Evening, Former Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary…

It was quiet in the mausoleum-like sanctuary, the rest, relaxation, and training area of Kerztar’s secret police force and Zaveed sat by the hearth going through pages of prisoner interment reports, searching for Bakih Al Nahel and comparing matching names to the written description he’d recorded after parting ways with Sirine, looking for the least Redguard looking Redguard of them all, and finding out that Sirine’s mother was an Imperial. He stopped for a few moments, feeling a headache coming on and as he pinched the bridge of his nose, he noticed that his hand was shaking. Looking at his disdainfully, he set down the papers on the end table and grasped his hand, feeling ashamed and angry at he was too weak to kill off lingering pain and emotional damage like he had so many men. It wasn’t as if he could take an axe to his own heart; his own dagger had proven to make those matters so much worse.

He stopped, inhaling slowly throw his nose and out through his mouth a few times, trying to calm himself down. The high he’d experienced from surviving the unsurvivable had worn off, and he was becoming increasingly aware of the little things that were putting him on edge. The grinding of a sword, people practicing magic, long shaped shadows… he was ill at ease and found himself snapping at his compatriots for minor infractions and comments, specifically how shitty he looked to be doing.

“Well enough to open your entrails and feed them to Merrunz.” he’d snarled at one Bosmer, and the shattered glass near the walls of the room where he’d thrown glasses and bottles to get people to leave the common area were a sign of the tempest waiting within. He wasn’t in the mood to entertain, and he knew he wasn’t well; he needed to do his job, even if there was a toll he wasn’t quite seeing the scope of.

He went to drink from the bottle of wine he had next to him and discovered he’d already consumed the whole thing. He grunted, annoyed, shoving it away with his fingers. It would be another projectile should someone disturb him, he decided.

He was still wearing the orange tunic Sirine gave him, and he’d given his armour to the blacksmith and tailor to mend while the company alchemist had given him a routine of healing potions to finish mending his aching and broken body. Breathing was harder when he strained himself, he’d noticed, and it hurt to bend down. He opened the tunic at the chest and ran his fingers along the diagonal slash, frowning as he recalled the nightmarish thing bringing the axe down upon him. He didn’t even see Gregor’s sword enter his body, on account of it being behind him, but a reason he felt so irritable today was one of the mages practicing shock magic was making him tense and flinch with the cackling of the lightning-like discharge.

He opened one of his potions and he drank, not caring if it tasted like goat scrotum. It would help get rid of the bruising and swelling he still endured. He wanted to return to himself, who he was at his best. With any luck, Gregor died and wouldn't be shitting nightmares into alleyways ever again.

His blue eyes gazed into the flames, the yellow tongues of fire reminding him of Raelynn's golden hair. He was trying to reconcile what she'd done for him with what he did to her.

Afternoon of the 13th…

The ghost town. Sevari was perched atop the dune on his horse, looking down on the ghost town in which the Sanctuary was hidden. Why was it always a ghost town or some equally spooky shit the Dark Brotherhood had to have? He coughed up something from his still-healing lungs and spat it to the side, kicking his spurs into his horse’s flanks and letting her amble into the ghost town.

He knew he was close when the horse began to huff and pound the dirt beneath her hooves, shaking her head in protest. No horse wanted to go near the door to the Sanctuary. As he walked up to it with his own two feet, he could imagine why. Through the skeletal hallways of the decrepit building, he found it. A door made of material that seemed to be solidified from the darkest spaces between stars. As it sensed Sevari’s presence, it spoke, “To whom shall I open, if I open at all…?”

It was like a chorus of whispers right in his head, that part of it, he never got over. Why they couldn’t just tear the door down and replace it with a door and regular fucking locks was beyond him. He coughed up a gob of bloody mucus and spat at the door, “Fuck off.”

It immediately began to rattle and grate open across the sandstone it was set in. “Sevari…”

“Mhm.” He stepped through and soon he was in the common room. This felt… odd. Just not right. Thunderhead and Two-Shafts weren’t here sharing drinks, Forosien wasn’t talking anybody’s ears off. He scanned the room, the sophomoric decor doing nothing to his mood anymore. That Lucky Lady statue had been decorated- or desecrated depending on who is asked- by Forosien and Saffi. He took a seat at the bar, grabbing up a corked bottle of wine.

He bit into the cork and yanked it loose, spitting it off somewhere in the room before he drank deeply, four long gulps of it. He wiped his lips and chin off on the sleeve of his coat, watching the candle’s flame dance. He was alone, content with it. He wondered if Zaveed was here yet. He hoped he was. He was the only reason he came back to this place.

“Sevari?” a voice came from the entranceway. Zaveed was wearing a house robe that left his chest, and the massive scar, quite visible. He was walking more in his usual stride, but less deliberate and confidently. He walked around to where Sevari was sitting, his face pale and etched with concern.

“I'd heard what happened… Bright Moons you made it back. Are you hurt?” he asked, grabbing the back of a chair, supporting his weight. “I was worried I'd lost you.” he admitted quietly, his state unfocused as he gazed at his brother.

“I…” he said, lips working unsuccessfully at forming around the words, but they just couldn’t. He’d killed an innocent man in his own home for the crime of defending it from a stranger, from him. He’d chosen Zaveed over his blood brother in Al-Aqqiyah. It was hard. It was a choice he never wanted to make.

Over the years, the fact that he hadn’t seen Suffian in so long, over 15 years. Now Hammerfell, in Al-Aqqiyah. He glanced at his sleeve, swallowing and gulping down another mouthful of wine when he saw a bit of blood still on the edge of his sleeve. It was a choice he never wanted to make. But he did.

“I’m glad you’re still alive.” Sevari said, looking at Zaveed and remembering Gregor’s words. That the child he knew was nowhere to be found in the man before him now. Sevari looked Zaveed up and down, the scar, his aura. Just… different now. But those blue eyes, there was a glint of the same eyes the orphan boy in Senchal had. “How… how are you? What happened?”

He dusted off a seat next to him, gesturing to it, “Sit, sit.” He said, the first genuine smile he had in a while, “I missed you.”

Zaveed sat slowly, feeling like he weighed a ton. He stared into the flames that reminded him so much of the girl his heart yearned for. “I more or less died.” he smiled ruefully. “It didn't take, I got better. Sevari…” he looked over to his brother, his eyes distraught.

“Gregor nearly soul trapped me. I felt myself being torn from my body. It was like being raped, but you know that nothing but eternal torment and then nothingness awaits. He's a conjurer, a talented mage. I tried to find Marassa and found him instead, one of my quarry in our hunt. I nearly had him, he was no match for me. Then…”

Zaveed stared back into the fire, his companion for the past few nights that brought him calm. “He has monsters at his fingertips of the likes I’ve never seen. I saw the Dark Behind the World. I felt myself being pulled into that nightmare by the Bent Cats… my skin looked like theirs. Choking back a sob, he buried his face in his hands. “I shouldn't be alive.” he wheezed.

Lightning quick, he sent the candles hurtling into the wall in a clatter, standing and kicking his stool across the room. First Suffian and now this. He stood, shoulders heaving in rattling breaths, “I had him.” Sevari said, “I had him. He was right fucking there! I had him and I walked away from that necromancer bastard!

“Sevari.” Zaveed's cracked voice cut through the tomb like room. “That's enough. All the better he yet lives, it was Raelynn who saved my life.” the Cathay said, soaked eyes staring pleasingly at his brother. “A life for a life. The score is settled and I am alive. Do not burden your heart with vengeance. Let go.”

“So what?” Sevari said, “We’re only going to make more scores staying here. With the Dwemer. Everything I worked for is gone, now. There’s no more friends for me in the world after I did what I did in Al-Aqqiya, Zaveed. It’s just us. Just me.”

Sevari took another stool and set it down next to Zaveed, gulping down a mouthful of wine. He rubbed at his face, sighing, “I want to find Marassa.” He said, his voice low, “I want to just make sure she’s safe and then disappear. Retire in Stros M’kai. Even Yneslea or Esroniet, no more Penitus Oculatus, no more revenge, just live my days peacefully. Quietly.”

Zaveed stood, finding a white Alinor wine by the Lucky Lady statue with his gaze and walked over to it, plucking it up with care. “I have an asset working the tavern drunks for gossip about Marassa's whereabouts as we speak. In exchange, I am trying to find where they are detaining her brother. Seems I'm not the only one with a missing sibling.” he said, pulling the cork with a claw and setting it on the statue’s hand. He drank deeply before slumping against the dias.

“What did you do in Al-Aqqiya, brother? You look as haunted as I feel.” Zaveed asked, the bottle reaching his lips once more.

“He made me choose. Suffian, my blood brother. He made me choose between the mission, between revenge, and you.” Sevari shook his head and looked at his hands, “I never wanted that. To choose between my families. But I did. I’m wanted everywhere now.”

“I Killed him. I made the choice.” Sevari said, “I thought I’d never see him again and have to choose between you and him after all these years. I Killed him and held him as he died and I’m the last of my blood. He didn’t even look like I remember him. Vengeance changed him even more than it did me.”

Zaveed sighed, muttering quietly. “Damn it all.” he had no emotional connection to Sevari's biological family and he only knew of Suffian by name. The thought that Zaveed's existence caused that chaos and forced Sevari to choose left a bloodied knot in his gut. “You could have went with him. It's what you wanted, isn't it? Your blood family?” he shook his head, crossing the floor towards Sevari.

“You don't owe me anything. You barely know who I am anymore, either. Just a few damned weeks where we've barely talked to each other as family or friends. For what it's worth, it hurts to hear that you were forced to make that choice, that you lost everything you hoped to have back.” Zaveed drank again, setting it on the table. Not knowing what else to do, he wrapped his arms around Sevari in a tight embrace. “I’m sorry.

“You're all I have left in this world, you and Marassa. I know what vengeance can cost a man, and you never deserved to pay that price.” Zaveed said softly.

Sevari trembled under Zaveed’s embrace and his words. This was the first time in years that he had been shown something other than cold professionalism or anger. Even Suffian didn’t treat him like family after everything. He held back a choking sob and squeezed Zaveed’s arm. “We always have a choice.” He said, quietly, “Always. I was never close to my blood family, besides my mother and Suffian. My mother is dead and Suffian has become a man I barely could see the old him in.”

“If I don’t have you or Marassa, Zaveed.” He took a breath and whimpered out another sob he tried everything to hold back, “I have nothing left. I wasn’t lying to Marassa when I told her the price on my head meant death if I ever set foot in Dominion territory again. The money I gave you was so bloody I was relieved to be rid of it. An outlaw in three countries, a traitor of both the Dominion, Elsweyr, and now the Empire. And my own damn blood.

“Everything has crumbled in my hands.” He took Zaveed in an embrace, “This family is all I have to go to.”

“We don't have to worry about bloody coin any longer; the sea did an admirable job washing that clean. We have several decades of catching up to do. I'm not planning on going anywhere, even if Marassa chooses her duty and comfortable life over us. I’m at peace with that. Come, join me by the fire.” Zaveed said, pulling away from Sevari with a reassuring smile and a hand on his shoulder.

Zaveed grabbed his wine and sat down in his customary seat once more, propping his leg up on a box. He felt more like his usual self, albeit more sentimental and grateful for Sevari having finally coming around to the brother Zaveed had missed. “I always felt blood didn't mean shit when it came to family. You and I don't share a drop of blood, but you're no different in my eyes than Marassa. Hopefully mother choked to death on a cock, the whore.” he said, drinking back the bottle.

“It's strange, between the fear and the aches and the emotional tempest in my soul right now from my ordeal, I don't hate Gregor. It was him or me, and I underestimated him. I've become complacent in my older years.” Zaveed said with a terse smile. “I keep mulling over the past few weeks in my mind and heart, and I remember Raelynn most of all. She hates me with every fiber of her soul, but she saved me because she wanted to show me her compassion was something I could never take from her.” he held out his hand in front of him, the fire light leaking between turning fingers. “I nearly killed her lover and she still used much of her power to stabilize me, and she told me to leave her and her friends alone, that I live because of her. Do you think she was wrong to do this, after what I've done?”

Sevari thought in that for a minute. He wiped his eye as he looked at the fire, taking in the warmth it offered. His mind meandered back to his conversations with Zaveed. We all have a choice, he’d said. Choices. It seemed a constant in Sevari’s life, everyone’s life that there’s always those few hard choices that make life what it is. Once they’re made, you can never go back. He frowned, sighed, leaned forward in his seat and propped his elbows on his knees, “We all have a choice, don’t we?” He said, “I guess it’ll be your choice to make her wrong or right in doing what she did.”

The words stirred something in Zaveed's heart. His own words had always meant picking an outcome for yourself, right or wrong. He'd never considered that when choices involved other people, they had a say in what it meant… what it was worth. He thought about that night, the ferocity in her eyes as she drove his dagger into his heart, the look of horrified resignation when she realized she couldn't go through with it, the furious frustration that grew from sparing his life. He lived because despite how much she hated him, she wouldn't sink to his level.

He felt filthy, degenerate. How would he cope with this time he should never of had, this chance to earn the gift she gave him.

“Perhaps you are right. This is my chance to be better than I was, to pay it forward, as it were. But first, there is something I must do for my associate. It seems fair, a life for a life.” Zaveed mused, picking up the stack of prisoner portfolios he had taken out from processing, promising the cute clerk to bring them back and her something special for her willingness to turn a blind eye for an evening. “The thing is, Sevari… I don’t know what the right thing is anymore. I don’t know what it means to be whatever it was that she saw that was worth saving. It’s been eating at me, and I am no closer to an answer. I am still myself, that hasn’t changed, but how do I move past everything that’s come to define me like barnacles on the bottom of a ship?”

Sevari looked at his hands, “I’ve been chasing vengeance for 20 years, Zaveed. For half my life. Everything I did up until now has been for one goal.” He said, shaking his head, “The money I dropped in your lap was from years of robberies, smuggling drugs and artifacts, murder for money, extortion. I never stopped to ask myself if it was right. If that was what the people I was trying to avenge would want.”

“It isn’t so much throwing your sword away as much as it is what cause you pledge it to.” Sevari shrugged, “Men don’t become evil all at once. It’s a long, straight road down, until you stop to look back and it hurts your neck to crane it so high. Men change. I know it all too well.”

He shook his head, leaning back in his chair as he folded his hands in his lap. “I’ll never be the young boy who shared lamb with you and Marassa in Senchal.” His voice was low and forlorn, “But I can be the man who makes sure at least you and I get back to being as close as we were, and never losing myself again. It’s us, brother. Fuck the rest.”

Zaveed chuckled in spite of himself. “I hope not, you were a bit of a cryer.” he said, smiling towards the flames. “Nothing will be the same, certainly. But I’m willing to try, at least, to do something different. You speak of your crimes like I’ve not been party to quite a number of rather high stakes actions against unwilling hands. I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve killed, stolen from, extorted… you know, the kind of mischief that they sing about in bloody songs in taverns like it’s romantic but leave out the part where a man screams for his mother while his entrails are sewn across the deck of a ship he’d only been on a month. I won’t apologize for that time; Tamriel is not a kind place, and it chose us to follow a certain path that many consider unsavory. It doesn’t mean one is beholden to that path forever. Look where we are now; did you ever think we’d be having this conversation in a Dark Brotherhood sanctuary, generously serving what one might considered indentured servitude?” he scoffed, drinking until the bottle was empty and casually tossing it to the floor. “So, what then? What’s next? You know neither of us are ever going to find peace.”

“No. Maybe not.” Sevari said, frowning into the fire and stroking his beard, “We’ve been savages too long, I’ve got a price on my head in half of Tamriel. If I don’t die in a pool of my own blood in the middle of a road in a place no one knows my name, I’d be surprised.”

He shrugged, chuckling bitter, “I’ve robbed and killed through half of Tamriel, there’s no way I can man a counter at some general store in Skingrad.” He said, “There has to be some way we can leave this behind. The Dwemer, Hammerfell, all of this.”

“Well, one day I’ll find myself a ship of my own again. Could always use a first mate.” Zaveed offered with a casual shrug, throwing an arm over the chair. “My first love will always be the sea, a man is free there, no one cares who you are, just what you can do. I wish you could see it like I do, Sevari. It truly is a thing of wonder.”

“I’ve always been more of a bandit than a pirate. The gang all went our separate ways a few weeks before I showed up in your tavern asking after you.” He said, chuckling, “I rode away from that robbery with 3,000 septims. The Thalmor will never forgive me for robbing that war fund caravan.”

“Life on the roads is hard, rough, but the closeness of a gang is something I’ve missed for a bit. What’s Wayrest like nowadays?” He asked.

Zaveed clucked his tongue. “My, weren’t we just talking about change? Live a little. I promise I will only lightly tease you if you get sea-sick.” He grinned, looking over to the Ohmes-Raht. “Wayrest is as it has been for some time now, a Corsair Republic where captains come and go to ply their trade, recruit for their vessels, drink the town dry and whores make a fortune. It’s more or less paradise, as free as a man can be. If you think you are a rotten scoundrel, take a walk around Wayrest street’s any given night and you’ll feel like you’re a pious man. I never made my way there as much as I’d have liked, perhaps it was because a part of me took the whole privateer business and my letter of marquis from the Queen quite to heart, another part of me felt that flying under the same flag as Marassa kept me close to her.” His face scrunched into a frown as he sighed, resuming his vigil by the fire. “I’m doing everything I can to find her, I promise. I trust Sirine to do right by me, she already has. She helped clean me up and gave me new clothes after my brush with Gregor, and I paid her handsomely to get information on Marassa’s whereabouts. I promised her in turn to help find her own brother and to get her out of that shithole of a tavern she’s working at. Probably the first woman I paid without the intention of bedding, I’ll admit.”

“Ah, how saintly of you. You’re a changed man already, Zaveed.” Sevari smirked, “Do you need me to go back out there and work some taverns? Where was her brother last time she’d seen him?”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Sevari; I might behead a homeless man for sport to keep up appearances.” Zaveed replied dryly before continuing, “Dwemer arrested him, same way we were caught. They were pirates caught out at sea when the hammer fell, if you’ll excuse my play on words. She thinks he’s alive, and the only way to know that for sure is to find out anything in this stack,” Zaveed patted down the pile of papers on the table next to him. “Matches his name and description. It’s what I’ve been doing for the past three days, recovering from my injuries outside… and up here.” he said, tapping his temple with a claw.

“Do you know when they made landfall?” He asked, “I’m not telling you how to go about this. I want to find Marassa too. I could go back to Gilane, scour the taverns and inns for Marassa, bring some of the others? Only a matter of telling them to report her location back to me, tell them it’s a sensitive case.”

“I’m afraid not,” Zaveed admitted. “Just when the Dwemer first arrived, whenever that properly was. If you want to keep playing our hand close to the chest, maybe. I just want to see her safe, but I fear if she hears that a bunch of Ministry agents are questioning for her whereabouts, she’ll go so deep we’ll never see her again. I’m also concerned, possibly rightfully so, about the terrorists finding out about her again. If they find out she’s a person of interest to us, she’s as a good as dead.”

“So, it’s just us then.” He nodded, sucking his teeth, “Alright then. I’ve found people who didn’t want to be found before. Just a matter of getting to known insurgents, finding a lead on whatever cell condoned those attacks. I’ve got a score to settle with them anyway.”

“Very well. I’ve been sitting in this miserable heap for far too long as it is.” Zaveed said with a trace of a smile. “Shall we go get ready for a night on the town?”

“Dress to impress, Zaveed.” Sevari stood with a grunt, “I know I will.”
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Yer Gonna Pay for It

8th of Midyear, Noon, Three Crowns Hotel

It had been a tiresome night once Meg had returned to the Hotel with Jaraleet. So much was going through her mind. Sora and Latro captured. Jaraleet getting hurt. Raelynn being tortured. Try as she might to sleep, she found herself tossing and turning, restless despite feeling exhausted. When she finally did manage to catch some sleep, sunrise was only a couple of hours away. Even this sleep was reft of peace, nightmares attacking her mind, bringing images of the past, the present and the possible future. J'raij, Jaraleet, Sora and Latro, Zahir... all weaved their way through her mind, until she finally couldn't handle it anymore and forced her eyes open.

And that was when she realized she had overslept. Normally one to rise with the sun, it was a very rare occasion when she would sleep in so much that the sun was all the way up in the sky. Lurching out of bed and falling to her knees as her foot got caught in the sheets, she stayed on the ground for a small moment, caught in a bout of dizziness from the sudden movement. "I gotta..." She had to tell the others the information from last night, about Daro'Vasora and Latro, about Raelynn and Gregor, about the strange Sevari and the dangerous Zaveed. "Shit." Pushing herself off the ground and standing up, she pressed her palm to her still reeling head as she stumbled to the table, in desperate need of something to drink. There was no water, but wine was good enough for the time being.

A couple of gulps later, she set the bottle back down, rubbing at her face with both hands. "Mara help me..." A pang of hunger was felt in her stomach; she could have ignored it but then she was reminded that it wasn't just herself she had to worry about feeding anymore. She had clearly told him not to steal and that she would meet him outside the gates of the hotel a little after sunrise every day with some breakfast. Today she hadn't delivered. He was probably hungry and disappointed. She could deal with the latter easily enough, but the thought of him getting caught stealing didn't sit well with her. Once she made sure he was okay, she'd tell the others what was up.

Outside, the heat of the day was beating down with no mercy. She squinted as she looked up at the sun- oh how she missed Skyrim's skies. Things were just hot and hotter here in Hammerfell; maybe it was time for her to finally learn how to swim for a cool down? In any case, a quick sweep with her eyes was enough to show her he wasn't anywhere around. "Hm..." It would make sense he headed to the market then, since that was where he normally spent most of his days, according to himself. Perhap he returned to his little sanctuary in the alleyway? Meg pulled her wrinkled map from her pocket and straightened it. Now where was tha'... Ah. She'd thankfully had the sense to mark the spot on her some days back, just in case.

It wasn't long before she had reached his little hideout. She was slightly disappointed that he wasn't there, that would have made things relatively easy. Maybe wait here? The ground was as comfortable here as anywhere else, so she plonked herself down and leaned against the wall, waiting. An hour passed, and judging from the movement of the sun, a second hour passed as well. Meg finally pushed herself off the ground and stood up, feeling restless and worried. There was still time for sunset, but curfew wasn't her current worry.

"'Nough with the waitin'," she muttered. She would find him if she had to question every bloody person in Gilane.

There he was. The shifty fruits seller had mentioned a boy being chased by two thugs in the direction of the back alleys, and it seemed he was telling the truth. Meg froze in her steps, unable to peel her eyes away from the boy, taking in the sight of his cuts and bruises, patches of blood staining his clothes. His face was still pressed against the ground, eyes closed yet still tightening, showing her he was still... alive. Standing above him were two men taking turns at kicking the boy, sneers at their lips, muttering swears at the 'stinking thieving rat'.

It was the first time Meg had felt so much anger in her that she didn't spare a single thought, not about herself, not about getting in trouble if she was seen- nothing. Red curtains were drawn over her eyes and all she wanted was to make these men feel regret for what they had done to her little friend. And angry snarl trailing from her lips, the Nord woman charged at the man closest to her, headbutting him away from the boy. Clearly not expecting to be interrupted, the man stumbled back, giving Meg the chance to ram her boot against his shin. As he let out a cry of pain, she leaped at him again, using her body weight to knock him to the ground and then straddle him.

"You fuckin' piece o' shit." The growl barely escaped her as she punched him straight in the face, hard enough that she heard the satisfying crack of his nose. "You... don'... touch... m'... friend!" Each word was followed by another fist to the face. Meg ignored the pain in her knuckles, her fury giving her the strength she needed as well as a tolerance to any pain. The blood streaming from the man's nose, the swelling and bruising that had already begun- none of it triggered her mercy.

"You bitch!" The second man seemed to have recovered from his shock and was now rushing towards Meg, fist swinging down at her. She quickly ducked to the side and rolled off the first man, who was too busy whimpering in pain to try and help his crony. "Don't think I'll let you run away after that!"

Meg pressed a hand against the ground and pushed herself up to a standing position, just in time to meet a fist to her face. Reeling backwards, she could feel blood trickling from where her lip had split. It was no matter- if anything the stinging pain fueled her further. As the second man rushed to attack her once more, Meg did the same, charging once more and head butting him straight in the gut. The man lurched at the contact, stumbling back as the air was knocked out of him. Sparing no seconds to waste, she followed her attack with a hard boot to the groin, causing the second man to gasp as he fell to his knees. A second kick to the side of his head sent him to the ground, groaning in pain next to his fallen friend.

"Get this through yer thick heads," Meg growled, wiping at the blood on her lip. "Y'touch someone I love, yer gonna pay for it. Get the fuck outta here 'fore I pull m'sword out an' show ya what I can do with it." Ignoring the gasps, whimpers and cussing, she hurried to where Zahir was still laying prone. "Hey... I'mma get ya away from here." Her lips trembled at the state he was in, and she had to struggle against the dark thought of getting rid of those two men for good.

Managing to ease him onto her back, she was relieved when she felt him stirring. "Jus' hol' on tight," she murmured. Glancing at the two men behind her, she saw the second was struggling to get back to his feet. Shit. Using one hand to keep Zahir secure, she grabbed at her sword and pulled at it. The sound was enough for the second man to hurry to his friend and drag him away.

"Let's get goin'." Meg could feel the throbbing pain in her knuckles now, but she would have to ignore it. The sun was close to setting and she needed to get Zahir somewhere safe. Recalling an inn she had passed by on her way here, she decided that was the way to go. She wouldn't be able to make it back to the Three Crowns Hotel in time, but truth be told, she wasn't sure if she wanted to take Zahir there. Who knew the limits of the Poncy Man's generosity?

She let her sword slip back into the scabbard and started off on her own way.

A couple of hours later, Meg was sitting next to the bed of the room she had rented. Thank Mara for the gold Salosoix had paid her- she finally had a real reason to use it instead of just wasting it on sweets for herself and Zahir. When the innkeeper saw the beaten boy on her back, he had been ready to tell her to go away; a flash of gold coins was enough to change his mind.

Her eyes rested on the boy, who the inkeeper's wife had agreed to help clean up and clothe after Meg offered a few extra septims for her effort. At least all the grime and blood was off of him. A weak health potion had been offered for a price, and Meg hadn't been about to say no, even if she had known she could get it for less. Anything to ease his pain was a good thing.


Meg jerked up and sat straight, gazing at the boy, who was looking back at her through swollen eyes. She smiled down at him, though her eyes were glazed and stinging from trying to force her tears from escaping. "Sorry I was late, Zahir." She reached out and gently passed a hand over his curls.

"I..." He seemed to struggle to speak but continued anyway. "I... I thought... you were gone. Like... Father."

"I'm sorry Zahir... I didn' mean t'make y'worry like that." Meg swallowed, feeling a wave of regret roll over her like water on the seashore. "Don' worry, I ain' goin' anywhere. Go back t'sleep... yer safe now."

She didn't know how long it would take for him to recover, but until then she wouldn't leave him on his own. Too many people she cared for were getting hurt, and she wasn't going to let herself fail yet another one. Raelynn... I'm sorry... I'mma have to wait a bit... Sora, Latro... She rubbed her forehead before covering her eyes so that the wetness would go away. Sevari said they were safe and sound- she would have to put her trust in him for now, she knew Jaraleet did. Her forehead creased. She'd have to tell her argonian friend tomorrow where she was. She knew he would worry... or she hoped he would.

But for now, she would hold her vigil over her young friend.
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Hidden 6 mos ago 6 mos ago Post by Spoopy Scary
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You Never Know

11th of Midyear -- 4E208
Gilane, Hammerfell

The Alik’r used camels to traverse the deserts, and it wasn’t that Hammerfell was without horses; the horses here were long-legged, slender beauties with blonde or golden sheen on their coats like the sands, their black manes and tails like thin wisps – but they were native to the craggy ecosystems like Bangkorai and Hew’s Bane, which still had grasses and shrubs and running water for them to survive off of. They couldn’t store water like camels could or conserve their energy. Muscle was more demanding of nutrients than fat was, but even with as much fat as the little pony Danish had, his thick coat meant for surviving the frozen tundra of Skyrim spelled a cruel fate. Even while injured, the responsibility of taking care of another life weighed on Calen’s shoulders.

As soon as he was able, he returned to his regular routine: get up early in the morning to draw water from the well. The desert night does well to keep that water chilled and being underground meant it was insulated from the day’s heat. Even though the weight of a bucket full of water hurt the torn muscles in his chest, he pressed on – he’d clean out Danish’s old water trough and replenish his hay and oats – an equally excruciating chore, before returning with more water to wash away the old sweat and stink from the pony overnight. The desert nights weren’t so cold that they could placate a cold-weather horse. Vigorously scrubbing through his thick coat with the brush was also excruciating, which amplified his irritation at Tobias, the stray goat of Rhona’s who seemed to have created a bond with Danish and constantly getting caught up in Calen’s feet while he’s working. Tobias would remind him of Rhona; he’d remind him of someone who had no place being in this warzone, who he hoped would simply find a way out of this land and someplace far away. He wasn’t so selfish to demand her company, no, he felt guilty. Part of him felt as though he was the reason she was still here, and Calen would shake his head at such thoughts. He was not someone worth risking their life over.

He made sure to talk with the stable-master to place Danish in a stall facing the ocean so that a breeze would be blowing against him throughout the day, then returning every two hours with more cool water from the well to wash the sweat away from his fur and cool Danish down in junction with the ocean breeze. About as often, he’d replace the water trough that’d also warm up throughout the day. Hours and days of this meant occasionally reopening his wounds, where he'd then have to find Raelynn or Brynja after stopping the bleeding on his own. Sometimes, when he tired of making repetitive trips, he’d sit out at the stable, enjoying the atmosphere and the company of his pony and others. It kept him distracted from thoughts of that day, when he saved Latro from that bullet. At times he repressed the memory, at others, he faced them and confronted his emotions – mostly, it was fear.

It caused him to reflect on his life and what he’s done so far—what little he’s done so far. In his distractions, he remembered how he left his instruments on his wagon back in Anvil – he had nothing to play, and quite frankly, it was upsetting. He had played countless songs on the tools of his trade and he left them behind. He had to resort to just using his voice to pass the time, which was superb and drew the company of a few spectators, but he didn’t feel like it was the same... and singing in excess also hurt his chest. Everything was hurting his chest. Images of his nightmare of Cezare, plunging his sword into his chest would make it feel sore too. It was a funny thought that, even if the Dwemer spurred all his recent troubles on, it was only because he was associated with this group. He wouldn’t have gotten shot and he wouldn’t have stoked Cezare’s ire if he went his own way; but those were toxic thoughts that wouldn’t get him anywhere. So, he focused on Danish, on humming songs to himself in the morning, and on trying to get better.

Part of getting better, he thought, was taking care of his mind. Seek out something productive to keep him occupied. He was never much of a cook or a baker, but he visited the local baker and dropped a few coins on their counter to trouble them for a lesson. He was no natural learner, and he messed up a few times, but he was determined to preoccupy himself. He learned quickly of the relaxed environment that a bakery had – it was neutral territory, and it was just the baker and the dough, a process of patience – as well as learning the process of milling wheat by hand. The grain was imported from the Gold Coast, that meant it became expensive ever since the Dominion embargo from Anvil. He’d mix it with water and kneaded the dough until he could stretch it out and it would still hold its shape. He’d ball it back up and allow it to rest for a short while, using his break to check back in with Danish. He’d return to the bakery to learn the next few steps. More exercising the dough and more resting. Adding the yeast and more rest. It was a waiting game, meaning it would be a day or two until the dough was ready.

When, yesterday, chaos filled the streets with blood and mayhem for reasons Calen could not discern – it was possible that Samara cell conducted another strike without his knowing; it was reasonable to assume they continued without him – all he could do was watch helplessly. The Dwemer were like an overwhelming force of nature, their weaponry like acts of god in how pulling their triggers were the summons for death. Hungering demands for blood. Still, he could not hate the deep elves; not when the citizenry of their people was as innocent as anyone. He watched from Danish’s stall in the stable as Dwemer women hid their children indoors and closed the curtains with as much fear in their eyes as the local Redguard mothers. He couldn’t hate them. He could fear them, reasonably so, but he couldn’t seek vengeance on them. Not with a clear conscience, knowing that he could possibly take it out on someone innocent—like that mother or her child. When the conflict began to dissipate and the resistance to Dwemer rule was quashed, he visited the Dwemer mother’s home and gifted them his first-ever loaf of handmade bread that he was hoping to eat after days of laboring, yet he offered it with a smile.

He didn’t keep much of a journal. It was mostly just a logbook of people he has met; sketches and descriptions and tales. Perhaps he should if he was going to record this segment of history, but such an aspiration seemed so… conceited. There was no promise that he’d survive this, that his name would be remembered, and it seemed like such a little thing in the shadow of actually doing something, but he already tried doing something before. Talos knows how well that turned out. So, as if to practice, he started talking to Danish as if his pony was a real person.

“So one of the gang came by earlier today.” He said, receiving no response. He continued, “Some kind of summons. Said Jude wanted everyone to gather around tomorrow at Three Crowns for some big news.”

Danish, being a pony, did not respond.

“I tried writing some lyrics lately. You know, to get back into the groove. How about it?” Calen said before continuing. “Yesteryear’s uncertainty… loses its charm, its luster of mystery, when you’re living through history?”

Surprisingly, he invoked a response from Danish as the animal nickered, but undoubtedly, he had no real idea what Calen was saying. The bard chuckled to himself and nodded in agreement. “Yeah, a little too on the nose. And rhyming excessively sounds forced, honestly. How about…” Calen thought carefully for a second before continuing.

“Don’t let the fires of your mind steal too much time?
Tears may be spilled, and with fear, your dreams overfilled,
and these cannot be fixed with just song and rhyme.
Be the early-riser and plant your seed,
sow the crops you wish to grow,
and only then can you be free.
Life is brief,
so don’t fear death, sweet child of mine.
Don’t let your mind steal too much time.”

There was a pause of silence after Calen’s recital, allowing him a moment of reflection.

“Yeah,” he finally said, “it needs some more work.”
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Hidden 6 mos ago Post by Mortarion
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Scales of Shadow

Sunset, 10th of Midyear, 4E208
Gilane, Hammerfell

The 10th of Midyear had begun much like it always did for the Argonian assassin ever since they came to Hammerfell. He woke up with the first rays of the sun and, after having breakfast, he had retired to the Three Crowns gym for his usual routine of exercise. However, unlike most days, the peace and serenity that usually came to him through his exercises seemed to be found nowhere, his thoughts constantly going back and forth over the events that had occurred during the past few days. His talk with Meg in the aftermath of the party organised by Sora, Gregor's confession during the mission assigned to them by Salasoix, meeting Sevari after agreeing to help Latro, helping Meg and learning about the capture of Sora and Latro, taking a bullet for Meg when she had been discovered by the palace sentries....these, and more, were the thoughts that plagued his mind.

Knowing that, no matter how much he tried, he'd be unable to find the peace that once so easily came to him through his exercises, Jaraleet decided to retire back to his room in the hotel. Once he was back there, after making a small detour to grab something to drink, the Argonian assassin made his way towards the balcony that faced Gilane's streets. Settling down, Jaraleet let the time fly away by slowly drinking the wine that he had gotten and by watching the citizens of Gilane as they made their way through the city streets during the course of their daily routines. And as he watched the street crowds and nursed his drink, his mind turned to a more recent memory. Meg, her knuckles bruised and her lip split, telling him that she was going to stay at another inn for a while; she had found her small friend Zahir beaten up and, as she put it, didn't want to bring him all the way back to the Three Crowns. He bit his lip slightly as a gnawing sensation of worry began to form in his stomach. She was out there, away from the rest of the group, while the Dwemer were probably on the hunt for them.

He stood up from his sitting position and made his way towards the balcony's railing, gripping the metal surface as he leaned forward. "Maybe I should go and talk to her. Try to convince her to bring Zahir back here?" He thought quietly, his brow furrowing. Who knew what the Dwemer planned to do next? Yes, it'd be best if he went and talked with her. While he didn't fully trust the Poncy Man in the aftermath of the fiasco that had been the mission to capture Nblec, and as such he didn't felt truly safe in the Three Crowns, Jaraleet that it was still the best option for them all to stay in a place that was under the protection of one of the leading figures of the Redguard resistance against the Dwemer's rule. Knowing that curfew hours were fast approaching, Jaraleet decided to don his armor, cloak, and weapons before heading out to the place were Meg was staying. It would be better to go out prepared for the possibility of a confrontation with one of the Dwemer's patrolmen rather than going out unprepared and hope for the best, these were Jaraleet's thoughts as he made his way out of the hotel.

It wouldn't take long for Jaraleet to feel his decision validated, for mere moments after leaving the hotel the Haj-Eix felt the presence of a man trying, and failing, to discreetly follow him through Gilane's streets. It didn't take long for Jaraleet to shake off his mysterious pursuer and even less to turn the situation around so that he was the one tailing his would-be pursuer, who turned out to be a Redguard in, what Jaraleet guessed were, his mid-thirties. Believing that his quarry had evaded him, the Redguard turned around and -to Jaraleet's surprise- returned towards the Three Crowns. However, instead of entering the hotel, the Redguard began to discreetly, but surely, keep watch over the building. It soon enough became clear who, or rather what, this Redguard was: one of the agents employed by the Dwemer's secret police.

As he watched the Redguard agent keep vigil over the building that acted as the headquarters for the Samara Cell, it soon dawned on Jaraleet that he had, briefly but surely, seen the man's face once before: in the crowds that milled through the streets in front of his room's balcony. Inwardly cursing himself for his carelessness at not having noticed such a thing, it promptly became clear to him what he had to do: he had to silence the agent. It was too much of a risk to allow him to live. Who knew for how long he had been watching over the hotel, how many people he had identified going in and out of the building. Part of him felt panic well within his chest as he realised that there was a very real possibility that this man, whoever he was, might have tailed Meg back to the inn where she was staying watching over Zahir.

"No, I must focus." He mentally chided himself. Now was not the time to worry. He was a Haj-Eix, the hidden blade used by the An-Xileel to protect Argonia. As Jaraleet began to follow after the Redguard, he unconsciously began muttering an old poem in Jel.

"Stars in darkness, constellation
Tell us those we must collect
Given to the needed clutch
To be taught the needed ways"

He suddenly stopped as he remembered Raelynn telling him, Meg, and Gregor about what she had underwent at the hands of Zaveed. The way that the experience had scarred her. "Why, why this now. I need to focus." Jaraleet thought, shaking his head. He couldn't let anything distract him. He breathed deeply and set his focus once more on his, still unaware, quarry. As he began to follow after the Redguard once more, he began to recite the poem again.

"Scales of shadow, hands of death
Sithis honored by your blade
To create the needed change
By the blood which must be spilt"

"For you Jaraleet I feel comfort, solidarity. I see in you embodying home, our home in every sense of the word." Judena's words from the party suddenly echoed in his mind, reminding Jaraleet of what he had spoken with the elder Argonian about. "I do not embody anything Jude..." Jaraleet quietly whispered in Jel to the night. "I am merely the tool by which our home is protected. With which our brothers and sisters are defended. Nothing more, and nothing less." He finished, shaking his head to clear his thoughts. He had to focus, he was getting closer to his quarry. The moment to strike would be soon. As he pulled his weapons from their scabbards, the poem continued.

"You who join the brotherhood
Guided by just one untruth
Remember our nothing words
Look upon with nothing eyes"

Jaraleet froze for a second when, suddenly, the Redguard agent turned around. The Argonian assassin pressed himself into the nearby shadows of a corner and waited for his quarry to continue on. And, as he waited, he couldn't help but reminisce about the night when Meg had come to ask him for help in locating Daro'Vasora. Without thinking, he suddenly moved his hand to the spot where he knew the bullet had lodged itself. "Why? Why did I do that?" He thought, remembering the overwhelming feeling that had overtaken him when Meg had been spotted by one of the palace sentries. Any further thoughts, however, were interrupted by the sound of footsteps echoing in the night. His quarry was moving again, and the hunt continued. And, again, the poem continued from where it had been left.

"One day, when your snout is pale
To the swamps you will return
Darkness remains in your heart
For your scales are shadow still."

As soon as the last words left his lips, Jaraleet caught up to his prey. The shocked Redguard had no time to even scream for, in an instant, Jaraleet had wrapped one of his arms around his mouth and, a second afterwards, the Argonian's dagger pierced the Redguard's throat. Jaraleet held the Redguard as he was overcome by his death throes, gently placing the corpse on the ground once they had passed. "It is done, the river has taken you to the sea my friend." The Argonian assassin said as he closed the eyes of the recently deceased redguard. Still, he knew that his job was not done yet, he had to dispose of the body. Carefully picking up the body, Jaraleet began making his way in the directions of the docks and, as he did, he began to recite the poem once more, lest his mind betray him again.
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Separate Agendas

with @Father Hank & @Leidenschaft

10th of Midyear - 4E208
Gilane, Hammerfell - The Haunted Tide Inn

No lute. He couldn’t even remember how many times he’d lost it now, but just like the woman who gifted it to him, they’d always find their way to each other again. At least, he hoped. He hoped luck would guide him back to Daro’Vasora, back to his lute. Even without it, he sat in his chair in the room Sevari had rented him, lazily slouching in it while staring at the parchment he was writing probably the most meaningful thing he’d be writing in his life, forsaking the outside world in lieu of this task. In lieu of this perfect song. But this was not it, he growled as he snatched up the parchment and added it to the growing pile next to it of drafts for the song he promised to write.

It had to be perfect. He leaned forward and rubbed his eyes, his hand was cramping now after writing for so long. He needed a break, a drink. He got up from his chair and stretched, hearing his back crackle with it in a series of rolling pops. He grunted, rubbing the small of his back and sighed. It hadn’t been the same since the attack. It almost seemed like it was days ago, yet only hours. He didn’t even know how long he’d been sitting here for. He crossed the room and laid his hand on the doorknob, his fingers brushing it gently.

Suddenly, the room was blurry through his tears and he squatted before the door and heaved in a huge sob, letting it out in a clenched-jaw growl in the crook of his elbow. He couldn’t let anybody hear. But flashes of Thunderhead’s ruined face, his jaw missing and yawning maw left spewing blood, the Dunmer falling, Two-Shafts Head coming apart and the sickening sound his face made when it broke open.

The feeling of that Redguard’s hands on his throat. Remembering the feeling of his shackles leaving his wrists bloody and raw as he pounded them into his first attacker’s face until it looked like shreds of crimson paper. The way the black had started to creep into his vision as he was being choked to death, the world going blurry. He had almost died without any hint of ceremony or poeticis in that wagon.

It all left him curled about himself on the floor of his room, quivering with muffled sobs. After a few minutes, he crept to all fours, breathing hard. Soon enough, he found his feet, walking over to the wash basin and throwing the tepid water over his face until he looked good enough to himself to show his face to the patrons downstairs. He sighed, the thought of dying and leaving Daro’Vasora behind, alone. He tried at his easy smile to himself in the mirror, but it only trembled until his face screwed up in a sob again. He composed himself as best he could, brushing his shirt down, though it was still the same bloody tunic.

To the hells with it, he took it off and expected things to get better, but he only saw the purple bruise stretched across his ribs, the same purple around his neck. He looked to the floor, closing his eyes and rubbing his face. He needed out of this room. He headed for the door again, sighing and then opened it, making the trek downstairs. He moved past the patrons with his eyes on the floor, ordered an ale and turned around. He finally allowed himself to scan the room and took a sip of his drink but his throat closed around it, making him choke back a cough and keep himself from spluttering. He wiped his mouth with a forearm and looked at the man his gaze snagged on. He did not look well. Finally, he spoke, voice still hoarse from being choked, “G-Gregor?”

Looking up from his meal, Gregor’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open in shock when he saw none other than Latro sitting nearby. “Latro,” the Imperial breathed and he immediately abandoned his barstool and his food to sit with the battered and bruised Breton. Concern, confusion and relief were etched on his face in equal measure and he opened and closed his mouth a few times, lost for words. “But you were captured, how are you here? Gods, man, what happened to you? Where is Daro’Vasora?” Gregor stammered, falling over himself with the urgency of his questions. All of his own woes were forgotten for a moment in the face of such a surprise -- but a welcome one, to be sure. “You shouldn’t have come here,” he hissed and leaned in closer. “There is a man here that calls himself the brother of the Khajiit that tortured Raelynn. It isn’t safe.”

Latro sat nursing his drink, not knowing exactly what to say or how to frame it. He took his moment, swigged at his drink and then sighed, better to just come out with it now, “I know.” He began, “He’s… I’m… I’m with him. It’s a very long and shitty story full of twists and violence, my friend. He’s not what he seems.”

Gregor looked like he had been slapped in the face. He saw nothing but honesty in Latro’s eyes, however, and after a few seconds of terse silence he decided to give the Reachman the benefit of the doubt. “Let’s say that I accept that, for the moment,” Gregor said in a low voice. “Give me the rundown of what happened since you were captured.”

Latro sighed, rubbing his eyes after putting his tankard to rest on the table. “Sevari’s brother- eh, that’s his name, Sevari- Sevari’s brother, Zaveed, was parading Sora through the town to deliver her to Rourken. I caught the show at the bazaar, followed for a bit and Zaveed spotted me.” He shook his head, a look of utter contempt at the memory, “I surrendered myself. There was no way I could get to her without causing too much of a panic, or before he…”

He remembered the look on Sora’s face as Zaveed cocked his pistol against her head. Fear, for her. And him. “We were taken in, Sevari took us into his custody. A few days later, I was chosen for a prisoner transfer. Our caravan was attacked by some form of weapon I’ve never seen before, but it tossed the metal-clad carriage I was in like a toy after the explosion.”

He stopped there, voice trailing off as his eyes grew distant remembering the smells, the feelings, the sights. His lip began to twitch before he started again, muttering out a few stuttering sounds that weren’t even words, “I, um. They were everywhere… it was…”

He put a hand on his chest and a shuddering sigh escaped him, looking around the tavern with wild eyes, “They’re still fucking out there, Gregor. They killed everyone, everyone. Just… it wasn’t… his face was just…”

He let his face fall into his hands, “Thunderhead, he was talking and moving one second and then… I couldn’t… he was just laying there and… I was almost dead.”

With a quickness and without warning, he grabbed up his tankard and drank deeply, quaffing up the amber ale in huge gulps. He didn’t like this. They kept coming, the memories, as numerous and savage as the attackers that had made them. Thunderhead’s bloody crater of a face. Two-Shafts’ broken head. The hands around his neck and the face locked in a mad smile above him as he struggled. “I’m alive.” He said, almost like he was trying to convince himself and his breathing slowly became less erratic, “I’m alive.”

“You are,” Gregor said and reached over to place a reassuring hand on Latro’s arm. He winced slightly when he saw how his fingers trembled and he pulled back quickly, locking his hands together instead so that the Breton couldn’t see. He thought about Latro’s story. It was a confusing, jumbled mess of a tale and Gregor still felt unclear on some of the most saillant details -- like what Sevari had done to gain Latro’s trust, other than presumably selecting him for the exchange -- but he felt like now was not the time to press Latro for answers. He had clearly been through a lot. Gregor sighed. It seemed that the house of cards was crumbling down for everyone he knew.

“Everything will be fine. Zaveed has also… been taken care of,” Gregor said and cleared his throat. “I fought him yesterday. There was an attack on the Dominion envoy in Gilane and it drew him out of hiding. He’s… alive, through circumstances beyond my control,” he added tersely, “but he won’t be after us, for the time being at least. I have to ask, Latro, how do you know that you can trust Sevari?”

“Days ago, Jaraleet and I were contacted by him to meet somewhere. I did things for him, a favor. Gregor, this whole thing, the Poncy Man, the Thalmor…” Latro shook his head, “Poncy Man’s rebellion was going to happen regardless of the Dwemer. Sevari was- is Penitus Oculatus.” He said, all hush. “And he came back for me, after the attack today. He saved me.”

That was a lot to take in. Jaraleet hadn’t mentioned anything about this to Gregor when he and Megana had come to the inn for aid two days ago. Then again, if this was a political game being played in the shadows, Gregor understood the need for discretion. In fact, he was relieved that Jaraleet had not told him this secret. It meant that the Argonian was more likely to keep his secret from others as well. “Penitus Oculatus,” Gregor mused. The closest he had ever come to meeting an agent of the Emperor had been when the organization had dismantled the Dark Brotherhood in Skyrim years ago, around the time of the Stormcloak Rebellion and the Dragon Crisis. Gregor had been in the province back then and read about the news in the local papers.

It raised even more questions. “So… he’s a spy?” Gregor asked in hushed tones. “I assume that he’s working for the Dwemer as a double agent of some kind? Or did he have no choice? Does that go for Zaveed as well? Because he certainly took to his task with great… enthusiasm,” Gregor grimaced.

He waved dismissively, as if to erase his own questions from the air. “Nevermind. He came back to save your life. That’s good enough for me. Ironic, considering… well, nevermind,” Gregor said, his voice weary with subdued anger. He took a deep breath and focused. “So you two escaped the ambush. Just the pair of you? And what next?”

Latro shook his head, “I don’t know. We lay low here. After a couple days, I go back to the Three Crowns, he goes his way until he contacts me again, I guess.” He said, he swigged from his tankard, “Are you and Raelynn coming? How is she?”

“I don’t know,” Gregor spat a little too fast. There was no avoiding the topic now. “We’re not talking. She was the one that saved Zaveed from the brink of death. I left him with mortal injuries and she’s the reason he’s still alive. And no, I have no idea why she thought that was a good idea,” he added and rubbed his face. “I just told her to leave. That was yesterday. Feels like longer.” He lowered his hands to the table again and suddenly stared at Latro intently. “What do you make of that?”

“Gods, what’s happening to us?” He muttered, he looked up at Gregor and cocked an eyebrow at his stare. It seemed less like a question and more like a test, almost. Latro chewed his lip, “I guess I did say those days ago that she had a good heart. But why? I saw what that bastard did to her, what he did to Sora. I was ready to kill Zaveed myself, Gregor.”

Before Latro could continue, Gregor unbuttoned his shirt and showed him the scars on his chest. “Here’s what he did to me,” Gregor hissed. “He’s a phenomenal fighter, I’ll give him that. He nearly tore me apart.” He stopped and slowly held out his hands for Latro to see -- how his fingers shook. “Zaveed had help. Some woman. She threw a poisoned dagger at me right as I was about to finish him off for good. Because Raelynn wasn’t here when I returned, the poison--” He swallowed hard and grimaced. “Well, you can see what it did.”

“It must have been potent.” He said, looking at his comrade. What he knew of poisons, it took a miracle to heal from one that was supposed to kill a man. Gregor had to be a man of iron, Latro mused. “I don’t know of any woman like that. Have you asked Sevari if she’s one of the Dwemer’s?”

Gregor nodded. “I wasn’t entirely sure that he was with the Dwemer too, but I did ask him if he worked with a woman like that. Snakeskin cloak, spear, poisons. He said no. We had an… interesting conversation, in general,” the Imperial said and ran his hand through his beard. “I think he got very close to attacking me once he figured out that it was me that nearly put Zaveed in the dirt. He might be your ally, Latro, but he is still loyal to that piece of shit he calls his brother.”

“I know. He seems like the better man of the two though, for whatever that’s worth.” Latro said, a rueful smile crossed his face, “His family must be more complicated than mine. He promised Sora and I that he’d make sure Zaveed didn’t come close to any of us again, in exchange for intelligence, of course.”

“Sevari has a woman with him. She’s here too. A fiery woman if I’ve ever met one, less hospitable than Sora.” He chuckled to be mentioning Sora again, the thought of her brought him some measure of happiness, but it also hurt knowing she was still trapped in the Palace, “I forced Sevari’s hand to make sure he protects Sora when I surrendered. I’m important to his work, I can get places he can’t, talk to people that he can’t, but I can’t test how far he’ll go to protect his assets. I need to find a way to get her back, Gregor. Maybe Sevari can help us get out of this damned city. Help us get Sora back. There’s nothing for us here anymore.”

Wooden floorboards creaked from the staircase above, behind the pair’s backs. Each dull, consecutive thud, a tell-tale sign of approaching footsteps, until the appearance of a woman in layered robing of different colors descended into view, as if even mentioning her had summoned her presence. Her auburn hair was as neatly groomed as the first time Latro had seen her, but her presentation was as immaculate as ever. Aries looked over towards the pair with sharp and discriminative appraisal. She had overheard a few words being shared -- nothing in particular aside from a few choice words, but a few name drops and her own mentioning, and suddenly her interest was piqued.

“Latro,” she began, the steady calmness of her words was lifted slightly with a tinge of curiosity, contrasting with the stern expression of her face as her hand glided down the railing, “is this a friend of yours?”

Her foot finally met the ground floor, but she stopped there, opting to simply lean against the bannister and inspect the pair from a distance. A keen eye would’ve noticed that her sights were actually locked onto Gregor, but that being said, she continued to speak to Latro. She said, “I have to admit, I’m a little surprised. Would you introduce me?”

Gregor had been about to respond to Latro’s words about leaving the city behind after retrieving his paramour when Aries appeared, and the sound of her voice left him unable not to turn his head to look at her. A beautiful woman with eyes and posture that radiated authority looked down upon them from the steps of the stairs that led to the second floor. He saw in her gaze that she was a woman of strength and Gregor thought back to what Latro had said about her; fiery. He could see that, even if she was being perfectly polite. Ignoring the twinge of annoyance he felt at being interrupted by, Gregor waited for Latro to introduce them and leaned back in chair. He used the time to size Aries up much in the same way he saw she was doing to him. Her robes could not entirely disguise her figure -- too voluptuous for a human warrior, and his eyes lingered on her hands for a few seconds. Soft, unblemished. Nobility of some kind, he figured, and he wondered what she was doing here.

“Janelle,” Latro nodded before he gestured to his comrade, “Gregor. He’s been my companion for some time now, we’ve been traveling together until… When did you and Raelynn leave the Hotel?”

He asked the question as if it was part realization that they hadn’t been there in some time. Then again, neither had Latro or Sora. “Please,” he gestured to a seat at their table for Aries- or Janelle, “Sit.”

“We haven’t been back since the 6th,” Gregor said with a nod before turning back to look at Aries. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Janelle.”

“Lariat. It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Gregor...?” She greeted with a slight bow of her head. She let her words linger in the air for a moment to allow Gregor the opportunity to fill in the blank.

“Sibassius,” Gregor replied. “From Bravil.” He had mistaken the woman for an Imperial at first glance but with a name like that she had to be Breton. “You've heard of me, then?”

“Sibassius, from Bravil…” Aries echoed with a hint of familiarity, before catching herself in what seemed like a moment of being lost in thought, before ultimately shrugging it off as if it was nothing. In truth, she knew exactly where she heard that name before, but that wasn’t anything Gregor needed to know. She just greeted him with a cordial smile before riding up to the bar and gesturing towards one of the moderately priced wines on the shelf, saying, “Oh, just a bit here and there. Well, I suppose that’s too modest; you have a reputation which precedes you, Gregor. I understand it that you’ve quite a few war stories to tell in the fight against the deep elves. Would you mind sharing?”

Yes, I would, Gregor thought, but he kept that to himself. He cast another glance at Latro and decided that there was nothing else for it. “There were a few skirmishes in Cyrodiil before we came here but that feels like a lifetime ago. In Gilane, the only significant battle against the Dwemer themselves that I was a part of happened during something that started out as a covert operation.” He smiled wryly. He did not feel comfortable sharing the details of what had happened and he was still hoping that Aries would leave Latro and him to their chat. “But I’ve spent more time fighting their auxiliaries, truth be told,” he said and absent-mindedly rubbed the scar on his collarbone. “I don’t mean to be rude, but what’s it to you? What’s your role in all of this?” Gregor gestured towards Latro and vaguely upstairs, to where he assumed Sevari was.

“Oh, I’m just a merchant; an interested benefactor.” She replied humbly, bowing her head slightly. She continued, “But is that all there is to it? I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed. I have it on good authority that, like the meeting with Governor Rourken, some of your operations didn’t go… well, entirely according to plan, but I was hoping to hear a first-person account on Nblec’s death. Oh -- but what about you? You look quite worse for wear. What happened, if I may ask?”

“That’s what I was just telling Latro. You seem well-informed and you’re traveling with Sevari, so I’m going to assume you know who Zaveed is,” Gregor said and let the words hang in the air for a second or two before continuing. “I tracked him down yesterday and we fought--”

“Is he dead?” Aries interrupted, apparently eager to hear some good news.

Gregor exhaled slowly, averting his gaze while his fingers tapped away at the table. He looked back at Aries and the smoldering anger he felt was reflected in his eyes, like embers after a campfire waiting to roar back to life. “He almost was. I had mortally wounded him and was about to strike the finishing blow when someone intervened on his behalf. A stranger. I have not been able to ascertain who she is or who she works for. She poisoned me, hence the… scars,” Gregor explained and spoke the last word with audible distaste. “As for Zaveed, I learned later that he escaped and was nursed back to health.” He did not feel like mentioning Raelynn’s name.

“I see…” She said softly, he melancholy matching Gregor’s own. Her voice oozed with disappointment, and in her mind, it was a clash of trying to decide if she should peg Gregor as a repeat offender in the art of failure, or if he was determined to sabotage everything the insurgency stood for. Still, she maintained her composure. It was possible that there was still something to be gained out of this. As she began pacing, apparently deep in thought as she swiveled the wine in her cup in circles, she mused aloud over Gregor’s story. “It is hard to definitively say what nature of consequences your failure would bring unto us. On one hand, killing him would have done us all the favor of ridding Gilane of the Dwemer’s favorite toy. From my understanding, Zaveed is like a draconian surgical tool in that he has no delicacy in his procedures. If his masters wanted a precise operation, like a lobotomy, he would use a serrated knife.”

Then her pacing stopped, and she looked over her shoulder towards the pair. “On the other hand,” she continued, “killing him may have also compromised our mutual friend. It’s a delicate situation -- one that I would appreciate not being shaken. It’s not ideal, and you could say that I would prefer a scalpel that didn’t dull at the touch of flesh… but I’m grateful for everything I’m afforded.”

Annoyance flashed in Gregor’s eyes and he cocked his head at Aries. The way she said it was not unkind, but Gregor still almost winced at the word ‘failure’. It carried an implication more severe than he felt he deserved. Yes, he had set out to kill Zaveed and the Khajiit was still alive. That was not a success. But he had fought Zaveed in single combat and won. It was not because Gregor’s prowess had been insufficient that he had survived the brush with death and eternal damnation. It was because of the Redguard stranger, and… because of Raelynn. Hell, the whole encounter had been because of Raelynn in the first place, and here this woman sat judging him on the effect it would have on the insurgency and the fragile situation in Gilane.

“I’ve only just met you and I wasn’t previously aware of your existence, or your influence, or accomplishments -- if there are any. I am not affording you anything,” Gregor said sharply. “What happened between Zaveed and I was personal and not related to your objectives here. To presume otherwise is arrogant.”

“To presume I need anything from you is likewise arrogant. I wasn’t talking about you.” Aries replied matter-of-factly, challenging his accusation with her own. Gregor was getting defensive and seeing himself in her words; he wasn’t telling the whole truth. Feelings of impotence were a powerful thing, and she wondered if that was a recurring theme of his life, since he felt so challenged by her suggestions? How often was he left feeling helpless and what kind of stakes did he bring to the table? She allowed a brief pause, relaxing her shoulders and granting a moment for everyone to breathe and de-escalate. She gave the Imperial a knowing look and it was like the faint smile on her face told him that she was being entertained, like he was a mouse or ball of yarn being played with by a much larger cat.

“But that’s not what’s important,” she continued, “I’m more interested in the trend of your personal whims and the potential they seem to have with interfering with the well-being of everyone around you. They can hurt people. If the sour meetings with Zaveed and Governor Rourken were both the products of personal whims, then now I’m especially interested in the Nblec situation and why that had gone so awry.”

Aries made careful to keep Latro in her field of vision as well, gauging his reaction as well as Gregor’s. She wanted to give him something to think about; after all, the Reachman was supposedly there too, wasn’t he?

“It was a bad situation all around… Janelle.” Latro said, eyes hardening to remember it. To remember how it had all gone so wrong, so quickly. His hands covered in Calen’s blood, the fight, the retreat and desperately trying to move as quickly away while keeping Calen from dying. “It was dirty work. We did everything we could, we followed the plan, things went to shit.”

“You’re right.” Aries agreed, softening her tone. “I mean nothing by it, it’s just a source of frustration for many of us -- for you two, more than anyone, I imagine. It’s simply that I can’t help but wonder the details of how he could have possibly died when neither side, I assume, wanted him dead. I wasn’t there. I suppose I’m only trying to understand better through you. Perhaps we can talk about it another time, when the feelings are a little less… raw.”

Gregor sighed. “That would be best.” He had made a fool of himself by misinterpreting Aries’ words and by letting his temper get the better of him. Still, he felt like he couldn’t really be faulted for that. It had been less than twenty-four hours since he had almost died. “I apologize for my outburst, Janelle. I am… not well,” he explained, his voice soft, and he gave Latro a wistful smile. He felt like the Reachman would understand. He turned his gaze back to Aries -- he did not like the fact that she took an interest in him and his ‘personal whims’, as she called it. Engaging in such a conversation was unwise in his current state and, quite frankly, he felt like he’d done enough talking for one day. “I must get my rest. I have a lot to process. Please excuse me and have a good evening.”

Getting back to his feet made him wince. Gregor gave Latro’s shoulder a soft squeeze and Aries a shallow bow before making his way back upstairs, taking a quick detour to grab his meal before he shuffled up the steps, his knuckles white with the strength of his grip on the handrail.

“Farewell then.” Aries said, watching Gregor as ascended up the stairs. Even after he was out of view, she watched the stairwell like hawk for a few moments before looking back at Latro, her expression gentler than it was a moment ago.

“What about you, then?” She asked.

Latro shrugged, taking a swig of his ale. He didn’t answer for a moment, but finally, “I’m not sure.” He said, “I was going to wait here until I return to the Three Crowns. Would you accompany me?”

“Of course. It would my pleasure.” She replied, her eyes still occasionally darting towards the stairwell as if she was straining to see through the walls. She didn’t trust Gregor and Sevari was beginning to worry her, but she also didn’t know Latro. She returned her discerning gaze to Latro and, ever conscious of the men upstairs, chose to ask, “So, what is your story?”

“A simple one.” Latro offered his easy smile. It was a tale he told many times, a lie known to countless people he’d met over the years, a lie Aries would know now. “I was part of the expedition that most of us met on. When the Dwemer came, we were in White-Gold City.”

He frowned, “I was there,” he said, “When they filled the streets with dead.”

“You know then why they must absolutely be stopped.” Aries replied with a nod of understanding. When Latro collected his belongings, Aries withdrew some coins from a purse hidden in her robes, paying the tab for both of them and set the pace for their walk out of the room. “You also know that Dwemer occupation on Gilane isn’t as peaceful and bloodless as they want everyone to believe.” She continued. “No matter how they frame it, it’s still a hostile takeover. An act of war.”

“I saw that when my girlfriend was paraded through the streets and brutalized. When Gregor’s woman was brutalized.” He said, he downed the rest of the tankard in two goes, wiping his lips on his forearm. He saw Aries pay the tab but didn’t let his surprise show, “Even so, it’s not a war I’m going to fight single-handedly. I know the victories I can attain, and if I get Sora back, then… maybe that’s the end of my war.”

“Surely you know better than that.” Aries asserted nonchalantly. “They’re not going to forget or forgive, you must realize. They’re holding Daro’Vasora for a reason. Whether it’s as a lure or a tool, I can’t be sure, but she’s apparently valuable enough to them that they’ll want recompense if you manage to recover her. I promised I would help you, and believe that I will… but I’m also realistic.”

Latro nodded, turning to go for the stairs and to some rest. “Yea, well,” he said, pausing as he lay his hand on the rail, “We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.”

“Speaking of… please spare me a few more seconds of your time.” She said, closing the distance between the two. She leaned in, her lips just a few inches away from his ear. Her tones were hushed and, while not frantic, were concerning. She continued, “Keep a few matches on hand. I know you don’t know who I am. I know you have no reason to trust me, but you can trust this: the circumstances are never as simple as they seem. I suspect there’s more to a Reachman’s story when he’s in the Imperial City, but I’m not so concerned about that.”

She briefly looked him in the eyes, and glanced towards the ceiling. She knew she was making a pretty big gamble on cluing him in on the fact that she didn’t have control over Sevari, whether only lately or the whole time, but also knew that if Latro was sharp, he might’ve picked up on it after the agent’s tantrum in the tunnel.

“You might think you can trust Sevari, but he’s presently not stable. Not as long as Zaveed and the other one are out there. Just be cautious about placing all of your faith on him alone. His loyalties might just waver when you need him.”

“Of course not.” He said, taking a few steps up the stairs, “It seems these days, I’ve been stocking up on matches. Farewell, Aries, we’ll speak soon.”

And he was up the stairs, to another restless sleep.
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Stormflyx Queen of Doggos

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A Storm&Hank telenovela special

12th Midyear - Afternoon - Salosoix Residence, Gilane

The back room of the Hawkford residence in Gilane was a grandiose circular sanctuary with towering bookshelves and cabinets that made the ceiling of the room appear far higher than it was. In the centre, a skylight allowed sunlight to pour through, the amber glow catching against every piece of glassware in the direct light. Towards the entrance of the room, a set of plush indigo velvet chaise lounges, surrounded by piles of books and parchments. Even though they were piled in stacks, it was deliberate, nothing in this room was out of place. In the comforting warmth of midday, the scent of warm honey, pistachio, and rosewater wafted through the windows from a kitchen somewhere.

Nothing was quite as eye-catching as the woman stood in the room, however, dressed in a deep scarlett boned sleeveless jacket of embroidered jacquard streaked with golden thread. Over her dainty shoulders was a sheer cape of golden silk, held in place with an ornate gilded metal frame that looped around her shoulders and rose around her neck like a collar where it clipped to the back of the jacket. To complete the ensemble, there was a large ruby amulet around her neck. She wore on her feet a pair of two-pronged heeled metal sandals that would be entirely impractical for anything other than indoor work.

If the room was a quiet haven and a slice of Daggerfall slotted into the tempestuous desert of Hammerfell, then the woman in the centre was every bit the image of a living and breathing representation of High Rock nobility.

“Miss Hawkford, are you alright?” came the shy voice of a Redguard stood by the window, her clothes plain. A handmaiden of the house. “You’ve been looking at that little doodad for a while now, spaced out-” she continued, tilting her head as if to gaze and look upon the face of the woman whose back was to her. The blonde Breton looked back over her shoulder, an almost vacant expression sat upon her features until she forced herself to smile over at the girl, “yes Rhoka, I’m alright, and it’s a lock actually - not a doodad. Not entirely exciting, but I’m sure that someone out there would like this old thing.” Her dreamy voice trailed off as she turned it around in her hand, and she thought instantly of Daro’Vasora. “I’d value it at a fair twenty septims, no more and no less.” Raelynn blew against the alloy of the lock in her hand, blowing free an amount of dust that had been sitting within the keyhole, before placing it down upon the table and picking up a quill to mark down on parchment her appraisal.

“The hair looks good now too,” said Rhoka to Raelynn’s surprise. The two of them had taken scissors to the ends of her hair upon her arrival at her father’s. They must have removed five or six inches of it’s length - all dry and matted. Dead. Even with such an amount removed, it still hung in loose waves to her breasts. It looked refreshed and rejuvenated, and she could smell the oils that Rhoka had worked into it. Freesia and water hyacinthe. Not her usual scent, but she had been craving change lately, and the light floral aroma was pleasing. “Thank you Rhoka,” she said as she moved over to the shelf - her heels clacking against the wooden floor, a percussive accompaniment to the gentle sound of the wind chimes fluttering in the warm breeze that had been rolling through the open windows at each side of the room.

“You’re looking better too, M’lady. If you don’t mind my saying - you’ve got colour in your cheeks again. God’s above... When you arrived - your father, he thought you were a ghost.” Raelynn took in a single sharp breath and restrained herself from upbraiding the girl for the comment there and then. She had to remind herself that she was only trying to be helpful, she was young and naive, and not aware that it wasn’t quite proper to bring up such things.

But Rhoka had been a help, a comfort. She hadn’t said much, she had just let Raelynn be. She had stayed by her side, brushed her hair, dressed her, bathed her, fed her. Let her cry when she had to without asking questions. Rhoka had helped Raelynn carve out a space in her father’s residence to rest and process her feelings by herself, in her own time. That level of love and servitude was priceless.

Truthfully, she had felt like a ghost that night too, floating from The Haunted Tide to Salosoix’s home, still coated in the blood of both Gregor and Zaveed, vacant of her own life having spent her energy to save theirs. A pathetic sight.

It hadn’t taken much to wash it away this time. Good food, the tender care and attention of both Rhoka and Zhaib, and undisturbed rest. The morning after that night had given her a new sense of vigour, and being surrounded by so many reminders of her home and her opulent upbringing allowed her to shield herself, bury the angst, and begin to move on. It was hard, but one breath at a time she locked everything down and papered it in a painted smile. She hadn’t stopped since. “Let’s just keep our heads up now and continue forwards… Besides, we have a whole chest of goods to work through. The work won’t do itself.” Even if she hadn’t meant to, the words came out pointed and piercing like a knife.

“You’re right M’lady…” Rhoka said half under her breath. She had grown to admire Raelynn in the last day or so, her resilience and grace most of all. Zhaib had only told her parts of what had been happening, and none of them knew exactly what had caused the daughter of Salosoix to appear in the doorframe, bloodied and in tears just nights ago. She hadn’t spoken a word of it. The way that Salosoix had held his glass of rum that night had suggested to her that it had been something terrible - the two of them had a way of communicating in glances. Their eyes were the same, and they must have shared souls because in a single look the Lady was able to communicate to her father what words could never hope to encapsulate. And after that, he and Zhaib took off for Hegathe for work, it couldn’t have been avoided, but the elder Hawkford left that morning in the most sour mood Rhoka had seen him in yet. He didn’t want to leave Raelynn, but his daughter, as stubborn as he was (if not more so), had insisted.

Of course, it hadn’t taken the Lady long to put herself to work, and Rhoka had noticed her smiles and change in mood when she was surrounded by the things of Daggerfall and High Rock - something was troubling her, but she was ironing it out and smoothing it down with good, honest work. It helped that she could also wear many of the jewels and fine fabrics of comfort. Oh how Rhoka wished she could adorn herself in such luxury too. She sighed and smiled in her direction, before walking over to the steps to meet Raelynn on the mezzanine.

“It’s nice to get to work for you M’lady…” she said as she got down on all fours, to a pile of antiques on the floor that needed to be cleaned and polished. “Don’t get me wrong, your father is a good man and it pleases me to serve him, but there’s nothing like having a proper Mistress to serve.”

“You’re one of the first to make that remark, it’s nice of you to say…” whenever Raelynn spoke, Rhoka could sense that the voice was just a shadow - a soft veil layered over the effort it was taking her to hold herself up, but gradually there was light returning. It was as she had told the Breton herself “no matter how dark the night, a new dawn will always bring the light back in.” Rhoka could sense that sunrise beginning for her Mistress.

As Raelynn worked her way through the goods she glanced down at Rhoka on the floor, who was carefully brushing at the dusty items that were piled up there. Something caught her eye. A ring, lying amongst a pretty sundial and a glass dagger. It had a ruby set into it and looking at it on the floor reminded her instantly of Gregor and of their first night in Anvil. How he had walked her through the streets on his arm and shown her a ring so similar, his smile - his beautiful smile. She hadn’t noticed his smile that day, having been too entranced by his eyes and his mystery. But she could see it now, beaming at her in the Anvil sunset. She gasped and it felt as if the mask was about to slip and crack and her emotions were going to spill forth and drown them both.

“M’lady?” Rhoka asked, following Raelynn’s gaze to the ruby ring on the ground. She could see the effect it was having on her Mistress as Raelynn placed a hand on her heart and swiftly turned away to sit down upon a wooden chair, back once again to the handmaiden.

“It’s just a ring… I’ve moved it away now…” the girl took it into her hand. It was dusty and had seen better days, but she could tell that it once sat on the hand of a pretty noblewoman - probably one just like Raelynn. She could feel how heavy Raelynn’s mood had gotten to see it. The lady was heartbroken. Rhoka got to her feet and walked to Raelynn’s side, taking from a pocket in her apron an ivory comb which she began to run though the long hair of the Breton. “...Thank you, Rhoka,” was all that Raelynn could say in a weak voice through pursed blood red lips as she went back to breathing in and out again, pushing the thoughts of Gregor back down where they belonged for now.

After some time had passed, she felt normal again. The soothing tingle of the handmaiden combing her hair helped to ease down her rising feelings of despair and sentiment. “Say, why don’t you go and fetch us some of those knafeh and baklava that my father raves about?” She mustered a smile - her head shaking a little but she got to her feet once more, reaching into Rhoka’s hand for the ring. As she had with the lock, she held it up to the sun which was pooling in from the skylight. It twinkled and glistened like only a flawless jewel could, and with a content smile she sighed and placed it next to the parchment, writing down her appraisal; “Not for Sale”.

Rhoka made her way down the steps and to the door, turning around for one last look at Raelynn before she set off to the markets. She was already examining something else, the serious look back on her face, eyes squinting at the sundial, a small brush in her other hand that she was using to dust it off. Satisfactory. She closed the door behind her, and made her way into the busy afternoon streets.

Not long after Rhoka had left, someone else came calling upon the Hawkford residence. An Imperial man of average height but imposing stature, his dark hair swept back into a ronin’s knot and his beard immaculately trimmed, who was dressed in fine Hammerfell linens; a white shirt and tan breeches. The deep neck and loose fabric of the shirt revealed that his torso was bandaged. Around his shoulders was draped a fine cloak expertly woven from double lined cotton, brown as clay, that hung all the way down to the heels of his dark leather boots and flowed as smoothly as the waves of the sea as he walked. A ruby set into a silver ring of remarkable craftsmanship glittered on one of the man’s fingers, catching the sun in spectacular fashion, and a golden band around his wrist did a similarly fine job of reflecting the golden city of Gilane itself.

He looked better than he had done before, with the appearance of a man on the mend after a grave illness or a serious injury. His tanned skin, typical of his race, was still slightly more pale than it should be if he were in entirely good health, and there was a darkness beneath his eyes that betrayed the pain and fatigue he still felt, but the worst had passed. His movements were stiff and measured and he walked with a wooden cane that he was clearly inexperienced with. Everything about him, from the thin grimace of his lips to the white-knuckled grip of the cane’s handle, bespoke of a man who was unused to being at anything less than the peak of male physical performance and who took a dim view of his current state of well-being. There was a gravity to his presence and the people on the streets of Gilane, either consciously or subconsciously, made way for him and turned their heads to watch him pass by; a stranger to these lands, a foreigner, but somehow obviously and undeniably important. A man on a mission.

Gregor Sibassius was his name. He raised his hand to knock on the front door but stopped himself when he noticed that it was slightly ajar. Instead, he pressed his fingers against the solid wood, warm and smooth after having basked in the sun all day, and pushed. The door swung open smoothly on well-oiled hinges and Gregor stepped inside, stopping just beyond the precipice, waiting for his eyes to adjust. At first glance, the residence seemed deserted; neither the pater familias nor the scion were anywhere to be seen. After a few seconds Gregor noticed that a door at the far end of the hall, one that had been closed on all his previous visits, was open, and he could hear the quiet sounds of domestic activity beyond. His cane and the raised soles of his boots clicked and clacked on the panelled floor upon his approach. For some reason, indiscernible from his expression alone, Gregor stopped when he reached the door. He fidgeted with his cane and took a deep breath. He muttered something unintelligible to himself and entered.

What greeted him beyond was almost entirely unexpected. The splendor and design of the room, brilliantly illuminated by the sunrays that entered through the skylight, captivated his attention and his gaze wandered throughout for quite a while, flitting from artifact to bookshelf to pile of papers and back again, before he noticed the woman on the mezzanine above him. Her back was turned to him but he recognised her immediately, despite her new clothes. Even her hair was different. He drew a sharp breath. If she had noticed his entry she showed no sign of it and continued to study something -- too small to see -- by holding it up against the sunlight, and Gregor used the time to simply look at her. She was beautiful, more so than ever, and the austere look on his face softened somewhat as he was moved by the sight.

Raelynn turned the dagger around in her hand, it had jewels set into the pommel. Sapphires, but they weren't flawless - even if they were pretty. It was a stunningly simple dagger, the blade not too long or sharp - it would suit a woman's hand. She raised a thumb to her lip and nodded at it, the sound of footsteps approaching caught her attention but not enough to look away from the dagger. As she leaned forward to put quill to parchment, she spoke out and broke the silence that had fallen, “Rhoka, if you forgot the coin purse again it's in the usual spot - and if you wouldn't mind picking up some of those lamb things…”

After having written down her notes she had started to turn around, expecting to see the round, perpetually friendly face of her handmaiden, instead she was met by the sight of a gentlemanly figure who took her breath away at the sight of him. It was Gregor, and naturally upon seeing him her lips curled into a smile until she found herself again and blinked quickly to diminish it, letting seriousness return to her face, turning her face away. Their last meeting hadn't been pleasant, she didn't yet understand why he was here. Although, of course she did know. He wanted to hear her explanation - her side of the story, but she could not be sure whether he came here to chastise her, or listen, or to attack. And yet she did not fear him.

“I'm sorry, I thought you were someone else for a moment…” Where her hands had been held up at her chest, they dropped to her sides slowly and she straightened in posture as she took in the sight of him. Her eyes fixed on the cane in his hand, her mouth hung open just a little in surprise still. She wanted to tell him that she'd missed him, but now wasn't the time. Had he missed her? He wasn't ready to hear that, it wasn't what he should hear. She straightened herself up, hands hanging together in a soft fist. “Your wounds… They must be itching by now, yes?”

He almost returned her smile but the urge to do so faded when her own expression turned to mirror his. They were not ready to be unconditionally happy to see each other. Gregor opened his mouth to reply to her question but closed it again. He looked down at himself for a few seconds, eyes lingering on the bandages, his jaw working while he minced his words. “Worse than that,” he said at length and looked back up at Raelynn. He decided that the shorter hair suited her. “The pain is a potent reminder that no good deed goes unpunished.” His tone was more caustic than he would have liked and he sighed. “And it makes me discourteous. My apologies. Yes… they itch.”

She made her way with purposeful strides to a cabinet in a darkened, cooler corner, opening the doors carefully as she removed a small metal bowl from a plate of frost salts. “I made this, I was going to have Rhoka bring it to you…” She hovered in the spot, looking at the ointment inside. She thought about how much difficulty her handmaiden had trying to locate the various reagents that made it up. She had to stifle a laugh with her hand. “It was quite the caper to locate some Cloud Mist…” she admitted, pressing a finger into the mixture. It was cool enough now. She moved timidly towards him with it, descending the steps to place it down on a side table.

Her hand lingered over it, a cold mist rising from the gel like ointment inside. Raelynn pulled away and began back up the stairs, back to the desk - creating the space between them again. “It will help, anyway.”

The fact that she had made something to help him with his pain was touching, but Gregor felt conflicted that she would not have brought it to him herself. Was that out of respect for his need for space or because she was unwilling to face him? He felt a similar pang when she retreated back to the mezzanine. He looked at the bowl and the ointment inside for a few seconds. His questions could wait. Gregor rested his cane against the side table and bent over to dab some of the cool gel on his fingers of his right hand. He hooked the fingers of his left hand underneath the edge of the bandage that covered his collarbone and the grievous scar that pained him there and gingerly applied the ointment on his skin, evenly spreading it on the scar tissue that he could reach this way, and waited, dropping his hands to his sides. He balled his fists, trying to hide the trembling of his fingers from Raelynn.

He did not have to wait long. A sense of relief began to spread through his upper body and he exhaled slowly, his mouth hanging open slightly at the pleasurable sensation. It reminded him of when Raelynn had massaged his spine, but this was so much better. “Thank you,” he said, and no amount of sourness in his mood could have taken the sincere gratitude out of his voice. “It helps a lot.” He looked up at her with an ambiguous expression, his smoldering anger disarmed by her kindness, and a small smile that was equal parts sheepish and melancholic played around his lips. “You look well.”

She sat down at the desk slowly, eyes following him as he applied her medicine. He may have tried to hide it, but she saw how his fingers shook against him, betraying him like that. She blinked and looked down at the desk and began to busy herself by rolling up the parchment she had been writing on. His struggle reminded her of her own pains with her hands - even now they would seize occasionally. But not today. When he complimented her, she took a look at herself sidelong in a standing mirror, sat in her jacket, the cape. She was so unlike herself and yet so completely herself at the same time. She looked like the woman she had been a long time ago, the woman she had to become again now. “Thank you…” she replied quietly to him, her blue eyes meeting his only briefly before she pulled the gaze away once more with a sigh that suggested she was lost for words and breath all at once. She stood back up, pacing slowly. She knew why he was here, but how to best explain? The best thing would be to just tell him, to explain to him in her own words, while he had the patience to hear it.

“I did try to kill him, Gregor,” was how she chose to start, there was to be no pussyfooting around it, afterall. She moved away from under the skylight to a bookshelf. The scent of the pages mottled with dust that sat against their spines hung in the air. It was a comforting scent that reminded her of aspects of her childhood, of being surrounded by old dogeared tomes. “I stuck him with his own blade.” As she said the words, she tensed her fingers and they retracted back into balled fists against the heavy wooden shelves. Only then did she look at him again, to gauge his reaction - wondering if such a fact would make him feel better or worse.

He tried to picture it, to place himself in her shoes at that moment. Raelynn, blade in hand, an already mortally wounded Zaveed at her mercy, and all the opportunity in the world to put an end to an evil that had caused her so much suffering. Gregor watched in his mind’s eye as Zaveed’s own dagger was thrust into him in, and then… nothing. What could have possibly changed her mind? He could not think of anything. He frowned, a twinge of annoyance visible on his face. Grace is just weakness, he wanted to say, but kept his tongue. “Go on,” he said instead.

With her eyes back on the books in front of her, she drew a long breath. She wasn’t really looking at anything, her eyes blank and vacant as she relived it in the details she could remember. It was the orange sunset - the vermillion and rust colours moving through the air. The scent of spices, the sounds of everyday monotony just streets away, and the look that lay in Zaveed’s eyes of a man who had given up, that reflected it all. “He didn’t fight me. He thanked me for it.” She traced her nails over her collarbone and turned from the bookshelf - walking in the other direction and back to the desk. “I didn’t feel any better. I thought that… If I could finish it, if I could see him die… If I could hurt him as he did to me then I would feel better.”

With her eyes closed, a clenched fist sat in the centre of her chest she fought back tears and managed to get the urge to pass with a few long breaths. She wasn’t about to crack and cry, she couldn’t. “I felt worse, because I didn’t feel better.”

“There was nothing in me, I was empty and I have been empty for too long, Gregor…” She shook her head and straightened up, pursing her lips in concentration before a stoic expression returned. “I know that you don’t understand it, Gods, I don’t understand it either.” She thought to tell him about what she had said to Daro’Vasora that night, the sound of her own voice replayed in her mind; It’s okay if it’s not me. The desperate desire for an end to it. No, that would remain as a secret shared only by Daro’Vasora and Raelynn.

The pregnant silence that hung over them like a shroud was only broken by the tapping of Gregor’s cane on the floor as he lifted it up and down, in tandem with the nodding of his head while he looked around the room. He clenched and flexed his fingers and chewed on the insides of his cheeks. “You didn’t feel better,” he repeated, his voice tense and strained. “While I lay dying in the room at the inn, our room, you saved Zaveed’s life because killing him made you feel bad.” He muttered a curse beneath his breath and looked down at the ground. He wanted to throw something and the knowledge that doing so would only make his pain worse was almost as impossible to stand as his impotent anger. He did not look back up at Raelynn when he continued. “I did not attack him. The wounds he inflicted on me were not out of self-defense. We ran into each other in an alley -- I had guessed right that he would be in the area because of the attack on the Dominion envoy -- and he reached for his weapons before I’d even recognized who he was. He was more than eager to kill me, Raelynn. I fought him and I beat him but it took… everything, everything that I have within my powers, and when he was defeated and his soul was trapped, someone intervened. He escaped but he should have died from his injuries,” he said, and it was only then that he looked up. Gregor’s face was set in an accusatory scowl, thunder in his eyes, and he practically spat out his next words. “And then you saved him. Do you think he will just forgive me for almost sending him to suffer an eternity in the Soul Cairn? Which, if I may remind you, was your request in the first place? I did as you asked, I fulfilled my promise to you, and you repaid me by undoing my work.”

They were nearing a tipping point. “You have to do better than that,” Gregor growled with a note of finality.

If there was thunder in his expression, then a maelstrom had brewed in hers, beset into the blue and grey of her eyes, and she would not bow to him on this. She would not fall to his feet and beg for his forgiveness. That was not her way anymore. She had grown too lenient and too passive recently. She moved to the edge of the stairs, a hand on the bannister as she looked down upon him. It was ridiculous, but she felt powerful up there, in the Hawkford’s treasure room. This was her safe space, this is where she had been carving herself fresh, he would not come in here with his anger and accusations like this. Pangs of guilt struck her, yes, but she did not budge. “You lied to me.” It wasn’t spat, there was no malice beneath it, it was just stated.

“You told me you were going to collect your things. But that's not true. You heard of the attack and you went looking and you didn’t tell me. You lied to me.” She shook her head and turned away from the edge, her cape swooping behind her with the force of it. She retreated to shadow. “I went out there looking for you. I was worried about you.” In the face of his anger like this, she knew that he would not rest and manage to quell it until something she could say satisfied his hunger. “You did fulfill your promise, you did.” Her arms folded over her chest and she began pacing slowly again, “I wish you would have told me where you were going, you may not have been so hurt and we could have done it together. Together we could have killed him,” her voice had softened and trailed off. There was little need for her to be so defensive about it, he was right to be angry and demanding, and in her mind so was she. “And I didn’t feel bad about it. I… didn’t feel anything.”

It was true that he lied to her. Exasperation flitted across Gregor’s face before he regained his composure. “I didn’t want you to come with me because I was afraid he would find a way to use you against me,” Gregor said. “And if I told you where I was going, you would have followed me. I know you well enough, Raelynn.” Something approaching a smile tugged at his lips. “But evidently not as well as I thought. Never would I have expected that you would show him mercy.” He looked around the room again, as if searching for support from something that wasn’t there, before he turned back to Raelynn. “Fine, if killing him made you feel nothing, or empty, how did saving him make you feel? Tell me that, at least.”

Part of her wasn’t concentrating on him anymore, her eyes had been fixated on a vase that she had valued very highly earlier. She was imaging how freeing it would be to lift it from it’s plinthe and throw it as hard as she could across the room. How many pieces would it break into? What kind of sound would it make? How far would the pieces spread across the ground? She tore her eyes away from it, locking onto his, her lip trembling, she knew her next words would wound him as the same words had wounded her, “I thought we were a team…” She didn’t regret it, she didn’t underline the words with venom or punctuate with indignation, but he needed to feel their gravitas, and to understand the worry she felt at his absence.

“Saving him?” The sound of the waves was deafening in her ears. It’s all she could call to mind, the soft bubbling sound of them breaking the shore and receding back to the ocean over and over. “It felt horrible, painful… It was ugly and vile…” Raelynn brought both hands to her mouth as quickly as she did so, her eyes wide open in terror as the words came out. Would it ruin him more knowing that neither option was enough to mend her? Was her being mended something he even wanted in the face of the revelation? “But I had to… I had to show him compassion… So that I would never have to become like him.” She took a long, drawn out breath, “all I had that he didn’t have, was compassion.” Her eyes shut tightly and her hands found her way to her face again, covering everything now as she struggled to contain herself. The bottle that was holding everything together was about to shatter like the vase that she so desperately wanted to throw.

He wanted to respond, to throw her naive notions of compassion into the winds, to chastise her for allowing weakness to get the better of her at such a critical moment -- to say the same things to Raelynn now that he had said to Daro’Vasora before, about the nature of monsters and mercy, but his breath caught in his throat when he saw the shape of a woman in the shadows beneath the mezzanine. Long, dark hair, eyes that shone like precious jewels, a beautiful, modest dress… he shook his head slightly, eyes wide at the apparition. He did not want to see her now, not like this. The present was painful enough without the regrets of the past coming back to haunt him now.

The woman stepped out of the shadow and into the light and Gregor saw that it was not Briar. It was Gaia. She smiled at him, her head tilted, a mother’s love writ upon her face; the kind that could only allow pity at seeing her son astray, and nothing more malicious than that. “Is that not why you love her?” she asked, her voice coming from far away. Gregor could only stare, unblinking and motionless. “The compassion she showed him… it’s how she can love you, sweetheart. Do not admonish her for that. Without it, she would not be the woman she is.”

At last, Gregor’s anger broke and he looked up at Raelynn, seeing how she hid behind her hands, how her shoulders quivered with the effort it took to keep herself together in the face of his disappointment and his fury. “You compliment each other not because you are the same, but because you are different,” his mother said. Gregor felt it now, like a tidal wave rushing over his chest: love, admiration, shame.

“Raelynn,” Gregor said at last, his voice unsteady. A single tear ran down his face. “I’m sorry. Come here. I’m so sorry…”

The Breton hadn’t seen what had happened, head still buried in her hands, fixed in her spot. She would never know what it was that changed Gregor’s mind - she only knew the feeling of a cold shot of relief that hit her head on when he apologised. It almost knocked her to the floor, but he needed her by his side again - he was ready to accept her there. Slowly she began towards the stairs, her hands dropped to her sides, and while her face appeared unreadable, she continued until she couldn't. Her foot was hanging over the edge of the step and she was so close, but she turned away instead - knowing what was about to happen. A crack in the bottle.

Raelynn turned her back to him again and in a graceful way she stumbled in the direction of desk, her hands planting down onto the wood, fingers gripping at it. She had held herself together for so long all day, for each day since she had been sent away from him. With a single and almost inaudible breath she whispered down at the parchment “I’m so in love with you…” Had he heard it? Her cheeks were growing hot, and she watched as a tear hit an unrolled piece of parchment, causing the ink to bleed out.

“I just can’t…” she began, louder this time, but her voice wavering and broken “I can’t think about anybody… Or anything.” She was breathing quicker, panicked almost, and she waved a hand on front of her face - fanning away the heat - grateful that Gregor could not see her face and the way that even her chin trembled as she broke against her emotions. “I can’t sleep…” she felt a tear roll down her cheek, and rest on her jaw. She swallowed and brought a hand to her chest, fingers grasping the bare flesh there before working their way up to her throat. “I can’t breathe…” She let go and lifted her head to look up above her through the window of the skylight, the endless blue. She took another breath, and another - drinking in the oxygen. “I love you.” She had to stop momentarily, catching her breath again as one of her hands balled into a fist and she finally turned to face him, meeting his eyes as she stood back up as best she could, the edge of the desk all that was supporting her; “I love you.”

The cane fell to the floor, useless and unnecessary, followed by Gregor’s cloak -- such was the force with which he stormed the stairs, shrugging off the new garment with ease. He crested each step with vigor, his limbs fueled by a strength that ran deeper than any wound or poison could impede, and he swept her up in his arms the very second he finally reached her. There would be no distance between them anymore. Gregor planted a kiss on her forehead, and another, and he wept freely. “Forgive me,” he whispered as he held her close, his shaking hands clinging to her without shame. “I was blinded by my anger, so blind that I could not see the good in your heart without calling it weakness.” He closed his eyes and laid his head against hers. “I love you too,” he breathed.

She smiled and kissed him back, brushing away the tears from his cheeks with her thumbs. “It’s alright. It’s alright now…” As she had done many times before, she traced her fingers down the back of his neck, holding him just as close as he held her. “I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner, I - we needed space. I needed time, it was selfish perhaps but I needed to be here… I’m sorry.” Her lips pressed to his forehead again, and she took in a deep breath of him before closing her eyes.

When Gregor opened his eyes again he saw Gaia once more, standing on the other side of Raelynn’s desk. Her hands were clasped in front of her and she beamed at him, proud and emotional, and she was crying too. Gregor gasped for breath. How he had longed to see his mother again, how much he had missed her -- not the shadow he had left behind, all that had remained of her after his father died, but the woman he remembered from his childhood. For her to appear now and guide him on the right path one last time… he could barely breathe, so full was his chest of gratitude and bittersweet sorrow. Thank you, he mouthed, and she nodded once, as if to say of course, before she disappeared.

“I understand,” Gregor said, returning his attention back to Raelynn. They could begin to heal now, not separately, but together. “I needed time as well. If you had tried to explain yourself to me before I was ready to come to you, I would not have understood. Hell, it was hard for me to get over myself as it stands.” His voice had regained some of its composure and he pulled back a little, his hands on her shoulders, so that he could look at her properly. “I like the hair,” he said and laughed, his tears drying up.

She ran her fingers across the clasps connecting the cape and it’s frame to her jacket to open them, and with a shrug of her shoulders it dropped off and fell behind her, giving her movement - allowing him to get closer to her. “It was Rhoka’s idea…” she smiled, playfully flipping it back over her shoulder with the back of her hand. Her face softened and her expression fell, but there was still an energy behind her eyes - a light. “I needed this time my love,” she bit her lip as she said the words, still trying to get used to having such feelings out in the open. “I had to learn that the fire inside of me burns far brighter than anything out there that would threaten me…”

“A good lesson to learn,” Gregor agreed. “And you remained true to yourself, even when I would have had you do otherwise. This,” he said and looked around the room, “this is very much you, isn’t it? I’ve never been to High Rock but this place looks like how I always imagined it. It’s beautiful. I saw that you were working when I came in. What were you doing?”

She smiled at his awe of the room, and her own eyes tracked his as they looked at everything. “This is my father, actually. He has always had a flair for this. In a way it is me, but this is his doing. It’s like he transported his shop right into Hammerfell. This is… where I grew up.” She sighed and allowed herself to look over the room too. It really was beautiful. She ran a finger over her lip as she pondered how best to explain to him what she had been doing, “many of the items you see here were… procured by him in Gilane. I’m simply recording them as inventory and estimating a price. He’ll be having them sent to High Rock soon enough I believe.”

“Of course. Handling precious things and judging them for their worth, who better for the task than Raelynn Hawkford?” he teased and gave her a playful nudge. All of his anger and resentment had disappeared like virgin snow in the spring sunshine and he looked like it had taken ten years off him; his eyes sparkled in the warm light and some color had returned to his cheeks. “Where is your father, by the way? I had already prepared myself for having to go through him to get to speak with you.”

Her eyes moved to the floor in a coy fashion at his flirtation, and she tucked a section of hair behind her ear before her pacing began again, this time it was slow and calm - her back straightened and she placed her hands together in front of her again. Like a noble woman would. “He left the morning after I arrived with Zhaib, to go to Hegathe. It seemed quite urgent, and so I’ve been taking care of everything in his stead.” Raelynn picked up the quill from the table, placing it carefully back into the ink pot beside it. “I haven’t done much else, I don’t even think I’ve left the house… There has been much to do within these walls.” Part of her felt slightly resentful that nobody had called to see her, perhaps they would not have known where to find her even if they had wanted to. It showed on her face when she looked to the side sharply.

Despite the urge to keep her close and hold her tight, Gregor let her resume her pacing and dropped his arms by his side. His exhaustion and the state of his body caught up with him now that the outburst of emotion had passed and he slowly sank down on a chair near Raelynn’s desk, stopping himself from groaning out loud as he did. He could easily picture how she had drifted through this room, keeping herself occupied and retreating into something as familiar as a slice of home. When she averted her gaze he felt a pang of sympathy. It had been just as hard on her as it had been on him.

“I did not tell anyone where you were,” he said eventually. Gregor had been certain that this was where he would find her, but he knew her better than anyone else, after all. “I figured you’d want to be left alone, like me. Not that I’ve spoken to many of the others, though. I haven’t been back to the hotel since…”

Gregor trailed off and looked out the window, focusing on keeping his breathing calm. He couldn’t think about his fight with Zaveed without feeling his heartbeat spike. It was like the event and the associated adrenaline and fear were seared into his bones. He looked back at Raelynn, her beauty and her grace, and realised he did not want to talk about what had happened to him since Raelynn’s departure just yet. He wasn’t ready to invite the outside world into their reunion.

“When you found me, I was dreaming,” he said softly. “The monster in the forest. It was taunting me with the last words of a man I killed many years ago. As I ran from it I came upon my old home. A safe place, or so I thought. It burned to the ground and I had to flee again. It was like my regrets and all of my guilt came back to see me off one last time…” Gregor took a deep breath. “But then you came and when you kissed me awake, it was my mother that sent me back to you,” he continued and smiled. Tears brimmed in his eyes. “It was like your touch brought me back to the good in the world. I’m so sorry I was angry with you. I should never have allowed the shadow of Zaveed to have so much power over us. I didn’t leave the inn, either. Just drank my sorrows away.” He wiped at his eyes and sighed. “I don’t know why I’m rambling like this. I’m sorry. Don’t mind me.”

She wasn’t sure how to respond, and so she held a silence for a while and stared over the room, her eyes hardened as she looked beyond everything around her. “I told you that our dreams bring us messages… Tell us things, lessons. I can only assume that the monster has left the recesses of your subconscious now?” She raised her thumb to her lips to nibble at it gently, while in thought. She snapped her eyes back to Gregor, a half smile on her lips. “I believe that you have it within you already to come back to the good of the world, as you say. All I did was some magic…” Her smile grew, and she made her way to the shelves again, running a finger across the mahogany.

She let herself go back to that night, it was her intense fear and guilt that had caused her magicka to spiral out of control. She had never experienced such a feeling, it felt almost like the streams of restoration were being pulled from her, instead of given. It had all helped him, of course, but she had felt weightless and powerless as it ran from her body and into him. She hadn’t been able to use it since. The truth was that her gift had burnt her that night. Confronted with Gregor now just reminded her that had she been in the room, she could have done a better job at healing him. She had saved his life, but it had torn him apart too. And what good was that? Her compassion to Zaveed had almost cost her everything - her gift to Zaveed had consequences. “I deserved your anger in that moment, I can’t find it in me to be aggrieved about it now.” Her voice was soft, and she gazed down at the floor again.

Gregor’s eyes lit up. “You know me better than I know myself, it seems. You’re right. I stabbed the beast between the eyes before I awoke and it hasn’t been back since.” He held out his hand to her. “Then let there be no further grievances between us again,” he added and tilted his head. “Something else is bothering you. What is it?”

“Just… a case of mind over matter, nothing more than that.” She lifted her gaze to meet him. He looked almost peaceful in the chair with his hand outstretched towards her, eyes brightened under the sun like that. How could she not smile at him and return to his side when he looked at her that way? He was still carrying pain in his limbs and chest, she could see it in the way he chose to slump backwards. As she walked back over she let her fingertips linger over his —deliberately choosing to barely touch them, in a kittenish manner with a smirk. She brought herself to his side again having made a lap of the room now and kissed his forehead.

“Very well, keep your secrets,” Gregor mumbled when she leaned over to kiss him and closed his eyes at the touch of her lips on his skin. Something, some ferocious tension within him, had uncoiled and he exhaled slowly, feeling his muscles begin to loosen up. “You know, it hurts to stretch,” he said and opened one eye to look up at her. “I don’t think I can apply that ointment you made everywhere it needs to be.” He knew he did not have to ask the question out loud, and he was glad. It pained him to have to ask for help.

“A shame,” she said in a faux serious tone, “if only you had someone to help you with those things,” she closed it off with a sigh, rolling her eyes around the room, before finally cracking a smile.

Off she went, slowly, down the steps towards the bowl on the table. Already it had lost much of the coolness but that wouldn’t lessen it’s healing effects. As she came back to him, she realised she would have to strip him of the bandages. She’d have to look upon his chest and scars again. It was her fault they were there, she should be confronted once more with them. A reminder of what she had done to him. The bowl was set down gently on the table, and she moved her hands to his chest, pausing to look him in the eye - as if seeking his permission, to remove them.

Despite himself, despite the fact that he asked for her help, Gregor almost flinched and felt himself tense right back up again when her fingers brushed against the bandages. He clenched his fists, bit his lip, inhaled sharply and felt his left foot bounce up and down rapidly on the floor. Panic frayed at the edges of his heart. He had already looked upon himself in the mirror the day after it happened but, for some reason, the trauma had only grown worse with every passing hour. It was like it had needed time to sink in and dig in deep and it was so much worse when someone else touched him there. Gregor forced himself to open his hands and stretch his fingers and he breathed out through his nose. Raelynn was looking at him, trying to meet his gaze, and when he finally met her eyes, his were filled with equal parts turmoil and determination. He nodded. Go ahead, he wanted to say, but he could not find his voice.

Before anything could be done about the bandages, she had to ease his trepidation. It would not do to treat him while he was in this state, and so she softened before him and drew to him calmly, moving her hands away from his chest entirely. She placed her finger under his chin delicately, lifting him to meet her lips where she placed as soft a kiss as she could, her hands moved to his hands and she caressed him with only the touch of her fingers and lips on his skin. “It’s alright,” she whispered against his neck as she brushed her lips there, “it’s just me.” Raelynn knew that despite her lack of magical abilities right now, they had their love - she hoped it would be enough to soothe him.

One hand found its way to the other side of his neck, her fingernails gently scratching him behind his ear as she continued to lay her kisses on him. Sometimes it was easier to tear a bandage off, sometimes it was not. This occasion was the latter. Memories of the wounds that were seared into her brain told her of a safe spot to start to remove them, and so she slipped her finger with an efficient ease between cloth and skin, pulling it free. That did it, and then she brought both of her hands to the buttons of his linen shirt, undoing them one by one in as sensual a manner as she could. When the last was unbuttoned, she slid the shirt away from his shoulders - as she had done many times before. “It won’t hurt,” she mumbled reassuringly. In a swift movement she brushed the bandaging away, freeing the wounds from their constriction and revealing them to Raelynn’s eyes. She didn’t flinch. They were as they had been when she had left him. Red, deep, and running across his skin like stripes. In a way, they reminded her of the scar that her hand bore from the nail. The only difference was, that she chose to let hers fester by choice - shame. Whereas Gregor had needed her, and she could have mended him.

Her kisses, her soft words, the way she took off his shirt, her patience, the affection in her eyes -- it made it all tolerable, but it also filled him with a deep, stifling grief that made him feel very small. She had listened to his vitriolic tirade, allowed him to come into her home and accuse her, without so much as a single ounce of retaliation. Even before he had visited her and come to his senses, she had dedicated her time, effort and resources to brewing a remedy for his pain. She had waited for him, in pain and longing, until he was ready. When he had come and realized what a fool he had been, she had told him that she loved him and now he felt it; everything about her positively radiated it. He turned his head aside while Raelynn looked upon his wounds and hot tears ran down his cheeks yet again as he tried not to cry, biting his lip to stop it from quivering and grabbing the chair tightly to stabilize himself.

He did not deserve such kindness. He knew it.

The gel was still cold enough to the touch as she held it in her hands, saving it for his chest. She had noticed that he had changed in demeanour, even if she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. It was as if a deep melancholy had broken through him. The way that his hands held so fiercely to the chair saddened her, only moments ago they were jubilant with each other, logically she knew it was to be expected. They both needed healing, but all she wanted was for him to hold and grip her as tightly again as he was the seat. It choked her to look at him too long like this. She had to ease his pain - and it would start with a simple remedy. What was required after was currently unknown to her, but they would figure it out together.

She had seen worse injuries many times, and she would see worse still - but on Gregor, there was a different layer to it. She was in love with him, and so anything that wounded him, she felt it too. This wasn’t a Nord from Skyrim who’d lost his leg and shredded his arm wrestling with a bear. This was Gregor. This was her Gregor. She owed him so much now. Her penance would start with this and she began to rub in the gel, slowly, but with firm movements and without moving her eyes from the scars.

He did not want to look her in the eye, so she would not tempt him, she just worked at his chest, shoulders, arms, and neck until the bowl was empty and his skin was left with a glossy sheen across it while the gel worked its way through the skin.

Suddenly she didn’t want to meet his eyes either, now that her job was complete, she was just face-to-face once more with the reality of the situation. Gregor had almost died. “Gregor I…” she started with her gaze drifting to the floor, her fingers still moving over his wounds. “I hadn’t given it much thought until I saw you again… But... You could have died because of me. I’m sorry, I should have been there and I wasn’t. You were there when I needed you, but I…” The treatment was done, and she slipped down to the floor, drawing her knees to her chest at a forlorn pace, her voice baleful and distant. “I failed you…”

She had no tears left within her to cry for him, so she settled for resting her chin on her knees and closing her eyes, lips trembling and voice wavering. Eyes dry. “Because of me you almost had it all taken from you, and yet you took the risk for me… I should have been there. And I wasn’t, and I hadn’t thought about it because I did save you - only just, Gods…” Her eyes opened, and she looked up at Gregor with a hurt expression. “But when I saw you - I don’t know, it’s like it suddenly hit me how it would feel to actually lose you now. I failed you.

The gel’s effect, now that the entire content of the bowl had been spread across his torso, was even better than the small dab of the the ointment he had applied earlier and Gregor finally exhaled before taking a deep, shuddering breath. He hadn’t even realized he had been holding hit in until then. He sniffled and breathed again, eyes closed, losing himself in the immense relief he felt as the pain slowly subsided. The wooden chair creaked as the tension on it from Gregor’s firm grip was released and his hands fell, limp, over the edge of the handrails.

He kept his eyes closed as he listened to her. It was as if she had helped to soothe his soul as well by taking the pain of his body away and Gregor felt, even when Raelynn brought it up again, that he truly wasn’t angry anymore. He took another deep breath, enjoying how it no longer agonized him, and turned his palms up. Magic sprang to life in his hands, pale blue wisps of light from far away, and he turned back to look at Raelynn at last. Some of his usual strength and conviction had returned to his face now, as the last of the chains around his heart uncoiled and slipped away, and he gazed down upon Raelynn with warmth and steel in his eyes in equal measure.

Perhaps it did not matter if he deserved such kindness or not. He needed it and she was willing to give it to him. With her, he could be a better, stronger person than before. “But I am still here. We are only human, Raelynn. Mistakes are inevitable. You told me you went looking for me -- I believe you. It was only rotten luck that we missed each other and you found him instead.” His voice was hoarse and drained from the weight of his emotions and his weariness, but she had rekindled his spark. He leaned forward and reached down to stroke her cheek with his hand and his face softened. “You did save me,” he whispered. “And you healed me. Thank you.” He mouthed the last two words with all the sincerity and emphasis he could muster.

“I did,” she said with a smile as she leaned into his touch and reached up to hold his hand with hers, intertwining her fingers with his, squeezing them tightly before releasing them again. “I did save you, I... “ She sighed, unable to bring it upon herself to continue with what she wanted to say. She wanted to respect that he was forgiving, and that he didn’t need anything else to be discussed regarding the matter. His forgiveness, and the way that he looked at her immediately set her at ease and she felt so warm and protected by him once more. She just stared up at him for a while, drinking him in. Every bit of him. “I can make more of that soon, too,” she chimed, snapping out of it, with life in her voice again as she picked the bowl up and walked it back to the cabinet. She allowed herself a pained glance at her own hands now that they were empty. She bit her lip, but didn’t stay there for too long, she wanted to be close to Gregor again. He was here and his presence excited her. She closed the glass doors and turned back to her paramour with a smile. “So, what now?”

Good question. Gregor got to his feet and donned his linen shirt again. He cast a glance at the bandages, which had been for comfort as much as they had been to hide his scars behind, but he felt that he no longer needed them. He did not have to be ashamed of something that could not hurt him any longer. He paced around the mezzanine now, echoing Raelynn’s movements from before, while he rolled his shoulders and stretched his arms. It felt good. The ointment hadn’t taken care of the trembling in his fingers, he noticed with a pang of disappointment. The nerve damage would take more than that to heal. Still, he was almost back to normal functionality, now that his arms were no longer stiff and painful, and that was enough.

“Now that we have reconciled and the worst of my… discomfort, as it were, has been taken care of, we can turn our eyes to the future,” Gregor mused and ran his fingers across the spines of the books he walked past. “Which is something that I have not given much thought until now. I think our priority should be to return to the others, wherever in Gilane they might be. We should stay with them. I still have my quest to complete and being embedded within the resistance against the Dwemer is my best shot at doing so,” he said and looked at Raelynn. He frowned, quizzical and somewhat sheepish. “What do you want? I’m sorry, I didn’t even think to ask. You have your work here now, of course.”

Raelynn chuckled to herself at his question. “Ah, please Gregor, we both know this isn’t my work - this is filling time, once my father returns I’ll have no need to be here.” She followed his footsteps, arriving by his side, “I will go where I’m needed - and that’s with our group. With you.” She turned to face him, straightening up the collar of his shirt against his neck with a sultry smile. “There is more that I want us to do, to achieve. I have found a way in which I can help you…” The Breton placed a hand on the bookshelf, tracing a finger across the spines as Gregor did. “I want to dedicate some time to my Alchemy, to study and improve my skills - there are things I can create that will help you in your quest, help us.” If she couldn’t learn the art of Necromancy, she would expand her knowledge of what she already knew. When Gregor had first sacrificed N’blec’s soul to his Ideal Master, she had wondered where she would fit in with his quest - aside from being his companion. She didn’t want to just live as an observer to his journey, she wanted to guide and assist him to the Ascension that he deserved.

“I’ve had a lot of quiet time here. Time to reflect on everything, and it only makes me firmer in my resolve to be there with you, Gregor. Wherever you go, I will be there… If you’ll have me.” Saying the words, being back by his side - the nightmare that was Zaveed now behind them - it empowered her. It was time to get back to where they had been. No more distractions. Raelynn smiled up at him again, burning desire steadily returning as she met his eyes with her own. “Of course…” she began with a flirtatious undertone, “I may feel especially put out if you make us go back to the hotel so soon... Can’t we just have some time to ourselves? Just a little more time…” Her head tilted to the side and her lips pouted. There was an alluring glint in her eyes that gave suggestion as to exactly what was on her mind.

Gregor put his hands on Raelynn’s waist and felt his heartbeat quicken when it became obvious what her desires were. She was right, it had been too long since they had been able to enjoy each other’s company to the fullest, and now that Gregor’s body had been fixed, he found that he wanted to put it to good use. “Of course I’ll have you,” he said softly and kissed her after allowing himself a small smile at the double entendre. He wasn’t rough but he wasn’t tender either -- he kissed her with passion and authority and pulled her body against his, her rich clothes a sharp contrast against the ordinary linens of his own. The thought of having her in her own father’s home, the scandal of it, thrilled him. Salasoix would hate it and that meant that Gregor loved it. “Lead the way, my love,” he murmured as his hands ran over her body, slipping beneath the fabric at opportune places while a dastardly mischief alighted his eyes.

Her own hands ran through his hair and she had to restrain herself from tearing open the shirt she had only just been so careful with, “I missed you so much,” she growled into his ear longingly, the way that he touched her only spurring on her lust. She began to lead him to her desk with little elegance in her step - just impatient desperation. With a swift motion of her hand she brushed off the rolled parchments and they bounced down the steps of the mezzanine with a hollow echo. The inkpot rolled over the edge and smashed on the floor but she didn't care - she was beyond feeling graceful as she sat and leaned back on the desk, her hands seizing at the hems of his shirt to pull him close. She came up to meet him, a hand grasped firmly at the back of his neck so she could pull him close enough to kiss him and whisper against his lips, “I missed everything about you… Tell me I’m yours,” she commanded in an assertive purr.

“Oh, you are,” Gregor murmured while his fingers worked to undo Raelynn’s gold-trimmed jacket; now that his heart was soaring and adrenaline flooded his system, his fingers were perfectly still once more. He kissed her neck and her chest after he finished, his hands roughly groping at her now-naked skin, leaving the imprint of his fingers, before he looked her in the eye again and wrapped a hand, gently but firmly, around her throat. “You are mine, and mine alone.”

Raelynn was so consumed by Gregor, that she had not noticed that the sun had disappeared behind the clouds, and that sunset was kicking in. The room was slowly filling with shadows now, pooling darkness that almost ran the length of the room, muting the colours and dimming the light. She looked at him again, pure infatuation was etched across her features and she wanted him to see it, she wanted him to lose control in the throes of passion…

It was then that she knew that they weren't going to just be alright, but that they were stronger now. Unstoppable.

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A Sunset in Al-Aqqiya

12th of Midyear, 4e208
Al-Aqqiya, Hammerfell
17 miles Northeast of Gilane

O Death, Where is Your Sting…

17 miles is a hard ride.

17 miles to the town that made Kerztar, Sevari, and the Ministry of Order infamous. Al-Aqqiya used to be a beautiful port town, the jewel of the coast, where even the Dwemer occupation felt like it had never happened. Until Sevari rode to town at the head of a platoon of Dwemer soldiers and Ministry agents. It was a bloody day. Sevari would never apologize for the lives he’d taken in the long scar he’d wrought across Tamriel from Anequina to Northpoint but the flames that had eaten Al-Aqqiya to ashes looked like the flames of hell that day. Mehrunes Dagon would have revelled in the destruction.

And it was to this town that three riders came, their steeds’ hooves leaving behind a cloud of dust that looked like the pillars of smoke that had reached up from Al-Aqqiya as they caught the burnt orange light of the setting sun. They came to a stop at the edges of the town, hanging about the charred walls and blackened beams that had once been peoples’ homes and livelihoods, like a skeleton picked clean in the deserts.

Even now, to look upon it, Sevari’s soul felt heavy. He remembered the screams, the smell of corpses laying out in the sun, the crows that came with watering mouths and hungry eyes for the feast like an audience to the bloody display. He knew why they wanted him to meet them here. He knew why they sent his brother to come to collect on the debt the Imperials thought they could hold over him forever. He knew they would be disappointed by the time this all ended.

“Well,” Sevari said, turning to Latro and Jaraleet, “We’ve come this far together. Why not go a little further.”

Jaraleet wasn’t used to travelling on horseback, being more accustomed to long treks on foot, and as such the Argonian wasn’t particularly used to the downsides of a 17 miles ride. Still, regardless of any discomfort or pain that he felt, he was a Haj-Eix, he had been trained to push aside anything that could be a detriment to his performance in a mission and so he kept quiet. He nodded in response to the Ohmes-Raht’s words, they had a mission to do today; what was a little more effort, more discomfort, if it meant seeing it through? To the Argonian the answer was obvious.

“Sevari.” He spoke after a few moments of silence, his eyes scanning the ruins of what was once Al-Aqqiya. “Did your contacts specify a location within the ruins of the town?” The assassin asked calmly. “It would be best to know beforehand so me and Latro can hide in ambush, in case things turn to violence as you fear.”

“Stick to the rubble, move quiet, keep me in sight. Just look out for anything I can’t see. If I don’t need you, all the better. If I do, don’t hesitate.” Sevari said, turning to Latro, “You’re quiet.”

“Not many words to say over this.” Latro shrugged. “We’ve got poisoned blades and it seems like everybody who’ll be in this ghost town will be ready to kill each other at the twitch of a finger at the wrong moment.”

Sevari nodded, “You’re right. Go, among the rubble, just keep me in sight. I don’t need you two on either of my shoulders.” Sevari looked back to the town they’d come to, “I’m sure they’ll just happen across me if I stroll in the place.”

Jaraleet nodded in response to Sevari’s words. It was a good plan, stay hidden but keep the Ohmes-Raht in their sights so that if, things turned out violent, they’d be able to ambush his attackers. With nothing left to say, the Argonian assassin retreated into the ruins that had once been Al-Aqqiya and did what he had been trained for all of his life: he hid and waited, making sure to keep Latro and Sevari in his sights and his hands close to his weapons.

Latro left the other direction of Jaraleet, quick and quiet. He moved through the streets and the ruins of the town like a panther, noiseless despite his bounding steps.

On the other end of town, Sevari tucked his pistol in his belt, checking over his weapons after. He nodded to himself, ready as he ever could be to get this over with. He began the long walk through the town, each step a memory of the grand fiasco the mission here was. Finally, he got to the mosque, still standing, though charred and destitute. Still, crows picked at the scraps of what once were people in the streets, their calls sounding like laughs at the man who had returned to bear second witness to his failure here. Out of the mosque and through the large creaking doors stepped five people. He cocked an eyebrow at the one at the head of them.

He was a large Khajiit, even larger than himself. Cathay-Raht. His face was marred by a burn scar that spread from his neck up to his brow on the left side and one eye was glossy white among it, gray pupil staring at nothing. The other four were Imperials and Redguard. These, he knew. Jahiim, his liaison with the Poncy Man. Quintus, his own partner. Ironhands, a man he only knew in passing, mostly by reputation. Sa’ad, his shadowy handler and Chief of Station for the Penitus Oculatus in Hammerfell, an office that held no real authority now the Dwemer were here. “Sevari, my brother.” The Cathay-Raht nodded, “Or is it still Dar’Jango, the feared assassin of Valenwood? Savian Kastav, bloodiest outlaw this side of Leyawiin? Or the other side seeing where we are now, as it were.”

Jaraleet followed Sevari as the Khajiit made his way to the ruins of the mosque, sticking to what shadows were cast by the ruined buildings, making no sound with his footsteps as he made his way through what remained of Al-Aqqiya. The Haj-Eix stayed in place as the 5 figures stepped out of the ruined mosque, his hands moving to grip his weapons but not drawing them just yet; it was clear that Sevari knew the individuals, so they were most likely the contacts he was supposed to meet, and there were still no signs of hostility and so the assassin merely waited and watched as the situation developed, ready to jump into action in a second as soon as it became necessary.

“Just Sevari.” He said, eyeing them all.

“And that’s whose failures I’ve come to address now.” Suffian rumbled, “Have you forgotten? What they did to us, what they fucking took from us!”


“Then why?” Suffian hissed.

Sevari could feel the hatred from where he stood. This wasn’t his brother. Was this what Zaveed saw when he first looked at him in that tavern? What Marassa saw? A man so changed by the storm of his life that he stood bent and broken as a tree lost among tempests?

“I couldn’t.” Sevari managed.

“Then you’re a traitor and a coward. Not only to the Empire, Sevari,” Suffian drew his sword, “But to our mother.”

They all charged at once, weapons held aloft. Sevari pulled his pistol and squeezed off a shot, catching Ironhand in the chest and doubling him over. He flipped it in the air and caught it by its warm barrel, drawing his messer and parrying Farukh’s scimitar and clubbing him over the head with the handle of his pistol. He saw Latro charge out of a ruined building and bat away Quintus’s sword-swipe with the haft of his axe.

As soon as the battle began, Jaraleet left his hiding spot having already drawn his weapons as soon as he had noticed the change in the ambience when Sevari had answered the Cathay-Raht’s question negatively. Scanning the battlefield, it didn’t took long for the Haj-Eix to notice the wounded Nord. He would be his first target. Taking advantage of the confusion caused by Latro’s entrance to the battle, Jaraleet approached Ironhands and, with a simple yet brutal, motion, thrusted his dagger through the Nord’s throat.

With the Nord taken care of, and even if he somehow still lived after that wound the assassin was certain that the poison would finish the job, Jaraleet turned towards the other combatants, parrying a blow from Sa’ad.

Latro sidestepped another thrust from Quintus, hooking his blade with the beard of his axe and lashing out with his knife, finding only air as Quintus himself ducked under it. The Imperial landed a heavy blow with his fist straight into Latro’s gut. Latro was sent away, sputtering and heaving in shallow breaths. He wildly swung at Quintus’s head but the Imperial came at him too quickly.

The big man wrapped him in his thick arms and sent them both into the charred husk of a building, blackened timbers shattering as they burst through them. They ended up on the ground, Latro putting up a hasty mage armor spell as he rolled to the side, Quintus’s blade biting deep into the floorboards where he had been. Latro struck out with a vicious kick, heel striking Quintus’s knee and sending him toppling over. Quintus was on top of him, twice his fist knocked into his jaw and made him spit blood. He could feel his cheek split a little more with each.

He moved his head to the side, planting his feet on Quintus’ hips as his third punch splintered floorboards. With a roaring push, he sent Quintus off of him and onto his back. Latro scrambled onto him, raining down blows of his own and roaring with each one, each time Quintus’ head collided with the floor until his head lolled, fuzzy and unfocused.

Latro grabbed up his knife, bringing it down savagely but his hands were wrapped with Quintus’s own. The Imperial’s strength slowed the knife to a crawl towards his throat as the both of them struggled.

To the Redguard woman’s credit, she recovered quickly from Jaraleet’s sudden intervention in the battle and changed her focus from Sevari to him. A second blow from Sa’ad’s scimitar was aimed at Jaraleet’s neck, which the Haj-Eix managed to intercept using the serrated side of his dagger. For a moment both combatants were locked in a vicious struggle as Sa’ad tried to overpower Jaraleet, until the latter felt a kick in his gut that doubled him over and threatened to make him spill the contents of his stomach to the ground.

It was only thanks to his training that Jaraleet managed to roll out of the way from Sa’ad’s follow up attack and avoid being pierced by the Redguard’s scimitar through the gut and, even then, he still got a glancing blow to his side, his blood spilling into the sand from the wound. It was also thanks to his training that the Argonian managed to stand up again as quickly as he did, retaliating with a sword strike of his own that Sa’ad managed to parry.

Both Jaraleet and Sa’ad were stuck in a deadly dance, both being able to easily parry, or otherwise redirect, the strikes of each other. And yet, as time wore on, it seemed that Sa’ad was the seeming victor, as she started to get in more and more blows past Jaraleet’s defences, the Argonian’s reflexes slowing down as his strength, slowly but surely, had seeped along with his blood from the wound that the Redguard had managed to score at the start of their duel.

Keenly aware that with every second that passed his chances of victory diminished more and more, Jaraleet decided to take a gamble. Leaving his defences open, he charged towards Sa’ad and slammed his shoulder against her body. Two things happened after that, first of them all Jaraleet felt the cold steel of the Redguard’s scimitar bury into his guts as Sa’ad’s last thrust connected with his stomach; second, the Redguard woman fell to the ground from the force of the impact.

Jaraleet took the opening instantly, knowing full well that if he waited but a moment longer he’d soon return to the Hist, and drove his sword through the throat of his opponent, twisting the blade for good measure before pulling it free.

Latro’s gritted teeth had set his head to throbbing and red creep into his face with the effort it took to match Quintus’ strength. The Imperial too was having a similar struggle, both men caught in a tense duel of who could overpower the other. Latro rose to one knee, shifting his weight down in a desperate effort and finally, Quintus’ strength wavered.

The dagger came down lightning quick but instead of the Imperial’s throat, it was his shoulder. Latro had to brace himself lest he tumble over, but it was for naught as the Imperial’s rough hands wrapped themselves around his head. Latro’s saw an all-consuming burst of white as Quintus’ forehead collided with his nose. They tumbled, Latro again finding himself on his back. Quintus landed a blow to his head and Latro spit blood to the side again, weak now. He tried to grab Quintus’ wrists, but the Imperial had too much strength in him, even after the bout of struggling over the dagger.

His hands wrapped around Latro’s neck, squeezing so hard the Reachman expected his neck to break, but instead he just rasped out noiseless cries. He reached up in one last desperate attempt and grabbed the dagger still buried in Quintus’ shoulder, twisting it. To Latro’s increasing panic, it only made the Imperial grit his teeth and squeeze harder, growling. His hands moved to his face, his thumbs digging into his eyes as Latro screamed bloody terror.

He pulled the knife free of Quintus and drove it into his side, once, twice. Quintus howled and yelped with each stab, rolling away and clutching his side. Latro heaved in a painful, burning breath and struggled to his stomach, then his unsteady feet. His shoulder collided with the beam next to him as he stood, taking his moment to heave in desperate breaths and recover before his opponent. The world swam and the ground seemed to shift beneath his feet. He heard Quintus roar again and he turned just in time to fall and skitter out of the way of Quintus slow and heavy charge, the Imperial finding purchase only on the support beam.

Latro heard it break, looking around him at the ruined house they were in before more creaks and cracks were heard. He scrambled away on all fours out of the house as it came down on Quintus in a racket of cracking wood and the falling roof loud enough to wake the dead. The impromptu demolition sent up a cloud of sand and ash and dust, obscuring everything in a radius around where the house once stood, stinging Latro’s eyes before he closed them, shielding his face at the sight of it.

As the dust began to settle, he saw a silhouette in the cloud, limping away from the wreckage and towards him. “Try...harder.” Quintus began to laugh.

Latro started to growl as he got to his feet, crescendoing in a full-on roar as he made his unsteady charge at Quintus. He drove his knife into Quintus with all his strength, the cross-guard pounding into Quintus’ gut with the ferocity of each, hard enough to lift his feet from the ground with each collision. On the last, Latro let him fall to his knees, kicking him in the head as hard as he could to topple him over. “Try harder?” He growled, “Try fucking harder, huh!?”

He began stomping the heel of his shoe into Quintus’s head. Even when Quintus was obviously dead with the sound of wet cracks that met Latro’s stomps, the Reachman didn’t stop, roaring and cursing with each blow. Finally, when Quintus’ head was practically a jelly of bone bits, teeth and blood, Latro stepped back, falling back onto his arse in the sand and breathing heavy, staring at the carnage he’d wrought. His eyes were wide with fury and his teeth still gritted, quaking breaths escaping him.

“It would seem to me that it was unnecessary to have such a display, he was clearly dead after the second stab or so in his gut.” A voice commented behind Latro, and the Reachman would feel a hand being placed on his shoulder. “Come, we have no time to waste, we should check in on Sevari.”

Latro sprang back at the hand on his shoulder, knife at the ready until he realized who it belonged to. He hadn’t even noticed Jaraleet approach from behind him. He only nodded to Jaraleet, getting to his feet and taking a breath, closing his eyes. It had been a long, long time since he’d killed a man like that. He hoped to have left that type of thing behind, leaving death as clean and quick as possible. But things never quite work out like that, it seemed. With one last look at Quintus, he followed Jaraleet.

“You were always the fucking coward, Sevari! Always the one to worm your tongue about and get us all into more trouble than we needed!” Suffian scowled, holding his sword out in a front-guard. “The Dwemer and the Thalmor both are after us and this is how it ends for us in Hammerfell?”

The inside of the mosque was just as Sevari remembered. They had holed themselves up in here during the first time he’d been in Al-Aqqiya, the doors barred and firing at the villagers pouring in through the windows. Even still, it looked like there was a war on. Al-Aqqiya was only a place of death now, it seemed. Ash and dust had coated itself in untouched layers about the hall of the mosque, prayer rugs left just like they had been those days ago when Sevari was first here.

Rotting, picked at bodies were in the windows, the corners, Dwemer and villager alike, coexisting more peaceful in death than life. The sun shone itself in the rays that caught the floating dust kicked up by the most recent fight here. Sevari chanced a look down at his wound, a long cut across his stomach, another on his shoulder, deep. It was dark everywhere the rays didn’t touch, and it was in those shadows that two brothers stood at odds. One on either end of the mosque, one on either end of a question. Family or duty?

“Answer me!” Suffian roared as he came at him again. Sevari could tell that his strength was being sapped away from him already as he side-stepped the horrible chop for his head, easily batting it away as Suffian stumbled past him.

“You wouldn’t understand, Suffian, please.” Sevari said, “Just put your sword down. You’re already cut-“

“And what? You think I was ever the type to-“ Suffian doubled over in a fit of hacking coughs that left his fist wet with thick, black blood.

“It’s starting to coagulate your blood in your veins, Suffian. It won’t be long.” Sevari said, lowering his messer, voice heavy. “Why the fuck did you have to put me at odds, brother?”

Still, Suffian was hacking up blood until his coughs had left his throat raw and wheezing. He made to slash at Sevari’s belly but the sword only flew from his fist, clattering across the ground into a corner. Suffian stumbled towards him, planting his hands on Sevari’s shoulders and coughing in his face. Sevari thought it might have been an effort to choke him, but… well…

“Suffian, please.” Sevari said, wrapping his brother in his arms. “Just… stop.

Suffian heaved in ragged, grating breaths as he lay against Sevari, making no more effort to fight. His hands fell to his side, and Sevari knew it was time soon. He struggled with the weight of his brother, but he brought them to the mosque’s statue at the end of its aisle, a monument to whatever patron deity belonged to Al-Aqqiya. He grunted, setting his brother at its feet. He shook his head, taking in the pitiful sight of him.

Blood hung in a long string of spit from his chin as his head looked about, tired, red eyes looking at Sevari from under the haze of the poison. Altogether, in that moment, he regretted putting the stuff on the edge of his blade. He wasn’t expecting his brother here, though. All the good it did them to bring him along. “Why, Sevari?” Suffian spoke between ragged breaths, “Have you forgotten?”

“Never, brother.” Sevari said, hiking up his pants as he knelt down to eye-level with the man he once knew as his closest, most caring brother of the litter. “I just started putting more thought into it. Do you think this is how mother would’ve wanted us to be? Seeking vengeance?”

He swept his hands around at the scene, reached a hand out and put it on his brother’s knee, giving it a squeeze, “This?”

Suffian only lay there, hands laying at his side as he looked to the ground and took his last breaths. He coughed again, wiping his mouth on the back of his sleeve, “Maybe not.”

“Let me ask you then,” Sevari said, voice soft and pleading, “Why, Suffian?”

“When I heard that you were so close, closer than I ever was,” he said, “What was it? What made you not want to? What made you run away from that damned boat?”

Sevari took his moment. He frowned, grunting as he came to sit beside his brother. He sighed, not knowing what to say at first, but he knew his brother deserved an answer before he went. “Love.” He said, leaving the word out on the dusty air, “Love. I saw her, Suffian. I saw Marassa, you remember when I would tell you and our brothers about her in that tea shop we’d meet in after assignments in Senchal?”

Suffian nodded, coughing with what sounded like a chuckle, “You wouldn’t fucking shut up about her. Always saying you’d go back to her, find her.” He sniffled, coughing up again and spitting a huge gob of blood from between his lips onto his chest, “Fuck.”

“I know.” Sevari said. “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah.” Suffian nodded, “Did you, though?”

Sevari looked at Suffian, his brother looking expectantly at him from his drooping eyes, lids getting heavy. Sevari frowned, “Hm?”

“Find her, fool, did you ever go back to her after we came back from killing Aeliel? You saw her here, right? What, on the streets near the boat, or something?” Suffian asked. “I was always hoping you would. Find a good life for yourself like you would say, or at least visit her from time to time. I think it would’ve been good for you.”

Sevari opened his mouth to say no, he hadn’t, but he stopped. He could tell him the truth, tell him that not only did he only find her with somebody else, but that she was with the target. As bodyguard and lover. That they were on opposite sides now and she was taken regardless, that he’d missed his chance forever to have a heartfelt reunion with her and the one he did have was anything but.

He lay his hand over Suffian’s, the last bit of strength in his brother used to squeeze his hand in his own massive paw. “Did you?” Suffian asked.

Sevari looked at Suffian, swallowed, looked away. He nodded, “Yeah,” he forced a smile. “Yeah.”

“Good.” Suffian said, a weak smile on his own lips. “Sevari, I’m dying. It fucking hurts.”

“I know.” Sevari said. “How do you want it?”

“Quick. Jugular.” Suffian said.

Sevari unsheathed his knife, but Suffian held up a hand, struggling wordlessly save for a few grunts to his shaking legs. Finally standing, he was still slumped over, holding his aching gut. He took a step forward, “We used to watch sunsets.”

“I remember.” Sevari said. “Would you like to?”

Suffian nodded, putting his arm out for his brother. Sevari took it, placing the heavy arm over his shoulders and walking towards the doors. He pushed one open while his brother pushed the other. It opened out onto a view of the ruined town’s main avenue, the sky blazing orange in the sun’s last show before it retreated back to be swallowed by the horizon. A flock of seagulls soared overhead, their calls echoing back to them across the sky. A soft breeze picked up a cloud of dust and sent it across the town’s street to reveal Jaraleet and Latro watching from a distance. “Beautiful.” Suffian said, a soft smile upon his lips, “Beautiful.”

“Tell me when.” Sevari whispered to Suffian’s nod.

It was a few moments of watching the sunset with his brother, like the old days. Before all this. The Bhaanu Sasra, before mother was dead, before they were set to killing each other. “Okay.”

In a flash, Sevari cut deep just under Suffian’s jaw, taking up a fistful of his brother’s robes as he fell away from him and brought him into a quiet embrace. “I’ll miss you. You damn fool.”

After a moment, Sevari stood, dusting himself off and smoothing out his shirt. He descended the few steps from the front door of the mosque and walked past Latro and Jaraleet, making his way to the horses, “Let’s go.”

Once they’d mounted up and ridden to the outskirts of town, Sevari reared his horse to her hind legs with a loud neigh. His horse pounding her hooves on the dusty earth and shaking her head as the trio stopped, one on either side of him.

“What now?” Latro asked, looking back at the town with the two others.

“Well,” he said, pulling free a cigar from his coat and lighting it with a small flame from his finger, “I don’t have a lot of places to go.”

“Jaraleet, man, you need a healer.” Latro said, tossing a healing potion he pulled from his saddlebag to the Argonian, “What will you do now, An-Xileel?”

Jaraleet caught the potion that Latro threw him easily, downing the bottle’s contents before replying. “What else but go back to the Three Crowns with you?” He replied, chuckling softly. “Like Sevari, I don’t have a lot of places to go either. So I’m staying with you lot, that hasn’t changed.”

Latro chuckled himself, nodding. He looked back to the town, empty now, but a few new bodies added to it. He frowned, before throwing back on his easy smile, “I think it’s time we go back, the three of us.”

“Three?” Sevari asked, cocking a brow, then shrugging, “I guess so. After all of this,” he shook his head, “You two are the closest things I have to friends now.”

“Worry not,” Latro smiled, “Jaraleet is the friendliest of us.”

Jaraleet laughed at Latro’s comment, shaking his head. “I think you’ll fit in just fine Sevari.” The Argonian commented, smiling himself. “Come, let us return to Gilane. You’ll see what I mean once you see this little group of ours.”

“Any man with his wits about him would’ve seen you two and seen enough.” Sevari smiled, sad still, “But, I think I’ll go. There’s nothing left for me here.”

He frowned, turned his horse away from the town, leaving it at his back as his horse ambled. He cracked the reins and dug his spurs at his horse’s flanks and the trio were off at a dead run. Perhaps, Sevari thought, if he rode fast enough away that the memories wouldn’t be able to keep up. A foolish thought, but one he’d had about a lot of places he’d left behind. He could hope, wish, that he would ride fast enough to never be caught up in another war again, another fight.

But hope never served him well these days. Perhaps if he just kept riding, he could forget at least the fight. Let the town go back to rest, to never bother another soul again with the ghosts that haunted its blackened ruins. Just let it be lost to time, another burned village, nobody knowing who’s done it in the first place and not caring. Just another ghost town.

Just a sunset in Al-Aqqiya.
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Hidden 6 mos ago 6 mos ago Post by Hank
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Hank J. Wimbleton

Co-Admin Seen 7 hrs ago

Morning, 13th of Midyear, 4E208
Gilane, Hammerfell

Raelynn and Gregor had walked to the markets together, arm-in-arm, in warm and pleasant silence, probably both reflecting on the night before -- Gregor had, at least. Ever since they had reunited they had made up for lost time with enthusiasm and been intimate with each other as much as they could. Now, however, both of them had different errands to run and the couple had split with a kiss and a wave upon reaching the first of the stalls of Gilane’s lively bazaar. The paranoid part of Gregor felt comforted by the fact that Rhoka, Raelynn’s attentive handmaiden, would accompany her while she was out and about today, but he also had to wonder how much use the Redguard woman would be if Zaveed came for Raelynn again. That said, she had assured him that she felt that the Khajiit bastard had been dealt with and that something told her he would not come after her again. Looking deep in her eyes, Gregor had elected to believe her.

The first order of business on Gregor’s list was to let a smith take a look at his steel claymore and his silver longsword. He carried his own whetstones, of course, but it wasn’t the same as professional with real tools, and it had been a while since Gregor had taken the time to have his gear properly cared for. In that time, he had fought several intense battles, with the last against Zaveed certainly not being the least, and Gregor could see the scars of that encounter on the edges of his blades just as well as on his own skin. Coincidence brought him to the same smithy that Daro’Vasora and Shakti had visited a fortnight ago and the same swarthy Redguard that had greeted them that day was there to greet Gregor now. She saw him approaching when she looked out of her shop and into the streets and already whistled appreciatively at the sight of Gregor’s claymore, which he held in his hands, before he even stepped across the precipice of the smithy.

“Now that’s what I call a weapon,” she said with a grin as Gregor walked up to the counter and put the blade down for her to inspect. “Not a lot of those around. Cyrodiilic, early Fourth Era design, a bright steel alloy -- flexible, right?”

Gregor nodded. “Yes. The smith told me that the edges of the blade are rippled to allow it to bend instead of breaking. That was… ten years ago, now. It’s been through hell and back with me,” he said and smiled as the woman picked up the massive claymore effortlessly and held it up to her face. She was stronger than she looked.

“I can see that,” she said and tutted at the sight of the nicks and cuts in the steel. “Want me to give her the love she deserves?”

“Yes,” he said gratefully and removed his silver longsword’s sheath from his belt before placing that on the counter as well. “And this one too, please. They’re both enchanted, by the way.” Gregor knew enough about smithing from his time as a jewelsmith in Bravil to know that such things mattered. Special tools and care needed to be used to maintain and sharpen enchanted weaponry.

The Redguard nodded and took both swords to her workstation. “They’ll be ready in an hour.”

Next on Gregor’s list was the barber. He maintained his beard himself but he did not feel comfortable cutting his own hair. He wasn’t looking for a radical change; just an inch or two off the end to get rid of split hairs and dead ends. Nobody in the party had ever seen him with is hair down, not even Raelynn, but Gregor’s hair was long enough to reach his shoulders if he didn’t have it tied in his signature ronin’s knot. He took a deep breath and was suddenly struck by the sheer mundanity of his day so far; breakfast in bed, a bath, an early morning stroll to the markets and some errands. It was a stark contrast to the events of the past three weeks, most of which had been a seemingly never-ending rollercoaster of life-threatening situations and high-strung emotions, but the reprieve was welcome. He enjoyed the warm sunlight on his skin, the hubbub and buzz of the citizens and the smells of street food that wafted by. Not even the sight of the Dwemer guard patrols could undo his good mood.

That said, he felt somewhat naked without his swords (he kept his dagger in one of his leather boot, but it wasn’t the same) and his heart skipped a beat when he saw a Khajiit arguing with one of the local merchants, but after a second his brain caught up to what he was seeing -- reddish fur with stripes. Not Zaveed. He sighed. He wished there was some way he could meet Zaveed again in a controlled environment and make sure, face-to-face, that what Raelynn thought about him was true. Then he would be able to let it go. Fat chance of that ever happening, however, and Gregor pushed the thought out of his mind to resume his leisurely pace towards the barber. Children were playing on the streets, adults were shopping or talking animatedly to one another and hawkers came up to him to advertise their wares. He was a foreigner and foreigners often had money, of course, but it wasn’t difficult for Gregor to convince them that he wasn’t interested; his white shirt and tan breeches were still crinkly and a little messy after having spent so much time on the floors of the Hawkford residence following Raelynn’s repeated and forceful efforts to get him undressed. Gregor did not look like a wealthy man today.

It was quite busy at the barber’s; many Redguard men were seated to have their birds trimmed or their wiry, unruly hair dealt with. The barbers themselves matched their clientele -- except one, that caught Gregor’s eye immediately, something that was reciprocated. A male Bosmer jumped up from his seat at the back of the barbershop and approached Gregor with vigor, his expression changing from boredom to something approaching excitement in less than a few seconds.

“My good sir,” the Bosmer began and welcomed Gregor with a bow. “Can I interest you in a haircut? Or does the beard require trimming?” The elf had long, flowing hair not dissimilar from Gregor’s own and he smiled to himself as he realized why the mer-barber had been so excited to see him.

“Haircut, yes, please. Just an inch off the edges. Split ends and so on,” Gregor said and moved towards the empty chair he was being directed towards. “Let me guess, Wood Elf; you don’t get to cut a lot of hair here, do you?”

The Bosmer sighed, a sound filled with exasperation, and nodded. “A man with hair like yours, that is what I am used to, not these… tough and rugged bird’s nests the Redguards have,” the Bosmer said in a low voice as he leaned in to fasten the barber cape around Gregor’s neck. “I I was just passing through, truth be told, when everything happened, you know what I mean, and the travel ban kept me here and, well, I ran out of money.” He spoke quickly and emphatically and wasted no time in moistening Gregor’s hair.

“Tell you what,” Gregor replied, still smiling. “If you let me enjoy my haircut in peace, I’ll give you a few extra septims.” He could tell that the Bosmer was the type to talk his client’s ear off and it was worth a few coins to Gregor to avoid that.

“Certainly, sir.”

Gregor closed his eyes and made himself comfortable in the chair. The sensation of the Bosmer’s fingers on his scalp was enjoyable and Gregor idly wondered if everyone secretly enjoyed having their hair cut for that reason, or whether that was just him. He knew he liked it even more when it was Raelynn that ran her fingers through his hair, and he then spent a few minutes wondering what she was doing now, how much of her shopping list she’d already managed to procure. He had seen the list; it was long. The ingredients that she needed were manifold. To sit with his eyes closed, listening to the sounds of the city and the conversations of the other patrons around him, reminded him of long, lazy afternoons he would spend relaxing on the massive branch of an oak tree, that stood close by his home in Bravil, in a bid to avoid his chores. The branch was shielded from sight by lower-hanging branches and the tree’s copious canopy and as far as Gregor knew, his parents never did figure out where he spent all those hours. The memory made him smile. It was a thought he hadn’t had in a long time, but Gregor realised that there were a lot of good memories for him to reflect on. The first twenty-eight years of his life had been wonderful, carefree and wholesome. It had been all the more cruel that his father should have met such an unworthy end and left that same curse to his children and Gregor had spent the past ten years thinking as little as possible about the years that came before… but in the end, he thought, that did nothing to diminish the happiness he had been lucky to have. Whether it was his near-death experience or the sheer joy that his relationship with Raelynn brought him that prompted such thinking he did not know. Either way, it was comforting.

He had lived a good life and if he succeeded, he would be able to go back to it. Or something like it, anyway. Gregor knew that Briar would not be waiting for him and that it would be hard for his family to accept him back into their lives after so many years, even if he did manage to save them from the family curse, but Gregor could feel, deep down, that he could have such happiness again with Raelynn, at least. One day, they would have their own home and an oak tree for him to sit beneath on a warm summer’s day.

Was she even the domestic type? The question jolted through him so suddenly that it almost made him open his eyes and he chuckled softly at his own expense. Any day in which that was the most burning question on his mind was a good day. He thought about it for a second and decided that yes, she probably was, and had been before she had left her home in High Rock for a taste of adventure.

Gregor paid the Bosmer his regular fee plus a few extra coins, as promised, after the elf had finished cutting Gregor’s hair. He swept it back and tied it up in its usual style and it looked no shorter that way, but Gregor could feel that it was healthier now. He still had some time left to kill before the smith would be done with his weapons so Gregor found a nice place to sit in the shade and procured a kebab for himself to eat. He savored the juicy meat and the tasty spices and watched the people go by. It was a stark contrast to how he had turned their heads just a few days before when he was on his way to confront Raelynn at the Hawkford residence; now their eyes seemed to drift over him without really seeing him. He was just another man having lunch and staying out of the sun. Nobody special.

The smith, too, received a tip, and she inclined her head gracefully in appreciation of Gregor’s generosity. He inspected his weapons carefully before he fastened them to his person once again but he saw no flaws with the woman’s work and Gregor made sure to compliment her on her skills before he left. There was one last errand he needed to run. His black battledress had been significantly damaged during his fight with Zaveed, so Rhoka had delivered them to a tailor yesterday to have them mended and now it was time to pick them up. Gregor was anxious to have his clothes back. For some reason, he did not feel like he was complete without being in possession of all of his gear, even if he wasn’t wearing it all the time. His mind wandered while his feet took him through the streets, stopping every so often to remember the directions Rhoka had given him, and he felt like he was coming to an inevitable conclusion. If he was going to have the life he dreamed of with Raelynn, he had to do two things: complete his quest and continue the fight against the Dwemer until they were no longer a threat to his existence. Both were considerable challenges and one was measurably more difficult than the other, but… there was a way to combine both goals into a single objective.

The thread the tailor had used to sow the rips and tears shut was the exact right shade of black to fade nigh-seamlessly into the textile of his clothes and once again Gregor found himself impressed with the handiwork of Gilane’s craftsmen. His gold pouch was much lighter than at the start of the day, but his weapons were sharp, his clothes were mended and his appearance was well-groomed. Satisfied, Gregor set off back to the Hawkford residence. In the distance, looming above the roofs of the residences and shops of the citizenry, the Governor’s palace lay shimmering in the sunlight, its silhouette distorted and shifting in the midday heat. Gregor found that his eyes were drawn to it while he walked. A small smile tugged at his lips.

He was going to kill Governor Rourken.
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Tipping Point

12th of Midyear - 4E208
Three Crowns Hotel - Gilane

The news of Daro’Vasora and Latro’s capture was in no small sense of the word a blow to Judena. A long scratch of a line ran down the length of her page as she began to record, squeezing the writing utensil in her hand visibly trembling. Flipping to a new page she wrote down taking up an entire page their names and underlining CAPTURED and the date.

Meg had brought the news to them, the Dwemer were actively targeting their group for the past few days and captured Sora and Latro after public humiliation. She felt truly blind for not being aware of how much danger they were in, how perilously close Sora and Latro were to death.

She was sick of it.

“I am tired of this.” She said quietly, with everyone gathered the new faces and familiar, they had all worked hard to survive and adapt to the new reality that was in front of them - threatening them. They had done so together first with Rhea and then Sora.

“I am tired!” She said, louder, slamming the butt of her staff on the ground. “I am tired of being at the mercy of the Dwemer!”

She beat the ground again, having the attention of her friends and allies. “Being at the mercy of their armed forces in Imperial City, the mercy of their technology that slaughtered innocent civilians creating rivers of blood across the already blood-soaked cobblestone streets of my home.” Her beard expanded as she grew angrier. “Now we have been at the mercy of their damned hospitality here in Gilane. I am sick of my friends being threatened when all we have been trying to do was survive!”

Both hands gripped her staff, tilting her head down, “When they should have thanked us instead. It is our fault.” Words she never imagined saying out loud, words that were scrawled across her pages in the logbook Something she had realized after Imperial City was sacked, something everyone who had survived Jerall Mountains had known since. When she looked up the mixed expressions of confusion, guilt, anger and realization. A truth that those here feared would drive others away.

Gingerly releasing her staff she opened her logbook, there was no turning back now. Pain revisiting her scaley features once more. “It is our fault the Dwemer were able to return.”

“15 of Rain’s Hand. The day Rhea Valerius lead a small team of various experts down into the heart of Jerall Mountain’s dwemer ruins. A team that consisted of Daro’Vasora, Latro, Brynja, Megana, Anifaire, Alim, and myself. There were others, but have since passed on or left.” Her eyes met with each of them seeing the guilt she held reflected in their individual eyes, impossible to mistake their names as they are written. “The expedition into unknown parts of the ruin was met with disaster, our escape route crumpled in on itself forcing us to find a new way out. We encountered Falmer and Dwemer technology that threatened our lives. We reached an inner sanctum where we had found an ancient piece of technology among the bones of a well preserved Dwemer. In their gnarled hands… was a lexicon.” She said, patting her chest. “A discovery of such bones would have made the expedition a monumental success.” She took a deep breath in pressing on. “We were given a choice, suffer the same fate of being trapped or activate the Dwemer construct. Some of us had reservations, Daro’Vasora voiced hers. Given a choice of survival Rhea activated the device and it tore apart the mountain with force unseen. We escaped through an underground river while the expedition site was completely destroyed behind us.” Water welled in her eyes, reading the same line of thought she had read Gregor at the party. “‘The green menacing shaft of light seemed to reach far and high into the night sky. The disaster wrought on the expedition hung over our heads like that of a hundred souls lost to the mountain side’s collapse.’” It painted a ghastly picture for Judena’s imagination.

Silence hung on the edge of her words before anyone could comment she turned a page, “We arrived at Imperial City, Rhea leading the way to safety on 26 of Rain’s Hand. Nobody knew the true implications of what we had just done... not until we escaped Imperial City’s sacking did it become clear.”

Pausing a moment to swipe her sleeve across her eyes. “The device in Jerall Mountain opened the door for the Dwemer to return. It is our fault.”

Judena inhaled holding the breath but tears spilled and openly she began to weep, it was a relief to share the truth but every day she came to terms with what they had done. It was all such a mess. Grappling with the tragedy of loss and pain, did they deserve it? To be forgiven for suffering under the consequences of their own actions? Questions she had asked herself, no doubt others that were present held inside their hearts as well.

“Please,” She said, “Please forgive us. Understand what we have done for survival.” She bowed her head pressing her logbook to her chest. “We have been brought together by a horrible chain of events that began in Jerall Mountains,” Her eyes gazed following who came into their lives as each city they had visited, “Imperial City, Skingrad, Anvil and now Gilane.”

In a few deep breaths she composed herself, “Now you all know. Each and every one of us has gained something from this… this thing we have together as a group. Whether that is safety,” She looked to Calen, Nanine, Rhona, Shakti. “Friendship,” Her gaze passed over Alim, Anifaire, Bryjna, and Mazrah, “... Love.” She turned to Meg, Raelynn and Gregor not present, “We have gained it together. We are not whole as we stand without Latro and Daro’Vasora.”

“Whatever you may or may not owe them individually does not matter, what we owe them and ourselves is their safe return.” Her voice became intense with emotion, fire slowly began to blaze in her golden eyes. “There is nothing else to be gained, no games nor political stakes.We rescue them for them. We cannot and will not fail them.”

Anifaire looked down at her hands, toying with her clothes, nerves in her stomach. She knew she wouldn’t be much help in a rescue mission, yet she also knew she had to try. The news of their capture was jarring; it was like she’d been hearing, about people who dissent being taken off the street and away from those they care about. And it was right in front of her, in the group or people who had cared for her and who she wanted to care for in return. She had mixed feelings about Daro’Vasora, yet after everything she had done, she felt a resolve build to do anything she could to help.

Meg wiped at her eyes in vain, unable to quell her tears. Hearing about the start of their adventures, about Rhea, thinking about the bonds that had unknowingly been formed in that fateful adventure... it was too much to take dry-eyed.

"Yer righ'," she murmured, a shaky breath escaping the Nord as she reached out and placed a hand on the elderly argonian's arm. "There ain' no other way 'round it. Sora an' Latro would do the same if any of us were stuck an' needed savin', I just know it."

She looked around at the others gathered. "Won't be easy though," she continued. "Gettin' in tha' place? One wrong step…”

The creaking of doors interrupted the scene. There stood Hassan and a couple guards, masked in keffiyehs and armed with spears. Hassan stood, grim-faced and armoured. He looked over those gathered, his face not betraying any feelings strong or otherwise, “We have a messenger.”

Latro stepped up from behind them, neck still bruised from his run-in with the rogue insurgents. He made his way to the center of the room and stood before all of them, a look of pure fury only restrained by sheer will. His axe and knife were upon his belt. The knife was not the one that could be explained away for cutting meat or herbs, no. It was the other one.

For killing.

Another stepped up beside him, a hulking man of indeterminate race that moved equally as quietly despite his bulk, equally frowning. Latro sniffed, looking over his friends. His family, “Well? Here we are. Let’s plan.”

Mazrah’s mouth fell open at the sight of Latro and the large stranger entering the room. She had listened attentively to Judena’s story and felt that her tears and her guilt were unfair -- how could they have known what activating the device would do? But those thoughts were brushed aside like autumn leaves in a storm now that the Reachman had somehow, miraculously, returned.

Calen, who had been sitting his own, now free of his bandages and back in his normal clothes, but still rubbing at his sore and tense muscles in midst of Judena’s sobering news, became immediately animated as Latro appeared in the doorway. His eyes were bright and vibrant with joy and relief, even if Latro’s were cold and steeled and his body battered. Calen was just overwhelmed to see him alive. He barely had time to call out to him before the orc woman made a scene.

Practically leaping out of her seat, Mazrah enveloped the diminutive Latro in a ferocious hug, squeezing him so hard she shamelessly (but accidentally) pressed his face against her breasts. They had barely spoken a word to each other before but she was well aware of his relationship with Sora, and that alone was reason enough to be overjoyed that he was back. “Call me Urdanok gro-Ashagravan and fuck me sideways,” Mazrah grinned and stepped back to look at him, her hands on Latro’s shoulders. “You’re back! You escaped! How? And who’s this?” She turned her head to look at the stranger and raised an eyebrow at his odd appearance. She found it hard to place his race. Still, it wasn’t enough to wipe the grin off her face and she bounced on her feet with excitement.

“That is Sevari,” Jaraleet replied to Mazrah’s question, entering after both Latro and Sevari had done so. “He is a friend to our cause. It’s thanks to him that Latro stands here right now.” The Argonian said, moving further into the room and taking a seat. The ride to and back from Al-Aqqiya had been exhausting, but there were more pressing matters than his own exhaustion at present and so the Haj-Eix pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind. “We have a rescue mission to plan right now. Any further questions can wait until later.” He said calmly, looking around the people who had gathered in the room.

Well, the questions wouldn't be leaving Meg’s mind even if she didn't ask them, that was for sure. She couldn't keep her eyes off Latro and Sevari, wondering how in Talos' name they were here. Latro looked so... different that what she last remembered. As for the man next to him, Sevari… he still looked as intimidating and as grumpy as the other night.

All of that was put to the side though; she felt a pit in her stomach as she realized this meant Sora was all alone in the enemy's grasp. Who knew the thoughts going through her mind? Jaraleet was right, they needed to focus.

Sevari did not exactly look inviting, but anyone that was responsible for freeing Latro was a friend too. Mazrah embraced him in a hug as well and pinched his cheek. “Thank you. And lighten up, big guy.”

“Jaraleet’s right. Whoever Sevari is, his help is welcome, and the confession, while appreciated, is irrelevant right now.” Nanine spoke up from her own seat. Her own mind was a whirl of questions, curiosity, and subtle anger. She pushed it all aside for now. Answers would have to wait. “We need to free Sora from the Governor’s Palace, which has become much more well guarded since the dwemer official’s death, our assault on the prisoner caravan, and the attempted infiltration into the prison. Even if we had the manpower to just charge in and free her by force, it wouldn’t be pretty. The only things we have to our advantage is that they still don’t know who we are, likely don’t expect someone to be foolish enough to attempt to free her, and those guard uniforms that were stolen.”

She looked around at the group at large. “Do we have anything else that could be of use? Maps of the Palace, weak points that could be used to get in, knowledge of guards who like to sleep on watch, anything?”

Sevari produced a badge from inside his coat, holding it out for all to see. Secret Police, Ministry of Order, Counterintelligence and Counterinsurgency Division, though it was just a symbol of oppression to most. Although, it was a valuable asset to him so far, “This is a key to anywhere in Dwemer lands. I could scout the city archives, look for blueprints of the Palace. It will take me some time and I have the simple fact of me being here to worry about.” He said, “I’ve no doubts that none of you trust me because I have this. Just know that I have been in service far longer to the Empire than the Dwemer.”

He tucked the badge away, folding his arms about his chest and casting an annoyed glance at Mazrah. His cheek was still sore. Latro spoke after him, “This Khajiit saved my life. He’s the biggest hope we have of getting Sora out.”

Judena approached Latro, setting her spear aside. A gentle hand found his shoulder and she said, “You are alive.” A lump of emotion built in the back of her throat, “You are alive.

She turned next to Sevari, her eyes scanned from the badge and up to his face, a moment of contemplation seemed to pass as she decided how she felt. Her ‘beard’ flattened against her neck, “Thank you Sevari, for your help.” Deciding then and there she was simply grateful to see Latro once again, it relieved a fraction of her worry.

Removing her hand from his shoulder she held her hands stepping away, hunching her shoulders - apologetically nodding to Latro, “I told them about what happened in Jerall Mountains. They know the truth now.”

“How was Daro’Vasora the last you saw her? Is she okay… present circumstances withstanding of course.” She asked.

Shakti considered what Jude had said gravely. It meant a few things for her. It meant Daro’Vasora had lied to her. Or at least played dumb when they had talked about the origin of the Deep Elf invasion. She couldn’t lie to herself, she saw the party in a much different light, knowing what the nucleus had done. Normally, Shakti would have something upbeat or positive to say at a time like this. But she was having trouble ‘seeing the side of the dunes that the Sun touched’ as the old Alik’r saying went. Instead, she sat, in the centre of the room, feeling very isolated for someone who was in a crowded room. Her mood was darkened further by the entrance of a man she recognized. She had fought a duel with him some nights ago. Her ribs were still sore and cut up from where the point of his sword had sliced. She felt her side for the sore spot. No one else knew about her midnight mission and no one else knew why she had tried to take the knight captive.

Shakti looked away from the man, whom she now knew was named Sevari. She traced her finger along patterns in the wall to try and distract herself from the moment and her thoughts.

“She’s okay.” Latro said, “It felt more like a vacation almost, our imprisonment. Our cell, so to speak, was one of the royal guest rooms. They made it clear at the start of our stay there that they would be courteous to us and they were.”

His head hung low for a moment and his brows unfurrowed. He sighed, rubbing his hands through his hair, “But, I won’t let them keep her comfortably imprisoned. I refuse to leave without her, I refuse to let her stay in their clutches a single minute more than I absolutely must.”

From across the way, Calen pushed himself to his feet and made his way across the room to properly greet Latro and express relief for his safe return. With his own recovery and Latro’s return, things were beginning to feel like they were starting to resemble some form of normalcy -- whatever that was for this group, being the magnet for trouble that they are -- and gave him a warm hug. Not overwhelming like Mazrah’s, but softer, yet firm, as if Calen was cradling him upright in his arms. The Nord pecked the top of his head and took a step back. His smile was still warm, his cheeks rosy.

“You had us scared, asshole. Welcome back.” He said cheekily. Then he turned to Sevari. He saw the Ohmes pull out his Dwemer badge earlier, but now, he thought nothing of it. He never really hated the Dwemer. He didn't understand their methods, why they decided such measures were necessary. It made him feel angry and frustrated sometimes. But he didn't hate them. And seeing Sevari with them now, by Latro’s side, he couldn't hate him either. He extended an open hand to him.

“Thank you,” he said, “for bringing him back home.”

Latro smiled sheepishly, not being able to match that greeting from Calen to the first interaction they’d ever had, where he’d spurned the man for not wanting to condone the violence against Nblec. That only made his heart hang heavier, Calen was the things he wanted to be. The things he might never be. “It’s good to be back, I’m home again. With you lot.”

Sevari looked at Calen’s hand, letting it hang there on it’s lonesome for a bit before he took it in his own. “He brought me here, not the other way.” He said, throwing a glance Latro’s way, “Kept talking about having to go to his family.”

Anifaire watched the reunion fondly, glad to see their return, and yet an empty feeling built inside her. She watched quietly, feeling like a strange visitor watching a close family enjoy dinner together.

Meg looked to Latro, managing a smile, though it was a little shaky. She was happy to see him there, there was no doubting that, but it made her want Sora back now, more than ever. She cast a glance at the others before eyeing Jaraleet and raising an eyebrow. He had mentioned they had a rescue mission to plan; perhaps it was time to get back to that?

Jaraleet nodded in Meg’s direction, easily understanding what the Nord woman was trying to convey with her gaze. He cleared his throat loud enough to get everyone’s attention to focus on himself. “As much as we are glad for Latro’s return, this isn’t the time to be distracted.” The Argonian began calmly. “We can exchange pleasantries and have a happy little reunion later on, but I think it’s too early to do that just yet. Sora is still a captive to the Dwemer and no matter how pleasant or accommodating her captors might be, that doesn’t change the fact that she is their prisoner.” He continued on, turning to look at Sevari and then to the rest of the group. “I know some of you might have reservations towards Sevari given his past allegiances, but his help would be invaluable in out attempt to rescue Sora.” The assassin said, turning to look at the Ohmes-Raht again.

“If you could scout the city archives for a blueprint of the palace that’d be a great help. We could infiltrate a team if there were any hidden accesses that we could take advantage on. Maybe slip in when there are fewer guards and break Sora out.” He mused out loud, shaking his head slightly. “Maybe we could use those suits of armor we liberated?”

“Well, theoretically…” Calen began, the soothing calmness of his voice giving way to uncertainty, “I wouldn’t need blueprints, I think. What little bit of magic tricks I know helps me navigate the countryside without maps. I owe a lot of what little success my carriage business’ had to that minor skill in clairvoyance, but…”

The bard’s confidence was beginning to wane. He subconsciously began clutching at the site of his recovered injury. He finally said, “But I… I don’t know if I can go back into that mess. I’m, uh… I’m afraid that I’m not cut out for it. The violence, the blood—I’d only slow everyone down.”

“Be glad you’re not cut out for it, my friend. Good men detest violence, but doing nothing is worse.” Latro said and cracked a grin at Calen, “Anything you do to help us would be appreciated.”

“Hmmmm, your clairvoyance skills would be useful in guiding us through the sewers, I won’t lie.” The Argonian said, pausing for a moment as he thought. “But, perhaps, we won’t have need of them if Sevari can get us the blueprints to the palace.” He continued on, an idea coming to his mind. “In fact, you might be able to help us without having to fight at all Calen.” The assassin said. “Maybe we could disguise a team using the suits of armour we stole and you could guide them using your clairvoyance skills towards where they are holding Daro’Vasora?”

Judena rubbed at her chin, looking to Calen, “Drawing a path on the blueprints to create a covert map for those us who feel comfortable entering the fray would be very useful. We can utilize the blueprints as a base of a map, guided by Calen’s clairvoyance - I can certainly provide insight for where guards and other enemies may be. I am quite proficient using Detect Life for long bouts of time. We can move safely, quickly through, without being molested. The same applies to removing Daro’Vasora away from danger as quickly as possible. I simply need a spotter to keep me focused, I do not want to make any mistakes.” Judena said offering what little insight she could provide - not tactically inclined but committed to helping in some form.

“Can that badge grant you access to Daro’Vasora, and convince people that someone above you wanted her moved?” Nanine asked Sevari, a thoughtful hand on her chin. “We won’t need you two to risk yourselves,” She nodded at Calen and Judena respectively, “if Sevari can just take a small group straight to her under the pretenses of some high ranking official wanted her. Then we could just meet in the alleys of Gilane and Sevari could claim we ambushed him and killed the guards he brought.”

“Listen, whatever you guys are gonna be doing, I want to make sure we spill some blood,” Mazrah said and leaned forwards, resting her elbows on her knees. “These gray-skinned shits have been getting away with too much without some proper… what’s the word? Casualties, on their side. And I don’t like the idea of sending anybody in there with an excuse or a disguise or something but not the steel to back them up if things go tits-up. I propose that myself and whoever is willing and able,” the Orsimer continued, her eyes going around the room, “sneak into the palace at the same time, through a different entry point if we can find one, and cause a distraction. Wreak havoc, kill Dwemer, lead them on a wild goose chase through their own halls. I’m a huntress and a killer and nothing but, so that’s my contribution.”

“I have to concur with Mazrah.” Jaraleet spoke after the Orsimer huntress. “As ideal as it would be for us to be able to waltz into the Governor’s Palace and get her out with Sevari’s help, I don’t feel comfortable with relying solely on one idea. There’s a number of things that could go wrong with the idea you propose Nanine, so I think it’d be best if we caused a distraction.” The Argonian continued on, turning to look at Mazrah. “I will go with you. Hopefully we can cause enough of a distraction for the others to get Sora out.”

Mazrah grinned. “Now that’s what I like to hear. Glad to have you with me, dark-scales.”

Meg had been quiet for quite a while, simply listening as she didn't feel knowledgeable enough to contribute, especially after her night 'mission', but she cleared her throat and looked at both Mazrah and Jaraleet. "If that's a plan, coun' me in. I can sneak, an' I'm good with a sword." If her causing a little nuisance on purpose could help save Sora from the dwemer, she was very happy to deliver.

“The guards are going to be very strict with prisoners from now on after the attacks that saw my team dead and Latro and I forced to take refuge in some inn.” He shook his head and sighed, “Any transfer of prisoners, even from individual rooms in the Palace, are going to be under very strict supervision and must be approved by higher-ups. Kerztar isn’t going to take any chances.”

“We will have to go at this cloak-and-dagger if we want to do it at all.” Latro said, folding his arms and finally taking a seat, “Blood may very well be spilled. But everything will be for naught if it’s ours.”

“I would not be rearing for a fight in a situation where we are not the ones picking the field of battle. It’s never been my way.” Latro said, frowning. “The blueprints in the archives are our best chance. Waltzing up to the gates in stolen armour is a gambit, at best. We’d be better off disguising ourselves as servants, rather than soldiers, I doubt they’d brush it off if somebody didn’t know the name of some officer if asked. Nobody bats an eye at somebody dressed the part and walking with surety in their task, though, and servants are everywhere. Too many to commit every face to memory.”

“A well-placed frenzy spell on a few guards might cause a distraction. Another commotion at the opposite end of the Palace will have the garrison split and confused enough for us to slip in.” Sevari sucked his teeth, “Even so, we will have to be resolute and quick in our task. It won’t be long until they’re rallied proper and ready to fend off the real threat.”

“The violent distraction would have to be timed perfectly. There’s only two reasons an attack like that would happen, either it's an attempt to assassinate the Governor or an attempt to free the prisoner. It won’t take long for the garrison to figure out which it is, and even less to muster some defense for both goals with the number of troops they have there now. Ideally, whoever goes inside would be close to Sora so that when the commotion starts they can take advantage of the few moments of surprise to subdue any guards and start getting her out.” Nanine drummed her fingers on the tabletop. “I can go with Jaraleet and Mazrah. My magic will be able to delay and cause even more confusion if we need some distance between us and the guards and I’ve no skill in stealth.” She looked over to Sevari and Latro. “How many of the servants aren’t Redguards? The idea of sneaking in with them is a good one, but nearly all of us would stick out and almost surely be noted if we suddenly appeared among a purely native servant crew.”

“We can have Shakti go with some others.” Latro suggested.

Shakti’s ears pricked up at the mention of her name and she looked at Latro. “Disguised as a servant girl?!” The idea of dressing as a lowly servant prickled the Redguard’s sense of honour. She might be a tatterdemalion teenage girl, but she was still a proud Alik’r Warrior.

Meg looked over at Shakti curiously. "Tha' shouldn' be a problem, should it? If it's the best way t'get Sora outta there, then shouln' matter what we're disguisin' ourselves as."

That was enough to make Mazrah chuckle. “I know how you feel, Shakti, I really do, but Nanine made me wear robes when you bust you out of your carriage,” she said and her eyes flitted between the Breton battlemage and the Redguard warrior. “Now it’s your turn to wear a disguise to save Sora. Okay?”

“I have to agree with Mazrah. I know you might not like the idea Shakti, but it is for the good of Daro’Vasora.” Jaraleet said, looking at the Redguard girl. “Surely it’d be worse to do nothing, right?” He asked, hoping that with that light prodding Shakti would be more on board with the whole idea.

Diligently as ever Judena wrote the points in the conversation, following along pausing to note expression and other details, she stepped up over to Anifaire. Replying to the youthful conjuration mage - Nanine, the tiniest bit of indignation at the suggestion of keeping her away from helping. “I am not going to stand idly by, Nadine.”

“I am going to help with splitting the forces, if there is anyone I want to be my spotter I would very much like it to be Anifaire,” Judena said gesturing to her fellow Alteration mage. “In a magickal assault, you would be sore to miss both of us.”

Holding her hands Judena whispered to Anifaire, “If only you are up for it.”

Anifaire’s mouth widened, her eyebrows raised, completely shocked to be relied on. She quickly nodded, pink tinging her cheeks. “I’m coming,” she said. She wouldn’t let Judena down.

Nanine held up her hands placatingly. She ignored the name mistake. It wasn’t going to go away and trying to correct her was a futile effort. “No one was suggesting that you stay behind Judena. Your magic will doubtlessly be extremely useful when we attempt to split their forces.” She looked back over at Mazrah smiling lightly. “You’re going to be wearing robes again when we’re running through the Palace. Jaraleet, Meg, and I as well. I’d rather not have our descriptions be readily distributed throughout the city after we save Sora.”

“Who all else is going with Judena to make one distraction? As potent of a mage, as she is, she’s going to need help.”

Mazrah snorted derisively. “I don't think so. If we're sneaking in through the sewers and killing everyone we see once we're inside, why should I disguise myself? And even if we leave a witness, fine. It's high time the Dwemer learn who to fear.”

Nanine resisted the urge to facepalm in exasperation. Of course, Mazrah would advise Shakti to swallow her pride then immediately ignore her own advice. “Several reasons. One, our goal isn’t to kill everyone we see. Our goal is to cause a commotion and convince as many of the guards as possible to come for us rather than guarding Sora, so whoever is inside can grab her and get out in the chaos. That’s going to leave a lot of living witnesses to describe who exactly attacked the Palace. Two, when we get Sora out we’re going to be wanted by the Dwemer. Badly. They’ll be searching for us, and I’m sure that you don’t want to spend nearly all of your time hiding. Three, the only advantages we have against them is that they don’t know who we are or how to find us. If you go into that Palace without a disguise, you’ll be practically handing at least yourself over to them. You’re so distinct and easily describable that even the greenest and most absent-minded guard could spot you as the female orc with golden eyes and white tattoos on almost every inch of her body.” Nanine continued her voice matter of fact. She was frustrated with the orc woman, but not surprised. Mazrah was who she was, and losing her temper would do nothing to help convince her.

“Best case scenario would be that you don’t leave wherever we’re hiding out until missions. Best case scenario that is likely? They spot you and only take you. Worst case, they spot you and they follow you to the rest of us to recapture Sora and crush another cell of the resistance. Our goal is to free Sora and survive to continue this fight. The only way to do that is to keep them from knowing who and where we are as much as possible.”

Shakti furrowed her brow and bit her lip. She knew the others were right, but damn if every fiber in her body told her to disagree. “I… I know it’s for Daro’Vasora. I will do this thing you ask.” Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe she’d get a new change of clothes out of it. One that was not ripped and covered in blood. “Will I at least get to keep my sword with me?”

Meg couldn't help it- she was beginning to get frustrated, and she could barely keep her attention on one person when the other started to speak. It was very clear to her now that they were missing their leader, and it was also very true that despite the khajiit's doubts, Daro'Vasora was good at what she had been forced to take over.

"Uhm," she started, looking between the orc and the mage, pausing when she heard Shakti speak. Well, that was a bit of a relief; at least she agreed to a disguise. She then glanced in Sevari's direction. "Yer the one who knows the palace best. Is there any poin' in concealin' ourselves if we’re gonna be causin’ a commotion?"

“We are a small force infiltrating a very secure bastion of Dwemer power. The louder our distractions are, the more time we’ll have to move. If they’re being attacked by you, they could care less about what you’re wearing.” He said, “Shakti, it’s a pleasure to finally know your name. Just as well, how many servants with Alik’r blades do you know?”

“In my humble opinion as a man who has been carrying out clandestine operations in the name of the Empire for the past 20 years, we need disguises. We need quiet feet. We need as little bloodshed within the Palace proper as possible.” He frowned, “I have connections that can help. We carry the plan out at sundown, the changing of the guards and the next shift of servants relieving the last will be a lot of motion.”

“One small team slips in- Latro, Shakti, a few others perhaps- during that time with the blueprints and hopefully someone who could guide them magically. One contingent of us to the west, another to the east, we split the garrison in two. We aren’t assaulting them, you draw them out, stay just long enough for them to pursue and you disappear, scatter to the winds.” He said, his fingers wiggling as he cast his hand about, “At approximately half an hour beforehand, all things gone to plan and hopefully not all for naught, my contact and I will… make a show of things.”

A little relieved now that Sevari had taken some control over the matter, Meg couldn't help but think over her previous decision. With her quiet feet and sneaky ways, it made much more sense that she headed forward with Latro and Shakti. She chewed on her lip for a moment before clearing her throat. "I'mma go with Latro then." And hopefully not end up getting someone shot in the gut.

Shakti hmph’d and scrunched her nose up in annoyance. This plan was getting worse all the time. Sneaking in with no sword? What would she do when they inevitably got caught? And the nerve of this ‘Sevari’! She could practically hear the sarcasm in his voice! How disrespectful!

The sounds of footsteps against wooden floorboards came echoing from the stairwell, slowly yet deliberately paced. Smaller of size and frame as Hassan blocked sight of them as they stood in the doorway, until stepping out of the way revealed a Breton with red hair and sharp, Nibenese features, layered in robes of Hammerfell silks and cottons, indicative of someone who was perhaps of a middle class, yet brought their finest wares with them to a formal event. A droning whistle of indeterminate origin could be heard through the room, but those next to Calen would’ve known exactly where it came from. She scanned the room carefully with her hands behind her back for a brief second before addressing Sevari, “I have spoken with the Poncy Man and the arrangements for Irranhu cell have been made. I am leaving him to deal with the logistics. How goes the affairs on your end?”

Meg blinked, eyes moving away from Sevari to looked at the woman who had just entered the room. A fancy pancy sort, in her opinion. But... "Who're you?" she asked, unable to stop herself. At least the Ohmes-Raht had been a familiar if somewhat intimidating face. The woman stared back at Meg, maintaining her professional demeanour, before looking past her and at the rest of the company. A few she looked at a bit longer, as though she were assessing them, though her gaze lingered longest on Jaraleet. Finally, although her eyes flicked back to Meg for a moment, she began speaking to the group as a whole.

“My name is Janelle.” She said, introducing herself as she bowed her head. When her head lifted back up, her stoic expression was replaced by a sly, little smile. “I am a benefactor for Samara cell, but I hope you all will come to see me as your new best friend. From what I could hear from the stairwell, I understand that you need a distraction? I’ve already made an arrangement with our mutual friend. Irranhu cell will be conducting a strike on a weapons depot, which should draw their forces away from the palace. I have… personally funded the operation.”

At the tail-end of her explanation, she stared at Sevari from the corner of her eyes. They were grave and intense as if to show him how far she was willing to go. With a slight turn of her head, she faced everyone again and asked, “Any other questions?”

It clicked for Nanine where she had seen the new comer before when ‘Janelle’ gave her name. Years and years ago, back in Daggerfall. A rich, intense, noble girl. Aries, back then. They had never interacted, class being almost everything in Breton society, but it was interesting that she was either lying or chose to change her name. Now wasn’t the time to mention such things, though, and Nanine kept quiet, watching the following back and forth.

“We’ve settled on a plan. I’ll strike out with you to oversee Irranhu cell,” Sevari turned to Aries, “It’d be best to keep you out of the thick of it.”

“You suggest that seeing over the diversion would keep me out of ‘the thick of it?’” Aries asked rhetorically.

Sevari frowned and sighed, “We’re advisors. We advise. Hassan will go among Irranhu cell. You and I both know their penchant for taking liberties with our help. You pushed an arrow of theirs through my lung last time we offered a hand to them.” He said, still remembering the gods-awful pain of it, “Unless you’re going to strap a breastplate on yourself, Poncy Man’s spies have designated an area we may overlook the raid from a distance.”

Aries listened intently to what Sevari had to say and ruminated on the its wisdom, but she found her eyes wandering over remaining members of the Samara cell. They were all standing there, watching the two of them discuss this in front of them. Her eyes fell back on the Khajiit, critical and uncompromising. Though he stood a full head and shoulders over her, she stared back up at him, thinking back on the time he had made his intentions and allegiances clear in the escape tunnel a few days ago.

“I appreciate your concern.” She said. “Perhaps on a more auspicious day I would have accepted, but we’re short on victories, Sevari, and clean hands do not beget dirty work. Do you want to know what the burden of duty is? Watch from the shadows while I set the example.”

Mazrah watched the exchange between the two newcomers passively, not really understanding the intricacies of what they were talking about. She liked the redheaded woman’s attitude, however, and looked at her with approval. “That’s right, no more hiding,” Mazrah said and flashed Aries a smile.

“Zealotry and recklessness it is, then.” He shrugged, “You act like a foreign dignitary wasn’t attacked and then a prisoner transfer convoy ambushed with all hands dead never occurred days ago. But, so be it, be Hassan’s burden.”

“You act as though you’re still on my side, but you’ve already made your feelings about that abundantly clear.” She remarked dryly, her gaze transferring over to Hassan. “Hassan, take point on Irranhu; I will accompany Samara.”

He unfolded his arms, “If we are all in agreement of the plan, then I will take my leave. I have things that need doing.” He placed a hand on Latro’s shoulder, “Good luck.”

Jaraleet watched Aries’ entrance into the room in silence. It didn’t escape the Argonian assassin the way that the woman’s gaze carefully scanned the room, nor the way that her eyes had seemed to linger on him the longest out of everyone she had set her sight on. “Sevari, if you would wait a moment longer.” He said to the Khajiit before he left the room. “I think I’ll join the others who are infiltrating the palace. I’m not the best in a stand up fight, so I’m not sure how useful I’d be in helping with either of the distractions. That is all.” The Argonian said, deciding to hold back on asking the Ohmes-Raht about who was their newest benefactor. There were far too many questions in his mind for him not to be, somewhat, wary about ‘Janelle’ and her intentions.

Having resigned herself to sulking after Nanine had laid out exactly why she was going to have to dress up like a fucking child’s doll, after all, Mazrah suddenly realized she’d almost forgot something -- or rather, someone. While the conversation continued, she got up from her seat and squeezed her way behind the chairs of the others towards the door. She stepped outside for a few seconds and returned holding the hand of a rather surprised looking Redguard woman.

“You wanted mages, right? Here you go. She can help. Her name is Maj and we’re friends,” Mazrah said bluntly and gave Maj’s hand a little squeeze.

Maj was indeed surprised. Brought in while she was trying to eavesdrop through the heavy doors, ear pressed up against it. Several staff trying to shoo her away from what she was obviously doing. Unprepared for the attention of a large group of people that Maz rightfully had grown to respect and care about. A huge mix of faces as her eyes swept over.

Clearing her throat, squeezing Mazrah’s hand back before stepping forward. “Maj, Maj Noor at your service.” Sweeping bow, a flourish of her deep green cloak, the small stature of Maj bent back up at the waist wearing a full toothy grin. Dark black hair loosely tied to the side, uneven bangs falling over her eyes. “Aye, I’m a mage. A master of crafting the perfect distraction with a penchant for wanting to fuck with the Dwemer, properly. Frenzy, fury, you name it and I can cast it. When my imagination isn’t enough I back it up with conjuring real nightmares.” Selling herself, her voice loud and entirely confident.

“I’ll help get your friend back,” Maj promised, “If you’ll have me.”

“Glad to have another mage. We’ll need all the help we can get, so welcome aboard Maj. Before we disperse to prepare for all our roles, is there anyone else hiding in or around the building, waiting for dramatic entrances?” Nanine asked, dryly. “I’d prefer if we knew all that we had at our disposal before we got underway with preparations.”

“You can be honest, I’m the best surprise so far tonight,” Maj replied.

Meg couldn't help but crack a smile at the newcomer's words; if anything, she seemed like the cheerful sort, what with her words and smile. She was, however, ready to leave, seeing their plans for rescuing Sora were finally determined.

"I'mma head off then. See y'all in the mornin'." Lifting a hand in small wave, she waited only a moment before taking her leave, needing some fresh air... and perhaps a bottle to accompany her.

Judena looked between the two new women, writing as she did. “Thank you all, every bit of effort will go toward the safe return of Daro’Vasora. Latro, I am very pleased to see you alive and by our side once more.” She spoke with a firm resolve more so than how she felt prior to her confession. “There will be time. We will make time and a sanctuary for ourselves once we are whole. I-”

A rise in emotion in the back of her throat shuttered the elder Argonian to stutter, she swallowed patting at her chest feeling the wedding band in its usual place, the lump dissipated. “I will be found continuing lessons with Anifaire, use this time to collect resources, faculties and prepare. Please remember even if I may struggle to remember this conversation, I believe in each of you and I believe in us.”
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Stormflyx Queen of Doggos

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From Beneath

a collab with the sexy @Leidenschaft

13th of Midyear - Gilane

“What do you mean you don’t have Spider’s Eggs?” She said impatiently to the merchant behind the desk - her voice a low hiss and her eyes expressed a heightening level of frustration. “I… should have more this afternoon,” was the timid, wide-eyed response. “Blue Butterfly Wing then? Frost Salts and Lavender too please…” Raelynn rolled her eyes and exhaled loudly as the merchant collected the goods and held them out to her. Her handmaiden, Rhoka, took them and began placing them into the basket that was hung over her arms. Rhoka had noted that this had been Raelynn’s first excursion out of the house since she’d arrived late some nights ago. Her sudden willingness to step outside may have had something to do with her Gentleman caller.

She had seemed much happier this morning.

“Where to next Miss?” Rhoka asked Raelynn after she had paid the merchant, “a few more stops. But these crowds are agitating me… There’s too many people around.” She tensed her body as a crowd of children ran past the stalls, squawking and squabbling amongst themselves. “Come on, let’s get this done as quickly as we can. I don’t want to get caught amongst the lunch crowds,” while there was a restless bite in her tone, Rhoka didn’t feel that there was any real malice, and so the two of them continued their journey around the market, Raelynn was gripping the shopping list in her hand tightly - every now and again she would look back upon it and nod.

“I like it.” Latro said, nodding with an appreciative frown as if he was appraising a painting.

“I never asked for an opinion,” Sevari said, tugging on his new coat and staring at himself without his beard in the mirror. “Would you recognize me in a crowd?”

“Perhaps not.” Latro said, sitting next to where Sevari was standing, “I like it.”

“Again, whether or not you like it has no bearing on whether or not I keep the outfit. It’s light, practical, I like it.” Sevari nodded.

The Ohmes-Raht was bedecked in buckskin chausses over light pants, tucked into curve-toe boots of Redguard make. He wore his tunic and his dark brown coat was sitting on the chair behind him, along with his hat. A wide-brimmed Colovian ranger’s hat with the left side of the brim pinned up with a moonstone charm. He forwent the Dwemer carbine and instead kept his pistol holstered on his belt, on which also was kept a bone-handle messer. He’d hidden away his more iconic and exotic weapons to further separate himself from the man that survived the attack on the prisoner transfer convoy.

“Are you ready?” Latro asked.

Sevari nodded. With that, they made their way back out on the streets of Gilane new men. Well, in a way. Latro had opted to do the same thing he’d done when he and Sevari first met. He was dressed in the flowing silk robes of the people of Hammerfell as well as painting his face like the women and letting his hair flow freely. It was an advantage to looking like he did, no one immediately ever able to tell if he was man or woman until he was lounging shirtless at camp and plucking his lute. Speaking of lutes, or the givers of them, it hurt to remember that Sora was still trapped in the high tower of the Governor’s Palace. They walked the streets for some time until Latro stopped, peering into the crowds.

Sevari noticed and immediately, his hand was on the hilt of his blade, “What is it?”

“I know her.” Latro said, still keeping his eyes on the woman a ways away in the crowd. “Yes, that’s… Raelynn!”

The beaming smile on his face stayed all up until he stood a few paces away from the woman he hadn’t seen in quite some time. Sevari was just getting to Latro with a frown that contrasted his demeanor. “We can’t get separated, fool.”

“... I thought you said that there was an apothecary around here, Rhoka? Have we gone too far?” Raelynn asked tersely, her eyes flitting across the crowds as if she were cautious of who could be around. “I… I… thought there was Miss,” Rhoka answered nervously, her fingers gripping the basket tightly.

“Excuse me, miss?” Latro said, pitching up his voice behind Raelynn, “Miss, can you point me to the nearest tailor’s?”

She was right to have been cautious, a voice behind her gave her quite a start and she turned around swiftly, not knowing what to expect - but wanting to give whomever the voice belonged to an angry rebuke. As she swivelled on her heel, she took a glance at the stranger behind her, starting from their feet all the way up to their face. She knew this person. It took her until she met his eyes. She would know those copper eyes anywhere. “Latro…” she breathed, her eyes widening with something between joy and shock.

Her fingers twitched at her sides, and her head shook while her eyes just moved up and down, left and right just to fully take him in. She smiled. “Latro..” she repeated, assured now. “God’s above, what are you doing here?” Her hand came up to her mouth, a finger curled over her lip while the others gripped at her chin. Speechless. She was completely speechless.

She reached back and patted Rhoka’s arm, clutching at the fabric of her shawl. “Rhoka, take those things back to the house… We’ll finish it later…” Her voice was quiet, and was only half concentrating on the words, Raelynn was still gawping at Latro, was he wearing make-up?. She didn’t notice her handmaiden take her leave. Finally, she broke her stance and lunged toward her fellow Breton, her arms wrapping around him, fingers gripping into his back. She realised it was probably too much and she immediately pulled away, almost awkwardly. “You’re back… How did you?” She had so many questions.

It wasn’t until a shadow formed over her that she turned her eyes away at last, following the imposing and tall figure of Latro’s companion, he was so tall and the hat he wore cast a shadow over his face - his… strange face. She couldn’t put her finger on who this man was - but perhaps instinct told her. He must be the other one. “Latro…?” She said once more, her tone a confused question now - her eyes locked onto those of the Ohmes-Raht, but her hand was reaching out to touch the Breton in front of her.

Latro’s expression changed from happiness to confusion until he realized. Sevari was with him. The last time they talked, he was telling her of his and Sevari’s fight. He cringed to Sevari, who was already frowning and looking at the ground. Sevari himself spoke first, “Miss, I…” he trailed off, a look of regret upon him as he fixed his hat, deciding to take it off and offer his face uncovered by shadow, “I mean you no harm. Latro and I are companions now, as odd as it may seem.”

He held up his hand before any conclusions could be jumped to from his first words, “He does not serve the Dwemer, no. If I may offer the truth, I do not either, not truly.” He said, “I am… I apologize for…”

He sighed, not knowing what to say. Latro touched Raelynn’s shoulder and nodded, “It’s all true, Raelynn. He’s a friend.”

“My brother did horrible things and no apology from me will mean anything, I know that.” He said, voice low and heavy.

Companions? Friends? Just what had been happening in the days since she had seen Latro last exactly? She knew that Sevari had helped Jaraleet and Meg... She knew that much about him. But wasn’t he also the one who beat Latro to a pulp? She knew why he could barely look at her, and she tucked her hands behind her back nervously, saying nothing back to him even if her mind was full of all the things she wanted to say. This wasn’t the place or the time for that, and she settled for balling her hands into tight fists behind her back.

It was crass for him to do that - to just bring it up, to bring up Zaveed. He didn’t have to say his name but Raelynn knew and Latro knew, and it made her feel vulnerable in a puzzling way. Here and now, in public of all places and still she had no seething remark to chew him back with. Yet.

Raelynn sidestepped away from him slowly, her eyes not leaving his even if he could not look at her. There was something burning behind that gaze of hers. She took her place at Latro’s side, letting him stand between the two of them. A sickly feeling hit her stomach, but she tried to smile it away, “well, I don't think I'm in a position to quarrel with you over that,” she said quietly. He may have found some kind of friendship with Sevari, but she had saved the life of her abuser. Who was she to judge it, really? Did they know that? Did they know anything at all? Her eyes darted to Sevari once more before she looped her arm through Latro’s, holding him tightly. As if she were protecting she and him both.

Of course! “Latro, where is Sora? We must find somewhere quiet to talk, I feel there's much to catch up on...” Raelynn almost felt guilty for not having asked about Sora, for not even thinking about Sora sooner - but, seeing Latro was enough.

Latro looked away from Raelynn at the mention of Sora. There might have been something in his eye, but he wiped it away, careful not to smudge his eyeliner. “Come, walk with me. We’ll find a tea shop or somesuch to talk.”

Once they’d made it to one, Latro sat, gesturing for Raelynn to do the same. Sevari took his seat next to Latro, refusing to meet Raelynn’s eyes the entirety of the trio here, and even now still. Latro places his hands on the short-leg table they were seated at, sitting cross-legged on fine pillows as was the tradition of Redguard tea and hookah shops. It took a while for him to begin, mouth working at the words, tongue wondering just how to frame the news to Raelynn.

“I know you and Gregor left the Three Crowns some time ago, it isn’t my business.” He began, “Sora was… was captured. Parades through the streets like a monster. I wanted to save her, Raelynn, I would’ve cut the crowd down around me if they so muched as shifted a finger to stop me.”

His voice was quiet, seething rage at the memory, “That fucking pig had her there and they caught me too. I couldn’t have made it to him before he sprayed her brains over the street with his pistol.” Latro scowled, “I surrendered, just to be with her, offer her my protection or my presence, at least. I managed to get out of the Palace but she’s still there.” He gestured to Sevari, “This Khajiit is why I made it out, why I’m still alive.”

She hung on Latro's words - the presence of the Khajiit playing on her mind - her eyes flicked back to him after Latro explained how he'd escaped, and briefly she remembered Zaveed cutting through her ropes too. It didn't add up, but she left those thoughts to the side for now. She leaned in to Latro and wanted to place a hand on his, but she let them sit in her lap instead, one leg crossed over the other. All she could do was nod, interject with a quiet hum between his words. It was a horrendous story, and hearing his words brought her back to her own part in it. “I'm sorry…” were the first words that she said, turning her head away. Tears sitting in the corners of her eyes. “I could have done more… Fought back. I could have tried. Maybe he wouldn't have taken her if I could have done anything.”

Her hands came up from her lap and her elbows hit the wood of the table with a quick slam, her face falling into her hands. “I could have used magic, I could have called for help. But I was powerless - again.” She sighed and tried to compose herself. She hadn't spoken much about that night, and being here with Latro just shot her with guilt over not having come for Sora sooner - they had told Meg and Jaraleet, but should it have been her?

“I didn't come to my senses for hours. Roux was dead and there were guards there.” The memory of the sound of the Chain Lightning made her wince, she shut her eyes tightly, fingers gripping around the strands of hair they touched. “I killed them…” she admitted, defeat rolling off her tongue into the silence that sat around them. “If I had thought about it sooner then I could have helped her. I could have helped.”

“Stop.” He said, quietly, sympathy in his eyes as he held her gaze, “Don’t do that to yourself, Raelynn. You did what you had to, you did what you could. That’s enough, you did enough.”

“None of this is your fault. Don’t make it seem that way in your head.” He said, offering his easy smile, “We won’t let them win. We’ll stick together through this. All of us.”

He was right, there was no sense in that way of thinking. She placed her hands flat onto the surface of the table and smiled back at him. “I know, I know. This whole thing has been a disaster, hasn't it? Do you think there will be a reprieve from this soon?” A small laugh escaped her lips. “We'll get her back.”

It was doing no good to dwell on the situation, at least not to keep treading over old ground and picking at raw wounds. Raelynn looked to Sevari - who had been silent for the time being. “So you… You helped Latro, and Jaraleet too.” For a moment she thought to reach out to him and place her hand on him, her fingers just strummed across the wood of the table instead. “I don't know why, or need to. Things are difficult enough I think. Are you going to help us get Daro'Vasora free,” her eyes moved to Latro again, before she turned to Sevari. “Are you with us now?”

“Truth be told, Miss.” Sevari still held his gaze on the grain of the table, remembering everything that’d happened so far. It pained him, but now was not the time, nor were these the people to show it to. He just shrugged, speaking heavily, though he tried to keep the weight from it, “I’ve got nobody else to be with. Latro, Jaraleet…”

He sighed, “I think they’re the closest thing I have to friends right now.” Nodding, continued, “So, yeah. I’ll help Latro. I’ll help Sora. I’ll help you.”

“Well, when you cavort around making yourself known with violence, it’s not hard to find yourself in such a predicament.” Her words were harsh, but she knew they were true. Her fingers stopped strumming, and she straightened herself up. “Look at me,” she said in a demanding tone, waiting for him to finally look up from the spot on the table he had been so fixated on.

He lifted his gaze from the table, a slight frown, but his eyes held hers. He didn’t want to, but he did anyways. It wasn’t even him that did what had been done to this woman, but it still pained him that it was someone he loved that did. Even still, Gregor’s words about leaving Zaveed behind echoed in him. That he wasn’t the person he once was. Sevari himself wasn’t either. So, he wouldn’t. Though that didn’t mean part of him didn’t want to. Raelynn’s eyes bored into his without her trying or not, but this wasn’t the first difficult thing he’d done, nor would it be the last.

“You have shown yourself to be an ally to us, and so I thank you for that,” she began, but there was a cold edge on her words, “your brother did do horrible things, to Daro’Vasora, to Roux, to me.” She lifted her hand up to the light, turning it to show both sides - where the scar sat. Her face curled to a sneer. “But you are not your brother. Do not apologise for him.” She sighed, Raelynn could see that Sevari had witnessed so much, he carried that on his face - something regretful was emanating from him right now. It would be so easy for her to cut him down to nothing right now with little more than her words, but he looked as though he had already done it to himself, she could not bring herself to start conflict in Latro's company, either. She had to let this one go.

“Zaveed is....” her voice began to crack, it felt wrong to discuss this, but it was a weight that had been holding her down for too long, she needed to be free of it. “I gave Zaveed a second chance, and I add that to his debt to me. It would be wrong of me to deny you the same thing. Do not fail us.” There was a heavy seriousness in her voice, but she felt lighter, and in the spirit of that she placed her hand on Latro’s and gave it a gentle squeeze. “I imagine you’ll be heading to rescue her with the group… I will be of no use to you, and Gregor can not fight, but anything I can provide in the meantime that may be of assistance - you need only ask. I have resources at my fingertips right now.” She smiled at him with warmth in her eyes. “You too,” she said to Sevari, “if you need anything… I, well… Just ask.”

“Anything, Raelynn. Anything at all.” He said, frowning, “I’m taking Sora away from here whether she wants it or not. There’s nothing for us here now.”

“Alright, well I am expecting my father to return today - I will send our bodyguard, Zhaib in Gregor and I’s stead. I can assure you that he is a fearsome warrior and will fight alongside you at your command, or escort you through the palace. Whatever use you can find for him, he is yours.” She raised her hand to her mouth, thinking about it all. Her brows dipped in concentration. “I can make some potions too, and we have Restoration scrolls to spare. My father has no use for them, I’ll send them with Zhaib when the time comes.”

“Good, I appreciate it.” He said, nodding, “We could use another fighter. I hope Gregor recovers soon. It has not been a restful past couple of days for me or Sevari.”

“No.” Sevari muttered.

“Gregor is in my care now, he’s doing well.” She said, matter of factly, eyes drawn back to Sevari. “You must love your brother very much, is that true?”

“I love what’s left of the man I knew,” Sevari nodded, “We’re family, perhaps not by blood, but by bond. Gregor is a good man, Raelynn, and I’ve learned that no matter the crimes done, there’s perhaps good men under them. Zaveed is no better than me, no better than Gregor.”

“Gregor and I are perhaps of a kind. Old soldiers. I respect him. I only hope to bring more of the man I once knew in Senchal to the surface in Zaveed. I’m getting there, I hope.” Sevari said, “I don’t know what roads we will go down in the future, but I hope yours are steady as they can be in these times.”

She smirked at the mention of Gregor, she did not like how his name sounded rolling off the tongue of the Ohmes-Raht. “Zaveed is beneath Gregor, beneath me. All he can do now is climb back up to his place. Time will tell whether or not he does, or if he will let his shadows devour him.”

“I don’t know you enough, Sevari. I am sure you will prove who you are in the coming days. But we are good people, each of us. Zaveed will need your help if he is to change... “ She looked down at the table, at her hands - the fingers splayed out against the wood. “His pain will be excruciating, I’ve no doubt… Give him essence of Blue Dartwing, Blisterwort, and Mountain Flower. It will weaken him momentarily, but his pain will cease. More than it will from a Potion.” She shouldn’t have said it, she didn’t owe anything more to him, but this was for Sevari. “We’re good people, and we were never your enemy.”

“Maybe,” he said, “There’s always good people on either side of a question. If only it was so easy to tell.”

“Well, I think we’d better part ways. The city isn’t the safest for either of us and you being caught in our presence might bring you trouble.” Latro rose and gave Rae his easy smile, “Until we meet again.”

With that, they made their way back to the streets, back to their business.

Raelynn watched the two of them leave and still she couldn’t shake a feeling of uneasiness over Sevari, and yet if Latro was able to trust him, shouldn’t she be able to? She gave them a few minutes before she too stood from the table and made her way back out to the streets. She had things to collect from her room at the Hotel, perhaps Daro’Vasora’s things too. Had anyone else thought to?

She couldn’t help but notice a feeling in the air, that everything was about to happen, and it was happening soon.
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