Hidden 6 mos ago Post by Dervish
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Dervish Let's get volatile

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Birdcage in the Sky

Sora’s Lost Days

13th Midyear 4E208, Governor’s Palace, early evening…

Another page was crumpled in a ball and shoved from the mirrored desk, joining a litter of three other failed attempts at finding words for something that was impossible. Daro’Vasora slumped down on the desk, staring back at her reflection and her emerald-coloured eyes over her forearm flat against the surface. Had she always looked this tired? She wasn’t sure; she wasn’t sure of anything anymore.

It had been days since she’d seen Latro or heard from Sevari, and she had held out hope that her lover was safe and Sevari would return with information, but word of neither arrived, save for the news that the convoy that was heading to the prisoner transfer was assaulted by insurgents, and many of the Ministry of Order’s men were slain in the ambush; Sevari and Latro were nowhere to be found. Daro’Vasora had tried to tell herself that it meant that they were safe, that Latro had escaped and found the others, but she couldn’t lie to herself so readily and she had cried herself to sleep.

To the Governor’s credit, her daily visit was a short one that was sympathetic. A new dress and sweets were provided, and the governor herself took off her necklace, leaving it with the Khajiit. It was a malachite pendant housed in a Dwemeri alloy harness covered in the simple, bold designs that the Dwemer seemed to favour. It was a pretty thing, and didn’t seem to fit someone of Razlinc’s station. The Governor smiled and explained that it had been her mother’s, the stone a gift from a Chimer suitor. That alone made the necklace more valuable than anything the Khajiit had ever found in her life, and yet it sat on the desk, unmoving with the now melted chocolates for two days now.

She pulled up another parchment, free of words, and stared blankly at the page, knowing that the words she committed to it could potentially ultimately either be the salvation of her companions or their doom. A speech, something to placate the populace. The publically humiliated terrorist leader publicly denouncing the violence and her part in it while exalting the virtues of her captors and how well they treated her and what they could offer Gilane and Volenfell. It was a lie, a sham, and every time she put words to the page, she either felt like she was consigning people she cared about to death or about to sell her soul for a little more time for them. After what she’d seen lurking far below the palace, however, she knew horrors awaited the streets in Gilane. Words weren’t going to prevent that, nothing she could do would.

All she was was a single, stupid girl in a foreign city who got in over her head and in trying to lead people to safety away and ended up bringing them into some overzealous insurgency that she didn’t even know if it was altruistic or opportunistic. Did it matter anymore? Did any of it? She stood up from the desk and headed to the balcony to clear her head. She was falling in love with the early evening breeze of the city, how Magus shifted ever so slightly as the hours ticked on, revealing more colours hidden within the city streets. She knew that somewhere down there, her friends were waiting, probably scared shitless about what had happened to her and Latro. Her mind lingered on Judena, and how she never told her how much she meant to her, and how the Argonian would wake up every single day for weeks wondering where Daro’Vasora was, and then re-discovering that she was gone forever. The constant anguish of the thought made the Khajiit choke back a sob. Megana would almost certainly be doing everything to try and find out where she was, even if it got her in trouble… Raelynn wouldn’t be able to do anything, not the way she was, broken and terrified. Did she blame herself for Roux’s death, Daro’Vasora wondered.

A breeze rolled by and prickled her bare arms, and for a moment she allowed herself to imagine it was Latro’s reassuring caress, like when she awoke from the nightmares. She had never allowed herself to believe she could ever be loved by anyone, nor feel it in turn, but ever since her and the Reachman had been trapped below the Jerall Mountains, hunted by Falmer, she felt a bond to him, a bond that had only grown stronger, even when she had feared he died in Imperial City, and when she foolishly nearly squandered it in Anvil. He didn’t look at her fur or pointed teeth with disgust, her slitted pupils with distrust, her tail in mockery. He looked at her like she was the only thing in the world, and that he’d found something in turn he no longer needed to hide in the shadows from. They loved each other, and it was the most pure and reassuring thing Daro’Vasora had ever experienced in her life, and it meant something. They’d never be able to have children, and society would frown on their union, but none of that mattered.

Nothing mattered anymore. The future she’d dared dream of was torn from her, the beautiful rose only she’d been able to grasp had been torn from her and only barren soil remained in Latro’s wake. It was too late to save him, but it didn’t mean she had to bow and submit to those who took him from her.

“You never wrote me that song.” she whispered to the golden sky. Her eyes widened with realization, and Daro’Vasora hurried back to her desk, and for the better part of an hour, the quill danced across paper, words coming to life before her eyes. The page filled, and she held it up to dry, watching on as the ink took to the paper to bond together like lovers. She smiled at the thought.

I’m like a stupid girl again.

The Khajiit returned to the balcony, humming a melody as she read the words over the page, trying to find a tune. It had all been so quick and spontaneous, she knew it wouldn’t be fine work and she certainly wasn’t a bard.

Still, she knew it was something he would have loved. She stood, staring at the amber-hues of the sky, perfectly preserving the moment in her mind like the fossil that took its namesake.

“I’ve never been good at this,” Daro’Vasora said to the sky, her voice carrying somewhat past her balcony. “You never had the chance to write me that song that you promised, and it was something I know I loved to tease you about, Latro… I just wish it had a chance to come true.

“You know, ever since I was young, I always had a fascination with singers and songs, how they could whisk you away to far away lands and tell a story that leaps out into your heart more than words on a page ever could. When I first laid eyes on you, with your dark hair and those eyes I could get lost in for hours, I fell in love with your voice. It took a while, but the rest of me followed suit. There’s days where I don’t know what I did to deserve you, but you’ve been the best thing that’s ever happened to me, Latro de Couteau. I’d hoped one day to fall in love with your voice all over again when you finally sang me that song that was just for me, I couldn’t think of a greater gift.” she grow silent, wiping an errand tear that had rolled down her cheek away.

“Now I realized that the greatest gift of all would be to have you back, and I was too stupid to realize that sooner. How many times have I lost you, only to find you again, to promise that it would be different this time? This time… you didn’t come back. I feel like it’s stuck this time, and my heart shatters at the thought, but you don’t need me to be crumble now. To the love of my life, who I fear I’ll never see again, I will say goodbye to you the same way I laid eyes on you, with a song.” she smiled, sniffing as her eyes welled up with tears and she inhaled deeply and sang, her voice high and light, the melody carrying from her lips well, even if she didn’t have a range to express herself,

Forever lingering among the stars
The view is ever far
Up above the moonlit high
There sits a birdcage in the sky

I waited here so long and brave
Isolated from people in a grave
Made up of my soul and mind
No thoughts for those I left behind

But here you are, not letting go
Among the stars all alone
Finally hearing a song that wasn’t mine
In this birdcage in the sky

You unlocked the cage and picked my lock
This beautiful thing quite the shock
I hesitantly took your hand
And when I leapt my life began

It felt like we fell for hours but even so
Holding hands I was no longer alone
The ground came close and though we’d die
You freed me from my birdcage in the sky

But you spread your wings, and we were aloft
You saved us from perilous drop
Soaring into the great unknown
There was no telling how far we would go

We’d finally found what we’d been missing
A song from someone who was listening
Though one day we would say goodbye
You saved me from the birdcage in the sky

Her voice trailed off, and she listened to the sound of rustling palm trees and the sing song of birds, taking in everything as if for the last time, for tomorrow everything would change. She had hoped that wherever Latro was, he had been listening. She smiled at the sky above. “Goodbye, Latro. Thank you for finding the best of me, for not giving up on me, for showing someone who didn’t deserve it the most genuine love and compassion she’s ever felt. Though we part ways and our souls may never meet again, you will always be with me. Always.

“I love you Latro, to the moons, to the Sands Behind the Stars, and when it all comes to an end, my heart will always yearn for you. You made me realize who I could be, who I wanted to be, and who I will be for you. I’m not ashamed of who I am anymore, of what I am. I don’t feel like I am in the wrong body, or that I’m carrying a mark of shame. At the end of it all, at the end of this trail, and though I no longer feel your embrace, I know you are with me. Thank you, for showing me my own moonpath. Thank you, for being the light of my life and freeing me from my cage. I hope you felt the same way; I feel it in my heart.” she said, clutching her chest. She looked down for a moment before looking at the moons above. “Give me strength for these final steps I must take, and I carry you in my heart; may your roads lead you to warm sands. Daro’Vasora knows in her heart who you were, and she will always find you when she looks to the stars.”

She walked away from the balcony, gripping the railing one final time, her touch lingering as she stepped away and returned to the desk, carefully folding her song and placing it gingerly on the desk. Producing another parchment, she set down to write what was effectively going to be her eulogy. Tomorrow, she’d have to give her speech to the crowd, and tomorrow, she would tell the truth to the gathered masses knowing full well the consequences of defiance. She would even wear the Governor’s necklace while she gave her speech. Glancing over at the balcony, two songbirds danced and fluttered along the railing, prompting a sad smile.

She would never see an evening as beautiful as this one again.
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Hidden 6 mos ago Post by Mortarion
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Thank You

Brought to you by Greenie and yours truly

12th of Midyear, Late Night, Three Crowns Hotel, Courtyard

With the meeting finally over, Meg had left almost immediately, though not for bed. True, she was exhausted, but more than physically it was mentally. Those days with Zahir in the other inn had left her stressed, even though she knew he was going to be fine. It was the future that kept pricking at her mind. What would happen once Sora was rescued? It didn’t seem plausible to her that they would be able to stay here in Gilane. If her friend had been so easily captured from right under their noses, if Raelynn had been so easily tortured with no one being the wiser, then how would the entire group be able to remain where they were? Being allied with the Poncy Man had brought more cracks to their group than safety, and it worried and saddened her. And what of Zahir? If she was to leave… who would take care of him?

She didn’t want those thoughts for tonight. They still had time- she wanted to relax her mind and let herself feel free. She knew he was safe, so she would stay here for the night. But before then…

Having snatched a bottle from her room, Meg had made her way out to the hotel’s courtyard, carefully walking down the dimly lit pathway before she finally came to the same short wall where she had sobbed like a child before her friend. Smiling a little, she sat down and stretched out her legs, pulling out the cork as she did. It seemed like so long ago- so much had happened since the night of the party… too much. She brought the bottle to her lips and took a gulp, enjoying the taste and hoping it would provide some of the numbness she wanted to feel.

“I had a feeling that I would find you here.” Said Jaraleet as he entered the courtyard, frowning slightly as he noticed the bottle on Meg’s hand. “I think you told me a while ago that if I saw you with a bottle of alcohol I should take it from your hands, no?” The Argonian spoke as he crossed the short distance that separated them. He still wore the armor with which he had set off to Al-Aqqiya, damaged as it was after Sa’ad’s onslaught, having not bothered to change in the aftermath of the meeting that the group had held.

Letting out a sigh, he sat next to Meg and turned his head to look at her. “Want to tell me what's bothering you?” He asked her softly, a note of worry in his voice.

Meg looked up, surprise written on her face. She hadn't expected anyone to notice where she was, not that she didn't feel a little happy that she had been noticed... perhaps a little giddy that it was her argonian friend. Then she saw the state of his armour and clothes, and the slight feeling of elation fell, creating a pit in her stomach.

She took another gulp from the bottle, slightly sheepish from his words but not particularly willing to comply and give up her drink. "How 'bout we share then?" she asked, giving him a small grin, though there was a hint of desperation as she spoke. "Drink's on me, eh?" She set the bottle on his lap, still holding onto it just in case he decided he wasn't thirsty.

"An’ I'll tell you what's botherin' me if you tell me why you're hurt again." It was hard to miss the tremble in her voice.

Jaraleet let out a sigh when it became clear that Meg wasn't willing to let go of her drink. “If you wish, I could use a drink.” He commented as she placed the bottle on his lap. “I probably should be asking you that question.” He replied with a slight frown when she said that she'd only tell him what was bothering her if he told her why he was hurt once more.

“The last time I saw you both of your knuckles were bloody messes and your lip was split.” He said as he gingerly freed the bottle from her grip, frowning when he noticed that her knuckles were still bruised and only scabbing just now. “Honestly, look at them. I should probably drag you to my room so I could bandage them.” He said, still holding her hand as he carefully ran his thumb over her knuckles. “But, to answer your question, I got hurt while I was on a mission with Sevari and Latro.” Jaraleet said, taking a drink from the bottle.

"That's not fair... changin’ the subject like that..." Meg's mumbles quieted however. A mission with Sevari and Latro? She blinked a little, and then she remembered the khajiit man addressing Jaraleet after he had saved him and sent them on the way. She bit her lip, suddenly upset, and the pain from her healing wound fueled it even more. He had just gotten better, and then was immediately whisked off onto another life threatening mission? How was that right? How was that...

But that was what he was, wasn't it? Like Gregor had said.

She let out a soft sigh and looked up at the argonian. "Ya really gotta be more careful," she muttered. "Yer not like, a pincushion or somethin'. If somethin' happened to you too..." Looking down at her own hand, she shook her head, voice low as she continued. "Bruised hands an' a split lip wouldn' hurt as much as what I'd be feelin' in 'ere." She used her free hand and rapped it against her heart; a slight hiss of pain escaped as her bruise made contact with her shirt.

Jaraleet felt his guts twist with guilt as Meg spoke, easily able to tell that the Nord woman was upset. “I’m sorry.” He muttered, letting go of her hand and wrapping his arm around her shoulders. “Didn’t mean to hurt you or make you upset. When Sevari came for me he was already with Latro, ready to go. There wasn’t much time to say anything to anyone.” He said softly. “But, hey, I’m here now, am I not? Bruised, yeah, but still alive.” He said softly, trying to ease her worries a little bit.

"Yeah," she agreed, smiling a little as she nodded. That was the most important thing, wasn't it? He was alive and well and right here, not like Rhea, not like J'raij...

Taking another sip from the bottle, she let out a small sigh, though this one was much more relaxed than the one before. Unknowingly she leaned closer, resting her head against the argonian. "When I foun' Zahir... there were two men. They were just wailin' on him, even though he was down an' out. Just beatin' on him 'cause he was too small t'defend himself. An'-" Her hands curled into fists, and she winced at the tightness. "-I... just lost it. It... it made me so damn mad t'see him like that. Helpless. I wanted t'kill ‘em. I didn' think of me, nothin'. I just wanted 'em to know how it must've felt for him." She paused and tilted her head, wondering what Jaraleet might be thinking. "Beat 'em good too."

“Hmmm, I see.” Jaraleet replied when Meg had finished telling her tale. Part of him wanted to be mad at her for putting herself in danger and, yet, he found that he couldn't do so. Instead, the Argonian found himself smiling at the Nord woman, chuckling softly. “Why am I not surprised in the least.” He said fondly, shaking his head slightly. “I'm sorry to hear that Zahir went through that.” He said softly, tightening his embrace slightly. He could tell that Meg cared for the orphan a great deal and he had no doubt that the beating he had gone through was something that still bothered her

"Aye, me too." Meg looked back down at the bottle in her hand, contemplating it. "He though' I was taken away by the dwemer, like his pa..." Her grip around the bottle tightened and she took a gulp before holding it out for him to partake. "Las' time I fough' like tha'? I was just a kid in Riften streets. After tha', it was always with m'sword." She grinned a little as she shook her leg, letting the sword in the scabbard by her hip jostle.

Jaraleet chuckled softly and smiled at Meg, taking the bottle from her hands and taking a swig. “Hmmm, I better watch out and make sure I don’t make you angry. Don’t think I could win against you in a fist fight.” He said, laughing slightly. He took another swig from the bottle and offered it again for Meg to take a drink.

Meg's grin turned a little mischievous as she grabbed the bottle in one hand and raised her free hand, curling it lightly and tapping at his armour, being careful not to make contact with where she was still bruised. "Only one way t'fin' out," she replied, letting out a laugh of her own.

Jaraleet cocked an eyebrow up at Meg’s words. “Is that a challenge, Miss Megana?” The Argonian asked, smirking slightly at her. “Because if it is, well, you better be careful, or I might take you up on it.”

"I would but yer already in a state," Meg quipped back with a giggle, letting her hand rest in her lap. "Wouldn' wanna hurt ya even more, y'know?"

She found herself amused, her earlier melancholic mood put to the side for fun bantering with the argonian. She looked up and smiled at him, eyes bright. "I gotta thank you. Y'always make m'feel better when I'm feelin' down." Meg set the bottle on the ground before carefully wrapping her arms around the argonian; she didn't want to hurt him any more than he was, but she was certainly going to show her affection and appreciation.

Jaraleet smiled at Meg’s words. “I’m glad to hear that I’ve been able to help you Meg.” The Argonian said softly. He was surprised when he felt Meg’s arms wrap around him, and let out a soft chuckle when he noticed that she was being deliberately careful. “You know I’m not made of glass, right?” He playfully chided her before he too wrapped his arms around her in an embrace, pulling her closer than before.

Surprised that he returned the hug, Meg was still for a split second before letting out an elated laugh and wrapping her arms tighter around the argonian. It felt nice, comfortable, something she had clearly missed for a long time, though she wouldn't be able to tell how long. When she finally pulled away she was still smiling, face a little pink.

"Yer right," she replied jokingly, "yer not made of glass."

“It would be rather inconvenient, wouldn’t it?” The Argonian joked back, letting out a soft chuckle, before he smiled at Meg, happy to see that she was feeling better from what he could tell. He closed his eyes slightly and, without thinking, pulled Meg a bit closer to him as he leaned against the wall comfortably. “I’m glad that you are back. I was worried when you told me you wouldn’t be staying here for a while.” He said softly, not fully sure why he had voiced that particular thought.

"Really?" Meg replied. She blinked at the argonian, though with his eyes closed he wouldn't have been able to see. "I... well tha's why I came back t'tell you. I thought maybe you might've been..." She couldn't help but turn a little more red, grinning once more. He would have been worried... would he have missed her as well? It was as if warm feeling was descending upon her, reminding her of just a few years ago when she would feel the same with her khajiit friend.

Feeling a little abashed, it took her a moment before replying. "Well... makes me happy t'hear tha'. I mean- I don' wan' you t'worry, but it just-" She fumbled about for her words. "Guess it just feels nice someone would be thinkin' 'bout me."

“I think we’ve had this conversation about worrying for the other before, haven’t we?” Jaraleet joked slightly, opening his eyes again and smiling softly at Meg. “But, yes, I really was worried for you.” He told her softly, giving her shoulder a light squeeze. “I understand, don’t worry.” He told her when she mentioned that it felt nice that someone would be thinking of her. He opened his mouth to speak again when, suddenly, a thought crossed his mind: could he truly say that he understood what she meant?

He was Haj-Eix, a blade wielded by the An-Xileel for the protection of Argonia. His life’s worth was proportional to his use for that purpose. “You need only concern yourself with one thing and one thing only: your mission to Argonia.” The words from the head of the facility in which he had been trained rang crystal-clear in his mind, as if he had only heard them yesterday. All of his life up until this point he had never cared for anyone, and he was sure that no one had cared for him in turn. At least not the way Meg did….or the way he now cared for her. He had been close to his fellow Haj-Eix trainees, that was for certain, but there had always been the unspoken truth that their missions could call for them to sacrifice the other at a moment’s notice for the good of the mission. Or that one might leave and never return.

The sudden realization made him feel uncomfortable, and a lump in his throat formed as he tried to organize his thoughts. “Thank you, Meg.” He said softly, pulling her a bit closer than before. Surely it was fine for someone to worry for him like Meg did, no? Surely….it couldn’t hurt for him to worry that way too, right?

A little confused at being thanked and pulled closer, Meg could only try to imagine what might be going on in his mind. He was such a closed book to her, but she found herself drawn to him anyway. She remained quiet for awhile as she rested against the argonian, allowing herself to enjoy the closeness for as long as it lasted, a lingering smile on her face.

"Dunno what you're sayin' thanks for, silly," she finally murmured. "I'm the one who should be sayin' it."

Jaraleet smiled softly at Meg’s words, allowing himself to enjoy the moment for one more moment before he spoke again. “What for?” He asked her softly. He had an idea of what she’d say...but part of him wanted to hear her say it. Maybe it was selfish on his part, and he couldn’t fully understand why he wanted to hear Meg say it….but surely there would be no harm in allowing himself such a small act of selfishness, no?

He shook his head slightly to clear his mind free of his errant thoughts. “I do mean it Meg, thank you.” He added softly before she could answer.

A chuckle left Meg. "Well then, yer welcome, even if I dunno why." She hesitated for the slightest moment before reaching over and taking his hand. "What for? Jaraleet, yer words in Anvil're one of the reason's I'm still here. I was... lost there, I didn' know what t'do, where t’go. I felt... lonely, but you came along an y'were a friend. Even here, in Gilane... you've had m'back-" She paused, her lips trembling slightly. "Y'took a bullet for me. I- I would've been dead if it weren' for you. Even now... y'didn' have t'come but... y'did." Her eyes were a little glazed as she looked him in the eyes. "All that, an' more... that's why I'm thankin' you."

Her eyes shifted and she looked down at her lap, feeling embarrassed. There was more, but it was hard to say. This much was enough for now.

Jaraleet was silent for a second as he processed what Meg had just told him. He was truly selfish, wasn’t he? Someone like him who had bloodied his hands with murder and torture without batting an eye didn’t deserve for someone like Meg to think so highly of him. To care for him so deeply. He swallowed hard, feeling the lump in his throat forming again and his guts twisting with guilt.

He suddenly pulled her into an embrace once more, so that she wouldn’t see the moisture that had suddenly formed in his eyes. “I’d do it again.” He said, his voice barely rising above a choked up whisper. “For you, I’d do it again.” He repeated himself, breathing deeply and closing his eyes. “I...I...thank you Meg...I don’t deserve such words….but thank you.” Jaraleet said, briefly tightening his embrace before he eased his hold on Meg.

Why did he say such things? Why wouldn't he deserve such words? Thoughts were whirling in Meg's mind as she was embraced, and even as he eased his hold, she remained as she was.

She suddenly remembered Gregor's words from the party.

“Don't be too hard on Jaraleet. He is a good man who means well. His methods are a product of his past. The war between the Argonians and the Dunmer is famously cruel, Megana. The unfortunate reality is that we find ourselves fighting a similar war now against the Dwemer, a race who did not hesitate to butcher defenseless citizens in the Imperial City. If Jaraleet kept things from you, he did that because he wants to preserve your innocence. It is a beautiful thing that should be nourished because once lost, it can never be regained. You have a sweet heart and I admire that.”

Was this why Jaraleet felt he didn't deserve the thanks she was giving him? The affection she felt for him?

"No," she replied. "Don'- don' say that. I dunno yer past, but-" She hesitated, unsure of how to say what was in her heart. "-but tha' doesn' mean it takes away from what yer doin' now, for the group, for me. Whoever you were, whatever y'did- it's... you- yer not that person. Not t'me."

He didn’t deserve her, didn’t deserve her words….and yet part of him wanted to hold onto them. To forget all that he was, all that he had done, all the blood and corpses of his past, and be the person that Meg believed him to be. He truly was selfish, wasn’t he? That desire was proof enough. “You can’t know how much that means to me.” He finally said, his voice yet again a choked up whisper. He let his head rest against her shoulder and let himself take solace in her presence. Surely he could afford himself this, no? After all his services to the An-Xileel? “Thank you.”

"You're welcome." Meg didn't need to know the ghosts of his past to feel what he felt right now. She tightened her arms around him once more, closing her own eyes as she rested her head against him. He needed this even more than she did, and she was more than willing to deliver for him. She knew she couldn't take away the pain of his past, but she would lend him her gratitude and affection, and she would easily accept his in kind, gratefully and willingly.

Jaraleet returned Meg’s embrace as he felt her arms tightening around him once more and as she let her head rest against him. The Argonian let the silence stretch on for a few more moments, allowing himself to simply be and take solace in the moment. Eventually, after taking a shaky breath, he pulled slightly away from Meg, albeit he didn’t fully break off the embrace. “I’m sorry, I came here to check up on you and yet you were the one who helped me out.” He said softly, smiling slightly at Meg after he shook his head. There was more that he wanted to say, to express, but he didn’t have the words to properly convey what he felt.

“Thank you Meg, your words mean a lot to me.” He said softly, pausing hesitantly as he thought about what to say next. “And you. You mean a lot to me too.” He finally said, taking her hands in his and giving them a light squeeze. There was more that he wanted to say but he didn’t trust himself at the moment. That’d have to do for the moment.

Meg couldn't help but beam up at the argonian, and though there was a slight wincing of pain when he held her hands, she refused to move them away. "You do too," she returned. The feeling of warmth from before had returned, engulfing her completely, marred only by the stinging of her hands.

"Say," she finally continued, a sheepish grin on her face. "Remember when ya said somethin' ‘bout bandages...?"

“Sorry, sorry, I got carried away in the moment and forgot.” Jaraleet said, chuckling softly before smiling at Meg. “Come, let’s go to my room, I think I can find some bandages there or, if worst comes to worst, I can easily make some, or well something close enough.”

"It's fine," Meg replied with a laugh. "My fault, remember? Brynja would have my hide..." She scratched at her head before standing up, stretching out her arms towards the sky. "Ahh... that's nice." Leaning down, she picked up the still mostly full bottle before nodding at Jaraleet. "Lead the way!"

Jaraleet smiled at Meg, glad to see that she was back to her usual sunny disposition. Standing up quickly, he nodded when she told him to lead the way. After leaving the courtyard it only took a few moments for them to find themselves in front of the door that led into Jaraleet’s room. “Make yourself comfortable, I’ll go and look to see if there are any bandages.” He said as he opened the door and beckoned Meg to enter.

Nodding, Meg made her way in and headed over to one of the beds and sat down. Even as she took a sip from the bottle, she remembered the last time she had come in here, ready to go out and bring Daro’Vasora back home. Things hadn’t gone the way she’d hope, not at all. Setting the bottle next to her even as she clutched it, she let out a sigh, her mind wandering. She wanted her back, she wanted them all back.

No sad thoughts tonight, she reminded herself. Bringing the bottle to her lips once more, she took a larger gulp.

“Hmmm, it'd probably be a good idea to let go of the bottle before I bandage up your knuckles.” Jaraleet said as he made his way to the bed where Meg was sitting, a roll of bandages in one hand. “Unless you want me to bandage the bottle to one of your hands?” He joked as he took a seat next to her and gently grabbed her free hand. “Might sting a little at first.” He warned her as he began to bandage her knuckles.

Meg screwed her face into a sulk, letting out a small huff. "A'right, a'right," she muttered, though she didn't actually set the bottle down until she took another large gulp. "There-" She hissed a little at the stinging but kept herself from moving, not wanting Jaraleet's efforts to be in vain. "Hrmm... I pro'ly shudda asked ya t'do this the other day..." She shrugged and kicked a little at the ground; despite the stinging, she was enjoying the attention.

“It would have been for the best, yeah.” He said as he finished bandaging her first hand. “Probably should change it in a couple of days….but I'm no expert. So it'd probably be for the best if you consulted whoever is in charge of the infirmary here.” He said as he gingerly grabbed the other hand and began the same process that he had done on the first one.

Pursing her lips further, Meg let out another 'hmmm' as she listened to the argonian's words. "I guess," she agreed, head tilting as she watched the hand bandaging procedure. A smirk came over her as she sneakily reached for the bottle yet again. "Maybe Brynja... or maybe someone else." Even her fuzzy mind knew she would get in trouble if the Nord found out she wasn't taking care of her injuries.

“Do I need to chain your hands to the bed so you won’t be clutching the Sithis-damned bottle all the time?” Jaraleet said, shaking his head slightly, before chuckling fondly. “At the very least don’t hog it all to yourself, will you?”

"Ah!" She had asked him to share- he had a point, she was drinking it all while he was doing all the hard work. Resisting the urge to drink more, she held it out for him to take. "Here, here, drink up!" Handing the bottle over, she let out a huge yawn before leaning back, enjoying the soft bed cover.

"Y'know," she said after a moment, "the night's are so, so hot here compared t’home. Never even used the sheets. In Skyrim, y'couldn't sleep unless y'were covered up an' warm. At least, I couldn'." Her green eyes rested on Jaraleet. "Y'ever been there?" She paused a second before continuing. “How’s it where yer from?”

Jaraleet shook his head when Meg asked him if he had ever been to Skyrim. “No, I’ve never been there.” He said, chuckling softly when she asked how it was the climate of Argonia. “Hot and humid. Didn’t have much need of blankets or any warm clothes in general. Sure, rains could be a bit of a bother from time to time. But, well, it’s not like in Skyrim I’d wager.” Jaraleet continued, chuckling softly. “The heat here didn’t bother me so much, it’s more the lack of humidity in the air that gets to me. At least Gilane is a port town, so it isn’t so bad. But, well, it isn’t pleasant still. It’s good that we haven’t had reason to venture into the desert proper. I don’t think I could stand it there.”

"Hrmmm..." Meg flopped back on the bed and stared up at the oh so fascinating ceiling, waving a hand in the air before letting her arm fall back down next to her. "I'd die, I'd so die in the desert," she commented, giggling a little and shaking her head. "Dry, dry Meg, like cured meat. I'd prob die in marshes too... I'm used t'cold... even Anvil was hot for me."

Her giggles stopped after a moment, a thought from before returning to her. "Hey, Jaraleet... when we go an' try t'free Sora, we're pro'ly not be able t'stay here anymore... right...?" She propped herself up on her elbows so that she could see him.

“Probably, yeah.” He replied to her question, letting out a sigh. “It’d probably be for the best if we left Hammerfell altogether, truth be told.” He continued on, lowering his voice so that only Meg could hear him. “Even if we succeed in freeing Sora, we’ll raise too much noise. Draw too much attention to ourselves. It wouldn’t surprise me if, after that mission, the Poncy Man would consider us more like a liability rather than assets worth protecting.” He said, letting out a sigh. “You’re thinking about Zahir, aren’t you?” He asked her softly. Why else would she ask him if they had to leave after trying to rescue Sora?

Meg nodded, looking a little somber as she let herself lay back once again, the heels of her boots rhythmically hitting against the floor as she attempted to relay her thoughts. "I know I can' take him. This is his home- he ain' no one t'me really... I'm just..." Her voice trailed a little. "Worried... I know I'mma miss him some, an' he's gonna miss me..." She closed her eyes and let out a breath. "I s'pose I'll just havta see then, eh..." She took in a deep breath, feeling drowsiness slowly creeping in on her.

"You'll be with us... right?" Eyes still closed, she reached out her hand.

“I’ll be, don’t worry.” He replied, taking her hand in this. “Don’t try to lie to me Meg. Zahir isn’t no one to you, otherwise I doubt you’d have assaulted two men on your lonesome for ‘no one’ or am I wrong?” He asked her softly, a note of worry in his voice yet again. “If you need to...cry or...I don’t know, whatever you need to do….I am here for you Meg.” He said softly, giving her hand a gentle squeeze.

A smile spread on Meg's face. Of course her stupid words were false, and of course he knew that just as well as her. "Yer a good one, Jaraleet," she mumbled, turning to her side and curling up as much as possible. Her hand was still in his and she was more than happy with that. "I... I know. Thank you." Even in her tipsy, sleepy state, she felt she was being a burden. "Sorry for jus' takin' over this bed."

“Don’t worry about it Meg. Sleep well.” Jaraleet said softly, making no effort to pull his hand away. He waited for her to fall asleep and then made himself as comfortable as he could, too exhausted to put in the effort to move away or even take the time to change out of his damaged armor.

It was likely the morning would bring regret over terrible sleeping postures. For the moment, however, there was peace and comfort.

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Leidenschaft Relax, only half-dead

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Night on the Town

@Dervish as Zaveed of Senchal
@Greenie as Sirine al-Nahel
And Leidenschaft as Sevari

13th Midyear 4E208, Late Evening, Outside of the Scorpion’s Song…

“Well, here it is. Thank you for being the chaperone for picking up my date, Sevari.” Zaveed grinned at Sevari. The two were standing in the middle of the street outside of the dung-heap of a tavern that Sirine worked at and helped Zaveed clean up and replace his destroyed clothing. Looking at the place brought out a burning anger in his heart knowing that someone he’d put under his protection was forced into a life of indignity by some lecherous bastard who probably never been in a real fight in his life. The Khajiit was feeling much more like himself; axes sat on his hips, his hands resting on them in their customary way; pistols strapped to his chest to put down a man who wasn’t worth the effort, and of course his beloved elven dagger with the sapphire pommel sat at the small of his back. His armour was mended with new grey leather stretched over steel plates, his arms were bare, showing defined arms and black trousers sat bloused in his thigh-high brown leather boots. Upon his ears were a series of rings from different locales across Tamriel he visited, an alloy rainbow of gold, silver and copper, and most recently, a ring of Dwemeri alloy was higher up his ear. Finally, about his waist was a fetching purple velvet sash; it was about the only local flair he’d seemed to take a liking to. He was not the scared and broken man he’d been only hours ago; it was time to work, and Captain Greywake feared nothing but having his time wasted.

“A pleasure.” Sevari said. He was dressed completely different to what he usually wore. Buck-skin chausses over cloth pants and curve-toe boots in the Hammerfell style, a simple tunic and a coat. He adjusted his wide-brimmed ranger’s hat, one side of the brim pinned up with a moonstone charm, and stroked where his beard used to be, hooking one thumb into his sword-belt on which was strapped a bone-handle messer and a pistol not unlike Zaveed’s. He’d taken great pains to disguise himself as somebody else after the attacks. “Let’s get to it, shall we? Just look tough.”

The pair made their way in, Sevari pushed past the door and held it open, scanning over the patrons while Zaveed stepped up next to him. The tavern at this hour was filled with the usual rough, scarred and mean types. He’d seen it all and was bored with it at this point in his life. “Back in my day, outlaws had a certain flair. Now they just look the same.” He muttered, finding his way to the bar and fishing his badge out of his coat. Holding it up, he spoke, deadpan, “Sirine has the night off.”

The man, who he assumed was Sirine’s boss, looked at Sevari and Zaveed with disgust. He reached under the bar and the pommel of something came into view. “Fucking cats-“

The head of a Dwemeri axe split into the bartop and suddenly the man stood stock straight and forced a smile onto his face, forgetting all about the weapon under the bar, “Of course, of course!” Zaveed pried his axe loose and vaulted up onto the bar counter, pacing back and forth, his eyes locked on the man as the axe clicked against the counter, held like a walking cane.

“Mind your tongue, scum, or your head goes where the axe went.” Zaveed purred, the clicks accenting his tongue with a rhythmic, thunk, thunk, thunk.

“Thank you for complying.” Sevari spoke again, equally deadpan, as he put his badge back in the inside pocket of his coat. His eyes never left the man’s own as Zaveed hopped off the counter after seeing Zaveed casually hop off of the counter to retrieve their new friend. Sevari pulled a cigar from his coat pocket and lit it with a finger, small flame at the tip.

The privateer pushed the swinging door open with his axe. “Oh, Beautiful Sirine, you can come out, my dear.” He called out in singsong. “If you’re with company, you can tell them to finish themselves off, we’re on a schedule.” He said, opening doors as he went, often to abashed or irritated faces that were quelled when badge was flashed.

Sirine was in the midst of getting dressed when the door opened to reveal the khajiit man. Her face betrayed no look of embarrassment but a small hint of surprise. "Oh, you came." She pulled down on her tunic and grabbed her belt, eager to get going now that there was no need for her to stay in this place.

The man in her bed, a stocky Redguard, did not seem pleased at having the room he was resting in crashed into. "Wait!" he protested, reaching out to try and grab her arm. "You can't leave yet! I paid for more than that!"

“I came, clearly, he did not.” Zaveed grinned mirthfully, stepping into the room, offering Sirine a sly look before turning to the man. He hooked the man’s arm with the backside of his axe, shaking his free finger at the man. “Hands off; she is an agent of the Dwemeri secret police on an assignment. You should feel graced you are not being taken off in chains, you foul-smelling leech. Or maybe that’s what you’re into, hm?” He asked, foot on the edge of the bed, axe pushing into the man’s chest.

A twitch to her mouth showed that Sirine was appreciative of the joke. "Clearly," she agreed as she stepped away from the bed, watching the encounter as one might observe a fascinating play.

The Redguard man lifted his free hand, cringing against the pillows and sheets. One look at the Khajiit's face had him babbling apologies. "I will go!" he yelped, fear clear on his face. "Get that axe away from me!"

Zaveed shoved it harder, forcing the man down. He crooked his head, like he was toying with prey. “Are you making demands of me? Are you in any position to disrespect my authority in such a way, curr?” he growled, effectively pinning the man to the bed.

"What?" the man sputtered, his eyes widening as he further realized he was very out of his depths. It was amazing what the lack of pants could do to a man's confidence. "N-n-no! Of- of course not! Please, don't hurt me! You- tell him to back off!"

The last of his words were clearly addressed to Sirine. By this time she was completely dressed, belt cinched tightly. A smile played on her lips as she approached the bed. "Oh, but I can't. I work for him now. The best thing for you would be to simply ask his forgiveness for your disrespect and hope it's granted."

The Redguard man blinked at her with his mouth open, unable to come up with words. He then slowly looked back to Zaveed. "I... am sorry?"

Sevari stepped into the room and in a few steps, crossed from the door to the bed, grabbing up a fistful of the man’s hair and hauling him out of the bed. He booted the man in his arse and sent him stumbling out, “Are we finished? We’ve people to find, we’re not robbing the man.”

“Oh, thank you.” The man whimpered from the ground, prompting Sevari to whip the pistol out of his belt and point it at the man.

“Leave here and hope I never see you again. I’ve robbed meaner folk than you.” The man did as he was told, Sevari turning back to Sirine And spoke through a cloud of cigar smoke, “Don’t worry, I’m a bag of sunshine.”

Zaveed leaned over to Sirine, covering part of his face to whisper to Sirine. “He’s really not.” he said, offering a playful wink afterwards.

Sirine raised an eyebrow. "Oh? I simply thought the clouds were covering the sun." She motioned towards the cigar smoke, smirking slightly.

He reached into his armour, pulling out a neatly folded piece of parchment. “As I promised, I did what I asked. You may not like what I found, however.” he said, his smile turning to a frown as he offered the parchment to Sirine.

She took hold of the parchment, her smirk disappearing as she opened it and looked at what was written. Eyes darkening, she looked back up at the two. "I see... so he's not here." There was a tightness to her jaw, as if she was containing herself from speaking her thoughts. The moment passed and she turned around. "I have something for you as well." Heading to a chest in the corner of the room, she quickly unlocked it and pushed the lid up. Inside was her rucksack, and next to it was the roll of paper she had been keeping her notes in. She paused a moment before picking up the other two rolls that she had stolen from Jamir's dresser.

"Here you are." She returned to the others, holding out all three rolls. "That's the little I discovered, what good it will do, I don't know... as for these, I found them in the owner's dresser. Make of it what you will- they are names of insurgents I believe."

Sevari snatched up one of the parchments, cigar clutched between his grinning teeth, “Oh, say what you want of revenge, but it will be sweet.” His eyes flitting over the paper and committing each name to memory. “I know a few of these. Krennic’s men put Farukh al-Majhar and a few of these others in the pits when they were arrested for running skooma. I heard he was torn apart by an Orc.”

His hands went back to his side, ashing the cigar on the ground and placing it back between his teeth, “Do you know any of the whereabouts of the others? Any mentions of a Khajiit woman and an Altmer traveling together?”

Sirine shook her head. It was a little frustrating that she could not wield as much information about their sister as she had been given about her brother. "Unfortunately the patrons who visit here don't often have useful words. But there was mention of an Altmer by an inn I used to frequent when I was younger. The Sand and Pearl, it was called. It's quite near the harbour."

“Anything peculiar about this particular Altmer? It is not as if they are uncommon.” Zaveed pressed.

"Aside from him shooing a commoner away with a threat to kill him?" The former pirate shook her head. "From what Darric mentioned, it seemed as if he was standing guard, but it's the word of a drunk, I'm not sure how much weight you wish to put in that."

Zaveed looked to Sevari and shrugged. “I never said this was going to be easy, but at least it’s a start. Shall we go have a look, or go knock on a few doors in accordance to the list that Sirine procured for us?” turning to the Redguard woman, Zaveed regarded her for a few moments. “What would you like to do about your former boss? Want to follow the story I told your last client and scare the shit out of him? He looked like an utter ponce, five Septims says I can make him soil his britches.”

“It would be nice to scare him out of here.” Shireen’s eyes narrowed as she thought of the treatment the man’s employees had to go through, the indignities they had to suffer, the gold he stole from them. Perhaps it wasn’t a necessity, but she wanted to know that he would get what he deserved. “That man doesn’t deserve a roof over his head, even one as shitty as this one.”

“A list of insurgents, you mentioned…” Zaveed’s voice trailed off as he offered Sevari a grin. “Shall we put the fear of Merrunz into the man for collaborating with the enemy and letting his imagination run wild?”

“If it’s one thing in the world that I take pleasure in is watching a man whose evils outweigh his fortitude squirm under my thumb.” Sevari let go a particularly cruel smirk, “It’s a shame Sirine was in the employ of a man helping the insurgency launder money through his tavern and she didn’t even know it, did you, Sirine?” He asked cheekily, knowing she would get the gist of what he was suggesting.

"What, me knowing such nefarious deeds were taking place right beneath my nose?" She shook her head in an obviously exaggerated no. "I could never have imagine such a thing. I am truly shocked."

Zaveed took the list of names in hand, holding them like some irrefutable proof of villainy afoot. “Well then, let’s make sure your last day on the job is a memorable one. Shall we?” he said, leading the trio out of the room and back into the tavern. Jamir, Sirine’s former employer, was still behind the counter, fussing over where Zaveed’s axe had buried itself into the wood when he caught sight of the two Khajiit boring down on him, Sevari heading off the exit while Zaveed vaulted over the counter and grabbed the man roughly be the scruff of the neck. “Well, well… it looks like you were caught in our little sting operation, Jamir; this list of names, friends of yours?” he asked holding the papers aloft for the man to see. “Maybe you should be more careful about consorting with terrorists, after all, one wouldn’t want to give the impression that they serve such disreputable beasts, surely you agree?”

The owner of Scorpion's Song wheezed; for a moment he attempted to detach himself from the hand that caught hold of him, but it soon became very clear to him that wouldn't be happening. His dark eyes flitted towards the papers; recognizing his own handwriting, they widened considerably when he realized what they were.

"Wait!" he protested, once more trying to free himself. "That- that's not what you think- I'm with the dwemer! I'm on your side!" There was a second's pause before he added, "How did you even find those?!"

A small sneer at her lips, Sirine looked away from Jamir and cast a glance at the rest of the tavern, eyeing the patrons as well as her former co-workers. Most seemed shocked and couldn't take their eyes off the scene at the counter; they were used to drunken brawls, not something like this. She could see a large, muscular Redguard she recognized easily, the bouncer of the tavern who for the most part usually let things slide; he seemed unsure of what to do, though his hand was reaching for the mace at his side.

Sirine had no love for him, but she also saw no reason in particular for him to get involved and potentially hurt. Crossing over to him in quick, confident strides, she smacked his hand away from the weapon. "Don't, Salim. I assure you you'd rather watch than get involved." The man named Salim frowned though his hand fell slack.

“Just act like everything’s just fine, Salim.” Sevari had a cruel-looking smile upon his lips, the tip of the cigar glowing brighter for a moment before Sevari spoke with a cloud of smoke, leaning towards the bouncer and adding quietly but tone none too reassuring, “Because it is.”

Even so, at some point, he’d drawn his pistol unnoticed by Salim from its holster and the barrel was resting on one forearm of his crossed arms, pointed at Salim, just to be sure. He turned back to Zaveed, “What’s the verdict? I say his crimes call for summary execution.” Sevari growled, “You look pretty guilty, Jamir. Best speak up now if it’s for something else you’d like to say sorry for, before my partner gets to it. Chop-chop,” Sevari made small chopping movements with his hand not curled about a pistol to accentuate, “Quick-like.”

Accentuating the point, Zaveed placed the pachments on the counter, and pulling his axe from its hoop, dragged the blade across the counter, pushing the papers in front of Jamir.

Sirine turned her attention on Jamir and Zaveed now that Sevari had his pistol pointed at Salim. The owner was shaking his head hard enough that his hair was whipping side to side, clearly in a state of panic. "No, no, you've got it all wrong! I'm not with the resistance! Those aren't my associates, you fucking cats!"

“And yet they weren’t disclosed to us, traitor.” Zaveed snarled, shoving Jamir’s head down into the counter on the papers; the axe was inches from his nose. He looked up at Sirine. “So, agent, what should we do with this piece of skeever shit? Take his hands…” he leaned down so his muzzle was inches from the Redguard’s ear. “...his balls? Or maybe we just keep taking pieces until he tells us everything? I’m sure there are some mutts on the street that haven’t had fatty meat in some time, yes?”

"No, no, no- wait- please!" With each word Jamir's panic seemed to increase tenfolds, the man struggling to pull himself from Zaveed's grasp. "I didn't do anything! Please! Don't hurt me!"

"Pathetic." Sirine made her way to the counter and stepped behind it, contempt in her eyes as she looked down at the struggling man. "You're very quick to beg when the tides turn against you, hm?" Without warning her fist shot forward and she dealt a blow to his gut, causing Jamir to slump in pain. Glancing at Zaveed, she continued. "No need to sully your axe with his rotten blood. Since he's so keen on begging, that's what he should be. A beggar. Toss the whole of him out."

“Such a pity.” Zaveed mused, pulling the man off the counter and to his feet once more. He shoved him to get him moving towards the exit, where Sevari had the door propped open. Grabbing the man roughly before the entrance, he held the axe up to the man’s throat, the sharp blade nipping at flesh to ensure his compliance. “Alright you lot, show’s over. Let it be known that this man is no longer the owner and operator of the Scorpion’s Song, if he is permitted back on this premises by anyone, or if anyone is caught aiding him, it will be constituted as treason and the offender will be executed like this sack of shit should have been.” Suddenly, the Khajiit grinned and winked at the crowd. “Enjoy your evening.” he said, dragging Jamir out of the tavern and then booting him in the ass to have him scamper off in the dark. “Go find a hole to die in, coward! If I see you again, I’m hanging you with your own entrails!” he shouted after him before returning to the entrance and delicately closing the door behind him.

It felt as if someone had been lifted a burden off of her shoulders. With Jamir's presence no longer looming over her, Sirine felt light, she felt free. Letting out a small breath, her hand lifted to her neck, fiddling with the coin, as had become a habit in the last three days. It wouldn't be long before she could meet Bakih again. But before then, there were other affairs to be taken care of, an immediate pressing one being who would be the new owner of the tavern.

She looked out at the crowd, her eyes searching until she found him. A blond Breton man, her former roommate now. "Him," she said. "He can take care of the tavern. Fairly good, and he won't bother the girls."

Sevari frowned, shrugging, “Alright.”

He made his way outside to stand with Sirine and Zaveed. He dusted his hands, ashing his cigar, “So, valiant cohorts, whatever shall we do now?”

“Follow our lead. Come on, we’ve had our fun, let’s get to work.” Zaveed said, placing a hand on Sirine’s back. “Get a good look at this place; it’s the last time you’ll ever have to step foot in here.” he said, stepping away to depart the building with a whistle.

Sirine looked up for a mere second before turning away with a shake of her head. "The faster I forget about this place, the better." She did spare one last glance though, silently wishing the others in there better luck before before she too stepped away from the wretched place. "Well. You kept your promise, you found my brother and you freed me from there... I'll keep to mine as well. Whatever you need me to do, I will."

Running a finger up under her chin, Zaveed smiled. “Fair is fair, you looked after me, and I will look after you. For now, we’re going to have a fun night on the town looking for my sister and possibly paying some terrorists some house calls. Sound like a good time for a lady such as yourself?”

"Lady would hardly be the word, but if you insist." Sirine's lips twitched as she nodded. "And yes, sounds like a wonderful time."

Something caught his eye, glancing down, Zaveed noticed the chord about Sirine’s neck and his eyes traced down to what it was connected to. A wide grin crossed his face as his took the coin he’d given her between his fingers. “Defacing currency and holding something I gave you as a momento? And I thought I was the charming one.” he said, looking up to meet her gaze. It was an oddly stirring thing, and something that made him feel important in ways he never really experienced before. Such a simple and harmless gesture had meant a lot to this girl, and it reminded him of his earlier thoughts of how choices that mean something to one person could mean entirely different things to those it affects. “You were miserable there, weren’t you?” he asked quietly.

Sirine was caught off guard- she had forgotten to shove the coin back under her tunic when she'd been dressing up. "It's not-" She had a hard time keeping the words straight in her mind, let alone on her tongue. And truth be told, it was exactly that. A memento, a reminder, a focus and a beacon of hope. "Miserable would have been fine. I was hopeless, I was resigned." It felt like she had to yank the words out of her, but she felt he deserved to know.

“Then no more. You’re free now, free to make your own choices and walk your own path. Never again will you be forced to lay with someone for coin for another’s profit. Walk this path with me for a while, discover what you are truly capable of.” Zaveed said, taking her by the shoulders. “One day, I’ll find my way back to sea again, and I’ll need a crew. It would be an honour if you’ll be the first of many to share in that vision, but for now, the air is sweet and there’s blood in the air. It’s a perfect night to see the town.” he grinned mischievously, dangerously. “How about it, Beautiful Sirine, care to join Sevari and I on our entirely off the books misadventure for family?”

Sirine's hand grasped her coin once more. Return to the sea? That was something she dreamed of every night. But right now it seemed like a true possibility, not just a pipe dream. "I said I would, and I do keep my promises as well." She looked to both Zaveed and Sevari, nodding her head once, a smile playing on her lips. The look in her eyes had changed; where they were once grim, they now seemed on fire. "Lead the way."

“The Sand and Pearl.” Sevari said, immediately walking in the direction of the docks. “How many Altmer guarding Redguard-owned taverns in Hammerfell have you seen? Something’s in that inn worth protecting by the Dominion.”

They made their way through the streets without any problems. Sevari headed their trio all the while, all up until they made it to the docks. The Sand and Pearl was not a hard establishment to find, planted almost right next to the docks so sailor could make a straight line from the gangplank to the front door. Sevari stopped in his tracks at the sight.

If Sirine’s contact only said there was one Altmer, then he must not be able to count. The Sand and Pearl was crawling, Thalmor and what he knew were Ministry Agents. Among them, he saw Marassa and Erincaro being escorted out of the front doors. It brought him relief that she was safe, but a sour feeling still tainted it when he saw Erincaro alive. “I can’t go.” Sevari said, voice heavy, “Damn it.”

Zaveed knew what the Thalmor would do if they recognized Sevari, prompting a sigh. “I’ve got this.” he said, his heart still pounding with excitement as he saw that Marassa was alive and well; Sirine’s tip had really come through. “You lay low for now, I’ll try to get her somewhere safe where we can all have a chat. I promise.”

Turning to Sirine, Zaveed said, “Just pretend we’ve been working together on assignments for a while now. I’ve been finding myself rather unpopular for… liberties I’ve taken on the job recently. And thank you; a promise means something to you.” he said with a smile, gesturing for her to head forward. He looked back to Sevari. “What will you do now?”

“I’ll go ahead of you, make my way to the archives.” He said, still looking toward Marassa and Erincaro with a look of something not quite malice or hatred, but softer, “I, um. I’ll look for any reports on Sirine’s brother.”

Zaveed clasped Sevari on his shoulder with a reassuring smile. “This is what it’s for, brother. She’s safe. We’re okay.” he said before adjusting his axe harness and strolling down to the gathered guards from both the extremely tense and irritable Thalmor and the Ministry agents, of whom Zaveed was only passingly familiar with them; their names didn’t stick.

He approached, holding up his badge to be permitted entry when one of the Dwemer approached. “We have this under control, this doesn’t require your task force, officer.” the Ministry agent said. Zaveed rolled his eyes and ignored the man.

“Marassa, it has been quite some time. I never figured you’d find your way this far North, but then neither did I.” He called out, stepping away from the confused Dwarf.

She turned to look at him, slowly blinking as she registered what she was seeing. “Zaveed?! You’re here? That means…” she said, her voice trailing off, not voicing to the others anything about Sevari. Zaveed simply nodded. They both knew that admitting their relationship to Sevari to the Thalmor was inviting trouble for all of them.

“It’s good to see you, sister. The armour suits you.” he said with a casual gesture. She crossed over to him quickly and threw her arm around him, the other holding the sword.

“Damn, Zaveed, it’s good to see you. I always figured you were still around, I’d just never known where to find you.” she said. He returned the embrace and grinned as she curiously looked him over and his familiarity with the Dwemer.

“Oh, you know her Majesty’s penchant for sending deniable assets here and there. And before you ask, I had a… career change recently.” he said, giving the Dwemer Ministry officers a side-eyed glance. “Our Dwemeri friends decided they didn’t like ships that much so sunk a lot of them and hired me on after a storm took mine. But the sea was never going to be the end of me, it’s too good of a mistress.” He glanced over Marassa’s shoulder at Erincaro. “The ambassador?” he asked.

“Emissary Erincary Syintar, at your service.” The Altmer said, approaching the reunion tepidly. “I apologize, Zaveed, I only know you from reputation. It has been an understandably trying period of time for us, I did not think to meet you here of all places… forgive me for saying so, it’s been years for you two, I would have expected something more…”

“Emotional, sentimental?” Zaveed finished with a shrug. “It’s never been our way. When you only see your sibling once a decade if you’re lucky, it takes time to warm up, especially when there’s quite a crowd and a bunch of terrorists trying to murder your eminence and my blood.”

“How did you find us?” Marassa asked, looking at Zaveed’s companion with curious amber eyes. “And who might you be?”

"Siri Nahel," the former pirate replied, deciding not to give her complete name. Looking over at the female khajiit, she had to admit she was a little surprised as well; like the Emissary, she would have expected a more emotional meeting between the siblings. Then again, with all these Thalmor and dwemer surrounding them, she could see why not. "This one's partner." She motioned with her head towards Zaveed.

Marassa stared at Zaveed. He shrugged in response. “Not that way.”

“Uh-huh.” She replied, turning to look at the Redguard woman. “Marassa, twin sister of your charming friend here. If he gets under your skin or says something inappropriate, feel free to punch him in the face. Auri-el knows I’ve been tempted a few times.”

“This is well and good,” Erincaro said, interrupting suddenly. “But the palace will be a much more secure and comfortable place for this sort of reunion.” he sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I also understand my fallen soldiers are being kept there. I would like to pay my respects as soon as permissible.”

Marassa nodded. “He’s right. Given your new job, I imagine you were heading that way anyways, Zaveed.” she said, and she moved to help make preparations to depart, leaving Zaveed standing with Sirine. He had a slight smile on his face.

“Would you believe me if I told you she was always that warm and inviting?” he asked his companion.

"I imagine there had to be someone to balance you out." Sirine let out a dry laugh before offering the khajiit man a slight wink. "I've taken her words under advisement- please be warned, I have quite the punch."

Zaveed tsked. “How could you ever want to maim this handsome face? It would be like defacing a monument, simply dreadful.” he teased, returning the wink. “Come now, time for you to see how people with disgusting amounts of wealth live. I can probably arrange to put you in a nice room for the night in the palace.”

Sirine's eyes narrowed for a split second before returning to normal, a placid smile finding its way on her face. "Sounds like a plan."

He’d made good time, all things considered. Surely, the reunion Marassa and Zaveed had had bought him a little time. Only a little, though, as he slipped between the large palace doors he could see them coming up from down the street past the large gates beyond the courtyard. It was an uneventful walk towards the archives and Sevari immediately set to work. The archives themselves were kept in a huge library, dusty tomes intermixed with newbound books on shelves that reached up almost towards the heavens it seemed, row upon row. He couldn’t imagine what history this place held, but he wasn’t here to try at it. He had a job.

Within the hour though, his search lit only by the sparse windowlight, candles and his own magelight spells, sorting by date and time of the reports, he’d found the dossier on one Bakih al-Nahel. Nodding, he had one more thing to do. Search for the blueprints of the Palace. A favor for a friend.

Friend? He smirked and shook his head. When did he decide to start calling that Reachman prick a friend?

He continued on his way, interrupted by one of the clerks in the archives clearing their throat. He turned to the source and found a small lady swaddled in silk robes smiling awkwardly, “Major Kerztar has requested your presence in his office. Urgent.”

Sevari nodded, his face an iron mask, but under the exterior cogs were working and his mind raced. He even found his heart quickening pace. He knew what that meant, or thought he knew. Either way, with Thalmor here, he had to tread cautiously. Tread he did, all the way up to the upper floors where the Senior Officers of the Ministry of Order in Hammerfell had their offices. He stood before the door, unable to move. He could leave. Now. Just cut and run with what he’d already had from the archives.

But he knew they’d only follow him. It seemed fate let them follow him all the way to Hammerfell too. It was useless. He sighed, Three knocks on the door. It opened and he saw Kerztar at his desk, a few Thalmor officers as well as Ministry Agents. Even Erincaro and Marassa were there. No doubt he had reported the events of that night he’d infiltrated their ship to the Thalmor officer that’d come to recover him after the attacks on the streets.

But he knew they wouldn’t be able to know it was him. Unless… his gaze went to Marassa. Kerztar spoke, the doors behind him creaking shut to reveal two more Ministry Agents he hadn’t seen coming in, “Sevari, do you recall my single rule for working alongside me?” Sevari made to open his mouth but Kerztar continued, “Never, never lie to me.”

“I don’t know what you mean, sir.” Sevari said, as deadpan as he could.

The Thalmor officer laid a dossier on the desk. He wouldn’t have been quite as nervous if he hadn’t seen the seal of the Penitus Oculatus emblazoned on it. “After the attacks, Kerztar and Fingalto Syintar decided to pool resources. Fingalto proposed that after the reported infiltration of his son’s ship, coupled with the attacks on his son’s troupe, that the insurgency was being funded, trained and perhaps maybe even staffed by… Cyrodiilic elements.”

“We raided Cheydinhaal. It was easy with the state of the Empire being what it is. We found so much to learn, Sevari.” The Thalmor said, “We even learned that you aren’t the only Penitus Oculatus spy here. But you are the only one in this office.”

He flipped open the dossier, spreading documents about the table and as he moved to each, he read them aloud for the room to hear, “Dar’Sevari, Bhaanu Sasra agent in Senchal, flipped by Inspector Cristus Aurelius. Responsible for the massacre of the entirety of Senchal’s Bhaanu Sasra training camp at Aeliel’s villa, crossed the border into Cyrodiil illegally to murder Aeliel himself as well as his security detail.” He went to another, “Dar’Jango, infamous assassin in Valenwood, responsible for countless murders of Thalmor sympathizers and Justiciars, as well as several high-ranking Thalmor. Accomplice to several drug-smuggling syndicates, money launderers and countless other crimes.”

He flipped to another, “Reassigned to Skyrim when Emperor Titus was murdered for your expertise on assassination, participated heavily in the retaliatory purge of Dark Brotherhood in the region and I have no doubt that the spike in missing Justiciars during that time was no coincidence.” He sighed flipping to one more, “Savian Kastav, notorious outlaw in the Elsweyr Confederacy, leading his gang on several robberies targeting Thalmor interests, culminating in the Great Caravan Robbery, in which you and your gang made off with a sizable portion of the Dominion’s funds. And finally, you’re here.”

The Thalmor officer smiled his toothy grin, “With me.”

“Never lie to me, Sevari.” Kerztar echoed.

The Ministry Agents behind Sevari grabbed him by both arms, jostling him more than needed in their task of putting shackles on his wrists. One of them jerked his arm out in front of him and “accidentally” pushed his elbow the wrong direction, prompting a grunt from Sevari. As the shackles closed around his wrist, Kerztar spoke, “I have arranged with Erincaro to have you transported back under heavy security to Alinor to stand trial for your crimes.”

“So be it.” Sevari said, eyes not having left Marassa all the while Kerztar told him his fate.

Marassa’s stare didn’t waver and she expressed nothing.

As far as dungeon standards went, the palace in Gilane wasn’t entirely awful. A small brick-sized window on each cell allowed some light in and air, and the beds even had mattresses. Sevari had been deposited in the cell while the Thalmor agents arranged for resupply of the Indrik so they could take their fallen, and Sevari, back to Alinor. Two Dominion guards stood outside of his cell, both of whom snapped to attention at the latest visitor.

“Leave us.” Marassa ordered. Despite her lack of affiliation with the Thalmor, her rank demanded respect and with a salute of a fist against the breastplate, both guards filed down the hall and out of the door. Marassa carried with her a plate of lamb hocks, and she slid it under the bars of the cell as she sat down against the frame.

“You know, I thought you were being paranoid about the Dominion finding out about you and what you’d done. I didn’t realize you’d been so busy in my absence, Sevari. I’m still having a hard time reconciling the man who’s slaughtered, what, hundreds? With the boy I loved back in Senchal. I bet you wish you’d told those men who came to take you to fuck off, huh?” she said, not looking at him.

“I did.” Sevari said. “Several times.”

His voice was quiet, racked with sadness. In the space of a handful of days, everything he’d worked toward in his entire life had come crashing down like a falling mountain. With similar weight. He knew this would come one day. That there was going to be a reckoning for all the things he’d done, and no amount of reconciling with Zaveed, pleading for Suffian to put down his sword and walk away, forsaking his duties to focus on himself and Zaveed… none of it would stop fate.

Nothing ever does, “You don’t say no to the Bhaanu Sasra. When I told you that if I had a choice, I would have stayed with you forever, I wasn’t kidding. What’s another street-urchin found murdered in Senchal, Marassa?”

“Nobody will get an apology for anything I’ve done in the name of collecting the debt the Thalmor made when they took a child’s normalcy away from him. My father may have made the wrong choice, but my mother didn’t do any crime. She was too busy loving me when no one would.” He spat, “My brothers, mean and rough as they were, were killed because of me. Because I, like my father, listened to Men I shouldn’t have. I’ll never forgive myself. There was going to be blood until I felt it right to stop in avenging everything the Thalmor took. Looking back on it now, though? I don’t think I ever would have.”

“So, no, Marassa. I don’t have to wish that I could tell the Bhaanu Sasra to fuck off. I only have to wish that my mother was still alive and a child never lost their way. I only have to wish that I could go back and die with her.” He said, voice growing heavy again, “So stop trying to reconcile, Marassa. It’s done. Those days are over, as sure as there’s bars between us.”

“Oh, is that what I was doing here?” Marassa said with a sigh. “I think that went out the window when you butchered two of my men on the deck of the ship and were plotting on assassinating my boyfriend, Sevari. We’re strangers now, and whatever chance we had to find out if we could have reconnected and ignited the embers of whatever we had in our youth died when those men did. I’m just here to say my goodbyes, and that those days weren’t meaningless to me so this is a courtesy. I hope you didn’t drag Zaveed into your hair-brained schemes; he’s a daft bastard, but he’s still my brother and he still has a future ahead of himself if he chooses it. I don’t much care for your self-pity party, Sevari.

“At least you had a family, my mother was a useless whore who left Zaveed and I to starve on the streets, and who knows who in Oblivion my father was. I just had my brother, and then you. You abandoned me, I was taken, and Zaveed ended up living through a nightmare for years until he learned how to murder people who wronged him.

“Life is such a fairy tail, isn’t it? Well in my case, my knight in shining armour was a bookish Altmer who didn’t look at me like I was some degenerate beast to be whipped into sword fodder, who fed me properly for the first time in my life and gave me a future.” she turned to face him, grabbing the bars in front of her. “And yeah, I fell in love with him and I fuck him. Does it hurt you to hear me say it? Good. If you’d even touched a hair on his head, these bars wouldn’t save you. I’d put an ash shell in your fucking throat and watch you choke to death in this wretched cell, your eyes bulging as you shit yourself in your final undignified minutes. So be glad you didn’t, because I’m here for one final mercy.” her voice was low, menacing. She meant every word.

“Mm.” Sevari grunted, still not looking at Marassa. Truth be told, it probably would’ve hurt more if this was the first nightmare marching straight out of his head into reality. He’d held his brother as he died, giving him the mercy of his own estranged brother’s knife in his throat before the poison could make him vomit up his own liquified entrails.

He’d watched his comrades die in the streets like dogs. He’d killed an innocent man in his own home, left him to be discovered by his elderly wife or his grandchildren or some other sappy bullshit. He’d been faced with just how much his life had withered like unattended crops while he was away chasing either death or vengeance. He watched the person he used to love restrain herself from killing him.

At this point, he didn’t know what hurt more- that she wanted to, or wouldn’t.

“Why?” Sevari said. “Is this vengeance? To leave me fucking alive?”

He stood, walking up close to the bars, close to Marassa. “Do it.” He said, firm. “They’re going to do it anyway, in Alinor. I’ll be hanged, you and I both know. So just kill a stranger.”

“Stop being a crybaby. It’s unbecoming.” Marassa said dryly, staring into her former lover’s eyes impassively. “So is giving up on yourself like you don’t have a choice in the matter.” she turned away from him for a moment, collecting her thoughts. “If our past means anything to you, then live, and make this world a better place than you’ve left it. You’ve got a lot of work to make up in that regard, and I’ve got enough people I care about, good people, to grieve over who died because of this fucking city.” Marassa said bitterly, thinking of the ambush and the soldiers she’d known for years just picked off like gnats by terrorists in the streets, dying in peacetime in a country that they had not expected to travel to, nor be harmed. It left a bitter knot in her guts. “This is farewell, but maybe not goodbye. I hope you find me again when you learn to stop fucking hating yourself and learn to accept that I’m not the same girl you knew back then. Maybe you can open your eyes and see me for who I am and accept that I’m in a good place now; isn’t that what family’s about? Celebrating each other’s happiness and supporting it or some other sentimental bullshit?” she asked harshly, gesturing at the lamb. “Enjoy your meal. I left something for you to pick your teeth with at the end of it.”

Sevari snorted, a humorless chuckle coughing past his lips. “Fuck,” he said, “You know I could have? I could have fucking killed him, but you were there. My brothers died because of me back in Senchal, Zaveed and I almost died and he lost his ship on our voyage here.”

He sat back down on the bed in his cell. “I didn’t kill him because you were there. I hate him, Marassa, with every evil bit in me, I want to choke the life out of him and I’d smile and laugh while he struggled under me.” He unclenched his fists, “But not because of some stupid fucking reason like jealousy. People fuck. It’s more than likely happening somewhere right now, it’s what they do. I didn’t kill him because it would mean you failed him. It would mean your career would be dust.”

He looked at his hands, scarred and scuffed and scabbed, “It would mean that you’d lose the first man in your life that you loved and stayed with you. I do hate him. With everything.” He said, “But you’re the most undeserving of the things my showing up does to people’s lives. I didn’t leave because you fucked up my mission and mounted a defense I couldn’t get through without dying. I left because I didn’t want to tear down everything that was once good in my past.”

“So sentimental. Thanks for respecting my career choices, if nothing else.” She replied, standing at last, posture erect and authoritative. Even though she was shorter than him, in that moment, she positively loomed over him. “I don’t know where that line is between you and the you I used to know, but I hope you start to see it more clearly. All I know is that people don’t become rotten to the core after a single bad choice; it’s many, consciously made, over years. I’ve accepted that Zaveed is one of those people who got a taste for power and blood to solve his own problems, and instead of stepping away from it, he bathed in it.” she said, her tone terse and her stare hard as she put her hands behind her back, a distinctly military posture to her bearing.

“I still love him, but it’s different now. Maybe you two can still find time to figure yourselves out, but I won’t have a part in it. You didn’t sacrifice my career, that’s a first step. There’s a lot more to go, and do it for yourself, not for me.” Marassa said, pointing an accuatory finger towards Sevari. “Just looking at you from across these rods all I see is someone who hates himself to the point he’s spent decades looking for the perfect way to die to make the pain stop. Maybe you’ll realize that’s not who you want to be one day.” She shook her head, looking towards the prison door. “And when you figure that out, come find me. I’d like to talk to the Sevari I know again, not whoever the fuck you are. Farewell, and stop giving up on yourself; it’s boring.” she said, stepping away from the bars and heading back down towards the exit, her steps a perfect cadence of years of intense drilling and practice.

Sevari didn’t watch her go. He just listened to it. He looked at the lamb, sighing, wondering if he could even reconcile with himself who he was now with who he used to be. He shook his head, pushing the tray away.

The door opened with a satisfying click of the Dwemeri-made lock, and Zaveed presented the suite to Sirine with a bow. It was a spacious room, meant for dignitaries, with its own private bath chamber, dining area, study, and balcony and a bed aligned so it could look out over the bay. “For your service to me and keeping appearances with our hosts, please accept this gift of actually having somewhere pleasant to set your head down.” he grinned. “For a little while. As soon as Sevari gets us what you’re looking for, we can start planning for what comes next. Is this to your liking?”

Sirine took a step inside the room, blinking a little as she took all of it in. It reminded her of her parents room at their estate, except much more gilded. It was a very far cry from where she had been living since the dwemer arrived, or even her ship before that; the expression on her face was enough to show that. "I should think so," she replied, glancing back at Zaveed. "Thank you." Her gaze lingered for a moment as she looked the khajiit man over. "Hm. You look anything but that bedraggled cat from the docks now."

He stepped in the room with her, taking a view out of the spacious window to the sea dancing in the moonlight. “Turns out that a bit of compassion from a stranger and entirely too much to drink in a few short days can do wonders for a man’s disposition. It also helps that I no longer have a literal hole in my heart and punctured lung, so that tends to put more of a spring in my step.” He chuckled, turning to face her. “I do have to thank you, for everything you’ve done for me. Not many people would have stopped to talk to someone in my condition, let alone agree to help them without much reservation. You helped Sevari and I find Marassa, which is a debt I sincerely hope I can repay in kind with Bakih… it feels strange to have gratitude for someone, but I think I would like to get used to it. Thank you, for your compassion and devotion to your word.” he said kindly, taking her hand and kissing her knuckles with a smile.

"You're welcome," Sirine replied, a small smile on her face. Why had she helped him? She had thought it was on whim the first day, a distraction from her usual habit, but deep inside she knew it had been more than that. Sirine wasn't a good person; how could she be after all she had done? But something had stirred inside her, something she both hated yet yearned for. Perhaps compassion was the right word.

"You reminded me of myself when my ship went down," she finally replied, turning her eyes away from his to glance at the sea beyond the window. The waves looked so beautiful and inviting- it was hard for her to believe that people could actually be scared of sea. Her smile remained but there was now a lingering sadness to it. "Swimming to shore with nothing but the clothes on my back..." Her voice trailed for a moment before she snapped herself out of it. "But that's the past and here we are."

The Khajiit nodded knowingly, stepping towards the balcony. “Our experiences are similar, at least in that regard. Merruhnz’s Wrath was a beautiful vessel, I had a 50 man crew and we were a scourge of the sea. I was known as Captain Greywake, and my name carried weight and fear across the Southern seas, and I was the bane of any who didn’t fly the Dominion colours… and sometimes even then.” he smiled ruefully, leaning against the railing as he let the salted air fill his nostrils. “Gods, it was freedom. I was respected, people flocked to join my crew, to shower me with drink and food and gifts for a chance to earn my favour, to contract me for jobs that they knew only I could do. It was all taken from in in a single night, a bloody storm and gales of the likes I’ve rarely ever seen in unfamiliar seas. I hit a reef, and it tore the Wrath asunder. Most of my crew perished in the waves, and everything I’ve ever worked for in three decades, just… gone. The Dwemer picked me up shortly after and offered me a choice; become their knife in the dark, or die in a fighting pit. You can see what I chose.”

"You've loved it as long as I have then," Sirine replied, feeling her sympathy rising for the man as she listened to him. "Like I told you when we first met, I was born out there, at sea- the waves were more a lullaby to me than my mother's voice." It wasn't usual of her to think of her childhood, not before others anyway- that had been something she kept for herself to forget the deeds of the night.

She looked at the khajiit. What could have lead him to a life at sea? "I didn't have many, not like your crew... I had to start over more than once. But it was enough, I think. I didn't need more than my brother." She let out a breath before looking back out at the wave, hands resting lightly on the balcony top. "That boy followed me everywhere. He gave up a good life for me." Her grip now tightened around the railing. "That's why I hate them. He was nothing to them, to their plans. Neither of us were. And yet-" She frowned, a crease marring her forehead before she relented once more. "I should be happy you chose to become one of them. I'd thank a god if I felt they were worthy of it."

“I’m not one of them, not really. I’m forced into their service at the threat of death, and I’ve gotten the last thing I’ll ever get from them. Sevari and I are going our own way, away from all of this, and starting over. I’d rather hoped you would come along.” Zaveed said, smiling at Sirine. “I can’t replace what the Dwemer took from you, or me, but one thing I’ve learned in my life is if you dwell on wrongs that happened in your past, you’ll never look forward again. I had a second chance at life from someone who had every right to kill me and send me to Namiira to be one of His… creatures. But she instead chose compassion, and only a few hours later, someone else comes into my life and continues this trend. Perhaps it’s a sign that it’s what I should try, too.”

Sirine wasn't all too sure about that. "Try, perhaps. Sparingly. I probably haven't sailed as far and wide as you have, but every experience has taught me if there's one person in the world who will show compassion and kindness, there are ten more who will do the exact opposite. Even one's own blood with turn their back on the other when it's for their own betterment." She turned away from the balcony and faced Zaveed, arms crossed loosely over her chest as she contemplated him. "Maybe I'm a fool, but I don't think you will double cross me, Captain Greywake. If it's to the sea you're planning on returning, then I am more than willing to come along for that journey. Once I know my brother is well and safe."

The Khajiit nodded. “We’ll find out soon enough, with luck. I’m confident he’s alive, or the dossier I found would have likely indicated he’d been… you know.” Zaveed said, glancing over. “But I am a man of my word, as few morals as I have left, that still means something. And I give my word to you, it is my goal to find myself a new ship and pick up the life I’d lost. Perhaps it will be a way for you to collect what you’d lost, yes?”

A knock came at the door, and instead of being ushered in, one of the palace guards entered. “Pardon me, sir. This couldn’t wait.”

Zaveed grunted in annoyance, the spell of his mood broken by the intrusion. He stepped away from Sirine and approached the man. “What could possibly be so important to intrude?”

“It’s about Sevari, sir. He’s been arrested by the Thalmor; they aim to take him back to Alinor and make him stand trial for his alleged crimes.” The elf said, looking sheepish as Zaveed gnashed his teeth in response.

“Is that right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Leave us. Now.” the Khajiit commanded. The Dwemer nodded curtly and departed as swiftly as he came. Zaveed began to stroll around the room, like a firestorm ready to break out. “Damn it, damn it all.” he growled, kicking a chair hard, forcing it into a wall. He looked to Sirine, his blue eyes like glaciers ready to shatter. “In Merrunz’s name, I am not leaving my brother to that fate. I lose him, you lose your own brother in the process. Are you willing to help me free him from bondage?” he asked.

"There's no need to ask," Sirine replied. This was most unfortunate news, and while she wasn't showing any obvious anger, her mood was soured. "I gave my word to you, and as it were I owe a debt to Sevari as well for his part in helping me out of the Scorpion's Song. Tell me what to do, I will do it."

Zaveed nodded, pleased at her willingness to see it through. “We do what a scorpion does; we wait for the right moment to strike. We play by their rules until we see an opening, then we take it. No stupid heroics, no fighting the entire garrison. I aim to have all three of us walk out of this building together none the worse for wear.” he looked at her with a sense of finality. “I will leave you to your privacy, if you wish. We all know it’s probably been some time since you even knew what that word meant.”

Sirine nodded, and with the smallest hint of hesitation reached out to place a hand on his arm. "We will get him out," she replied. "I aim to prove myself true." She wasn't sure if the Zaveed would be able to rest- she certainly hadn't been able to when she lost her brother- but there was the hope he was more sensible than she had been. "For now, I bid you goodnight."

Reaching out, Zaveed gingerly took Sirine’s cheek in his hand. He smiled softly. “You’ve never given me cause to believe that your word isn’t law nor your heart untrue. Until the morrow.” he said quietly, lingering for a few moments after sharing a gaze before stepping back and departing the room, the predatory spring to his step subdued as he closed the door behind him.

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A Moment Apart

13th of Midyear, Late Night, the Governor’s Palace

It was strange how the mind worked. When Sirine had entered the room with Zaveed, the opulence had been overwhelming, reminding her of a life she'd lost. Now that he had left and she was there by herself, her mind was beginning to process things differently. Looking at the chairs, the bed, the curtains and sheets, she founds herself setting a price to each. It was almost a game- with the sound of the waves from the balcony, she could almost pretend she was back on her ship, readying to sell off all the goods she had plundered.

Smiling to herself, she let her fingers trail lightly over the bed, feeling the covers, the sheets, the pillow shams. They felt so luxurious- she felt if she allowed herself to sit down on the bed, she would end up falling asleep almost instantly. She didn't want to though... not yet. Having this sort of freedom at this time of the night had been unheard of. Even tonight she had been engaged in pleasuring a man, though as Zaveed had very astutely mentioned, the Redguard man hadn't had his release. Her mouth turned downward as she looked at her hands, wanting to wash them yet again, even though they were as clean as could be. She'd never have to go back to that life anymore, yet unseen stains remained.

Her hand twitched and she reluctantly allowed herself to clutch the coin around her neck. It seemed to her that she was treating it with more reverence than she had expected or wanted to. It was silly, and it still irritated her... and yet she didn't think she would get rid of it. It had been a jest, but she didn't think the khajiit really understood how it was to be given money and not expected to do anything to earn it. Her coin, her medallion… It was no mere septim. There was meaning to it.

She let go of it along with an annoyed sigh. It really was sentimental drivel, wasn't it? But he didn't seem to mock it or find it funny. If anything, there was a sort of understanding in his eyes… and this ignited a curiosity within her.

Who was he exactly? And who was Sevari, upon whose rescue banked the rescue of her brother?

Her forehead wrinkled momentarily; she turned toward the balcony once more, leaning over the railing as she looked out to the sea. It really was beautiful… it she stared long enough, she could imagine the sails in the distance, her colours flying high for all to see. Nothing but a dream now. What had taken her years to put together had been so easy for the dwemer to take apart in just minutes. She could still hear the panicked yelling, the screams, and finally the silence. Desperately swimming to the shore while trying to make sure she wasn't being watched or followed. The shock and utter fear when she realized she was alone and her brother wasn't with her.

Letting out an angry growl, she turned away from the sight of the sea, hands curled into fists. Here she was, peaceful in the lap of luxury, when her little brother was stuck out in the desert in a prison. Without warning her fist shot out and slammed against the wall. The sudden, stinging pain felt cathartic- she focused on it, her fast breaths slowly easing into calmer, measured ones. Carefully moving her hand away from the wall, she then inspected her knuckles to see if she had taken any damage. Aside from a few scratches, her skin was intact; she reckoned there would be light bruising at most. Shaking her head at her lack of control, she decided it might help to take a bath before heading to bed. The last thing she needed was a hand injury impeding in helping with Sevari’s escape.

Despite the fact that she felt a pang of guilt enjoying the Dwemeri comforts gifted to her by Zaveed, there was no denying that by the time she stepped out of her bath and pulled on a robe to cover herself, she felt like the pampered child of a rich merchant once more. It was strange and she didn’t quite know if she liked it, but it was what it was. Rubbing a hand through her still wet hair, Sirine made her way to the bed, deciding she might as well sleep the night away. Her hand hurt a little, but she’d had worse.

As expected, slipping between the sheets and laying down was as comfortable as she had thought. It was a large bed, much more spacious than she was used to on any occasion- she could very well have slept away in the middle and still be fine. Being who she was however, she rested her head on the pillows like a normal person and closed her eyes. It felt so odd that she was the only one there, and surprisingly sleep did not come to her. Perhaps she was simply too used to staying up late while entertaining people.

Without wanting to her mind wandered back to the tavern the night she had arrived there.

Every inch of her was soaked and chilled to the bone by the time the pirate reached Scorpion's Song. She had no coin on her- the only thing of value on her person was the dagger at her belt, hidden under her tunic. Light streaming out from the crack under the door as well as the voices from inside was enough to tell her this place was still in business. She had been here before, worked two years in fact… there was an inkling of hope that the owner may recognize her and let her stay the night at least. Pushing the door open, the familiar sight and smells were immediately noted by her, though they gave her no solace. Just the night, she told herself. The idea of having to spend more time here than was necessary made her skin crawl. All she needed was a night of recuperation, and then she would be on her way… wherever.

Sirine made her way to the counter, looking for the owner. Her eyes narrowed; it took a moment for her to recognize the man. Ten years had certainly taken their toll on the man known as Jamir- his weight had increased in all the wrong places due to excessive drinking, his face was heavily jowled, a few teeth missing, and dark marks prominent around his eyes. He stared at her for the moment before cracking a grin. “So you’re back, huh? No longer terrorising the poor honest sailors? What happened? I heard the grey skins have been destroying ships.” He sounded much happier than the news warranted. “Yours fell with the rest?”

“I need a room for the night.” The pirate ignored Jamir’s quips, not giving them the attention he sought. “I will leave in the morning, no worries.”

Jamir seemed to deflate, but he immediately jumped to the most important business at hand. “The gold then.” Putting his hand out on the counter, he waited, a satisfied look on his face.

Teeth gritting, Sirine barely managed to keep her face expressionless as she replied. “I don’t have the gold on me. I will pay you as soon as I can.” She pressed her hands against the counter, hating she had to ask for this but hoping against hope that perhaps he would be willing to let the gold issue slide for now.

“I’m running a business here,” Jamir replied flatly. “This ain’t a temple, it’s a tavern. I need all the septims I make. You can stay the night, you can stay longer, but you have to pay with work.”

There it was. She should have known better than to think this sleazy man would do her a favour. Why did she think ten years would have changed him? A fierce look came to her eyes as she grabbed her dagger and pointed at him with it. “I could simply end you this second and stay here as long as I wish.”

Jamir stumbled back, though not before he looked to the large man standing by the door. Sirine couldn’t help but cast a glance as well. It seemed the owner had his share of cronies, not only the bouncer but a couple of other men who seemed fairly armed and staring at her. If Bakih had been here, she would have been happy to tear them all a new one. But… she was alone, and as things stood, she would be the one who would end up dead.

Turning back to face Jamir, Sirine nonchalantly sheathed her dagger. He thought he could intimidate her? Very well then. She had played this game before. There was no denying that she was the one in need right now. She would simply bide her time until she could finally strike. Some coin and gossip might be useful in finding her brother in any case.

“It’s a good offer.” Jamir spoke up again, obviously feeling he was in the clear now and didn’t need to worry about his stomach being poked through.

“No, it's a shitty one,” Sirine replied. There was no need to mince her words just because she wasn't going to mince him. “Here is a good offer. You give me a job. I will work nights for you. I worked here two years and made enough septims that this place could be lined with gold. You know that as well as I do, otherwise you wouldn't have begged me to stay when I left previously.” To a nitpicking person it probably sounded the exact same as what he had offered, and truthfully it was. However, it was coming from her mouth, not his- he needed to realize he would be lucky to have her stay in this dump.

The owner sputtered for a moment before looking disgruntled. “Fine,” he muttered, lowering his voice. “You should know the drill, nothing has changed. You serve the men drinks, you take them to your room when they ask for it- make sure you charge them right-”

“Don’t fuck them more than they paid for,” Sirine interrupted crassly, uncaring about the words leaving her lips. “I know this already.”

Jamir shoved two tankards at her and motioned to the armed men in the back. “Then start with those two.”

Unwillingly, a drop of salty water trickled horizontally down her face, making a trail over her lightly freckled nose to dampen the pillow her head was resting on. What a fool I was, what a fool I am. Why was she even thinking of such things when she should be reveling in her freedom? Letting out a shaky breath, Sirine sat up in the bed, wiping at her eyes with the back of her hands. Maybe being alone and having a moment apart wasn’t a good thing after all if it left her plagued with unwanted thoughts.

She pushed the sheets away and slipped out of bed, toes digging in the lush carpet that lay underneath. Dark eyes swerved around the room before they fell on a table that was decorated with more than a few bottles of alcohol from across Tamriel. It was tempting, oh so tempting to simply head over and fill a goblet and drink until she could forget. But she wouldn’t, because that would simply mean she wasn’t strong enough. Sirine refused to be weak.

Closing her eyes, she took a moment to breathe in, holding it a little longer than usual, and then finally letting it out. There was no need for her to feel like this anymore. The past was the past, and she couldn’t let it continue to haunt her. No one could take advantage of her anymore, no man would touch her unless she wanted it. Morning would come soon enough, and she would no longer have to face the empty silence of the night.

Maybe she didn’t have to right now anyway.

Taking hold of one of the pillows from the bed as well as a sheet, the former pirate headed back to the balcony, from where she could not only hear the water and smell the salt, but see it as well. Settling down and making herself comfortable, she curled up and watched the sea, the waves seeming a lover beckoning her to come hither.

A soft breath escaped her, and it wasn’t long before she finally fell asleep.
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Hidden 6 mos ago Post by Rtron
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Rtron Knight Radiant

Member Seen 0-12 hrs ago


A Collab by @Rtron and @Amaranth

Nanine and Shakti, 11:30am, 1st of Midyear, behind Three Crowns

Nanine went through the motions of combat, first one hand, then both on the hilt of The Eternal Vow. She went through them without fully thinking about them, the movements practically ingrained into her body after her time served in the Skyrim Civil War and beyond. There were bigger problems on her mind right now than the fact motions she had gone through a thousand times before. The other two missions had, more or less, failed. Which wouldn’t be quite so bad if they weren’t fighting the type of war that required anyone who could give up information and was likely to be caught to disappear, and had the other two groups used disguises like she had insisted upon with hers. Yeah, lets waltz into these dangerous and highly illegal situations with our faces and extremely out of place, in a Redguard city, looks and just let what happens happen! It’ll be great!

She sighed, moving smoothly to the next step. What’s done was done. There was nothing anyone could do to about it, except prepare for the consequences. Which was why she was out her, practicing her swordplay for the hundredth time. Waiting for consequences.

Shakti had gone searching for a quiet place where she could practice her own sword-forms in peace, the gymnasium in which she usually practiced being occupied. She had come outside of the hotel grounds into a sandy backlot where she watched a Breton woman whom she recognised from her rescue, though only vaguely. More strikingly was the woman’s blade. A rather foreboding blade of ebony that seemed to be shimmering worryingly. Suffice it to say, it was a weapon Shakti would be hesitant to pick up if she found it lying around. Her style of sword-fencing was also sort of strange. It seemed slightly primitive, with wide hacks and chops that could be exploited. The young Redguard thought it might be prudent to point out those facts.

“That is a very beautiful sword you have. It must be very special.” She left out the part about how it looked, to her, like some sort of cursed daedric-blade. “Your style is also, erm, unusual.” She tried to phrase it less negatively than the thought had appeared in her mind, not wanting to appear hostile to this woman who had performed some part in her rescue.

Nanine started at the voice, lost in her own thoughts. She smiled as she saw that it was the girl they had saved from the prison caravan. “Oh! Thank you. It’s my family’s blade, been with us for centuries, or so the story goes.” Her smile widened at the awkward mentioning of her sword style. It was not the first time someone outside of the Legion had mentioned it, and she doubted it would be the last. “You mean it looks like if I ever get in an actual sword fight I’ll be killed in three seconds with all the openings you see. Don’t worry, it’s intentional. It's a high-risk sword style my father taught me. You let your opponent think there’s an opening to hit a weak point in your armor, and shift when they strike so that they hit something that can block the blow, leaving them off balance and open. I wouldn’t recommend doing it against the highly skilled, like Mazrah or Jaraleet. Or against certain weapons like maces, but against most weapons or fighters it works well for me.” She paused. “I don’t believe we ever had the opportunity to properly introduce ourselves, I’m Nanine Tilhart. Pleasure to meet you.”

Letting yourself purposely get hit? What heat-madness was this? A skilled sword-fencer who was properly cutting with not just her sword, but her spirit needed only one cut to kill. If the intent to kill was there, the intent to cut, there was no way you could block it. Shakti almost shook her head in disbelief. “I’ve… never heard of such a style. Is it common where you come from?” She had no idea where that was, but it was obvious that she wasn’t from Elsweyr or Black Marsh at least. Maybe. “I’m Shakti, of the Alik’r, I never had the chance to properly thank you for rescuing me.” She bowed to the other woman in thanks, and as a sign of respect.

The women did share something in common though, both of them carried swords that had been in their family for generations. Shakti smiled and pulled out her sword, holding it horizontally. “This is my family’s sword too. It was my father’s sword, and his father’s before him. It’s not as impressive as your family’s blade, but I suspect few swords are.” The compliment was genuine, it was an awe-inspiring piece of metal.

Nanine waved a hand. “Think nothing of it. From what I hear, these Dwemer are publicly more civil than the others, but behind closed doors they act exactly like the ones who sacked Imperial city. Couldn’t leave you to rot in whatever they planned to put you in.” She smiled graciously at the other woman’s compliment to her sword. “Thank you. Your blade is well cared for and you carry it with pride. You bear it well.” Nanine sheathed her sword, chuckling softly. “ As for your obvious disbelief about the ‘purposely getting hit to leave an opening’ its always done in heavy armor. Armor that blocks most blades, excluding magical or enchanted ones, and lets you continue on to strike. I don’t employ it unless I am in my heavy steel, which I doubt I will get a chance to wear here.”

She raised an eyebrow at the girl. “From the look on your face, I’m guessing you don’t trust armor that much.”

Shakti rubbed her scar. The painful memory of the sword slicing through her bracer caused it to ache slightly. “Er, not really. The desert heat makes it hard to wear it besides.” She shrugged, “There are knights in Hammerfell who wear armour in the styles of the other provinces. Perhaps they have a similar style of swordplay.”

Nanine shrugged. She’d personally prefer to be encased in steel. Less likely for a single blow to end her. “To each their own. I’d personally trust my life to good armor. Those knights might, if they’re from the Legion. As far as I know its a style that’s only taught to Legion soldiers.” She looked at Shakti curiously. “Since you don’t trust armor I’m going to guess you rely on dodging and blocking to avoid getting stabbed. Is that right? Seems like it’d require a lot of energy and stamina to keep up, especially in a battle.”

Shakti nodded, “Mostly dodging. I don’t like blocking. It’s not that much energy, especially if you combine your offence and defence into one motion. Like this.” The Redguard girl drew her sword and demonstrated a basic sort of technique of which she had described. She took a smooth sidestep and allowed the momentum of the sideways motion to carry into a riposte forward towards an imaginary enemy. “Or this.” Shakti hopped backwards, landing on the front of her feet and then springing forward with a clean cut from low-to-high across the body of another imaginary foe.

“Very impressive!” Nanine nodded approvingly. Shakti had great talent, that much was obvious. “But, what would you do if you’re facing someone in heavy or medium armor?” Nanine put her finger on her chest, mirroring the cut Shakti had done across her own body. “In my armor that would have bounced off and done nothing. What’s your plan against someone in armor heavy enough to block your blows?” She suspected that the younger woman had never actually fought against heavy armor, or she wouldn’t be so dismissive of it. A sword wasn’t a good weapon to use against heavy plate, no matter how skilled the sword’s wielder was.

Shakti shrugged, “No armour is invulnerable. I killed a Dwemer in armour with his own weapon after you freed me from the wagon. You just need the right amount of force in the right place. And the Will to cut.” For emphasis, she twirled her blade and ended the spin with a chop through the air. “Surely the armour is fatiguing to wear as well, else you would be wearing it now. Not all battles have to be won quickly.” Shakti scraped some sand around with her foot on the hard stone ground. “Sometimes you must be like the desert sands. Patient and fluid, wearing down your foe and stinging them wear they are vulnerable. Have you ever been in a sandstorm? Quite violent.” The Redguard girl nodded to affirm her own point. “I haven’t actually fought anyone in armour from the Cyrads,” Shakti finally conceded, “But I can’t imagine it’s that much different from the armour of the Knights here in Hammerfell.”

“It’s heavier. The local Dwemer armor? It’s lighter to deal with the heat. Everywhere else its heavier and stronger. Hard to punch through normally, especially when someone in it is actively trying to kill you and prevent you from killing them. And if it is someone who is experienced in wearing that armor? The battle would come down too whom is more experienced at what they are facing.”

Nanine gestured to the Inn, where her armor was stored. “If you’d like, I can set it up and give you some lessons on what to do when facing such armor with just a sword. It can’t hurt.”

Shakti’s eyes lit up at the suggestion, “I’d love that! I think it would help both of us, much more than our talking!” She slid her sword back into its sheath and bounced excitedly. “Should I go get wooden training swords?”

Nanine smiled at the girl’s eagerness, nodding. It was good to see someone delighted, in the midst of what was going on in the shadows of Gilane and their own personal failures. “Wooden training swords would be best. Don’t want to break any pieces of my armor or damage your sword while training. We can tell each other a little more about ourselves as we go through it. As my brother always said, ‘You never know someone quite as well as you do when you’ve fought against them.’” She sheathed her own sword. “I’ll even give you some tips on what to do when facing a destruction and/or conjuration mage.” As Shakti scampered off, practically skipping, Nanine headed into the Inn, pulling out her armor.

By the time Shakti returned, Nanine was putting the finishing touches on her armor as she set it up. It was arranged in a loose approximation of someone being in it, held together by what Nanine could cobble together as a mannequin.

She laid a hand on the head of her armor, smiling at the other woman. “This is Dolf. Dolf wants to kill you. Dolf is in steel plate. It is of good quality, and he’s just as refreshed and athletic as you are. All you have is your sword, and running away isn’t an option. What’s your next move?”

“Dolf? Does it mean something or is it just a name where you come from?” Even as she asked the question, Shakti was readying herself with a wooden sword, it was straight unlike her sword, but it would do for now. She swung at Dolf, her “Hyah!” followed by a clang as the wooden sword bounced off the thick cuirass. She tried again, same result. “Hmm, perhaps a different tactic.” This time she thrust the sword into the armpit area with a “Kiah!” There was a satisfying crunch noise as the tip smacked into chainmail beneath the plate. Progress.

“Decidedly Overly Large Foe.” Nanine paused a moment, before shrugging. “Or something like that. Dolf is a nord name I’ve heard before, and nords like their heavy steel plate.” Nanine nodded approvingly as Shakti figured out what to do, rapping her own wooden sword against the chest plate .

“There you go. You can’t go straight at this like cloth or leather armor. Your sword will just bounce off and Dolf will just stab you. You have to aim where the plate isn’t. Armpits, groin, palms, back of the knee, inner elbow, sometimes neck, visor if you have time or are really lucky. Varies based on the armor, but a general rule of them is to stab at the joints. Basically anywhere plate can’t be because the person inside it needs to move. But you’ll notice that if you were using a real blade you would have been stopped against the chainmail. You can’t just stab and away, otherwise Dolf will just be bruised. Maybe bleeding. What you have to do is make the most of your sword’s point. Turn it into a makeshift polearm. With your off hand grab the blade, and with your main hand hold the hilt.”

Nanine demonstrated on her own blade, holding her practice sword similar to how one would normally hold a sword. “Push with your main, guide with your off, or you’re liable to slide your hand on your blade and cut yourself. Use it like a spear and shove it into the weak point. Your blade is slightly curved, making this a bit more awkward, but still doable. If you can’t find an opening with that, they’re playing to defensive for you to hit their weakpoints for example, you can stun them with your hilt.” Nanine flipped the training sword so that she was holding it by its blade, and gave a few light swings with it. “A good amount of weight in your sword is in the hilt, so you can use it as a makeshift hammer and hit your opponent in the helmet with it. Assuming they’re a living creature and don’t have impact resistant enchanted armor, it’ll stun or disorientate most people.” She grimaced. “I can attest that it’s not a pleasant experience. Almost got killed several times when Stormcloak’s decided to slam something blunt against my helmet and stun me.”

“Any questions?”

Shakti looked cautiously at her sword on her hip and the wooden training sword in her hand. “I’m not sure holding the sword by the blade is such a good idea…” Her voice trailed off as she flipped the sword around in her hands, trying to figure out an alternative mode of attack. “Maybe if I just…” She held the sword out in front of her as if she was in a duel and then feinted an overhead strike, but instead of following through with the wide and slow chop she lunged forward and smacked the pommel of the sword into the helmet of Dolf. Her bash was rewarded with a satisfying ‘gong.’ Continuing her make-believe attack, Shakti dashed to the left and jabbed her sword into the chainmail covering the back of the knee. Circling even further left she made an underhanded cut up into the armpit and finished her chain of attacks with a hop backwards. “There, that should do it.” The Redguard girl declared, satisfied. “What did you think?”

“Excellent, but that last cut would have been ineffective. The chainmail would have blocked it. You might have left a nasty bruise, maybe even broke something with enough force, but Dolf wouldn’t have bled. Remember, anyone in decent armor is going to be immune to cuts. You’re going to have to stab. You have the general idea though.”

“And you’re right. It’s normally a bad idea to hold a sword by the blade, but it's also a bad idea to face plate armor with nothing more than a sword. You have to get creative if you can’t run away, hit them with a spell, or stab them with proper weapon.” Nanine nodded encouragingly at the girl. Shakti would have no problem once she figured out the techniques required to face plate armor. The redguard girl a quick learner. “You’re very talented, if not experienced in facing armor. Where’d you learn to fight with a blade?”

“Stab, right. Don’t cut, stab.” Shakti repeated to herself so she would remember. “Where did I learn? Oh, well my mother and father taught me much, and the rest I learned on my own. I guess you could say the Alik’r taught me.” She laughed at her own non-answer, twirling around to continue practicing, stabbing and thrusting at the gaps in Dolf’s armour. “What about you, where did you learn?” the Redguard girl asked in between jabs and stabs.

“Father was from the Legion, the one stationed in Hammerfell right before and during the Great War. Taught me from the day I could hold a blade, and when he died my brother took up that job. My focus and specialty lies in destruction and conjuration, admittedly, but everything I learned, I learned from them. Speaking of, once you feel you’ve gotten a basic grasp on how to fight someone in plate armor, we’ll move on to what to do against an angry mage who is fighting you.”

“Mages? I don’t really trust them. Magic is wild and untamed and humans shouldn’t meddle with it.” Shakti shook her head to emphasize her point and flourished her training sword. She practiced a few more thrusts and stabs at the joints of Dolf’s armour, each strike getting more accurate and confident.

Nanine shrugged. “Don’t need to trust mages to kill them. And regardless of your opinions on if mortals should meddle with it, you are going to encounter people who don’t share your opinions who want to kill you with it. And much like Dolf here, they’re going to require a different set of tactics than just running up and stabbing them. Though, admittedly, that is the ultimate goal.” She gestured towards Dolf, and Shakti’s increasing skill at stabbing him.

“I have no doubt you’ll pick it up quickly though. We’ll run through the attacks against plate mail a few more times, then talk shop about how to fight against destruction and conjuration magic.”

Shakti nodded. Nanine was right, she didn’t need to trust mages to know how to fight them. She readied her sword again and began stabbing Dolf in all of his weakpoints again, this time going faster and faster. It felt good to be able to train with someone.

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Hidden 6 mos ago Post by Amaranth
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Amaranth the Kasaanda

Member Seen 2 mos ago

From Different Worlds

by Amaranth and @Stormflyx

13th of Midyear - Noon - The Three Crowns Hotel

Midday in Gilane was often the same, as Raelynn had come to notice. There was a certain bustle and business that was unlike anything she’d ever seen. Giant pans and skillets of food would be thrown onto hot fires behind food stalls and scents would permeate the air one by one. Saffron, garlic, paprika, chilli. She had grown accustomed to this. It was as if she need not look to a clock now, but pay attention to her nose to know that it was time for a meal. She weaved in and out of the crowds purposefully to the Three Crowns Hotel, wearing calf-length satin trousers in shades of cream and gold and a linen cropped shirt in a rich plum colour - she looked every part a Lady of Hammerfell.

With everything that had happened, it was easy to believe that the party had been here for weeks or months, but truthfully, it hadn’t been that long at all, and yet each day felt like an eternity. Does everyone else feel the slowing of time, too? She thought to herself as she ascended the staircase to the room she had shared with the girls. With Jude, Rhona, Mazrah, and… Daro’Vasora.

It had been a lifetime since she herself had been here.

She pushed open the door gingerly, not knowing if anyone would be inside. She only wanted to collect some of her things. A small knife, a bowl. Just things. Things she could have easily replaced, things that held no sentimental value to her - and yet, she didn’t look to her lockbox when she entered the room. Her steel blue eyes fell immediately onto the space where Daro’Vasora used to sleep. They observed the absence of the Khajiit. The way the bed sheet was still a little crumpled from where she hadn’t quite pulled it tightly into the board when she made it, the pillow still had the indent of her head. Some of her things sat on the table beside the futon - an empty glass, a plate. Just things that highlighted that Daro’Vasora was still gone.

Thoughts lingered on the morning that they had all bickered amongst themselves. She had been embarrassed and annoyed then - how she wished that mornings like that could have been the worst of her time in Gilane. She approached the bed pensively and placed her fingertips against the sheet, before whispering under her breath, “they’re going to get you out of there…” She knew it wouldn’t be her, she wouldn’t be part of Latro’s rescue team. Not in her state. She ran her fingers over the sheet once more before leaving it at last, making her way to her lockbox in the corner. It was then that she heard the soft footsteps of someone approaching…

Shakti had been so caught up in her own little world she had almost plowed into the open door. The young Redguard girl was running her hands along the rough wall as she walked along, staring off into space. She had made a habit of doing laps of the hotel grounds to keep herself from getting cooped up in her tiny room. If she let herself do only what she wanted, she knew that is what would happen. So she forced herself to take walks. Usually she would find someone to talk to or some sort of trouble to get into, but lately there was a tinge of darkness in her normally sunny heart. Something about being lied to and then being forced to be around the man who had caused her quest to avenge her father to stall so badly. It just… it just.. It was hard to deal with, okay?

She had tried to sew up her other tunic but she had quickly become frustrated and given up, just throwing on her other tunic and walking out in a huff. Both of them were equally er, loved (tattered) but the other one was made of a nicer cloth and so the fact it had been cut during her duel annoyed her further. Both of them were earth-coloured and loose-fitting tunic that had no sleeves and exposed her mocha skin and rather-scarred-for-a-teenager-arms.

The open door shook Shakti out of her reverie and she peered into the open room, not quite knowing what she was looking at. It was a rather lived-in room with a single occupant; a pale woman doing something to a bed. “Are… you looking for something?” Shakti asked, against the wishes of her brain. Unfortunately for her brain and its bad mood, sociability was in her nature and the words came naturally.

Suddenly disturbed by the presence, Raelynn pulled herself from her deep thoughts and she glanced over to the doorway, she looked the girl who stood there up and down. The new Redguard girl. She didn’t know a great deal about her. What was her name - she had heard it spoken at the party, but that was all muffled noise and drunken revelry. Shhhhh something. She narrowed her eyes in concentration before speaking, “I’m just collecting some things… I’ll be leaving soon,” her hands took out the items from the bottom of the chest, and she began placing them into her satchel one by one. Empty bottles, floral sprigs, and pouches of beetle scrub - ingredients. The girl was stood there still, and Raelynn once again narrowed her eyes in her direction, “can I help you with something?” She sighed, a long exhalation of air to show her impatience.

“No, it’s just that I do not think we’ve met.” Shakti wasn’t in the mood for introductions, not really, not now, but a small voice in the back of her head (probably her mother’s) told her that she should not project her own bad mood onto others. So Shakti dutifully pressed on with her introduction. “I’m Shakti, of the Alik’r.” Sands take you Mother, why did you raise me to be so polite? It’s clear that this woman is not in the mood to talk, so just disengage and walk away. “I just thought it would be rude if I didn’t at least tell you my name after seeing you twice now.”

She listened to the young girl with a raised eyebrow and a smirk. Why, she couldn't have been older than twenty. “I see…” cooed Raelynn, her voice suddenly soft. “Well Shakti, it's nice to meet you. My name is Raelynn.” She was done packing up her satchel and so she rose to her feet slowly. Shakti was much taller than her, but her youthful demeanour diminished any chance of the Breton being intimidated by her size. She moved back over to Daro'Vasora's bed once more, she knew in her heart that she wouldn't be allowed back here. “Say, Shakti - would you care to help me collect her belongings?”

Shakti found the woman’s sudden change in tone of voice to be more than a little unnerving, nonetheless she couldn’t rightly refuse a request for help. “It is so lovely to meet you Raelynn. It would be my pleasure to help. It is the least I could do. I’ve only just met this company, I’m sure her presence is greatly missed by all of you.” She entered the room and strode over to the area that, judging by the amount of hair everywhere, must have belonged to the Khajiiti woman. Shakti had no idea what kind of possessions a tomb-raiding cat person would, well, possess and so looked over to Raelynn for guidance.

“Truth be told, I am not entirely certain what it is that she owns… Can't say I ever had reason enough to care. I suppose I shall start,” her hands tugged at the handle of the drawer, although it appeared to be so full with something that it was wedged shut, “here.” With it open just a crack, she slipped her fingers in and felt the recognisable leather cover of a book which she pushed down, springing the drawer open. “Well it appears she likes to write,” Raelynn stated as she took out several journals that had been stowed away. “So tell me, Shakti, how did you come to be with us? Or better yet, do you feel that you will stick around?”

“I joined the cause when some of your comrades freed me from Dwemer imprisonment. I hate the thought of my homeland being ruled by an elven empire. My grandparents fought the Dominion when they invaded and I feel it is my duty to fight the Deep Elves in turn.” She held her tongue for a moment, unsure of whether it was wise to share her other, more personal reason, “I also think the Dwemer are somehow tied up in the death of my Father, and it is something I intend to find out. On my own time, of course. I could never ask another to assist me in such a selfish task.” The last line was somewhat of a bending of the truth. In reality, Shakti felt like to ask someone else for help would almost be cheating. That to ask someone to walk her path with her would go against the spirit of the entire journey. Was that true? She didn’t know. The young Redguard pulled out various strange objects from drawers and packs that littered Sora’s living area and examined them, wondering where they should go and if they were even hers to begin with.

Raelynn actually listened to the girl, taking a seat at the foot of the bed with Sora's journals in her lap, thumbing the pages - but she was neither peering or reading them. Hearing the young girl tell her story did tug at her. If Shakti believed her father's death was the result of the Dwemer, then her loss was incredibly fresh. “I'm sorry to hear about your father. You know, I often think that there is no greater duty than that to our family. It's very honourable of you, but a heavy burden to carry alone wouldn't you agree?” She tilted her head to the side, loose strands of hair slipping from the grip of her hairpin.

“I cannot lie, it is a heavy burden, and I am often not sure how to proceed. But I am the oldest, I must do this. It’s like you said, it is my duty to my family.” Shakti shrugged and stared at a heavily marked map of some place that she did not recognise. She flipped it many times to try and figure out the correct orientation. “I came to Gilane in search of a knight that served in the same order as my father. He knows something but I haven’t been able to question him properly. He’s the reason I ended up in a Deep Elf prison.” The memory made her forearm scar itch slightly and she rubbed it unconsciously.

The Breton nodded along with Shakti's story. She was so young, and yet so set on a path for vengeance, with the burden sitting on her shoulders. It was horrifying and amusing all at the same time. A quick smile curled up on her lips, and disappeared as quickly as it had come on. “How has your journey alone gone so far?” She asked, the sweet voice returning and her fingers stroking the spine of the journal in her lap. “Forgive me, but, you were captured once already were you not?”

“It has gone okay, all things considered. I haven’t made much progress but I could be dead. And yes, I was captured a few days before I met your company.” Come to think of it, that was pretty much the only time she had been in major trouble in a big city. Most of the other trouble she had been in had been with bandits or wild animals in the deserts. She had only been in Gilane for a month maybe, but she already missed the wide expanse of the Alik’r. Cities were so claustrophobic sometimes.

“I see.” She sighed sharply, getting up from the bed. She walked back over to the table and began to pile up each of the journals. She wanted so badly to read one, just a look, a glance. Anything to give her some insight into the Khajiit’s mind, but she didn’t - and only because she would hate for someone to read her own. “Do you think that you will continue with the group then?” She ask, looking into the girls eyes, in genuine wonder of her answer. She seemed to have a personal mission, unlike the rest of the group. “Most of them were all together at the start, before I wound up with them. I just got swept along for the ride… Perhaps you’re going to be caught in the riptide of it all too.”

“I…” Shakti caught her words and stopped to think her answer over. “I think my task aligns with the group, at least loosely. I can do the investigation part on my own, the others don’t need to help with that. But either way I won’t let the Dwemer occupy my home, and I do need help with that. So for now, I do not see any reason to part with the group.”

“We need more fighters - for the rescue, to travel with us. I'm not a fighter see…” Raelynn could tell that even under the baggy clothing that Shakti was lithe - and had the body of an acrobat, and that even at her age she would be a skilled warrior. “You have a fighter's spirit, don't you? Why, I think that you Redguards are born with it. But, never be afraid to ask for help, it doesn't make you weak.” Raelynn paid close attention to the girl, staring at her scars - she wondered just where they had all come from. “Besides, just about everyone in this company is far too curious for their own good, far too eager to help each other, and just much too interested in causes and duty, to pass up any opportunity to get involved in anything they should probably keep their noses out of…”

Shakti laughed a light, fluttery laugh at Raelynn’s last comment, even though she had no idea if the other woman was being humorous. “Yes, I suppose that’s true. I don’t mind it, not really. It is nice to not do everything alone, sort of.” She was still getting used to being around so many strangers. All her life she had spent either with her tribe, all of whom she knew very well, or alone, travelling. “Though, I have to ask. If you aren’t a fighter, what are you?” The idea that such a question might be offensive suddenly blasted its way into her mind. “Er, not that there is anything wrong with not being a warrior.” Pretty much all Redguards knew at least the basics of fighting, so the idea someone would know nothing was a bit shocking to the girl.

“I’m a healer and alchemist. I can patch up a wound without much thought, brew you a potion to boost you, but… I’m not much use front and centre fighting anyone. Unless that fight involves giving someone a dressing down - then maybe I stand a chance against the best of them…” There was humour in her tone, but a tinge of sadness too. Raelynn wished she was a better fighter - if only she was she might have been able to do more, and have been able to protect herself better recently. To protect Gregor, and Daro’Vasora too. She looked at Shakti with a smile, they were from completely different worlds. “But… You should stay with us, Shakti. Like I said, we can always use another sword, and we need all the help we can get to free Daro’Vasora.”

“I will stay. I do not mind lending my sword to such a righteous cause. Healing is a noble pursuit, you should be proud. Without healers such as yourself, I’m sure I would be dead three times over.” The girl laughed, but it was probably true. Shakti turned back to the pile of Sora’s things and started once again picking through them. “So where are you from, Raelynn the Healer?” She was dressed like a cosmopolitan Redguard woman, but it was obvious from the way she was sweating that she was not from here.

Raelynn smiled at Shakti, she certainly seemed like she was noble in her own intention too. “I'm from Daggerfall, but I spent a lot of time in Skyrim… Winterhold and Windhelm, and then in places like Riften. A truly beautiful province, and I do miss it actually…” She sighed, longing for the wilds of Skyrim again, the thick forest and deep snow, the chill on her skin, to be wrapped in furs. “Seems like so long ago now. That's what happens when you get older, time feels shorter and it slips away. I'm not old by any stretch, but you should enjoy your youth Shakti, don't let it run away from you while you're off chasing revenge.”

“I’ve heard so much about Skyrim recently. Seems like so many of your company are from there. I would like to trade dunes of sand for drifts of snow some day. It sounds so beautiful!” Shakti tried to picture what Skyrim would look like, but she had never seen snow, so it was fairly difficult. On the other hand, she would love to spend more time lazing around and enjoying the fruits of youth, but alas the young Redguard knew she couldn’t. Not while her father’s killer still lived. Maybe someday.

“It's wonderful. A wild place, far from where I was raised and yet it is very much my home. Hammerfell is a lovely place but, I'm afraid it's beauty has been tainted for me. There's so much blood amongst the sands…” Her gaze fell to the doors to the balcony, and she remembered standing there admonishing Mazrah and Daro'Vasora. She wanted to smile, but she couldn't manage it this time, and sadness sat in her eyes instead. “Such is life. It waits for no one and shows us no mercy, I suppose.”

“That is part of Hammerfell’s beauty, Raelynn the healer.” Shakti made a wide sweeping gesture as she continued her impassioned speech, “We have been fighting to protect this land that we call home ever since my people first arrived on the shores. First from Goblins, Orcs, and Men. Then the Empire, and even recently against the Dominion. Hammerfell is beautiful because of what we have sacrificed to make it our own! And I also really like the dunes at sunset.” The Redguard woman sheepishly turned back to sorting Sora’s stuff, slightly embarrassed at how passionate a speech she had just given.

As she listened to Shakti’s impassioned speech she was reminded of something that Judena had said in this very room, about the energy of youth. It made her smile, and she looked up at Shakti as warmth returned to her eyes. “I suppose you're right.” She stood slowly, and gathered Sora's belongings together at last. She considered the innocence of Shakti, her youthful nature and spirit. She had witnessed terrible things, but zest still remained, and she wondered if she could dig deep enough to find some of her own too. If it was still there - with people like Shakti around, perhaps enthusiasm and passion could be contagious once more. “It has been lovely to meet you Shakti… I'm glad you will travel with us, truly.” She thought about placing a hand on the girl, or giving her any kind of touch of appreciation, but she made her way to the door instead, things in hand.

“Remember,” she began as she turned once more to face the girl, “if ever you should need our help… Let us help you. You need only ask.” She smiled again, and motioned with her head to the bags, “thank you for this. Daro'Vasora will appreciate it, I promise.”

“I will do that. Water and shade to you, Raelynn the Healer.” Shakti gave a small wave as she said the traditional Alik’r greeting/farewell. A small part of her hoped she wouldn’t need to ask for help, but a larger part of Shakti knew she would need all the help she could get.
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Two Birds of a Feather

Evening, 7th of Midyear, 4E208
Gilane, Hammerfell

A @Father Hank & @DearTrickster Production

While Mazrah had initially been annoyed and even offended by Nanine’s suggestion to hide her body beneath a robe during the attack on the prisoner transport where they freed Shakti, she had to admit that she appreciated the freedom she still had to walk freely throughout Gilane without having to be afraid that one of the guards would recognize her based on her description. She was, after all, extremely distinct. Her remarkable and fearsome appearance was even further exacerbated by the fierce scowl she wore on her face as she stomped through the bazaar, fists clenched and shoulders hunched. Mazrah was angry and frustrated and her total and utter inability to conceal her emotions meant that merely looking upon her was reason enough for the citizens to give her a wide berth.

She was looking for a bar with the express purpose of drowning her anger in alcohol. Daro’Vasora had been captured and much to her chagrin, there was nothing she could do about it right then and there. The Khajiit had been taken somewhere after being paraded through the streets like some kind of traitor and now she was gone. Quick to make friends and loyal to a fault, Mazrah took it personally, despite the fact that the Orsimer and the cat-lady had only been friends for, what, a week?

“That’s not the point,” Mazrah muttered to herself and shook her head. The audacity of the Dwemer and their minions had now personally affected her and if there was one thing Orcs all hate, it’s having their shit fucked with. She could only hope that someone else in the party had a good idea or a clever plan in the coming days. Coming up with that stuff had never been her forté.

At last her feet brought her to the door to a bar and she looked up in surprise to find it was the back-alley bar where she’d found the Redguard bastard that brought her to Gilane in the first place and beaten him up… with Daro’Vasora. It was where they’d met. Mazrah remembered it being a seedy, smoky den of card-players and smooka addicts. In other words, it was perfect. She needed someplace crass and dumb where she could just be herself and beat up anybody who challenged her for it.

Someone else opened the door now to look at her when she knocked. Mazrah remembered it being a Dunmer last time; now it was definitely a local Redguard. “Yes?” the man asked tersely.

“I want to get drunk.” Mazrah put her hands on her hips and tilted her head. “And I’m looking for a fat cock to fuck,” she lied and conjured the most sickly-sweet smile she could muster. The Redguard was too taken aback by that to have verbal answer and settled for opening the door and letting her through instead.

Mazrah dropped herself on one of the stools at the bar and planted her elbows on the countertop with enough force to send ripples through the drinks of the other patrons on either side of her, and it seemed like everyone in the establishment turned to look at her. She pointedly ignored them and focused on the bartender, who was a surprisingly lovely, fair-skinned woman from somewhere that was definitely not here, with big green eyes and reddish hair. She had a dagger strapped to her waist and a sharpness to her face that suggested she wasn’t just a doll, however, and Mazrah gave her a lopsided grin. “Hi. I want your biggest mug of the foulest poison you have in here,” the Orsimer purred.

The bartender raised an eyebrow but made no comment as she drafted a pint-sized shot of Stros M’Kai rum for Mazrah. “This might actually kill you,” she said as she slid the giant mug across the countertop. “But I have a feeling you know what you’re doing, Orc, so knock yourself out.”

Mazrah grunted appreciatively and immediately downed a big gulp, smacking her lips loudly.

“Charming,” the bartender said but the amusement on her face was unmistakable.

Mazrah growled and winked. “Bite me.”

Among the rattled pints belonged to a sour-faced, dark-skinned Redguard mage only a few seats away from the new boisterous Orc joining the pity party that was the tavern. Steadying the brim of her dark stout tankard, dulled green eyes glanced to Maz. Maj Noor sat with a slight hunch over the counter, gloves and cloak removed. Long black hair fell over her shoulder, gently tied in on itself in a loose knot. Choppily cut bangs framed her face, a crooked nose pointed up at a slight angle. Twin silver hooped earrings somehow survived her tribulations. Trying and failing to ignore the permeating smell of piss coming from somewhere nearby.

Did it really matter? She looked down to her hands, fresh blisters in the palms from spending the past two days picking barnacles off the belly of a ship grounded in Gilane’s port. Needing a few septims to get a stiff drink. In so far her solutions weren’t being found at the bottom of a tankard. Everywhere she looked Dwemer roamed the streets like a bad night terror. What little sleep she had managed from passing out in exhaustion was filled with the fresh memory of the gold-plated Dwemer airship hovering above her and blocking out the sunlight. It sent a shiver down her spine.

Gripping the tankard she drank deeply from it, the brew bitter and strong. The aftertaste was disgusting. Slamming down her tankard she looked at Maz once again, making a face at the two patrons between herself and her future drinking buddy. Maj assumed misery loves company.

“Alright, move your asses!” She suddenly announced shoving an elbow at a dreary dunmer beside her, he rolled his eyes conceding to moving just to another seat cupping his own drink as he moved. Next was a bearded breton man whom she tried shoving next.

“Move,” She poked her elbow at him, “Mooooove.” Using both hands.

He grunted, “The fuck woman?” He raised his arms out of her reach as she continued to push him.

“Move, I want to sit beside someone who looks just about as miserable as I feel. Fuck off, mate.” She said with some success managed to push him out of his chair, he stumbled back spilling a little of his drink over his fingers. He looked irritated and eyed Maj deciding how much of a fight she’d be worth to put up with. She squinted back at him.

“Fuck, fine you can have the big ugly oaf.” He said with a huff turning his back. “Nobody wants to sit near a drunk orc.”

Maj settled in his seat beside Maz, she leaned holding the counter as a balance with her left hand barely able to reach her tankard with her right, her fingertips just brushing the handle. The bartender watched her struggle to reach it and moved it the inch within her reach. A good grip she dragged it in front of her with a huff, laboriously pulling herself back to sit up right.

Getting a closer look over of Maz, Maj’s eyes settled on the tattoos intricately lining her face, counting the earrings lining her long pointed ears. The scars as well, they were pitted and marked along her arms, the former Corsair not making any attempts to be subtle in her observation. She leaned into the bar, settling her cheek against the heel of her palm she said, smiling, “There ain’t a single ugly thing about you. Hi, I’m Maj.”

Mazrah decided to ignore the commotion to her right in favor of focusing on her drink until it turned out that the source of the ruckus had been a woman trying to sit next to her. Mazrah turned her head to look and once she’d fully taken in the sight of the languidly smiling Maj, the Orsimer turned her whole torso to face the Redguard. She returned the pirate’s smile with one of her own and was just about ready to fake innocent astonishment that someone would compliment her -- for Maj’s amusement, of course -- when it dawned on her what the woman had just said. Her smile turned into a confused frown.

“What in Oblivion are you saying, girl? That is my name,” she said, already slightly slurring her words. Her alcohol tolerance was prodigious but there was only so much her body could do to defend itself against half a pint of rum consumed in just a few minutes. “I am Maz. You can’t also be Maz.” She held up a wagging finger while she talked and then she pointed at her chest. “Me Maz. You... someone else. How’d you know my name, anyway?”

“What?” Maj said sitting up straight, looking to her tankard - surely she hadn’t drunk that much. “Maj, not Maz.” Enunciating her name and drawing out the j, “My name is Maj.”

She leaned up and peered into Maz’s mug and got a strong whiff of rum, she frowned herself turning to the barmaid, “She was holding out on me, I asked for something strong too and she gave me this muddy brine.” Gesturing at her tankard, half-heartedly irritated but she took another swig anyway for good measure.

“What got you drinking your sorrows away? These gods be damned Dwemer are ruining everything.” Maj complained, loudly gesturing with her tankard. The barmaid siddled back up and shushed her.

Mazrah waved the barmaid away, irritated, and nodded along enthusiastically with what Maj had to say. “They are! I’m so glad to hear you say so,” Mazrah said and gave Maj an admiring smile. Everything about the Redguard woman endeared Mazrah to her immediately. She leaned forwards conspiratorially until their faces were only a few inches apart and placed a hand on Maj’s upper arm. She could feel her heartbeat quicken. “The Dwemer captured my friend,” the Orsimer whispered, her golden eyes boring into Maj’s green gaze. “And I can’t do anything about it. I’m fucking angry. That’s why I’m here. You?”

“You don’t fucking say.” Maj said, frowning at Maz. She found her hand and gave it a tight squeeze in solidarity, “One of their flying golden piles of shit sunk my ship and crew, unprovoked.” Maj felt a wave of mischief cross her mind, Maz was a stacked wall of muscle and shared her contempt for the Dwemer. She had hoped for some company this evening but now found herself being pulled toward something else. She could smell the the strong rum on her breath overlayed with her musky body, it was unique to the orc, distinctly her.

“Now what are a pair of angry women like us to do with all this unresolved energy.” Maj said her frown inverting to a sly wicked smile. “We could do something unproductive like drinking ourselves into a sickening stupor. Or...” She continued matching Maz’s conspiratorial voice.

“There’s a few dozen ways an angry orc and angry mage could stir up some trouble for those sons of knave’s Dwemer. How about it Maz, want to get out of here?” She grinned wiggling her eyebrows suggestively. “Ruin their night.”

Now that was music to her ears. Maj’s grin was infectious and Mazrah found herself smirking along. She looked at her hand that Maj and taken in her own and she reached up and stroked the Redguard’s cheek with her other hand, her strong fingers gentle against Maj’s soft skin. “Aren’t you a naughty girl,” Mazrah purred. “I love it.”

In just a few seconds, Mazrah tipped the mug of rum back and gulped the rest of it down, slammed a few septims on the bar, jumped to her feet and winked at the redhead behind the counter. “If the Dwemer ask, we weren’t here,” the Orsimer said and winked. She grabbed her spear, bow and arrows and slung them around her torso before she made for the exit, making sure her hips swayed while she walked and turned her head to look at Maj. “Let’s go.”

Maj bit her lower lip watching Maz go, the bartender rolled her eyes when Maj looked back to her. She slid her own septims toward her, including a couple more, “You heard nothing nor saw us, Lassie.” Doing the same as Maz and draining her tankard. In a flash grabbed her cloak and gloves. With an impressive flourish she, unaware of who received a face full of cloak behind her, clasped it securely at her collar.

She whisked out the door after Maz hesitating on the stairs down to the street. Easily imagining Nephelle where Maz was, while the more disciplined of the two Nepelle was always the first to jump into trouble with Maj. Never asking the whys or hows just when they would get started. She shook her head pushing away the thought, convinced if their positions were switched Nephelle would be right where she was then. Who was to say she’d feel the same in the morning, tonight was for a break in the stormy waters. Carrying on to Maz’s side.

Rolling up her sleeves, she hiked her hood up over her head. Cracking her knuckles.

The two budding partners in crime made no attempt to hide their swagger or their presence as they made their way through the streets of Gilane while they looked for victims, which were steadily emptying as the curfew approached. It was still some time away but many citizens had learned that it was better to be safe than sorry these days.

“Come on, I really have to go,” the Dwemer guard said with a pleading tone to his voice. “We’ll catch up to the others later. Just watch the streets for me, alright?”

His colleague watched the rest of their patrol march onwards with a sigh and waved dismissively. “Alright, alright, just go -- that alley over there.”

Grateful, the first guard took up position just beyond the entrance to one of the city’s many alleys and the sound of liquid splattering on the sand, accompanied by a deeply satisfied groan, swiftly echoed in its walls. Meanwhile, from the shadows behind one of the closed market stalls, Maz and Maj observed them at a distance. They had decided that discretion was the better part of valor after all and did not make their presence known just yet.

“Look at him, just pissing all over as if he owns the place,” Mazrah said sidelong to Maj, her lip curled in disgust. “They look just like the pair of boys that need to be taught a lesson. Agreed?”

“Aye. I’ve got an idea.” She beckoned to squat in the sand at their hiding spot. “Maz, you’re an unstoppable woman - fearsome in your own right. But, these bastids are cocky. I’ve only been in town for a few days and that,” She pointed at the pissing Dwemer, “has been the general fucking attitude.” She shuffled her finger beneath her nose. “What I’m going to do is build up from the beautiful base.”

She took in some consideration, what could the Dwemer be afraid to see? Remembering little to nothing about them, they were engineers rooted in logic before the god’s revering races of Tamriel. That was about it. Usually she resorted to ghosts and spirits to spook superstitious sailors but would Dwemer really give two shits about seeing a ghost they clearly don’t believe in?

“Oh I know!” She snapped her fingers, it was simple. “Okay stand up, Maz.”

Clearly in her mind she imagined, what an imagination it would take to picture what exactly could scare the Dwemer. They liked their creations so much then what would possibly scare them more than to see one advancing outside their control? In spite of knowing little about the Dwemer the rendering of their Centurions face’s were just about everywhere in Gilane. Easy to find inspiration. Misty red light shimmered around her hands, the beginnings of her Fear spell, she built from the bottom up. The image overlaying Maz’s already impressive form of muscle slotted into place. Pieces of a puzzle connecting in metallic armour pieces over her body, growing taller than she naturally was. The bulky arms and large gloves, finally the huge curved armour head of a Centurion.

The shadow the illusion casted was a special detail Maj rarely forgot to add, she felt it really sold it. She tapped her chin, making adjustments with a swipe of her finger as she rounded Maz in a circle. Spurts of oil leaking down the arms, haphazardly breaking the shoulder plating, ruining the symmetry of it. Stacks of heat vents on her back flared with flames, filtering out large clouds of steam. Finally rounding off the image with a crack down the centurion’s face by showing the faintest glow of a soul gem encased behind it’s eyes. Casting the eerie glow of a purple soul gem. She clapped her hands, her work complete.

She whistled lowly, “A goddamn masterpiece if I do say so myself.”

For someone as unfamiliar with magic as Mazrah, the idea of being enveloped with an illusion was so decidedly foreign that it almost made her uncomfortable -- but she steeled herself with the idea that its purpose was to scare the Dwemer, not herself. She had never been afraid of something real, why be afraid of something fake? Hell, the idea of becoming even more fearsome to others than she already was appealed to her.

“I’ll take your word for it,” Mazrah said with a grin, unable to observe the illusion properly since she was inside of it. “So now I just run at them, yeah? Scare their balls off?”

“More or less!” Maj agreed, “But- give them just a second to see you and fully recognize what is about to fuck them up.”

“I’ll be blocking their exit.” Maj said purposefully being non specific, having not decided on how she would block them in. Her mind was already going through a few ideas. “I want to see their faces and balls drop.”

The Orsimer nodded with vigor. “Sounds good. See you on the other side.”

And with that, Mazrah was off. She put on her most menacing scowl, wondering if that would translate to the illusion that Maj had created around her body, and advanced upon the Dwemer guards. The one that had been taking a leak had just finished and was busy fastening his belt when the second guard, the one that had been keeping an eye out for trouble, hollered unintelligibly in alarm.

“What is it? What is it?” the first guard asked urgently as he reached for his rifle and tried to slip his belt through the buckle at the same time.

“Centurion! Centurion! It’s gone rogue! Run, you idiot!” the second guard yelled as he backpedaled past his companion and almost tripped over his own feet.

Mazrah had to smother a laugh with her hand as she bore down upon them. Maj had done fine work. At the other end of the alleyway Maj peeked around the corner laughing at their reactions, it was working like a charm!

Rubbing her hands she decided a classic block would work just fine, preferably before they could really escape - her buzz strong from hitting the tankard fast. It took her a few tries to get the next spell to cast. In her hands she pulled apart a small purple swirl, the beginnings of a summoning portal to Oblivion. Stepping into the mouth of the alleyway she squinted one eye shut and her tongue stuck out. Aiming between the flailing limbs of the Dwemer and Mazrah she swung her hand beneath her leg, the portal soared under Maz’s armpit, skimming over the helmet of the shouting Dwemer before landing against the wall several feet behind the fumbling Dwemer guard.

The portal spun clockwise growing larger, after a moment came a long (unnecessary) whistle from Maj. “Come on out Snowflake!”

Emerging from the dark depths of the portal was a cylindrical block of ice settling with a ominous crack against the sandy ground. Next came the unnaturally peaked head of Snowflake’s head, typical to Frost Atronachs, the hulking form emerged pulling free from its plane of Oblivion. Snowflake came to it’s full towering height, shorter than Maz’s Centurion illusion. It thrummed an alien sound in acknowledgment.

“Took your sweet time huh?” Maj cupped her hand to her mouth shouting, “Well! Go on, you’ve got one for yourself!” She pointed to the fumbling Dwemer, the closest to Snowflake cackling at the slow frost atronach raising its club of an arm. Crossing her arms satisfied the connection to Snowflake strong and unwavering, the creature’s will bending easily to hers.

Terrified the guards pressed their backs together facing different directions shakily raising their rifles to both giants. “Wh-what do we do!” one asked.


Pulling the triggers, the first bullet buried deeply into Snowflake’s face - it advanced without being phased. However the second bullet breezed through the Centurion’s illusion, disappearing - leaving the image undisturbed.

It took a moment of realization, “Magic! It’s fucking magic!” He turned to his fellow guard, enraged, “An illusion!”

“And reality isn’t any better, numbnuts,” Mazrah growled as she broke into a sprint. The Dwemer were sandwiched between her and the rather impressive-looking Frost Atronach that Maj had conjured into the world. She considered taking out her spear and turning the two guards into shishkebab, but… they were just two men doing their jobs, patrolling and keeping the peace. Spilling their guts here and now would be senseless.

That didn’t mean she couldn’t give them a solid beating.

The Orsimer leapt forward and sailed through the air like a pouncing tiger before landing on top of the guard that faced her. Her rapid movement had dispelled the illusion and Mazrah burst forth from the inside of the Dwemer Centurion’s image with a look of fury on her face. The guard barely had time to yell before she was upon him, riding him into the ground and quickly jumping to her feet after a fluid, practiced somersault. Her landing had kicked up enough dust to fill the alley and she looked over her shoulder at the guard; he had the wind knocked out of him and lay crumpled in a helpless heap of pity at the end of the impact trail.

“Piss on that,” she said and spat a nice, gooey blob of phlegm right on his cuirass.

Maj pumped her fist at the sight, Snowflake doing the same mimicking her movement. Bending at the knees, Snowflake followed her movement once more the tip of its spear and the flat end of the club underneath the closest guard to it. In one swift lift and all the weight to springboard the Dwemer up into the air. His shrieks followed him up as he arked to the other side of the alleyway over Maz’s head. Crumpling to a painful landing at Maj’s feet, he grunted rolling to his side, coughing trying to catch the air that was knocked out of him. His breath caught as Maj pressed the heel of her boot down on his throat his eyes bulged looking up at her.

“You fuckers made the mistake of leaving a single member of the Scarlet Harpy alive. If it isn’t clear right now, then let me make it crystal.” Maj said, her lip curling up in a snarl. “We’re angry and your Dwemer bullshit isn’t going to last.”

His eyes began to flutter and she released her boot. Satisfied at the fear and relief flooding over his features, her smile returned, “I think we’re done here.”

She beckoned to Maz, holding up her arm, “Thirsty work, methinks.”

Seeing Maj lord over the Dwemer and find a healthy, aggressive outlet for her emotions was truly a sight for sore eyes and Mazrah eyed the Redguard up and down with a grin. “Oh, I’m thirsty alright,” she purred and sauntered over to Maj before taking the offered arm. The height difference between them made her laugh and she playfully disheveled Maj’s hair. “You’re cute when you’re angry, did you know that?”

With a laugh Maj dodged out of Maz’s mussing hand, “You should see how adorable I am when at the bow of a ship.” She said mock-indignant, hooking her arm on Maz’s, shooting a flirtatious smirk - not missing a beat, “I pegged you to be thirsty for more than just rum.”

Together they laughed, high off the cathartic release of anger - arm in arm stumbling in through the door of the Silver Skull. The innkeep frowning at the pair, they slapped down some septims enough to have a room and a bottle of whatever was behind the counter to share. The innkeep blinked at the septims, pausing as he looked at the pair - not needing to think twice saying no to them wasn’t an option. He pointed and shuffled out of the way while Maz took the liberty to pluck the bottle free from underneath the counter. Huffing a sigh he watched them go stomping up the stairs, giggles following as they did.

Maj opened the way through the door leading them in, she tugged her cloak free carefully laying it across the chest at the foot of the single double bed. Collapsing back with a thud, her giggles petering out with a sigh. “I haven’t laughed like this in ages it feels like.” Propping herself up on her elbows, the image of the Dwemer guard’s reactions made her laugh once again. “Did you see their faces?”

She made a face herself imitating their shock, “‘It’s gone rogue! AH!’ Haha, I’ll never get tired of that.” She looked up to Maz smiling unabashed, eyes ignited with light and a distinct sparkle of mischief, this lightness being sorely missed the past several days since washing ashore. She had the lucky coincidence of meeting Mazrah to thank for that.

“You’re really somethin’ Mazrah.” She said sincerely, she pulled off her boots shuffling them away, getting comfortable. “Something I really needed.” The languid smile returned.

Mazrah enjoyed towering over Maj for a bit after the Redguard had made herself comfortable on the bed, but laid herself down next to her after cocking her head and giving Maj a toothy smile and a wink. Even like this, lying next to each other, Mazrah was so much bigger than Maj. She rolled on her side and rested her head on her hand, using her other hand to draw circles on the skin of Maj's arm with her index finger.

“Please, call me Maz,” she said and leaned over to give Maj a peck on the cheek. “And I'm glad to be of service. Gilane has been hard on everybody that's come to this damned place, it seems. It's a good thing I found you.” She reached for the bottle of whatever-the-fuck-it-was and took a deep swig before offering it to the erstwhile pirate.

Maj grasped the bottle taking her own generous sip, “I found you,” She insisted. “Tell me about your friend, the one that is missing. Are you close with them?”

Maj was curious, maybe they had more in common than she thought at first glance. Her mind was in a light haze, a particular coil was pulled tight in her gut. Goosebumps trailed down from her cheek to her neck.

Mazrah thought about that for a moment. “I've only known her for a short time but it feels like we're close, yeah. She is the leader of a bunch of rag-tag misfits that are fighting the Dwemer as part of the resistance. They're all foreigners, like me. I was welcomed with open arms, which… well,” she said and laughed, “doesn't happen often. I'm a freak in these lands and I didn't have a lot of friends.”

Maj smiled at that, the appeal to such a group of people instantly recognized. Not unlike the crew of the Scarlet Harpy. “She sounds great, inspiring. Reminds me of my Captain, she lead a similar effort and group of diverse skins and culture.” Removing her gloves next, Maj in turn reached out to Maz. Callused hands and fingertips brushing down the length of her neck, following the trail of a tattoo. “I hope she returns, if not by your effort then by everyone who chooses to follow her. There’s something to be said about strong leadership, it’s rare and whether she knows it or not has a gravity of its own.”

Maj passed the bottle back, heavy lidded, inched closer.

“She's learning as she goes, I think, but she does a good job. I'm confident a plan will be made to get her back.” Mazrah bit her lip at the touch of Maj's fingers and looked down to see what she was doing. “You like my tattoos? They're part of my culture. My mother and her mother before her and so on, for as long as we can remember, were among the finest hunters and warriors of Orsinium. The tattoos and the scars represent creatures that I've slain, challenges that I've overcome, skills that I've learned, stuff like that. As you can see, it covers all of me,” Mazrah said, her voice low and sultry, while she positioned herself in such a way that Maj could get a good eyefull of her body, “which means I am very dangerous.”

Suddenly and without warning, Mazrah rolled over and on top of Maj, straddling her, and interlocked her fingers with Maj's, pressing her hands gently but firmly against the bed on either side of her head. Their faces were only an inch apart. “So be warned,” she whispered, her eyes alive with mischief, “I'm a wild one.”

A grin spread across Maj’s face, a knee pressing up against Maz, her weight against her hips and the immediate attention had sent an all too familiar thrill through her.

“Aye, I like your tattoos and I want to see more.” Against Maz’s restraint Maj closed the short distance pressing her lips against the huntress, eyes closed, brow furrowed. Her hands squeezed at Maz’s. Pulling back for only a second to taunt her, “So what the fuck are you waiting for, wild one?”

Mazrah returned the kiss with passion and the hue in her eyes had changed from mischief to unadulterated desire. “Temper, temper, little one,” she chided playfully and kissed Maj again. “I was already mostly undressed when we walked in here. You're still wearing an awful lot of clothes.”

Grinning like a maniac, the Orsimer rolled aside and propped herself up on her elbow again. “Take them off.” Her tone was firm and commanding and she bit her lip in anticipation.

“Only because you asked so nicely.” Maj whispered into her ear, leaving a kiss just under her earlobe, proceeding to do just as she asked slowly, testing Maz’s patience. It wasn’t long after the last piece of clothing fell to the ground where another moment apart couldn’t be tolerated. Affectionate, wild, without pause their night blazed forward into the dawn.

The next morning

Exhaustive night coupled with drink did the insomniac of a former corsair well, managing the best sleep she had in days. Fairly, it was Maz’s extreme snoring that woke her from deep sleep. Pushing up she dug the heel of her hand into her eye freeing the grit, the heat of the day already bearing down on Gilane. Maj hugged her knees, eyes on Maz. The quiet only interrupted by her snore. Lifting herself slowly up from the bed, she circled around finding her white tunic and slipping it back over her head making her way to the desk. Pulling free her hair from the collar and shaking it loose. There was a bit of parchment and a small bit of charcoal left, just enough to sketch something quick out. Wanting to thank the orc huntress for successfully taking her mind off her troubles - if only for the night. She sat then jolted back to standing, the sting fresh. Resolving the need for light to properly examine herself later.

Starting with a quiet scritch scritch, her tongue sticking out as lines curved as she sketched. Her foot wiggling about in thought.

“Mauloch take me,” Mazrah groaned as she woke up, the sound of the charcoal on paper enough to rouse her from her slumber. “What the fuck happened? I feel like I was in a fight with a sabercat.” She sat up straight, looking around the room with a healthy dose of skepticism, before her eyes found Maj and it all came back to her. “Oh, that's right, I did,” she said and smirked, approving of the sight of the Redguard woman in nothing but a tunic. “Hey you.”

Concentrating on her sketch Maj replied, “A fight with a sabrecat? Tell that to my ass.” Smiling, she continued drawing. “Hi Maz.”

Even behind her own hangover, Maj felt sentiment bubble up. One night companion was still one more companion she had before last night, not looking forward to forging on alone. Considering what she had to do to return back to Wayrest or searching for information on the fate of the Scarlet Harpy, the tasks seemed monumentous. In spite of all that sneaking a look at Maz dissipated the clutch of worry around her stomach. “Just hold still while I finish this little something to remember me by, lassie.” Maj knew how things went and assumed this was the first and last time with the beautiful orc.

“Last night was great.” She said instead of what she really wanted to say, can we do this again?

Remember me by? Mazrah rubbed her eyes and frowned. Did Maj intend to let this simply be a one night stand? That disappointed the Orsimer -- she had figured that the ex-pirate, who had plenty of reasons to hate the Dwemer and nobody by her side, would have wanted to join up with her and the others. Maj’s magical skills were impressive and powerful and Mazrah knew that they would very much come in handy when the party staged their inevitable rescue attempt.

But most importantly, she wasn’t about to let that beautiful, firm booty walk out of her life. There was much more to be plundered.

“Oh no you don’t,” Mazrah growled, slipped out of bed -- still naked -- and swept up Maj in a big bearhug from behind. “You weren’t thinking of leaving me so soon, were you? Last night was great, sugar, and mama wants more,” she cooed in Maj’s ear and nibbled her earlobe playfully. “Not just of your skills in the sheets, but your grit in the streets, too. We’re not done taking the fight to the Dwemer. You should come with us, be a hero, kick some ass. What do you say?”

Lifted off her feet, she supposed would be something she’d have to get used to, her frown of concentration slowly turned to a grin especially at the nibble below her earlobe. Swinging her arm around her neck Maj hummed in thought at the offer, “Got to admit, it’s a lonely life without a crew.”

Maz’s sincerity was unmistakable, Maj was confident she could sell herself to impress others in this group. Maybe they could be the perfect springboard, really, what other choice did she have right now?

“How could I refuse an offer like that?” Maj said, agreeing. Turning about in her arms to face Maz properly, arms looped around her neck and her weight easily supported. “Dwemer won’t know what hit ‘em.”
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A Wholly Unpleasant Visit

A Shaft and Dervs collab
14th Midyear 4E208, Governor’s Palace, Early morning…

The dungeon door creaked open and a guard carrying a torch guided Zaveed down the prison corridor, the Khajiit carrying a bottle of rum in one hand and two goblets in the other; he’d been patted down and his weapons had been left behind in his quarters, save for the dagger at his back that he left with the Dwemeri prison officer that was on duty. No lockpicks, no keys, no weapons; nothing that would aid Sevari in escape or taking his life. Zaveed was lead to the cell, and the two Thalmor guards who were on duty and sitting in chairs were relieved, more than eager to walk away to stretch their legs and get something to eat. Zaveed grabbed one of the chairs with a free hand after shifting the goblets to the same hand that carried the bottle and sat it down in front of the bars before descending himself. Wordlessly, he poured the contents of the bottle in one goblet and then the other and offered one through the bars.

“It is not a good look for you, being in a small cell like this. You are not a zoo animal… have you been treated fairly?” Zaveed asked his brother, able to see him clearly in the dark thanks to the trait all Khajiit shared. Even the smallest bit of light could give them impressive visual acuity in the dark.

“It’s not the worst jail I’ve been in. Besides Marassa barely restraining herself from killing me and explaining in detail how she would do it?” He said, eyeing the still uneaten lamb hocks, “It’s been some high living.”

He sighed, taking a sip of the rum he’d been given and then looking at it as if it had slapped him, “You pirates and your rum. They didn’t have whiskey?” He said with much faux-incredulity before returning to his previous demeanor of quiet brooding, “I don’t suppose you’ve already cooked up a plan to get me out of here.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers.” Zaveed shrugged, taking a drink from his own goblet that he had been fidgeting with moments before. “And I’m afraid it’s a work in progress, for once I’m going to take this slow and careful; so far, the winning solution seems to be ambushing the escort party when you are safely off of palace grounds, or setting fire to their ship while they’re coming to collect you.” the Cathay sighed, drinking back heavily this time. “I’m afraid I haven’t had time to plot this out, the news is still fresh and doubtless they’re keeping a close eye on me because of our relationship and the fact that I have a reputation of being something of a wildcard.”

“Huh.” Sevari nodded, taking another sip of his rum and sitting back on the bed, “Well, I’m sure I’ll figure out if you come up with a plan on time. This is only going to end one of two ways.”

He frowned, staring into his goblet, “It doesn’t look good for me if I go to Alinor, Zaveed.” He took a sip and then shrugged, as if letting the cloak of sadness and regret off of his shoulders, “Can’t say I wasn’t expecting that though. I had fun tonight, brother, for what that’s worth.”
“No, shackles and a hangman’s noose seldom fill out a flattering attire.” Zaveed agreed. “And it was worth more than you know. I made a new friend, got to spend some lighthearted fun with my estranged brother, and I know my sister is safe. Sorry she threatened your life; we both know what she’s like when she becomes ill-tempered. I don’t think she’d follow through with that particular threat, though.”

“You weren’t there, brother.” He smiled softly, “I just wish we met again under different circumstances. Not with me ready, willing, and just about to kill her boyfriend and hang him from the mast by his gut-rope.”

He shook his head, sipping from his goblet, “I can’t say I don’t understand or deserve the aggression. I’ve been a horrible brother, Zaveed, horrible to you and Marassa.” He looked at his brother and smiled, “It was a good night.”

He gestured to the plate in front of him, “She brought me lamb, even.”

“Gut rope.” Zaveed repeated, gazing down at the dark liquid sloshing about in the concave mouth of the goblet. “Ew.”

Glancing up, he shook his head. “What’s done is done. I did caution you about pursuing vengeance as means to an end, but it would not do you any favours to bother you with that particular vitriol. You are punishing yourself worse than any executioner could. But yes, I could see how she’d have little love for you for that particular stunt. For a diplomatic mission, the Dominion has suffered a number of casualties. I imagine she feels towards her fallen the same way I feel about my drowned crew.” Zaveed sighed, tapping his claw against the metal, letting it ring in a steady rhythm. He looked towards the lamb. “It’s of my professional opinion one should never turn down offered food. You need the energy and strength to take advantage of an escape opportunity; their minimal compassion works against them in some cases. I just know I wouldn’t relish the idea of dying on an empty stomach, I’d rather shit myself unpleasantly in my dying moments and make those who did the deed have one final and terrible act of defiance to deal with.” he grinned.

“I’m sorry about your crew.” Sevari said, voice low, “Young Jacque seemed like the better man of everyone there. He was right, you know, he should’ve been a bard. Helena and I had some good nights too. I never needed a blanket and it’s better than taking care of it yourself when no one’s around.”

He swirled the rum inside his goblet, “Who says I was going to escape or defy anyone?” He said, smiling sadly to his brother, “Zaveed, I’m a bad man and if I live life outside of this cell then I’m only going to make more orphans and grieving families. I killed an innocent man in his own home four days ago.”

“I just took the knife out of his frail, shaking hands and put it in his neck. He didn’t know about what was happening outside of his home. To him it was just another day in retirement until some bleeding stranger stumbled in.” He shook his head, downing his rum, “Maybe, just maybe, past everything else I’ve ever done in my life… I deserve a hanging for that.”

“To all of them.” Zaveed said, raising his goblet is a toast before finishing it off. He picked the bottle and filled his goblet once more, sliding the bottle over to the bars for Sevari. He grunted, tapping his foot in annoyance before continuing. “You know, it’s a bit late in your life to start growing a conscience. I’ve never apologized for what the world made me, and neither should you. It’s so easy for those who were born in love and comfort who never knew what it meant to starve or have to fight just for the right to live to condemn men like us for becoming the creatures that they caution their children about, to tell us that we are rotten and horrible, but they fail to realize they would be just like us had they gone through the same.”

He stood, approaching the bars to look down at Sevari with narrow eyes. “Look, I forgive you for what happened. It wasn’t your fault, and perhaps I could have done things differently, but we can’t change the past. I already know I’m going to lose my identity when I die, to never feel warmth again or see the Sands Behind the Stars, but this world is full of rotten men worse than us, and how many of those do you think you personally killed? I know I’ve racked up quite a few bodies in my day, and many of them definitely had it coming.

“I’ve never been what one would consider a good man, but sometimes one predator hunts another that preys on a village. Do you think a shark gives a shit about the seal’s family after it evicerates it and eats it? If you’re as rotten as you claim to be, then stop worrying about it because you’re going to end up in the same rotten afterlife I am, so you’re already as low as you can go. So why not take the time you have left and maybe start being the person you want to be rather than the one that assholes made you be?” Zaveed asked.

“With speeches like that, I can see how people accept you as Captain.” Sevari nodded appreciatively without looking at his brother. He asked without turning his head, “Did you see Marassa talking with any of the Thalmor or Ministry agents? Anything about me? Watching me closer?”

The Cathay shook his head. “No, nothing out of the ordinary. Those charming fellows that are guarding your cell seem pretty bored and relaxed. Why? Do you think she’d want to make you more miserable than you already are?”

Sevari frowned, shaking his head and shrugging, “No,” he said, standing and stretching towards the ceiling with a growl, “She said the same thing you did, you know? Well, almost. The gist of it was the same.”

He strolled up to the door, pushing it open casually as if he was only in there for the fun of it. He took a step out, “I’d say the visit was nice, but…” he rubbed his neck and rolled his shoulders with a grunt, “You’re right, though. Fuck them. Still, a conscience the size of a louse’s cock is still a conscience. Sometimes they even grow.”

He looked to his brother, frowning, “Consciences.” He said, “Not… you know.”

Zaveed grinned, watching as the cheeky bastard strolled out of the cell like it was the most casual thing in the world. Of course Sevari had a flair for the dramatic; they were family. “Oh, I’m sure those grow all the same. But of course Marassa would say something similar to me; it’s almost as if we’re twins or something. I don’t see the resemblance, personally. I smile more.”

He glanced back at the still closed prison doors. “I assume you have a plan that isn’t going out the way I came in.” he observed.

“Over the past few weeks, I’ve talked to a lot of the servants and staff of the Palace. The guardsmen have strict orders of guarding the late Caliph’s old escape passage because as it turns out, sometimes exits can also be used as entrances.” He said, “It’s somewhere here, in the dungeons, I know that. It’s convenient, even if you can manage to kill the guards posted at the escape passage’s mouth, shimmy through spiders, rats and other creatures and their shit and piss, the guards on the other side of the prison door over there get to point and laugh at you before they unlock it and fill you with spears.”

“Every time the guards change shifts to cover the other while they shit or eat, the rats always run in the same direction. Sure, some of them may be living in the cells themselves, but I follow enough of them, it’ll take me to that little tunnel I can enter freedom once more through covered in spiderwebs, piss and shit.” He smiled, “I’d take that over a hanging any day. She’s nice, by the way, Marassa. I wouldn’t have gotten out if it weren’t for her bringing me the food with that lockpick.”

“Here I am, still thinking about her career before mine. She was the last person to be alone with me and what better alibi to blow back in her face like dust than the tray of food I’d have scarfed down otherwise.” He shrugged, “This way, it just looks like I smuggled a lockpick in myself. That doesn’t cover you, though. How do you want it?”

Zaveed shrugged. “I’m flexible. My thought was it’s pretty dark in this cell, so those inattentive loafs wouldn’t even notice you were gone, most likely. I can be blamed for the lockpick in the morning, but by then I’ll be collecting Sirine and leaving within the next half an hour.” he pondered out loud. “Either way, I’d like to do this quietly, and the more time you have for a head start, the better. If I act like nothing’s wrong, we’re fine. If you punch me out, they’re going to question why I didn’t call for help. I’d rather take the good chance over the one that raises a lot of questions.”

“Alright.” Sevari nodded, “I think it’s best you and Sirine go, though, sooner than later. It’s going to be very loud here very soon. Latro, your best friend, he’s not happy about his girlfriend being cooped up in this place.”

That gave Zaveed pause. “You’re making friends with terrorists now? You know they’re the same ilk that attacked Marassa and her troops in the streets, correct?” he asked suspiciously. “Are they planning on attacking the palace in a rescue operation?”

“It wasn’t them. They attacked me and tried to kill Latro too. If I hated every Thalmor supporter I would hate you and Marassa along with them.” He said, “Guilty by association, no? Latro helped me. He helped me do a lot. After everything, you and those wide-eyed foreigners are the closest I have to friends. Two of them, at least.”

“Now now, since when do I support the Thalmor? I just take their money in exchange for them leaving me to my own devices, but I take your meaning.” Zaveed replied diplomatically, blinking slowly. “So, this is going to be awkward, is it not? You befriending the same people who loathe me for my own actions against them? I can’t imagine they’ll be too keen on seeing me after I nearly murdered one of them, tortured another, and then broke Latro’s girlfriend’s arm before killing her old paramour. I don’t think you’re going to be able to justify that in their eyes, Sevari.”

“Maybe not.” He said, “But those are the people who aren’t trying to kill me right now. Or ever have. I know what Raelynn did for you. I don’t know,” he shook his head, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Zaveed sighed, crossing his arms. “You know, this isn’t going to end well for them or myself. You went through a lot of trouble to get me back into your life, and you very well might be throwing that away for them.”

“Never, brother.” He said, stepping up close to Zaveed, “Wherever I go, you can go. Consciences, remember? You don’t take a journey in one step. Maybe If playing to Raelynn’s second chance she gave you and Sirine’s word of how you freed her, they can come to at least half heartedly tolerate you at first.”

“I’m not telling you what to do. I’m not saying I need to choose between them and you. I’m just saying we need friends.” He offered, “Nothing but death is going to be a goodbye for us.”

“Uh-huh.” Zaveed grunted non-committally, tapping his foot. “The way this conversation is going, one of us is going to be saying that final goodbye sooner rather than later. They tortured a man to death; one of them is a necromancer that tried to soul trap me. Not the kind of company I’d expect you to keep, Sevari.”

“Me neither.” Sevari said, “Latro and Jaraleet, at least, are good. You know my feelings about that necromantic fuck for doing that to you.”

“You know I will defend myself, right? You might think they’re good people, but they aren’t. I know I am not, but they think they’re doing the right thing. I can’t follow this path you want for us, Sevari. It was supposed to be about you and I together, not tagging along with a bunch of terrorists that willingly joined an insurgency. They will be hunted by the Dwemer; I’d rather fade away and pursue my own life away from such attention. I’d like to sleep without worrying about my throat being slit.” Zaveed replied bitterly, grabbing the cell bars. “I’d be better off in here than with your new ‘friends’. You didn’t think to ask me first, to talk to me first? All of this is out of nowhere, and these are people that ten minutes ago I thought we were both treating like enemies. What else have you been hiding from me?”

“Nothing.” Sevari said, simply. “I’ve talked to them, you know? I’m not going to turn this into a fight, Zaveed, but some of them are better people than they would have you believe.”

Sevari shook his head and sighed, growling, “I need to go.” He said, stepping farther down the halls, “So do you. Until I see you again, brother! All my love!”

Zaveed waved him off. “This isn’t going to go the way you hope, Sevari.” the privateer muttered, picking up the rum bottle and the two empty goblets and heading back the way he came, pausing to take a moment to compose himself so nothing seemed amiss. Inside, Zaveed was screaming.

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Hank J. Wimbleton

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The Hand of Mauloch

13th of Midyear, 4E208
Somewhere outside of Gilane, Hammerfell
@Leidenschaft and @Father Hank made this

It took only three strikes, quick attacks in rapid succession, before Maulakanth had disarmed the Dunmer he was sparring with yet again. He hadn’t even meant to do it this time, but the Dunmer had simply dropped his blade and hissed with pain as he clutched his hand. The Orsimer’s strength was too much, and his bastard swords were too heavy. “That’s enough,” the Dunmer snapped, a mixture of resentment and humiliation in his crimson eyes. Towering over him, the hulking shape of Maulakanth shifted slightly as he laughed in return; a low, thrumming reverberation in his chest, nothing more.

They were in the space of the sanctuary that had been designated as the practice room, though it was hard to guess what the Dark Brotherhood had used it for. The Dunmer -- he had not bothered to remember his name -- retreated back to the common area and Maulakanth watched him go, his deep-set amber eyes fixed on his back, idly wondering where he would strike if he wanted to break the Dunmer’s spine most effectively. He shook his massive, tusked head and placed his twinned orichalcum blades on the table unexpectedly gingerly for such an enormous beast-mer. He looked up again when the door opened and another, different elf stepped into the room. Maulakanth straightened to his full height and nodded; it was the closest he would ever get to giving a salute.

He said nothing, his face set in the same scowl that seemed to be permanently fixed there, and merely looked at Kerztar expectantly. The Dwemer may have regarded the huge Orsimer without a change of expression, but he never got used to the vast sight of him. “I’ve need of you.”

As much as Maulakanth's sizable tusks would allow, he smiled. He lifted a glass vial from a holster at his waist, uncorked it and downed the contents in one go, tilting his head back to do so. Whatever it was, it seemed to do the trick as he rolled his shoulders and grunted in approval, bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet.

“I'm ready,” Maulakanth said. His voice sounded like a cave bear trying to talk.

“With Zaveed indisposed and Sevari’s arrest, we’ve scoured intelligence from them both on the whereabouts of Poncy Man’s Insurgency.” Kerztar spoke, “We finally have enough evidence to take a step further. We need you to head a sizable detachment of soldiers in conducting a raid on the Three Crowns Hotel.”

“I don’t think I need to remind you that this isn’t Al-Aqqiya. The ghost town might stand as a reminder of why you shouldn’t finance insurgent smuggling operations but, well,” Kerztar shook his head, “The collateral damage was a travesty. Something of that caliber can not be as readily covered up when it takes place in such a metropolitan area. I’m sure there’ll be enough fools willing to stand and fight to please you.”

“Right,” the Orsimer growled. Al-Aqqiya had been the mission that had given him his fearsome reputation throughout northern Hammerfell but its outcome had been… divisive. He still disagreed with his detractors but he was done making a fuss about that. “What's the objective? Capture, dispersion, intimidation?” While he talked, he started walking around the room, clenching and unclenching his fists and twisting his neck this way and that. The contents of the vial had been potent, that was much was evident. He suddenly turned his sights back to Kerztar and laughed again. “I heard something else regarding Zaveed’s indisposition, by the way. Was it the games he played with the girl? I bet it was,” Maulakanth continued and forcefully cracked his knuckles. “Coward.”

“The task at hand, Maulakanth.” Kerztar sighed, “He’s a good officer, good at what he does, just too loose. You’re good at what you do, let us focus on that. In a days time, we will have elements from the Redguard city watch and our military, as well as Ministry Agents from other teams staging a full lockdown of the city blocks around the Hotel.”

“You’ll be the first in, leading a team through the front door while the other Ministry agents enter through different entryways.” Kerztar smirked then, a little hubris of his own, “I heavily lobbied for you as the vanguard over Kagrenn’s or Krinnec’s teams. I’m sure you remember them from Al-Aqqiya. Wholly too savage for my tastes but Krinnec was always a bastard that had the tactical and strategic prowess of a rhino.”

Maulakanth found himself nodding along with everything that Kerztar said. “Oh, I remember,” he grunted and scratched his chin. “It will be Al-Aqqiya all over again if those things are set loose. No, you came to the right Orc,” he added and slammed a clenched fist to his chest, which looked, for all the world to see, to be even larger than usual, like a preening rooster. It seemed that Kerztar’s flattery had struck the right chord with the immense Orsimer. He had already forgotten all about Zaveed. “Quick, decisive, clean. Scare them into submission, kill the ones that resist, forge a path for the, uh… Ministry Agents. That sound about right?” he asked, grinning.

Kerztar nodded, “Violence of action, we put down a few of them quickly and with extreme prejudice, the rest will be too stunned to do anything before we’ve got them in shackles.”

After thinking about that for a few seconds, Maulakanth picked his blades back up and tested their weight. They were long, heavy swords, slightly curved in the way that Orsimer smiths prefer, but extraordinarily thick, even by their standards. Maulakanth could drive the orichalcum tip straight through steel plate and out the other end, he knew. “The thing about fanatics,” he said at length, “is that they’re fanatical. They might fight to the death. I know you want to avoid another massacre but they might force our hand just to make you look bad.” The Orc looked up from his weapons and one might say that his brutish features even managed to look inquisitive. “Have you thought about that?”

“Intelligence on the hotel’s staff puts them mostly at auxiliary staffing and a few guards. The rest are foreigners.” Kerztar said, “It’ll be a short fight, brutal and short. Be ready, we leave at first light.”

The Orsimer broke out into a tusky grin as soon as Kerztar uttered the word ‘foreigners’. That was good -- he tired of killing Redguards only. He was aching for a new challenge. “I was born ready,” he growled and gave the Dwemer another curt nod.
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Hidden 6 mos ago Post by Mortarion
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The Interrogation

13th Midyear - afternoon - The Three Crowns Hotel

With a full bag in one hand, and her satchel over her shoulder, Raelynn made her way through the halls of the Three Crowns again. It was such a foreign place to her now. She thought back to her first night in Gilane - how much freedom she thought was ahead of her. She bit her lip, running a finger over the gilded frame of a painting of the Palace. Freedom she through to herself as she kept walking, the weight of Sora’s journals giving her pain in her hand. “God’s why does this Khajiit write so much?” She said scornfully under her breath, before the spluttering sound of a cough gave her cause for shock. It was coming from behind the door of one of her companions dorms.

It didn’t sound healthy, and so she approached the door - not about to just burst in, but she did give a light knock and spoke out against it, “are you alright in there? Do you need help?”

“Perhaps…” Jaraleet replied between coughing fits. He wasn’t really sure why the coughing fit had started; maybe it had to do with all the blasted sand in the air? He was certain that it was no disease, the Saxhleel were known for their immunity to most, if not all, diseases known throughout Nirn. Poison was out of the question as well, if during the showdown at Al-Aqqiya he had been hit with a poison strong enough to affect him, well, it’s effects wouldn’t have waited for so long to manifest themselves. Any further thoughts were interrupted as another coughing fit wracked his body, causing the Argonian to frown to himself. “I’ll be at the door in a second.” He spoke once the coughing had subsided once again.

Making his way to the door and opening, he was surprised to find Raelynn was the one who had knocked. “Raelynn, I’m glad to see you.” The Argonian replied, smiling at the Breton woman. From a simple glance it could be garnered that the Argonian was exhausted and that he hadn’t had a particular restful night of sleep and yet, in spite of that, the assassin seemed to be in a good mood. “Sorry that I didn’t recognize you before, these cursed coughs have me quite distracted.” He apologized, before motioning towards the room. “Come, why don’t you make yourself a bit comfortable. I don’t have much to offer but, well, it beats talking while standing, no?”

Raelynn wanted to smile back at him, but she could once again tell by his manner of moving that he had been hurt. But she played along and made her way to an armchair in the corner and sat down in it. Quite happy to do so - the heels were beginning to sting at this point. It was nice to be off her feet. “Jaraleet…” She began in a soft voice, hiding the curiosity that was lingering somewhere within. She just looked at him, and her eyes immediately reflected her innermost thoughts. “Oh damnit, what's the use in hiding it and trying to sweet talk it out of you? What happened to you this time?”

The Breton's brows furrowed, but not in a way that indicated she was all that cross, it was a look of disappointment. “Who hit you, and with what?”

“There’s no hiding anything from you, is there?” The Argonian said, chuckling somewhat nervously. “If it’s any consolation to you, I’ve already had my ear chewed off by Meg. She was more upset than you, as a matter of fact, so maybe we could skip through the chastising lecture?” He continued on, shaking his head slightly. “But, to answer your question. It was a redguard woman, don’t ask me her name for I didn’t learn it, and she hit me with a scimitar, straight through my guts. Took her out shortly afterwards or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” The assassin said, taking a seat in the armchair opposite to the one Raelynn had taken. “I am fine now, or at least better.” He added, trying to appease the Breton healer’s worries.

“Jaraleet, I can tell from the way a man walks whether or not his bits are rotting off. There's not a lot I haven't seen, there's little else you can hide from me.” She grinned, it wasn't often that she was crude - but she did occasionally enjoy springing it on people. “So she stuck you with something pointy and didn't even take you on a date first?” She purred out the words, rather enjoying herself. If she wasn't allowed to chide him, she would at least make fun of him. He seemed well enough, save for the cough, but she could get to the bottom of that easily enough. “Happen here in Gilane did it?” She raised an eyebrow, and almost shit-eating grin tugging at her lips as she awaited her answer.

“Terribly impolite of her, wasn’t it?” The Argonian replied to the Breton’s jab, chuckling softly. He shook his head when she asked him if it had happened here in Gilane. “No, it didn’t, it took place in the ruins of a town….some 17 miles away from here if my calculations are right.” He answered, relaxing against the armchair. “Had to repay a favor to Sevari, the man who dug out that bullet if you recall.”

“Mmhmmm… And he didn't do a good job of it if I recall correctly. Actually, I met him earlier today. He was a bit sheepish honestly…” Her eyes glanced down at the ground as she thought back to the meeting. “You've missed a fair bit - but it seems I have too, actually.” Raelynn shrugged and brought her eyes back up to meet Jaraleet's. “In fact… You trust me don't you?”

“Really now, that’s interesting. Wonder why that was…” The Argonian said in reply to Raelynn’s words. It was surprising that she had met the Ohmes-Raht, and even more surprising was imagining him to act sheepishly for some reason. It didn’t seem to fit with what he knew of the Khajiit but, then again, he didn’t knew everything about him. “Yes, I do. Why do you ask?”

She placed her hands on the arms of the chair, fingers lightly grasping at the velvet upholstery. “Well, like I said. You missed quite a bit… I may have inadvertently gained some form of favour with Sevari, maybe not. I don't know, oh… I don't know what I'm saying. I shouldn't, it doesn't matter now…” Her words came out quickly, in a manner which was unlike her. “I did something, an act of kindness - a moment of weakness, I don't know. I just don't know what it means for all of us. What it damn well means for me.

Jaraleet was silent as Raelynn’s words spilled forth from her mouth. She might have done something that could have, inadvertently, gained them some favour with Sevari? He wondered what that could be specifically and, more importantly, why it seemed to trouble Raelynn so. “Raelynn.” The Argonian said, his voice calm. “Take a deep breath and tell me what it is you did.” He said softly.

Her eyes once again met Jaraleet's, and she opened her mouth as if to speak, but stopped herself - thinking over the words so as not to get so flustered. “I spared the life of Zaveed. I… Saved the life of Sevari's brother.” She was curious to see Jaraleet's reaction, she knew that he knew of what Zaveed had done. While she was somewhat at peace with her decision and her choice, she wanted to test the waters of what the others would think. “It troubles me less now… It was not an easy decision, and I do not know what will happen as a result - it just happened. I could do nothing else...” She nibbled at her thumb nervously, awaiting his reaction with a bated breath.

Jaraleet was silent for a few seconds as he processed what Raelynn had just told him. “I see. That was a big risk you took, as I’m sure you’re aware.” The Argonian said, falling silent once more as he continued thinking. “I can’t say that I understand why you did what you did. But it was your decision and I respect that. It might come to hurt us in the future but, like you’ve said, Zaveed is Sevari’s brother. That might be a boon to our group in the long run.” He mused out loud, drumming his fingers against the armrest of his chair. “I’m not sure how the others might react. Some worse than others, that’s for sure, but whatever comes, I’ll stand behind you and your decision Raelynn.”

He hadn't asked questions, he hadn't questioned her. He just gave his word for her. She didn't understand why, and perhaps she didn't need to. “Thanks Jaraleet… That means a lot.” She was worried only about Daro'Vasora's reaction, truthfully. Everyone else could be as angry as they liked, it mattered not to her. But it was the Khajiit who had lost her friend to Zaveed… She sniffed and blinked quickly, so as not to let a tear fall. Jaraleet had surprised her today. “So… yeah, you got stabbed by a Redguard woman then - so what else happened?” She asked with a smile, changing the subject as quickly as she had the first time.

“It is no problem Raelynn, there’s no need to thank me. I’m merely glad to have been of help.” The Argonian said, smiling at the Breton. “Hmmm, in truth, I do not know much else of what happened. Whoever those people were, they obviously knew Sevari. There was one, a Khajiit, with whom Sevari exchanged some words before he slit his throat. They seemed to have known each other for quite a long time but I’m afraid that I didn’t hear the particular details of their final conversation.” He said, drumming his fingers against the armrest of his chair once more as he thought. “Whoever they were, they seemed to regard Sevari as a traitor for some motive. But I wouldn’t why that is. After what went down in there, well, I think we were all too exhausted to start questioning Sevari over every little detail of his past or how that related to what had just happened.”

Raelynn just listened, trying to picture the scene in her mind. It sounded gruesome and personal. “I admit Jaraleet, I don't know whether to trust Sevari, he has given us reason not to before but… There was something almost defeated in his eyes today, they were hanging with guilt and well, I'm torn. I hope he'll become an asset to us. We need all the help we can get, don't we?” She crossed one leg over the other and propper her head up on her hand in the chair. “Sounds like quite the mission though. Are you absolutely sure you don't need me to take a look at you at least?” The Breton didn't give him time to respond before she shook her head and sighed, “no, stuff it - I'm much too curious to see where this woman got you, take off your shirt.” She tried to play it off with humour, but she wasn't going to leave until she'd given Jaraleet a once over at the very least. She had a pretty good idea as to why he was coughing, but she'd keep that to herself until she ruled out anything else. “Doctor's orders I'm afraid.”

“Hmmm, that we do, that we do.” Jaraleet replied with a sigh to Raelynn’s comment about them needing all the help they could get. He was about to answer her second question when she suddenly spoke again, letting out a chuckle as she finished speaking. “I was about to say yes anyway, but now that you’ve brought up the ‘doctor’s orders’ tactic I don’t really have any say, do I?” The Argonian said, laughing slightly. He stood up from his chair and removed his shirt easily enough; with that out of the way, Raelynn would be able to see quite a few semi-healed wounds on the Argonian’s arms albeit her gaze would probably be drawn first and foremost to the still-healing wound on his stomach.

She raised an eyebrow and stood from the chair slowly, examining the Argonian's body with a heavy gaze. After a few moments of clucking her tongue, tutting, and sighing as she circled him, she placed two fingers against his stomach wound which was looking by far the worst. “She really wanted to kill you my friend. But this will heal nicely if you have someone from the infirmary apply Close Wounds magicka. They're not as good as me of course,” she said with an arrogant smirk and she bent over to look at it more closely. As she pressed the skin around it, the wound re-opened slightly and shot a single spurt of blood forwards. Raelynn held a pressure on it and raised an eyebrow. “Your coughing has kept this one from healing faster, Jaraleet. Get it closed off downstairs before the day ends.”

“Hmm, and here I thought this was how the Redguards expressed their love.” The Argonian replied, smirking slightly, albeit a small hiss of pain soon escaped from his lips as the wound re-opened slightly as a result of Raelynn’s prodding. “Hmmm, will do, will do. Speaking of which, can you tell me precisely why I have this cough?” Jaraleet asked, curious as to why it had begun. “I’m fairly sure that a disease is out of the question, given my species, and, well, if it was the result of a poison of some kind, I doubt I’d be in a state to have idle conversations, or alive for that matter.” He said, scratching his chin slightly as he thought. “So, in your opinion, why did this start all of a sudden? I was fine last night, in case you were curious.”

“You're right, it's neither a disease nor a poison.” She smiled, amused at how much thought the Argonian had given it, and she stood up straight to her full (small) height. An arrogant smirk returned as she almost playfully began to pace around him, with a hand propper under her chin like some kind of detective. “I deduced that you have recently travelled 17 miles through desert… You've got sand irritation in your chest, probably nose and throat too. Nothing serious, just uncomfortable.” Raelynn folded her arms over her chest with a coy smile. “Water, a hot towel on your chest and some honey will clear that up.” There was something else he'd said that had piqued her interest, and now was as good a time as any to ask him, and so she resumed her pacing. She let her eyes narrow as if she were interrogating him as seriously as a detective might… “So, Megana? She scolded you?” There was a glint of mischief in her eye, she'd seen how the Nord girl had been worried over Jaraleet. Now with talks of some rendezvous between the two… Well that was some that she had to investigate…

“Ahhh, yes, that would make sense. All the blasted sand in the air probably got to me.” The Argonian said before chuckling, somewhat, nervously as Raelynn brought up what he had said earlier about Meg scolding. “Ah, so you remembered that. But...yes, yes she did in fact scold me last night.” He finally said, knowing that there was a good chance that if he didn’t say something, Raelynn might go and pester Meg for answers next. Or just continue pestering him at any rate. “I went to check up on her after a meeting we had held, to plan how to rescue Sora you see, and, well, she saw the state in which my armor was and she started worrying. Said something about me not being a pincushion.” Jaraleet said, chuckling slightly again.

“Ahh yes, but there’s more to it than that, Jaraleet. That’s not what intrigued me the most.” She tilted her head to the side and bit her lower lip, resuming her seat with a dangerously roguish expression painted over her entire face and held in her body language. The Argonian was in trouble now. “You took a bullet for the girl nights ago did you not? Secret missions together? I don’t quite know what to make of it all…” She chuckled dryly from the back of her throat, before reclining into the seat. It occurred to her that she wasn’t sure if an Argonian was capable of sweating - something told her she was about to find out.

Jaraleet laughed at Raelynn’s words, but there was no hiding the nervousness in his voice. “What do you mean by all that, Meg came to me asking for help and I decided to help her. As for taking a bullet for her...aren’t comrades, friends, supposed to protect each other?” The Argonian said with a nervous chuckle. Part of him knew that his words were mere excuses, and that there was a good chance that Raelynn would be able to call them for what they were, but the other part of him felt like he still had to try. “Right?” He added after a second, rubbing the back of his head. At this point he wasn’t sure who he was trying to fool: himself or the Breton woman sitting in front of him.

She was smug now, and highly amused - rather charmed by his endearing display of nervousness under her questioning. She’d always known that Jaraleet was softer when it came to real social situations. He may be a cold beast in battle, but when it came to matters of the heart, well, it was a different story entirely. She should have felt at least a little bit bad for pushing his buttons like this - taking advantage of his vulnerability. But she couldn’t resist, and so she got out the stick once more for another poke. “Oh of course! Friends do protect each other, you’re right about that. I doubt you’d have taken a bullet for anyone on the team though? Something drove you to do it in the moment. Let me see… Megana is a sweet girl, she’s rather pretty too, wouldn’t you agree?” Internally, Raelynn was beaming with glee, but outwardly she pulled herself together to display a colder expression. “She’s… Really rather feminine beneath that Nord bravado she displays. Innocent too, isn’t she?”

“I...well…” Jaraleet began when Raelynn posed the question about if he’d have really taken a bullet from anyone else in the group. “I….would say so, yes.” He replied in a somewhat stilted manner when Raelynn asked if he agreed with her assessment of Meg being pretty. “Sithis damn you and your confusing questions woman.” The Argonian thought inwardly, feeling a headache blossoming in his skull under the barrage of questions from the Breton healer. “If you say so it must be true, I’m afraid I don’t know much about what would being ‘feminine’ entail. At least not to the same degree as you.” He answered, diverting his gaze away from Raelynn.

“Innocent? No, I wouldn’t say she is innocent….I’m not quite sure how to put it. Maybe the best way to say it is that she hasn't let the world embitter her.” The Argonian replied to Raelynn’s last question, finally turning his head too look at the Breton once again.

He was squirming. This was fun. “Ahhh, of course you do Jaraleet. You must have noticed the outline of her hips, the softness in her walk - the girlish air in her voice?” Raelynn smiled again, twirling a strand of her hair around her finger, winding it almost as tight as Jaraleet was. “There are many things that set the fairer sex apart from, well, the men. Beautifully long eyelashes that flutter just so... Full lips that pout in the heat of the moment... “ She wanted him to picture such features on Meg, and she watched him intensely, she would know when he had conjured such an image in his mind…

Damnable woman, torture would be a more pleasant fate than having to endure your onslaught of questions.” The Argonian grumbled inwardly and, yet, in spite of his inward protests it came all too easy to picture Meg the way that Raelynn described, at least for a brief second it was before he shook his head rather violently to dispel the mental image. “I’ve known torturers less wicked than you, you know that?” He said jokingly, letting out a defeated sigh before flopping down onto the seat he had been using but a few moments ago and from which he had stood up at some indeterminate point during the Breton’s barrage of question.

She laughed at his comment, knowing that her game of cat and mouse had landed in her favour. “Oh Jaraleet… You must have feelings for the girl or else you would have been able to shrug such questions off.” She poked her tongue out impishly at him, it had been a while since she’d had quite so much fun. “I suppose you’re right. It was rather wicked of me…” Her tone was not apologetic in the slightest, it was prideful if anything, and her smug grin only backed it up. She sighed with a girlish hum. “I must say though… It’s quite a surprise. I would never have imagined or guessed at you two getting close in such a way.”

“Oh, fine, I do, I do. I swear to the Hist, if I had feathers you’d have already made me tear them out in frustration.” The Argonian admitted with a defeated sigh, shaking his head slightly. He needed to keep a better grip on his emotions it seemed. He frowned slightly at what she said next, shaking his head once more. “You are a wicked woman Raelynn. Enjoy your victory.” Jaraleet said, letting out a light chuckle. “Come now, surely you’ve had enough toying with my emotions right?” He chuckled nervously at her final words. “I...I mean…” He stuttered out, clearing his throat with a light cough. “No...no...surely it must be just Raelynn messing with me again….right?” The Argonian thought inwardly, doubt immediately seeping into his mind as he recalled what had happened the previous night.

“Oh come on now, I’m allowed to take all chances at levity these days. I was kidnapped twice you know! Let me be wicked... It’s naught but jest anyway…” She couldn’t believe she played the victim card, in any other occasion, it would have been rather cheap of her, but she wasn’t entirely serious about it. She knew the Argonian would get a kick from it - if she could joke about it with anyone, it was Jaraleet. Crude humour at its finest she thought to herself, unable to subdue the smile from her face and glimmer from her eyes. “It’s nice, Jaraleet! That you’ve found someone in our group to be close with.” Her voice had finally softened of it’s interrogative and cunning edge, her posture too. “So what are you planning to do about it?”

Jaraleet laughed out loud at Raelynn’s use of the fact that she had been kidnapped twice, some of the tension leaving his body. “Oh, fine, I’ll allow it this time.” He said, shaking his head before chuckling yet again as he relaxed in the chair. “It is nice, it really he is.” He said, smiling slightly at Raelynn. “Honestly, I do not know.” The Argonian answered when Raelynn asked what he planned to do about it. “So much of my life has been dedicated to, well, fighting that I haven’t given a thought to love previously. And, well, with all that it’s going on….as I said, I do not know what to do.”

“Love huh?” She asked with a smile, a sense of warmth rushing through her at the very thought. “Well, I figure you have two options here… You can do nothing, or you can do something.” That didn’t sound too elaborate, that just sounded obvious. “I mean, you can let time pass by and do nothing about your feelings hoping that something besides yourself pulls you together - chance, or fate, so to speak. Or you can take it into your own hands my friend.” She sighed again, eyes darting upwards as she thought pensively for a few moments. “Megana strikes me as the kind of girl who would most definitely take it into her own hands eventually. But I also think that a gesture of affection from you would absolutely blindside her and sweep her completely off her feet.”

She thought about Meg, how she was feminine but also how she could be staunchly independent and rather fierce at times. There was a boyishness about her. “If I were trying to woo and impress her… I might take her a single flower… Just one. But of course that’s only what I would do…” Her fingers found her way to her hair again and she continued to twirl the strands around it, a sly grin on her lips as she winked knowingly at Jaraleet. “But I’m just a devilishly wicked woman… Whatever would I know about all of that?” Her voice once again, a honeyed playful purr as she made yet another scheming remark. How could she resist, after all?

Jaraleet rolled off his eyes at Raelynn’s last remarks before letting out a soft chuckle, smiling fondly at the Breton woman. “Couldn’t resist getting in one last coy remark, could you?” The Argonian said, shaking his head slightly. “I’ll think about it Raelynn, truly, I will. But I think that such a gesture...well, it could best wait until we are out of our current predicament here, wouldn’t you agree?” He said, falling silent as an unwelcome thought crossed his mind. “But...if things seem to look to dire for us, I’ll take action before I’m unable to.” He added quietly, frowning slightly to himself.

She nodded in agreement, he wasn’t wrong. The situation was tense and wasn’t going to let up anytime soon, but in her mind - that was all the more reason to act. There would be no forcing Jaraleet to do anything he didn’t want to, though. “You’re right, and for what it’s worth - I think she likes you a lot too.” She thought to continue dangling Jaraleet on a string by his emotions, but her conscience got the better of her and she just smiled. “I think whatever you choose to do will be right, whenever that may be. She likes you. You’ll know what to do…” Her gaze travelled to the window, and she realised that time was getting on - she still had errands to complete. “I really must get going... “ She sighed as she stood from the chair. “It’s been good to see you Jaraleet.”

She gathered up her belongings and made her way to the door, turning just one last time to speak to him. “I mean it about getting that wound closed up. You’ll have one raging infection if you don’t see to it today…” There was a sternness to her voice, but the smile that followed betrayed all severity of it entirely. “Take care, friend.” And with that, she left.

“Thank you Raelynn, and it has been good to see you too.” The Argonian said, smiling at the Breton woman as she got up from the chair. “You seem to forget that infections aren’t much of an issue for us Argonians. But don’t worry, I’ll have it seen today by someone in the hotel’s infirmary, you have my word.” He said, standing up and going up with her towards the door as she made her way out of the room. “You take care too Raelynn, you take care too.”
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Hidden 6 mos ago Post by Rtron
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12th of Midyear - 4E208
Three Crowns Hotel - Gilane

After the meeting discussing the plan to rescue Daro'Vasora, nighttime.

Nanine was sitting outside of the Three Crowns, where she and Anifaire had talked before, her journal and inkwell left untouched by her side. She had come out to draw what she could by moonlight as a way to relax and control her roiling thoughts and emotions. It hadn't helped her do either of those things in the slightest, and now she was simply staring into the empty street, hands tightly clasped in front of her. Frost began to gather on them as she unconsciously reached for magic. They released the Dwemer. The thought was at the forefront of her mind, and with it a surge of anger.

Her companions were at least indirectly responsible for the potential collapse of the Empire and the massacre of hundreds, if not thousands of innocents. They had gone into a ruin and fumbled around with things that they did not understand, and brought death and destruction to the Empire itself, Hammerfell, and who knew how many other nations. They were indirectly responsible for the sacking of the Imperial City, the situation in Gilane, the resurgence of the Dominion, and the Nine above only knew what else. And they did it for survival, without trying anything else. Because of their desperation, they released a storm upon the world that shows no signs of weakening anytime soon. The blood of all of the slain was on their hands. If they had just stood their ground, found another way, fought their way out, this would not have happened. Some or all of them would have died, sure, but...


Could she honestly say she would have done anything different? Nanine sighed, relaxing her hands, the frost disappearing. It wasn't fair to blame them like that, especially when she would have done exactly the same thing in their situation. They had no control over the actions of the Dwemer, and they certainly couldn't have had any idea that saving their own lives would result in all that it did. And they were trying to make it right. Everyone of them was willing to fight against the Dwemer they had released, in an attempt to stop the suffering they felt responsible for. Now they had to rescue one of their own from the stronghold of the Dwemer. Nanine grimaced in annoyance at the thought of that upcoming operation, standing up and pacing back and forth.

She didn't like it. Any of it. There were too many things she couldn't account for. They were relying too much on strangers who they knew next to nothing about, and on the discipline of some of their members. Nanine was sure that Mazrah was going to ignore her and charge into the Palace without so much as a sash over her face, and the Breton couldn't be certain that the others wouldn't be just as brash and reckless in their own way. None of them were legionnaires. None of them had the discipline of the Legion to fall back on. Nanine couldn't be everywhere to make sure things went smoothly, and given how the other two missions had gone, she sincerely doubted this one would go any better. It would descend into chaos, and she hated that.

I could just leave. The thought sprang unbidden to her mind, and she paused. She could leave easily. The Dwemer didn't have the slightest clue who she was, and there was doubtless many ships who wanted to leave the port as soon as possible, with all the rising tensions in the city. She could go into the hotel, pack her things, and be gone before Gilane truly woke up. Gone and away from the Oblivion cursed mess this was rapidly turning into.

Then where would she go? The Dwemer and the Dominion had control over much of Cyrodil, and likely Skyrim. High Rock was on the verge of total chaos, if it hadn't already descended into that. To even get to areas that weren't on the brink of all out war or occupied, she'd have to go through at least one of the areas that were. It wasn't like she would just ignore any injustices or suffering she would pass along the way either. Some how or another she'd get herself stuck in a similar situation to this, only with complete strangers or even by herself.

Nanine shook her head, sighing again. No, she couldn't just leave. She was already committed to try and help the situation in Gilane and with the dwemer in general as best she could, and this group she was with seemed like the best bet she had at it. She'd have to accept the chaos that was going to come, and try to make the best of it. The very thought of that made her grimace again, and she headed back to the bench and collected her untouched journal and ink quill. She needed to head to bed and get what rest she could.

It was going to be a long couple of days.
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Hidden 6 mos ago 6 mos ago Post by Stormflyx
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Stormflyx Queen of Doggos

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Curiouser and Curiouser!

with a sprinkle of @Dervish

13th of Midyear - Gilane Town Square

Somehow, through wandering, Raelynn had stumbled upon the town square of Gilane. A place she couldn’t recall ever having been. Despite the amount of time spent in Gilane - it was as if it had all been spent in the markets… How strange that she should find such a relaxing place at the heart of Gilane, just through walking. There were several cosmopolitan looking tea houses and cafes scattered in a circle, surrounding a beautifully ornate looking pool of water in the very centre. As she walked towards it, she could see an Altmer woman sat at the edge of it, a coin in her hand which she tossed into the water with a dainty little splash. A curious custom, she thought to herself - although it did look rather comfortable...

The Breton sat on the edge of the pool, where the Altmer woman had been, taking a break to rest her feet again, the bag of journals placed at her side. Her eyes kept darting to one that sat on top - and eventually, her curiosity got the better of her, and in the comfort of the quiet crowd, she picked up the journal and opened it… Starting with the very first entry...

13th Rain’s Hand 4E208

Tomorrow’s the big day.

It took a lot of my own personal finances, what was left of it anyways, and the ruin has been rather inconvenient to reach up here high in the Jerall Mountains, but all of the misgivings about the journey faded when I first saw what lurked beneath the surface; this is easily the largest Dwemer ruin ever to be discovered, and even with the army of workers Rhea Valerius enlisted for this pursuit, you could spend years cataloging every inch of this place and still have secrets to discover. I’m pretty sure there’s something valuable lurking below; I feel it in my blood. In this line of work, you learn to trust your instincts. They keep you alive and they lead to a prize.

That said, I’m not sure about the others Rhea’s hired on for this expedition scheduled for tomorrow. Most aren’t scholarly types, or even appear to be experts in the field. At least Judena Callisar is with us, thank Alkosh, she’s been a good friend to me for years now and is one of the few people I know for certain is an expert in this field. It’s been good catching up with her and discussing what’s already been discovered; it’s keeping me focused and from dwelling on people like Durantel, who I am confident isn’t a Thalmor spy because he acts so overtly like you’d expect someone who spews Altmer supremacy to act, or that Alim fellow who I’m pretty sure knicked a lot of personal property, but he squirrels it away well...

Point being, I barely trust these people to be able to lace up a pair of boots on their own, let alone not set off a trap or activate some automata because their abilities of observation are so bad that it’s a wonder they escaped childhood alive and with all of their limbs intact. Oh well, they go down, I get a bigger pay cut and a better claim to any artifacts that Rhea doesn’t claim. She’s the one funding the expedition, and I am a professional.

I may not get first choice of whatever’s discovered, but the size of this place… there’s almost certainly something worth immeasurable value to acquire.

Interesting, so Daro’Vasora had an existing friendship with Judena. The mention of Alim brought a smile to Raelynn’s lips, and she realised she hadn’t seen her friend since the party. She hoped he was keeping well - perhaps he and Anifaire had been spending time together. She hoped, whatever it was he was doing, he was happy.

So strange to read of Durantel - he had all but gone missing entirely lately. Not that Raelynn had said even a word to him. He seemed to stuck up even for her liking. By the God’s, she felt that he was twice her size too. The Khajiit was right to have such a disliking of him...

I’m honestly concerned about making ends meet; normally I don’t work with more than a handful of people I can keep an eye on, being in a big expedition like this is unheard of. Not only does it make your cut shit if you don’t find anything valuable, or a number of artifacts, but it does nothing for your reputation when your name is 20th down a list. I just had no time for the research or acquiring funding for travel; it’s been three months since my last expedition, and even the last one was already a somewhat well-known barrow that was largely picked clean. La’Shuni is coming to Imperial City next month, and it’s been years since I’ve seen her. I want to show her how successful I’ve been on my own, to be able to pay for her travel expenses and make her stay with me one she’ll cherish for years. I don’t want to say that I can’t do something for her because I’m broke; I know her, she’d tell me that all she cares about it spending time with me, but that’s not good enough. I want her to have her first visit to the capital to be something incredible, so she’ll admire me and aspire to be more than just a girl who follows in mother and father’s footsteps.

I’m happy with my life, I am, I just miss my family and I don’t want her to feel like I’m a disappointment or that finding your true calling in life only leads to ruin. I can’t give her the wrong impression; this expedition will help me take care of her and show her that a future doesn’t have to be what your family says it should be.

She’s counting on me.

This is why I cannot fail.

The Breton found herself getting choked at her friend’s sentiment - her resolve, her hope. A pang of guilt followed. These were her innermost thoughts, and Raelynn was absorbing them for entertainment. Or was it something else? She had never quite understood Daro’Vasora, she hadn’t wanted to be her friend - it wasn’t all that long ago that they were at each other’s throats wearing fake smiles around her father’s table. These words and emotions were not for her eyes, and Raelynn placed a hand on her heart and clutched. She could never go back to not knowing this information.

She closed the journal and placed it back in the bag, stopping to take a look around her. Gilane was a jewel of a city, and yet so tainted. It had taken so much from her, and yet - given her so much too. She’d made a friend in the Khajiit, fallen in love with Gregor, grown closer to Alim, Jaraleet, and beautiful Latro. She’d seen her father for the first time in years. She’d found a strength within herself.

She thought of Mazrah - the orc who had joined them, just because. Truthfully, she had paid no mind as to why Mazrah had joined them. But it had been Daro’Vasora, hadn’t it? She had helped Mazrah in a scrape and then Mazrah had joined them. Raelynn would never have been able to convince the warrior Orsimer to join them in such a way. She found herself chuckling at just what she herself would have to offer to get her on board…

And Shakti, young Shakti - she had been freed from her prison because Daro’Vasora brought them here to join the Poncy Man’s insurgency. In a way, Shakti had been liberated because of Sora.

She pulled the journal back up, and flicked to another page...

30th Second Seed 4E208

Rhea’s dead. It’s been chaos for so long, I haven’t had the time or heart to write in this damned thing, but I realize that chances are, I’m going to die suddenly and I want people to know what happened. I need to let my family know what happened, the reason they’ll never see their daughter again. Mara, I miss them. Keep them safe, keep them free.

The Aldmeri Dominion attacked Anvil with a fleet; we barely escaped with Roux Dupris, a face I never thought I’d see again, nor want to. After they bloodlessly took Skingrad (unless you count the Count) and relieved the refugee crisis, they took the Imperials trying to retake the city as a provocation of war and they already had their damned fleet ready to go. Rhea was killed by infiltrators, but it was quick. She died with a smile on her face… she was just so happy we didn’t forget her, that we cared enough about her to include her in our group after I so soundly rejected her and blamed her for everything.

It wasn’t fair. I’ve spent time with her body, thanking her for what she did, begging for forgiveness. It’s weird, caring so much of the opinion of a corpse of a woman who I hated even up until her death, but now I feel more of a kinship to her than ever before. I really could have done better… should have done better. I nearly ruined everything I had going for me. Zegol was murdered by the Dwemer, the Imperial City was conquered and occupied in the course of a day. My life work, gone. I nearly lost Latro because I’m a fucking child who doesn’t know how to be a decent person, and I nearly abandoned Judena. She wouldn’t know where I would have gone, and every morning she would have looked for me until she eventually figured it out.

I can’t do that to her, I can’t do that to him, I don’t have anyone else.

Once more Raelynn stopped. This was simply too much, she traced her fingers over the page - where the quill had met the parchment and she could feel the indentation, the force with which Daro’Vasora had applied to write the words. They were scratched in, until they fell softer - barely there. Their weight so heavy they could land without so much as an effort. Her heart yearned for the Khajiit now, how much she had done for them, how it had taken its toll. She could see it clear as day on the page. She thumbed at the words, as if by doing so would connect her to her imprisoned friend.

“I see now…” she whispered, willing herself to finish what she started.

I don’t know how people can need or want me after everything I’ve done, and right now, people are looking to me for answers, and I’ve been doing my best to give them. I try to look like I’m in control, that I’m confident in things working out, but the truth is in private I’m terrified. I invited everyone on this ship to get away from the war, and I don’t know how to tell them that we’re going to part ways once we’re safe. Maybe some will come with me, others… I don’t know. It hurts to think, and I don’t trust myself anymore. I’ve tried to be more compassionate, to trust others. After I walked the Moonpath, I was given advice on how to proceed, but I don’t know how to do what my ancestors ask of me.

The thing is, after being with these people for so long already, and after everything we’ve been through, the thought of leaving them actually kind of hurts. I know I’d feel betrayed if one of them walked out on me, so why do I think it's okay to do the same?

Maybe Hammerfell will have the answers. Maybe it’ll be safe. Maybe maybe maybe.

I just need sleep.

How could Daro’Vasora feel so low? It was never the impression she had given to anyone - and Raelynn found an instant admiration for her, that had never been there. A deep regret that she had ever thought so little of her.

She had only ever tried her best.

The Breton sighed, and once again placed the journal back on the pile in the bag. Mulling over what had been in that entry. It was… horrible. It wasn’t entirely unlike her own journal entries, except that hers were full of selfish thoughts and horrible words about pretty much everyone, and yet here the only bad words that the Khajiit had been writing were about herself. She had held herself together with such grace, and yes, she could be snappy and full of sass, but she had a big heart.

She understood now why Latro loved her so.

She thought of them, the conversations they must have - sharing the innermost secrets. Not entirely unlike she and Gregor, in fact. Only… They weren’t sacrificing the souls of Dwemer officials and bringing heat to the entire group. The pangs of guilt hit her again, and yet she couldn’t stop.

Her hand reached for the leather-bound journal and she brought it to her eyes once more...

6th Midyear 4E208

This might very well be the last time I write in this journal. The Dwemer have Roux; they sent me his fingers. I have complicated feelings towards the man, but after reuniting with him, he’s not the person he used to be. He had a wife, a daughter and the Dwemer took them from him. I could tell he was telling the truth; I’ve seen enough loss and grieving in the past weeks for a lifetime. Roux was yet another soul lost in the maelstrom of this war. They told me I have to be there in a few hours; I will be there as soon as I can. I know I’m walking into a trap, and I know this is foolish; he’s probably already dead, and this is an obvious attempt to bait me out.

It’s working. I’ve lost too many people, and I can’t sit back and do nothing. The guilt would consume me for the rest of my life.

Who the fuck am I? I don’t even know anymore.

“Roux…” she said aloud, his body seared into her mind and she could see him lying there - cold, but peaceful. She had made sure he was peaceful. Had Daro’Vasora loved this man as she loved Latro? Raelynn would never ask her, and she didn’t really want to know. It made everything so much harder. She finally got to learn how Zaveed trapped her though, he baited her to the scene and she came running. She came running because she was capable of love and always had others in front of herself. She knew it was a trap and yet she went anyway because… Well, because that was her way.

Daro’Vasora would never leave people behind.

I look back at who I was even a few months ago, and I am ashamed… of who I was, how I acted, how the last memories Rhea had were of me degrading her in front of the people she gave up everything to protect. It’s too late for her, and I failed her. It’s not too late for Roux, I hope. But no matter what I decide, I’m failing someone. I wish Latro were here right now; I just cannot tell him what I’m about to do. I can’t bear the thought of losing him, too. Maybe I deserve this, maybe a part of me feels like I deserve whatever happens to me.

I really don’t want it to happen, and even as I write this, my feet feel like anchors. The body has such an interesting way of preserving itself when it knows it’s facing its mortality, I wonder if this is what soldiers feel like when they march upon the field of battle, under some great banner knowing that they could die from a well-placed arrow before they have a chance to thrust their spear. I feel so alive right now, and I don’t think I’ve lived my life how I should. There’s so much life I need to do. But I need to do this, for me, for Roux… I don’t even know anymore.

Truth is, these people I’ve been with since I started keeping this journal, which I had expected to be filled with sketches of discoveries like that Falmer wall painting and some Dwemeri construction, my thoughts, maps, all of the usual, these people matter to me. I’m not going to be a sentimental little bitch and call them family, because I’ve barely talked to most of them, and I can only call a handful of them my friends, but that’s another failing of mine. I never let people get close until I feel I can let my guard down, but I’ve been shown a lot of love and compassion from these people, my companions.

I guess they are friends.

I think about them, and it’s no longer distrust I feel, but rather a fondness and appreciation, if anything the hesitation and apprehension I feel is from my own hang-ups and my own fears. The same ones that almost made me leave in Anvil without a word, even if that meant losing a man I was falling in love with. The same ones that followed me across the sea to somewhere I promised was safe, and they look up to me as a leader when I don’t deserve it. I am responsible for these people and I want them to go home, but to do that, we need to make sure there’s a home to go home to. That’s why I can’t give up, I can’t leave. My ancestors, Zegol, Judena, Latro… I have so many people that I love that I cannot give up on. If I quit now, I’ll spend my life regretting everything and if anything happens to my family, and I didn’t try… I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.

I guess I’ve always accepted that I could die here, doing this stupid leadership thing, and fighting a war I know we can’t win, and that’s why I’m prepared to go try and rescue Roux even though I know it will only end up bad. I just can’t live with the consequences if I didn’t.

If anyone is reading this, then maybe I died and this is their way of getting closure. If you are someone in my group, my friends… I am sorry I failed you. I love you, and everything you’ve done for me. If you’re some random asshole who found this book in a pawnshop, eat shit and die you thundering cockgoblin. Stop getting your rocks off reading people’s personal thoughts, especially when they’re dead you sick and depraved fuck. But if you are someone I knew and cared about, please know I tried my best, and you deserved way better than who I was. Be better than who I was, and don’t lose hope.

Vaba Do'Shurh'do – it is good to be brave.

Bright moons and sharp claws to you, Daro’Vasora will look down upon you and smile.

With tears in her eyes and her lips trembling, her fingers gripped so tightly around the pages that they could have torn she uttered her final words before placing the journal back into its bag;

“You never failed us.”

“You’re a hero Daro’Vasora… You’re our hero.”
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Hidden 6 mos ago Post by Greenie
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Greenie Follow the Strange Trails

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A Drink, he said, To Old Times…

by Shafty and Greenie

13th of Midyear
Three Crowns Hotel
Gilane, Hammerfell

The library of this Hotel left little to want for. Anything from manuals on spells, biographies, fiction and non-fiction, fencing treatises, alchemy and gardening, and everything in-between. Latro had poured through the fencing treatises on everything from Gaius’s A Defense of the Phalanx in Modern Warfare to On Killing by some ancient Tsaesci warrior whose name he wouldn’t even try to pronounce, dated to a time that boggled his mind to think it had traveled from Torval and meandered through the countless years to rest in his hands in a dusty library in Hammerfell.

He shut the book, sighing. He looked to his firelit left, flames of the fireplace crackling like whips and sending light that made every shadow present dance across the rows of books on their shelves. Nestled among the books though was a fully stocked shelf of liquor, bottles of every size and shape from the mundane to magical upon it, a multicolored galaxy of alcohols from different cultures.

Naturally, he reached for the wine bottle first. A red from Colovia. A nice vintage, the cork still sealing the bottle’s secrets from the outside world. He thought for a bit to uncork the bottle and go at it alone, but he stopped in the task of finding a corkscrew or a knife. He thought of one person he hadn’t shared a drink, nor even a word with, in such a long time. Not since before all of this came crashing down on them. Meg, Latro smiled.

Perhaps a drink to old times would be a good way to loosen his nerves and get him back to a sense of normalcy. He missed her, truth be told, he missed everyone. He hadn’t spoken a word to any of them besides Jaraleet, Gregor, and Raelynn for gods knew how long. A shame, he thought, but that would change. He would make sure of it. He wouldn’t let even the tiny defeat of holing himself up in the library or any other place no one was at take hold of his mind and put his peace and soul in an early grave.

So, he made his way towards the woman that had been his drinking buddy once before but ever since, guided with the pointed fingers and words of the Hotel staff until he was standing at her door, holding the wine by the neck of the bottle, still unopened. He raised his hand to knock but paused. He didn’t know how the events of the past few weeks had gripped her. Would she send him away under the accusations of being nothing but a fair-weather friend?

No, he shook his head, rapped his knuckles lightly on the door, “Meg,” he said, “It’s, um, it’s Latro. Do you have a moment?”

After a little moment the door opened, and it was clear that Meg was surprised to see who was on the other side. "Latro!" she explained, a smile breaking out on her face as she quickly stepped back and opened the door. "'Course, c'mon in!" She hadn't really been busy since the previous night- having slept in once more after her night out in the men's room, she had woken up and shifted herself sleepily to her own room where once more she had decided to snooze in. Everybody was probably making preparations for Sora's escape plan, but there was nothing she really had to prep for aside from her nerves.

Grabbing at one of the chairs from the table, she pulled it out and motioned at it with her head. "Sit down. Doubt anyone's gonna be comin' here for a bit." She was beaming, looking a little excited. "How're y'doin'? T'was worrisome thinkin' you were caught up..." Looking a little sheepish, she pulled out another chair and sat down herself. "Sorry I didn' greet ya last night."

“Please, don’t apologize,” he said, easy smile on his lips as he took the offered seat, “It’s been a very hectic few days, not to speak of the past few weeks. I’m glad we’re both…”

He let his voice trail off, not wanting to remind them both of their mortality when everything else was reminding them already, “I’m glad I came to see you again.” He smiled, setting the wine bottle on the table, “I’ve come bearing gifts. For old times.”

He smiled as he unsheathed his knife, poking the tip of it into the cork and carefully twisting. Slowly, but surely, the thing was coming loose. He spoke as he worked, “I’ve been… well enough. I’d heard you met Sevari.” He smiled, glancing at her and chuckling, “Say what you want of the man, but I think he does have a good heart inside him. He saved my life before his own. Anyways, how are you? We haven’t spoken in…”

He shook his head and chuckled, finally pulling the cork free and sitting back down with a satisfied grin at a job done, “Well, let my silence speak on the length of time.”

Meg eyed the gift of alcohol and let out a chuckle. "Jaraleet'd pro'ly be yellin' somethin' about Sithis at me drinkin' again but he ain' here." She reached out for the glasses that were already resting on the table next to a pitcher of water and pushed them towards Latro.

"Aye, we haven' talked in a bit..." she agreed, giving the man a small smile. "But ain' like life's been simply lettin' us just live, eh?" Her smile wavered as she shook her head, looking at the table. "Aye, I met Sevari... he saved Jaraleet when me an' him were out tryin' t'figure out where Sora was. He told us they had you too..." She looked up and reached out, putting a hand on his arm for a moment. "Mara knows I'm happy yer back. Sevari said y'both were safe an' all but..." She let her words hang in the air.

"I'm doin'... well as good as I can' I s'pose." She hesitated a little before looking at the man again. "Made a friend with a kid on the streets-" She grinned a little and tugged at her hair. "Got m'hair cut 'cause of all this bloody heat." She nodded towards him, curiosity clear in her eyes. "An' you?"

“Why would Jaraleet be judging you for drinking?” Latro asked, brow cocking at the question. “He never caught me as the type to judge any time we’ve struck out together. Accepting, actually.”

Meg hastily shook her head. "Oh, no, I didn' mean it like that," she replied, in a hurry to make sure she didn't give the wrong impression. "He'd jus' worry is all. I got kinda really drunk at the party..." She gave the man a sheepish grin before continuing. “Guess both of ya been spendin’ lotsa time together? He tol’ me last night you an’ him were on a mission with Sevari…”

Latro stopped as he poured his and Meg’s cups. He cleared his throat, continuing on, “Yes, we were.”

“He’s my friend, I like to think. I never thought I’d find a friend in that man, but I’ve found him valuable and loyal in keeping me company through situations where I’m nervous.” Latro nodded, sipping his wine, his easy smile as he remembered his times with Jaraleet, “He’s definitely my friend.”

"That's good t'hear," Meg replied with a smile of her own. She'd always thought about how she was lonely and sought companionship, but her talk with Jaraleet from the previous night made her realize that he was just as vulnerable as she was, even if he didn't realize it, and even if others didn't. "Honest... I'm glad. He could use another friend."

She took a sip of her wine; grinning, she set it back done. "Lovely," she commented, feeling her leg wiggle under the table. "I don' believe I've tried this 'fore, so thanks." She took yet another sip, let out a satisfied sigh before leaning back in her chair. It was strange but this felt nice; it almost felt as if there wasn't an impending high risk mission that would take all of their strength and skills to survive. She eyed Latro; what could possibly be going through his mind? He was the closest of them all to Sora, her friend, her lover.

Biting on the inside of her lip, she sat up straight. "We're gonna get her back," she told him. "Count on it."

He forced his easy smile onto his face and turned away from her as he sipped at his wine. He cleared his throat and quietly took in a shuddering breath. As backwards as it sounded, he didn’t want to remind himself of Sora’s predicament. He did what he said he’d never do and he left her there.

There was no one else to blame. He wiped at his eye, trying to make it seem like there was something else in it other than a quickly-forming tear. He hoped to delude himself before the mission into thinking Sora was only out shopping or taking a walk around the Hotel.

Even that thought burned him, he sighed, “Yeah, with this crack team, I wouldn’t worry about anything,” he chuckled and decided to switch subjects, “How do you like it, the wine?”

Immediately feeling bad for bringing up a painful subject, Meg lunged at the change of subject like someone in a hole grabbing onto rope. She took another sip of her drink and licked her lips once she swallowed, giving Latro a grin. "Tastes won'erful," she replied, grinning. "I'm more an ale an' mead lass m'self, but its nice t'indulge."

Her head tilted and she tapped at her chin. “I never asked, you been t’Skyrim? Right outside Whiterun there’s a meadery, Honningbrew Meadery. De-li-cious.” Smiling she leaned closer to the table,resting her arms upon it and then her chin in the palm of her hand. “Used t’deliver for ‘em before I left for my adventurin’ life.” She wiggled the fingers of her free hand. “Sticky fingers- I gotta drink a li’l more than I should’ve.”

Latro nodded, throat preoccupied with swallowing the wine at first before he smiled, “Yes, actually, mostly the West. From Solitude to Whiterun to Falkreath. It’s a beautiful country, cold as it is.”

He sighed, remembering his travels with Francis, how they’d wandered almost the entirety of Northwestern Tamriel, indulging in cultures and watching Francis participate in duels. “I remember that Francis, my mentor, had taken our travels through Whiterun. He good-heartedly challenged one of the Companions there to a duel to first-yield.” He smiled, “Francis won. Good fighters, Nords, but a sword in the hands of Francis Martell just becomes a blur of steel. His bastard sword was commissioned from Eorlund, the man who works the skyforge.”

“Have you watched the duels in Whiterun? The Companions accept anyone worthy’s challenge. Honor and all that.” He said.

A look of enthusiasm came to Meg's face as she listened to Latro speak of her homeland. It had been so long since she'd talked to someone who knew of the places she'd lived in, visited them and enjoyed them. It gave her both a happy yet nostalgic feeling, a slight tightening in her stomach and a happy sting in her eyes. Talos, how she missed Skyrim.

"I watched a few duels, aye!" Meg got to her feet even as she spoke, eager to show something as she headed to where she slept. "Never fought in 'em myself- I was doin' delivery work mostly or helpin' Pa- we lived there, in Whiterun. Pa's still there, with his wife an m'li'l brother. My Ma- she used t'be with the Companions long 'fore I came along..." It wasn't long before she returned, her sword in hand. It was clearly Skyforge steel, and though it was old, it had been taken care of. Meg carefully set it down on the table for Latro to see. "This was my Ma's, given t'her as a reward for a quest. Pa gave it t'me when we reached Whiterun."

Sighing softly, she settled back down and sipped some more on her wine. "Divines know how much I miss it. I always wanted t'travel an' go places- now that I'm places, I feel like goin' back home. The snow, the trees, the night skies… even just watchin’ the giants an’ mammoths an’ hopin’ not t’get tossed or squashed like the last unlucky bugger-" She stopped herself from carrying on and gulped down her wine until her cup was empty.

Latro was given pause as Meg laid the sword before him. His eyes were orbs of awe as his fingers slowly inches closer to it, tips softly gliding along the leather of the sheath. It radiated quality and divine craftsmanship. This was a Eorlund blade. He knew. “My gods,” he breathed, “It is beautiful.”

“May I?” He asked his permission to pick the blade up and when it was given, he gingerly held it in his palms.

The crossguard and pommel were adorned with intricate knotwork indicative of Eorlund’s Nordic style. Francis’ bastard sword, although a blade from a different culture, still held the same motifs if not the overall shape. It was an elegant blade, he could see how gently the blade itself tapered towards the point, lending a good balance. The edge was well-used, nicks in the cutting edge of it could be seen in the patina but it was still polish-bright regardless. He put the blade back to rest in its sheath and set it down. A single breath escaped him as his gaze lingered for a few more precious seconds on the sword. “Beautiful,” he nodded, smiling to Meg and sipped at his wine, “You are so very lucky to be wielding a Eorlund blade.”

Meg flushed, rubbing the back of her head in an embarrassed manner. "Guess yer righ'," she replied with a small nod. Reaching over for the bottle, she topped her cup once more before continuing. "If I'm bein' honest with ya, I never really thought 'bout where t'was forged... more it belonged to my Ma..." Smiling sheepishly, she then took a small sip of wine before setting her cup back on the table once more. "I wasn' happy when Pa an' me had t'leave Riften, but Pa curbed that anger an' taught me how t'use a sword... gave me this after I got good." Her smile changed to one of fondness as she looked upon the blade. "Makes me feel close to a Ma I never really knew, y'know?"

“I know the feeling.” Latro said, voice soft as he placed a small polished stone upon the table next to Meg’s sword. “This is the only thing I have left of my family ties. I’ve lived with Francis for years until now and still this little rock has stayed with me longer than some friends I’ve had. It’s a piece of ebony.”

“I’ll sometimes just hold it and toy with it if I can’t sleep, which is more than you’d think.” He smiled wistfully, eyes on the table but mind wandering back a ways, “It was a good life I had. I just didn’t know it until I left it. But good comes and goes, I’m happy a few people took me in and now I have a new family.”

He smiled as he raised his cup, emptying the remainder of its wine in a few gulps, “I’m lucky to have the lot of you.”

"An' now I know the feelin'." Meg smiled back, a soft chuckle escaping her. "It's been what... two bloody months of... just everythin', an' any of us could've just decided t'head off, but we stuck together. Jerall, Imperial City, Skingrad, Anvil... Gilane." She gulped down half of the drink in her cup, letting out a soft sigh. "Travellin' with a group was never how I did things but... y'all're m’family now, I love y’all. Even the thought’ve havin' to leave y'all is... well... I try not t'think of it." She studied the wine in her cup before drinking more. "Seems like a kid's wish, eh? But maybe wishin' like a kid ain' tha' bad."

Latro smiled into his wine cup at Meg’s words. It struck something in him that had been dormant since Sora’s kidnapping and display. For the first time in a while, Latro felt good in somebody’s presence. “No,” he said, “I guess it isn’t.”

Meg couldn't help but smile back at Latro. There were quite a few times she felt that perhaps her views or ideas were deemed silly or naive. Hearing his agreement gave her some validation, and she felt herself relax even more. This was nice, two friends simply sharing a drink and for the time being, forgetting about the darkness of the world.

"We should do this more." Draining her cup, Meg leaned back, appreciating the moment. "Feels nice."
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Hidden 6 mos ago Post by Stormflyx
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Stormflyx Queen of Doggos

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Solve et Coagula

featuring @Father Hank

13th Midyear - Gilane - Hawkford Residence

It was mid-afternoon by the time that Raelynn was making her way back to her father's residence. The sun was no longer at its highest in the sky, and so the air was a little cooler and more bearable. She had spent quite a bit too much time sat at the fountain reading things she really shouldn't have been, and yet there were no regrets. She was now lugging the bag containing Daro'Vasora's belongings along the floor. It was a heavy thing to carry, and she half hated the fact she'd taken on the responsibility.

She had also taken it upon herself to grab more from the markets, and so her hands were absolutely full. To top it all off, there was a wonderful bloodstain on her thigh from Jaraleet's latest injury. She had to use her elbow to open the front door. It was completely ungainly and unlike her, she turned around, pressing her rear against the door to swing it open. As she staggered through, she finally caught sight of the bloodstain on her trousers in the mirror. Her lovely cream and gold silk trousers. Her lovely, expensive cream and gold silk trousers. “Oh God's above!” she cursed, exasperated. The very motion of it caused the bag containing the Khajiit’s wares to hit the floor and a journal bounced out. “Oh God's above again!” she cried out once more, looking at the mess. “Rhoka! Lend me your hands!” There was stress in her voice all of a sudden, too much time under the sun surrounded by people had irritated her. Once Rhoka had shuffled through and cleared everything from her, she felt lighter - and instantly better. If it weren't for the damned stain, she might have smiled. “That reckless oaf…” she muttered as she ran a finger over it. It was dry now and had made the material feel almost crispy, she frowned and made her way from the hallway towards the back room. Wondering whether or not Gregor had returned.

He had finished running his errands significantly sooner and returned a few hours before Raelynn did. The sound of her exasperated voice drew him from the back room, where he had made himself comfortable, to the hallway and Gregor opened the door to find himself immediately face-to-face with Raelynn, who looked like she had been about to open the very same door herself.

“Hello you,” the Imperial said and smiled as he looked down on his beloved. “I heard your voice. Are you alright?”

The sight of Gregor immediately washed away any feelings of annoyance she had been holding onto, finally the smile came. “Oh I'm fine… I just had a busy morning. Goodness, I just about forgot how it can be to have things to do. I seemed to see just about everyone too,” she exaggerated with a sigh. With her hands now free, she placed them against Gregor's and wrapped her fingers up in his. “You look nice, haircut or something?” She narrowed her eyes and one of her eyebrows shot up quizzically as she tried to work it out, his hair did look good - the way it only does after a refreshing treatment. That, and it did look different to when she had left him that morning.

Gregor hummed in his chest and kissed her, a gentle gesture meant to help her relax after the trials and tribulations of her day, whatever they may have been. “Sharp eyes,” he said afterwards and led Raelynn into the back room. “I got my black clothes back and had my weapons sharpened. Taking care of my appearance at the same time just felt expedient. Did you do anything interesting?”

As she paced through the room she rolled her shoulders back and yawned softly, taking a seat on one of the couches. “Well,” she began as she leaned forward to undo the straps of her sandals. Entirely impractical for walking through Gilane all day and so she kicked them off, “I ran into Latro, he sends his well wishes. He was with somebody.” She tensed up to think about him again, it was unnerving how even now the shadow of their meeting lingered on her, even if he had been courteous. “Something isn't right there, I don't know what it is. He wouldn't even look me in the eye…” She moved her head from side to side and stretched out her arms as far as she could, feeling her muscles pull as she did so. She was still somewhat sore from the previous evening.

“I got to the Hotel and collected my things, Daro'Vasora's things too… Met the new Redguard girl and we spoke for a while, and then I found Jaraleet in a crumpled heap with a new set of injuries. You know, just a regular day for me with that one around…”

“Sevari,” Gregor said knowingly. “I met him too. He told me he was sorry for what Zaveed did to you. The way you describe him makes it sound like he means it and can’t look you in the eye because he feels guilty.” He had sat down next to Raelynn and assumed a relaxed posture, one leg laid across his knee. He was barefoot and his belongings were scattered throughout the room. There was a quiet energy to him, despite his apparent tranquility, and he looked at Raelynn intently.

He knew that there was more to be said about her day, if he asked, but Gregor was too eager to discuss the very thing that reinvigorated him -- gave him purpose. “Raelynn,” he began and shifted in his seat. “I have a plan. After I found you in the warehouse, you made me promise two things. I haven’t forgotten about the second promise. I think an opportunity will present itself very soon to fulfil it. The others will attack the Governor’s palace tomorrow in an attempt to free Daro’Vasora. They have a good strategy; it involves a three-pronged attack on the east and west flanks of the palace itself and a depot somewhere in the city. The Dwemer will be divided, scattered.”

Leaning forward towards Raelynn, he continued. “That leaves someone vulnerable. Someone important. Someone dangerous. You know of whom I speak, right?”

She had been stretching while Gregor was talking. Her eyes off watching something, or nothing. It was when he asked her a question that her face turned to him sharply, her eyes locked on to his, “Governor Razlinc Rourken…” she whispered softly, her heart began to race in her chest. To see the Governor suffer had been her only desire days ago, but now so much had changed.

She could sense how excited he was, there was a glow about him and a light behind his eyes. She hated to be the one to bring reality in to play, but that was her role now. “Gregor, you're still injured… Are you sure about this? Something tells me you only get one chance…” There was nothing dismissive in her tone, but she needed to know he was serious. They would not survive another incident like that last battle he had found himself in.

“And that chance is now,” Gregor said. He spoke quickly and animatedly, using his hands to gesture while he talked. “Latro said they want to leave Gilane, that there is nothing for them here, and I think he’s right. After Daro’Vasora is rescued, we have to get out of here. All of us. Rourken presented herself as being affable and graceful but we have seen how her administration behaves, the people it employs… she will be vengeful. My injuries are not so bad. The ointment that you made really helped. I could walk around the city with no problem. And have you already forgotten last night?” He smirked, bringing a boyish charm to his eyes. “My strength is back. You know that. You felt it. And the trembling, well... it goes away when I’m stressed. I think it’s partly in my head and not just my nerves or my muscles.”

He paused to take a breath. “And I have you. I’ve told you my plans now. I won’t keep things from you again; that was a mistake. With your help and with the situation as advantageous as it’s going to get, being able to plan this ahead of time, I’m confident we have a shot. For your sake… and mine.”

Gregor’s expression changed and his eyes hardened. “I must have her.”

She watched his hands dancing around as he spoke and she took them gently into her own, bringing them together slowly as she looked into his eyes. He was getting ahead of himself. “Gregor,” she said slowly, running her lower lip through her teeth anxiously. “Slow down.” She ran her hand over his chest, to his heart. She could feel it beating, racing, as was hers. “I want her dead as much as you,” Raelynn lifted the hand that she was holding to her lips, and tenderly kissed his knuckles, before bringing it down to her lap. He didn't know.

She took in a deep breath, weighing up whether to tell him - and how, but it was his own words that reminded her that she must. We don't keep things from each other. She repeated in her head. “I'm not going to be able to talk you out of this, I know that, nor would I want to… But if we're going to do this, there's something you must know.” As she spoke, she squeezed his hand in her own. “Gregor, last night you asked me if there was something on my mind, do you remember?”

That was enough to give him pause. An vague and undefinable sense of fear settled on the edge of his mind, like snowfall, and his look of excitement turned to concern. “Yes, I remember,” he said. “What’s the matter?” His hands, which had been limp in her lap, now grabbed Raelynn’s tightly.

There would be no need to embellish her story, tell him her theories. There would only be the simple truth of it. “Ever since that night, I…” She squeezed his hand back, taking in another breath. “I have not been able to use any magicka, no restoration… No conjuring. I've tried, but it's as if it's completely gone.” She placed a hand on his cheek, her eyes staring into his, they were darker than ebony and as beautiful as always, there was a comfort in them for her. “I'm at a disadvantage.” As she spoke, she realised that she wasn't telling him no, and that they should not do it. Whatever her situation was, the level of reassurance that lay in his eyes gave her the strength to not let it stop them.

“I have been reading, there are… ways I can help, but Gregor, without my real skills, this will be far more difficult for you.”

That was a blow, and not just to their plan. Gregor's disability had been visible and obvious and he'd had no idea that that fateful night had damaged Raelynn too. “Mara's mercy, Raelynn,” Gregor said and he felt genuine sorrow for the loss of her magicka. He couldn't imagine having to make do without. “I'm… so sorry. Do you have any idea how to get it back? For such a talented mage to lose their powers… I've never heard of that.” He sighed and took her in his arms, resting his chin on her head. “I had no idea. You've been so strong.”

She closed her eyes as he took her into his arms. She couldn't tell him that this was her punishment. To hear those words would crush him. “At first I thought it was exhaustion, I've had it before. It happened after Calen even. I don't know how conscious you were… But that night I used so much. It wasn't just coming from my hands. It was everywhere… I've never known or experienced it.” She came out from under him, her hands either side of his face. She felt sick, vulnerable. Now that she had told Gregor it became more real than before. In those milliseconds, everything that had happened in Gilane flashed through her mind.

“You know what? I'm done Gregor…” Raelynn shook her head, strands of hair falling loose from within a single clip that was holding it all atop her head in a pile.

A seriousness came over her. Now wasn't the time to think about what she didn't have, what they had lost. It was time to plan. She swallowed back the feelings of fear over it. “I am beyond done with this place. Whatever should happen, this ends tomorrow. She has tried to devour you and I… ” She pressed her forehead to his and kissed the tip of his nose gently - affectionately, before coming back to his eyes again. “Well tomorrow… Rourken is going to choke on us.”

14th Midyear - early morning

Raelynn had woken first, the breaking of dawn had stirred her and it was the first golden rays through the window that brought her round from her sleep. She hadn’t slept too well. Creeping anxiety and excitement for the day had kept her awake for most of the night. Gregor was still sleeping. He always looked so peaceful when he was deep in sleep like that. She had found herself pressed against him when she woke up, as if he had pulled her close to him in his own slumber. A powerful arm was wrapped around her waist and he was shirtless, relaxed. Raelynn knew that this would be the last morning they would have like this for a while, and so she allowed herself just a few more minutes to enjoy it as the sun came up.

The Breton quietly hummed a bard’s song and stroked her fingers up and down Gregor’s arm, she could feel the rise and fall of his chest, and feel his soft breaths against the back of her neck. That was enough. She got up from the bed, tucking her covers back down with great care so as not to disturb Gregor any more than she already had. She slipped out of the bedroom barefoot in nothing but a simple robe, she yawned against the back of her hand, feeling the release of tension immediately as she did so. Rhoka was already awake, she could hear the sound of things being cleaned somewhere, Zhaib was in the courtyard sharpening his swords and daggers for the mission later. Her father was likely still asleep.

As she entered the backroom, she plucked up a book that she had left on a sidetable with the page she required folded down on itself. The recipe and instruction for a conjuration potion. There was no time to waste, she had lots to do and only so much time, and so she got to work.

Meanwhile, Gregor slept like the dead. He did not wake up until the sun had already achieved significant progress in its daily ascent of the sky and even after his consciousness returned to him, he spent longer lounging about in bed than was strictly necessary. That said, he would need his strength tonight and being as well-rested as possible would serve him well. After he finally got dressed and made his way downstairs, Gregor peeked his head around the corner of the entrance to the opulent back room and saw that Raelynn was hard at work. He smiled at the sight and lingered where he was for a few seconds without saying anything before he collected his weapons and made his way outside, to the yard at the back of the house. He did not want to disturb her concentration and his time was better spent making sure that his body was in good condition.

Exercises, taught to him a distant past by his father, served to limber up Gregor's muscles and release the stiffness that had crept up on him through days of inaction and recovery. He remained in the shadow of the house, avoiding direct sunlight, and made sure to drink copious amounts of water in-between bouts of his strict and intense training regime. The yard had been neatly swept and smoothed over before Gregor began and by the time he was halfway through, he had kicked up so much dust and disturbed the sand so significantly that the yard looked like the site of a street fight. He was breathing heavily and sweating like a boy on his first ever date, but his body felt better than it had in over a week, and while his limbs burned and his core ached, it was satisfying and healthy and Gregor allowed himself a grin as he swung his claymore with such force that it buried itself in the ground and remained upright. Looking up at the cloudless sky informed him that it was far past midday and he figured that a lunch break was in order.

Having freshened up and toweled himself down before returning to the back room, Gregor knocked politely on the open door to make his presence known. “How goes the work?” he asked.

She had been so intense in her concentration that she had not heard Gregor get up, practice and ready himself outside, or even speak to her. Her hair was disheveled and there was a layer of sweat across her brow. She was looking down into a bowl with a heavy stare and her lips were pouting out at it. She ran the edge of a copper spoon around the rim, examining the contents rigorously. It was good enough, and so she began to decant it into a glass vial before corking it.

Finally she turned around to the doorway, and was so caught off guard by Gregor that she jumped. “Gregor… You're awake!” She blinked, having finally come up for air she looked to the skylight to see where the sun was, to get some idea of the time. “I… completely lost track of time, but I'm done.” Raelynn picked up a handkerchief from her desk and dabbed at her brow with it, catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror, her eyes widened in horror - she had still not fully dressed. “It must be about past noon by now, how are you feeling?” As she spoke, she ran her hands over the robe as if to smooth it down and appear more presentable, and less like she had spent the entirety of the day so far buried in books and potion-making.

“I feel good, I've been up for hours,” Gregor replied and laughed at the state of her. “Didn't want to disturb your concentration so I went out to the yard and went through my exercises. I feel ready.”

He walked over to the table where Raelynn was working and looked into the bowl. It didn't look like anything to him, but Gregor had never been an alchemist. The rest of the table was filled with books, potion bottles and assorted scrolls and Gregor raised his eyebrows, impressed with Raelynn's productivity. “What have you made?”

Gregor's laughter caused her face to flush red, and it took some restraint not to scowl at him. She settled for running her fingers through her hair while she waited for the heat in her cheeks to subside.

She ran her eyes over the table, it was messy and chaotic to look at. Chaurus Eggs sat in the middle surrounded by moth and butterfly wings, mountain flowers, clusters, bone meal and ashes. “Regulars… Potions of health, stamina, magicka…” She indicated to them in a neat line arranged by their respective colours. “This one is special though,” she picked up a vial filled with a bluish purple liquid contained inside. “This is for your conjuration… You know,” she gave him a knowing glance, “it's incredibly potent… I made sure of that, it took me a long time to create this one.” She smiled at the bottle, proud of herself. “You're going to enjoy the effects of it,” her eyes glimmered with something sinister only briefly, before she placed the bottle back down on the table.

Now that was interesting. Gregor had been in dubio whether or not it was wise to use his necromancy during the upcoming attempt on Rourken’s life but it seemed Raelynn had made that decision for him. It made sense; going after the Governor was a huge risk in and of itself and it wasn’t worth the loss of power to keep his true identity hidden from the Dwemer any longer. And there was a large chance that Zaveed had informed his superiors of Gregor’s abilities already, which meant that the secret was probably out either way.

He looked at Raelynn with a newfound sense of… what, exactly? Gregor had already respected and admired her skills as a healer and the stunt with the Chain Lightning scroll in the warehouse had shown her resourcefulness and the strength of her will. And yet, seeing her devote herself to these preparations with such vigor and cunning raised his esteem of her even more. A smile broke out on his face and he took her hands in his own. “Thank you,” he said softly and planted a tender kiss on her forehead. More did not need to be said.

She felt different, and couldn’t quite place the feeling, but as her eyes fell upon the fruits of her craft, she felt that their plan - that what they had discussed, would work. “One more thing,” she said, taking her hands back to reach for the last potion. It was in a black vial - the colour of the liquid inside remained unknown. It had been an aesthetic choice to store it in such a macabre looking bottle. “You need to get in - far enough in, while remaining undetected. I think you appreciate panache, so this will get you where you need to go as long as you are quick. Invisibility.” She turned to look at him, the potion in her hands, her eyes locked onto his. Her stare was serious and voice commanding, “this will get you in undetected but only by sight, so remember to step softly.”

If she had used this tone of voice with him at any other time Gregor would made a joke about it, but this was serious business and he merely nodded to show that he understood. It was brilliant -- the cacophony of the party’s rescue attempt would mask his footsteps unless he walked right by one of the guards and their numbers would be thinned out by their inevitable reaction to the other intruders. Using invisibility to hide himself from the line of sight of the few guards that might remain at their posts meant that he could be amongst them, coiled and ready to strike, without them having even the slightest clue.

It was going to work. Gregor knew it. “I had no idea you were this accomplished of an alchemist,” he admitted. The same sinister sparkle that had alighted Raelynn’s eyes now appeared in Gregor’s and he cupped her cheek with his hand, running his thumb along her soft skin. “You are full of surprises.”

“I've studied it for a long time. Never had cause to really use it, magicka was always enough.” She placed her hand on top of his, “if all goes to plan - we get Daro'Vasora back, we get the group back… And you get the soul of a powerful Dwemer Governess to sacrifice to the Cairn.” It seemed to her, really, that Gregor was about to gain a lot - everyone was set to gain something. She thought of Shakti and Zhaib fighting for Hammerfell, Latro fighting to free his love. “It's all or nothing Gregor. So I'll give you my all.”

Raelynn was right. It seemed like everything was coming to a head tomorrow, for everyone. Gregor hadn’t given Daro’Vasora or the rest of the party much thought. He was so wrapped up in his own goals that it was almost a surprise for him to hear Raelynn mention them like this. “Once again, thank you. I cannot properly express how good it feels and how grateful I am to have your support.” Gregor smiled sheepishly and cleared his throat before changing the topic. They had been quite sappy enough already. “Do you look forward to seeing the others again?”

She thought about it, it had felt like a long time since they had all been together for longer than a night. After today they would once again be travelling together - most likely by foot again. It had made her positively miserable last time. “They are each in their own way entirely obnoxious, and every single one of them annoys me for one reason or another…” Her words were callous, but the smile that danced over her lips betrayed them wholly. “Absolutely not,” she finished with a half-smile.

That made him laugh. That was good; he could use some levity to manage the tension he felt, wrapped around his guts like a constrictor snake, not quite squeezing, but definitely there. “I should have known. In all honesty, I’ve been rather preoccupied and haven’t thought about it much but now that I have, I feel bad that my last words with Daro’Vasora were of a disagreeable nature. We weren’t exactly arguing, but it was close.” He looked away for a second, thinking, and ran a hand through his beard. “I wonder if she is more inclined to agree with me now, about the nature of the Dwemer as an enemy, after everything she’s been through.”

“My last words to her were…” she sighed, and placed a hand on her heart, turning back to the table to start clearing the ingredients away one by one. “I wonder if she knows I'm alive. I wonder how much she has been allowed to know, if anything.” She took a cloth and ran it across the surface of the table, wiping away the residue left behind. “If I know Sora, she's probably thinking ’fuck the Dwemer, bunch of thundering cockgoblins!’ or… well, you get the idea.” She had tried her best to mimic Sora's voice, but she wasn't much of an impressionist. At least the colourful language was about right.

“Cockgoblins, huh?” Gregor raised an eyebrow and put his hands on his hips. “Look at you, all uncouth like that. I fear that associating with that rabble has been a bad influence on you. Shame. But you’re right. Perhaps the news of Rourken’s death will be of some comfort to her.”

He smiled and a thought came to him. “How about you go and take a nice, relaxing bath, and after that, since words won’t do the job, I’ll show you just how grateful I am,” he said and took a step closer, looking down into her bright blue eyes, his fingers brushing against her hips.

She narrowed her eyes and smirked at him, “is that your nicest way of telling me I look terrible and need to clean myself up?” She laughed and her fingers found his, making a note to remember him in this moment. “But alright, this might well be my last chance to take a real bath for the foreseeable future. I'll have Rhoka draw one.” Raelynn pushed herself up onto the tips of her toes to plant a kiss on Gregor's lips softly, humming against them with her chest pressed to his. As she came back down to her height, she gave his fingers a playful squeeze before making her way out of the room. Deliberately wiggling her hips as she went. “Don't go anywhere now…” she purred over her shoulder towards him, her own way of taking in one last look at him standing under the skylight, smiling, bathed in the sunlight.

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Hidden 6 mos ago Post by Leidenschaft
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Leidenschaft Relax, only half-dead

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Checkmate, Part I

14th Midyear 4E208, Governor’s Palace, 10am…

The reflection staring back in the mirror looked surprisingly healthy, serene, even. The Khajiit that stared back had good posture, and the blue dress seemed to shimmer like the sea in the morning light, complimenting the amulet Governor Razlinc Rourken had given her, sitting comfortably on a finely woven chord that let the pendant sit comfortably at the top of her ribs. Around her neck was a Dwemeri choker, the ancient bangles still about her wrists along with ribbon wraps that were about her hands and bare feet, coiling about her wrists and ankles in an eye-catching fashion. One thing about Daro’Vasora that never changed were her emerald green eyes, perpetually skeptical and distrusting, and her high ponytail, her mane sticking up high and defying gravity with how thick it was and how tightly the leather strip was binding it together. The blues brought out a pleasant hue to her grey coat, and she had to admit the Dwemer had a good eye for finding complementary outfits for people.

It was a damn shame she was likely going to be buried in it later today, tomorrow, latest. She sighed, looking towards the sky outside and seeing Masser concealed behind blue sky; a perfect day, not a cloud in sight. She wished that she had moonsugar, but she would be speaking with her ancestors soon enough, she supposed. After finally composing her speech the night before, Daro’Vasora had decided to try meditation for a change, to come to terms with the little time she had left. She reflected on a lot, and found that in the end, Raelynn’s words came back to her and brought her some comfort.

It’s okay if it’s me.

For once, Daro’Vasora understood.

A knock on the door caught her attention, and Razlinc’s attendant opened the door, stepping inside sheepishly. He was a good man, polite and earnest, and she wondered what he would do with himself if he wasn’t working for the Governor.

“Begging your pardon, Daro’Vasora, your speech will be in one hour. We will come to collect you in 40 minutes, please be prepared to receive us then.” He spoke, his voice softer than the pillow she’d had for the past week.

“What, no requests for a last meal?” she asked him, so conversationally and pronounced as she turned to face him that the Dwemer seemed to be taken aback and unsure of what to say.

“I don’t…”

“Nevermind. Yes, I’ll be ready. May I have this time in privacy?” she asked. A nod was her response.

“Of course. Pardon my intrusion.” he said, offering a polite bow before closing the door behind him.

Daro’Vasora stepped out to the balcony, her speech lined up on the desk. She didn’t need to look at it; she’d memorized what she was going to say, and it was going to piss off a lot of people. She allowed a mischievous smile to cross her face. Good, that was one thing she excelled at. The moment Daro’Vasora was afraid to spit uncomfortable truths in people’s faces in a rather caustic and belligerent fashion was the day she truly died.

She hoped her friends were there to see it, at least.

As odd as it sounded, every nerve and anxious thought that fired off in Latro’s mind and set his bones to rattling and teeth clenching was gone the closer the trio came to the Palace’s servant quarters. It was a building that squatted next to the Palace without so much as a simple palisade for protection and nobody at all really batted an eye at Latro, Shakti, Calen, or even the grim-faced and implacable Zhaib. Latro almost felt that it was too easy, but after they made contact with one of the Poncy Man’s spies embedded there with the servants, it all went according to plan.

Latro looked at himself in the mirror, hardly looking like anybody he recognized. The unpleasant feeling of looking at somebody else in mirrors had been something he’d gotten used to long ago, a boy locked up in a brothel and forced to put up the charade of being a girl put that to rest. But now, he felt like there was power in it. They would all look at him and not realize he was their doom until it was much too late. If they even had time to realize it at all.

A small smile crept upon his lips, slightly more cruel and mischievous than the usual ones. What looked back at him in the mirror and mimicked that smile was a Redguard girl that was in her mid-20s, not to waste time with the powders and paint of the higher classes, but pretty all the same with shadowed eyes and painted brows, winged eyeliner brought out the copper hues. He nodded at her, turning away from the mirror and exiting the powder room, looking Zhaib up and down in his servant’s cloth.

“You are unnerving in your ability to look so different.” The man said, voice not betraying any perturbation.

“Ahem.” Latro’s brows went up and he craned his head forward expectantly.

Zhaib sighed, keeping himself from rolling his eyes but the feeling was not lost on Latro, “You look ready and willing to serve.” Latro craned his head further, “My...Lady...of Dutiful Service.”

“Thank you, Kharim.” Latro smiled and the pair were off to look for Shakti and Calen.

Shakti almost bowled into the other pair as the left the dressing room. She had been too preoccupied with fussing with her dress and hair to notice the door opening. The normally cheerful Redguard girl looked positively stifled in even the plain gown of a servant girl. Her hair was also brushed back and put into a small ponytail. That too greatly annoyed the young woman, and she constantly itched at her scalp. She had at least gotten away with not putting on any powder. If she had been forced to wear makeup she might have combusted on the spot.

Calen wasn’t too far behind Shakti, his outfit far simpler than what she was wearing. A blue cotton shirt was paired with brown linen pants and traditionally designed redguard boots with a high cut and laces threaded up to the top to securely fasten. The only other adorning accessory was a black leather belt of cheap design and likely recycled from scrap materials. The only other pampering he seemed to wear was a slight part in his blonde hair as it was combed off to the side. He seemed far more comfortable in his skin than Shakti did, as shown by the barely hidden amused grin on his face as he watched her expressions.

“Well this isn’t so bad.” Calen beamed. His eyes fell on Latro, and the amused smile on his face grew even wider. With a joking tip of his head, he said, “M’lady.”

After nearly bumping into Zhaib’s chest, Shakti stopped and took a deep breath. “Okay, I am ready. Let’s find Sora.” Shakti declared, annoyance bubbling below her words.

Zhaib remained stoic, despite the outfit which was proving to be loathsome. He was here at his Lady's command, to protect Latro and liberate the one called Sora. Underneath the costume, on his own clothing, he wore the Hawkford sigil with pride on his chest. It had been placed there by Raelynn herself. This wasn't just a rescue, this was for the Hawkford's, this was to get back the bloodshed and the blood taken from the Breton girl.

He eyed up his fellow Redguard, glad for her company. He gave her a half smile of approval - a smile of acknowledgement. This was for Hammerfell too.

“Keep your voice down and don’t speak of her in public.” Latro hissed, composing himself, “If we’re found out now, the others will be wading through shit and fighting in vain. Come.”

With that, the four of them joined in the large procession of servants shuffling towards the Palace. They made their way across the plaza, Latro eyeing the battlements as they slowly came to their base, the huge gate opening before them with its giant cogs working. The servants didn’t wait for the doors to fully open, as soon as there was a crack with breadth enough for one man’s shoulders they proceeded single-file, then by the pair, trios, and finally a flood of them was in the courtyard, Latro, Shakti, Calen and Zhaib among them.

Latro knew it was his idea to go in dressed like servants instead of soldiers, but the lack of his weapons did nothing to calm his nerves, not even his knife at the small of his back gave him strength. The only choice was to hurry onward. They finally came to the large double-doors of the Palace flanked by guards. One of them held out a hand for the trio to stop.

“I don’t think I’ve seen you before.” One said.

Latro swallowed, his mind racing but face a mask. Finally, he managed, “We are new, sir, my sister and brothers. We’re just here for work, no trouble, please.” His voice sounded every bit a sheepish and timid servant girl as he pitched it up and even his face betrayed a look that said ‘oh, pity me, whose already horrid luck has fallen so!’ It seemed to have worked on the guard, as he looked to his comrade, who briefly glanced at the blonde-haired Calen and back at Latro, his expression unconvinced.

Calen stood on his toes with his finger raised to get their attention and, sounding deceivingly genuine, added, “Aye, except for me, right. I’m more of a childhood friend, really.”

He shrugged, the other nodded and they were waved through, “Come on then, no lollygagging.”

Latro nodded vigorously, “Of course, never, thank you, sir!” He bowed at them as they passed, “A thousand thanks to you, peace be upon you!”

“Yeah, yeah. Go with peace and all that.” The guard threw a wave over his shoulder.

Latro was himself again in seconds, a contented smile upon his visage as the trio moved through the halls, “Well, to where should we start cleaning? The dungeons? Staff offices?” He asked, turning to the other three, and added in hushed words, “Sora’s suite? I’m open to anything, my dear sister! Anything, brother!” His eyes went to Calen, “Dearest…”

“--Lover?” Calen inserted as he leaned his head in and raised his eyebrows. Though it was clear he was quite nervous with the whole fiasco of infiltrating the palace, he also seemed to be trying to cope with it via a sense of humor.

Shakti made no attempt to hide her unhappiness, walking past guards wearing a pout, her arms crossed angrily. Luckily she was a young Redguard girl in servant’s garb and so she was basically invisible. Flustered servants being a dime a dozen in a palace such as this. Instead, Calen and Latro got questioned while she was merely waved in with nary a second look. This was so humiliating. She missed her tattered cloak and her sword.

“If looks could kill, dearest sister, you’d be a weapon yourself.” He had his easy smile on Shakti as they walked. “Speaking of places to go,” Latro nodded to Calen as they continued onward and deeper into the Palace, “Can you guide us towards her?”

“Sure,” the bard replied, “I’ll try my best.”

However, Calen did falter for a moment to glance at Shakti again with a look of sympathy. He liked to think he was pretty good at reading people, but to be fair, she wasn’t even trying to hide it. Based off what he knew of Redguard culture, he thought he could understand why she was feeling to bitter and frustrated. Back in the College, they’d have the students read from the Books of Circles to glean whatever wisdom they could from all corners of the world. Indeed, he saw Shakti as being a tried and true Redguard for she reminded him of one of the tenants, ‘the worst action executed with vigor is superior to the best action executed timidly.’ Still, he hoped that with a different quote, figuring she would at least appreciate the sentiment, he could bring her back around.

He set his hand on Shakti’s shoulder with a firm yet gentle grip and, with a sympathetic smile, said softly, “Anger is a crack in the hull that sinks the ship. Discard your habits, yeah?”

Calen was right. Shakti took a deep breath and unfurled her arms. No use being angry over something that couldn’t be helped. Deep breaths. In. And out. This was for Sora, she wouldn’t want Shakti so angry.

Besides, it wasn’t all bad. Zhaib was there and she had learned earlier they had a bit in common. Noticing him smiling at her, the Redguard girl nudged him with her elbow. “I know my hair looks stupid, don’t remind me.”

Zhaib glanced down at the girl, her discomfort was a mild source of amusement for him but he didn't show it. He looked away again, continuing forward. Without his weapons he felt naked. He had a dagger - but his favoured sword was not on his person. His eyes scanned every area they entered. Weapon or not, if it came to it, he'd tear a chunk from the wall just to add weight to a punch, he'd rip a door from it's hinges for a shield. He was resourceful like that, his lips once again curled, at the thought of it.

With that, the bard let go of her shoulder and took a deep breath. With a kiss on his Amulet of Dibella, he tucked it back underneath his shirt and he began to concentrate on his spell as he did so many times before, focusing on the image of Sora in his mind’s eye. He felt an itch on one side of his body, as if he was being drawn to a magnet in a certain direction. It was like a compulsion that needed to be fulfilled, and moving so much as an inch in its direction gave him a peculiar sense of gratification. Looking back around, he said, “Okay, follow me.”

Latro nodded, the group following after Calen. To Latro’s surprise, the walk with Calen guiding them was uneventful. The skeleton crew of guards in the Palace garrison didn’t bat an eye at the four of them. The halls were mostly empty save for a few patrols and the other servants milling about on their business.

All the better, he didn’t want things to get bloody for them until the right moment. Calen’s clairvoyance took them to the stairs, situated next to the elevator. They stopped for a moment, wondering which to take. Latro looked to the others but didn’t wait for any suggestions, “We’ll take the lift,” he said, despite the fact his first experience on the Dwemer contraptions was… not grand, “If we’re caught, I wouldn’t want to fight an uphill battle.”

The rest followed him as he stepped into the elevator, a circular lift that led up into a stone tube without a door, three paces length from the center in all directions. It wouldn’t be cramped, but they’d be in each other’s space. There was a lever off to the side with an indicator of how far to pull it back or forwards depending on what floor you wanted. The floors were labeled, thankfully, and right above the writing for the Ministry of Order’s offices, there were the suites.

He pulled back on the lever, hoping Sora would still be in the room they’d stayed in while he was here with her. The ascent was just fast enough for Latro to feel it in his feet and he looked at the others assembled around him. “Thank you.” He said, finally, “Some of you don’t know or don’t care about me, but thank you for at least having some loyalty to Sora.”

Suddenly, the elevator stopped just as the Ministry offices came into view through the slit at the top of the lift’s open face. Soon, the lift beheld them for all to see, four Redguard Ministry Agents were opposite them and the two parties held a lengthy and tense stare. Latro swallowed, eyeing the four of them. It was only a few moments, but it felt like an eternity as Latro’s hand inched back to Find his knife’s handle.

Before he gripped his fingers around the thing, the Ministry agents simply nodded and stepped onto the lift. “Going up?” One said, smiling politely.

Latro only nodded, Zhaib’s voice from behind his shoulder, “Yes.”

The Ministry Agent nodded and their ascent started again. It was a moment of thick, pregnant silence that engulfed the eight people on the lift now. Latro looked to Calen, Shakti, and finally Zhaib. They were situated behind the Ministry Agents, their four backs turned on the disguised insurgents. Latro nodded at the agents, wondering if anybody else would follow him in his action or if they would advise against it. Calen, feeling uncomfortable, was looking straight at Latro as the Reachman’s eyes glanced between the other members of his group and, realizing what he was probably thinking, nervously shook his head. He worked his brain to try to come up with something to diffuse the tension in the lift and, if the Dwemer happened to be suspicious, shake that suspicion off of them. He started snapping his fingers at his side, prompting a soft punch in his back from Zhaib’s direction, but it didn’t quite stop him from snapping along and humming a jazzy tune to himself.

“It’s a beautiful day,” he muttered his tune quietly to himself, “and I can’t stop myself from smiling… if I’m drinking, then I’m buying… and I know there’s no denying… it’s a beautiful day…”

Shakti cleared her throat and asked in her best innocent-serving-girl voice, “Are you all from Gilane?” It was a stupid question. But it was a deliberately stupid question. Shakti hoped the Ministry agents would be so disarmed by the stupid question they would be beyond suspicion.

“Wadiim is from Hegathe,” one of the four smiled, “Transferred here.”

“It’s a nice city. Do you live here?” Wadiim turned to Shakti, “My father owns a fencing studio here. My mother is a bard, beautiful voice.”

“Like this one, huh?” One of the four nudged Calen and smiled at the blonde man.

“Fencing? I … would love to learn proper fencing someday!” Shakti caught herself, she was supposed to be a serving girl, not an Alik’r Warrior. She cleared her throat again. “Maybe I’ll stop by your father’s studio sometime.” She smiled and waved at Wadiim as she followed the other three. Thankfully, the elevator stopped as they reached the suites, the four of them stepping off first, Latro smiling and nodding only to have it fall away at the sight.

The suites were almost crawling.

Ministry agents hung about talking amongst each other, a few keeping watch and others on patrol while Latro noticed two Dwemer guardsmen on either side of the lift’s mouth. He swallowed, not audibly, he hoped. “Fuck.” He breathed.

Without waiting, he stepped off the lift and was hoping the other three were following. He kept his head down as he walked, heart thumping in his head as he shuffled meekly past Ministry agents that would have no problem turning their guns and blades at them, even Wadiim and his friends would join in, no doubt.

“Where the fuck do we go, dearest lover?” he spat through gritted teeth, whispering and shaking with the excitement and terror of the moment.

“Around the corner,” Calen uttered back, barely moving his lips as he spoke, “follow my lead.”

Zhaib observed Raelynn’s group with narrow eyes. They were each strange - especially the crossdresser, he was making even the hulking Redguard feel unnerved with his to-and-fro of emotions. He still had no words for the situation, but he was more on his guard now, shoulders hunched forwards and he was on high alert. They were getting close.

After a few turns down hallways and passing a few guard patrols Latro was finally starting to get his bearings back. He recognized some of the hallways, then Calen stopped in front of a door. He didn’t have to give any sort of tell that they were here, Latro knew. All of a sudden, the excitement was in him. Behind that door, he very much hoped, was Sora. Sparing a look at each of the faces in his team, he took a breath, rapping his knuckles on the door. “We’re here to clean the room. Please stand front and center with the door so we may see you.”

Knocking came at Daro’Vasora’s door, and she let out an annoyed grunt; she should have still had twenty minutes of blissful peace before being carted off for her damned send off. Clean the room? This early? Her thoughts her muddied, that didn’t make much sense. They tended to do that when she was pulled out of the room for various reasons, not when she was around. She placed herself as requested, hands in the air to show she wasn’t concealing a bludgeon or something else equally spiteful. However, something about the muffled voice made her heart raise in a sense of familiarity, sparing her from launching a tirade of barbed comments at the voice.

“Okay.” she called.

The metallic rasping of a key entering its hole was heard just before the knob turned. What greeted Sora was a Redguard girl positively beaming at her. The look was expectant of something, as if she were waiting for something and she stepped inside, spreading her arms wide.

The three accompanying her might have been a hint to who it was, but Latro spoke anyway, his voice smiling as well, “Hello, love.”

It was a bit too much; the appearances, the disguises, the voice. Daro’Vasora took a step back to get her bearings before her mind caught up, realizing what was in front of her. Her words came as a whisper,

“...Latro?” she asked, taking in the painted face, the women’s clothing. None of it made any sense, but decorum failed her and she rushed over to him, throwing her arms around her lover, inhaling deeply to take in his scent and to try and prevent herself from having an embarrassing emotional outburst.

“I… thought you were dead. They took you away, the report…” her words came staccato, unorganized. “How? How is this possible?”

A sob caught in her throat as she buried her face in his neck. “I thought you had died. Again. Please stop doing that.” she said, trying to force a teasing tone but failing on account of the lump that was growing in her throat.

Latro fell into the embrace and returned it, squeezing Sora tight and nuzzling his face into the crook of her neck, his voice was equally strained now that his lover before him made it known that this was all real and not some dream. He’d wished and hoped and nearly prayed for this moment to happen, “No promises.” He chuckled through his tears, “Kept you waiting, huh? I missed you so much, so godsdamned much.”

He stepped back, holding her by her shoulders and looking into her eyes, his characteristic easy smile back on his lips once again. He let her go and his arm waved over the others theatrically, “Oh, and Calen and Shakti are here too,” he smiled, “And this strange man who keeps following us.”

Zhaib nodded, nothing more.

“He’s so nice.” Latro chuckled, smile still on his face before he brought himself to the balcony, “The others should be here sometime soon.”

The Khajiit looked up over Latro’s shoulder and offered a tiny wave of greeting, still trying to come to terms with what was happening. Shakti and Calen were here, too?

Latro turned back to Sora and his smile grew once more, “I like it. The whole thing, you look beautiful. Like that day in the White-Gold City, when you gave me the lute.” He looked down at the ground, just remembering he had other eyes besides Sora’s on him now, his face reddened slightly as he chuckled, “I have to admit, I’m not done with your song still.”

“Excuse me, ma’am, please step away from the drag queen.” Calen inserted, maintaining his facade of servitude while sparing a cautionary glance toward Latro. “Did we ever discuss who it was that’d be cleaning the chamberpot? Because it definitely won’t be me.”

“We draw straws.” Latro smiled, “Or you lot do. I’m here to supervise.”

“Yeah, okay.” Calen remarked sarcastically, rolling his eyes as he took a few steps toward Sora. He greeted her with a gleaming smile and set his hands on his hips. “Miss Daro’Vasora! You never struck me as the princess stuck in the castle type. You enjoying the view, at least?”

Not for the first time in Daro’Vasora’s relationship with Latro was she glad she was physically incapable of blushing, although she coyly covered her face. “Well, thank you. I didn’t pick it out myself, but I think I pull it off. I’d like to pick up my gear, if we have any clue where it is.”

Turning to Calen, she smiled. “This place has indoor plumbing; it all goes down water-logged pipes. The future is now, I think. The room was adequate and the food was good, but the amenities were awful on account of there being a lock on the door and no way to pick it open.” she showed an arm that spanned the room.

“This is pretty much all I’ve seen for the past week, unless they came for me for… interviews.” she hesitated with the last word, looking at her companions with concern. “You all should have left the city; I’m so glad to see you all, I feel like I don’t deserve you risking your lives for me, but we need to leave, now. The governor has a new kind of centurion that’s going to purge the entire city. You’re all in terrible danger. I was going to warn you about it, in the speech in the next hour…” her voice trailed off, suddenly laughing in relief. “Oh, gods. I wasn’t expecting to survive past noon today. I was going to warn you all about what was coming.” she glanced at Latro, blinking. “What the fuck are you wearing?”

“You know,” Calen began nervously, “I think I could make up, like, three or so really good jokes out of everything you just said, but I’m still stuck on the centurion death machines that the insurgency outside has no idea about and are probably going to get totally fucked by.”

Calen, now visibly anxious at this point, was combing his hand through his hair and finished, “Sora - everyone came together for this. We’re supposed to wait for the cue outside and lead you out of here. They have no idea what’s waiting for them. What are we gonna do?”

That gave her pause. She crossed her arms over her waist, looking down for a moment before making eye contact with Calen. “Why did you all do this? None of you owe me anything, you could all… you should have left town, I’m not worth risking even one of you for.” she said, her voice pained. She stepped over to Latro, and took his hands in her own. “Thank you, all of you. I don’t know what to say, but we need to get out of here, and fast. What can I do to help?”

Latro opened his mouth to speak, but when nothing came out he closed it again. He looked everyone in the room over before settling on Calen, “Fuck.” Latro breathed, turning to Sora, “Fuck. Sora is right, we need to leave, tell the others. We can’t let them get into the building and have us all trapped, but there’s a damned army outside of that door.”

“Sora, you’re a Dwemer expert, right?” Calen asked. His eyes were darting around side to side as he tried to come up with some kind of plan, taking deep and measured breaths to keep himself from panicking. “Like Jude and Ani? Can you, I don’t know, stop or shut down or whatever the thing they’re hiding?”

She gripped her jaw between a pair of fingers and her thumb before running the same hand down her face. “Me being an expert kind of went out the window when the Dwemer hopped out of my history tomes and kicked us all in the teeth.” she admitted, her mind racing over the same problem that had occupied her for several days now. “Honestly? No. The Governor called them Assassin Centurions. They’re about half the size of a regular one but they can sprint and climb walls and have all the lovely modern armaments. I was supposed to give a speech calling for unity in exchange for you not being targeted by these things, but I couldn’t. I think they’re autonomous, I’ve seen them in action; I don’t think there’s anything like a control center for them, and it sounds like they’re all designed and programmed individually.” she shuddered, despite the heat. “I’m terrified of what they can do when they are released.”

She looked at the group, her expression resolute. “But that doesn't mean we're without hope. I think I know how to end this invasion once and for all.”

Shakti had immediately ripped the hair tie off and sighed with relief as she ruffled her hair into its normal messy state. “I’m so glad to see you safe Sora the Khajiit. By the way, what is a Centurion?” The Redguard girl asked innocently enough. Everyone else seemed to know what they are.

“Likewise, I didn’t think I’d see any of you again.” The Khajiit smiled at her young friend before her expression shifted. “Centurions are Dwemer constructs that are a bit more than the height of two Altmer, humanoid in shape, and extremely dangerous. They’re often used as guardians of key installations; their strength is unmatched, but they’re fairly slow and cumbersome. Something that’s not the smartest to fight with a sword, I’m afraid.”

“Right, so, let’s get back on track.” Calen interjected. “I’m still waiting on this idea of yours that’ll save everyone’s lives.”

Just as Sora drew in a breath to speak more knocking came from the door. The five of them visibly tensed at the noise before Latro looked at Sora to give an answer.

“Miss Daro’Vasora, your meal has arrived.” A deep male voice said, “Please stand front and center with the door so we may see you.”

“Give me a moment, please; using the privy!” She called out, gritting her teeth in embarrassment at her improvisational skills. She quickly turned to the others, whispering in an urgent hiss, “Hide, out of sight!”

“Where!?” Shakti flung back in a hushed voice, her eyes holding unusual panic within them. They darted around the room looking for a hiding spot. She felt naked without her sword and had next to no experience with hiding. It all added up to a confused and panicky Redguard who was more at home in the blazing desert than a palace.

In response, Calen, now wide-eyed in panic, threw a hand over his mouth and began concentrating on a spell. Nothing seemed to happen, but as he dashed off to the side to grab Shakti, his footfalls made no sound against the floor. Like a ghost gliding over the ground, he silent reached Shakti grabbed her hand before sliding behind a room divider, bringing the Redguard girl with him. As she slid down beside him, he pulled Shakti close to his person and threw his spare hand over her mouth as well. This reminded him too much of all the times he and some paramour of his were hiding from the latter’s parents and, as he got older, their spouses.

Latro simply took a few steps towards the door and pressed himself against the wall. He nodded to Sora and when she called for the man to come in, the door exploded open with such violence it took everything for Latro not to make a sound as it swung over and the knob dig into his fruits. The guard’s heavy and quick footsteps brought him into Latro’s view.

A thick-built Redguard holding a pistol to Sora’s face. Latro swallowed, “Someone’s in here with you, eh?”

The sound of the door closing made the man whip around to look at it. “Now you’re in here with me.”

Latro grabbed the barrel of the pistol and yanked it up hard, wrapping a hand around the man’s mouth as the pop of his finger breaking in the trigger guard was muffled by his palm. A stone-skin hand palmed him in the face hard enough to break his nose up into his face and he dropped, “Well, somebody’s going to miss him.” It was then that a loud explosion followed by a staccato of rifle fire made Latro’s eyebrows raise, “That must be the others.”

It had begun.

(Distraction team, East side, sewers: Mazrah, Jaraleet, Alim, Meg)

For all the apparent civilization of Gilane, Mazrah had been deeply surprised to find that a literal river of shit flowed through the ground, right beneath everybody’s feet.

The sewers were spacious enough for her to walk nearly upright and a raised platform on the right side of the tunnel allowed the party to make their way through without having to wade through the excrement and bodily fluids that gently flowed away, presumably towards the ocean. They were walking upstream, towards the source, and the Orsimer had seen fit to take point, map in hand. She was a huntress and a naturally gifted tracker and the Ornim of Orsinium, for all their other savagery, were advanced enough to make use of cartography to map the mountains and valleys that made up their homeland.

“So the escape tunnel should be… this way,” she said, keeping her voice down, as they came upon a crossroads in the sewers. They were searching for the escape tunnel that the Caliph -- whoever that may have been -- had supposedly built in the palace, just in case. According to this map, anyway.

Mazrah had decided to ignore Nanine’s advice after all and had ditched her robes just before they entered the sewers, leaving her dressed in her usual minimalistic furs and leathers, just enough to provide the bare minimum of modesty. Her spear, bow and arrows were fastened across her back and she had applied white war-paint on her face, turning the vaguely demonic shape suggested by her tattoos into a full-blown Daedric skull. She was ready to kill and she looked the part.

Unlike Mazrah, Meg had kept herself covered up. She had her usual clothes on, a faded grey tunic and dark trousers, but above it there was the cloak she had worn the night she had gone out to search for Daro'Vasora with Jaraleet. The bloodstains had been hard to wash from the thick cloak, but she had managed to clean out most of it. Her bow and arrows were secured on her back and at her belt was her sword, ready to be used in case it was demanded of her.

Truthfully she was restless, but Meg kept herself in check. This was no longer scouting or planning, this was it, the mission to save Sora, and they could not screw it up. She looked up ahead at Mazrah and quietly hurried her pace, joining the map wielding orsimer before looking both ways. Her nose wrinkled at the odour of the filth, vaguely reminding her of Riften's Plankside, but she pushed that olfactory memory to the side. Rising up on her tiptoes, she attempted to peek at the map.

"Y'think?" It was hard to tell which way either of the paths could lead. Her lips pursed; she was no map expert, that was for sure, but-

“If the map says that’s the way to go, then it’d be best for us to follow the directions on it. If we try to guess our own route the only thing we will accomplish is that we’ll get lost in the sewers.” Jaraleet replied, his voice low as well, to Meg’s question. He had patched up the damage to his armor as best he could for this mission but it was rather clear that he’d have to replace it in the nearby future. Along with his armor, he wore the same black cloak that had accompanied him in all the missions that he had undergone in Gilane, the hole left by the bullet having been patched a while ago.

“Come, it’d be best if we continue moving on. There’s no time to waste, the others are waiting for us.” The Argonian said, taking point in front of Mazrah and making his way into the tunnel that the Orsimer huntress had pointed out as the way to go.

Mazrah narrowed her eyes when it looked like Meg was about to question her skills in reading the map and opened her mouth to say something sassy when Jaraleet interrupted them both. She watched the Argonian go with a pout as he took point instead of her and she sighed, glancing sidelong at Meg. She remembered that the girl was sweet and probably meant nothing by wanting to see for herself.

“Here, take a look,” Mazrah mumbled and handed the map to Meg, pointing at where they were (according to her, anyway) before following Jaraleet. “Hey, shadow-scales, shouldn’t the best warrior be in front?” she teased as she tried to catch up to him.

“Not really.” The Argonian replied with a shrug. “What matters most in these situations is who can get rid of the enemy the quickest. And I’d wager it’s easier to do that with a dagger than with a spear like the one you favor.” The assassin said, patting the scabbard in which his dagger rested. “We aren’t here to fight the Dwemer head on, but to strike at them for the shadows and to give an opening to those waiting outside the palace.”

Meg had gulped slightly at being given the map- she really didn't trust herself with it and had simply been curious; she hoped Mazrah hadn't taken offense or anything of the sort. Making sure not to fumble with it and accidentally drop it on the ground or worse, she hurried after Maz and Jaraleet, catching up just in time to hear their little conversation. For her part she could see more advantage in using a bow, but she kept mum, figuring it best to let the professionals talk. She was a little grave robber after all, not a warrior or someone skilled in assassination.

“The spear is for fighting, silly lizard,” Mazrah said and laughed under her breath. “The bow is for hunting. I’m not a stranger to this, you know. When men ranged too close to Orsinium, we would stalk them from the trees and the shadows of the valleys and shoot them down like deer. Such soft bags of meat…” She looked behind her at Meg and winked.

“And you should know I’m not stranger to this either Mazrah. But there is no point to this little banter of us, is there? We shall see what both of us are made of before the day is over, I’m sure of that.” The Argonian replied to the Orsimer huntress, stopping when they came upon the crossing.

Mazrah felt like they were close. “Where to, Meg?”

Meg blinked before looking down at the map, quickly following the path they had taken with her finger. If she was reading it correctly, they were to take the path to the right. However, she didn't want to accidentally lead them astray.

"This way I think," she replied, tapping at the map with her finger. "Uhm, but maybe y’all should check the map just in case..."

He turned to look back when he heard Meg saying that either he or Mazrah should take a look at the map and made his way towards where the Nord woman was standing. “Seems like the right path is the correct one.” He said after a moment of looking at the map, smiling at Meg. “You needn’t doubt yourself so much, you know that right?” He told her softly. It hadn’t gone unnoticed by him the way that Meg seemed to have been doubting herself as of late, but this was no place for them to sit down and talk about it. He just hoped that his words would help the Nord woman, even if only just a little bit.

“Come, we should get moving. Time is of the essence if our mission is to succeed.” The Argonian said after a moment, turning back to face the right tunnel, and began walking once more.

“Is he always like that?” Mazrah asked Meg quietly after the Argonian had forged on ahead once again, his professionalism staunch and unwavering. She hadn’t heard the encouraging words that Jaraleet had spoken. “Or does he ever, you know… enjoy himself?”

Meg let herself grin as she started forward once more. "T'be honest, I've only been on one mission with him," she replied quietly. "So I dunno... he was straigh' forward then, like now... but..." She looked the slightest bit embarrassed, the slightest hint of red showing on her cheeks. "He can be really nice."

Mazrah’s eyes flitted between Meg and Jaraleet’s back in front of them and she broke out into a wide grin. “He just said something nice to you, didn’t he?” she whispered and playfully elbowed Meg in the shoulder. “I bet he has a soft spot for you. That is adorable.” The Orsimer enjoyed the simple, mundane delight of young love -- or something like it -- before all hell was undoubtedly going to break loose. She thought of Maj, waiting for them by the gate, and the days they had spent together.

“Come on,” she added and increased her pace. “Let’s catch up with him so we can make sure that nothing bad happens to him.” Mischief and endearment sparkled in her eyes in equal measure.

“What are you two whispering on about?” Jaraleet said, his voice echoing farther from the tunnel. “We don’t have time to stand around gossiping like old wives. Pick up the pace, time’s wasting.”

Meg jerked a little- he didn't hear, did he? She didn't think he did... Stop thinkin' stupid things! she mentally yelled at herself before picking up the pace, hoping against hope that the hot feeling on her face wasn't actually showing in red. They had way more important things to think about than her fancying somebody!

Amused, Mazrah followed on Meg’s heels but dropped the topic. Jaraleet was right, of course. They were about to exit the sewers and infiltrate the palace of the most dangerous Deep Elf in all of Gilane. It was time to get serious. “I think we’re coming up on the escape tunnel now,” Mazrah hissed loud enough for Meg and Jaraleet to hear. “Look for a hatch above your heads, or something like that.”

Jaraleet turned his head to look upwards upon Mazrah’s words, his eyes soon locating the hatch that the huntress had spoken off. “I’ve found it.” The Argonian said, motioning with his hand to the location of the entrance to the palace. He waited for the Nord and Orsimer to get close to him before speaking again, preferring to keep his voice low just in case. “This is it, we come up through the hatch and then stick to the shadows. I’d prefer if we could avoid any open confrontation before we rendezvous with the other team.” Jaraleet said quietly, his voice serious. “If we must get rid of a guard, make sure to make as little noise as possible and to strike from the shadows. It goes without saying that we should hide the corpses as well. Any few extra seconds we can buy for ourselves will be crucial.”

Strike from the shadows, eh? Meg smiled beneath her hood, feeling the weight of her bow and her quiver on her back. It was a very good thing she had brought it along with her- what could be easier than striking down a person from a long distance? She nodded her head to show she understood the situation. "Righ- I'm ready." She looked up and then blinked. "Er... one've you's gonna have t'go up first." The hatch was too high for her to go up by herself.

“I’ll go up first, make sure that there aren’t any guards nearby and then pull you up Meg.” Jaraleet said as he moved the hatch that was closing the tunnel. Without waiting for a reply from either women, the Argonian assassin made his way up the tunnel and emerged into the middle of a small patch of trees.

Jaraleet waited for a moment and, when he didn’t hear anything out of the ordinary, allowed himself a brief smile before he returned to his usual professional attitude and made his way back down halfway, reaching down with one of his hands towards Meg. “Up you go, there seems to be no one patrolling the area the tunnel opens up to but, well, that could change in any moment.”

Meg wasted no time in grabbing on to the Argonian's hand and letting herself be pulled up easily enough. Once she was on solid ground, she made a quick perusal of her surroundings, noting the trees and marking them as potential hiding spots just in case there was anyone unexpected making an appearance. Even as she did, she took her bow in hand, wanting to be armed just in case.

Mazrah was tall enough to pull herself up and out of the hatch and looked around in annoyed bewilderment. “This isn’t an escape tunnel,” she hissed, stating the obvious, disbelief in her voice. “Why the fuck are we outside? Are we in the right place?” She had been sure she had read the map correctly and it was disorienting and, frankly, somewhat embarrassing that she had been wrong. The Orsimer grumbled to herself but followed Meg’s example and armed herself with her huge, iron-enforced bow, nocking an arrow as she did. She pushed her frustrations to the side and looked around properly, taking in the sight of the palace walls some distance away from them before she turned and saw the palace itself towering above them, blotting out the sunlight that otherwise would have filtered through the trees.

“Okay, we are in the right place,” she said, her voice low. “Just… not entirely what I expected. Now we have to find our way to the western side of the palace. I say we stick to the shadows of the building itself. If there are any Dwemer patrolling the grounds, we take them down with our bows, Meg. Sound good?”

"Aye," Meg replied, barely nodding as she kept her eyes out for the guard. Flashbacks to the night she attempted to scout out this place were rife in her mind, despite trying not to think of them. Gritting her teeth, she attempted to reassure herself as she quietly slipped away from the shelter of the trees for the palace walls instead. The sewers, while stinky, had been much more reassuring than this. Deciding not to wait, she plucked an arrow from her quiver as well- better safe than sorry.

The Orsimer swiftly joined her. That was when she heard noise in the distance. “That must be the others,” she whispered. It sounded like fighting and she heard what she thought was magic. The distraction had begun; it was time for them to make their way to the courtyard. The two archers took point and crept forward, keeping low but moving as fast as they could, their eyes scanning the grounds for any sign of movement. Mazrah stopped dead in her tracks and placed a hand on Meg when she heard yelling and footsteps nearby, but the sound receded away from them. Guards abandoning their patrol to head to the gates, she figured. However, a lone Dwemer came into view as they rounded another part of the palace and Mazrah looked sidelong at Meg before raising her bow and drawing the string back, expecting the Nord woman to follow her example. Two arrows were better than one.

“Three, two, one…” she breathed and let go.

Meg let her arrow fly at the same time as Maz's, following her countdown cue and mouthing along under her breath. Both arrows flew true, catching the dwemer guard by surprise. From the way he toppled to the ground without much resistance, it was safe to assume the dwemer was not going to pose a problem.

"That takes care o' that," Meg whispered, looking to Mazrah and Jaraleet. If they were lucky, any other dwemer that came their way would be just as easy to take down.

“We should get a move on. It’s only a matter of time before someone discovers the body.” Jaraleet said, looking to Meg and Mazrah. “You two take care of anyone who is far away and I’ll take care of whoever has the misfortune to cross our path directly.” The Argonian said, turning to look at the corpse of the Dwemer guard. “With any luck we won’t encounter any more guards. I’d prefer if we could do this without raising too much of a fuss, for the moment at least.” He said before beginning to make his way further into the castle.

(Distraction team, West side: Judena, Anifaire, Nanine, Maj, Aries)

An old storehouse just outside the walls of the palace made for a decent hiding hole for many of the company’s mages and a collection of local insurgents to assail the front gates with. Truthfully it was a series of buildings, the largest only as big as a small tavern without lodging and it’s wine-cellar beneath the ground. It was in that cellar where Aries had opted to make her base of operations in, as it provided her with more than one exit should their plans be discovered and their forces routed. While in the past it might have been a local tavern, it was likely faced with too much competition from the likes of Three Crowns and the Haunted Tides Inn. It wouldn’t have surprised her if the owner was one of the insurgents killed or executed by Dwemer peacekeeping forces. There were many buildings lately that had fell vacant due to such tragedies.

She was leaned over what must have been an old butchering table, but whatever covered it previously was thrown out and replaced with maps, notes, and dossiers. The map was by far the largest sheet of paper on the table, and Aries had it covered with whatever she could use to represent allies and enemies -- mostly old shot-glasses, the bottom of had X’s and O’s painted onto them with ink. Her eyes were trained intently on each piece, her hand gliding along the map as she thought carefully about the movements of insurgent troops while anticipating the positioning and movements of the enemy. Irranhu cell had just recently launched their attack on the weapons depot, so she was carefully pushing some shot-glasses toward that direction. They just had to time their assault on the palace correctly to providing an opening for the East team coming from the sewer so that they could allow everyone through the perimeter.

Aries looked back toward the dossiers; she already collected information on her new comrades capabilities. It would seem there were quite a few able mages in their midst to help combat the Dwemer’s firearms. However, two of them were Alteration mages, and probably weren’t going to be effective in a large scale battle. One used to be an imperial battlemage and were an expert in destruction and conjuration -- which was useful. If the dwemer targeted a conjured creature, it was that many dwemer not focusing their fire on the insurgents. Lastly, but certainly not least, was a local redguard woman who was well-practiced in illusion and conjuration. The same about Nanine’s conjuration could be said for Maj, but the latter’s illusion magic could definitely create mayhem along with herself in the Dwemer’s ranks with well placed frenzy spells.

Aries, deep in her thoughts, winced at the thought of getting too involved. She had no qualms with getting her hands dirty, but she didn’t want to reveal her entire hand just yet and she didn’t want the enemy noticing her among the rest of the riff-raff and asking questions about her… but she’d rather risk that over failing to breach the palace anyways. Not to mention how little she knew about the people she was working with -- she knew just enough to know what they were capable of, but as far as their personalities or what their motivations were, she was in the dark. Half the purpose of the coming briefing was to see them all interact with each other in the same room and study their habits. She didn’t want to march into the fire with a barrel of oil at her back, so to speak.

Nanine walked into what was serving as the center of operations, dressed in the same leather armor and dark robes she had worn during the raid on the prisoner caravan. Plate armor would slow her down too much during this assault, and she needed to be as quick as possible. She briefly glanced over the map and the movements before focusing back on the woman who had introduced herself as Janelle. Nanine didn’t trust her. Their very first meeting she had very suddenly introduced herself, offered her aid, and lied about her name. It was convenient, considering that they needed the manpower she offered, and more than a little suspicious. Plus, she knew that ‘Janelle’ was a Breton noble. And Breton nobles always had an ulterior motive. There would be a time to address the lie, but that would be later. Right now, she needed to make sure everyone was on the same page.

“So, the plan is for all of us to draw the attention of the Dwemer and defend as best we can against their counter attack until the group in the East, Mazrah, Meg, and Jaraleet, can open the servant’s entrance. Then Judena, Anifaire, Maj, and I make a mad dash into the opened entrance, rendezvous with the rescue team, and escape the Palace as quickly as possible. Are you and your men going to be following us into the Palace, or do you have other plans with them?”

“They’re not actually my men.” Aries replied simply, still focused on the board. She carefully slid one final piece into place by the weapons depot. She continued, “They’re free-willed insurgents, like you; but unlike you, Gilane is their home, so they care enough about winning to not make any hasty decisions.”

Her eyes flitted up to glance at the battlemage, deciphering the expression on her face and the tension in her voice as mistrust and shrugged it off. Hopefully that bit of openness on her part should be enough, for now, to diffuse that annoying sense of animosity. Now to properly address her question -- she pointed her finger towards the palace that was represented on her map.

“The plan isn’t ideal, but it should do for now.” Aries said. “In consideration of how it should be executed, we should plan some finer details. How should we initiate the engagement? I don’t want to bring undue attention to the courtyard and there’s no point in wasting lives and resources by trading volleys in skirmishes we’ll invariably lose. Also considering the machinations at their disposal and the limitations of our magicka, the cards are stacked against us.”

Judena joined alongside Nanine, holding her spear - relatively ready to fight and cause significant trouble. Dressed in her mage robes, having no interest in exchanging what she was comfortable in. Golden eyes scanned the map, her wide red scaled head cutting a distinct profile with symmetrical little horns poking at the sides of her jaw. Her nerves ramped up every time she would read or be reminded of the importance of the night, their combined efforts to rescue Daro’Vasora. She paid extra attention, Anifaire was at her side acting as her spotter and Judena acted as her support in magicka. Jude observed the map, her hand slid across the paper stopping at the heart of the palace.

“Dwemer technology and their alloys do not stand much chance against a well placed transmutation spell, gravity, and simply destroying the soul gem housing.” She commented gesturing to the center of her forehead. “The power is nestled behind well armoured heads, but it is quite often located in their heads, necks and sternums.”

She drew around her chest, “A localized place.”

“I truly hope we can keep the mechanized defenses at a healthy distance, weakening them for strikes by the other…” She looked away from the map, “Insurgents.” Hesitant to call herself as much.

Clicking her nails anxiously she turned to Anifare, “I hope it is only their machines we need to destroy tonight.”

Anifaire paled, the thought not having occurred to her. “As do I.”

Maj, the aforementioned mage wasn’t far from the table leaning in a chair at an angle against the wall. “If I’ve heard right, the fuckers deserve their numbers to be thinned.” She said, plainly.

Judena frowned, “They are living, breathing artifacts. Flawed as any one of us, enemies only because they hold one of our own.” She replied.

“I’m rightfully pissed they sunk the ship I called home and you’re concerned for their lives after they sacked the Imperial City. I ain’t some blood thirsty scourge but there’s no forgiving that.” Maj commented her fingers laced behind her head, looking the image of relaxed. Raids were her specialty, causing chaos and knocking heads around. Easily the most comfortable she felt since being stuck on shore. Her eyes shifted to the pair of bretons with sticks up their arses, comparable to the Altmer’s rigid posture. They reeked of the law.

That ultimately meant they’d be ordering her and the others around first chance they got.

She pointed to Janelle, “You gonna join us or just stand at the sidelines barking orders?”

“Don’t displace your anger, dear.” Aries sighed matter-of-factly, giving Maj a sideways glance. Though the following words were ones of praise, and her voice practically motherly, a keen intuition would correctly translate her language as condescending. “I understand that you’re a talented illusion mage, so in actuality, we intend to have you working with me while we create discord among their ranks. A few well-placed frenzying spells should take some of the heat off of us while our forces breach the perimeter. The conjured daedra can provide needed distractions with long-ranged spells.”

Aries divided her attention from Maj to share with Judena and Nanine. “Judena, I respect yours and… Anifaire, correct? Yours and Anifaire’s expertise on the Deep Elves, and I’ve no doubt that it will be useful to us in time… but I am of the same mind as Maj. They had no such reservations when destroying the Empire or holding Hammerfell captive. If they wish to revisit Tamriel with fire and ruin, then we’ll show them how the art of war has changed over the eras. I will not allow myself to be ground beneath the heel of a museum piece.”

Maj nodded along, “Nice as it sounds, lassie, I’ll be moving around. Not one to sit still.”

The chair legs came back to the ground and she stood up. “I am quite talented thank you for noticing. Big imagination and bigger execution of ideas, I’ll keep ‘em off us.” She said, turning her attention to Aries, “So is that a yes or no? If you’ll be at anyone’s side it’ll be in the thick of it.”

Maj grinned brightly and Aries met it with an amused smirk, quickly pegging her as the arrogant or over-confidant type. It was dangerous, she thought, but easily manipulated. “Oh, but of course darling,” she said, “I’ve no intention of leaving you all alone -- but that being said, a talent such as yours is too valuable to risk being left on the front lines. Why, what if you were struck by a stray bullet? What would we do then without our expert illusionist?”

Maj squinted at that, turning a lip at the ‘dears’ and ‘darlings’, “Why I’m interested in you being apart of the raid is because it’ll be a group effort, no one person is responsible. We’ll move as a force of nature, a battering ram. I don’t care much for a leader that isn’t going to pull their own weight, right?” Maj turned to the others, making what she felt was a good point. A reason she respected and missed the Captain of the Scarlet Harpy, Captain Sette fought alongside her crew.

She turned to Aries, “Right?”

“I tire of making the same promise.” Aries replied, meeting Maj’s challenge with a bored gaze. “You’ll see.”

“Sure.” Maj replied, shrugging - still sporting her smile, not phased. “I guess we’ll have to see. So aim for their heads?”

“More like aim for the crystal. It’s not necessarily in their heads.” Nanine mentioned idly, looking at the map. “We can’t stray too far away from the servant’s entrance, since we don’t know when during our distraction the East team is going to be able to open the gate. We can’t get in a prolonged engagement, since we lack the manpower to really threaten a fortress like that. Ranged harassment with constant movement to minimize risk might be best. Us five, maybe a few archers, hitting the guards from hidden positions and then moving to a new location. We each do what we’re best at, whether it be direct damage, manipulation of the senses to create chaos and confusion, or eliminating their advantages by manipulating reality.” She looked up from the map at the group. “Thoughts or other suggestions?”

Aries had more than just a few thoughts, but first held her tongue and glanced toward the others instead to allow them an opportunity for input, which she could then adjust accordingly as a final word, but as an addendum to Nanine’s question, she added a warning, “Don’t waste all of your magicka before the battle even begins. Creating the distraction is only stage one.”

“Got plenty to spare don’t worry your pretty little head much, we ain’t dumb.” Maj commented, “I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but have a little faith. You don’t get to be half as talented without being good at what you do and surviving a few nasty scraps.”

Turning to Nanine, answering her question, “I like building a scene. I can snap out frenzy spells that trick the targets into thinking their heartbeat has risen, that they’re seeing crazy shit, adrenaline really helps with that. Or red around their vision - you name it sure,” she said, “But-,” Maj pulled out a wrinkly scroll from within her shirt laying over the map a quickly sketched scene of her idea, the small details and fairly accurate depiction of the palace sat before them. “I want to build an army behind us, volleys of arrows, torches lighting down the alleyways.”

She became more energetic as she continued explaining her idea, “But! But! Such an elaborate image would be fucking hard to maintain for everyone to see, I’m going to cast it on a few then watch ‘em try to convince everyone around them of what they see.” She patted her sketch, “I was up all night and had the brilliant idea.” How brilliant it was - was strictly a subjective point by the excited mage.

Judena’s frown deepened at their exasperation, she shared a look with Anifaire at ‘alteration spells.’ It really was a shame how little anyone knew of what they were capable of. The rise in tension was undoubtedly awkward, the small conjurer’s idea was plainly bad. “I do not believe we will be wasting our energy, perhaps to remedy our mental stamina we can simply stagger ourselves. Deploying offensive long range first, then focusing on the Dwemeri long range riflemen next. Protecting not only ourselves but the other insurgents as they harass.” She inverted her frown to an appreciative smile toward Aries, “I believe we are in agreement.”

Nanine glanced at the map, briefly appreciating the artistry that went into it, before shaking her head. The idea was certainly inspired, but ultimately unhelpful.

Judena gently noted to Maj, “Perhaps keeping it simple for this sole excursion would be best, there will be opportunities for your… idea soon enough yes?”

‘Thank you’ Aries quietly mouthed, glancing toward Judena from the corner of her eyes. She took a deep, calming breath before she began drawing on the map the positions of the mages among the buildings and alleyways of central Gilane. Working off of what the others had given her, though begrudgingly, was enough to give them a basic strategy to work around. In this case, it would be more valuable than trying to stick to an overly detailed plan since so many people in Samara cell were so… individualistic, and in case anything went wrong, it wouldn’t undo the entire tapestry.

“Unfortunately, we’re in Redguard lands, who have a long history of being a warrior culture.” She said. She looked at Maj, anticipating her offense. “By that, I mean the palace doubles as a stronghold, so it’s easily defensible. Between the nearest building and the wall is wide open sand, so trying to stay close to the entrance would leave us exposed to gunfire, nevermind reveal our intention of trying to access the servant’s entrance. Now, to reiterate...”

Aries then pointed towards the map, tracing her finger up a fraction of the wall, “If Maj is positioned a quarter length along the wall from one side, and I quarter length along the other, that would give us the most coverage for our illusion magic. Her and Nanine, who can be positioned… here, closer to the center, their conjuration can direct their some of their fire away from us. Assuming they try to send troops out to meet us, Nanine and I or some of the hidden insurgents can take them out. We can send potshots their way to keep the pressure on, but not so much as to clue them in to the real size of our forces. We can repeat this process until we’re given our cue to advance. It’ll be a battle of attrition until that entrance is opened.”

Aries head turned to face Judena and Anifaire, to whom she gave a sympathetic smile, breaking the tense demeanor she has thus far shown them. “To be honest, I do not know much about alteration magic. Some of the staple spells, perhaps, but accepting reality as a falsehood was… a lesson that did not sit well with me. Whatever you can do, I’m sure, would be greatly appreciated.”

The break in demeanor startled Anifaire, though she looked to Judena as she had done thus far in their meeting instead of speaking, it comforted some of the nerves she felt over the group’s terse conversation.

Judena warmed to her comment smiling with a content squint, Aries admitting to knowing only a little - presenting an opportunity to educate when they had time. “After today you are welcome to join us in an lesson, Anifaire and I have been working on practicing but there is opportunity to learn more, Jill.”

Maj crossed her arms, following along with a huff relenting when seeing the combined exasperation of the others at her idea. Gently rolling up the scroll to stuff away back into her shirt, “Alright, keep it simple.” She said, pausing at ‘Jill’ she shot a look at Judena - Maz had warned her of the elder argonian stressing the need for patience, but to see it happen in person was jarring. Her eyes lingered on Jude before glancing back to Aries, “You ain’t wrong about Redguard culture, learn a great deal about it when you personally clash with it.” Maj commented with a somewhat bitter note, adjusting her gloves with a frown.

“I’ve actually studied Redguard culture quite extensively.” Aries commented, careful to not say too much. “Let’s say I’ve done a lot of business in Hammerfell for a few years. Perhaps one day I can tell you more about it.”

“Aye, I’m sure you’ve got some interesting stories to tell.” Maj said her frown evaporating refocusing on the map. “We should head out.”

“Agreed. We know our roles, and the East team is already on their way. The earlier we start, the better.” Nanine nodded in agreement with Maj, straightening up from her inspection. She was in a central position to respond quickly if things went awry, and that was the best she could make of the situation.

Nervous to depart, Anifaire hovered near Judena, picking at her clothes and hair to keep her hands from shaking. She tried to study the map but wasn’t sure how she would be able to use the knowledge in the moment. She wished she had a bit of food to try settling her stomach, but thought she might throw it up instead if she tried.

Nanine paused on her way out, looking at Anifaire. The poor girl looked like she was about to faint from nervousness. She’d have to keep an eye on the High Elf, make sure she didn’t get into any trouble. Nanine offered a reassuring smile. “Anifaire, you’re gonna be okay. Stick close to Judena and remind her of what you’re both doing if necessary, keep low, remember what you’ve learned over the past few days, watch your mana levels, and you’ll be just fine. Aries, myself, and whatever conjurations Maj and I release will have most of the attention of the guards, so just take your time and aim your spells. If you get into trouble, we’ll be near to help you. Just do your best Anifaire. We’re neither expecting nor wanting heroics from anyone. If all else fails, keep as calm as you can and you’ll be alright. I promise.”

Anifaire smiled. While she wasn’t very reassured, she was grateful for the effort, but felt guilty needing it. She worried she would be a hindrance to the group.

Aries watched quietly from her position as Nanine attempted to assuage Anifaire’s nerves. She did not scowl or smile, but remained the neutral observer as she studied their interaction. ‘Too soft.’ She thought. ‘Both of them.’ The Altmer had likely never been a part of something larger than herself all her life, she was far too timid and was likely going to be a liability. Nanine, on the other hand, was trying far too hard to be something she isn’t. The plan they had developed was sub-par and she was too accommodating by coddling Anifaire in the middle of an operation, so she doubted the woman has ever been an Imperial officer. As for the other two, Judena had the best nature of them, but she can’t even remember a name and was reluctant to kill a dwarf. Maj was the least likely to stick to a plan. Aries suddenly found herself more appreciative of Sevari’s competence… even if his loyalty was still in question.

“Let’s get into position.” She declared, finally stepping away from the table. Her eyes suddenly went cold as she faced the grim reality awaiting her. They had cooked up a recipe for disaster, but it was far too late to turn back now. With each step she took up the staircase, her heart pounded against the inside of her chest. It wasn’t out of fear, though. It was anticipation. While she resolved herself earlier to not make herself known to the Dwemer, the thought of finally releasing all of her rage against the would-be conquerors was enticing.
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The World Was Wide Enough

13th Midyear - Evening - Salosoix Residence

It had been around one hour since Salosoix Hawkford had arrived back at his temporary dwellings in the heart of Gilane, a piece of luxury sandwiched between a hookah den and a clothiers. It appeared smaller on the outside than it was inside. A purposeful choice. It would be easy to walk past the front door and not notice it at all. The perfect spot to conduct his affairs.

Inside was a simple tiled porch that led into an open office. Salosoix’s workspace. He liked to work near the entrance. It was his prying nature you see - a particular trait that he had nurtured through his life.

He would never share it with anyone outside of his family, but Salosoix Hawkford was orphaned at 11 after the death of his mother to a common illness. There had been a terrible storm and she took ill and simply never recovered. It was believed that Senisande Hawkford suffered from a broken heart after her husband deserted her and left her with their only son, Salosoix. She simply never had as much love for life after he had left. After her death, Salosoix was left as her orphan. Penniless, homeless, and without family.

Many would have given up after having been dealt such a hand of cards - but not Salosoix. A diamond in the rough, he had an unimpeachable power of speech and a hunger for more, to rise above his situation. To fan the spark into a flame and overcome his bad fortune. So he worked. By 14, the prodigious young Breton was already a squire for a noble merchant of Wayrest - attending to his needs, working to procure items and sell them on. He used this time to learn and absorb everything around him - and so his influence only continued to grow until he found himself practically running the business for the merchant. He had the gift of a silver tongue - and ambition far beyond that of the pampered Master he served…

Nobody ever did question exactly what happened to Salosoix’s Master, and nobody ever did question why and how Salosoix absorbed the business and carried it on after his Master’s untimely disappearance.

Opportunity had simply knocked.

It was a business he had continued to pursue throughout his entire life - a business that brought him to Gilane just as the world was about to tilt and change. “Fortune favours the brave…” he mused, as he often did. His eyes falling onto the flames of his hearthfire. It seemed like only days ago that he had arrived here - only expecting to close a deal on some tapestries. Yet, here he was still. Feeding into the hands of the Dwemer Governor, Rourken with the opportunity to turn the tables on an old rival, The Poncy Man and… absorb his prosperous guild. A smirk grew over his thin lips as he sipped from his glass. Tonight it was a red wine. He ran his fingers over the mahogany of his desk, thinking back on the memories of his life. He had achieved so much, made a name for himself, and found himself with a fortune that even as an orphan with big dreams he would not have been able to imagine.

And yet.

He had a fortune, he had a good home, a flourishing business, he had respect and enough power to keep him safe and allow him to play a game of chess that for anyone else would simply be too much of a risk. And yet it wasn’t what he cared the most about. It was when he walked through the front door of his rented residence to see the black cloak and clothing of a dangerous heathen that his heartstrings were plucked at, a knot grew in his stomach, and a burning anger rose behind his eyes. He had been in Hegathe with his appointed bodyguard doing some important negotiations. To return to his home to find that Gregor Sibassius’s scourge had spread back to his daughter’s heart had set a fire in his chest he didn’t know existed. It was a flame of indignation at such misfortune that hadn’t been ignited since he had found himself at rock bottom at 11 years old.

He peered across from the flames, over the rims of his glasses to his daughter who was sat before him. Her face aglow with heat from the fireplace. He took another sip, and his lips curled at her. They both held onto the stubborn silence for a few moments longer.

“So Raelynn, is this just defiance? Rebellion? For I don’t understand it.” His voice and stare were so intense that even Raelynn fell sheepish under it. “Papa please, you don’t understand,” was the small response that she offered him. It wasn’t enough. “So make me understand. He threatened me with dark magic. He’s a necromancer? Correct? I’m going to say it’s a damned safe assumption to make that he was the reason that the Dwemer Administrator perished. The reason as to why your once beautiful hands were mangled.” While there was anger and vitriol in his tone, his manner was calm and cold. It was a complete dichotomy of behaviour - but this was how Salosoix was. He would never let his emotions boil over. He knew that his daughter was far more likely to crack under the pressure of his terrifyingly austere approach.

“The only reason why I am not dragging you back to Daggerfall with me, is because I am a man of principle and I will not lay a hand on you,” he said as he placed the wine glass onto the desk, the crystal caught the light and began to glow and twinkle like a ruby. “There is more to him than that." She did not confirm or deny the accusation. "He has his reasons, and he is a good man. He has kept me safe, and I… I love him.” She was her father’s daughter - she wouldn’t back down to him over this, and she mimicked Salosoix’s manner and adopted it as her own, showing her indifference at his anger in a complete lack of expression on her face. “What you have with him is not love, it’s self-loathing… It’s a wildfire that will burn out of control and consume you, Raelynn. I thought I raised you better than this. Or, perhaps I am wrong and you are right - this necromancer will be your Knight. But it will be the first time I have ever heard of such a thing.”

“Don’t you dare mock me,” she snapped back. While Salosoix could stay ice cold - Raelynn had the fiery temperament of her mother in her blood too and she could not resist biting - he knew that she would react and he was already prepared for it. “You make a mockery of yourself by parading around with him. You make a mockery of our name - of my name and I will not allow it any longer. You are complicit in his criminal degeneracy, and that in turn makes you a filthy little degenerate-” He stopped himself from saying the rest of it aloud. He wanted to call her a whore, but even with his anger as hot as it was, he couldn’t spray such a word in her direction. Even thinking it made him feel bad enough.

“Like father like daughter then, aren’t I?” Raelynn’s temper subsided as she realised what her father was doing - baiting her into an emotional outburst. “I wonder, Papa, are your hands clean? For mine may be mangled but yours are covered in blood and there is dirt under your nails from everything you’ve buried…” Her eyes narrowed and Salosoix’s jaw clenched, a vein protruding from his neck as the rage bubbled beneath his skin. They could go back and forth like this all night if they really wanted to, and it seemed that tonight - yes, maybe they wanted to. Salosoix could see this would go in circles.

“You just haven’t got the courage to do things yourself. Tell me, how many men has Zhaib killed for you here? You even had Gregor and Jaraleet slaughter members of the insurgency, did you not? Don’t you dare sit over there in your false throne and call me a degenerate without first looking in the mirror.” The young Breton swallowed and her body tensed as she waited for her father’s response. She knew that those words were the weights that would tip the scale and be the push to drive Salosoix over the edge. Surprisingly, he remained as forbidding as he had been, his fingers merely tightened around the stem of the glass and he drew one long breath.

“Hold your tongue and remember where you are, don’t be so fucking impudent and know your place. You will say no more about my activities here.” He snarled as he ran his hand through his hair from root to tip. “Everything I do has a reason - is there a reason for your behaviour outside of lust and self-hatred?” Salosoix needed Raelynn to understand who was in charge here, and yet it was senseless to make this a battle between the two of them. He had to let it go in order to drive the conversation where he needed it to go.

“I’m leaving for Daggerfall in the morning.” He said dryly, giving her no time to retort, despite his observation of her cheeks growing red and fingers clasping at the desk. He lifted the glass once more to meet his scowl. Neither of them spoke as he took a sip from his glass. His fingers relaxing from their grip. “I will ask you only once to come back with me. Your efforts here have been impressive, and this work will be good for you to recuperate. Raelynn, I would like for you to come home.” His eyes met hers - their colour and intensity the same. There was little expression behind them, but there had been a softened tone on his tongue.

He already what her answer would be.

“You are your own woman, and I have raised you to be nothing else. Your sharp mind and incredible intellect has always impressed me…” His posture softened into the chair as he began to speak but he could not look at her. “Your mother and I always wanted the best for you. We raised you to have ambition of your own, your own goals and dreams for your life. You are especially gifted with the arcane arts - something that, your mother and I were never interested in. You found that on your own. To be a healer is no simple feat and you never receive enough credit for that… Not even from us.”

His daughter was right and they both knew it. It was the elephant in the room. His hands were dirty and he was a dishonourable man. A smiling assassin without the nerve to draw a weapon of his own. Once again, memories ran through his mind. Every negotiation, every coin carefully placed into the hands of someone willing to get things done. Once more he turned his head to look his only daughter in the eye. “I’m proud of you, Raelynn.” Before she had a chance to interject, Salosoix’s hand reached out over the desk to grab at hers, “I watched you disappear in front of me. I let it happen. It was my fault, I had a chance to save you, and I chose this… over you.” His free hand motioned around the room, and his eyes darted to all the corners, to every shining jewel and treasure that was littered around his office. “All in the name of what? Power?” He sighed, and squeezed at Raelynn’s hand. His thumb running over the back of it. Just as he had done the first night he had been reunited with here again. “I was terrified that I was about to lose my stance here. What I had been doing, building... But you see, the only thing that has ever mattered to me at all... I had given away.”

All she could do was listen, never had she seen her father relent so easily - and it was because of that, that part of her did wonder if this was still part of his game. But as tears formed against his eyes, she knew he was being sincere. “Papa, I’m sorry…” She sighed, placing her other hand on top of his, letting him have his moment of quiet. “I know why you did it, I understand.” Had she felt more like fighting then she would not have absolved him of it so quickly - but there was something sad about seeing him appear so defeated.

“I don’t want to lose you, Raelynn. I can’t force you back with me. If I do that you’ll wither - I’ve… Seen it before, I can’t do that to you.” He thought of his own mother, the way that her very essence floated away from her the same day that his father walked away. “I saw you like that only nights ago. I don’t trust him, I don’t like him, but… You’re right, he will keep you safe. I saw it in his eyes that night he threatened me.” Raelynn dropped her gaze to the floor in shame. Perhaps she still needed to speak to Gregor about that - was it his temper? Was it something else? “He told me about it, he was just so fraught, Papa. He didn’t think. He wouldn’t do it again, and you know, he listens to me - he does. I’m helping him be better, to stop being so… Much like that.” She felt ashamed to lie in front of her father - knowing that there had been times she would use her own wiles to rouse Gregor’s temper as and when she pleased...

Salosoix shook his head at his daughter’s naivety when she wasn’t looking. Did she actually believe that she would be able to change Gregor? Did she want to? He could feel a distance between them and it hurt him to admit it to himself. “I am frightened by what I saw. He has an unhealthy hunger for you, it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.” He shook off the feeling of dread that fell over him, the room growing ever darker now as his fire died down to embers. “Look at me.” He demanded, straightening himself up against the sharp back of his chair. Raelynn did as he asked and lifted her head back to meet his eyes, “do not let what he wants and desires eclipse what you need, my Sun.” Raelynn nodded, grabbing at his hands.

“And you are right…” He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose - unsure of whether or not to delve deep into his closet. “I have danced with several demons in my life Raelynn… You know that I built up our reputation from nothing, I did not do it alone… What I have learned is there is always a price. Balance always has to be restored in some way. I am frightened that you being in his shadow leaves you compromised, regardless of what you think - you are a woman who should stand in the light.” He let go of her hands, and got up from his seat - there was a tension in his body that was apparent in the way he walked. He was not satisfied with the outcome of their conversation. Salosoix was not a man who would compromise, but tonight he had been forced to. “What are you talking about, Papa?” She asked, feeling as though her father’s poetic riddles were about to give her a headache. “Demons? Balance? How much wine have you had?” She stood from her own chair and shadowed him across the room gingerly.

“You’ll find out one day. For now, I have something for you.” The elder Breton reached into a cabinet and pulled out a small, rectangular box, and a musty looking old book. “You’ll remember that every time I took a trip… I always returned with a gift, do you not?” As he had done already, he steered the conversation again, poking at the sentimental and greedy part of his daughter who’s interest would be well and truly piqued at the word ‘gift’. He looked over his shoulder as she came to join him at his side, a smile finally curling over his lips, but his eyes betrayed any happiness he was trying to have her see. “I do remember. That’s why I liked you returning so much, you’d always bring me and mother something special…”

Raelynn hooked her arm around his and stood at his side with her head on his shoulder. She vaguely recalled doing the same thing as a child, except she would climb up onto his lap as he sat in his favourite armchair in their library, pulling gifts from bags like a street performer might pull out colourful ribbons to amaze his crowd. The smell of their home hit her. It would always smell like polished wood, books, and of the wild lavender that grew in bunches around the home. She chuckled under her breath and squeezed at Salosoix’s arm tighter - all the animosity from the atmosphere dissipating as her eyes fell over the ornate looking box sat on the cabinet. “What is it?” She asked, biting her lip - her eyes glowing with the anticipation.

“It’s a sword.” He said, matter of factly - popping open the box to reveal a stunning blade inside. Only just longer than a dagger, but the hilt and pommel looked almost to be made of porcelain or glass they were so smooth and shiny, with ripples of burgundy and obsidian beset through it. The blade thin, and subtly curved towards its end. Raelynn gasped at it. It was the most beautiful sword she’d ever seen. Around the pommel there was a woven tassel in scarlet thread with jade beading holding it in place. “It’s a sword perfect for someone like you. Small enough to conceal, sharp enough to kill.” It hurt him to think of his daughter using such a weapon, but he already knew that she had found his scroll and put it to use. He shook off the thought of his darling daughter slicing through flesh. “You’ve had… A difficult time here. I want you to take this sword - you are capable of many things, yes, but in a scrape - this blade here might deter the wrong sort from laying hands on you.” He met Raelynn’s eyes again, and saw that they were too busy staring down at the expensive gift. For a moment, he saw his innocent child once more and it brought him a small feeling of comfort. “I wonder if… Well, Gregor might help you to learn to use it…” His levity did not last long, and his jaw clenched to have even suggested such a thing, but Raelynn needed to believe that he was coming around to it.

“Thank you…” She said with a dreamy sigh, running her fingers over the handle. “The book?” She asked, turning up to look at her father, leaning further into him as she waited for his explanation.

“In a moment, I’ll tell you about it. I’m leaving tomorrow Raelynn.” The Breton plucked up the book and gestured back to his desk where he headed - back to his chair, an air of severity following him. He waited for Raelynn to get comfortable again. “I’ve been poisoned by my political pursuits here, you’ve been through so much, we need a break. We need time to mend. Will you return to Daggerfall with me, all things considered?” It was his last desperate plea for his daughter to come back with him. To get away from Gregor, and he already knew she was turning it down, but she had to feel empowered that it was her decision, or else he would only push her away and tug at defiant rebellion that he had been trying to quell. “All things considered, Papa… I have to stay with my,” she thought on it, were they really her friends? Companions? “I have to stay with the group. I owe it to them, and they actually need me.”

It surprised him. He had expected her to tell him she was staying with Gregor, but she was choosing to travel with the rest of the insurgents? It filled him with hope that they would keep her from being buried beneath the plague that was Gregor. “I see…” Unsure of whether the disappointment in his voice was real or feigned, Raelynn placed her hands back onto her father’s, offering him a small smile. “They need me, Papa. I am doing good work.”

The Hawkford patriarch placed the tome onto the desk between them, he could not change her mind. She was as stubborn as he was, (if not more so) he had to let her have this minor victory over him. “Well my Sun. When you are going to continue travelling further into darkness - you should remember to take a light, so that you never get lost in there...” After he spoke, he blew free the dust from it’s cover. Revealing it to be a Spell Tome of Expert Restoration. Raelynn’s eyes once again widened, and a smile crept over her lips - tears forming in her eyes. Her father had accepted her decision, and not only had he accepted it - he had provided her with resources to help her. She could only mouth the words to him, but he felt them.

After that, the two of them shared the last of the wine and talked for a while longer. There was so much left unsaid, but still so much mended - for now. Until they next were to meet there would still be issues left unresolved but this was the point at which they settled the differences. All that they could do now was enjoy each others company for an evening more.

Tomorrow, everything would change.
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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Hank
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Hank J. Wimbleton

Co-Admin Seen 1 day ago


14th of Midyear, 4E208
Governor’s Palace, Gilane, Hammerfell

One of @Father Hank and @Dervish’s finest creations

The palace was under attack.

Kzindhra had hastily slipped into his armor and grabbed his rifle as soon as the news and the call to arms had come, but he had the misfortune of having been relieving himself when it did. As such, the young Dwemer guard was the last out the door and found himself alone in the spacious corridors of the palace, following the noise of the marching ahead of him, just out of sight around the next corner. He thought he could hear sounds of combat too, from further away -- it sounded like magic, or Daedra. Kzindhra muttered a curse under his breath. Perhaps it was just his imagination. They had all been nervous ever since the terrorists had ramped up their activity and he had been privately anxious about a counter-attack on the palace ever since their leader, the Khajiit, had been arrested and contained within. Now it seemed that the time had come.

It worried him, gnawing away at his confidence. Kzindhra had to admit to himself that he had never been very courageous. Brave enough to be a guard in what was supposed to be a peaceful occupation… but this? He had friends out there; now, by the gate, but also previously on the streets. Some of them were already dead. He remembered when he got the news that Mzalk had died when a prison transport had been attacked. Stabbed right through the neck with a spear, apparently. He never stood a chance. He cursed again, purposefully this time -- cursing the insurgents and the terrorists who simply couldn’t accept that the Dwemer had returned and who refused to learn how to co-exist. It didn’t have to be like this. It simply didn’t have to be like this.

Behind him, something appeared to materialize out of thin air.

Everything went white as his head was grabbed from behind and smashed against the wall. Kzindhra instinctively reached for the sword at his belt, his eyes screwed up and his jaw hanging slack, trying to speak, to yell, to raise the alarm. “Wha--” he managed before his legs gave away beneath him and he slid down against the wall. Or he would have, if it weren’t for something, someone, holding him in place, pinning him against the bronze surface with great strength.

“No, no--”

Blinding pain rang through his skull again, and again, and he tried to regain his footing but his polished boots slipped uselessly on the floor. He felt something hot and wet running down the back of his neck and his hands reached out to defend himself, grasping at his assailant, feeling only leather and steel. His eyes finally cooperated and he saw a swimming vision through the pain, the silhouette of the enemy: a man, cloaked and armored.

Dressed entirely in black.

The man’s mailed fist rammed into Kzindhra’s face. He felt and heard his nose break and his lips split and he immediately tasted blood. He was reeling, everything was spinning, and his arms spasmed with the concussion of the blow. “Pleath, no,” he whimpered through broken teeth, gagging on the blood, eyes screwed up.

He couldn’t see but through the ringing in his hears he heard the familiar metal rasp of a weapon being slid out of its sheath. It was over. They were already inside. Rourken had to--

The dagger slit his throat. The agony was overwhelming. Kzindhra’s mind seized up as he felt the blood gushing out of him, cascading over his chest and his arms. He tried to speak, to breathe, raw instinct fighting against the inevitable, but he couldn’t. Everything was spinning so fast, coming from so far away, and he felt so cold…

Kzindhra slid down against the wall, leaving a trail of blood, and collapsed onto his side. His limbs twitched with his dying throes but after a few seconds he went still, the only sound that remained being the blood dripping on the floor.

Gregor Sibassius towered over him and looked down on him with nothing but contempt. His eyes were two black pits of coal, his baleful gaze being the only visible part of his features; the rest of his face was hidden behind his scarf, the hood of his cloak was up and every other inch of him was covered in armor and clothing. He sheathed his dagger and slowly reached up with his right hand to pull his claymore from his back and prepared a spell in his left hand. Gregor let the cerulean magic swirl between his fingers for a second, admiring its intensity, before it reached out like a chain and hooked itself in Kzindhra’s chest, lifting the dead Dwemer to his feet, a puppet on its strings. The strength of death animated his limbs and he pulled the sword from its sheath without difficulty now, looking ahead with vacant, glowing eyes. His slit throat did not seem to bother him anymore.

“One,” Gregor said.

The two of them set off down the empty corridor together with purposeful strides. Gregor remembered the general direction of the throne room from his last visit with Raelynn and Daro’Vasora, but the specifics escaped him now. He glanced at Kzindhra’s walking corpse and briefly lamented the fact that he could not ask him the way; zombies retained the skills and abilities they had possessed in life and they took mental orders without hesitation, but there was no way to communicate a question like that to him, or for him to answer. However, he did remember the balcony that looked out over Gilane, which meant that the throne room wasn’t on the ground floor. Finding one of the machine-operated lifts was a priority.

Gregor’s path led him away from the outer walls of the palace and towards its core. The party’s plan was clearly working; he did not encounter another living soul for minutes, the only sounds being the heavy footfalls of Gregor’s and Kzindhra’s boots and the distant noise of battle. It was impossible to tell where exactly it was coming from or to divine how the battle was going. The palace was large and many of its wings had purposes unto themselves. Casting glances at the half-open doors he passed as he walked Gregor figured that he was moving through an administrative section, judging by the desks with inkwells and quills apparently abandoned in all haste. Perhaps the scribes had been evacuated when the attack began. As the minutes passed he began to feel unease and the diffuse lighting of the blue lamps with their indeterminate power source that were so typical of Dwemeri architecture took on an ominous quality. He had expected more resistance. The lack of foes made his path easier so far but he couldn’t shake the feeling that it was only going to make things harder for him later on. Life had a way of equalizing such things, he found.

However, when he rounded another corner Gregor rather abruptly came face to face with three Dwemer and, absurdly, he was almost relieved. Whether they had been guarding something or were on their way elsewhere Gregor couldn’t tell in the split second before they reached for their weapons but they were clearly more surprised to see him than he was to see them, and he reacted faster. Two of the Dwemer raised their rifles at him but Gregor had already mentally directed Kzindhra to block their line of sight with his body. The painfully loud discharge of the weapons being fired echoed through the hallway and Kzindhra convulsed with the impacts of the bullets. Knowing that their mysterious ranged weapons could not fire in rapid succession, Gregor, safe and sound after being shielded by his zombie, drew upon his magicka and a shimmering purple oval appeared in the midst of the three Dwemer guards before he dashed out from behind his elven meat-shield.

The Wrathman, its immense strength further fortified by the conjuration potion that Raelynn had made for Gregor, struck down one of the very alarmed Dwemer with a single swing of its massive battleaxe, caving in her chestplate and sending a guttural spray arcing through the hallway. Her rifle clattered to the floor and she was thrown back by the force of the blow, smacking against the wall with a sickening crunch. The other two Dwemer backed away, fear poisoning their minds and slowing their reactions, and Gregor fell upon them, giving them no time to recover. One of them only managed to tear his eyes off the hulking Wrathman just in time to see the flash of Gregor’s claymore before it buried itself in his neck. Lightning sizzled and sparked and the spasming Dwemer fell backwards almost comically after Gregor pulled his sword free, the current of electricity coursing through his body keeping his limbs as stiff as a board. Blood gushed out of the grievous wound at alarming speed and he stared up at the ceiling wide-eyed and uncomprehending as he died.

That only left one Dwemer standing. His eyes flitted furtively from Gregor, to the Wrathman, to his dead comrades and back again, fury and terror writ upon his face in equal measure. “Monster!” he yelled, voice close to breaking, echoing the word that the Redguard woman who poisoned Gregor had thrown in his face a week before. The Pale Reaper did not mind. He was a monster, he knew that, and he relished in the fact. He wanted the Dwemer to fear him and revile him. He was their reaper now The Dwemer dropped his rifle and drew his sword from its scabbard. It seemed that he had found his courage and wanted a worthy death. Gregor laughed as the Wrathman bore down on the last Dwemer and necromantic magic sprang to life in his palm again, two tendrils of pale blue light raising the slain guards back up. They drew their melee weapons too and the Dwemer cursed bitterly in his native tongue. He tried to make a mad dash for Gregor but the Wrathman intervened, forcing him back with a wide swing of its axe, and that is when his erstwhile companions tore into him with their blades, their faces devoid of any expression of sympathy or regret -- there was only compliance. He screamed as he died. It was unimaginably cruel but Gregor’s wrath was implacable and he felt his blood sing in his veins at the sight. Another flash of magic brought the third Dwemer to Gregor’s side as well and he looked behind him to see Kzindhra climbing back to his feet, two fresh bullet holes in his cuirass but otherwise seemingly unfazed. He was more resilient in undeath than he had ever been in life.


He came upon a lift soon enough, not far beyond the site of his little skirmish, and stared at the handle that operated the machinery. He remembered seeing it before and he nodded to himself when he remembered that the lift would travel to a specific floor depending on how far the lever was cranked. He waited until his grotesque entourage had joined him on the platform before he grabbed the handle and pulled, trying out a floor at random. The lift went up smoothly, the sound of the machinery drowning out the constant din of fighting coming from elsewhere inside the palace, and Gregor used the time to take a deep breath and calibrate. It would do him no good to get ahead of himself. His magicka reserves were still sufficient, also enhanced by Raelynn’s potions, and he hadn’t been injured yet. He was sharp, focused, and ruthless and looked down at his free hand to see what his fingers were perfectly still. Behind his scarf, Gregor allowed himself a small smile. Rourken had no idea what was coming for her.

The lift slowed to a halt when it reached the desired floor. Three Redguard servants had been waiting for it, apparently, anxiety on their faces. Gregor watched their mouths fall open in horror as the lamp on the wall sprang to life, casting its glow on him, the undead elves with him, and the hulking shape of the Wrathman. They were young, barely adults, and screamed while they turned around to run back the way they came, down the long and straight corridor. They would undoubtedly raise the alarm and inform the guards, or the Ministry of Order, that he was already inside the palace. Gregor could not allow that to happen.

Three of the Dwemer next to him raised their rifles.

The report was deafening. Gregor winced and cast a sidelong glance at the long weapons, annoyed. He stepped out of the lift and into the corridor, his cloak billowing behind him. The zombies followed suit, marching lock-step with their master, and reloaded their rifles simultaneously. Gregor stepped over the corpses of the three slain servants, making sure to avoid the blood pooling around them, and it was almost an afterthought when he flicked his hand in their direction, illuminating the corridor with the ghostly glow of black magic. The resurrected servants, the bright blue light in their eyes contrasting starkly with their dark skin, hurried to catch up with Gregor and his soldiers and the Imperial directed them to walk in front of him. They had no weapons with them; even in death, they were expendable.


A few more empty twists and turns brought him to a wider, open space where two rows of desks were neatly arranged in order. It reminded him of the rooms he had seen earlier in the administrative wing. Far more important than the interior design of the room, however, was the fact that there were about a dozen people there, clustered together beyond the desks. There were Dwemer but also foreigners; not servants, though. Ministry agents. Gregor saw that some of them were already wounded. Someone had been here before him or they had taken refuge here after being attacked elsewhere. Some of the people looked up and yelled in alarm. Too late. Too slow.

More bodies were cut down by another salvo of gunfire. The three servants dashed forwards, their faces rabid, and the undead Dwemer shouldered their rifles, unsheathed their blades and followed in their footsteps, bearing down on the survivors with deadly intent. They pushed aside the desks in their path; inkwells fell and shattered on the floor, spilling their black contents like pools of blood. Gregor ordered the Wrathman ahead as well and only then did he follow. Now was not the time for unnecessary risks. The servants practically leapt at the Ministry agents that took up weapons to defend the wounded and tore at them with tooth and nail, gouging out eyes and digging deep into exposed throats. A chaotic melee ensued, the Dwemer yelling in gut-wrenching disbelief as their own kin laid into them with their swords and other people screaming in pain and horror as the servants forced them to the ground, attacking like a pack of dogs.

“Retreat! Run!” one of them bellowed and made for the exit on the far end of the offices after the Wrathman joined the fray -- they realised it was hopeless. The others, those that were still alive and that could still run, joined him and they quickly disappeared from sight, slamming the door behind them. Gregor bit his lip and cursed. There was no stopping them now. The fact that he had found wounded people this deep into the palace suggested that the party’s assault was well and truly underway now, however, and if he was fast it wouldn’t make a difference that they escaped. Gregor assessed the damage; four of the twelve people he had found here had died, their causes of death a mixture of gunshots, stab wounds and far more gruesome injuries inflicted by the servants. Even without weapons, his zombies were dangerous. Two of them had been defeated, now nothing more than piles of dust on the floor, and Kzindhra appeared to have finally expired as well. No matter. Gregor was about to replenish their numbers by raising the dead scattered about the room before he noticed another person, propped up against a door that led to a private office. It was a Dwemer, a man, but not armored like the guards. He was very seriously injured but not by the hands of Gregor’s minions and, remarkably, still alive.

Kerztar looked at Gregor with an indeterminate expression, his face too bruised and bloodied to move or speak, but the Imperial could see hatred in the Dwemer’s eyes. He approached and knelt down next to him, who lifted a weak hand to do… what, exactly? Defend himself? Attack Gregor? The major’s strength was gone and Gregor batted the hand aside, almost amused.

“You look important,” Gregor said softly, cupping Kerztar’s face in his hand. “That is bad news for you. Well, you know what they say, tall trees catch a lot of wind…” His voice trailed off as he reached for his dagger. Kerztar shivered at Gregor’s touch. The elf had already suffered. Gregor would make it swift.

A fell wind passed through the room as he stabbed Kerztar in the heart and trapped his soul.

The Ministry office was a hub of sorts, with multiple corridors leading away from it, and Gregor found a map of the palace pinned to the wall after a quick look around. An X was painted on it with ink to indicate where he was and the rest of the palace’s wings and rooms were helpfully labeled. The palace was a winding, almost labyrinthine structure; it did not surprise Gregor that the Ministry agents got lost often enough to warrant such a map. His index finger traced along the map as he read, searching for the words ‘Governor’ or ‘Rourken’, and Gregor caught himself mouthing along in all his urgency. He was reminded of that fateful night in Falkreath, years ago, that he had spent pouring over the tomes and volumes of the dark arts he had betrayed Hannibal for, searching for anything useful, anything to justify the murder of a man who had considered Gregor his friend and ally. Gregor blinked and pushed the memory aside.

His heart skipped a beat. “There you are,” he whispered when he found the words at last. Governor’s office. All around him corpses climbed to their feet, the air thick with magic and Gregor’s eyes flashed crimson with hunger. He was close.

“Ready or not, here I come…”

Razlinc Rourken’s office was subjected to an influx of officers and staff bringing information on the attack on the palace, the insurgents making a bold move against the stronghold where an infiltration team had unlocked the Eastern gate, allowing a sizable strike force within after a distraction team had drawn the attention of the palace guards from the West, splitting the attention of her forces and resulting in considerable loss. She grit her teeth as the latest reports came in; enemies were within the palace itself, the second lines of defense had fallen.

It was such poor timing, it couldn’t have been a coincidence that she had sent a Ministry of Order team to strike at the Three Crowns Hotel the same day the insurgents had opted to strike at the palace; she had long known about the Hotel as a staging area for the enemy, but she had not considered that it was deliberately being used as a sacrifice to draw her forces out so they could have a shot at taking the main prize of the city. It also did not help that a sizable insurgent cell had struck an arms depot before the attack on the palace and had armed themselves with her people’s weapons and armour. Even the Centurions that guarded the palace grounds were being dispatched at an alarming rate, their presence as a force multiplier being negated by a prepared and determined foe.

Razlinc would have to see to matters personally, before the day was through, she was sure of it.

A sudden thunder of blows against the office’s doors shook the concentration of the governor and her two officers, who drew their swords and shared a look. No reports had suggested that the enemy had breached this far into the palace, and they should have heard something approaching. An unsettling mood filled the air, and they prepared for what came next.

The door burst open and a ghastly wave of Dwemeri troops and servants poured through the door, their bodies marred with wounds and their faces contorted in the permanent throes of death. Razlinc scowled; necromancy. The depths the insurgents would comb for their twisted and cruel mission never ceased to amaze her, but this was an abomination even by the standards she’d grown far too accustomed to. The undead filled out a formation, and her officers charged at the ranks to cut them down, believing themselves to be superior to shambling corpses.

“Stop!” she shouted, and her words fell on deaf ears as the creatures who used to be people she knew by name, their hopes and dreams, everything they were perverted into some cruel cause. Her fists clenched in anger, and her fury seemed to radiate across her person as she watched her officers cut down by bodies that still retained most of their skill in life.

An unshaven face appeared in the crowd that made her heart falter; Kerztar stood amongst the undead, staring at her with a blank expression, the Mer he was ripped from him and his corpse puppeted for someone’s sick and twisted amusement. Tears welled in her eyes as she clenched her fist, a cold hatred gripping her heart and she scanned the familiar faces for one she did not recognize.

“Show yourself, creature. You desecrate the bodies and souls of good Mer, how do you manage to stand with the weight of your blasphemy? Have you no damned sense of decency within your rotten heart?” she challenged, stepping forward defiantly. The undead made no movement towards her; their master willed it so.

The formation of undead parted and two figures emerged from within; first the Wrathman, its horrible bone battleaxe, splattered with gore, in its hands, and then Gregor, the widowmaker in black. Blood dripped from his weapon too, running along the rippled edges of his claymore down to the tip of the blade, suspended an inch above the floor. His dark eyes studied Rourken intently from beneath the shade of his hood but due to the dim lighting in the room and the black scarf that covered the rest of his face he might as well have been a faceless wraith, as far as Rourken could see.

“I stand in good company,” Gregor said and his outstretched arms gestured towards the army of the dead behind him. “You stand alone.” He lowered his arms and gripped the hilt of his claymore tightly, feeling the reassuring weight of his beloved weapon. He would kill Rourken with it. “Do you wish to trade more petty insults or are you ready to be harvested? If you do not struggle I shall make it painless.”

“This shall not go as you desire, creature.” Razlinc cautioned, ushering her attendant behind her. “You stand before the matriarch of Clan Rourken; you already were dead when you entered my domain.” she challenged, approaching defiantly. “You do not scare me. I pity you. A man so weak he cannot do the job without puppeting corpses who belonged to those who were better than him in every metric. I see a ghoul, a charlatan, and a fool who dedicated his life to dark masters that control his every step. I will send you to them.”

Gregor laughed. “If that is all you see... then I have nothing to worry about.” Magic was in his hand in a flash and he flung a soultrap spell at Rourken while he simultaneously gave the command to his minions to attack. They ran forward, passing Gregor on either side, aiming to swarm the governor and overwhelm her before she had a chance to react. The Imperial raised his claymore into an upright position and widened his pose. The time had come. He dashed after his zombies, ready to slash his blade downward into a killing blow once he got in range.

Suddenly, a build up of electrical energy surged around the Dwemer Governor’s hands and shot out at the undead swarming her, the chain lightning unleashing in a deafening boom that filled the amphitheatre-like room; the bodies closest to her all but incinerated from the conducted electricity, amplified by their armour and the weapons in their hands and from hardened alloy shells a blizzard of dust and ash bellowed out across the room; her eyes locked with Kerztar and with a snarl, Razlinc bellowed out defiantly as she sought to free her former lover from his brief foray as Gregor’s plaything. The intensity of the lighting was as such that when Kerztar was engulfed by the blue electrical arcs, nothing remained where he had once stood. There would be time to mourn, but it was not now. This was about revenge.

In all his days, never had Gregor seen such a display. If he had not been so intent on his desire to bisect Rourken from shoulder to hip he surely would have stopped in his tracks, slack-jawed and wide-eyed at the sight of the Dwemer governess’ overwhelmingly powerful Destruction magic. But he was, so he didn’t. He couldn’t afford to. The second she used to destroy Kerztar was the opening Gregor needed and he swung his claymore down with all the strength he could muster, further propelled forward by the momentum of his dash. The force of the blow was such that the blade’s enchantment crackled to life even before the steel of his blade tasted Rourken’s flesh and a second flash of lightning illuminated the chamber. The claymore arced down in a wicked slash and slammed into Rourken’s shoulder.

A deep, ringing sound reverberated through the room. Gregor’s sword was brought to a sudden halt by a luminescent barrier around Rourken’s skin, reducing what should have been a killing strike so savage that she would have been split in twain to nothing more than a shallow cut. Electricity spiderwebbed uselessly across Rourken’s upper torso, seeking purchase on her skin and finding nothing but magical defenses. The kinetic energy dispersed into Gregor’s arms and he was almost forced to let go of his blade, gritting his teeth in pain. How could this be? For the first time since he had set foot in the palace, his confidence left him. He knew what was coming next. In the split second he had before Rourken would undoubtedly disintegrate him, he raised his hand and summoned a hasty ward spell.

An electrically shrouded fist shot forward, smashing into the ward, and like a storm manifesting in the body of the elf, a thunderous volley of discharge was released from both of Razlinc’s hands, the exertion causing her to scream out, whether in pain or anger was less clear than the blinding flashes of destruction magic that flung Gregor back into a pillar, slumping him against it. The legion of his undead servants were eradicated, and nothing stood between him and the governor, who bore down upon him with a cold fury. “You took him from me. It’s a shame that you only have your life to give, as worthless and withered as it is.” She raised her hand towards him. There was no expression on her face except for a simmering resolve. “Die alone and forgotten.”

“But he’s not alone.”

A sharp and resonant voice rang out amongst the quieting chaos as the battle was seemingly reaching it’s brutal climax. As the flashes of magical energy withered down and the last crumbs of rubble hit the floor with the smouldering clouds of ethereal ash - there was one woman who stood in the eye of the storm.

A single long, thick braid of ash blonde hair was hanging from the crown of her head, so bleached from the Hammerfell sun that it appeared almost silver in the otherworldly luminescence of the room. Her eyes were hardened - the colour somewhere between the steel of a sword and the blue of oceans and outlined with dramatic charcoal. There was a dewy glow on her skin as the magicka contained within her potion wore off and left her dead centre between her fallen paramour, and Governor Razlinc Rourken.

Dressed in white, she wore a light chain armour fashioned into scales across her shoulders in a bronze shade - so delicate it was that it would barely be functional against anything the Dwemer had in her arsenal against them if what Raelynn Hawkford had witnessed from the shadows under the guise of her invisibility, was to tell her. Rourken was perhaps a Master Sorceress and she and Gregor were outmatched physically, and still she was not about to let another finger be laid against him.

Rourken was shielded, but that would not stop Raelynn from making sure she had her full attention. He needs time she thought to herself, as she unrolled a scroll that had been gripped in one hand and read out the phrasing with such an unwavering intensity that she surprised even herself. She did not aim for Rourken, no. The single bolt of lightning was fired up to the ceiling - to a chandelier that was central in the room - made up of Dwemeri alloys and crystalline glass shards. How beautiful it must be illuminated. She imagined how painstaking and agonising it would be for a servant to light each candle. Agony that would immediately be erased at the scintillating beauty that would come from it.

The bolt tore through the alloy with such a ringing ferocity and a cacophonous blare of vibration that shattered every piece of crystal. Glass rained down over the room like a spray of diamonds.

“He has me.”

All eyes were on her now, and she had but one card left to save them both.

“You.” Razlinc observed, her posture unyielding to the display of power that caused glass flakes to rain down like a mist. The young Breton woman she’d tried to bring into the fold, much like Daro'Vasora, stood proudly and defiantly before her, the burnt embers of a used magical scroll scattering before her. “You could have helped me change this world into something better for all people, to free it from this war and the suffering it has inflicted. Your insights could have saved thousands.”

Her outstretched hand still remained fixed on where Gregor was; Raelynn's abdomen was in the way. “Your infatuation with this creature will only lead you down a road of darkness there is no return from. Step aside.”

Raelynn's nostrils flared in the face of Rourken, she was terrified to her very core and yet she knew that she needed to be in this spot. If she moved even an inch Rourken would take Gregor from her. She was spewing words like bile and the Breton's lips curled in response, through gritted teeth she uttered towards the Dwemer before her. “I will not move.”

Raelynn had watched the whole thing from the shadows. Every death and reanimation was seared into her brain now and etched over her very soul, they were proving to be an unexpected weight on her conscience. The image of the Wrathman tearing down the inhabitants of the palace would haunt her for a long time... But that Wrathman was on her side. Gregor was on her side. He was a walking nightmare and yet he was all that had kept her safe in Gilane, he was her Knight, and now she had to be his if they were to escape with their lives from this formidable opponent - a nightmare in her own right.

The Governor's eyes met Raelynn's, her gaze not unkindly. “What could a necromancer possibly offer you? You are someone born to wealth, status, privilege; your father spoke highly of you, your potential, your intellect.” she paused, letting the words hang for a moment. “You, Raelynn Hawkford, have everything to offer the world whereas Gregor only knows how to take and consume, corrupting all he touches and destroying countless lives in his wake.” her face hardened as she stared towards the Imperial, electricity still arcing between her fingers. “We are surrounded by the ashes of people who were just like you.” the emphasis of the last word might as well have been a guillotine slamming down onto the block.

The Governor was as masterful in her speech as she was in battle technique, and she was so elegantly squeezing and pinching at a nerve inside Raelynn that it prompted an uncharacteristic rebuke, “shut up! Shut up!” She spat as her lips trembled and her fingers twitched.

She began to take slow steps back, to close the gap between herself and Gregor. A hand emerging from behind her back with another scroll balled tightly between her shaking fingers. “You sanctimonious bitch...” Her eyes darted to view Rourken’s fingers and the tiny tendrils of electricity that danced over her knuckles and twisted around each finger delicately. A complete contrast of what that power was able to do. She had such a control over it and had discipline in spades. “You have no idea what it feels like to be corrupted… Believe me, it wasn’t Gregor who forced me to the shadows that you speak of.”

Hearing his name being spoken brought him back to reality after Rourken’s lightning bolt had temporarily thrown him out of it. Gregor got to his feet, his breathing hard and ragged, and blinked ferociously while shaking his head. The last vestiges of his ward spell and the magic resistance that his ring was enchanted with had protected him from the worst of it, otherwise there would not have been much left of him. The shock magic had seized up his muscles and prevented his claymore from flying out of his hands. He grabbed the hilt of the weapon tightly but the same comfort it had given him before was gone. It could not help him against Rourken. The only thing that could save him now was the woman standing between him and the Dwemer arch-sorceress.

It was time to play the last card, instinct told her the conversation with the Governor was over now, she would not hold her attack any longer. Raelynn tore open the scroll and once again spoke with such a crisp clarity - summoning forth the spell from the parchment.

“This world has no place for you…” she said, as cold as the Ice Storm that formed around her, cold wisps of frost magicka swirled around her hands and blew a frigid wind into the air before forming into a tornado of ice around her entire body, drawing the heat from the atmosphere and leaving only a bitter chill in the room.

She took two more steps back, and with a flourish of her hands she set the Ice Storm on it’s way towards Rourken. “Time to go my love,” she said to Gregor, her eyes locked onto the Storm - hypnotised by the twisting force of nature she had unleashed as it danced through the room to its target.

Razlinc’s hands engulfed in flames as the ice spell began to coalesce around Raelynn, and when the spell was unleashed, she managed to stand her ground and hold off the frigid blast in the nick of time; a pillar of flame emitted from her palms, greeting the ice in a violent interaction. Immediately, steam filled the room as the fire evaporated the ice, making visibility near impossible. When the scroll’s effects had ended, Razlinc felt exhausted; she’d burnt through a not inconsiderable amount of her reserve, but she still had enough to finish the job.

Electricity began to crackle around her hand again and she shot it out towards where she thought Gregor still remained, a deadly bolt of lightning to remove a great evil from this world once and for all.

It hit naught but stone. Gregor had only nodded when Raelynn told him it was time to go and the pair of them had made for the exit as soon as the thick blanket of steam shrouded them from sight. Gregor took point, sidestepping the wooden debris from when his undead minions had burst through the door, a hard expression on his face that did not betray the hurricane of emotions that raged in his heart -- fury, disappointment, fear, shame, gratitude. He grit his teeth, trying to ignore his feelings and to focus on the here and now. Keeping his sword at the ready in one hand as they ran, Gregor’s other hand reached for the potions at his waist, trembling fingers fumbling briefly before finding purchase. He uncorked and threw back two potions; one for his magicka and the other for his health. After that, he resummoned the Wrathman. It had been useless against Rourken but it would help protect them against any other resistance that they might encounter on their way out. The storm of magic in the governor’s office had been so loud that Gregor did not doubt that reinforcements were on the way.

He looked behind him briefly to lock eyes with Raelynn. “Thank you,” he said with a pained voice.

If it were not for soaring levels of adrenaline, Raelynn would have found it hard to keep up with him. She was not the athletic type, but now - something had taken over her and as they ran through the empty halls, she didn't register anything other than the need to get out of there. If she stopped for even a second, the adrenaline would run dry and she would feel her legs give way under her and the realisation of what she had just done, what they had done would hit her.

Rourken's words ran through her head on a spiteful loop - and as she looked at Gregor she felt them. She had seen everything now, all of his power. It was real.

They couldn't stop moving, but she knew that if they could she would show him in so many ways how appreciative she was of him, of what he'd done, of the power he'd displayed. Of everything. There was so much longing in her now for him, a deliberate defiance of the Governor's words, of her father's words, of everyone. She settled for taking his hand in her own, and running at his side, a smirk briefly tugging at her lips.

Fresh guards had taken up position in the study, some were trying to figure out the best way to handle respectful handling of the ash piles that had once been friends and colleagues that had had their lives destroyed in an instant from the necromancer. Razlinc knelt before the pile of ash that had once been Kerztar, tears streaming down her face. She had wanted to give chase, to finish off Gregor before he could inflict more horrors upon her people and the world at large, but she had no strength left; she was out of practice and left weakened from the exertion and the capacity of her skill with her spells. Her fingers traced along the edges of the ash, gently pushing it into a pile, trying to imagine her lover’s face but being unable to see more than the ghoul that had been forced against her, a monster with the face of someone she loved.

Gregor must pay for his crimes, and if Raelynn wasn’t willing to see the danger he posed to her and everyone, she could join him in whatever pit of Oblivion called for his name.

A blanket was placed around her shoulders, her attendant having survived the skirmish, doubtless grateful for the governor risking her life for him. He did not speak; nothing he could say would make anything right or better, he knew. Instead he waited, a reassuring presence amongst the destruction and death.

“I need you to find me whatever officer has seniority that has survived so far.” Razlinc replied calmly, mustering what authority was still afforded to her. “It is time to accelerate our Assassin Centurion program’s timeline. They are to be deployed immediately; there must be no survivors.”

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Treacherous Waters

Three months earlier, Anvil

As with most taverns pirates and other unsavoury sorts favoured, the Seadog in Anvil was neither the best looking establishment nor was it the best selling one. If she could have, Sirine would have very well paid extra gold to drink somewhere cleaner and quieter. However, she wasn't here for pleasure- that was to come later. For the time being she simply sat in the corner of the crowded room, seeming almost a shadow with a dark cloak wrapped around her and a large brimmed hat tilted just right so that no one could tell what she was looking at. Her hand was loosely gripping a bottle of rum, and occasionally she took a gulp or two.


Looking to her left, she found her brother's expectant gaze. Her neutral one softened the slightest bit and she gave him a nod. "It seems our esteemed brothers aren't above hiring scum," she murmured, eyes shifting away from Bakih to rest once more on a table not too far from theirs. In truth those seated at her table did not look much different from the rowdy group her eyes were on, save the fact that she hadn't allowed her crew to get stinking drunk. That would be for another day- today had been for prospecting, and they had certainly hit the jackpot. Perhaps it was time for them to have a little fun?

"Looks like we have discovered all we need to." Speaking quietly, she looked to those sitting at her table. These five were the majority of her motley crew, a small group with no more than eleven people currently, the rest off elsewhere in the city. Those at the table were proof of how diverse a group they were. She looked the part of a Redguard well while Bakih the Imperial, though both were only half. On her right sat her quartermaster Dar'Narej, a sneaky khajiiti man who had been sailing with the siblings for a good five years. They had met when the Khajiit had climbed aboard their ship in a foiled attempt at thievery. Sirine had seen his prowess and decided to offer him a position in her wanting crew instead. There had been mistrust at first, but Dar'Narej proved to be an asset, and Sirine was one who kept her word and paid him fairly. Across from her were two Nord siblings named Ursa and Floki, a pair of twins who had run away from their home during the civil war after their parents had passed and they were to be sent to work on a farm. Next to them sat an older Orsimer, Murkhul, who reminded Sirine of her father's first mate, kind and dependable, yet as every bit an orcish man as he looked, ready to swing his hammer at the first call.

"This better not be some kind of revenge plot for you two." Sirine's eyes fell on the last man sitting at their table, a Redguard who simply called himself Rogue. She found it a rather stupid pseudonym, but if that was what he wanted, she wasn't going to bother forcing him to reveal his complete name. She had hired him as a carpenter as their ship had needed repairs, and he did more than a good job, but his attitude was a little grating at times like this. “I didn't join you so that I could help you get back at your brothers for stealing a toy from you when you were a little girl."

"You're new here," Sirine started, "so I'm going to forgive your insolent words." She leaned forward, free hands splayed and pressing against the table, raising her head enough so that Rogue could see her piercing dark eyes. "Revenge is for petty people. If you think I am a petty person, then perhaps it's time for you leave. On the other hand, if you decide to shut your mouth and do as I say, you'll find the rewards more than enough. Well? What will you do, stay or leave?"

The Redguard man looked as if he wished to say something more, but Sirine's eyes narrowing caused him to reconsider her words. "I will stay. My apologies, Captain."

"Good," Sirine replied, settling back down in her chair, looking quite relaxed. "Do not question my decisions about the actions we will be taking, and we will get along just fine." She looked around at the rest of her crew. "Now I know you've all been waiting to be sated, so go ahead, fulfill your needs. Just make sure you don't spill any secrets, or I'll gut you." It was hard to tell if she was serious with the chuckle that followed her words, but aside from Dar'Narej and Bakih, the four others dispersed, happy to find a little time to themselves.

“This one does not trust that man any more than he can pull off his own tail.” The khajiit man allowed his spotted golden tail to sway in the air to make his point, his green eyes staring pointedly at Sirine.

“Narej, I didn't trust you one bit when we first met either.” Sirine smirked at him before taking a gulp from the bottle of rum, which as per her habit, was filled with water. Once she set it back down on the table, she continued onward. “You were a thief fiddling through my belongings and I had half a mind to cut off your pretty ears and feed them to the fish. And look at us now.” She laughed softly and then let out a sigh, nodding. “I understand your concerns, and you can rest assured if I feel there is any sort of threat from his side, he’s being tossed.” Eyes darkened as she crossed her arms over her chest loosely. “We’ve been down on our luck lately, and we need the men we can get. It gives me no pleasure having to deal with insubordination, but he isn't the first and I very much doubt he will be the last.

"I will return to the ship now," she further continued. Pushing her chair back, she stood up, looking at both Bakih and Dar'Narej, a small smile playing on her lips. "You two go relax a little. Make sure to come back before dawn though or I will kick both your asses."

The Khajiit man gave her a sly grin. "Dar'Narej's night would be much more relaxing if you were the one with him, Captain."

"That will have to happen in your dreams," Sirine returned with a chuckle, though her amusement was more in part by the expression on Bakih's face. She reached over and tugged at her quartermaster's ear, causing him to make a sound in protest. "Don't make me regret not cutting these off. Now go on." She shook her head as she watched the khajiit saunter away, his shoulders shaking with a laugh of his own.

"I don't like him," Bakih grumbled under his breath, foot tapping in irritation.

"Stop frowning," Sirine replied, nudging him with an elbow. "You are to relax as well. You've been too uptight since we left Gilane and I don't like seeing you that way." She reached up and patted down a hank of stray hair. "You know very well that you can tell me if something is wrong. You're my brother; if there's anything I can do for you, I will."

He shook his head, smiling weakly. "It's nothing, Siri. I'm probably just tired." He sighed heavily before looking around, eyes pausing as they fell on a dark haired man serving drinks. "Think he'd be-"

"Only one way to find out." Sirine gave her brother a not so gentle push forward. "Just remember, back before dawn or else."

Leaving Anvil behind hadn't been a difficult task. Normally a week's journey, Sirine suspected it would take a little longer this time around. They were following the pirate ship disguised as a merchant one but making sure they stayed out of sight, just below the horizon line. It was something the crew was used to. They were a small group for their chosen line of work, and an ambush worked best for them, tried and tested more than a few times. For the most part, they looked unassuming as did their ship, a rather small affair that would seemed no more threatening even in the open. Still, she was one for caution- it was better to be safe than sorry.

The attack was planned for their fourth night at sea. Her brothers' hired ship didn't seem in quite the hurry to reach port, which made things much simpler for Sirine and her companions. Once their target had dropped anchor for the night, her crew would at last make their move. Sailing silently like a ghost at night with Dar'Narej as their lookout, there seemed to be no obvious flaws in their plan.

Until the morning of their fourth day at sea. Sirine looked up from the papers littering her desk when there was a knock on her door. "Come in." She raised an eyebrow when she saw it was Dar'Narej. Seeing him wasn't the surprise, rather the expression on his face. Normally a sly yet jovial looking Khajiit, it was a little surprising to see the frown on his face. "What's the matter?"

"Dar'Narej told you he did not trust the Redguard," he muttered once he closed the door behind himself. Letting out an irritated sniff, he made his way to the desk, his hands gripping the chair that sat across from her, claws lightly digging into the wood. "This one caught sight of him in the morning, when he thought no one was looking. Perhaps he has forgotten that this one's eyes are sharp even in the dark. He was sending a signal, this one has seen it before, as have you." He spat to the side in disgust before raising his hand. "Apologies, Captain."

"It's fine." Sirine stood up, her forehead creased as she walked around her desk and paced her room. "And? Have you said anything to him?" She stopped her passing, hands resting on her hips as she glanced at the Khajiit.

Dar'Narej turned away from the desk, letting out a light tsk. "This one knows better than that," he replied, tail lashing in annoyance. "Captain should know this, yes?"

"I know, I know." She sounded irritated as well, but with herself. "My apologies, I should have listened to you in Anvil."

"This one does not fault you," the Khajiit was quick to add, his hand slipping to rest on the pommel of his sword. "Give the word and Dar'Narej will slit the man's throat where he stands."

"No." Shaking her head, Sirine walked over to the Dar'Narej and moved his hand away from the sword. "No need to, that would only create dissent when we least need it. They may know we are coming to attack, but they don't know we know they know. We keep this information between ourselves. Understood?" The khajiiti man gave her a nod. "Good. Now calm yourself down, because our attack is now expedited. Tell the crew to prepare for a fight. We will take that ship down now, when they aren't expecting it."

"Are you sure, Captain?" Dar'Narej looked surprised. "This one thinks that perhaps you would do well to think over it some more."

Sirine's eyes flashed, brow creasing dangerously. "Are you doubting me, Narej?"

"Never," the Khajiit replied, lowering his head. "This one meant no disrespect. Dar'Narej will do as you ask."

"I need you to be my right hand man." She put a hand on his arm, looking at him earnestly. "Bakih has already done too much, and as painful as it is, I am coming to the realization that this isn't the life for him. When we reach Gilane... I will be leaving him behind to make a life there. I need you to be the one I rely on. I trust no one else to fills those shoes."

"As sure as the Moons light your path, this one will follow you until his journey leads to the Sands Behind the Stars... or Namiira."

"Neither of which will be today." Sirine moved her hand away from his arm before motioning to the door. "Go now, friend. I will join you shortly."

The thrill of boarding a ship was never lost on Sirine. Hat and cloak left behind on her own ship, she made no attempt to hide her visage as she lead her men across the plank to the ship hired by her brothers. A smile brightened her face, her eyes lit as if on fire as she leaped off the plank and plunged her dagger into her nearest victim, ignoring the blood that spurt of the man's throat and splashed on her clothes and her face.

"Come now," she called out in an almost singsong voice, holding her dagger before her as she sidled away to give the rest of her crew way. "Who wishes to meet Namiira next? And do me a kind favour and call forth your captain. I may be inclined to save your lives if he pleads a pretty plea."

She actually meant her last statement, but the men gathered on deck seemed disinclined to believe her. It took only a single attack from the other crew to encourage her own to attack, and if there was one thing she knew they weren't, it was cowards. Stepping away from the main fray, she saw Rogue the Redguard attempting to slip away from the mass fighting. She shoved her way through the combating crew, ignoring the cuts and blows she received from her uncaring charge. In fact, whatever pain she felt further fueled her, and the smile on her face was now a grin as she raced the final steps to Rogue. With one hand she grabbed on to his tunic and slammed him into a wall, her dagger already pressed against the soft part of his belly.

"So," she asked, tilting her head in a coy fashion, "what were you promised to betray me, hm? Septims a plenty? Whores to do your bidding?"

"I don't owe you anything!" Rogue spat back, though as he did, he raised the sword he was holding in an attempt to attack her. A scream left him as he suddenly found his hand pierced by an arrow. Sirine didn't have to look back to see who fired it. Bakih had always been proficient with the bow.

"That is fair," she agreed. "You don't owe me anything, personally. But you do owe my crew for attempting to sabotage their prize. I don't take kindly to people fucking around with what I promise to deliver. You had your chance, Rogue, and you failed. Oblivion is where you will go." The dagger shoved deep into the man's gut; Sirine dragged it horizontally before pulling it out, ignoring the stench that filled her nostrils.

Letting his body drop, she turned away from the man and headed towards the cabin door she suspected would be the captain's, which of course was locked. "Come on out," she called, voice once more singsong and cajoling even as she forcefully rammed her boot against the door. "Or are you willing for any remaining man of yours to forever deem you a coward?"

"Wait." Sirine stopped herself from ramming her boot into the door a second time, looking back to see Dar'Narej with his set of lock picks. "Allow this one to open the door for you."

Unable to hide her smirk, she moved back and allowed the Khajiit to take care of the lock, which was opened not much later. By this time most of the fighting had finished, and it took only one glance to see a few of hers were down for the count as well. Her smirk wavered as she kicked opened the door, stepping inside the room.

As she had suspected, this was the captain's cabin. And there was the captain, slumped over his desk. She moved closer and pushed his body back, revealing the man had decided to kill himself rather than actually fighting for his ship and crew.

"Well this is highly disappointing." Sirine let the dead captain fall against his desk before looking to her Khajiit friend. "But we have what we came for. We take care of the dead, move the cargo and weigh anchor. Gilane awaits."

"It shall be done," Dar'Narej replied, and it wasn't long before she was left alone with her own thoughts.

14th Midyear, Early Morning, Governor’s Palace, Gilane

Sirine's eyes snapped open. It was still dark, but from the shade of the sky, the sun would be rising soon. It had been a pleasant sleep to the sound of the waves, and her dream of her last conquest left a nostalgic feeling, though she felt calmer than she had the previous night. Her crew and friends were gone, perhaps... perhaps that was for the best. She didn't want to think of them having to live and suffer under the yoke of the Dwemer. Dar'Narej was hopefully enjoying himself in the Sands Behind the Stars-

Her thoughts were interrupted by an urgent knock, and it wasn't long before the former pirate was dressed and opened the door. The sight of Zaveed and the look on his face was enough to tell her something was the matter.

Time to leave the past behind and head forward.

"I'm ready."
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Checkmate, Part 2

14th Midyear 4E208, Governor’s Palace, 10:47am…

Lone footsteps came down the hallway in a hurry, without much care for caution, and given the disruption of the attack it stood to reason the owner was a messenger being sent to relay information from section to section. What the Dwemer didn’t see was Daro’Vasora waiting around the corner with a table leg in hand. As the guardsman went to run past, the broken piece of furniture was swung like her mace into the mer’s face, stopping his forward momentum and knocking him out from the traumatic blow to his head that recoiled his head backwards as he fell, his feet kicking out as his helmeted head smashed into the hard tile floor. The Khajiit bent over, picking up the sword that had scattered across the ground and tossed it to Shakti, arming the Redguard girl.

Shakti gratefully picked up the sword and got to her feet. She looked apologetically at Calen and offered him a hand as well. “Sorry, I suppose I am not ready for this sneaky business yet.”

“I’m still not ready for this fighting business,” Calen remarked, “so you can call us even.”

“You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to do that.” Daro’Vasora said, checking over her improvised weapon for damage. It was going to hold up, at least for a few more heavy blows. Hardwood was sturdy, if nothing else.

The plan, as far as it went, was to regroup with one of the other teams who were at the palace as a part of the operation, and after the near-fatal run in with the Ministry agent that had been sent to execute Daro’Vasora rather than risk her liberation, the Khajiit was decidedly on board with any sort of lethal force against her captors that might be required. Latro, Calen, Shakti, and the large strange Redguard man she still hadn’t quite learned the name of on account of him barely uttering words at any given time, were largely following the Khajiit’s lead towards where the passages around were; she knew a separate lift than the one they’d come up before, since they knew there was likely more Ministry guards that direction. They found the second one unguarded, and quickly and efficiently boarded it, Daro’Vasora tilting the lever down just so to reach the ground floor.

“There’s somewhere we need to stop before we leave,” she said suddenly, looking at her companions since they had a few moments of quiet. “There’s a medical wing that has a lot of invaluable potions that I think we shouldn’t pass up.” she paused, flexing her hand in and out of a fist. “I had my arm broken by Zaveed, and two days later, it was healed with the medicine they had. No aches, no pain. The attendant was very keen to share her insights with me, and she said there might be a way to fix Judena’s short-term memory and Gregor’s… well, his future deterioration. It’s a slim chance, and a risk going there, but you all are risking your lives for me. I would like to return the favour and give those two their lives back, and if someone gets shot again, we might not be able to heal them if we’re in the wilderness unless we had something that acted fast.”

The Khajiit sighed, taking Latro’s hand, looking him in the eyes with a steady gaze before turning back to the others. “Please. I know I’m asking a lot, but this could save lives and give two of our friends a second chance at life.”

“It might be worth it.” Calen mused.

Latro chewed his lip, thinking over the prospect of making a detour. They were already outnumbered as it was and they couldn’t waste anytime lest they all get trapped and killed in the Palace. Although, a way to save Jude and... Gregor? Well, it would be invaluable to everyone, those two in particular. It would be a weight off of their shoulders, and his own in turn. “Fine.” Latro said, quickly, “But we can not dally, Sora. Wasting too much time for Jude and Gregor could get all of us killed, Jude included.”

Just as he stopped talking the lift screeched in protest, the grinding of gears coming to a forceful stop shaking in Latro’s feet and knees, hissing steam vents working to stop their descent. Fate would have it that they were in the Ministry Offices, a cadre of Ministry Agents gearing up, interrupted to stare confused at the five people on the lift, who returned a stare of confusion of their own.

“What the-“

Latro wasted no time in raising the pistol he’d stolen off of the dead Agent that had leveled it at Sora’s face, the sharp crack of a discharge catching the Agent on the receiving end through the eye and interrupting him.

And then it was bloody chaos.

Finally, some action. Zhaib sprung to it, pulling the dagger from its hiding place, a smirk playing upon his lips - alighting his eyes with some kind of menacing glee. “Stay behind me Daro’Vasora, I promised I would let no harm come to you.” With that, he sidestepped in front of the Khajiit, and with an almost businesslike flick of his wrist he drew the dagger across the bare throat of a Dwemer guard that had foolishly stepped up to challenge the Redguard.

Following Zhaib’s lead, Shakti leapt into the heart of the group of agents, her sword twirling like the branch of a tree in a gale. “I’ll cut you to pieces for making me wear this you tobr’a ra!” The Redguard girl shouted as she cut neat ribbons of red into a few of the agent’s bodies.

Latro wasted no time in joining the others, though in their quickness to jump into the fray he hung back. With Sora at his back, he moved behind them, using them as a shield. He recalled Francis’ words of advice at fighting a room full of opponents on your own- don’t. But he also remembered that he badgered him on looking for some other answer.

Move quick, waste no time in putting yourself in the right stance or worrying about angles of attack to your opponent. Jump in among them, use each as a shield to the next, slicing and tearing along the way. Such is the brutality of a wolf alone against its rivals. So, when he saw the Ministry Agents pulling back and quickly rallying together at the other end of the room, he gave Sora’s hand a reassuring squeeze. Then jumped in among them.

Calen, on the other hand, quietly stepped behind Daro’Vasora, shut his eyes and kissed his amulet as he muttered a few words under his breath while trying to regulate his breathing.

Latro’s knife and his fist was all he had, though he was a blur against them. They weren’t expecting one of their enemies to act with such recklessness and bloody abandon. The first few he came against stepped back from him panicked and defenseless. They were easy, he caught one in the throat with his knife, turning to the other and lashing out with a kick, he broke the Agent’s knee and forced his leg to bend backwards.

A stone-skin hand came down in a chop hard enough to hear the Agent’s head break. The next came at him with his axe only to have his terrible swing side-stepped. Latro caught his wrist before he could backswing and drove his knife through his forearm. As the man screamed, Latro snatched his axe away and cut it off by burying the man’s handaxe in his own forehead, his eyes bulging out and tongue lolling as Latro pulled the axe free with a wet sucking sound and letting him fall.

With knife and axe, he continued on, the others surely joining him and taking advantage of the chaos he and Shakti had spread in their ranks.

Daro’Vasora was no stranger to violence, but something about the agent’s grizzly demise with his own axe caused her to involuntarily scrunch an eye and suppress a gag. She’d known how capable Latro was in a fight; she’d fought alongside him before against all odds with the Falmer, but this was like seeing something released he’d kept suppressed.

So this is Pale-Feather… she thought, feeling rather silly dwelling on such thoughts while holding a table leg and wearing a long dress while her friends and rescuers were fighting for her.

“Oh, fuck this.” She said to herself, unsheathing a claw and making quick cuts down the legs of the dress and tearing the rest on either side to give her legs a full range of motion. She hurried to join the fray, not contented to be a meek bystander while others risked themselves on her behalf; an agent was busy fending off Zhaib’s flurry of slashes with a dagger, the Dwemer held back by his half-armoured form. The Khajiit brought her improvised weapon down into the back of the agent’s legs, stumbling him for a moment as the Redguard bodyguard drove his blade into the man’s throat.

She didn’t have time to celebrate a victory as another swordsman came with a vicious overhead swing that she managed to catch with the wood; the blade couldn’t slide free, so the Dwemer pulled the sword back to readjust. Daro’Vasora didn’t let him. She drove the broken end into the face of the agent, causing him to shriek in agony as the sharp edge tore into his eye, causing a string of Dwemeri curses that she only understood every few words of.

She leapt back to avoid the swings, and remembering her sparring lesson with Latro, she caught the sword with her table leg, causing enough of an opening that she was able to grab the Dwemer’s wrist and throw herself down and behind him, forcing the agent to stumble and lose his balance as he reached out to brace himself from having his face smash against the floor. He was quick, but not quick enough to avoid the claws that lashed out across his exposed jugular, a seep of crimson flooding out of four clean lines and a gurgling cough barely escaped his throat as he collapsed into the tile below, the Khajiit only standing then, holding aloft her bloodied hand.

Calen watched from behind in an inconspicuous cranny between the leg of an archway jutting out from the wall and a display case as the other four were displaying their skills in battle against the Dwemer, his heart racing as he tried to think up a plan. What to do, what to do? He heard a door open down the hallway followed by footsteps and the clanging of armor. His breathing became haggardly, and reflexively, he shook his hands and focused hard on them until they were alight with a washed-out yellow glow before taking in a deep breath. The veins in his neck were aglow with the same light for a brief moment as his throat relaxed. Relax, Calen, Relax! You can’t lose it now! Think! Do something!

But no ideas came to mind.

“Blasted brain!” Calen swore. He grabbed his amulet again and prayed, “Under her skirt and into the bum, watch out Nirn, here I come…” The bard kissed the amulet three times and jumped to his feet, not noticing the faint glow emanating from his necklace. One last soldier had just recovered from Shakti’s onslaught, and, Sora being the first enemy he saw, began lunging toward her from behind. Calen sprinted from his hiding place, surprisingly zippy when he wanted to be, and jumped onto the Dwemer soldier’s back from behind and causing him to stagger and miss his thrust on Sora. Calen pulled the helmet off of the dwemer’s head and, Ping! Pang! Clang!, whacking it into the top of their skull three times until they collapsed onto the ground, dazed and concussed, causing the bard to tumble onto the ground after him.

“They’re over there!” A voice yelled from down the hallway, where Calen remembered the enemy reinforcements to be coming from. In a panic, he threw the helmet down the corridor, which ricocheted off the brick wall and under the foot of the soldier leading the charge. The soldier tripped, and trying to recover, failed miserably and began toppling over the men and women behind him.

Calen simply blinked in confusion and pleasant surprise. “Huh.”

Shakti paused in her offence for a moment to gawk at what had just happened to Calen. “I guess I missed one.” She gave a shrug and smacked a swordblow aside and impaled the dwemer who had thrown it. He gurgled and flopped over as he died and the Alik’r Warrior spun on her heels and gave two lightning-quick slashes to an agent who had hoped to catch her unawares. It was a curious thing to watch someone die. The Agent stumbled a bit, blood seeping from the gashes across his chest, fingers missing from where the Redguard girl had caught them in her swings. At this point in her journey Shakti had killed countless men, but never before had she really thought about them. She felt a pang of sorrow in the pit of her stomach for a moment before she realised it was life or death. There were no other options at this point. They had started it, but Shakti planned to be the one to finish it.

Latro stumbled back from his opponents, a long but superficial gash on his forearm as well as one that stung across his ribs with each breath. There were three of them left against him while the others were dealing with theirs. The four of them stood opposite each other, each of their chests heaving with breath. These were the best of them, whittled down to the strongest by Latro’s hands like nature to man.

A coldness ran through him, willing violence to bubble to the surface. It made him sick, almost, to see what he had wrought, but in the deepest corners of his mind, he felt something too sickening. Old and almost forgotten, a pleasure in watching his enemies die by his hand. Pale-Feather of the Crow-Wife clan had come again, and it made Latro’s skin crawl. But Sora didn’t need Latro right now, for things like this, one needed Finnen Pale-Feather.

“Alright,” Latro heard himself speak, though the voice didn’t even seem like his own, too grating and whisper-like in its cruelty, “Let’s get to work on you.”

The first one came at him, a burly Nord with an appropriately large axe. He swung, but like the salmon of the River Karth, Pale-Feather slipped under the blow. He tried to close the distance but was put off when he had to side-step a jab from the end of the Nord’s haft, the Nord wasting no time in trying to swing again, but it was still as fast as a glacier to Pale-Feather.

The effort was good, the Nord was skilled to use every part of the axe as a weapon, but Pale-Feather was quicker and meaner. Like the small wolf, he bared his fangs twice as fierce and gave twice the fight lest he lose his life to the larger in the pack. With a wolf’s growl he jabbed hard with the top of his axe and split the Nord’s mouth bloody, stumbling him back with closed eyes as Pale-Feather let go a hacking laugh at his pain as if it were some cruel joke. He brought the axe back to him, hooking the Nord’s haft with the beard of it and slicing deep into his forearm with his knife, relinquishing the big weapon from one Nordic hand. As the Nord stepped back, Pale-Feather’s axe chopped and nestled deep in his chest like the tree in the mountainside, roots deep and strong enough to split stone.

He pulled it free, following after the huge Nord and clambering over him to sit on his belly as he lay on the ground, wolf’s fangs smiling from Pale-Feather’s lips, yellow wolf’s eyes on another kill. Three quick stabs with the tempo like the hummingbird’s wings ended him, and he danced away just like it.

An animal roar whipped his head to the side and like a charging bull, the furious Orc barreled into him, knocking him sprawling and gasping to the ground. He felt himself picked up and again they were moving. The Orc and Pale-Feather both were roaring into each other’s faces as Pale-Feather made furious stabs into the Orc’s shoulder, but the shallow bites weren’t enough to stop the Orc’s charge. Like a battering ram, the Orc used Pale-Feather to bowl straight into Calen, the three now pressed up against a wall. “Help me kill this damn beast, Nord!” Pale-Feather roared over his shoulder at Calen.

“Nord?!” Calen cried out incredulously, though stifled as his chest was being crushed. “You know what my name is… damn it!”

Despite the infraction, Calen managed to pull one of his arms free from the crushing force of Latro sandwiching him against the wall by the massive Orsimer’s strength. Trying his best to concentrate, a dull and barely visible blue glow radiated from his hand and he pressed it firmly against the orc’s head in an attempt to calm them down and hopefully weaken their grip.

Zhaib did not understand what the cheerful Bard's magic was doing, he only saw at the centre of it a worthy opponent, and two of Raelynn's companions being squashed beneath him. A smirk flashed over his face, “finally…” he breathed before barreling toward the Orc with speed, he used a sidetable to springboard him closer… With the speed of his jump and the weight behind it, he landed both of his feet square against the Orc's head, sending him staggering to the side and freeing the cross dresser and the singer from his grasp. “I'm going to wear your guts as a necklace…” He growled before launching toward his new enemy, dagger in one hand and the other a balled fist.

The remaining two guards decided this was their best chance to take advantage of the skewed numbers as Latro and Calen were still recovering from the Orsimer’s attack and they made a charge to finish the job. Daro’Vasora, now having recovered a mace from one of the fallen, raced to intercept, peeling one of the agents off as he turned to engage the new threat.

“The Governor was a fool to keep you alive.” he snarled; it was an Imperial she recognized from when she was first detained.

Daro’Vasora scoffed. “Make sure you file a complaint, asshole.” she said, waiting for him to make his first move.

He made a few testing thrusts with his sword that Daro’Vasora managed to deflect easily enough before the Imperial tried a feint, making a slash from an upper diagonal direction before swapping to a lower slash. The Khajiit put a heavier swing into the parry, her own weapon easily knocking the sword aside, and keeping the momentum going brought the weapon back into position and down towards the man’s chest, which, he sidestepped and went to thrust his sword into Daro’Vasora’s flank, which she managed to avoid by going into a low 3-point crouch, and in the same motion bringing the weapon into the man’s shins, a sickeningly loud crunch of bone filling the air. He didn’t have long to scream out in agony as the head of the mace was thrusted up into his lower jaw, breaking it and knocking him onto his back. Daro’Vasora stood again, spitting on the ground as she wasted no time bringing her weapon down into the Imperial’s chest over where his heart would have been.

She hoped the others could have managed the last one.

Pale-Feather stood opposite the last man. He stood strong enough, solid in every limb and seemingly proud, height reaching towards the ceiling like every other Nord Pale-Feather had put in the dirt. Yes, this man surely was a towering oak. But this oak stood against the tempest winds. Pale-Feather wasted no time, dashing forward and catching the Nord off guard. His startling the man wasn’t good enough though, as he raised his greatsword like a staff and hooked Pale-Feather’s axe, raising it up with his strength and pulling it free from his grasp.

Before the Nord could capitalize on disarming him, Pale-Feather ducked down to the right, knife slicing deep into the inside of his thigh, right where the big arteries were. Immediately, in big spurts his lifeblood left him, big leg buckling. The tree was close to being felled. Pale-Feather continued on, turning the duck into a full roll and snatching up his axe on the way. He skidded to a halt on one knee and put all his strength into his planted foot, springing forth like the jackrabbit and cracking the man’s nose flat against his face. The tree was felled, more fuel for the fire in him. The flame in his chest was burning cold now, a smile so wide it pained his cheeks, teeth threatening to crack under the pressure of his set jaw and hissing breaths throwing out spittle as he loomed over the great, big man that once loomed over him.

Such as it should be.

Chop. Chop. Chop. Chop. Five, six, seven. Grunting double-handed blows like a joiner’s hammer. And It was done. Pale-Feather didn’t turn to the others or mutter a word as he continued onwards. There was someone who needed telling they were dead...

“Latro?” A soft voice came from behind him.

Daro’Vasora looked to Latro, this crazed man who had slaughtered men like he was overcome by madness with her arms protectively across her waist, her posture diminutive, her ears pulled back. Despite the heat of the room, she was shaking; she didn’t know what had overcome her lover, and when he told her of his time as Pale-Feather, one of the Forsworn, she hadn’t expected it to be quite like this. He turned around, eyes on her as if she was not but meat and bone.

“I’m… I’m going to get the medicine.” she stammered, turning to leave the room suddenly, walking as fast as her legs would take her with her head down.

Shakti turned and saw Sora powerwalk out of the room, looking a bit uncomfortable (from what little she could read on the Khajiit’s face) and jogged after her.

“I’ll come with you, Sora the Khajiit. I do not think you should be going around alone.” the Redguard girl explained as she caught up with Sora, slowing down to a walk and wiping her blade off on her gown.

They managed to meet with the eastern side, Janelle kept her word when she threw her fair share of illusion spells, creating confusion among the friendly fire in the ranks, even if she did spurn her offer of turning it into a contest.

In her element of pure chaos, Maj grinned wickedly, blood flowing down from her temple squinting with one eye shut. She hung off the side of her Furgur Blitzcloud, the storm atronach. She harassed a Dwemer guard, they took a direct hit of a chain lightning attack - the bolt landed square in their chest before bouncing off to zap a few others - narrowly missing Nanine and softening the Ministry Agent before her.

Maj snarled knocking her elbow against the rocky head of the Furgur, “Watch it you fucking pile of sparks! Aim for the Dwemer!”

She shouted over her shoulder to Nanine, “All yours!” She cackled, she was fine - a hit was a hit regardless of it being an accident.

The Ministry Agent seized in place, and Nanine took the opportunity to shove her sword through his neck. Pulling her blade out she looked over at Maj with a small frown, quietly giving thanks that she hadn’t been wearing her plate. The Storm Atronach was too uncontrolled with its attacks for her tastes, but another dead enemy was another dead enemy. The plan had mostly devolved into complete chaos, but they were all still moving forward. It was good enough. She scooped up the fallen Agent’s pistol, stuffing it quickly into her belt, and carried on, lightning crackling in her free hand. The stark light illuminated her focused face, eyes intensely going from person to person, place to place, as they moved through the Palace.

While the chain lightning bounced passed Nanine to hit another of the dwemer, it bounced again and made a beeline toward Aries who had received plenty of warning from Maj’s yelling to see the bolt coming her away. Instead of attempting to dodge, she reached out and seemed to grab it, pulling it close to her and cupped her other hand around a dimming electrical orb. For a second, sparks crackled around her hands as she channeled her magicka into the electrical energy, apparently recharging it, before letting it fly off in a different direction towards incoming Dwemer troops. The bolt arced through their bodies and metal armor, their muscles seizing, before falling unconscious or dropping dead. Her cold eyes glanced over to land back on Maj, feeling a little resentful of the mage’s recklessness in the middle of the operation, even if she was making herself a bigger target than her.

“Can’t you control that thing?” Aries called out to her. Her usually cool disposition replaced by visibly stressed demeanor, even if she was trying her best to contain it and keep her head cool in the midst of the chaos. She had been sparing with her use of magicka when she could help it so that she could be more efficient, and for the most part, she had been relatively successful in that endeavor with chain lightning spells - but being in the thick of battle had a way with making a person exert more energy than was needed. Fortunately for her, her magicka had a penchant for recovering quickly. Sweat and dirt was smeared across her face even if no blood was splattered across her person. She was fighting this battle from two different fronts, one here, next to her allies, and the other in her head, anticipating their tactics and the evolution of which and their expectations of the raiding party. A few select men had stayed back in the storehouse in anticipation of reinforcements from the weapons depot arriving so that they could ambush them from behind.

She took two seconds to catch her breath before her hands began crackling with electricity once again.

Anifaire avoided the fray as much as she could, her heart pounding. She stuck as closely as possible to Judena, all but using the Argonian as a shield, as she used the skills they’d been practicing to cause confusion. She directed her magicka, lifting a dislodged chunk of stone, and swung it around with more hope than precision. It struck several Dwemer guards, bouncing between them, though Anifaire was afraid to hit them with force and the stone served only as a distraction and giver of minor bruises. Judena’s ironflesh spell glimmered over her body, the pair of alteration mages skirted through the fray, avoiding facing any guard completely on their own, where Anifaire’s stones distracted Judena’s spear pierced calves and shoulders.

That distraction was the only opening Mazrah needed. The Orsimer had opted for her trusty spear over her bow now that they had entered the fray proper and she tore into the Dwemer guards with unchained ferocity. She disemboweled the first guard with a swift slash to the gut, sliding across the floor on her knees to get within range, before hopping to her feet and leaping over him with a somersault. The next guard was ready for her and parried her initial thrust with his sword. Annoyed, Mazrah smacked his weapon aside with her beastly strength and buried her spear deep within his chest, the orichalcum tip piercing through his light cuirass easily. She ripped the barbed spear out, spraying the dying elf’s blood all over herself, and swung it like a staff to knock him and another one of his allies to the ground. She grabbed her spear in a two-handed grip and slammed it down into the helmet’s visage of the second downed Dwemer. His body spasmed for a second or two before it caught up to the fact that he was now dead. Mazrah looked over her shoulder to give Anifaire a thumbs-up before flashing Maj, high atop her Atronach, a gore-splattered grin.

The thumbs up surprised the Altmer so much that she nearly dropped the stone, which by happenstance thudded against a Dwemer guard’s helmet. He dropped to the ground stumbling, and Anifaire felt proud of her achievement.

With so many dwemer enemies and her own friends in the fray, Meg opted in no longer using her bow, stashing it away on her back and instead pulling her sword from its scabbard. She was in much too close a proximity with the others and didn't want to shoot her allies in the back because of a miscalculated shot. She also found she had a newfound pride for her blade since Latro's admiration of it and was itching to use it once more. She didn't have to wait long either as she saw a dwemer guard approaching her. Her blade was instantly brought up to parry against the attack, a grimace on her face as she pushed against the dwemer guard, who was stronger than the average bandit. In a battle of strength, he would clearly beat her, but Meg wasn't going to allow that to happen.

With a grunt, she snapped her knee forward, ramming it against his thigh. She didn't think it would hurt him, but it did have the guard stumble for a second, giving her enough time to send a hard kick to his stomach, which did more than cause him to stumble. Losing his footing, the guard fell back, and Meg wasted no time in slamming a boot against his head before thrusting her sword into his naked throat.

In all this distraction, she didn't realize she was being accosted by another guard. Luckily for Meg, Jaraleet took notice of the guard about to attack her and moved to intercept the Dwemer. Just as the mer was raising his sword to strike Meg’s back, the Argonian assassin intercepted the blow with his dagger; catching the sword’s edge on the serrated teeth of his smaller blade. Forcing the sword away from the Nord woman, Jaraleet took chance of the opening in the Mer’s guard to drive his knee into his opponents gut and causing him to double over in pain. Taking advantage of the opening, and ignoring the pain coming from his own knee, the Argonian wasted no time in driving his sword through the exposed neck of his enemy, turning to look at Meg once he was sure that the Dwemer was no longer a threat. “You should be more careful Meg, always be attentive of your surroundings.” He told her softly, a note of concern on his voice.

However, once he was done speaking to Meg, Jaraleet’s demeanor turned to the usual cold, professional, behaviour that characterised the Argonian when he was on a mission. “Everyone!” He shouted over the chaos of the battle. “We can ill afford to waste our time, we need to push deeper into the building!” The assassin said, hoping that the others would listen to him and that, hopefully, others would join him in steering the group towards rendezvousing with the others further inside the palace.

As much as the argonian’s wordiness in the middle of a heated battle was grating on Aries’ nerves - honestly, just be succinct and concise - he was right that they were spending far too much time in the courtyard trying to defend themselves against the waves of soldiers throwing themselves at Samara cell. Something was definitely wrong here; there shouldn’t be so many soldiers left in the palace after the attack on the weapons depot. If they weren’t anticipating an attack elsewhere and chose to sacrifice a rook in order to defend the king, then the depot was either mostly defunct or…

She barely had enough time in the midst of her thoughts to react to a war-crying dwemer charging at her with a sword. She quickly raised her hand against him, and in the adrenaline-fueled moment, didn’t hold back any magicka as a red mist began to envelop her hand and her eyes bore into her enemy’s with the casting of a fear spell. The dwemer dropped his sword and dread gripped his heart, and after he took a few steps backwards, his war cries turned to screams of terror as ran the other way… before the rocky club of Maj’s storm atronach’s arm silenced the mer by swatting him into the ground. That soldier was only one of possibly hundreds still inside the palace. They had to move up soon before enemy forces weathered them down too much. She was hoping to save her magicka and lay low, but it seemed like this was one of those emergencies she was loathe to resort to.

“Stay close!” Aries shouted, her temperament finally catching up to her. Rage-filled eyes like fire took over her countenance as two huge and blazing fireballs erupted in her hands. Instead of throwing them, though, her hands fell to her sides and the fire seemed to spill out from her hands like napalm onto the ground. It ran like a raging river down the hallway behind them and blocking off the corridors beyond, guarding their flanks and providing a clear line towards the lift and the stairwell next to it. The dwemer who did not step out of the way in time would be engulfed within the blazing inferno, and as the flames burned, its height grew to ten feet, high above the heads of every fighter in the battle. It the first true display of her destruction magic, and it was befittingly dramatic and intense compared to the restrained shock spells she used earlier, but as far as her energy was concerned, there was little to show for it - she took a deep, calming breath after casting such a spell and that was that, reaping the benefits of being frugal with her magicka early on. The knowledge that the soldiers were cut off by the scorching flames, their vision also obscured, and those inside the walls would be quickly dispatched was enough for her and the others to begin catching their breath and letting everyone else’s magicka recover, too.

“The way is open! Let’s move!” Aries declared as she began the march towards the stairs, helping the others with the remaining hostiles that were preoccupying them as she went. One in particular was in combat with Jaraleet, and she snatched a spare dagger from their sheath on its belt and slashed the side of their neck open before continuing forth. The others finished their battles and followed after, and those more fleet of foot ran ahead to scout out the stairwell to confirm its clearance. Once everyone went through, she raised another wall of fire at the base of the stairs with a casual flick of her wrist to dissuade enemy forces from coming after their flank.

Rushing into the stairs as close as she could to Judena, Anifaire immediately pressed herself back to the wall inside as she caught her breath. Her chest heaved, panting, tired from running and fear more than her magicka was depleted. Despite not having the usual skill of other Altmer, she has the energy reserves of one. While the others scouted ahead, she took the moment to attempt to clear her head. Images of Dwemer skewered by blades or burnt to a crisp by spells intruded on her attempts to calm her mind and she fought against rising panic, the image of Aries slicing a guards throat several yards in front of her reoccurring. She closed her eyes and focused on returning her breathing back to normal.

Furgur Blitzcloud dissipated back to the depths of Oblivion bringing Maj to the ground, she brought up the rear of the party using the flames Aries created masking their exit with the illusion of fire engulfing the staircase. Next she quickly summoned Cinders, her flame atronach to stand guard empowered by the very same flames. Nodding she climbed the stairs behind everyone else, “Move, move, move, move!”

Mazrah, strong and quick to crest the steps of the stairwell three at a time, was among those in the vanguard. Her golden eyes burned bright in the blood-soaked Daedric mask that was her painted face and her tusks were bared. This was her element.

Trinimac-consumed-turned-Malacath, the spurned spawn of Boethiah’s appetite, was the spirit that lit her rage and she could hear the battle-drums and war-cries of her people thunder in her ears. Aries’ flames and the fury of the dragon that she brought to the battlefield inspired Mazrah and she glanced behind her at the woman with a flash of admiration before her head snapped back ahead as she rounded the last twist of the stairwell and emerged onto the floor above. More enemies awaited. The Orsimer barely registered what they were -- Dwemer, foreigners, it mattered not. They were all prey.

With explosive strength and speed, Mazrah uncoiled like a bolt from a crossbow and crossed the distance between herself and their opponents with feline agility. She avoided a salvo of close-range gunfire by swerving to the left and taking to the wall, the firm grip of her boots carrying her across the smooth surface like a legendary prince from an ancient tale, before she fell upon the gaggle of enemies with a scream. Her spear crushed the windpipe and severed the spine of one of them, too slow to even drop his rifle and reach for his shield, while Mazrah’s momentum allowed her to leap from the wall and drive her feet into the chest of another. Her weight and technique drove the Dwemer to the floor and his cuirass crumpled, breaking his ribs and cutting his skin in a hundred places. She pulled the spear free and whirled it around her with deadly precision, knocking weapons aside and leaving bloody gashes in exposed throats. The orichalcum speartip whistled as it cut through the air. Something, some primal intuition, told her that Daro’Vasora and the others were close. She hissed as she was forced to jump backwards to avoid being skewered by a Dwemeri blade. This was annoying.

“Kill them!” She roared at her allies behind her as a Nord began closing the distance with an axe in hand.

Hearing the sounds of combat ahead of them, Aries took a deep breath and prepared herself. Deciding it was best to save her Destruction magic for when it was needed, she instead summoned wisps of energy to her hand, which then coalesced into an ethereal blade with an unprecedented elegance in its slight curve. Cresting the top of the staircase, a quick thrust caught the crook of the nord’s axe before it could find itself in Mazrah’s side. In her parry, Aries swung the axe wide, and a twirl of her blade later would find itself lunged into the torso of the Nord with a stylish riposte. Though as large and enduring as he was, the stabbing pain in his abdomen wasn’t enough to stifle his war cry and aim his rage down on Aries herself -- but as though it were a dance to her, she left the blade embedded in her enemy and spun around his side until she was behind him, two new ethereal blades in hand, which were then stabbed into the Nord’s back.

Another cry of pain and rage, the nord desperately swung around with his axe, causing Aries to leave the two swords behind as she stepped back on her hind foot before immediately springing forward again, summoning a fresh blade mid-thrust. The blade found his heart, and after his last few seconds of life, his bulky body fell forward and Aries stepped out of his way. Her enemy lay dead with four ethereal blades pin-cushioning his body, which disappeared after a few seconds as she summoned a new blade in her hand. She faced her remaining opponents with her other hand behind her back, poised in a classical dueling stance as she carefully studied their movements.

Nanine headed up the stairs, sword drawn. They needed to move quickly. The longer this took the faster the city guard could react and cut off any escape they could have. Dark oblivion magic coiled around her cupped hand and arm, and she threw it amongst the guards facing Mazrah. A Frost Atronach appeared among them, sending bodies flying with swings of its limbs. She gathered more energy into her hand and released a Spider Daedra on the walls behind the guards facing Janelle. Lightning bolts slammed into two of them as Nanine threw her own lightning magic into the fra. They couldn’t afford to be stopped, especially when there weren’t any mages among the Dwemer. She paused next to Janelle, throwing another lightning bolt into a third as he tried to dodge her Daedra’s poison spit. “You kill people faster with your destruction magic. Do that. If you need it, I have magicka potions. We have to keep moving.”

“Mind yourself.” She calmly replied, noting the battlemage generous expense of magic with sharp, critical eyes. Two large daedra suddenly summoned, followed by more shock magic -- potions or not, and regardless of skill level, it wouldn’t be long until that one was out of commission. She felt little more than minor annoyance toward her new ally’s badgering, as if she thought she was so dense that Aries was not aware of her own abilities. It’s just as well then, in case of the event she’d turn her magic against her’s.

There was work to do. Always more work.

Pale-Feather scoured the floor they were on, sniffing at the air and growling as if he were an animal. Head whipped this way and that at every sound real or imagined, like a hook was through his nose. Finally, his shadow stretched across a door lined along the wall of others. He raised his fist, banged the pommel of his knife once. Twice. Three times, “Open up, Deep Elf.”

He heard a shuffling behind the door, then it whipped open and the barrel of a pistol was in his face. He leaned to one side, hooked the beard of his axe over the Elf’s wrist and yanked towards him, the Elf squawking as Pale-Feather grunted with the effort. The door pressed against his elbow as Pale-Feather pulled with all his might, hearing the sinews and tendons and joints giving protest until his arm gave with an almighty snap.

The Elf heaved in a long breath as he looked at his arm but was cut off from making his pitiful braying to no one when Pale-Feather hooked him around the neck and brought him into the hallway. He sheathed his knife and his axe. “You don’t get to touch me or mine without my blessing. This will be slow, Kerztar.” Pale-Feather said, hands slowly curling into fists that shook under their own tension and fury, knuckles popping like a fire, “Slow as slow.”

He stepped closer to the shaking Elf and he stammered out, “L-Latro?”

Pale-Feather stopped for a moment before a wicked smile crossed his bleeding lips, a voice cold as winter left him, “‘Fraid not.”

“Please, leave me alone!” The attendant pleaded. Daro’Vasora raised her hand reassuringly.

“Look, no one’s here to harm you, least of all me. I won’t forget your kindness to me, and part of me wanted to warn you to find somewhere safe to hide until this blows over. You’re a good person, the world needs more of that.” the Khajiit said softly, Shakti by her side, probably not doing much to alleviate the Dwemeri woman’s concerns.

“Then what do you want? Why are you here?” she asked, guardedly.

“Remember what we talked about, that serum that could potentially help my friends’ damaged minds? I need that, and whatever else you can really spare.” Daro’Vasora replied.

The attendant stepped out from behind her cover cautiously, wringing her hands nervously. “There’s no guarantee any of it would work, and without the equipment to monitor it…”

“It’s a chance, and a choice, we need to take. Please, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for a good cause. You’ve sworn an oath to preserve life, right? My friend hasn’t been living a life ever since I’ve known her; she has to write literally everything down or she won’t remember it. I know I’m not going to restore lost memories, but I’m hoping to give her a chance to form new ones. The other guy has a family disorder where they start to hit the high end of middle-age and they start to lose their minds, some hereditary shit.” Daro’Vasora explained, reaching over to put a hand over the attendant’s. “Please.”

The Dwemer nodded, staring at the strange hand over her own. “Okay. Okay. Just, give me a few minutes, okay?” she said, hurrying around back. Daro’Vasora slumped down against a table, burying her face in her free hand.

“Thank you, Shakti. You barely know me and you’re risking your life for me… I’m not sure how to process that.” she said quietly to her Redguard companion.

Shakti smiled warmly at Sora and twirled her sword, “It is the right thing to do.” She declared proudly. Just as easily as her smile had come it shifted to puzzlement. “There is one thing I am wondering.” She began, tapping her chin thoughtfully, “Who-“ She cut herself off and lowered her voice to a whisper. “-is losing their mind? No one told me anything about this.”

“Shit.” Daro’Vasora muttered; she forgot it was something that was told in confidence, and her mind had certainly been elsewhere given what had transpired in the fight only moments before. There was no sense denying it, but she met Shakti’s eyes with her own. “This isn’t widely known, so please keep this between us. Gregor told me back in Anvil his family has a disorder that caused his father to lose his mind, become a babbling husk of the man he used to be and it was a painful stretch of time before death mercifully put the man out of his misery.

“Gregor said that it afflicts everyone in his family and he discovered it way too late, and it’s what put him on the path he’s on now that made him leave his family behind to try and find a cure for them. I promised I’d help, if I could, and this might be my best chance to make good on that promise and maybe save a… friend? I don’t even know what our relationship is. I can’t imagine having access to another Dwemeri medical center like this again, so while the timing is horseshit given everything, I would hate myself knowing I didn’t at least try to take a risk for the same people who are risking everything for me.” the Khajiit explained, offering a morose smile.

Shakti blinked once. Sora had meant literally losing their mind. It was… hard to grasp. Did they just become shells? The Redguard girl did not know what she would do in that situation, but there was no time to ponder hypothetical situations, not now at least. Instead she nodded, “I won’t tell anyone.” and hefted her temporary sword, keeping an eye on the entrances.

“I know you won’t.” Daro’Vasora reassured her.

An idea came to Shakti. She wasn’t much of an alchemist, but there were a few in her tribe. “Maybe we should save a bottle, perhaps someone can figure out how to duplicate the recipe, yes?” Shakti postulated quietly.

The Khajiit nodded in agreement. “It was my intention to grab as much stuff as we can carry and try to figure out what it does on the road, even if it’s just a regular healing poultice, it’s still more than we had a few moments ago.” she said, heading towards a cabinet and browsing through its contents. “I’m sorry you had to go through all of this trouble for me, I never meant to make you all worry or do anything like this.”

Shakti grinned, “It wasn’t much trouble in the end, the worst part was having to dress like this.” She shook her free arm to indicate her distaste for the bloodstained gown. “They made me do my hair up and told me I couldn’t bring my sword in. My sword!” Shakti laughed at her own indignance.

That prompted a grin; Daro’Vasora recalled exactly how the two of them had met. Now she mentioned it, it seemed strange to see Shakti without her beloved weapon, the two were practically one in the same. “Well, I thank you for your noble sacrifice. When we get out of here, I’ll be sure to buy you an outfit that’s more your style. Deal?”

Suddenly, the attendant returned carrying a pair of boxes, labeled in Dwemeri writing. Daro’Vasora had found a book on medicine she’d been skimming through while waiting, and to her pleasant surprise, the writing on the boxes matched what she’d expected. Shoving them in a bag with a few other things she’d managed to find around the medical wing, the Khajiit smiled at the attendant.

“Thank you. This will come in handy.” She said, holding the book aloft. She looked over to Shakti, gesturing to the door. “Let’s go find the others, we wasted enough time.”

“What, it’s just like that? No questions, no skepticism?” the attendant asked.

Daro’Vasora looked over her shoulder at the Dwemer woman and shrugged. “Well, I’ve taken bigger risks. I’ll find the answers I’m looking for, one way or another.” she said, and the two of them were out of the door and headed back to the others.

Things almost seemed too quiet, too easy. Daro’Vasora made her way down the stairwell she’d passed by a half dozen times during her captivity with Calen, Latro, Shakti and Zhaib, and after the encounter with the ministry agents, there had been no more resistance; either they’d been fortunate enough to avoid the enemy, or they were regrouping to cut them off. They couldn’t let their guard down.

Hurrying down the spiral stairwell, Daro’Vasora turned for a moment to make eye contact with Latro, or the crazed man that had once been him, when she ran into something built like a wall. Feeling like a fool for letting her guard down, Daro’Vasora yelled as she prepared to strike with her mace, and she found a familiar tattooed Orsimer face staring back at her with wide eyes.

“Maz?!” She exclaimed, taking in the woman as if for the first time before noticing that she wasn’t alone; most everyone in her group were here, in this palace, likely to rescue her. A flush of embarrassment throbbed in her temple and ran down her spine, and she felt her throat getting choked up. This is no time to be emotional, we need to go.

“Baan Daar smiles on you lot, I never thought I’d see you all again.” she said with a grin, grabbing Mazrah by the arm affectionately before looking at the others. “I can’t believe this, thank you, all of you, but we need to leave now. Do you have an escape route?”

Meg stepped forward, a relieved grin on her face at finally being able to see Daro'Vasora alive and well. "Thank Mara you're doin' a'right! Y'had us worried there for a bit." That was an understatement of course, and what she really wanted was to rush forward and hug the khajiit, whether the latter enjoyed one of not. Now wasn't the time for that though, as Sora clearly indicated. Looking to Maz and Jaraleet, Meg addressed the two. "What 'bout the tunnels we came from?"

Jaraleet regarded Daro’Vasora briefly, giving the Khajiit a nod before he turned to face Meg. “The tunnels could be an option, but….” The Argonian began, letting out a sigh and shaking his head slightly. “With how long the Dwemer have been here it wouldn’t surprise me if they know of the tunnels as well, most likely they know them even better than us, and they probably will connect the dots sooner rather than latter. It’d be risky, to say the least.” He finished, crossing his arms over his chest. “Truth be told, I don’t think we have too many options as it stands. As much as I’m loathe to say it, I think our best option would be try and break through the gate and whatever forces the Deep Elves have mustered then scatter through the city. We’d make a harder target if we split and then, hopefully, reconvene later on.”

“With respect, you’ve also a history of unsound decisions.” Aries intervened, taking a step forward and casting a critical and distrustful glance toward Jaraleet as she adjusted her hand’s grip on the bound sword. Her eyes then scrolled over and landed on Sora, to whom she nodded curtly. “Daro’Vasora -- a pleasure. I hope we have time to properly introduce ourselves later.”

The Khajiit returned the nod, wondering who the Imperial woman was. Subconsciously, she straightened her posture; the Imperial woman looked like she carried herself so erect that bending over for anything would be an affront. Daro’Vasora reflected that her slouched posture was largely due to a lifetime of scrounging through ruins and tight spaces. At least she was flexible.

Looking back to others, specifically Latro, Aries felt a certain amount of incredulity at their eagerness to flee, though it didn’t show on her face. “I’ve helped you find Daro’Vasora like I said I would. You all may wish to extract her immediately and leave Gilane… but we are already in the palace. This may be the only chance we have left. If we wish to gain a foothold in Gilane, then we start by cutting the head off the snake. We still need to find Governor Rourken.”

"Wait." Meg frowned, looking over at Aries. "We didn' come here for that. We came t'get Sora, an' now she's here with us. We gotta leave 'fore all've this ends up for nothin' an’ we end up dead!"

“We broke into the palace and slaughtered their men and women.” She repeated, staring down the Nord woman. “That blood is on your hands too. You think they will simply let you go? If not the Dwemer, then it will be the insurgents who will see to us. They’ve risked their lives today as much as we have, and they didn’t do it so we would only rescue one woman.”

"I ain' stupid," Meg muttered, stepping back a little, feeling foolish despite her words. "I know all that... I'm jus' sayin', I don’ remember tha' bein' part of the plan, an' headin' further in an' searchin' for the gov'nor sounds like suicide t’me." Her eyes swerved back to Daro’Vasora- if there was anyone she should be listening to, it was their leader. If Sora thought it was necessary to go after Rourken, she would no longer make a fuss.

“Absolutely out of the question.” Daro’Vasora said, stepping forward. “Look, looking past me and all of your heroics today, we’re about to be up to our ass in Centurions that can sprint and climb walls and I’ve met the woman… she’s probably one of the few chances Tamriel has at finding peaceful coexistence with the Dwemer. She’s not like the ones who attacked Imperial City, the ones that killed my uncle and destroyed my home. She can be reasoned with; if she’s assassinated in her own home, it won’t be just us who suffer, it’s going to be everyone in Gilane, in Hammerfell. Right now, I’m all for taking a page out of the Renrijra Krin’s book and running away at a superior force. An Alfiq can force a Senche to move if they don’t get caught between bites.”

The Khajiit looked at her companions, her friends. Friends. she affirmed to herself, looking at each of them with a new resolve, a new promise; she’d repay their courage.

At this new information, Aries seemed somewhat perturbed and took a moment to reflect on what she was told. Sora was about to continue on with her speech before Aries halted her with a raise of her hand, “Slow down for a moment.” She said. Her eyes were now back on the Khajiit. “I appreciate what you’re trying to accomplish here, but I was in Sentinel when the Dwemer first arrived in Hammerfell. They didn’t hesitate to occupy the King’s palace with armed force then. You might think the governess is reasonable, but positions of power are always occupied by clever people. I don’t mean offense, but it sounds like Rourken had you wrapped around her finger.”

Then Aries took a deep breath and continued, “But this talk of centurions is troubling. If the enemy is about to receive expendable reinforcements, then we should regroup with Irranhu cell. They raided their arms depot, and we’ll need their numbers and firepower if the Dwemer are going to launch a counter-attack.” The woman looked back up to face Sora, and was grimly shaking her head. “If what you say is true, then that is just further proof against her supposed desire for peace.”

“Whatever gets us out of this palace, but you don’t spend over a week with someone you want to claw their throat out without understanding them a bit. Hammerfell might be worse off today for what we’ve done here, but you didn’t see what the Dwemer are capable of when they aren’t trying to coexist.” Daro’Vasora explained, her eyes narrowing. “But I think I know a way to stop this invasion for all of Tamriel, and I can’t do that here. The rest of us are leaving town, you can come along if you want.” Daro’Vasora said definitively, turning to Jaraleet and Meg. “I’ll leave the path up to you; my preference would be the tunnel because I don’t fancy trying my luck across open ground, but getting trapped without options also isn’t particularly alluring.”

Mazrah had resisted the urge to pull Sora into a hug and settled for returning the affectionate arm-squeeze while listening to the others talking. She was not a fan of fleeing for anyone or anything but even the Orsimer had to admit that rescuing the Khajiit and getting the hell out of here had been the plan all along. “The tunnel works,” she said and nodded encouragingly at Meg -- it was a good suggestion. “The entrance is outside of the palace. It's only a short distance of open ground to cover and then we're underground.”

She stopped and tilted her head. A faint sound was echoing through the corridor. It sounded like… thunder. “You hear that?” Mazrah hissed. By turning her head this way and that, she was able to determine that the sound was coming from deeper within the palace. “I'm not an expert but that sounds like magic to me. Something's not right. We have to get out, now.”

“I agree, but I must once more say that using the tunnels isn’t a good idea.” Jaraleet spoke up, turning to look at Mazrah. “Normally I’d agree that the tunnels are the best idea but, look at us.” The Argonian said, motioning towards the gathered members of the group with one arm. “We are about a dozen in number and the tunnels through which we came aren’t all that big. Were the Dwemer to corral us down there we couldn’t defend ourselves properly in such confined spaces.” He said to the Orsimer woman. “I know what I propose isn’t ideal but, truth be told, none of our options are. If we stay together we paint a bigger target on our backs for the Dwemer to track us down, regardless of the route that we take to get out of here. That is why I propose that we split up and reconvene later on, so that the Dwemer will have a harder time tracking us through Gilane’s streets.”

“I agree with Jaraleet. We punch through the way we came, then scatter and reconvene. I can create walls of lightning to help keep the path open, and my summons can aid in that as well. In as large of a group we have, we can quickly deal with any enemies that do get in our way and keep moving.” Nanine was relieved to see that Sora was alright, even more so when she quickly and succinctly shut down Janelle’s foolish plan to try to assassinate the governor. It was nice to see that someone else understood the consequences of actions. Unlike some people. She cast a brief, disproving, glance at Mazrah’s lack of cover and silently thanked her brother for teaching her the value of being ready to move at an instant. Her armor and pack was ready to be picked up and taken at the Three Crowns and she fully expected the Dwemer to find and follow Mazrah to them within the month.

Of course, Aries had her own disagreement with what Nanine was proposing, looking at the battlemage with her persona momentarily broken as an expression of incredulity came over her. She was about to shut her down herself before Calen stepped forward sheepishly. He has been quiet throughout most of this to let the tactically minded folk create the escape strategy, but then approached with a finger in the air as if to make a proposal of his own. He said, in a somewhat sardonic fashion, “Uh, yeah, hi -- non-combatant here -- I feel like you might be, I don’t know, underestimating them a little bit by running into courtyard like it’s nothing. Remember when we first started making this plan of ours? Courtyard was a killbox? What happened to that? Because I really, really don’t want to get shot again.”

Validation had only felt good for a moment; Meg looked rather antsy after Maz's words. If something was troubling the Orsimer, then she very much doubted it was worth ignoring it. And as much as she hated to admit it, Jaraleet's words did make sense, though heading out through the gates caused her more nervousness than being in a tunnel. Attacks could come from anywhere without any proper cover keeping them safe.

It also irked her that all this all this discussing was taking up precious moments they could have used to already escape, whichever way they decided to go. "We need a decision, an' now," she broke out bluntly. "'Else we'll be dead right here." She chewed on her lip for a second before hastily continuing, now wishing to lose her courage now that she'd found it again. "How 'bout we split up now? They'd havta split t'find us... one group can take the tunnels, the other goes through the gates?"

“That sounds like an agreeable enough compromise to me.” The Argonian finally conceded to Meg, letting out a soft sigh. “Maybe the group going out through the gates can draw some more attention for those who are heading into the tunnels.” Jaraleet mused before he shook his head. They had no time to waste to consider such things. “Alright, who will head to which exit? We need to decide that before we do anything else.”

“I’ll go through the tunnels,” Mazrah said with a firm nod. “At least one of us three should because we’re the ones that know the way. Anyone that feels a little spent or anxious to face more Dwemer or their forces should come with me. We’ll try to escape unnoticed.” She glanced at Anifaire while she said that but didn’t necessarily expect the Altmer woman to take her up on the offer.

“I agree the She-Elf bitch needs to die… but now is not the time to do it. We’ve got what we wanted, you don’t turn a raid into a war.” Pale-Feather’s voice came from over Sora’s shoulder. While the rest hashed out plans, Pale-Feather hung back. His breathing had gotten noticeably slower and more relaxed than earlier, his amber eyes less crazed, the pupils no longer pressed into pin-pricks or golden-ringed voids but there was a quiet violence in his fingers still. He had his arms at his sides, staring off until he perked up. A brow cocked at the wind, sounds of fighting on it. “Janelle…” he said, “Was Irranhu cell supposed to come back for us?”

He walked to a nearby window, eyes still a bit glassy, but consciousness struggling behind them still. What greeted him outside was a fight in the courtyard, the Dwemer steadily losing ground. Not that there was a sizable garrison, but whoever was attacking again quickly dealt with them.

“No…” Aries replied curiously, looking out the window with Latro. Then curiosity turned to trepidation -- she didn’t like things not going according to plan, and Irranhu acting on their own like this and storming the palace was very much not according to plan. She hoped it was a executive decision to provide backup, which would give them the edge they need to take out the Governor, but… she wondered if her and Sevari’s stunts with manipulating the Poncy Man and his forces were beginning to catch up with them. She was hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

Latro took his gaze away from the window and looked towards the door, the wolf’s eyes on the moving wood and metal. The loud creaking rung through the hall to reveal two Redguard in Dwemer armor, holding rifles. One of them spoke out, “Come with us. Hassan has questions.”

It was bloody slaughter.

It fit, all things considered. What had been done to Al-Aqqiya would be repaid ten-fold upon the Dwemer. Hassan swore it when he looked upon the charred bones of his family home there. And just like there, he and the rest of Irranhu cell had plundered and murdered with impunity in Gilane’s weapons depot. His bloodthirst was not yet sated though. He walked among the garden of corpses rooted to the ground by Irranhu’s guns and swords and arrows, the courtyard still thick with smoke and the smell of powder. This was his wrath brought forth and he sighed like a farmer at the edges of his crop, a smile upon his nodding face.

“You enjoy this too much.” A voice said behind him, syllables slithering in his ears like serpents.

“So did they,” Hassan said, his smile dropping as he spoke, “when they burned my home. Irranhu’s home. You should smile, my sister in arms, we’ve done good today.”

“Not until I take my quarry.” She replied coldly, impartially gazing at the carnage around them.

“Ah,” Hassan smirked, pointing out to the door, “Speaking of.”

The men Hassan had sent in to retrieve them had come back far quicker than he had expected. He guessed he had to give them credit then, able to fight their way through the Palace so well that they were in the main lobby by the time he and Irranhu got there. He raised his hand in greeting, walking up with Nadeen in tow to stand before the trio at the head of their dozen. “Greetings!” He began good-naturedly, “I don’t suppose you know where the girl with the bosoms and her big, mean Ohmes are?”

His eyes scanned all their faces until they snagged on Aries, “Ah, there you are! The Poncy Man wants to chat with you. Where’s your friend?”

“You know how working men are.” Aries responded coyly. “Always busy, trying to bring home the bacon… could you let dear Poncy know that we’re all too busy with war for more pleasantries?”

“Oh, woman, if you knew,” Hassan chuckled, “Your fucking working man was at Al-Aqqiya. He was where Irranhu cell was birthed from, no? He burned it all. So, no, Janelle. This is about as far from pleasantries as we can get.”

“Step forward, Janelle. Tell us where your man is and we can all sit down and talk this out.” Nadeen said.

Aries, for once, felt like she was caught off guard, but she was able to keep it off her face. Instead, she gave them a more inquisitive look. Curious, but not entirely convinced.

“I wish I could tell you more,” she said, stepping forward, “but I’m sorry to say this all sounds very new to me. If he has done wrong by you like you say he has, then I would like to make it right -- but I don’t know where he is, he always worked alone… but this isn’t a discussion we should be having in the heart of Dwemer territory. Now that we’ve regrouped, though, we can take the fight directly to Rourken and take back Gilane. This city could be the first foothold Hammerfell sees in this war!”

Nadeen stepped forward to stand at Hassan’s shoulder. Hassan shook his head, “We aren’t here for Rourken, Janelle.” His eyes bore into hers, “Just step aside and come with us.”

Their eyes met in an intense stand-off, seconds of which Aries spent trying to figure out what they were here for then. Her eyes were glancing across the men and women of Irranhu cell, armed and armored to the teeth, and brandishing their weapons. They were on guard and cautious. Hassan and Nadeen sounded angry. They told her to step aside. From Samara? Her eyes widened and she looked over her shoulder toward the others as that haunting realization came over her. Among the group, Jaraleet stood out the most -- Nblec’s supposed murderer. That’s when everything started going wrong. Shit. Maybe if word got back to Rourken that the insurgents started turning on each other, then maybe they would call off the centurions… but then she would be hard pressed to call herself a leader if she were too quick and willing to make that sacrifice.

And what then of the would-be wasted effort she spent today? There wasn’t an easy answer, and she was stuck between a rock and a hard place -- two groups of people she sworn herself to support, and there didn’t look like there was going to be a clean way out of this desperate situation. She just… the centurions. If Daro’Vasora wasn’t just lying to her so she could leave as soon as possible, then maybe she could stall Irranhu long enough until they arrived. It wasn’t ideal to wait for another enemy to enter the fray, but it’d either temporarily unite the two cells or give Samara enough time to escape. Both outcomes would keep her own integrity intact.

She met Hassan’s eyes again with a look of solemn understanding. She took a deep and calming breath, holding one hand behind her back in a classically regal pose. To those in the group behind her, they could see a faintly green, calming energy, but no more than that. It wasn’t directed toward anyone, but it was subtle and the pacifying sense of calmness radiated from her person. She could understand why Irranhu would suddenly resort to such an extreme course of action; they were uncertain and didn’t want to take risks, but that didn’t make it any easier for her. She knew that they were too resolved at this point to be talked down, but all she had to do was buy the others some time until she figured something out.

“Now isn’t the time for this.” Aries asserted. “We can resolve this situation later rationally. Trust me when I say I’ve no intention of letting any mistakes go unpunished, either.”

“Now is the only time.” Nadeen replied firmly, stepping ahead of Hassan and cutting through the bullshit. “You’re lucky we’re even giving you this choice, and it’s only out of respect for your station.”

Aries’ eyes lit up for a moment before keenly settling on them. So they already knew. Still, she pressed on. “Then you know the position I’m in. I am as devoted to the cause of the Redguard people as I am to my own. It is for that reason that I cannot choose between my support and allegiance to you and to those who rely on my protection, whom I have also sworn to aid. To do so would make me a poor shepherd of my flock, would it not? Such is the burden of leadership, I’m afraid.”

“Your diplomacy isn’t an option here. Not as long as you harbor a--”

The one Hassan knew as Latro and another large Redguard that stood a head taller than even himself stepped forward. “I don’t care what is going on between you. I am to protect Sora.” The big Redguard rumbled. “Are you hindering that?”

Hassan just shrugged, “Who are you?”

“I am Zhaib.” He said, grip ever so slightly tightening on the hilt of his pilfered sword. “Who are you?”

“No one to you. We were just looking for her.” He pointed to Aries. “And the other ones you’re hiding. Your little girl and her little fucking-“

Pale-Feather heard the sound before he even registered the movement. It was fast enough to have probably even given Francis pause at how quickly Zhaib had brought his sword down and in what little time Hassan had responded. Even as they were locked in the bind, Zhaib reached up under his shirt and yanked his pendant from his neck, leather thong still dangling from it. “Give it to her. Let her know that she’s worth protecting by me, by her father,” Zhaib struggled and pushed Hassan off of him, effortlessly but blindingly quick he parried another two equally fast blows, “By her man and you!”

“What are you doing?!” Aries shouted, her eyes going wide with disbelief at the redguard as he jumped into the squad of insurgents before him.

Zhaib caught Nadeen’s spear in a huge hand and wrenched it away from him, chopping through the haft with his sword and using it as a dagger as he threw himself at them. In the same moment, the report of Dwemer rifles came and Pale-Feather knew what to do.


But even so, there was a little voice in his head, a niggling at his back like a finger poking into him. Sora. That Khajiit. Sora, his lover, the one reason he was here. Latro was here. Latro took Sora’s wrist in his hand and bellowed to the others, “To the tunnel!”

Daro’Vasora had the pendant in her grasp, and she looked on wide-eyed at Zhaib throwing himself at the other Redguards, the other cell… she’d seen the ill-intent in their eyes and after seeing Aries confront them, her hidden hand coalescing with a calming spell, she realized that the Imperial woman was likely the only reason that the other Redguards hadn’t taken aggressive action - yet. It was a few valuable seconds bought.

“Go, while we can.” She urged the others, and the group took off as one, stealing a glance at the weapons, tracking them but not quite raised; perplexed looks crossed the faces she could see, and it seemed like that Irranhu cell wasn’t quite sure of what they were supposed to be doing at that very moment.

All the better.

Aries, though hesitant, realized Zhaib’s actions had already condemned any possibility of further talks and stalling, so she followed after Daro’Vasora. As the last of the group started to descend into the previously concealed tunnel, the first barks of gunfire came behind them, kicking up stone and sand where they had been moments before. While a detachment moved to give chase, Daro’Vasora glanced back and watched Zhaib, fighting like a man possessed, and her feet took her further into the darkness, following her companions.

Arriving at the Three Crowns wasn’t the reprieve they were hoping for; rooms were burning and bodies were scattered across the grounds, a battle had fallen upon the hotel while they had been raiding the palace, grimly explaining the lack of resistance for many of the party. Faces they’d seen for weeks laid staring at the sky, wide-eyed and unblinking as their bodies displayed what had caused their grizzly fates.

“We need to gather our things, if they’re still there, and go, quickly.” Daro’Vasora said, leading the way into the building. Many of the servants and guests were visibly consoling each other, and most of the bodies that were scattered about were wielding weapons; they weren’t the only cell to have occupied the hotel either.

Passing by the central courtyard, a grim sight was to be had; the Poncy Man, a pair of axe wounds deep between his collarbones was propped up like a ghastly scarecrow with a spear jutting up under his chin, his eyes gouged out. His wife knelt, sobbing hysterically at his feet.

Alarmingly, pieces of mechanical equipment from Dwemer automata were scattered here and there, and the damage inflicted didn’t seem to have slowed the machines down any. A wide-eyed cleaner sat against the wall, holding her head. When the group started to pass by, the woman looked at them, her eyes looking like wells that had dried up.

“The machines… they came like a pack. Foreigners, led by a massive Orc, they… they did this. It was like they had planned this for weeks… they knew exactly where to go.” she said, retreating into her arms once more.

“So that plan wasn’t going to work, after all…” Aries sighed, thinking back to her confrontation with Irranhu. “Even Poncy…”

“Fuck.” Daro’Vasora muttered, looking at her companions. “Okay, five minutes and we meet back here. Get your shit and get out.”

Shakti raced through the halls of the Three Crowns, hurdling bodies and fallen stones and various other signs of the massacre. She couldn’t let it affect her, she wouldn’t. She was no stranger to death and all it did was bring her dislike of the dwemer down to hatred. The Redguard girl had been baffled when they’d arrived to find the hotel destroyed, its inhabitants killed to the man. Politics in the city were so byzantine. None of it made sense.

Finally, she reached the linen closet that she called a room and gingerly opened the door. Shakti exhaled her breath in relief as she found her modest belongings untouched. She quickly kicked off the servant’s shoes she had been wearing and stripped off the bloody and torn gown, stuffing it into her pack and pulling out her normal tunic, cloak, and leather armour pieces. Shakti dressed as fast as she could, much happier to be out of the stifling and most degrading serving girl’s outfit and back into her tattered Alik’r garb. With bated breath she rolled her bedroll up and beheld up her father’s sword that had been lying underneath it, hidden. Her sword. She looked at the dwemer blade she had been carrying around and leaned it against the wall. Maybe someone else needed it. The young Redguard warrior smiled as she picked up her sword and tied the baldric around her waist and chest, where it belonged. She thanked all the spirits of the desert and Tall Papa and even Satakal that it was still here and that it was still hers. Picking up her pack and pulling it onto her back, she gave one last look at the small room before running back to rejoin the others.

Brynja, Rhona, and Alim were nowhere to be found.

After the five minutes had passed and the group had regrouped, it became apparent that those that had remained behind were nowhere to be seen; quickly checking the bodies with dread, no one found a familiar face staring back at them, which brought both relief and another horror. Had they been captured?

Witnesses claimed to have seen the Nord and Breton manage to escape out of the back while the roguish Redguard held them off, and though he put up a valiant fight, Alim apparently had been overwhelmed and knocked out cold from a pommel strike to the back of his head. He was one of several prisoners taken in the raid; apparently someone had decided he was valuable enough to spare. There was nothing that could have been done for them at this point, and the group decided to press forward.

Gregor and Raelynn managed to catch up with the others, wide-eyed at the destruction of the hotel, and lied that they had been out for supplies when everything happened. Gregor cleaned the blood off his claymore when nobody was looking at him and made sure that the soul gem that held Kerztar’s essence was safely hidden at the bottom of his backpack. Aside from a quick pat on Daro’Vasora’s shoulder and a smile there was no time for a proper reunion and after grabbing their remaining belongings, the two lovers were ready to leave.

Heading back into the streets, the saving grace was the crowds; other than being a bewildered group of foreigners, it wasn’t hard to disappear into the throngs of people in Gilane’s streets. It was a simple matter of holding to the same patterns the masses followed; when people ducked out of the streets and into alleys or behind cover, they followed suit. It was quickly apparent why.

Groups of six Centurions, around 8 feet in height, were sprinting through the streets, their loud footfalls echoing across buildings, and it was clear that except for exceptionally athletic individuals, the machines were faster than most could run. Their cold, expressionless faces scanned the crowds, and for a moment lingered on Daro’Vasora and the others, causing her heart to skip a beat. However, the moment passed quickly and the Centurions continued their run, disappearing from sight a few moments later.

“They must not have had time to fully program them…” the Khajiit observed under her own breath, recalling the threat she’d received from Governor Rourken; speak well of the Dwemer, or her machines would slaughter her friends and the rest of the insurgency. It became increasingly clear that they were indeed the ones responsible for what had happened at the Three Crowns.

Rourken legitimately was going to spare us… Daro’Vasora realized, shaking her head as the group continued on.

The city gate came up, and a small bickering argument of how to get past the checkpoint broke out when Aries stepped forward, approaching the guards with her hands behind her back; the calm spell was literally about to work its magic. The diplomat easily won over the Redguards at the checkpoint, and the group passed unmolested. For the first time in quite some time, most of the group stood outside of Gilane, the expanse of the Alik’r Desert very apparent to each and every one of them.

Latro felt like it should’ve meant freedom. To see no buildings for miles, no brick and mortar or sandstone. Where it would’ve meant that the future could be anything for them, it was pure nothingness and uncertainty to him. He had the polished stone between his fingers the entire way to the gates and he was still timidly fingering the stone as they all stood there, breathing in the open air that smelled of baking sand in the sun. A small bit of respite for the group while he made his way alone to the stables outside of Gilane, looking for the horse Sevari had given him for their ride to Al-Aqqiya that day. While there, Calen had also picked up his pony, Danish. It would be much harder for a northern-bred horse, but he wasn’t willing to leave the animal behind.

Latro was finally in the saddle again, patting his horse’s flank as the two of them ambled up to the group. “I’ll scout ahead. We’ll need an outrider to warn the rest of anything.” Latro looked to Calen, “You and Danish can ride between me and the rest, you’ll be the first to hear of anything and bring it back to the group behind us while I keep ahead.”

With a nod, Calen hopped onto Danish’s back. The pony would be hard pressed to travel in the sand, but he had enough muscle to climb up steep hills. This shouldn’t be so bad, right?

Daro’Vasora stepped forward, grabbing Latro by the arm. “Not without me, you’re not.” She said with an air of finality. “We…” need to finish our discussion of what happened back there “Need to make sure no one’s left alone again. No more wandering off without a partner, for anyone.” she said, diplomatically, looking to the rest of the group.

“We won’t go far, I promise. The rest of you, see if you can arrange transportation, find supplies, whatever it takes.” she smiled to the group. “I won’t forget what you’ve done for me today… each of you, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. I owe you everything. I’m just asking you trust me for a bit longer.”

“Alright, then,” Latro said, the smile on his face was supposed to be an easy one, but it was anything but, “Let’s be off then.”

When Sora took his hand and he helped her into the saddle, it should’ve felt right. Should’ve. But nothing did. Even so, he sighed and looked back at her, a kiss planted on his lips and they were off at a quick canter with Calen riding after them.

Gregor took a moment to sit down against the city walls while Calen, Daro’Vasora and Latro hoisted themselves into the saddle. His assault on the governor had taken a lot out of him, but he looked at Raelynn and managed a small smile. He was going to be fine. He realized that Alim, Brynja and Rhona were missing and felt a pang of concern. Alim and Raelynn had been friends. He hoped the Redguard’s absence would not weigh too heavily on her.

Nanine leaned against the wall of Gilane, cold emanating from her as she reached for magic to calm herself. She was nervous, confused, afraid. She needed to establish control, before those emotions took over. She needed to be in control of at least herself, no matter how bad they situation was. Though, to be fair, she couldn’t think of a worse situation she had been in than this one.

The new Centurions were even more powerful than the old ones, they were wanted by both the Redguard rebels and the Dwemer, and the only route left available to them was to flee the city across the Alik’r Desert with almost no supplies. She could easily recall her father’s stories of the Great War and his march across the desert. Without a plan, she didn’t have much faith in their odds of survival. She gave a quiet sigh. There was nothing left to do but trust in Sora, now that she was back.

Everything had gone completely out of control in a matter of seconds in the palace, and she had no idea why. Why had the Poncy Man turned on them in the palace of all places? Her mind returned to the accusation the woman with cold, yellow eyes and the snakeskin cloak had tried to make before the massive Redguard had interrupted her.

What do they think we’re harbouring?

Shakti looked happily at the vast expanse of desert in front of them, her hands on her hips. The sun beat down and the wind tousled her already-messy hair as she took in the sight of the place of her birth again. Her home. She twirled back around to look at the group. “This is exciting isn’t it? I cannot wait to be back in the Alik’r! I’ve missed the stone and sand of my home.” She exclaimed, unable to keep her glee to herself. The group looked a bit less excited than her, but she still held out hope that they too would come to appreciate the beauty and power of the desert. “I’ll be able to lead us to an oasis in no time, trust me!” she said aloud, assuaging the fears of approximately no one.

“Gilane is as good as lost.” Aries replied, a note of bitterness in her voice. “And with it, the rest of Hammerfell. We should head north. Hopefully in either High Rock or Skyrim we can find at least one remaining bastion of men still resisting the Dwemer.”

Aries’ eyes landed on Mazrah and she continued, “If our journey does take us through the Dragontail mountains, whether you’re from Wrothgar or not, you might be our best bet for leading us through those mountains after the girl leads us through the desert.”
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Dance Around the Fire that We Once Believed in

14th Midyear 4E208, mid-morning, the Three Crowns Hotel...

“We need to talk.”

Daro’Vasora stood in the door frame of the hotel room where Latro was gathering his things; the Khajiit had found her stuff had already been tidily packed up by one of her companions. She approached him tepidly, her arms wrapped about her waist, her gait short and lacking confidence.

“Is that what Pale-Feather means? Is… is Latro still there?” she asked quietly.

Latro almost flinched as he heard Sora’s voice. He was just getting the last few things of his into his pack. He closed the flap and buckled it securely, grabbing up the lute she’d gifted him all those days ago. The bloody hands gripping the neck of it felt like charlatan's hands.

“I hope he is.” Latro replied lamely, quietly, “You’re talking to him.” He looked at Sora and how afraid or disappointed or… whatever it was, but it was anything but loving. And that was what hurt him the most. He asked her, voice a meek whisper, “Are you afraid of me now?”

“No, of course… I don’t know.” Daro’Vasora replied meekly, not daring to cross the distance, as much as her heart yearned to. She looked him over, not seeing the crazed expression that had dominated him during the rescue. “You weren’t yourself, you were feral, you took joy slaughtering those men. I couldn’t reach you; it’s like I wasn’t there.” Tears welled up in her eyes, the trials of the day and this encounter weighing heavy on her.

She was quiet for a pregnant moment. “If I’d tried to stop you, would you have hurt me?” her words came out barely more than a whisper.

Latro swallowed hard when he saw the tears at the edges of Sora’s eyes. When she asked him that question he never wanted to cross her mind, he near choked on a sob. He took a breath, his head hung low, “I…” the silence stretched on for an eternity, his lack of words letting the answer go even if he couldn’t form it on his own tongue, “Sora, I never wanted this. There’s a reason why I have no choice but to detest violence.”

He lay a hand on a post of his bed, and rubbed at his eyes, his hand stayed there as he spoke, “It’s like I was watching myself and there was nothing I could do.” He said, voice straining to keep steady, “That’s what Pale-Feather is. It’s been like that since I can remember in the redoubt. The first time it happened I remember my friend and I were arguing. I came to with my hands around his neck. I drug him to the river and said that he drowned, I fucking said words over his grave like I wasn’t his murderer. And they all believed me, Sora. I lied and they hugged me and said it was going to be alright that I lost a friend.”

He looked to Sora, “We talked of wolves and sheep some time ago.” He said, “To Pale-Feather, all the world is sheep and he is the wolf. But I’m not Pale-Feather, Sora. Please.” He yanked the axe and the knife from his belt, tossing them at Sora’s feet. “Don’t ever let me touch these unless I have absolutely no other option.”

She did not reach down to pick up the weapons, as if they were cursed. “But you are, aren’t you?” she asked, not sure what to do with her body. A part of her, the part that had dominated her life for so long, demanded she leave and never look back. He was dangerous, he was going to hurt her and others. He allowed himself to lose control and become a savage beast…

“You did it for me.” she remarked quietly, walls coming down around her. “I was the one who put you in that position. If I wasn’t so careless, if I’d just told you where I was going that night, none of this would have happened.” she said, looking up to meet his gaze.

“But Latro, Pale-Feather… I don’t know what is going to stop you from having another episode, and I am so afraid that if it happens again, I’ll lose you forever. I can’t, not like this.” her voice said, choking. Her arms tightened.

“Please.” He begged, “Please. Or I’ll leave them here, I don’t need them, you don’t need Pale-Feather. So don’t call me that.”

“I love you, Sora,” he said, voice finally breaking as he held back a sob, a tear ran down and tinged his tongue salty, “I don’t ever want you to be afraid of me. I’m not a monster. I don’t know what I can do to make you believe me but please don’t forsake me.”

She looked at him, a resolve somewhere in her emerald eyes. “I will never give up on you, do you understand? I may not understand what’s happening, or this side of you, and yes, I’m scared of it… but I’m not going to give up on you. I know everything you’ve done for me, and everything you are to me. Just… give me some time to process all of this, okay?” she asked, wiping her eye.

Latro nodded a bit, sniffled, and said, “Okay.” He looked to the weapons on the floor and took a step closer to them and another until he was close enough to grasp them up, the steel head of his axe scraping along the ground before it was in its loop, his knife in its sheath, “I’m afraid of it, too. Do you think that… that stuff, you got for Gregor and Jude, could it help?”

He looked down at his hands, still bloody. He tried to wipe them on his pants but it wouldn’t come off. He sighed, “I never wanted for you to see me like that.” He said, looking at her, “I promise I’ll do anything to keep you safe. From anyone.” He let go a shuddering breath, “Even me.”

Daro’Vasora reached out and gently placed her hand on Latro’s cheek. “Loving someone means accepting them for who they are, even if it’s difficult sometimes, and it means standing by them when it’s hard, when life seems impossible. You looked at me and saw a person, not an animal worthy of scorn and distrust. I see the man you want to be, and knowing you do not wish to be ruled by this aspect of who you are is enough for me to know what’s in your heart, Latro.” She cooed, bringing her forehead against his own. “Maybe there’s a medical solution for this, maybe it’s spiritual. I know a thing or two about reconciling two halves of a fractured soul. Do you trust me?” she asked.

“With my life,” Latro raised his hands with a great trepidation, but finally his arms were around Sora’s waist, “Always, love. I just…” he frowned but dragged it up to try at his easy smile, “I’m glad knowing you’re by my side, always, past anything.”

They shared a gaze into each other’s eyes, Latro’s were warm and amber and held all the love he had to give instead of the yellow wolf’s eyes they were at the Palace, with none to spare for the world. He took in all of Sora, so glad to be able to touch her again after all this terrifying time. He kissed her softly, naught but a peck, for he couldn’t bring himself to let his lips linger any longer after what he knew she saw of him. But he didn’t let any of those thoughts show as he smiled, “We should meet back with the others.”

The sensation of his lips lingered on her own, and her heart swelled at the connection renewed. Daro'Vasora knew it in her soul that this was Latro. This was her lover, and someone she had decided long ago was someone she would stand beside, no matter what would come. His embrace, his warmth, it was soothing. The feral Reachman aspect of him was subdued, for now.

“I will need to walk the Moonpath once more, when it is safe, and I will teach you to do the same… after a fashion.” Daro’Vasora said, nodding as he reminded her of the urgency of the situation. It almost felt wrong to steal so much time for themselves, but after everything…

Damn the consequences. She needed this.

“I love you, Latro. I will help you heal your wounded soul, no matter how much it hurts.” she smiled, heading back to the door. “This one is no stranger to pain.”

14th Midyear 4E208, mid-morning, Outside of the Gilane Northern Gates.…

“We’re here.” Zaveed said to Sirine, gesturing to the tavern with flowing canvas overhangs and an open floor plan to allow for airflow that was desperately needed in the stifling heat. The duo had managed to leave the city without much incident as Zaveed was still officially a secret police agent and the fallout from Sevari’s detainment had yet to come and bite him personally in the ass. However, his brother’s escape wouldn’t take long to discover, and it would have immediately drawn suspicion to him; he aimed to be gone and far away before the Dwemer could catch up to him, and that involved finding his brother first.

Looking ahead the Crooked-Tooth Inn, Zaveed knew it was where his brother would likely be.

It was a shady run down place that was meant for weary travellers, and being outside of the city proper, it was open outside of the guards’ usual patrol routes and subsequently had a reputation for attracting all sorts of outlaws and other unpleasant sorts in a neutral meeting ground where no one took overtly illegal actions, and while a patron was inside of the walls they were promised safety from retaliation as an unspoken rule. It led to an uneasy, but stable relationship, with the law; the authorities knew several wanted felons could be within the Crooked-Tooth Inn at any given time, but they also weren’t up to anything particularly vile while staying within the confines of the inn and it would be easier to keep tabs on people in one spot rather than them spreading out within the city. The Redguards understood this, and so did the Dwemer; however, the latter took it a step further and recruited many of their foreign fighters from this very establishment in the early weeks, usually to surprising effect.

Even a mere glance at the tavern was enough to show Sirine this establishment was probably in better condition than where she used to work. Giving her companion a slight nod, her eyes narrowed as she peered past the canvas, looking for the distinctive form of the Ohmes-Raht. Truth be told, she hadn't expected to have been able to leave so easily from the governor's palace, not that she wasn't grateful for a quick leave. She had also been curious as to how exactly Sevari had managed to escape, but such questions were for times when haste wasn't necessary. Following after Zaveed without a fuss suited her just fine for the time being.

"No point simply lingering out here." Her dark eyes turned away from the tavern long enough to look at the khajiiti man. "I'm heading in."

Sevari just then was descending some steps down from the rooms, tugging on his coat. A Redguard woman stepped down after him, adjusting the straps of her bra and laid a hand on his shoulder that he shrugged off. He finally caught sight of Sirine and nodded to her, gesturing to the bar before sitting down himself. The bartender set a drink down in front of him without asking what he’d have and he downed it immediately.

“I take it you just knew where I’d be?” He said, not looking at the pair.

Zaveed saddled up to the counter, not bothering to sit just yet. “No, I’m fucking magic. You forget I track people down for a living… how much of an idiot would I have to be if I spent an entire month working with you and coming to this piss-hole of a tavern frequently and not think to look here?” he tapped on the counter, and the bartender, an Imperial named Larius, brought the Khajiit a bottle of wine, the same kind he’d brought Zaveed every single time he came for a visit. The exact change was already waiting on the counter. He pulled out the cork with a claw and drank from the bottle before sliding it over to Sirine. He looked over at the Redguard prostitute almost guiltily, considering his present company. Had she been forced into that line of work, like Sirine had? Zaveed had never thought to ask, and he knew they’d probably lie if he did. He’d contributed to a lot of unhappy, broken lives without realizing it over the years. He grunted.

“We can’t stay here long.” he observed.

Sirine looked to the bottle and considered simply rejecting the offer. Despite working in a tavern, she had managed to keep her intake of alcohol to the barest minimum, normally watering it down if forced with having to drink. At present though, given the khajiit's mood, she didn't quite think that saying nay to an act of generosity would be ideal. Steeling herself against the taste, she took a humble sip, barely a mouthful before setting it back down close to Zaveed.

Looking between him and Sevari, she tapped her fingers against the countertop. There was tension brewing here, that was for sure.

“We aren’t.” Sevari said, fishing a cigar out of his coat pocket and lighting it in his usual casual use of magic, “Outside. Or not. Either way, I’m doing something about my situation.”

He took a step outside, leaving Zaveed and Sirine behind at the bar. He took a drag from his cigar and stared off into the desert beyond. As much as he liked the views of Hammerfell’s rolling dunes like great waves of sea stretching countless miles into the distance, he was looking for something in particular. He took another drag, puffing on it slightly. He’d heard of something that would be invaluable to their flight from Hammerfell, and he’d done a lot of thinking while waiting for Zaveed and Sirine to catch up with him. Perhaps it would be good to just stick to his own, live out his life getting into any manner of mischief with his brother and his new girl, at least he suspected she was such.

Or maybe he’d gone so long without actual intimacy that he’d crossed the threshold at which point one may never be able to distinguish politeness with flirting. He sighed, Zaveed was right, no more dallying on the shit choices and shit luck he’d had in life. It was time to show his finger to the Gods and pry some semblance of happiness from their clutches. Once he’d heard Zaveed and Sirine behind him, he spoke, eyes still on the horizon beyond, “Pretty soon, there’s going to be a supply coach coming to Gilane through this road.” He cleared his throat, taking a few puffs, “There’s a few lads in there that are a shade of green I never thought I’d see again in this fucking desert country fixing to rob it.”

“We’re going to let them.” He nodded, “Then, they’re going to fall on sudden hard luck when Savian Kastav, Captain Greywake, and…”

His voice trailed off as he looked at Sirine, “Sirine… take the burden of all that weaponry, food, armor and payroll from them.”

“We redress the coach somehow, make ourselves look like travelers down on their luck, and we go wherever it is that’s farthest away from this shit.” He spat off to his side, not having once shifted his gaze from his dutiful watch for the Gilane Supply Coach. “Then we can do whatever the hells we want.”

“It’s more of a plan than we had five minutes ago.” Zaveed said, arms crossed over his chest as he looked down the road to where the supply wagon presumably was coming from. “So, what, we just wait here for it, in the eyes of all these outlaws and low lives that would be itching for a fight outside of the city gates? I’d rather not immediately get a bounty on my head. Could we not do this further away from town?”

“Trust me, it’s not that bad.” Sevari smiled at Zaveed and then went back to his watch, “But no, we’re waiting for the first gang to leave. We follow them. We’re three people, there’s seven of them. We let them hold up the coach, kill the guards or whatever they do, get away from town and take them at their backs while they’re heading to their hideout.”

He looked at Zaveed, “You have fat merchant ships in the sea and shore raids, Zaveed, I have caravan robberies and ransoms.” He looked back out at the desert, taking a long draw from his cigar, “This isn’t the first time I’ve done this.”

The privateer pouted. “We’ve got guns, Sevari. They’d be dead before they had a chance to harm a pretty hair in my mane. You’re putting far too much thought into this.”

Clearing her throat, Sirine crossed her arms over her chest. While she could understand Zaveed's point of view of not waiting in plain sight for too long, it was true at least on her part that Sevari had more experience on this sort of terrain than she did. She was used to 'fat merchant ships' as the Ohmes-Raht called them, and frankly the desert dunes were probably as familiar to her as the snows of Skyrim.

"For the time being, I think it might be better to keep the guns for later." She eyed Zaveed before looking to Sevari. "If it comes to your pretty hair, don't worry, I'll do my best to keep it safe. For now though, I have to think Sevari's plan may be the best way to go about it."

“Thank you.” Sevari said, then looked to Zaveed, “For a man whose been raiding and being a criminal for the last entirety of his life, you seem to like being reckless. Do you have my guns?”

“I’m reckless, says the man who tried to single-handedly take on an entire Dominion ship to assassinate the Thalmor emissary and then not skip town when he didn’t follow through with the deed.” Zaveed spat back. “Speed and aggression, surprise and intimidation. That’s how you take your enemies, and I’ve fought far worse odds than a measly seven brigands.” he grunted. “I just want to get the fuck away from this city in an expedient manner.”

“You sister was there!” He raised his voice, hand raised in Zaveed’s face with his cigar clenched between two fingers. He took a breath and a step back, looking around at the other patrons who thankfully couldn’t give a shit about yelling, “You criticize me for almost ruining your fucking sister’s career then criticize me for not doing it right. You two are fucking twins, alright, because I can’t win shit with you.”

He clenched his jaw, “Speed and aggression without a plan is a dead sprint towards shackles and the noose. I’ve done this shit for twenty years now, Zaveed, so please,” he stepped forward with theatrically pleading eyes, “Have some fucking faith in me for once, listen to my plan, and please tell me you have my godsdamned carbine and pistol.”

Zaveed tossed a sack on the ground in front of Sevari, not flinching from his outburst. He stared at his brother with cold blue eyes. “Point is, dear brother, you’re fortunate my sister was there because even you are no match for an entire crew of Dominion veterans. One yelled, sounded an alarm, you would have died and we wouldn’t be having this charming conversation.

“Only an idiot would go into a wolf’s den to kill the pack leader, and that eve, you were that idiot. At least the fucking terrorists had half a wit to try and murder dear old Erincaro in the middle of a street away from reinforcements, but their failure reflects poorly on the caliber of people this insurgency attracts.” his face contorted into a snarl. “Like your friends, for instance. The same ones I single handedly stopped a number of, imagine what we could have done if you’d helped me instead of prostrating yourself in front of them.” He spat back, stepping away before his limbs decided to do something on their own accord.

“We’ll follow your damned plan, but don’t you dare lecture me about being reckless or somehow beneath you when you’re the one who got shackled and nearly sent off to an executioner’s block because of your foolish assassination plot and requiring Marassa to save you from that fate.” Zaveed said, spitting into the dirt, his hands gripping his axes like vice grips.

“Fine, Zaveed, you’re the only man in Tamriel to have ever faced shit odds and done the impossible and I’m a big fucking idiot who tried to do something he’d done more times than I can count on my damned fingers if fate hadn’t put Erincaro’s cock in your sister.” He seethed through gritted teeth and snatched up his bag, pulling free a bundle of cloth a little longer than his arm and tucking the pistol in his belt, “I’m sure the only reason you aren’t King of a unified Elsweyr is because you just don’t feel like it yet. If given the chance, Zaveed, you should find a nice, warm place to settle down and fuck yourself in it. I love you, but you’re a fucking asshole.”

"Boys." Letting out a deep breath, Sirine tried to control the twitch on her forehead from showing as she finally broke her silence. "Clearly there's a lot of pent up aggression here, years worth in fact, but a little calm and control never hurt anyone. Yes, there's next to little I know about either of you or your pasts or your connections to anyone in Gilane, but right at this moment none of this anger is helpful in the slightest." Her eyes narrowed as she glared at the khajiiti men. "I am fucking trusting both of you to help me find my brother. So perhaps lowering the aggression around here would be a start." Her eyes shifted away from the two to the patrons of the tavern, eyeing the drunk men as well as the women. "And maybe not speak so freely. Trust me, whores know how to listen when you least expect it."

Zaveed nodded curtly before letting out an annoyed, but controlled huff. “You’re correct, Sirine. Forgive me for my insolence. It has been a trying time the past while. Being nearly killed and soul trapped tends to make one’s disposition a bit less agreeable than usual.” he ground his toe in the sand above where he’d spat, as if concealing it. “I’m not too worried about so and so overhearing us at this point, we’ll be gone soon. Hopefully from Hammerfell where we can put all of this behind us and start fresh. There aren’t many bloody ships in the desert.”

He looked up at Sirine. “I gave you my word, I’ll help you find him and free him, if I am able. Did you locate him, Sevari?” he asked.

Sevari clenched and unclenched his jaw repeatedly, then nodded to Sirine while she spoke. He looked to Zaveed and gave him a once over, the anger on his face fading. He didn’t need this, he didn’t want this, so why were they so set on fighting all the fucking time?

“Yes.” He answered Zaveed and turned to Sirine, “He’s being kept in a secure prison the Dwemer are running. I don’t know it, I’ve never been there with the Ministry but I know where it is, so all we can really do is cross our fingers and hope Zaveed still has enough pull to secure your brother.”

"I see," she replied. Her hand clenched momentarily before she forced it open. This was good news, this meant he was alive. She was also inwardly relieved to see that the two brothers had begrudgingly decided to stop their arguing. "My thanks, both of you. A location is better than none." If Zaveed didn't have enough pull as Sevari called it, that would not change the fact that Sirine would still find some way to get her brother out of there. It would just be delaying the inevitable.

Zaveed shook his head. “Chances are, I’m a wanted man now. Sevari’s disappearance from the cells wouldn’t last long, if they aren’t already looking for me in suspicion, then it won’t be long. I’ve no idea if the Dwemer can communicate between forces long distance or not outside of traditional means, but it’s all the more reason we need to act fast. We get this wagon, we find this prison, we live up to our end of the bargain, yes?”

“A coach robbery and a prison break.” Sevari huffed, amused, “It’s a good thing you have two men who’ve done the impossible on their own. Imagine what we could do together.”

Sirine allowed herself a small smirk. "Now, now," she started, raising a hand, "perhaps my name isn't as grand as Captain Greywake here, but I've done my share of plundering as well." She looked from Sevari to Zaveed, her gaze pausig on the latter as she recalled his words when he had apologized. Soul trapped. Who? Why? Was that what had happened before he had collapsed on the docks? How evil was the person who not only tried to kill but steal a person’s actual soul? The very thought sent chills down her spine, causing the amusement on her face to disappear. If such a thing had happened, he wouldn’t be here. She wouldn’t be here…

It hadn't. She turned her gaze away, though she was unable to rid herself of the darkness that had overtaken her eyes.

Zaveed caught the shift in Sirine’s expression, but he chalked it up to nerves. “Well, with any luck, this job of ours will be bountiful and give us something to get into the prison. Shall we get started?” he asked.

Replying with a silent nod, Sirine held on to her medallion for a moment longer than necessary before sliding it under her tunic. She was more than ready to leave Gilane behind, even if it was in favour of the desert. Lucky for her, it wasn’t as if she had a choice- Bakih was out there.

Sevari turned to the door at a loud gaggle of young men and women, seven in number. Sevari didn’t have to gesture towards them, their demeanor was a huge, shining banner to Zaveed and Sirine. He looked back at the pair, “Let’s.”

For a couple of adventurers down on their luck, they did a great job of robbing this caravan. Folki was lost, caught by a bullet in the head and Carleon was cut pretty back across her back. He’d seen her endure more though, so he wasn’t worried. All in all, Folki might be gone and Carleon might be resting in the back of the coach, but the rest of them were still kicking. They’d left the Dwemer in the sun and taken their things, now it was only a matter of time until Faddhi promoted him to second-in-command of their little band of brigands once they rolled into the hideout with this.

“Khawaddi,” Bjorn rode up to him as he sat beside the wagon’s driver, “I’m glad I threw in with you lot. Not much else to do in Skyrim since…”

“Yes, I know, but you’ll always have a home with me.” Khawaddi said.

“Thank you. I owe you my life.” Bjorn said.

Khawaddi turned to Zara, the Dunmer who was driving the coach. She had been a steadfast ally since Khawaddi could remember. He didn’t know what he’d do without her as his second. “You know-“

It was as if somebody torched fire salts inside Zara’s head as it exploded violently, leaving chunks of brain in his lap and hot blood spraying in his face. He could feel chunks of Zara’s skull clip his cheek as he put his arm up. Once it came down and he saw the stump of Zara’s neck he sat there for a moment, hearing the crack of a Dwemer rifle in the distance only after the carnage.

“Attack! There’s an attack!” Bjorn reared his horse as it cried to the sky, kicking its forelegs before it too caught a bullet and collapsed right over Bjorn. “My leg!”

Khawaddi looked on in horror as his plan was coming to pieces. They hadn’t scouted any outriders or other patrols bringing up the rear. Who were these attackers?

The carbine jolted against Sevari’s shoulder, letting out a loud bang and throwing up a plume of dust as he lay prone amongst the sand. They’d been riding alongside the bandits and their coach for some time until Sevari tired of the hunt and decided to set up then and there. It turned out to be a good choice, as a bend in the road slowed the coach down to a crawl as far as Sevari and his carbine were concerned. He had a millennia to adjust his aim and steady himself, and it paid off when he caught the driver in the head and then the second shot put a hole through the horse’s heart.

“Alright, let’s meet our new friends.” Sevari got up to his feet from the sand, “I’ve been itching for it. Mount up.”

Sirine didn't need any more instructions to do so, quickly mounting her horse and urging it forward. Personally she didn't quite like horseback riding- it was uncomfortable, it chafed, and she didn't quite feel in control as she would on her own two feet. It also reminded her a little too much of the lumbering fools she would have to service. Lucky for her that despite her dislike she had been taught how to ride during her years away from the sea in Gilane. She was no expert, but the former pirate did know how to get her mount from one point to the other.

Her eyes scanned the caravan, ignoring the man currently struggling beneath the horse. Chances were he'd already hurt himself enough from the weight of the dead beast that he wouldn't be a bother, and fairly easy to get rid of at that. It was the three uninjured men she had to worry about now. Well, that made things simple enough. Urging her mount forward yet again, she pulled her dagger from its sheath. It was a shame her weapon wasn't long range or longer in general for that matter, but for the time being it would have to do.

Zaveed wasn’t far behind her; he wasn’t the most comfortable on horseback, having found the sensation of a large bucking animal beneath his balls uncomfortable and rather uninviting for any duration of time, so he stood in the stirrups, urging the brown beast on until it was upon the wagon. As the horse slowed down to avoid a collision, he adjusted his feet so only his toes were in the stirrups, and he kicked off, shoving with his hands over the horse’s hind end to clear its body and he landed in a crouch, absorbing the impact with the shift in his posture. He stood erect once more, pulling an axe free in one hand and a pistol in the other.

O, my lass upon the sea
How my heart has yearned for thee
Show your countenance upon the gales
Let your smile fill my sails…
” he sang, clanging his axe against the side of the wagon, looking for his foes when suddenly a sword tore through the canvas in front of him prompting Zaveed to lean back to avoid the blow and he opened fire slightly right of where the blade had popped through. A scream filled the desert morning and Zaveed carried on towards the mouth of the wagon.

It’s been seven long years away from home
O my love how my heart has grown
To see how much you’ve meant to me
When I was gone out to sea…
” he sang, readying another shot as he pulled the rupture-headed driver from the seat and climbed aboard, aiming into the canvas.

“Come out where we can see you, especially you; I know that wasn’t a kill shot because you’d be quiet as a mouse.” He called.

A laugh filled the air, sounding almost sweet and serene, yet in the current setting it was anything but. It took a moment for Sirine to realize it was coming from her own lips, and she didn’t even attempt to temper her show of mirth. She could feel it once more, the intoxicating power of being in control, of knowing the person on the other side of her blade feared her, knowing she was in charge of who lived and who died. Zaveed's singing only spurred her further, and despite the sand and the dust and no sight of water nearby, she felt alive

Her leap off the horse wasn't as graceful as the khajiit's, but she landed easily enough on her feet, free hand momentarily pressing down against the ground before she practically jumped to a stand. This was much better. A grin on her lips and a shine in her eyes, she approached the wagon from the back, ready to stop anyone from thinking of escaping. "Hurry now, we haven't all day."

“I’ll kill you!” The Nord pinned under the horse thrashed about, though his grimacing could’ve been for his broken leg or his anger at them, Sevari couldn’t tell, “I’ll kill the lot of you!”

“Uh-huh.” Sevari said, slipping down from his heavy draft’s saddle, casually pulling free his pistol and blowing a hole through the man’s head, letting the thirsty sand drink up. His walk to Zaveed and Sirine was uninterrupted by the exchange, holding his pistol out from his waist at the ready.

“We don’t want to kill you in there!” Sevari called out to whoever was in the coach, “I can’t speak for my friends, though. Just come out, walk away from this. There’ll be a thousand other-“

“Fuck you!” A shrill scream from inside the coach, “Why?”

“Why?” Sevari threw back.

“They’re dead!” The voice answered.

“Happens.” Sevari shrugged, looking from Zaveed to Sirine then back to the coach, “Dangerous life you chose.”

Nothing from the coach. He looked to Zaveed and Sirine, nodding to the coach, “We’re going to drag you out of there if we have to! After that, you’ll decide what we’ll have to do, if you catch my meaning.”

“I do.” The voice said, “Just let me and Carleon go.”

“We want this coach, not you or Carleon.” Sevari spoke back, “Just step out when it opens. Keep your hands up, nothing funny. Slow-like, snails in winter, aye?”

“Alright, aye!” The voice said, desperation and panic apparent in the quivering of it.

Shapes moved in the canvas cover and a Bosmer clutched her side from where Zaveed’s bullet had entered her body, the owner of the voice, he presumed, and a Breton man with shaggy black hair that had to belong to Carleon. “Nice and slow. Show your hands.” Zaveed ordered calmly, his pistol trained on the two bandits who filed out of the wagon slowly, not wanting to die this day after the rest of their companions met such a fate. The Bosmer’s eyes lingered on the dead Nord and horse, and she sucked in pained air between her teeth, and soon both were standing in the sand. Zaveed made sure his companions had the pair covered, before calling out. “I’m checking inside the wagon. Sirine, go pick yourself a weapon. You look under dressed with that dagger.” he said, disappearing into the wagon.

"Normally I would be offended," she replied to his disappearing back, "but you do have a point." Her dagger was good for the close combat she had engaged in when boarding ships, but it was quite clear to her that she needed something else to accompany her orcish dagger, something with more reach. Looking away from the Bosmer and the Breton, her eyes shifted instead to the dead Nord beneath the horse, the morning sun glinting off of what she presumed was a blade. Curiosity getting the better of her, she made her way to the dead duo to see if her presumptions were true.

There was no moving the horse away, but she didn't have to. Pushing at the Nord with her boot, she was able to grab the hilt of the sword and pull it away from the dead man. At first glance she could tell it was neither a blade from Hammerfell or even Cyrodiil. Perhaps a sword from Skyrim? The style and make looked familiar to the other Nordish blades she had previously seen. Perhaps Zaveed or Sevari would be able to enlighten her as to its particulars. It was certain heavier that the dagger she was used to carrying- the latter always felt like an extension of her arm, but this was different. She could feel the weight, but it wasn't uncomfortable- it felt good in her hand.

Wiping it clean on the Nord man's clothes, the Imperial Redguard lingered there only long enough to see if there was a scabbard along with the blade, but alas, she returned with the sword alone.

Sevari had an eye on the Bosmer and Carleon. They shared a stare, each not knowing exactly what to do with the other now that they were apparently and suddenly not being killed or killing. Sevari frowned, he wasn’t sure what to do. These were young men and women, probably their first robbery, even. He sighed, his shoulders dropping as he nodded back down the road they were headed down until this all happened.

Carleon nodded, looking at the Bosmer girl and the two limped off. Sevari wasn’t sure if that was a good deed, if it was stupidity or kindness. But it felt good, almost. Maybe Marassa was right, he didn’t have to be such a damned murderous bastard all the time. Mercy was a joy of its own. But, then he got thinking about how much of a murderous bastard he used to be when he was leader of his own gang.

He’d probably truss up Carleon and the Bosmer and burn them alive or hang them like treasoners for letting themselves get crossed like this. He’d probably hunt those who did this border to border, north to south, east to west until he found them. The more he thought on it, the more he knew that he didn’t need a murderous bastard looking for them in every tavern from here to Hegathe and every city nearby.

He raised his carbine, took aim, and squeezed the trigger. It jolted against his shoulder and the bullet caught the Bosmer just where her neck and head met. She dropped like a brick wall and Carleon just stood for a second. As Sevari looked away to focus on working the lever of his carbine and slipping another round into the chamber, he heard Carleon’s wailing cry of, “NOOOOO!”

He sighted up again at Carleon on his knees over the Bosmer, the front sight looking to just poke Carleon’s earlobe from Sevari’s perspective. Another squeeze, another jolt, another corpse. It was quicker than whatever punishment awaited them. That’s what Sevari told himself. He hooked his thumb in his belt as he held his carbine at his side just past the trigger guard, barrel still smoking. He spat off to the side and lit the cigar he fished from his coat pocket, not looking at Sirine but instead looking at what he’d done as he spoke, “You found a blade?”

"That's right," Sirine replied with a nod, looking dispassionately at the now dead bandits. Truth be told, she'd had her doubts about Sevari letting them go, and a part of her had been itching to simply finish them off even if it was against the Ohmes-Raht’s wishes. Maybe she was paranoid, but being cautious was better than being an optimistic fool, so there was a hint of relief seeing they would no longer be heading anywhere.

“Perhaps it’s a sign that it’s what I should try, too.”

From the recesses of her mind, a memory from the previous night's conversation had forced itself to the front. Sirine let out the smallest tch under her breath; of all times to remember such words. There had been a time when she would simply loot and plunder- she had thought herself still good then, holding on to vestiges of honour. It wasn’t long before opposition from her victims lead to bloodier ends than she had wished to give them.

There is a time and place for everything, she reminded herself. Maybe Zaveed had spoken true, but she very much doubted even he would be able to shed his colours with a few silver words. Besides... She looked to Sevari at last. It could very well be that ending their lives is an act of compassion itself.

"It's a Nordish blade from the looks of it," she finally continued, inspecting her newly procured blade. It didn't seem to have been taken care of as well as it should have been, but it would work well in a pinch.

Zaveed appeared from the wagon’s opening, hopping off and onto the sand below. He’d heard the shots, but knew who the shooter was and instead opted to check the inventory. Looking down the road, he saw the two bodies lying prone and still. It appeared like Sevari wasn’t keen on loose ends. “That’s why you don’t speak of your illicit plans in public taverns.” He observed, immediately forgetting about the corpses. “Food, camp supplies, clothing, and a lot of water. If I were to wager, there’s been an increased demand for that sort of thing since the occupation; people don’t like strange elves lording over them, I cannot imagine why.” he said in a pithy tone.

"Yes, it's really quite baffling," Sirine muttered, her voice once more as dry as the desert sand. It was hard to hide the look of distaste on her face even if she knew very well that heading further into Hammerfell was currently a better refuge than her beloved sea. "Who wouldn't wish to live amongst ship scuttling, land grabbing, murderous bastards?" Only a deaf person would be able to miss the sarcastic tone in which she spoke. And perhaps the hypocrisy as well, seeing the three standing there were murderous bastards as well.

“That’s good.” Sevari said, turning on his heel and walking back to the coach where Zaveed stood. He chewed his lip for a bit, “There was supposed to be payroll in this thing, I’d like to feel what it’s like to have some money to my name again.”

He squinted his eyes and looked down the road at something, pointing with his chin so Zaveed could turn too, “What the fuck…”

There it was, shapes down the road obscured by the waves of heat radiating off of the sand. He couldn’t tell how many, just that they were moving. He shouldered the stock of his carbine and readied himself, “Could be some riders bringing up the rear. There weren’t any outriders, but I’m not keen on giving this up just when we got it fairly.” He looked to Zaveed, “What’s to do?”.

Zaveed gestured for Sevari to take position in his sniper’s perch. “You get somewhere high, where their numbers won’t matter much. I’ll take position here… Sirine, stay back and support me if they turn out to be hostile. I’m in armour and am quite comfortable in the middle of several adversaries, so let’s minimize the risk to you, yes?” he said, looking at the Redguard, his face a mask of determination. “It is not that I do not trust your capacity, but this is no time for ego. You’ve been out of practice for some time and I have guns and decades of experience facing shit odds, so please support me until you find your footing once more.”

"No need to worry, I don't plan on dying today." Sirine acknowledged his orders with a nod. She could understand his concerns and would have probably mentioned the same to a new recruit on her ship. Pride was secondary when the matter of survival was at hand. Her grip tightened around the hilt of her new sword, leaving her free hand weapon less for the time being. "Or any time soon for that matter."

Taking a few steps back, she lowered her weapon so that it wouldn't look threatening, though every fiber of her was feeling an itch, ready to spring forward and deal a strike on a foe. She had no trust for strangers, and even if they were innocents passing by, there was no telling what they might do when they saw the dead bandits around the caravan and came to the right conclusion.

The day was quick, gritty, bloody. They had left the city behind and hoped to wash their hands of it. What was supposed to be a place for them to seek refuge with Roux in had turned out to be a pit of snakes, each with their own motives and goals. It was something the Reachman had no taste for and it left him scowling to remember it, like rotted meat on his tongue.

He opted to ride ahead of the rest, Sora being the only one to go with him, and only after some prodding. Even if he had missed her so much it sundered his heart to dust, almost, he wanted to be alone. If he couldn’t have that, he’d at least have some quiet. The trip was wordless until Latro heard the loud echoes of Dwemer guns carried on the breeze and looked to Sora. “Let’s ride on,” he said, not that Sora had much of a choice in the matter, being sat behind him in the saddle of his horse, whom he’d taken to calling Faolan, “See what that was about and warn the others if there’s a patrol ahead.”

He kicked into Faolan’s flanks and they were off at a gallop. What greeted the pair was a foreboding sight, but Latro was intent on seeing what it was about. He could see from the distance they were at that a horse lay in its own blood, two other shapes farther down the road too. A coach that looked to be laden with supplies and two people yet standing.

As they got closer, Latro pulled back on the reins some and slowed to a trot, bringing his horse to a stop some distance away. An armored Cathay and a Redguard woman holding a bare sword in a fist. “We come in peace…”

The last word from Latro’s mouth seemed to gutter out of him as recognition set in his gaze, hardening his eyes and he pulled free his stolen pistol. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do, not to speak on his marksmanship with it thus far, or lack of it. “How fucking nice to see you again,” Latro spat but otherwise kept the pistol clutched tight in his lap and ready to be raised, “They send you to head us off, you fucking whoreson?”

Zaveed’s pistol was out in a flash, his dagger in the other hand. The Cathay scowled at Latro; of all the people who had to stumble across him, it had to be the one Sevari had a soft spot for. “Cruel choice of words, but accurate. My mother was a whore, and her lifestyle is the reason I’m here pointing a gun at those pretty dimples of yours.” The glow of soul gem energy radiated behind the projectile, something Latro would be able to clearly see down the barrel of the weapon. “I was just leaving town, and sure as the moons rise and fall in the morning and night skies, you happened to stumble across me leaving this wretched city behind. Turn back; I’ve no taste for a fight right now. My threat to you is ended.”

Daro’Vasora peered around Latro, seeing who it was. Her heart filled with a hot anger as she quickly dismounted, pulling her mace from her belt. “Oh, if it isn’t the piece of shit who broke my arm and murdered Roux in cold blood. I’m surprised you haven’t decided to start shooting yet on principle, or did you feel like torturing Raelynn or I some more?” she snarled, her hand clenched around the Dwemeri mace that now sat on her hip, a ‘gift’ from the Ministry agents her and her friends had fought.

“And what purpose would that serve, my dear? You’re here, much to my displeasure. I don’t much care what happens to you terrorists, but my brother does, so in honour of his new found…” Zaveed scoffed as his visage morphed into a sneer. “Affections for the lot of you, I’ll spare your lives if you turn the other way and forget that I exist. It was fun, but I’ve no intentions of having to spill any blood today.” he gestured at the bodies. “Believe it or not, that was half bandits, half my brother. I’m doing rather well today, thank you and fuck off.”

“Put that pistol down, boy.” Sevari’s low growl came from nowhere until he got to a knee on top of the coach, his carbine’s buttstock nestled in the crook of his hip. “No one’s keen on shooting no one.”

“Don’t ‘boy’ me. I take it your loyalty tired out after I helped you kill your brother and his friends?” Latro growled, jaw set. “I shouldn’t have trusted you past stabbing me in the back when I was the one asking favors.”

“That’s not how it was, Latro.” Sevari said, but left it at that, only adding a tired, “I’ve lost a lot the past few days.”

“I’ve lost plenty.” Latro growled as if to disperse the weighty words from the Ohmes, arm aching to raise his pistol, but smarter thoughts staying his hand, “I still stand by those that stand by me.”

Latro’s frowning eyes swept over to the Redguard woman, “I know these two foul shits, who’re you?”

Sirine had a myriad of questions fighting one another in her mind, and she didn't quite know which one to ask first, so perhaps it was a good thing the... man Sevari called Latro had addressed her. Then again, she didn't quite like the way he and his partner had just come and interrupted their voyage. Clearly there had been more than an altercation between the newcomers and the brothers- it sounded like her two companions had been busy. Her eyes narrowed for a moment before loosening her grip on the sword. It didn't seem as if Zaveed or Sevari had any desire to kill these two, despite the former's clear hatred. Were these the friends mentioned when they were still standing by the tavern?

"Not that it's any of your fucking business, but I'm called Sirine." She decided there was no real reason not to give her name. She looked between the four before sliding her sword under her belt. If need be, she'll keep to her dagger, but for now, it seemed the only cutting that would take place were with words. Returning her gaze to Latro, she addressed Zaveed instead, voice rather icy in the desert heat.

"Are they the ones who nearly killed you?" And tried to trap your soul?

“Friends… acquaintances of the one who did? It’s complicated.” Zaveed replied.

“What’s complicated about parading me through the streets and forcing Latro into captivity in exchange for not splattering my fucking brains across the streets?” Daro’Vasora challenged, stepping forward, her grip on the mace as tight as a mudcrab claw. “I’m surprised you have friends, you degenerate pile of shit. So what was it? You nearly died and decided to quit because you can’t stand the thought of someone being better than you, that you’re a coward who preys on people who thinks as easy marks?” Her emerald gaze was piercing; there was no fear towards Zaveed shown, despite what he’d done to her. “If I do nothing else here today, I’m going to make sure you feel everything you did to us, you fucking slave. Who willingly serves the Dwemer to be their knife in the dark, huh? Are you psychotic?”

“You need to work on your threats, my dear; they tend to land when they aren’t accompanied by so much filler.” Zaveed replied dryly. “For instance, I’ll gut shot Latro here and let him bleed out with a ruptured intestine before driving my dagger through your throat so he can slowly die as he watches you suffocate on the blood that’s filling your lungs through your severed airway. Does that hit close to home? Because you know what I can do. What can you do?”

“Everybody shut the fuck up.” Sevari raised his voice and leapt down from the coach’s roof, slinging his rifle over his shoulder and showing his hands in peace. “Just don’t do this, Latro, Sora. We’ve all lost something to the damned city over there. Let’s not lose our lives.”

“Fine.” Latro said to Sevari, but gaze kept on Zaveed. He’d had a mage armor spell on himself shortly after he and Sora exchanged words, the Khajiit’s mere presence compelling him to don one. He looked to Sevari, “But your damned brother even looks at Sora a tick too long for my liking…” he rested a hand on the steel axe looped on his belt.

Sevari sighed, nodding his head at what was left unsaid and put his hands at his side, “Okay.” Sevari said, “Okay. What’s to do, then?”

Latro looked at Sora, chewing his lip and shook his head as he looked back to Sevari, “I don’t know.” He looked at Sora, searching for an answer.

Sirine looked to Sevari, ignoring the newcomers for the time being. "There's no need to ask," she muttered, crossing her arms over her chest. "Whatever shit you brothers have with these two and their group has no bearing on our plans. We have to do as we set out to."

She turned her gaze away from the Ohmes-Raht and looked instead at the man named Latro and the khajiit woman next by his side. "I don't know what happened, and frankly, I don't give a shit. What I do care is if your animosity costs me my plans, and that includes hurting this one." She motioned towards Zaveed with a nod. "The only reason I haven't attempted killing you two yet is because they clearly don't want to shed your blood. But I'm my own person, so if I do see something I find upsetting, please don't say I didn't warn you if my dagger finds its way through your guts."

With that said, she uncrossed her arms and stepped back, looking rather placid though there was a clear burning in her eyes.

“Alkosh, assholes breed assholes…” Daro’Vasora muttered to her breath, relaxing her mace. She didn’t know what was to come next, but she wasn’t sure if she liked the implications of what was coming next.

“Our friends are going to be here shortly,” she said, staring at Zaveed. “That also means Gregor. So the way I see it, you three leave us this wagon to transfer our infirm, and you can get three of the horses to do with whatever you please, as long as it’s not the same direction we’re going. Nobody has to die, but it doesn’t mean I want to tolerate your existence any longer than I have to.”

Zaveed raised the barrel of his pistol, but he didn’t break his stare at the woman, as if challenging Latro to make good on his threats. “Unnegotiable. This wagon is our prize and we need the supplies. You lot can bugger off and die in the desert.”

"Aye," Sirine agreed, her eyes narrowing as her hands slipped down to rest upon both of her blades. "I see absolutely no reason why you would fathom thinking you're entitled to any of this."

Latro frowned, they had reached an impasse from the first moment that Latro saw Zaveed. There weren’t going to be any easy options for anybody here. Latro took a breath, looking from Sevari to Sirine, “What even are your plans? They’ve got to be right fucking wicked if you absolutely need this sack of shit alive.” Latro said, nodding to Zaveed, he turned to Sevari, “What are you three doing? If your brother’s fleeing the city, then you’re not beholden to the Dwemer.”

“Enemy of my enemy…” Sevari muttered. Latro nodded, but Sevari frowned, “Problem is, the entire world is that man’s enemy.”

Sevari turned to Zaveed and Sirine, “I told you we need friends. Especially for the stunt we have to pull next. I’m not doing this insane shit with just three people.”

“Asking favors again?” Latro frowned, “Shit on your fucking favor. Me and mine are leaving this fucking country.”

“So are we.” Sevari said.

“Alright, then, good luck.” Latro said, offering his hand to Sora, “Let’s go. We have our friends and we outnumber these assholes.”

Sirine let out small but frustrated sigh, her passive expression breaking for the time being. Was Sevari right? Probably. And if that were true, then it meant her brother would be stuck in a prison in the desert because of her bloody pride. Her hand left the pommel of her sword and curled around the coin hidden beneath her tunic. She had given up her pride when she let men use her for pleasure- surely this was better than that, if the pretty boy was somewhat placated.

"My plans, surprisingly, aren't wicked in the slightest," she finally replied. The fire in her eyes had quelled, replaced with resigned darkness. "The dwemer have my brother, and this 'sack of shit' as you so eloquently call him offered his help for no recompense." Her grip tightened around the medallion. "If it weren't for him, I wouldn't even be here, I’d-” She stopped herself before she could say anything more about that. “I owe him- my brother owes him." She looked to Latro, another frustrated breath escaping her. How she hated her emotions getting the better of her. "Gilane, Hammerfell, Oblivion can take them. I don't care. All I want is my brother back and to then return to the sea."

And then she looked away, jaw clenched tightly. "Even if it's me alone, I will do what I have to."

Zaveed's expression softened into a frown; he had his deal with Sirine to honour and that wouldn't be able to happen if everyone started butchering one another. His thoughts drifted momentarily, Raelynn came to mind. She would be with the rest of them, and he owed her his literal life. “Compassion is her strength.” he muttered to himself. Suddenly, his weapons were put away.

“Raelynn is with you, isn't she?” he asked quietly, looking down into the sand. “She spared me when she had every right to kill me. I tried to help her in that endeavor, but she had a change of heart and healed me instead of helping drive my dagger into my heart. She implored me to earn this second chance, and it's an obligation I take seriously.” he looked back to Sirine before turning to Daro'Vasora and Latro.

“What's it to you?” Daro'Vasora asked cautiously, her eyes narrowing. Zaveed simply nodded, resigned, as his hands went to rest on his axes.

“Your lot has every reason to hate me; the feeling actually isn't mutual. The way I see it, I owe two people debts of gratitude, Raelynn being one, Sirine the other. Sevari and I abandoned our forced service to the Dwemer, and Sirine helped me recover and find my sister. I need to help her for a change, and this wagon was going to be how we do it.” he drawed a long breath. “So we're going to that prison in the sands, that ruin, and we're getting her brother back. This cannot change, and Raelynn wanted me to be a better man. This is the first step down that path. Let us do this.” Zaveed asked, not forcefully.

Daro'Vasora was taken aback at the admission; someone had nearly killed him, and Raelynn saved him? What on Nirn was going on? She decided to leave that for another time as she looked towards Latro, and then to Sirine. She thought of everything she was willing to do to keep La'Shuni safe, and this stranger was no different, she suspected. “We're actually headed that way, for unrelated reasons.” she looked to Latro once more. “What do you think? Do we have mutual cause? You said you trusted Sevari.”

Latro took his moment, letting his gaze drift over the trio before him and Sora. “Trusted.” Latro said, watching Sevari sigh and look away from him, “But I stand by the people that stand with me. I helped you do a lot, and I’m sorry you had to do those things. Earn my trust back, asshole.”

Latro laid a hand on Sora’s own as he stepped down from his stirrup, walking up to stand square with Zaveed, “You trying to be a better man?” Latro didn’t wait for an answer, instead taking a step closer to Zaveed with the same eyes blazing with malice he had upon their first meeting, “Then earn my damned trust. If you aren’t here when we come back with the rest, I’ll kill you next time we meet. If you so much as frown at Sora, I’ll cut that frown from your fucking face. I give you my word as Finnen Pale-Feather of the Crow-Wife Clan.”

He walked away and again sat in his saddle, looking at the trio, “I give you the same word that you’ll have my axe with you if you really are telling the truth. But to tell my truth, your word doesn’t mean Faolan’s shit to me yet.”

And he and Sora were off, Faolan kicking up a trail of dust as they shrank back to the distance.

“Fancy fucking title.” Zaveed muttered, tapping his foot in the sand. He turned to his companions and shrugged. “I'm in no hurry. Let's get those bodies to the side of the road; you only get one chance to make a second impression, after all.”

Sirine's hand had been gripped tightly around her dagger's hilt when Latro had stood before Zaveed; if the man had done anything more than threaten, she wouldn't have stopped herself from striking. Now that he and the Khajiit woman were gone though, she could no longer hold her cool. She yanked her dagger from her belt and fell to a knee, slamming it into the ground. "Fuck them," she hissed under her breath, hand shaking even as she held onto the hilt "Maybe we need them... but fuck them."

Letting out a loud huff, she composed herself enough to pull her dagger from the ground and stand up once more. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes momentarily and nodded. "Let me help," she muttered to Zaveed, opening her eyes and shoving her blade back in its place.

Zaveed smiled at Sirine, brushing her cheek with the back of his fingers. “They have reason to be testy, Beautiful Sirine. But I'm willing to put aside my differences with sworn enemies if they could possibly help you. I know what actually matters, so accept my apology for making such enemies that could make keeping my promise to you needlessly harder.”

Sirine glanced at the khajiiti man, biting at her lip to keep herself calm, focusing instead on his fingers against her cheek, as silly as that may be. "It was never going to be easy," she finally replied, relenting a little. "You don't need to apologize, Zaveed. You don't- you and Sevari don't have to do any of this- I know that. The fact that you're both going out of your way to help- I don't know if you realize what that actually means to someone like me."

She looked down, feeling ashamed of her show of anger. "I should not be losing my composure like this. My apologies."

Zaveed's thoughts wandered to how he first met the girl, how she had agreed to help him without reservation when all others had turned away from the sight of him. He lifted her chin with a finger so she need not look ashamed. “I know what it means. You showed me the way yourself.” he said softly, before stepping back and surveying the bodies. “At least our problems aren't the worst suffered here today.” he said with a grin.

"Yes... life is quite pleasant to have." Sirine surprised herself by letting out a small laugh before she too made her way to the closest corpse, ready to rectify impressions.

Sevari stood cradling his carbine, watching Latro go with Sora. It did hurt to have his loyalty to someone he was starting to call his friend called into question after everything already. He couldn’t join Zaveed or Sirine in saying ‘fuck them’. Latro, he felt unlike his two companions, was one he called his friend and a friend he was called in turn. ‘Life is quite pleasant to have.’

Sevari let a lone bark of a chuckle go, “Ain’t it sometimes.”

“Fucking. Zaveed.” Daro’Vasora said after a spell, when her and Latro were on the final approach coming up to Calen. “There’s no way they’re still there when we get back, is there?” she asked tersely.

“I don’t know.” Latro said, “I don’t trust Zaveed not to have had those fucking kitten eyes be a damned lie. And that Sirine? Who’s to say he isn’t stringing her along too just so he can get as far away from here as he can?”

He growled, “Sevari is the only one out of them I trust. Even then, I’d like to kick a hole through his guts for abandoning us when we needed him.”

Daro’Vasora thought on that for a few moments. “Before he abandoned you, was he reliable, did he ever give you a reason to distrust him?” she asked, adjusting in the saddle. “Those two claimed they left the Dwemer’s service, maybe the two factors aren’t coincidental. He seemed pretty crestfallen when you confronted him.”

“You’re right. Past the whole thing about our friendship based on the fact we started it by brutalizing each other in a warehouse, he saved my life.” Latro nodded, “He did say he was going to pretty much do the impossible to help us get you out of there. I don’t know. Maybe I’m being too harsh.”

“It would be an easier thing to swallow if his brother wasn’t there…” the Khajiit muttered.

“Wouldn’t it?” He grumbled back, pulling up on his reins just as Faolan got them to the stables at the inn.

The group gathered around, having kept a low profile at the Crooked-Tooth Inn, and with the return of their three companions after a far shorter time than they’d expected, they were soon off, leaving Gilane behind before Governor Razlinc Rourken had a chance to regroup and scour the desert for them. Hopefully, with any luck, she still thought they were in the city, or her Centurions found them first.

Much to Daro’Vasora’s surprise, the wagon was still there, along with a neatly lined row of corpses in a very modest burial cairn. Zaveed, Sevari, and Sirine stood watching them approach, stone-faced. She turned in the saddle to face the others behind her.

“Okay, I held off saying any of this until now because if we decided to have a big fuck-off argument, I’d rather do it away from the city where our troubles would find us and kill us immediately. We ran into some… friends of ours. I’m sure some of you know about Zaveed and Sevari, and they have a friend with them.” she said, before letting off a heavy and irritable sigh. “We’re going to be travelling with them for a while. Latro and I don’t trust them, but they don’t appear to be in league with the Dwemer any more and they’re going where we’re going; that prison outside of Gilane where no one ever returns. More importantly, they have a wagon full of supplies we need to survive the desert.

“If we’re going to stop this damned invasion, we need to get I presume the prison has; a functional lexicon programmed with coordinates to where the Dwemer were exiled to, as well as maybe freeing the people who are there as potential allies in the fight ahead. I don’t like this any more than any of you do, but the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and right now it seems like our enemies are far more concerned about their family than they are with hunting us.” she said, her teeth grinding in irritation.

“Before any of you pipe up with objections, Zaveed broke my fucking arm and Raelynn spared his life after he tortured her and murdered Roux. I hate him to my core, but I’m willing to take a stupid risk on a truce if it means accomplishing our real mission and having a better chance at surviving.” Daro’Vasora said darkly, looking each of her companions in the eyes. “I’m going forward with this, and if I have to do it alone, so be it. I will see it done; stealing valuable treasures from ruins is pretty much my life’s work, and we outnumber these assholes considerably.” she adjusted back in her saddle to face forward towards the approach. “Let’s see how this plays out.”

Sevari was the first to greet them, carbine still cradled in his arms as he raised his hand to them. He was thankful that he could immediately spot Latro and Jaraleet as the first of their large group to arrive. And that one girl, with her sword that was too much like his. He focused on the first two as he stepped up to speak, “Latro, Jaraleet, these two know me. They’ve helped me more than you could ever know, friends almost.” He nodded to Aries, nervousness stealing his tongue as the events of Al-Aqqiya came back to him, “Janelle. We’ve much to talk about.”

“We’ve got a stagecoach full of supplies, more than we need.” He nodded, “We’ve also got the same destination. Far as I see it, we’re all allies here.”

Latro hocked something up, making sure it was loud enough for everybody to hear it, and spat it just short of Sevari’s boot. “Uh huh.”

Sevari threw his arms out and shook his head at him, his face the very picture of exasperation, Latro chuckled, “All allies here, friend.”

Zaveed’s eyes met with Gregor’s, and the Cathay offered a sly wink before turning away from the new arrivals. “Well, this is bound to end well.” He said aloud, rapping on the side of the wagon with his knuckles. “Should any of you wish for a more comfortable ride in the shade, climb aboard. My back will be to you, so you need not worry. I’m at the disadvantage here.” He nodded to Sirine, and the two climbed aboard the bench.

And then, the group was off into the Alik’r Desert. Hours passed, with frequent stops to water the horses, and the companions, many of whom were not accustomed to the deadly desert heat, and Shakti and Mazrah both acted as able guides across what seemed like a wasteland intent on killing them all; a number of sun-bleached bones that had once belonged to some wildlife or unfortunate traveller appeared once in a while, a grim reminder of what awaited them if they were guided wrong.

As it turned out, Shakti’s memory and knowledge of her homeland was unwavering. She guided them into a rocky crevice that opened up into a tunnel, barely tall enough to have the covered wagon fit through but wide enough for three horses to ride abreast, and soon the sound of flowing water filled their ears, ringing off of the rock walls. Soon, the tunnel opened up into a cavern, and they stepped into a self-contained world of lush vegetation and an underground river that nourished it all, above an opening showed the blue sky that rained down a radiance of sunlight onto the group, the ground covered in soft mosses and lichen on sandy ground.

Spirits lifted and weary from the travel and the heat, the group began to unpack the wagon and before long had a comfortable camp set up, a number of tents and bedrolls available, should anyone command their own privacy.

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