Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Greenie
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Greenie Into the Void

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Good People

16th of Midyear, Morning, the Oasis

Meg was feeling much better today, as it were. Now that she could stand up and walk with less of a limp than the previous day, she was beginning to feel less of a burden to the group and somewhat more confident in herself. It still irked her terribly that she had managed to get shot while they were escaping. It seemed like such a stupid thing- she had spent years travelling through dangerous places and situation and survived without too many scratches. Yet the one time she needed to be in best shape, not just for herself but for others, she ended up getting the worst injury of her life.

However, they were all there. They were all alive and well, relatively anyway. Daro'Vasora and Latro were back with them, and they had all managed to escape the dwemer without getting caught- well, not all. Alim wasn't there with them. It was a blow to the morale, but Meg trusted her companions. If they had managed it once, she was sure they could do it again. They had to.

She wasn't quite sure if they had needed to align themselves with the three newcomers, however. Sevari she recognized, and still felt more than intimidated by him. She knew Jaraleet was his friend, but that didn't have to mean he thought she was more than a nuisance. She could still hear his words from the night when he had saved their hides from being riddled in holes- never before had she been so relieved yet depressed at the same time. And what of the other khajiit, Zaveed? Meg had done a double take when she first saw the man, reminding her of J'raij at first glance. A second and third glance however proved that despite the similar hair and markings, they didn't look much the same after all. It was a relief, now that she thought of it. She didn't want such a wicked and dangerous person reminding her of someone she had cared for deeply.

And then there was the woman, some Redguard who no one knew anything about. Why was she with those two? Was she promised something? Maybe their prisoner?

Chewing the hunk of bread she'd found, Meg was so consumed in her own thoughts that she didn’t realize someone else was there until she walked into them. “Oh, sorry-” She blinked and moved back, eyeing the woman who stood before her. “Y’look differen’.” She was sure the last time she saw this woman, she had been wearing a tunic of another colour. Her hair had been longer as well; now it was pretty much the same length as hers.

Sirine took a step back as well, glad she’d had the sense to carry a rucksack rather than just hold things willy nilly in her hands. Smiling mildly, she looked the Nord woman over before speaking up. “As do you,” she commented. “It seems your injury has somewhat abated. That is good.” She waited a couple of moments, wondering if the Nord had anything else to chime in, but after a little silence, she nodded and started off again. “Well then, see-”

“Wait!” Turning around, she saw Megana looking at her sheepishly. “That’ er… wasn’ real polite of me. Sorry ‘bout tha’. I was jus’ surprised is all.”

Meg lifted a hand, about to rub the back of her head to relieve herself of awkwardness, but then she had an even better idea. Breaking the hunk of bread she still held, she offered the unblemished half to Sirine, a wary but since look on her face. “Y’must be hungry, I’m bettin’?” She really didn’t know what to make of this woman, but perhaps some offering of goodwill could help. Maybe she could even find out a why.

“Oh… thank you.” The former pirate reached out and took the piece of bread, the mild look on her face shifting to one of surprise before returning to its former self. Immediately she wondered why the younger woman would be offering her something to eat. She didn’t expect it to be poisoned or anything like that… it just surprised her. She took a bite and chewed thoughtfully, taking her time as she did so.

“Er…” Meg looked a little uncertain now. Did she not like it? Did it taste bad? It was nice enough for the Nord woman, albeit a little dry without anything to drink. “Is it a’ight?”

“Oh, yes,” Sirine replied, sending a smile the woman’s way. “My apologies, I simply didn’t expect to be handed something to eat from someone I hardly know.” Was this a common thing for the people here? She did recall Ursa and Floki doing the same whenever a newcomer joined their crew. It was ‘making them feel at home’.

As it turned out, her suspicions weren’t far from right. Meg rubbed the back of her head before giving the Imperial Redguard a sheepish smile. “Well, you’re kinda part of the group now, y’know? Even if it it's only been for a li’l while. ‘Sides, y’gave me tha’ potion in the wagon, the health potion? Really helped with the pain and got me sleepin’ for a bit.”

“Ah, I see.” So it was to repay her for her favour. Now that made quite a lot of sense. When she had given the girl one of the health potions she’d salvaged before leaving the tavern, the former pirate hadn’t really been thinking about being repaid, rather she had expected the Nord woman to forget about it. She wouldn’t have minded or felt hurt either. “So you consider me part of this group then? Even though I travel with two men the rest of you all seem to dislike?”

Slightly taken aback, Meg took a bite of her bread so that she had an excuse not to reply right away. She also used her extensive chewing session to think about what the Imperial Redguard asked. It was obvious those three were part of the group, seeing Sora and Latro were the ones who recruited the trio. She trusted them, and she knew Sevari was an ally- he had saved Jaraleet after all, and well, her too in a sense- he could have simply let her die. As for Zaveed… Meg didn’t know what to think of him. He tortured Raelynn and kidnapped Sora. He did such horrible things-

“I can see it on your face.” Her thoughts were broken by Sirine speaking up. Meg’s green eyes landed on the other’s dark pair, and though they were pretty much the same height, she felt smaller somehow. She was almost reminded of her talk with Gregor all those days ago, given courage only by copious amounts of alcohol swimming through her system. He had been a fearsome enigma to her- he still was a mystery, to be fair, but she no longer truly feared him. He was on their side after all!

“Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout?” She blinked at Sirine, feeling the woman’s eyes boring into her own.

“You’re unsure,” Sirine replied easily, a small smile on her face. “Even though you’re trying to be nice, you don’t really know whether you should. You don’t know what to make of us, whether we’re truly here peacefully or will end up slitting your throats at night.” She didn’t really have any malicious thoughts against the Nord, but the former pirate was curious as to how the less dangerous seeming people here would react to her words.

“Sevari won’,” Meg replied, a frown creasing her brow as her grip on her bread tightened. “I know tha’ much. He coulda left me an’ m’friend t’die by the dwemer one night but he didn’. I don’ think he likes me much… but he saved the two of us an’ he helped the group. He’s Jaraleet’s friend.” She paused only long enough to let out an indignant huff. “I dunno you, I’m not gonna go thinkin’ bad stuff ‘bout you right from the start. The other khajiit though…” Her eyes darkened. “He’s dangerous. He hurt my friends. Ain’ no way we can just forget that. He’s not… good people don’ do things like that.”

“Oh yes?” Sirine’s smile remained; this woman was as predictable as she had thought, and in its own way, it was slightly comforting seeing her rise to to the bait. “Tell me then, what do good people do? Do they join terrorist cells? Do they torture peaceful administrators and murder them? Do they let prisoners escape from prison?” She raised an eyebrow before taking a bite from the bread, waiting with bated curiosity to see what the response to that would be.

“That’s…” Meg blinked a little at the barrage of questions thrown her way before looking away to the side, unsure of how to answer them. This has been on her mind since their arrival in Gilane, but she had continuously been shoving it to the back of her mind like a coward. When they had been in Imperial City, in Skingrad, in Anvil… they had been running from different obstacles, surviving to live another day. But in Gilane… things had changed from the moment they had accepted the Poncy Man’s proposal. From the raising of the garrison to saving Shakti, to Nblec's torture and death. Violence, lies, secrets. When she was in Skyrim, Meg had actively kept away from either side of the civil war for these very reasons, not wishing to be involved in anything of the sort where she couldn't decide who was right and who wasn't. Yet here, she had been forced into just that by circumstance. The men she had killed could very well have had families and children. The people Jaraleet had dealt with, what sort of trauma were they going through?

Why was it so much easier to point fingers at a strange khajiit than at her own self and her friends?

“I don't know,” she finally replied. She glanced back at Sirine, expecting a look of victory on the Imperial Redguard’s face, but there was nothing of the sort. In fact, the woman looked almost sympathetic to her struggles.

“It looks like we're in the same boat,” Sirine commented with a half smile. “Because neither do I.” Whatever pleasure she had wanted to derive was lost as she recalled her conversation with Zaveed the night he trimmed her hair. How did one choose what was good and what was bad? How did a person decide who was the one who deserved their goodwill and who deserved nothing? Wasn't it all simply based on individuals and their biases?

“Well…” Meg was a little hesitant at first, but decided to continue with her thoughts. “I know one thin’; I'mma do what I can t'keep my friends safe an’ happy. If anyone tries t'hurt them, I'mma hurt them righ’ back. Yer part of the group now, so I'mma do the same for you too.” She looked almost defiant, as if trying to dare Sirine to say something else. “Daro'Vasora an’ Latro let y'all join us, an’ I trust 'em both.”

“Heh.” The former pirate shook her head before sending a small but genuine smile the Nord woman's way. “Very well then. I'll make sure your trust in them doesn't have to waver.” If this woman was showing so much loyalty for someone who had simply shown up, she couldn't imagine the lengths she would go through for her companions. In a way, Sirine felt envious; it had to feel nice to have a conscience where cynicism wasn't always lurking about.

“And thank you,” she continued, “for sharing your breakfast. I appreciate it.”

Meg blinked at her before smiling back, one tinged with relief. “Yer welcome,” she replied, shoving a free hand in her pocket, a little embarrassed from her outburst. “Uh… I'll pro'ly head back t'camp now…”

“By all means,” Sirine replied with a nod. “I'll see you around camp.” She watched the Nord woman limp away for a few moments before turning around and returning to her own chosen path. Along with the bread, Megana Corvus had certainly given her some food for thought.
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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Hank
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Hank J. Wimbleton

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A Light That Never Goes Out

14th Midyear, 4E208
Oasis, Alik'r Desert
Evening, sometime after supper…

with @Dervish

Why it it seem that cooking pots never seemed to want to get cleaned after even a single use? Daro’Vasora had filled the large stew pot up with water from the river and had it boiling over the same fires they had prepared the meal on, with leftovers sitting on the bench of the wagon on the same bowls they had dined upon that night. For whatever reason, the sheep and beetle stew with cheese, carrots, and potatoes made for a cursed mixture that seemed to stick to the cast iron like red wine stained a white dress. The Khajiit frowned at the boiling water, mentally cursing herself for volunteering for the thankless cleanup duty following her rescue. Everyone had done so much for her, a small gesture of thanks was hopefully enough to begin to show her gratitude.

“I’m going to fucking throw you down river, let the goblins deal with it…” the Khajiit growled at the pot.

“You tell him,” Mazrah’s voice came from behind her, a smirk on her face. She had approached silently, years of hunting experience making her bare footfalls as quiet as can be. After a moment’s hesitation the Orsimer swept up Daro’Vasora in an enveloping bear hug and grunted with joy as she pressed the Khajiit to her chest. “It’s so good to have you back! How are you, anyway?” she asked as she sheepishly put Sora back on her own feet.

”Hrrgh!” The Khajiit grunted in surprise and having her lungs suddenly compressed under the mighty embrace of the Orsimer huntress, who either intentionally or unwittingly had lifted the much smaller treasure hunter up off her feet for a few moments. When the embrace let off and her feet touched the ground she sucked in a welcome breath of air and managed a smile. “Much better, I needed that.” Daro’Vasora said. She reflected had it been a couple months ago, she would have given the Orcismer an earful.

Incredible how quickly change could take root.

“I cannot begin to describe how surprised and overjoyed I was when I saw you, and the others. It was like a dream, even if I was scared shitless. For someone who barely knows me, you risked a lot.” Daro’Vasora said, returning the hug, not caring that Mazrah was basically naked as she pressed into the bare flesh. “Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I’ll earn this.”

Mazrah laughed, scrunching up her nose and deepening the dimples in her cheeks, and she ruffled a hand through Sora’s hair. “You already earned it, you silly goose. And it wasn’t that big of a deal,” she said, full of bravado. “Those Deep Elves got their asses handed to them. You risked a lot by taking me into your super secret group of secret super resistance fighters. Seems only fair that I help you out when you need it.” She motioned for the two of them to sit down and, once they had made themselves comfortable, Mazrah leaned forwards and her eyes went wide with curiosity. “You have to tell me, Sora. What was it like? Did they torture you? I hope not.”

“Well, what was I risking inviting you along in our merry band? Someone like you is hard to be anything but genuine inside and out. Bare skin holds no secrets.” Daro’Vasora winked before shaking her head. “No, nothing of that sort. They were good to me, treated me with respect and kindness. Like I was an emissary; I spent a lot of time with the Governor, and she gave me space when I needed it.”

The Khajiit reached down and held up the pendant at her throat. “This belonged to her mother, she told me. It’s from the bloody First Era, if you could believe it. She thought it would be of some comfort, that it would buy some trust between us. I think, in a way, she’d hoped we’d become friends when it was all over.” she said quietly, shaking her head. “All I had to do was be a spokeswoman for unity between all of our people, to show that they could do good for the world. And maybe they could; just not like this.”

“Bah,” Mazrah spat. “You are right, not like this. Doing good in the world doesn’t start with taking away with the self-rule of some of the most fiercely independent people of Tamriel. I’m not a fan. But I have to admit that I am surprised they were so kind to you. I expected the Governor to be… different.”

She looked at Sora’s pendant and nodded appreciatively. The significance of the words ‘First Era’ were lost on her. “Looks nice. You should keep it and tell everyone that you stole it from her with your heel on her throat.”

The Imperial City flashed across Daro’Vasora’s mind and she shook her head. “She was different. I admire her; she could be so much better if she’d hear it.” she said, grinning at Mazrah’s suggestion. “Maybe they’d believe that coming from you; I’m hardly that formidable. I think…” her voice trailed off. “It’s a good reminder of what I want to do, at the end of this road. Even if we stop this invasion, the Dwemer are still going to be here. They’re going to have to figure out how this world works, and their place in it.”

A slow whistle escaped Mazrah. “Woah there, chief. One step at a time. You’re already thinking about brokering world peace?” She shook her head but her tentative disapproval turned into amusement, and she laughed again. “You’re a strange one. I’ve never really thought ahead more than a week at a time. As for more, err, pressing concerns…” Mazrah ran a hand through her hair and cleared her throat. “Where exactly are we going? I didn’t really understand the first time.”

Daro’Vasora chuckled mirthfully. “No one’s ever accused me of being unambitious. I just like to have a goal in mind, is all. I’ve read more history tomes than I care to count, so it helps to rationalize this with what’s come before. But no, it wouldn’t be me doing the brokering; I just want to set the world straight and go back to my old life, if it still exists.” she said, finally taking the invitation to sit.

When both women were sat down, the Khajiit stared into the flames, the dancing fire making the reflective qualities of her feline eyes glow. “I’ve heard enough reports of a prison set up in a ruin to the North, it’s where the Dwemer have been sending most of their prisoners, I believe it’s where they were sending Shakti before you and the others rescued her. Aside from being good people for a change and trying to break some people out, I suspect they’re using a lexicon and a portal to send prisoners to their plane, Exodus. The Governor explained this plane to me, how it wasn’t quite completed when the Dwemer were banished there, and how in a couple hundred years in the time there it would be gone forever and everything within it.” Daro’Vasora explained.

“So, a labourforce could be, in theory, used to delay that from happening and to assist in the transfer of Dwemeri people from Exodus to Mundus. If we can get the Lexicon, we shut down the portal and transfer of prisoners to Exodus, and we now have the coordinates of how to get there. Then it’s a matter of finding a portal that doesn’t lead directly to a prison cell…” Daro’Vasora murmured.

“If I’m right about all of this, and it’s a big if, we could alter the coordinates of this portal on their side of the bridge and ultimately fuck things up for them. If they can’t get back, or the portal opens in on itself like a loop, we’ve essentially cut them off, maybe forever. Enough time for everyone to counter attack and force them out of the cities, anyways.” the Khajiit explained, with a shrug.

Mazrah was silent for a long time as she digested this information. When she was finished, she regarded Sora with a mixture of admiration and confusion. “I swear I’m not dumb,” she said at length and laughed. “But all that stuff about another plane and lexicons is so new to me. I’m impressed you seem to understand it all so well. Either way, if you’ve got a plan to try and kick the Dwemer in the teeth, I’m with you all the way. It’s exciting! Feels like I have a real purpose in life now. You just watch,” Mazrah continued, her cheeks rosy with enthusiasm, “I’m gonna be one of those heroes the people sing songs about.”

Daro’Vasora smiled affectionately, placing a hand on Mazrah’s shoulder. “I never would dare to presume you are not intelligent. You simply learned differently than I have; I’m fairly confident I could never track game across the wilderness and dress it after the kill, or know where to find clean water, or how to erect a shelter out of the wilds like you do. I just read a lot, and I’ve always been driven by curiosity, about history and the world we live in. I just rarely had to factor in how the smaller pieces fit together to make it all work. I’ve a lot to learn from someone like you.” the Khajiit promised.

“I appreciate that, more than you know.” she added, bowing her head in respect to the Orsimer woman. “I think no matter what happened, you were always going to be someone who ends up beloved and famous; you leave quite the impression, rather effortlessly, too.”

“Stop it, you’ll make me blush,” Mazrah whispered coyly and pressed a hand to her bosom in mock embarrassment, the way she’d seen the Breton ladies do in High Rock. “You know, if you ever want to go hunting with me, just say the word. It’s very… well, I won’t say relaxing, but it helps you focus, you know?” She scratched her chin and screwed up her eyebrows while she was thinking. “You become very in tune with yourself and with nature.”

“Maybe I’ll take you up on it one day.” Daro’Vasora said earnestly, looking to the Orsimer with appreciation. “I can’t promise I’ll be any good at it, but I’m willing to try and learn. I’d like to think I’m quiet enough.” she smiled. “I wonder if Latro used to be a hunter? I never thought to ask him.”

“Oh, speaking of,” Mazrah said and suddenly sat up straighter. “I talked to Latro. I think I can help him tame his wolf. It’s like the rage of the Ornim sings in his blood too. We learn to control it, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be the same for him.” She looked expectantly at Sora, half a smile on her face. “Good news, right?”

That prompted a concerned furrow of Daro’Vasora’s brow. “I… I don’t know, Mazrah. That state he was in, his Pale-Feather personality… it terrifies me and it isn’t him. I don’t want to lose him to it, and I might have ideas of how to reconcile these parts of his soul, but I don’t want to make it worse, or nurture the side I fear to the point Latro withers and dies.” she sighed, sliding a bone from her meal between her teeth to bite into. “What you describe is something that’s taught from youth in your culture, yes? But he’s a grown man, with a full life behind him. The same techniques you wish to apply may just make him worse.”

Taken aback, Mazrah’s face dropped. “Well… yes, usually taught from youth, but not always. Some tribes don’t believe in taming the rage, that doing so makes it weaker. Sometimes an Orsimer like that regrets their belief and wants to learn control after all. It’s not… I don’t know what you think it is that we do. He’d be thinking of you the whole time,” she explained hopefully. “That’s the whole point. Anchor him to a memory or a feeling that’s so powerful that it helps him focus, even when he is… what did you call him? Pale-Feather? I just don’t think that side of him can be suppressed. The things my mother taught me, which is what I would pass on to Latro, are to make sure that Pale-Feather only exists inside Latro, not besides him. A stranger in his skin, I called it.”

She rested her chin on her fist and looked at Sora quizzically. “What are your ideas?”

Daro’Vasora nodded, almost imperceptibly. “I trust you, Mazrah. If he feels he can learn from you, and you can teach him, I want you to try. Please promise me you won’t let him lose himself along the way.” she said, looking to the Orsimer sadly. “I’ve gone on something of a spiritual awakening, myself. I’m a being of two cultures, and for most of my life I rejected the body I inhabit, thought of the Khajiiti traditions as backwards and uncultured, like it was holding me back from being respected or trusted, or taken seriously. I’ve faced a lot of discrimination for being what I am, I wanted my whole life for people to see me for who I am.” the Khajiit explained.

“I’ve always embraced my Imperial identity, the culture and my family traditions of serving the Count of Leyawiin. I made a life in Imperial social circles, proving my worth by being smarter and more talented than most, hunting treasure and being able to explain to people the value and history behind it all. I gave culture back to the world, and my name began to mean something other than a girl who was caught stealing from her own father.” Daro’Vasora explained with a sad smile.

“But… I’ve always maintained my honourific, the Daro’. It means nimble fingered, clever of tongue. I didn’t understand that until recently, I didn’t know why I always maintained it as a part of my name, it is a part of me. I take the Moonpath to speak with my ancestors infrequently, they were the ones who suggested I didn’t turn my backs on everyone and leave in Anvil. They implored me to try and do right by them, and to follow my heart. That the two parts of my soul were actually one, and I was too blind to see it.” She reached to her waist belt and unclasped a leather pouch that she held in her hand and untightened the drawstring. The shimmering white moonsugar sparkled from within, not unlike the Khajiit’s eyes. “I want to offer to take Latro on a Moonpath of his own, to perhaps speak to his own soul and find the wholeness I have so recently discovered myself.”

Mazrah listened with great interest to Sora’s story and she leaned back after the Khajiit was done talking, drinking in the details. “The spirituality of your people is fascinating,” she said and her voice was tinged with awe. “The Moonpath… is it like a vision? If I could talk with my ancestors, my grandmother and all the women that came before her, that would be nothing short of amazing. Imagine their wisdom! Their stories!” The Orsimer huntress laughed in wonder at the thought. She glanced down at the moonsugar before looking back up to meet Sora’s shimmering gaze. “I saw a lot of things when I tried your moonsugar but not my ancestors, you know. I feel robbed,” she joked.

Daro’Vasora smiled enthusiastically. “It’s more than that; the moons, Jone and Jode, they are aspects of one of our gods, and Moonsugar is crystalised moonlight. It is almost like consuming a part of Lorkajj. I have met ancestors of mine, going back to the very beginning of my lineage, to those who have served Queen Ayrenn in the Second Era, to an ancestor of mine who fell defending Leyawiin from the Empire’s expansion. These are all people I would have never have known about because we do not not write stories of our history, for it is written in our souls, our blood, in the light of the Moons.” she held the sugar up.

“This is far much more than a narcotic that causes euphoria in other races; it can be turned into an elixir that allows my soul to travel across the moonlight to the Sands Behind the Stars, to speak with my ancestors, to petition them for their wisdom. So far, they have never put me down the wrong path, but it all depended if I was too proud or stubborn to listen.” she said with a smile and a slight chuckle.

“I’m afraid for someone who is not of a Khajiit, it doesn’t quite work like that, especially just taken raw like you have. You can understand why distilling Moonsugar into Skooma is incredibly addictive and dangerous, even for Khajiit. Your ancestors do not reside where mine do, and you do not have a relationship to the Moons like we do. But, with guidance and a careful dose, it can be used to help non-Khajiit confront parts of themselves that trouble them, and to find a more spiritual grounding, as it were.”

“Awh,” Mazrah said, visibly disappointed and a little jealous. “That does sound exactly like what Latro needs. We both have different ways of trying to connect and make peace with a part of ourselves that sings its own song,” she said sagely and her jealousy evaporated like virgin snow in the sun.

“I found myself a nice girl, by the way,” Mazrah said with a wink, abruptly changing topic. “You haven’t met her yet but I’m sure you saw her in the palace. Her name is Maj, can you believe that? We met in a bar in Gilane and I may have been drinking and I thought she introduced herself with Maz. Confusing as all hell. She was a sailor and the Dwemer sank her ship off the coast, so she’s got every reason to hate them. Hope you don’t mind I brought her along.”

“Oh?” Daro’Vasora asked with a tilt of her head at the sudden shift in conversation. She couldn’t help but smile at Maz’s enthusiasm. “Maz and Maj, two peas in a pod, as they say.” the Khajiit smiled. “I would say overall, Gilane was good to you. New friends, a new lady friend. I wondered who that was, I think I like her already. But please, look how I brought you along. It would be rather hypocritical of me to question your judgement in character for inviting someone to join us; we need all the help we can get.”

Pleased, Mazrah smiled and ran a hand over her scalp as she cast her glance across the cave. “Yeah, that was a productive visit for me.” She bit her lip and cocked her head as a small frown creased her brow. “But it seems unfair to say that Gilane was good to me when it was so rough to most of the others, including you.”

Daro'Vasora shook her head, holding up an arresting hand. “Please, don't trouble yourself by feeling guilty that the troubles myself and others endured should erode what the city gave you.” the Khajiit smiled, reaching up to place a hand on Maz's shoulder. “There's not enough good things these days, I consider each and every time one of my companions and friends smile about something a victory. We need to celebrate life, no let the troubles hold us down so we cannot appreciate the good that we find. Why would I ever feel slighted that you are happy, Mazrah? It reminds me of what we're all fighting for, life. Never apologize for living.”

That was caused for the Orsimer to grin and look Sora in the eye with nothing but admiration. “Look at you, just rescued from captivity in which you thought you were going to die, and already so wise again. If you had been an Ornim of Orsinium, you would have had nothing on your mind but vengeance. You continue to impress,” she said and placed her own hand over the paw that Sora had placed on her shoulder. “That settles that; I shall never apologize for living.”

That prompted a humbled smile and a half-hearted shrug. “I've just surrounded myself with the right people and listened to the lessons they've taught me, intentionally or no.” Daro'Vasora replied, squeezing the shoulder tighter. “And never do, Maz. You're a flame that can never be extinguished, it inspires people. I'm grateful you found me when you did.”

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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Amaranth
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Amaranth the Kasaanda

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Sand, Swords and a Sparrow

Early morning, 15th of Midyear, 4E208
The oasis, Alik’r desert, Hammerfell

Gregor had watched and listened to Raelynn’s song with a smile and a twinkle in his eyes. She looked like she had a lot on her mind, however, and so did he. Talking with Zaveed the day before and Sirine just then had served only to infuriate and annoy him and he decided he had had enough of the new arrivals. He wanted a breath of fresh air before the sun had a chance to heat up the sands outside enough to make it deeply uncomfortable again and so Gregor made his way to the mouth of the cave, staying as far away from where Zaveed had set up camp as possible.

Just outside he saw the young Redguard girl, Shakti, practicing with her sword. The sight amused him as it reminded him strongly of himself, though he could immediately see that their styles were very different. He leaned against the wall of the cave and crossed his arms, content to observe her movements for the time being. It was relaxing. His eyes busied themselves by following the gleaming edge of her impressive blade, which normally would have served to let his mind wander, but he was so tired that his thoughts were blank. The few minutes of tranquility were welcome and Gregor eventually realized that he’d barely spoken a word to the girl. It seemed only reasonable that he should properly introduce himself now that she was to be their guide through the Alik’r, and Gregor approached with his hands clasped behind his back.

“Practice makes perfect, doesn’t it?” he said and smiled. “I’m sorry I haven’t introduced myself sooner. My name is Gregor. You are Shakti, correct?”

Shakti halted her movements midswing and twirled to face the man addressing her, sheathing her blade in one motion. “That is what they say. And yes I am called Shakti, of the Alik’r. It is good to finally make your acquaintance Gregor of the….” Her voice trailed off, not knowing where he was actually from.

Gregor thought about it for a second. Shakti had used the entire geographical region that she called home. “Of the Niben,” he finished, deciding to use the body of water that Bravil was situated on. It was a reasonably accurate way to categorize himself, if unusual by Cyrodiilic standards, as he was technically a Nibenese Imperial. “My family name is Sibassius. We hail from Bravil in Cyrodiil.” He gestured towards the girl’s sword, now sheathed. “You’re quite good with that blade. I’m a swordsman as well, though I suspect that you have far more talent for it than I do. My father was a Legionnaire and he taught me as well as he could but I wasn’t a natural. What’s the philosophy behind your style?”

“Gregor of the Niben,” Shakti said, trying out the sounds, “A fine name. Though I have never heard of Niben or Bravil.” She looked down at her sword as Gregor of the Niben gestured to it. “It was my father’s and his father’s before him. Passed down to the eldest child, and that ended up being me.” The Redguard shrugged at his compliment, “My father and mother thought I should live up to the blade, so I’ve been practicing since I was very young. As for the style…” She considered her words carefully, trying to call the proper terms up from memory, “It’s a mix, a blend of old and new Redguard styles. The new I was taught by my mother and father. The old I learned from, well ghosts. And books. Lots of books.” She laughed lightly at her own joke and shrugged again.

It made sense that the desert nomad wasn’t worldly enough to know Tamriel by heart. “Bravil is a port city on the shores of the Niben bay,” Gregor explained. “South of the Imperial City, which is the heart of the Empire. Very different from this.” He chuckled. “I was raised surrounded by water.”

He stroked his beard and thought about what Shakti had said. “Live up to the blade, eh? Hold on, I have something I think you might like to see. One minute,” Gregor said and he smiled before turning around and heading back the way he came.

True to his word, he returned about a minute later, holding his prized claymore. It was longer and heavier than Shakti’s sword and perfectly straight, though the edges of the blade itself were rippled, and the crossguard was ornate and complex. “This is my sword, a claymore. It’s a Cyrodilic design pioneered at the beginning of the Fourth Era.” Gregor wondered if the desert nomads used the same calendar as the rest of the world. “About 180 years ago. The blade is flexible enough to bend if struck, making sure that it never shatters,” Gregor continued. It was obvious that he enjoyed talking shop about weapons and he held out the sword for Shakti to inspect. “What do you think?”

Shakti’s eyes went wide as Gregor showed her the large and well-crafted greatsword. “Was it passed down to you as well? It looks like something that would stand up to many years of hard use, especially if it is as flexible as you say.” She leaned it to examined the ornate crossguard, being sure not to touch it. “Beautiful. They must have skilled craftsmen in Bravil-on-the-Niben. I’m sure your children will be glad to inherit it when the time comes.”

Children. Gregor’s smile faltered and the shade of melancholy was reflected in his eyes for a split second. To sire any would just pass on his family’s curse. He blinked and cleared his throat and the moment passed. “I actually purchased it ten years ago from a smithy in Bruma. Another city but to the north. I was on my way to Skyrim to start a new life as a monster hunter. You are right that it is durable. I have used it to slay more vampires, Hagravens, necromancers, Daedric cultists and draugr than I can count,” he said and realized it sounded like he was boasting. “Not all by my lonesome, mind you. I worked with a group of Vigilants of Stendarr.”

He grabbed the claymore in a two-handed grip and dropped into his combat stance. “And then there’s this,” he said with a smirk. Gregor raised the sword over his head and brought it down with as much strength as he could muster. It sliced through the air and its enchantment was triggered, creating arcs of lightning along the blade’s trajectory. “I’ve enchanted it with shock magic. The electricity seizes up muscles and drains the magicka of anyone it strikes. Good against mages.” He straightened up and stabbed the claymore blade-first into the sand, tired of holding it, and rested his hands on the pommel. “Is your sword enchanted?”

Shakti ooh’d and aah’d at the sparks that Gregor’s sword sent flying as he swung it. She could certainly see how that could be useful, especially against all those deadly creatures of the night. She was no expert, but her gut told her that not many things could stand up to that much steel and sparks. She had no idea what the Vigils of Stendarr were, but if they were helping to slay said monsters of the night, they probably were okay in Shakti’s book.

She patted her sword. “No magic here. At least, none that I know of. Just pure steel and the girl behind it!” She giggled at her own bravado. “So how are you liking the Alik’r?” She had asked others what they thought of Hammerfell, yes, but this was her true home. She was eager to see what outsiders thought of such a wonderful place.

Gregor blew a raspberry and laughed at the question. “Let me put it this way,” he began sheepishly. “I am thirty-eight years old. I have spent all my years in much colder places than the Alik’r. It is too late for me to get used to this heat now. So, in all honesty, it makes me miserable. But,” he said and held up a finger while he gazed out over the dunes and the deep blue sky, “it is very beautiful. Such ever-changing emptiness… there’s something magical about it.”

Thinking about it some more, Gregor found words to express what he meant. “Magnificent desolation. Like the home of a god.”

Shakti grimaced slightly. At least he was honest about how he was feeling. Still, she could see how the heat could demoralise someone who wasn’t used to it.

She did have to smile about the second part of his answer. It was heartening to know that she wasn’t the only one who appreciated the stark beauty of the sands. “Thank you, I am glad that you can see beauty in a place that brings you misery.” The Redguard girl responded as sincerely as she could muster.

“I didn’t take you for a poet, Gregor.” Called out a voice from behind the pair, further into the cave. The morning sun had cast its warm rays onto Calen as it rose above the sandy horizon, giving his blonde hair and orange sheen under its light. He put his hand up to cover his eyes from its brightness, though part of him couldn’t help but watch the sunrise. “I suppose it’s natural though,” he added with a hint of jest in his voice, “being a noble knight and all.”

He gave him a boyish smile and his attempts at hiding a wink from Shakti as he protects his eyes from the sun resulted in a somewhat awkward attempt on his part. He sighed deeply, breathing in the cool, morning air. Gods know it wouldn’t last long. He wasn’t done bantering with Gregor yet though.

“But frankly it’s offensive,” he continued, turning his glance towards Shakti and gesturing to her with his hands, “why look to the dunes for beauty when you’ve got one right before you?”

Shakti let out a nervous giggle as Calen approached, unsure of whether he was making a jest or not. “You flatter me, Calen the Nord, but there is no mortal beauty that can compare to the Alik’r. At least, in my opinion.” The Redguard girl shot back, her voice taking on the air of sincerity she was known for. However, she continued in an uncharacteristically timid tone of voice. “You come pretty close though.” Shakti added after a moment, kicking some sand down the slope of the hill they were all three standing on.

“You flatter me!” Calen insisted. “Not once, but twice -- Calen the Nord? Why, I know a handful of men back home who would disagree with you!”

He finished his sentence with a bout of nervous laughter and rubbing his neck. Indeed, the men he spoke of would probably call him the worst Nord in Skyrim. Hell, ol’ Gregor here was probably a better Nord than he was, even for an Imperial. Speaking of…

Calen dialed back his boyish charm a bit before setting his hand on the man’s shoulder and looking into him with a somber glint in his eyes. He finally asked, “How are you holding up, my friend?”

Gregor smiled at the banter of the two youngsters and shook his head in amusement. He did not fail to notice how Shakti responded to Calen’s compliment and his gaze flitted between the two of them briefly before it settled on Calen. When Calen asked him his question and stared into his eyes with a sincerity that caught him off guard, Gregor faltered when he opened his mouth to speak. How was he holding up? It was a complicated question, and it pained him that he could not tell Calen the half of it. He looked down at his hands. As long as they rested on the pommel of his blade, as long as they had something to grip, his fingers were still.

He raised his left hand for Calen to see and splayed his fingers. Predictably, they resumed their trembling. “I’ve been better,” Gregor admitted and he was surprised by the knot in his throat. “It’s been a while since we talked, regrettably, and I don’t know how much you heard, but I fought with Zaveed after what he did to Raelynn, Dar’Vasora and Roux. Almost killed him, too. But somebody intervened on his behalf and poisoned me. I haven’t…”

Looking away, Gregor cleared his throat. “I haven’t been the same. And now he’s here.” He looked back at Calen, something desperate and intense in his eyes, and he was almost overcome by the urge to tell the Nord about his and Raelynn’s secret assassination attempt on Governor Rourken. But since they failed and presumably only made matters worse for them, he couldn’t. “Ah, well,” he said and blinked as his smile returned to his face. “I’ll be fine. I’m glad Daro’Vasora is back. Enough about me, how are you, my friend? And you, Shakti? You were both at the palace, right?”

“Well, I wasn't shot this time.” Calen said half-heartedly, his eyes still transfixed on his trembling hands. Whatever it was he's been through must've been particularly harrowing, if a veteran of a scene was able to be so shaken, but that being said, Gregor hunted monsters and evil people. From what he understood, he was never a soldier. He wanted to ask how Raelynn was doing, but a quick glance in her direction at the mention of her traumatic experience would've shown everything he needed to see, even if she was good at hiding it. She was on her own, quiet and withdrawn, and apparently avoiding contact with the most of anyone here. He looked back to Gregor and smiled.

“But our friend here, miss Shakti of the Alik’r, is quite good with a blade! She handled herself quite nicely. All I did was pathfind.”

There was a moment of silence that passed as he mulled over his feelings some more before a more soft-spoken and vulnerable side of his personality came to the forefront as he muttered, “I’m… worried about Rhona. If she left, she left -- that's fine, I can live with that -- but I hope she's safe.”

Shakti suppressed another giggle at Calen’s mention of her skill with a blade, suddenly hyper-aware of how many times she was laughing. Did she always laugh this much? “I promise I’m much better when I’m using my own blade and not stuffed into a servant’s dress.” The Alik’r girl promised, half-jokingly. “By the way, who is Rhona?” She added, almost as an afterthought.

“Brynja always struck me as smart and capable,” Gregor said softly to Calen. “They weren’t killed in the hotel, which to me means that they made it out. We escaped too, right? I’m sure Rhona is safe now, under her protection.” He left the explanation of who Rhona was to Calen. It wasn’t Gregor’s place to talk about that.

Calen nodded and then looked to Shakti and began to explain, “She…”

Only to find that he couldn’t find the words. Were they really an item? They had a fling back in Skingrad after a talk, and then she began avoiding him. When they arrived in Gilane, they got back into touch, but being one not so involved or committed to the group as a whole, she kept to herself. Now she left again with Brynja. But based on what he knew of her story, hadn’t she always been a free spirit? She traveled the roads for years and had her various interactions with others, romantic or not. Had they been all that different, after all? He found himself regretting not appreciating the kindred spirit in her sooner. Finally, Calen was able to find the words.

“Rhona was a fleeting romance.” Calen admitted with a loving tenderness in his voice as he looked out into the desert. “You ever meet someone you care about and know it wasn’t going to last long?”

His mind went back to the journal in his bag, always double checking that he didn’t forget or misplace it somewhere. It was in his saddle-bag, the pony to which it was affixed to currently drinking from the groundwater -- only minutes ago, he was rolling around in the cool sand. The journal itself, though, had so many memories of people over the years. He’d have to update it soon.

“Oh, by Dibella, I’ve loved a lot of people,” Calen said, thinking fondly of that journal, “and I still do. I don’t love any of them less for not being here, you know? They all gave a piece of themselves to me, so I’m forever grateful for that. Sometimes it’s just time to move on.”

Shakti realised that Calen was talking about a sensitive subject, or at least one that was near to his heart, and she considered her next words with that in mind. “I… have not. Not really. All of the other children in my tribe were younger than me. And once I left, I guess I’ve been caught up in my task and what the group has been up to. You guys are the first real friends I’ve made away from my tribe.” She smiled as she said the last part, her happiness evident on her face.

“I am sorry to hear that this Rhona Romance did not last long. But beautiful things are fleeting, that’s why they are beautiful. Except the Alik’r. I’m sure it’ll be here long after we are dust.” She tittered at her own joke, hoping to lighten the mood somewhat. Riding along with Shakti’s changing of the conversation’s mood, Calen pitched in.

“Beautiful is fleeting… like the dunes?” He agreed before adding the last part with a wink, both suggesting that he was quick to pick up on her predilection for the desert sands and referencing part of her conversation with Gregor earlier. Though part of it was also to contradict her with a different framing of her own logic, but it was teasing and in good nature.

Shakti grinned at Calen’s good-natured teasing and bowed her head in mock deference. “Like I said, there are… exceptions. How about we compromise and say most mortal beauty is fleeting? Unfortunately elves will be around forever.” Shakti made a face when she got to the word elves and the let out another laugh.

Gregor smirked at that. “It’s even worse than that,” he said. “More of them keep cropping up. What’s next? The return of the Snow Elves?”

He looked at Calen again and wondered what it was about him that let the young man accept things as they came so readily. It was a skill that he envied. Gregor was a man of deep passions and roaring fury and these things gouged scars in him that took ages to disappear. He thought about Briar and how it had taken him ten years to finally let her go, and he glanced down at the tattoo of her raven hair.

“I haven’t either,” Gregor admitted. “It’s all or nothing with me. My wife back then, Raelynn now -- if I had ever thought it wouldn’t last, it would have never began.”

“I follow the teachings of Dibella.” Calen explained, showing the amulet around his neck by pulling it out of his shirt with his thumb. “Love is beauty, and love comes in many different forms. My love for you, Gregor, despite its difference in form and nature to my love for Rhona, isn’t any less valuable because of that. Not to get all preachy, but ‘no matter the seed, if the shoot is nurtured with love, will the flower not be beautiful?’

“Your love for me?” Gregor asked. “I know what you mean, but… well, I’m touched.” The same pained expression that had flit across his face before did so again and he wrapped his fingers around the hilt of his sword a little tighter. That Raelynn loved him was easy to accept. It seemed natural. Gregor did not think himself unworthy of love. And yet he still found himself feeling like he didn’t deserve Calen’s trust and admiration. “I guess you’re right. It’s not something I often think about. I’ve been focused on destruction and extermination for so long…”

He sighed and looked like the blue skies above him weighed on him like a tonne of bricks. “It’s good that you’re here, Calen.”

“Thank you for that.” He replied, before his voice went gentle again. “Just… don’t lose track of what’s important, alright? You don’t have to talk to him.”

As if to elaborate, he glance shifted toward the section of the cavern Zaveed’s group resided in.

“I already did,” Gregor said and smiled wryly. “Went about as well as you might expect.”

“That’s what I’m saying!” Calen said, playfully punching him in the arm. Surprisingly enough, it packed more strength than either of them were expecting, though Calen didn’t seem to notice. “You gotta stop.

Shakti watched the two men talk back and forth. She understood some of what they were talking about, but a decent amount went over her head, mostly the between-the-lines meanings. She did feel a slight pang of what might’ve been jealousy at Calen’s mention of his love for this Rhona. It was silly. She had nothing to be jealous about. Still, the unusual feeling stuck around in her stomach far longer than her demeanour would admit.

“I too am glad you are here, Calen the Nord. And Gregor of the Niben, if what I am hearing is true, hold on to Raelynn and you can make it last, no matter what.” She declared with a sense of finality, as if that advice was all Gregor of the Niben ever needed to hear to be successful.

Gregor nursed his bruised arm with a sheepish smile. Calen had a point. Perhaps they had indeed reached a point where it was better to just let it go and ignore Zaveed as best he could. The Khajiit himself had made it abundantly clear that he was willing to do just that. So why not Gregor? He’d already bested him in combat. His point had been made.

He turned to look at Shakti when she gave him her advice. It was endearing. The certainty with which she declared his love for Raelynn to be important enough to cling to, without having ever had such a relationship herself, was both naive and beautifully innocent. Shakti had no way of knowing that she was right, but she was. “I will,” he said in earnest. For the first time in gods only knew how long, Gregor began to feel at ease. Both Calen and Shakti were easy to talk to and uncomplicated people. It was nice to just… converse, like this, without hovering hostility or an ulterior motive. “Thank you both. I shall heed your advice.”

“Good.” Calen said, setting his hands on his hips. “Because I feel too exhausted to punch your arm again. I don’t know how you do it Shakti, enduring the desert like that. Or that merchant woman. The Alik’r feels like the only place in the world where Stendarr doesn’t exist.”

Shakti shrugged, “I suppose you just get used to it. It might be more pleasant if we travel at night, but there are unfriendly things that travel at night as well. As for Stendarr, I am not sure he is here, but there are other gods of the desert that will watch over you, I am sure.” The Redguard girl put on her beamiest smile to back up her assertion.

“The experiences throughout my many nights have usually been rather accommodating!” Calen replied with a boyish smirk as he crossed his arms and tipped his head. “With Dibella as my patron, I have faith that the coming nights will be no different.”

She returned his smile and replied, “I am glad the night has treated you well so far.” Shakti continued, completely serious. “But who is Dibella? Are they the Divine of nights?”

Bemused, Gregor realized he knew nothing about Shakti’s culture. “You don’t worship the Divines?” he blurted out.

“Me? No, not personally. Some Redguards do, usually in the cities. Here in the Alik’r most worship the old Yokudan gods. Some people see them as two sides of the same coin.” Shakti explained matter-of-factly before giving a mild shrug, “I’m not a priest though, so don’t ask me about that.”

“What?” Calen questioned, one part incredulous, and another part visibly shaking with eager excitement. “She’s Dibella. The Queen of Heaven? The Blessed Lady? The Passion Dancer?”

When he was met with a blank stare, he offered Shakti his hand as he continued, “She’s the Goddess of Beauty, Love, and Affection! The Lady of Art and Music! Why, she teaches us that there is beauty and art to be found in all things.”

“Well she certainly seems to have her hands full with all those things.” Shakti observed, taking Calen’s hand. “Is she four-armed like Morwha?” The girl asked, struggling to call to memory anything she had ever heard about the Divines.

Upon taking his hand, Calen twirled her around slowly and gently like he would in a dance and, once she was at the end of his reach, he cast a sweeping gesture with his other hand toward the desert outside the mouth of the cave, “Oh no, if my studies haven’t failed me, Morwha is the Yokudan parallel to Mara. Dibella, we were only just discussing her doctrine but a minute ago. Mara is what you would call the Divine of love and family, but Dibella? Of love and pleasure; to enjoy life, not just creating it. I could tell you all about it!”

Shakti felt her hand tingle slightly as she was twirled by Calen, her heart being even more acrobatic inside her chest. “Oh. Mara, right. Sorry, I’m not so familiar with the Divines.” She offered, a bit distracted. “Yes I would very much like you to explain Dibella to me!” The Redguard girl tacked on quickly.

Gregor had to resist a smile at the sight and the tinge of breathlessness to Shakti’s voice. “You kids have fun,” the Imperial said and pulled his sword free from the sand. He was smart enough to see what was going on. “I’m going to check on Raelynn.” With a wave and a wink to Calen when Shakti wasn’t looking, he turned around and sauntered back into the cave.
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Brunch, Interrupted

@Mortarion @Hank & @Stormflyx

Mid morning, 15th of Midyear 4E208
The Oasis, Alik’r Desert

It was a careful cut that was precise, quick, and moved through the skin with ease. It was not easy to decide how to go about the task, and she had at first studied the skin with an intense glare, hoping it wasn’t going to give her too much trouble. Her brows were so harshly furrowed that they almost touched each other in the centre. This was the last thing she needed for her current task.

She was surprised to find that with the use of a good, sharp knife, even a something as awkward as a pineapple was easy to deal with. With a few more motions, she had removed the thick skin from it, and was now working on cutting it into evenly sized slices. She took them, and placed them on the platter beside some bread, wedges of cheese, and some of the leftover meats from the night before, there was a bowl of warmed oats drizzled with honey too. She had even brewed one of her herbal teas.

Raelynn smiled at her handiwork as she poured two small cups of the tea, using the last of her mountain flowers to brew it. It was of slight concern to her, she did not know when she would find some next. She left the rest for anyone else who may like a cup of the invigorating drink, the scent was sweet and fresh and rolled around the campfire in the plumes of steam rising from the pot. She carried her tray in both hands towards Gregor who had found his way back to their tent after whatever it was he had been doing for most of his morning. “I’m going to hazard a guess that you haven’t yet eaten today…” she said in a sprightly tone with a raised eyebrow.

The pleasant fragrance of the herbal tea, pineapple slices and meat wafted into the tent a second or two before Raelynn appeared in the opening. “You’re right,” Gregor said as he sat up straight, his curious gaze affixed on the bottom of the tray -- while Raelynn stood over him, he could not see what she had brought him. His hunger won out from the half-sleep he’d been enjoying and Gregor crawled out of the tent, making himself comfortable on the pillows they’d put by the opening of the tent for them to sit on and watch the goings-on in the cave. “You come bearing gifts?” Gregor asked and smirked. He had always enjoyed being fed by the women in his life.

“I do,” she replied as she knelt down beside him, balancing the tray as she did so before placing it on the ground in front of them. “Although I did pilfer that pineapple and it seemed to be the only one so you might want to eat it quickly…” There was an almost childish giggle and an air of cheeky mischief in her voice as she said it; leaning close to him so as to plant a kiss on his lips. “We can deny it later when the investigation begins…” An impish smile grew across her lips as she took a slice for herself and bit into it. “Mmm,” she moaned with a bigger smile. “It’s exceedingly good. This just became a very serious crime, we had better destroy the evidence.”

He recognized that moan. It all but confirmed that Raelynn was speaking the truth -- it was a sound she only made when things were, indeed, exceedingly good. Gregor snatched up three pieces of pineapple for himself. The succulent juices of the yellow fruit were delicious and he nodded in enthusiastic agreement. “Where has this been all my life?” Pineapple was not a common food in Cyrodiil or Skyrim at all and he immediately regretted not having eaten any sooner. The two other pieces disappeared into his mouth with such haste that he had to wipe the juice out of his beard when he was finished. “Thank you,” he said and gestured towards the rest of the platter. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Because I feel like if I didn’t do this, I would be worried that you would eat naught but bread and cheese at erratic intervals for the rest of the day... And that doesn’t give you the energy you need.” She was scolding him in the most playful manner she could, and as she leaned back with a stretch onto the moss, she sighed. “Also because I love you and I think that’s what people do when they are in love, and when they are grateful.” She rolled onto her side and looked up at him with a smile. There was nothing playful about that, just simple sincerity, the words coming to her as easy and naturally as breathing did.

“What’s wrong with cheese and bread?” Gregor muttered and pouted a little while he picked at some of the meat. He tried to maintain that facial expression when Raelynn told him that she loved him but an irrepressible smile made itself master of him regardless. “I love you too,” he said while he looked her in the eye and he gave one of her hands a squeeze for emphasis before he turned back to the platter. He started eating in earnest and before he knew it, he was wolfing down everything that caught his fancy. Raelynn was probably right about his eating habits.

“You know, the way you two look right now, I am almost loath to interrupt the moment.” Echoed a nearby voice, followed by the nearly imperceptible sounds of footsteps against the mossy floor of the oasis. “But, I’m afraid that I have things that need be discussed.” Said Jaraleet as he finally reached the spot where the two lovers were having their breakfast, an apple in one of his hands from which he took a quick bite. “About Gilane, and what happened there.” The Argonian said, his tone low, once he was done swallowing, a look of seriousness settling on his face as he regarded the Breton and Imperial.

“Good morning to you too, Jaraleet. It's nice to see you safe and well.” Raelynn sat up with her back straight, casting a glance to Gregor who was still eating. Her tone was unappreciative - whether it was for being interrupted or for the fact she felt that she was about to be interrogated by the Argonian. She lifted a cup of tea from her lips and took a small sip, before placing it back down and dropping her hand to Gregor's thigh. She swirled her thumb in slow circles there. “What's on your mind?” she asked, almost as matter-of-factly as Jaraleet himself had.

“Many things.” The Argonian replied calmly, taking another bite from his apple. “The new arrivals, this mission to assault the Deep Elves prison, our flight from Gilane….” Jaraleet began as he finished swallowing. “Oh, and the reason for why Irranhu cell wanted to butcher us.” He added, almost like it was an afterthought but, from the tone in his voice, it was clear that the latter point was the one that occupied the assassin’s mind.

Gregor noticed the change in Raelynn’s demeanor and correctly interpreted what the hand on his thigh meant. Control yourself. She had accurately assessed that they -- or probably more specifically Gregor -- were on thin ice again. He’d only vaguely heard that Irranhu cell had turned on Samara cell before but it was news to him that it was related to them. Jaraleet spoke in a neutral voice but Gregor had heard that same tone before, after Nblec.

“I’d heard about that, but not the reason,” he said, regarding Jaraleet with as much innocent curiosity has he could muster. “What do you know?”

“I am pleased to see that your self control has improved, my friend.” The Argonian smiled, but there was no mirth in his eyes. “The last time we had a chat likes this, why, you immediately jumped into veiled threats.” He said casually, pausing to take one last bite of his apple before discarding the fruit.

“Hmm, what do I know? Not much, I know that they were looking for two of our members.” Jaraleet said, gazing into Gregor’s eyes. “Now, normally this wouldn’t rouse much suspicion, but the way that Zhaib behaved the way when the leaders of Irranhu cell made their demands….” The assassin shook his head. “Ah, but he leapt into the midst of the gathered insurgents. Said something quite particular about our group and ‘her man’ being able to protect someone, that someone being the one who sent him to us. And who was it that sent Zhaib?” Jaraleet asked rhetorically, waiting for an answer from either of the pair of lovers.

A chilling realisation came over Gregor. He ignored the rhetorical question. “What did these leaders look like?”

“One I had seen before, when we were planning Daro’Vasora’s rescue, he looked quite like the ordinary Redguard man, I suppose. Now, the second leader, now her appearance was more peculiar….” Jaraleet said, pausing for a second to wager Gregor’s reaction. “Her name, I do not know, but what I do know is that she wore a snakeskin cloak and fought with a spear. Do any of these look familiar to you?”

As soon as Jaraleet uttered the words snakeskin cloak, Gregor’s face contorted as if he was in pain. He drew in a sharp intake of breath and his right hand shot up to his left shoulder involuntarily. The memory of fear and agony squeezed his heart and he looked at Raelynn, intuitively and instinctively, for protection… but there was nothing she could do for him. This was his own grave and he had to dig himself out of it. Fortunately, Gregor realised, thinking quickly, he could.

“The woman,” Gregor whispered intently and gestured for Jaraleet to sit down next to him. It was decidedly in his best interests to make this conversation look like a normal chat between friends and that did not involve having the Argonian lording over them. “I can’t fucking believe it. Irranhu the whole time.”

His gaze found the spot where Zaveed had made camp and disgust visibly made his lips curl. “She’s the reason Zaveed still lives. I was about to deliver the killing blow when the one you just described, with the cloak and the spear, came down from the rooftops and attacked me. She’s the one that poisoned me. Fucking Redguards and their godsdamned prejudices,” Gregor growled. His breathing came fast and hard and he looked down at his hands to find them positively shaking. “I’m sorry, Jaraleet, I really am, but I had no choice. Zaveed would have killed me if I hadn’t used everything at my disposal.”

Raelynn could sense Gregor's pain in the moment, the emotions he was feeling. Now it was time for her to step in, she took one of his shaking hands and held it.

“I sent Zhaib,” was her response, and how she chose to steer the conversation. “I suspected that he… Perished, but nobody told me as such,” she blinked and squeezed at Gregor's thigh before letting go, to hear it all but confirmed was still a shock. “I sent him to fight, he was my bodyguard and friend. I trusted him with my life and he protected me and took care of me in my darkest moments.” But what had he said? A man of such few words for all the time she had known him and it was his last words that gave way for her to be in danger.

“Do you remember what it was exactly, that he said?”

“He yanked his pendant and then said ‘Give it to her. Let her know that she’s worth protecting by me, by her father. By her man and you’” Jaraleet recited, the memory of the moment still fresh in his mind. “Those were his exact words. I do not know who has the pendant, but it’s in the groups care if you wish to retrieve it.” The Argonian said after he sat in front of Gregor. “I must clarify, you two were in danger long before Zhaib said anything. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Poncy Man had us under surveillance after the incident with Nblec.”

“Of course, the one time he chooses to give a speech more than a damn grunt and a singular syllable word is then…” She sighed as she ran a hand through her hair from root to tip, falling silent herself for a moment. “I assure you Jaraleet, his only orders were to protect Daro’Vasora. There was nothing insidious about his actions… Thank you for telling me.”

“It is no problem. And I believe you, like I said before we were in trouble long before the operation in the palace.” He said to Raelynn. “Now…” The assassin said as he turned his gaze towards Gregor once more. “Tell me everything you know about this woman, no matter how painful it might be. By the cut of her garb I’d wager she was an assassin, and if she comes back to track us, I need to be prepared.” He said, the tone of his voice serious as he regarded Gregor.

It wasn’t until Jaraleet addressed him directly that Gregor looked up and met his gaze again. He shrugged. “My confrontation with her lasted less than ten seconds. She used her spear to defeat one of my… conjurations, but she poisoned me with a throwing knife before I even knew she was there. Assassin sounds right.”

“Hmm, I see.” Jaraleet said, falling silent as he pondered what Gregor had said. He hadn’t expected for him to have been defeated so quickly and, as such, he was left with less information than he’d have liked to obtain from the Imperial man. “Well, I’m sorry to have interrupted your breakfast.” The Argonian said as he stood up, looking at both Gregor and Raelynn. “I need to think about what you’ve told me Gregor but, please, I implore you to be more cautious in the future. Lest these….complications become commonplace.” He said, turning his back to the couple and began walking away from them.

The blonde mage watched with a puzzled expression as Jaraleet paced away as quickly as he had paced over. “What was that about?” She asked quietly, running her tongue over her teeth. “Think about what? Do we need to be worried about that one?” It dawned on her that sometimes Jaraleet was just that way, blunt and intrusive and then gone as quick. Still, it wasn’t like him to refuse her even a smile or chuckle.

Gregor sighed. “Jaraleet seems to think so. I don’t expect them to pursue us into the desert, but you never know… Redguards are tenacious people.” He leaned back in his seat and rubbed his eyes. Another problem and another threat that could directly be attributed to him. Everywhere he turned, people and enemies were ready to punish him for pursuing his quest. It was exhausting. “He’s the closest thing we have to an assassin of our own. I suspect he feels it’s his duty to be prepared, should this Redguard woman come knocking.”

“You’re right,” she replied, easing up her own tension as she shifted closer to Gregor’s side, wrapping her arms around him with a sigh. “Whatever happens next, happens. Until then, we rest and get our strength up. All of us, including you.” She gave him a playful jab in the chest, sensing a cloud hanging around him, was it guilt? “I’m sure he’ll be back with more questions later…” Raelynn said lightly, placing her head against his shoulder, breathing him in happily.
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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Spoopy Scary
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Spoopy Scary ☠️🌸soft grunge🌸☠️

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with @Dervish

Early morning, 15th of Midyear, 4E208
The Oasis, Alik'r Desert

A night in a desert cavern wasn’t particularly restful. Even if spare supplies had been fashioned into pillows or blankets, it couldn’t save Aries from the fact that she was more accustomed to fine linens and grand, plush beds in a cozy room. A blanket draped over sands was was hardly a fair comparison and her choices for head support was to roll a bundle of fabric and rest it against a rock or flat against the ground -- hardness or a lack of support? Then chilly drafts of wind that would also sometimes kick up the sand wasn’t so pleasant, and factor into that her own suspicion of someone slashing her throat as she slept, and she was in for a restless night where the Breton woman would sleep in half-hour intervals before waking again. She had slept in somewhat poor positions before since the Dwemer invaded Hammerfell, but she couldn’t say that she ever had to resort to sleeping in a cavern.

Sevari was a cause for concern, and his change of heart made her wonder if he actually intended to return or if he was simply trying to get on her good side. And if so, then for what? But there was one good thing that came out of their conversation: aside from their conclusions about Gregor, it was the argonian: Jaraleet. She had separate worries about her potential loyalties, but if Sevari was truly indebted to him like he suggested, then surely he wouldn’t try to endanger him. Sevari also wasn’t stupid, though -- he would’ve known that suggesting Jaraleet’s potentially ulterior loyalties to her also could’ve put his friend in danger. That meant at some point throughout their conversation, he must have felt that she forced his hand to reveal that information. One way or another, whether it was to drive home the fact that Jaraleet was innocent -- mostly -- or sacrificing that piece of the argonian’s privacy, knowing the risks involved, to set her on the right trail, the argonian likely ought not to be the subject of her worries. That meant she felt at least somewhat comfortable taking an eye off of him for now… as well as having him be the one to keep watch throughout the night.

While Sevari also could have simply said what he did to protect Jaraleet if he was guilty, then letting slip his loyalties was a dangerous liability anyways. Being a Penitus Oculatus, that man would’ve been more… cautious. The lizard was safe for now, even if he did have to pay for his executive decision later.

As the morning sun rose above the sandy horizon, her eyes scanned over some of the still-sleeping figures and over a trio standing by the mouth of the caverns. Meg was still injured and the bard had finally awoken from his heat-induced stupor, and like Sevari suggested, he seemed like he was close to Gregor. From a distance, one would be forgiven for thinking the Imperial was like any other man. That was a pressing matter to be handled later, but first and foremost, there were the people like Calen and Meg who had to be taken care of. Travelling throughout the day was only going to slow the group as a whole down. It’d be better if they rested here some more and resumed their travels at sundown. But that meant she had to speak with Daro’Vasora.

Despite her conflicted feelings regarding that one’s rescue, she had a form of power over this group that Aries didn’t have, a certain level of respect. Aside from the matter of simply getting to know the woman she risked so much to rescue, it’d also be beneficial to cultivate a relationship with that one. Perhaps, in doing that, she might also be able to cultivate her ability to lead. This disorderly band of ignorant louts weren’t the type who would follow her lead if recent history was any lesson to be learned, but perhaps through Sora, she could actually help to direct them in an efficient manner; or at least help the khajiit learn how to direct them. Sora had a debt, after all, however small that thread was. All she had to do was tug at it.

That being considered, it was time that she settled into her disguise. There wasn’t an immediate threat anymore.

Aries pushed herself to her feet and stretched the sore muscles in her back and neck and brush off the sand from her clothes and body. The Hammerfell-styled robes she was wearing was thinner last night and this morning than it had been during their travels. The need for a protective veil was no longer necessary and so her figure now was less obscured by the baggy articles she had converted to a blanket last night. One more scan across the cavern had set Daro’Vasora in her sights, who seemed to have waken only a few minutes ago. Her fur was still slightly damp from whatever bath she had given herself in one of the ponds the night before, and she was up, even if she was still groggy and in the process of waking up.

Perhaps in a more domestic setting Aries would’ve been more considerate of this, but giving the situation, courtesy wasn’t much of a pressing issue. The assumed merchant slipped her feet into a pair of sandals and she didn’t hesitate to approach her.

Reaching her hand down as a gesture to help her to her feet, one courtesy she had not opted to abandon, she looked at her with a polite, if a bit serious expression.

“Good morning Daro’Vasora,” she said curtly, “we have much to discuss.”

The Khajiit blinked the sleep out of her eyes and regarded Janelle for a few lingering moments, feeling the sudden burden of responsibility after what was the most perfect night she could have hoped for. Daro'Vasora stretched and yawned, taking a few moments to shake the fog out of her mind before taking the offered hand and springing to her feet with grace.

“Janelle, if I recall?” she asked, hoping she wasn't mishearing the name in the chaos earlier. “I suppose we might, considering all I know about you is you helped rescue me without me even knowing your name, your illusion magic saved lives and got us out of Gilane without causing a scene, you're an associate of Sevari's if I read the two of you well, and you have the bearing of someone who frequents the upper rings of Imperial society. Politician, socialite?” the treasure hunter probed, more curious than prying.

Sharp, but Aries kept her wits about her. With a sheepish smile, she placed her hand against her chest and dipped her head to feign some modesty. “Merchant,” Aries lied, followed by some truth, “and I was raised Breton. Though I can see why you would think that; Breton politics are woefully more complicated by leagues, and I would’ve been poorer off by not learning it. Shall we walk?”

“Ah. Forgive my assumption; I've called Imperial City home for a few years, you have the bearing of a number of people I've been acquainted with.” Daro'Vasora bowed her head slightly in polite acknowledgment. “And my mother holds court in Leyawiin, so I've seen a number of people of all walks of life petitioning the count in my younger years. Please, lead the way.”

“Is that right?” Aries said with a tilt of her head. She made the first step, careful in its placement as she lead them away from the others so to set the pace. Their walk was more like pacing, like they were taking a relaxing walk through the Arboretum in the Imperial City. She did not want to cause undue stress by pressing the urgency of a situation, so instead she sought to make her comfortable first. Aries continued, “I’ve done quite a bit of business with the Imperial City during and after the Skyrim Civil War. Depending on which sector your family worked in, it’s possible I’ve done business with them. In fact, I suspect I might have even done business with a Sibassius at one point -- a relative of your acquaintance, I assume.”

Daro'Vasora's gait was much looser and informal, one acquainted with being limber and light on her feet as to not disturb anything. She shrugged, slipping the well-gnawed bit of bone between her teeth. “You have me at a loss. My father is a household name merchant in the Topal Bay region, even trades with the Dominion when the political climate allows. Only headed up to the big city once in a while, mostly following demand. Only business partner of his I knew about was my recently departed uncle, who I lived with on and off until the city fell.” she glanced at Janelle. “Never even heard of Gregor's family until I met him a couple months back. Jewelry crafters, if I recall.”

“That makes sense.” Aries replied, not failing to take notice of her unfamiliarity with Gregor’s family. “I took care of the logistical business in Daggerfall and hired third parties as intermediaries, but I suppose it's possible that I may have done business with him. It wasn't until contacts began going dark did I set out to Hammerfell myself only to find there were Dwemer. I can't say for certain what High Rock looks like now.”

After a brief pause, Aries continued.

“How are you finding the burden of leadership?”

Ah, there was the bread and butter. Daro’Vasora wasn’t sure how much she should divulge to Janelle, but it didn’t hurt to air out some of her thoughts, did it?

“This isn’t something I thought I’d ever be caught dead doing, but I suppose I’m making due. The others seem to look to me for direction, and I kind of loosely find a path to follow and say I’m taking it one way or another, and so far they’ve stayed with me.” Daro’Vasora replied with a careless shrug. “I can’t say I care much for being responsible for the wellbeing of others, because every time one of them gets hurt because of some decision I made, it eats away at me. I honestly try not to overthink things too much, or else I’d be paralyzed with uncertainty. I’m trying to do right by them, even if it doesn’t make me popular.” she said, slipping a well-gnawed bone between her teeth.

“That’s something I’m rather used to, after all.”

“It’s a difficult responsibility.” Aries agreed. Daro’Vasora’s admission seemed to have confirmed some of her earlier suspicions. Then she looked as if she caught herself, and feigning nervousness, she quickly added, “It’s not one that I’d so quickly take upon myself, of course! Now that we’ve rested for a night, though, do you have a plan for what happens next?”

“That’s guarshit, you carry yourself like you’re used to having retainers and people following your beck and call.” Daro’Vasora replied, glancing sidelong at the Breton. “Like I said, I’ve met a lot of people who you remind me of. You only get that way if you’re accustomed to some measure of influence and power. I don’t expect you to give me a story about who you are and what you’ve come from, but no need to try and be humble around me.” the Khajiit said evenly, turning her attention back to the camp.

Aries presented Sora with a forced smile, but her face otherwise didn’t betray her sense of annoyance at crassness of her conduct.

“The result of a lifetime of petitioning Breton and Imperial courts.” She replied simply, though she deliberately held herself in such a way that a more scrutinizing eye would discern she was holding back offense. She continued, “You are entitled to your beliefs and preconceptions. If in the future should you decide you’re interested in my truths, then I would happily share them with you. So then… your plan?”

“Agreed. Next time, then.” Daro’Vasora said with a nod, returning to the business at hand. “I’ve got the phantasm of a plan, but there’s no way to really make any of it concrete until we actually get there. Rest up for a while, regain our strength and morale, and then head out in the dark when we’re all more or less back to our usual selves. It’s going to be a hard journey, but I’ve seen some maps, and with our guides, I think we’ll make good time without missteps.” She explained, going over the rough form that was circulating in her mind like a fog.

“It’s actually getting into the ruins that’s troubling me, but I’ll work that out when we actually see what’s there.” Daro’Vasora admitted, grinding her teeth into the bone. “I’m usually one to plan out my expeditions carefully so I just have to follow the correct steps to mitigate risk, but we’re kind of going into this blind out of necessity. But don’t worry, Janelle; if there’s anything I’ve learned about this lot, it’s that improvising in the face of unspeakable odds is what we’re good at.”

“Good improvisational skills is important.” Aries agreed. “I hope we don’t need to use them, though. I agree it would be best to leave at sundown.”

She turned back to the group and craned her neck around. She found one by the mouth of the cave, though the other was found easily enough in the presence of the non-robed male argonian. She continued, “If I’m not mistaken, two of your friends are Nords, yes? Young as they are, I’m familiar enough with Bretons and Imperials to tell the difference. The boy wasn’t faring so well under the heat, horse or not, and the girl even worse so with her leg. Giving those two the extra day’s rest and leaving at dusk might allow us to move faster and further in the long run. It’ll be cooler, easier, and our water supply will last longer.”

She turned to face Sora again with a smile. “It’s not much different from charting a course for a caravan.”

The Khajiit scratched the back of her head thoughtfully. “Seems the only ones of us who aren’t suffering from the heat are us Khajiit or the Redguards; this is a bit different from the swampy coastal climate of Leyawiin, but at least my fur keeps me protected from Mundus.” Daro’Vasora said, looking towards where Jaraleet was tending to Megana, Calen not readily visible from where they were standing. “I’m inclined to agree, everyone needs rest. A few days to try and forget their troubles and heal… get used to sleeping during the day. That sort of thing.”

She decided to change tacts somewhat; it was refreshing to speak to a new set of ears that had a fresh perspective. “So, what do you think of the group so far? It still is hard to come to terms with what they did for me. Ever feel like that, that you don’t deserve something that’s way above you?” she asked suddenly, looking at the woman full on for the first time.

“They’ve done a lot for you.” Aries agreed, though she felt a little crestfallen as she remembered the loss of Gilane. “At the cost of a lot of people. I suppose if it were me, I wouldn’t feel like I deserved it either, no. If I had found myself in your position anyways, then I guess I would simply have to look past that do what I can to show that I was worthy of that price.”

She looked up at Sora and put her hands up, giving her an apologetic smile paired with an awkward laugh, “Of course, I’m not asking you to prove yourself or anything! Your friends helped you because they loved you. I suppose, being surrounded by the pragmatism of an insurgency, I was driven by a very different motivation. I didn’t know you.”

“Still don’t, truth be told. But there’s time to work on that.” Daro’Vasora said with a reassuring smile. “Thank you for what you did for us back there, by the way. It wasn’t your fight but you still came anyways, and that matters, I think. It’s when you start to lose sight of people being people that you end up with fanaticism like the other cell.

“It’s why they came for me, we have a history together, the past two months have probably been the most heavy and formative in our entire lives, and the things we’ve been through… it’s hard to see anything past just us and our mission. The difference is, we’re not beholden to causes or factions or what have you, just doing what we think is the right thing.” Daro’Vasora sighed. “Hopefully we know what that is when we see it.”

“I hope it’s not too out of place for me to say,” Aries began, tapping a finger against her head, “but an open mind, I like to think, is one of my strengths. For all of Irranhu cell’s flaws… and believe me, there were many… there’s always a reason driving every decision. The Poncy Man was very calculating and I don’t think he made the decision to target your friends lightly -- and understand, I say that as someone who held them off so that you all could escape safely.”

Aries sighed. “But it does disturb me. If I had to wager a guess, they feared that at least one of you was dangerous enough to risk everything… but they didn’t know who, so they felt that their hand was forced. I say this because it’s easy to forget that those insurgents were people too, not just fanatics. Gilane was their home, and you and your friends could just as easily become what you’re accusing Irranhu of. You might not believe in causes or factions, but at the root of every cause is a group of people believing they’re doing the right thing.”

The Khajiit thought on that for a moment before letting out a soft sigh. “Trust me, if I didn’t believe in that to some degree, I wouldn’t have accepted Sevari and Zaveed’s offer. I heard it said that we’re all the villain in someone else’s story, I cannot remember where. Despite everything, I still see the Dwemer as people, and I hold out that after this war is finally over with, there can be a chance at peace. No matter what we decide to do, someone’s going to get hurt, or it’s going to be us. I choose to look after the people who matter first, that’s all.”

“The dwemer?” She repeated, raising an eyebrow. “Please. Their society has developed within a vacuum, a literal realm apart from this one. They’ve forgotten how to live alongside the men and mer of Nirn, just like the Falmer. If their leaders wanted to integrate with the new Tamriel, then they’ve lost that chance.”

“It’s anti-intuitive and frustrating,” Aries preemptively explained, “but language is inherently subjective and receiver-oriented. The validity or truth behind an argument is determined by the audience, however ignorant the audience might be. If the majority of Tamriel sees the Dwemer as unfit to coexist with them, then that is simply the truth.”

“All societies went through that pain at some point. The Falmer thought the same about the Atmorans. The Ayleids looked down upon the humans in their domain until the slave revolts. The Argonians invading Morrowind. History is just a big wheel, just sometimes the actors change. If I believed that people couldn’t change, or individuals were responsible for the deeds of their government, I wouldn’t be who I am today.” Daro’Vasora explained. “Look, I know it sounds off and naive, but actually seeing Dwemer families in Gilane gave me hope that that’s what the future can be like, it was so normal. Even the Governor, I think, was a woman with honourable intentions, just a very misguided way of going about achieving them. The thing is, let’s say the Poncy Man won, the insurgencies triumphed, do you think it would have been better or worse?” the Khajiit asked, looking back towards Janelle. “More often than not, rebellions and insurgencies that form in a power vacuum don’t exactly restore what people hoped for.”

“St. Alessia didn’t obediently obey her masters.” Aries refuted. “And as a result, thousands of slaves were freed and they created the first Imperial Empire the world has ever seen. But this conversation misses the larger picture; you can not, and should not, invade someone’s home, kill their people, and expect them to become complacent under a tyrannical rule.”

“No, and in that, we are in agreement.” Daro’Vasora said, noticing the pointed shift in Janelle’s tone. “But it’s important not to lose sight of the people who are caught up in the same umbrellas as their leaders and armies. Why should a woman who is trying to care for her child be held to the same accountability as a soldier who puts another to the sword?” she asked.

“But we can say the same thing about the Empire we both call home, Janelle. It was forged in conquest and subjugation; my people never asked to be Imperial Citizens, and yet we stared down the Numidium and fell under Imperial law all the same. In 50, 100, 200 years someone like me is going to be scouring old historical records and trying to make sense of all of this.” Daro’Vasora shook her head, her expression grim.

“I think you need to know that the Dwemer killed my uncle and destroyed my home. That is why I am here, trying to find a way to stop this invasion permanently knowing it could kill thousands of people who are innocent of any crime other than being born under a different nation.” She said grimly.

Aries paused for a moment, catching herself in a heated moment and reminded herself to not forget her purpose here. She took this chance as an opportunity to recompose herself and decide to take a step back and remove herself from the situation. Perhaps in the future she would have time to address the facile pseudo-intellectualism, but now wasn’t the time.

“Pardon me,” Aries began after a brief breath, “losing my temper, however brief, was… unbecoming. I’m afraid you weren’t the only one to lose a lot recently, so forgive me if I am too close to the situation. It isn’t my place.”

As if to show that she was alright, she flashed a smile and said, “I mean I’m a businesswoman, after all, not a politician. What could I possibly know about international diplomacy?”

“Uh-huh. Perhaps I’m stereotyping, but you’re Breton; it’s in your blood. I say this as a glorified grave robber with a tail and fuzzy ears.” Daro’Vasora replied with a wry smile before rolling a kink of out her shoulders. “There’s nothing to apologize for, political discussion aside, it’s important to have checks and balances and a fresh new mind to pick. I’m not going to pretend I know everything, or even feel confident with what I’m doing, but at least it won’t be a dull journey.”

“Stereotypes indeed, Daro’Vasora. I suspected better of you!” Aries playfully admonished as she clicked her tongue. “Anyways, I just wanted to meet the woman I’ve worked so hard to help. I must admit, it feels gratifying to see someone so earnest. You may not feel worthy of the honor, but I suspect you’ll accomplish some great things before war’s end.”

Aries bowed her head and finished, “I’ve many more people to meet; good people, I imagine, if they were willing to risk their lives for you. Good friends. I’ve yet to make proper introductions with them since the chaos of planning an attack. I have much to catch up on.”

“For that, you have my gratitude and it’s an honour to have you at my side.” Daro’Vasora said, extending her hand. “Give them a chance; they’ll grow on you.”

“Likewise, and I’m sure they will. Like a rash, right?” Aries responded jokingly with a smile, taking Sora’s hand and giving it a firm shake. “I look forward to seeing a stronger future for Tamriel with you.”

With that, Aries turned around and began walking off towards the rest of the group. With her back turned to the khajiit, her smile dimmed as she repressed the urge to sigh or alter the pace of her gait. Setting her sights on the others, she couldn’t help but feel a tiring burden set on her shoulders.

Walking away from Sora, she thought to herself, ‘Finally.’

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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Greenie
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Greenie Into the Void

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by Shafty and Greenie

16th of Midyear, Near Noon, the Oasis

Rucksack on her back, paper and ink and quill nicely stowed away, Sirine was making her way back to the entrance of the cave where she had decided to sleep the first night and the following one since their arrival to the oasis. It was nice and secluded, comparatively, yet still offered a nice view of the cavern and the many within. Perfect for Sirine's people watching, as it were, which she would have continued if she hadn't seen the familiar figure of Sevari standing near the entrance of the cavern. A relaxed look on her face, she made her way over to the man, raising a hand in greeting. It was still something of amazement that two men of the same race could look so vastly different from one another. Well, they certainly argue like brothers.

"You're looking quite lonesome there by yourself," she commented once she was close enough to be heard without shouting.

“Looks can be deceiving.” He smirked around his cigar, nodding to Sirine. He patted the pistol at his side and the large messer sword on the ground next to his disassembled rifle, “I’ve got my best friends right here.”

He had been sat at the cave’s opening like he had been every chance he got. Ever since his and Aries’ conversation, he would perch himself at the entrance as often as he could, cleaning his weapons or smoking, or doing anything to make sure Gregor never knew he and anybody he talked to was being watched. He felt a sense of normalcy, being a spy again. Covering every action with another, maintaining appearances, every word veiled with misdirection, people-watching. After all, he still was who he was. “You always just take a stroll at the same time?” He asked curiously, “Same route too?”

Sirine looked to the pistol and the sword before allowing herself a laugh. It sounded almost sad if she was being honest with herself, but he seemed quite satisfied with himself. "I see, well greetings to you both, best friends of Sevari."

Silly joke put to the side, she nodded at his question as she took a seat nearby, one knee tucked under her chin as she folded her other leg under herself. "I like taking a walk around the river," she started. "The sound is very soothing, though not quite like waves at sea." She chuckled a little, wondering how long it would be before the Ohmes-Raht got tired from hearing the virtues of the sea from both herself and his brother. "And I've been meeting some... interesting people along the way. I believe you're familiar with them. Gregor yesterday, Megana and Jaraleet today. The last one is your friend, isn't he?"

“Yes,” he nodded, finally pulling the rag once more through the barrel of his rifle as it came out just a bit more blackened. He began reassembling the weapon, “A steadfast one, something in short supply for me.”

He was quiet for a bit, focused on reassembling his rifle until it once again took form as a weapon. He worked the lever and slapped a round home in the chamber, aiming down the sights and putting it down. “He and Gregor are friends too, I’ve learned. Now I don’t know who he holds more loyalty to, him or me. There are things I’d like to find out about Gregor and his crimes in Hammerfell.”

He got up to a squat and took a drag of his cigar, speaking through the cloud, “You can see how grand this makes me feel about the Argonian. Do you think they all know about the necromantic fuck?”

Sirine looked away from the tents and over at the cloud of smoke covering the khajiit man. While the sight amused her, it was dulled by his words. "They don't," she replied flatly, a frown replacing her previously relaxed expression. "I mentioned it blatantly to them both, to Gregor and Jaraleet. The former said it was an appropriate punishment for his lover’s torture. The latter mentioned that it wasn't common knowledge and it would be best for it to remain that way." She let out a humourless laugh, shaking her head. "I found him tolerable, the Argonian, but I don't understand how..." Her teeth gritted in irritation before she took a deep breath, attempting to calm herself. "He said the man's like a beast when cornered, as if he was warning of what may happen if the necromancer was threatened. And yet they feel he is a good man."

Fingers tapping against her knee with irritation, she further continued. "I mentioned him to Zaveed the night we arrived. He seemed nonchalant, said not to be concerned about Gregor. But I don't know..." She raised her eyebrows, head tilting as she tried to decipher what Sevari might be thinking.

“You and I both know Zaveed has led the kind of lives we have.” Sevari began, looking out over the tents and watching the goings-on of the camp, soon enough seeing Gregor in there but averting his gaze lest it stay there too long and the man catch him looking, “If anybody killed Zaveed, Zaveed himself would know he deserved it. I hold no illusions it holds true for me too.”

He shook his head, grabbing up a whetstone and getting to work on his messer, “But you fuck with a man’s soul.” He growled, “You fuck with my brother’s soul. I’ve killed men for far, far, far less than that. I just have to figure out how I can do this without turning each and every one of these people against me. I let my own fondness for one of my target’s protectors get the better of me once. Once.”

“If it’s between my love for my brother and my friendship with Jaraleet and Latro,” he frowned darkly at Gregor in the camp, “Let’s hope they don’t have to find out how those chips fall.”

"That's the part that scares me," Sirine admitted, "from when he mentioned almost being soul trapped when we hadn't left Gilane yet." She looked down at the ground by her boot, her free hand flicking at a few small pebbles laying about. "We are with people who have someone so... dangerous with them. I saw the healed scars on your brother's chest- they looked bad enough then and I can only imagine how terrible the wounds had been when inflicted. How can we trust such people? What do we really know of them? This... peace, these allies, it all seems so fragile..."

Her hand moved away from the ground to grasp the coin around her neck; she glanced his way once more, uncertainty clear in her eyes. They were here because they trusted Sevari's judgement, but if he himself wasn't sure... "Do you trust they won't see us as extra fat to be trimmed? Because as far as I can see, I need you and Zaveed to free Bakih, and as much as it irritates me to say it, in turn, you need them. Not the other way around."

“I know.” Sevari said, flat, as the whetstone rang across his blade. A few more long rings and he spoke again, “Trust me. I have people here too that would protest to have at least me gone. But it is all tenuous. The bridge was seen as kindling when Latro came riding up out of nowhere, I know.”

He stopped for a moment, puffing on his cigar, “Their weakness though?” He frowned and found Sora in the camp, “They’re better people than me.”

Sirine couldn't help but let out a small sigh at that. She wasn't displeased, but she didn't know how to feel about what Sevari said. It was like that conversation she’d never had with Zaveed. How did one know who was good and who wasn't? Were people who harboured a necromancer really 'better' people? She decided not to contest him, however. She would have to simply trust the man and have his back if things went south, just as he had helped Zaveed free her from that shithole of a tavern.

"I saw you talking to someone when we arrived," she said after a moment of silence. "That woman... I don't recall her name but the one with the reddish hair." The hair had stayed in her mind because it had reminded her quite a bit of her younger brother's. "She doesn't really sing terrorist-" a smirk came to her face and she lifted her hand- "apologies, I mean freedom fighter. She seemed quite testy- she isn't a former lover, is she?" Her tone was now lighter, indicating she didn't really mean what she said seriously.

That made Sevari laugh, something that wasn’t known it was needed until it happened, “No, no.” He said, the vestiges of a smile still on his lips, slowly fading, “No. An associate. Things in Hammerfell with the insurgency… well, I have a complicated working relationship with them. I’ll leave it at that. As for Janelle, she’s a very good helper and I am a helper to her in turn. A sense of loyalty in a world where there is almost none.”

"Hm..." Sirine tapped at her chin with a finger. She supposed it made sense in a way- there was so much she didn't know about the insurgency after all, save for the lists she had found in Jamir's dresser. She had never been one to bother herself with politics as long as she and her crew were fine with a path to the sea. The idea that she was part of a group of rebels wasn't the most comforting to her. However, it seemed to her as if Sevari trusted this woman, so that was something at least.

"I guess that's one person we don't have to worry about trying to stab you in the back then." Sirine laughed under her breath before continuing. "Are you the reason she's with the group, or is that due to something else? She just... seems different from the rest."

“We brought a few of them into our world. Ones we knew we could keep an eye on.” He sighed, holding his blade up to check the edge on the sunlight. Seeing no imperfections in the edge, he slid it into its scabbard, “When the time came, we brought ourselves into the light to the lot of them. Everything else about the why’s and how’s is not for me to tell.”

Sirine nodded in understanding. "That's fair," she agreed. There was so much that was probably hidden behind most of these people, even friends, that would take much unravelling to reveal, if at all. She herself kept many secrets that wouldn't necessarily affect anyone other than herself.

"I mentioned I talked to that girl, Meg?" Sirine decided to change the subject once more. "She said you saved her and her friend from the dwemer... she seems to trust you despite thinking you don't like her." She looked pensive as she recalled her morning conversation with the Nord. "Loyal to a fault."

“Being angry at somebody almost getting your asset killed, being angry that your asset was doing stupid fucking things?” He clucked his tongue, leaning back and taking another drag of his cigar, “Having someone you’ve never met before reprimand you for doing something stupid can be misconstrued for a disliking.”

He shrugged, “I don’t, by the way.” He said, “I have no strong feelings towards Meg, besides the fact she can be too rambunctious and act without thinking first. I remember being like that. It got a lot of people killed. So I stopped.”

"From asset to friend," Sirine murmured under her breath. She wondered what had happened to change that but wasn't actually nosy enough to ask. It was something of the past, and more likely than not was probably something Sevari wouldn't wish to talk about.

"Hm. I was actually the opposite, truth be told. Since I was a child, I never did like rushing into things." Unfolding her leg from beneath her, she stretched them out instead, leaning back on her arms as she thought of the pleasant times of her youth. "My family, both my paternal and maternal sides were merchants for as long as they can remember, as were my parents. Listening to orders, making plans, doing things systematically, it was something ingrained in me from as soon as I could understand."

Sevari smiled a bit, thinking on his childhood. The good parts. His mother, Suffian, the years spent with Zaveed and Marassa. “And then it changed.” Sevari looked over to Sirine, “Like life does? Merchant to pirate captain? Gutter orphan digging beggars graves to one of the most notorious gang leaders and enforcers in southern Tamriel with a price on his head in half the continent?”

"Exactly that," Sirine agreed, a rueful smile on her face."I ended up the exact opposite of the expectations laid out for me at birth, attacking ships just like the one I was born and grew up in. Not that I regret it. The choices I made, good or bad, turned me into what I am, and I was stronger for it." Until the dwemer attacked. "Life also has a way of sudden twists as well, doesn't it. You and Zaveed, you only recently reconnected, right?"

“Yes.” He nodded, ashing his cigar, “I paid him an exorbitant amount to take me here. I’ll admit, at the time, I never knew Captain Greywake would be my brother until I laid eyes on him. He came very recommended for the type of thing I had in mind when I came calling for his services.”

Sevari let out a sharp breath of air through his nose and a smile, “Sudden twists.” He said, “Speaking of brothers, no offense, but I’d like to at least know what the man is like before I go charging headlong into a prison owned by the same people who want me dead for treason to rescue your family.”

"That's fair." Her smile was now tinged with a touch of sadness, and she let out a sigh. "Bakih is a good person. I know it's biased of me to say, but if I'm comparing him to my other two brothers..." She shrugged before continuing. "He left the family that rejected me and travelled by my side. He didn't have to, but he did. He was barely seventeen when he decided to follow after me. Smart and loyal. Being out at sea wasn't his number one choice in life, but he did it for me. It's like I told Zaveed- Bakih gave up a good life for me and now he's stuck behind bars because of it."

She looked at Sevari. "I owe you as much as Zaveed for helping me out of that tavern and agreeing to free my brother. Neither of you had to, or have to... so thank you."

Sevari was touched by that, just a bit. Sirine owed it to her brother to get him out of that prison. The man had changed his life so much for her. Say what you wanted about Sevari, but seeing innocents caught in the crossfire was something he never liked. Not that Bakih was innocent, but whatever life he led with Sirine wasn’t the one he was expecting.

He could understand why Sirine wanted to get her brother from the prison, then. He empathized with her, if it weren’t for Sevari, Zaveed wouldn’t have even been in Hammerfell with him. “Well,” Sevari nodded, looking out over the rolling dunes of the Alik’r, “That’s a fine enough reason as any. I know how it feels, having someone suffer the consequences of your own life. Zaveed never would have been here if it weren’t for me.”

He sighed, “My life has left a lot of dead men in its wake. A lot. I don’t know how I would feel if Zaveed was one of them.” Suffian came to mind, and he’d tired of fratricide and seeing his family die because of himself, “Helping you get your brother out of that prison would be one of the only altruistic things I’ve done in my life. Maybe it’d put some good deeds behind Zaveed’s name too. Gods know he and I need some of those.” He chuckled.

"And believe me, I appreciate it wholeheartedly." Sirine reached and lightly touched Sevari's arm before returning her hand to her lap, a small smile on her face. "It's a little amazing to see how close you two are even after so many years of separation. Zaveed had a little outburst when he'd realized you were taken prisoner. And even when you two argued at that shitty tavern, it almost made me envious." She laughed under her breath. "You two care about each other to get upset with one another. Unless it's Bakih, I'm indifferent to the rest of my family."

“I think most of mine’s dead.” He said deadpan, looking out at the dunes, “The Thalmor took them. All of them.”

Except for Suffian, he thought, that one was me. He shifted where he sat and sighed, “Zaveed is the only one I have left. I used to have a woman in Elsweyr. A long, long time ago. Time came, though, I left her.” He said, “Around the same time the Thalmor killed my brothers. I didn’t want them to see me with her, so I just stopped seeing her, no goodbyes. Nothing.”

Sevari sucked his teeth and replaced his pained expression with a soft smile, “I don’t mean to assume anything about you or overstep any lines, Sirine,” he worked his jaw trying to come up with the words, “If you and Zaveed are what I think you are, or becoming… I’m glad. He needs that. Maybe you can keep him from being such a theatrical shitheel.”

Sirine blinked in response to Sevari's words before laughing under her breath. "Well, I guess I owe it to you to try," she replied, purposely deciding to ignore his assumption. "With this crowd, I can hardly blame the man for the way he may act... though I daresay, simply from watching the going ons since we've arrived, I don't believe you have to worry too much. Besides..." She couldn't help but chuckle aloud this time. "I thought theatrical was part of his charm. That display in the Scorpion's Song with Jamir was-" she smirked "-absolutely entertaining."

“It gets old.” He said, though his smile stayed, “Trust me, whatever he is to you, friend or… you know. He needs as many fucking guiding hands as he can get.”

"I'll take your word for it," Sirine replied, glancing in the direction of their shared camp. She wasn't sure if she was capable of being a guiding hand- she didn't quite have a clean slate herself. Friendship however was proving an easy task, to her surprise, and a pleasant one at that. "I gave him my word that I would follow him, and I don't intend on breaking my promise; once the sea captures a person's heart, she never truly releases her grasp. I feel this and I'm sure Zaveed does too, and it gives us common goal to strive for. Beyond that, who knows? You know he wishes to be a better person, whatever the fuck that is- I think after a while, it’s no longer in his hands, others have to accept it."

“Whatever the fuck that is,” he chuckled, quoting Sirine, “I’m guessing ‘whatever the fuck that is’ is whatever the fuck isn’t the infamous whoring, bloodthirsty, thieving Captain Greywake. All I’m asking is your guiding hand makes sure you guide him right out of any stupid heroics or poetics in the name of being a damned hero.”

He sighed, eyes going to the camp where he saw Zaveed about, “Because knowing that fool, being a better man means being a big damn hero. No in-between. Obscurity isn’t even in his vocabulary.” His voice dipped into solemnity and wistfulness as he continued, “That’s what he’s always wanted, for as long as I knew him. To be loved, to make others laugh and cheer. Funny, how I thought back then that he’d be the best out of the three of us shivering together in the gutters.”

He let a few moments pass, just watching his brother go about his life, remembering when they were younger and the idea of them turning into what they did seemed preposterous, “He and I,” he clucked his tongue, re-lighting the cigar he’d forgotten about and puffing on it a few times, “He and I… maybe we’re not the best we could’ve been, but we can at least be better.”

He pursed his lips, offering Sirine a small and wistful smile as he looked at her, “That’s what it’s about, isn’t it?”

"I guess it is," Sirine replied, returning the smile with her own. "Like I told Zaveed the other night, helping me out of the tavern and aiding in finding my brother is a fine start." She quieted, her mind thinking over what the Ohmes-Raht had mentioned. Even if it was very sparse, it was still a little enlightening hearing about her two companions' childhood. There was so much to unravel, and so much she knew probably never would be- it wasn't as if anyone knew more than the barebones about her- but she could see how a trio of ragtag orphans would have such grand dreams. It was almost impressive they had grown up to be so strong and accomplished, despite their chosen paths- it was almost enviable, yet at the same time a little heart wrenching.

There you go feeling things again. Taking in a deep breath, she slowly let it out. "It's been nice bantering, Sevari. Thank you. I know I haven’t known you or Zaveed long, but..." She smiled ruefully before shrugging. It felt silly to say it aloud that it almost felt like she was part of a crew again. “I’ll do what I can, if I can, to make sure your brother doesn’t act a complete idiot.” A small grin found its place on her face, remembering Marassa’s words. “Even if it involves a fist to a face. I quite like the rare few friends I have to remain alive and well.” She looked pointedly at Sevari. “Including you.”

Sevari chuckled at Sirine’s words. He felt something he hadn’t felt in a good long while, not since being at the head of his gang with his loyal brothers, no matter how tough and cruel a lot they were. He felt a genuine kinship. That meant something, “Thank you, Sirine.” He smiled, “You’ll have me when you need me, long as we’re running together.”

Sirine smiled, her stance and expression relaxing once more as she leaned back and looked out in the distance. "You're welcome, Sevari... and thanks."
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Stormflyx Queen of Doggos

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The Obstacle is the Way

@Rtron & @Stormflyx

Early morning, 15th of Midyear 4E208
The Oasis, Alik’r Desert

With a jug of fresh water in one hand, and her books and quill held up under her arm - Raelynn made her way to a quiet spot inside the cavern, electing to sit beside the stream away from the tents. She still found herself lamenting over Zaveed’s words. The heat of the moment having been and gone left only the echoes of what he had been saying. She would ruminate over it all for some time yet. She wondered, in the back of her mind, if he was thinking about it too.

Still, the clear air had given her a clear spirit and clear mind to try her hand and deciphering some of the runes found in the restoration tome. She had been able to make a good start on it so far, but had found herself stuck over one she had never seen before.

Minutes passed over, and she was still perched up on a rock, tongue poking out in concentration with the quill in her hand - bobbing against the page. She was trying her best to hold down frustration, but this task was timely. Raelynn really believed that if she could learn the spell within the tome, then her magicka would be freed from whatever prison was holding it. She did not have time to get caught up on singular runes. She exhaled sharply and her nostrils flared. This was an obstacle in her way. Try as she might, she had never been that great at holding back her temper when she was in a hurry. “What are you…?” She muttered under a terse breath.

Nanine rose from the stream where she had been crouched, taking a drink and stretched. Sleep had brought her out of her mood, reaffirming her convictions. Now she needed to focus on the task ahead, and the goals they needed to accomplish.

She paused before leaving, curiously glancing over at the sound of Raelynn speaking. A spell tome, similar to the ones she had spent years studying. Curiosity getting the better of her, she walked over to where the other Breton was sitting not-to-subtly trying to get a glimpse of the text.

“I could help.” She offered, standing next to Raelynn. She could see now that it was a restoration tome, which wasn’t surprising considering that the other woman was a healer. The writing was different than conjuration and destruction tomes, but not entirely alien. She could make out some of the runes from where she stood and understand them.

“I spent years studying destruction and conjuration tomes, and the writing isn’t that different. Between the two of us, we should be able to have this translated quickly. If you’d like, that is.”

It was almost as though the realisation that she should let go, had allowed something that she needed to be let in. She turned her head and looked up at Nanine, who was hovering around her. On any other day, she would have been perturbed by a presence so close to her - but right now she required help. “I see…” was her first response, and her eyes glanced back down to the pages. Was this not a task she must complete on her own without help?

“I will get it eventually…” she found herself saying next, emphasis on eventually. It dawned on her in that brief silence she held before turning down the offer of the Battlemage that maybe, just maybe, this was a task that would require her to seek out others. She mused over her life so far - she was a staunchly independent woman who would often refuse assistance if it meant she could get the job done alone. She was against the clock now, it was fine to be difficult when you had all the time in the world but right now, time was against her. “I will get there eventually, but if you think you can help me… I would very much appreciate it.” It almost hurt her to say it, even more so to lift up the tome for Nanine to take hold of it. Whether it was a book or a precious jewel, it had been a gift from her father and she hoped her fellow Breton would take it carefully.

Nanine smiled, excited to do something other than survive or fight. “I have no doubt you’ll get it eventually, but two can work better than one, no?” She carefully took the book from Raelynn, seeing how important it was to her. Nanine didn’t know where it came from or why it was so important, but she could understand that sentiment.

She scanned the page and its margins, catching up to Raelynn where she had translated too. She stared at the rune for a moment, comparing it and Raelynn’s translations to the other tomes and runes she had read over the years. It took a few moments to get back into the mindset of converting languages, having been a long time since she actually translated anything, or even pursued anything scholarly beyond preparation for a fight. She unconsciously took a hand from the book and started sparking lightning between her fingers, far enough away so as to not damage the tome. The magic helped her concentrate, ignoring the burbling of the stream and Raelynn’s eyes on her. A few moments passed, and she gave a small ‘aha!’

“Knit.” Nanine sat down next to the other breton, cancelling her magic and showing Raelynn. “You see how this part of the rune flows into main part and how its mirrored on the other side? It represents ‘unity’. The arching part on both of them represents ‘force’. Forcing unity from what is broken. Knitting back together what has been damaged.” Her voice contained subdued excitement and pleasure. It had been too long since she’s done this.

“I haven’t done this in years. May I help you translate more?”

“Well I never… You’re right, it is. It matches perfectly what I’ve already done… Thank you!” Her eyes lit up and sparkled with a relief. The obstacle was gone. “Thank you,” she said again softly, giving her fellow Breton a squeeze on the wrist to show her appreciation. “There was actually a rune in there that means to See. But, it’s easy to confuse with another one which is Watch. It’s a very similar looking rune, but very different interpretations. I guess part of the spell is to see what must be knitted back together - and I can only assume that means flesh to be mended…” Her words came out as a quick ramble. It was nice to talk about this with someone.

“You might be thinking that it would be obvious to first see, but with the other runes - it’s actually to see within from within. It’s not looking with eyes, but with… Spirit, I think.” Raelynn’s face was overcome with an almost smug grin, but it was really rather endearing. For a woman who so often scorned and curled her lips - a smile of pride at what she had done was rare. “I would… I would like you to help, actually.”

She shuffled over on the rock, leaving a space for Nanine to sit beside her. “I don’t believe we’ve formally met… It’s nice to share this moment with you.”

Nanine smiled, quietly excited, taking a seat next to the other Breton. She was glad that Raelynn had appreciated her help. For whatever reason, this was very important to the healer and she was all too happy to help Raelynn get through it. She tilted her head, considering Raelynn’s words. “That would make sense. Restoration spells aren’t limited to just healing the damage that you can see with your eyes. And it's not like destruction where all you have to do is force elements into being and let them go. Restoration requires more sight and belief. It’s a pleasure to finally formally meet you.”

“Hard to get proper introductions through when you’re busy running from the Dwemer, slogging through mud, or planning an insurrection. Even harder to find time to properly study magical texts like this amongst all that. I’m glad you’re letting me help.” She scanned the translations Raelynn’s had so far, making sure she’s caught up. “What part of High Rock are you from?”

“The best way I can explain it is that it is… seeing by feeling.” She said as she turned back to the book to plug away at the next rune. “You're not wrong, we really haven't stopped for a while, have we?” At the mention of it, Raelynn's eyes lifted from the book and she began to glance around the camp at everyone. Sora and Jude were together, Latro was doing his thing - Calen heading out of the oasis. Everyone was doing something, even she was. “I'm from Daggerfall, actually, and what about you? You look like you've seen a lot of battle… I'm going to guess you're not from a Merchant family like I am.”

She picked up her journal from the floor, flicking to a certain page. “I've seen this rune. Air or wind or something…”

“Hey, I was raised in Daggerfall! Best part of High Rock right now.” She looked over at the rune, studying it. “Change maybe? Air and wind are always the elements associated with that, after all.” She gave a small laugh at the image of her father and brother being merchants. “No, not a merchant family. Legionnaire family. Father was in the Legion, mother was a healer in the Legion, and my brother was going to join the Legion. There was never really any question of what I was going to do, and they spent their lives helping me prepare for it. When I came of age I joined up and was immediately sent to Skyrim towards the tail end of the civil war and helped bring order to the area in the aftermath. That’s where my combat experience comes from. Where did you learn how to be a healer?”

“I first read of magic, actually, while my mother was trying to train me as a seamstress. It all seemed so fascinating and powerful, but destruction didn't feel right to me. Save for a simple familiar summon, nor did conjuration. The only school of magic that really resonated was restoration. Off I went to Winterhold.” She scribbled the notes about change next to the rune in the book. As it happened, Nanine was right again. “Your family must be very proud of you for upholding that tradition, then.” Raelynn thought on how her life would appear if she had done the same and trained as a merchant and seamstress. She definitely would not be here, and yet she most likely would have found herself in Gilane… It was a nice fantasy that she would hold to daydream about later. “I lived in Skyrim for many years, I was there for the aftermath of the sacking of Windhelm… Terrible stuff, truly.”

“I’m glad someone else understands how fascinating magic is, not just from a practical point, but from simple study.” She gave a soft smile at Raelynn’s words about her family. Proud of her tradition and servitude to the Empire, of course, but proud of her? She could only think of her brother feeling that way about her specific accomplishments. “Yes, I imagine they would be.” She sighed for a moment, looking up at the sky. She hadn’t actually participated in the sacking of the rebel capital, off on patrol in the Reach, but she had heard about it and the horrors spawned from it.

“Windhelm was the result of a lot of anger and hurt being unleashed all at once. In turn, it only created more hurt and anger. As I was left Skyrim, things seemed to be getting better and trust was being restored in the Legion, but one never knows with these things. The Dwemer suddenly reappearing might’ve forced unity or caused even more chaos.”

She glanced at the book again, focusing on a specific rune. “Fire? That doesn’t make sense. Or is it speaking about an inner flame?”

Raelynn traced her finger over the marks on the rune, eyes narrowing in concentration, “if we ever get back there, we'll surely find out. I have many companions and acquaintances in Skyrim. I think even if we find it wartorn then I would still feel at home and safe. Skyrim has an unbreakable spirit…” She sighed almost happily at the memory of the province.

“Ah! It's Ignite. So you were close, but just missing the interpretation… the next one looks like Spirit, don't you think? Igniting the Spirit… These books can be so cryptic, but I appreciate the message behind each breakdown. They’re poetic in a way, and as mysterious and wise as magic itself.”

Nanine nodded. She didn’t feel Raelynn’s reassurance about Skyrim, though they had had two different experiences in the frozen nation. “Indeed, though I sometimes wish they forewent poetic in favor of directness. It’d be nice if they wrote down what you had to do in plain Cyrodiilic, just once or twice.”

“I wouldn’t call all magic wise. The Daedric Princes have shown little wisdom throughout the recorded history we have of them, or at least wisdom mortals cannot understand, and magic like Necromancy actively ignores wisdom at almost every turn.” She shrugged slightly. “Though I suppose that can be applied to every magical art, depending on who is using it.”

“I have seen magic from all schools be used for both good and bad purposes, you’re right that some are more… Colourful than others, but magic teaches us lessons regardless of the school. Whether we choose to listen and learn…” She would let Nanine finish that sentence herself.

“For example, the lesson here… If I put it all together…. ‘Watch that which must be mended, for change will come when the Spirit is Ignited.” She almost laughed, everything was so cryptic indeed, and that may not be the correct interpretation. “How would you interpret it? As a mage of Destruction?”

“A fair point.” Whether the lessons to be learned were about the dangers of foolish magic or not was another debate entirely, and not one to start right now. Nanine read the line again, mouthing it to herself, and considered it for a moment as lightning sparked across her fingers.

“From a destruction spell point of view, it’d be about watching for an opportunity to attack, ‘that which must be mended’ meaning an injury or damage to armor you can capitalize on. Change would be referring to a change in battle, and the Spirit being Ignited would be your spirit igniting the magic to destroy your opponent through their said weakness. Probably something to do with fire. So, assuming that we’ve translated it correctly, we just need to apply the opposite ideology to that interpretation.” She gestured slightly to Raelynn. “Which would be your expertise, I believe.”

“That sounds like the destructive interpretation alright,” she said with a soft chuckle. Raelynn ran her thumb over her lips, deep in thought as she let what Nanine had advised sink in. Hers was an interesting take on it all, that was for sure. She hummed quietly to herself, organising her thoughts. “Is it strange that I wonder whether it is something far more personal and less… Literal?” She stopped suddenly, humming again as her forefinger traced the outline of a rune on the page. “I do wonder if this could be a message about observation of one’s own spirit and behaviour…”

The breton paused and her eyes narrowed, fingers circling the runes again. “I think it could be… to observe your own spirit deep within, in order to reignite the flame and begin to mend.” It felt so true to her, and it was almost as if she felt the message land with a thud in her stomach.

“Makes sense. All of what Destruction does is literal effects and reactions, whereas Restoration has belief and hope. After all, you can’t knit things back together unless you’re sure with and of yourself. Forcing elements into existence, summoning monsters, manipulating reality, manipulating people’s perceptions, all that is just pure willpower to make it happen. Restoration requires belief and passion.” Nanine shrugged slightly. She didn’t truly know much about Restoration, all told. “At least from my outside perspective. You can’t heal damage to others if you’re damaged too much yourself, after all.” She glanced over at Raelynn curiously. “Is that how Restoration works? Or is it simply force of will?”

“You might be right there… All I know is, when I summon my magicka and place my light on someone, if I focus hard enough I can feel everything. It’s… Not just a wave of a hand and an injury is healed, it’s more than that - it’s about making a connection and wanting to heal the wounds too…” Finally, she closed the book and placed it on her lap.

“You’ve given me food for thought without even having realised it, Nanine,” she said with a smile. “I’m glad you helped me with this.”

“I’m glad to have helped you with that, even if I’m not certain what I’ve done.” Nanine smiled in return, only mildly puzzled. She helped Raelynn with something other than the book, and it seemed to be good for the healer, and that was enough. Nanine stood with a stretch, she still had to go, as enjoyable as the experience with Raelynn had been.

“Well, I’ve got more preparation to do. If we’re going to break people out of prison and steal things from that prison at the same time, I’d like to be more prepared than last time. We only got out because we got lucky, and luck runs out eventually.” She paused before leaving. “We should do this again. It was nice to focus on something other than the next fight for a change.”

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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Dervish
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Dervish Let's get volatile

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Ripples of Change

A @Dervish & @Stormflyx sexual creation

Alik’r Desert, Oasis
2am, 16th Midyear, 4E208

Most of the company had retreated to their beds, and once again Raelynn could barely sleep. She had decided to put herself to some use by exploring the cave for any kind of flora she could harvest to replenish her stocks. Without magic, she was at a disadvantage, and should anyone require her attention she needed to have at least something. So off she went with a knife and bowl in her hand to see what she could collect from the walls and crevices of the cave. Mountain flower seemed to grow just about everywhere but she hadn’t stumbled across any yet.

She approached a rocky corner of the cave that was illuminated by some glowing mushroom that clung to the walls. There was a sickly feeling in her stomach, and she knew that her exhaustion was catching up to her. She hadn't gotten a full nights sleep since… it must have been before the fight between Gregor and Zaveed. Had it really been that long? She'd barely eaten since the 13th, despite having made Gregor eat earlier that day. Her mind just would not stop, and so maybe if she did something important then her mind might just slow down. She hoped so, there was an aggressive pinching behind her eyes. Dehydration too.

She began clambering over the rock to reach the mushroom. Even stood on such a small platform made her feel nauseous all of a sudden, and as she looked down she saw the ground below toss and turn, her head spinning with it. “Fuck,” she groaned as she clasped a hand against the wall, shutting her eyes tightly to try and regain equilibrium. The knife and bowl dropped in the scuffle and she heard them clatter against the floor. “Damnit…” she muttered again, realising she was stuck for the time being, to afraid to move her foot lest she slip and be the one to hurt herself.

“Careful; don’t move, I will assist you down.” Zaveed called from below, having come over from his own inability to sleep and a curiosity of what the Breton was up to. Her sudden lack of coordination made the privateer concerned she was fighting a sudden illness; he’d seen his share of sailors try to carry on their duties despite some sea-borne pestilence that seemed to love hot and humid cargo holds to propagate.

He climbed up a bit after her, his grip and footing confident from years of scaling rigging. He offered a hand. “Please, let me help you down. I’ll gather the… fungus for you.”

She knew it was Zaveed, even if she wouldn’t open her eyes to look at him. If her head didn’t make her feel as if she was out at sea she might have had a snarky comment, but - help was help. It had to be him.. she thought to herself, finally letting one hand go from the wall, reaching it out shakily behind her for him to take.

“Okay… easy. Stay anchored, I’m going to help you climb down. Do not fear slipping; I have you.” He promised. He scaled up to closer to her level, taking Raelynn’s offered hand. “Okay, you climb down as far as you can go, and I will catch up. Ready?” he asked.

“Al..alright,” she sighed, trying not to say anything - she feared opening her mouth before she got to solid ground might warrant an unwanted bodily response. She shifted her weight onto the Khajiit, which gave her the confidence to begin stepping down, gripping his hand as she went. This was a strange turn of events, but… As she continued to move herself back the way she came, she found that she did in fact trust him. She closed the distance and at that moment, she opened her eyes. She was far enough down now.

“There you are.” Zaveed said with a reassuring grin. “A moment, if you would.” he said, seeing her set herself down safely. He scaled up to where she was before, seeing the mushroom she was trying to obtain. After a few moments of deliberation, Zaveed freed his blade and managed to hook his wrist around one of the outcroppings that let him catch the fungus as the sharp blade freed the stem from the concealed body of the fungus, beneath the damp crevices. With care, he slipped the mushroom into one of the pouches on his bandoleer and began to climb back down, dusting his hands off when he reached the landing and retrieving Raelynn’s prize from the pouch and placing it gingerly in her bowl that she’d gathered.

“Might I inquire what you are planning on using that mushroom for?” he asked. “I am not much of a botanist; I couldn’t even tell you which ones are safe to eat, and which ones make you hallucinate, and which ones make you shit yourself uncontrollably.”

“Thank you,” she said first, an slightly embarrassed smile crept over her lips and her cheeks flushed red which she tried to hide by moving her head just so that her hair fell around her face. He had caught her off guard, and of course it had to him. Where was Jaraleet to bumble through the caves now? “I.. well, you can use it for potions - specifically I would use it to fortify health. I wouldn’t recommend eating it though, you’d probably pass a glowing… errr, movement.” That did nothing to help the uncertainty she was feeling, the thought alone brought more colour to her cheeks, only enhanced by the mushroom glowing at her side. “If only I could get some Imp Stool and Blisterwort too, I’d feel prepared for anything. Alas, haven’t stumbled across any yet.”

“Ah.” Zaveed clapped his hands together enthusiastically. “The third option then.” he said enthusiastically, finding her bashfulness much more endearing than before. A flush of guilt crossed over him and his smile faded somewhat and he looked away for a moment to compose himself; it was a surprisingly normal moment he didn’t feel like he had quite earned, but he didn’t want to squander it. “Well, you just let me know what they look like, and maybe we’ll get lucky in our travels, yes? We Khajiit have excellent night sight, wouldn’t miss a thing in the dark, I promise.” he said with a hint of a smile.

He studied her for a moment, noticing she was rather flush and her eyes seemed to come in and out of focus. “Do you need to sit down somewhere? Perhaps dip your feet into the river?” he asked kindly.

“Imp stool is short and fat, and Blisterwort is slender and grows tall. Both are similarly coloured. I suppose this is why they have the same restorative purposes…” She wasn’t sure why she was telling him, she just felt so subdued and worn out that she could not find it within herself to be anything but cordial. Something about having a conversation that was normal and completely banal was refreshing too. “I can sit here, it’s quite cool actually…” she responded softly, lowering herself down slowly until she was sitting on the ground and she leaned back against the very same rock that had been such a nuisance, tipping her head back. She could feel her balance returning, and she didn’t quite feel like she was a word away from vomiting anymore, too.

He knelt before her, relaxing his hands on his knees. Letting out a sigh, Zaveed said, “Listen, Raelynn… about the last time we spoke.” he began quietly. “I was out of line, and my presence was the last thing that you needed.”

“Can’t say I was much of a gem of a conversationalist either…” she replied with a light sigh. “I was just surprised to see you and I didn’t like that very much at the time.”

“Who could blame you? I am hardly one people are particularly enraptured by my presence after meeting in a most unfortunate manner.” Zaveed replied. “I had thought I’d never see you nor your friends again, but fate brought us back together.” he offered the slightest of smiles as he met her gaze. “I was happy to see you again, for what it’s worth. I’ve had so much time to reflect on what you’d given me, and I’d like to think I’m on a path you’d approve of. Thank you for the chance.”

“What is it that you want from me, exactly?” she asked, unlike the times before there was no anger in this - just softness and confusion as she looked him in the eye too. His stare was intense even if he did not intend it to be. “You seemed frustrated that I had stopped fighting, but I haven’t you know. I just don’t fight like you do. I fight everyday and I haven’t given up.” Raelynn stretched her legs out against the stone, relaxing her posture as she did so, a long breath followed. “I’m confused by it all, and I’m hurting because I was punished for what I did for you.

“For what it’s worth, I’d have taken it back had I known the cost. One in my position normally isn’t confronted by his past so readily, and I don’t think I much care for what the mirror was showing after my little misadventure with your boyfriend.” Zaveed said, shaking his head and glancing back to make sure that said boyfriend wasn’t on his way to throttle him for talking with Raelynn. “I’m not sure how to answer your query, my dear; in the event of nearly losing my life and very soul, I…” he paused, groping for the words and coming up short.

“All I know is when you found me at the docks, when I was resigned to pass into some nameless husk as a part of Namiira’s legions, this brilliant light comes with the sunset and put me back together again. The following morning, another stranger comes along and without asking for anything, helps me pull myself back together again. To my surprise, I felt like everything was more vibrant, like I’d been living in a dark haze for so many years. My life on the seas was a violent one, and short for many. I’ve had to do some despicable things to survive, to end the abuse I’ve endured since my childhood. I’d gone so far down that path I forgot it had to start somewhere.” Zaveed explained, wringing his hands together. “It’s why I’m so capable of such cruelty without blinking an eye, it’s all I’ve known for so long. It’s hard for me to even acknowledge that that isn’t normal anymore, that most people aren’t like that. That it isn’t a fact of life everyone just accepts and goes along with. I guess what I’m trying to say, Raelynn, is that when you chose to spare my life, a part of me that’s been dormant and hidden for so many years begun to sprout, like a seed after a long winter. I see you, and I know I need to be better than I was, and I’m trying. I just don’t know how.”

“You talk so much sometimes, Zaveed of Senchal,” she said in a weak whisper, “today you might send me to sleep,” a choice thing to say after such a vulnerable speech he had given, but she meant no real harm by it. It was true, his words were almost relaxing to her in her current state. Her eyelids fluttered. “I don’t know what it is you must do, I only know that you must work at it everyday and never stop. Who do you want to become? What do you want to achieve in this life? Start there and expand…” Why am I helping him? Is it because I can’t get off my own arse right now?

Her brows furrowed, creasing her forehead and she rubbed at her temples gently.

“Something that my mother used to say to me when I was a girl, was that it was my responsibility in life to make tiny changes. If I could do that, eventually I might change the whole world. Bit by bit. When your heart stops beating at the end of your life, someone else's will start - a never ending cycle.” She closed her eyes as she spoke, picturing the diamond shaped face of her mother and it brought a smile to her face. She pictured the deep, emerald green of her eyes, and the way her smile could light up an entire room. “It was such a bold thing she used to say, but she made me believe that I could change the world just by doing small things... Like fixing a dislocated limb so someone can carry on without pain and go on to fulfil their own dreams. It’s like a ripple, Zaveed.”

“You will never change or undo any of the things that hurt people. You hurt me, and in my deepest despair I sent Gregor after you to kill you, Gregor was hurt, as were you. I brought you both back to life at the cost of my abilities. That was a ripple that continues to run its course and we are still affected until it comes to its end, in the movements that began after it.” She scrunched up her face, unsure if she was making sense or not in her confused and addled mind. “You can’t stop a motion once you’ve pushed. You can only start to try to make better ones in its place, to drown out the tremors it leaves behind. Do you… Do you understand?” She asked in a frustrated and slightly exasperated voice now, a headache pinching behind her eyes that continued to make her feel indeterminate over it.

“A ripple.. That is something I can understand.” Zaveed confirmed with a slow, knowing nod. “Sometimes, a stone breaks the surface and the ripples go in new directions, but the effect was still caused from a prior source.” he pondered, his face scrunching with concern for Raelynn’s evident struggle. “You have lost your ability to cast spells… do you know why?” He offered a hand to take her injured one. “Allow me to try and soothe your aches while we ponder this query. Sometimes, wounds are not all physical, other times they marr our soul. Perhaps that is what happened to you, you were forced into a position with two contradictory but equally valid decisions to make to uphold your values. You could not leave someone to die, despite your hatred, because that is not who you are. You hurt the man you love by sparing the enemy that he was sworn to kill. Is it any wonder while your soul is a maelstrom? You need to align yourself once more, Raelynn. Like any injury, it takes time and patience to heal.”

She did as he requested, and stretched out her hand towards him tentatively, before opening her mouth to speak again, “when I healed Gregor…” she almost stopped herself from continuing, but she felt safe enough to talk to him - strangely. “My whole body was golden, magicka streaming from my entire being and it was too much. I felt out of my body… I haven’t been able to use it since but I know how to get it back, I’m almost there. So yes, I am fighting, and learning along the way… About myself, about who I can be and what I’m made of...”

“And what are you made of, Raelynn? Who will you become?” he asked quietly, running his thumbs gently across her palm.

“Flesh and bone… Steel… I am made of fire and of water, greed and compassion in equal amounts. I’m just… I’m just me. I will become strong enough to make the right tiny changes.” Raelynn said, her gaze watching over at what she could make out of the camp, it was blurry and doubling and tripling… She shook her head and pulled her eyes away and onto things closer, namely, the sight of Zaveed’s thumbs moving across her hand - across the scar. She swallowed, and tensed up. It felt wrong, but he was trying. This was a different Zaveed, wasn’t it? It was too soon, and she took her hand back, crossing her arms over her chest. “We’re… we’re not there yet…” She hoped he wouldn’t kick up a fuss in offence.

He crossed his own fingers in turn, not reacting to her withdrawing her hands from his own. “It’s okay, do not worry about offending me. It is you who suffered at my expense, I’m just doing what I can to rectify that.” he explained with a polite smile. “Keep all of those parts in your mind and heart when you falter, never lose sight of who you are and what makes you strong and there is nothing you cannot come back from. Fire evaporates water, but it is also doused by it. Greed makes you wealthy, but compassion makes others wealthy at your expense. Steel cuts through flesh and bone, but it takes flesh and bone to temper and refine it into something useable. We are all made of contradictory parts that compliment one another, the key is to not be swayed to far to one side or the other, yes?”

Raelynn merely sat in silence briefly, allowing his words to sink in. The Khajiit wasn’t wrong. She felt the same way, and so she nodded. “A very wise way to look at it…” was all she could say for a while more.

“I hope for everyone’s sake that you can in fact change, Zaveed. I hope that you can start to make the right kind of ripples in the world, we need change now more than ever. And hope. We need hope.” She pulled her knees up to her chest and rested her head on them, her arms enveloping around so that she was in a tight ball, hair falling down the side like a waterfall of blonde. “Small steps though, okay?”

“Small steps.” Zaveed agreed with a smile, standing with ease without the use of his hands. “Thank you for your confidence, it’s given me much to consider, and maybe it’s not too late for me. I hope you get to feeling better.” He said, bowing slightly before adjusting his posture. “You take time to get better, yourself; my mushroom gathering services are always available, my dear.” he said with a wink before turning to return to the camp.

Raelynn took some time in the still silence of the night to think on what had just happened. Had she really just had a somewhat pleasant and meaningful conversation with the same Khajiit tyrant who had tortured and tormented her? Had she really just given him advice on how to be a better man? This felt stranger to her than having healed him. This made less sense. Gregor would not be happy about this development, but in a lot of ways she felt better inside. More like herself, and there was nothing left to anticipate from Zaveed now and that brought her a sense of calm that she would never have been given had this not happened. If she could find a way to communicate that to Gregor, then perhaps it would make him feel at ease too.

She felt something, a feeling of excitement - like butterflies when she thought of her Imperial and it brought a smile to her face that she couldn’t have hidden if she tried, she even giggled. She felt less heavy all of a sudden, and all she wanted was to find her way to his side and hold him. “Goodnight Zaveed,” she muttered under her breath as she watched the Khajiit fade from her view, and then she set off to make her own way to bed too.

Tonight, she was the one to wrap her arms around Gregor.

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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Leidenschaft
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Leidenschaft Relax, only half-dead

Member Seen 3 days ago


The Oasis, Hammerfell
Day of Midyear, 4e208

Through Everything, A Calm Heart and Still Mind Will Prevail…

Latro awoke with a start, knuckles white around his rondel dagger. His shoulders rose and fell with the hard breath of a nightmare just releasing him from his grip. But that was… it felt so real. Not like a dream but like he was plucked from yesterday and dropped back to all those years ago, before this Oasis, before the Expedition, before Francis. Before everything. He looked over to see Sora still asleep, surprisingly. He rubbed at his face, groaning, before he got up and exited the tent.

His groggy march to the water’s edge was uninterrupted and he took up some water and splashed it over his face. He was still in his trousers from the night before, and nothing else, though that surprised nobody. He sat there on his haunches, alone, until finally he spoke, “Hello, Raelynn.”

The blonde mage had been sat for some time at the water, legs crossed and eyes closed. A canteen beside her which she had filled and consumed a few times over since she had woken. The exhaustion and dehydration plagued her no more.

As she meditated by the edge, the near silent footsteps of someone approaching caused her to open just one of her blue eyes. Latro. “Good morning to you,” she said softly, her voice somewhat hoarse still. She relaxed herself, and allowed her legs to unfold and shoulders to drop. It felt nice. “We seem to be the early birds today.”

“Yeah,” Latro nodded, eyes closed as he heaved in a sigh, still shaken by the nightmare, “Yeah. Why are you up so early?”

“Trouble sleeping again,” she replied as she opened the other eye and pulled her knees up to her chest. “You having trouble to?” She asked, wondering if something may have been bothering him, his usual energy was amiss.

Latro nodded, keeping it at that for a while. Memories flashed across his mind, the nightmares were getting worse but this one was so different than the rest. It made him feel wrong, “Yes. I, um, always have. Memories. Over and over.” he didn’t know why he was loosening his tongue so much, but Raelynn was his friend. She would deserve to know, at least know a little, “We both know helplessness. I used to be a whore. I don’t know why I’m telling you but it feels good to talk. Maybe it’s healing, not letting it have power over me. Maybe I’m just so fucking desperate I’ll blabber to anyone with ears.”

“Well, healing is more than just magicka and restoration spells. I learn that more and more each day.” She thought back to what Sora had told her the day before, about Latro - and of Pale Feather, the dichotomy of personalities living within her fair Breton. She would not press it, unwilling to breach the confidence Sora had placed in her. “Memories of what?” she asked gently, thinking back to Gregor and his nightmare - how she had been able to soothe his stress over it, perhaps she could do the same for Latro.

Latro chuckled bitter, looking to Raelynn, “What does a whore do, Raelynn?” He said, all his bitterness guttering out, “I fucked, I was fucked.”

The bard’s manner of speech was so unlike him that it gave her a start, what had been settled within her this morning was unsettled once more and she recoiled, “I…”

He placed the tips of his fingers into the water and began to swirl them, watching the ripples, “It was like how you felt when you were under Zaveed’s thumb. Only stretched over years.” He flicked his fingers out of the water, kicking up droplets that glistened in the sunlight, “I don’t know. The nightmare I had was so godsdamn vivid. Like I was there again. I could feel the chill of the wind, the grass between my toes, everything.”

He shook his head, eager to change the subject, “What plagues your dreams?”

It was hard to still feel vexed at Latro when he was allowing her such a glimpse into his darkness. It was equally hard for her to look away. “Hammer and nails,” she said rather bluntly, “the rest of it is other things. It’s the feeling. The very visceral nature of our mind creating landscapes of what we fear the most, what we long to forget. It feels like a betrayal.” Her eyes fell to the ground to watch her fingers toy with the moss beside her. She began to twist at it and tear it from the rock surface it clung to.

“Have you… have you ever talked about this before?” She could sense that he had wanted to change the subject, but she also knew that painting over it and ignoring it would not help him. Latro was in great pain.

Latro shook his head. It wasn’t something he ever wanted to. Hell, his entire life before Francis was something he never wanted to talk about and here he was, asking Orcs for tutelage on how to control the roiling flames inside of himself. “I never intended for anything like this to happen. I was supposed to be Latro the Bard from Camlorn. That’s it.” He spat, “Sora knows some things, but when she saw my history in the Reach for herself in the Palace, it turned her away from me. Just a bit.”

“I’m sorry, Raelynn.” Latro said under his breath, just loud enough for her to hear him, “Would you, um, like to take a walk?”

Raelynn thought on his words, a great shadow hung across his shoulders like a cloak, weighing him down under its weight. How exhausting it must be for him. She wanted to reach out and touch him, but he was so agitated that she felt it wasn't the right time. She tilted her head to the side stood up from her spot. “I'd love to take a walk,” she replied and waited for him - he should lead the way.

He offered a half smile and got to his feet with Raelynn. It was quiet between them until they were out among the dunes, just past the mouth of their cavern camp. He sighed, “I know how you must feel.” He began, “I saw Gregor and Zaveed. You must think I’ve forgotten those moments we shared in the infirmary. Like I’d cast aside everything I said about not letting them hurt us anymore, any of us. Don’t you?”

“Ah,” she began before sighing slightly under her breath. “I don't believe that you forgot, no.” Her steps slowed and she flipped her hair to one side, absent-mindedly braiding it over her shoulder. “I'm no longer scared of Zaveed. That fear stopped when I put his own dagger in his chest.”

“Forgive me for being somewhat confused to have found you that day, by choice, with the one who hurt you though…”

“I’m as confused as you are,” he offered a smile as they walked, “Funny how friendships bloom, and where. We started our relationship by brutalizing each other in a warehouse. He saved my life, Raelynn. He’s not as bad.”

“As odd as it sounds, he’s been on our side from the beginning. You should talk to him. He’s not a bad person, I learned.” He stayed quiet for a bit, “I’m glad you found peace in your own way. If you did that to Zaveed, how did he live?”

“Hmmm, maybe I would if I could get a word out of him. He didn't say much to me last time.” Latro had seemed to lightened up, was it the sun? The air? Company? She wasn't sure. But if she could help him stay that way then she would. “I do have to admit though, being as short and frail as I am, you can imagine it's not too often I put the fear of the God's into someone. Maybe I quite liked it…”

Questions about Zaveed had been hanging around for some time. It was the subject nobody really wanted to poke at. Too tense. “He lives because I couldn't kill him… I saw the light going out in his eyes and I couldn't go further… I think I thought if I showed him compassion he would change. I also told him I never wanted to see him again, so now I wonder if it was a mistake. I don't feel better.” There was no hesitation in her words, just exhaustion and she realised it. He had done nothing to deserve her attitude. “I’m sorry Latro, I just thought it was over…”

“I know, Raelynn,” Latro nodded along as they walked, eyes not leaving the sand but there was still sympathy in his voice, until he spoke again, “I wanted to kill him. Bad, horribly, when I saw him strutting about with the love of my damned life looking like a shivering dog on his leash.”

“Call it weakness, maybe, but I’d call what you did strength.” He offered a smile to Raelynn, “If it were me there, I don’t know if I could have done it like you. Maybe we’d be in a better place because of it, maybe not. Only time will tell. For what it’s worth, I’m glad he didn’t turn you into a killer.”

He sighed, shaking his head, “We have enough of those.”

“I remember saying something to her when we were… in the warehouse. She hasn’t mentioned it, maybe she feels awkward about it, maybe she’s scared to.” She took a deep breath in through her teeth. It had been on her mind ever since, it was something she hadn’t been able to confess. “When he asked her to choose between Roux and I…” She exhaled the breath slowly, her fingers combing out the braid that she had styled into her hair. She realised that for the first time in a while, she felt nervous and vulnerable with someone besides Gregor. “Well I told her that it was okay if she didn’t pick me, and I meant it.” Her eyes swiftly shot to Latro’s, waiting for his reaction, she didn’t give him time. “Please don’t mention it to anyone, certainly not Gregor. It’s… not how I feel now, I promise.”

“I don’t think many would have done it. It wasn’t the right thing to do, but it wasn’t wrong either… I’m sorry, I don’t know why I just told you that… And for what it’s worth, you did what you could, and what you had to do. That’s enough, more than enough in fact.”

“Please,” he said, tucking a stray lock behind his ear. His hair was starting to get too long, he began to toy with it, trying to gather his thoughts, “I’m sorry you ever felt like that. I know how low a person can go, trust me. Living as a slave-whore does that to you. If anything, I sympathize with the feeling of not wishing to live and not having the fortitude to do it yourself. Just seeing the chance and jumping towards it, or meekly shuffling at it.”

He swallowed, sighing, “It’s good, though. That you don’t feel like that. You deserve to be strong, Raelynn.” He smiled at her, “You won’t have to worry about any of this being spoken about to Gregor, or anyone else. I trust you won’t go spewing the fact I used to be a whore to everyone next time we settle down for campfire stories.” He chuckled softly.

“God’s, we’re a bit of a pair aren’t we?” She scoffed, followed by a chuckle to match Latro’s. “I think all of us have been through something now though, it’s not just us is it? We should all be there for each other, as they say - or some shit like that…” she didn’t have much experience of being open and vulnerable with others, and still it made her uncomfortable - something she couldn’t hide on her face. Still, she was glad to have spoken to someone now.

“I won’t talk about it, either. That’s not a story for me to tell. I hope one day you can be so free of it that you can tell it though. If there’s anything I can do to help you, an ear or… well, anything.” She carefully reached out and took his hand, holding it between hers comfortingly, with a gentle squeeze. “I’m not the best at talking things through, never had a group of people as large or as long as this, so you’ll have to forgive my inexperience there,” the Breton tittered, rubbing a thumb in soft circles in the back of Latro’s hand, “there are other ways I can help you though, with the sleep and nightmares. Now that, that I can do.”

He gave his easy smile when Raelynn squeezed his hand in her own. The movement and sensation of her thumb on the back of his hand was somewhat mesmerizing as he looked at it, not even taking his eyes away as he spoke, “Could you, really?”

Gods, to be free of that. Especially now. They had been steadily getting worse since this entire thing started. He hadn’t had a proper sleep without first sneaking away with his poppy-wine or just forgoing sleep for so long he could almost collapse with exhaustion by the time he felt ready to settle into his bedroll. The nightmare he had woken from earlier stood out the clearest. “How?” He asked.

Raelynn let her own smile follow Latro’s, “I can try. It won’t be instant - but I believe if you work at a certain technique… Over time, you’ll feel better.” She began to lead him to a shaded spot of the sand - hard to believe that there was shade out here, but the sun was at just the right height in the sky that it had created a long shadow of a rock that they could sit beneath. “I knew a young man once, and he may well have been the angriest and most reckless man I’ve ever met. He had such a rage inside of him and, while he never explicitly said so, I know he was a very… seasoned killer. He was forever getting injured because of this rage. It wasn’t until I sat him down and taught him to breathe and listen to his body that he was able to let some of it go.”

She got down onto the sand, cross legged as she had been when Latro stumbled across her, and she motioned with her hand for him to do the same. “Have you ever meditated before, Latro?”

“Never,” he chuckled sheepishly as he sat across from Raelynn, cracking a small joke, “Could you tell?”

“Actually, no. It won't take me long to show you,” she said with sincerity. Her hands purposely found their way to rest on her knees, palms up. “Do as I do,” Raelynn smiled as she looked across at Latro. “Close your eyes.” Her usual tone had been replaced just then with a soft and breathy whisper. “Then just take in one big, deep breath, feel it in your chest… as it moves through you to your stomach… hold it there…”

As he followed her, he could almost feel the stress and tension melting away. He listened to her soft voice, the intimacy of it sending a long shiver down his spine as he breathed in, out, in, then out. Before he knew it, he wasn’t in the Alik’r. He wasn’t anywhere. Just here, with Raelynn and nothing else.

“Hold it…. And release,” she breathed again, opening one eye to glance at Latro, he looked to be more relaxed already, and she smiled at the sight. “Feel all that energy leave… Let it go to the wind… Once more breathe in, deep into your lungs… Think of somewhere beautiful… A beach... “

Raelynn held a pause to allow him time to conjure up the image for himself before she continued. “Feel the soft sand beneath your feet… The breeze rolling to you from the waves… Listen to them gently fall upon the shore... Listen to them return to the ocean… Breathe with the waves… In… and out again…. In…..” She elongated all of her soft words - drawing them out in time with his breathing.

By the time they had stopped, Latro had just noticed the shadow of the dune they were under had shifted so as to bathe his shoulder in the hot sunlight. It was the only thing that broke him from his relaxation, and he opened his eyes dreamily to his friend sitting across from him. A tired and easy smile was on his face and he waited a few moments, letting the silence stretch on for a bit. He closed his eyes, took in one last breath, and let it out. “Thank you, Raelynn.” He smiled at her. “I’ll try this on my own sometime but we should do this every so often.”

She hummed in appreciation as she brought herself around from her own moment of relaxation too. “I’d be happy to help you with it anytime. It’s my… job, to keep you in the best shape. That doesn’t just go for physical ailments.” She stared out over the dunes again, a sight she would never quite get used to. It seemed that every hour under the sun changed their form and colour, right now the furthest reaches of the horizon were a scorching red. “Now, I think I’ll go and see what Gregor is doing,” with that, she uncrossed her legs and stood up, an expressly feminine poise and elegance in her stance. “Anytime you need anything, you know where I am.”
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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Hank
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Hank J. Wimbleton

Co-Admin Seen 10 hrs ago

The Night Needs the Starlight

Alik’r Desert, Oasis
16th of Midyear, 4E208

featuring @Stormflyx

Having left Latro to his devices now, and satisfied with the work they had accomplished together - the Breton made her way back through the mouth of the cave and headed with a smile to the tent she had been sharing with Gregor. There was a lightness to her step today. Rest, water, and shifting baggage had done wonders for her spirit. There was only one thing she wanted to do, and that was to spend the morning alone with her Knight, and make sure he was feeling good too.

She observed him sitting with a cup of something warm, his Claymore in hand and a cloth to oil it with. Even in the desert heat, it was good to start the day with something to warm the chest and soul, and she knew that for Gregor, routine work on his blade was also something that warmed his soul. As she drew closer to him, she wound the top section of her hair into a loose bun on the crown of her head, fixing a beaded pin from her pocket to hold it in place right at the centre.

“You’re up,” she said as she approached, reaching down to take a sip from the cup next to him. It was a honey tea, sweet and somewhat luxurious. “Can we take a walk? I want to show you something…” There was an air of mystery on her tone, but her eyes had lit up when she saw him and she wore only an expression of pure joy upon her face.

Gregor had been about to protest by saying that he wasn’t finished with his routine yet when he looked up and saw the look on Raelynn’s face and the gleam in her beautiful eyes. There was no resisting that, so the Imperial put his belongings away and got to his feet with a curious smile on his face. He had found the time to wash his hair and his clothes sometime before and he looked well-groomed, if still tired.

“Lead the way,” he said and took her arm in his own.

The two walked arm in arm down the same passageway of the cave that she had walked through just the day before with Daro’Vasora. She traced the memory of her footsteps carefully until she could feel the breeze again, and it was then that she gave Gregor a knowing smile. “I came here yesterday with Sora, we did some exploring…” She began to hurry to the source of the sound of water, and walked the two of them through the gap in the wall that lead out into the hot spring of the Oasis. It looked even more radiant in the morning somehow, every crystal in the wall glimmering and glittering, the water an even brighter blue that seemed unnaturally beautiful, but ever so inviting regardless.

“I thought it was time we talked,” she said to him softly. She knew that such words were often the signal for serious discussion, but there was a breezy tone in her voice that would refute any notion of such a thing.

“By Kynareth,” Gregor whispered involuntarily as he laid eyes upon the crystalline walls of the cave and the pure spring at its heart. He had not seen natural beauty like this in many years. Possibly ever. He thought about Shakti’s words from the day before and smiled. It wasn’t hard to imagine that someone who had lived their whole lives in the Alik’r was so attached to it.

Raelynn’s words brought him back to the present and he nodded, catching on to the fact that she meant nothing malicious by it. The water of the spring was so inviting that Gregor held up a finger and slipped out of his linens with a mischievous sparkle in his eyes. He lowered himself in the spring and let out an audible groan of satisfaction. “Now we can talk,” he purred and motioned for Raelynn to join him.

She beamed at him, watching as each of his garments fell the rocks around the spring piece by piece. She couldn’t resist making a show of her own undressing for him, unbuttoning her blouse almost painstakingly slow until it slid from her shoulders and arms like liquid. She smiled flirtatiously at him, turning to face away as she removed her bottoms, and began a slow walk backwards into the spring - meeting him there with a sigh.

The water was once again so refreshing and invigorating, that she felt any sleepiness that was still sitting within her was washed away. “You’ve been quite popular the last couple of days… I feel I’ve barely seen you at all. I do hope Jaraleet doesn’t round the corners for another interrogation…” she chuckled roguishly to herself, as she waded to the edge of the pool.

“Missed me, have you?” Gregor said in a slow drawl. He felt the tension in his muscles begin to unwind a little and he allowed himself to rest, almost slack, against the side of the spring. “I like Jaraleet but I’m not ready for him to see me naked just yet.”

After a few more seconds he took a deep breath and sat up straighter, splashing some water in his face to freshen him up. “Was there something specific you wanted to talk about?”

“I just don’t like to share you,” she smiled while inching closer to him, “is that so bad?” The thought of Jaraleet walking in tickled her, and Gregor’s comment did nothing to stop her giggling. It was a childish and silly thing to think about, all things considered, but the image of it in her mind was amusing and she couldn’t help it. At the end of her laughter, she found her words. “Actually yes,” she tipped her head back against the edge, thinking of how best to say it. The best way was to be out with it, she finally decided. “I spoke to Zaveed yesterday, twice in fact.”

“The first time was not good, he was abrupt and forceful with his choice of words. A short conversation and I told him to kindly fuck off.” Raelynn lifted the lengths of her hair that were loose and let them hang over her shoulder, away from the sharp surface of the rocks surrounding her. “The second time was different, I had been feeling unwell and I suppose that made me more cordial.” Turning her head to face Gregor, she placed her hand on the back of his, “I wanted you to know about this.”

Gregor had to resist the absurd urge to pull back his hand from hers, but he could not hide the grim frown that settled on his face. The severity of his expression, combined with the droplets that rested in his beard, made him look like an old god that rose from its pond, displeased with intruders. “What is there to be gained from talking to him?” he said. “When I talked to him he was just as insolent and vulgar as he was during his taunts when he tried to kill me, and he evidently did not heed my request to leave you alone.” Gregor’s simmering anger momentarily parted when he realised that it could have been even more unpleasant for Raelynn. “Are you alright?” he asked, softer.

Where just days ago, she may have remained in her spot as Gregor grew tense, today it did not deter her, and she moved closer to him still, a small smile on her lips. “He’s vulgar by nature, I’m sorry he was like that to you. If it makes you feel better I scolded him for being a shit at the caravan.” She began to run her hands over Gregor’s shoulders, fingers tracing over the lines of his muscle. She thought on his question, and nodded in response. “It’s strange… We argued, and I refused him and it was as if I felt immediately better… I felt a little lighter. To not have to anticipate that very conversation, knowing that it was done and it didn’t kill me or hurt me… I felt better.” She gathered by Gregor’s expression and hints that he had not felt better. “Then last night we spoke about… Changing and being better… It was stranger still, after that I felt even more free of him. The first thing I was able to think about was… You.”

Some petulant, childish part of him grew jealous at the idea that Zaveed could do anything at all to make Raelynn feel better where he had not, but that idiotic notion was squashed with her last few words. Slowly, Gregor’s frown disappeared and he smiled as he studied her face and enjoyed the sensation of her fingers on his skin. He placed his own hands on her waist and pulled her a little closer, until their noses were almost touching. “I can’t say I entirely understand,” he murmured, his chest vibrating with the deep thrum of his voice. “But if you say that it made you feel better, I believe you. It’s…” He looked around the cave and sighed. “I wish it worked like that for me. When I see him, talk to him, all I feel is anger and bitter resentment.”

Her smile did not fade when he made his confession, but it was not out of disrespect - more so that it came from the most comforting parts of her, the parts that had been released from the cloud of Zaveed now. She placed a kiss on the tip of his nose and wrapped her legs around his waist, to be as close to him as she possibly could. “It’s okay if you don’t understand. You don’t have to understand it, and I wouldn’t expect you to right now. He is not my friend, we have spoken, but he is not my friend.” She said reassuringly to him as her hand dropped over his shoulder to gently stroke the area of his back where his shoulder blades met. She stroked him as softly as she would the petals of a flower, her eyes never leaving his, her smile warmer than ever.

“Of course you are angry, he hurt us, and I was the one who sent you after him. You did that for me,” her voice was quietly resonant and with her free hand, she began to play with the strands of hair that were framing his face. “I put that there, and there it stays until I can take it away. I want to take it away.”

It was like a lockbox in his chest was opened, its bonds uncoiled by Raelynn’s soft words and touch, and a sharp inhale of air preceded Gregor burying his face in the nape of her neck. Like she had done to him so many times before, he clung to her for strength and support now, and he bit back a trembling curse as the agony of all the wounds Zaveed had dealt him flared up again. “I want that,” he whispered, eyes closed and hands trembling. “It’s so heavy…. I have nightmares about it, about everything,” he said, words tumbling from him with increasing urgency. “Zaveed, when I was dying, inside the palace, Rourken -- I dream that I gun myself down with a volley of bullets, that it is my own blade that cuts me, that the souls I capture are just my own…”

He ran a hand up the back of Raelynn’s head, his fingers digging deep into her hair, and he gasped for breath as hot tears ran down his cheeks. The outburst of emotion was sudden and painful. Calen’s sincere question had created an opening in the steel walls Gregor had built around himself and now Raelynn had burst the dam entirely. “I don’t feel like myself anymore,” he stammered. “My hands… and all these scars,” he continued, his voice tinged by disgust and fear. “I thought I was fine. When we went to the palace… I was strong, confident. I don’t regret going there, or what I did, but maybe… maybe it was too much.”

Gregor swallowed hard. “I’m not getting better. I’m still so tired. When I talked to Calen he asked me how I was doing.” Gregor laughed, but it was an ugly, strangled sound that startled even him. He planted a kiss just below Raelynn’s ear to comfort her, and himself. “I wanted to cry. I can’t let go of my anger for Zaveed because I don’t know if--”

A few seconds passed in silence while Gregor’s shoulders shook. “I don’t know if I’ll be okay,” he managed eventually, his voice small and weak.

Raelynn had just been massaging the back of his neck while he spoke, she let him talk, she let him release - and she could feel it in his body when he had done so, the way he wilted when it all left him. She held a pause for a while, working her fingers harder against his shoulders. She rose up from the water so she was then looking down on him, piecing together her phrasing internally. “Then I will make you okay again.”

“Now that… Now that the shadow and pain that had been left by Zaveed has gone,” her fingers found each side of his face and she gently turned him to look up at her, thumbs brushing through his beard tenderly, her smile still there. There were no tears in her eyes. “The weight that was crushing me from inside has gone, and it left a void in me - space to love, and room to nourish.” The Breton kissed his forehead softly. “I have so much love in me now, so much to give. It’s all yours, all of it.”

“When I first met you, Gregor… I was just a girl, with no direction and little in the way of purpose…” She began to slide her hands down the sides of his neck, to his chest where the scars lay and boldly she ran her fingers across them, unafraid. “You gave me a purpose. You made me feel special. You make me feel special. When I’m with you I’m the strongest woman in the world.” She swallowed back a wave of her own emotion, taking his hand and placing it on the place where he would feel her heart beating. She placed her own on his. “So yes, I will heal you everyday - I will never give up on you… When everything feels dark, and everything starts to fall around you… I will be there. I will be your strength. I will always be there to save you.”

Like ugly strands of oil, Gregor’s anger seeped out of him. He became acutely aware of Raelynn’s heartbeat, his splayed hand pressed against her chest, and felt how his own heart thundered against his ribs, as if it wanted to leap through his skin and into Raelynn’s hand. He took a deep, shuddering breath and wiped away his tears.

With everything stripped away, his walls, his anger, his bitterness, his fear, Gregor was left with nothing but his deepest emotions. He felt two things: his love for Raelynn, bright and overwhelming, but a twinned darkness as well -- the things he buried deeper than anything else. Shame and regret.

For a moment, it was like he was a young man again, his beard too big for his face, his scars unbecoming, and he looked up Raelynn with insecurity in his eyes. “Am I a monster?”

“No,” she said calmly, brushing his hair again with the very tips of her fingers. “You’re just a man,” Raelynn smiled down at him, longing to take the pain and insecurity that was sitting there away with a snap of her fingers. But she knew that’s not how it worked, it required time, and affirmation, and work, and love. All of these things she had in abundance, for him. “But you’re a remarkable man, with a devastating past, doing everything he can for those he loves.”

Her fingers once again found their way to his beard, to his chin and she pulled him closer to her - close enough that her lips touched his and she held him there, kissing him lovingly. She pulled away slowly so that she could look into his eyes that were darker than ebony and told her his haunting story with only a glance, the remnants of his past life lay in those eyes. “I love you Gregor Sibassius.”

He nodded, almost imperceptibly, and mouthed the words after her: ’just a man’. She was right. Even if the mask he had put on when he strode into Rourken’s throne room and paraded her undead lover in front of her had been that of a monster, he was just a man on a quest. Raelynn saw that, the love he had for his siblings that had been the impetus for it all, and looked past the cruelty of his methods or the violent nature of his crimes. If she could love him, then… all would be well.

“I love you too, Raelynn Hawkford,” he whispered back. The weight of his life filled out his face once more but it was different now. It was neither the impassive mask of a killer, nor the fragile, soulful face of a weakened creature. It was the determined, noble countenance of the man he had been when he had met Raelynn in Anvil, a man who was so strong in his convictions, born from love and willpower, that he had denounced the gods, for their judgement was beneath him. He was righteous and he knew it. He was still damaged, and he probably would be for a while, but now he had what he needed to keep going. This would not be the moment where Gregor succumbed.

Suddenly he rose from the spring, his muscular torso shimmering with water, until his gaze was level with Raelynn’s, his strong arms around her. “You make me feel alive,” he said, power having returned to his voice, and he couldn’t suppress his grin. It felt like his chest was going to burst. “Like anything is possible. Together, we will take what we want and what we deserve.” He kissed her back, passionately and with force. “Thank you.”

The flutters from the night before had returned to her, and her smile became playfully devious, but there was an elated feeling inside that lit up her eyes as he looked at her. His passion, his words. She felt his spirit returning, and although she knew it would continue to take them both some time, she knew that they were on their way now, together. “So let’s be alive then,” she remarked in a honeyed whisper, kissing him back with a hungry vigour, tantalised by the very thought of them taking what was theirs - even if she was unable to picture what exactly that was in the current moment.

“Let’s,” he hummed, but there was something else in his eyes -- something deeper and more meaningful than the mere return of his spirit. A tenderness and a desire that was more powerful than any call to action. “And when all this is said and done,” he said, voice restrained but laced with love, as if he had never meant anything more in his life, “let’s build a home.”

That was it. That was the dream, right there. The very image she had pictured when she had first been set free - a home, and he had just put it into words and made it real. Suddenly, the air of cool and happy confidence she had been exuding to get her man back upright dripped from her and she just about melted with it. She was no longer holding him up alone, he had her too. Her head found its way to his neck, where she whispered into his ear, a feeling of euphoria sitting in her heart, “you’re already my home.”
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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Amaranth
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Amaranth the Kasaanda

Member Seen 9 days ago

Sisters of the Sands

15th Midyear 4E208, after sunset
Alik’r Oasis...

It seemed like no one in the camp was happy with just about anything that was happening around them. Between the desert heat, the crippling losses in Gilane, the sudden presence of two very hated individuals, it all weighed down on everyone in different ways it seemed. For Daro’Vasora, she was no different, but she had to look like she knew what she was doing. In reality, she had expected the criticisms and anger for her and Latro’s decision, but it still hurt to reflect upon it. They went through all of that trouble to save me, and I immediately pull a stunt like that. she thought, a miserable weight clutching her throat. She decided that she needed some air to think straight, maybe gaze upon Jone and Jode and reflect upon what she’d experienced and what she’d done.

The Khajiit had put on her customary tunic and trousers, but she eschewed sandals or boots, preferring to feel the natural world under her bare feet, a small comfort when everything else seemed so tense. She passed by Zaveed without acknowledging his existence, and soon was out of the mouth of the cave and she took a moment to appreciate the endless sea of the stars above, the twin moons looming like a comforting blanket above Nirn’s night skies. Were her ancestors looking back now? Did they have advice she could use?

I need to do another Moonpath, she reflected, stepping out into the cooling dunes and seeing a familiar shape sitting and staring up in an appreciative wonder. Shakti, her young friend who accompanied her in the palace to get the medical supplies, seemed to be more in her element out in the wilds she knew so well rather than the relative comfort of the cave. The Khajiit could appreciate that.

“Good evening, Shakti. You look more at ease here than when we had first met in Gilane.” She said, taking a seat next to the young Redguard, sand sliding down the dune as it was disturbed. “So, this is your home, is it?”

“Yes it is.” Shakti answered softly, not taking her eyes off of the stars for a few moments. The Alik’r girl looked over and saw the eyeshine of Sora the Khajiit sitting next to her.

“I used to think that all of Hammerfell was my home, but after spending so much time in the city I have realised that the Alik’r is my home. I feel I can breathe here. The city was so suffocating. I have walked these dunes. The sand knows me.” To accentuate her point, Shakti sifts her hands into the warm sands. “What brings you here?”

“Oh, I just needed some air, some clarity. To feel the ground beneath my feet in a receptive manner.” The Khajiit replied, pulling her knees up to her chest and keeping her eyes to the skies above. “I think the more you travel, the more fondness of home you have, but you should always take time to appreciate where you are. Where I am from, Leyawiin, it’s a swampy humid place near sparkling turquoise waters and the open sea, but go in land a bit, and you find the deserts of Anequina to the West. If I go far enough North, I’m still in Cyrodiil, but towering mountains and snow-capped peaks exist, lands that don’t exactly breathe warmth and comfort. This land is harsh, but there’s something comforting about a featureless sea of sand. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

Shakti laughed softly, “You all keep saying this, ‘featureless sea.’ It is not featureless to me. It is more familiar to me than the winding streets and alleys of Gilane or Sentinel. It’s… It’s…” Shakti struggled with the right words. “It’s like my sword, or something familiar to you. You just know the feel of it because you’ve touched it and used it for so long. I’m sure you could say the same for this Leyawiin, or maybe Cyrodiil.” The Redguard squirmed her bare feet into the sand as well and looked back up at the stars.

Daro’Vasora nodded knowingly. “My apologies; perhaps it was an indelicate choice of words. It’s just very new to me, I just don’t know what to look for yet.” she conceded. “Everywhere I’ve been has always had something that stood out to me, this just feels like the sea, just a lot more static and eternal. I always felt more at home in forests and meadows, somewhere where there’s so much green and the sound of birds. This place seems so quiet to me, like it’s asleep or hiding the life.”

“There are birds here in the desert. Though I suspect there are more of them in the forest. Sandsparrows flitter about, snatching bugs from early morning skies. My father used to call me a sparrow, because I was always running around at the crack of dawn.” Shakti felt a slight wetness around her eyes as she heard the sound of his voice in her mind, though it was somewhat fainter than she might have liked.

She shook herself out of her reverie and continued, “At night dunerippers prowl beneath the sands for desert foxes and snakes and anything else than can latch on to. It is like you said, there is life here, just hidden.”

The Khajiit caught the shift in Shakti’s disposition, feeling a pang of remorse for her own family. “Maybe you can show me all of this, or teach me how to look. I’d like to understand you and what you hold dear, because that’s what friends do, isn’t it?” she chuckled quietly, shaking her head. “It feels strange to call anyone that. I’ve never been very good with people, but for you, it seems so effortless.”

Shakti nodded, almost sagely. “I can show you life in the Alik’r. Remind me when next we travel, I will point out to you the signs of life.” The younger girl smiled at Sora’s compliment. “It is effortless because I don’t put effort into it.” Shakti elaborated, heedless of the redundancy in her statement, “A Redguard has no time for social games. I am honest. Honest to everyone. At least, I try to be. If I have to hide something or lie, then I have failed somewhere. I should not be ashamed of my actions.”

The Alik’r girl thought for a minute.

“I was upset when Judena the Argonian told us what had happened, and about how the group had set the Dwemer free. Only because you were not honest with me. I felt that you thought you could not trust me. That I would not understand it was an accident. I do understand though. I realised that you were only afraid I would be angry at you. I just want you to know I’m not angry at you.” Shakti gingerly placed a hand on Sora’s shoulder.

“I will say that I told you poking around in tombs is trouble.” She added wryly.

Daro’Vasora had expected this to be coming, just not what came after. She reached up and placed her hand on top of Shakti’s with a slight smile. “You know, you have the wisdom of someone five times your age. I am sorry for the deception, the lies, I just didn’t want these people who came after to feel betrayed or feel that we destroyed their lives. I know we did, but that’s why I’m trying to set things right, you know?” she asked, closing her eyes and breathing slowly.

“Everything else I’ve told you about me has been genuine, on my family I swear that. That single mistake cost me so much, and I should feel crushing guilt that it cost countless people so much more. Is it not enough I’m trying to rectify that mistake, that I am willing to put my life at risk to do so?” Daro’Vasora asked quietly.

“I trust you. I have trusted you ever since you returned my sword to me.” Shakti affirmed, again patting Sora’s shoulder. “If you make a mistake, the only thing you can do is try to fix it. That’s all anyone can expect from you. I suspect that’s why the others have stuck around for so long as well. That, and you. Besides, the only people who have ruined my life are those cursed traitor-knights that killed my father.” She picked up a rock with her free hand and threw it into the darkness. “I swear I shall carve repentance from their souls when I get my hands on them. They are worse than the deep elves.”

The Khajiit smiled warmly at that. “Like I said, you are an abundance of wisdom. Thank you, for staying by my side when you had no reason to trust me. I’ll earn it, I promise.” She watched the rock sail through the air before thudding into the sand, her ears folding back as Shakti’s disposition changed suddenly. “For what it’s worth, if their trail crosses our path, I will be by your side as you hunt them down. I lost my uncle to the Dwemer, and the vengeance I sought only brought me to more ruin. I think it’s important to not shoulder burdens alone, and it was a lesson I learned far too late. And Shakti?” she said, turning to face the young Redguard better. “You aren’t alone.”

Shakti looked over at the Khajiit, meeting her gaze. “I understand. But I do not deny that my heart tells me this is a task I must finish alone. I will accept any help getting to the traitors though.” She couldn’t say why her heart told her it was a solo quest, but part of her did feel that such a deeply personal thing should be completed alone.

“Far be it from me to deny your heart what it tells you, but at least let me help you get to the door.” Daro’Vasora said with a wry smile. “It’s the least I can do after your heroics earlier. You looked a bit silly in that dress, I must admit.”

“I can accept that much.” Shakti said, grinning. “Yeah I’m not cut out for dress-wearing. I’ll leave that to Raelynn and the High Elf girl.” She rubbed the back of her head, dredging up the painful, if humourous memory of her being forced into a servant’s gown. She still had it, bloody and torn to ribbons, but it was only fodder for her to patch her tunics up with now.

“I actually quite like dresses, I always enjoyed being the talk of the town… or at least trying to.” Daro’Vasora chuckled leaning back into the sand dune to stare directly up at the endless expanse, her eyes darting across the craters on the moons above. “So… you and Calen?” she asked after a few silent, but comforting, moments.

Shakti grimaced and looked away, embarrassed slightly. “Word travels fast around here, huh? I guess that’s what I get for traveling with a band of assassins and rogues.” Never off-balance for long, the Redguard quickly regained her composure and went on, “I do not even know if we are together, truth be told. He mentioned another girl named Rhona. Is it bad that I feel slightly jealous when he speaks of this girl? I know I have nothing to be envious of, I don’t even know the other girl, but still…” Her voice trailed off as she looked off into the night, hoping the stars would give her the words to express herself better.

“No, jealousy’s a pretty normal feeling when it comes to people you have a thing for.” Daro’Vasora said, her hands behind her head and she imagined being weightless as she watched the stars above. “It’s hard when you like someone, but they’re with someone else, or having feelings that aren’t exclusively for you. I just think the thing with Calen and Rhona was a fling, she ended up having a pretty traumatic experience after beating her abusive ex-husband half to death with a staff after he tried kidnapping her from Anvil. She kind of went quiet after that, barely spoke to anyone other than Brynja… I hope they’re doing well.” the Khajiit murmured.

She turned her head to look towards Shakti. “I didn’t even know you had an infatuation with Calen until today. It’s sweet, I think; just give it time and attention and maybe something will come out of it. Ever had a boyfriend before?” she asked.

“I tried to be subtle. Ever since the party back in Gilane I realised how… how cute he was. Even when he was making up a tale about how he was injured I found it hard to look away. M-Maybe that was the alcohol. And no, I’ve never been with anyone before.” Shakti articulated in a slightly meandering way. “I’ve always been so focused on martial pursuits.”

“It’s funny how drink can do that to you. One minute you’re a stone-cold bitch, the next you’re making an ass of yourself because you noticed some guy you’ve barely acknowledged has dimples to die for and his grin actually has all of the teeth and you don’t realize you’re staring. We’ve all been there.” Daro’Vasora said, propping herself on an elbow to face Shakti better. “Want some good-natured advice from someone who was pretty sure she wasn’t going to live to see another sunrise two nights ago?”

Shakti was slightly surprised to find that Sora seemed to understand what she was talking about perfectly. “Oh. Well it’s a relief to know that I am not the only one who this has happened to.” The nomad girl twists to face the Khajiit, mirroring her own movements. “I will take any advice I can get, because I really don’t know what I’m doing.” Shakti added on with a laugh.

“Well, happens to most girls, some boys, I think.” Daro’Vasora replied. “But we live in a really dangerous time where anything can happen that’s sudden and life changing and outside of our control. Take the time to live, find happiness when you can and don’t be ashamed of taking a chance because there’s a small chance you like somebody.”

She sat up, taking her tail in her hand, smoothing out the fur with even strokes as she broke eye contact. “When I was in the palace, they came and took Latro away. A prisoner exchange, they said. Word came back shortly after that the convoy was ambushed and Latro’s body wasn’t found; I’d thought I’d lost him. After that, I’d suffered through so much grieving and guilt, I couldn’t help but think of all the things I could have done differently to have made the most of the time I had with him.” she frowned, her brow furrowing as she reflected on the experience.

“It was the same thing at the party with everyone; I saw Anifaire kept stealing glances at Alim so I kind of forced her hand to have him ask her to dance because she was never going to do it on her own and I wanted them to be happy. Now he’s in a prison, and I hope it’s not too late for him but I have to keep telling her he’s okay because hope is what keeps people going. Raelynn and Gregor get it; I’m sure you’ve been kept up at night as much as I have from them being more beast than I am.” The Khajiit observed with a tired smirk. “And yeah, Rhona and Calen had a bit of a fling and I’m sure he’s hurting from her being gone, but I don’t think it was really anything serious. A brief window of joy and comfort for them, I think, but sometimes that’s all people need. I used to sleep with a lot of my expedition partners before all of this, and I’m not saying you need to be inclined towards that, but we all have different needs. Don’t be ashamed for wanting something.” she reached over, placing a hand over Shakti’s and offered a kind sisterly expression. “Just be yourself and spend time with him, compliment him. The rest kind of happens on its own.”

Shakti stayed silent for a while after Sora had finished, carefully considering her words. She felt the Khajiit’s hand on hers for a few moments before speaking up again. “I see what you mean. I never thought of it that way. I always just focused on the day and task at hand, except for matters of romance. But I see now that what you are saying is similar. We must enjoy all that we can in the present moment, even if it is fleeting.”

The Redguard girl drew patterns in the sand with her finger as she spoke. “I will do what you suggest. I will compliment him and be myself, and continue to seek out his company.” Her words resonated with the same sureness that they had contained when she had vowed to kill her father’s betrayers; the same clarity of purpose was present now as in most other tasks the Alik’r girl put herself to.

“No reason devotion to the blade can’t always make room for actually enjoying the simple and sweet things in life.” Daro’Vasora replied. “A healthy mind and heart does wonders for the more serious pursuits, you don’t want to be the kind of person who just does one thing really well and then discovers that there was regrets of opportunities missed. You remind me of my sister, La’Shuni. She’s your age, been dating boys… she was actually supposed to come visit me this month in the Imperial City. I haven’t been able to write her since this all started happening.” the Khajiit’s smile faded into an expression decidedly more sombre. “Now how am I supposed to give her good natured advice and pick on her about her choices in boys? I don’t know if I’ll ever see any of them again, the way we’re going.”

The Redguard smiled at Sora’s comparison. Partially in appreciation and partially to express her feelings on the matter of whether she would see her sister again. “You will see her again, I am sure of it. If there is anything I have learned from traveling with you Sora the Khajiit, it is that your people are quite resilient. We have now three of them who have seemed to survive everything life has thrown at them, including the Deep Elves.” Now it was Shakti’s turn to offer a comforting hand on the other woman’s paw.

The gesture was returned appreciatively, gently squeezing the fingers around her own. “It’s what keeps me going, and I’m doing this so my family doesn’t have to know what this is like. I just don’t want my sister to experience war, or losing her home, or someone she loves. I’m sure it seems kind of silly to you, a full blooded Alik’r warrior where your entire society more or less embraces this sort of thing. I just rather she have the choice and not have it made for her.”

“I will not pretend to understand cultures that are not my own, but I understand that you are doing this to protect your family. Not everyone can or will fight, even Redguards.” Shakti responded, hoping her admission of non-understanding got a pass in this situation. “It is a noble cause.”

“Somebody always has to, might as well be us, huh?” Daro’Vasora replied, setting herself back down. “Who knows? Maybe they’ll write a saga about us. I’d settle for a song, or even a mention in a book. Maybe then I’ll feel like I can go home.”

“I’d like that. A song written about me. I think they should wait longer though, I intend to do many more things than just kick the Dwemer out of our land. I am still young!” Shakti casually said with a laugh. “What about you, would you rather have a song or a book written about you? Oh, I know. Maybe they will put you in a great big tomb and your ancestors can stop by to rob you every once in a while!” She tried to suppress a giggle and act like she wasn’t just pulling the Khajiit’s tail, but a muffled chuckle still escaped.

That earned a heartfelt laugh. “Oh, there's an idea. We Khajiit would find that to be a waste of perfectly good stone that a dead person has no use for, nor all of their vanity treasures. I could buck the trend and be known as ‘Dra'Vasora-Daro the Excessive.’” Daro'Vasora replied with a cheeky grin and wink. “Well, Latro already wrote me a song, so I'd have to say I want a book so some little over achiever like younger me could be inspired to do something fantastic with their mundane lives.

Shakti clicked her tongue at Sora, “Tsk tsk, don’t you care at all what happens to your soul after death? Even after death the soul has a connection to your body, you can’t just leave your body laying around for all eternity. You know in the Alik’r the first thing we do after someone dies is consecrate and mummify their body in the name of Tu’whacca to protect the soul on its way to the Far Shores. What if some necromancer tries to raise your body a hundred years later?”

“Oh, we care, but we interpret our souls as separate from our physical bodies. The reason many of us Khajiit speak in third-person pronouns is because our physical bodies are simply avatars we inhabit temporarily, like a suit your soul wears for your physical life in Mundus. It is simply the first part of our lives before we journey to the Sands Behind the Stars. Why would we care about physical belongings or the tattered old suit we discarded when we died? We no longer have use for them, let someone in need claim possession.” Daro'Vasora explained with a polite and inviting gaze. “I speak to my ancestors when I walk the Moonpath, so I know what awaits me when I die. Please do not think you are respecting me by burying my body with my belongings; they would no longer be of use to me.”

“You do not speak in third person. Does that mean you do not believe these things? Also I am not sure what a moonpath is but it sounds wonderful if you can speak with your ancestors. We Redguards believe that the only way to escape the cycle of life and death on Mundus is to make it to the Far Dunes when you die, and I would certainly not want to be trapped here in a decaying body, so that’s why we take every precaution against necromancy. It is a vile thing that can doom one’s soul.” Shakti continued on, asking questions and giving explanations of her culture as she drew patterns in the sand.

“An understandable fear.” Daro’Vasora replied with a nod. “I think most Khajiit fear necromancers more while we’re alive for the reasons I’ve explained. But yes, I’ve always held these beliefs, but it’s more of a cultural thing of how one speaks. When I was young, I spoke in third-person; this one, La’Vasora, that kind of thing. I was raised out of it coming from Imperial society where my mother held court, but my father has been interchangeable, depending on his clientele. I slip sometimes when I’m sentimental or extremely stressed.” she said.

“The Far Dunes, it sounds like you make the journey in your afterlife with the body you had when you die?” The Khajiit asked, blinking slowly as her mind ran over what was being prompted. “I certainly agree that necromancy is vile and I think it’s fundamentally wrong to use someone’s body like that or deny them an afterlife, but please explain this process to me.”

The Redguard girl paused for a moment, thinking back to what she had learned as a child. “I am not sure how one travels to the Far Dunes, only that our bodies are mummified in Tu’whacca’s name. He helps Redguards get to the afterlife and protects them from necromancers. I’m sure someone in my tribe knows more.” Shakti suddenly laughed ruefully, “I’m sure my father knows. If only we had some way to talk to him”.

“I'm sorry about your father.” The Khajiit replied sincerely. “I won't be able to bring him back, but I can at least try to stop anyone else from losing their family to this madness.”

Daro'Vasora leaned over, embracing Shakti. “I'm not going to give up until we've made a difference. Thank you for standing by me, despite everything.”

Shakti said nothing but embraced Daro’Vasora back. Somehow being back in the Alik’r had reopened the wound her father’s death had left on her heart. The desert reminded her of her childhood, before her father left. In Gilane she had been distracted. There was so much going on and she found herself focusing on the needs of the group and their battle against the Deep Elves. But here… Here, when the sun was down and the moons were out. She felt that she could see her father and it tore at her soul. She loved the Alik’r, but there were painful memories here.

When she left Sora’s shoulders, Shakti was slightly embarrassed to discover she had dampened the other girl’s clothes with her misty-eyes. She wiped her tears and looked at the Khajiit. “We’ll see this through. To the end, all of us.”

Daro'Vasora smiled, wiping Shakti's tears away with the back of her finger. “Together.” she promised
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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Stormflyx
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Stormflyx Queen of Doggos

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featuring @Greenie

Gilane Prison, Alik’r Desert
Later evening, 15th of Midyear, 4E208

“This creed of the desert seemed inexpressible in words, and indeed in thought.”

In the vast and barren wilderness of the Alik’r - the ocean of sand, there is a treasure in the dunes and rock. The form almost as black as the velvet night sky when the sun is sleeping, so much so that it could blend entirely into it. Endless beauty below, endless beauty above, a purgatory dead centre. The structure only visible as beams of lunar light illuminate the alloys that line the walls, towers, and gates. Flecks of ancient gilded metal dusted by shifting sands over eons to nothing but burnt copper. A forgotten jewel, being lost to the sands - then found again as the winds carry and move the dunes without end in continuous riptides.

The halls, once cavernous and desolate, now alive with thrumming machinations. Pipes of golden alloy lining the walls of the labyrinthine prison, a torturous maze deliberately built this way, and painstakingly architectured by minds so far beyond the intelligence of regular men. Rows and rows of cells, windowed for the sun to bleed through and scorch the floors and walls. But below, in the belly of the beast lies a corridor where the light is forbidden from touching an inch… Nothing but darkness, and a cold chill that rushes through like a rattlesnake.

And yet, light flickers - flames of rebellion spark…

“And so then, off I went to find out where this shiny necklace was - I heard it belonged to some Mystic Priestess or something, but anyway I really wanted it. Worth a few pieces of gold you know?” The voice was a clear chord in the dark, empty cells of the deepest locations of the prison. ‘Death Row’, was what the inmates called it. Because once you were tossed down here, you’d never see the sun again, the cold musty air would be the last thing that touched your lungs during your final breath.

That wasn’t shaking the spirit of the Nord sat against the wall of his cell, however. With one leg stretched out, and the other drawn at an angle with his knee pointed to the ceiling, he gave a grin of sorts. “So I took a trip down that burrow, a couple of my friends at my back - those were the days, when you could pick up a few stragglers and make a real go of it in the wilderness you know?” He sighed melancholically for a brief and fleeting moment before his blue eyes lit up again. He ran a hand through his beard. “This is getting a bit long too, I could braid it and knot it with a bead… Not sure I like it, nor the hair.” He tugged at the longest lengths of the sandy brown beard, it must have been an inch long from his chin now. A reminder of how long he’d been in the cells. “Not sure I like these new scars either but I heard ladies like a rugged looking man, so I’ll learn to live with it for their sake, hey?”

“So, how long you been down here? Looks like it might have been a while, looks almost like you ain't been getting enough food either. What’s your name? You look like an Eduardo. I’m going to call you Eduardo.” He turned his head to look over at his cellmate, and moved his arm over to give him a friendly slap.

The skeletal corpse of the goblin named ‘Eduardo’ did not respond.

Fjolte Dhjarikson stretched with a long sigh, tucking his hands behind his head with his elbows sticking out either side, resting back against the wall.

“Been down here in this prison, for a little while now,” he began to sing in a loud, and confident voice. The Nord was a lot of things, a good singer was not one of them, and yet he continued on regardless;

“I wish I could get out soon, it’s starting to smell down here.” The words came out in a bland melody that he had made up on the spot, “Eduardo misses his wiiiiiiiiiiiife,” the note was high and shrill at the end, so shrill in fact that from down the hallway someone finally took Fjolte’s bait. “Will you shut yer bleedin’ ole fer once! I’ve gorra ‘eadache and no fuckin’ rope to hang myself with to escape ya!”

It was an old, crotchety Nord man that Fjolte had seen a few times during his time on the row. The man could probably stand to lighten up, except for the fact that he had no legs to stand on. He sighed and ceased his song for once, a grin returning, it was all he could do to keep his chin up and his spirit from sinking to the gutter.

There was a war outside. A war that Fjolte could be helping with and yet he was stuck in this oversized cage. His eyes closed and he pictured the wilderness of Skyrim in his mind and smiled, opting to hum to himself for a while instead. Maybe No-Legs deserved a break after all...

His blue eyes shot open and his humming abruptly stopped, boredom setting in once more. “Ahh Eddie my man, my friend. We’ll be out of here soon, you’ll be back with your wife before you know it.” He gave ‘Eduardo’ a nudge with his elbow, which only caused the skeleton to fall from his posed sitting position - the bones so brittle and dry now that his skull separated from the spine and rolled along the floor. “Oops,” he said with an expression that bordered between impishness and guilt. He would have to find a new friend now, and so he scooted enthusiastically on his ass to the other side of his cell. “Yo, yo! Anyone in there?” Fjolte called out to the shadowy cell beside him.

"That would be me," came a quiet voice. There was the sound of shuffling, and when the voice spoke once more, it was louder and clearer, though still relatively quiet compared to Fjolte's. "Been here..." There was a pause that lasted a few seconds before the male spoke once more. "... probably a month? It's hard to keep track of time in here."

The owner of the voice, Bakih Al Nahel, sighed as he leaned back against a dank wall, hand reaching out to lightly flick at the bars of the cell. While he was still tall and wiry, one look at the man showed he was going through hard times. His hair was more a dusty brown than its usual auburn, his clothes were torn and dirty and probably would be better off burned far away from any living person. His eyes, once vibrant were dull and heavy lidded, as if simply waiting for the end.

The Nord man's voice lifted some of the fog, however. He had heard this man for a few days now, and it never failed to impress him how... positive he seemed. Was it a Nord thing? He remembered Ursa and Floki being ridiculous like that as well, causing his sister's crew to laugh and scoff and the same time. Who even knew?

"I'm Bakih," he finally added, deciding it wouldn't be a bad thing to talk to a friendly voice before he met whatever end the dwemer had in store for him.

“Bakih, huh? Well that’s a Redguard name if I’ve ever heard one!” Fjolte smiled, flashing his teeth as if by smiling he could crack the walls between them and get a glimpse at his new friend. He was a handsome man, with strong Nord features - a chiselled jawline, strong nose, and broad shoulders. He was as solid as a rock, but his blue eyes were just soft. Soft and enchanting. “Shame we had to meet in here, eh? I bet you can knock back an ale with the best of ‘em!” He laughed from his chest, filling the cold of his cage with warmth. “What say when we get out of here, we go grab one or two, you know?”

“Oh, and my name is Fjolte, of the Dhjariksons! It’s good to meet you brother, I only wish I could give your hand a good shake.” With a real friend to talk to now, he felt slightly more invigorated and sprung to his feet. Although he may have moved too quickly as his back cracked with the motion. He hadn’t been able to keep up his routine in here half as well as he could outside. “Ooooof, hear that? Urrghhh, that’s age kickin’ in right there,” he said, quieter than he had been talking before - rounding off with another laugh as he jumped up to grasp one of the steel bars that lined the ceiling of his cell with his powerful arms and began to pull himself up. “So, what’s a Redguard gotta do to get put in here huh? Gotta be something pretty bad I’d wager.”

"Fjolte," Bakih repeated softly, a little smile finding its way on his lips. "And that's a Nord name if ever I heard of one." He nodded before stopping, realizing the other man couldn't see him so there was literally no point. "You're half right, actually. I am really an Imperial, my mother was from Anvil... Father was from Gilane so some of us received Redguard names." He sighed a little, wondering how the only sibling he actually cared for was faring. The moment lingered, but the somberness was lightened by the Nord's banter, and Bakih found himself smiling yet again.

"You don't sound very old," he observed before looking to the ground, or whatever he could see of it. "I used to work on a ship, my sister's ship..." He paused a moment, wondering if he should mention what 'work' actually meant, but then decided there was no real need. "When the dwemer came, my sister decided we were to flee in the night. However, one of their airships took care of ours... I think she escaped- I don't know. I was caught and brought here." He blinked at the stinging in his eyes and let out another sigh. "And you? How does a Nord man find himself in an Alik'r prison?"

“An Imperial eh?” he said with surprise as he pulled himself up with a groan, holding his weight for a few seconds before exhaling a long breath. “Unusual manner of naming you, but I like it! Us Nords always get a Nord name, no matter where in Tamriel our mother drops us out.” He laughed again at his own words. It was something he did a lot. “I’m not that old, but not that young either - nice of you to think I’m a young boy though Bakih, brother, I’ll take the compliment. I’m thirty-one years as a matter of fact,” he grunted again as he continued with his pull ups, muscles tightening in his arms and chest, his teeth sat over his lower lip as he breathed in and out with the strain. He was getting unfit.

“Can’t say I’ve been on many ships in my thirty-one years. Us Nords are good at seafaring, but I’m a lad of the land and mountains myself. Always liked something solid under my feet - besides I think I’d be sick and go green as an Orsimer if I was tossed around the unruly waves of the ocean like that. I respect you for that Bakih, you must be a man of tremendous prowess to make a career of it! If your sister is anything like I believe you to be, she’ll be well and good.”

“As for me, well I was in the mountains beyond The Reach with a few good men and some dazzling women and we were ambushed by Dwemer on a patrol. I got thrown into a cart and carried this way. Can’t say I know what happened to my comrades I’m afraid.” He sighed, realising that he hadn’t given it all too much thought - he hoped they were travelling well, he hadn’t seen any of them in the prison. With any luck, they had escaped and made it back to Skyrim to safety. “Sounds like Kynareth had us brought here for something though Bakih, you know?” he grinned again, and dropped from the bars with a gentle thud to his feet.

"So they've reached that far," Bakih murmured, shaking his head, though he stopped relatively quickly as the movement caused him dizziness which in turn caused a little nausea. "I truly hope Kynareth has a plan, because sitting here and rotting seems a poor way to live." He blinked a little at the sound of the thud- what was the man doing on the other side? How did he manage to keep his spirits undamped unlike the rest of those stuck down here.

He decided to forcefully think of something else, otherwise even the thought that he could no longer see much joy in the world would sadden him further. "Seafaring has been in my family for generations," he mentioned. "Merchant family, both on my mother and father's side. I was born in Gilane myself, but my sister's truly of the sea, she was born in the waters between Anvil and Gilane." His mouth twitched, a wry smile forming. "I prefered the land, truth be told." And here I am. "I suppose I'll have to see which I prefer one we're out of this cursed place." He shifted slightly so that he was facing the bars, curiosity getting the better of him.

"And you? What occupied your time before the dwemer descended upon us?"

The Nord grinned again, flexing his arms - half in admiration, and half in disappointment. “I’m glad you asked!” Fjolte said as he got down onto the ground, laying flat before pushing himself up slowly, letting his breathing guide him through the exercise. He grunted softly with each push up, feeling the strain on his triceps, to his pectorals, to the biceps. “I’d like to think of myself as a nomad. I’ve travelled all around on foot. There ain't much better to me than hiking. With nothing but a bedroll and some provisions, a friend or two with ya.” It brought a smile to his face that he couldn’t have hidden, his eyes were alight with joy at the thought. “I like to lie free on the ground, under the sky and watch the stars flicker…” there was a romance in his voice as it trailed off. “I run the steps of High Hrothgar often, breathe in that frost-bitten air. There’s nothing greater than it in all of Tamriel, brother.”

“Of course I return home frequently to check in on my nieces too, bring them a gift from my travels as well as a tale. I’m sure they’ll enjoy the tale of me meeting Bakih, Lord of the Sea in a prison! So we have to make our escape of this place as exciting as we can - you get me?” he laughed with amusement, lowering himself down - nose to the ground again. Just a few more and he’d move on to something else.

"Lord... of the Sea?" Bakih blinked comically for a moment before laughing. It was probably the first time he had openly made such a joyous sound since his imprisonment in this wretched prison. "I thank you for the name even though I'm quite sure someone else probably deserves it more than I." His laugh ebbed into a quiet chuckle. "You seem to have lead quite the exciting life yourself." His voice was tinged with lingering interest and curiosity. "Much more exciting than travelling between the waters of Hammerfell and Cyrodiil." Sure, there had been plenty of boarding and plundering and murdering, but that wasn't quite Bakih's field of interest.

"You sound like someone stories and songs are written about," the Imperial Redguard remarked after a pause. "Tell me, what other places in Skyrim have you visited? My only knowledge of the country comes from what I've read in books."

Fjolte rolled onto his back, drawing his legs up to an angle, feet flat on the stone floor and his hands behind his head. “Bah! No stories written about me just yet, only one who can tell my story is me. They call me Fjolte the Fabler you know!” he laughed again before he started to sit up, the strain hitting his abdomen as he did so. “I’ve seen just about damn near everything there is to see in Skyrim. I’ve scaled every rock face, swam in the waters… My favourite place in the entire province though?” he sighed wistfully, “Rorikstead. My home. Grew up there you know? Was given my first axe at five and from there I became the strapping Nord you know today, Bakih.” He lowered himself to the flat of the ground, the burning feeling running from his abdomen and up through his chest. “It’s a small village, tiny in fact - that just means all of your neighbours are your family pretty much. A strong community spirit.”

As he continued to exercise, he heard the familiar sound of a key clunking its way through one of the locks of the gargantuan door of the row. The footsteps followed - it sounded like at least two guards. Fjolte knew why they were coming down, and he didn’t want to look. The smile that had been plastered across his face faded, and he put his focus into his sit ups - thankful to have been facing away from the Dwemer as they thundered angrily down and down and down the row. He listened, he couldn't pick out the softened gait of the Nice Guard this time.

A cage opened with a sharp metallic squeal and a voice could be heard begging and pleading. No-Legs… Fjolte’s eyes closed, and he hoped that Bakih would not say anything as the man was dragged away. He hoped that Bakih had moved himself to the darkest corner of his cell, out of sight. After that, he was left only with the hope that whatever happened in the room would allow No-Legs a sliver of dignity before he passed over to Sovngarde.

No-Legs was the third this week that had been taken to the room. That left only a handful of them left on the row. They were working through faster too, picking them up for anything at all and carting them away kicking and screaming. No-Legs didn't get the option of kicking, which gave him all the more strength to scream. Fjolte’s heart raced in his chest, and as he heard the door slam shut he folded his arms over his ears. He didn’t want to hear another one...

A series of muffled blood curdling cries made their way to him anyway, and the light. The flashing strobe lights that illuminated the entire row every time they shot underneath the door. Like vicious and unrelenting lightning that would momentarily light up a whole house with each frightening crack.

It would wind down soon…

"Well... at least he doesn't have to worry about a headache anymore." Bakih's voice was muffled, his face pressed against his knees, arms wrapped around his legs as he involuntarily rocked himself back and forth. A strangled laugh escaped him before he quieted, his throat dryer than ever. Cautiously he lifted his head- if anyone could see him, they would never believe he was a former pirate who had slain many before.

"Not many left," he muttered.

There was a long silence for a while which was eventually pierced by a laugh from Fjolte’s cell, it was a heavy laugh that had grim undertones to it, “you have a dark sense of humour, Bakih…” he said quietly, standing up to his full height - hands becoming balled fists. There wasn’t much more of a conversation killer than someone being executed, that was for sure. The Nord began to punch solidly at the air, his feet shuffling against the stone with each one and a series of audible swishes of air sounded out.

As he danced around his cell, he found that his entire body was tense - his shoulders forced upwards and his jaw clenching, even his brows were carrying weight. He wanted to scream out against the despair and into the hollow of the night. To howl like a lone-wolf seeking his pack in the hopes that someone, somewhere would hear the call. This was not the way, and he rolled his shoulders back, ceasing his spar for now, taking a seat on his bunk, releasing the tension from his jaw. He was left alone in the shadows, only a long line of red torches in sconces lit the row. He was buried beneath the sand now, there was no way to view the flickering stars of the night sky while he was locked in the sunken abyss, torn from the land. Hot tears sat under his eyes, but the voice in which he spoke was just happiness and joy - a golden light in the darkness.

“There’ll be even less when we escape, brother.”

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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by LadyTabris
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LadyTabris kaiserin

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Second Meeting

14th Midyear, 4E208

When Anifaire finally gained the energy to crawl out of her misshapen tent, her dried tears having left a tight feeling on her skin, the sky had darkened. The camp was lit by campfires and torchlight, a good number of people still awake, eating or talking. She huddled on the moss outside her tent, arms hugging her legs to her chest. She knew she should go eat, but lacked the appetite. Her body felt numb. She dunked a rag in the small bucket of water she’d collected and forgotten about, wiping dried tears, sweat, and dirt from her face and arms, hoping the action would improve her spirits.

She dragged her boots off her feet, digging her toes into the cool moss but feeling none of the satisfaction she had expected at the action. She idly wondered how moss grew through such sandy dirt. It must be a different type of moss, she assumed, to grow in such hard climates. It was even a different shade from the moss she was used to. Like the fabric in her clothes, which was a different make from Alinor styles. Softer, even. She thought she might prefer it.
This was a room full of strangers. The only ones here that liked him were the very ones that would hurt his goal of reintegrating if he talked to them. This wasn’t the time to keep to his little trio, and the process of getting back in Aries’ good graces had begun. When he heard the muffled sounds of crying, he cocked his brow, looking for its source. Not exactly to console it, but actively avoid it. He wasn’t good with that type of thing. But he hung back, the familiarity of it rooting his feet to his spot.

He thought he remembered…
“Oh, come on Celsa,” the other Redguard stalled, the most sober of the group. “She didn’t take your husband, she’s not even a Dwemer.”

“Shut up,” Celsa grumbled. “Altmer are just as bad.”

She stepped over to Anifaire, stepping on her hand without even noticing. Anifaire grunted and shoved her leg with her free arm to force her to move, but Celsa’s size overwhelmed her. She kicked her in the gut, Anifaire descending into spluttered coughs.

“You’re drunk, Celsa,” the other Redguard insisted, but Celsa and the others ignored her. Another man stepped up, walking over to join Celsa. He grabbed Anifaire by the arm and roughly pulled her to her feet. She stumbled, fighting the nausea in her stomach and how winded she was, but he held her upright.

Then he remembered the Altmer girl. Those sobs sounded the same. It felt like an instinct in him, almost. Hell, it felt like an instinct to him that night, long ago.. when the world seemed simpler for him.

Him against all of it...
“This isn’t your fight.” He muttered. “This is not your fight. You saw nothing.”

He turned to walk away but the high and cruel laughter of one of them stopped him in his tracks. He sighed, reaching for his badge but deciding to keep it where it was. He wasn’t going to do this in the name of the Dwemer. His slow and sure footsteps brought him to the scene. “Hello, friends.”

Even as the sobbing stopped, he was telling himself the same thing. That this wasn’t his responsibility. This wasn’t his fight. That he could step away and she wouldn’t have even known he was standing outside.

But he knew how that worked out last time…
Sevari looked at the biggest of them, a woman almost as thick with muscle and blessed with height as he was. He knew who to start with. She opened her mouth and the words came pouring out like vomit, slurry and crack-voiced, but mocking all the same, “Who’re you?”

Sevari snorted something into his face and spat it off to the side, “The consequences.”

He lunged forward and chopped into her throat with a hard knife-hand.

“Damn it.” He muttered.

He went back to the stagecoach they’d all formed their alliance over and grabbed two metal cups. He walked to the Oasis, scooping up two cupfuls of the water before checking to see if Anifaire was still there. When she was, he sighed, gathering strength. Once he convinced himself nobody was going to stab him for coming near the little girl.

He found himself beside her, though she might not have noticed him yet. Even so, he offered the cup he’d filled for her, “It’s just water.” He said, “Do you remember me?”

The blank look on Anifaire’s face didn’t change. Her eyes were puffy and red, but now dried. She looked at her new companion for a few moments, recognition registering in her mind but her face slow to catch up.

She nodded slowly a few times, recalling the night she’d gone to the cultural centre in Gilane and stayed too late into the night...
“Where do you stay?” Sevari asked, lighting a cigar he’d produced from the inside of his coat pockets and a flame he willed to life on the tip of his finger, “I can walk you back, at least.”

Anifaire was shocked by the encounter. She barely registered the time from when she was being attacked by the drunkards to when she stood there in front of the stranger who had saved her. The calm quiet enveloped the street, and though it was comforting and it took a few confused moments for her to find her tongue.

“Thank you,” she replied first, straightening her clothes. “I’m, uh, staying at the Three Crowns.”

“Yes,” she replied. She took the cup and took a large gulp of the fresh water. It seemed to wake her up a little bit. “Thank you.”

She stared down at the cup, swirling the clear liquid idly. She knew his name now, Sevari, though she hadn’t known when she first met him. Things had been simpler; she’d had few concerns, wandering Gilane as though the Dwemer weren’t a problem at all.

She’d been so stupid...
“Some people find any reason, no matter how brittle, to sate some type of aggression if the original perpetrator isn’t there. People are fickle bastards.” He said, “An author from High Rock, he once said ‘the world is a fine place and worth fighting for.’ I only agree with the second part. I’m sorry we had to meet like this, Miss Mirlinde.”

“So am I,” Anifaire replied. In her mind, Alinor was a peaceful place, a haven, but it seemed people on the outside didn’t see it that way. She wondered if parts of Alinor looked like some of the things she had seen since leaving, with poverty, or refugees like Skingrad, or drunkards. It seemed like a Utopia, but she was no longer sure she remembered it accurately, and wondered what her perspective had changed. “But,” she paused, struggling to string her thoughts into a phrase that construed the meaning, “some things are wonderful, I mean, there are…”

The world didn’t feel beautiful or wonderful at that moment, yet she remembered good people, like Nanine lending her clothes, or Calen giving her a place to sleep, or this stranger helping her get away. “There is kindness, at least.”

The words seemed hollow and far away from her now. After all, some of that kindness was taken from her, Alim imprisoned, and she was lost, unable to fight for it.

Sevari nodded, keeping quiet for a bit. Should he tell her he heard her? He decided to cut a middle path and veil the fact he had heard her bawling, “You seem troubled, Miss Mirlinde.” He said, “What bothers you?”

“Oh,” she said. It took her a moment to realize how terrible she probably looked, puffy eyes and messy hair, her bun having come undone and her waist-length hair tumbling around her in knots. She’d need to find a brush. Unsure where to start, she looked down into the cup again. “Well. They captured Alim.”

Sevari’s eyebrows went up at that. The others seemed distraught at their friends’ capture, but Anifaire seemed completely destitute and destroyed. He had to be important to her then. He knew how he felt when he heard Gregor almost took his brother from him, took his soul. He wanted to take Gregor’s head and dangle it by a fistful of hair in front of Raelynn as she screamed in horror, right before he split her skull.

But he couldn’t do that now. Latro wouldn’t like that. Nor would anybody here. And he doubted Anifaire held such malice and violence within her. Thankfully, for her. “I see,” he began, gesturing with his cup to Latro and Sora’s tent, “Sora, she’s back because none of us would let her capture stand. We snatched her from the grip of Rourken, right from the Palace. I don’t think they’ll be able to keep Alim and the others from us.”

He nodded to her tent, which he guessed she put up herself. As best she could. “If I wouldn’t be stepping on your fingers, Miss Mirlinde, I could help you fix your tent.”

Anifaire nodded. Surely they would find him if the others were doing it, she thought, but her own incompetence kept her in a pit of helplessness. She took another sip of water.

“I… all right,” she agreed, turning to face the structure. She avoided touching it at each turn, worried it wouldn’t hold if she so much as moved some of the fabric. Embarrassment tinged her cheeks, knowing how obvious it was she had never set up a tent in her life. “Thank you.”

Sevari nodded, giving the girl a heartfelt smile before setting down his cup and getting to work. Of course, he did say he would help her, but helping really meant to step aside and let him do it while explaining. Come next time, they’d do it together, or she and Alim would. Speaking of learning, as he stepped back and grabbed up his cup again and appreciated the now tent-shaped tent, he turned to her.

“Miss Mirlinde,” he said, remembering the night in Gilane, “You’re living a rough life right now. You know what I’m willing to do to keep you safe, you know what these others are willing to do to protect one of their own.”

He frowned, trying to come up with a good case for himself to help her, “But say we run into the Ministry of Order again. Do you know Destruction magic? How to defend yourself, at least with your hands?”

“Fire,” she replied. “I can do flames.” That was the Destruction magic she knew, so she answered easily, even if the connotations of the question in this context were certainly different than a fellow student asking her knowledge in an area. She remembered the last and only time she had used them on a living being, toasting a Falmer next to Judena, and tried to imagine doing it to someone who didn’t appear monstrous. She couldn’t. She sighed.

“I’m not good at any of it. I can’t help. Judena was teaching me before, how to use telekinesis against...” She trailed off, recalling how she had done just that in the palace attack, and how that Dwemer had died as a result. Or perhaps he would’ve died without her distraction too, she thought, and she shouldn’t feel guilty, but she couldn’t convince herself.

He knelt down to her level, looking at the water they were near. He nodded when she explained herself and knew exactly what must have happened when she trailed off and refused to put that memory on the air. “Good.” He said, looking her in the eye, “That’s good, be glad. But you have to remember, Miss Mirlinde, that even if there is kindness in the world there are also people who are not so kind.”

He took a sip of his water and collected his thoughts, “I earned my skills to become strong. To make sure what happened to me never happens to anybody else.” It was partly a lie, but he clung to the parts of it that weren’t, “Sometimes, life and fate and whatever you believe in might shove you to stand against a challenge. Protect the ones you love, Miss Mirlinde, no matter how hard it is.”

He gave her a solemn smile, like a father to his learning child, “When you have fear, the best thing to do with it is make like you don’t have it.” He said, “That’s courage. To not let fear hold you still.”

That’s what she wanted to do, she thought: protect people she cared about. The world was different from her previous life of scholarly pursuit, and with new experiences had come a whole host of problems.

She was afraid to kill anybody, but she wasn’t sure how to put it into words. If she was afraid to defend herself, she wouldn’t be able to help. But, it wasn’t always defense, she thought, after all, they were headed to attack a prison now. It wasn’t only self-defense… but, there was Alim. She frowned.

“How?” she asked. “I’m afraid all the time.”

Sevari smiled, chuckling a bit. He leaned in close, making a show of looking around to make sure nobody was listening, “Do you want to know a secret, Miss Mirlinde?” He asked, “I have been terrified completely for most of my life. I’ve been alone and scared and vulnerable, unsure of myself, insecure. Could you tell?”

“I… no? No.” She looked at him with doubt. Afraid was perhaps one of the last things she could imagine Sevari being, after all, she’d seen him scare off those Redguards who had accosted her without a second thought.

Sevari looked into his cup, swirling the water with a sad smile, “I am. I was afraid when I lived in Elsweyr, I was afraid when the Bhaanu Sasra took me away from Zaveed and his sister.” He sighed, “I was afraid for the next 20 years after. Leading a bandit gang, being an assassin and bodyguard for skooma syndicates in Valenwood. Through all of that, I learned to just throw myself at problems.”

He nodded, taking a sip then, “I learned that fear can be traded. When you act like you have no fear, the other person starts to wonder why you have none, fear the reasons you seem not to. All of a sudden, your fear is now his.” He shrugged, “But, enough talk of that. Would you like me to teach you the easy parts of defending yourself? Only if you want.”

She thought about it for a moment. Even if she was afraid to shoot fire at someone, imagining the burning, the scent, the disfigurement… defense couldn’t hurt. She wondered how the night they had met would’ve gone if she had been able of breaking out of the Redguard’s hold. That would be it, she thought, learning to defend, not how to…

“Defend myself,” she repeated, and took another drink of water. She couldn’t rid herself of the dry feeling in her throat since she had been crying. “All right. How?”

He got up to his feet, smoothing out his shirt as he spoke, “The easiest places to hit a person if you want them to leave you alone is their groin, neck, ears, nose and eyes. You stick with those and you’ll seldom find a person who won’t be given pause.”

Anifaire remained seated where she was, listening with growing attention. She nodded along. The Altmer thought the issue would be more complicated than aiming for the right place. She didn’t have the reflexes, for one, and had frozen when she was attacked in the past.

“It sounds hard,” she said. She took one last drink of her water, finishing the glass and setting it aside before standing up. She stepped away from her tent, a sudden fear of toppling into it occuring to her.

“It can be,” Sevari said, though he lent her a reassuring nod and smile, “It is, truth be told. But it’s better to just do something than live forever in the fear of doing it.”

“But, well, I’m not going to force you to learn.” He smiled, “But any time, you can come to me, Miss Mirlinde.”

“Thank you,” Anifaire said. She fiddled with the hem of her clothes again, considering the offer. Imagining striking someone in the face, she had no idea if she would ever be capable. “I’ll remember.”
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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Lemons
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Lemons They will look for him from the white tower...

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A Chance Encounter

A collab with the fantastic Poohead

Prison near Gilane, 13th of Midyear, 4E208

Gaius would not need to wait long, for from within the dark corners of his cell, a clear whistle was heard that flowed along with his tune. “Hey, no need to stop I didn’t mean to interrupt.” a familiar voice said, a smooth, attractive quality to the voice. “I mean, I was never in the Legion. But I feel nostalgic for the tune. Haven’t heard it in awhile.”

As Giaus’s vision attuned itself to the dark, the Legionnare would recognize the princely yet roguish image of Alim, thoroughly shackled by two manacles on each arm, instead of one each. “Long time no see, right?”

For a moment, Gaius simply stared dumbly, totally poleaxed by the sheer coincidence of seeing Alim again in this one particular place. Then, leaning forward towards the other man as far as he could given the length of his chains, “Alim...what in Talos’ name did you do?”

“Hey, it’s good seeing you too.” Alim said, smiling. He wasn’t being sarcastic either, he honestly took his friend Gaius surprise as a warm welcome. “I um...well you see there’s this girl. Wait you know her, Anifaire? I was going to steal the biggest gem I could find in the city for her, and it happened to be on the finger of the mayor’s wife. I tried to take it in the night, she...wanted to sleep with me. I said I wasn’t that guy anymore. She called the guards…”
He showed his teeth as if it was too painful to remember what happened next. “I ended up here.”

Gaius heaved a heavy sigh and let his head drop, letting himself fall backwards as he ceased to pull at the chains. “I might have believed you if we weren’t in the middle of a Dwemer occupation, but you strike me as having bigger trolls to spear.” He paused for a moment. “Unless you’re serious, in which case I don’t know whether to admire you for not letting it ruin your fun, or smack you upside the head for doing something so ass-backwards stupid during a hostile takeover. Probably both.”

Alim had to smile at that. “Well, we never really did spend much time together in the group. But I think you know me well enough to believe me.” he said, then added. “It’s a shame though, you seem a stout fellow. How’d you end up here, if you don’t mind me asking?”

At that, the little smile that had crept over Gaius’ face at Alim’s response winked out. “Well, hmm, after the incident at Skingrad, I got into an…altercation with a few Thalmor soldiers for saying some less-than-savory things about the Rangers. I...well, you can’t see it from here, but there’s a lovely new arrow scar in my chest.” He laughed drily. “To put it short, a Nord from Chorrol paralyzed the Justiciars and stopped me from bleeding out. Nice girl,” he added quietly at the end.

“Then,” he gave a mighty shrug, “I learned that Anvil had been attacked by the Dominion. If you remember, I’m not the fondest of the elves, so I was quite angry. I took out a loan to get a suit of armor and discovered that there’s an insurrection of some sort against the Dwemer out in Hammerfell that might be able to help me with retaking Anvil. Then I saw a Dwemer on the street, jumped at her, and got arrested from there.” He gently flopped a manacled wrist. “The rest is history, I suppose.”

“You almost didn’t believe me story, and then you had the balls to attack a Dwemer on the street without checking the local allegiance?” Alim laughed incredulously. “I have to say, I like it though.” He paused for a moment. “I’m actually somewhat ashamed of Hammerfell. Routing all of these invasions, and then the Dwemer wade in and they don’t even put up a fight. You’d think Hammerfell would be where the Dwemer would get stopped in their tracks. Even Talos had trouble here.”

Alim closed his eyes, sighing. “I am sorry that you are stuck here with me. Out of the two of us, you likely deserve being here least. My being gone, at least the others would probably be better off.”

Gaius’ face fell into something between disappointment and anger. “They didn’t put up a fight? Against those butchers? Ashamed of them indeed.”

Reaching a hand up and rubbing his forehead, Gaius bit out a scornful laugh. “You said it yourself. I was stupid enough to attack a civilian, I deserve to be here.” After a moment, his hand stopped moving and he jerked his head up, eyes glinting. “‘The others?’ Do you mean Rhea, Daro’Vasora, Latro? Them? They’re still alive?”

Then those glinting eyes widened. “Wait, you said Anifaire? What’s going on between…never mind,” he laughed, smiling wide, “with you, I think I can guess.”

Alim chuckled guiltily. “Well, something was going to happen between Ani and I, but now that I’m here that seems unlikely.” he admitted. “And yeah, most of them. Rhea died.” He wished he could have said it in a more congenial way, but it was all he could do to not make it sound harsh. “She died a few weeks ago on our way to Hammerfell. It’s a shame, she was probably the only person here who lived life in a similar fashion to me. She deserved better.”

“Anyway, now that we’re here. We might as well pass the time by planning an escape, eh?” the rogue suggested. “Not that it is likely, but the one thing prisons never got right was keeping people locked up with nothing to do, because eventually you’ll think up a good plan to get out.”

The happiness that had bubbled up through Gaius was rapidly quashed down as he heard the news and he sobered rapidly, lightly touching four fingers to his forehead. “Yes. Yes she did.” There wasn’t much that he remembered from Rhea; he hadn’t spent enough time in her company to really understand her at all. Still, he remembered her being willing to do what she had to do to take care of those under her jurisdiction, and that was something that Gaius could respect. “Still, it’s good to hear that most are still around.”

At the mention of an escape plan, he squinted at the ground, writing idly in the dust on the cell floor. “It’s not as though we have anything else to do, is it?” His mind began bubbling with ideas, but, somewhat predictably, he came up with little. Breaking out of prisons had never particularly been his forte.
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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Greenie
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Greenie Into the Void

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By Stormy and Greenie

16th of Midyear, Noon, the Oasis

Having left Sevari to his own affairs after their chat, Sirine felt quite at ease, a placid smile on her face as she made her way from the edge of the cave, heading further in. She had thought of perhaps stopping by and to see how Zaveed was doing, but her stomach dictated that she made a move to satiate it instead. People watching from afar was nice, but even mingling silently had its merits. By now the former pirate knew everyone in the camp’s faces and names, no longer simply identifying them by their race. She knew their companion in prison was called Alim, and it was clear they thought quite a bit about him.

The sight of fair hair caused her to pause in her steps; looking ahead, she recognized the small woman, the healer anyone she had talked to had spoken about. Raelynn Hawkford. The family name was somewhat familiar, being from a merchant background, but she wasn’t too sure if her estranged family had ever exchanged money. And frankly, she didn’t care either, so she disregarded the passing thought as soon as it came. What was much more pertinent was the fact that she had saved Zaveed’s life when she had all the right to take it away from him. Why? She was grateful beyond words, but Sirine just couldn’t understand it.

“Good day,” she called after a moment of waiting, taking a couple of steps forward before stopping where there was adequate distance between the two.

That was not a voice she immediately recognised, which only served to get instantly get her on the back foot. She had been preparing food again, and preparing snack portions for the road for she and Gregor. Now there was a presence. She turned her head to face the source of the sound, and it was as expected - Sirine. Raelynn had tried to avoid the girl, she'd found that her anger at Zaveed was also anger at her too. “Yes?” she quickly said, a knife sitting comfortably in her palm, as she stood up from the rock she had been sat on. Her posture was soft and feminine but her eyes were filled with some kind of burning intensity towards the stranger. “Can I help you?” a smooth voice accompanied the words, and a slight smile too. She was uncomfortable.

Sirine had been around people long enough to know when someone wasn’t too pleased with her presence- that sort of thing happened when you boarded ships and took out captains. It was no surprise to her that while the healer’s words were cordial, there was something lingering in them. Mistrust? Anger? Dislike? She wasn’t too sure, but she hadn’t expected anything else. Gregor’s words the day before showed her that people would judge her for the company she kept.

However, she wasn’t here to fuel negative feelings, she merely wanted to fuel herself. “I came here looking for something to eat,” she explained, eyes roaming the area before resting on Raelynn once more. “I’m Sirine, though I’m assuming you already know that.”

“Bold of you to assume I’d care enough to know,” she retorted in clipped tones with a soft chuckle, and she raised an eyebrow to go along with it. It was a catty response, even by her standards. She didn’t feel so uncomfortable with the girl all of a sudden. The Breton took her seat again and upheld her ladylike posture on the rock. “There’s plenty of food here, it just needs to be prepared. We don’t really seem to have any one chef amongst our party anymore I’m afraid.” Brynja crossed her mind, the stews she had fed them with on the road between Skingrad and Anvil, and she thought of their last encounter together. Raelynn hoped that the Nord was alright, and having as safe a travel as she could. “I’m Raelynn, and I’m assuming that you definitely know that.” She held out her hand daintily towards Sirine, for her to shake it, to formally introduce themselves to each other. She could be catty in her words, but she would not abandon gentility.

Sirine couldn't help but half smile at the reply she had received when she mentioned her name; in hindsight, she knew it was to be expected. "It often happens that we end up knowing things we don't particularly care about, isn't that right?" She didn't reject the hand that was offered to her, taking hold and giving it a brief shake before letting go. Even in that brief interaction, Sirine could feel how much softer the healer's hand was compared to her own. Either physical labour was something she never had to contend with much, or she had all the products in the world to make sure her skin remained smooth even after. In fact, it was quite surprising and perhaps a feat that the Breton woman looked no worse for wear, whereas the others were still trying to gain their bearings.

It was easy to tell that despite both their families being merchants, their upbringings had been rather different.

Her eyes shifted away from the healer to the ingredients spread, wondering whether it was worth the effort to make something edible or simply grab the nearest edible ingredient and be done with it. "Yes, I have certainly heard your name, Raelynn." She looked to the Breton woman, placid smile remaining. "From pretty much everyone I've met here, in fact. You're quite the valued member of this group."

“What can I say? They’re a good group of people. They really are, took me too long to realise this.” It brought a little warmth to her heart to hear that people hadn’t forgotten her, and it put her at ease to think that Sirine had probably listened to them, and had somewhat of a nice impression of her already. She shook the Imperial’s hand gracefully with as warm a smile as she could muster. It felt… Off, to shake her hand though, and to talk to the girl. “You seem like a woman who appreciates candor Sirine, so I’ll be honest, I was put off by you upon your arrival to our group. I needn’t explain why.” As she took another look at Sirine, she could see that some of her hair had been removed, it was… choppy at best, and she grimaced at the sight before going back to the dried meats and fruit.

"Fair enough," Sirine replied. She was travelling alongside with the person who tortured this woman. "Truth be told, I wasn't too pleased with the decision that our groups had to join for a common cause either." The anger she had felt when Latro and Daro'Vasora had left to drag their group to the caravan still lingered within the former pirate. Perhaps it was childish, but she continued to feel as if those from Samara Cell, as she now knew they had been called, had barged their way into her little trio. "But we don't often get to chose what situations we are dropped in." She watched as the woman looked away from her, tending to her own affairs. Well, if we're not skirting around issues...

"Why didn't you kill him?"

The sheer audacity of the question. Raelynn found it almost admirable, and any feelings of being defensive petered off after that. She smirked over gritted teeth, rolling her tongue over her front row as she thought of what to say, her eyes staring down at the dried apricots she was cutting into halves. They looked like round golden jewels on the cutting board, a splash of gorgeous colour against the salted meat and nuts. She slid them next to a small pile of dates. “We don’t get to choose, do we? I didn’t want to be part of this group for a very long time, I still don’t know if I do.. It was out of my control.” The knife left her palm and was placed on the board, and Raelynn turned her head to look at Sirine, she patted the ground, inviting Sirine to sit.

“Control. A big word, isn’t it?” she remarked, the syllables of the words drawn out and her tone softening, as if she was continuing to think on them as she spoke. “Perhaps I saved him because I wanted to take back control of the situation.” The mage pursed her lips and tracked the individuals around the camp with an intensity in her eyes like a predator staring at its prey. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and gentle femininity returned. “People would have expected me to kill him, and they would have understood. But to turn the tables on the situation? That gives me.... A level of control, it gives me power.” Her lips curled into a smile, it wasn’t the truth -- she’d saved him because she didn’t have it in her to take a life like that, and the ability to heal was her greatest gift. Compassion had separated them at that point in time. And there had been something else, that she didn’t know or understand still. “Spite, defiance… I wanted to be different to what would have been expected of me. I made a choice that only I could have made. That is why I saved him.” She uttered with a confident finality, changing Sirine’s phrasing.

A fleeting moment of hesitation had come over the former pirate, but she had sat down on the ground, finding it much less awkward than standing. What she had to listen to next was certainly enlightening, but what surprised her even more was that she actually understood how Raelynn must have felt. It was different from hearing the bitter hatred from Gregor about what happened, or the emotionless explanation from Jaraleet. She didn't need to hear what happened to know how Raelynn had to have felt in that moment when she decided whether Zaveed lived or died.

"Control," she repeated softly, almost under her breath. "Yes, I can understand that, perhaps more than most here." She thought back to the event that had changed her life completely, the one that forced her to realize that unless she was as ruthless as those around her, she wouldn't be able to survive the cruel world. Yet this woman... had done the opposite of what she had done. She let the person who hurt her remain alive to breathe another day. She saved him. Compassion, a word she was hearing a lot in the last few days. Sirine saw it as a weakness, yet sitting here next to this woman, it didn't seem to be one. To Sirine, it seemed as if she was the weak one, the one who had not been in control.

The realization stung more than a knife to the gut.

"You saving him ended up saving me," she said after a moment. Her face was positively neutral, but it had been a task to force those words out of her. "So while I'm grateful to him, I am in fact grateful to you as well."

“You know, Sirine, I understand your anger. I have it too, I have a lot of it - or I did, until I started just recently to try and let things go.” She lingered on the night before, the conversation she had with Zaveed, the change she had glimpsed in him and how she had found a way to tap into him to make him hear her words. She didn’t know this girl enough to know if she would listen to anything she had to say. “It’s funny you say that, about how what I did for Zaveed had an impact on your life. Our actions act like ripples you see, we may do one thing and think that to be it, but actions spread outwards... I explained the same concept to Zaveed.” She smiled at Sirine, a sincere smile this time. It was nice to see the girl soften a little, especially as she had been stomping around since their arrival.

Raelynn reached forwards to a sack of food, there were some tomatoes in there, a portion of cheese, some salt, and an oil of some kind. She took out two of the tomatoes and began to chop them, placing the slices into a bowl with care before she got started on crumbling the cheese. “My mother used to make a dish like this, cheese and tomatoes. So simple, but she told me that when she was growing up that it always felt like the greatest luxury. The red tomatoes with their sharp sweetness, and the creaminess of the cheese… She said it was happiness in a bowl.” From her observations of the girl now, she could see that Sirine had been bothered by something. Perhaps her anger and detached nature around the camp was more than just… fear, or hatred for the group. If what was being said was to be believed, she was searching for her brother. She had heard whispers that the girl was overly defensive and stern with those she had spoken with, which didn’t exactly fill Raelynn with a desire to befriend her but if they were going into the prison together - then Sirine should at least feel somewhat welcome and safe in their company. “When I first saw you, I was so angry - I felt like Zaveed had been rewarded for his foul behaviour with a friend and ally, I did not know that he had saved your life.” With that, she slid the bowl of salad to Sirine. A small gesture of kindness might, at the very least, prevent Sirine from sniping at everyone for a while...

“Thank you.” With that said, Sirine quietly took the bowl that was offered to her and took a morsel of the salad. It was nothing like she had tasted before, and certainly much tastier than the greens she'd attempt to eat when she was in Gilane. Perhaps it was the combination that tickled her taste buds? Nonetheless, she was happy her mouth was too preoccupied with chewing, giving her time to think over what the blond healer had told her, and think over her own feelings on the matter. After a while, she set the half empty bowl before her, finally looking back at Raelynn. “Saved my life is probably overly exaggerated, truth be told. I was…” She stopped, thinking better than to simply blurt out the truth. “I was in a situation that caused me to stagnate. I wanted to find my brother yet I couldn’t see the way to achieve that, and the constant sense of failure turned me into a shadow of myself.” She looked away from the healer in the direction of where she and the khajiit were camping. “I found him one morning on the docks, alive yet looking as if death chewed him up and spat him back out. He… reminded me of myself in a similar situation. All I did was show him a place to bathe and gave him clothes to wear, yet he took it upon himself to free me from the misery I was in, with a promise to save my brother.”

Unable to stop herself, her hand grasped her medallion as she continued. “All my life people have fucked me over, my own family even... Yet this strange man took it upon himself to change my life in a single morning, for nothing in return.” She let out a breath; her hand tightening before falling away from the coin and into her lap. “Apologies, I very much doubt you wished to hear the tale of my past, sparse though this rendition was.” She reached for the bowl once more and began to eat, her mind still awhirl even if her expression betrayed little.

All Raelynn could do was listen - she was surprised that her gesture had prompted Siring to open up to her, she had so far seemed completely closed off. It was annoyingly endearing and she worked hard to restrain a sneer. She wondered how long Zaveed had been sat there after she herself had left until Sirine came along, it almost seemed as though the Imperial had been meant to find him. Raelynn was not entirely inclined to believe in such things, however, and yet - here they all were, heading to the same destination with the same goal. To rescue someone that meant something to them.

Her fingers worked to bag up the snacks into pouches, and her mind ran through what Sirine had shared, she had been nodding at intervals so she would know that the mage was listening along with her story. “People have the capacity to hurt and betray us, but that does not mean all people will, Sirine. I’m glad that you have found trust in Zaveed. It’s a different experience to what I had with him, but if you believe in him then let that help you in turn, to trust others too.” She pulled the drawstring on each bag, placing them both at her side. She was done with her task, and she pivoted in her seat to face the girl head on now. “I did not ask to hear your story, you’re right, but you saw fit to tell me anyway. I hope that means you are coming around to the idea of this merger.” It was the only tactful way that she could explain it. “You’re the only one of the three of you without a relationship to any of us in our group. It must be difficult, I have been unnecessarily hateful towards you - this does not help us with our shared goal.” She said, but without apology.

She deliberately took three of the remaining apricots and handed them to Sirine. “Your brother must be very special to you for you to do all of this. I have no siblings, so I can’t say I can understand what you feel, but know that my friend who is also in the prison is very special to me too. I want us to trust each other, so we can get the job done. I have no intention of fucking you over on this mission, and I can say with absolute certainty that none of my people will either. They’re good. It’s not in their nature to leave a man behind.” She pulled her hand back to her side, a plain expression on her features but her eyes still shone like sapphires, aglow with something, “my question is, when you get what you want on this mission, will you?

"There's an old saying, not sure where it's from, but it's apt." Bowl now empty, Sirine set it down once more, sighing softly with satisfaction. She hadn't expected a good meal when she came here, so even if her mind was unsettled, at least her stomach wasn't. "A person who has had their tongue burned will blow even on cold milk. Trust... isn't something I easily dispense, and I'll admit the first day here I was very wary that anyone may just stab Zaveed at night and be done with it. If I was in your place, I would have. Even now, I do not fully trust anyone here save my two companions, though the notion that he'll be killed is no longer there at least." She paused, thinking about what Gregor had said, what Sevari had just mentioned to her." I've been hearing this a lot since I came here. Good people. Better people. I'm not that, there's no way I could be after my deeds."

She spared a glance at Raelynn before taking the apricots, holding them in her lap for the time being. "Even as a small time pirate, there was one thing the people I interacted with knew- I keep my word, I don't betray people I have agreed to help. Sevari is keen on keeping friends in this group, and I will not make that difficult for him. As for Zaveed..." Push come to shove, she would follow him; she trusted him the most and he was the one leading her to her ultimate goal back... home. And if she was being honest with herself, she enjoyed his company. It was nice to finally spend time with someone who seemed to relate to her and enjoyed the nautical life as much as she did… had. "The last thing he wishes at the moment is to antagonize this group further, and I'm not going to squander his effort. I don't expect this group to have faith in my words- I certainly wouldn't- but if you wish to hear it, then that is a 'no'. No, I will not run and leave someone behind to suffer. I have never been that sort of coward."

Looking at the apricots in her hand, she deposited a couple in her free one before before bringing the sole dried fruit to her mouth, chewing methodically when she did. Questions still lingered in her mind, some more than others, and yet she no longer had the heart or drive to ask them.

She wondered briefly if she had incensed or bothered Sirine with her question, it was likely. Nobody liked to be asked about loyalty like that, but she had to ask, and she had to choose her next words strategically. “I thought as much about you Sirine. You don’t strike me as the sort who would do such a thing, so yes, you’re correct. I just had to hear you say it.”

“As for these people - they’re good, yes. Better? How can I know that or make that call? I know so little about you and the supposed things you’ve done. Actions don’t always make us who we are, Sirine. Is a boy who steals bread to feed his whole family when they starve truly a thief? Is a beaten woman suddenly a killer when she strikes back?” Raelynn too, ate some of the fruit as she sat beside the Imperial girl, allowing her to think over the questions. “Don’t ask what, ask why.”

The Breton took a sip from her water canteen, eyes glancing down at the snack pouches. She rubbed her chin with her free hand before scooping them up and handing them, like the apricots, to Sirine. “Take these, for yourself and Sevari, or for Zaveed. You’ll need something for the journey - keep your strength up.” With a small smile on her face, she placed her hands flat in her lap. “With matters of trust, if your tongue is burnt then maybe it’s time to treat that wound. Continuing to let it burn you only allows the adversity you faced to defeat you slowly.” Raelynn said in a whispered tone, moving slowly towards the girl as she gave Sirine a wink. “And you know, Zaveed will tell you I’m quite the healer - if the burn is so bad and is troubling you, maybe that can be helped.”

"Believe me... a boy thief and a beaten woman murderer are saints..." Sirine didn't continue her thoughts, however. Did it really matter, in the end? It was no matter of pride, seeing who was better and who was worse, and she had no desire to act like it did. "When I said better, I was simply quoting Sevari. He seems to think quite positively of most of your group... calling them better people than the three of us." She spread her hands and shrugged lightly, a mild smile on her face. "It would seem he isn't incorrect..." She nodded towards the apricots as well as the snack pouches she was just given. It was hard to believe the healer was the necromancer's lover, though if she thought of it, they both did bring people back to life… in a fashion.

She blinked a little as Raelynn moved closer to her; the healer's change of tone and stance had the former pirate confused. "So I've heard," she replied, her eyes shifting away to the snack pouches, in which she deposited the two uneaten apricots. She shook her head, smile still intact when she looked at Raelynn once more. "Unfortunately, this is the sort of burn I have to learn to heal myself... But I appreciate the offer, as well as the food. I have to admit I wasn't expecting the... hospitality. Perhaps your work as a healer is already showing fruition?" Her neutral smile shifted to one tinged with amusement for the smallest moment before returning to its former self. "Thank you, Raelynn." Letting out a small breath she pulled herself to her feet, making sure she kept a firm grip on the snack pouches.

The Breton drew a smile upon her lips, their conversation had been interesting to say the least. She only hoped that she’d been able to do enough to wind down the Imperial’s attitude - at least for now. All Raelynn wanted was for Alim to be safe, and for everyone to get out with their lives. As long as they were all on the same page, she believed that they would. There should be no tension in the air, and yet she couldn’t help but continue to sense it, like a piece of string pulled so taught - it was bound to snap sooner or later.

“I’m glad we had this chat, I understand that there are things that you must do yourself. I know that more than anyone…” her voice trailed off lazily as she thought back to the days she spent with Rhoka in her father’s Gilane residence. She hoped the girl was doing well, she had suspected there was a fleeting romance between Zhaib and the handmaiden, but she could never be sure. It’s not like Zhaib would have said anything about it either way. “As for what Sevari thinks, it’s subjective is it not? You may believe that we’re better in some way, on whatever level you judge that - it doesn’t mean that you can’t ever be.”

She looked down at the piles of ingredients and scratched her head, “I suppose I will have to make more snacks now…” followed by a quiet and gentle laugh. She should probably get to work on putting the mushrooms to use too, the group was going to need potions. She wondered if after all this work she would have time for a quick nap before they left. Most likely not. She sighed. “Take care of yourself Sirine, and please, if you need anything then I’ll be sure to waive my consultation fee.” Raelynn smiled gracefully, before picking up the knife once more, running her thumb over the blade softly, and getting back to work. It seemed these days, that the work never stopped.

Sirine nodded, smiling a little more sincerely when she looked the healer's way. "I'll be sure to remember that," she replied. Taking a breath, she lingered only long enough to see Raelynn return to work before turning around and making her way back to camp. She paused by her bedroll and dropped the snack pouches on top, deciding she'd pass them along later rather than search down Zaveed and Sevari, neither who seemed to be in her line of sight at the moment. Letting out a sigh, she walked to the mouth of the cavern and headed out under the wide blue sky for the first time since the group's arrival to the oasis. The hot desert air touched her immediately, like a slap to the face, but she didn't mind. She felt much too restless to stay inside.

It didn't take long for her to find someplace to simply settle down and look out upon what seemed like neverending sand dunes. In a way it reminded her of the sea and how it felt as if the water could just continue ever onward without a pause. Sighing yet again, she pulled her knees up, resting her arms upon them, and her chin on her arms in turn. She felt very strange after her talk with Raelynn. It had been much less awkward than she had assumed, yet now that it was over and she was alone, she felt very out of her element, overwhelmed. Her eyes darkened as they caught sight of one of her wrist, or rather the scar that decorated it. A rope burn; her other wrist had its twin. She had never let them affect her- what were a couple of more scars to the collection she already had? But right now, in this moment, she hated them. It had been hard to remember anything that had happened that day, but she had assumed she'd been tied so as not to escape... not that she could have anyway.

Should I have left them alive? The thought caused her a surge of nausea, to the point where she pressed the back of her hand to her mouth. Even now, she couldn't fathom doing such a thing. Even now, she could remember the pure pleasure she had felt watching the man begging for his life before she killed him. She had thought she was in control then. Now she only felt weak and petty.


Tears gathered in her eyes, but it was fine; the desert heat would take care of them.
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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Hank
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Hank J. Wimbleton

Co-Admin Seen 10 hrs ago


Between the 15th and the 16th of Midyear, 4E208
Above the Oasis, Alik’r Desert, Hammerfell

In the midst of the night Mazrah had stepped out of the oasis, her bare feet carrying her silently through the camp and out of the mouth of the cave. She took in the sight of the endless stars that hovered silently above the desert dunes and placed her hands on her hips, a smile on her face, her golden eyes shimmering with the reflected light of the night sky. Masser and Secunda were both full and looked down on her from directly above, the crowning jewels of the incredible tapestry. It was as magnificent a sight as ever. While she had been more used to seeing the same stars between the snow capped peaks of the mountains that surrounded Orsinium, the Orsimer huntress had to admit as soon as she moved south into Hammerfell that there was something even more grand about the unobstructed view that the desert provided.

But she hadn’t come just to stargaze. Mazrah had offered help to Latro, the gentle man that carried a rabid wolf in his heart, but she couldn’t do that without proper preparation. It had been many years since she had received the necessary lessons from her mother to control her own beast, the sulphur and fury that burned within all Orsimer. Mazrah turned her back on the sky and began to climb the rocky edifice that stuck out of the sands beneath which the oasis lay. Her movements were easy and effortless and the stones were comfortably warm to the touch, still slowly releasing the heat that Magnus had instilled in them during the day. Her spirits high, Mazrah began to hum a tune to herself during her ascent. It only dawned on her after a few seconds what that tune actually was; an old Orsinian war-song. “Fitting,” she muttered to herself. The accompanying war-dance would help her with her task. Spontaneous inspiration was how Mazrah got most of her ideas and this time was no different.

She crested the top and saw the hole in the rock ahead of her where she knew the natural light filtered into the oasis, illuminating the river that ran through their camp. Feeling around with her toes, Mazrah nodded, satisfied. It was reasonably flat and smooth. She was going to need the space to move around. But first she sat herself down, cross-legged, and placed her hands on her knees and closed her eyes, just like her mother had taught her. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. She thought of Sora’s Moonpath, the mystical journey she could undertake through the power of moonsugar to speak to her ancestors. Mazrah had no such talents available. But she could definitely remember, remind herself, of who she was and where she came from. She thought about the streets of Orsinium where she had played with the other whelps, boys and girls alike; long summer days when the day seemed to never end, and when it did, the sky burned like a campfire for what felt like hours more as the sun set behind the peaks of the mountains. The woods, the valleys, the steep cliffs, all the places that she had roamed and explored as a young woman, bow and arrows on her back. Mazrah thought about Maulakanth too, and about their father, and how he would push Maulakanth so hard she feared that he would break. In the end, of course, he had, but years after their father had already died. She sighed and pushed her thoughts about him to the side -- he was long gone, probably dead and buried in an unmarked grave in High Rock by now.

After that, she opend her eyes and looked down at herself, her arms, her chest, her legs, eyes tracing the white lines and shapes across her green skin. Mazrah ran her fingers down her arm, remembering the pain she had felt when the wise women had worked the ink into her skin. It hadn’t been a cause for suffering, but pride. She felt sympathy for Latro well up in her chest as she thought about how scared he must have been to be subjected to his own most violent self without the proper guidance. Durash, Mazrah’s mother, had been there every step of the way, and Mazrah saw her in her mind’s eye -- hair so long it came all the way down to the small of her back, slightly shorter but stockier than Mazrah herself, but eyes that were just the same. Every time Mazrah had been disobedient or stubborn or just plain annoying, Durash had been unable to resist laughter, which never failed to disarm her adolescent daughter. “It is just like looking in the still water of a pool,” Durash had said with the warm smile that only mothers can muster. “I see myself in you so much.” And as time had passed and Mazrah had grown into the body of a woman with the same tattoos as her ancestors, it had happened multiple times that Orsinium’s rabble had mixed up mother and daughter. Mazrah snorted at the memory.

That was her anchor. As long as she did not forget where she came from and the warmth and guidance that her mother had given her, Mazrah knew that she could not lose control of herself. She had a lifetime of knowing exactly who she was behind her. She didn’t need a Moonpath for guidance: her mother had already given her all the guidance she needed to become one and whole. Latro hadn’t. From what little he had told her, it had sounded like he had been on the run from himself and his past for a long time now. Mazrah’s heart ached for him, for his suffering, and for Daro’Vasora’s too. Even the Khajiit had not been one with her heritage until recently. Mazrah could hardly imagine what that must have been like, to be caught between worlds and to feel out of place in both of them. As much as she liked Hammerfell and the Redguards and their funny, rigid ways, she was glad that she had been born and raised in Orsinium and by ancient Orcish tradition. It made her an unmovable object, for the bedrock upon which she stood was impenetrable.

She saw Maulakanth sitting at the table of their longhouse, his back raw and bloody, his head between his hands, trying not to cry.

Mazrah bit her lip and shook her head, trying to rid herself of the image. Their father and his treatment of her brother wasn’t representative of Orsinium as a whole. Mazrah only had to think of her mother to know that there was so much more to the ways of the Orsimer than harsh cruelty and senseless violence. Frustrated, she fiddled with the hem of her loincloth. How was she supposed to use the foundation of her own harmony and balance to help Latro if it was being undermined by other memories? She needed to have faith in the things she had been taught, in the indestructible spirit of the Orsimer and the way it had been tamed for generations. Latro could not stand on the same bedrock… but at least she could teach him how to stand.

In one smooth, fluid movement, Mazrah uncoiled her legs and got to her feet. She hummed the war-song again, slowly at first, making sure she was getting it right this time, before she dropped into a loose and flexible pose, her hands at the ready to greet an imaginary enemy. She remembered the roaring bonfires of Orsinium’s celebrations and the way she had seen her mother dance with the other huntresses as a child, and remembered the feeling, the urge, to join her. It was like a rising flame in her chest, a call that could not be ignored. That was how how her mother had first guided her in releasing her rage. That was the thing -- it wasn’t just rage, or mindless anger, but passion. To do something with every fiber of one’s being. She felt the feeling coming and opened herself to it. That is how the Orcish women danced: their eyes crimson and their blood singing, until the earth shook with the reverberations of their singular thought in that moment.

Here I am. All of me.

Gold turned scarlet and Mazrah danced, her voice soaring over the dunes, the rock trembling, a cloud of dust kicked up all around her, her muscles burning. This was not a fight. It was a release. And this was how she would make Latro whole again.

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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Dervish
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Dervish Let's get volatile

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I’m the Captain Now

A tale as told by Stormy, Shaft, and Dervs
Oasis, Alik’r Desert
Midday, 16th Midyear, 4E208…

“Daro’Vasora.” A Southern accented voice broke the Khajiit’s concentration as she worked on retrofitting some supplies into appropriate adventuring gear. Daro’Vasora looked up with a narrowed gaze and saw Zaveed approaching in that arrogant, carefree strut that she’d come to associate with him. He stood a bit apart from her, hands resting casually on his axes. He gestured to her arm. “How’s the arm?” he asked.

“Fuck off.” She hissed, spitting at the ground in front of him.

Zaveed put up his hands to stave off more vitriol. “I’m not here to arouse bad blood, my dear; I genuinely wanted to know if it was still causing you trouble.”

She turned away from him, her movements quick and jerky as it was clear she was doing everything in her power to ignore the source of her anger. “I only tolerate your presence here, murderer, because you offered something that we needed, no matter how despicable the cost was. At least I know Sevari can be reasoned with; two of our number can attest to that. Be grateful you have a brother who tolerates your miasma. Leave me the fuck alone.” Daro’Vasora growled, continuing to punch slits in a piece of leather to fit her lockpicks.

The privateer sighed, pinching the bridge of his snout with a thumb and a finger. “I cannot give you back your friend, but we need to find a working solution, Daro’Vasora. Our goals are aligned; that makes us allies. I know the place we are to go, I spent a considerable amount of time searching for Bakih, Sirine’s brother, and the Dwemer are nothing if not detail-oriented about their infrastructure.

“I am to liberate him to pay off a considerable debt I owe her, and you are looking for your friend and a potential solution to this Dwemer problem; it behooves me to behave in a fashion that is beneficial to your lot.” he explained calmly. “We jeopardize our respective quarry if we cannot at least trust one another to do our jobs, yes?”

Daro’Vasora glared at him. “I don’t trust you, period. Didn’t I just tell you to fuck off?” she asked.

Zaveed sighed, and with a shrug, he conceded. “As you wish.”

“About… what are you doing?” Daro’Vasora asked when Zaveed began to unbuckle his weapon belt. His axes and dagger fell to the mossy ground with a thud and he pulled a pistol from his chest harness, causing Daro’Vasora to tense and prepare to tackle the weapon from his hand; the last time she’d seen that particular weapon out, it was at her expense and forced her to sit idly by while he murdered Roux instead of charging him.

This time would be different. This time...

Zaveed held the gun out by the barrel, offering the grip towards the treasure hunter. Uncertainly, she took the grip in her fingers and Zaveed pulled back the hammer with a thumb, kneeling before her and pulling the pistol towards her forehead. He stared at her with his icy eyes, fearless yet resigned. “I cannot give you Roux back, Daro’Vasora, but if it can bring you a measure of justice for your loss, all you need to do is pull the trigger.” he said, holding the gun steady in her hands. “A life for a life.”

“What, I-” Daro’Vasora stammered before suddenly steeling herself, feeling her fingers grip around the contoured grip, her fingers sinking into the same grooves that had given Zaveed so much power over life and death. She leaned into the weapon, feeling the barrel press against his forehead and forcing to lean back. The rest of the cave faded from her sight, and she imagined what would happen when her fist clenched… would he feel a thing when the back of his head opened up and the foul mind that occupied his skull ejected in a splash of violent viscera? How would she feel when the deed was done, would she feel a measure of peace, of authority? It made it so easy to take a life, a small sliver of metal that recessed back into the grip. It was so insignificant a child could have the power… she’d never have to fight again, it would be enough to know that death could be delivered from meters away without more than a slight effort to discourage all but the worst fools.

The kind of fool that knelt in front of her, willingly putting the end of his long and interesting life in the hands of a woman who hated him. “What are you trying to prove, Zaveed?”

“Simple, my dear; either you do this now, or the moment passes and we can move past this point in our relationship. Sevari and Sirine can complete her mission and save Bakih; I might be something of a legend with my skill at arms, but it’s not as if I have a purpose anymore past that. If it helps, remember what I’d done and close your eyes; I will make sure your aim is true.” Zaveed said, reassuringly, considering the macabre circumstances.

Her grip was so tight, she felt as if she could crush the metals in her hand if it grew any tighter. Daro’Vasora was suddenly aware of the crowd gathered around her, silence hanging heavy in the air, the river’s song even seem muted. She felt the blood pumping through her veins, her ears hammered.

A slight shift of a finger, and she’d end this nightmare in an instant…

Her gaze met Latro’s, and she recalled what he had looked like… what Pale-feather had looked like, a being so fetishized by violence and slaughter that she’d grown to be afraid of the man she loved. Did he see her the same way now? So cavalierly holding a damned pistol to Zaveed’s head, intent to end the wretch’s life…

The pistol was withdrawn suddenly, and she held it aloft. “I’m keeping this,” she declared suddenly, marching off in the opposite direction. Zaveed nodded, rising to his feet and cleaning his knees off of the detris of the ground.

“So, that’s who you choose to be.” he observed to himself.

“Not me.” A cold voice snaked out from behind him. As he turned, Latro gave him only a moment to recognize who it was before he reared back with his fist and sent it hurtling into the Khajiit’s mouth. As Zaveed stumbled back, he shook his hand twice, one of the knuckles bleeding from catching a tooth. “Told you I’d hurt you.”

Raelynn had been sat reading from an Alchemy text and decanting potions when the punch was thrown, and the sound of the thwack startled her enough to lift her head and look up from the pages. It was Zaveed. What have you done now? she thought with a scowl, and unable to resist she made her way over to the source.

With that, Latro stalked off after Sora, lest he decide to pick up where she left off, the crowd dispersing with him. Sevari was the next to step up to Zaveed, but his hand was placed reassuringly on his shoulder, an exasperated half-smile on his face. “Can’t say you didn’t have that one coming, brother.” He spared a glance at Latro and Sora’s retreating backs before looking at Zaveed again, “What in the fuck was that, you bloody fool?”

The Cathay let off a low chuckle as he cradled his tenderized face and spat out blood that was not his before a more hearty laugh escaped his throat like a thunderstorm. “Do you not see, Sevari? I am merely being a diplomat. Now everyone can see what kind of leader she chooses to be, and her choice of whether or not to pursue vengeance over her fallen friend has already come and gone. The anticipation was getting to me, so I simply hurried things along. Things go much more smoothly when we face the same way instead of inwards, yes?”

“You,” he paused for a moment, the words not finding him despite his searching, he settled for a shake of his chuckling head, “You’re a fucking madman.”

He pushed Zaveed lightly and his chuckle became a full laugh, the sound of relief and bewilderment abound in it, “You and your fucking gambits, you ass.” He shook his head, “Don’t be a fucking romantic like that in the prison if we see somebody else we put away.”

Zaveed rapped his knuckles on Sevari’s chest. “It runs in the family, don’t you know?” he grinned and offered a wink. “You should have accompanied me on the Wrath, brother. You’d be absolutely maddened trying to figure out how I’ve grown into such a distinguished gentlemen. Besides,” Zaveed slumped down on a crate, his legs feeling weary all of a sudden. “Daro’Vasora does not have the eyes of a killer. It wasn’t as much of a gamble as you’d think, but she was given all of the power in the situation… and one of my sidearms.” he sighed. “That was my favorite one.”

The Breton, despite being so small, could really make her footsteps heard, and she did just that as she pounded her way over the stone to the place the two Khajiit sat. “What in the ever living fuck just happened?” she asked, an out of character use of colourful language for her. Her hands instinctively found their way to her hips and her foot began tapping on the floor impatiently. “What did you do to incense Latro?” She shot as lofty a glower as she could at Zaveed, before snapping her head to look at Sevari, tearing a hand away from her hip to point at him, “don’t you dare laugh either.”

Sevari’s smile had vanished as quickly as Raelynn’s foot taps. He held his hands up and took a step back as Raelynn acknowledged him. As it stood, he had no plans of laughing now.

“Oh, nothing too elaborate. I just forced Daro’Vasora to hold one of my guns to my head and make an executive decision of whether or not my blood would sate her hatred, lest I let this wound fester and this entire rescue plot burns up like some pisspot Nord village after a dragon’s been through. Crisis resolved; we all live, and no heart-wrenching betrayal haunts us when it’s much harder to dispose of a body properly. Other than that, is laughter between family so wrong?” Zaveed said impishly, regarding his claws with sudden interest.

“Is this a joke?” she asked, blinking in disbelief, running her lower lip through her teeth as an attempt to hold her tongue to stop a verbal barrage from flying from her face. All she could do was shake her head and tsk through gritted teeth. “I can’t believe you… After what we spoke about last night.”

“You forced her to make a decision whether or not to kill you in front of her friends?” She puffed a breath from her nose indignantly, volume increasing, and suddenly felt as though she needed to sit down. “I saved your life…” she said, stressing every word. “So what? So that you could go and gamble it away like that? Do you think this is a game?”

“No joke, no game. Just a gamble, just like waiting for a group of people to catch up with our wagon that I was certain were going to try and murder me upon contact.” Zaveed replied, regarding Raelynn steadily. “Words weren’t going to get through to her, and if we’re going to do this little job we’ve mutually agreed upon without distrust buggering it all to the Deadlands, then we needed to put this mutually murderous bit of escapades aside in an expedient manner. I knew she probably wasn’t going to go through with it, but if that was the cost for taking a life that was dear to her, then so be it.” Zaveed said, regarding Raelynn steadily.

“People are going to get hurt on this path, you know this. I know this. I’d just rather put this air of mutual loathing and distrust to bed so instead of wondering how many knives are going to be sticking out of me come morning, I can focus on wondering how many knives I can stick in some Dwemer bastard’s smug face before fate eventually decides I’ve had my fill of shitty deeds.”

“Why are you being this way…?” she breathed, face falling to a frown. “You didn’t think it might be the slightest bit traumatic for her to be asked, by you, whether someone lives or dies? Regardless of who it was - you didn’t stop to think that might remind her of something horrible?” All of a sudden her posture softened as she turned around to see who was and wasn’t watching, she felt her heart beating and chest tightening. “Stop talking to me like this… Like you’re so omniscient. Just stop it… Ripples Zaveed, ripples…” she began shaking her head in disappointment at him, the anger had left her body and it showed. She was just deflated now. Deflated and embarrassed for adding to the scene with her shouting.

“Raelynn…” Zaveed said quietly, stepping towards her. “She’s going to have to make these kinds of decisions, regardless of whether or not she feels she is ready for them. Everyone will, because that is the cost of pursuing this thread. Life and death, the very thing you held in your hand with my own; you had chosen at first to drive my own dagger into my heart, but you stopped yourself because you made the same choice she just did.”

The Khajiit sighed, crossing his arms. “Look, I’m not all knowing, I just know that I’m a man who’s done some pretty shitty things who’s had to make tough calls, like this. She made a choice; she chose to move past her grievances. Next time I go to talk to her, I know we won’t be expecting hostile intent. I have ideas, experience, skills… all of which can help us.” he grunted, exasperated, “But I can’t be of help if no one bloody well gives me a chance. Doing this, I stripped myself of only being a monster in her eyes, like a dog exposing his throat to show submission. Maybe we can all move forward now.”

“No,” her finger came up to her chest height and she pointed at him, taking steps back as he stepped forward to her. “I would have helped you to talk to her… You showed me something last night that was different. I tell you change doesn’t happen overnight and you force a scenario like that… Maybe you’re right - but I will never understand you…” came the voice as a low growl, ferocious and protective.

“Perhaps you are right, Raelynn. Perhaps you know a better way. Perhaps, if we had time…” Zaveed said, trailing off. “Maybe I just think I deserved the other outcome. I suppose that’s what this boils down to; I’ll never be able to repent who I was, and no one’s ever going to believe I can change, so I have something to prove, and if not… well, Sevari will move on and Sirine will get her brother back in the end, regardless. I’m sorry I’m not the man you thought I was.”

With a nod, Zaveed went to collect his discarded weapons and began to strap them back to his frame.

“I believed you could.” Raelynn tucked a strand of her hair that had shaken loose in the scuffle. She looked in his direction, daring him to look her in the eye and see her disappointment for himself that was sitting as a tear ready to fall. “Now I’m the fool.”

He didn't turn, not yet. “You know, I still go to sleep and hear the deafening sounds of my ship being torn apart, men and women screaming before they were crushed or drowned. People I've known for decades… just gone. I never gave up after that, but I never stopped feeling like I didn't deserve to be here in the end, the only one standing on the graves of my family.” the Khajiit explained, finally turning to face Raelynn, his face registering surprise at the tears welling in her eyes. He looked away again, feeling a crushing guilt. “I just follow the path I know, and it is hard to leave it. I never expected you to shed tears for me.” he admitted, the pit in his gut swelling.

“Fuck that.” Sevari said, shaking his head while lighting his cigar, “I liked a few of them. Hell, I fucked one a lot and I liked her and we talked about our dreams and what we wanted from life. But we’re alive. We’re trying to be better men, we’ll keep trying. Do it for them, the ones who never got to retire after the big score.”

“I poured a lot of wine and mead and whiskey over the ground and said a lot of words over the graves of the bastards I ran with before I came to you.” He huffed, “The ones who lived, who weren’t hanged or jailed, we were going to live for them because that’s what they would’ve wanted. Do the same.”

“Do it for your fucking brother, at least.” Sevari spoke through the smoke. “The one who’s trying to be a better one to you. If I could go back, I’d trade that forty-thousand and forget all about the Thalmor, just show up at that tavern to see Zaveed, not Captain Greywake. I’d be Sevari, not Savian Kastav. We’d just be brothers.”

“What a bloody waste of good booze.” Zaveed lamented with a pained smile. “I guess we cannot linger on what might have been, yes? Even so, going down with the ship wasn’t good enough. It truly was the best time of my life the past few years…” he shook his head, standing upright, his posture less sure, his shoulders slumped. “I’ll get over myself and continue being the easy to despise villain before long, it’s just tiresome. I think I shall retire to my bedroll and gather my strength, it has been an exceedingly long life of late.”

Raelynn’s eyes had flicked between the two of them as they spoke. Theirs was a strange relationship, with parts of their history they would never share and she would never know. The others would never know. Zaveed’s confession lay heavily on her. She’d been there in the very same shoes only recently. Devoid of hopes and her future unclear - but now it was clear as day. She took in a deep breath, and strode back to the two Khajiit men, her tears gone, a little anger still sitting in her stomach, but somethine else sat beside it. This was the small ripple she could make. “Gods be damned…” she muttered tersely.

She met Zaveed and wrapped her arms around him tightly, there was no brushing of her hands or any real movement of comfort, she just knew he needed to be held, and held with as much force as she could gather in her small frame.

The sudden embrace caught Zaveed off guard, and he had to step back a pace to retain his balance. A sob escaped his throat as he returned the gesture, holding her in his arms and wondering how long it had been since he’d really had someone do something as simple but supportive as this. His arms wrapped around her, his chin burying itself in her neck. “Thank you.” he whispered. His body shook, but for the first time in so long, he felt safe.

“Don’t thank me,” she whispered, “do better.” She loosened her grip, and stepped back from the Khajiit, her eyes darting to Sevari where she gave him a gentle nod. “We have a job to do, so pull yourself together, Captain Greywake.” She said it in a harsh tone, but there was something there that suggested an attempt to cheer him up. After that, she turned on her heel and made her way back to her work, thoughts running through her mind thick and fast. Her normally gentle feet stomped against the ground under the weight of it all.

Zaveed sunk down into a crouch, cupping his hands over his mouth as he watched her go. She was right, after all; there was a job to attend to, and he couldn’t see it through if he got caught up in silly sentimentality. He took a few moments to collect himself and purge his uncertainty, as he’d done so many times before, and soon he stood, cracking his neck and loosening up his muscles. Turning to Sevari, he nodded. “Well, that was humiliating.” he said with a wink, his usual charm and bravado back. “I’m going to go fight my own shadow, but you’re welcome to join me if you wish to have an axe swung at you a few times and call it ‘training’.”

“Can you believe that asshole?” Daro’Vasora exclaimed suddenly when they reached the edge of the encampment, away from prying ears. She still held the pistol in her hand, like it refused to leave her grip. She looked at it with a mixture of curiosity and distaste, and her mind kept racing over the small fact that she nearly made the decision to murder a man in cold blood. She tried, and failed, to keep her hands from shaking and the weight of it all.

“I’m okay; it’s just, fuck.” she managed, meeting Latro’s gaze.

“Should’ve given that thing to me.” He growled, “I’d have given us some peace.”

He closed his eyes and tried to control his breathing. Mazrah had talked about anchors, and he opened his eyes to his lover, a somewhat easy smile returning to him. “We’ll be through with this. Maybe we’ll part ways with them once we get done with the prison.” He placed a reassuring hand on Sora’s shoulder, “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll do everything in my power to make sure I’m a good man for you, Sora. One thorn in our side can’t erase the fact we have good people here with us. Don’t miss the forest for the leaf.” He smiled.

She pulled closer to him, burying her face in his chest. “You already are, Latro. You’re struggling with something that’s outside of your control right now, but I’m not going anywhere.” Daro’Vasora said, squeezing him tightly. “I never realized you had such a mean right hook, though. Always full of surprises.”

“Turns out I don’t just punch Falmer for you.” He smiled, squeezing her a bit tighter, “What can I do to make you feel better?”

That earned a laugh. “That’s it, that’s the secret. I’ll just have you punch everything that gets in my way, a mighty weapon without equal to end all wars. Latro, the second Numidium.” the Khajiit smiled, feeling comfort in Latro’s embrace, his warmth a reassuring presence. She sighed contentedly, grateful for the distraction. “This… this is nice. You’re doing plenty already.”

She stayed like that, letting the moments wash over her. Still, Daro’Vasora couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d almost crossed a terrible line. “Latro… I almost did it. I was so close to killing Zaveed, I didn’t hesitate and then I saw you and I remembered how I felt when you… when Pale-feather got out.”

He let go a long breath, “I’m sorry.” He said, voice quiet, “It won’t happen again. Mazrah says she can help me.”

He pulled back a bit to look his lover in the eyes, “But just say the word.” He whispered, “I won’t let him harass you like that. You are far more important to me than Sevari’s friendship.”

“Sevari…” Daro’Vasora said, her voice barely above a whisper. “It’s okay. I know. I’ll be fine, I just want you to know that I think I have more of a window into what you must be going through. We’ll figure this out together, I’m not going anywhere.”

“Sevari?” He asked, pulling away from her to look at her quizzically, “Why’d you say it like that?”

“Did I make a mistake, Latro?” she asked. “Why are they here?”

Latro looked away from her and thought about that. “You?” He said, “Us. We decided to let them be here. We just need to deal with the…” He paused, chewing his lip. He didn’t want to make it seem like it was a horrid decision to bring them along, “the circumstances that our choice brought.”

“I’ll be here, right beside you.” He squeezed one of Sora’s arms reassuringly.

She placed a hand on top of his, her eyes pleading. “I know you will. I'm just so damn tired of everything that our choices seem to bring. Everything from the first Dwemer ruins to coming to Hammerfell, and now we're going into another set of ruins to muck about with the same device that started all of this…” she murmured, closing her eyes and placing her forehead against Latro's chest. “I'm just so tired of losing everything.”

“I know, my love,” he said, giving her his easy smile. He knew she never forgave herself for letting Rhea activate the device that set all of this in motion. It had been a point of contention for them soon after they survived it. He wouldn’t let it be a point of contention now, “I know. But we have no other choice but to keep going forward.”

He remembered the bodies in the street. Women, children, pets, anything that lived. The Dwemer had swept down like a force of nature. And he could still feel the pain and loss of those thousands of souls lost there amongst the bloodied gutters. He shook his head and sighed, “We were there, Sora. We owe it to the Imperial City, all the souls there, to keep going forward.”

“I know. It's why I'm here. I could have left, I was so damn close, but I stayed.” she said, recalling Rhea's face in her final moments. “I wanted nothing more than revenge, then to run when it seemed hopeless, then I tried to give everyone a chance to start fresh away from the war and led them right to the thick of a much more personal one. It's not the necessity of what we are doing, it's how I'm doing it.” she explained quietly.

“I don't know why everyone looks to me, why they risked their lives for me. I've been disloyal, arrogant. I'm someone that has spent her entire life looking after herself and the prospect of trying to do the same for others is daunting.” Daro'Vasora reached up to Latro's face, searching his eyes for answers. “What if I'm wrong?”

Latro grunted at that, at first not knowing what to say. He didn’t know the first thing about leading people, but he did know what Francis had once said, and he spoke it to Sora in turn, “Leadership,” he started, gathering strength to start again with some confidence. Fitting, given the words to be said, “Leadership, Sora, it isn’t about being right or wrong. Leadership is about being sure.”

“These people trust you, I trust you. It sounds disingenuous, it sounds like a charlatan’s deed, but a leader sometimes only has hope and luck on their side.” He tried to give her his easy smile, “Hope and luck is how I’ve stayed alive long enough to meet you. It’s how we got you back from the Palace. You have to believe you can before you do.”

He hugged her once more, planting a kiss on her forehead, “And I already believe you can,” he gave her his easy smile, “I’ll be beside you through everything this life throws in our way, my bluebird.”

A warmth permeated Daro'Vasora's chest and she placed a balled fist over Latro's heart. “Hope and luck. I think I might know a thing or two about that.” she said with a warm smile, leaning up to peck the Reachman's cheek. “I think this bluebird name is starting to stick. I guess it's up to us to open the birdcage for the rest of the flock.”

She looked to the group, gathered around in their small factions, a vulnerable village built on hopes, luck, and dreams. They were putting it all aside to do what they knew in their hearts to be right.

“Thank you, for being the star that guides my way.” she said, taking Latro's hand in her. “Let's go do something worthy of song. Together.”
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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Rtron
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Rtron Knight Radiant

Member Seen 0-12 hrs ago

Shooting Lessons

Nanine and Sevari, 16th of Midyear, afternoon

Nanine approached Sevari, pistol in hand. She couldn’t learn how to use this strange new weapon without training, and there were only two people in the Oasis who knew how to effectively use these weapons. She certainly wasn’t going to go to Zaveed, the khajit who had tortured her friends and then turned on the Dwemer at the earliest opportunity. That left Sevari, the one who had offered to help and then disappeared. At least she could be certain he hadn’t been actively working against them. They weren’t strong allies, but at least he wasn’t an enemy. She could trust him to teach her how to properly use this weapon. If he agreed to do it, that is.

She kept the end of the pistol down, unsure if it would go off in her hands at any moment, and knowing first hand exactly how dangerous it was. “Sevari?” She called out, stopping a few feet away from the khajit. “You know how to properly use this weapon, correct?”

“I do.” The Khajiit said, looking up from beneath the brim of his hat as he sat at the mouth of the cave their camp was made in, “What of it?”

“Could you teach me how to use it as well?”

Sevari cocked a brow at that. Should he? Come a time where they might decide Sora’s good words about them meant shit, he didn’t exactly want to get shot in the back of the head while he was out taking a piss. Or he could earn their trust. Latro might like that. “Sure.” He shrugged, “Have you used a crossbow?”

“Thank you.” Nanine smiled gratefully. She had half expected him to refuse, given how tense things were between the two groups. She shook her head. “No. The only weapons training I have is with swords and melee combat. I’m talented at destruction magic, if that affects anything.”

“The short of it is that it’s like a crossbow.” He said, pulling free his pistol from his belt, “Except you have to account for far more recoil. You’re holding an explosion in your hands. Less dangerous than it sounds, come.”

He waved the woman on and got to his feet before he made his way from the mouth of the Oasis’ cave. He’d grabbed up an empty bottle that had once held whiskey as he stood. They were outside the entrance and Sevari nodded to Nanine, willing her to watch him. He reared back with the bottle and sent it hurtling through the air. As it sailed, he took aim with his pistol, taking but a mere moment to perfect his aim and pulled the trigger.

The gun in his hand jerked, throwing out a plume of fire and smoke. In almost the same instance, the bottle shattered mid-air and Sevari turned to face Nanine as the shards made landfall. He finished with a flourish, a single twirl of the pistol as he put it back in its holster, “Like so.” He said, no hubris in the words, “Moving targets are harder. We can start you off with stationery ones.”

Nanine only gave a slight eyebrow raise at the mention of ‘holding an explosion in her hands’. It sounded almost exactly like destruction magic with none of the mana cost. She followed the khajiit out, watching intently as he first threw the bottle into the air and then shot it a second later. She was impressed, nodding in appreciation of his skill, despite herself. If aiming the pistol was anything like aiming spells, it took considerable talent to aim that quickly and hit your target. She gave a slight smile. “I would hope so. I very much doubt I’ll be able to hit many things that aren’t moving, much less things that are.”

She offered her pistol to him, stock first. “Could you show me how to tell if this is loaded and operational? I picked it up off of a ministry agent I killed and haven’t been able to figure out if it was broken in the fight, or even discharged.”

He nodded, grasping up the handle and placing his thumb on the pistol’s lever, “This here is the lever that lets you reload the pistol,” As he depressed the lever, the weapon broke open on a hinge, revealing the inner workings, a soul gem was held in place inside a chamber in the main body of the pistol with the barrel empty, “Well, there’s no cartridge in here.”

He took one off of his belt and placed it neatly in the hole of the barrel, folding the pistol back up with a mechanical click. His index finger brushed along another lever, this time jutting from the bottom of the pistol’s body, close to the handle. “This is the trigger. From there, it’s like a crossbow. Squeeze this with your finger hard enough and you’ll activate the soul gem. It heats the fire salts inside the cartridge and propels the bullet from the casing, spitting it out far faster than any arrow or crossbow bolt.”

He held it out to her in the same fashion she handed it to him, “Here.” he chewed his lip looking for a suitable target for Nanine to practice with. Not seeing one, he held a finger up to her, “Wait here.”

He returned with yet another bottle, sparing no thought to her judging his drinking habits, and sent it flying yet again until it landed in the sand some ways away. “That little bump at the tip of the pistol,” He held his own weapon out to her and pointed to the front sight, “Needs to be between this groove in that raised portion.”

He pointed to the rear sight as he spoke the last few words, “Try to hit that. Close one eye as you aim, easier to focus that way,” he spoke as she readied herself, “Your breaths should be slow and even, only firing at the peak of the inhale or the very last of the exhale.”

Nanine nodded, ignoring how many empty bottles he seemed to have on hand. He was sober when it counted, and that’s all that mattered. She took the pistol in both hands, looking carefully down the barrel as he instructed, taking slow even breaths. She closed one eye and took her aim. When the sight was over the bottle, she squeezed the trigger, unconsciously flinching to brace herself for the recoil.

A puff of sand to the right and beyond the bottle indicated her miss and she brought the pistol down, looking over at the khajiit, waiting for his critiques. She hadn’t expected to hit it, truth be told, but it was still mildly disappointing that she hadn’t even come close. “Do the gems have to be recharged, like with staves and other enchantments?”

“They can be,” he nodded, “It’ll take hours of shooting though. It takes less power from the soul gem to heat the small amount of fire salts than it would a stave to cast whatever spell is bound to it. Running out in the middle of a fight is the least of your worries.”

He smirked, changing the subject back to her shooting. “You’re expecting the recoil and pulling the trigger, you want to squeeze it with an even pressure. Just let your hand absorb it, keep your wrist and your grip strong.” He nodded, “You’ll get it. It’ll just take practice. Nobody is a master in a day.”

“Wouldn’t it be nice if that was the case? Just master things in a day and then move on to the next?” Nanine joked lightly, taking another bullet from the Khajiit and loading her gun. That, at least, she could do. “So what is an agent of the Empire doing in Hammerfell? I can’t imagine that with the capital destroyed, the Dwemer pushing from the north and the Dominion pushing from the south that the Emperor has the resources to spare to be concerned about the strength of dwemer forces here.”

“Important things.” He smirked, “I was here before the Dwemer arrived, focusing on the older enemy.”

“How descriptive.” Nanine replied dryly. She took a deep breath, aiming the pistol back at the bottle, tightening her grip. Her arm absorbed the impact of the recoil when she fired, but the puff of dust was even father to the right than last time.

He watched Nanine shoot and miss again, frowning slightly. “What exactly is it to you?” He asked good-naturedly.

“Curious. Last I saw and heard of the Empire was the Dominion taking over Anvil by force after adroitly taking over Skingrad. I figured that if anyone had news about the state of the Empire it’d be an agent.” She gave a small shrug, reloading the pistol once more. “But I’m going to guess that you know about as much about the situation outside of Hammerfell as I do.” She glanced at him, half-joking, “Unless you have a secret system of messages that feeds you information that you’re hiding from the rest of us.”

“If only,” he grumbled, “Intelligence networks are black right now, dead. I was working off of orders given months ago. We have a cell system, much like the insurgency. It was a directive in case the Thalmor ever managed to do what the Dwemer did.”

“The Poncy Man and I had a working relationship, let’s just say.” He sucked his teeth, “You talk a lot of warfare and politics to be a simple adventurer. Legionnaire?”

“Our little group came along and shattered that relationship didn’t we?” Nanine noted, taking aim with the pistol again. She slowly squeezed the trigger and the puff of dust was closer to the bottle, but short. She looked over at Sevari and nodded. “Family trade. Served in the tail end of Skyrim and helped flush out the bandits, necromancers, falmer, Stormcloak remnants, so on so forth, that had sprouted up and dug in during the civil war.” There was an unusual amount of heat on the word ‘bandits’, a brief flicker of anger. Nanine continued, “Left the Legion and became an adventurer for hire, was in Imperial city as it fell to the Dwemer, and the rest is history.”

“What’re the odds that the Dwemer will bother to track us down, you think?”

“High.” Sevari said, simple.

Nanine nodded. She had expected the Dwemer to try and chase them down, but had hoped the chaos of an all out assault on the palace would let them be forgotten, at least for a while.

“I was in Skyrim around then too, after the Emperor got assassinated. There was a lot of heat on the bureau there for letting that shit happen. There’s a reason you don’t hear anything about the Dark Brotherhood anymore.” He said, smirking as Nanine was slowly inching her shots closer to the bottle, nodding at her progress, “You’re getting better at that.”

She gave a grim smile at his mention of the Brotherhood. Those bastards had gotten what they deserved. She only hoped they had suffered when they were exterminated. “So that’s why you and your friend were able to track us down and capture Sora, Latro, and Raelynn so quickly. Hard to hide from a man who helped tear apart the premier assassin group in Tamriel.”

She glanced back over at the bottle, somewhat skeptically. “Yeah, I’m sure in a year’s time I’ll be able to hit a charging mammoth from six feet. At least I’ll be able to intimidate most people who know what this is. Until they see me shoot, that is.” She loaded the pistol once more, taking slow and steady aim again, and fired. The puff of sand was short and to the left, but still closer. She looked over at Sevari, curiously.

“What did ultimately give some of us away in Gilane? Apart from Mazrah we were all fairly careful, as far as I knew.”

“When you hide in Gilane’s most prestigious and opulent Hotel there really isn’t any work involved.” He chuckled, “There was a man named Roux. My brother and I tore through his ship like a quiet storm and he spilled everything he knew because I’m good at getting information I want.”

He clucked his tongue, “Keep at this and you’ll be able to put a bullet through a fly’s arse at forty paces.” He smiled, “After spending some time finding people who didn’t want to be found and burning their hiding holes to the ground, you lot were easy, always using the same routes home, being sloppy.”

“I’m sorry to say, but even as he was working with the Penitus Oculatus, the Poncy Man deemed Samara a sacrifice he was willing to make.” He shrugged, “It’s all part of the game. Politics and spyrings. Even so, I took Latro and Jaraleet as contacts and assets, should the Oculatus have need of them or all of Samara.”

“I don’t think I have to remind you that telling this to anyone is treason against the Empire for sharing classified information.” He smirked, “We’re both in the conspiracy now. Do you feel special?”

Nanine wasn’t surprised at the Poncy Man’s decision to sacrifice them. They had royally screwed up two of their very first missions, and things hadn’t gone any better from there on out. It was a simple decision to cut weak links. Her eyebrows rose slightly at the name drop of the Emperor’s bodyguards. Impressive connections indeed.

Nanine snorted. “Oh yes, very special. Never mind the fact that, aside from you, the only person who would currently be affected by this information being shared around is the Poncy Man and he was brutally murdered. And you’re on the run from both the Dwemer and the Insurgency with us.” She smirked back at him. “But worry not, conspiracy leader. I won’t betray us to the Dwemer or Insurgency.” She looked back at the camp, seeing the supply wagon again and everyone moving about it.

“Why did you agree to share your supplies with us? Very few of us trust you after your disappearance before the Palace assault, and none of us trust your brother. Putting yourselves among so many people who are one bad move on your part away from becoming violent against you seems...counterintuitive.”

“I don’t run.” He said, simply. He crossed his arms and shrugged, “And because we need you and you need us. We both need these supplies, we both need to get into the same place. It’s a win-win.”

“It’s all part of developing assets and living with the people you’re developing. There has to be trust, respect, some common ground.” He frowned, “Savian Kastav, an outlaw in southern Tamriel managed to take over a group of brigands and lead their two-bit outfit into notoriety, infamy, and wealth the likes of which they never dreamed of. The Dominion was getting robbed of their supplies and payroll with impunity.”

“Dar’Jango led a guerilla army and earned their respect in Valenwood. A guerilla army that tripped up Thalmor supply routes and assassinated some important people the Empire would’ve liked to have off the board.” He sighed, scratching at his beard that had been growing back over the past few days. “Sevari is teaching somebody he met a couple days ago how to shoot. You have to develop a rapport. That and I like Latro and Jaraleet. When you develop assets, sometimes they become friends. All the better.”

“Fair enough. War has created stranger bedfellows than us before. I sincerely hope our plans go better this time than the last time we plotted a prison break.” She loaded the pistol once more and took aim. As the sight fell over the bottle again, she fired. There was the slight tinkling of broken glass, and the puff of dust was just behind her target. The bottle still stood, however. Nanine peered at it in the distance then gave a small smile of satisfaction. “I believe I’ve clipped it.” She looked over her shoulder at Sevari, still smiling.

“Maybe I’ll be shooting a fly’s arse sooner than expected.”
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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by LadyTabris
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LadyTabris kaiserin

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High Society Girls

@LadyTabris & @Stormflyx

Alik’r Desert, Oasis
Late afternoon, 15th of Midyear, 4E208

Alim was gone. Taken to a prison. It was completely unbelievable, and no matter how hard Raelynn had tried to distract herself with other things, everytime her mind stopped, she thought of Alim and a painful knot formed inside her stomach that was tight enough to about make her vomit. Now was one of those moments, her hands were shaking and she was alone. There was nothing going on for her to involve herself with. She didn’t really want to talk to anyone in particular again, she’d been doing the rounds enough. She felt like crying. The knot was working it’s way up through her throat, choking her.

She heard a soft clatter somewhere in the distance that caught her attention enough to push the knot back down, she turned her head sharply to see what had caused the noise, and her eyes found the sight of the Altmer girl, Anifaire, stumbling around over her tent which had collapsed. “Anifaire…” she whispered softly. She would be feeling rotten too. She and Alim, were they an item? Raelynn bit down on her lip and made her way over to the girl with soft footsteps as always, “Anifaire, do you need some help?” she asked, placing a gentle hand on the Altmer’s shoulder comfortingly. The sadness over Alim had not left her system and being confronted with Anifaire did nothing to quell it’s presence. “Anifaire, are you okay?”

“I… I can’t keep this tent upright. Sevari helped me… but I knocked into it so much in my sleep that it’s tipped over, I guess,” Anifaire muttered, speaking with frustration, almost more directed at the tent than Raelynn. The tent was indeed a bit askew again, too small in size for someone of Anifaire’s height.

“Hmmm, Gregor put up our tent so I can’t say I know much about fixing one, but I’m sure us two women can manage it. There’s not a lot we can’t do when we put our minds to a task.” The mage gave Anifaire’s arm a quick squeeze before bending over to pick up the cloth of the tent. “Take the other corner, we’ll fold this and then get the structure up first. We can do this!” A mundane task was what they both needed, she decided.

Anifaire nodded, ready to go to work. The task was focusing her attention and she had been holding up so far that morning, though she could feel the edge of despair waiting for her to topple back into it at any time. She grabbed the fabric, folded it over, and nodded to Raelynn. “Thank you,” she said, as they worked. She felt like she was needing help at every turn.

She couldn’t help but feel the weight of the mammoth in the room, Alim, and as she began to peg in the first of the structural rods for the tent, she cast a long glance at Anifaire. “I miss him too, and I’m worried…” She swallowed back a lump in her throat. “Can’t believe the clod got himself caught…” the peg took the brunt of her anger and she smacked it in with force. At least it wouldn’t budge now.

Anifaire straightened the pole she was working with, imagining the way Sevari had fixed it before. “I can’t believe he’s gone…” Anifaire trailed off. The emptiness she had been struggling with since finding out and seeing those awful things was back, and she embraced it. She didn’t want to cry in front of Raelynn. “Do you think he’s really at this prison we’re heading to?” What if it’s the wrong prison? she’d been worrying.

The mage thought on it for a moment, she had no way of being completely certain. “I don’t know, I hope he is. It seems the most logical thing to have happened though, doesn’t it?” she asked with a reassuring smile as she thwacked in the next peg on her side. “You know, Alim is the reason I am even here. He saved my life in the Imperial City!” Raelynn crawled over to Anifaire’s side, and placed a comforting hand on her thigh, “I’m quite sure he’ll be alright, and when we free him we’ll scold him for having been caught.” She laughed slightly, trying to help the Altmer break her bad mood, or at least make her feel like she wasn’t alone.

“I hope he will be,” Anifaire replied. Her companion’s efforts to comfort her were welcome, and she was glad for them, though she didn’t feel any more cheerful. “I doubt I’ll be much help.” She adjusted the first peg and whacked it as hard as she could, repeating the action a few times for good measure. She hoped it was more secure than the first time she’d set it up. “He gets himself captured and I can’t even do anything about it.”

Raelynn’s entire expression narrowed at Anifaire’s confession, and her hand made its way to her back. “Whatever do you mean? Where are these thoughts coming from?” she asked. Truthfully, she knew very little about the Altmer, she had heard she was something of a mage but she hadn’t herself seen it. Still, it flattened her spirit to hear her speak like that about herself.

“Well, I can only do Alteration magic, mostly, and it doesn’t seem to help anybody with anything,” she replied. The thoughts poured out of her, upon finally hearing someone else was affected by Alim’s capture, she started to finally express how she felt in full. “I can’t fight, I can’t heal, I can’t sneak.” She sighed. “I just lack any skill at this life, I think.”

The Breton laughed at the Altmer, but without any ill-intent behind it. “Oh Anifaire, the only thing you lack is confidence.” Raelynn said with a smile, “I can't fight, I can't sneak, I can't use alteration magic either! But, what has gotten me through my life is confidence.” She sighed, letting her laughter trail off. “If you were as lacking as you are trying to have me believe, you would not have gotten this far in life now, would you?”

Anifaire smiled at her effort, and whacked the next peg with all her strength. “I suppose I have come rather far. Here we are, with sand in places it shouldn’t be, putting up a tent that’s been set up twice already.” She laughed lightly, feeling embarrassed at how her thoughts had flowed out.

“Oh, I’m glad it’s not just me feeling the sand in all the wrong places,” she laughed, attempting to put Anifaire at ease. She’d never have said such a thing to anyone else, but it felt right to do so with her. She hadn’t really noticed before, but Anifaire had an air of high society about her. Maybe that was because she had her own nose so high, she had missed the Altmer entirely.

“You know,” she began, clicking her tongue against the roof of her mouth, “I’ve gotten this far in life because I tell myself that this is my world and you’re all simply living in it,” there was confidence in her tone and a spark in her eyes that suggested that yes, this absolutely was her world. “That’s confidence.” She snapped her fingers dramatically and seriously.

Anifaire believed it. The confidence Raelynn held herself with was impressive. She smiled. “Someday,” she said, a tinge of hopefulness that would’ve have been there earlier in the day present. Anifaire hadn’t felt like herself in several days, as though her body moved without conscious direction and her words were not her own. She considered Raelynn’s words; she couldn’t fight either, and when she considered it, Judena was also an Alteration mage and no one treated her as any less. She needed to pull herself together.

“Thank you for your help,” she said, gesturing to the tent. At any level of distress, Anifaire would never forget her manners.

Raelynn smiled, but her gaze was somewhere off in the distance - as it happened, she had suddenly allowed ‘high society’ thoughts to creep into her mind. It all seemed like such a world away to where she was now, she flipped the cloth of the tent over on the pegs with a daydreamers smile. “Do you miss it Anifaire?” she asked with a dreamy sigh, “luxury and comfort…?”

“I do miss lots of things,” she replied immediately. She allowed thoughts of home, the positive things, to fill her mind. A warm summer, reading on a balcony, fresh fruits and cheeses nearby, or swimming in the ocean near her family’s villa, a closet of clothes to choose from. “Yes, I miss it… It would be delightful to be resting in a chair with a book in hand, with as much wine and fruit as I could ask for. A… preferable atmosphere to this desert cave, but I think it has its charms as well.” She thought of the time in Cyrodiil after the Imperial City, skipping meals at a time, afraid to bother anyone.

She groaned out at the very mention of fruit and wine. “Tell me about it, I long to sit on the balcony of my parents home, overlooking the ocean, platters of food, a good book. You’re right.” If she thought on it hard enough, she could smell the ocean air and the gentle wafts of heavenly bread rolls rolling around the air on a carefree breeze. “I hope to never have to sleep on the floor of a cave again after this is all done.” She laughed at herself, pulling the cloth taught around the pegs on her side. “Soft beds and softer blankets for me in my future…”

The description of home was strikingly familiar to her, similar in a lot of ways to her own, and she was surprised to find such a similarity with someone who wasn’t from the Summerset Isles. Anifaire hovered over her next words, a question she’d been asking herself coming to mind. She wondered if someone else’s perspective would be different. “Why do you travel? I mean… why don’t you go back?”

Raelynn looked up as she was asked, as if the answer was somewhere in the clouds. “I wanted adventure… To do something different and make a name for myself, my own way. To be honest, it has been some years since I visited home. It is nice to go there once in a while, but… I am torn to Skyrim too. I do my work there, so it’s also home in a way. Far less luxurious, but… I at least have a bed! What about you? What brought you here?”

“I was tired of only reading books and never seeing anything with my own eyes,” Anifaire replied. She had never expected it to be so bloody, or so terrifying. Perhaps that was what you could expect when drawing expectations from books. Yet, there was something she still couldn’t figure out about why she stayed out in the world when she could return to the comfort of home. “I didn’t expect it to be like this.”

“I certainly didn't either. That was my first visit to the Imperial City… I wanted a break. I got swept up in this, I wasn't in your expedition. Like I said, the only reason I'm here is because of Alim… Everything I have is because of him…” she smiled and glanced at Gregor, the smile could not be hidden from her face. “He's been a good friend to me… He really likes you, you know?”

Anifaire blushed, a small jump in her chest. She shrugged, unable to hold back a small smile. “Do… you think?” She scratched the back of her neck. “He is a good friend… he saved me from some thieves once, actually.” She felt a twinge of anger at the thought that now he was captured and the one in need of help, the small flash breaking through the despair and helplessness she felt about the situation. She grabbed it, glad to feel something different. “We need to get him out.”

“Ummm, I don’t think -- I know.” Raelynn remarked as she drew closer to Anifaire with a playful narrowing of her eyes. “He told me so himself. He said that you’re cute, kind, and wonderfully mesmerising” she said, embellishing on what it was Alim had actually said. She couldn’t quite recall, there had been alcohol involved. “Oh, and then he did this;” she sat up straight, and shook her shoulders, as if to get into Alim’s skin momentarily. In her absolute best impression of the rogue, she ran her hands through her hair and bit her lip, looking at Anifaire as if from afar admiringly. She laughed and snapped back to herself.

A surprised smile lit Anifaire’s face. She watched Raelynn’s impression with a slight laugh, covering her mouth in an effort to hide how embarrassed she felt. “He really said that?” she asked, disbelief in her tone. “I thought he was just… being friendly…” She really hadn’t considered that Alim thought she was cute, or interesting, simply thinking that he would be more interested in, well, someone more adventurous.

’Friendly’... yes, he’s being friendly,” she laughed, fastening the last of the cloth over the peg, smacking it once more to secure it. “You’re gentle, smart, and dainty. These are things he finds attractive in you because he probably thinks he can protect you and take care of you. He likes to sweep the ladies off their feet and make them feel special… He doesn’t want to be overly challenged by...” she thought long and hard on the right word, “by some untameable daredevil of a woman!” She smirked.

Raelynn moved over to sit at the opening of the tent now that it was up, she hoped it would stay upright. “So if you like him, just take him already! That’s what I did. I knew from the second I saw Gregor that I wanted him, so I waited for my moment, and I took him.” She gave a smug smile and an almost dirty laugh. It was said so matter-of-factly that Raelynn made it seem like the task was as easy as breathing to her. “Us ladies of high society always get what we want…”

“You’re making it sound easy,” Anifaire said. She felt less embarrassed about the conversation topic as it went on, and her posture relaxed as they finished with the tent. She gave it a test nudge and it seemed secure. She joined Raelynn in front of it, a thoughtful expression on her face. The things she said made some sense, and were part of the reasons she liked Alim as well. Perhaps she was right and she should say something to him. If they broke him out of prison, she supposed, feeding the twinge of anger that flared up again. “I don’t know if I can do that.”

“Well, when you see him again, just see how you feel. Let the moment do the talking.” The Breton gave the Altmer another smile, a reassuring one this time. “That anger that you’re feeling? Use it. Use it when we go to get him back…” She turned her face to look at Anifaire, she could sense that she was still deeply unsettled. “Let that start the fire in you to do what must be done.”

Anifaire nodded thoughtfully. The anger was preferable to despair, and perhaps feeding it would give her some type of strength. “I… will,” she agreed. She smiled. “I hope we leave soon. I don’t anticipate another desert journey, but it will… be worth it.” Uncertain, she tried to convince herself with determined words. “Thank you, Raelynn.”

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16th Midyear, 4E208
Alik’r Oasis
Late Afternoon…

“I hope you lot managed to rest well the past few days, because this is it; we’re about to embark on the journey to the prison to retrieve Alim, Bakih, and the lexicon which will hopefully be how we save Tamriel from invasion and hopefully not get us all killed in the process. Still with me? Good. We’ve got work to do.” Daro’Vasora said, looking at the gathered group, including Sevari, Zaveed, and Sirine, who while they were all clearly outsiders had managed to make some inroads in their time together so their presence didn’t seem nearly as jarring. Daro’Vasora had Zaveed’s pistol on her hip, opposite of the mace, and her hastily assembled adventuring gear was at least sturdy and secure enough to do the job.

“Now, we don’t know what we’re walking into, but in my experience, there’s not a ruin I haven’t been able to find my way into or around, and Dwemer were fond of hidden passages, one obvious, the others not-so-much. Not much is known about this location other than it had been buried in sand up until their return, so we’re marching into the unknown. This is where they’re sending their prisoners, and it can only be so large. We do not even know it’s name.” She continued, studying the people around her. Her friends, companions. It wasn’t that long ago that she looked at them as liabilities she would leave when the job was completed.

How things changed. She thought to herself.

“It’s called Kutrack, or some other such nonsense one can only utter when one’s mouth is filled with food and being rather impolite with dinner guests.” Zaveed spoke up, stepping up to the table and unrolling a large scroll he’d had on his person, revealing a crudely drawn map.

“Apologies for my lack of artistic talent, but while searching for Sirine’s darling brother in the Dwemeri archives in the Governor’s palace, I’d stumbled across some of the plans and layouts for the facility they’d drafted up for their general ambitions for the place. Turns out leaving a place unattended for thousands of years to be shit upon by goblins leaves a lot to be desired for retail value, yes?” he grinned.

Daro’Vasora didn’t say anything at the intrusion. Despite her feelings for Zaveed, he’d clearly done a lot more research than any of them. His eyes met hers, and she gestured for him to continue.

“Right, so as our esteemed leader has rightfully pointed out, there is two ways in that I’ve been able to document that are accepted. First is the obvious; the main gate. I’ve been to this place myself, but rarely past the entrance to turn over fugitives. Roux was taken here and… processed.” Zaveed said, not daring meet Raelynn or Daro’Vasora’s eyes. “Chances are word of my probable defection has not become widely known to the Dwemer since other than my relationship to Sevari, they’d have no reason to suspect I’ve been unfaithful, and from what I’ve heard, they have bigger problems to focus on at the moment than an officer who hasn’t checked in for a few days.”

“So, what are you proposing?” Daro’Vasora asked flatly, staring at Zaveed. In turn, Zaveed grinned at Sevari and offered a wink with a mischievous glint in his eye.

“Oh, he’s not going to like this…”

Sevari looked up from cleaning his pistol, “Eh?”

Dwemeri Prison Ruins Kthrakz

Raelynn did not enjoy having her hands bound and being at the mercy of Sirine, Zaveed, and Sevari too should things go haywire. But this was the only way for her to be sure the trio wouldn’t abandon everyone else after Bakih was liberated. Sure, the Imperial had said she wouldn’t do such a thing - but, throwing herself into the mix as an insurance policy made her feel better, even if it had not made Gregor feel better… Now that she was in the midst of it, hands bound, she didn’t like it so much. This was temporary though… It was temporary. The mage kept repeating it to herself in her head, trying to ignore what was happening with the Khajiit brothers to her right.

Brilliant idea Raelynn, go and be a prisoner… She chastised herself. Teeth gritted, posture tense, Sirine was behind her - probably enjoying herself, having her on a leash like this. Still, she had her hair bunched up atop her head, lockpicks stowed in the birds nest sat on her crown. She was ready to assist them in the best way she knew. “Like this do you?” she muttered through pursed lips indignantly. At least when it came to it, she definitely looked like a disgruntled prisoner.

"I wouldn't particularly say that I do," Sirine replied rather easily, looking at the back of the shorter woman's head. Leading Raelynn was simply a necessity to free her brother from the wretched prison, and truth be told, the former pirate was a little worried about the healer's safety. Preparing for the worst, she expected there to be bloodshed- perhaps a bit of her desired there to be- but it was the dwemer and their accomplices’ blood she wanted spilled, not one of their group's.

Zaveed wasn’t wasn’t lying; Sevari trusted Zaveed. In all the years he’d known the man, he never lied. And no, he didn’t like this. His bound wrists itched, which unlocked an anger in him that willed him to snap at anything. Still, he could feel the rope tied around his wrists tugging every so often and a hushed giggle from Zaveed that made him want to crack his forehead against his damn snout.

“Keep at it, little brother,” Sevari growled, “I might mistake you for a guard when the time comes. Things get awful chaotic in a scrap.”

“Be quiet, you curr! How dare you be so boldly defiant of the law as decreed by our new management?” Zaveed declared with a cheeky grin, offering Sirine a wink as he prodded his brother’s back with his pistol. “It’s not like I would know anything about a life outside of the law, no sir. Captain Greywake? Hardly know ‘er.”

“Fuck off.” Sevari mumbled and rolled his eyes.

“Can you both cease?!” said Raelynn from their left, their incessant bickering was getting to her.

"Probably best to ignore the boys while they squabble," Sirine advised, voice both dry yet tinged with amusement, recalling her words to Sevari earlier in the day.

“You say that as if they haven’t been doing this the whole time…” she hissed, sending a sidelong glance in Zaveed’s direction.

"I'm sure they have been," Sirine replied with a nod, hand lifting momentarily to hide the smirk that found itself on her lips. "But it's the nature of brothers. Trust me, I have three of them."

The Cathay shrugged apologetically towards Raelynn. “Oh, give us a break; we’ve decades to catch up on.” Zaveed explained with a smile before turning his attention back to his brother. “You seem awfully dour for a man who’s spending quality time on a wilderness walk with his brother and a very good friend. Wasn’t that what you were after, in the end? And look ahead, there’s some shade and some very helpful people that would love to meet you.” Zaveed said, looking ahead to the mouth of the ruins of Kthrakz.

It was an impressive structure that seemed to come out of the ground like a maw in the sands, a pillar of rock with ornately carved figureheads and pillars with a large pair of double doors that were large enough to march Centurions through and had been coated with a special paint that had been mixed with the sands over the years, presumably to prevent wear from the elements and to prevent the alloys from becoming unbearably hot to the touch. They were not far off now, and a pair of guards stood out front to greet them.

“You’re doing a wonderful job, by the way. You are selling this indignant prisoner act quite admirably; I wish I had even a fraction of your talents, brother.” Zaveed said, shoving Sevari along. Sirine handled Raelynn in a similar fashion, at least to keep up appearances.

“I’ll show you my goddamn talents when this is over, you ass.” Sevari looked back and glared at his brother’s cheeky grin, ear to ear and wide as the seas. “Alright, it’s time.”

He sniffled and quieted himself as they approached the gates, blowing out a breath and steadying his nerves. The walls grew with every step and by the time the guards hailed them to stop it almost hurt Sevari’s neck to look up at the top of them. All across them, there wasn’t a single place in the smooth surface that Sevari could scale with his climbing claws. Even from outside, he felt like he couldn’t escape this place.

Least not without the help of several stubborn and steadfast companions willing to risk life and limb to do the impossible just to see his face again.

He’d better like whoever the fuck Bakih and Alim were.

“State your business!” One of the guards spoke from the twenty or so stride distance between his throat and Sevari’s hands.

Zaveed stepped forward, arms wide as if he were greeting and old friend. “Greetings, Btzmahz was it?”

“It’s Kragren.” The guard replied dryly, clearly displeased at having to have stepped out of his shaded retreat to approach the menagerie approaching him. “No one here goes by that name. It’s not even a name.” his rifle was held with the barrel down, but still quite at the ready. “Are you lost, Khajiit?”

“Ah, no. You see, we’re coworkers.” Zaveed replied, pulling his Ministry of Order badge from his bandoleer. “My deputy and I have brought a pair of very special prisoners that I’ve been hunting for some time now, the traitor to our dear Governor’s trust, and one of the ones she requested personally.” he pulled Sevari forward. “Just dropping dear old Sevari off at the daycare. He’s been a very bad boy.”

The guard’s face didn’t register the name, prompting Zaveed to sigh and pulling out a piece of blank official stationary he wrote upon with the capture order and a hastily forged version of Major Kerztar’s signature; it definitely wasn’t anything close to the Major’s penmanship, but the Cathay was counting on these Dwemer out in the middle of nowhere not having intimate knowledge of that bit of scribble to question it overly much. They just needed to get into the door.

“Let’s get inside out of this damned heat.” The guard said, motioning for them to follow. “We’ll sort you out where it’s comfortable.”

“Huh.” Sevari said in appreciation of Zaveed’s gambits working yet again.

“What’d you say?” The Guard turned back to him, glowering down his nose, which was upturned to look up at Sevari’s face.

“Nothing.” Sevari frowned deeper, “Fucker.”

The guard stamped down on his foot and Sevari bared his teeth at the heel of his boot crunching into his toes. With both hands and holding his foot to the ground, the guard shoved Sevari in the chest and pitched him to the sand. Sevari huffed, the breath throwing up sand from around his face as he gritted his teeth to look up at the guard. “Watch your step.” The Mer sneered and waved them on, “Come on.”

Zaveed grabbed Sevari by the arm, helping pull him to his feet, grateful the guard wasn’t paying too close attention to his knot job. “Mind not brutalizing my prisoner? If he can’t walk, you’re dragging him all the way back with you.” Zaveed called to the back. Securely on his feet, Zaveed patted Sevari on the shoulder affectionately and the small group continued on their way towards the maw and hopefully Bakih.

"Let's go," Sirine ordered, urging Raelynn to continue forward as well with a light push, just for a little extra insurance that their act played out without fault. That being said, she really didn't think she had to worry- Zaveed's silver tongue was clearly working on the dwemer guards. She had been worried that they might treat him with suspicion, especially after his defecting, but it seemed news traveled slowly up and down the desert. A smirk danced upon her lips; it would have been quite interesting to listen to the privateer's words at sea whilst dealing with another pesky crew. Bakih first, she reminded herself. And then the rest. Soon they would be far away from this oppressive heat and sand, and good riddance.

Back at The Oasis...

“The other way in is through a natural cavern that’s been somewhat caved in, but otherwise still intact. They installed a locked gate, but this is an underground reservoir not too dissimilar to what we have here. It is where the ruins gets its drinking water and process water for their steam contraptions.” Zaveed showed on the map. “As I understand, at least one of you can summon atronachs. Do that, clear out around here of debris and you have yourselves a way to sneak into the ruins undetected. Be warned, some tunnels are still infested by goblins; the Dwemer only have bothered securing the primary infrastructure and gating off places they haven’t cleared yet. They probably won’t be monitoring anywhere you find those skeever-faced runts skulking about like they’re people, but you’ll still be fighting fucking goblins. Just be prepared for Dwemer past any locked gates.”

“So where does it lead out?” Daro’Vasora asked.

“Right here…”

Dwemeri Prison Ruins Kthrakz

The badge flashed. “Zaveed of Senchal, agent of the secret police division of the Ministry of Order.” Zaveed said, flashing his badge at the Dwemer clerk who approached with an entirely too heavy tome in his hand to study the grey-furred Khajiit’s features before going over the records to verify his identity. A handful of guards stood around, preparing to take the prisoners off of Zaveed and Sirine’s hands once the authorization went through.

As the clerk retreated to a desk to check over his files, Zaveed pulled one of Sevari’s half-burnt cigars from one of his pouches and ignited it in a small container of fire salts before guiding it to his brother’s mouth with a grimace. “I don’t know how on Nirn you tolerate this crap.” Zaveed observed, keeping a careful eye on the clerk’s body language.

Sevari smirked, a bearing of fangs, “You just live your life hard and shitty so that this shit doesn’t seem like as much shit as the other shit.”

“Well, shit.” One of the younger guards that still held the telltale soft eyes of a rookie grunted from his corner with raised eyebrows and a nodding head.

“You are truly a poet, a man with unmatched talent for the spoken word.” Zaveed rolled his eyes. “One of these days, I’m going to have to acquaint you with the salted air of the sea, some grog, and the joys of good company. You won’t ever want to sully your lungs with that shit again.”

“You speak as if he’s ever going to see the sun again, the traitor.” Another guard grunted, his weapon’s safety being disengaged with a click. Zaveed merely shrugged at the man with a wink.

“Man’s my brother. Allow us some final moments of normality, will you? Fucking killjoy.”

Sevari leaned out from behind Zaveed with narrowed eyes and an impish little half-smile, “Yeah, allow me some final moments of normality, you fucking cock-throater.

“Why, you-“

“Stay your hand, Corporal!” The Clerk shouted with a suddenness that made almost everybody in the room flinch.

“Yes, corporal.” Zaveed sneered. “Remember your discipline. Know your place, drop and give me twenty, all of that.” he said with a dismissive wave of the hand. He looked back at the clerk and noticed a tensing in the mer’s shoulders.

“Well, Sevari,” Zaveed said in a low tone. “Let’s hope I’m as talented at tying easily escapable knots as you are at the spoken word.”

Almost simultaneously as the last syllable left Zaveed’s mouth, Sevari stood, two unfettered arms throwing open the cloak around his shoulders to reveal pistols in his hands. In less than a second, not that one needed to be a marksman in a space like this, Sevari discharged the two guns and the angry Corporal’s face exploded onto his friend next to him, who was clutching his bloody chest wound as well.

Raelynn shrieked as she was sprayed with the Corporal’s blood. A bad day to be dressed in white. She backed into Sirine, her hands held out expectedly for her to remove the bindings, as she struggled to manage it amongst the chaos.

Sirine's reaction to the blood was completely the opposite. She was grinning as she pulled her dagger from its resting spot at her waist, the blade as sharp as ever after after she had taken care of it the previous day. "A little blood never hurt anyone," she quipped, her tone very different from before. Without wasting a moment, she undid the rope that bound Raelyn before motioning behind herself with her head. "Well, not someone else’s anyway- you best get behind me, I'd rather not have yours mixing with that."

“Hurts people when it’s not in their bodies, Sirine,” she retorted with a smirk as the girl cut her free. She shook her hands, allowing the blood to flow back through. “You tie a better knot than your friend,” she remarked, unable to believe she’d just made a joke over it. Something about the moment had allowed her that sense of safety.

"Yes," Sirine agreed, "but they're not the ones I'm concerned with at the moment. And somehow..." She smirked at the comment about knots. "I'm not surprised, I'm quite good at tying people up." Stepping before the healer, she was swift in striking at an incoming dwemer guard, ramming her boot into his stomach so that he stumbled back. Just as quickly, she lunged forward, stabbing at the mer's exposed throat with her dagger, her smirk shifting to a satisfied smile as she pulled it out. Ignoring the blood that poured onto the ground, she turned away to look for her next victim.

Zaveed’s axes were out in a flurry, one of them thrown at one of the other guards who was fumbling with the safety of his weapon as the blade buried itself in his shoulder. Zaveed was upon him, sweeping the Dwemer’s leg as he went to raise the weapon with a single hand and kicking the Dwemer to the floor. The mer screamed in pain as Zaveed stood over him, prying the weapon from his hand and bringing the axe down into his throat as a volley of shots landed around them. “You’d think they’d spend more time on training…” he murmured, hoisting the rifle and aiming at the guards on the walkway, returning fire with the repeating weapon as his hand worked the lever.

Raelynn ducked as the others fought - bullets and blades flurrying. The noise inescapable. She shuffled across the floor on all fours to the desk with the paperwork and tomes. There had to be some paperwork here to suggest where Sirine’s brother was. She’d gone through clerical information before for her father, and at the College - it was usually organised in a certain way. Whether the Dwemer held to such a standard would remain to be seen. “Your surname, Sirine?” she called out, hoping the Imperial could hear her over the noise.

Sirine kicked away the guard she had just finished with, shaking the blood off her dagger as she looked for Raelynn, a little annoyed the healer had disappeared from her side. Thankfully however, she heard her name called, and following the direction of the voice with her eyes until she saw where the Breton woman was. "Al Nahel," she called back, eyes narrowing slightly before she slammed a shoulder into another dwemer, attempting to make her way to the desk.

Her thumbs ran over a tome as she pulled it from the desk. It was heavy. At least his name was going to, hopefully, be at the start of the entries. She flicked through the pages, muttering under her breath, “Al Nahel… Al Nahel… Al Nahel…. BAKIH!” she called out, finding his name there, “Al Nahel, Bakih. Thirteenth of Second Seed. Allocated level seventeen, west block…” She looked up to Sirine who had made her way to the desk. “That’s him!”

All around had exploded into chaos with men shouting their last words or just meaningless battlecries lost on Sevari’s ears, too focused on taking aim and squeezing the trigger on some poor fool who couldn’t duck fast enough behind a crate. He worked the lever, the spent casing spinning over his shoulder as he slapped in another round. It was like a feeling of being home after a long journey, just his weapon in his hands and a room full of enemies.

He took aim, tracking a guard along the walkways a few steps before he squeezed again, stock jolting in his shoulder as the barrel barked out smoke and fire. The Mer dropped. “How’s the search, Princess?” He asked, not heeding a shower of sparks past leaning away from it while he reloaded his rifle, “I’d like to not be getting shot at sooner rather than later.”

Without wasting anymore time, Raelynn scanned the tome further for Blackmoore, finding him there. “Alim is here too - level sixteen…” She dropped the tome to the floor and stood back up, hands fumbling over the desk for anything that could suggest which level they were on now. “We have to get to seventeen, and then to sixteen. That’s where we’ll find the others.” There was sudden desperation in her own voice, now that she knew that Alim was here - this mission had not been a waste. He was here. “He’s really here, he’s alright…”

Unknown to the Breton woman, one of the dwemer guards had caught sight of her by the desk, rummaging through the files. Thinking her an easy target, he swiftly closed in on her, raising his blade to strike and end her where she stood. Unfortunately for him, Sirine had taken her self imposed duty of keeping the healer safe rather seriously. Sword now in her other hand, she brought it up swiftly to parry the blow, grunting under the weight of the swing. "Oh no you don't," she murmured, sounding almost enticing as she used his shock to shove her dagger through the openings of his armour, not relenting until her dagger could go in no more.

Kicking him off of her blade in a rather ungraceful manner, Sirine then backed towards the desk. "Any idea which level we're on?"

“Currently it looks like we’re on level eight…” Raelynn replied, watching the Dwemer guard bleed out on the ground, for a moment she locked eyes with him.

Back at The Oasis...

“Well, I don’t want to say thank you, but…” Daro’Vasora said with narrow eyes.

“You’re welcome.” Zaveed beamed with a theatrical bow.

“If your information is true, it’s going to be a big help. What assurances do we have that you three aren’t going to rat on us as soon as we part ways?” She pressed, arms crossed.

Zaveed sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Look, after my rather persuasive arguments earlier, I thought we’d have been past this point in our relationship.” he sighed, exasperated. “We’re going to get Bakih out, and we were going to be doing it regardless of your assistance or not. Likewise, you have your friend you wish to rescue and the bauble that can do… the thing you proposed.” the Khajiit shrugged.

“I do not know how much more I can tell you to alleviate your concerns, Daro’Vasora. You held a gun to my head because I wanted you to be able to move on from this so we can focus on doing what’s actually important, namely saving people we care about and kicking the Dwemer where it hurts. They basically enslaved Sevari and I; much like I keep trying to tell Gregor, I have no animosity towards any of you, and I cannot change what I had done to you, but we’re in the midsts of a shitty war none of us really desire to be a part of.

“Allegiances change, as do people. Your Poncy Man betrayed you; I’ve never lied about who I am or what I’ve done. It will have to suffice.” Zaveed said, gesturing to Sevari. “And if none of that is good enough for you lot, then trust that my loyalties lay with my brother. The reason I’m here in your charming company is because he willed it so, and I am not going to lose him again. He wanted to help you lot, and in extension, so do I.”

“Fine. I’m hoping I don’t end up regretting this.” Daro’Vasora said, rolling her shoulders and looking at the gathered people, friends, strangers, and former enemies alike. “Look, Zaveed’s right about one thing; none of us wished to be here, in this war, in this desert… well, except for Shakti.” the Khajiit said with a smile before turning back to the crowd.

“But we’re here because we have people we care about on the line, and none of you turned your backs on me when I needed to be saved, and like hell I’m going to turn my back on Alim, or the rest of the prisoners. We’re shutting that place down, people; Gilane was a bust, and we all suffered greatly within its walls, but it doesn’t mean we lost. Look around you; how many of you would have even looked at the people you’ve trusted your lives to before all of this began? How many times have we served a common cause and put our lives on the line for each other?” Daro’Vasora said, slamming a fist into her palm. “That means something, and it’s why time and time again, we do not back down. We. Do. Not. Back. Down.” she stressed every word, an intensity in her emerald eyes as she met the gaze of each of the people around her.

“When we met, I was a brat, a real selfish piece of shit that only cared for earning a name for herself that wasn’t Daro’ and a good chunk of coin on the side. People came and went out of my life; they were expendable, and I couldn’t rely on anyone but my wits and knowledge. All I know is over the past two months, I’ve befriended you, come to love you and come know you as people, and right now I can’t see a difference between you and my own flesh and blood. I made mistakes, I fucked up; you stayed by me and gave me strength I never knew I had.” she paused, placing a hand on her chest as she let the words sink in.

“Let me return the favour. You chose me to guide the way in these uncertain times, and you risked your lives to get me out of bondage. I have a plan for how we win this thing, and I will need each and every one of you to believe in me like I believe in you.” Daro’Vasora said, placing a hand over her heart as she began to walk the circle of people, looking them all in the eyes.

“What we did at the Jerall Mountains was a mistake, one with consequences we couldn’t possibly anticipate. We activated a device that destroyed the mountain and allowed the Dwemer to return; it was that or be overrun by Falmer, but we had no idea what the function of it was, and ever since that day, we’ve been on the run trying not to die like so many others. Imperial City, Skingrad, Anvil, Gilane… so many cities have been engulfed by this war, and the despots that call themselves leaders are preying on innocent lives. Zegol, Gaius, Balroth, Durantel, Rhea, Roux… remember the fallen, remember what these Deep Elves have taken from us. If we quit now, they all were lost for nothing, their sacrifices meant nothing.” Daro’Vasora exclaimed, her teeth bared and tears in her eyes.

“And I am so fucking tired of running, being at the whims of those who wish us harm. Those who would see us dead or used as expendable tokens. The Rangers, the Poncy Man, whoever. Now we do this on our own, and either people can join us, or they can step aside. We’re doing this with or without their help.” the Khajiit snarled, wiping her muzzle with an arm as she stomped forward, a dangerous intensity in her gait.

She stopped in front of Sevari and Sirine, staring them down for several unspoken seconds. Her tone was lower, inviting people to listen as her voice dampened, pensive but with an edge. “Many of you wonder what the fuck I was thinking, inviting them along, but let me ask you this; how many of you would have chosen differently? Sometimes, we put our pride aside for the greater good. This is a journey where we can’t be picky about the people we walk alongside, and sometimes we need to do thing that our hearts scream at us no.” Daro’Vasora said, her eyes narrowed, teeth bared. Suddenly, her disposition shifted to something softer, more reflective. She placed a hand on Sevari’s shoulder.

“Maybe enemies can become friends, and maybe they can offer things that mean the difference between life and death. I have been brutalized, embarrassed, forced to choose between the lives of my friends.” she looked to Zaveed with a nod. She held her tongue for a pregnant moment before letting out a resigned sigh. “I choose to forgive you and let go. I won’t forget what you’ve done to me, or the others, but I choose to believe your words that you want to help, and we’re not going to win this fight on our own. What say you? All of you? No more running, no more fear and loathing. Let’s show these fucking Dwemer what happens when you take from us. Let’s show them the meaning of fear and loss. Let’s show them that we will never give up.” Daro’Vasora exclaimed, grabbing her mace from the table and holding it high.

“Who’s with me?!”

“I!” Latro was the first to stand, raising his fist. He had a smile for Sora, perhaps she had taken his, well Francis’ words to heart. Surety, he smiled. Hope and luck and courage.

Nanine stood next, commiting the sight of the Khajiit with mace raised to memory. That’s a sight that deserves to be drawn. She drew her own blade and raised it high, smiling. “We will do it.” For the first time in the long time, they had a plan and weren’t just struggling to survive or make sense of their situation. It was good to have purpose again.

“Hell yeah, sister.” Mazrah slammed the foot of her spear on the ground and clasped her free hand to her heart. The big Orsimer had a smile on her face and a glistening wetness in her eyes -- she was a sucker for a good rousing speech. “These gray-skinned shits won't know what hit them.”

"I've been travellin' with you since Jerall, Sora." Meg looked to the khajiit woman, the determined look in her green eyes stronger than ever. Her leg was for all purposes healed, although still a little weaker than it normally would be. However, there was absolutely no way she would let that keep her behind when all of her friends were going out to risk their lives. Standing up and crossing her arms over her chest, she continued. "An' I ain' 'bout t'stop now, y'know! You can count on me."

Gregor watched silently as some of the others pledged their allegiance, but it wasn't until Megana had spoken up that he felt the need to pitch in. The way she stood with her arms crossed over her chest, defiant, was endearing and even a little inspiring: the young peasant girl ready to take on the most dangerous people in the world. Daro'Vasora's speech was good, truthfully, but Gregor had always had more of an eye for the small and understated moments of beauty than grand gestures. His hand found Raelynn's as she stood next to him and he gave it a gentle squeeze. “You have my sword,” the Imperial said with an encouraging nod in Daro'Vasora's direction. “We're with you.”

The blonde mage was not one for grand gestures either, and while the likes of Mazrah and Latro would stand to attention to Sora’s rallying speech, Raelynn remained quiet on the sidelines, her steel blue gaze travelling over the faces of the company. She felt Gregor’s hand around hers, and at the moment he spoke she took her other hand and placed it over his forearm, nodding her head at his words. Her eyes met those of Daro’Vasora and she nodded again. “I have spent the afternoon creating supplies for you all with what I have been able to source in our Oasis.” She and Gregor were stood by one of the crates from the caravan, she had managed to make a handful of potions from the Glowing Mushroom and various other ingredients she had harvested in the caves.

“If any of you need me to check you over before we leave, I will be here.” She nodded again with a finality, public speaking to a group of rebels was not really her strength. She kept it precise and to the point. In a hushed tone, she spoke up towards Gregor, “let’s talk - I know you’re not happy about this… We can find a quiet spot in a moment.”

Aries had remained silent for the planning; this was nothing that she was personally invested in, and it was better to hide among the crowd and comfortably assume her disguise for now. She wasn’t particularly moved by speeches in general, instead critically listening and picking out the flaws as she heard them, but she raised an eyebrow at the mention of one of their actions being responsible for the dwemer’s return. That was a question for another time. During the speech, her eyes traveled the crowd and fell on Sevari, giving him a glance that spoke more words than Sora could even if Akatosh granted her all the hours to say them. If she was really going into the dwemer’s prison, then that was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. Depending on who they find, then maybe this charade could finally end.

Shakti stood next to Mazrah and raised both of her hands as the Orc shouted in delight. The Redguard girl couldn’t help but give a cheer of her own. The Alik’r belonged to the Redguard, to her, no one else. Certainly no dwemer. She was excited to bloody their noses again. As the others gave similar yells of encouragement, Shakti’s eyes also searched the crowd for a certain blonde-haired Nord boy. She found him tending to the pony by the nearest watering hole, making sure Danish was well groomed and healthy, fed and watered, and that he'd be well off in his absence. But Calen was not absent minded during the rally -- he looked back at the group with a smile, albeit a nervous one.

Jaraleet had remained silent through Daro’Vasora’s speech, his eyes briefly turning to look at Meg as she addressed the Khajiit woman. In spite of himself, he couldn’t help but smile at seeing the determination of the Nord woman. “You have my blade as well, Daro’Vasora.” The Argonian said as he turned to look at their leader, giving her a slight nod to go along with his words.

Anifaire was not accustomed to loud gestures, but listened attentively to Daro’Vasora’s speech. The determined words, of enemies and Dwemer and friends, she used to fuel the anger she had been kindling since the previous day. It was a comfort that others at her side were not about to forget Alim. She sat, hands clenching the edges of the rock until her knuckles were white. She wanted Alim out of a Dwemer prison, and she wanted the Dwemer gone where they wouldn’t be taking anything from her again. She focusing on those thoughts and feelings, the idea of more violence, more burning and blood and the memories of watching her companions hack and slash at living beings, and having a part in it, pushed as far back as she could manage, the fears slipping unwillingly to the front of her mind from time to time. Determined not to be afraid of those things anymore, she held onto the anger alone.

“I’m sorry I got roped into assisting Sirine locate Bakih. I’m sorry I’m going to be with Zaveed. But you understand why, don’t you?” Raelynn asked, now that the group had dispersed to get the last of their preparations done. She took both of her Imperial’s hands tightly in her own, and smiled up at him comfortingly.

Gregor’s jaw worked while he looked away, though he returned Raelynn’s firm grip with unmistakable devotion. “Yes,” he said at length and a sound escaped him that was somewhere between a sigh and a groan. “But that doesn’t mean I think it’s worth it. If something happens to you and I’m not there…” He trailed off and let the words hang in the air before he finally met Raelynn’s gaze again. “I’d trade everyone’s lives here to prevent that from happening.” His words were honest but he surprised even himself a little with how callous the depth of his love for Raelynn made him. He shrugged and smiled, just a tad sheepish. “Don’t look at me like that, it’s true.”

“I’ll look at you however I want…” She cooed, unable to prevent the smile that formed on her face, warming up her eyes considerably with a happy glow. “It will be worth it when we get Alim back, and everyone gets out. I help them find Sirine’s brother safely, they’ll be grateful…” Raelynn tilted her head to the side and nodded slowly, knowing that Gregor would understand her implication. The mage stepped closer to him and began to work her hands slowly up his chest, her voice quieter, and an audacious expression resided where the innocent smile had been, “besides Gregor… After this is all said and done and we leave Hammerfell, we’ll have an entire world before us again.” Her voice was so quiet as it tapered off with her last words that she practically mouthed them, her lips only inches from his.

He had to admit that she was right and that it was smart to get and keep the triad on their side, but Raelynn’s explanation still drew nothing more from Gregor than a reluctant ‘hmph’. It was what she said after that, and the way she did it, that was cause for him to slowly take her in his arms, his hands running down her spine to the small of her back. He couldn’t resist the temptation and kissed her. “I know, you’re right,” he sighed. “Just this one mission and then they’ll be gone.” He looked her in the eyes and lost himself in her wondrous, glacial gaze, like he so often did. “I wonder if we’ll go to Skyrim eventually,” he murmured. “Would be nice to see the place again.”

Her head found its way to his shoulder, and she rested it there, savouring the moment of him - of them, together, like this. The mission was going to split them from each other temporarily. So she wanted to have as much of him while she could, before everyone had to get their head in the game. She almost regretted having spent her day deep in alchemy and not rolling around with him. Raelynn rose to her tiptoes and placed a kiss on his cheek, his beard ticking at her lips and chin. “Mmm, it would be nice. Skyrim is… My second home in a way, it would be certainly special to get to explore it with you…”

“Mine too,” Gregor said, his eyes soft as the lingering warmth of Raelynn's kiss on his cheek spread through him. “I spent most of my time in dark caves and ruins and dungeons but I have fond memories of the views and vistas I saw on the road and the evenings of sitting by a warm fire with hearty food and drink. It's a shame we never ran into each other before. I met Calen for the first time in Skyrim, did you know that?”

“I didn't, actually,” Raelynn said with surprise in her voice and a smile. At the mention of his name, she glanced out to find Calen in the crowd. It occurred to her that she hadn't spoken to him in quite some time. “I spent most of my time traveling from place to place and setting up in taverns. I don't know how much you would have liked me had we ever met back then.” She looked him in his eyes, finding herself once again thoroughly enraptured by them, their darkness - and the intensity buried within them. “What can I do for you? Before we leave?” She asked, wanting more and more to put him at ease and be with him.

Briar had often asked him the same question while she looked at him with the same eyes. Gregor's answers had been mundane and simple; play with my hair, make me that meal I like, come with me to the bedroom… It all seemed so trivial now, but he supposed that was true. Trivial requests for trivial times back when his life was innocent and he already had everything he needed. Now, with the weight of the world on his shoulders, Gregor realized he wanted, needed, something even more simple and yet far more meaningful.

He pulled her tighter in his embrace and whispered in her ear. “Just hold me.”

“I can grant you such a request,” she said quietly with a smile, and wrapped her arms around him, letting her hands hook over his shoulders from behind, her body pressed to his and her head against his chest. She knew the moment would not last too long, and was expecting someone from the group to break them up with complaints of an ache, pain, or ailment. Raelynn hummed against him and as she had done many times she breathed him in and closed her eyes. Leather and steel, and today there was something else to his scent - something rich and earthy, from nights of sleeping upon the moss she thought. She liked it. She squeezed him tighter just then, taking in every detail of the moment so that could think upon it later.

“I love you,” Gregor said, just low enough for her to hear, and he poured all of his affection, devotion and passion into those three words. It felt like they were standing in the eye of a vast hurricane -- enjoying what could only be the briefest moment of serenity, with a wall of violence and destruction behind them and yet more ahead. “Stay safe. Come back to me in one piece,” he added, his voice heavy with the lump in his throat. “Please.”

Raelynn smiled at him, and let her fingers gently tickle the nape of his neck. He was so passionate - it almost made her want to split from him into dangerous situations more often if this was the level of intense attention she would get. “And I love you…” she breathed against his neck, words only for him. “I promise, and you must make the same one. Stay safe, and return to me as you are. After this is done we can go back to being simply us.” She wanted so badly for him to just be hers again for a while, no interruptions from the group. The mage also wanted to take care of the friend that was residing in amongst Gregor’s belongings.

With the group dispersed to make their final preparations after Daro’Vasora’s speech, Jaraleet didn’t waste time in seeing to his own preparations for the upcoming journey. Luckily, there was little that he needed to do before he was ready; namely, he had to take down his tent and to fold the bedroll that he had used and both tasks were completed in a matter of moments. With those task complete, there was something else that he wanted to do or, more accurately, there was someone whom he wanted to check on.

“There you are, I was looking for you.” He said as he finally found Meg, sitting near her tent and cleaning up her sword. “Getting ready for the mission?” He asked her softly, a note of concern in his voice, as he sat next to her.

Meg looked up at Jaraleet with a smile, happy to see the Argonian came to see here. The thought crossed her mind that perhaps she should have been the one to see how he was doing... it seemed to her as if he was always checking up on her rather than the opposite. "I am!" she replied with a small smile and nod. "My leg's all better now, mostly. I mean, there's kinda an ache but, like, it won' make things hard for me." She set her sword down on her lap, turning slightly to face him. "Looks like we ain' gonna be together this time."

“Good, good, I’m glad to hear that.” The Argonian said with a smile, glad to hear that, aside from the ache, her leg seemed to be fully healed. “It goes without saying….but don’t overdo it, ok?” He said, concern plain in his voice once again. He bit his lip slightly when she mentioned that they weren’t going to be on the same team for the upcoming mission, letting out a sigh after a moment.

“Yes, that seems to be the case.” He said, frowning slightly. “Can’t say I’m too happy about that...but we’ve both got our respective tasks to accomplish, don’t we?” He smiled weakly, shaking his head slightly.

“I’ll be fine,” Meg hastily assured Jaraleet, not wishing him to be worried or stressed out even before their adventure to the prison began. “I’mma be careful, an’ ‘sides, there’ll be the others there. Maz is strong, Latro’s there, Sora’s there…” She reached over and placed a hand on his, smiling reassuringly. “Tha’ bein’ said, you better be careful as well. Don’ think I forgot ‘bout tha’ time y’went out with Sevari.”

Jaraleet chuckled in spite of himself before smiling fondly at Meg. “I suppose you got me there, can't exactly ask you to be careful with my record can I?” He said, his smile widening slightly when he noticed her hand over his. “I know, I know.” He said in response to her reassurances, shaking his head slightly. “But still, I can't help but worry. There are far too many unknowns for my liking.”

Meg shrugged slightly before speaking. “It’s always been unknown though, no? Like, Skingrad, Anvil, even Gilane… we didn’ really know anythin’ tha’ was gonna happen… ‘least this time, we’re the one’s goin’ ahead first. We’re like up here-” she raised her free hand in the air above her head “-an the dwemer, they’re down there.” She lowered her hand so that it was near the ground.

“Hmmm, perhaps…” He replied, frowning slightly. “I suppose I'm just a bit used to having a bit more information than we do right now. Skingrad, Anvil, Gilane, in all of those places we at least knew more than we do now. Or I suppose I should say there were less unknowns than now.” Jaraleet said, chuckling weakly. “Sorry, I'm not making much sense I guess.”

“Well…” Meg looked to Jaraleet and gave him a small poke in the side, trying to lighten his mood a little. “Think of it as an adventure then? I mean, I know it ain’ really, we’re goin’ t’rescue Alim an’ the other man…” She paused momentarily before continuing. “Maybe not knowin’ somethin’ can better sometimes.”

Jaraleet was silent for a moment, pondering on Meg’s words. In the end, he let out another sigh before smiling at the Nord woman. “I suppose a little uncertainty once in a while might not be so bad.” He said finally, shaking his head slightly. “In my….line of work I’m used to having an amount of certainty, so to speak. To act after weeks of planning, at the very least.” He explained to her, shaking his head slightly. “I suppose it is rather foolish of me to think I can act like I did when things are like this, isn't it?”

“I know for sure that nothin’s been happenin’ in the las’ two months that’s been anythin’ like the rest’ve my years I’ve live.” Meg sounded a little rueful, but her smile remained. “We’ll be a’ight, I’ll be careful.” She prodded him once more, this time a little more forcefully. “Don’ worry too much though, got it? Don’ want yer brain so busy with wha’ might be thought that y’end up missin’ what’s righ’ in front.”

Jaraleet laughed slightly, shaking his head for a moment, before smiling at Meg. “Yes ma’am, got it.” He said, his tone slightly teasing. “Really, thank you Meg.” He continued on, moving slightly closer to the Nord woman. “For worrying about me, I mean. And for trying to cheer me up.”

"That's wha' friends are s'posed t'do, y'know." Meg smiled back at the Argonian, ignoring the part in her mind that told her that he meant more than just a friend. Reaching out, she gave Jaraleet a tight hug, resting her head against him, enjoying the closeness. "Same for you, thanks for all yer help. Don’ worry, we'll- Mara'll keep us safe."

“I suppose you are right.” He said, deciding to not comment on the fact that she seemed to worry about him more than was usual for a normal friend or how her actions seemed to contradict her words. Still, he gladly returned her hug before he smiled at her as she said that Mara’d keep them safe. “I hope you are right Meg. I hope it is not time for us to be called from this world.”

“Not for a while,” Meg replied, conviction strong in her voice. “We’ll be fine.”

After Daro’Vasora’s speech, Shakti made her way over to where she had spotted Calen earlier, tending to his pony, or horse. She didn’t actually know the difference. His smile that he had flashed seemed to lack its usual easy confidence. “Calen, something troubles you?” She began, unsure of how to approach this any other way but directly.

“Huh?” Calen muttered at the sound of his name, turning away from Danish as he groomed the pony, to find himself pleasantly smiling at Shakti once again, only for that smile to capsize as he asked her question. “Oh, uh…”

Calen didn’t think much of it, until he realized his hand unconsciously reached for the scar on his chest. He looked down and found himself rubbing a spot above his diaphragm.

“Um… I’m fine.” He lied. “Just every time we come together for a big plan like this, it usually precursors nothing good. I suppose it gets me feeling anxious.”

He turned back around and continued to brush Danish’s coat. He continued, “This just helps me take my mind off of things.”

Shakti nodded, it seemed a logical thing. To be afraid of injury, especially after a wound as severe as the one he had been through. Still, this anxiousness never really happened to her and she considered, for a few moments, why this was.

“You’re afraid of being hurt again? I suppose I am too. I’ve been cut up quite a few times in my life. Though I suspect never as bad as you.” She chanced a sly smile before finishing her thought, “I never really think about being hurt. I just go into things with a goal in mind. The details usually work themselves out.” She had no idea if this was helpful or not but she had said it already so she might as well let it sit in the air for a bit.

“It makes one question their mortality.” Calen said with a nod. “What happens when I'm finally dead and gone? What will the world I'll never get to see look like and what kind of legacy will I leave behind? I mean, I hope I'll one day see Sovngarde, but I'll never really know until that day comes, will I? Assuming I've any consciousness left.”

Finally after what seemed like a lifetime of watching Calen brush his horse, Shakti spoke again. “He’s a beautiful horse. He is a horse, right?”

“A pony, technically.” Calen corrected. “Any horse fourteen hands or smaller is a pony. Danish is fourteen hands, so he's just shy of making the cut.”

Shakti didn’t know what else to say about the pony subject. She had never ridden a horse or a pony. There were horses in Hammerfell, just not in the Alik’r. Shakti preferred to do her own walking. The Redguard changed the subject back to afterlife, perhaps against most social conventions, not that she knew or cared really.

“When I die, I’m going to the Far Shores. All--most Redguards go there when they die. Or so I’ve been told. I don’t really plan on dying anytime soon though so I do not think too much about it.” Shakti explained as if she was explaining her lunch meal, almost too casually. For some reason the subject of death and the afterlife never seemed to concern her. The only death that had ever affected her in a major way was her father’s. She tried not to think too hard about why.

“It’s not too different from Sovngarde if my studies haven’t failed me.” Calen replied. “Warrior culture and what have you, though the difference I think lies in the Hall of Valor being a non-stop celebration.”

Calen had a minor fit of nervous laughter before muttering to himself, “Warrior cultures, huh…”

Shakti grew concerned at the anxiousness and uncertainty in his usually bright laughter. She had no idea how to comfort him or to ease his fears. This was the first time she had ever truly worried about someone else’s mental state before diving into danger. Like a duneripper out of the dunes she was utterly clueless as to how she could help.

She placed a (what she hoped) was a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Perhaps we can sing songs to take your mind off of the danger? I know you like singing, I’ve heard you sing to yourself and to others.”

Shakti couldn’t help but feel like she was floundering.

“Most songs coming to mind are rather dour.” Calen admitted with a nervous chuckle. “But let me think if I can’t find one that’s…”

Then Calen thought for a moment, smirked, then started to sing a slow and haunting shanty,

“I heard, I heard, across the sea of sand,
On a wind sweeping ‘cross the land…
‘Beware, beware,’ an awful whisper warned,
‘Beware, beware, of…uh, Shakti.’

The sudden abrupt ending disrupted the flow of the verse, and Calen’s smirk disappeared, which he replaced with a shrug and a ‘well what can you do?’ look. He followed it up with a quick comment, “What can I say? Improv songwriting is difficult.”

Shakti laughed at his song and clapped him on the back jovially. “I love it! The end could use some work though.” She hummed the tune again and spun away from him, giving him a wave. “We can work on once we are finished with this mission.” The Redguard girl smiled her best comforting smile and left Calen and his pony, humming his tune.

“Beware, beware,” she murmured, “Beware, beware, of me.”

It looked as though everyone was getting ready for the next leg of the journey. Some were preparing their arms and armor, some were packing down their campsites, and others were having their last minute conversations. Aries had very little to take care of aside from a suitcase that was being kept on the merchant wagon. She idley spun a single diamond ring on a finger from her right hand, mentally preparing herself for what lay ahead of them. She spent the morning with a cloth soaked from the water of the spring, scrubbing off the dirt and sweat from her skin and rebraided her hair. It was harder to do so by one’s self, but she had plenty of practice in the last couple of months.

Among the crowd, however, there was someone who seemed uncertain and uneasy with the coming night. Not the Nords nor Judena; it was the Altmer. The neurotic one that was quiet during the briefing before the palace offensive. The one that looked as though she may have one day come from money, but was long ago cut off from it The one Sevari had suspected of some kind of Thalmor loyalty. It was only one of his hunches, of course, but it was cause enough for concern; then again, she was here and not with the Dwemer. Regardless of where her loyalties might’ve lied before, she was in the thick of it along with the rest of Samara.

It was kind of pathetic. It wasn’t Aries’ place to do anything about it, but she had a role to play. Assimilate, gain trust, make friends with the enemy -- that was her job for the longest time. More importantly, she wanted to make sure that the elf’s weakness wouldn’t be a liability. She had already been too late to intervene with Samara twice before to save them from themselves.

So with careful, measured steps, her pace brought her before Anifaire. Nervous and shaky as dusk slowly fell upon the twilit desert. Instead of a critical gaze that would betray her earlier thoughts, however, she looked on with a gentle sort of tenderness. Like one would use when approaching a wild deer. Her nose and chin, slightly tilted downward, and her eyes coyly aimed up as if looking above a pair of spectacles that didn’t exist; she said, “Excuse me, my lady?” She said. She wasn’t sure exactly of her status, but it was a safe gamble to assume she would have appreciated the respect. “Are you doing well?”

“I’m…” Anifaire wasn’t certain how to answer. She was nervous, shakily fussing with her hair and clothing, wishing the anticipation would be over and they would simply begin. In truth, she was terrified, shaky and uncertain, afraid she or someone else was going to die later. She had tried to grab onto her anger about Alim’s capture, but it eluded her and she was left only with her fear. Trying to get it back, she said, “I’m all right. It’ll be fine.” She flipped her waist-length hair back over her shoulder, unable to decide where to put it, her pins lost. Since Gilane they had slowly dwindled in number, leaving her without enough to put her hair in its usual bun.

Aries’ eyes fell on Anifaire’s hair as she fidgeted with it and her clothes, the tell-tale sign that she was not alright despite her denial. She scanned the woman up and down for a moment before looking back up at her.

“Your hair is quite long. Beautiful, of course, but long.” She said, before taking a few steps toward the wagon. “Would you allow me to help you fix it up?”

Anifaire was surprised by the offer. She nodded and offered a small smile, pushed her hair behind her back. The Altmer had barely spoken to Aries before, truly, the only impressions she had were from the mission to rescue Daro’Vasora. Fidgeting slightly, she recalled how the woman had conducted herself, and most vividly, slitting a Dwemer throat. The memory had stuck with her in the following days, and being met with her face to face was unsettling. However, the woman was on their side. She would help find Alim, like the others.

“Please do,” she agreed.

Aries gestured for her to follow, and so she did. She led the way toward the merchant wagon that was commandeered by Zaveed, Sevari, and their little friend, before sitting her down on the edge. Anifaire’s anxious reaction to her offer had not go unnoticed even amidst the general sense of anxiety she exhibited, though she pretended not to notice. There was a peculiar sense of comfort in having the altmer’s back turned toward her. Not being in her direct eyeline and seeing her expose every vulnerable part of herself to her gave Aries a strange sense of power and control over the situation, even in an interaction as little as this one. Living for so long without it, she learned to cherish the little things.

“Where do you come from?” Aries asked as she went to work, reaching around Anifaire and pulling her hair back.

It was almost as if the woman could read her mind, how following the thoughts of slitting throats, Anifaire felt the tingling sensation of Aries’ nails brushing along her neck as the strands of hair were pulled away from her face. Having her back turned was unsettling, and a light shiver ran down Anifaire’s spine. She folded her hands in front of herself, ignoring her discomfort as she recalled the corpse of the Dwemer Aries killed in Gilane slumping to the ground. She could never do such a thing herself, she thought, but to help Alim...

“I’m from Alinor,” Anifaire replied. “And you?”

“High Rock. I’m a merchant from Shornhelm.” Aries replied with a half-truth. She might’ve been a Breton from High Rock who dipped her toes in trade, but she never much enjoyed the craggy landscape of Rivenspire. As she pulled Anifaire’s hair back, she decided that she didn’t know so much about altmer styled braids, and hoped that she would settled for one that was decidedly Breton. As she went to work, she craned her head around to get a better look at the doe-like expression on Anifaire’s face, she couldn’t help but see her as anything other than what Sevari described her as.

Aries sighed and decided that it was best to show at least a little bit of her hand if it meant gaining a little bit of trust from these people.

“I have it on good authority that you have certain… associations, if you will, with a particular Anvil-conquering organization. Is that true?”

“Oh… the Thalmor?” Anifaire asked uncertainly. “I suppose so. My family is rather involved in politics, but my mother and I occupied ourselves with learning magic instead. My sister is an agent… somewhere.” She really didn’t know, anymore, now that she had been out of contact so long. Last she had heard was Valenwood, a good year past.

She hesitated after she was finished, shifting her weight as though she might have to jump off the edge of the wagon; others had poor reactions to her connections in the past and her back was turned. Still, the hands working her hair were relaxing, and surely this woman wouldn’t attack her like those Redguards in the street.

“Don’t you worry, dear.” Aries replied, feeling the tension in the Altmer’s body. Her words wounded calm and understanding, even if Anifaire’s admission weighed on her chest like an anvil; too preoccupied with carefully monitoring her own words and reaction to think about how absurd it must’ve sounded for a human like her to be referring to an elf as dear, given how elves age. Aries continued, “I know you mean well. The mere fact of you running with us and not onto that Thalmor ship speaks volumes. We can’t choose our families.”

Anifaire relaxed, letting the Breton continue the braiding. She almost nodded but stopped herself as it would be disruptive. “Right,” she agreed, though she had never thought there was anything particularly wrong with her family until she was actually away from them. Lately, she wasn’t sure what to think of them. Still, knowing she wouldn’t be hated for her family’s affiliations was a comfort. “Thank you.”

Aries was applying the finishing touches of the braid; with the Altmer’s long hair and towering height, the braids were wrapped around her her head twice like two crowns, before the rest of it was pulled into a braided bun in the center. It was awfully elaborate, admittedly, but if what she could glean and assume from Anifaire betrayed anything of her heritage, then surely she wouldn’t mind. There was only one problem, though -- she needed to secure it. Aries thought carefully for a moment with some hesitation, before sighing and telling Anifaire, “Would you mind holding this in place for a moment?”

“Oh, sure.”

With that, Anifaire held the braids in place while Aries returned to the wagon where her suitcase was stored. Looking over her shoulders, she then procured a key and unlocked it. Inside was an elegant, silky, red dress with a complementing gold-colored toga and other matching jewelry like a golden wreath circlet, similar styled armbands and necklace -- she hesitated for a moment, her eyes betraying a sense of longing, before reaching in and procuring a comparatively simple hair clip; but it was golden in color, it’s sheen like the sun itself, and had a fine engraving on it. She locked the suitcase after herself, and returned to Anifaire’s side.

“This is a lucky clip.” Aries said, flashing the golden piece of jewelry in front of her.

“It’s beautiful!”

“Yes, and valuable. That’s why I don’t wear it often.” Aries said with a chuckle as she began putting it in Anifaire’s hair. “Don’t lose it, okay? I would like it back at some point. I suppose I’m just sentimental like that.”

Anifaire nodded, reached one hand up to feel the new braid in her hair. It was different, but she liked the change. She smiled, and turned back to face Aries. She was surprised at the kindness she showed. “Thank you. I’ll be sure I return it.”
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