The Kthrakz Mile
Dwemeri Prison Ruins Kthrakz
17th Midyear, 4E208
”Ooohhhhhhhhhhh, how did this come to happen, to a man such as I….” came the low drawling voice in a melancholic melody down the now empty row. Each cell empty and doors open. All except for one. A cell in the middle of the row. The cell that had been housing Fjolte Dhjarikson for what had seemed like too long.
They’d moved Bakih out during the night, the rest of the prisoners had been removed one by one over the course of the days. The guards had not even stopped through to drop off any food or water all day. It was tough, and tougher still not to believe this was the end. “Arkay will have me in robes and…” he could not stumble upon a rhyme, try as he might. The Nord sighed. “For these deeds of mine…” He almost sounded drunk, nobody was here to listen to him now and he was counting down the hours until the guards carried him to the room at the end of the row. He would not go without a fight.
As he continued his singing, he could hear a percussive element kick in, which in a moment of madness, he used to up the tempo of his last requiem. “I did my best with what I had…” Not realising for a little too long that the sound was not the beat of a drum - but of feet hurrying down the hallways. He jumped to his feet, his energy returning to him instantly - as if he had been an arid desert and the heavens had opened to quench him with a monsoon of rain. They didn’t sound like the typical heeled greaves of the Dwemer. They were softer, urgent… three or four sets. He wanted to rush to the bars, but he couldn’t be sure that these people were friends, and so he slunk to the very back of his cell and allowed the shadow to drench him in its darkness.
Sirine's heart was in her throat. She had for the most part been calm and systematic the entirety of the mission, but now that the end was so near, she found it much too difficult to control her emotions. Teeth grinding as her face no longer maintained its usual calm expression, she strode ahead of her companions, her pace now quick as she hurried to the nearest cell and looked within, eyes jerking from corner to corner. Empty She left it behind, rushing to the next one... and the next one... and so on and so forth. Empty... empty... empty! "Fuck!" Hand curling into a fist, she slammed it into her own upper thigh in frustration, tears beginning to sting her eyes. Where was he?
No. Don't panic. Do not panic. The dull ache in her leg brought back the smallest semblance of calmness. Whether he was here or somewhere else, it wouldn't do leaving anyone else in this shithole. She could hear the singing... it didn't sound like her brother... Maybe…? Grasping onto the medallion around her neck, the former pirate hurried to the cell, grabbing a bar with her free hand as she stared inside. There, in the back- But...it wasn't him. Disappointment hit Sirine like waves crashing against the shore, and she couldn't help but fall to her knees.
“Raelynn,” she called, the crack in her voice easy to hear, “we need your skills here.”
Sevari’s boots scuffed across the hard ground as he came to a stop, his head turning to peer into the cell. Unlike Sirine or Raelynn, he could see the man inside clear as day and gaunt as a skooma addict in his alley. Smelled like one too. “That does not look like your brother. Unless by brother you mean it in the same way as I do with that asshat over there,” he nodded his head back towards where Zaveed was still before raising his voice to the one who dwelled in that dank cell, “You, boy. Up, so we can see you.”
Shaking her head rather dully, Sirine pulled herself to her feet, her hand holding onto the cell's bar still, though the one around her coin slackened and fell to her side. "No, you're right... that isn't my brother."
The name did not register to the Nord immediately, just that suddenly there were two non-dwemer outside of his cell, and apparently at least another one. He did not know if this was simply a trick. He’d witnessed similar pranks being pulled. Not one to refuse a command, he rose from sitting and up to his full height, rolling his shoulders back. “What’s the meaning of this? Why are you here?” he asked in a flat manner, his voice a low rumble which was very unlike the crisp tone he’d been singing in.
Raelynn was beside Zaveed, they had been slower on their walk down the strip of cells, she was investigative, he was keeping an eye on their backs. She would have tried to reel Sirine back in, but the girl was just so desperate to find her brother at this point that the words would have been lost. She imagine that somewhere, Anifaire was doing the same thing. As she made her way through the dusty cold corridor, it occurred to her that this was really the first mission she had partaken in that she actually cared about, save for fighting the Governess with Gregor.
She looked to Zaveed at her side, a strange situation to be in indeed. She felt almost safe with him there. “Zaveed, what do you suppose happens down here?” she asked quietly, aware that Sirine had called for her aid, but she was unwilling to leave the side of the Cathay for now - even more unwilling to open the cage of a cell with an unknown subject inside.
Zaveed spared a glance for Raelynn before resuming his vigil for threats. He held an axe in one hand and a pistol in the other, preparing for foes near or far, armoured or not. He shook his head. “I never went far in this place, just turned in bounties. Word was those who really crossed the Dwemer ended up here, possibly as labour or… well, other unfortunate ends. I've never heard of any leaving once admitted.” the Khajiit replied, swiping his barrel across an open cell. After deciding it was clear, he carried on. “This place seems far too empty.” his tone was grim.
Deciding it wasn't the most reassuring of notes to leave on, he gestured to Sirine further down. “Well, she seems to be onto something. Maybe it's your friend Alim, hm? Let's go see what the fuss is about.”
“The prisoner registry indicated he may have been on a different block entirely…” she sighed, her eyes darting over the block somewhat nervously. “This places gives me the creeps, get ready with that weapon of yours… In case, you know…” She motioned with her head down to the cell where Sirine and Sevari had remained in waiting. Sevari seemed tense, but not nearly as much as Sirine did. Raelynn finally arrived upon the call - it was completely dark inside, she opted to stand just behind Sevari, and beside Zaveed. Sirine was straight up holding the bars.
Fjolte moved forwards from the shadows, Brother? he thought to himself. She looked Imperial too - could she be? On first glance of her he had noticed that she was a beauty, one who had been through the wilds of life already. The hands she had wrapped around the bars were bloodied. “What is this trickery now? If you’re going to take me then-” his ocean blue eyes were scanning the individuals outside of his cell - and then he saw her. “No. No!” He began, his volume increasing. “This isn’t real!” he shouted, a spike of energy hit him like a wave and he swiftly darted to the bars, his own hands grasping around them until his knuckles were white. “What fucking sorcery is this? Why do you drive a man mad?” he called out. “How do you know about her?!” His gaze was flitting all around the block, as if there was some evil creature doing its bidding on him hiding in a blackened corner somewhere.
Raelynn gasped, placing a hand over her mouth. “Fjolte…?” she said with a sigh. There was no reason to be frightened of him. He had to calm down, lest he bring a troupe of guards down here to investigate the disturbance.
"Stop your shouting." Sirine's voice was sharp, the look of despair on her face now having been replaced with resignation. He wasn't here. Had Raelynn read the level number wrong? It didn't make sense that she would have, how hard was it to fuck up reading a number? But then, why wasn't her brother here? Had their entire mission been in vain? She swallowed hard, trying to calm herself. Letting go of the bars, she stepped back, a shaky breath escaping her lips. There had to be more.
"If he's not here, then where do we look next?" She looked away from the cell to Zaveed, desperate for some reassurance.
Zaveed placed a reassuring hand on Sirine's shoulder. “A bit of faith, Beautiful Sirine.” he said softly with a warm smile. He approached the bars, placing his weapons down as he crouched before the terrified and furious man. “Easy, friend; no tricks or illusions here. Just a beautiful Redguard woman, and equally beautiful Breton woman you seem to have a history with- Raelynn Hawkford?” he said with a friendly grin. “And of course, a handsome Khajiit and his chain smoking brother. If it helps, do you really think elves would degrade themselves to walk as beasts? Here, like many a woman has told me; it's real.” he said, pulling his tail forward and offering the end through the bars if Fjolte needed evidence of him not being an illusion.
The privateer opened a pouch and pulled out a pair of neatly wrapped cloth bundles that he put at the bars, along with one of his water skins. “Honey nuts and lamb jerky. You must be famished. Please, eat.”
The Nord started to relax a little, what the Khajiit was saying was ringing true. This couldn’t be an illusion. Had it really been that long since he’d seen the sun that he would question his own judgment so quickly? “The Witch Bitch of Riverwood…” he said with a slight grin, as he looked over at Raelynn - who rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I’ll leave you in there…” she replied, slightly embarrassed that he’d used that name for her. It was just like him to roll with the punches from the get go. “Is that a way to greet an old friend?” Raelynn said as she approached the cell, reaching her own hand in to touch him. “We’re real. I promise you this.” Her tone was calm and reassuring, and she gave Zaveed a smile of appreciation.
“Say, friend, we're looking for a dashing Redguard man who looks like Sirine here.” Zaveed said, gesturing to his companion with a thumb. “Goes by Bakih? Are you familiar with him?”
“By Kyne…” he said, as he shovelled a handful of the nuts into his mouth without grace, crumbs falling from his hands and lips. He hadn’t realised how hungry he had been until that moment. “Never thought I’d be this happy to have another man’s nuts in my mouth…” he said, chewing.
“Bakih Al Nahel? The Lord of the Sea! He’s my friend!” That did it. The combination of the Khajiit’s words, Raelynn’s touch and trademark sass, and the sugar of the food perked him out of his spell - as if Kynareth herself had blasted him with a second wind. “So you really are Sirine… Sirine Al Nahel - he talks about you alllllll the time! All the time! He’s my friend, my brother down here!”
"You've- he was here then?" Sirine licked her dry lips before nodding. "Yes, I'm Sirine." She took a sharp breath to compose herself, feeling a lump in her throat and as well as stinging her her eyes. Wiping away at the perky wetness, she took a step forward, managing a small smile. It was easy to tell this fellow was boisterous; hopefully that had been some sort of comfort to her brother. He had always been softer than her, more susceptible to a kind voice and personality. "My apologies for sounding harsh before. You know him then, Bakih? Tell me, how was he? Was he-" She bit at her lip, not wanting to say the dreadful thought that came to her mind.
Zaveed offered a sly look to Raelynn. “Witch Bitch, hm? I think I like him already. He's a crude one.” the Khajiit chuckled before winking at Fjolte and standing back up with his weapons, resuming his guard vigil. However, he placed a hand atop of Sirine's shoulder with a reassuring squeeze, who in turn looked over and gave the khajiit man a smile, appreciating the show of support and comfort; this was good news, indeed.
“Mmhmm…” he replied as he wrapped his teeth around the jerky, the flavour was incredible. “Yeah he was my neighbour here, that's his cell beside mine. Good lad, dark sense of humour, listens to my shit talk.” The Nord was getting carried away with himself, between the eating and introductions, it didn't immediately occur to him to cut to the chase of the matter. Not until Raelynn broke him out of it, “yes - but where is he now? We need to find him.”
He suddenly felt awkward, his eyes met Sirine's. Truthfully, he wasn't certain whether or not Bakih was still alive - only that he'd been taken some hours ago. “Uhhhh… They moved him down the line, it's just me here now…” Scaring the girl with the reality of it wasn't what he wanted to do. As it happened, he didn't need to think on it for too long, as the sounds of heavy, fast footsteps were tearing down the halls towards them. “Guess they heard me after all, you gotta get me out of here, I can help you find him, just get me out!”
“A man should decide his own fate,” Zaveed agreed. “Let's release him before moving on. No man should perish in a cage.”
Knowing Bakih had been here, even just a few hours ago, ignited the small spark of hope that had almost faded before. Dark eyes focused and filled with determination one more, Sirine grabbed onto her coin for luck- divines knew she had more faith in it than them. Then she let it go, and without a word she pulled not her dagger but the sword she had procured in the desert. She was more than ready to colour it with Dwemer blood if they came after them. A fierce smile touched her lips. Let them come.
With a number of guards on their way, Raelynn did not waste time in sinking down to her knees, much to the delight of Fjolte from behind the bars. He was far more at ease now. His eyes tracked her movements, an eyebrow raising and a smirk pulling at his lips. “Now hey, you missed me that much huh? Can’t you see we’ve company?” he asked quietly, watching as she fumbled around with the bun of hair atop her head. “Very funny,” she responded with a level of contempt, casting a quick glance to Zaveed. “Cover me, I can unlock this but it’s a dwemer lock… It’s going to take a moment.” The Breton slipped the two prongs into the lock, and slowly got to work.
The Nord let his arms hang through the bars lazily as he let the Breton work, he gave Zaveed a boyish look with a nod and grin, Jerky hanging from his lip as he continued to chew. He was excited to watch his rescuers make good work of the guards, and found that he was especially looking forward to witnessing what kind of spunk Sirine possessed.
“I hope you’re good in a scrap,” Sevari said, checking over his pistols, “Because there’s going to be one. Soon.”
Raelynn could see from the corner of her eye a crowd of dwemer guards making their way down the hall now. She didn’t have time to count them, he concentration was on the piece of metal in the lock that she was gently twisting to-and-fro to find the sweet spot, her ear pressed close to the lock.
It was at that moment, that the Breton thought of Daro’Vasora, Latro, and the group. They would most likely have broken into the prison now via the Reservoir - she hoped that the disturbance down here had not affected their task….
Earlier that morning...
The mace smashed into the guts of a charging goblin that had fashioned an extremely crude knife out of stone, one that the goblin had seemed entirely keen to acquaint Daro’Vasora with his proud craftsmanship. As the goblin keeled over and the Khajiit brought her weapon down into the nape of the goblin’s neck, she politely refused his advances. With a quick glance around, the others were making short work of their own minor irritants and Daro’Vasora studied her bloodied weapon; it had a much better balance and weight than that steel one she’d had for quite some time, although with the flanged head, it was far less comfortable to carry on her hip. Maybe she’d have to invest in some sort of leg protection when they got somewhere safe.
The group was mercifully out of the scorching sun, although torches had been a necessity for most of the group to navigate the waist-high water filled caverns, but Daro’Vasora didn’t really need them; her feline eyes were well adapted to the near blackness, with only periodic splashes of light guiding the way between long stretches of darkness. It wasn’t the most ideal of circumstances, but the water was at least a pleasant temperature and a handful of malnourished goblins were hardly a threat.
Speaking of which… Daro’Vasora thought, moving suddenly on one that had barely been hiding around the corner. She struck the heavily rusted iron sword out of the goblin’s hand and grabbed him by the face, driving the creature’s skull into the smooth stone walls hard before swinging the face into the creature’s throat.
“It’s kind of refreshing fighting something that’s way shittier at this than I am for a change.” Daro’Vasora observed. “We all okay back there?” she called.
Mazrah pulled her spear free from one of the goblins and wiped its blood off her face. She gave the Khajiit a grin and a thumbs up.
Shakti casually parried a goblin and ran him through before answering affirmatively to Sora’s question. She hadn’t run across many goblins in her time adventuring, bandits were much more common. So far, these greenskins hadn’t stacked up very well to even the lowliest highwayman.
"Yep," Meg called, though saying anything further was out of the question as the goblin she'd thought she'd killed tried to make one last stand. A slice from her sword and it found itself falling back to the ground with a splash, where this time it remained rather still.
“Uh-huh.” Latro said through gritted teeth, a dull iron shortsword’s blade clutched in one of his iron-skinned fists. Its owner thrashed about underwater with a violence that set Latro’s muscles to burning underneath his now transparent white shirt. It was a few seconds before the loud splashing stopped and he looked up at the others, then to Sora as he continued holding the goblin under the water. He blew a damp lock of hair from his face and smiled, “You look dashing. The mace suits you.”
Daro’Vasora struck a pose, a hand on her hip while the mace rested on her shoulder. “Well, if nothing else at least the Dwemer have graciously provided me with new toys.” she said, the goblin slinking down the wall to bob lifelessly in the water. “So far Zaveed’s information has held up. It feels good to be doing something proactive for a change, like we’re pressing an advantage.”
Her eyes snuck a lingering glance over her lover’s water-cleansed torso with a seductive bite of the lip. “I could say a number of things about how you look right now, but mixed company tends to kill the mood.” she said, prodding the floating goblin carcass away with her mace so it would float away from her. “Amongst other things.”
“Let’s keep going,” Gregor said tersely. Disapproval of the chit-chat between Daro’Vasora and Latro was unspoken but implied. He wore his armor over his linens, the same outfit he had worn the first time he visited the Governor’s palace in Gilane, and looked the perfect image of a grizzled mercenary. The absence of his cloak and his black clothes diminished the dignified and noble qualities of his usual appearance, which he had lamented for a second before he realizing the absurdity of worrying about vanity at a time and in a place like this. Another absence stung him far more greatly: Raelynn. He would not breathe freely until she was by his side again.
“Gregor is right.” Latro smiled one last time at Sora before he replaced it with a professional demeanor. Or as professional as he could, his easy smile still upon his lips. He moved past Sora, a gentle caress on her arm and a lingering glance as he waded deeper into the tunnel with Gregor and Mazrah.
It was the first time the Orsimer had been out in the field with Gregor and Mazrah looked over her shoulder at him quizzically before turning her attention to Latro. “Is he usually like that during a mission?” she whispered. She remembered him being far more relaxed and affable during the party.
Latro looked at his companion and friend sidelong, then to Mazrah. He shrugged, “Other half?” He said, tone hushed, “Can you imagine how I felt when Sora was gone?”
Mazrah groaned at the realization. Of course. She wasn’t given to such feelings herself, and never had been, but she’d seen it before in other people. “Right. I’m sure she’ll be fine, though.”
Anifaire knew those around her were speaking, but the words were slow to process in her head. The bloodied rock she was levitating had crashed to the floor near the goblin whose head it had crushed. It’s only a goblin, she thought, trying to forget the noise it had made. She turned from the disgusting sight, hurrying to wade further down the tunnel as closely as she could to the others, worried another goblin would try to grab her. As much as she was able, she focused on getting further down the tunnel, trying to push her fears aside. She thought of the goblin’s cracked skull; she tried to convince herself she would do it again if she had to.
“Come on, guys; I think we’re getting close. If Zaveed was telling the truth…” Daro’Vasora said, her voice trailing off.
The Khajiit’s eyes caught the glint of metal bars and a relieved expression crossed her face as she realized that the end was in sight. Pulling a set of lockpicks from her sleeve, she turned to the others. “I’m going to need a couple moments to get this gate open, think you can keep the ugly shits off of me?” she asked, and without waiting for a response, she tried to slot the locks in; as feared, it was pretty ceased up. “Oh, for fuck’s sake…” she murmured, pulling an oil bottle free and working it into the assembly.
Splashing in the water behind the group and incomprehensible chattering and screeching became rather apparent; apparently the goblins grew tired of trying to ambush the intruders. Finally, Latro pulled his rondel free from its sheath and his axe left its hoop. “Oh, good.” He said, “We won’t have to wait for them to jump out at us, at least.”
Without waiting, Meg returned her sword to its scabbard and armed herself with her bow instead. It was risky, seeing it was more dark than not, but she was fairly certain her companions were close to her, and she deemed to aim in the distance towards the ruckus of the approaching goblins. Letting an arrow fly, she was satisfied to hear that it had hit a goblin, judging by the squeal of pain. If she could better the odds by taking care of a few or injuring some before they got too close, the better.
Mazrah took up position next to Meg with a grin on her face, her much-larger bow in hand, and copied the Nord girl’s movements in order to smite down a goblin of her own with a satisfying shot to the chest as it ran at them from the gloom. “That’s one each,” she said and drew another arrow from her quiver, glancing aside at Meg with a mischievous glint in her eyes. “Ten septims says I bag more kills than you. Bows only. You in?”
Meg cast a glance in Maz's direction; even thought she couldn't see the orsimer too clearly, she sent a grin in her direction anyway as well as an enthusiastic nod. "Yer on," she agreed, green eyes bright at the chance of earning some gold. She then turned back toward the approaching swarm; nocking another arrow she aimed once more in the distance, though a little closer than before. 't'would be so much easier with some light!
Gregor made sure to steer clear from the line of sight of the two archers, not wishing to get in the way of their arrows, and moved to the other side of the tunnel. He had no ranged weaponry or abilities to speak of and thus placed himself forward as part of the vanguard. Always a firm believer that discretion was the better part of valor, Gregor was used to staying out of harm’s way whenever the situation allowed for it, and he remembered how he had been contented to merely act as the mages’ bodyguards during the scrap with the Dwemer at Elenglynn, back in Cyrodiil -- something that felt like a lifetime ago, even if it was scarce more than three weeks. Something had changed, however, and the Imperial stared down the goblins that emerged from the darkness without fear or doubt. The creatures were smaller than people but remarkably agile and Gregor had to parry the savage leap of the first goblin with his claymore before pushing it off him. He gave the goblin, armed only with a rusty iron sword and a wooden shield, no time to regain its balance before he turned the momentum of his shove into a pirouette and the pirouette into a horizontal slash that cut the goblin open across the sternum. Arcs of lightning coursed through its limbs and seized up the monster’s muscles, keeping it upright while a pitiful croak escaped from its throat. Gregor grunted and sent the goblin crashing into the rocky surface of the tunnel’s floor with a firm kick to the chest.
The next goblin was upon him immediately and Gregor stunned it by smashing the extravagant crossguard of his blade into its teeth. Or at least, that was the idea. The goblin must have been hopped up on some kind of homebrewed potion and it ignored the fact that several of its yellow fangs had been dislodged before promptly stabbing Gregor in the arm with a dagger. He hissed and retaliated with a low swipe that struck the goblin across its kneecaps; a wound it could not possibly ignore and it stumbled to the ground. His enemy brought low, Gregor let go of the claymore with his left hand and drew the goblin’s life essence from its body, visible as a stream of crimson light that was pulled from its chest into the claw-shape of his hand, and the creature expired as Gregor’s arm knit itself back together.
Anifaire ducked under her fighting companions, sticking next to the wall as she edged as close as she could towards Daro’Vasora. The darkness was something she could help with, for once. She cast magelight, twice, to give light to Daro’Vasora as she worked and another to lift high in the cavern, illuminating the area in a pale blue glow. She focused on the flow of mana, concentrating to keep both balls at once. The two orbs cast shadows in several directions, dancing off each silhouette, a familiar effect to her.
Nanine placed herself on the opposite side of the tunnel from Gregor, freeing up more space for the archers to shoot. With The Eternal Vow drawn she waited for the first of the goblins to reach her, rather than taking advantage of the magelight to launch spells. She was conserving her magic for when it would be most needed, likely when she and the others were bringing the attention of as much of the prison as possible to themselves.
A screeching gibbering form came running out of the darkness beyond the magelight, crude spear ready, and Nanine waited for the goblin to get close before knocking the spear aside with her sword and slashing the monster across the throat on her back swing. Another one rushed towards her before the first had even fallen and she stepped back to avoid the wild, reckless, swings of its axe. Quick as a viper, she shoved her sword through its chest as it raised the rusted axe again. Yanking her blade out she waited for more to approach, hoping that Sora would be done soon. They needed to be in the prison and out as quickly as possible.
“Come on, come on…” Daro’Vasora pleaded with the lock, its last tumbler stuck in position as she tried to force to to budge even a tiny bit. A pair of broken lockpicks sat somewhere in the water by her feet, but soon she felt the pick make headway, elating her excitement as she continued to wiggle the pick to force it down. When it stopped travelling, she turned the wrench and the lock gave way, ceding defeat to a foe that was direly missing her pry bar. Daro’Vasora forced the gate open with a shoulder and called the others. One by one, they filed through and with a number of goblins dead behind them, she managed to slam the gate shut and re engage the lock. A dagger-wielding hand came through the bars after her, which she punished with a smack against the bars with her mace. “All in one piece?” Daro'Vasora asked, catching her breath as she looked at the beady and Primal eyes glaring at the group through the bars.
Latro planted his boot on the goblin’s chest, it’s dead lungs letting out a last wheeze as it’s tongue lolled about, it’s head smacking against the rock below as his axe came free. “So far,” he gave his easy smile to Sora as he turned back to face the rest of the goblins, now far less zeal in them after seeing their comrades die, “Ah, the rout begins.”
He turned to Gregor and Nanine, asking the question with some eerie innocence betraying his character so far and the blood in the moment, “Should we back away or press them?”
“Let them go. We’re already through the gate and we need to be in and out of this place as quickly as possible.” Nanine spared a brief glance for the goblins through the gate then turned away. They weren’t a threat any more. They were barely a threat to begin with.
Shakti moved cautiously down the dark hall that branched out from the main cellblock on level 16. She figured that they could search more cells if they split up, but she didn’t quite ask for permission or check with the others before she had split off. She peered quickly into each cell, seeing if she recognised anyone, most seemed to empty in this part of the prison. She could not begin to guess why, though she suspected it might be sinister. The Redguard girl suspected she might feel a bit of kinship for Alim, even though she barely knew him, just on the virtue of him being a fellow Redguard, which was why she was so determined to find him quickly. She couldn’t say exactly, but she just felt driven to make sure they wouldn’t miss him accidently.
She heard the sounds of chatter from down the hall and broke into a low run, her hand on her blade, ready to draw in a single move. Two Dwemer guards rounded the corner, chatting with one another in their native tongue. The twin gasps they emitted as they ran face to face with Shakti was met with a whistle as the Alik’r girl took off the left guard’s arm in one swift motion. The follow-up motion caused his head to join his arm on the ground. The guard on Shakti’s right managed to get his sword out and deflect the third motion, sending a spray of sparks into the cold wall of the prison. Shakti danced around his wild swipes and finished him off with a clean stab through his chest. He made a gargling noise and collapsed over the body of his friend, reunited in death.
Shakti stepped over the two dwemer and rounded the corner herself, still peeking into each cell, just to make sure. It was the fifth cell on the right side that she finally found someone in. It was however, not Alim. At first she didn’t actually believe what she was seeing. She blinked once and then twice before her brain realised no, this was real. She stood in the hall, looking at a cloak of sky-blue, with a small crescent on in, albeit faded. The figure was underneath it, sleeping. She rattled the door to try and open it but alas it did not open. Shakti raced back to the guards she had killed and searched them for keys. Sure enough they had each had a key, and Shakti raced back to the cell, grasping one and shoving it into the lock. The Redguard warrior said a silent prayer to whomever was watching over her as the lock clicked open. She flung the door open and was on top of the prisoner like sand-viper. She flipped him over and found herself staring face-to-face with Khesh. She would recognise the drunken son-of-a-ralsiji anywhere with how long she spent watching him walk in and out of Gilane’s various taverns. He somehow looked worse here. His eyes bulged open in disbelief at who he was so rudely awoken by. Shakti growled at him like a rabid dunecat and hauled him to his knees. He wasn’t wearing his armour, but they had let him keep his doublet and cloak for whatever reason. Both were covered in filth and alcohol stains that were clearly older than however long he had been here.
“You? How did you-” Khesh began, still in disbelief.
Shakti’s disbelief had been burned away. “Shut up.” She commanded.
He opened his mouth to speak and raised his knee to stand. Before Shakti knew what she was doing, her fist struck his head like a blow from a primordial deity’s hammer as it forged the universe. He slumped back against the stone of the cell. Her fist hovered in the spot it had struck him and her finger shot out accustorily, pointing at Khesh. “Fate has lead me here, Khesh.” Shakti spat, her words like venom. “But you will lead me to the rest of them!”
“The Dwemer disbanded the Crescent Moons after they took power. We all went our separate ways, how am I supposed to know where the rest of them went?” His words were fuel for the burning blood in Shakti’s veins. She leapt forward like a lightning strike and took his throat in her hand.
“Names, Khesh! Give me names!” Her voice was sand whipping at the skin during a storm. She began to squeeze his throat.
Khesh sputtered a word that was too quiet for Shakti to hear and she released her grip on his throat.
“The Warden.” He repeated. “The Warden here is one of them. He came down to see me when I first was brought here. I’d recognise his noble face anywhere. Oh yeah, he helped us kill Taren.”
Shakti was surprised at the malice that he had surrounded the word ‘noble’ with, but she did not say anything, instead she pulled Khesh from where he was slumped on the wall and stood up. The Alik’r warrior used her boot to force him to the ground again and, drawing her sword with a twirl that was more habit than anything, split Khesh’s head from his shoulders.
The sound his blood made as it spilled onto the stone floor was like the soothing hum of insects at dusk.
Khesh disgusted Shakti. He had now, not once, but twice sold out his brothers. She tore the cloak from his neck and wrapped it around her waist like a second belt as she left the cell. All thoughts of Alim and the group and her original purpose had left her mind, replaced with a single thought. The Warden. She would find him and make him pay. Woe betide anything that tried to stop her.
The more Shakti thought about all Khesh had said and done, the more wrathful she became. She she began stalking her way through the corridors of the prison, making her way to the stairs that would take her up, up into the very brain of this rotten and foul place. Up to where the Warden waited. She sheathed her sword and began climbing, each stair giving her more clarity of purpose. Mazrah, Sevari, they had all been right. It was far too late for justice. The traitors had all but gotten away with it. No... this was about revenge and Shakti had become the aedra-incarnate of bloody, bloody revenge...
Kthrakz Prison - Level Sixteen
The blocks of level sixteen had been getting more full by the day, prisoners being reallocated and moved, prisoners being brought in daily. A constant cycle of people. Whether they were truly criminal remained to be seen. Most of them were just downtrodden and passive once they made it to this point. The cells were cramped, some of the inmates in all their frustration would take it out on each other, and the noise was intolerable. It was for that very reason that a heavy-set Dwemer guard had been set the task of patrolling this block in particular.
Nharzk paced the down the corridor again, his frame foreboding and presence heavy. When he walked past, the entire row of cells would fall silent. He would walk the block only once per hour. With his mace slung over his shoulder, and a flog at his side - he had all manner of punishments at his disposal. He need only walk the block. It was the only deterrent needed. A poor Breton man had learned this the hard way only days prior when he dared speak out against the Dwemer. He was dragged from his cell, stripped of his hempen shirt and lashed across his back. The ordeal lasted only minutes, but the Breton was a bloody mess afterwards - and Nharzk had not broken a sweat.
The sadistic mer had observed some kind of friendship between two of the cellmates on the block. A Redguard and an Imperial sharing a cage, each time he walked by them, he would smirk as if in disgust. At least they were not fighting and squabbling. For some reason today, Nharzk could just smell trouble in the air, but for now, he had finished his round. He would not be brought back up here for another hour, or someone else would be getting lashed.
Gaius stared with narrow eyes at Nharzk as he passed by, hands clenched into fists. He had, over the course of the four days (he thought) he’d been in this prison, grown to detest the callous Dwemer. The wolfish smile that he would throw towards Gaius and Alim every time he passed by only made it worse. And it would only make it more sickeningly satisfying when Gaius got to knock his teeth in. Alim thought it was promising. It was more fun to fuck with someone who was already suspicious. They got paranoid way too quickly.
Holding his peace until he was sure Nharzk was gone, Gaius glanced back at the wall, squinting in the dim light, and spared a grim smile. He’d been constantly straining against the shackles that held him, almost to the point of cutting into his wrists, and slowly but surely, the enormous--but ancient--nails that held them into the wall were beginning to slowly give way under the pressure. He wasn’t sure, but he thought that he could finish pulling one of his hands free within the next two weeks.
And then what, Gaius? He frowned. The supervisor would notice, drag him from his cell and… hmm. That wasn’t a bad idea.
“Hey, Alim,” he hissed out into the short-lived Nharzk silence, “I think I might have a plan.”
Alim was stretching, leaning forward and pulling on his shackles just a bit to help his back. Though he had noticed a certain twist of the wrist would help him get out, though it would be painful. Still, he hadn’t tried it yet. There hadn’t been what the sailor’s called an ‘opportune’ moment.
“Good, most of my plans have been too complicated. What’cha thinking?”
“There’s not much time to explain it in full, but I’m going to have the supervisor drag me out of the cell and hope that I’ve got enough left in me to go against him and his guards, and that you’re as good getting hands out of cuffs as you seem. It’s not great, but it’s the best I can think of. Just be ready for things to go horribly wrong.” With that, Gaius heaved in a huge breath, preparing to bellow the most insulting thing he could.
Alim blinked, and as he listened he began to laugh, though not mockingly. Laughing because it likely was crazy enough to work. “Very well, my friend.” he said, sitting up straight and doing his best to loosen his restraints. “I’m ready when you are.”
“HEY DICKKNOT!” came Gaius’ shout, rebounding down the still-quiet cell block, “YEAH, YOU, WARDEN! YOU TINY, SHIT-CAKED, CANKLE-RIDDEN MONGREL! WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE AND SAVE YOUR SUPERIORS THE TROUBLE? GO BACK TO WHEREVER YOUR FILTHY RACE CAME FROM!”
Nharzk was almost to the end of the cell block when the shout came ricocheting down the narrow corridor, and what conversation there had been fell silent. He stood still at the door, debating whether to turn or not. There was no debate, not really. Only the seconds between this moment, and the moment that he would turn around and turn to violence. He sucked air through his teeth, letting his tongue roll across the front row, veins bulged outwards from his thick neck as he clenched his jaw.
One laugh fell from his lips as he turned on his heel to make his way back to the cells. They had a fair idea of what was coming as the thickset Dwemer came strolling back down and stopped in front of the offending cell, giving it a cursory glare. The Imperial, then.
Nharzk thin lips curled upwards, his jaw remained clenched and his neck was getting more and more red. His fingers twitched and danced over the handle of the flog at his side. He opened the cell with a hand trembling - shaking to inflict violence. “Insolence…” he groaned through his teeth, his eyes practically red with rage. With ease, he plucked up the weakened Imperial, tossing him out of the cell and into the corridor, the flog finding its way to his hand, fingers wrapped tightly around the handle. “Absolute insolence…”
Gaius barely even had time to inhale before the cell had opened and he was tossed out onto the unforgiving stone floor and the air whooshed out of him heavily. He tried to lever himself up, but hardly got his arm under him before the first strike of the flog lashed against his back and he hissed in a pained breath through his teeth, barely holding back what would have been a hoarse scream. No, that came after another two lashes. He arched his back, straining against the pain, but not much succeeding in anything except gaining more. His teeth ground together hard enough to creak.
I need to...get...UP…
But it was not to be; he collapsed back down to his stomach, and through the intense pain, he thought he could feel warm fluid running down his back.
Alim’s eyes went wide, but he kept his cool and simply angled his wrists slightly, doing his best to slowly, ever so slowly, wriggle his hands out of the multiple manacles they had on him. The Dwemer had made the mistake of thinking he had picked the previous locks. The actual case was, he had simply dislocated a few muscles to squeeze through…
It didn’t feel good to do this to the Imperial. He was weakened, out of shape… There was no real honour in beating him down like this. And yet, to Nhzark, he still managed to find a feeling of pleasure at the vision of the man’s back - the way that after so few lashes, his flesh opened up to him like a flower in bloom - revealing scarlet plumage. He could do without the noise, such a beautiful sight should be enjoyed in silence. “Shut up, not a sound from you…” the Dwemer hissed down, raising the flog once more.
He then placed the heel of his left foot onto the small of Gaius’s back, twisting it ever so - just to cause a slight burn and discomfort. His lips bent into an ugly smile, “I’m going to kill you here, filth. Why?” The Dwemer began to bend over, his weight crushing into Gaius’s back some more, “because I can,” he snarled spitefully.
“I can too.” He said, rubbing his wrists casually behind the Dwemer. Before the Mer could move his foot struck out, taking the guard in the chest and sending him sprawling to the right side of Gaius, who was afforded some well timed breathing room. Alim hopped over and kicked Nhzark again, grabbing his garb, pulling him up and punching him in the face. The Dwemer slumped, but he was still conscious.
Alim then backed away, helping Gaius up with a grin. He gestured to Nhzark. “He’s all yours, my friend.”
Teeth clenched, still trying his best to avoid screaming again because of the pain in his back, Gaius leaned down with some effort, grabbing the mace off of Nharzk’s barely conscious body. “Well, filth,” he spat, “I think it’s only fair that I reciprocate your gifts, isn’t it?” With that, he swung the weapon down, slamming it into Nharzk’s ribs with enough force to feel something crack. And then again. And again.
Eventually, he grew tired of rendering the Dwemer’s chest into pulp. With one final slam, he caved in Nharzk’s skull, then sighed heavily and dropped the bloodstained bludgeon before falling to his knee, grimacing still. “Thanks to you, Alim.”
Alim winked. “Anytime bud.”
Nanine moved through the halls of the prison, checking briefly on the group behind her. Meg was setting the pace as she scouted ahead, Anifaire has been worrying frantically about finding Alim safe and sound, and Janelle had been unusually doting on the altmer when she wasn’t neurotically on guard before turning every corner and taking every step with careful deliberation. But despite that, she seemed peculiarly focused.
After what felt to Anifaire like an eternity, Nanine spoke up, “We should be close to the prison if the maps were right. Be ready for a fight, some of the guards should still be here. Not too many, hopefully, but enough to put up a resistance. No survivors unless we want to have the entire garrison come down on our heads.”
“Shh!” Aries hushed with as she raised her hand. The following silence gave way to the sounds of screaming further down the halls. It came from a voice none of them recognized, but the shared look of understanding and the sense of urgency it prompted from all of them led them down the halls. As the three rounded the far corner, they came to a skidding halt before coming face to face with Alim and another man, both who were standing over the corpse of a guard.
Nanine spoke first, and quickly. This saved them some time, but they still needed to move. “Alim, we’re here to break you and your friend out. Grab what weapons you can and we need to get moving before the other guards realize you’ve murdered one of their own.”
Anifaire shuffled forwards, past those leading her group, her face lighting up. The worry and anxiety she had felt over the past few days lifted once she laid eyes on Alim, looking ragged but healthy.
“Alim,” she started, but stopped a few steps away, suddenly overcome with a different sort of worry: he may not be as happy to see her as she was him.
“This is the one we’re looking for?” Aries remarked as she scanned Alim up and down; both he and the other one looked rather sleep and food deprived; the Imperial in particular, even if he looked as though he had once been a man of vigor. They didn’t look like much now, which gave her some pause as to how they were able to not only escape, but kill an armed, armored, and healthy guard. Ultimately, though, she shrugged.
Alim went from sly and amused to suddenly warm and taken with emotion when he saw Anifaire. He almost forgot they had the jail door open, and he opened his mouth, about to ask Gaius how he looked. But he decided it was stupid to ask in front of Ani, and so overcome with a feeling of pent up emotion that he suddenly didn’t care. He stepped over Nharzk’s corpse, walked out of the cell, made his way over to Anifaire and pulled her into a kiss.
“I should have done that a while ago.” he said.
Anifaire squeaked in surprise, a look of both complete bafflement and happiness on her face. Her tongue might as well have vanished as she looked down at Alim. She glanced just past Alim in wonderment that this moment was happening steps away from a corpse, but somehow it didn’t dent her mood. She smiled down at Alim anyway, having forgotten that there were others around.
“Well, at least he saved us trouble by getting himself out.” Aries continued. She let Anifaire have her moment with her old friend, using that moment to appraise the men they rescued. The Imperial’s back was bloodied and flayed by what was probably a warden’s flog. He was in especially rough condition and probably wasn’t going to be too much help to them. She commented, “We have someone who can take care of you. You can leave everything else up to us now, I’m sure you’ve suffered enough.”
I’m sure you’ve suffered enough. The words bounced around Gaius’ head, and he was damn tempted to agree with them. His back felt like it was on fire, and he could barely bring himself to stand back up from his knee. But so he did, staggering back to an upright position and swearing through tight teeth. “All I need is a shield and some armor.” He staggered, but managed--barely--to stay upright. “At the very least, I can still take one hit before I fall over again.” Another swear. “If I do fall over, leave me.”
“I appreciate the sentiment,” Aries replied, “but bravado will only get you as far as a young lady’s hand. Frankly, I’m hoping you’ll be more useful to us alive.”
But as soon as she finished that thought, she was on to the next; her eyes went across the rest of the detention block full of prisoners, gasping, muttering, and wailing at the sounds of strangers and jailbreaks. There was potential here; if they were anything like this Imperial, then their desperation and restless, anxious energy were things that could be tapped into. A weight fell upon her chest and shoulders in anticipation of what she was about to do. Then her eyes landed on Meg and Nanine.
“Nanine, I might have a use for you.” She said. “Megana, yes? Can you pick locks?”
“Um, yeah. Sure, but I have t’ask… why?” Meg asked.
Nanine merely raised an eyebrow, waiting for the explanation the Nord asked for.
“We’re freeing the rest of the prisoners.” Aries replied sternly, then casting a sidelong glance toward Nanine. “And we don’t have time to argue about this. I just need you two to follow my lead. I promise I’ll answer your questions later.”
The unwavering certainty in her voice was likely enough to prompt pause in even her staunchest opponents. All she looked for was the agreement from those she asked, and as soon as she got it -- no matter how reluctant -- she faced ahead and began walking down the corridor, looking side to side into the cells where the Dwemer locked up their enemies. Nodding to Meg and Nanine, they went to work, and Aries proceeded.
“Men and women of Hammerfell,” she began, projecting her voice outward from her chest, “of Tamriel! How long have you toiled in this dungeon? How long has it been since the Dwemer invaded your land and locked you away from your homes and families? Too long.”
As Aries stepped forward, she heard a click from her left as Meg picked the lock to her first cell. To her right, Nanine disintegrated a lock to dust.
“How long have you suffered? For how long have they beaten you, stripped you of your dignity while they eat the fruits of Hammerfell’s labor -- your labor? Too long!”
“How long has it been since the Dwemer inhabited Tamriel? For how long have they been gone, abandoning this realm, and leaving these lands for us to govern? How long have they been gone? Too! Damn! Long!”
“They have been gone for too damn long to come crawling back! Too damn long to evict us from our homes -- they don’t deserve that right! They haven’t put in the blood, sweat, and tears that made Hammerfell great, what made all the lands and nations of Tamriel great! They can’t take back what isn’t theirs! They don’t get to walk out of a plane of Oblivion and conquer our homes and kill our people, and what are they then if not like the Daedra of the Third Era?”
“Consider today your second chance at life! Use it as you may. You may wish to return home to your homes and families. That is your prerogative. You have earned that right… but you will never be safe as long as the Dwemer rule your cities. As long as they reign, they will covet your lands and your neighbor’s. Use this opportunity to repay the hurt that they have inflicted upon you and yours! Let this be the day they regret looking upon your home with envy! My name…”
Aries looked to the others, noting their gawking stares -- was this the right time? Then her eyes returned to the prisoners, with looks of desperation, hope, and confusion on their faces. She then huffed a sigh of resignation.
“My name is Lady Aries Machella, Ambassador of the Third Empire!” She declared. “The Dwemer have claimed the Empire has fallen, and yet here I stand as living proof of their failure! Proof of their fallibility! Join me and my allies, help me take the fight to the Dwemer scourge who would torture and destroy you! The Dwemer have been missing for thousands of years -- let us show them how much war has changed!”
There was a silence after the woman had finished her speech, broken finally by the voice of another woman, draped in the shadows of her cell. “Well, are we leaving or fucking what?” she called out as she stepped forwards and revealed herself. A Redguard woman of strong build and an eyepatch over her left socket. “What the fuck are we waiting for? You heard the lady - it’s time we fucking RIOT.”
Then came the response that Aries had more than likely been waiting for, cheers from every cell. Loud, angry cries - the warcry of the oppressed men and women whose cells had at last been opened. Thundering feet stomping the ground in unison as if it were the moment they had been waiting for.
The volume and emotion in every single voice was hair-raising.
“I liked the speech.” Alim admitted to Gaius and Anifaire, as if it was an unpopular opinion. “It kept going and going, but by the Nine I probably couldn’t make that up on the spot. Good on ‘em.” The redguard gave a thumbs up and a nod. But despite the approval, he concurred. It was time to get the hell out of here. With a smile to Ani, he gestured as if to say ‘after you.’
Aries’ speech was rousing; of that there was no doubt. But more important to Gaius than the speech itself was the person who spoke it. Ambassador of the Third Empire? Grinding his teeth together, Gaius rammed himself to attention, snapping a salute off, though he doubted the diplomat would actually see or hear him. “Legionnaire Gaius Milonem returning to active duty, Ambassador Machella.” He grimaced again, then staggered, as the lines of fire that were raked down his back grew somehow more painful, now that adrenaline wasn’t flooding his system anymore.
‘A legionnaire?’ Aries thought to herself as she took in the energy of the liberated prisoners, basking in the shared sense of hope and triumph, before turning to face Gaius. He was in too poor condition to fight, still though did a smile find her face in admiration of the man’s dedication -- and loyalty too, perhaps. Such a thing was a rare sight these days, and it was a small, petty comfort to see him stand at attention before her and pay her with respect that she hasn’t seen in a long time. She raised her hand dismissively with a warm smile, “At ease, soldier. We can see you battle ready after you’ve been treated by the medic.”
Mazrah laughed heartily at the sight of the cheering prisoners. She felt spoiled; not one, but two quality rousing speeches in a day! The fact that Janelle turned out to be an Ambassador of the Empire, an entity and a place she’d only ever heard of and never visited, was quite a surprise and it still didn’t explain why or how she knew how to burn a house down with nothing but her mind. The Orsimer wasn’t sure what to make of it but if Aries wanted to wage war on the Dwemer, that was more than alright with her.
As the rest of the party began to retrace their steps toward the exit with the company of the countless prisoners in tow, Aries brought up the rear, reflecting on what she had done and said. The cat was out of the bag now, and there was no more keeping up this charade. This could very well place a target on her back, but it was a target she would have to wear sooner or later. She looked down at the body of Nzarhk and contemplated the Dwemer for a moment. She essentially had just made an official declaration of war on them. Well, if she was going to do it, then she ought to do it right.
Aries looked to her hand and pulled off a small diamond ring from her finger. It had once been the engagement ring given to her by Fontaine Motierre. Now, it was plunged into one of the open wounds in the Dwemer’s body, where the diamond would be colored red with blood.
“O Akatosh,” Aries muttered as she marched after her allies, “let my enemies find the Red Diamond and know that their troubles are far from over, and that an Empire still yet lives in me.”
Shakti’s climb was briefly interrupted by a pair of guards descending down to see what the trouble was on level 16. Shakti relieved them of their legs and planted their own swords into their chests before resuming her ascent. Her normally wild and full hair was by this point matted and streaked with blood and sweat from such strong emotions and exertions, still, she did not stop to catch her breath until she reached the top level, the Warden’s office.
Shakti noted that the two soldiers who stood on either side of the door were not dwemer, but Redguards. The bore some sigil she did not recognise on their uniforms. It was inconsequential, they would die the same. Shakti leapt forward, propelled by her black rage and the memories of her father that the man they were protecting had stolen from her. She leapt, her sword drawn over her head, the force of the overhead blow caused the first guard (who barely had time to draw his sword) to fall to one knee. Shakti landed and rolled back to avoid the attack of the second man, coming to the aid of the first. As she stood she caught the second man from below, remembering what Nanine had told her about fighting chainmail, stab, don’t slash. She forced the point of her sword up into the man’s ribs from below. He gasped his last death rattle and the Alik’r warrior shrugged him onto the first man, using the corpse as a distraction. The feint worked, and the last guard noticed her blade too late to stop it from bifurcating his head.
Shakti sighed and passed through the door, into the office. The Warden was already standing, a sword in his hand, clearly having heard the deaths of his lackeys. In another life, he perhaps would have been called handsome, his features were indeed pleasing to the eye and did not belie the inherent cruelty that came with being both a traitor and a warden of a prison. His black hair was pulled into a small ponytail, and his armour was clearly expensive. None of this was evident to Shakti. His face to her was the root of all wickedness in this plane, it was a candle she would snuff the unholy light from. It was not worthy of the crescent cloak he wore around his body, it was not worthy of the worms that would consume his body before the day was done.
Sweat pooled on his forehead as he demanded to know what was going on. Shakti wiped the blood from her blade with Khesh’s cloak. “Betrayer!” She shrieked, “You killed him! You murdered Taren Nasaaj, my father! He trusted you and you killed him!” Her voice was raw and full of emotions, anger, sorrow, grief, and hatred. Her words were at once both accusatory and damning. Shakti was the Judge, the Jury and soon, the Executioner in this mockery of Justice.
Guild racked the Warden’s face. He knew he was guilty. He did not hide it. “I- I know you. You must be his daughter. Tariyeh, if I recall correctly. He spoke often of you.” The words inflamed Shakti’s already burning heart, her blood froze and boiled over again. It did not change her purpose. “I do not deny what I did. What we did. Taren was the one Knight who took his vows seriously. We had all become too caught up in playing kingmaker. Hubris. We thought so poorly of the ruler we had sworn to protect that when the deep elves returned and offered us peace as long as the King stepped down voluntarily, we took matters into our own hands. It was… the wrong choice. I realised that and my guilt has haunted me ever since.
Shakti slashed the air in front of her with her hand. “I’ll accept no contrition from you!” she snarled, “Now face me, I’ll at least grant you the death you denied my father, even if it is more than you deserve!”
She took two steps forward and leapt at him. Her banshee’s wail of warcry pierced the air as her blade sparked off of his, barely deflected by the forte of his sword. She pressed her attack from her perch on his desk, cutting twice more with blinding speed, forcing him back his he fended off her sweeps and strikes. Still, she pressed on, hopping off the desk and hacking a piece from his chair with a barely-redirected blow. Growling, she kicked the chair away and advanced at the Warden again, this time with a lunging stab. His parry was too slow and the point her sword nicked his shoulder enough to make it bleed through the gambeson. The Warden grunted and went on the counter-attack, seeking to buy himself space. Shakti was ready however, and smacked aside the foible of his blade, giving her enough of an opening to ram her father’s blade through the traitorous man’s chest. She withdrew her blade and blood poured forth from the hole.
The Warden fell to his knees and gasped for air as blood gurgled from his mouth and wound. He sputtered something as Shakti stared impassively at him, her sword still held at the ready.
“Another.” He wheezed. “In Skyrim, a Nord. He fled after our plans fell apart-”
His last words were cut off as Shakti cleaved his head from his shoulders. She let out a breath she didn’t realise she was holding in and wiped her sword off with Khesh’s cloak and sheathed it. She felt a sting on her face and wiped at it with her hand, when it came away with a thin line of blood she realised her last parry had caused the Warden’s blade to graze her cheek with the tip. A final parting gift.
She ripped the cloak he wore from around his neck and draped it like a sash across her bloody tunic. His was in perfect condition, even its dye was still vibrant. It didn’t matter now. Shakti’s whole body ached with exhaustion. She hadn’t realised how much she had been pushing herself. Her mind was still foggy with the anger and pain she felt. It was still too soon to tell if she felt any better. Her eyes went wide as she remembered the reason she was here at the prison in the first place. She had forgotten all about the rescue and her friends in her drive for revenge.
The Alik’r girl began the jog back down to the level she started from, stepping over and avoiding the many corpses she had left in her wake, hoping to rejoin her friends...
Kthrakz Prison - Death Row Level Seventeen
The fighting had begun. Clashes of metal rang out, boots were pounding the hallways, battle cries and insults were being bandied around. She could not look, and only trust that her companions were keeping her safe from any dwemer getting too close to her. Sirine had already done it once. There was the niggling thought in the back of her mind too, that should any of them get very hurt, she had no magic to treat them with.
Fjolte’s eyes drifted between Raelynn, Sirine, and the Khajiit. He did not seem too worried about the fight just yet.
CRACK! “Damn!” she exclaimed as the first of her lockpicks snapped in the device. She pulled it free and tossed it aside, Fjolte shook his head almost mockingly at her, “come on Blondie, we’re against the clock here…” he said with a chuckle - hoping it would put her at ease, “I’ve gotta get out there and join the scrap!” Raelynn looked up at him, and his roguish smile immediately put her at ease. She rolled her shoulders and reached back into her bun, pulling free another lockpick - and this time, her hair tumbled free from it’s hold, cascading over her shoulders.
She started again.
“Yeah, boy, you have to get out here and-“ Sevari ducked his head at a shower of sparks and the sharp sound of a bullet ricochet where his head had been, his growl turning oddly to laughing of all things,”-and join the scrap!”
He rose his pistols again, sighting up on a guard some ways away and letting loose his pair of pistols, two barks of gunfire added to the cacophony around them. He set to loading his pistols again, taking cover with his back resting on a crate, “How’d a beautiful ponce like you find yourself in a place like this?” Sevari asked almost too nonchalantly over the chaos, “You know we’ve got two ponces already.”
Fjolte returned Sevari’s laugh, “well brother, I was almost to be convinced it was a matter of simple bad luck, but how could it have been when I get to be rescued like this?” He smirked, and stepped back from the bars to warm up with a shuffle of his feet - switching between stances, fists punching at the air. “I’ll be happy to find myself in the company of ponces when all is said and done, friend.”
The Breton found herself pleasantly surprised to hear Sevari laughing… Raelynn was almost there with the lock, she could hear it clicking and responding to her movements - there was little resistance but this was still an incredible piece of metalwork. She began to wonder if Daro’Vasora was having similar difficulty with them. Probably not.
Sparks flew on the other side of the Dwemer guards, who suddenly found themselves boxed in between the two Khajiits and their female allies on one end and an Argonian and his very angry Imperial associate on the other end. Gregor had dashed into the fray as soon as they had descended the stairs and his claymore was already slick with scarlet blood, a dead Dwemer caught off guard at his feet, disemboweled. He raised a hand and deflected a bullet from one of the Dwemer’s rifles with a ward spell before he closed the distance while the guard desperately tried to reload. The heavy steel blade nearly split him in twain from shoulder to hip and Gregor growled with exertion from the strength he had placed behind the blow.
Jaraleet was behind Gregor as the Imperial man jumped into the fray, his blade burying itself into the neck of a Dwemer guard who had yet to recover from the shock of the duo’s sudden entrance. The other guards raised their rifles and fired a volley at the Argonian, who used the corpse of their comrade as a cover against the Dwemer’s bullets. Taking advantage of the small window of time that he had bought for himself, Jaraleet closed the distance between himself and the remaining mer. The first guard blocked the Argonian’s strike by using his rifle as an impromptu shield but it gave him only a momentary respite as Jaraleet’s dagger found its mark and sunk into the Dwemer’s flesh; after that, it only took a moment for the Argonian to finish off the guard, his sword piercing his throat.
The remaining guard tried to charge at Jaraleet, having discarded his rifle in favor of the mace that hung from his belt. Jaraleet managed to parry the first blow from the guard, managing to strike back at him but, unfortunately, a second him from the mace connected against the side of his stomach, knocking the air from his lungs and forcing him to momentarily double over. The remaining guard he was facing tried to take advantage of the momentary opening, raising his mace to crush Jaraleet’s skull with a powerful blow; fortunately for the Argonian, he managed to recover in time and, taking advantage of the wind up that his foe had taken to deliver what would have been a fatal blow, drove his dagger through the mer’s exposed armpit, causing him to drop his mace in pain due to the sudden attack. Wasting no time, the assassin quickly drove his sword through the throat of his opponent before he retrieved the dagger that he had left impaled. With the last guard dead, Jaraleet allowed himself a moment to catch his breath and recompose himself after the hit he had taken.
The return fire slowed considerably and the cries of alarm and agony came from the Dwemer ranks as Zaveed had gone to reload his pistol; between him and Sevari, they'd managed to blunt the advance but it wouldn't last forever. Had the others come in behind them, he wondered.
And then he saw the cause.
“Oh, goodie.” Zaveed grumbled, seeing Gregor cutting into the enemy ranks with his fuck-off huge sword that had been a liability in their duel, but here in an open area truly had a chance to shine. “Raelynn, my dear; your boyfriend's here.” he called back, slipping the pistol back into the harness and pulling his axes free to join the melee. A Dwemer with a halberd tried to blunt his advance, but with momentum, Zaveed deflected the dangerous point by hooking the incoming shaft with both axes and forcing it aside as he closed the distance, leaping into a shoulder bash that sent the armoured foe crashing to the ground.
He leapt atop the Dwemer, bringing his axes down towards his exposed neck when the shaft came up to block it. The privateer grinned down at the alarmed Mer’s face before suddenly pulling back with the axes, pulling the weapon free from one of the hands and his foot crashing down on the Dwemer's face. The stunned foe was helpless against the next several kicks that eventually cracked his neck.
It was hard for Sirine to keep the smile off her face as she finally had a chance to use the Nord sword in her possession. It was so much better in an open fight like this, rather than the dagger she was used to fighting with. The smaller blade would always have a special place in her heart and hand, but this was power and this was what was needed right now. Fiery eyes followed the movements of the enemies that approached- her smile twisted into a grin when a bullet flew her way and nearly caught her shoulder, having missed her only due to ducking in time. Inwardly she was scolding herself- it would be most inopportune if she ended up injuring herself, but once more, she finally felt alive
Sword held before her, she charged at the nearest dwemer guard, bringing her sword down upon him, though the guard parried, their blades crashing against each other. Sirine took the moment to let out an almost girlish giggle before stepping back and attacking the guard yet again. This dwemer was a better fighter than the one that had tried to get a drop on Raelynn. A sudden kick to his gut sent the dwemer crashing to the ground, but he was quick to roll back to his knees to defend against Sirine's next attack. "Now, now," she said, tone rather cajoling,"why not simply stay down for me?" She increased the pressure of her blade, though a moment later leaped back, feeling a stinging in her upper thigh. "Shit." It seemed the dwemer had another blade which he had used to nick at her.
Throwing finesse into the wind, Sirine rammed the pommel of her blade into the guard's face, sending him back onto the floor. Without waiting for another mishap, she turned the blade around once more and shoved it straight down into his throat. "Hm." With that done, she pulled the sword away and turned to face the fray once more, just in time to see Zaveed crack a dwemer's neck. "Lovely," she commented.
Zaveed glanced up, seeing a rifleman take aim at Gregor, prompting Zaveed to close the gap behind the enemy, reaching around the neck of the Dwemer and yanking the pointed hook into the throat of the enemy, tearing a bloody chunk out of the windpipe as the rifleman was pulled off his feet into the ground. Zaveed made eye contact with Gregor, tapping his axe head against his breast in a salute of sorts before resuming his hunt.
It was uncomfortable to meet the Khajiit’s ice-blue eyes in the knowledge that Zaveed had just saved his hide. Unwilling to deal with that now, Gregor blinked and pushed the feeling aside before he turned his attention back to what he came here for, gaze darting feverishly through the long corridor, searching between the chaotic mess of limbs and weapons for a flash of ashen blond hair -- there! She was alive and unhurt, kneeling before one of the death row cages, working away at a lockpick. Gregor ran through the frantic melee, pausing only to parry the blow of a Dwemer sword and subsequently behead its wielder, arterial spray covering Gregor’s torso and face in blood, until he made it out the other end. He hesitated for a split second to admire the curvature of Raelynn’s bottoms, accentuated by her kneeling posture, before he remembered they were in the middle of a fight.
“There you are,” Gregor said, a little out of breath, and flashed Raelynn a grin that was torn between relief and sheepishness. “I heard all the noise and… well, I was… nevermind.” He glanced aside and only then noticed Fjolte in the cage; the man Raelynn was working to free. “Who’s this?” he asked and raised a hand in greeting.
Fjolte had heard the slashing and ripping that had been attributed to the Imperials furious flurry down the corridor. He was glad to put a face to the sound, even happier that he appeared to be with the rest of them. How many are there? He asked himself.
CLICK! The lock finally gave way to her motion, and the door was open. Fjolte was free at last. He stepped forward from his cell, over the threshold between corridor and cage. When he made it to the other side, his eyes lit up with more glee, and he took in an almost obnoxiously loud deep breath, puffing out his chest with hands on his hips. It was as if the air on this side was cleaner than that which had been in the cell.
With Gregor now here, Raelynn felt safer still. She turned her head to look at him, he was breathless and bloodied. She liked it. She only wished she hadn’t missed seeing him in action, allegedly just to find her. “You... “ she began, unable to find the words - there was so much happening around them, “are you alright? You’re not hurt are you?” she asked, standing up from the floor. “Did you manage to find-” she was soon cut off by the Nord, who was wearing a faux puzzled expression. “Awwh, come on blondie! This man asked a question….” he chuckled from the very back of his throat, bringing his huge hands together with a loud clap that reverberated down the hall. Between the sheepish expression on the Imperial, and the hint of desire in Raelynn’s eyes, he could see clear as day that there was something going on between the two of them.
“I’m Fjolte of Rorikstead my friend. I wonder now-” his voice raised in volume, and a mischievous glint fell upon his eyes as he looked over to Sevari, “may this man with the decorative sword here be another of your ponces?” He laughed aloud at himself, not giving much time for Sevari to respond.
Gregor regarded Fjolte with a mixture of bemusement and annoyance. He hadn’t expected to have the party find someone with such unbridled optimism locked away down here, and he wasn’t a fan of the Nord’s choice of words -- ponce, decorative? “Just Gregor is fine, thank you,” the Imperial said before turning his attention back to Raelynn. He closed the remaining distance between them and placed an arm around her shoulders, restraining himself from pulling her into a full embrace and kissing her, no matter how badly he wanted to. He was aware of how bloody he was and how much Raelynn enjoyed not getting blood on her clothes unless it was strictly necessary. “I’m fine, it’s not mine,” he said as he stepped back and gestured to the aforementioned gore on his person.
“Alright then, Just Gregor it is!” He said in a playful tone, his gaze meeting Raelynn’s as he once again laughed at himself. The Breton sighed and shook her head before looking up to Gregor with an impressed smile. She also wanted to embrace him, for him to hold her tightly with the last of his fighting strength, before the adrenaline wore off. Later, she reminded herself, and let the desire behind her icy gaze tell him so too.
“Thanks for the rescue blondie, pretty timely of you I’d say,” Fjolte remarked as he scratched the back of his neck - his entire body felt dirty, and the hempen clothes he’d been given were not doing him any good, they had been rubbing against his bare skin for weeks. “You all got here in the nick of time, of course I knew I would get out. You can’t keep a Dhjarikson in a cage for too long. You just saved me from having to pry the bars apart and embarrassing some poor Dwemer builder for a shit job.”
“A cheeky braggart and a ponce?” Sevari chuckled, shaking his head slightly in amusement at the unexpectedly jolly man, “I think you and that fucking fool over there could gaze at the stars and woo each other.” He nodded his head at the bloodied whirlwind with twin axes.
Zaveed rejoined the group, cleaning off his axe on a torn bit of standards he’d cut off of one of the fallen Dwemer. “Now, Sevari, just because you are illiterate of the language of the stars is no reason to be a cheeky ponce. Our new friend clearly just has better tastes than you.” he said, slipping the axe back into its hoop and tossing the sheared piece of bloodied fabric behind him. “Fjolte is not a name that rolls off the tongue, I must admit.” he offered a bemused glance towards Sevari. <Nords simply do not have the elegance of tongue as Ta’agra, no?> he said in his mother tongue.
<I think not> Sevari smirked, <Do you think we could say anything we wanted and no one would be the wiser?>
Gregor frowned at the foreign language and held up his hand. “Tamrielic, please. I won’t hesitate to admit that having you two communicate in a secret tongue makes me uncomfortable,” he said and while his words could have been interpreted as a joke if his tone had been light and airy, it was anything but; he was perfectly serious.
“Oh, Gregor,” Sevari made a show of noticing the dark Nibenean’s presence, a beaming smile that dripped of feigned delight crossing his face for a moment before it dropped and he continued on dryly, “I was wondering what the oppressing feeling of a fucking top-knot, chiseled jaw, and a big fuck-off sword up an ass was. How delightful of you to be here with us when you’re supposed to be somewhere else completely.”
“Secret tongue.” Zaveed scoffed, tsking. “It’s our mother tongue, much like irate bastard is yours.” the Khajiit said with a wink.
Gregor scowled at the brothers but the words of Calen, Jaraleet and Raelynn herself were still fresh in his mind and even fresher still was the sight of Zaveed saluting him after saving him from a gunshot wound -- or worse. After a tense second Gregor ultimately did not rise to the bait, instead inhaling slowly through his nose and looking aside at Raelynn to mouth ‘you alright?’.
Raelynn smiled up and nodded at Gregor, electing to squeeze him arm gently, gore be damned. She was unappreciative of the… jokes that were being banded back and forth at his expense. “Now now gentlemen…” she said softly, “this is not a time for such jests…”
Zaveed smiled at Raelynn counseling Gregor before turning back to Fjolte. “Are you okay to walk? How long have you been in these cells?”
<My friends, I can assure you I know just enough elegance to get by> the Nord said with a wink in Zaveed’s direction. Surprisingly, his Ta'agra was in fact, elegant sounding indeed. He tugged at the hair on his chin, as if the length was the only way he could really know. “Must be five weeks… Gotta be into Midyear by now, huh?”
That took Zaveed by surprise, and a welcome one at that. “By Jone, he is a man of culture! Let's see to it you have plenty of years left to express that, friend. You’ve been cooped up for far too long.” he said, slapping Fjolte affectionately on the arm. “But we’ve a job to finish, yes? I'd much prefer to do this over a cool ale and a summer breeze than in this depressing heap.”
Sirine cleared her throat, quietly yet audibly enough to announce herself. She had been quiet during the banter, but she was once more finding herself impatient. This wasn't the time for small talk, jokes and mockery. She understood the there was tension between the parties standing here, but her brother's life was on the line. Thankfully it seemed the matters were returning to what was important. Looking over to Fjolte with a slightly strained smile, she spoke.
"Do you perhaps know where they would have moved him? Even a direction would be useful just about now. The sooner we rescue him... and their friend-" she motioned toward Raelynn and Gregor with her head "-the sooner we can leave."
“Aye aye, Bakih…” he began, his smile suddenly fading as seriousness set in. “I was asleep when they took him. Must have been, and he didn't kick off either. Not like the others did, brave kid your brother.” He sighed, feeling somewhat guilty for having wasted time. “They took him to the room I'm guessing. Nasty place to be, but it's been quiet, that's a good sign believe it or not.” With that, he pointed down the corridor to where it curved slightly. “I'd be careful if I were you, it's a vicious place, I wouldn't wish to know what's happening…” He had obviously become nervous, his posture stiffened and he bit his lip, fingers twitching at his side.
"Well." Sirine's smile remained, but her voice was grim. "All the more reason I have to go and know what the fuck is happening. If Bakih's there, then there is no choice in the matter." Being cautious was something she upheld whenever she could, but it would only take her so far in this current situation. With her brother out there, it was a race against time, and she could waste no more than had already trickled past them.
“Are you alright?” Raelynn asked him, concern falling over her face. It was unusual for him to be anything other than jovial. “Oh aye, just don't think I can go down there without my stuff you know, these prison shorts are really giving me some grief here,” he said in an attempt to break free of his distress, he tugged at the waistband and found a smile again. “There's a store room down here, what say you and I take a look for my things while your warrior crew go and look for Bakih? That way you can tell me all about your Cyrodiilic adventure, blondie. Guessing it wasn't as relaxing as you intended…”
Gregor, whose gaze had followed where Fjolte had pointed, turned his head back around to look at Raelynn and the Nord himself. “You know each other?” he asked, incredulous and wary in equal measure.
“Ahhhh…” began Fjolte, his hand finding the back of his neck once more. “Skyrim can be surprisingly small when you're wounded and in need, Just Gregor. Blondie over here has saved my hide more than once, took my coin purse more than that too…” He grinned again, nudging at Raelynn with an elbow. Suitably jostled, she gave the Nord a light slap in response. “A story for another time, Sirine needs to find Bakih, if we make her wait for a moment longer she might be fit to burst.” Raelynn nodded in Sirine's direction, and then gave Gregor’s arm another comforting squeeze.
<We’ll have to talk more about how you know Ta’agra, Ponce.> Sevari smirked and wagged a finger at Fjolte.
“We’ll do just that, Pistol,” he replied to Sevari with a grin making eye contact before giving Raelynn another nudge. “C’mon blondie, let’s take a trip and see if we can’t find my things... That is if you can tear yourself away from your gentleman here, I promise I’ll take care of her.” he said with a laugh, before turning on his heel to the direction of the store room. “I’ll be back soon,” Raelynn said, pushing herself to her tiptoes to place a kiss on Gregor’s cheek. “Remember what we said - in one piece.” With her words said, she followed Fjolte’s lead - who was moving with a gentle swagger away from the group.
Sevari spat to the side as he watched the Nord’s cocky steps down the hall, then he looked to Jaraleet. He sighed, smirking at his friend, “How many times are you going to get metal through you in my presence, Argonian?”
“Hmmm, hopefully not many more.” The Argonian chuckled, shaking his head slightly. “Ideally I'd say never again but, well, in our line of work wounds are expected, wouldn't you agree?” He retorted back, smirking slightly at the Ohmes-Raht.
“Maybe, but the frequency of it?” Sevari chuckled, shaking his head and clapping Jaraleet’s shoulder, “You’d think you swallowed magnets.”
The Argonian laughed at Sevari’s words, shaking his head slightly. “I think I'd remember if I swallowed a magnet.” He said as his laughter subsided. “Maybe it's you the one who swallowed them?”
“So blondie… Cyrodiil huh?” he asked with a chuckle as the distance grew between them both and the rest of the group. He placed his hands on the back of his head. “Looks like you picked up a new friend there…”
Following the directions that Fjolte had given them brought them to another part of the prison similar to where they had found the Nord, though it looked like these cells were all empty. Down the corridor that stretched away into the darkness at the far end of the death row complex, Gregor saw flashes of light seeping out from beneath a heavy brass door, and the sounds of something fell and foul on the air echoed towards him. He opened his mouth to say something but his breath caught in his throat and it felt like his heart skipped a beat or two in his chest, racing to catch up again. He knew that noise, that light. He knew it very well.
Nlbec and Kerztar’s faces flashed through his mind’s eye.
“Great gods of nowhere,” Gregor muttered, eyes wide, staring at the door.
Zaveed stepped back, away from the accursed door, gathering himself. His body was tense with apprehension as an all too tense sensation gripped his very soul. He needed air; he stepped away from the group away from the door, crouching with his wrists upon his knees, willing the shaking to fade from his hands.
It was no great feat to notice the Cathay's reaction to the door; Sirine’s focus had shifted from Raelynn to Zaveed as soon as Gregor had made his appearance, unwilling to risk ‘accidental’ mishaps. "Are you alright-" She paused. It was a stupid question, it was obvious he wasn't alright. Hand gripping her sword tightly, she looked over at the others, waiting for something, anything. The further darkening of the already dour mood was increasing her anxiety.
At least it had gone quiet, for now, until the same lights that caught Gregor’s eye snagged his. “What’s in there?” Sevari asked, holstering his pistols and going for his larger-caliber rifle.
When no answer came from the fucking Imperial, he asked again and louder, “What the fuck is that?”
Gregor didn’t look at Sevari. “Do we see Bakih anywhere?” he asked, his voice distant.
“We haven’t found him…” Sevari trailed off, looking from Gregor to the shadowed door confused, until realization gripped him. He hoped his fear wasn’t true as he looked to the others, eyes not lingering long on Sirine should his fear come to fruition. “No…” The word escaped him in a breathy whisper.
"What?" Sirine’s eyes shot from Gregor to Sevari, her free hand tightening into a fist.
“Stay behind me,” Gregor said, his voice suddenly sharp and authoritarian. This was his area of expertise. He needed to be the first one through the door. He held his claymore in a one-handed grip and prepared a ward spell in his free hand before he took a deep breath and set off down the grim and foreboding corridor.
Sirine's eyes narrowed as she lowered her blood stained sword, her gaze now jumping from Sevari back to Gregor before looking back at the obviously ominous door. Her teeth ground against each other so hard that her jaw began to ache. It was clear her patience was reaching its breaking point, no matter how much she tried to remain in control of her emotions. "I don't know what the fuck is in there," she said tersely, "but it's clear from everyone’s reactions that it's no good. And if that's the case and my brother is possibly in there, then I am not going to waste any more time simply wondering. Tell us before I head in there with absolutely no knowledge, because one way or another, I am going in."
Zaveed's affable disposition was gone, his body tense and ears pulled back to match a set jaw. He glared at Gregor for a passing moment, recalling the unspeakable violation that had been committed, the essence of his being being pulled from his body, the excruciating pain of the sword through his body while electricity surged through his dying muscles. He spat defiantly on the ground, loading another cartridge through the breach of his pistol.
“It's death itself.” he replied to no one in particular, his tone tinged with a mixture of fear and fury. “Let us go visit its source and make it join the rest of its victims.”
Jaraleet remained silent, merely nodding to Zaveed’s words. “Let us move, any more time we waste on idle chit-chat is more time our foe has to prepare.” The Argonian said, voice cold and unemotional before he began making his way down the corridor after Gregor. He knew well what awaited them, and their prey was bound to have already heard the commotion that they had made; any more wasted time would merely serve to make whoever was at the end of that corridor an even deadlier foe than he already was.
Sevari kept his eyes on Gregor’s back and the shadowed door, his rifle pointed over Gregor’s shoulder at the foreboding slab of metal on the other end of the hallway. For the first time in years, he could feel fear creeping around his chest. “Talk to me, Gregor,” Sevari hissed, “What are we opening that door to?”
The Imperial did not listen to what the others had to say. The edges of his vision darkened and until he could only see the door as he approached, and the only voice he heard clearly was Sevari’s, who followed so closely behind him that his words were unmistakable. Gregor took another deep breath, focusing so that his magicka reserves would be at his disposal at a split second’s notice, and finally answered the larger Khajiit’s question. “That was a soul trap, sure as sure,” Gregor said in a low voice, his words meant only for the man behind him. He did not have to say anything else. Everyone that had been in the field as long as Sevari had would know exactly what that meant. He stopped in front of the door and cast a quick glance behind him -- Sevari was still right there, the barrel of his rifle uncomfortably close, and Jaraleet was not far behind. The others were scattered throughout the rest of the corridor behind him, both in various stages of approach and motionless, silent vigil.
He turned back, reached for the handle and threw the door wide open. Immediately afterwards the air in front of him shimmered with magical energy as he cast a ward spell and Gregor advanced inside. His eyes adjusted to the gloom and he saw a few things at once; a large stone table or altar over which hung a complex, esoteric instrument, a cage in the corner of the room that contained the cowering shape of a pale man with brown hair, a hard-eyed and black-robed Dwemer staring at him with an inscrutable expression --
“You are not welcome in my chamber.” The Dwemer said, his voice firm but not heated. Much like the room he resided in, it was cold and devoid of compassion. The glint of eyes came under his robes, but his neatly braided beard jutted out several inches below his chin, his pale grey complexion most evident on his cheeks and hands that looked far more vigorous than one would imagine emitting an aura of death.
A stave was in his hand in a flash and an arc of lightning burst out towards Gregor, splashing upon the Imperial’s ward. In the mage’s other hand, dark energy coalesced and brought forward a pair of Clannfear, chest-high reptilian-like Daedra with sharp claws and teeth, a crested head, and a long tri-pointed tail. These immediately rushed at the group, aiming to dislodge the ward and even the odds against the attackers. One of the Clannfear leapt through the air with impressive ability and Zaveed wasn’t able to pull out of the way in time before a pair of heavy feet drove into his torso, forcing him into the ground. He barely had time to react before the deadly jaws came down towards his neck, caught in time by the handles of both of his axes that the creature tried to pry away from him. “Merrunz, you are ugly.” he snarled, matching his strength with the Daedra.
The Clannfear came before Sevari could pull the trigger on the Necromancer’s ugly brow. Instead, lightning quick, he changed targets and squeezed off a hasty shot that put a big hole in the ground instead of the clannfear’s face. <You fucking-!> he caught the jaws of the demon around the barrel of his rifle, the thing thrashing it about in his sweat-slick hands hard enough to almost prise it from his grip. “I’ll make a fucking hat of you!”
He grabbed the thing by its throat, but a long claw raked over his midsection, getting a roar from Sevari as he threw the clannfear from him. The demon collided with the wall as Sevari stumbled back, his hand coming back bloody when he checked his wound, “Oh, you fucker…”
After the bright flash of lightning, repelled by his trustworthy ward spell, had waned and Gregor’s eyes had readjusted to the gloom, he saw more details -- there was a corpse on the stone table, naked and pale, and an awfully familiar purple crystal next to it. Even from here, Gregor could see and recognize the essence swirling within. His eyes locked with the Dwemer’s cold, hard gaze once more and Gregor felt an enormous, overwhelming and all-consuming wrath, fueled by indignation and a dark, twisted sense of justice in equal measure. A voice, a memory, rang in Gregor’s mind, loud and clear as a funeral bell.
“You do not scare me. I pity you. A man so weak he cannot do the job without puppeting corpses who belonged to those who were better than him in every metric. I see a ghoul, a charlatan, and a fool who dedicated his life to dark masters that control his every step. I will send you to them,” Rourken said, scathing and judgemental.
The sheer audacity, the deceit, the hypocrisy -- it was astonishing. All sound faded and everything around his vision went dark, except for the Dwemer’s eyes. In them, Gregor saw himself. He would not tolerate it for a second longer. He rose to his full height and cast out his left hand towards the Dwemer, accusatory and inexorable, as a cerulean storm of black magic took shape in his palm. “I’ll show you,” the Pale Reaper said, his voice barely more than a whisper and yet forceful enough to cut through the room like a blade through ice.
The Wrathman coalesced in front of him; towering, armored, vile. Darkness seemed to seep from every fibre of its being. It bore down on the Dwemer with murderous intent, battleaxe poised and ready to strike.
Despite the distraction of the Clannfear that were attacking the group, Sirine's glance shot to the corner of the room where she heard her name from, where the cage was, and inside... "Bakih!" He looked a shell of himself, nothing like the proud and quiet little brother she remembered. Every fiber of her being wanted to race across the room, break open the damn thing and whisk him away from this place of nightmares... but she couldn't, not yet. Choking back a sob of relief, the former pirate wiped at the tears that once more found their way to her eyes. "I'll get you out, little brother!" But not yet, not when there was too much danger still about. She was not going to risk his life after finally finding him. "After I fucking kill him." There was no bloodlust or pleasure in her voice, only restrained anger.
Yet her fervour was staved and she found herself taking a step back at the sight of the new addition to the room. Never before had she seen a creature like this. Shifting her eyes to Gregor, she found herself filled with trepidation, unable to discern whether he was truly on their side or not.
The Wrathman distracted Zaveed, a primal fear running down his spine remembering that moment in time when it had made him face his own mortality and nearly spilled his innards at Gregor's behest, preparing him for a reaping that he would not escape. It's sudden appearance drew a gasp of quiet terror that was interrupted by fangs digging themselves into the back of Zaveed's hand.
The Khajiit screamed in surprise and pain as he was brought back to the present, a sudden hateful rage filling his heart and soul at the indignation of it all. “I am alive, I am alive! You fucking treacherous beast!” he bellowed, managing to find a reservoir of untapped strength as he threw the weight of the beast off of his pelvis and was able to free his knife from his back and driving it into the Clannfear's flank repeatedly. “The fucking audacity!” Zaveed snarled, twisting the handle ruefully before driving it deep. “I will flay your hide and bring you back time and time again!”
The creature bellowed out in pain, releasing him and with his fist tight around his blade, Zaveed struck a punch across its snout, forcing it off of him as it scrambled to keep its footing. He got to his feet, one hand useless and turn, the other covered in Daedric blood. He charged again, intent to stay true to his promise.
The sound of the khajiit's rage and his subsequent words was enough to break through Sirine, and she forced herself to look away from Gregor's conjured nightmare to her friend instead. A hiss of discontent left her, seeing that he was injured yet still in enough of a rage to go after the beast without any help, even with a mangled hand that was probably prone to more injury if he wasn't careful.
"You fucking idiot!" Without another word, and very conveniently forgetting the cut to her own upper leg, Sirine rushed forward to aid Zaveed, flanking the creature’s left side. Her sword sliced at one of its legs, driving her blade in deep before she pulled it away, ready to attack once more. Eyes narrowed, she was glaring at both the Clannfear as well as the khajiit. "You're going to hurt yourself worse if you’re not careful!"
It took everything Zaveed had not to snarl a retort back at Sirine, and instead offered a narrow glare before he plunged his blade into the Clannfear's ear canal and kicked its leg out from under it, silencing the creature as it had its last few moments in Mundus twitching upon the floor. She clearly didn't correlate the giant scar across his chest with the hulking abomination in the room, nor consider how he'd particularly feel about being confronted with the same foul magic that nearly cost him his soul. There weren't words he wished to say that weren't filled with vitriolic fury, so he turned away to focus on the next threat.
Sevari looked up from his wound as he heard the high-pitched warcry of the demon he’d thrown across the room. It readied itself for another charge as Sevari raised his rifle, smirking, he wouldn’t catch him with those claws again. From the Clannfear’s first step, Sevari tightened his grip. Just before it closed half the distance he fired, bullet catching the thing in the face and blowing its cheek out.
In a flash, Sevari drew his Torval blade and stepped to the side as the Clannfear closed the remaining distance, skewering the thing on his sword.
As soon as Sevari skewered the Clannfear with his sword, Jaraleet sprung into action and quickly sunk his blade into the creature’s neck. The Daedra spasmed for a second as the life left its body, dying shortly afterwards. “Seems it was my turn to help you my friend.” The Argonian said, smirking slightly. “I take it the creature didn't wound you too severely, there’s still work to be done.”
The Dwemer eyed the proceedings impassively before returning his attention to the Wrathman. “Interesting.” he uttered, studying the large creature as it bore down on him with the massive axe. With a rotation of his hand a black and purple haze enveloped the Dwemer’s hand and suddenly the Wrathman dematerialized in an identical haze, the banish Daedra spell having worked as expected. “I know what you are.” he said to Gregor, reaching towards him with a clawed gauntlet, the all-too familiar shroud of conjuration magic enveloping his hand when suddenly the energy burst out towards Gregor, and the dark purple mist enveloped him…
The mage had cast a soul trap spell upon the Imperial.
“What happens to a necromancer when he is soul trapped, I wonder,” the Dwemer mused, launching another bolt of lightning at Gregor from the staff before discarding it, scooping up a surgical blade and bellowing a war cry as he moved to bring it down across the Imperial’s throat.
Any fear that Gregor might have felt rise up within him as the horrible snare of the soul trap tightened around his heart was drowned out by the depth of his anger. The Pale Reaper snarled in defiance and blocked the Dwemer’s attack with his claymore, keeping the surgical blade occupied with his crossguard while he kicked hard at his opponent’s kneecap. That bought him some space and Gregor brandished his blade with a flourish before pressing the attack with an overhead swing that had enough force behind it to cleave the Dwemer in twain.
The Dwemer was decidedly not much of a warrior; he buckled under the kick and he was in no position to parry a blow with something that wasn’t much of a weapon. He attempted to dodge to the side, but the narrow confines limited his movement and the sword bit deep into the necromancer’s arm, nearly cleaving it in two, but the bone had stopped most of the weapon’s travel. The Dwemer screamed in pain, his composure evaporating as he slumped against the wall, eyes wide with fear and hatred. “You… insolent…” he wheezed.
Sirine's attention had returned to the necromancer after the harsh words she had sent Zaveed's way, figuring he would probably not wish for any more of her help after the glare sent in her direction. It was with some relief she witnessed the large nightmarish monster Gregor had conjured disappear. Biding her time, she had waited for the Imperial man to strike, and it pleased her to no end seeing the dwemer filth scream. Wasting no more time, the Imperial Redguard closed the distance in mere seconds, grabbing the necromancer dwemer by his beard and yanking his head back with one hand while pressing her sword against his throat.
"Die." The word was followed by a quick slice, blood spewing out of the gaping wound as she pulled her sword away. She then let go of the dwemer and stepped back, a dispassionate look on her face as she observed her handiwork.
Gregor locked eyes with the Dwemer as his death approached. “My turn,” the Pale Reaper hissed and his baleful gaze flashed crimson with malice. He held up a hand so that the Dwemer could see what object he had pulled from one of his waist-lined pouches; a black soul gem, empty and cold to the touch. The Dwemer’s throat was too damaged for him to say anything further and he died without another word, sliding down the wall as blood gushed down his front. Just before Sirine had delivered the killing blow, Gregor had cast a soul trap of his own on the Dwemer executioner and he was about to reap the fruits of his labor.
With a loud, rushing sound, like the abysmal gale of some great, unseen hurricane, a flash of purple light left the Dwemer and nestled itself in the soul gem in Gregor’s palm. Unlike the souls of Nblec and Kerztar before him, which had turned their gems merely a more opaque shade of purple and filled them with swirling energy, this Dwemer’s soul was filled with darkness and it spread through the gem like black tendrils of ink. Gregor could feel the weight of his crimes, the souls of the death row inmates he had stolen, and he almost dropped the gem in disgust. “Repulsive,” he muttered and put the soul gem back in his pouch. “This fate is too good for you.”
"What the-" Sirine's head swerved to look at Gregor, her dark eyes widening in shock when she realized what had just happened, the black soul gem speaking more than words could. That could very well have held Zaveed's soul had the Imperial necromancer been given the chance. Bile rose in her throat; she was forced to press a hand against her mouth to keep her dignity, feeling sick and disgusted but most of all tainted. She had inadvertently helped this man do the very thing she hated him for.
"Keep away," she hissed, her voice tinged with fear and loathing. Both hands were now gripping her sword so tightly that her knuckles were turning white.
That prompted a laugh from Gregor and he regarded Sirine with a mixture of amusement and condescension. “He had it coming,” the Imperial necromancer declared languidly, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, and returned his claymore to its strap on his back, clearly not seeing Sirine as a threat. Gregor looked back at the Dwemer and another spell and a flash of light saw the blood-soaked corpse rise to its feet, eyes alight with magic. “Didn’t you?” Gregor asked softly and tilted his head at the Dwemer zombie with all the curiosity of a carrion bird.
“I’ll have Raelynn in black on your behalf, you necromantic fuck. I’ve had enough of that smug fucking head of yours.” Sevari raised his pistol and leveled the sights at Gregor’s eye. A feeling of supreme betrayal and pure fury gripped tight around his fingers, partly on Sirine’s behalf, “Siri, get Bakih. Go.”
He cocked the hammer back and tightened his finger on the trigger, his eyes hateful slits set in his scowling face. The air in the room grew thicker and still, accentuating every small noise, Sevari’s heavy breathing, the noise his gun was making in his tremoring hand. He regarded the zombie, standing drunk-limp and slack-jawed, “Send it, Gregor. It’ll make my fucking day, boy.”
Gregor turned his head slowly to look at Sevari. He stared down the barrel impassively and motionless for a few seconds. His face was hard and his brow furrowed ever so slightly. When he opened his mouth to speak it wasn't his own voice that came out, for Gregor was far away. “Do you know what he did in this room?” the Pale Reaper asked sharply. “He had it coming. They all do. Put that thing down.” The Dwemer moved, but not towards Sevari, instead joining Gregor's side, and a third spell saw the Wrathman rematerialize by Gregor's other shoulder. Flanked by his minions, the necromancer inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly. “I am not your enemy, Sevari,” he said, determined but not unkind.
Even Sevari noticed how different Gregor’s voice was. The tone, the inflection, everything. There was even a different man behind his eyes. He was so far away from the man he talked to in the Haunted Tide. But that would only make this easier, “I don’t know what the hell made you so damned brazen but I swear on every God that’ll take it, I’ll put you in the dirt.” He said through gritted teeth and set jaws, “Do it. Do it, you fucker, and take one last name off of my list.” He swallowed, his nerve struggling to the surface but he forced it back down, forcing a step forward, “You should’ve never given me a reason to come knocking at your door, you bastard.”
Zaveed watched the situation unfold, hissing in a mixture of fear and annoyance; Sevari had no idea what Gregor was capable of doing, and Gregor was taking the situation out of control. “Merrunz damn it, Gregor, shed the corpses!” he snarled, crossing the floor suddenly and grabbing the barrel of Sevari's pistol and forcing it down. “Now isn't the time or place for this. We're allies, working towards a common goal. Act like it.” Zaveed implored, raising a finger to Gregor.
“Why must you be like this, Gregor? We won; relinquish control of the bodies, and let’s move forward, yes?” Zaveed said, his voice even, attempting to defuse the situation. “No one else needs to die today. Do not make me break my promises.”
Sevari yanked his pistol away from Zaveed’s hand, stepping close enough to him to make one wonder who he even counted as an ally, “What the fuck happened to you?” He hissed, “On your knees to throat their cocks even after watching [i]this?[i/i]”
He turned to Gregor, eyes still returning to pure, unfiltered hatred at the sight of him. Or whatever the thing before him was. “I saw this.” He spoke, voice harsh and low in anger, “I’ve got a long memory, Gregor. And some good aim. Don’t be alone.”
He spared one last glance at his brother, searching his eyes for the man he once knew and finding nothing there. His lip quivered and he growled, turning his back on him to leave, no hurry in his step, no glances back. Just to let Gregor know he felt no fear of him.
Gregor ignored Zaveed, his eyes fixed on Sevari, and only spoke when the latter was about to leave. “Family,” he said suddenly. “Revenge. Protection. I know you understand these things. You will do whatever it takes for your brother. So will I. This is whatever it takes. I took this Dwemer's soul because I have need of it to save lives. If you knew… you would understand. And look around you,” he continued and gestured at the room, the stone table and the apparatus that hung suspended above it, fitted with black gems to store the souls of the death row inmates. “They deserve it. Every last one of them.”
Sevari stopped, his shoulders jerking upwards at Gregor’s first words. There was a long silence between Gregor and Sevari, “Maybe.” His voice rumbled out from his chest, but not turning back to Gregor, only speaking over his shoulder at him, “Maybe. But you’re not the God that decides. Maybe you’re not even the man that family of yours watched leave them anymore.” He disappeared beyond the threshold, leaving anger and resentment in his wake for the respective men.
“No one deserves that, corpse-herder. Do not rationalize your cruelty.” Zaveed growled. “The only reason I tolerate your presence is because I owe a debt to Raelynn. Now kindly fuck off and try to remember your humanity.” the Khajiit said, walking away towards the cage Bakih was contained in.
Jaraleet watched the scene unfold, deciding to not intervene when Zaveed began diffusing the situation. He let out a sigh as Sevari stormed out of the room in a fury, shaking his head slightly before he regarded Gregor with a neutral expression. “Do try not to antagonize our allies, would you? We don't need more enemies than we already have. Come, let us get out of here.” Jaraleet said before he did as the Ohmes-Raht and he too left the room.
That left Gregor standing alone with nothing more than the monsters that flanked either side of him. He had only turned his head and acknowledged the Khajiit’s presence upon his last word, humanity, and he regarded Jaraleet equally impassively when the Argonian warned him before leaving as well. His gaze rested on the door for a few long, heavy seconds as if he was staring beyond it at the back of the man who had just threatened him. “Oh, but I am,” the Pale Reaper whispered to himself. It was as if lights danced in his eyes. At last, he turned away from the door and made his way to the stone table and the apparatus where the Dwemer had carried out his grisly work, ignoring Bakih entirely. The reanimated Dwemer and the Wrathman took up positions around the table, their backs to Gregor, staring mindlessly outward into the rest of the room. It was clear the Imperial did not wish to be disturbed while he inspected the apparatus and began, slowly and methodically, to remove the black soul gems from their slots.
For his part, Bakih had been rather overwhelmed with all the going on that had taken place in the short time since the strangers and his sister had entered the room. He had thought he was going to die, for good reason, but it now seemed he would be rescued... Well, it was hard to tell. After his call to his sister, he had remained silent, pressing himself against the back of the cage. He was terrified, seeing the clannfear as well as whatever that hideous nightmarish summon of the bearded Imperial man was; Bakih was used to dirty men at sea, not such apparitions. His eyes had followed Sirine, fearing for her life, though it seemed her companions, whoever they were, were quite capable. He had slumped with relief once the dwemer necromancer was killed, though that feeling quickly evaporated with the argument that had begun, and once more Bakih found himself filled with dread, seeing the return of the large, terrifying summon from before. Eyes closed tightly, he found himself pressing his arms against his face. It was shameful feeling so frightened, especially with his sister right there, but there was only so much he could take.
Bakih cringed most noticeably when he heard the footsteps nearing the cage, but he opened his eyes nonetheless to see who was there. Relieved to see it was a khajiit rather than what he gathered was another necromancer, he spoke up. "The- there should be a key..."
Meanwhile, making his way back through the corridor was a freshly dressed Fjolte. Ditching the gear he’d been forced to wear had put enough of a spring in his step that he’d been half-tempted to sprint the length of the row bare-arsed. Raelynn had to use every bit of strength she had to prevent him from such a liberated act. She followed along beside him, anxious to return to Gregor after having heard what sounded like fighting even from where they had been.
“Get behind me blondie,” Fjolte said, his brows furrowed and he wore a piercing look in his eyes. He was getting to work slipping his hands into a pair of slick fur-lined gauntlets. “Dunno what we’re heading into, I don’t want you getting hurt-” it was then that Fjolte noticed the Ohmes Raht walking away from the room, carrying a dreadful energy around his entire being, so thick with anger, a feeling all too familiar to the Nord. “Gods…” he muttered under his breath, letting Sevari pass. He placed a hand on Raelynn’s chest to stop her moving further. Whatever the threat had been, it had gone now.
Raelynn too watched Sevari, and it only made her want to get to the group faster, she moved Fjolte’s hand away, brushing past him to finally enter the Necromancer’s domain. “We heard fighting, is everyone alright?” she asked in a fraught tone as she entered. She immediately felt the heaviness of the room, and a horrible cold weight slipped around her that almost stole the very breath from her lungs.
“Woah..” remarked Fjolte as he too found his way in, feeling the dying embers of the magical energy, he was the first of the two to see the Wrathman and an undead Dwemer, “what in Oblivion…” he said quietly, backing away and back into the doorframe. “Raelynn stay back,” Fjolte reached out and grabbed her arm, pulling her back to his side. His affable expression had come undone with a scowl as he put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Gregor looked up from his work at the sound of Fjolte’s voice. He had no interest in the Nord but he hoped that his presence would herald Raelynn’s return. Fortunately, it had, and he called out to her. “Come here, my love,” he said, his voice hanging in the air like precarious icicles in Frostfall, and straightened up, extending one arm and motioning for her to join him, his silhouette backlit by the blue lamp mounted on the wall behind him.
This was concerning, there was too much silence and heaviness in the room. She wouldn't let her concern show to the others though, and certainly not to Gregor - even though she knew very well that the man at the table was not Gregor, she took a slow and deep breath and feigned a smile. She would not let her worry show through, and so she let the mask slip into its place as she had done so many times before and began a series of soft steps towards Gregor. “What is it my darling?” she asked as she arrived before his conjurations, she almost tripped on her words, and they almost trembled as they left her lips. What had he done?
He pulled the crystal from its pouch that contained the stygian soul of the Dwemer that stood beside him and offered it for Raelynn to hold while he gestured towards the black soul gems, pulled free from the contraption and now lined up on the table, with his free hand. “Feel and see.”
Fjolte watched opened mouthed as he felt Raelynn pull away from his grip, he didn't understand a bit of it. A fucking Necromancer! He could only try to trust that she knew what she was doing, he trusted the Breton with his own life, afterall. He wasn't about to get any closer to the Imperial right now, and to save himself from his brewing anger, he brought his attention to Zaveed, Sirine, and… “Bakih! Brother you're alright… by Kyne you're well!” The Nord said as he moved to the cage, offering Sirine a smile - an attempt to ease the tension and bring warmth to the moment.
Raelynn watched as Fjolte occupied himself elsewhere alongside Sirine and Zaveed - he’d found a smile at least, and Sirine had found her brother. It didn’t explain why Gregor’s Wrathman and a corpse were idling at his back… She glanced down into his hand, to see the black gem within. It should have been obvious really… The mage did as he asked, and placed her hand over the gem, letting her fingers wrap around his hand - squeezing him slightly, allowing the tips of her fingers to stroke across the back of his hand. “I can feel it… Gregor,” she said only loud enough for him. Her bright eyes were muted in the murky darkness of the room, but the blue light cast an ethereal glow around her. She was looking into his, they were as black and opaque as the soul gem she was touching.
Satisfied, the Pale Reaper put the gem back where it belonged and turned to shove the soul gems he'd retrieved from the apparatus into his backpack. “Then you know Rourken is a liar and I am… justified. No more hiding. I have every right to do this, to take them,” he said and stared at the Dwemer zombie. “To own them and humiliate them. Nobody can stop me now.”
Her concern suddenly increased tenfold. All she could do was continue to smile up at him. Whether he was right or not was not important, they were in no place to do this. Not with everyone here, it was still dangerous - even if Rourken was a lying piece of shit. She had never seen him quite so… brazen. She associated this side of her lover with simmering rage and… a satisfying level of violence. But not like this, proud, calm, and bold as brass - openly. Much of her was excited - incredibly aroused even, but there was also the part of her that was now fearful...
The necromancer clearly had not expected intrusions and the key was easily enough to find hanging above a desk with a number of scrawled notes Zaveed couldn't read. He opened the cage, and offered a hand for Bakih to come out. Any joy he could have felt at the moment was robbed by anger; towards Gregor, Sevari, even Sirine… even seeing Gregor inviting Raelynn to casually inspect the black soul gems as if they were baubles in a store filled Zaveed with disgust. The whole room could burn. “Get him out of here. I need to find my brother. I trust our deal is satisfied, yes?” Zaveed said to Sirine, his bloodied hand still dripping on the floor.
Sirine watched Bakih take Zaveed's offered hand and shakily make his way out of the cage. Her brother was weak and malnourished and it brought tears to her eyes, but at least he was alive. "Yes," she replied, voice a little hoarse as she looked away from her brother to the khajiit. "Thank you."
“I'll give you two space.” Zaveed replied quietly, heading towards the door, feeling the need to breathe and finally respond to his very soul screaming at him to get away from the ghastly things the room contained.
Just like in Anvil, something was telling Raelynn to stop Gregor, or to get away. But she was beyond that now, and they had stepped far beyond a point of return. Then there was a strange feeling flaring up, the same feeling she had felt as she had embraced him in Gilane during the party. A feeling foul and foreign to her. Insecurity. “Let’s just get out of here…” she uttered, her insecurity betrayed her entire act and caused her voice and smile to tremble.
The shadow that lay behind his eyes seemed to fade away and the cold mask on his face cracked. After a few seconds, Gregor nodded and finished stowing the unholy loot of the chamber in his backpack. Suddenly and without warning, he drew his silver longsword from its scabbard and cut the Dwemer zombie down in one fluid motion. The blade’s enchantment saw the undead soultrapper burst into flames and his corpse collapsed in a pile of ash, and with a small gesture of his free hand the Wrathman vanished in a swirl of arcane energy. When he spoke, his voice was his own again. “You’re right. I hope the sands bury this place forever. Let’s go.”
Raelynn had watched his every nuanced movement. From the way that his eyes changed, to the almost gentle motion in which he tore through the corpse with his blade. Her eyes were fixed on the tip of it for some moments as she composed herself too. Briefly glancing across to Sirine and Bakih. As much as she was appreciative of her help, she wished the girl wasn't here now. She had so much she wanted to say to Gregor - suddenly so much to ask, but the situation did not allow for it. A feeling of butterflies swarming in her stomach mixed with the heady rush of what Gregor had done. She could feel him. She immediately felt loathed that she'd had to pull him from the edge.
At last her eyes locked to his, a look of pure desire and exhilaration was held firmly in her intense stare as she took his hand once more, lacing her fingers around his and gripping him tightly. She lead the way out, taking confident and steadfast strides to the doorway.
Sirine nodded once more before reaching out and taking Bakih's hands in her own. She had dreamed of this moment for days and it was finally here, yet aside from relief, the general vibe of the room left no happiness to be found. "We need to get out of here," she murmured.
"Agreed," Bakih replied, squeezing her fingers. There was a weak smile on his countenance, and he leaned forward, pressing his forehead against her hair for a brief moment before straightening and looking for the carrier of the familiar voice. "Fjolte?"
“Aye, it’s me!” he replied with a grin. “It’s alright, you don’t need to tell me how good looking I am in the flesh like this. I already know,” he chuckled with a wink as he slapped a hand on Bakih’s shoulder. He took from his satchel a small vial of liquid that Raelynn had given him earlier. “You don’t look quite as shit hot as I do though brother, you need this more than I do…” He handed the vial to Bakih, his grin subsiding to a look of genuine concern.
Bakih let go of Sirine's hands and took the vial from the Nord man. Despite the circumstances, there was an amiable look on his face as he nodded his thanks. "Well, brother, nearly having one's soul sacrificed to a gem does that to a person." He uncorked the vial and downed all the liquid in one go, not even caring how it may have tasted, as long as it made him feel better so he wasn't a burden. “Thank you.”
Sirine meanwhile bit the inside of her lip, trying not to show any emotion. Her little brother's words had reminded her of words spoken to her before she had left Gilane. "Being nearly killed and soul trapped tends to make one’s disposition a bit less agreeable than usual." The realization of how she had ignored what probably had been going on in Zaveed's mind left a bitter taste in her mouth. Her eyes swerved to look at Gregor, narrowing in utter dislike before she looked away. Oblivion take him.
Fjolte scowled briefly upon hearing Bakih’s confession, the implications of such things were too much for him to think about right now, that could be saved for a moment where he had time to ponder it all, alone. “Look, I hate to be the wet blanket and spoil this party but I for one really don’t wish to spend another moment in this hole…” He removed his hand from Bakih’s shoulder, and gave another look in Raelynn and Gregor’s direction, confusion and concern etched into his face. “I’ll be outside…” With that said, he made his way out of the room and back into the hallway.
"He's right," Sirine spoke aloud. "I've enough of this shithole. Come, Bakih. Let's find a way out of this fucking place." The rancor in her voice was clear to hear, but she didn't quite care anymore. Grabbing onto Bakih's wrist, she lead the way out of the room, pausing only momentarily to hand over her dagger to him. "Keep this. I hope you won't have to use it, but you can't be too sure."
"I know," Bakih replied, quick to reply as he exited the room, not giving the place a second glance.
The Walls of the Prison
Daro’Vasora didn’t wait to see the rest of her group journey off to create some ruckus or another to pull attention away from the prisoner rescue efforts and her own to retrieve the lexicon. Latro had elected to go with her; she was grateful for him not wanting to lose her again after fearing the worst for another when they were separated in Gilane. She just hoped he could keep up; for the first time in a long time she felt like she was back in her element, doing what she did best; finding rare and priceless artifacts in ruins that no one else could.
The duo made their way down the right passage, eventually finding an opening in the wall that overlooked what was one of the detention blocks, and further down the ruins a series of gates were evidently used to manage prisoner flow, as well as rotating ramps between levels. Catwalks lined the upper levels, leading to a doorway through a wall that presumably led to a control center; it was an option, but one that presumably would lead them to far too many guards.
Instead the feline’s eyes focused on the architecture around and over the gates themselves; it was a lot of open air and there were a number of signs of wear and tear of age and the elements taking their toll on the preexisting structure that the Dwemer presumably were never going to address. Afterall, wouldn’t it be somewhat tasteless to deface the designs and creations of one’s ancestors?
“So, how confident are you at climbing?” Daro’Vasora asked Latro. “Because we’re about to do a lot of it.” she stepped behind him, taking his hand in her own and pointed where she was looking, tracing her pathway. “We need to get to that walkway, prepare for any patrolmen or guards, and then climb down again, follow the wall, and get over the gates. If you don’t feel like you’re up for this, or you’re scared of heights, it’s okay; I can manage.” she said reassuringly, giving him a hug from behind to show she wasn’t taking his abilities, or him, for granted.
I hate climbing, he wanted to say. The very few times he had to were either along sheer rock faces in the Reach or the one time he had to clamber over the walls and palisades of Markarth while Nords fired arrows and threw spears at him in his flight from Nord justice. He was younger then, still young now, but no more interested in the prospect of climbing. He swallowed, biting his lip, knowing he was going to disappoint Sora somehow.
“Yeah, I’m a good climber.” He lied, trying his best at an easy smile for her sake, but mostly his.
Even then, she caught his trepidation.
“You don’t have to impress me, but I don’t think there’s going to be anything to dissuade you from being a supportive partner.” Daro’Vasora said with a wry smile, patting Latro on the forearm. “I promise I won’t let you fall. Just follow my lead, okay?”
“If the garrison of the heart of Dwemer power in Gilane couldn’t keep me from you,” he leaned over to peer down the horrifying drop and all the crooked-limb fates his imagination could conjure up, “Then this… this is going to be the easiest of it.”
He shrugged, “Lead on, my bluebird.”
Daro’Vasora pecked him on the cheek. “That’s the spirit.” she said, crawling out of the opening and looking at the expanse below; it wasn’t a survivable drop, that was for sure. Even so, she saw some adequate footholds below and angled herself to best take advantage of them, testing their strength by bouncing on the foot. “Don’t look down, just focus on where your hand and foot is going next and you’ll be over in no time. If you start to tire, there’s definitely places you can stand comfortably and secure your arm around.” she promised. With that, Daro’Vasora began to carefully climb her way laterally across the wall, her destination some twenty feet away. Still, she went slower than she would have liked, preparing to reach out and provide a more secure hold for Latro should he need it.
The two made decent time after Latro found more comfort in his movements, focusing on his hand and footholds rather than the drop below and Daro’Vasora patiently showing him where to grab. They made it to the catwalk and let their strength return, and just in time; the shifting catwalks and walkways grinding and protesting into position. A line of bone-thin prisoners chained together by the ankles and wrists shuffled forward at the prodding of a couple guards. Latro rubbed his wrists, the trek through night to slaver dens still fresh in the corners of his mind, deep in the umbras of the shadows. “I do not envy them…” Latro whispered.
They waited for the catwalks to shift again, and as they righted themselves for Sora and Latro, the pair lay in wait for any guards. When none came, they jumped onto the walkway and slunk toward the control center. A huge door was set in the pale gray wall, the only thing separating them from their goal. A square hole lay in the middle of the door, a lock, for a key they did not have. “Well, if that isn’t unfortunate.” He looked to Sora for answers, “Ideas, love?”
The Khajiit looked back towards where the guards had guided the prisoners. “Just one. Think one of those guards have it, or would know where it is?”
“Oh…” he shook his head, eyes going to where Sora’s were, “And here I was thinking we could go even a week without risking our lives.”
Daro’Vasora smirked, lifting Latro’s chin with a finger. “Oh, you’re with the wrong partner if you wanted things to be boring and safe.” she purred before hoisting her mace. “So, let’s go see what this thing does to armour. I’ve got some shit to work out.”
“Oh,” Latro ran a hand over his hair and top-knot, “We’re doing it that way too.”
He sighed, the air around his skin taking on a shimmer like the desert in the distance, a familiar numbness creeping across his body; ironskin. “Alright, then. Lead on,” he shook his head and snickered, bemused, “My Bluebird.”
She patted his cheek with a smile. “Watch me soar, love.” she said, heading out the way they came. It didn’t take long to catch up with the slow-moving procession of prisoners, painfully unaware of how close liberation was at hand. Daro’Vasora’s footfalls were nearly silent as she crept up behind the rearmost guard, and when he sensed a presence behind him, he didn’t react to the sudden impact of the mace crushing his faceplate and toppling him against the railing. The second guard shouted an alarmed and furious cry as he brought his sword down upon Daro’Vasora, who managed to deflect the blow with the handle of her weapon.
<What’s the matter, forgot how to fight anything that has strength to fight back?> she taunted in Dwemeris.
Without a word, the guard lunged forward, letting go a furious roar. The effort was wasted when a hand gripped its fingers around the blade itself, wrenching the blade one way, and then the other, pulling it from his grip. “Mine.”
Latro leapt forward, pouncing like a panther and delivering a knee into the guard’s solar plexus and at the same time, driving an elbow down on the top of his head. He crumpled to the ground without much in the way of protests. He carelessly tossed the sword clattering on the ground, getting to work searching the Dwemer’s belt. “We need a vacation. Nice, warm tropical paradise.” He said, “I hear Stros M’kai is good this time of year.”
“I could use somewhere with a nice breeze,” Daro’Vasora agreed, checking over the guard she felled. She looked up at the prisoners. “Are you all alright? You’re safe now.” she promised with a slight smile. She pulled a key free from the belt triumphantly. “Not the one I was looking for, but let’s see about those chains.” the Khajiit said, heading to the closest prisoner and trying the key to the lock on their chain. It popped open, and Daro’Vasora handed the key to the prisoner. “Get the others out of their bondage, and if any of you know how to use these weapons, they’re yours.”
“Ah,” Latro said, pulling a key ring off of the guard’s belt. He would save going through all of the dangling metal for later, instead patting the guard’s dented helmet before rising, “Might be one of these.” He jingled the hefty ring.
“One way to find out.”
Not long after, the sounds of the beginnings of a riot were breaking out in the prison courtesy of the freed prisoners and Daro’Vasora and Latro were back at the door. They found an oddly shaped, piston-shaped key and slotted it into the door. Suddenly, it came to life with the sound of mechanisms and it rotated into the wall, sitting so flush it was hard to tell there was even a door there.
“Huh.” Daro’Vasora said, scratching behind her ear. “That’s one thing I appreciate about the Dwemer compared to Ancient Nords; no lining up pictographs to open a damn door. Just put a key into a slot and away you go.” she said, looking at the key again; energy radiated from the inside. “Interesting design, maybe the pulse it emitted was what unlocked the door? It wasn’t a traditional mechanism. Let’s hold onto it.” she suggested, stepping through the portal, inviting Latro to come along.
Latro stood gape-mouthed at the door. He’d never seen anything like it. At every turn, the Dwemer were amazing him when they weren’t busy trying to kill him. “Huh?” Latro said, shaking himself from his awe, and stepping toward Sora, “Right, right. Pulses…”
He shook his head. The entire room needed no light fixtures besides the one in the center. A big, glowing mass of energy bright enough to make him squint and a menagerie of pipes. At the heart of it all, just a tiny box, no bigger than Latro’s fist. Along the walls, as well, were boxes almost like it. Some held a faint glow, some did not, and in different colors as well. Blues, reds, yellows, greens. Lines of color in the patterns of Dwemer art, sharp angles and perfect curves. Latro held a hand over one, a warmth radiating from its red light and oddly he felt the ghost of an angry mood take him and the warmth of the box grow to a searing temperature. Another, slightly less warm in its yellow and he snatched his hand away as if the box would open up and take a finger from him. A cold one, blue. He swallowed, shaking his head as he took his hand from it, those feelings that one gave him were best left far away.
Another was on its lonesome, no glow to it, next to one that held a bright green. He grabbed both of them up and stashed them in his bag, “Perhaps more lexicons. I’d rather not place all my faith in just one.”
“Probably not a bad idea.” Daro’Vasora agreed, walking over to another wall. A device with a number of pipes coming out of it and a viewport to the ground floor below showed a shimmering blue portal within a gate; Daro’Vasora felt elated and a bit terrified, as this validated what her suspicions were and confirmed what Governor Rourken had told her. Within the device in front of her was a cube, much like the one she’d seen in the Jerall mountains, perched in a very similar contraption to the one that started the entire mess. A feeling of horrific nostalgia and recollection filled her, and she shook her head, banishing the thoughts from her mind. She had work to do.
Grasping the cube within her hand, Daro’Vasora pulled it free of its harness, feeling its weight coming with it, thousands of lives represented in something so small. The thing felt cursed; and when the connection was broken, the portal shimmered and vanished. It was certainly the key between Nirn and Exodus. Or at least one of them.
“This is it.” she said in wonder, holding it aloft. “The way forward.”
Latro looked upon it with heaviness upon his brow. Such a thing of power he had not seen in his lifetime. Not since the Jeralls. “Gods…” he stepped closer, “We will make history with this. It’s a responsibility I never knew we’d wield.”
It was something Daro’Vasora certainly contemplated, searching her memories for anything she’d come across quite like this. “I think we’ve already made history, love. It’s just a matter of what we are remembered by that matters now… it’s strange, holding this key in my hand. I actually feel more reassured in what we’re doing, if that makes sense.” the Khajiit said, carefully placing the lexicon in a satchel.
“I had a thought. What if I was supposed to study the Dwemer for much of my life for this reason?” Daro’Vasora asked suddenly, turning to look at Latro. “Do you believe in fate, some divine purpose even? I haven’t really thought of it much myself, but this… feels strange. Unlike anything I’ve experienced before.”
“If there is, then fate gave me a shit go of things.” Latro huffed, feigning amusement, but he looked back at his love with his easy smile, “Until now, of course. Let’s go, no time to waste.”
Daro'Vasora approached Latro, gently taking the nape of his neck and pulling his forehead to hers. “Well, if fate is real, it did bring us together. I can't say it's all been bad.” she said softly, reaching down and taking his hand in her own. “Let's go find the others. We finally have good news.”
They left in a hurry, dodging patrols and sticking close to the shadows. Although the sounds of fighting and men dying were tickling at his ear, Latro and Sora still made a slow advance towards the others on account of guards’ pounding boots to fight and die with their brethren. It felt like an eternity between the Lexicon control room and Latro’s first sight of the others, though Sevari, Gregor, and the others seemed tense. Not surprising, Latro thought.
Deciding to capitalize on the good, Daro’Vasora smiled at the two newcomers, the one’s familiarity with Sirine having him as Bakih, and her smile faltered at the realization of who the scruffy looking Nord was. “Are you… fuck, it is, isn’t it?” she said, scratching behind her head, feeling the triumph she felt take a significant impact of Fjolte somehow, against all odds, being here and now. “Well, this is unexpected. Glad you’re well.” she replied shortly, making sure that everyone one else was accounted for. For the entry group and those who went to find Bakih, all hands were accounted for.
The group doubled back towards the fighting and the sounds of the skirmish died down; from the main hall with a group of other prisoners was the rest of the team, along with Alim, who Daro’Vasora hurried over to and embraced, and an even more surprising face.
“Gaius? Mara’s love…” she said, regarding him like a man back from the dead. She turned and embraced him tightly. “We’d thought you were gone. Welcome back, I am so sorry for everything.” she said, fighting back tears welling up in her eyes. Suddenly, she chuckled, looking at the group. “I don’t think the wagon’s big enough for everyone.”
The solution wasn’t an ideal one, but it worked in a pinch. The prison had a stable with a number of horses and the caged transports they had once discovered Shakti in. Enough fabric was found to cover the cages with to provide shade, and a few of the prisoners who were of the Alik’r agreed to ride ahead to try and connect with the tribes to prepare to care for the prisoners. The doors weren’t locked, and the prison was ransacked for supplies, food, and water for the convoy. With everyone safely loaded up and adequately prepared for the journey ahead, the wagons carried on for the journey.
Half a day ride later, a group of riders were seen in the distance, members of Shakti’s tribe. After a joyous reunion, they led the caravan towards a secluded depression surrounded by high cliffs and an oasis perched in the middle, surrounded by colourful tents and what looked like a gathering of several tribes. Merchants were out in force, and there were entertainers like fire breathers and sword jugglers, belly dancers, musicians, and snake charmers. Swordsmen showed their skills against one another and summoned beasts, and overall there was a real air of celebration. As the caravan arrived and the prisoners were unloaded, family members came to rush to greet the prisoners. There certainly was the impression that this gathering was for their benefit and the rejoicing of an improbable victory against the occupiers; there was a sense that nothing was impossible when the people of Tamriel pulled together as one.
As the injured and infirm were tended to by healers and put to rest in the medical tents, the rest were free to join the celebrations. Raelynn made herself useful immediately by joining with the rest of the healers, working quietly and diligently to tend to as many patients as she could. For once, things went well and they scored a victory on their terms, not constantly on the run and against impossible odds.
They had earned this victory.