Hidden 9 mos ago Post by Stormflyx
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Stormflyx Avant-Garde

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On a Bed of Green Blades


with @Hank




Late afternoon, 14th of Midyear, 4E208
The Oasis, Alik’r Desert, Hammerfell


Gregor had quickly changed out of his black clothes and into his linens before they had set off into the desert. Even so, beads of sweat dripped down his face and his white shirt clung to his muscular torso, the thin fabric turning somewhat transparent, showing off the vague black shapes of his tattoos to everyone that looked at him. He had never experienced heat like this before. It was grueling. Still exhausted from fighting his way into, and out of, the palace, and being struck in the chest by Rourken’s lightning magic, it took all of Gregor’s willpower not to fall asleep in the saddle. His relief was immeasurable when they reached the underground oasis and he made sure to give Shakti and Mazrah a grateful smile and a pat on the back before he quenched his thirst and made himself comfortable on the soft, lichen-covered ground. He closed his eyes and a long sigh escaped him. Everything hurt. Whether it was because Raelynn’s ointment had started to wear off or because the thunderbolt that hit him had reawakened the pain in his muscles Gregor couldn’t tell. Either way, it was rough.

He had spent the entire journey so far boring his gaze into Zaveed’s back. Seeing the Khajiit again and having Daro’Vasora tell him that they were supposedly allies -- if only for the time being -- would have certainly driven Gregor to immense fury, if he hadn’t been so drained. Even in his current state, the insufferable wink that Zaveed had given him when their eyes locked for the first time after their fight in the alley had almost made Gregor reach for his claymore to take another one of his cat-lives then and there. It was the pain in his shoulder and a small voice in the back of his mind that yelled at him to control himself that had stopped him. Raelynn had chosen to spare Zaveed’s life. It was not up to him to undo that decision anymore. He was simply going to have to suffer their presence.

When Gregor opened his eyes again they met the glacial blue gaze of his lover, Raelynn, the color of her eyes more vibrant than ever in the golden light of the desert sun. They remained still, just looking at each other, until Gregor eventually cracked a smile. “What? Why are you looking at me like that?” His voice was hoarse and and he cleared his throat, mildly alarmed at how weak he sounded.

Unlike Gregor, Raelynn had not spoken a word to anyone, nor made eye contact with a soul. She had too much on her mind to give thought to them all. So Zaveed was here? Wonderful. It was simply fabulous to have been asked about it, she had thought. After that, she didn't think about him anymore. If she was exhausted then she did not show it for even one second, and remained perched upright and graceful for the ride to their camp behind Gregor, her hands against his sides comfortably.

She had gathered what she could on their way out, and her sword was now affixed to her back in a simple leather harness that was bound across her chest. Her hair had remained immaculately styled despite the whirlwind of action, her skin was kissed with a bronze glow. She relished in how good she still looked, especially as the others looked like they'd trekked through the desert as they each had. The black eyeliner had smudged only just, but it concealed the exhaustion sitting under her eyes.

She had silently placed the bag containing Daro'Vasora's belongings at the place she had pitched her tent before returning to her own, removing her own belongings to gather them, as if keeping a mental inventory. She felt tense and full of emotions and thoughts that, like her belongings, she was cataloguing inside her mind. She would go through each one individually and in order when the time was right.

Gregor's gaze was soft, and in turn it softened her just enough to smile down at him as he lay back against the grass as one would do on a summer's day in a bright and vast meadow, a breeze carrying all worries away. This however, was no meadow, as evidenced by the constant sound of chatter and the pattering of feet. So many feet. Raelynn sighed as she looked out at them all, a knot forming in her stomach. She had been living alone for a while, in quiet solitude and isolation and she was now thrust back into the fray.

“Because I can,” she said, almost playfully, in response to Gregor. If she just focussed on him - everyone else wasn't there, and there was silence again.

“Fair,” Gregor replied and his smile widened. “You look so beautiful. How do you do it? I feel like I’m dying in this heat.”

“Born with it, or something like that,” she said in almost a whisper as her lips curled to a smile. She turned back to what she had been doing. “It's…” she began, her eyes tracking the perimeter of the camp, “I don’t know actually, nevermind.”

There it was. The weight on Raelynn’s shoulders that Gregor had been worried he would see. Any number of things could be on her mind, but he decided to surprise her with the least likely thing she probably expected to hear from him. “I’m sorry about Alim,” he said softly. “I hope we can get him back soon.”

Her eyebrows drooped at the mention of him, and she simply exhaled a quiet ”hmmmm” sound. The last time that she had been genuinely happy in Gilane had been dancing in the streets with her friend. The very same afternoon that she had been taken. “He's smart,” Raelynn uttered softly, “he'll be fine.” There was a finality to it that made it clear she wasn't willing to talk too much about it.

“Very true.” Gregor knew Raelynn well enough to pick up on the tone of her voice and he looked away, thinking about what to say. The urge to cheer Raelynn up was stronger than the simmering anger and disappointment that he felt himself and he chuckled when he became aware of the fact. It had been a long time since he had put the needs of another before his own so subconsciously.

He dropped his voice, making sure that nobody could overhear them. “Did you notice the way you-know-who reacted to seeing that clean-shaven officer, and what she said about me taking him from her? I think that was her… lover, or something,” Gregor said and his eyes narrowed with the glint of satisfaction. “She lives, but we hurt her where it counts.”

She smirked. The black dress made by her mother held up in front of her, she shook it free of sand, using it as a veil to hide her expression from anyone who may glance over at the two of them. The knot loosened and was replaced with a familiar feeling of longing, an almost pleasurable squeeze around her waist. Her thighs twitched. “I watched the whole thing, I saw her every reaction to you,” she breathed softly. Her eyes glimmered with something.

The breathy quality of her whisper and the look in her eyes stirred a familiar sensation within Gregor and he smirked, his pulse quickening. Even if the outcome wasn’t ideal, what they had done had been undeniably thrilling. “And was it to your satisfaction?” he asked in an equally soft voice, cocking his head slightly to the side.

“I hadn't realised you were that…” she paused deliberately, letting him hang for a moment and she bit down on her lower lip to provide him with something purposefully visual. “Powerful.” Raelynn raised the tone of her voice to a girlish coo, releasing her lip from her teeth with a smirk. “Now I've seen… Everything that you are.” She placed the dress in front of her, folding it with great care before turning to Gregor, her mouth slightly open as she gazed down at him. To anyone who happened to glance over it would appear as an innocently affectionate exchange as she placed a finger under his chin, practically mouthing the words to him; “yes, I'm satisfied…”

Gregor propped himself up, placed his hands -- the hands of a killer, but now so very gentle -- on her hips and pulled her a little closer. He could practically feel her words soothe the storm inside of him. “When you stood between me and her,” he murmured, remembering the scene in his mind’s eye, the way he had looked up at her from his crumpled position on the floor, “you were the brightest star in the sky. I love you, Raelynn. I really, really do.”

She had never really paid much mind to his compliments, but the way he had said it caught her off guard this time and she gasped sharply, relaxing against him, her guard slipping down. Everyone had come to save the Khajiit on this day, but Gregor had fought for her, and had kept his word. It was all she needed, just him. “I…” she began, blinking at him, she had so much she wanted to say and there were so many things that had to be done right now, but the moment they were sharing together allowed her to escape that dreadful feeling of urgency. “Thank you,” were the words. “For keeping your promise.” The way that she had said it, the way she felt it leave her body was akin to rain after a drought. It was barely a sentence, but it was the most sincere display of gratefulness she had made in her life.

“Of course,” he whispered. Gregor wrapped his arms around Raelynn, one hand resting on her lower back and the other on her neck, and kissed her slowly and softly. The deep sincerity of her gratitude made it all worth it. Beneath all the cruelty and the violence that had become a part of him during his quest, this is who Gregor felt he really was. Raelynn could bring out the darkest side of him but it was during moments like this that she made him feel more human than anything else could. It was deeply moving and Gregor closed his eyes, holding on to Raelynn tightly, breathing in her scent and feeling her body against his. “I am yours and you are mine.”

Raelynn moved her own arms around him too, placing her head against his neck. She kissed him there before sighing contentedly, tempted to close her eyes and drift off to sleep in his arms like that. It was the sound of an iron pot hitting stone somewhere in the distance that pulled her from the moment, a crashing reminder they were not alone. The Breton peeled herself away slowly, planting another kiss on Gregor's cheek with a smile before returning once more to her task. “I think I took for granted having all that space to ourselves…” She remarked, removing several books from her last bag of belongings.

Content to merely watch, Gregor hummed in agreement. He had significantly less belongings than she did and there was nothing more for him to do after he’d dumped his backpack on the ground. “I never expected to see them again either,” Gregor said and it was clear who he meant from the tone of his voice. “How…” he began, unsure of whether or not this was a wise subject to broach, but he pressed ahead anyway. “How do you feel about it?”

Her skin crawled at the very mention and she flinched in disgust. It was hard to put into words how she felt, maybe it was easier to start with another promise - one that had been broken. “After I… After I saved his life I walked away,” Raelynn began, her voice was no longer as hushed - as if she was daring Zaveed himself to pry; “but I turned back and I don't know what came over me. I threw his face to the ground and told him that he would never come to any of us again.” Even thinking about it made her blood run hot like venom, her lips pursed. “So to see him now so blatantly and arrogantly flaunting himself-” she cut herself off and slammed down a book onto the pile of clothing, both hands flat against the cover.

“I know,” Gregor said, his face grim. “I almost admire his audacity. He winked at me when we locked eyes. Can you believe that?” He was silent for a few seconds before continuing. “However, he’s apparently working to recover that Redguard woman’s brother from the Dwemer. You gave him a second chance at life. If that is true, it would seem that he is putting it to good use. It’s…” Gregor sighed and looked around the oasis, searching for words, fiddling with his trembling fingers. His scars ached. “It almost defies belief, truth be told. Do you believe any of it?”

“He conveniently finds a woman with a sob story to endear himself to the rest of us, yet can't resist… Can't resist doing things like that.” Gregor was right, she had given him a second chance but that was not sitting so well with her now that he was sitting somewhere nearby. “It makes me uncomfortable that he is here. It wounds me that it was Daro'Vasora and Latro who rolled out their red carpet.” Her jaw clenched and she grimaced at the thought, her hands relaxing back into her lap as she looked down at Gregor, her voice resonant and louder still, “I don't want him anywhere near me, and if he so much as looks at me I will remove one of his eyes for the trouble.”

“I shall be sure to tell him that,” Gregor grinned. “I’m going over to talk to him later. I hate unfinished business, and he knows things about me he wasn’t supposed to survive learning. Can’t have him running his mouth.”

Discussing the Khajiit had incensed her, she wanted to bite back at Gregor for suggesting that he would talk to Zaveed, but she reigned herself back from the edge, she took a long and deep breath. “Discuss what you must, if that is what it is then it's your business - don't even give him an ounce of the satisfaction he so craves by saying my name.” Her tone had been overly sharp and she knew it, “I'm sorry… I just want nothing to do with him Gregor. Finish the business and close that chapter.”

The venom in Raelynn’s voice made him blink. That said, he was relieved to hear it. A small part of him had been worried that Raelynn’s decision to save Zaveed’s life was motivated by… well, something other than what she’d told him. It was good to see her so decisively eliminate any notion of that. “Very well, I’ll leave you out of it,” he said, his voice soft to show that he had taken no offense. “If it were entirely up to me, I wouldn’t even exchange any words with him, I’d just cut him down where he stands. But that is not a choice for me to make anymore.” Gregor looked at Raelynn closely. He wanted to see how she reacted to that.

She felt an unusual swell of… sentiment? No, something else, inside of her that caught her off guard enough to bring a lump to her throat, seemingly from nowhere. “Nor is it mine…” she croaked, feeling tears form under her eyes. “Why does he get to be here? Why is he here and Alim is not? Why are we making ourselves at home around them? How could Daro'Vasora… Latro?” She sidled to Gregor and wrapped her arms around his neck, slightly surprised at her own display of emotions. She caught her breath again and attempted to steady herself. Perhaps this was the exhaustion of the day and the dust having settled on the excitement of it all. “I just don't want anything, or anyone to come between us anymore.” Her hand found the nape of his neck as it always did and she curled the shortest hairs that had fallen free from his topknot around her finger, breathing slowly. “This is just… Not what we were supposed to come back to,” she sobbed quietly against his neck.

How could they was a question that Gregor could answer. He was pragmatic enough that he understood the decision Daro’Vasora had made. Sevari, Zaveed and Sirine had valuable supplies with them and they were both after something inside the Dwemer desert prison. Their Khajiit leader had suppressed her own trauma to see the big picture. Gregor admired it, but with Raelynn sobbing against him he could not help but feel that it hadn’t been worth it. Either way, Gregor knew that the cold, hard facts weren’t what Raelynn needed to hear right now. He kissed her forehead and held her close while thinking of a way to say what he wanted to say more tactfully. “Hush, my love. It’s unfair, I know, and I hate it as much as you do. Daro’Vasora did not think about you when she made this decision. But she did not even think about herself. She’s doing what leaders do: thinking about the grand scheme of things. If they can help us break into the prison to retrieve the things we need to end this Dwemer invasion once and for all… that’s all she’s thinking about. It takes a lot of willpower to push everything else aside. Is it right? Not really,” Gregor said softly. “It’s wrong and it’s vile. But sometimes wrong and vile is necessary.”

He hooked a finger below her chin and forced Raelynn to look him in the eyes. “But the most important thing is that you don’t have to fear anything, or anyone, coming between us. Together, we can weather any storm. No matter the depths of depravity this war sends us to, I will be there for you and you will be there for me and that is enough.”

“You're right,” she whispered, nodding as she squashed the tears back down. “You're right,” she repeated again to reassure herself. She would of course share her thoughts with Daro'Vasora in the coming days, but there was more important things to be done before then. The tome of restoration from her father was more of a priority to her than anything else. “I don't know what came over me, I think I'm too tired - I barely slept last night. Maybe I should rest now.” Gregor's presence always allowed her a sense of relief and calm, and she held onto his stare for a moment longer before kissing the tip of his nose tenderly. “Don't leave me alone for too long though, I might miss you.” Her thumb traced from behind his ear and down his neck and she couldn't resist but kiss him one more time.

“Yes, rest,” Gregor said and returned her kisses with conviction. “I shall be back before you know it and then I’ll join you.” The two lovers gently extracted themselves from their embrace and Gregor got to his feet with a grunt, steeling himself for the conversation ahead. He was determined not to give Zaveed the satisfaction of getting a rise out of him.

With long, purposeful strides, he set off.
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Hidden 9 mos ago Post by Dervish
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Dervish Let's get volatile

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The Eye of the Storm

Hank and I wrote stuff



Late afternoon, 14th of Midyear, 4E208
The oasis, Alik’r desert, Hammerfell


At least the Khajiit had managed to scrape together the decency to make himself comfortable some distance away from the others, close to the entrance of the cave. Gregor, devoid of his black battledress and his weapons, looked far less menacing than the last time the two of them had met and as he approached and sank down on his haunches in front of Zaveed, he seemed almost harmless. He had rolled up the sleeves of his shirt to expose the tattoos on his forearms, the raven-haired woman and the tally marks, and his hair was rough and disheveled from the day’s fighting and the sweat that had dried up in it.

A few seconds of tense silence passed while Gregor studied Zaveed intently, taking in the sight of him from tip to toe; the earrings, the mohawk, the eyes, the claws on his fingers. His face did not show the distaste he felt for the Khajiit, firmly set into an impassive mask, but Gregor’s eyes betrayed him. They were not soft and warm anymore. They were black as coal and hard as steel and the lines beneath them were deep.

“You look well,” Gregor said matter-of-factly, speaking at last, his voice cutting through the silence like a hot knife through butter.

“I cannot say the same for you. You look like shit.” Zaveed replied. He was sitting with his wrists resting on his knees, his armour, shirt and weapons stayed neatly laid out by his bed roll nearby, save for a pistol and his dagger that sat on either side of him; he had silently elected to keep watch. Across his torso many scars were visible, especially the ones Gregor and his beast had added to the tally. The Khajiit had met Gregor’s stare unflinchingly with an air of indifference.

“Too bad when you tried to rob me of my vitality, my naturally handsome looks didn't go with it, yes?” Zaveed said, rolling his jaw. “Get to the point; I tire of games, Gregor.”

The Imperial narrowed his eyes at Zaveed’s demanding tone, but he did not bite. “I do. The Redguard’s dagger was poisoned.” His tone hovered between sharp and conversational and he looked away, towards the exit and across the dunes of the Alik’r that stretched to the horizon. “Took a while before I received the… appropriate medical attention.” Gregor’s jaw worked, as if he was mulling something over.

“Look,” he said abruptly and returned his gaze to Zaveed while he held up his hands for him to inspect. His fingers trembled slightly. “Nerve damage. Funnily enough, it goes away when I’m about to fight. Or fuck, for that matter.” Gregor smiled faintly and dropped his hands again. “I was wondering if your brush with… well, you know, would leave any lasting effects. It seems you’ve made a full recovery, haven’t you? Very fortunate.” The smile had left Gregor’s face. “Very fortunate indeed,” he repeated, emphasizing every word.

Zaveed didn't balk at the unspoken accusation. “Ah, yes, I forgot to thank dear Nadeen for unintentionally saving my life. I fear I won't get another chance at it; she just happened to hate you slightly more than I.” the privateer grinned at the Imperial. “And yes, it was rather fortunate that Raelynn took pity on me and decided to save my life instead. She is quite a talented healer; an art that is not common enough, I'm afraid. I'm no worse for wear, save for a few sleepless nights or feeling Namiira's tendrils trying to close about my throat.” Zaveed admitted.

Unlike the simmering anger and loathing Gregor kept behind a mask, Zaveed's tone, while terse, was still conversational and rather unperturbed. He would not show fear to this man; there was nothing to fear. Gregor had already played his hand, there would be no more surprises.

“For what it's worth, I hope you regain full sensation in your hands. Hard to shit out horrors when you lack fine motor control.” Zaveed said, catching an almost imperceptible shift in the man's gaze. “The others have no clue what you are, do they?”

“No,” Gregor said flatly, without hesitation. There was no point in denying it. His reason for approaching Zaveed hinged entirely on that fact. “Well, that’s not entirely true. Jaraleet knows. Raelynn knows. But the others don’t.”

The hard edge that fell across his features made it evident that he meant what was about to come next with absolute conviction. “It is better if it stays that way for the time being,” Gregor said. “I have my reasons for what I do. Good reasons. But they are not easy to explain. Considering your outstanding debt to me, I trust that I can count on your silence,” he added and cocked his head slightly. “Say, are you familiar with a clean-shaven Dwemer officer that worked in the palace? Quite close with the governor, as I understand it.”

The Khajiit nodded. “I owe you nothing, Gregor, but your business with the others is not my concern. You may not think it, but to me, you are not my enemy. While I find your tactics…” Zaveed clucked his tongue, searching for an appropriate word. “In poor taste, I do not begrudge you for having used them. You are not the first person to try to kill me, you will not be the last. Just do not presume that because you failed in taking my soul to fuel your disgusting crusade that I have my life indebted to you. Your girlfriend was the one who saw to my salvation, and I will honour that act if nothing else.” he said with an air of finality.

Zaveed leaned back, stretching out on the soft ground with with his jaw opened wide before propping himself up on his elbow. He looked about at the camp and the people milling about, and he caught sight of Sevari having a rather animated discussion with that Janelle woman. He rolled his eyes, turning his attention back to Gregor. “I do know him. Major Kerztar, he was my… employer for my duration in the Dwemeri hospitality. Not an unreasonable man, for a Deep Elf who forced me to serve his little task force at gunpoint. I take you encountered him, then?”

“Your boss? Fancy that. I did. Would you like to meet him again? He’s in the bottom of my backpack right now,” Gregor said and smiled. “Here’s the thing. If you remain true to your word and you do not involve yourself in my business with the others, then I shall find within my heart to agree with you. There is no debt. You were just a lowly pawn and a brute who was put into an impossible position by the Dwemer. The things you did… well, that was really your master’s fault, wasn’t it? The sword is not responsible for the wounds it inflicts. As its stands right now, my lover is safe and sound after all, while Rourken’s lover will be sacrificed to the maw behind the stars. Looks like I won, and that settles our quarrel.” His voice was condescending, like he was explaining something to a child, and his eyes were depthless in their malice.

“Does that sound like an interpretation of the events that you can agree with?” Gregor asked.

Zaveed rolled his eyes, laying back down again with his hands behind his head, closing his eyes. “Must you always be so grim? It is tiresome. Yes, yes, you rob people of a proper afterlife because you’re following the whims of some arcane quest I don’t care much to guess what the end goal must be. If you consider that a victory, hooray, good for you. Go enjoy the spoils.” Zaveed replied with mock enthusiasm before letting out a drawn out sigh, a single eye opening to take in the gloating Imperial. “I did what I did because I am very good at it, you see. Several decades on a ship, raiding fat merchants and putting smugglers to the blade, you see and do things that you don’t quite imagine yourself doing when you are a young cub looking at those tall masts like freedom. And they are… but freedom comes at a cost, and that often is blood.

“Who am I to question that a group of terrorists who tortured an innocent administrator to death need to be dealt with? Raelynn wasn’t the first person I’ve interrogated, and for what it’s worth? I take no pleasure in that particular deed. I just wanted to do my job to work off my sentence and hopefully get back to sea where I belong. You were all once my enemy, now you are not. I do not see why you have yourself so worked up over my presence here.” Zaveed asked conversationally. “We didn’t have to wait, but we did because we have a common cause with you lot. Don’t flatter yourself that I give a single shit about your megalomaniacal impulses, Gregor. You’re rather insufferable when you’re gloating, and if you decided to pick up where we left off again… you won’t have fingers to wave your little horrors into existence. You know I tell the truth of the matter.”

Satisfied, Gregor rose to his full height and looked down on Zaveed. “You talk a lot of shit for a cat that I’ve seen tremble with fear at my feet,” he said frankly, having dropped all pretense and venom from his voice. He’d gotten what he wanted, which meant that any energy spent on further trying to intimidate the Khajiit was a waste. “Our business is finished.” He turned to leave but stopped himself. “Oh, one more thing. Stay away from Raelynn. She hates your guts.”

“For a man who is so weak he has to have puppets do his dirty work, you’re one to talk. I saw the fear in your eyes, when my axe dug closer and closer to your heart. That was me who did that, not some monster that you were gifted by prostrating yourself to some Daedric master. I am a free man, and you are a slave. You have no power over me, and you can’t do anything to stop me without revealing your grotesque nature to everyone. Do you think they’re really going to accept you after that? Stand by you?” Zaveed kicked out his legs and was suddenly on his feet, staring Gregor in the eyes.

“I can deal with being hated because I am alive, you slavering cretin. Did Raelynn tell you I tried to help her drive my own dagger into my heart? I don’t fear death, Gregor. But you do.” He said, jabbing a claw into the man’s chest and leaning in close, their foreheads almost touching. “Remember that the next time you wish to try to have a quaint little chat with yours truly; if you try to fuck with me again, you will receive a shot between your eyes faster than you can pull whichever little toy your own masters gifted you out from your tightly wound sphincter. If anything happens to me, do you honestly think Sevari or Sirine will hesitate to drive a dagger into Raelynn’s throat?” he stepped away, gazing distastefully at his claw before wiping it off on his trousers.

“You can either stop being a dullard shitheel and get over yourself, or we can pick up where we left off. Just ask yourself if you’re willing to live with the consequences if you’re wrong.”

That did it. Gregor laughed and shook his head in disbelief, his anger bubbling over into cruelty. “That’s what finally got you all riled up and ready to go for another round? Raelynn? You fancy her or something? Face it, Zaveed. She saved your life because it was the most powerful way to distance herself from you and everything that you are that she could think of. She has nothing but loathing for you in her heart. You can insult me and my methods all you want, but at the end of the day I’ll be walking back to her side and you’ll be here, alone. You don’t know me at all,” he spat and jabbed an accusatory finger in Zaveed’s direction. “I do what I do to save my fucking family from a fate worse than just death! Meanwhile, even the man you call brother thinks you had it coming. You have no godsdamned right to judge me.”

Zaveed sighed, the flames in his eyes subduing into embers. “Excuse my anger; it is unbecoming. You are not my enemy; I should stop treating you as such. Normally, I would treat bygones as bygones, but… I can’t say I appreciated the sensation and knowledge I was going to be trapped in a gemstone and consumed like some raw meat. It’s new to me, and I hope to never endure that again.” Zaveed replied, looking over to where Sevari and Aries were having their chat.

“I don’t think you understand, though; Raelynn’s choices are her own, I was but one of them. You are another. Why would I begrudge that?” he asked quizzically, raising a brow. “I do not intend to win her over with words or charm, but rather demonstrate that her choice was actually a worthy one.” he crooked his head at Gregor. “Why, do you think I am infatuated with her?” he grinned, although not cruelly. “I assure you, I have no interest in robbing that from you. She seems rather… transfixed to you, regardless. If it gives you a shred of humanity, then I’m all for it.”

Zaveed sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “But yes, Sevari would think that. We’ve had a difficult time catching up the past three decades of time apart, and we are trying to figure out how to fit two non matching puzzles together and wonder what image it creates. I do not apologize for who or what I am, Gregor; I hold no animosity towards you, just your bloody temperament.”

The fact that Zaveed backed down from their argument was unexpected and disarming. Gregor’s anger still simmered beneath the surface, but there hardly seemed a purpose to it now. “She does,” he said at length, sounding more sincere than he had done at any point in their conversation before. Gregor took a deep breath and exhaled slowly through his nose while he rubbed his eyes, and he visibly appeared to deflate. Anger and hatred were exhausting and he’d carried so much of it with him. Now that he had been confronted with its source and they had traded their insults, it was spent, and he realized that it left only questions in its wake: things he had wanted to know about Zaveed the whole time but had been too enraged to think about.

Gregor opened his eyes, stared at Zaveed and something, some overwhelming urge, made him open his mouth and continue speaking. “I find it hard to forgive you. It’s… not in my nature. I woke up every day for a week wishing that you had simply died. Every time I saw what you had wrought…” He looked over his shoulder at where Raelynn was sleeping and felt his anger flare up again. It wasn’t spent after all.

“Forget it,” he muttered and cast one final glance at Zaveed. “We’re not enemies, you’ll keep your mouth shut, everything will be great.” Gregor turned away from Zaveed and began to walk back to where he came from.

“That’s fair.” Zaveed called after him, his hands resting on his hips where his axes normally were perched. “So don’t. You owe me nothing, and I owe you nothing. Simply coexisting without going through an exhausting argument each and every time we are in each other’s company and staying our blades is enough for me, I think. You’ll learn our predicament is all too common in this world one day.” he said, offering a slight wave as he turned to his own devices, still feeling his own embers catching wind.

Stopping in his tracks, Gregor tilted his head to listen to what Zaveed had to say. He clenched and unclenched his fists and almost turned back around -- enough, a sharp voice in his head chided, and Gregor kept putting one heavy foot in front of the other.
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Hidden 9 mos ago 9 mos ago Post by Lemons
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Lemons They will look for him from the white tower...

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Out For Blood




Colovia, 18th of Second Seed, 4E208


The hefty Imperial let out a weak groan, eyes fluttering as consciousness slowly begin to filter back through the dim swampwater of his mind.

"You're finally awake, hmm?" There was a nudge to his side and he tensed up, fighting nausea as his head swam and pain warped his senses. He tried to speak, but only a jagged cough came out, reinforcing the already painful jolts that rocked him. His eyes finally slid languidly open, and he managed to shift his head to look balefully at his savior-cum-tormentor. She was Nord--not an Altmer, he sighed gratefully, at least someone was still looking out for him--with a youthful complexion, a handful of years younger than he was. Maybe...four, five, if he had to hazard a guess. Pretty, he thought, with bright green eyes, deep-chocolate hair tied back in a simple bun, and a spattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose. A wry smile was twisted on her face, and she looked at him with an eyebrow raised. "Even awake, you still look like Oblivion came to Nirn again."

Only then did Gaius gather up the energy and fortitude to look down at himself, and the sheer surprise very nearly jolted him into lucidity. Gone was his suit of armor and his family-cribbed mace; all he had left was his precious shield. He wore only the tunic of burgundy linen that he'd worn his plate over, and even that was...compromised...by the hole that shredded through the center. His face screwed into a mirthless cross between grin and grimace, and he laughed weakly. That would explain the pain. It looked mostly healed, but he couldn't for the life of him remember where it had...

And then he remembered.



Two days prior...


Time was running out.

Skingrad had been taken by the Dominion. Not much time was left before it was sealed, and Gaius still had so much ground to cover, so many faces to search, until he was finished here. He dug deep into his reserves and continued his forward march, armor stripped off in favor of light garb. He had little reason to fear combat, and speed was paramount; all he carried with him was the mace he'd taken from the Milonem manor and his ever-faithful shield. Every person he passed was examined, every tent scanned. His teeth gritted together as he stormed past a patrol of Thalmor that swirled about the refugee camp, rapidly putting everything in order and making sure everybody was prepared to move inside of the city at a moment's notice.

He'd saved the quarters of the Colovian Rangers for last. He wasn't sure why, considering; it seemed the first place Helena would flock to, given her disposition. She'd never been one to shy away from combat; though she wasn't a soldier, she belonged to a family of one, and had chosen to carry on the Milonem legacy at least in part by training to surprising skill with her longspear. The Colovian Rangers were a perfect fit. And yet he'd delayed. For days. And, in the end, he knew why, though he didn't wish to admit it to himself: Gaius was afraid. He knew full well how many had died in the Imperial City, and he knew how unlikely it was that Helena had escaped, but until he confirmed it otherwise, at least he could attempt to retain some feeling of comfort in assuming she was alright. But after the last disastrous endeavor of the Rangers? That tiny comfort had shattered into thousands of fragments. He heaved a heavy sigh. This trepidation had never been his way, but it seemed he couldn't help himself until now. And so, ever-so-close to the city closing its gates and forcing him inside, he found himself trudging up a hillside towards the now-deserted tents of the Rangers.

He supposed that Rhea, Daro'Vasora, Judena and the others had left by then, probably the day before. They, after all, had nothing tying them here. A part of him idly wondered where they'd gone as he searched the forlorn canvas tents that hung in the eerie silence. It was probably better off, being without them; the further he divorced himself from the one who'd slotted that damnable lexicon into the device, the better it was for his overall health, both physical and mental. Not only were they likely hunted by those that would realize that this whole situation was their doing, but it shunted the guilt that ate away at him off to the side where it could gnaw at his psyche in private instead of doing so very openly.

A gleaming piece of metal, one of the few left in the camp, caught his eye, and he hastened over to look at it. It took him a moment, but after that crucial period of recognition, a grim determination stole over his face and his fists clenched tight enough to feel them creaking: it was a very recognizable longspear point, the bloodstained haft lying beneath it in three pieces. He picked two of them up, inspecting them for a moment. The determination fled, to be replaced with seething rage.

This was not Dwemer doing.

He'd seen their work; while deadly, yes, it was...not crude, exactly, but very much forceful. Not graceful, that was to say, and certainly not the razor-sharp keenness to slice clean edges through an inch of solid, fire-hardened oak. No, he'd only seen this kind of damage to military hardware in a single context before: Elven weaponry. And just like that, red curtains fell in front of his eyes, and spittle sprayed through his clenched teeth as he struggled to control his burgeoning fury. Dwemer. Dwemer. Focus on the Dwemer. Do. Not. Fight. The. Thalmor. And he almost succeeded, too. He could feel the wrath beginning to ebb, and a heavy breath nearly banished it entirely.

And then he heard voices. Altmer voices. Indistinct enough that he couldn't hear what he was saying, but by the tone, it was some sort of banter. And laughter followed. He stilled, then rose to his feet, tucking his hands behind his back both as a show of deference and to conceal the shortsword-like longspear point, and left the tent, trembling with a combination of confusion, frustration, and barely-concealed fury.

"Excuse me," he called to the Justiciars, voice tense, "I don't suppose you know what happened to the rest of the Rangers after the rather ill-fated raid?"

The two turned towards him, faces mostly seeming bored, and one shrugged. "Is it any of our business what insects choose to do in their burrows?" His face twisted into a mocking smile. "Perhaps they got themselves killed like the rest of their idiot resistance. One can hope, yes?"

And just like that, the red curtains descended again. Thicker this time. All of the pent-up anger, fear, and hatred inside Gaius found its outlet and burned through him as he exploded into motion. With only his tunic and shield, he snapped into high speed and careened at the two elves.

He managed to close the distance. Enough. The element of surprise on his side, he rammed the spearpoint into the chest of the shorter of the two Altmer--the one who'd spoken--and then slammed it home with his shield, feeling a savage glee as it pierced through to the other side. Another shield bash to the remains of the spear haft, twisting it to the side, and the elf's spine split in two. Eyes twitching, too shocked to scream, he slumped to the ground like a puppet with his strings cut, babbling incoherently in a language Gaius didn't know.

He pivoted rapidly, catching the second elf's voulge on his shield, before lashing out with the hand that was clenched around the spear, punching the Altmer in the chin and knocking him to the dirt. He stalked up to him, heartbeat pounding aggressively in his ears. "There was once a man who was tired of anger," he ground out, flipping the spearpoint into a backhanded grip. "He had wished for vengeance, and it had consumed him, and he had promised to never let it consume him again." He stopped, standing above the only semi-conscious Thalmor, glaring down with narrowed eyes. "I am not that man anymore." He brought his hand high, preparing to slam home the blade.

Fwip

A blossom of pain began to spread from his torso and, looking down, he could see an Elf-worked arrowhead sticking straight out of his chest. He staggered, half out of surprise, and the makeshift sword dropped from his suddenly nerveless hand. He tottered for a moment, then fell.

And then there was darkness.



Colovia, 18th of Second Seed, 4E208


Gaius stopped his pained cringing and his face went slack as he looked to the ceiling.

The Thalmor.

They're going to be out for blood now, aren't they.


At a sound above him, he snapped out of his reverie, turning--with effort--back to his savior, who held out a potion vial to him. "Health potion. Sorry I'm no mage. You owe me for the Septims to pay that priest," she said, only half-joking, it seemed. He reached out and clumsily grabbed the potion, chugging down the foul-tasting liquid and sighing as it numbed the pain slightly. He tried to speak, and only a sandy choke came out. She held out a hand. "Hang on, hang on! You're still hurt. Here, drink some of this:" she held out another vessel, this time a nice, plain mug filled with a thin soup.

He drank some of it down, barely managing to avoid vomiting it up, and felt it soothe his torn-up throat. He fixed her with his pained brown eyes. "What...day is it?" he managed to hiss out before he was wracked with a fit of intensely painful coughing. "Nine above," he swore through the cough.

The Nord blew a strand of her hair out of the way. "18th of Second Seed. You've been out for days."

A current of shock ran through Gaius' body before he eventually managed to ask the important question through his pain: "What happened?"



Two days prior


The sneering, furious Thalmor held his voulge over the unconscious Gaius, preparing for the coup de grace.

And then held it.

And held it more.

The green aura around him refused to waver, his eyes bulging as what he recognized as a paralysis spell held his final blow. Then the Imperial who had slaughtered his partner was waltzed out from under him by a Nord who winked cheekily and blew a kiss at the immobile elf before tying his limbs, gagging him, and sauntering back to the loaded cart that had, only moments ago, rolled up to the former encampment of the Rangers and refreshing the spell for good measure before whipping the horse hitched to the cart and trundling away. In the distance, he could see that the archer that had saved his life was under similar circumstances.

By the time the paralysis had worn off and the Altmer had freed themselves of their bonds, the cart was long gone.



Colovia, 18th of Second Seed, 4E208


"Thank you," rasped Gaius quietly.

"Don't mention it," she said lightly, fishing an amulet of Talos from underneath her shirt as the cart rolled down the road and dangling it in the Imperial's face for a moment before replacing it where it had been before, "I saw you kill a Thalmor, and anybody who does that is good enough to save for me as long as they're not a skooma addict or something, and you look far too together for that." She turned back to the front. "We'll be in Chorrol within the day, and the priests and mages there can patch you up better than me."

"Wait," Gaius croaked out, prompting her to turn, "what's your name?"

She smiled. "Hlastag Autumn-Cloak. And yours?"

He made to speak, then hesitated, name on his tongue. "...Janus. Janus Galtius."

She gave an even more dazzling smile, and he felt even worse than before. The lie tasted bad on his tongue.



Chorrol, 27th of Second Seed, 4E208


Gaius--or, as he was now known to those he'd met in Chorrol, Janus--had been up and walking since three days ago, and he was feeling even better today than before. He was feeling...well, as well as could be expected. Hlastag had turned out to be very interesting, as well as--he admitted to himself--quite pretty; a promising young merchant, she'd decided to cash in on his thirty-odd Septim debt to her not through simple money, but through services. Of the options he'd been given, he chose to be a bodyguard, and even through the slow, careful walk his injury forced him to adopt, his imposing frame and demeanor had dissuaded a number of unsavory characters thus far. He'd spent the last of the money that he'd brought with him out of the Imperial City on a pauldron-adorned chestplate, and he felt less naked. Not as good as he felt in full armor, of course, especially not his decorated, General-presented set, but better all the same.

At the moment, he was returning to Hlastag's modest shop. She'd taken over the Chorrol general store from its last owner, and her outgoing, pleasant nature disarmed many and let her coax them into spending more than they might've otherwise, and perhaps more than they should've. He'd rarely seen her without a face-splitting grin, and whenever he had, it'd been after a particularly stubborn or frustrating customer.

As he walked, breathing as deeply as he could without stressing the scar on his chest, he looked around, admiring the city around him. In particular, the truly, tremendously massive oak tree that loomed above him. He stopped a moment, then headed towards the base of the oak, sitting down heavily on the low wall of dense gray stone that wrapped about the tree's base. He sighed, looking up into the sky through the person-thick limbs. For the first time in over a week, he found himself smiling, and sat there for almost an hour, just looking at the placid sky and letting the quiet hubbub of the city square was over him. It's not as though being angry will bring her back, he thought, his smile turning bitter. She wouldn't want that, now would she, Gaius? He'd missed the Imperial City, but Chorrol wasn't bad. Perhaps staying here wouldn't be all that bad. If nothing else, the temple to Stendarr brought him some measure of comfort. Being so near the Legion's patron felt almost destined. All told, Chorrol was a nice city.

His thoughts turned to the one who had rescued him, and he let out a small, contented sigh. They'd become quite close; while it had started with them bonding over hating the Thalmor and telling the stories of precisely why they did, it had rapidly escalated past that. He felt like he'd known her for far longer than the past nine days. He laughed quietly; they'd had nothing but time to talk as he recovered from his injury in the back room of her shop, and he'd learned much of the irrepressible young Nord. She was from Solitude; they'd swapped stories of the old city, laughing about its idiosyncrasies and dissecting its politics. She'd started off as a Stormcloak sympathizer and lived in Whiterun for a spell, she said plainly, but after the war had ended, she'd seen no more reason to hold on to a rage that would never find outlet and returned to her home city. She'd told him rambling jokes about the Jarl of Whiterun, Balgruuf, and how he would arbitrarily show up in the Bannered Mare and get utterly hammered. In return, he'd told her of Legate Rikke's off-the-record parties and how a strict, no-nonsense Legate could be far more obscene than he could be once she got some drink in her.

His face turned pensive and he began reminiscing about his time in Skyrim before, with a grunt, he banished the wandering thoughts from his head and lifted himself to his feet, finally returning to the Northern Goods And Trade. The building was ancient--pre-Oblivion Crisis, he thought--but after some tender care, Hlastag had restored it to what it might've been in the past.

And that's when things became strange.

The irrepressible Nord was hunched over on the counter, and he could tell by the shaking of her shoulders that she was silently crying. His heart jumped. "Hlastag, what's wrong?" he asked, trying to keep the worry from edging into her voice. By way of answer, she held out a scroll to him and he picked it up, reading through it.

Anvil had fallen to the Dominion. Hlastag's family lived there.

And just like that, the fury came singing back. With great, great effort, he breathed deeply, restraining himself from smashing his fist straight through the countertop in front of him. "I'll be back in a moment, Hlastag," he said, voice quiet and controlled. Focused.

She looked up, red-rimmed eyes bleeding tears. "Are you leaving?"

He stared off into the distance, lips tight and bloodless. "Not yet." With that, he turned on his heel and marched out of the store, making a beeline straight for the blacksmith.

By the time he reached it, the proprietor, an older Argonian named Jad-Neena, had nearly closed it. He smashed the door open, stomping in and slamming his heavy hand down on counter. Jad reeled back at the colossal bang, looking at the fixated rage on the face of his friend with some trepidation. "Divines, Janus! What are you--"

"I need armor, Jad-Neena," Gaius growled. "Best you have."

Jad's face fell. "This is about Anvil, isn't it?" He shook his ponderous head slowly. "Come on, Janus. I know you were in the Legion a while back, but with the sacking of the Imperial City, there's nothing the Empire can do. The last thing we need is another Great War on top of the dwarves. Just...let it lie."

"I'm not seeing this stand. I'll die first." The two terse sentences were enough to give Jad pause. True, he hadn't known Janus for very long, but the Imperial had always been a quiet, personable sort, never the type he would peg for this kind of impulsive aggression. He closed his eyes, quietly weighing his options.

"Alright, Janus. What do you need?"

"I've got a chestplate, shield and pauldrons. I need everything else. Steel, if you have it. A sword too."

Jad thought for a moment, eyes flickering up in his head as he calculated, then looked back at the Imperial. "...I assume you were going to pay for that?"

The reply was terse and short: "Once I get the money."

Another shake of Jad's head. "I could do some things on credit, Janus, but for something like this, I really need a good chunk of septims up front. If you don't have that, then there's not a lot I can do for you."

Gaius gnashed his teeth, hating the delay. "The tassets, cuisses, greaves and sabatons, then?"

Jad sighed, seeing that Janus wasn't going to be put off easily. "I suppose I can do that much, as long as you pay for it later and give me, say...twenty Septims. If you'll just let me...?" He pulled out a length of measuring-twine marked at regular intervals and Gaius acquiesced, impatiently letting himself be measured. Once Jad was finished scrawling the measurements down on a piece of parchment, he spooled the twine back up and took one more look at Gaius. "I should have these done in two days. You can come by and pick them up then, hmm?"

As Gaius tossed a few septims down, snapped around and stomped out, Jad closed his eyes and sighed again. "Poor fool's going to get himself killed."



Chorrol, 29th of Second Seed, 4E208


It felt good to have heavy armor on again. It wasn't as good, didn't fit as well as what he was used to, and he didn't have anything on his arms or head, but it was still good to have. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Yesterday, he'd gone to the temple of Stendarr for a final healing and a final prayer. As he'd done so, he'd felt Stendarr's blessing flooding through him, fortifying his muscles and steeling him for the fighting to come.

The old building's stairs creaked underneath his heavy sabatons as he made his way downstairs to find Hlastag waiting for him, looking far better than she had yesterday or the day before. "Jad told me about the credit, Janus. Don't think I'll forget about it. He's too good to hunt you down, but I'd do it. And you know I could, too." She sat down, rubbing her temples. "I don't think it's a good idea for you to go to Anvil. It's just you against a whole occupying force. You need someone to help you." Raising her head, she gave him her trademark lopsided, wry grin. "I heard from an old...associate...in Hammerfell that there's an insurgency fighting against the Dwemer there. If you help them--and from what you've told me, there's no lost love between you and those dwarves--they might help you, right?"

Gaius raised his eyebrows, though he knew she couldn't see past the helmet. "An insurgency? People fighting against the Dwemer?" His voice was sharp and bitter. "Well, it can't end up worse than how the last group turned out." As much as he hated to admit it, she was right. With all of his anger, all of his righteousness, he was still just a single man against a city of magically-skilled Altmer. If he could get fighters, though, trained fighters that knew how to fight an uphill battle, there might be more waiting for him in Anvil than what a Nord might call a glorious death. Eventually, he nodded at her. "Thank you again, Hlastag. And don't worry. Once I get my windfall, I'll pay my debt to Jad. He's too good not to." He meant it, too. The 150-odd septims were no small sum, but, he recalled, he and his family had been in far worse financial straits before.

He stepped forward and gave her a gentle, metallic embrace. "I'll miss you," he murmured before he marched, back straight, haversack bulging, shield on his back, off to the west. To Hammerfell.



Abecean Coast, Hammerfell, 5th of Midyear, 4E208


"Gods, it's so hot."

Gaius had spent time--plenty of time--in hostile climate before. He'd spent an extended amount of time in Skyrim, after all. But, at heart, he was a Cyrodiil man, and so the warm, tropical currents of the Abecean Sea and the blasting heat of the Alik'r to the north wrapped him in a frustrating heat-sandwich. It was beautiful, of course: the sapphire waves to his south lapped gently against the stones, such a far cry from the wild slashing waves of the Sea Of Ghosts to the north, his only other real exposure to the wild ocean. Anvil didn't count; too cosmopolitan. Even the north was beautiful; it wasn't quite the true Alik'r yet, but a vast expanse of innumerable hoodoos and rocky crags among which flew enormous birds that Gaius occasionally saw from far off.

But for all that beauty, all that wild independence, it didn't make it any more comfortable. Especially with padded plate steel covering him, being way too huge for his small haversack. He didn't think he was in any danger of heat stroke or anything, but it was damn uncomfortable and put him in a bad mood. He'd already chewed through his entire waterskin twice today and then some thanks to a conveniently-placed spring, and it wasn't yet midday.

Unwrapping his newly-begotten map of Hammerfell, he thought he was perhaps somewhere just south of Taneth, and was rewarded in this by the appearance of buildings wavering in the heat-haze off to the north. Sighing in relief, he trudged across the barren ground towards it. Six days of traveling rations had him hankering for some real food to eat again, and a bed at an inn--he hoped the few Septims he had found in a discarded purse on the side of the road back in Cyrodiil--sounded pretty good about now.

When he finally arrived, he was exhausted, and his chest felt like it was about to reopen despite constant infusion of Restoration magic. He needed somewhere to rest, or he would fall over, he knew. He stumbled over to the first moving creature that he saw, and gave it a lame smile.

"So sorry," he spoke through his teeth, "but could you point me on the way towards the local inn?"

"Of course," said the short, gray-skinned elf, pointing with two fingers up the broad street, "it's just that way, the Six Shields. You can't miss it."

Nodding his thanks, Gaius turned.

And then stopped.

And turned again. His eyes narrowed. Something about that woman had seemed...off.

He looked at her again. Concentrated past his thirst, the heat, the sweat dripping down his face. Short. Elf. Wearing Dwemer-metal bangles. Not Redguard. There was an insurgency against the Dwemer in Hammerfell, meaning that they'd taken it. The pieces began to slowly click together in his mind, and as they did, his anger swelled and once more, the curtains descended.

A growl built in his throat and he ripped the shield off of his back before charging at the suddenly terrified woman, wielding it like a mace.

BANG

He swore, stumbled, and ground to a halt at the sound of Dwemeri hardware that he'd come to fear, and growled like a cornered animal as a patrol of five Dwemer pointed their weapons at him. Guns in front, the desert and Abecean behind. No way to win. He didn't trust this armor enough to get past those horrifying death machines, and he could see from where he stood the pale blue glow of primed soul gems in the receivers of the finely-crafted rifles. The lead Dwemer stepped forwards, gun still trained on Gaius' unhelmeted head, before he began to speak, voice bitingly caustic.

"Alright. I don't know who you are, or where you came from, but in Volunfell, we don't assault random citizens in the streets. Put up that shield--no doubt stolen, by the workmanship--and don't try to do anything clever. You're coming with us." He smiled sardonically. "After all, you're not much in a position to argue."



Prison near Gilane, 13th of Midyear, 4E208


And so the mighty have fallen. They looked up to you, Gaius.

He slumped back in his cell--devoid of all belongings, down to the fine tunic replaced with rags--and, quietly singing an old Legion marching song, settled down to wait.
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Hidden 9 mos ago Post by Amaranth
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Child of the Desert




Late night, 14th of Midyear, 4E208
Mouth of the Alik'r Oasis, Alik'r Desert, Hammerfell


Shakti peeked out from underneath her bedroll. Everyone else had either gone to sleep or were too busy with other things to be up and about, so Shakti crept up out of her bedroll and slipped her tunic on over her nightclothes. She didn't bother to put her boots on or tie her cloak, no, she needed to move swiftly and silently if she was to accomplish her goal. She knelt down next to her small sleeping area and checked that her sword was still where she left it - it was - but left it alone as well. She took one last look around the camp and then began creeping toward the mouth of the cave, half-crouched and half-standing, weaving her way around sleeping forms and lumps of unknown material. She took extra care when she reached where the Khajiit man was camped as Shakti had heard he had quite an unpleasant temper.

After nearly tripping on a bottle someone had left out, Shakti breached the maw of the cave and slid silently into the cold desert air. She looked out over the small hill that the cave was situated on and breathed out a long breath. It felt like she had been holding it in since she had first come to Gilane and now she could finally breathe freely. She took in another full breath of the clear Alik'r air and sighed in happiness. The Redguard girl scanned the horizon, noting the landmarks and the lights of Gilane flickering in the distance. It was beautiful.

Shakti laid down in the sand and put her head on her hands as she peered up at the stars, admiring the constellations and the moonslight as it shone down onto the golden desert sands. Her thoughts drifted to her tribe, her family and how they were likely staring up at the same sky as her, closer than they had ever been in the past year. It was nice to reflect on the events of the last few months. Shakti sat up as she thought about the group. She suspected not many of them were as satisfied with the recent turn of events as her. Many of them had seemed to struggle in their recent journey and whether that was from the heat or from their flight from Gilane, Shakti couldn't tell. She did know one thing though; she would not let the dour mood of the group affect her. Not in her home. She stood up and looked around. Nothing was moving for as far as her eyes could see. Perfect.

Shakti approached the slope of the sand hill that the cave rested on and crouched down. She could barely suppress a giggle as she gave into her own impulses and somersaulted down the dune, just like she used to do when she was a child. She laughed and laughed as she tumbled end over end until she finally came to rest in the sand drift at the bottom of the hill, her laugh still echoing over the (relatively) flat desert terrain.

The Alik'r girl didn't move for a long while, working her hands and feet into the sand, (which was still warm from a whole day of absorbing the scorching heat) enjoying the feeling of it on her skin.

Finally, she exhaled and sat up, brushing the sand out of her messy hair. She felt slightly embarrassed for a moment, even though she was certain no one had witnessed her tumble down the dune. Shakti wiped the feeling away as she wiped sand from her face and stood up, climbing back to the top of the hill. She peeked into the cave to make sure she hadn't woken anyone up with her midnight trip but it was too dark to be sure. Instead, another idea popped into her head. She needed something to slide down on. She thought about running back down to grab her cloak and slide down on that but nixed the idea when she realised it might disintegrate, being as tattered as it was. She bit her lip and paced around the mouth of the cave. Suddenly, it came to her. A rock! She needed to find a big enough and flat enough rock to slide down on. Thankfully there were plenty of rocks laying about the mouth of the cave and it only took Shakti a few minutes of searching in the darkness to find a rather large flat rock that she could sit on.

She pushed it with some effort to the beginning of the slope and hopped on, the force of her hop taking the rock over the threshold and onto the slope proper. Shakti couldn't contain her laugh even as she realised she had no way of steering or stopping her rock-surfing adventure. So instead she just hung onto the rock and giggled her way down the dune, squealing as she caught air over bumps until the rock hit the sand-drift that was waiting for them, ending her ride in the same place as the first and sending Shakti face first into the sand.

She rose, spitting sand from her mouth, still laughing and rubbing a fresh bruise on her shoulder. She sighed as she trekked back up the dune, knowing she should really get back to bed. They had another day of travel ahead and one needed their sleep if they were planning on crossing the Alik'r. Shakti paused at the mouth of the cave and shook her hair out, getting as much sand as she could off before slinking her way back to her cozy nook and climbing back into bed, exhausted from her midnight foray into the dunes.

That night she dreamt of a great power underneath the sands, sleeping.
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Hidden 9 mos ago 9 mos ago Post by Spoopy Scary
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Spoopy Scary ☠️🌸soft grunge🌸☠️

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Loose Ends

w/ @Leidenschaft

Within the past couple of hours, there have been more than just a few things that gave Aries pause. First came Gregor and his cute little doll in tow. Were time not of the essence, she would’ve questioned him right then and there and motioned to leave him to the proverbial wolves. However, the soft hearts of Samara would’ve forbade that and were simply grateful to see his face again. Regardless, her own line of questioning need not be said, for she was sure that questions would be asked eventually whether it was from her or not given time. Then not long after trekking the desert, an exercise not taken lightly even if her enchanted ring had protected her from some of the sun’s heat, they had come upon a grisly scene of blood soaked sand and mounds of buried people surrounding a caravan. Standing front and center were two khajiit, neither of which she had any hope of seeing any time soon, and another woman.

Not only was she faced by a ruthless killer, a traitor, and their accomplice, it would seem that Dar’Vasora had also broken her own word to keep them warned of the dangers ahead. What good was a scout if they could not relay to the others what awaited them? Even Calen, the bard who was supposed to be the outrider between the main group and the scouts, was caught off guard after learning who the khajiit were. So to say that even he was surprised goes to show the opaque leadership that Samara was following. Then it became clear why they had been so incompetent thus far: they never had any real leadership to begin with. Had the attack on the palace really risked so much for so little? There was something to be said for the comfort of sheep, but not a lot. Not enough to justify losing Gilane.

Regardless of logistics or reasoning, no matter how much Aries might've agreed to the plan should she and the others been consulted, the fact remains that a lack of trust in leadership ultimately undoes all authorities.

Despite how she felt about Sora, she kept her eyes trained on Zaveed and Sevari, her eyes narrowed and lip curled with suspicion and disgust. She didn’t trust Zaveed to uphold any sort of bargain given his brutal and savage history of whoring himself to the Dwemer, and Sevari less so given his now discovered penchant for betrayal. When he approached her, her hands were tightly clenched into fists and she did not utter a single world back to him. She had little to say that would’ve been any business of the others to hear, and besides that, the simmering expression of rage in her eyes said everything to Sevari she needed to say. She would keep herself on guard until they reached their destination. One wrong move, and she was going to unleash absolute hell onto them.

Zaveed, Sevari, Gregor, Jaraleet -- she was quite possibly surrounded by treachery on all sides. Though there was nothing treacherous confirmed yet for the latter two outside of stupid decisions, she didn’t want to take any chances. Who else was at her back? Daro’Vasora and Latro just made liars of themselves, Judena had a fish’s memory, a bard, and a spineless nord and altmer girl. Those who were left, while capable, she felt were foolish. Even when she reached the cavern and cupped handful of water in her hands to drink from, she did so with her back facing a wall and eyeing the others carefully. Surely enough, like Sevari warned her in the desert, she watched him approach once again. Very few people have been able to provoke responses out of her in the past, but it was as if he was an hearth, the way she felt her blood simmer and boil with each step that brought him closer.

And it practically singed him to stand near it. But he stood, face not betraying any apology nor malice. He simply sighed, “At least fucking yell at me for something… Janelle.” Sevari shook his head, “I can’t stand this fucking silent treatment.”

“I'm sufficiently professional as to not debase myself in the presence of company.” Aries responded coldly. She stood to her full height, though still finding herself looking up at the much taller khajiit. Her hands were still tightly clenched into fists. “It's the same reason you're still alive right now. So, was that your plan all along? To rid of me and your so called friends by having Irranhu cell do the coward’s work for him? Or did you simply abandon your post and leave everyone to die? Convince me why I shouldn't burn you alive.”

“Janelle.” Sevari’s face twisted into anger for but a second before he calmed himself, “Do you even remember why we had to take refuge in the Haunted Tide? Irranhu cell attacked my convoy. They were going to kill Latro and probably the rest of Samara after. You know the game of spies and politics, who would benefit by having you dead?”

Sevari huffed, “Not me. I didn’t abandon shit, either. I was arrested. There were Thalmor in the Palace, they were working with the Ministry of Order and had every file of every Penitus Oculatus Agent in Hammerfell.” He added more quietly, a bit more worriedly, “Or even Tamriel. They said they raided the headquarters in Chorrol, that’s how they knew who I was and what I was doing here.”

“Fingalto and Erincaro Syintar, and every Thalmor spy in Tamriel, want us and everyone who knows us or has ever known us, dead.” Sevari said, “This would be a shit time for me to enlist my would-be murderers to murder you. So burn me, Janelle, to ashes. Burn everything here. Do their job for them.”

“I ought to, for the audacity of thinking I’m a fucking moron.” She retorted. “Your convoy was attacked because you were still posing as a dwemer mercenary! And as if I’ve forgotten your outburst in that escape tunnel? Yet you still dare to call yourself an agent! Add to that, somehow, that someone of your caliber gets arrested, but when you’re released, where do you go? You run away, out of town with your murderous, whoring brother. But he isn’t, is he? Not really. So what reason is there left for me to trust you?”

Aries refused to let herself be intimidated by the much larger Ohmes and stepped forward herself, her eyes staring daggers into his. “If you think you can get away with lying to me, then you’ve clearly forgotten who I am.”

“He isn’t.” Sevari said, gravely, “But he’s the closest one I’ve got. I’m in Hammerfell because of him, he’s the smuggler I paid for before all this happened to get me here in time to kill Erincaro Syintar and force his father out of hiding. The last step before the grand finale of the mission that’s been my life.” He sighed, jaw set as he looked away from Aries for a moment, looking back at her as he continued, “His name is Zaveed, I’ve known him since I was a boy and before my time in the Bhaanu Sasra where I was flipped to the Imperial Cause. His sister, the other person I’ve lived with long ago and had feelings for had been placed just rightly by fate,” he frowned, “to be on that ship. I failed because of that. There.”

Aries crossed her arms and gave Sevari a dry look as she shifted her weight to one leg. She didn’t look very impressed with his admission. “That’s it?” She asked, expecting more. “Did your childhood fancy happen to neuter you? I’ve stabbed my fiancée’s foot to the floor after I exposed his house for fraud and conspiracy. Then I immediately denounced the most powerful family in Daggerfall into poverty. Out of spite.”

“Mm.” Sevari let that quip about his feelings for Marassa go. Like a great many things, it was something he should let go. It only made him weak, but was that not a good thing, in that moment? For Zaveed? Now wasn’t the time, “You’re right. I’ve no excuses, no sorrys. What now then? Have me prostrate myself and beg forgiveness, or…?”

“Don’t be so dramatic.” Aries sighed as she pinched the bridge of her nose. “That still doesn’t explain why you just left Gilane while the rest of us were fighting for our lives. I held them off, you know that? Irranhu. I’m the reason why Samara had enough time to escape with their lives. I assaulted a damn castle by their side. I got everyone out of the city. There’s no question who they would trust more between us. Where were you through all of that?”

Sevari sighed, “Latro already has made it very known he resents me for my absence. I was trying to get the blueprints of the Palace back to Samara when I was apprehended.” He shook his head, “The only reason we’re having this conversation and you’re not wondering after me while I’m on my way to be hanged in Alinor is because of that childhood fancy. The Caliph’s escape tunnel leads outside the city walls, I went to the only other place I knew to. Risking entry back into the city was too dangerous.” He frowned and shrugged.

“If they wouldn’t have shot me at the gates. My brother and his new… girl,” he said, eyes going to Sirine milling about the camp, “found me there.”

“You know what I would’ve done?” Aries rhetorically asked. “I would’ve turned back around and got back to work. Incinerating everyone in my way if I had to. The burden of leadership… remember?”

Her eyes bounced from Sevari to Zaveed and Sirine on the other side of the cavern. She continued, saying, “You’ve seen me frustrated. You’ve seen me annoyed. But you haven’t seen me pissed, and you haven’t seen what I’m capable of. Least of all, what I’m capable of when I’m pissed.”

As if to show her meaning, a single spark arced between her fingers before the friction in the air around her hand settled down. She glance returned to Sevari, but once simmering and wrathful, it was now cold and dispassionate, even if it did eventually warm up just a little bit. “If it really did come down to the three of you against me… your window of opportunity would only last a second. I just want you to understand that, and that you don’t have a choice but to make it all up to me. I… I would rather have some decent help again. I’d prefer that over the alternative.”

Sevari frowned at that, watching the magic flow from her fingers. He responded with a decidedly less threatening act of fishing a cigar from his coat and lighting it with some magic of his own, “If you’ll accept it, Janelle,” he said, puffing on the cigar to get it lit for a moment before continuing, “You’ll have it.” He hooked a finger on his collar and dragged it down enough to see the tattoo of the Red Diamond, dark upon his brown skin, “I still am what I am.”

“You’re not out of the woods yet.” She added with a warning. “But at least I can trust you’re more capable than these louts. I’m beginning to question if my gamble on Samara had any payoff.”

“We’ve spent a lot of time cultivating relationships with some of them. Latro and Jaraleet are closer with each other, and they’re close to me.” He said, “Sora might trust me the most out of the three of us she found on the road if only because I’m not my asshole of a brother.”

He took a puff of his cigar and let the cloud linger before blowing it away himself, “And we’re all headed in the same direction. From what Sora says, we’ve got a tool to end this threat.”

“Jaraleet?” She repeated incredulously, needling Sevari for information. “The argonian, yes? The one credited with taking liberties and torturing Nblec to death? The very thing that plummeted Gilane into chaos?

“Uh huh.” He answered, nonchalantly, “After my first meeting with him and Latro, I put his skills to use on Hassiim. He’s good. Very good. Better than any amateur assassins and hitmen you’d find in a roadside inn.” He shook his head, “I think he’s working for a foreign power. But as for torturing Nblec to death? He could do it, but why? He doesn’t seem barbaric enough for the task.”

“Foreign power? Hm. Duly noted.” She commented. While she was suspicious of Sevari for her own reasons, which were somewhat emphasized by his association with the argonian, Nblec died before his turncoat. Plus he was willing to give information on his new friend, one, which, he seemed friendly enough with to be certain of his innocence and to attempt defending it. As disturbing of a thought as Jaraleet’s allegiance was, she didn’t linger on it for very long in the shadow of a much more foreboding implication. One that was beginning to confirm a much earlier suspicion she had for a certain Imperial. “Who does that leave us with then? The bard, Latro, and Gregor, along with his little tart. As far as I see it, it comes between Latro and Gregor. Watching the Reachman fight was like watching an animal, but honestly? Rumor has it that the bard got hurt while trying to protect him. So look who that leaves us with…”

That necromantic fuck, Sevari thought, keeping the burning malice off his face. So, he might be responsible for fucking not only his brother up, but near everything else. “So,” he asked, drawing out the word in a low growl, “What’s to do then?”

“As much as I'd like for him to simply drop dead…” Aries returned in her own, seething voice, “we should bide our time. Given camaraderie complications, plus a man prone to impulsive action, it would be best to take care of such business outside the company of others. Let’s see if we can’t pressure a confession out of that one, first. I would sleep better knowing I didn’t choose mistakenly."

Sevari nodded wordlessly in response, looking back up at Gregor, watching the man talk with Zaveed. Ever since he first arrived in Gilane, he felt as though the city itself was trying to drink his blood through its gutters. Now that he left, maybe it was just all of Hammerfell. “Oh, trust me, I’ve my own reasons to make him drop dead.” He let that thought simmer until he spoke again, “But I agree. I might have bloody hands, but I like to think I go after the right ones.”

He turned to Aries, “Jaraleet, Latro, maybe I can leverage them. Get them to talk about what happened in that safehouse with Nblec.” He nodded over to the other bars, Calen, “Him too. They all know Gregor. Let’s see how well.”

"This won't change the past, but it will give the past some deserved justice." Aries admitted solemnly. "We tied off our loose ends for now. Let's see where we can't cut a few more."
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Hidden 9 mos ago 9 mos ago Post by Greenie
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Greenie Heaven don't play like violins

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An Impasse

by Hank and Greenie



15th of Midyear, Dawn, the Oasis

Despite the chaos of travel and sleeping relatively later than most, Sirine was up at the crack of dawn as per her habit. She’d had a peaceful sleep, surprising given where the motley group found itself, but she was grateful for it nonetheless. Sitting up in her bedroll, she rubbed the sleep away from her eyes before languidly stretching out. Grasping at the air with clenched fist, she relished the tension in her muscles, a small sigh escaping her. Feeling much lighter as she relaxed and got to her feet, she reached up to pat her hair, now a very good length shorter than it used to be, barely dancing against the nape of her neck. Short and messy, it would take some getting used to, but even she had to admit it gave her a sense of freedom.

Glancing to the side, her eyes fell upon where Zaveed had been sleeping, though the spot was now empty. A warm look came to her as she thought of his help the previous night, though it was interrupted by a reminder that she had just awoken. Stifling a yawn with her arm, the Imperial Redguard decided to make her way to the river once more, a hint of a smile crossing her face as she realized as long as they stayed here, it would become a habit. The sound of the running water was even more soothing than she’d realized the day before, and the coolness it loaned to the air was gods’ sent. Bakih would enjoy it here.. That thought had her tranquil expression wavering. She wasn’t here as a vacationer in the desert, she wasn’t even on the run. She had a purpose. Freeing Bakih came first and foremost, and she would not allow anyone to ruin that for her.

Letting out a sigh, she knelt down by the waterside, splashing some on her face before taking a couple of handfuls to drink.

Gregor's footsteps preceded him and he sank down on his knees a respectful distance away from Sirine. He avoided eye contact with the woman, who he had swiftly judged for the company she kept, and started his own morning routine in silence. His hair needed a proper bath but in lieu of that, throwing a few handfuls of water over it had to suffice. Having woken up to find Raelynn already gone, the spot where she'd slept still warm to the touch, Gregor had wanted to beat the others to the water and wash himself in peace. It looked like Sirine had had the same idea.

As soon as she had heard the footsteps, the tension the night's sleep had lulled away returned to Sirine in earnest. Casting a glance to the side, she realized she was right to feel on alert. She recognized this man from the day before, Gregor if she recalled correctly. An Imperial like her, though obviously lacking the Redguard blood that ran through her veins. Now that he was close enough for her to see him clearly, she could see how his countenance, his tattoos, and his general being may intimidate weaker hearts. She could also see how this man could have killed Zaveed. Her hand itched to near her dagger, but she'd always had practice at restraining herself, and the most she did was dry her wet hands on her thighs.

"Good morning," she called, her voice rather pleasant despite her thoughts.

In the midst of washing his hair, Gregor stopped and looked up at Sirine. Her hair looked like it had just been cut and there was something about her features that suggested she had either lived in this climate her whole life, or had foreign blood mixed in her Imperial lineage. “To you as well. I don't believe we've met,” he responded, his tone neutral but not unkind. “I'm Gregor.”

"I'm a new addition, though I prefer to think that your group was actually the addition to mine." She shifted her weight slightly so that she was facing the man, observing the way he spoke. It seemed he was as guarded as she was, which was quite fair given the circumstances. "Sirine. I've heard your name in passing. The khajiit woman, the one called Daro'Vasora, had mentioned it when she and Latro came by our caravan."

“Ah.” Gregor wasn't sure what to say to that. It made sense that somebody had told Zaveed in advance that he was there, he supposed. “You're the woman with the missing brother, I take it?” he asked.

"Yes," Sirine agreed, not at all surprised that she would be known as that person. "Bakih, my younger brother. He's been taken prisoner since the dwemer arrived in Hammerfell. Since you were all headed this way as well, I'm assuming your group has people imprisoned there too?" She was itching to ask so much more, truth be told. You are the one, aren't you? "Or perhaps simply escaping the dwemer?"

“There's a chance one of us is in that prison, but we're after something more important. Daro'Vasora is our leader and has learned something that could put an end to the Dwemer invasion,” Gregor explained. The fact that Sirine's brother was indeed in the clutches of the Deep Elves softened his disposition somewhat. “The key we need to do so could be in the prison. Either way, we need to keep heading north. We're not exactly on good terms with Rourken's administration.”

That was news to Sirine, though it wasn't top priority to her. These people were simply a means to free her brother. No dwemer meant freedom, but she was still of the mind that as long as she had the sea beneath her feet, she would be free. To that end, she had trust that Zaveed would show her the way, dwemer remaining or not.

"I see," she replied, feigning interest momentarily before allowing her placid expression to shift to a more neutral one. "I guess that would be why Zaveed called your group terrorists. I heard of a few incidents... the murdered Nblec, the prison break- Was that you all?"

Gregor scoffed. “Terrorists. That's rich. Freedom fighters, yes, an armed resistance. That was us. Nblec was an accident. Don't let the others catch you calling it a murder. Sensitive topic.” He was still irritable from the previous day and his expression hardened somewhat. “So you're… what, friends, with Zaveed?”

"I say what I hear," Sirine replied, a short humourless laugh escaping her. "The whole of Gilane is looking at it as murder. Nevermind that." She could see the shift in his expression quite clearly. "I suppose you could say we are friends, yes. Partners would be another term. I found him barely surviving on the docks one morning." Her head tilted as she looked the man, a false curiosity showing on her face. "You're the one who did that, aren't you? Who nearly killed him?"

An incredulous silence stretched between them as Gregor processed what he heard. He wasn’t sure in what way she meant ‘partner’. He furrowed his brow and sighed as Sirine brought up what had happened. “Yes,” he said at length. Gregor wondered how much she knew -- about the details of the fight, specifically his use of necromancy, but also about the reason they clashed so violently in the first place. “Do you also know why I did that?”

"I'm fairly certain whether I do know or don't doesn't make a difference. I just wished to know the identity of the person who tried to kill and soul trap Zaveed." Her eyes narrowed momentarily as once more the thought of him being dead assaulted her. However she was quick to relax, crossing her arms loosely over her chest, medallion glinting in the early morning light. "That being said, I'm willing to listen if you're willing to tell. I am stranger amongst you all; clearly there is much I don't know."

“That is a very dangerous assumption,” Gregor said, his tone cautionary. It was hard to read Sirine but she did not strike him as an overly duplicitous person. If she truly did not know… then she had essentially been conned into liking Zaveed. “Zaveed is a coward that abducts and tortures defenseless young women for sport. I assume you’ve seen the blonde Breton that rode with me. Her name is Raelynn and she is our healer, and my lover. Out of everyone that was involved with the botched kidnapping attempt, she was the least likely to be guilty of anything and the least capable of defending herself.”

He scoffed again and rested his clenched fists on his knees. “Didn’t seem to matter to him at all. He snatched her off the streets and nailed her hand to a table. After she escaped, he came after her again, murdered an associate of ours in front of her and left her with his corpse for hours. All in the name of the Dwemer,” Gregor said darkly, his eyes boring into Sirine’s. “He was to her what the Deep Elves were to your Bakih. You can understand that I couldn’t let that slide. Killing him would merely have been eliminating a threat, a pest. Sending his soul beyond so that he could never return to stalk this plane was a more… appropriate punishment. It is only through the intervention of a third party that he’s still here.”

Gregor took a deep breath and continued more softly. “You cannot trust him. Did he give you that crap about wanting to make something out of his second chance at life?” He laughed mirthlessly. “Don’t believe it for a second. He’s rotten.”

"The way you speak, the way that Latro and Daro'Vasora spoke, it's as if you haven't tasted much of the world and the darkness spread within." Sirine's eyes were narrowed, but it didn't seem as if she was deeply moved by what Gregor had revealed to her. "But I know it can't be that. The reason you're riled is because something happened to someone you loved, someone who mattered to you. Yes, you are right, it is like Bakih and the Dwemer. But I fail to see how that would change my views on Zaveed. Each one of us is an enemy and monster to another person. You simply know what you've seen of him, a murderer, a torturer. And in the same stroke I know what I've heard of your group, terrorists, murderers. Who is right and who is wrong? How is Zaveed nailing your lover’s hand to a table any different than Nblec being tortured and murdered?"

Despite her composure, there was now a darkness in Sirine's eyes. Her hand grasped the medallion around her neck. "We're all rotten, Gregor. Each one of us has something within us that makes us no less shittier than the next person. Trust isn't something I throw around blindly, and believe me I have absolutely no faith in anyone here other than Zaveed. Call me a fool if you wish, but I know full well what I do. There is absolutely no benefit to him in helping me, yet here he is to do just that." She breathed out as she let go of her medallion. "He doesn't wish for any more strife, but I assure you, I will strike whoever tries to harm him."

He was annoyed by her suggestion that he was supposedly more naive or inexperienced than she was, and disagreed with her notion that everyone was rotten. “I have seen enough darkness for a lifetime,” Gregor said. “Real darkness. Far worse things lurk in the shadows than a two-septim cutthroat like Zaveed. That means I have no patience for cowardice and senseless cruelty when it comes from vermin like him that took his orders from the Deep Elves. Don’t forget that Nblec wasn’t a person. The Dwemer are just another addition to a long list of enemies that need to be exterminated. They have no place in this world. Don’t compare them to the people that it belongs to. That is naive.” His gaze hardened. “And offensive, like your lack of a moral compass.”

A laugh escaped the former pirate, and it was actually tinged with amusement. "My apologies, did I come across as an upholder of law and order? I plundered ships and ruthlessly murdered my enemies before the dwemer attacked. Unlike you and your friends, I have no doubt in the sort of person I am. I am not a good person, neither is Zaveed. But neither are any of you, no matter what sort of delusions about yourselves you uphold. Whether you wish to believe it or not, the dwemer are people. They breathe, they think, they survive, they live."

Letting out a short breath, she stood up and considered the Imperial necromancer. Where did his false sense of justice and superiority come from? At least Zaveed knew what he was and had no false sense of reality. "Clearly we have come to an impasse. But I will say it is quite nice to know the thoughts of at least one more staying here."

“You don't know any of us,” Gregor retorted. “I may not be a hero but I am far from the best among us. You should talk to Calen. He jumped in front of a bullet to save a life and he was vehemently against torturing Nblec. If you dropped your cynicism for a moment you might be pleasantly surprised. There are innocents in this world, you know.” There was no malice in his voice; rather pity, and he regarded Sirine with a sadness in his eyes. “See you around.”

"Yes, and those innocents get fucked." There was a hint of bitterness in her voice. "As it seems with your friend Calen." She stepped back, her earlier amusement having faded. "I don't know any of you, it's true, but you don't know me, and I very much doubt you know Zaveed save that which you wish to know."

Sirine gave the man a nod and turned away, more than ready to return to the camp. "Farewell."
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Hidden 9 mos ago Post by Mortarion
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Brought to you by yours truly and @Dervish

14th of Midyear, late afternoon, entrance to the Oasis


The chat with Gregor went about as well as could be expected, Zaveed decided, a lingering sense of irritability pumping through his arteries like an accelerant for his blood. He watched the Imperial go, spitting into the ground distastefully before deciding his attentions were best spent elsewhere. Going to his pack and grabbing an apple, Zaveed took his dagger and began to peel off the faintest of slivers; it was something of a game, to see how many slices he could get out of an apple before reaching the core, with each piece nearly translucent from how fine the edge of the point of his blade was. He allowed himself a moment to savour the juices before looking up and noticing an Argonian standing by the mouth of the cave.

So, he’s the one. Zaveed thought, carelessly strolling over, apple in hand as his teeth mulched the skin and flesh of the fruit within his jaws.

Zaveed stood beside the Argonian, not saying anything for a few moments as he thoughtfully concentrated on the apple. Four slices. Five. He made a slightly larger cut and offered it to the infamous interrogator in his midst. “You seem to be quite the popular one.” Zaveed observed. “Seems like half of Gilane knew of what happened to Nblec, and yet you were the one to take the fall for it. How much of a merit does that particular story hold… Jaraleet?”

Jaraleet looked over as Zaveed approached him, not saying anything as the Khajiit stood beside him. He accepted the piece of apple that his one-time enemy offered to him and swallowed it down. “I could say the same to you Zaveed.” The Argonian said in response to the Khajiit’s comment about his ‘popularity’. “Hmmmm, why don’t you tell me that? How much merit do you think those accusations hold?” He asked, turning to look at the Khajiit. “I assume that Sevari told you my name, no? Or did they have dossiers on every one of us in the Dwemer’s secret police?”

The privateer let out a slight chuckle, turning his attention back to the apple as his knife began to work again. “If we had dossiers on each of you, my job would have gone so much smoother. We knew about Roux and worked our way from there. As for your rumours, honestly? I don’t think you killed him. I’ve interrogated my share of people, and they don’t suddenly die from having nails driven… under nails.” he replied, smiling a bit at the repetition of words. Ta’agra had two very different sounding words for the two distinct thing, although one turned out being a variation of ‘claw.’ “I’m almost certain Gregor soul-trapped the man when your backs were turned.” glancing over at Jaraleet, he added. “I knew he was a necromancer from when I fought him. He just told me it was you and Raelynn who know his secret. I intend to honour that, for some reason.”

“Ah, I see, I see.” Jaraleet said in response to Zaveed’s comment about Roux. “As for your assumption, you’d be correct in it.” He said with a light shrug, falling silent for a moment as he pondered what the Khajiit had said. “I had my suspicious that if someone else in the group knew about Gregor’s secret it’d be Raelynn.” The assassin said after a second, letting out a sigh. “But it is good to have confirmation on that. As to why you are honoring that request, I suppose you must pay your debt back to Raelynn in one way or another.” He said, shrugging slightly. “And if it makes working with us any easier….I do not necessarily approve of Gregor’s methods but, you know what they say, ‘Better the Dremora you know’ or something along those lines.” Jaraleet spoke, pausing for a second. “Plus, I do not want to provoke him unnecessarily. I still don’t know the full extent of his capabilities and would rather not take my chances.” He added, shrugging slightly.

“I’m surprised that you agreed to come. I’d have expected you to avoid us if anything, not strike a deal to work together.” Jaraleet said, glanzing at Zaveed with a curious look.

“I have a rather concrete idea of exactly what he is capable of.” Zaveed muttered, stopping the notion with the knife. “These scars aren’t for show. If a time ever comes where you find yourself opposing him, do not give him the chance to cast anything.” the Khajiit warned darkly, his pupils narrowing.

With a shrug, the mood passed. “It wasn’t really much of a choice, truth be told. Sevari gave up his own biological brother to protect me, and he sacrificed his career to spare my sister hers. Now he’s alone without friends or family, except for me. And he’s all I have left, too.” Zaveed rolled his eyes. “Apparently, he thinks you and Latro are his friends, but what the fuck do I know? So tell me; you seem rather cordial towards me, a contrast to my chat with Gregor. Why is that?”

Jaraleet nodded in response to Zaveed’s advice, noting it inwardly in case it was ever necessary to call upon it. “Is it really that surprising?” The Argonian asked rhetorically, letting out a mirthless chuckle. “I can work with Gregor who’s at fault for almost everyone believing me responsible for Nblec’s death.” He said, shrugging slightly. “But to give a more proper answer, I don’t see why I shouldn’t be cordial towards you, we are allies after all. There is no point in antagonizing you any further, we have enough enemies out there as it stands.” The assassin said, turning his gaze to look at the cave’s entrance. “Wouldn’t you agree that it makes sense?”

Zaveed nodded; Jaraleet was a pragmatist. “Leave bygones as bygones.” he agreed, slipping more slices between his teeth. “I’m a privateer by profession, my worst nemesis one week was my brother in arms the next. Everything I’ve had to do to survive, to claw my way out of one shit heap to the next, it was only possible by not lingering on what has been and instead focusing on what could be.” he looked over at the Argonian. “Right now, what could be is me having my throat slit while I sleep by anyone behind us. Sevari, Sirine, and I are outnumbered considerably and here at his choice; I’m here because I love him and want to try and do right by him. Do you have family?” he asked.

“That’s a complicated question to ask one of the Saxhleel, you know?” Jaraleet laughed, shaking his head slightly. “Only my father is left alive of my biological family. But, yes, I do have a family.” The assassin said, smiling fondly. “Those of us who are born under the Shadow share a link that transcends blood. We are united by a common purpose, and the ties that we forged during our training.” He said, letting out a sigh. “We were all that we had to support the other. I’m sure it was much the same between you and Sevari, no?”

Zaveed pondered that for a moment. “Not quite the same as yours, I think.” he said after a spell. “We aren’t related by blood, but rather circumstances. We grew up on the streets of Senchal as orphans, he helped save my sister and I from being caught by guards for stealing, and he helped feed us and since then we were a family that looked out for each other, slept together, suffered together. I think after decades apart, both of us hoped to see the other would have succeeded where we had each failed.” he sighed. “We’re both Khajiit who are cut from a very bloody cloth, our paths went very different ways, but neither of us could be described as good men. Only my sister turned out alright.” he smiled, looking into the blue sky beyond the mouth of the cave.

He resumed his attention to the apple. “Forgive me for my ignorance on the matter, I’ve very little experience with your people’s customs. What significance does the Shadow hold for Argonians?”

“Oh, on the contrary, after hearing you say that I think that the relationship between you and Sevari isn’t that different than the one between me and my brothers and sisters.” Jaraleet said, chuckling softly. “Those born under the Shadow have been chosen to serve Sithis.” He shrugged, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. “We are the blades that eliminate the enemies of Argonia and who send those who have the misfortune to cross us back into the Void.” The assassin explained. “Before it’s destruction, we had a….working relationship with the Dark Brotherhood you might say. Any youth born under the Shadow would be sent to them to be trained as Shadowscales so that they might serve the Brotherhood and the Dread Father. Of course, those days are long gone, now our only masters are the An-Xileel.”

“So, where does that leave you?” Zaveed asked curiously, mulling over the casual place of Sithis in the Argonian pantheon. That was a revelation he hadn’t expected to hear. “What becomes of Shadow born Argonians if they are not Shadowscales these days?”

“We are Haj-Eix. Or Hidden Scales, if you prefer to use Cyrodiilic.” He replied with a shrug. “We are assassins and interrogators as needed be. Our functions haven’t changed all that much, if at all.” Jaraleet said. “It just took a while for us Shadow born Argonians to be given purpose again.”

“Very forthcoming.” Zaveed observed. “You are a long way from home to really serve your purpose, if I may. Do the others know that you’re a professional political murderer?”

“What is one more secret, I trust you will not lose sleep over keeping that along with what Gregor told you. Plus, I’m sure that sooner or later your brother would have told you.” The assassin said with a shrug. “As it stands, the only ones who know are Latro and Gregor. Alim knows that I’m an assassin, but not the full story. And of course there is your brother as well, and you now.” Jaraleet explained, pausing for a second. “The others merely think that I’m a former soldier of the An-Xileel. Of course, I’m sure that a few others in the group suspect that there’s more to me than I say, namely Daro’Vasora and Janelle.” He finished, turning to look at Zaveed. “I trust that my vocation doesn’t bothers you Zaveed, correct?”

The privateer shrugged. “Only difference between you and I, from a practical perspective, is I committed most of my violence out at sea with a crew whereas you’ve skulked in the shadows and killed in the dark. I’ll keep it between us, although I must admit, I wasn’t expecting this sort of candor from you.” he turned to look back at the group, a frown crossing his countenance. “You know, I tell people that I’m not overly concerned by what they think, but for some reason this group… it’s like looking at a list of terrible things I’ve visited on people in display and me being here just aggravates the wounds. I don’t know if it’s guilt or discomfort for being around people who wish ill upon me, but I’ve seldom felt I was more of a thorn than I am now.”

“You say that, but you revealed to me that Gregor had told you his secret almost immediately. One would expect that, after being told to keep something like that secret, you would think before speaking about it. But I understand why you told me.” Jaraleet said with a chuckle before he turned along with Zaveed to look back at the group. “Give them time, you would be surprised but they can be rather accommodating once you get in their good graces. Not that I have much to say about that, given that shortly after I’ve joined them the vast majority of them must think of me as a murderer.” He shrugged, turning to look at the entrance of the cave once more. “I can’t say that things will be easy, as you noted your presence here aggravates old wounds, but…” He paused as he searched for what to say. “Well, I don’t know what to rightly say truth be told.” The assassin spoke after a second. “But what will happen will happen, as simple as that sounds. Who’s to say why our paths intersected, but I’m sure that we’ll see the why of it eventually.”

Zaveed snorted. “Accommodating enough to harbour the man that tried to soul trap me. I don’t think there’s an up for me to strive for, nor an acceptance I could wish for. It is not an aspiration of mine, but if you can help make sure I don’t get murdered in my sleep, I’ll try to return the favour somehow.” he said with a shake of the head, he took a large bite out of the apple before tossing it carelessly. “I never much believed in fate, nor destiny. Life’s far too ruthless to be by design. I appreciate the talk, Jaraleet. Take solstace in the fact you’re no longer the most loathed person in this particular party.”

“Don't be so harsh on them, most of them are good people. But I'll try to ease things with the rest of them.” Jaraleet said to Zaveed before he left, shaking his head slightly. He looked as the Khajiit left, simply nodding in response to his last words, and turned back to the entrance of the cave and resumed his watch.
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Of Loyalties


Brought to you by yours truly and @Mortarion

I am what I am...

15th Midyear 4E208, late-night, Oasis Camp.

The news of the alliance Daro’Vasora and Latro had struck with Sevari and Zaveed had been a surprise to the Argonian assassin, albeit he had adapted quickly to the news and had made no fuss when Sevari, Zaveed, and the Imperial woman, Sirine, that had been accompanying them joined up with the rest of the group. It was, in Jaraleet’s mind, a good decision for them to combine forces, they had enough enemies in Hammerfell after all; it wouldn’t be beneficial to add any more foes to their list. It also gave him a chance to speak with Sevari about certain matters that had been on his mind for a while now.

And, as such, the Argonian found himself approaching the Ohmes-Raht inside of the little camp that their group had set inside of the oasis found in the cave that Shakti had led them to. He had decided to approach the Khajiit during the night, when most people had gone to sleep and wouldn’t be milling around and potentially prying in their conversation; what he wanted to discuss with the former Penitus Occulatus agent was best kept between the two of them in Jaraleet’s mind. “Sevari, we have much to talk don’t you think?” The Argonian began as he sat in front of the Ohmes. While his tone was questioning, and somewhat forceful, there was no malice nor resentment in the Argonian’s voice. “But, first of all, let me say that it is good to see you again.” He added after a moment of consideration. “I wondered what had happened when you didn’t contact us after we had returned to Gilane and parted ways after that meeting.”

“It wasn’t my intention to cut ties.” Sevari spoke through a cloud of cigar smoke, letting it hang limp from his fingers at his side, “What is it you need to speak to me about, An-Xileel?”

“Haj-Eix, not An-Xileel.” He corrected the Ohmes. “And I never said it was your intention to cut ties. I just said that I had wondered what had happened.” He continued on, dispersing the cloud of cigar smoke with a swipe of his hand. “As to what I need to speak with you about….well, there’s a lot of things.” Jaraleet began, lacing his fingers as he rested his elbows on his thighs. “But let’s start with ‘Janelle’, I take it she isn’t just a mere acquaintance of yours. Not after the way she barged into the meeting and talked to you.”

“Mm.” Sevari decided to tackle the issue with loyalties some might have, he looked to Latro and Sora’s tent. The former seemed to be harboring a resentment that annoyed him to admit hurt him, in a way, “Some might think my absence from the rescue was intentional. I’m glad to know you aren’t one of them. I think you know who I’m talking about.”

He sighed as he moved on to the next, “It is no secret to you, Haj-Eix. I was sent to Hammerfell on a mission that… it was…” he cursed under his breath, “I failed. You were there to see the fallout of that, and I am forever thankful that you and Latro had enough loyalty to me to answer when I called. It doesn’t erase the fact that some might think me a treasoner, if not only incompetent.”

“Janelle, she is a valuable asset to the Imperial mission in Hammerfell, pre and post-Dwemer. That is all I am going to say.” He frowned a bit apologetically to his friend, but knowing where his loyalties belonged, he couldn’t exactly speak freely, “You know the game all too well, I’m sure, Haj-Eix. To let slip the wrong word could undue plans made years ago by men far away from here.”

“I know your skills and your people. The Bhaanu Sasra polices their borders in an uneasy truce with you and yours. I know for a fact that Argonians in odd places aren’t always there by coincidence.” Sevari smirked, “You don’t get skills like that for no reason.”

His smirk faded some as he took another drag, “I’m sorry if you were expecting something more. Until I am given official notice of my termination from service, I am still beholden to the Penitus Oculatus.” He sniffled, spitting off to the side and away from Jaraleet, “A few renegade Inspectors in a burned town coming at me with blades drawn isn’t exactly official. Even if there’s no one for me to report to, my activation is indefinite until I hear otherwise.”

Jaraleet chuckled softly at Sevari’s words. “You are right, I do know the game all too well and I understand the reason for your silence. Do not worry, I won’t fault you for your loyalty, misplaced as I think it might be.” The Argonian said. Even if the Ohmes hadn’t given him all the answers that he wanted, his silence still spoke to Jaraleet more than Sevari might have wanted. He now knew for a fact that ‘Janelle’ was linked to the Penitus Oculatus and, after seeing her skills during their assault on the governor’s palace, he had no doubt that the woman was dangerous in the extreme. He’d have to watch her carefully and be more careful himself in turn.

“As for my skills….well, you would be correct in your assumption.” Jaraleet said with a light shrug. “Those of us birthed under the Shadow have always had a duty towards Argonia.”

Sevari nodded knowingly, “We don’t recruit from your people for a reason. I heard it myself once, that an Argonian’s loyalties run deeper than their blood.” Sevari dropped the stub of his cigar, crunching it flat under his heel, “Of loyalties, Jaraleet. You’re my friend. So is Janelle, in a way.”

The words couldn’t come easily, but he wrenched them out anyway, voice flat and colder than he wanted. But a warning, a plea it was, “We all have enough enemies. She is a very capable woman and I am still what I am,” he yanked the collar of his shirt down to reveal the tattoo of the red diamond, dark-lined upon his skin. It wasn’t gotten for the purpose of waving his loyalty about, but the message was appropriate, he fixed his collar, “You and I know the game all too well. Friends today, loose ends tomorrow. But let’s keep being friends today, eh?”

The only reaction that Jaraleet gave in response to Sevari’s words was the subtle way in which his body tensed, as if the Argonian was ready to defend himself at a moments notice, before he relaxed again as Sevari finished. “Lets.” He replied, shaking his head slightly as he let out a sigh. He remembered well enough the way that Janelle’s gaze had lingered upon him all those days ago back when they were planning how to rescue Daro’Vasora or how the Breton woman had spoken of his ‘history of unsound decisions’ as she had put it. “Whatever happens in the future doesn’t matters now. The river’s currents will take us there eventually and then we will see what will happen.”

“Let’s move from this unpleasant topic, why don’t we?” The Argonian said, not wanting to linger all too much on the subject. After the way that he had reacted, he guessed that Sevari would welcome the opportunity to change topic.

“This woman...Sirine, how did she come to be with you and your brother?” He asked the Ohmes. “Is she another former servant of the Dwemer’s secret police?”

Sevari shook his head, words flowing more readily now they had changed topic, “No. My brother owes whatever he thinks he owes to her. And something else. She is an ally, as far as her goals line neatly with mine and my brother’s. A good sort, useful in a scrap.” He shrugged, “As it stands, I like her.”

“Tell me, what happened back there, in Gilane? Latro seems… different. Disturbed by something, he’s sharper-tongued than I’ve known him to be.” Sevari asked, a part of him hoping the man was doing well.

“Hmmm, I see, I see.” Jaraleet replied to what Sevari had said about Sirine, nodding slightly. When the Ohmes asked him about what happened back in Gilane, the Argonian let out a sigh. “I do not know all the details but….from what Latro has told me of his past, it seems that Pale-Feather the Forsworn is returning.” He replied, frowning slightly. “Maybe it was because of the pressure put on him by the rescue attempt, maybe it was Irranhu’s betrayal. I couldn’t rightly say what triggered this, but I’m worried.” Jaraleet admitted, remembering all too well the way Latro had seemed to abhor the thought of bloodying his hands with torture all those nights ago when he had met Sevari for the first time.

Sevari nodded, sighing. It wasn’t a secret that Latro could kill. Anyone could, if given enough reason. It was just how they did it and from what Jaraleet told him, Latro was very much unlike Latro during the rescue. “Anyone is a killer,” he said, “You just have to push them to the limits.”

His face screwed up then, “Irranhu’s betrayal?”

Jaraleet frowned at the mention of Irranhu, his eyes briefly blazing with fury as he remembered the insurgents before he calmed once again. “Yes, Irranhu betrayed us.” The Argonian spoke, almost spatting the name of the cell as if it was a curse. “They attacked the governor’s palace after assaulting the weapons depot and, from the look on their faces, we were next in line to be butchered.” He said with a sigh, shaking his head. “May Sithis take the bastards to the Void. I might have an idea or two about why they attacked us, but nothing concrete.”

Sevari’s brow cocked. He wondered what the Haj-Eix could have guessed as to why Irranhu was there. There was no way he could know of Irranhu cell’s relationship with him and Aries. He didn’t let those thoughts change his face more than a look of curiosity, “Please, tell me.”

“For one, they mentioned that they were looking for your friend Janelle. But that’s not the main reason why we were put on the chopping block, at least not in my mind.” The Argonian spoke, shaking his head slightly. “They were looking for two in our group as well, and I think I know who they might be. I would need to talk with them first to make sure I’m correct in my suspicions though.”

He mentally sighed with relief. He could play up those other two Jaraleet was talking of, and he might know who he was alluding to. He wasn’t going to jump to a conclusion that didn’t match Jaraleet’s though, “Who?”

Jaraleet chuckled mirthlessly at Sevari’s question. “Ah, I think you know who I’m talking about Sevari.” The Argonian said, shaking his head slightly. “No reason to play dumb. I’m talking about Raelynn and Gregor. Aside from Alim, Brynja, and Rhona they were the only two who weren’t with us on the rescue attempt. And the other three who I mentioned were in the Three Crowns were the Poncy Man could have easily taken them.” He said with a light shrug. “That only leaves those two, wouldn’t you agree? But, I’d appreciate it if you let me deal with them.” The assassin spoke before looking at Sevari. “If I am not asking for much, of course.”

Good. Very good. Sevari frowned appreciatively though, he nodded, “Of course.” He said, “They’re your friends. I hope you find out what you need to.”

Like Gregor is a necromantic piece of shit. He left that unsaid. He had his own feelings of it, seeing as the man almost ruined his brother’s afterlife. Or ruined it more, as it were. But how could his brother even hope to become a better man if he was dead, and worse? He was finally starting to get the good from this person who stood where his brother had been. Gregor would’ve ruined it all, even if in a lot of ways, Zaveed would’ve deserved it.

But people don’t always get what they deserve. Sevari frowned, “My brother,” he said, “I know you might not trust him. Just give him a chance. Once we all have the same enemies he’s a good man to have at your side.”

“Oh, don’t worry Sevari.” Jaraleet replied, smiling at the Ohmes. “I know it might be difficult to believe, but I’m more than willing to give your brother a chance. I am a flexible man when it comes to that.” The argonian said with a light shrug. “Way I see things is that we have enough enemies as it stands. Why should I try and add more to the list when I can make allies instead?” He continued on, pausing for a second as he thought some more. “Of course not everyone might see it that way but, well, I’ll try to smooth things over to some degree. I might not be the most well liked in the group but, ah, I’m sure that I can do something to make sure that we all can work together.”

“Thank you,” Sevari smiled for the first time in a while. He was glad he at least had one friend who was willing to give his brother a chance, “That means more than you would know. I’ve waited years to be as close with that man as I used to be. This is my best chance at getting at least some of my family back. Latro might come around in time, would you think?”

“Hmmm, potentially. The last day was stressful for us all, Latro especially, he needs time to calm down.” The Argonian said after a moment of silence. “Yes, I think that with time he might come around to accept your brother. It might not be easy, and it might not happen soon, but I think there’s a chance that he’ll come around in time.”

“Hopefully he won’t be the only one though, or it’ll be a little awkward for the lot of us.” Sevari said, chewing his lip, “I’m pulled in a hundred directions, Jaraleet. Janelle, you and Latro, Zaveed. I don’t know which one is right.”

Jaraleet was silent for a long moment as he pondered Sevari’s words. “I understand how you feel.” He finally said, letting out a soft sigh. “I couldn’t give you a true answer, not when I face the same dilemma as you and don’t know the answer either.” Jaraleet admitted, shaking his head slightly. “What will come, will come. No matter what we do.”

Sevari cocked a brow at that, looking sidelong at his companion, “How do you mean? Pulled in different directions?”

Jaraleet nodded in response before chuckling mirthlessly. “Maybe not as many as you. But, yes, I understand you.” He said, his thoughts briefly turning to Meg and then to Gregor or, more accurately, his secret before he shook his head. “For what it’s worth, you have my sympathies.”

Sevari nodded at that, “I hope I gave you enough of answer to your questions. As to our loyalties,” he clapped Jaraleet on the shoulder, “I’ll never forget what you and Latro helped me with. For the Empire and for me.”

His footsteps echoed in the stillness of the cavern as he walked back to his bedroll, leaving Jaraleet to contemplate in silence, the moonlight making rippling lights across the cavern walls from the Oasis.
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stop


14th Midyear, 4E208
Oasis, Alik'r Desert


The underground oasis offered a welcome shelter from walking in the dry heat of the desert. Anifaire was relieved to simply have some shade, used to heat but unaccustomed to the sun beating down on her for so long. She was grateful she had bought Hammerfell clothing, as the flowing cloth didn’t stick to her skin with sweat. Alim bought them, not her, she remembered, Alim who was

She wondered how Shakti could ever remember the expanse of the desert well enough to recall exactly where an oasis might be nearby. After all, each dune looked the same as the last, the dry, endless sands appearing to never change no matter how long the group traveled. She wondered if Alim liked the desert; he was a Redguard. But he wasn’t here, enjoying the desert, because he’d been

A bag of supplies and the smallest tent she could find from the wagon in hand, Anifaire sought out a private area, or at least the closest she could get to it in the cavern. She began struggling with her tent, trying to unfold it the way she’d seen others do in the past. At each turn, the tent fought against her, but no frustration built within her. Steadily, she worked towards her goal. She missed the Three Crowns, where she’d had a bed, she’d been able to eat, where she’d... been paid to fight in a resistance, a resistance she’d seen butchered and burnt and

Tents were difficult, she concluded. Having never been taught to put one up, she tried to avoid making it obvious to anyone how much she struggled. The Altmer hadn’t spoken a word since seeing the inn, Alim was inside, flipping a burnt body that resembled

Water, she thought, would help after the heat of the day. She filled a bucket with water fresh from the river. It was chilled water, and fresh, kept cool by virtue of being underground. The water felt good on her shaky hands, grime and sand dust washing away into the river. Returning to her lopsided tent, she knew she wanted nothing more than sleep. Between the rescue and the desert, Anifaire hadn’t been so tired since the group fled the Imperial City. The bucket of water set aside and forgotten, she crawled into the tent.

The mossy and sandy ground beneath her was surprisingly soft. She had a blanket bunched into a comfortable pillow. The warmth of the desert relaxed her, now that she was in comfortable shade.

Yet, sleep refused to take her, despite how nothing was out of place. Everything was perfect, in the little tent, where Anifaire lay, counting tropical birds from her homeland in her imagination. The last time she had done so was lost to memories in her childhood, her mother seated next to the bed, singing delicate lullabies. It wasn’t right. Everything was perfectly settled, the party had even stopped earlier in the day, and she had time to get a real rest, comfortable in a cave with a real tent and real blankets, but her breathing shook in gasping breaths.

She raised a hesitant hand up to eye-level, watching as her fingers shook. She wondered why they shook. Slowly, she touched her face; her golden skin was wet, salty tears dripping freely from her eyes in all directions, catching in her mouth and pooling on her neck uncomfortably. She rolled onto her side, tucking her knees up to her stomach.

She wondered if any animals lived in the desert. The area seemed barren and vast. She thought perhaps animals knew how to find water, like Shakti. When they’d been in Gilane, Hammerfell hadn’t seemed nearly so vast or dry.

The image of the Three Crowns in flames flashed in her mind, the scent of blood and burning filled

If there were any animals in the desert, they must be small creatures. Perhaps they lived in underground areas like this oasis. She wondered if they hunted, or possibly ate moss.

She recalled seeing a Dwemer knocked in the shoulder by one of her bricks get disemboweled because of the distraction, the orc, Mazrah, catching him with her spear. The sight of his innards leaking out of his neck from the wound and the sight of his body spasming as it crumpled to the ground had been

Perhaps the desert housed small weasels, like groundhogs.

Sobs had begun to shake her, her face shifting to muffle any noise in the blanket. She couldn’t hold back, thoughts scattered as she tried to focus from one idle musing to the next, a wall built to defend against the events of the past day, crumbling like sand.

The battle was vivid. She’d avoided the thick of it, but the observer’s perspective was a burden; she’d seen many skirmishes all at once, Dwemer falling, frenzied and in chaos, blood on the ground. It wasn’t the same as the Falmer, it wasn’t the same as passing nameless bodies in the Imperial City attack she refused to look just a little to hard at. Anifaire had been a part of it. She’d watched, participated, thrown stones, and she’d felt proud, she’d felt helpful, yet now all she could recall was the blood and guts spilling onto the cobblestone. Feelings on the subject warred within her; she’d helped her friends, and yet that meant harming the Dwemer.

Who attacked the inn. The husk of the building was left, the panic filling her as she recalled Alim had been inside, that others had been there. She caught side of a Redguard, face down and burned, a man, on the ground, and reached down to flip him over in a hurry, trying not to wretch from the scent of burnt flesh

Are there birds in the desert?

The body was disfigured, burns marred the face grotesquely; the imagine burned into her mind. She remembered him, someone she’d at the inn several times before, and it disturbed her to see someone she recognized limp and lifeless, yet she was relieved though her horror - not Alim, no, Alim hadn’t been there. They took him, the Dwemer took him while they freed Daro’Vasora, and there was nothing she could do to help when they didn’t even know

The desert must be free of mosquitos. A minor blessing, at least one thing to be grateful for.

Alim was taken, like others had been. Anger tinged her thoughts as she wished she could wade her way through Dwemer until she was sure he was well, yet she could do nothing of the sort, because she was just Anifaire, a useless noble lady who could do little more than throw stones in a fight. Hopelessness surpassed the twinge of anger she’d felt, as she felt disjointed, disconnected, Alim was her friend, this group unlike anyone she'd known in Alinor, yet the Dwemer could just meander into the inn and take one, leaving behind them a gore-filled mess of bodies and the scent of blood and burning and

Her body stilled, breathing steadier, tears falling gently, an emptiness forming in the pit of her stomach as she cried in the solitude of her tent walls.
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With Stormy
15th Midyear, 4E208
Oasis, Alik'r Desert
Early morning...



It was when the camp had finally fallen to a silence that she woke from her brief and fleeting sleep. Images that were both pleasant and not had danced a vicious ballet through her mind for hours. It was just as it had been the night before when she woke up with Gregor's arm over her waist and tucked under her chest. It was the only softness to be found tonight, the ground was hard and unforgiving. It was time to get up.

Raelynn moved with great care so as not to wake him, not that she could - he was sleeping heavily. She stepped barefoot out of the tent, her hair now free from the braid cascaded in waves over her shoulders, her face had been rinsed clear with the fresh running water of the waterfall that was the only sound she could hear now.

The fire had burned down to embers, and plates were both carefully and carelessly stacked around the makeshift seats - a clue as to whom had been sitting there. Perhaps it had been Judena who left a half eaten apple sitting on a log.

There were still several torches leading the way through the cave, and so the Breton carefully took hold of one after having collected two books, a quill, and ink from her belongings. She made her way to the mouth of the cave. The stone walkway had become cold, and there was an almost refreshing dampness to it that she appreciated underfoot.

She took her seat on the red sand of the Alik'r, her back propped up by the rocky surface that was the wall of the entrance. With one forceful push she stalked the torch into the ground beside her. There was a cool breeze to be enjoyed as she stared out at the seemingly endless expanse of the desert, its similarity to the ocean brought her father to the forefront of her mind and she meditated on the thought for a while, a silent prayer for his safety across the sea to High Rock. She knew in her heart it would carry him there, but there was still a shadow of doubt that maybe this time it would not.

She picked up the tome and opened it at the first page, plucking up the quill in her left hand. She sat for some time, her concentration falling on the pages of the book and nothing else, her tongue poked out just so at the corner of her mouth as she scrawled down notes in the margins of each page.

A blanket was descended over her shoulders, followed by a soft voice. “It is cold in the desert at night.” Zaveed said, stepping away to give her space, turning to leave. “I may never get the chance again, but I wanted to say thank you. I took your words to heart.” with that, Zaveed sighed, resigned to head back into the cave and the tension that came with it.

She hadn't heard the footsteps, too engrossed in the pages, and as the soft wool was draped across her she was almost mistaken by her own mind that it was Gregor. He could be silent, especially when he knew she was working. She had almost opened her mouth to thank him until she heard the voice. Zaveed. She lurched sideways, the book fumbling from her lap, quill hitting sand, and the inkpot spilling over. She was caught off guard and she took several quick breaths. She wanted to tell him to leave, to get away from her and there was a feeling of being completely exposed. “I don't want your thanks,” was all she could muster, a chill running over her spine.

The Khajiit looked up at the stars above for a lingering moment, as if they held some answers. He glanced over and noticed the ink spill seeping towards the book, prompting him to pick up the book and correct the ink pot, setting both down away from the spill. He raised his hands, backing away slowly. “I know. And I know an apology is worthless if you do not wish to hear it, but nevertheless, you had no reason or cause to do what you did and I’ve been struggling with that since.” he sighed, crossing his arms and looking out towards the expanse of the desert, the sky seemed so impossibly clear here. Had it always been this way, he wondered.

“I know what awaits me when I die. I will cease to be, and one of Namiira’s creatures will be left in my stead. It would have almost been a mercy to have had my soul taken by Gregor before He got His hands on it, but it is the fate I am resigned to. The Dark Behind the World, the Scuttling Void. You may not wish to hear my gratitude for you giving me a few more days or years yet, and the world seems so much brighter now.” he knelt down, his knees digging into the sand as he looked to the stars. “I don’t know how to find their forgiveness. I know I don’t deserve it, but I’ve been forced on this path since I was two years old. I just wanted to survive, and when I finally did… well, you see me as I am.”

His words meant nothing to her, it was only registering as noise. The same kind of noise that had been drowning her for too long. She could feel her heart pounding against her ribcage as if it would burst out, her lip trembled and she spat, “stop it. Can you just shut up?” Her voice trembled, and she still was instinctively moving herself away from him. “Show me where I asked for your life story…” She had not invited him to sit beside her, had she? “You don't even know what you did to me. How can you be sorry?” Raelynn still remembered his words from the docks, his story. “Do you even remember what you did to me?” she asked accusingly, her eyes staring intently at his own.

“I remember everything. You were my enemy then; you led me to find more dangerous people. It was the task I was given.” Zaveed said flatly, not meeting her gaze. “And now, things have changed and I’m forced to linger upon what I’ve done to you. You never asked to be a part of some terrorist group any more than I asked to be pressed into a secret police force at the threat of death. Before you tell me I always had a choice, the fact you sit here talking to me tells me you’ve never had your convictions tested or you made a similar choice as I.”

Finally, he looked into her eyes, his gaze unwavering. “I drove a nail into your hand. I killed your father’s guard and bashed his head off the table while threatening to start removing parts of his body unless he send you to a warehouse where you were concussed by me and watched me break your friend’s arm who tried to rescue you and I killed another man in front of you. These are the things I did to you.” he replied without hesitating. He opened his tunic and pulled it down to where the scar from his own dagger resided over his chest. “And this is what you did to me… but then you changed your mind. Despite the horrors I’ve bestowed upon you, you changed your mind and spared me instead. I imagine Gregor was not pleased with that development; It was not my intention to be a further burden.”

She wanted to interject and stop him, the Khajiit had a way of carrying on with his words, and right now it was infuriating. He wasn't listening. Her entire body tensed, and her nose scrunched in frustration, chin wavering. “Shut up.” She said through gritted teeth. “I am here because I will no longer let you have a hold over me, I was here. I will not move. I have hardly been talking, but instead listening to your words that you spill as if to shift your feelings.” She sat in silence, piecing together what she wanted to say. “I have listened. And listened. To everybody. Everybody gets their chance to talk but when it comes to me, nobody wants to listen anymore.”

The Breton ran her hand through her hair from her forehead to scalp and held it there in an angry closed fist. “You missed something, of course you would. It would never have occurred to you.” Raelynn's tone was breaking, a lump sat in her throat and she swallowed it down. “You made me…” She stopped herself, releasing her hair, placing her hands in front of her as they shook. Her eyes closed as she took a deep breath. “Your words, what you did, what you said to me… You made me believe that I am worthless.” Her eyes flashed back to him, full of rage and full of nothing at the same time. Her jaw was clenched but there across her face fell something blank, exasperation. The expression of a woman who had long since given up.

“You made me believe that I am worthless.”

“I will listen.” Zaveed said quietly. “You were never worthless, never in my eyes. I wanted to send you far away from that place to be with your family, so people like me could never harm you again.” he sighed, his temperance not matching hers. “Raelynn, you are one of the most remarkable women, nay, people I’ve ever met. I cut your bonds in that warehouse for a reason; I knew you could escape because you had the talents to do so. Ever since you escaped the first time, you’ve never been worthless. Someone worthless would have been resigned to their fate, to fall into pity but never take steps to help themselves, or others. You are not someone who has ever given up, and despite everything that’s happened to you now, you still push forward, following a path you feel is right. I have watched hardened sailors, privateers, smugglers, and pirates alike crumble at far less than you have.” he shook his head. “What I did to you was irredeemable, but it doesn’t mean that people cannot try to change. We are not beholden to our past unless we truly are worthless.”

Meeting her gaze once more, he said, “I do not want to have a hold over you, for you to fear me. Loathe and hate me all you wish, that is your right. I will never harm you again.” he begun unstrapping the dagger from his back, setting it down beside him. “That is the very blade you had begun to pierce my heart with. It is yours, if it will fill your spirit with strength and steady your hands.”

“I murdered three people that day. Three people just doing what you had asked them too. I killed them. Do you know how many people I have killed in my twenty-eight years? Three. Those men. I had to murder people because you saw fit to strap me to a chair and abuse me again. You don't know me, just as I don't know you.” Her mouth was agape, a venomous feeling taking over her entire body, she trembled yet again and tears formed in her eyes.

“I'm so thrilled that you can give your speech, to try to sway me or others to your side. To allow yourself to feel better. I don't know. I'm sure they will all soon forget what you did to me, maybe they already have. ‘Here comes that charismatic Khajiit, Zaveed, again with his lovely lady’ they'll say.” Her thumb found its way to her eye to scoop away at the tears. “I saw what you did yesterday, to Gregor.” She shook her head in disgust, biting down on her lip, “yes, I sent him to fucking kill you because I thought that if someone cared, or loved me so much to do that… Then maybe I'm not worthless after all. That I meant just enough to someone that they would fight for me...” She sniffled, and scooped up the book, moving it to her other side along with the quill and ink. “And you know what? It didn't work. Because I was the one who lost everything.” She blinked and thought about each event, it played out in her mind as fresh as if it were yesterday. They were now terrors that plagued her sleep every night, keeping the memory alive.

“I do not want your dagger. I do not want to have to hold a reminder of you in the very hands that you broke.”

“You didn’t lose everything.” Zaveed observed. “You have Gregor, your father lives and presumably is far away from Gilane by now. Your mother waits for you back in High Rock. Your hands will heal. Trust me; I am no stranger to scars. They do not take away from us; they are a story for how we survived. Raelynn,” Zaveed said, standing up to move directly across from her, sitting down far enough away to not intrude on her personal space.

“I spent my entire childhood starving and stealing food and cure disease potions just so I could hope to see adulthood. Monsters in uniforms stole my adoptive brother from me, and the Dominion took my sister, next. I spent my adolescence being physically and sexually abused by a crew of shitheel privateers because I thought I wasn’t worth anything. If that was true, I wouldn’t have survived. I killed those men, and endured weeks upon weeks of fighting for my life against those I didn’t kill. It hardened my body, and my soul, but I was determined to not only survive, but thrive.” He said, stressing the point with an intensity to his eyes.

“If you were so worthless, do you think that necromantic shitheel you call a lover would distract himself from his cursed quest to risk his life and expose himself to the world for your honour? Do you think I would have thanked you for trying to put me out of my misery after you ordered him to kill me? People die all the damned time, this entire land is filled with murderers and rapists and Gregor is hardly the worst creature I’ve run across in my travels, and you’re willing to let him do all sorts of unspeakable things but you balk at having to do anything yourself. Yes, I hurt you, I tortured you, I crushed your spirit. What are you going to do about taking your life back?” Zaveed demanded, reaching over suddenly and taking Raelynn’s hand, holding her scar for both of them to see.

Once more she flinched at him, finding it hard not to shriek out - but she couldn't. She didn’t want people to rush out, she didn’t want Gregor to come out to discover this scene. She yanked her hand back from his grip before his fingers had a chance to apply even a slight pressure, and she felt herself shutting down, defeated.

“Why have you stopped trying to fight back? I literally saw the afterlife and I didn’t let my body waste away when it healed, because I knew that my fights will never be over. I must be stronger than the next person I fight, and the one after that, and the one after that. Sometimes life doesn’t give you a fucking choice of when this happens, and people aren’t going to give you the fucking option if you’re going to have to fight for your life or not. I’m sorry I’m the first person in your entire life that’s harmed you like this, but you need to be ready for the next person to come along, the one who won’t be spending his time defying your lover’s warnings not to talk to you because I see that you are worth something. You want to feel like you aren’t worthless, Raelynn? Stand up.” Zaveed said, standing suddenly, looming over her. “Stand up and look me in the fucking eyes. Show me that I have no power over you; defy your fears, spit in its face. Tell the world that you will never stop fighting. Show me that Raelynn Hawkford is someone to be watched because there’s no telling what lengths she’ll go to to defy life’s obstacles. Do it. Now.

“I do not spit,” she remarked coldly, and pulled her knees to her chest to stare out across the desert once again. “You should go,” she said idly without turning her head to him, her eyes pooling over with tears and her breath shaking.

“Fine.” Zaveed said, stepping back with a shrug, the intensity faded. “But you’re never going to overcome your fears if you refuse to face them. If you don’t want me to have power over you, do not let me. It is simple as that.” he looked over at her tear-soaked face and shook his head. “And that starts with you learning how to stand up for yourself.”

With that, he begun to walk away, swallowed up by the mouth of the cave.

The last droplet that had slipped from her eye rolled down her cheek. It fell through the empty space with little control until it reached the silk of her blouse and came to rest there against her still-thundering heart. He had left her to her peace at last, and she would hold it for a while longer.
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Hidden 9 mos ago 9 mos ago Post by Stormflyx
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Stormflyx Avant-Garde

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Listen





As the sun began its slow, lingering ascent of the day, she watched with a sense of wonder as liquid gold spilled across the very edge of the horizon and bled out as far as her eyes could track it. The intensity of the red set fire to the pools of water that were her own eyes and cast an orange aura around her, painting her the colour of marigolds. With the breeze running through her hair, and her gaze so intense toward something out there, she almost let herself slip away and briefly forgot her reason for seeking out such a beautifully lonely spot.

She took her time in standing up, reflecting on the conversation she had just had with Zaveed - rather, the conversation he had forced upon her. The way that, even when she had demanded he listen, he had still seen fit to talk at her. His bold assumption that their encounters had connected them on enough of a level that he somehow knew her better than she knew herself, and thus would save her from the madness that he had put there. To absolve himself of his own guilt perhaps? When would someone just listen to her?

She did not feel better.

His inability to cease his tongue only served to remind her that nobody cared anymore, if they even had in the first place. What happened to her was the news of yesterday now. He was not someone she wanted to know or be around, but for whatever reason and for whatever purpose, they were stuck together now. She could either avoid him and slither to the fringes of the group to put as much distance between them as possible, or she could rise above it and carry on - ignoring his presence.

If such a few short experiences of suffering had caused her to be so angry, then what would years of it do? But she realised that even a stone could be worn down with enough rain, and that a mind troubled by doubt and pain could not focus on victory. Would she ever flee the misery within herself? She could no sooner stop herself from feeling sadness and sorrow than she could stop herself from taking in the scent of flowers that were freshly picked and arranged in a vase in front of her.

She was not a patient woman, it had never suited her to be that way. It was her mother that remarked that she and her father were like water and the sea, ever changing and moving - unable to stop. This was unlike Roxada who had the stillness of the earth itself in her personality, as if she were a tree firmly rooted into the ground. She was stubborn and unmoving when she needed to be but kind and patient about it. Roxada’s temper flared from her maternal instinct. Raelynn’s temper was flared by the obstacles in her path. Right now, Zaveed being here to remind her of the misery she had endured was an obstacle that, like water, she would have to find a way around.

She continued through the mouth of the cave, and somehow her throat swallowed back something, it pushed down a knot of emotion that there was no room left on her face to display. People were waking up now to the day as dawn broke through and brought the intense warmth with it. All at once, she realised that she had been, for so long posturing for a crowd. When in fact all that was there was a strip of emptiness and nobody to hear her.

The events of the days gone by strangely brought to mind a very old song that her father used to sing to she and her mother, that his own mother had sung to him when he was a child, the lyrics somewhat questionable in nature were to be sung in what Salosoix had thought to be a dialectical derivative of Ayleidoon. Whether that was true or not beggared belief, she had even wondered if it was all just made up. It certainly sounded somewhat like a language of Mer - the way the consonants fell softly from the lips. She just knew the sound of the words and their meaning when strung together.

What mattered was that she knew this song, and it’s meaning. Nobody else would.

As her bare feet met the cold stone once more, she filled her lungs with the breath required to perform her song and began in a clear voice - soft and delicate. It resonated around the walls of the chasm that was their current sanctuary. Clear as crystal and effortlessly pleasant, she carried her song with her to the pool of water central in the Oasis, picking up an empty jug on her way.

There lives a rare beauty in the North...
She's the finest lady in all of Nirn
A glance from her, a city falls
A second glance leaves nations in ruins
There is no city or nation that has been
More cherished than a beauty like she.


The lyrics felt indecorate to her now, and she thought of Gilane - of plumes of smoke towering above the palace. Of the clash of the chandelier above Rourken’s head, the look of shock and fury she had on her face after seeing Raelynn materialise before her eyes just as she was about to have her way with Gregor and defeat him. She stole that opportunity from her bare hands with her very presence. And yet, the song was beautiful. An almost haunting melody that echoed and reverberated around the oasis as if it were now her own arena.

She filled the jug with the freshwater from the waterfall, a smile on her face as she did so, her eyes alight with a secret joy. This was the catharsis she had needed, there she was - singing in poetry an almost confession of her misdeeds and it rang out as something beautiful and as smooth as the silk of her blouse, flowing like the water of the springs...

There lives a rare beauty in the North...
She's the finest lady in all of Nirn
With her eyes like vast oceans
At her will, a province drowns
There is no province in all of Nirn,
More cherished than a beauty like she.


As she reached the final verse, she thought of Gregor and the fiery nature he would be trying to suppress right now while keeping his secret under the veil of his shadow in the company of their party. Dreams and quests could be such dangerous things: they smoldered like fire, and sometimes those very flames reach levels in which they consume all… She looked over at him as he went about his morning business, continuing to sing. She was emboldened further by him as she reached the climax of her secret song.

Lyrics aside, it felt… Nice to do this.

There lives a rare beauty in the North...
She's the finest lady in all of Nirn
She wields fire and flame in her heart
In her grip the world will burn
There is no world in Oblivion,
More cherished than a beauty like she.


She pictured her lover, adorned in his battledress - an army of undead to the left and right of him in the palace of Gilane. The great lengths he had gone to keep his promise to her. What else would await them? What else would they burn, drown, and ruin together? With that thought came an almost contrasting vision of the two of them together in peace - away from all of this, away from the troubles that had been hunting them down. No cave floor to sleep on, but a comfortable bed by a generous hearthfire. Paintings hung on the wall - it was a beautiful but modest room - just one of many in a beautiful home in some slumbering town on the outskirts of the busy cities. It was just theirs.

There was to be no soul trapping, no torture - nobody stopping them or frightening them or threatening them. Just Gregor and Raelynn.

That would be the victory on which she would focus.

It occurred to her then, as she stood by the waterfall that when a stone is dropped into a pond, the water would continue quivering from its weight even after it had touched the bottom. Whatever the struggles she would face, and whatever they would both accomplish - after time all suffering would eventually fall from them. The ripples would cease, and the stone would be just that - a single stone at the bottom of a vast pond.

All of a sudden, she felt better again.
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Hidden 9 mos ago Post by Leidenschaft
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Leidenschaft Relax, only half-dead

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Of Wolves and Men


Late afternoon, 14th of Midyear, 4E208
The oasis, Alik’r desert, Hammerfell


What matters is your warrior spirit burns...




After safely delivering the rest of the party to the oasis, one that Mazrah hadn’t seen before (Shakti’s knowledge of the desert’s topography was very impressive), the she-orc unceremoniously dropped her gear on the ground where she stood, drank voraciously from the oasis, and sat down next to her pile of stuff. She watched the others mill about but there was one person in particular that she wanted to talk to: a savage killer with axe and dagger that had torn into the Dwemer with the unrestrained ferocity she had only ever seen in her own kind before. Latro. There was something primal inside that androgynous boy and her curiosity was drawn to it. Where had that come from? It had delighted her to see him go berserk like that, but she was aware that others in the party might have found it shocking. Mazrah thought it was important that Latro knew that he wasn’t alone in his bloodlust and battletrance.

A little while later she saw him, free for the moment, and swiftly accosted him. “Latro,” she said, her voice gruff but not unkind. “We should talk. Come.”

Latro had been unpacking his things, thus far thankfully undisturbed by the others, though it pained him to think it. He needed quiet, needed peace, just some time to think on what had happened. Just as he was beginning to remember the first time and the last time he’d been pushed down the spiral to being Pale-Feather again, he was taken by what felt like a bear’s paw on his arm. When the owner, the large She-Orc, told him they needed to talk, he knew what she wanted to speak of.

Even so, he squawked as he was pulled along, “Of what?” He asked, unheard the first time until they finally settled on a pair of rocks in the sand near the water. He tried at the question again, “Of what?”

“Of you,” Mazrah said and leaned forwards, her elbow propped up on her knee and her face resting on her fist, golden eyes staring intently at Latro’s. “I saw you in the palace. You are not just Latro the bard. It was like Malacath’s blood was singing in your veins. Where did that killer come from?” Her words came fast and firm, but she saw the look on his face. Mazrah smiled and softened her tone. “Don’t worry, I liked what I saw. It was powerful and raw. But you must have worked very hard to hide that part of you. I had no idea. I want you to know that you are not alone.” She placed her other hand on her chest. “We are the same, you and I. Kindred spirits.”

“No,” Latro cringed, “No, no. Mazrah, I… you’re right, I hid that part of me deep. The first time I let myself do that I took my first life at the age of eight. It wasn’t even an enemy, it was my friend, strangled to death over words.”

He shook his head, his fingers fiddling with the polished stone he’d had for years. Through everything. The only reminder of the good parts of being of the Crow-Wives. He stared at it as he spoke, “It isn’t courageous. It’s murder.” He said, voice low, “It’s a child taking the life of a friend. It’s a traitor to his Clan who Forswore his family to bring death. It’s a whore who set fire to a brothel to wipe clean the sins done unto him, it’s a raving killer putting nails through the scalps of his rapists and owner on the same night.”

“It’s a wolf with a frothing mouth snapping at everything. Who looks at his family with eyes that see only meat and bone.” He finished, letting his hands go limp and taking his eyes away from the stone to look at Mazrah, “Your people and mine, they are both spurned. Children of Malacath, where even some Reachmen have Orc blood. Tell me why then if I was to be of that ilk, why then did those spurned turn their backs on even me?”

Mazrah shrugged. “I don’t know your story,” she said flatly. “I don’t know your people. I cannot say why. What matters is that your warrior spirit burns. It seems to me like your flame was not tempered correctly and turned into wildfire, grabbing at anything and everything around it. Some parts of your story are awful, I won’t lie. Others sound righteous. But the past is the past.” She smiled and took one of Latro’s hands, small compared to hers, in her own. “And I never said you were courageous, Latro. What we have isn’t that. People steeling themselves, facing their fears, and rising to the challenge, that is courage. I know that.”

Suddenly she was on him, her face only an inch from his, his wrists in the iron grip of her hands, and Mazrah’s eyes were flooded with scarlet as the summoned her rage. “We are fearless,” she growled, her voice having dropped an octave, thrumming with power, and for a split second it looked like she might unhinge her jaw and swallow him whole. Then the moment passed, her eyes returned to normal and Mazrah diminished, retreating back to the rock she’d been sitting on. Her breaths came hard and heavy and she wiped a fresh layer of sweat from her brow.

“And it makes us dangerous. Control,” she said with a smirk. “That is what you need. I can teach you.”

Latro let go a shuddering breath from Mazrah’s display. For a split second, some animal part of his mind called out that he run or fight when she was upon him. But just as quickly, she was back, normal. “I don’t know…” his voice trailed off as he sank back when she settled back in her place, “I don’t know. When I was like that, it felt like it wasn’t… Latro. It was me, but not. I don’t even know if that makes sense. A red joy, to plant my foot on my enemy’s chest, to see fear in his last moments until I take it all from them.”

Latro shook his head, “But that enemy… sometimes, I’m scared I won’t be able to see who is enemy and who is friend. Just corpses.” He swallowed, taking a glance at his pebble before he tucked it away in his pocket, “Was it like that? At first? At all?”

“The rage sings its own song,” Mazrah said, nodding along slowly with Latro’s words. “I have known Ornim who could not distinguish between friend and foe, yes. My brother was mostly left to my father’s methods as a whelp and he grew up to be a monster. Temper like a werewolf, we used to say. My mother eased me into it so it was not so bad for me.”

She regarded him with curiosity, silent while she thought, her head cocked. “I know what your problem is,” Mazrah said eventually. “You are not whole. There is Latro and there is not-Latro. The snapping wolf. But you do not accept him. He lives in your head, or your heart, but you buried him there. When he comes out, he has no choice but to do so with everything he has. The rage must be inside you, not [/i]beside[/i] you, a stranger in your skin. Do you understand? There are ways to do that. The lessons my mother taught me, about acceptance and control, are things I can pass onto you. But you have to be open to it,” she said, speaking the last words with compassion, and she smiled a smile of kindness and pity. She knew that this would not be easy for Latro.

He needed something. That was something, what Mazrah offered. Where Francis had taught him to press back the urge to do violent deeds until it was like a dam breaking and a pent river spilling blood that swallowed all in its path… Mazrah told him to let the water flow. But he thought back on what good for anyone that had done in the past. Violence begets violence. His own clan’s history told him such that East was a word almost an insult in itself. “Maybe.” He said, “Just let me think on it. On everything.”

After a spell, he turned his head, tongue a little looser after all the talk of tribes and kindred souls and some sense of camaraderie in that. “Your people, the Orcs. Your tribe has never crossed the Reachmen of the East or West in your lifetime?”

She shook her head, the beads that hung from her skull clacking together softly. “I am from Orsinium, which now lies far away from the Reach. Between Hammerfell and Skyrim. We might cross it if we keep going north. Anyway, we keep to ourselves. The king knows what happened to the last Orsinium. And the one before that. And before even that. I have fought Nords and Redguards that came too close to our lands, but not your kind,” Mazrah explained and laughed. “Based on what I have seen you do, I am glad I never did. Why do you ask?”

Latro nodded, quite interested in Mazrah’s words. It struck a chord with him, oddly but not, to have someone who came from somewhere not entirely unlike the peoples he did. Sometimes, even these days, the Reach tugged him back by the last string it still held to him. “The Witch-Mothers, the ones old enough to know only Reachspeech, the Valley Tongue, they tell of times where the Reachman and the Orc traded traditions.” He said, “Our magic, feared and misunderstood as it is, is rooted from those first shamans to talk with those Orsimer. It’s where some Clans hold to the traditions of Malacath, instead of Namira or others.”

“Thank you,” he looked at the sand, his toes wriggling deeper into it and feeling the coarseness between them, “Some look at me different. Even Sora, and her gaze hurts me most.”

Mazrah’s eyes widened while Latro talked. That was news to her. Because the strongholds and Orsinium itself kept being razed to the ground, much of Orsimer history was lost. “Strange turn, then, that there is little magic to be found among the Ornim today,” Mazrah said ruefully. “It is good to know that your people did not forget.”

When he spoke of Sora, Mazrah felt a pang of sympathy and she had to resist the urge to cradle him in her arms and press him to her bosom. “I’m sorry. I can imagine the pain that causes you. You don’t want to be something that she is afraid of.” She tapped her chin. Now Latro’s reluctance to accept her offer made more sense. Even if they could find a way to harness Latro’s inner fury and allow him to control it, would Sora ever approve of it? She did not seem to mind it when Mazrah succumbed to it, but then again, they were not lovers, and Mazrah figured that Sora did not doubt her ability to keep her rage under control.

“I heard dogs were bred from wolves,” she said suddenly after a moment of silence. “Sora does not fear dogs, does she?”

“Eh?” Latro’s brow crooked a bit, what was this about dogs of a sudden?

That made her laugh. “We must find a way to turn you from a wolf into a dog, you silly boy. Something she can trust.”

Latro nodded, eyes wide, “I see.” He was about to tell her that he didn’t know if bringing Pale-Feather back from the recesses of his mind would be good, but he scarcely thought he’d be more than a very even match for her, and even that was up for debate. The tempest winds can not break the tree that knows not to tense when it should flex. She had control, he had rage. “I see. Perhaps.” He had already come this far with her in this idea, what was a little more, “How will you teach me?”

“I’ll have to think long and hard about the way my mother taught me,” Mazrah said and waved reassuringly at the wide-eyed look on Latro’s face. “Don’t worry, you’ll have time to prepare yourself. But it’s mostly exercises and practice sessions. You will have to discover what you can use as your anchor. It can be an object, a memory, a feeling. Anything, really. Something powerful that means a lot to you that ties your focus together. For me, it’s the old ways of the huntress that my mother taught me and the ancient tradition it represents. I think of her and all the women that came before her that carried that art, like a lit torch, into the world of today. I cannot let them down. I must stay in control.” She smiled at the thought and and looked down at her tattoos. “Every time I see my own arm, I am reminded of this. It is my anchor.”

“An anchor.” He muttered, looking at Mazrah’s tattoos as she talked. It wasn’t a tradition only to the Orsimer. He’d seen his own people adorned in the symbols and runes of their ancestors long, long past. He thought on what could be an anchor for him. The pebble, he thought, or the lute? He chewed his lip while thinking, “How long did it take you to control it? It’s like you can will yourself into it.”

“I can. How long it took is hard to say. I learn more every day. But I have not succumbed to the rage unwillingly since I came of age, if that is what you mean,” Mazrah said. “Is there anything in this world that is more important to you than Sora?”

He looked to his and Sora’s tent at that. Then he looked around, the people that stuck by him and each other all this time. Like a family. Like his family. He saw Sora about the camp, his eyes steadily on her, his lover. His everything. He shook his head at Mazrah’s question, speaking with a resolve and certainty he thought had left him, “No.”

That made her smile. Mazrah nodded. “Good. Your anchor should be related to her. Give it some thought and come to me when you feel you are ready to begin.”

He nodded, giving her his easy smile now that it felt a bit easier to come to him, “Thank you.” He said, “I will, definitely. Expect me sometime.”

He smiled at her as he stood and stretched. It was then he remembered he owed a fine lady a song. Now was the best time, when his muse struck him. It was a very long time since he’d written anything, a shame. With that, he took his leave, bare feet sinking into the sand and lichen as he walked. For the first time in a long time, he felt like himself again.
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The Huntmaster


with Hank
15th Midyear, 4E208
Three Crowns Hotel, Gilane
Midday...


The flies, it was always the flies. None of the bodies had been collected after the slaughter, left long enough for the heat and carnage to seep into the minds of those who would oppose the Dwemeri war machine, and now Razlinc Rourken stood in front of the corpse that belonged to Derak Mashad, the Poncy Man. One of the patrons of the Merchant’s Guilds, he had gone underground shortly after the invasion and few of his counterparts would say what became of him. He was never seen in public, at least until now; no one knew who the Poncy Man was, and it had kept him safe.

Until now.

The Governor had kept an eye on the Three Crowns Hotel for some time, having agents keep an eye on the coming and going of individuals, and it didn’t take long to figure out that many of its patrons were insurgents. It was a long game, finding out patterns, who reported to who, who was responsible for what. She had planned for the attack to coincide with Daro’Vasora’s speech, maybe draw her people out to spare them, and have them in easy reach if they did something stupid.

Unfortunately, they did something very stupid. Something unforgivable. It wasn’t the attempt on her life that bothered her, it was the callous disregard for life that Gregor had shown, using her people as morbid meat puppets and his audacity to gloat to her like they weren’t people he destroyed the souls and very essence of. Him and his damned group would reap the rewards of such cruelty, just as Irranhu cell found out during their brazen attack on the palace.

The Centurions made short work of almost all of them, their leaders and a small handful of other insurgents escaped the slaughter. Reports said they turned on Daro’Vasora’s group, which interested her greatly. However, she had other matters to attend to, as she stared into the dead, fly encrusted eyes of the Poncy Man and the pools of blackened blood that had long since dried up in the heat.

“You move quietly of one of your stature, Maulakath.” Rourken observed.

“Sharp ears for a city dweller,” the hulking Orsimer countered. He did not bother with honorifics or titles, even though he was speaking to the governor. It was beneath him. “The Breton girl and her Nord guardian are gone. The Redguard rogue has been captured. And then there’s this,” Maulakanth reported and held up the decapitated head of Mortalmo. “Refused to be taken alive. Powerful conjurer. Had to put him down.”
Rourken regarded the head impassively; it was morbid, sure, but nothing outside of what she’d expected. He had hundreds of years to get used to the death of her own people, a terrorist with cathartic, in a way. “You’ve done well, a fine instrument of my will. I have a final task for you, if you’ll have it.” she turned to look at him headlong, looking up at him with a stern gaze. “The group you had targeted has an Imperial necromancer in their midst. I believe they’ve disappeared somewhere into the desert, pursuing a quest I do not readily know.” she admitted, looking back to the Poncy Man. “You are to kill all of his companions, and bring him to me, if you can. He will be used as fuel for my own enchantments, as will his lover, Raelynn. It does not matter what condition they are in when they arrive, so long as they are alive. Is that understood?”

Maulakanth scoffed. “If you can,” he repeated in a poor imitation of Rourken’s voice. “Do you always insult your men like that? Of course I can. It will be done.” He shook his head before he remembered what he was going to ask her. The Orsimer cleared his throat and took a step closer.

“Rumor has it that one of them is an Orsimer. A woman. White tattoos, wields a spear and a bow. That true?”

Rourken did not rise to the bait; Maulakath was insolent, yes, but he always did what was asked of him. Instead, she nodded, not moving as he stepped closer. She did not fear him, nor did he fear her. It was not an even partnership, but one nevertheless.

“From accounts, an Orsimer fits that description. She arrived in the city gates not long after this Samara Cell entered the city via the ports. They joined together by coincidence, it seems, and she was a part of the force that assaulted the palace.” she paused, raising a brow. “A rather specific bit of details that coincided exactly with someone we’ve monitored. What’s the relation?”

Like the territorial growl of a sabre-cat with its hairs raised, a thrumming, guttural sound reverberated in Maulakanth’s massive chest. “Sister. Has to be. She turned her back on me years ago. It won’t be a problem, but I had to know.”

“I see.” Rourken said. She didn’t, not really, but she knew better than to pry into what the bad blood was. “Regardless, you do this for me, you will be free of your service. What is it your heart desires? I should like to have you remain a part of my service, but of your own will and with its own rewards. Land, a title, perhaps? You have been a friend to my people, let us be a friend to you.”

Maulakanth didn't hesitate for a second. “Orsinium.”

That prompted her to blink slowly. “You wish for the resources to conquer Orsinium for yourself?”

“And through me, for you.” Maulakanth tossed Mortalmo’s head aside, careless of where it landed, and slammed his fist into his open palm. “I was the Hand of Mauloch. War-chief. The king exiled me because he was afraid of what I could do. He is a coward but he believes himself to be proud. Orsinium will not bend the knee without an orc on the throne that tells them to. The only way to goltragga tarask, to take the throne, is by right of conquest,” he explained. He was usually not much of a thinker but he’d had weeks to formulate this plan. “Control Orsinium and you control the mountains.”

That gave Rourken something to consider, she thought on it, resting her chin on a finger. “And why would you turn Orsinium over to me? Why would you wish to see your people under my rule?” she asked, genuinely curious. “Are you proposing you wish to rule a client state?”

“Yes,” Maulakanth said, once again without hesitation. “The Bretons and Redguards have razed Orsinium more times than we can remember. Too much history there. Every time we prosper, they feel threatened, join together in one big club of puny cowards and swarm us like rats.” He hacked up some phlegm, spat it out on the floor and touched his collarbones with his fingers. It seemed ritualistic. “But everything is different now. They’re scattered and weak. In the world of the Dwemer, Orsinium can finally have the place it deserves.”

Something gleamed in his black eyes. And I can be king.

Ah, and there it was. Rourken smiled, extending a hand. “Orsinium is not the domain of the Dwemer, but Clan Rourken will stand by it should anyone challenge its sovereignty. I would prefer our peoples joined together as friends, not under the rule of strangers. Volenfell was never going to accept my people without hard measures, but difficult choices were made to best unify both the Redguards and ourselves. Now we are established, I would like to try a different tact. A military, cultural, and trade alliance between Volenfell and Orsinium. We will defend one another against the threats against our peoples’ existence as equals. Are these conditions agreeable?” she asked.

After a few seconds, Maulakanth shrugged. He didn’t understand why Rourken was voluntarily relinquishing the opportunity to control Orsinium herself. She was sacrificing power in return for… nothing, as far as he could see. “If that’s what you want, fine by me. Get me into the king’s longhouse and you’ll have all the trade and shocktroopers you want. Oh, and the culture too.” His lip curled up and he laughed, which sounded a little like a giant smashing two boulders together, as if she’d told the funniest joke he had heard all week. “We got a lotta that going on, for sure. You’re gonna love it.”

And with that, Maulakanth took the offered hand and shook it, restraining himself so he did not accidentally break her fingers. He may not have noticed her cast ebonyflesh upon herself prior to the gesture.

“All I wish for is my people’s ancestral homelands, and a place within Tamriel, not a sprawling empire. I do not wish to subjugate others, like the other Clans seem intent on doing. Truth be told, Maulakath, there may be a time I will have to call upon your people for help navigating this strange land and making the most of the experience yours have with mining and locating resources. I may need your warriors against other Dwemer, or the races of Men.” The Governor explained, shaking her head as she gestured to Derak Mashad’s brutalized corpse. “This is but one of the many, many leaders who have risen up against my rule since taking residence back in my family home, and hardly the last. A wise strategist never bites off more than they can chew when holding lands. Great conquerors seldom take huge swaths of land without dealing with insurgencies, agents of resistance to change. My people are powerful, but we are limited in number. The fact I chose to enlist the help of foreigners such as yourself was not a coincidence.” she said.

She met Maulakath’s gaze once more. “My people hold the greatest military power Tamriel has ever seen, but it does not mean we are infallible or infinite in number. If granting you the assistance you require to take Orsinium and formalize an alliance with my people is what it takes to solidify my control over the lands my ancestors once held, then it is a price I will gladly pay.”

Finally, Rourken stopped talking. Maulakanth had seriously begun to wonder if her speech would ever end. “That’s a lot of words to say ‘we could use the help’,” Maulakanth said and laughed again. “My people have no love for the Redguards, the Nords or the Bretons. You can always count on Orsimer if there’s a good scrap to be had. And if you need help against other Dwemer…” Maulakanth paused and shrugged again. “Same thing, really. Just as long as I can hold you to what you said about protecting our sovereignty.”

“This is where the cultural exchange could be of assistance, Maulakanth. As a king, you may be required to make long-winded speeches to your own people and emissaries.” She gestured to the head of the Altmer on the ground. “That will not be your only feasible solution, understand. Orsinium has been razed time and time again, I understand, because of the races of Men fearing your people to be savage raiders. Here’s your chance to prove me wrong, earn your mantle.” the Dwemeri Governor cautioned. Her back straightened with a nod. “My word is law. I give you it in good faith; the Orsimer will have an unshakable allegiance with Clan Rourken so long as I stay in control of my lands, and you live up to your promises.”

Maulakanth resisted the urge to say ‘whatever’, as even he realized that now was not the time for petulance. He’d gotten her to promise what he wanted, on perfectly acceptable terms. This was a great personal victory. “Good,” he growled and pressed his clenched fist to his heart. “Malacath take me if I fail. Now then. I have a necromancer to catch.”

A rare gesture of respect, Maulacanth inclined his head in something that could be construed as a bow and left.

Rourken didn’t watch the Orc march off, like a thunderstorm leaving the valley. He was crude, and perhaps a bit uncultured, but she felt him to be trustworthy as far as intent went; there would be time yet to groom him into someone worthy of the mantle he so greatly yearned for. Knowing what his prize was, and the naked ambition he shared with her, it made them unlikely but promising allies, so long as he retained her council.

The Dwemer looked upon the Poncy Man one final time before departing herself, her assistant waiting in the wings for her meeting to be concluded. It pleased her to see him staying by her side, loyal even after their shared experience. She would reward him well. “Assign four Centurion Assassins to Maulakath; make sure they are programmed to follow his orders. He is to be considered an officer of the Dwemeri forces. Additionally, see to it he is provided all of the supplies he needs for his quest. One does not hunt a boar with merely a knife.”

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Greenie Heaven don't play like violins

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A Favour

by Dervish and Greenie



14th of Midyear, Late Night, the Oasis

It had been a much long day and Sirine was very happy that it was finally coming to an end. The trek through the desert had been exhausting in itself, but these 'allies and friends' had the former pirate on a constant edge that she couldn't rid herself of. Even after entering the oasis she could see the looks, curiosity, indignancy, hatred. Latro and his lover were merely the tip of the sand dune. It didn't make for good resting, despite the respite from the searing desert sun. Nevertheless, she had freshened up as best as she could, deciding to forgo her full sleeve tunic for a sleeveless one she had found in the wagon, a dull olive green one that was a little loose on her frame but comfortable and airy, and most of all, clean.

The sounds of the river were somewhat soothing, even if it didn't replace the ocean waves, so the Imperial Redguard had spent quite a bit of time simply wandering nearby, her eyes had taking in the sights of not only the beauty of the oasis, but the various people within it. They seemed a tight knit group for the most part, and though her curiosity was piqued as to how all these random individuals had come together, she was much more worried that while her little group kept the peace, one of their allies may not be so magnanimous. She didn't trust them even if Sevari did, and that wouldn't change due to a day's journey together in the desert.

Her hand had been quite close to her dagger when she saw the bearded Imperial looking man having what seemed like heated words with Zaveed, though she wasn't close enough to hear what they may have been discussing; even after the man left her tension did not, and it was a little worrisome. Calm yourself. You are going to ruin things first otherwise. She was almost certain he was the one though, and she had half a mind to ask the khajiiti if that man had been the one who nearly soul trapped him. However she had refrained; it didn't seem as if he wished for company at the moment, and she wasn’t even sure he would tell if she asked.

When Sirine did return- she refused to camp near any of the others- the sun had already set for a good while, and it seemed most were making their way to sleep if they hadn't already. She had her own bedroll which she dropped nearby before striding over, closing the distance between herself and the khajiit.

“I have a favour to ask of you, Zaveed,” she started, pulling her dagger from its place at her belt. It looked almost threatening for a good couple of seconds before she turned it around so the handle was now facing him rather than the pointy tip. “As much as I love my locks, another trip through the desert with this hair will probably kill me before any dwemer could have the chance. Do you mind…?” She made a slicing movement in the air near the back of her head, a joke of sorts as she knew very well he would understand what she wanted.

“You… want me to cut your hair?” Zaveed asked, incredulously, sitting up from having started to doze off. Of course, he could see perfectly well in the dark, including the glint of metal at her chest. He shook the sleep out of his eyes. “Such a pragmatist.” he said with a hint of a smile as he held out his hand to take the dagger. He felt its weight and balance and checked its edge against the side of his finger; it was sharp, all right. “Are you sure you wish for me to do this? I am no barber.” he cautioned.

Sirine raised an eyebrow. "Tsk, I wouldn't have asked if I wasn't." Tapping her foot against the ground, she turned her head and squinted into the darkness. "I doubt anyone else here is, and even if they were, it isn't like I trust anyone, save you and Sevari, not to slit my throat and use the night as an excuse." Looking back at the khajiit, she gave him a genial smile and wink before settling down on the ground. "Just pretend my locks are some men on a ship you've boarded."

“So brute force and ignorance it is,” Zaveed teased, taking a few moments to run his fingers through Sirine’s hair and enjoying the sensation of it all. “It’s going to be a shame to destroy something so beautiful.” he chuckled, settling on a length that would be both practical and retain her feminine charm by running her hair between a pair of fingers, which he pinched together and held the hair taunt with his pinky and thumb. The blade cut through the strands like a scythe through wheat. Zaveed was pleased with the first strike, and he felt confident he could pull off a somewhat intentional-looking hairstyle for his companion.

“So.” He said, continuing his work and only slightly watching the hair fall like leaves from a tree, “Are you making friends with your new classmates?” he teased, grinning at the absurdity of the situation. For whatever reason, doing something so mundane and domestic gave him visions of this all just being what he imagined school must have been like, with other students in their own little groups. He’d had a somewhat comparable experience aboard the Serpent’s Gale, learning lessons about life and language and the art of battle from those who had survived to tell the tale. Maybe being with another pirate brought about those memories, he decided. Sirine would relate to him better than anyone.

“Think of this as a new ship, a new crew. I guess we both have to prove we’re worth some mutton and grog and a cut.” the Khajiit observed.

Shink. Shink. Shink.

"I don't think the other students like us very much," Sirine replied, leaning a little back with her eyes closed, feeling much more relaxed than she had the entire day. It was an enjoyable sensation, having one’s hair fiddled with, and she wasn't actually worried if she ended up looking silly in the long run. Hair grew back eventually anyway, and she could already feel a little lighter, though perhaps that was simply from bantering with someone who wasn't looking their way with narrowed eyes. The attention was something she savoured as well, though she would be never mention that aloud.

"The difference is I'm not the captain," she pointed out after a moment of listening to the sound of the dagger slicing away at her hair. "Which if I'm being honest, is quite refreshing in its own way. Following orders, not having to plan and making sure all is executed the right way... sometimes it's fun to be the simple sailor." Her nose wrinkled slightly, thinking of the others in the camp. "Tell me truly, who are we following here, Zaveed? If it's not you or me... then who?"

Zaveed stopped his task for a moment. “What a peculiar question. We’re following the trail to your brother. Past that? Who knows. If it doesn’t come to provisioning or the weather, I’ve never been one to look too far to the future. Our new friends are allies of convenience, maybe Sevari wants them to be more. I’d settle for a sense of peace, personally.”

Sirine opened her eyes, looking out in the darkness though there wasn't much she could see. "Fair enough," she agreed. "I simply don't see these... friends allowing us to do as we wish, and the thought is a little disconcerting." She lifted a shoulder in a shrug before quickly lowering it, not wishing to disturb the khajiit. "Peace sounds lovely but fleeting. That man in the afternoon, his talk with you hardly seemed peaceful." She frowned as she remembered the sight of the two exchanging words, whatever they may have been. Was it important for her to know whether he was the one? Would Zaveed even tell her?

"There isn't much I know about what took place between you and these people," she finally added, her hand fiddling with the coin around her neck. "And in all honesty, there isn't much they can say that will deter me from my path and decision to follow your lead. However, I would much prefer if there is anything important to know that it comes from you rather than them."

Zaveed chuckled. “Oh, do not concern yourself with Gregor. He’s a right prick, but I doubt he’s going to lift another finger towards me. It was his girlfriend who chose to save my life; I very much doubt he’d go behind her back and undo her decisions. But naturally, I’ve nothing to hide from you, Sirine. What would you like to know about me? The long and short of my relationship is I broke the arm of their leader, killed her former partner and probable lover in captivity after using him as bait to lure her to me, I captured Raelynn twice and tortured her once for information, and then attacked her father and killed one of his guards to ensure compliance to have her come to me a second time.” Zaveed explained, as if he were talking about the weather. “Oh, and I paraded Daro’Vasora through the streets to demonstrate the capture of a terrorist leader and held a gun to her head to force Latro to surrender rather than do something foolish like attack me in the middle of the streets. So, they probably are a bit more irritable about our history than I am towards them. Does this change your opinion of me?” he asked.

"Hm... Would it change your opinion of me if I say it doesn't?" Sirine asked back, raising an eyebrow despite him not being able to see. She had figured it had to be heinous things with the way Latro and Daro'Vasora had spoke- if looks could kill, the khajiit man would have died ten times over. "I don't see any reason why it should. This is a war and these sort of things are bound to happen. Well, they happen no matter what. I know I haven't travelled the world as much as you have, but I have seen enough. You either learn and move forward or you let yourself be downtrodden and left to die."

She paused a moment before smiling, recalling the morning conversation between the two khajiit. "You know, I have two older brothers? Calum and Samer. I hadn't thought of them for a long time truth be told, not until I watched you and Sevari argue like idiots in the morning. They were the reason I learned the world isn't a place of fairy tales. I loved them both, I looked up to them, yet they lied and alienated me and made me out as a liar in front of my family. I hated them, I wanted them to pay back for everything they took from me. I worked as a barmaid and a whore until I could make enough septims to buy a small vessel, sailed out in an attempt to compete with them... and the first chance my brothers had, they destroyed my small ship." She laughed humorlessly. "It wasn't until I finally let them... and some others go that I was able to make something of myself. These people, our current allies... I hope they realize this. If they sit in the past, they are scuttling their own boats."

Sighing, Sirine attempted a half hearted laugh afterward. "Apologies, I didn't mean to make the mood so heavy. I probably sound like a hypocrite, seeing I hate the dwemer… but the truth is, as long as Bakih is safe once more… well, I don’t know."

Zaveed shook his head, continuing to trim her hair unfailingly. “It was something that was bound to come up eventually; I thank you for entrusting me with such honesty.” he said sincerely. “I promise, upon my axes and my name, you will never suffer such indignities again so long as we walk side by side. This is a much better look for you than being forced into sexual slavery by a cruel master.” he frowned behind her head, stopping for a moment. “I wish I could say I didn’t understand; I do.”

Sirine's eyes darkened as she looked down at the ground, her hand now still as she kept a hold of her coin, thumb gently stroking the markings upon it. "Then you understand why this septim means more than it should to me." She felt strange feeling stirring inside of her, a mixture of sadness and anger to think that the one who had taken her away from her place of misery probably suffered the same way she'd had. "How did-" She paused, recollecting her thoughts, and then continued. "What changed that for you?"

He mulled that over; it was the coin that had taken on a life of its own, represented a purpose for Zaveed. It was like his dagger, he decided. It was a promise for what life could be, if one were willing to do what was necessary. “I killed the men responsible in their sleep. Never wielded an axe before in my life, and yet it crashed down like waves against a hull. It was like I woke up from a terrible nightmare, and standing above their destroyed bodies, drenched in the blood of those who preyed upon me, I felt alive and powerful for the first time in my life. Then I had to fight each and every day to pay off that blood debt, but it made me stronger, more resilient. By the time Dar’Narra decided I had paid my dues, my axes were a part of my body, extensions of my will. I vowed to myself I would never let anyone hurt my like that again.” he said, suddenly flipping the dagger over to hold it by the blade to offer it back to Sirine. “How does that look, Beautiful Sirine?”

Sirine took hold of the dagger and slipped it back in its sheath before turning around to face the khajiit, lifting a hand and patting her hair. "Well," she replied, giving him a smile, "you're still calling me beautiful, so I will take it as a success. It feels good, light." She shook her head slightly before nodding. "Thank you Zaveed. I'm only the smallest bit sorry for interrupting your sleep." Her smile turned cheeky as she reached over and gave a light tug to his ear; a feeling of nostalgia flooded her as she recalled an old friend, and she let go. "It seems though we've led different lives, there's much we can relate to. It shouldn't feel comforting, but strangely it does. You said you don't think much beyond the present, but still... tell me, Zaveed, when we are finally at sea once more, what is the first thing you will do?"

He rubbed his ear, perplexed. What a strange gesture. “It helps to know you were not alone walking a path, even if you didn’t see other travellers until far too late.” He agreed, pondering her question. “I’m not sure, truth be told. Before I nearly perished, before I had met you, I had dreams of making up for lost time to make Captain Greywake a feared name once more, but now…” he glanced over to the tent where Raelynn slept. “I owe it to her to try and be a better man than I was. I just don’t know what that means quite yet, but there’s plenty of time to figure it out.”

"Helping me out of that shithole and aiding me in finding my brother I would say is a fine start." Sirine's eyes followed his glance to the tent before looking back at the khajiit. "In time you'll find out, and I suspect so shall I." She was silent for a moment before shaking her head, confusion in her eyes. "This difference, this balance between what is considered good and bad, it's not as white and black as people make it sound... what people deem good, it's very difficult to go back to being that. Or rather, I don’t wish to." She blinked and shook her head yet again, smiling ruefully. "Perhaps a philosophical discussion this late at night isn't the best of things."

“You might be right. I was having a pleasant dream that was interrupted by a better one.” He grinned coyly with a wink. “Let’s see where the tides take us, and for now, it calls me back to sleep. Never plot on a tired mind, my mentor used to say… well, before I killed him in single combat. Even absolute bastards can have moments of clarity.”

Zaveed brushed away the strands of hair and he returned to his bedroll, laying down with a lazy collapse back onto it, letting out a long, pleased sigh. “Let’s hope you don’t wake up in the morning and regret what I just did to you.”

"I doubt I will, but if I do, hair grows back." Sirine stood up, brushing away the strands of hair on her clothes before reaching down and picking up her bedroll. She took a couple of steps before pausing, looking back at the now laying khajiit. After a moment's hesitation, she spoke up again. "If you don't mind... may I sleep here?" She nodded at the ground upon where she stood before continuing in an almost hasty fashion. "Silence drags forth all sorts of memories I'd rather forget."

“What a preposterous question.” Zaveed replied with a cheeky grin. “I’d be disappointed if you did not. Please, pick a spot that’s yours. I promise I won’t steal it this time.”

There was a slight pause, and then laughter. "Ah, I see, I see," she replied, grinning as she opened her bedroll and lay it down, more than amused that the khajiit remembered her first comment his way at their first meeting. She let out a sigh as she lay back with arms beneath her head, eyes closing. A smile came to her lips; if she tried hard enough, she could pretend she was back on a ship with a crewmate. “Goodnight, Captain Greywake.”

“Goodnight, Captain Beautiful.” Zaveed purred, suddenly his breathing started to grow deeper as he lightly began to snore.
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Hidden 9 mos ago Post by DearTrickster
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Never Say Die

14th of Midyear - 4E208
Campsite - Alik’r Desert Oasis




She was happy.

Judena was happy to have everyone together once more. Especially having Daro’Vasora back in their ranks, safe and in one piece. Anxiously, Jude waited to speak with her dear friend. The chaos following the palace, focused on protecting herself and Anifaire from danger had soaked up the majority of her energy. The quick escape and flight from the Three Crown’s gruesome sight was eventually all recorded in her logbook. The group together once more was her anchor, Jude as she was held on for life.

The campsite was settled quickly, tired feet left boots behind, bedrolls were rolled out, fires started with hot meals on the way for the hungry bellies. What supplies they had to spare, rationing with the expectation for a long haul crossing out of Hammerfell living out of the back of a wagon.

Judena stood on the edge of a cooking fire looking around expectantly, claws clacking together hoping to spot the familiar pony tail of Daro’Vasora.

Daro’Vasora was busy carefully turning over a roast of sheep flank in the flames that someone else had started, and the smell of dry-cured and salted meat began to fill her nostrils with an intoxicating scent. She looked up and saw Judena looking around by the fire past the flank, and the Khajiit stood up suddenly, revealing herself to the Argonian. “Boo.” She said with a wide grin, walking around the fire to her friend. “I’ve missed you, so much it physically hurt.” she admitted, suddenly throwing her arms around Judena, her chin resting on her shoulder as she pulled the Argonian elder in closer. “You were so brave coming for me. I don’t know how to repay that.”

Judena turned to the sound of her voice, hands dropping to her side to receive Daro’Vasora, she wrapped about the Khajiit, pressing her head against hers squeezing her eyes shut as she embraced her friend feeling a long arduous relief wash over her, finally. It was real, there was no gap in thought. They held the embrace for several moments, Jude’s heart bursting with emotions from joy, relief, pride and ultimately love.

“I am-” She sniffed, tears welled in her eyes. “I am so happy to see you, Daro’Vasora.” Quietly speaking over her head.

The lump formed in the back of her throat trying to speak through a sob, “I was worried from the pits of my soul.” Kneeling down she pulled away hesitantly to look her over, see for her own eyes how she really was. “Please, please do not do that again. You are bound to give this old lizard a horrible heartache.” Smiling in spite of her tears, she dabbed away at her cheeks with her sleeve.

Daro’Vasora took Judena’s hand in her own, placing another gingerly on top of it with a slight upturn of a smile on her face, her eyes starting to water a bit. “You know, I wasn’t planning on that particular misadventure. The room and catering were fine, but the service was lousy.” she chuckled, shaking her head. “I thought I was going to die, doing what I felt was the right thing. They wanted me to bend to their will, to be a mouthpiece calling for unity with them. I couldn’t, and even though your lives were on the line, I was going to denounce them all, knowing that I may never see any of you again.” She said quietly, sniffing and blinking water out from her vision.

“One thing I kept thinking of over and over is how unfair it would be to you, for me to so selfishly martyr myself. You’d go through each and every day losing me again and again, and that hurt me worse than anything I’ve felt in so long. Judena,” Daro’Vasora said, gazing into Judena’s eyes. “You’re my family. Out of everyone in my life, you’re someone I never really put into perspective how much that means to me. Realizing there might be a time where you aren’t in my life, well… it’s something I couldn’t bear without letting you know that I love you like you’re my own flesh and blood.”

Judena knew in heart that it simply wasn’t within Daro’Vasora’s nature to bend to the will of another, not break her principle. How close she was to losing her, renewing a fresh wave of tears. Rubbing a thumb under Sora’s eye, she smiled so gently, “There are so very few constants in our lives, Daro’Vasora. There has not been a time where I imagined us here, surviving and fighting for our lives as we have.” She began, “I love you too, my dear and precious friend Daro’Vasora. You have changed so much since Jerell Mountains,” squeezing her hand back, “Truly grown within the depths of your heart and outward.”

She grinned in turn with a chuckle, “Oblivious as I am, I do take notice. Sly, cunning and words sharp as a dagger you have stepped up from who you were before but have not lost anything. Only gained.” Jude said looking to Latro and a few others like Shakti, Meg, and Jaraleet from where they were. Turning back to Sora she said with a nod, “I will stick by you as long as you will have me.”

The words struck like a hammer to an anvil, forging something beautiful. “I… thank you, Judena.” the Khajiit smiled, leaning into her hand that brushed her tears away. “I’m going to be by your side, until I finally go to the Sands Behind the Stars. Do you think I’ve really changed that much?” she asked quietly, following her gaze to the others. “Seems to me that most everyone’s pissed at me for the choices I made on their behalf, and I just feel tired, like I’ve been running for leagues without a breather. I led you all to Gilane, and that worked out so well.” she remarked, a caustic tinge to her tone as her eyes narrowed into slits and her ears pulled back.

Nodding Judena said as she stood back up looking in the direction where they left Gilane behind. “You cannot see into the future, Gilane offered gifts with one hand and took away with the other. There is no simple blame to to be had except for the constant source of our conflict.”

“The Dwemer.” She said sourly. Referring to their group with a small but certain sigh, “They can certainly be upset but they can do so with their lives, you have made time to make amends. That is what is important, Daro’Vasora.” Judena crossed her arms, holding up a single finger tapping against Sora’s chest. “Enough time can change anything.”

“And I will deal with the Dwemer, if I’m half as clever as I think I am.” Daro’Vasora sighed, deflating somewhat. “A part of me feels this path is one I need to walk on my own without dragging anyone else into the jaws of Oblivion with me.” she looked at the finger against her chest. “Do… you think I was wrong, to accept Sevari and Zaveed’s proposal? After everything they’ve done to us?”

Judena pressed her lips in thought, humming. Reconciling how she felt about the pair of Khajiit, Sevari brought Latro back to them and now they served a purpose to retrieve Alim from prison. It stirred conflict within Jude, hearing properly of the horrors they visited upon them made her curl her lip in disgust. Clearly their loyalties lied with themselves and no longer with the Dwemer. It was a mixed bag of awful and worse.

Truthfully she answered, “I do not know, they are a means to an end. I know one thing that a single individual can change given the right push.” Scrunching her face with a frown, “I do not like them, they remind me of the discomfort Durant seemed to flex while around us as a group. For a time it felt light now there is a similar weight once more.”

“I quite specifically dislike what Zavert had done to you. It is wrong what they had done.”

“I hope that their divorce from the Dwemeri have spurred some change,” she commented, “Enough to tolerate them for what needs to be done.”

That forced a smile to Daro’Vasora’s face. She tried not to be amused by Judena’s frequent butchering of names, especially when the topic at hand was so grim. It helped distract from her rubbing the place where Zaveed had kicked her arm so hard it snapped. “Well, that makes two of us. But I look around, we have supplies for the journey, a place to put our heads down, food and drink. They say they’re going to rescue Sirine’s brother, and I don’t know what to make of her.” Daro’Vasora admitted. “I just… a part of me feels like they’re meant to come along for this, despite our animosity. I know Latro was hurt when he felt Sevari betrayed him. I just see the two of them, and I think of home, La’Shuni. What if Leyawiin is overrun by the Dominion? After everything that’s happened, why do I feel like I’m one of the few people who is in a position to actually make a difference? It’s not somewhere I want to be.”

“Yet you are here.” Jude replied simply, her smile returning gazing down at Sora. “You act and have stepped into Rhea’s position. Uniquely yours to do something even if you do not know what it is quite yet.”

“I would not doubt the unspoken truth that lies with you.” She said gaze shifting down, she pulled free her logbook referring to it. “There is something you should know . . . I-” Taking a deep breath in she said, “I told the others of what happened, in Jerell Mountains. I could not withhold the truth any longer, the news of your kidnapping had pushed the flood waters past the banks.”

That nearly stopped Daro’Vasora’s heart, her eyes widened and her ears flattened as she glanced around nervously. “Excuse me, what the fuck?” the Khajiit exclaimed in a whispering hiss. Not out of anger towards Judena, but rather out of fear of retaliation or what those who hadn’t been there would have done. “Jude, we can’t… no. Why?” she pleaded. “Is it not enough we’re trying to make things right without giving everyone every reason to hate us?”

She stopped Sora, with a curt tone, “Before we decided to group together and rescue you.This guilt is not for us to bury any longer,” Searching her eyes she clasped her hands, “Do you understand? They decided to help despite knowing the truth.”

“They do not hate us.”

“We destroyed their lives, Judena.” the Khajiit whispered, looking crestfallen. The guilt ate away at her heart and soul. “We walked away from that terrible night unscathed and so many others paid the price. I lost Zegol. I might have lost my family… all because I didn’t stop her.”

“Neither did the rest of us try and stop, it was an unknown future or a sure death.” Judena said her voice softened yet firm, firm in her belief having the time to think long and hard about the guilt she felt, evidenced by her logs. Reflection lifting the heavy chain of survivor’s guilt one by one. A burden she knew existed over each of their heads. “It is not fair to ask for help while we withhold the truth. I see the guilt I feel within you right now, it is time to let it go.”

Frowning sadly she squeezed Sora’s hands. “Please, Daro’Vasora what is past is past.”

The Khajiit closed her eyes, shaking her head. “The past is what’s keeping me going forward. Why I’ve taken this burden upon myself, why I’ll throw myself into danger time and time again to set things right. I can’t excuse the things we’ve done, that it was our ignorance that lost us the Imperial City, Zegol, Skingrad… it all happened because of us. If a merchant does not secure his cargo and it falls off and crushes a child, is it not the merchant’s fault? Should he not be held accountable for his actions?” Daro’Vasora asked. “I can’t change the past, Judena, but I’m not going to forget my part in it until I set things right again. I can’t bring the dead back to life, or give people their homes back. I think that’s why Rhea tried so hard to protect each and every one of us, even if it cost the rest of the world so dearly. She wanted to make amends for her decision, and in the end, she died for it.”

Judena nodded in understanding, “We will make it right, there is no forgetting but it is time to move on openly with our companions. It will be difficult but it will be better, we all stand on the same ground.”

“We may very well die while trying. . . I suppose that is the price we pay.” Jude replied.

“Maybe you’re right,” Daro’Vasora agreed, crossing her arms. “I’m no stranger to being hated. I’ll just have to keep pushing forward with what I think is right; Rhea tried to make everyone love her, that didn’t go very well.”

She sighed, moving to sit by the riverbank. “What of you, Judena? How have you been? I’ve been so caught up in my own self-pity I never considered how all of this has been for you.”

Judena joined her putting the logbook aside, “Guilt, frustration, sadness it bubbles up occasionally. There have been plenty of distractions, spots of hope and good things.” Removing the necklace and holding her wedding band in her palm, observing it, running her thumb over the ruby. “The turbulence of our safety shifts as quickly as the sandy dunes, I have been trying to enjoy the temporary stability when it happens.”

Smiling after a moment she said, “The good often outweighs the awful.”

The Khajiit sighed, slumping forward to rest on her knees. “I wish I could say I didn’t understand. It’s been a trying time for us all.” She said, looking at the wedding band with a pang of remorse. She was quiet for a few moments. “Judena…” she began, “Have you given more thought to those letters?”

She shook her head. “I have not. I have continued to procrastinate.” Slipping the necklace back into her shirt where she gave it pat. “I do not know how reliable I will be if I subject myself to something that will surely reopen old old hurts.”

“I am not as sure as I was back in Anvil to read them.” Judena replied truthfully.

“We may not have the luxury of time anymore, Judena. You should make peace with yourself, find out what those letters contain. I will be there for you, for good and bad. This I swear.” Daro’Vasora promised, taking the Argonian be the arm and resting her head against Judena’s shoulder.

She fell silent for a moment, not sure how to broach what was on her mind. Eventually, the words found their way out, barely above a whisper. “I may have found a way to heal your damaged mind.”

Eyes widening briefly before she settled her head against Sora’s, her heartbeat picking up rapidly before it slowed, “A way does not exist, Daro’Vasora. I thank you for trying but such a thing is not within a healer’s hands nor our understanding of medicine.”

Judena sighed calming her excitement. “I wish there was.”

“There is.” Daro’Vasora said, squeezing her arm. “At least, I hope there is. When I was a guest of the Governor, I arrived with a broken arm by the swine Zaveed, and within three days, their medicine had healed the fracture like it had never happened. I asked about something for repairing damaged brains, and there was something they did have, but there’s a lot of uncertainty about it.” Daro’Vasora explained. “When you all came to save me, that’s why I went to the medical wing, to get that medicine, for you. I don’t know how it works yet, or if it will work, but if there’s even a fraction of a chance it will let you form new memories again and you no longer need to depend on your journals… I want to try.”

Judena sat up straight staring at her, her heartbeat picking up in pace once more feeling her chest tightening at the idea. Hope, uncertainty, desperation crossing through her expression. Whispering, “T-truly?”

“Per-perhaps a way does exist? We should consult Raelynn, in case. . .It has adverse effects.” Judena tried and failed to calm herself her hopes climbing faster than she could reasonably convince herself to relax. It would help and return her to some semblance of functional. There was as much chance for it to make it all worse.

Daro’Vasora gripped the Argonian’s hand with urgency. “I didn’t want to say anything until I knew for sure, but if I can find out how this works, and if it can help you, I will do it. I can read Dwemeris, I stole a tome describing different medicines that I will be studying as much as I can. But I want you to know, there’s risk involved. It’s impossible to know what the effect will be, but…” she allowed herself a hopeful smile. “This is why I want this to be your own choice. I just wanted you to know there’s a hope, perhaps a small one, but a hope nevertheless.”

“I will take it.”

Resolve washing through her Judena repeated herself with more conviction, “I will take the risk. Time will no longer be a luxury we may afford as you said.”

“I want so badly to wake up and remember again.” Tears welling up over her eyes once more.

Suddenly, the Khajiit threw her arms around Judena, embracing her tight. “You have given me so much, I can never begin to repay it. I meant it when I said you are family to me, ever since the day you looked at me and admired me for my accomplishments without scoffing at my youth or my race, you always looked out for me, respected me, shown me that you care. Let me try and repay even a tiny bit of the kindness you’ve shown me.” Daro’Vasora said. “I love you, Judena. I will never give up on you or leave you to struggle alone ever again.”

Sniffling out a short reply, “I love you, too. You have done the same for me, I never forgot your patience one of the few things that stuck with me over the years. You are a rare sort, my friend.”

Judena rocked them back and forth in their embrace, holding the other until the tears dissipated. Judena’s heart swelling with emotion, making her fingers tingle and igniting a warmth in her chest.

Leaning away smiling brilliantly down at Sora. “Love is such a wonderful thing.”

“Ain’t it just?” The Khajiit replied, looking up to meet Judena’s gaze. “Thank you, I feel like we’re doing the right thing, all of this, I mean. We’re going to make everything right again.”

She looked back at the sheep flank, and her eyes widened. “Oh, shit.” Daro’Vasora exclaimed suddenly. “Apparently everything but dinner!” she said with an embarrassed laugh, rushing over to the now smoldering meat. “Think people will notice if it’s… generously overcooked?”

“Charred meat would make for a fantastic stew,” Judena offered with a laugh drying her eyes with her sleeve.
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A Fountain of Serenity

Stormy and Dervs, emotional terrorism level: Hiroshima
15th Midyear, 4E208
Oasis, Alik'r Desert
Mid-Afternoon...





“Raelynn? I was wondering if you were willing to go for a walk with me.” Daro’Vasora said, finding Raelynn apart from the others, reading what looked like a spell tome. The Khajiit was no longer in her dress, but rather barefoot in the same trousers and sleeveless tunic she’d been wearing when she went to rescue Raelynn well over a week ago. She offered an apologetic smile. “We haven’t had much of a chance to catch up since, well… you know, and I know you’ve been upset with me since yesterday. I’d like a chance to try and make up for it.”

Raelynn looked up from her book to find Daro’Vasora stood over her, in more relaxed attire than she had been prior - she appeared rested. The Breton felt herself tense up posturing herself against the Khajiit. If she had approached earlier, before Raelynn had been quite successful in her translations - she might have had a snappy retort for her, but for now, she was rather content and calm of mind. While she did not smile up at her, she did not frown either. A neutral expression befell her features and she stood up from her rock. Her own outfit somewhat similar to Sora’s. A silken blouse cut off at the shoulder, paired with high waisted cream linen trousers with splits up each leg that trailed to her hips. The only colour on her clothing was the mottled brown and gold of the delicate tortoiseshell buttons adorning the blouse.

“Lead the way,” she sighed in as plain a voice as she could, picking up her satchel after stuffing the books in there.

The Khajiit waited until Raelynn was well and ready to go, and she waited until they were outside of the camp’s perimeter, and outside of earshot of the others. “Don’t worry, I told the others we were just going to take a quick walk in the cave, stretch our legs, clear the air. Do you remember anything from that night, in the warehouse?” she asked, frowning. “I don’t mean to dig up hard memories, but Raelynn… I really tried to save you both. I am sorry I failed.” she said with a long sigh, her gaze down towards the moss underfoot.

She thought about the question and it caused her to close her eyes as if to search through the recessed for images of what she did remember. It occurred to her that she hadn’t really thought about it since. She knew in her heart it wasn’t the fault of Daro’Vasora. “It wasn’t your fault, you didn’t fail. It was a terrible situation that we were both thrust into, and it was Roux who paid the price.” She pictured his corpse again. She felt the feeling of the hard ground on her spine from when she lay beside him, holding his hand in the darkness. “I… I’m afraid I don’t remember much. Just shadows and sounds. Roux’s gasp as Zaveed took his life. I remember that, it rings in my ears…”

Suddenly, Daro’Vasora stopped and put her arms around Raelynn in a soft embrace. “I meant it, back at the party, when I asked if we were friends. Your answer meant something to me. This is why I wanted to talk to you, to spend time with you now that we’re in a better place. Roux… used to be my lover, however briefly, until he betrayed me and stole the most valuable find in my life and he became rich and famous for it while I barely had enough coin to afford my apartment, the same one that got firebombed a year later by more rivals I have.” she laughed ruefully. “Trust and friendship are something that have come very, very hard for me, Raelynn. I want you to know that about me. The girl you met two months ago… she expected every single one of you to walk out of her life and take advantage of her, so that’s why she kept you all at arm’s length, and made snide comments to get a rise out of all of you. You cannot imagine my shock and overwhelming gratitude I felt when those very same people came back for her.”

Raelynn wrapped a half-hearted arm around the Khajiit, she was slightly uncomfortable with the hug, but then she always was averse to touch. She listened to her words, offering nods and hums of acknowledgment each time she took a breath. Daro’Vasora needed to speak, and right now, all Raelynn could was allow her to fumble through whatever thoughts were running and running around in her head. Words she had probably been holding in their own prison.

She released Raelynn, taking a step back with her arms folded, the bone jutting between her teeth. “I know everyone’s mad at Latro and I for bringing Zaveed and Sevari along, but… it’s complicated. Latro and Sevari have a history, and it’s the only reason I considered it. Sevari doesn’t go anywhere without Zaveed, and Zaveed killed Roux, tortured you, broke my arm and made me a prisoner in a gilded cage. I have so many reasons to hate every fiber of his smirking being, but they also had supplies we needed to make this journey, to survive the desert. I made a call that put my own feelings aside for everyone’s benefit, and only time will tell if it was wise or not.” she looked to meet Raelynn’s eyes, a frown crossing her features. “Raelynn, I know how it must have made you feel seeing him, and I am so sorry for the pain I caused you. Please, forgive me. For everything.”

It was her turn to speak, and there was only one thing she could say to prise open her own gate of emotion. “It made me feel like shit.” The words came out so frankly that they sliced through whatever tension had mounted from Sora. “It made me feel like actual shit,” she repeated. “I still feel like shit.” She brought her thumb and forefinger to the bridge of her nose and pinched. Sighing. “Well, maybe I feel only like half of a turd now,” her lips curled at the grotesque imagery she conjured, and then she laughed. “I am trying to understand it. I am trying to be fair and not create a fuss or a scene over this. I just never expected to see him again. Let alone somewhat happy and doing well, when I feel so terrible. It’s a rotten kind of cruelty, and that is what sours my mood. It… It has very little to do with you, when I scratch past the surface.” She was trying to be pragmatic about it, but it was hard. It was very, very hard. She thought about the stone in the pond, her heart racing in her chest - was this what letting go felt like?

“I had been doing better, I felt strong. I felt like I was healing, and seeing him again ripped open the scars again. It feels like I have to start over once more.” Her tone was clipped, and the length at which it took her to speak made it sound like she was foraging through pictures and memories to piece the sentences together. It was painful, and that was abundantly clear.

Daro’Vasora nodded, she had feared as much. “When… Zegol passed, I felt the same way. I’d just lost my home to the Dwemer, watched people I’d seen and talked to every day I was in the city perish to guns and blades, and when I found his body, wearing his old armour he hadn’t put on since before I knew him and trying to protect two young boys, it ruined me. It took me past our time in Anvil to accept his passing, and not be besieged with grief. It still hurts me to think about what happened to him, but to give you an idea, I considered him my own flesh and blood, even though he was an Orc. It would be like if something happened to Judena.” the Khajiit sighed, squeezing her arms tighter about her waist.

She looked back at the camp, catching sight of the Cathay in question. “I have a hard time looking at him, and hearing his voice, and not feeling a sharp phantom pain up my arm, to not hear Roux’s final words, apologizing to me… accepting me. ‘May your roads lead you to warm sands.’” she said, finishing his final words far too late. Daro’Vasora closed her eyes, shaking her head. “You’re very strong, and I’ve always admired you for it. Honestly, I’ve kind of been jealous of you since day one. I just never thought I’d be in a position where I’d be hurting you so much. Can we try again, to be friends, I mean?” she asked softly.

“The things that he said to me and… What he’s done, what he did to Gregor - what happened after. Everything that I thought I was was stripped away and I think that part of me is still trapped in his room, fixed to the table. People say - he says that I am stronger now. But, if I could go back and make it so that it never happened then I would. I don’t feel stronger. I want to be myself again.” Her tone was warming, and it was less of a struggle to find the words the more that she said, her posture even relaxed and she began to walk languidly at Sora’s side.

“I know that people lose things, and people die and get hurt. That was something that had never knocked at my door. Zaveed he, he kicked the door in and intruded on my whole life. He left nothing unturned, he attacked me in every place it hurt the most all at once… You don’t hurt me, he does. I don’t know why you would find yourself jealous of me, I’m no one, always have been. Just a nomad drifting through life with no purpose or reason... Until I met Gregor, until I came here…”

Daro’Vasora reached over to turn Raelynn’s face to her. “You are someone. You are Raelynn Hawkford, someone who has saved so many lives because you took the time to learn how to be a healer and didn’t back away when they needed you most. Think back to the number of times we’ve all been hurt, and how you’ve stepped up to do the right thing. You’re a part of a powerful family, but you decided to step out and become your own person. I can appreciate that; I did the same thing.” the Khajiit smiled before it faded somewhat. “I was jealous because you’re beautiful, you’re a human, someone who could walk in any path in Imperial society and not be questioned for what she is. You know magic, I don’t, and yet you’ve also had a lot of experience in the field I made my life work. You’re very accomplished, and I spent much of my life being uncomfortable in my own skin. I wanted to look like you, talk like you. I’ve spent so long repressing who I am, I don’t even remember how my voice originally sounded. Kind of stupid, right?”

Raelynn closed her eyes, and placed both of her hands on Daro’Vasora’s wrists, wrapping gently to hold them. “I know. I know these things - I do, I do know this. I am accomplished, I am good at what I do - amazing at it, the best in fact. I know this to be true.” As she spoke, it sounded more like she was repeating a mantra she had already been repeating for some time - just out loud now. “I believe that there is more for me to do, somewhere. I don’t know what it is but I must get back on the path to finding it. I stumbled, I was pushed - I was dragged away but I’m working my way over rock, through rivers, and across deserts to get back to where I must be.” She opened her eyes and released her grip on the Khajiit’s wrists.

“You are someone too. All of those people in there risked their lives because you are someone to them. It is not stupid.”

“I know that now.” Daro’Vasora said with a slight smile. “Even found love, me, of all people. The past two months, despite everything, I am finding out who I am as if seeing myself for the first time, and knowing that I can be proud of myself for what I am while remaining who I’ve always been. I guess all I’m trying to say is I’ve walked this path with some of the best people I’ve known in my life, and I’ve accepted that they’re putting their faith in me to do the right thing. I just don’t want to do make the wrong choices, and I don’t want to be Rhea; I need people to help me when I stumble, and to tell me when I’m making mistakes. I don’t know how this journey is going to end, Raelynn, but the important thing is neither of us quit and no matter how much we lost, no matter how much it hurt, we never gave up. And Raelynn?” she said, leaning in closer. “I am never going to give up on you.”

The Breton suddenly felt awkward - had she said too much? Not enough? It was a strange sensation to say the least, “errr, thanks…” she mumbled before pulling back from Daro’Vasora - putting space between them. “Let’s just keep going, I think there might be something down here. I can feel a breeze.” It was true, from further down in the tunnel there was a cold breeze snaking through, enough to brush over the splits of her trousers and cause them to flap behind her. In the silence she could hear…. Something, was it water? “Do you hear that?” she asked the Khajiit with a puzzled expression upon her features.

“Ah.” Daro’Vasora said, feeling flushed with embarrassment. What’s wrong with you?” she rebuked herself. She was trying too hard, too fast, to make everything right again. Still, she followed along at Raelynn’s suggestion and indeed, she could hear more rushing water. “It sounds separate from the river…” she murmured, suddenly feeling the excitement and rush of potential discovery. This time, she took the lead through the wet ground, navigating a narrowing in the passageway, following the mysterious sound, until she saw light up ahead. She stepped through into the opening, and discovered the water was warm. When her eyes adjusted, she simply breathed, “Wow.”

They had discovered a natural spring, the water forced up from some underground source, and it was clearly one of the sources of the water that fed the river. However, that was not the most striking feature; the limestone walls were encrusted with quartz, and from the light ahead, a dazzling spectacle of light made the water shine brilliantly and all manners of white-hued colours dance across the walls. “I’ll be damned.” the Khajiit grinned, stepping aside for Raelynn to follow suit.

Raelynn’s eyes widened at the sight. It was beautiful - a hidden treasure in the already beautiful oasis. Better yet, the sounds of the camp were completely drowned out by the thick walls surrounding the spring. It was a perfect place. “This is… amazing,” she smiled gleefully and wasted no time in unbuttoning her shirt. She looked at Sora with narrowed eyes but - well, she was another woman, and Raelynn had stripped down in public baths before too. She wasn’t ashamed of her body, hell, she was immensely proud of it if anything. She was just too excited to get in and feel clean again. So excited was she, that she tossed her shirt with reckless abandon onto a rock - with her chest now bare she worked on the pants and slid them down her legs - kicking them away to the same rock that was now blanketed in her shirt.

The splits of her trousers had been so high to her hip, that she had foregone her usual underwear, but she simply shrugged and waded in. Sighing with delight at the warmth of the water. She turned back to face Sora with a smile - “come on, get in!”

The Khajiit laughed at the sudden shift in fortunes, how Raelynn seemingly sprung to life. She felt like a teenager again, sneaking around where she shouldn’t have been with friends. With a shrug, Daro’Vasora unbuttoned and discarded her tunic and pulled off her trousers, hopping in after Raelynn and splashing the Breton with a small wave. The sudden sensation of being immersed in water was beyond enjoyable; it felt absolutely soul cleansing.

“I think I’ll call this place Mara’s Gift.” Daro’Vasora said, laughing girlishly as she splashed Raelynn before resting on her back, allowing herself to float and bask in the sun above. It almost felt like a vacation spot that someone would spend entirely too many Septims for the privilege to enjoy. “When was the last time you’ve been swimming like this that wasn’t a crowded bath house?” she asked.

She watched the Khajiit float around, but she opted to wade over to the edge to recline, stretching her arms over the rocky surface. “Not since I was a younger woman, truthfully,” swimming for leisure was not something that she had ever really indulged in. “I like to be on land, water has always been for bathing,” she sighed as she felt the warmth of the water over her skin. “Speaking of, I have some oils in my satchel…” With a gentle push she moved over to where she had left her bag and reached in to grab three small vials. “Rose, Lavender, or Water Lily?” She asked with a smile, looking over her shoulder to Sora as she continued her gently movement on the surface.

Daro’Vasora considered for a moment before smiling. “I defer to your judgement, what do you think would suit me?” a coy expression crossed her face. “What do you think Latro would fancy?” she asked, swimming over to join Raelynn, resting her elbow over the lip of the pool. “I wonder if Shakti’s going to be pissed we’re swimming in a special spot her ancestors probably have been using for generations?” she mused, her eyes scanning the shimmer of the quartz.

“Well, we can't use Lavender. That's my scent, our men might get confused if we start smelling the same… I think Water Lily. It isn't overpowering… It's fresh… Delicate.” That was the vial she took into her hands, placing the others back in her satchel. The moment she was sharing with Sora was nice, but it was just delaying the conversation they had already been having. It was a welcome distraction. “I think she'd like this place, we should tell her about it.” Raelynn poured some of the oil into her hands and rubbed it across her palms. “Turn around…” she said with a giggle.

“We’ll keep this to ourselves for a bit longer, I think… hh, that is lovely.” Daro’Vasora said upon taking in the scent. She raised a brow at Raelynn, but ultimately submitted to the request and turned her back to Raelynn. “That better not be chloroform.” she replied dryly.

“Oh please,” she began jokingly before placing both hands on Sora's shoulders. She began to gently work the oils from her hands into her, starting at her shoulder blades and working up the Khajiit's neck, applying light pressure to the vertebrae until she reached the back of her head. Then she started to lightly scratch through the fur, the oil clinging to it, leaving the scent behind. “Whatever would they do to see us right now, I wonder…” she purred in a husky tone as she continued to massage the oil into Sora’s scalp.

Ahh.” The Khajiit gasped, tilting her head back and tensing appreciably at the touch. “I’ve… never had someone do this for me before.” she admitted with a purr, her eyes closed as she drank in the sensation of touch and scent; it was almost as if keeping her eyes open as well would have robbed her of the full sensation. “Oh, let them watch.” Daro’Vasora giggled. “We’re just gals being pals, right? Although, Gregor’s going to have to be careful I don’t steal you away for more girl time. I might get a little too used to this.”

She smirked at her comment, “You may have to get behind Mazrah first…” Her thumb and forefingers found their way to Sora's ears, and she lightly pinched and rubbed the delicate flesh between them. “You're very tense, especially in your neck. One would think you're carrying a great burden or concern that weighs you down. What's really on your mind? Tell me?” She was unsure whether or not to probe, but she had learned that Sora really liked to talk, and she would listen to her if she was comfortable to indulge. Once more her hands ran down the Khajiit's neck, before she held each shoulder firmly, massaging away the knots with ease.

“It’s almost like you’ve done this with a Khajiit before…” Daro’Vasora murmured. “I always thought the fur must have felt lovely under someone else’s fingers.” she said. In response to Raelynn’s question, Daro’Vasora grabbed the side of her head and pulled it to the side, her neck let off a loud series of cracks. “You… might say that. Alkosh, what hasn’t been on my mind?” she asked rhetorically, leaning forwards slightly to let Raelynn do her work.

“Roux, you, Judena… Latro.” Daro’Vasora’s words came in succession, slowing to a stop on Latro’s name. “He… changed in the palace. He went wild eyed, his mannerisms and speech were like that of someone else, he… butchered those men. He became Pale-feather, what they called him in the Reach, and now I’m afraid. Would he have recognized me in that state, would he have hurt me if I got in his way?” she asked quietly, her tone shifting to something more somber. “And Judena. I think I found some medicine that could heal her mind, but it’s something I don’t understand and I’m trying to learn as much as I can about before even attempting to use it, with her consent, of course. What if I’m wrong, or fuck it up? Will I just hurt her worse?” she sighed, running her hand through her mane, pulling out the leather strip that held her ponytail in place and letting her hair down, the first time Raelynn would have ever seen it that way.

“It’s a lot. I think about Roux and Zegol often, and I wonder what Rhea felt when she was leading. How will I handle loss if we lose anyone? What if it’s my fault? Did I make a mistake by accepting the two brothers to join us? I’m just doing the best I can without any time to think things through.” she sighed. “I’m sorry, it’s been bottled up, I’m rambling.”

As she had done so with Gregor, Raelynn moved her hands quickly to sit as far as they could under Sora's shoulder blades, under the water. She applied pressure with her thumbs, forcing the Khajiit's body to bend to her will. She tugged for less than a second and let it crack, knowing that the feeling of relief would erase that discomfort it had caused initially. She hummed along as Sora emptied the contents out of herself for the Breton to see. Her hands went back to massaging, this time under the water. Gentle strokes interspersed with pinches of the spine. “It sounds like a lot…” she wasn't entirely sure of the best way to respond, of how to help her - what advice to give.

“I'm afraid I don't have the answers…” Her hands returned to Sora's head, but she pulled back to apply more oil, larger droplets this time to work through her mane, her touch softened - barely there, and yet she moved closer to Sora, their legs touched under the surface of the water.

“I just think that in times of war, we are prone to fits of passion… Something about our mortality drives us to do the unspeakable for those we love. Things that we would never do if war was not hovering over us like a cloud - always ready to begin a storm that is out of our control…” She thought of Gregor, and what her own fear and self-loathing had driven her to ask him to do. “We are not ourselves in these times, we are challenged, and all we have is passion for what we desire to protect. For some that may be their land and homes, for others it is family and friends… Lovers.”

“We do the unspeakable to ensure we make it to the other side, to the next day… and the next.” Was she justifying it to herself? She knew it was wrong, even though she had felt she must do it - even if the majority would think it was morally reprehensible. But it had been necessary. “Latro did what he deemed necessary to protect that which he loves… You are doing what is necessary to ensure the group makes it to the end of this…”

The medicine had piqued her interest, but there would be another opportunity to discuss that… She ran her fingers again through Sora's mane, admiring it in a way.

The sensation of Raelynn’s bare legs against her own almost startled Daro’Vasora; she’d never been this close and intimate with another woman before. Still, she didn’t pull away. Rather, she leaned into it a bit, finding comfort in the Breton’s touch. “I’ve always looked at the world through the lens of a historian, the big picture. I can read about how men were tortured or starved, burned to death or executed, and it never resonated with me past painting a tapestry of understanding what had happened. I have tried to do the same for the invasion, but it’s… not quite the same when it’s happening to you. There’s emotions and personal stakes, and I think you might be right.” she agreed, opening her eyes and looking upon the quartz again. “At the end of all of this, I just want to be able to recognize the ones I love and myself. I want to make sure we all have a home to return to. Your father… is he safe?” Daro’Vasora asked suddenly, realizing she hadn’t even thought about Salosioux for quite some time.

“Do you think that historians partook in that which they studied? You cannot see the big picture, because the picture is still being created. We have no control over it, save for being able to paint some strokes here and there… When history looks back on us…” She stopped.

A feeling of guilt hit her, “it's a mess… Whatever happens to us, whoever we become… Tamriel outlives us in the end, eventually we become history. I see no benefit to worrying so much now about losing yourself. You were captured and challenged and yet you are still you.” She moved around to face Sora, moving close to her, so that their foreheads almost touched. “You are still you, and so long as you are with the ones you love then you always will be.”

The mention of her father snapped her out of her poetic mood, the sage wisdom left her and emotion returned; “I believe he is, he left Gilane before the raids. I have to believe he is okay, we almost left things on unpleasant terms. It hurts me to think too long on it all…” the short, sharp edge had returned to her voice, and she brought herself to the edge of the pool and leaned against the rock once more.

The Khajiit nearly gasped at the sudden closeness, the physical sensation of Raelynn closing the distance, as if they were lovers. She felt herself flush. When Raelynn pulled away, it was like a spell was broken. Still, Daro'Vasora was left feeling like a fool without consideration. “I… I am sorry.” she said meekly, letting out a resigned sigh. “I should just keep my mouth shut; I've ruined a perfectly good time here. Do you want me for me to leave you in peace for a while? I'll make sure no one disturbs you.”

Raelynn's eyes widened and she shook her head abruptly, “no, please don't. I'm sorry, it’s just that he was so very disappointed in me. That's the truth of it. It just hurts me to think again of his face - his eyes.” She pushed herself once more from the lip of the spring. “It's not something I talk about very often, it makes me inconsiderate.” She tried to smile encouragingly in Sora's direction. Her hands slipped back under the surface of the water to find hers again, and she squeezed her fingers lightly. “Don't leave, please. You ruined nothing.”

That brought a smile to Daro'Vasora's face as she returned the embrace of fingers. “Why do you think I am so bad at this? I never had anyone to talk to before.” she giggled nervously, looking her friend in the eyes. “I still remember the look my father gave me when I became Daro'Vasora, not La'Vasora. It looked like he was proud, but disappointed, melancholic perhaps?” the Khajiit mused, losing herself to memory. “I always thought it was a mark of shame, but I think to him, it was his little girl finally growing up and having found her path. I was caught stealing from his shipments, just for the thrill of it and to see if I could get away with it.” she explained. “I think for your father, he's just going to need time to adjust to the path you’ve chosen for yourself. You never struck me as a woman who rocked the foundations of your upbringing too much.” she smiled.

She found herself moving back behind Sora once more, instinctively reaching for the strap of leather that she had removed from her hair and had placed on the rock. “It seems, Daro'Vasora, that we are very similar in many ways…” Raelynn began to separate the hair of her mane into sections, twisting and braiding them as best as she could. “He hates Gregor… When I went missing for the second time… Gregor was sick with worry and my father was not exactly helpful and I suppose things got tense and Gregor threatened him.” She didn't know why she would tell Sora this. Sora already had the wrong idea about her lover- it was of course the right idea, but Raelynn would not accept that. Not now.

“I love him, Sora. I love the parts of him that are good, the parts that aren't so good, the storm and violence that he is capable of. It's who he is, all that he is is beautiful to me.” She closed her eyes, the braid complete, and tied at the base in a bow. It was not likely how the Khajiit would style herself, in fact it was completely different. The breton wrapped her arms around Sora’s waist from behind affectionately, resting her chin on the very shoulder she had massaged earlier.

The Khajiit leaned back into the embrace, nuzzling Raelynn's head as her hand moved up to run through the woman’s hair. “The Moons all have phases, the dark and the light. It is what determines what form a Khajiit will take. People are no different; I can tell he loves you, and you love him. He is the dark of the moon, you are the light. You must be the Bright Moon that guides his steps into the light and resist the temptations to go into the dark,” Daro'Vasora said, almost sensually, her voice little more than a whisper. “Each of us walk a path, sometimes it is shrouded in darkness, other times the moon illuminates the way. Always find the light, and you will never be wrong, Ko'Raelynn.”

Raelynn nodded softly against Sora's neck, her eyes closed tightly. She listened to every word her friend said, about the moon - and of light and dark. Did she know how true it was? Did she really know? It wasn't until she finally exhaled at the end of it that she realised how long she had been holding her breath.

She had held it for so long

“All I want is to save him,” she whispered finally, arms wrapping tighter around the Khajiit, her hands fumbling desperately to find one of Sora's, to hold it tightly. There was silence, until the gentle splash of a single tear broke the surface of the still spring in the moment.

They held each other in the silence, floating together. Suddenly, Daro’Vasora broke the embrace, turning to face Raelynn, gently resting her wrists on the Breton’s collarbones and gently tracing her claws on her bare back. She nuzzled Raelynn, whispering into her ear. “We will save both of our lovers. Together.” she said, turning her head slightly to place a lingering kiss on Raelynn’s cheek.

Nothing else needed to be said. Time continued to pass in the secret spring of the oasis, and yet no time passed at all. It was just a serenity broken only by the sound of running water echoing, and the whistle of the breeze moving in.

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Mashed Potatoes

Tabby and Dervs

15th Midyear, 4E208
Oasis, Alik'r Desert
Early morning, after sunrise...


Zaveed knelt by the riverbank, the sunlight just barely bringing in some much needed light into the cavern as he held his elvish dagger, looking down the blade and frowning at the faint stain in the moonstone he’d been unable to remove for some time. Who would have guessed after all of these years, it would have been his own blood that tainted the finish of the blade? He’d find a way to clean the damned thing, that was for sure. It didn’t diminish the integrity of the blade, but it felt like a blight on his very soul.

A gasp of pain sounded behind him, closer to the cooking tent than he was. The Khajiit turned to look and saw the Altmer girl holding her bloodied palm, a knife on the ground near where she was sitting. He shook his head, standing up and walking over to her. “May I be of assistance?” he asked, gesturing to the hand. Without waiting for consent, he grabbed a bottle of rum that was sitting on one of the benches and some clean linen wraps, usually used for protecting food from the elements and bugs that had yet to make their way out of the packaging.

“What’s your name? You’ve been very meek and quiet since I’ve first laid eyes on you. I am Zaveed… you probably already knew that.” he said with a kind smile.

Anifaire’s eyes widened in surprise, the potato and knife abandoned on the ground. The numbness she had been feeling recently was receding, but whatever reaction of fear she might have had at the Khajit’s approach was dampened. She pain blossoming in her palm was a distraction; she barely looked up to observe him.

“Yeah… I’m Anifaire,” she said. She thought for a moment - Zaveed, who’s she had heard plenty of mutterings about in recent times. She wondered if she should be avoiding him, or afraid of him, but she didn’t really care. He was there, and there was nothing she could do about it if she wanted to.

“May I?” he asked, kneeling in front of her and indicating to her hand. When she nodded in consent, looking fairly nervous all the while, he pulled the cork out of the rum bottle and gently took her hand. “This will sting considerably, but it will prevent the skin from becoming infected.” he told her gently. “If you wish, bite down on something, grip my arm or shoulder, but it will only be a few moments. Are you prepared?” he asked.

Anifaire shrugged, imagining a bug bite or the current sting of the cut, but she did realize it had to be cleaned. If she’d gotten a scratch or bump in her youth, a few drops of healing potions had been easy to spare from her father’s stores. She nodded at him to proceed, her spare hand covering her clenched jaw.
When he poured the substance onto her cut, the burning sensation took her entirely by surprise, despite the warnings. A choked noise escaped from the back of her throat and she jerked her arm away, shaking the injured hand to rid it of the offensive liquid. She couldn’t believe that people drank such a vile thing, for enjoyment.

And Zaveed did just that, taking a swig of the rum with a chuckle before popping the cork back into place. He gestured for her to return the hand to him so he could bandage it. “On a ship, you oftentimes didn’t have the potions you needed, but alcohol was never in short supply.” he explained, delicately, but firmly, wrapping the linens tightly about her palm. A bit of crimson soaked through the first two or three passes until he had her hand sufficiently covered. Taking his blade, he cut the linen short and tied it off. “And there we are, all done.” the privateer promised, releasing her hand. “I’m sure someone can brew you a healing potion to mend your skin, or use restoration magic, but this will hold for the time being. He promised. “Forgive me for being so forward, my dear, but you do not seem to be the type who is familiar with this sort of lifestyle, as if it’s bewitching to you.”

“I think I’ve seen more healing potions than alcohol,” she muttered. “But, no, I’m not accustomed to this life.” There was certainly no statement truer than that. She eyed his blade as he worked, elven make, certainly familiar, and reminiscent of the dagger her own father had once given her. Though she got the sense that the man across from her was certainly more effective with his than she ever had been with hers. After all, he probably took it off someone’s body, she thought, looking at it with an unsettled expression.

“Your accent, Alinor… I want to say Cloudrest or Skywatch?” he asked, catching her gaze at his blade. He pulled it from the sheath, and with a flourish, offered it to her, hilt first. “There’s an air of recognition here, I think.”

“Alinor, actually,” she replied, wondering how one managed such a sense of geography. Hesitantly, she took the blade, turning it over in her hands. It was indeed similar, with a few differences. It had a glimmering sapphire hilt, even more ornate than the one she’d lost in the Imperial City had been. “I used to have something similar. From my father.” She hesitated. “Where did you get this?”

“I am… was a Dominion privateer. Has the name Captain Greywake ever crossed your travels? I’ve been to Summerset quite often, a beautiful place, simply wondrous. It’s a shame the Thalmor are in charge; the arrogance can be suffocating.” Zaveed explained, studying Anifaire’s face. He gestured to the blade. “That was presented to me to officially declare my station and service to the Dominion, protecting Her Majesty’s seas, and maybe do a few things she would frown upon if she found out.”

“Oh…” His words seeped into her mind slowly. A… privateer? She looked at the blade again. “I don’t recall. My father mentioned a lot of people, but I don’t think I listened very closely. He’s… Thalmor,” she added. Like everyone she’d known, really. “You… sailed a ship for the Dominion?” The thought was so strange to her. Sure, she’d seen plenty of Khajiit and Bosmer around Alinor - not that she’d ever spoken to one - but considering them being part of the Dominion was strange to her. The Dominion was her father, his friends, the people she saw at her mother’s school. Her eyebrows creased.

“Of course. Mostly Khajiit and Bosmer, but there were a few Altmer willing to put aside racial pride for a chance at glory, or a lack of a better place to go.” The Khajiit shrugged. “Made port in Senchal, prowled up and down the coasts from there to the Northern end of Valenwood, occasionally beyond. It was my duties to make sure that the seaways were safe for Dominion vessels and do more off the books raids and attacks that the Navy was forbidden from taking part in during peacetime. It’s like government-sanctioned piracy. “My sister serves as a bodyguard and captain for a Thalmor emissary, Erincaro Syiantar?” Zaveed said, posing it more of a question to see if the name was familiar to Anifaire.

Anifaire shrugged. “My sister would know. I never paid attention,” she added with a bit of a sigh. She recalled the times her parents spoke of politics, and how often she would ignore those particular conversations. Alindril, on the contrary, always engaged with passion. Her father had been proud of her, handing out responsibilities, special training, military positions and Alindril took it all in stride. She broke out of her reminiscence, turning her attention back to Zaveed, shrugging slightly.

“So, how did you end up getting involved with this lot?” Zaveed asked suddenly, curious as how an Alinor born and raised girl who probably never left her home island until she ended up in her present circumstances wound up in a cave in the middle of the Alik’r Desert, standing out like a sore thumb. “The others, I can understand, but you seem quite uncomfortable and bewildered by all of this.” he said, picking up her knife and wiping it clean before setting it down and finding another to continue peeling potatoes for Anifaire. “Is the rest of the world what you thought it was?”

She paused, realizing she wasn’t sure if there was anything he shouldn’t know. “Well, I study… I studied the Dwemer. It started with an archaeological dig.” She fussed with the sleeve of her shirt. “I don’t know what I was expecting when I left, a change I suppose, something with less monotony... but not this.” If there was anything she was certain of, that was it. “There’s far fewer books out here,” she commented. “I don’t think I could go back anymore.”

“No?” Zaveed asked, raising an eye ridge. “Because you’ve grown, or it would be hard to accepted back by your family?” he asked.

“How does your studies compare to the real thing? I admit, I didn’t think much of long-extinct races of elves, but recent events made me wish I paid a bit more attention to the stories. It was an unexpected surprise, and not a welcome one.” Zaveed explained, placing the peeled potato on a fresh cloth. “If it helps, I can teach you a few practical skills to make your time a bit less difficult? Bit by bit, turn you into a proper adventurer.” he said with an encouraging grin.

“I think… both. I don’t think I could go back to a... complacent life. I know they’d take me, but I don’t think…” she thought of Alim again, losing her train of thought. “It couldn’t be the same,” she summarized, and shifted the topic: “The Dwemer fascinated me at first. I used to sit and watch them.” Suddenly, it struck her who she was talking to again, but the strangeness of the situation was so much so that she let it roll past her. “I think I’m just angry with them now.”

She wrung her hands together, watching the potatoes. “I don’t even know how to cook,” she admitted. “I’ve never done it before.”

“I cannot fault you for your anger, Anifaire. I was pressed into serving them against my will. Well, my will to live overrode my desire to not be the pawn of some Deep Elves, but here we are, trying to make amends.” Zaveed replied with a shrug. “I know it doesn’t seem like it, but it is good you are having these experiences, meeting people you normally would have never spoken with. It will only help you grow and form your own opinions about the world and who you want to be, not what a rigid society wants you to be.”

He held up the potato for her to observe. He turned it over, pulling the knife through the potato into his palm. “This is the classic mistake, and likely what caught you. Lesson one, never cut toward yourself. If it suddenly gives way, or you slip, you may cut yourself. Instead,” he turned it over, drawing the blade through the other side, clear of his fingers and body. “Away from you. A rule of any blade is the cutting edges go outward, where they cannot harm you. Axe, sword, knife, anything. Now, for peeling a vegetable, you want shallow angles, like so.”

The Khajiit took one half of the potato and placed the blade slightly under the skin and slowly drew it across, lifting it up, only taking the bare minimum of flesh from the vegetable. He repeated it again, slowly, so the Altmer’s eyes could follow. “Like so, until there skin is gone, then you can do all manner of things. Mash it, dice it, boil it. It’s quite a versatile vegetable. Now, your turn.” He said, handing the knife back with the other unpeeled half of the potato. “Just like I showed you.”

Anifaire had thought that once too, back in Gilane, that she was trying new things, meeting new people, but it didn’t seem to matter at the moment. She couldn’t peel a potato, let alone help Alim. She was no good at this life.

Still, she accepted the knife and the potato back, her hand tender from the cut. Peeling the potato in the opposite direction was a bit more awkward for her, and her progress was slower, but she tried to take her time instead of peeling with the frustration she’d felt before, slowly chipping away at the potato.

“I was hoping to mash it,” she muttered, thinking about how she’d eaten them previously, mouth watering at the thought. Cooking for herself was never something she thought she’d do. Her eyes wandered over to Zaveed briefly, pondering what she’d heard about him. He didn’t seem particularly threatening, capable, sure, but not exactly malicious. But after all, they were just sitting in a cavern full of people. Peeling the next potato, Anifaire felt as though she was getting a little bit better at the actions, and felt a twinge of satisfaction, but the hopelessness came back.

“Good, you’re doing well.” The Khajiit said encouragingly as he patiently watched Anifaire work. “It’s just like that. Let me get a bowl and a pestle, we can do that, if you’d like, and some spices.” He promised, standing suddenly to gather those things. He found some pepper, garlic powder and mustard seed, as well as a pan with a wooden handle and a wooden spoon. “These will do, I think. Please, continue.” he said, kneeling across from her like before. He caught her eye, and he wasn’t sure what was going through her mind at this point, but he thought he’d mention something on his mind. “I’m surprised how accepting you are of me.” he admitted, his hands on his lap. “I don’t know if it helps, but my intentions here are genuine. I would like to make amends, if for no other reason than to keep the rest of this journey focused away from distrust.”

“I don’t know what to think of you,” she said honestly. She eyes the spices, feeling a tiny flicker of happiness spark inside her, and she almost smiled. “Everyone says bad things about you.” She hadn’t considered the words before she said them, and as soon as they came out she paused. “I- that was rude.” She considered the things she’d heard and wondered if maybe she was supposed to be rude.

“No, please, speak your mind.” Zaveed said encouragingly with a warm smile. “Trust me, I’ve heard a number of unflattering things at my expense, and I’ll be the first to admit what your friends have said about me, most of it’s true. Perhaps exaggerated through a lens of hatred and loathing, but I have done wrong by them. It was not long ago you were all my enemies, and I had thought you terrorists, harming innocents as misguided ‘freedom fighters’. I will not apologize for what I’d done, or who I am, but that was yesterday. What matters is my intentions today, tomorrow, and the next.” he explained calmly, setting the materials out in an orderly fashion as he placed the peeled potatoes in the bowl. “I tell you these things because I want you to understand that I am sincere when I say that I do not wish harm to any of you, and I will fight for your cause as long as I am here. You and me, sitting here peeling potatoes, this is real, genuine.” he shrugged. “It is a skill your father or mother should have taught you… not that I would know what that was like.” he chuckled.

He didn’t exactly seem like she would’ve pictured him from what she’d heard before, like some villain in a children’s story. He was just sitting here peeling potatoes and she couldn’t quite picture anything else. Her apathetic mood had her not wanting to contemplate it.

“I don’t think my father or my mother know how to peel potatoes,” she said. “I’ve never seen either of them do anything like that. They taught me magic. Reading. Math. And I had tutors...”

“Hard to believe that the Altmer were the ones to command the Dominion armies into encircling and besieging the Imperial City, hm?” Zaveed said, conversationally. “You can command armies, but the kitchen remains as arcane as any magic school. Imagine that.” the Khajiit grinned, taking another potato from Anifaire into the bowl. “See, all of that is great and all if you’re never planning on leaving a classroom, but I can tell you’re miserable because you feel so out of place. Imagine how you’d feel if you felt like you were contributing positively to everyone here.” he reached over, placing a reassuring hand on her knee. “And that isn’t a slight against you. You do not know what you do not know, and there is no shame in that. What matters is the willingness to learn and grow. Already, you’re one step closer to being able to prepare meals for your friends. Food is something that makes everyone happy, and you’ll never have to depend on another to decide what you’re going to eat or how to make it.”

She wondered if her father had indeed had any hand in decisions like that, which he almost certainly had. She’d never thought about it before.

“Cooking,” she agreed, moving her knife with improving skill. Food is something that makes everyone happy. She nodded to herself; that made sense. It did. It made her happy. But it wouldn’t get Alim out of prison, and that thought dampened her brief good thoughts. “It’s not exactly… fighting.”

“If you’d like, I can also show you how to use that knife for more… malignant purposes.” Zaveed offered, searching for an appropriately soft enough term for it. “You’re a well educated highborn lady, that much is clear. I am not; I’m street trash who had to fight a lot to get where I am now, and I’ll leave it to you to decide who is in a better place.” he smiled. “I can’t teach you how to have a fighter’s intuition, or how to be aggressive, but I can teach you how to defend yourself and those you care about.”

“I just want Alim back,” she muttered, her hands stilling, half peeled potato abandoned. Her eyes dropped. She tried to imagine digging the small knife into a real person instead of a potato, but she couldn’t.

“I understand you all think he’s in that prison we’re going to. If that is the case, we shall find him.” Zaveed promised, closing her hand over the potato still in hand. “This is a hard lesson you’re going to have to learn and accept in your heart; you cannot dwell on things that were, or have yet to pass. Do not let your pain distract you from what you can do today. Tomorrow will come, whether or not we wish it to, so do not give up on what you can do now. Right now, your fight is learning how to prepare yourself a simple meal. Tomorrow, perhaps saving your paramour? One thing at a time.” he said softly. “Please, continue.”

She picked the potato back up, dragging the knife underneath the skin again. “He’s my friend,” she had to insist, a light pink colouring her cheeks. “But I hope we find him.” She wanted to insist that she couldn’t do any good, that was what ate her up, that she just couldn’t help. She kept quiet, focusing on each potato, because at least she could improve her skill at that. She was hungry, finally, after going so long without an appetite.

“Friend, then.” Zaveed agreed with a wink. When the potato was peeled, he placed it in the bowl with the others. He handed the bowl back to Anifaire, along with the first of the spices. “Now, take the spoon and start splitting apart the potatoes, and sprinkle a light coating of the pepper across the surface until it’s even. Not too much, a delicate touch. Then, begin to stir and turn over the mash.”

Anifaire nodded, trying to keep up. She began spicing the potatoes, thinking ahead to when she would be eating them. As she focused on what she was doing, she felt calmer than she had in the past day. Even all the bloodshed she had seen recently was beginning to fade in her mind. She was surprised to find she actually was enjoying cooking. “I should’ve tried doing this sooner,” she said.

“You just needed someone to show you.” Zaveed said with a smile. Once everything was properly mashed up, he helped add the other two spices and had her mix around a bit more. “Now the fun part,” he promised. “Take the pan, hold it by the handle, and hold it over the fire until the potatoes start to brown, and keep mixing them around like you were before until everything is a nice golden shade. Make sense?”

“Sure,” she agreed, wondering if she would burn herself. Nervously, she held out the pan, which was a bit heavy. She fumbled with it, nearly dropping the pan but catching it with her other hand before correcting how she was holding it. Her hand shook slightly. “Oops,” she mumbled. She scooted her seat closer to the fire, which helped a bit.

“Not bad.” Zaveed said, picking up a thick cloth to keep handy. “Remember, it’s going to get hot. If you need to grab it by anything other than the handle, protect yourself.” he cautioned. “Nice and close, like that. See how the potatoes are starting to steam?”

She imagined burning herself would happen before the potatoes were finished, just like she’d already cut herself. The potatoes were beginning to smell, and her stomach felt so empty. “Does this take long?” she asked.

“Only a few minutes, my dear. Just do not let it sit on one side for long.”

True to his word, Zaveed soon had the Altmer pull the pan away from the fire and set it down. With the spoon, he scooped it into the bowl he had set aside. “And there you are, you cooked something.” he said triumphantly, offering Anifaire her creation.

The looked at the dish with satisfaction. It actually smelled good, though she had expected something she had made herself to be nearly inedible, simply a form of sustenance. The eagerly took the first bite and found the dish to be surprisingly appetizing. She felt a bit embarrassed to have needed help with cooking while everyone else seemed to treat it as a simple chore.

“Thank you,” she said sincerely. From what she’d heard, Zaveed was the last person she expected to help her.

“Of course. Now I can trick you into making me meals.” Zaveed teased with a wink. “Before long, you’ll be a natural. Just pay attention to others when they are doing it, or even ask if you can help. You might be surprised what you can do; you never know until you try. How do you feel?”

“I’m,” she paused. “I’m happy it tastes good.” She compared them to potatoes from home, and cooked over a campfire, maybe they weren’t the same quality, but they were reasonably tasty and she was hungry. She looked at Zaveed. “I suppose I only know how to cook potatoes, though,” she pointed out.

“One does not reach the top of a tower without taking each of its steps. Potatoes are one, who is to say what tomorrow’s is?” Zaveed pointed out with a shrug. “Life is a journey, and who we are is defined by small things that accumulate into something great. One day, you’ll see that great view, if only you keep taking those steps. Are you up for the challenge, Anifaire? If not, you can at least be proud that you’re eating something you created, not some servant somewhere. It’s what life is about.”

Anifaire thought about that for a moment. Perhaps, she could help whoever decides to cook in the next days and learn something else.

“Thank you,” she said. She couldn’t help wondering how someone who seemed so… normal had actually tortured her friends, and killed that man from the ship. And in this case, he was correct; potatoes were a small step, and maybe she would have to do everything in small steps.

“My pleasure.” Zaveed said, standing at last and brushing himself off. “Just remember; cut away from yourself, keep food moving to keep it from burning. Apply those lessons everywhere they show up, and you’ll do well.” he said, stretching out his arms. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ve a need to maintain my body so we can be daring heroes and rescue our respective friends, yes? Come find me if you want a lesson of a more dangerous persuasion.” With a theatrical bow, the Cathay walked off towards his bedroll, working out a kink in his shoulder while humming a strange tune.

Anifaire lifted another bite of potatoes to her mouth, her strange distraction gone. She had never expected to really encounter Zaveed, after the two groups joined, and he was even farther from what she’d expected. She struggled to reconcile the encounter she had moments ago with the whispers she heard from others in her group, but her emotions began to fade back into the apathy Zaveed interrupted and she stopped thinking about anything but enjoying her potatoes.
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Mortarion

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Change of Pace

Brought to you by Mortarion and @Greenie



14th of Midyear 4E208, early morning, Underground tunnel.

How could it all have gone so wrong.” These were the thoughts that filled Jaraleet’s mind as the Argonian ran through the tunnels that they had once used to infiltrate inside the palace. He was no fool, he knew that the Poncy Man and his insurgency would try to get rid of them once they no longer saw any use in the group….but he hadn’t expected for them to attack them now. If it hadn’t been for Zhaib and Janelle’s spell they would all be dead now, their bodies riddled with the bullets from the rifles that Irranhu had stolen. His thoughts came to a sudden halt as he heard a moan of pain and his heart twisted as he looked down and saw who he was carrying in his arms: Meg.

As they had been running towards the tunnels, one of the insurgents had seemed to recuperate faster than his comrades and he had, unfortunately, managed to hit Meg in the leg as the Nord woman was making her way towards the entrance of the tunnel. “Don’t worry Meg, everything will be ok.” The Argonian said softly as he continued running through the underground passage. Now was not the time to let his mind be distracted with iddle thoughts, he reminded himself; his priority was to find Meg a healer who could look at the wound in her leg.

"Y- y'sure?" Meg wasn't. This hurt more than any would she'd had ever received, and it was all she could do to keep herself from screaming in pain or throwing up do to it. She barely even realized she was being carried by the argonian. One moment she'd been fine, the next she had let out a scream unlike any she had before and crumpled to the ground.

"What... happened?" Blinded by her own tears, she couldn't really make sense of anything right now.

“I am, I am, trust in me.” The Argonian replied, trying to make his voice as soothing as possible to ease Meg’s worries but he couldn’t help the worry that crept into his voice. “You were shot, by one of those drykillers from Irranhu.” Jaraleet answered, his voice cold and full of rage as he remembered the moment and his grip on Meg tightening ever so slightly before he relaxed again.

“Don’t worry, everything will be fine.” He repeated once more, giving Meg a brief smile. “If I could survive a shot to the gut, you can survive this. I know that you can.” He finished, giving her shoulder a light squeeze to try and reassure her.

Meg wanted to reply something coherent, but she was having a hard time. Even if she could, she knew very well she wasn't as strong as Jaraleet. Cuts and bruises she'd endured her whole life were nothing compared to getting shot. Why hadn't she run quicker than that? Forcing herself to calm down was an impossibility, so she tried to focus on anything other than the nauseating pain. Eventually however she simply passed out, which perhaps was for the better.

“Meg? Meg?” Jaraleet asked, worry plain on his voice, when the Nord woman didn't answer to his previous words. He paused to look down for a second and breathed a sigh of relief when he realized that she had just merely fallen unconscious. “You rest now Meg, I’ll make sure that everything will be alright.” He said softly as he began running again, focusing his mind entirely on one task: getting back to the Three Crowns and getting the Nord woman medical help.




The carnage that greeted them at the hotel did little to phase the Argonian, who ignored the wailing cries of those who had survived the Dwemer’s assault on the building. A lifetime of being an agent of the An-Xileel had deadened him to the horrors of slaughter and death, and the Argonian’s mind was focused on the task of getting Meg medical help above everything else.

The Argonian made a beeline towards the infirmary located in the hotel, kicking the doors open only to find himself greeted with more chaos. What staff was in the infirmary was occupied treating those who had survived the centurion’s assault, but it was clear that the vast majority of the wounded wouldn't survive. Spotting a bed that was mercifully empty, Jaraleet made his way there and gently deposited Meg in it. “Everything will be fine Meg, we are back in the hotel. I'll go and get you some help.” The Argonian said softly before he turned back to the chaos that reigned in the infirmary.

Quickly spotting a nurse that was making her way through the room, Jaraleet intercepted the woman in an instant. “You.” The assassin said, his voice cold and bereft of any sympathy or mercy, as he grabbed the nurse by the wrist. “You will help her,” He continued on, using his free hand to point at the bed were he had left Meg. “Is that clear?” He finished, his voice indicating that the woman had no choice in the matter whatsoever.

It seemed as if the nurse had indeed done what the Argonian had ordered; by the time Meg came to consciousness once more, the pain that had been assaulting her was quite numbed down. She could finally seen the state of her leg, bloody and reminding her of how Jaraleet's wound had looked. Bringing a hand to her mouth, she managed to quell the nauseated sensation that had returned. She didn't feel good despite the numbness of pain, and she was quite sure despite healing and potions, she wouldn't be walking for a while.

"This... ain' good," she mumbled, attempting to sit up. She was going to be a burden when they had to leave Gilane, and fast.

“Easy there, easy.” Jaraleet said as soon as he noticed that Meg had woken up once again, placing a hand on her shoulder. He debated inwardly for a second whether or not to tell her how bad things were before deciding that it’d be best to be honest with Meg. “Yes, things aren’t looking too good.” He finally said with a sigh, shaking his head slightly. “I take it the pain is less than it was before?” He asked her softly, a note of worry in his voice.

Meg nodded, though she was looking around herself. There were others here... but no one she knew. She could recognize the building structure and colours as the Three Crowns Hotel, but she didn't understand why there were so many others injured here.

"I don' think I can walk though..." She slowly pushed herself up on her hand, looking at Jaraleet, a question in her still groggy eyes. "Where're the rest...?" What had happened at the palace had to mean no place was safe for the group, and now that she could think, Meg knew they had to get out of here. "We- we need t'leave."

“We do, Gilane is no longer safe for us to stay in.” The Argonian said with a sigh, shaking his head slightly. “Alms it everyone is here on the hotel. Alim….Alim was captured while trying to hold back a group of Dwemer soldiers so that Rhona and Brynja could escape. We have no idea were the two of them are, but Alim has probably been carted off to one of the Dwemer’s prisons.” He finished, taking Meg’s hand in his and giving it a light squeeze. “We are currently gathering our things and then we are leaving.”

"Knew that would happen..." Meg let out a breath, shutting her eyes as she listened to the argonian speak. Alim gone. Brynja... It was hard to bear the stinging of her tears, and when she finally opened her eyes, though she was calmer, her tears nonetheless rolled and dripped off her chin. "Well... looks like we're gonna havta save him then, eh?" She pushed herself up completely, though when she tried to move her leg she found it rather difficult.

"Shit." This was going to be a problem. "Shit..." Her hands clenched into fists, her eyes falling on the scars that still decorated her knuckles. "My stuff... it's in m'room, in the chest. A chest piece... a bow. There's a pouch with septims..." She took in a breath and let it out quickly. "I need t'drop tha' off for Zahir. He's... he's gonna be waitin' for me..."

“I’ll go and get them, don’t worry. For now you need to get as much rest as you can Meg.” The Argonian said softly, placing one hand in her shoulder before giving her a pleading look. “Please, take it easy.” He said, chewing on his lip for a second as he thought about what to say about the matter of Zahir. “As to what happens with Zahir….we’ll have to see if we can find him.” Jaraleet finally said with a sigh, shaking his head slightly. “Is there anything else I need to get back from your room aside from what you mentioned before?” He added, wanting to switch away from the topic of Zahir. He knew that Meg cared about the Redguard orphan, but right now there was no time to worry about him.

“I can’ just leave him like- withou’ nothin’...” She knew it had to be selfish and stubborn, but it was her own fault she had asked the boy to trust her. Why had she taken that responsibility? Now she had to leave without warning and would only be leaving behind memories of broken promises. What if he ended up getting beaten up or even worse because he had no gold to spend? Maybe it would have been better if she had never met the boy… Her mouth trembled before she composed herself yet again with a deep breath. “That’s all. Don’ think I have any other shit.”

“Meg…” The Haj-Eix began before letting out a sigh. He knew this was a battle he couldn’t win. “Alright, we’ll try and find Zahir after we gather our things.” He conceded,shaking his head slightly “We’ll give him your money, maybe see if we can get some food from here too, and then we’ll explain to him why we must leave, ok?”

She shook her head. "No... yer kind but I know we ain' got that much time." Meg winced as she tested her good leg, letting it settle on the floor. "Outside the hotel, there was a spot I'd drop things for 'im, we can hide it there. Won' take long. I don' wanna waste time an' let anyone else get hurt."

“Hey, hey, what did I say about taking it easy.” Jaraleet said as Meg winced when she tested her good leg. He let out a sigh at her next words, shaking his head slightly. “If you are sure, then I’ll go and retrieve your stuff and see if I can find some food for Zahir. You stay here and, I don’t know, try and write something so that the boy knows what’s up, alright?” The Argonian said, waiting for a moment to make sure that Meg would do as he had told her and then left to retrieve her belongings from her room.

"Aye," Meg replied, nodding a little. She would wait here- it wasn't as if she could move without any help. Once the argonian had left though she reached down into her tunic's pocket. Inside was her map of Gilane, wrinkled from all the folding up. She straightened it up before turning it around to its blank side, and as she did, she pulled out some leftover charcoal in her pocket to write with.

ZAHIR, I HAVE TO LEAVE. SORRY I CANT STAY FOR YOU. BUT I WILL COME BACK. USE THE SEPTIMS PROPERLY. DONT GET INTO FIGHTS. BE SAFE.
TALOS KEEP YOU SAFE.
MEG


Shortly after Meg was done writing her letter on the back of the map, Jaraleet appeared. On his back he was carrying the backpacks in which the both of them kept their possessions. “Are you ready?” The Argonian asked once he had approached the bed, a note of concern in his voice. “You show me the way and I’ll carry you to the spot.”

The spot wasn't too far away, just outside the hotel gates in a secluded area where no one would think to go. Zahir had been the one to show it to her when they had first met, so she had trusted his judgement and it hadn't proven wrong yet. Meg could only hope he wouldn't hold it against her, but more than that, she hoped he remained safe and sound.

"Let's go," she said quietly once the money and note was dropped off. There was no sense lingering.

“If you are sure.” Jaraleet said softly, picking up Meg again in his arms before he began walking away from the spot. He knew that Meg was hurting, or would be soon at any rate, but now there was no time to stop, they had to get out of Gilane and rendezvous with the others. Luckily, despite having to carry Meg, Jaraleet managed to slip through Gilane’s streets easily enough and they soon found themselves in front of the city gates along with the others in the group.

Once they were there he made his way to where he, Sevari, and Latro had stashed their horses. “Here,” he said as he placed Meg on the horse’s saddle. “No idea how far away this oasis that Shakti is leading us to is, so it’d be better for you to ride the horse. Don’t worry, I’m used to walking long distances.” He told her, smiling at the Nord woman reassuringly.

Meg wasn't about to say no to the kind gesture. Even if she had wanted to, it would have been stupidity with her useless leg. "Thanks, Jaraleet," she replied softly, a weak smile on her face. She wasn't happy with the situation, but she was happy she had someone like him to depend on. Without thinking too much of it, she leaned over as much as she could without fear of falling and pressed her lips against his cheek. "I appreciate it."

Jaraleet was surprised when Meg leaned down to kiss his cheek, his hand moving to touch the spot where he had been kissed. He blinked, still somewhat incredulous, before he smiled at Meg. “It’s no problem, I’m glad to be of help.” He told her, taking her hand in his and giving it a slight squeeze before they started moving.



14th of Midyear, late afternoon, Oasis

It was probably the hardest journey Meg had ever made, and it wasn't even as if she was using her own two legs to make it like the times she had wandered the roads of Skyrim. When they came by the caravan, she immediately volunteered to sit in the wagon, even if it was being driven by the infamous Zaveed along with some Redguard looking woman who know one seemed to know. It didn't matter though. Her leg was hurting once again- while riding the horse kept pressure off of it, the jostling from the ride was enough to start the pain once more. The wagon was godssend for the Nord, and despite the clear negativity in the air, Meg was simply praising Mara she could rest under some shade. She did feel somewhat guilty to know the others were walking. At least Jaraleet could now ride on the horse though.

When they finally reached the oasis, it felt like days had passed, even if it night had not even come to pass. It was hard to even imagine such a place could even exist in the expanse of all the sand and heat, but here it was. A reprieve, a gift from the gods. Despite her soreness, Meg couldn't help but grin tiredly as she peeked out from the wagon, taking in the scent of sand, water and vegetation.

“You seem to be happy to be here, Meg.” Jaraleet commented as he saw the Nord woman peek out from the wagon. “I understand, I’m happy to be here too after the march through that blasted desert.” The Argonian laughed, shaking his head before settling on a smile. “There seems to be a nearby river, want me to take you there?”

"It was so bloody hot," she muttered. "Can' imagine how it was for y'all out there." The prospect of heading by the river was a nice one though, and the slight grumble in her voice disappeared. "Aye! Er... lemme try t'walk though. Don' wanna forget how to." Truthfully, she was just rather embarrassed now, especially with everyone there.

“If you are sure…” The Argonian said, a slight hint of reproach in his voice. “But if I see you wincing, I’m carrying you there whether you like it not.” He said, frowning slightly, as he offered Meg his hand so she could step down from the wagon.

Meg grabbed on to his hand and stepped out, putting all of her weight on her good leg, hopping about a little until she was sure she wouldn't fall over. "Isn' it amazin'," she marvelled, "how things're green in here?" She leaned against Jaraleet, not ready to topple over quite yet. "The sound of the river kinda reminds me of back in Riften when I was a kid."

“It is, never seen something quite like this in my life.” Jaraleet said, taking in the sights of the oasis. When Meg leaned against him, he wrapped his arm around her shoulders without thinking, not quite realizing what he had done. “Hmmm, tell me about it.” He said softly, pausing for a second as he realized that he might not have been all that clear. “About your childhood I mean.”

Meg blinked a little before grinning once more, shoving any notion of pain to the side for the time being. It was the first time he’d asked, and she was more than happy to divulge a little bit about herself. “I was born in Riverwood,” she started, mentally going back in time to try and remember. “Ma died when I was real small… Pa didn’ take it too good… but when he returned t’hisself, he decided t’move t’Riften. He used t’live there ‘fore he met Ma, y’see. He knew folks there, friends I s’pose? So we moved there an’ he’d go work as a bodyguard for rich skeevers.” She rubbed her neck sheepishly with her free hand. “I was s’posed t’stay in the house or head to Mara’s temple but… eh. I like t’wander ‘bout. Good thing too, that’s where I learned it all, sneakin’ about, sticky fingers… ehehe.

“But yeah, there were canals all ‘round, an’ even though I’d keep away from ‘em- I can’ swim- ‘t’was still nice listening to the water.” Her nose wrinkled. “Didn’ smell too great though.”

“You know….” Jaraleet started once Meg had finished talking, pausing for a brief second as he thought on what to say next. “Maybe once things have calmed down, if they do at any rate, you could….show me around Riften maybe?” He asked her softly, an edge of uncertainty to his voice. “Maybe I could teach you to swim too, if you are interested that is.” He added after a second, chuckling softly. Who knew what the future had in store for either of them but….right now, there wasn’t any harm in allowing himself to hope for such things, of this Jaraleet was certain.

Meg let out a small chuckle, hearing the note of hesitantion in the argonian's voice. "Sounds like a plan t'me," she replied with a nod. "Though I don'- well, I don' really live anywhere, but Pa's house is in Whiterun an' that's quite aways from Riften. Y'should visit the whole of it, bet you'd like it. Markarth's beautiful if ya like mountains..." She let out a small sigh. "It ain' hot like here, tha's for sure."

She blinked as she remembered his other comment. "Swimmin'? Me?" She looked a little nervous at the prospect. "I dunno... sound's kinda risky. Last time I tried was 'cause I was 'bout t'drown." She was referring to the dwemer ruins, of course.

“Hmmm, never been to Skyrim. It would certainly be nice to visit….” He replied wistfully, smiling ever so slightly. He chuckled softly when he saw the look of nervousness that crossed Meg’s face at the prospect of learning to swim and he smiled reassuringly at the Nord woman. “Hey, it’s only if you want, and I’d be there. Nothing would happen to you.” He said softly and reassuringly, giving her shoulder a light squeeze and pulling her just a bit closer.

"Hrmmm," Meg replied. It wasn't like she didn't trust her friend, but the idea of learning something so late in her life was a little daunting. Also, wasn't it argonians who could breathe underwater? He had natural affinity with water, unlike her!

"I mean, it'd be nice," she replied, relenting slightly. "Long as I don' feel like I'm dyin'."

“We’ll take it slowly, don’t worry.” He reassured her with a smile before chuckling slightly. “Plus, don’t think there’d be a better teacher than an Argonian.” He joked slightly. “Really, it’ll all be fine.” He added after a second. “But, like I said before, I won’t force you if you don’t want to.”

Meg looked up at Jaraleet before relenting even further. "Then once we're outta the desert," she decided. "Might as well, ain' a bad thin' knowin' how t'get across water." She then pointed over to a spot that looked nice to sit. "I'mma sit a bit, feelin' kinda tired from the walkin’."

“Then it’s decided, once we are out of this blasted desert, I’ll teach you.” The Argonian said, smiling at Meg, before moving his gaze to the spot where she was pointing at. “Hmmm, resting sounds good to me too.” He admitted, chuckling softly. “Want me to help you get there?”

"Aye that'd be nice," Meg replied. She still felt silly relying on the help, but who was she to say know? At least he had been kind enough to endure her stubbornness the first time. "Hm... thank you for all this, y'know. An' b'fore. About Zahir."

Jaraleet nodded and helped Meg make her way to the spot she had pointed, helping her to sit down before he followed suit. “There’s no need to thank me Meg.” He said softly once he was settled, smiling at the Nord woman. “If you need help, regardless of what it is, I’m here for you.” Jaraleet told her, pausing for a second as he pondered whether to not say what on his mind. “Do you….do you wanna talk about it? About Zahir and Gilane, I mean.” He asked softly, concern plain in his voice.

Looking out at the water, Meg remained quiet for a while before finally speaking. "I... I wish we didn' have t'leave him like tha'. I had a Pa growin' up, but there was lotsa times I was alone an' just walkin' on the streets, wantin' someone t'talk to, t'be my friend. Bein' lonely ain' fun... an', I've just done tha' t'him."

Jaraleet was silent for a moment, unsure of what to say, before moving closer to Meg and wrapping one arm around her shoulder. “We’ll return for him, one day.” He said without thinking, falling into a stunned silence as the realization of what he had just said hit him. “Once things have calmed down...we’ll come back and find him, ok?”

“Yeah,” Meg replied, nodding her head. When it all came to an end… whenever that was, she would go back to Gilane, even if it meant crossing all of Skyrim to do so. She had made a promise and she couldn’t go back on it. She looked to Jaraleet, smiling a little before looking back to the river, though even as she did, she leaned her head against him, taking whatever comfort she could. “Aye, ‘t’would be nice, travellin’ safe with a friend.”

Jaraleet nodded in response to Meg’s words, smiling at the Nord woman as he felt her leaning her head against his body. “It would be nice, yeah.” He replied, closing his eyes and allowing himself to enjoy the simple, peaceful, moment.
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Greenie Heaven don't play like violins

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A Matter of Perception

by Morty and Greenie



16th of Midyear, Late Morning, the Oasis

Sirine was sitting with her back against one of the trees in the oasis, a roll of paper unfurled on her upright knees, quill in hand and inkpot to the side on the ground. It had been a couple of days since she had written anything, and she was feeling the itch. Having found some writing supplies in the caravan, the former pirate had no qualms in claiming them as her own. There was so much to note down, so many new faces, temperaments, relationships, and while most were familiar with each other even a little, she was still mostly in the dark. Whatever little she had gathered was simply from observation, but even that was enough to fill a substantial bit of her roll.

She thought to earlier in the morning where she’d had a conversation with the Nord woman who had sat in the wagon. Megana Corvus.She seemed... nice, foolishly so. Ready to defend her companions no matter their heinous deeds. Well, I guess that is understandable. This group was so motley, it really was amazing how they had managed to remain together for so long. In that sense, she had to begrudgingly admire Daro'Vasora's success in doing so. Being a leader who kept things together was no easy task, and the fact that they hadn't broken apart even after her kidnapping was a testament to the trust and faith they had in the female khajiit.

A smirk came to her face, remembering their first meeting in the desert. What had I said? Fuck them, yes. The sentiment was still more or less there, but a little less intense now that she didn't have to worry about her friend being murdered.

“Well, someone seems mighty pleased today.” Echoed a voice a short distance away from Sirine, followed by the sound of muffled footsteps. “So, did I miss something?” Jaraleet asked as he stood in front of Sirine. Despite the Argonian’s casual demeanor, there was a serious look on his face as he regarded the Imperial Redguard.

"What, did I not seem filled with mirth the last couple of days?" Sirine lifted her eyes away from the paper to look up at the newcomer. As faces went, his was a recognizable one, being one of the only two argonians in the group, as well as the one who had been carrying around the injured Nord woman. "Jaraleet, that is your name, isn't it? I have no doubt you must know mine by now, but allow me to introduce myself anyway. Sirine Al Nahel. To what do I owe this visit?"

“You would be correct, that is my name indeed.” Jaraleet replied, electing to ignore the first comment from the Imperial Redguard. “Hmmm, what reasons could I have to visit you….” The Argonian said, chuckling softly. “Perhaps it’s because you are allies with someone who was our enemy but a few days prior?” He started listing, meeting Sirine’s gaze. “Or maybe it has to do with, how out of everyone in your little trio, you are the one I know the least about.” The Argonian continued on. “Zaveed I know by reputation, and with Sevari I have worked before.” Jaraleet said. “You, Sirine Al Nahel, are an enigma to me. And you will have to forgive me if I don’t easily trust someone whom I know nothing but their name.”

"That's a fair assessment," Sirine agreed, her gaze returning to the paper on her knees, which she now carefully rolled up since the ink was dry. Once that was done, she set it next to the bottle of ink which she proceeded to close before it had the chance to spill. Now that she was sure her things were safe, she sat up straight, crossing her legs as she returned her full attention to the man who was still standing.

Motioning for him to sit down, she nodded. "There is not much to know about me, I'm afraid. I was a former pirate, a former barmaid, a former whore. Now I'm simply a sister searching for her brother. Zaveed and Sevari have agreed to help me to that end, and so I am here. Frankly, I did not expect to be dragged into... a group quite like this, but sometimes the tides drag you where you least expect it." She smirked a little yet again. “As for trusting me, I would see you a bloody fool if you did. The fact is that aside from the khajiit brothers, I trust none of you here either. It's quite mutual, so I am in no way offended if you find my presence disconcerting.”

“Then I shall rest easy that, at the very least, you won’t see me for a fool in that case.” The Argonian replied, letting out a chuckle before he smirked at the former pirate after he had sat down. “My trust is not something I easily give, after all. I think, on that at least, you and I can agree on.” He continued on. “As for your presence, I find it less disconcerting and more like a mystery to unravel so to speak.” He shrugged, looking into the woman’s eyes. “I’m curious how you will fit into our little group, no matter how long your stay on it is.” Jaraleet continued on. “There are people….well, one person to be precise, who is very dear to me. And I want to know, to put it bluntly, if you’ll be a threat.”

“I need to know if I can trust you, and I use the term very loosely here, to not stab us in the back.” The Argonian said, his tone serious. “I do not say you have to like us, or befriend us, but we’d make poor allies if we can’t trust the other during combat, or when the time comes for us to reach our objectives, no?”

Sirine couldn't help but chuckle softly as she listened to the argonian. What a blunt and straightforward man; it was almost refreshing. At least he had the guts to actually seek her out and ask his inquiries rather than simply let his mind cook up different theories about why she was there. "When I stab someone," she started lightly, “it's always from the front, where my victim can see who is the one ending their life."

She uncrossed her legs and stretched out, crossing them at the ankle as she once more leaned back against the tree, the image of peace and relaxation. "I know of who you speak," she continued, looking in the direction of where she had bumped into Meg. "The Nord woman, yes? You helped her into the wagon." Her dark eyes looked back to Jaraleet. "There's absolutely no benefit for me in hurting her, you, or anyone in this camp. Over and above that, my two companions clearly wish to keep the peace, which is why you all even had that wagon to begin with. My goal is to save my brother, and your group leads to those ends."

Her eyes narrowed as they stared into Jaraleet's. "I am not going to endanger his rescue, and so I agreed to keep the peace, even though I have no reason or inclination to like you all. However, this means your group should uphold it as well. Especially that necromancer of yours." Perhaps Zaveed had no fear of the man any longer, but Sirine had absolutely zero faith in the Imperial man.

“Good, then I believe we shall have no problems working together if that’s the case. And, yes, you would be correct in your assumptions, I am indeed speaking of Meg.” The Argonian replied to Sirine, his eyes narrowing at the mention of necromancy. “That seems to become more and more of a terribly kept secret.” He said with a sigh, shaking his head slightly.

"Well, when you're travelling with a man who nearly had his soul trapped, it tends to come up." Sirine couldn't keep the dryness out of her tone. How long did they expect that to remain a secret?

“A bit of advice in regards to that, if I might.” He began, tone serious as he looked at the Imperial Redguard. “That particular bit of information isn’t widely known, so it would be in the best interest of everyone in the group for it to remain that way.” The assassin spoke. “You might not care about Gregor, or anyone in this group, and I don’t fault you for it but consider the following; he is a man governed by his emotions and he doesn’t respond well to threats, implied or overt, whatsoever.” He began, pausing for a second to let out a sigh. “Who is to say how he’d react if his secret was brought into the open, the only certainty if that were to happen is that violence would soon follow. Violence that would be a threat to our common objectives, as it stands.” Jaraleet said gravely, his eyes staring into Sirine’s. “A beast is more dangerous when cornered. And Gregor is a beast you don’t want to corner.”

Her arms crossed over her chest as she listened to the argonian speak, eyes looking out in the distance to where the tents were. What he said was in no way incorrect, though it did irk her a little how easily most of whom she'd had contact with were ready to mistrust and throw blame yet very protective of their own companions’ misdeeds.

"I met him yesterday," Sirine commented, looking back at Jaraleet. "Early morning. He had quite a few words to say about Zaveed and his terrible deeds. And yet he seemed perfectly happy dehumanizing the dwemer, claiming they are not people. He also seems perfectly happy trapping souls for whatever grand reasons he has." Her eyes narrowed and one of her hands clenched into a fist though her arms remained crossed. How did this group justify that sort of behaviour and yet at the same time happy to throw all sorts of blame on Zaveed? Why wasn't he more indignant about it? It seemed very unfair-

She took in a breath and let it out slowly, and as she did, her hand unclenched, resting gently on her forearm. No, this was not the place to show emotions or frustrations, not in front of people who would judge even the slightest narrowed glance. "There's absolutely no benefit in my divulging his secret," she replied, smiling once more. "As I mentioned, my goal is rescuing my brother, and I know very well that upsetting this facade of peace will only be detrimental to those goals. And it seems you understand this as well... so perhaps you would do well to speak with your companions too." She raised her hands up in a peaceful fashion. “Perhaps I’ll even try to be a little friendly, who knows?”

“You’ll have to forgive me if I find that hard to believe.” The Argonian said. It hadn’t escaped his notice the way that the Imperial Redguard had tensed at his words nor the way that she had restrained herself almost immediately. “It’s clear to me that my words don’t sit well with you. And with good reason, Gregor is after all the man who nearly killed your ally and friend.” He began, lacing his fingers. “And, as such, it frustrates you that I ask you to be patient, to be understanding to us.” Jaraleet continued on, shaking his head at the one-time pirate. “It must reek of hypocrisy to you, doesn’t it?” He said, smiling mirthlessly. “Hypocrisy, that I must note, you also share. After all, I am sure that part of you expects us to welcome Zaveed as if he had been a long time ally of ours. And, yet, you know that is not the truth.”

“After all, but a few days prior, all that Zaveed was to us was the man who had captured our leader and tortured one of our friends not once, but twice.” The assassin spoke, his tone calm. “And you might say ‘But that is the nature of war’ and you wouldn’t be incorrect. But, let me ask you this question, if the situation had been inverted, if we had been the ones to capture Zaveed and brutally torture him, would you be so quick to forgive us? To accept us as allies?” He paused for a second, both to catch breath and to let his words sink in. “I do not know why you think so highly of Zaveed but you also need to understand that, to almost everybody in this camp, Gregor is merely an upstanding man, prone to melancholy maybe but a good man nonetheless. Most of them probably couldn’t fathom to think of him as a necromancer, the same way that most of them probably can’t fathom Zaveed as anything else than the person who kidnapped Daro’Vasora and tortured Raelynn.” He said, letting out a sigh. “It is all a matter of perspective.”

Sirine was silent, her expression as calm as a lake on a breeze-less day, despite the turmoil that was brewing within her mind and heart. Once again the Argonian spoke the truth, but it wasn't just the way he spoke, but the clarity with which. He wasn't being emotional about it, nor was he trying to convince her like Gregor- he was simply stating the facts. She wasn't one to begrudge a person when they called out her hypocrisy. It was well and true, if Zaveed had been brutally tortured, she would not hesitate to kill the entire camp and toss their corpses without a second thought. Hadn't she done that once before, sneaking into the night on a ship to murder the very men who had raped her and threatened to kill her brother if she said a word?

"You have one thing wrong, Jaraleet." Finally breaking her silence, Sirine sighed softly as she sat up straight, crossing her legs once more as she rested her hands in her lap, fingers loosely interlocked. "I don't expect anyone to welcome him or me, and not even Sevari for that matter, despite him claiming you all were allies. I knew very well from my first impression of Daro'Vasora and Latro that it would be anything but." She raised a shoulder in a shrug before allowing herself a smile. "Like you said, it's all a matter of perspective. All I'm hoping is that mistrust does not end up ruining this opportunity for everyone."

“Ah, if that was the case, then it wouldn’t frustrate you so the way that we treat Zaveed. As for what happened with Sevari, well, that is a complicated story. His first encounter with Latro wasn’t the most pleasant, as I understand it, and recent matters have undone what little trust Latro had in Sevari.” The Argonian said calmly, chuckling mirthlessly at Sirine’s final words. “Oh, believe me, I think that is the one truth we can all agree in this camp.”

Sirine couldn't help but scoff, shaking her head. "It frustrates me yes, but sometimes things we expect frustrate us. The desert is hot and sticky, and most of us hate it, yet we don't expect it to be any different, right?" She quieted momentarily, feeling a little sorry for the Ohmes-Raht. "From what I've been hearing around the camp, trust for Sevari has been misplaced because he did not aid your group in attacking the palace and rescuing your leader. Perhaps at least that issue can be repaired by knowing he had been taken prisoner and would not have been able to help anyway. From the little I know, he sees some of you as friends, so if not myself and Zaveed… I hope your friends treat him properly. I’m quite certain if he could have, he would have been there."

“I know, I know.” The Argonian replied to Sirine’s words, letting a sigh fall from his lips. “It might take some time...but hopefully the others will regain their trust in him. I know that I will do my part for that to happen.” Jaraleet said, pausing for a second. “And for the rest of the group to be more accepting of you and Zaveed. I said as much to the two brothers that I’d try. Not sure how successful I’ll be, wasn’t exactly the most liked person here before you three came.”

"Is that so?" Sirine couldn't help but chuckle at the argonian's words. "Hm, you've been involved in your own dastardly affairs as well, I take it?" She gave the man a wink before continuing. "Don’t worry, whether you are successful or not, we're not going to be the ones rocking the boat, as the saying goes. If anything, I wish to leave here soon and simply complete this task of ours." The thought of being so close to her brother, yet him rotting behind bars while she was resting peacefully in an oasis reminded her too much of her night in the Governor's palace.

“I have.” Replied the Argonian calmly. “I’ve done my own share of dark deeds. I’m not a good man, this I know.” He said, nodding at Sirine’s reassurance that, whether he failed or succeeded, she and her compatriots wouldn’t cause trouble. “Good, good, we have enough enemies outside as it is. There’s no need to be making more of them, eh?”

Who hasn't committed dark deeds? But Sirine did not say this aloud, recalling what Gregor had mentioned about the man named Calen. Perhaps there were still some poor, innocent fools left in the world after all. "Enemies seem to make themselves," she stated with a wry smile. "But yes, no need for strife where there needn't be any."

She smirked a little. It seems at least one classmate will be easy to get along with, Captain Greywake. "I must say, it's been quite refreshing, having this little chat with you."

“I agree.” Jaraleet said with a nod of his head. “On both accounts, as it stands. It has been good to have this chat with you Sirine. Thank you for your time.” The Argonian said as he stood up and moved away from the spot where the Imperial Redguard had been previously writing before he had interrupted her.

Sirine waited until he was out of sight before reaching for her roll of paper, unfurling it and laying it on her lap, looking over the words she had written previously. Seeing the Argonian's name, she chuckled once more. It looked as if there were more notes for her to add for him.
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My Bluebird


The Oasis, Hammerfell
15th of Midyear, 4e208
Dusk

I swear I see her in my dreams…

...Stood up in the pale moonlight...




Latro breathed out a sigh onto the cool air of the Oasis. The hubbub of voices did something to calm him, it seemed. This was the most at peace he’d felt. He sat in front of the tent, fading sunlight making radiating light shows of the water’s ripples. His ear pricked up as he heard Gregor’s voice somewhere near the entrance and Zaveed’s after. Although, that was thankfully about as lively as it got. He felt good, for the first time in a long time, lounging about shirtless and shoeless with his lute nearby. Though he still had he scabs from the cuts he took in the rescue, it felt good to be bare again. He daresay it was enough to make it so that the sight of his axe and knife laying next to him did little to perturb him as he sat tracing the scar along his stomach from the Dwemer ruin all those days ago, when this all started. The Dwemer, and him and Sora. It was peaceful, and an easy smile spread across his lips. He reached over to his side and grabbed up the sheet of paper he had been scribbling on for a time now, even since before the rescue while he would go to the study to be alone.

As he brought it away from the sandy ground, his charcoal pencil rolling off of it, he was smiling to imagine the melody along with what he’d written. It was finished. The song he owed her, he smiled. He was so engrossed in reciting it in his head, he didn’t notice when her feet stepped up a bit from his face. He took the parchment from his eyes and looked up to see Sora. His smile only grew, he spoke the words out on the air, those hallowed syllables, “Hello, my love.”

“You look like you're waiting on someone.” Daro’Vasora smiled, setting herself down with her legs folded under her as she leaned into Latro, noticing the parchment. “So, who might the lucky lady be?” she teased, trying to catch a glimpse of what Latro was writing. “What are you working on?” she asked curiously, playfully reaching for the sheet.

Latro chuckled and tsk’d at Sora’s prying eyes, moving it away from her view as he spoke, “Oh, just someone I met in the Jeralls some time ago. I must admit,” he placed a kiss on her cheek while putting the parchment behind his back, looking into her eyes, “I’m growing a little smitten with her.”

“Must be someone pretty special if she caught your eye,” the Khajiit replied bashfully, her tail flicking as a pair of fingers pressed where Latro’s lips had with a shy smile.

A kiss planted on her lips and he stood, offering a hand out to her after he grasped up his lute in the other, “I believe I still owe you something, my dear Sora.”

For the first time in a while he was nervous to play, as he led her to a place that was secluded, which still didn’t mean it was secluded enough for him. He sat down on a rock, taking his lute in both his hands and beginning to tune. Every so often he looked up at Sora and watched her eyes on his fingers. He knew there would be some who would hear the song still, caves did echo, but the war made him realize one thing at least- do something now, or you might not get the chance to, ever.

Finally done with the tuning, he took in a breath and let it out long. He looked to Sora, “Ready, love?”

Daro’Vasora’s heart raced as she covered her mouth in a mixture of surprise and shock; she had teased him about writing her a song from the very beginning, ever since discovering the Falmer wall painting, to tell her story. Words failed her as her throat choked up, and instead she nodded with a wide smile and gleaming eyes. She had hoped for this for so long, never quite feeling deserving of such a thing, and yet here they were.

“I can’t promise I won’t ugly cry.” she said with an embarrassed chuckle before composing herself, kneeling in front of Latro, who looked like he was born for the lute she’d gifted him what seemed like a lifetime ago.

He laughed at that, the lute strings picking up just as the last whispers of laughter left the air. It continued on like that for a bit, a bittersweet melody coming from fingers plucking with the emotion that was held by his bowed head and stirred beneath his closed eyelids. He nodded with the beat, keeping pace with it. “I’ve been working on it,” he paused, continuing on with his plucking, “for a while now. Revisions and revisions, rewrites. I’m a perfectionist because you deserve it, my fine Sora.”

And he closed his lips and only left them parted but a hair, humming out a few testing rhythms. He bent the strings up, letting his last strum echo out on the air and just as he knew Sora would be wondering if that was all he had, he began strumming and plucking again, and with a voice that had haunted taverns and come back in many a person’s dream far after they’d forgotten his voice, the lyrics came-

“I swear I see her in my dreams
Stood up in the pale moonlight
Shaking like a blade in a young man’s hand
Eyes like seas and touch like fires
With words that make my heartstrings
Sing like choirs
Is my lady in her best fine dress
She makes my skin ache for her caress

Well, I been living with a curse
Sitting here and combing through my youth
There’s a million bloody miles
Tween here and now
And it’s soaking through my shoes

I been tossing all the night
I don’t sleep like I should do
Even if my eyes got heavy
My dreams don’t sing like they used to

And what a sorry man I am for holding up the show
I had a million little plans but they got nowhere to go
You asked me to give you one good reason, but I could give you a million more
Of why we could still love here, and I could still be the man you adore

But I got the guiltiest conscience
Listening for my savior almost every night
I had my ear to the ground
And you got the heavens in your eyes

Forgive me, my bluebird, if I seem overwhelmed
I’m trying to be a better man but they all keep pissing in my well
Used to think my anger had a purpose and my dirge once rung true
But that flew away on the winds that you brought along with you

My bluebird, I need you to be patient, to try to understand
I’m only a child trying to shoulder the work of a man
And it’s seen my pockets empty and my heart bruised and scarred
But my shaking knees might hold still if you could still love this bard”


-He let the last chord hum out, be taken with the wind and commit it to the memory of the stones of this place. He gave a long breath again, opening his eyes to see what he had done to his lover.

Daro’Vasora stood before him, tears flowing freely as she took in the song, a beautiful and almost mournful ballad that spoke volumes of the weight that Latro carried with him this whole time, the guilt, the fears. She reached out and held his face on either side gently. “I will love this bard, until my dying breath.” she promised, her words barely more than a whisper as she leaned in to kiss him, their lips touching, such a different sensation for both of them, but it felt right. Her tail flicked in rhythm, the song still in her ears; his voice was honeyed, and the lute sang as if it resonated with his soul. “You’ve nothing to be guilty for, Latro,” Daro’Vasora reassured him, running her hand through his long hair that she loved so much. “It was very much worth the wait.” she said, throwing her arms around his neck and nuzzling his neck. “Despite everything that happened, I got to have you in the end. How did I become so lucky?” she asked.

He squeezed her tight as he could for a second and then eased, let her just be in his arms as he buried his face in the crook her neck. “I’ll never know. Perhaps we shouldn’t, lest we ruin it.” He smiled, apparent in his voice, “But however and whyever, I’m happy about it. Always. Every day.”

He stayed with her like that for some time. Then he let her go and they both leaned back, his lute beside him again and he lay on his side, propped up on an elbow. “I’m glad you liked it.” He said, smiling, “One reason to stay with me is there’s more where it came from. Give me a week or two.”

The prompted a smirk as she took in his scent, her face buried in his neck. “I’m starting to think you’re trying to bribe me. Thank you.” Daro’Vasora said, slowly pulling off from the embrace with a kiss to the cheek that she pressed in with her hand. “I… wrote you something too.” she admitted, looking down sheepishly. “My last night in the palace, when I thought I’d never see you again, I thought of how I never had a chance to hear your song, so I wrote you one instead. I recited it to the winds, hoping they’d carry it to you.” she shook her head, feeling flushed with embarrassment. “I thought it was the right way to say goodbye.” she admitted, breaking off for a few moments to her belongings and rummaging through them with care. She held the folded parchment to him when she returned. “I can’t really sing, not well enough to sway a bard.” she admitted.

“Nonsense, you.” He took it in both hands like a hallowed scroll. Latro smiled to her, a sadness tinged it, knowing what she meant by saying her goodbyes. She thought him dead. He sighed, “If the world would end tomorrow, I’d be content knowing my lips last touched yours.”

“Well, enough of that morbid talk.” Daro’Vasora replied with a girlish smile. “Go on, read it.”

He nodded and smiled wide. Like two children snuck off to read each other love notes, they were. Latro’s eyes flitted across the page as he read. The farther his eyes descended the less his smile was. He finally got to the end and put the page aside, hand coming up to hide his eyes and his shoulders quaked. He gritted his teeth before he hauled in a long breath, letting it out as he wiped his eyes on his bare forearm.

“I mean that much to you?” Latro asked, “Truly?”

She reached up to Latro’s face, holding his cheeks with the gentlest of caresses. “You freed me from a cage I could never see, Latro. The world is so much wider and beautiful than I have ever seen before, with my eyes only to the past and in the depths of our world. I forgotten how beautiful people and their stories are, I never realized that one person could change one’s heart so completely. And so, Daro’Vasora bears her heart to you, Latro of the Reach; she has found her path, and you were her light.” she leaned in, kissing him with the faintest press of lips before embracing him fully. “She loves you, more than she ever could have thought she could care for another.”

Latro placed his hand on hers, closing his eyes and resting his head in her palm, “It’s been a long time since I’ve had someone care for me beyond just something to fuck.” He said, voice solemn, “I… It is new. I was in a brothel, I told you, that broke part of me. Every time I look into your eyes, I know I’m coming together again, piece by piece.”

A mischievous glint crossed her emerald eyes.
“Well…” The Khajiit purred, running a claw down Latro's bare chest. “‘Something to fuck’ is just dessert with me. Let me put you back together again. Piece…” she leaned over to kiss his cheek, “by…” and finally, she playfully nibbled on his ear. “piece.” she breathed, her claw digging just a bit deeper to accentuate the point. “Let me show you just how much I care, how much I've needed you.”

He sighed, feeling the shiver all through his body to have her so close to him again in so long. The breath on his ear sending his worries far away. Her claw pressed deeper and he couldn’t help but to quietly take in a sudden breath before he smiled, noticing finally something else, “You smell different.” He said, “Water lily?”

He didn’t wait for an answer. Being devoid of intimacy tinged with lust like this had been something he missed for so, so long. As he grabbed her by the wrist and led them to the tent, he hoped the others would be too busy going about their own lives to notice the shape in his blousy Redguard trousers. They disappeared into the tent and he wasted no time in grabbing her hip with one hand and her cheek with the other. He pressed her body against his, deeply kissing her almost without patience. He pushed against her until they were on their bedroll. He looked into her eyes, finding peace there, and… other feelings, “The brothel might have been uncomfortable for me, but I learned a lot there. It would be healing of its own to use it now on somebody I care for, whom I love,” he leaned in closer, his lips tickling at the edge of her ear as he said in a growling whisper, “All of it.”

“They hurt you, in ways I cannot imagine.” Daro'Vasora replied, leaning in for a passionate kiss. Suddenly, she pushed against Latro off of her and on his back, pinning him as she straddled his waist, smirking at his obvious attention. Breaking the kiss and sitting upright, she unbuttoned her tunic, tossing the waist belt to the side before carelessly discarding her shirt, exposing her bare torso to him. “It does not mean they own this act, nor the one who I have chosen as mine.”

The Khajiit wasted no time leaning back over, playfully biting his collarbone. “Hey… you have a good sense of scent, but you never noticed my hair.” she teased under her breath. Though he couldn't see it, an impish grin bared her teeth. “You know, you aren't the first person to get me out of my clothes today.” she teased in a sultry tone.

“Oh?” Latro’s brows went up as he smiled, biting his lip and wriggling under his lover, pressing each other closer as he did. He trusted Sora to not have done anything too unfaithful, and the sight of her legs on either side of him and her bare chest was erasing any worrying about when he could pull her onto him, “Tell me more.”

“Well…” her voice trailed off as she began to trace patterns on his chest. “Raelynn and I had ourselves a productive and very proper discussion that somehow lead us to finding ourselves in a hidden spring, and the next thing you know, we fall in without anything on, how indecent!” she said in mock shock before smirking. “She just happened to have some nice oils that she worked into my fur, and that's why you picked up on some water lilies, and she just braided my hair. How's it look?” she asked, tilting her head so the short ponytail came around the side.

“It looks beautiful,” he said, letting her ponytail run along his palm until the ends of it brushed upon his chest, making the small hairs of his arms stand on end, “You look beautiful. More and more everyday.”

He then ran his hands along her tight stomach and upwards, “It’s been so long since we’ve done this.” He smiled, “I meant what I said. That I was going to show you everything I learned.”

“Well,” she replied, her hand inching dangerously down his abdomen, “let's start with the first lesson.”
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