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The Kthrakz Mile

Dwemeri Prison Ruins Kthrakz
17th Midyear, 4E208
early morning…

”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 Teeth grinding as her face no longer maintained its usual calm expression, she strode ahead of her companions, her pace now quick as she hurried to the nearest cell and looked within, eyes jerking from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….

Kthrakz Reservoir…
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.”


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.

Meanwhile, Alim...

“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!”

‘Click!’ ‘Tsssshhh…’

“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!

‘Click!’ ‘Tssssshhh…’

“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?”

‘Click!’ ‘Tssssshhh…’

“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.

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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Leidenschaft
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Leidenschaft Relax, only half-dead

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What’s Forgiveness?

Alik’r Tent Village, Hammerfell
Day of Midyear

Talk to me, Brother…


Sevari scoffed, raising his bottle to the darkening sky in a spiteful and mocking toast. He brought it back to the sand at his side, sighing before taking a long pull from it. “You don’t hate me do you, Stranger?”

He patted his horse’s flank and it made a small huff as he lay against it. He hadn’t spoken a word to anybody on their long trek here, keeping to the rear. Outriders were his excuse, but the fact of it was the rear was the opposite of where his brother was and bringing up the rear was a sure way to make sure nobody spoke a word to him. Sure as sure, still nobody spoke a word to him now in his silent vigil of the dunes at dusk, all on his lonesome at the edge of camp, shirtless and nursing a bottle. He looked at the ink in his skin, reminders of a lifetime lived with only killing or dying and a dirk’s edge between the two options. He took another drag of his cigar and poured out some of his whiskey to old friends lost, to men killed. To his brothers.

“I don't hate you, but the Stranger seems acute.” A smooth voice said behind Sevari. “Unless you were speaking of the horse, then you always did have a predisposition to giving things flowery names and titles.”

Zaveed approached, holding an apple, which he held out for Stranger to pull into his mouth with oversized and dexterous lips. “Still giving me the silent treatment, or were you considering actually living up to that promise of trying to make up for years of estrangement?” the Cathay asked, stroking the horse's long snout with the back of his fingers.

Sevari flinched at that, his shoulders hunched and his fingers had crept close to his messer before he returned the hand to his lap. He sighed, long and hard, puffed on his cigar, “I’ll be sure to note that, Captain Greywake of the Merrunz Wrath.” He smiled, but something was weighing the corners of his lips down.

“I’ve lost more in the past godsdamned week than the last 20 years.” He hung his head, “Marassa hates me to her marrow and I killed my own brother and the people I called my partners because of the mess the Dwemer brought on us.”

He took a long pull from his whiskey, “And after every good thing I’ve tried to do, it feels like the world is conspiring against me and showing me that I’m only fucking up more. And among it all, I almost lost you.” he let go a shuddering breath, “I am sick and fucking tired of losing. So when I saw that necromantic fuck taint Sirine’s efforts to save her brother, with his magicks… What the fuck does Raelynn see in him?”

“I’m sorry for everything I’ve ruined.” He finished, shaking his head lamely as his eyes closed and he took another swig. “Or seem hell-bent on it.”

“She doesn’t hate you, Sevari; she wouldn’t have given you a key if she did. Give her time; she’s always been a mountain of a woman. She’ll never move, so you have to go around her, and taking her head-on without being prepared for it’s going to leave you worse off and her unchanged.” Zaveed said, glancing sidelong at his brother. “She’s still the young girl you knew in Senchal, just in fancier armour and somewhere that she feels she belongs. She’d never admit it, but the bond you had is something she still cherishes, Sevari. You didn’t do anything to her that can’t be mended.” he said, his hand stopping its gradual motion down the horse’s snout.

He turned to face Sevari, his expression resigned. “Look, we’ve been over that I’ve forgiven you for losing my ship and my crew, but you need to understand that they were my family, Sevari. I don’t blame you for their fates, just the capricious whims of the damned divines. It doesn’t mean I don’t wake up some mornings and expect to hear a familiar voice in the air, a song that only we knew, bickering over some debt or another, or the smells of a cook who really wasn’t paid enough for the miracles he provided.” Zaveed said with a faint smile, tears in his eyes.

“I still feel like I’m cursed, that I shouldn’t be the one to have lived when none of them were anywhere as rotten and cruel as I, and the fact I was spared when they were not is a damn joke that I’m not hearing the punch-line.” his hand covered his muzzle, his hand resting on his axe, his body tense. He looked up after a moment. “Point is… I understand loss. I understood what you felt when you put the blade to your own flesh and blood, and those men and women you served with gave you no choice… they were your crew.

“This is what I tried to warn you about; your masters don’t give a fuck about you or what you want. They forced you to take your own brother’s life because your love for my sister stayed your hand to do the job they groomed you for.” Zaveed said, with a heavy sigh, staring at the cloudless sky above. Somewhere, the crowd gasped appreciably at some daring feat of a juggerler or a fire blower, the sound of an instrument Zaveed had no name for droned on in a soothing melody.

His head sunk slow, a pregnant silence filled the air between them, a chasm that suddenly became apparent. “It’s all of that why I can’t fathom why you cannot understand why I’ve chosen to forgive Gregor, despite the pain he’s caused me, despite nearly taking my fucking soul.” Zaveed snarled, his lips curling back over his teeth as he glared at Sevari, the tears flowing freely now. “Do you not think that what he did to me doesn’t haunt me, that I didn’t deep down wish for you to pull that fucking trigger, or better yet, for me to do it myself? Do you know what it feels like, how helpless and violating it is to feel something that you cannot explain but is very much everything that you are being violently and cruelly bit into and torn at like a wolf rendering your flesh to consume it?

“I hate him, Sevari, but there’s bigger things in my life than worrying about what one deranged monster did to me. I made a promise to Sirine; do you not think that my only concern in that moment was getting Bakih out of there safely, that an outbreak of violence would have gotten someone who actually matters killed?” He shouted, closing the physical distance between them, a few short steps.

Suddenly, Zaveed threw his arms around Sevari, holding him tight. “You have no idea what Gregor is capable of, brother. I lost you once already, I couldn’t fucking risk losing you again. I couldn’t forgive myself if something happened to Sirine or her brother because my feud with Gregor mattered more than her. I thought you would understand that her finding her own brother that was taken from her would have struck a chord, Sevari. I can’t bear the thought of how Raelynn would look at me if I tried to kill Gregor once more, not after she gave up everything to spare my life even though she hated me to her core; she made the choice to not betray her principles.” he held Sevari at arm’s length. “And I will not betray mine.”

Sevari nodded along, not meeting eyes with his brother. The wind kicked up dust some ways away on the dunes, Sevari just stared out at it with no thought in his mind. This was the most at peace he’d been in so long. “I know in my very soul it’ll be a long, long while before I can look at Gregor and not just see a corpse waiting to be told so.” He took a drag of his cigar, “His very presence makes me want to do things to him. But if it’s what you need, what we need, I’ll stay my hand.”

He noticed the weight of his body and his eyelids. He was drunk. It seemed he’d spent a significant part of his life perpetually clutching a bottle. He offered it to Zaveed, a gesture of goodwill, and spoke again, “I just can’t come to terms with how much everything’s changed. I thought I knew, but I didn’t truly see it until Marassa and I had our blades pointed to each other.” He swallowed, “More than ready to kill. I told Sirine, how those long years ago, Marassa and I always had it that you were the best of us. The most charming, the friendliest. Gods, what the hell happened?”

He laughed, perhaps not humorously, but it was one. “I’m a wanted man with more blood on my hands than any other outlaw this side of Lake Meade. You, well,” he snorted, “You’re you.”

“A daring, charming, and handsome glorified pirate?” Zaveed offered with a forced grin and a wink. He took the bottle from Sevari and set it down on the ground; he had the intention of keeping a clear mind tonight. His pulse was still racing.

“It's been a long time for all of us. We were there for one another when we needed it most, but we were children thrown into a cruel world without any experience in life other than trying to survive to see the next sunrise. You were taken from us when we were still children, and how can those few precious years compare to three decades of life pulling the three of us apart?” Zaveed replied, his emotions having calmed considerably. He just felt drained and resigned now.

“How could things not have changed? The roots of who we are are still there, Sevari, it's just the tree has grown tall and many branches have sprouted off. Maybe in another life I could have realized the promise the cub I was held, but no sense mourning what's already passed, yes? Same goes for you. Do not look back, Sevari. We are not going that way.”

Sevari looked at his brother, sighing. The two had been through so much in the past month and Sevari never stopped to think about the consequences of his actions taking a toll on the man next to him, even if his actions were supposed to be for him. Sevari placed a hand on Zaveed’s shoulder, “I’m sorry, brother.” He said, somber, “I have been a selfish man. I let hate and sorrow take me. I don’t want it to come to a head with me and you like it did with me and Suffian in Al-Aqqiya.”

“I never stopped to ask myself if everything I’d done was still for my mother and my brothers. In the end…” He swallowed, his lips sealing themselves like accepting the truth was drinking a poison, “In the end, I think it wasn’t for anyone but me. The dead can forgive, vengeance is just for yourself.”

“I never stopped to ponder that until I was holding my gun to your would-be murderer’s face and you of all people telling me to put it down.” He frowned, “All I want is to be a good brother again, Zaveed. Just tell me how.”

Zaveed put a hand on Sevari's shoulders, looking his brother in the eye; they looked so different than his own, they shared no blood. In his eyes, however, they had a closer bond than most. “It will never come to that, I will never raise a weapon to you. On that I promise.” he swore solemnly. “The reason my promises to Raelynn and Sirine mean so much to me is because they mean I can change, that I'm not a slave to the past. I can be better, Sevari. No, I will be better. Neither had any cause to show me mercy or compassion and yet they did. They showed me a better way, and if I can try to change, you can, too.” he said earnestly.

“Maybe you should start by trying to make amends with those you befriended, against your better judgement. You also helped Sirine rescue Bakih, and that Fjolte fellow from the cells.” Zaveed pointed out with a warm smile. He tapped a claw over Sevari's heart. “Maybe that's the key to starting new and for us to pave our road together. We stop serving only ourselves and our base instincts and instead try to do right by others. I'm not going back to the Dominion, and you sure as shit shouldn't go back to the Empire. I'm tired of being someone else's pawn. What do you say?”

“We’re all but dead, the Penitus Oculatus. The Dwemer scattered us and the Thalmor…” Sevari frowned deep and his fist clenched, “If they haven’t won, they’re godsdamned close. I’ve seen what they do to dissidents and enemies. I was there in Valenwood, the women, the children. All those stories about Sentinel and the Night of Green Fire besides. I’m sorry, Zaveed, but I was made to kill killers.”

“I’ll stick by you through this Dwemer shit. The things they had me do to prisoners and enemies of the State, the things I’ve seen them do? They deserve whatever Sora and the others have for them.” He said, “If fighting this war is the one good thing I can do for the ones around me and the innocents in the Imperial City, then it’s the war I’ll win or die trying.”

“You worry too much.” Zaveed said with a grin. “Can't do much about yesterday and tomorrow isn't here yet, so why not focus on the here and now?” he looked over at the festival, the very essence of life in such a barren place.

“Look, I'm not going to argue morality between empires; they've both been party to awful shit, and we're no better because we did that work for them. Rationalize it however you like, Sevari; a lot of the people you killed probably didn't hurt a fly, and my hands are just as red. But if it helps, the Dominion isn't ready for another Great War any time soon. Those golden shits don't reproduce quickly and it takes an eternity for them to come of age, so they felt the losses a lot harder than the Empire did. Not that I'm party to their war plans, but I imagine they struck because they thought the Empire weak and dealing with a two front war would tip the scales. I don't suspect they're quite ready if the Empire puts any weight behind its punches.” Zaveed said casually with a faint shrug.

“They were underestimated once before.” Sevari sighed.

He nudged Zaveed with his elbow, taking his hint, “Why don’t we do something better than sit and talk about sad shit. Tired of that.”

That raised a brow at that. “Oh? You seem like you've something on the mind already.” Zaveed pressed curiously.

Sevari shrugged, laying a hand on Stranger’s flank and hearing the horse sigh in response to his touch, “A walk. We’ll let mischief find us instead of looking for it this time, eh?” He smiled, “A change of scenery might do me some good. Maybe I can watch you get put on your ass by an Alik’r in those fancy dances they call a spar.”

That prompted a gruff chuckle. “Oh, you think some baggy pants warrior with a blade that’s only meant for slashing can even hope to match the infamous Captain Greywake in a duel?” Zaveed replied with mock indignation, opening a pouch and pulling a few coins free. He sorted them on his palm with a thumb counting quietly to himself. “One… three… seven… ten Septims says you’re full of shit.”

Sevari gave a low chuckle as he got to his feet, grunting with the effort and bouncing on his toes as he came to his full height, “I do very much look forward to meeting the man who humbles the great and terrible scourge of the south seas.” He grasped up and sheathed his thick-bladed messer and holstered his pistol with a twirl on his trigger finger, “Godsdamn, I’m getting good at that. Alright, let’s get to it.”

Zaveed offered a mock applause at the flourishing of weapons. “And you didn’t even shoot a bystander in the process. Well done.” he said with a grin, before looking to the sand for a moment, rubbing the toe of his boot into it. “Actually, if you don’t mind, I’d like a few moments to myself to gather my thoughts before the night gets away from us. I’d like to speak to Sirine for a moment, now that our business is concluded.” he sighed before shaking his head with a sly smile. “Should give you more than enough time to find someone worthy of my legendary prowess, yes? I promise I won’t keep you waiting.”

“Oh, it’ll be just be a matter of finding the right sickly child and putting a stick in his hand.” Sevari smirked before waving his brother on, “Go with peace and all that, tell Sirine I said hello.”

Zaveed begun to walk away, waving a dismissive hand. “Say hello yourself, you antisocial cock. You think I’m going to sit a celebration like this out? I’m a fucking pirate, brother; my entire career pivots off one night to remember to the next. Let’s see if you remember how to have fun by the end of it.”

“With any luck, I won’t remember how I had fun tonight.” He said to his brother’s back, taking his hat off his head and bowing with all the mocking and sarcastic gravitas only brothers know how to treat each other with.
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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Greenie
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Greenie Heaven don't play like violins

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Damaged Does Not Mean Broken

by Dervish and Greenie

17th of Midyear, Sunset, location location location

Bottle of rum in one hand and a water skin in the other, Sirine made her way through the throng of still celebrating people, smiling a little as she watched families and friends chatting with each other as they watched the entertainment. She paused momentarily to watch two men engaged in a dance of sorts with their scimitars, weaving to and fro so seamlessly that she was sure it was a practiced routine. Still, it was pleasant to watch, even if it was merely a show. Once it came to its completion, the former pirate turned away and started off yet again. The festive environment made it easy to almost forget what had transpired earlier in the day… almost. The stiff feeling in her thigh where she’d bandaged herself was a constant reminder of how lucky they all were to have survived. Bakih was alive and well, though it was clear he would need a lot of rest of both body and mind before he returned to his former self. She had made sure he had found his way to one of the healers before she tried and failed to distract herself by seeing what wares the many merchants may be selling. It pained her to think of what her little brother had to witness and how it may have scarred him for the rest of his life.

Once again she had found herself feeling the sense of guilt that had first struck her in the prison.

She finally found the Cathay Khajiit by himself, somewhat isolated from the rest of the people. Sirine wasn’t particularly surprised by this, and she wondered for a moment if perhaps this was a bad moment… but she easily pushed that thought to the side. Quietly, she set the bottle of rum next to him before sitting down cross-legged, flinching a little as she felt the mostly healed wound tense. Her eyes were quick to glance at his hand before looking away. Her own fiddled with her medallion as she thought of what to say.

“I wanted to apologize,” Sirine finally started. “Because of you, I’m no longer a whore. Because of you, my brother is alive and free. You didn’t have to help me, yet you promised and delivered, and I…” She hesitated before shaking her head, looking to the ground. “I’m not proud of myself. I was selfish, I didn’t think of how you may have felt with…” Her lips turned downward as she thought of Gregor and the Wrathman, of all those black soul gems. She hadn’t wanted Zaveed to end up dead due to his rage… but would she have done any different? She hadn’t. When she had been given the chance, she had taken her vengeance, and had continued to do so until fate had forced her pirating days to an end. Was it fair for her to feel anger when it was someone else expressing their discontent?

“We’ve only known each other for a week, but you have done more for me than most of my own blood have, and for that I’m forever grateful to you. I consider you a trustworthy friend. ” Sirine looked the Khajiit’s way at last, her expression heartfelt and sincere. “I’d be fraught with regret if that were to change.”

Zaveed continued to watch the sun dip down into the horizon, the twilight of the evening illuminating his face for a few more blissful moments before the cool of the night settled in. He offered the slightest of smiles before he spoke, “In the heat of the moment, when one’s blood boils with all manner of emotions that make you quite aware of how alive you are, the one thing that always seems to go first is reason. You don’t think, you just act. You feel the blood pumping in your ears, you lose sense of everything around you except for the very thing that’s threatening your life, you feel your wounds but you do not register the pain… there’s no time for reflection. Neither of us handled that particular situation with grace, but I’m content that it worked out in the end.” he said, turning to Sirine, his lips still upturned, but his eyes looked heavy and sorrowful.

“You have nothing to apologize for. You understand why I didn’t act with particular grace in the moment, and now the tempest of the moment has calmed, we have had time to reflect. Bakih’s safe, and you are both free.” he said softly, looking at the bandage on his hand, the white turned a rusty red; Redguards weren’t prone to promoting mages, let alone with a focus on restoration, it seemed. “It felt good to do something to help someone for a change. Ever since I met you, I’ve had something to focus on that wasn’t despairing over my crew or trying to feel something by throwing myself into cruel work. I was lost in a maelstrom of darkness, and you were a light that helped me find my way into harbour. It is I who should be thanking you, my dear.”

Sirine felt a little sense of relief slowly settle over her with Zaveed's words. A small part of her had been worried, though now that it was dispersed, she did feel a little silly for having such a fear. However, the relief it was tinged with something else. Looking at him as he was at this moment, sans his earlier rage or his charming flirtations, he seemed almost vulnerable, the look in his eyes causing her heart to twist painfully. There was an invisible burden on his shoulders, a darkness hovering over him; she wished there was some way to disperse it but she didn't quite know how.

Nevertheless, the former pirate smiled in his direction before she looked out at the sunset herself, sighing softly as she gazed at the red in the horizon. "It's like a circle, isn't it?" she said after a moment. "Round and round we go; I thank you and you thank me, and in the end, we'll both still feel what the other has done for them is more profound." She reached out and took hold of the bottle she had brought. It wasn't long before it was uncorked; Sirine took a small sip before setting it back on the ground between the two. "I can't repay you for what you've done for me..." She paused, gathering her thoughts before continuing. "I was ready to follow you not just because you promised return to the sea, but because I felt I owed you a debt for all you've done.

"But..." She shook her head, glancing at Zaveed once more. "It's not that anymore. It's... a little difficult to explain." She had always felt as if she was a leader or a follower, someone who looked up to others or looked down at them. It felt different here- she felt like she was talking to someone her equal, someone who could understand and relate to the things she did.

“Now that our debt has been squared away, you helped me find my sister, I your brother. You helped a battered and half dead man find his footing, and I helped you find your way out of a whorehouse and rediscover who Sirine is. What comes next, I wonder?” Zaveed asked, picking up the bottle with his good hand, studying the label with an appreciative hmph and tipping the bottle to his lips, feeling the familiar and comforting burn, like a cleansing fire. “I imagine you will want to see Bakih to safety, not to lose him again.”

There was a tightness to Sirine's jaw as she recalled the conversation she'd had with her brother as they had made their journey to the village they now found themselves in. Her eyes stung; she looked away from the Khajiit and back to the horizon once more. "The whole reason he ended up there was because of me," she finally broke out. Now that he was safe and sound, she somehow felt worse about it. Why hadn’t she sent him away all those years ago? "He would have never been on that ship... he wouldn't have been taken prisoner if he were still with my other brothers. I- I told him we're to part ways. Following after his big sister has brought him nothing but misery, even if he hides it well. It may have seemed to others as if he relied on me, but no, it was the other way around. And I can’t have that anymore."

Her eyes narrowed momentarily as she stretched out her legs, relieving the tension in them. Comfortable once more, she reached for her water skin, pulled out the stopper and took a gulp of water, cleansing her palate. "What comes next? I'm not sure." She looked back to Zaveed now that her emotions were somewhat composed. "Except that Bakih will not be following me any longer. And, well, for the time being at least, you are going to have to bear with my company, whatever you decide."

Zaveed put a hand on Sirine's shoulder. “Your guilt is misplaced, Sirine. You speak as if Bakih would have picked another path if he'd known the risks, or that he didn't do it for himself. From what you told me, your brothers are real cunts. Maybe he was just as eager to get away from them as you were?” the Khajiit pondered with a smile. “I had rather hoped you'd wish to stay by my side for a while longer, I quite enjoy this most rare of company. I do think you need to speak to Bakih and ask him what he wishes. He knew he was going to be living a dangerous life as a pirate, and he's a grown man. Let him decide what's best for himself, and support him as he has you for all these years.”

"You're probably right." No longer chewing the inside of her cheek, she let out a huff, not quite one of discontent, rather uncertainty. "No, you are right. Bakih always wanted to be where I was, but the path I chose and desired wasn't the one he would have wanted. He learned to use a bow because he didn't like being so near... so into the fray. He was always much softer than me and my brothers. It was an adventure at first, but I could see he was tiring of it..." She looked down at her lap. "My last trip, I had decided when we reached Gilane that I'd ask him to stay back. I told my quartermaster about it before we headed out for my last conquest. When we returned-" She bit the inside of her lip before continuing. "Well, you know what happened already."

This time it was a somber sigh that left her; she couldn't help but wonder if things would have been different if she had simply stayed in Anvil. "I just don't want to see him hurt again. He's always been on my side, even when the tides were against us. I've... just lost too many. Something happening to him again would kill me." She couldn’t help but laugh under hear breath, though it was without humour. “It almost sounds selfish, doesn’t it? I don’t want him in danger, for myself.” She paused for a second, a little hesitant, and then continued. “It was why I snapped at you there, with the clannfear. I didn’t want you dead either, for my own selfish reasons.”

“Let him be the master of his own fate, but let him know how you feel.” Zaveed said in a reassuring manner, drinking from the rum bottle once more. He smiled behind the lip of it. “Oh, feeling possessive of me, are we? I’m flattered.”

Sirine puffed out her cheeks in an almost childlike manner before letting out the air, giving Zaveed an amused yet mildly exasperated look. "Perhaps I am," she replied, crossing her arms over her chest, fingers lightly tapping her arms. "It tends to happen, my dear, when you have a rather short supply of friends you can trust."

She relaxed her stance in the next moment however, her arms loosening and falling to her lap. A small laugh escaped her lips as she leaned back on one arm, hand pressing against the ground behind her. "I jest, yet, I don't. It might seem silly but being in your presence is comforting in a way... nostalgic even." Her free hand took hold of the water skin again and she took a gulp, enjoying the clear, sweet taste. After a moment she set it down in her lap, though still holding on to it. Straightening up, she brought her free hand to her eyes, wiping an unintended wetness. "I miss it," she finally muttered. "And I miss them. The sea, my crew, my quartermaster Dar'Narej. Bakih was on my mind for so long that I pushed the thought of them away, yet now..." Her lips tightened before she slowly breathed out, composing herself. "My apologies. Now's... probably not the time to speak of such things."

Zaveed reached over, gently wiping away Sirine’s tears. “No, it’s fine. You’ve been holding this in for who-knows how long.” he said, offering the rum back. “I don’t imagine you’ve been able to speak to anyone about this for some time. I spoke with Sevari earlier about this, my own loss. Our stories are not so different, and our pain identical. You’ve lost your family, the one you chose. As have I, but…”

The Cathay smiled, pulling Sirine into an embrace. “You don’t have to shoulder your burdens alone. Let’s take time to heal, together. We’re both rather damaged goods, yes?” he chuckled, enjoying the feeling of physical contact. He never realized how much he needed it until recently.

For a moment Sirine remained stiff, surprised by the gesture. When was the last time someone had embraced her? In the tavern perhaps, by a rancid, drunk man? But it was nothing like this. She didn't feel the disgust she would feel for the patrons, nor the hatred she would feel for herself. It was an odd feeling, one of vulnerability, something she hadn't allowed herself to feel since the day she had been raped.

Slumping, her forehead pressed against the khajiit, feeling the lump in her throat expanding to such an extent that it was physically painful. Shoulders shaking, she silently allowed herself to shed tears for her crew-mates, her friends, her past. Hot droplets rolled down her cheeks and dripped off her chin, splashing onto her tunic and probably on Zaveed as well, but for now she was glad to ignore it. She needed this.

"Yes," Sirine finally replied, her voice hoarse and barely making it past the ache in her throat. She remained in the embrace, unwilling to relinquish the rare comfort she felt. "Damaged goods... they can be made whole again, no?" She certainly hoped so. Breathing shakily, the former pirate finally looked up at the khajiit, her face stained with tears. Dark and wet eyes sought his, yearning for an answer.

He held her tightly, resting his chin atop her head, his fingers running through her hair. “Perhaps, but damaged does not mean broken. Nothing is meant to stay unworn, Sirine. Fabrics fade in the sun, a blade gets chipped and scratched. But with care and effort, something can last forever, for as long as you want it. You, my Beautiful Sirine, are very much wanted.” Zaveed said softly. “Thank you, for believing in me, for helping me realize I am so much more than my past. For the first time since I lost everything, I found someone who saw me as something more than an instrument of violence. I think I can look in the mirror now and be reminded of the boy I left behind, that there’s still hope of seeing what I could have been if I didn’t allow myself to be pulled with the current.” He sighed contentedly, tears welling in his own eyes. This was something he never expected, nor deserved, but at that moment, he felt like the luckiest man in the world.

He felt hope.

"Damaged but not broken." Sirine tested the words aloud and found that it was the answer she needed, a plain and simple truth that that could lead her forward rather than dwelling forever in her dour past. A sniffle escaped her, but it did nothing to subdue the smile that came to her lips as she felt the cool touch of her medallion against her skin. Perhaps it was more than just a token of luck and focus, because she no longer had any desire to remove it, nor did she feel any disdain for herself for having it on her person.

Waiting no longer, Sirine returned the hug with equal fervour, finding peace and contentment in the unblemished closeness. "Well then... let's make sure we last forever, shall we?"

“Of course. Who am I to deprive the world of my handsome face?” he grinned, standing up suddenly. “What do you say we go celebrate, hm? There’s a bunch of happy people down there waiting to be impressed. We did some pretty incredible things already, Sirine. Let’s just be happy for a change. The darkest days are behind us.” he said, offering a hand to the Imperial-Redguard.

Nodding, Sirine wiped her face with the back of her hand before taking hold of the offered hand and pulling herself up to a stand. "Yes, let's." She smirked as she tucked the water skin in her belt and grabbed the bottle of rum. "This is yours, keep it." She pressed it into his free hand. "A gift of sorts."

Letting out a satisfied sigh, she motioned with her head. "Well, before Bakih starts grumbling about yet another khajiit..." She stifled a laugh.

“I’d like to assume I’ve given Sevari enough time to find me a dueling partner.” Zaveed said with a laugh, placing a hand on the small of Sirine’s back. “I’ve got ten Septims on the line saying he can’t find someone who can best me.” With a shake of the rum bottle and a heavy chug and an enthusiastic sigh, the Khajiit grinned to his companion. “Liquid courage, isn’t it? I’d look mighty foolish if I lost in front of you.”

Sirine couldn't help but return the grin with one of her own, accompanied by a wink. "Well then Zaveed, all you have to do is make sure you don't lose, hm?"

“Even if I do, at least I go down knowing he never had as fine of a companion as I do tonight.” He held out his arm. “Shall we?”

She took the offered arm easily. "Lead the way, Captain Greywake."
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Hidden 5 mos ago 5 mos ago Post by Stormflyx
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Stormflyx Queen of Doggos

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White Rabbit.

a Whirling Dervish through Stormy Weather...

Late afternoon,
Alik’r Desert, Hammerfell

In a quiet spot a few yards from the centre of the oasis, was a plain looking tent. A beige block in amongst a vibrant rainbow of colour. It stuck out like a sore thumb for that very reason, and just as well it did. It was the tent where the Redguard healers were tending to the wounded.

Also sticking out like a sore thumb, was a Breton woman - her tiny frame swamped in a mustard tunic. There was a moss green head scarf covering her hair, but the very tip of her braid peaked out in the middle of her back. Bright, ashen blonde tied off with a leather strap. Her sapphirine eyes lit up her face like two jewels. These clothes were not her colours, but she had been gifted them from the tribes women, and she had graciously accepted them without a fuss. Over the top of the tunic was a long linen apron - already smudged with sweat, blood, and various other fluids from her patients.

In the doorway of the tent, stood a very tall man who was standing above the rest of the patients as they queued. He raised the apple that had been in his hand to his lips, and took a huge bite, the crunch tearing through the painful silence of concentration that lingered in the tent. He’d been able to trim his beard and his hair, he had washed himself, and the fresh air in his lungs had brought colour back to him in spades. “Hey blondie, think you can take a break yet?” he mumbled with a chunk of apple shoved into his cheek.

“I have work to do Fjolte…” she said quietly, turning her head to look over at the Nord as he leaned against the tent pole at the entrance.

“Fourth apple I’ve eaten just now, by Kyne it’s good to eat real food…” he remarked with an easy smile as he moved into the tent. “Feel the fresh air out there-” Fjolte inhaled sharply, as if to demonstrate his happiness at being out of an underground shithole, but suddenly he found himself gagging - a rotten stench filled his lung, “great Gods of nowhere, what is that smell?” he wheezed out, a cough followed.

“This gentleman has an infection in his leg, I’m cleaning it… That’s the smell…” Raelynn responded dryly, giving Fjolte a look of disapproval for his lack of tact. “I suppose you’re right. I should stop… The women have been trying to get me to leave for the past couple of hours… Let me finish dressing this limb, I’ll meet you outside.”

Fjolte nodded, and gave the Breton a thumbs up as he continued to hold his breath. He scarpered quickly from the tent after that.

There was so much going on, and while normally he would be the first to dive in and join them, there was something on his mind and something wasn’t quite sitting right with him. He was incredibly grateful to be free from the prison, grateful once again to Raelynn. His faith and belief that they were fated to meet again had only been strengthened when he had heard of her troubles. She had explained to him in the prison that she had been struggling to use magic, of all things…

Something told him the warm feeling that had followed his freedom was about to freeze over as he spotted Daro’Vasora, the Khajiit who had been less than pleased to see him. Suddenly, Fjolte felt rather sheepish and his smile diminished - fearing that he may be scolded by her for looking so goddamned smug as he sat there basking on his little rock.

She caught sight of him and had half a mind to pretend she didn’t see him, but that would have been dishonest, and her misgivings were more from a much less experienced time where she made questionable and rash choices, and the last thing she wanted was to hear him be an insufferable, gloating ass. Still, he’d endured a lot, and she knew she was being irrationally spiteful. With a resigned sigh, she approached the Nord.

“I didn’t expect to see you again.” Daro’Vasora observed, glancing him over. “You look like you’ve bounded back from your ordeal rather well.”

Fjolte gave a half smile in the Khajiit’s direction, scratching the back of his neck to occupy his hands somewhat. “Can’t say I ever expected to see you either,” he began with a nervous laugh. “Guess our world is just a lot smaller than we thought, that or Kyne blew us back together for a reason you know.” He took another bite from the apple, nodding in Sora’s direction. “I don’t need much. Just fresh air, food, and friends at my side... Feel a bit stiff here and there but that’ll fix itself in time. There are folk here far more wounded than me.”

At the mention of his body feeling stiff, he turned from side to side in a gentle stretch, groaning as he felt the muscles pull. “How’ve you been? Looks to me like you’ve picked up more than a few misfits, stragglers, and disciples on your travels...”

Inwardly, she groaned. She did not care for the implication that they were fated to run into one another again, especially with his flippant flirting and sexuality. Idly, she remembered what she had asked Latro earlier, Do you believe in fate? Apparently, it was quite real, and not at all what you’d hope for.

His latter line of questioning, she decided, was much more her speed. “It’s been a tough road. An expedition turned invasion, a lot of loss and hardship, but there’s been good, too.” She said, thinking of moments like her falling in love with Latro, her friendship with Judena, the spring with Raelynn, the party with everyone. Those who she travelled with brought warmth to her heart, and she knew that they were more than just companions. “Despite how impossible it’s seemed at times, I care about these people, and they care about me. We’re all just trying to get by and do the right thing, you know? Life just doesn’t stop because of a war.” she replied wistfully, turning to look at him. “What were you doing in Hammerfell?” she asked, deciding to sit down next to him.

“Such is wartime…” he offered, raising a hand as if there were a glass in it to the sky. “To those we lost…” His hand fell back to his lap after a moment of pensive thought. He took in a deep breath, and found himself peering off at the horizon. “Well my friend, I wasn’t actually in Hammerfell. I got ambushed in the mountains about a month past. Was with a group of good men and women, we were just trailing the winding paths… Looking for a cave and a tomb - you know me,” he winked in her direction, his smile dazzling, “guess we pissed off the wrong patrolmen. Had a scuffle, I ended up in the back of a cart as a prisoner and got shipped out to Hammerfell... But don’t worry, I sure showed a few of them what for all right, couple of new scars for the trouble too...”

Fjolte rubbed at his chin, his free hand motioning and waving with his story. He was engaged in the tale he was telling, as if it would be the last thing he ever told anybody. “So, I don’t know what happened to my friends, I’m almost certain a few of them were killed. I guess that makes me somewhat lucky. I got brought to that shithole prison, wasn’t always on death row. I think I just annoyed the right people at the right time... That day that they took me down there though, I did manage to knock seven shades of shit out of a couple of the guards. I did not go quietly I assure you… It took about seven of them to get me down there.”

“I’m sorry for what happened.” Daro’Vasora said sincerely with a heavy sigh. Yet another life she was responsible for destroying through her ignorance, along with Fjolte’s companions. She brought her knees up to her chest, hugging them tight against her. “We’ve lost people along the way, as well. Part of the reason I’m doing this is for their sake, so their loss doesn’t have to be in vain, so it all means something in the end.” she shook her head ruefully. “We were both prisoners, at least we have that in common. My accomodations were a bit more posh, however. None of your companions were brought to the prison with you?”

The Nord laughed quietly at her words, “You sound as though you're carrying this whole thing on your shoulders; don't be sorry for me. What happened brought me here, didn't it?” he grinned again, tilting his head back to once again gaze at the endless sky above. “My friends will be fine, I'm keen to get back to Skyrim and kick their arses for not being the ones to rescue me though, y’know?” He felt sorry to hear that Sora had lost people too, and there were no words he could offer her that she wouldn't have already heard. He settled for placing a hand on her shoulder.

Fjolte didn’t realize how accurate that observation was. Daro’Vasora wrapped her arms tighter about her leg and resisted the impulse to flinch when he placed a hand on her shoulder. “Might be that they’re waiting on you to rescue them. You always seemed to have a flair for the dramatic.” she muttered.

It was then that he saw Raelynn exiting the tent. He was grateful she had ditched the apron. As she headed over, he watched as she removed the headscarf and shook out her hair from inside. She looked like herself again. He gave her a wave, and in case she didn't see that, he placed two fingers in his mouth and blew hard - a loud, piercing whistle rang out that caught the attention of just about everyone around them.

The Breton sighed. He was already becoming the centre of attention around here. As she wandered over, she caught a glimpse of Daro'Vasora sat by him, and offered her a warm smile before she did him. “Daro'Vasora, it's good to see you,” she said softly, bowing her head ever so in the Khajiit's direction.

The whistle made Daro’Vasora’s ears recoil back from the sudden sharp sound, her eye twitching. When she saw Raelynn approach, her disposition shifted to something warmer and less guarded. She smiled, placing her hand over a fist and returning the bow. “Likewise, Raelynn. Today felt right; we needed a win.” her smile faded somewhat. “Are you well? You’ve looked a bit distraught when we met up again and I never had the chance to talk to you.”

“I’m fine. I’ve been assisting the healers since we arrived, cleaning out infections and dressing is quite draining.. Still, without magic...” she declared with an affable smile, hiding the truth of the matter. “It’s a relief to have Alim back.” She concluded, not wishing for the Khajiit to press any further.

It wasn’t a talk for now, but Daro’Vasora could see the pain and hesitation in Raelynn’s eyes; later, when Fjolte wasn’t around. She reached out a hand for Raelynn to join her. “You may have lost your magic, but you’ve never lost your heart, Raelynn. Please, sit. Rest.” she said with a welcoming smile. “And yes, my heart sang to see Alim and even Gaius… S’rendarr, I thought he was gone. It gives me hope that maybe we’ll see Balroth again, that things aren’t always as bleak as they seem… there’s hope, I can feel it. The air’s changed, like a breath of spring after a long winter.”

Sometimes Sora rubbed her the wrong way - all her talk of hearts and of goodness. Today was one of those days, instead of being a comfort her words were just a painful itch under her skin. She couldn't be that good of a person. She was helping Gregor with his quest, afterall. She had been there to watch Nblec's soul spill into the Cairn. She had enjoyed it. “Still feels like winter to me,” she said as she took a seat, in a tone as icy as any Skyrim winter could be. She rubbed her forehead, feeling the familiar pinch of a headache beginning behind her eyes now that she was out of the shade of the tent and in the open clearing of the Oasis. The amount of people that were around unnerved her too, she loathed crowds nowadays.

“Cheer up Raelynn…” sighed Fjolte, sensing the frost she was emitting around them. “It's not all bad, we have friends, a place to stay for the night… No immediate peril. You also get to look at my face as much as you want, eh?” The smug demeanour continued as he leaned forwards from his perch, placing a hand on each woman's shoulder now as they sat either side of him. “You think Kyne brought me here to let you be as deflated as a flattened tomato?” he laughed at his own words, Raelynn was not as amused.

“Both of you could stand to lighten up, man. Look at where we are! We're lucky to be here, you both need to just… See the light you know?” He let both of them go and jumped up to his feet, balancing on one foot on the highest point of the rock with a mischievous grin.

“Your forced cheer is about as appealing as a bloated corpse; what's left of you when the body ruptures and the putrid gases escape, I wonder.” Daro'Vasora replied tersely, slipping her piece of bone between her teeth. “I'm suddenly reminded of why I couldn't stand being around you for long, Fjolte; you say these empty platitudes and immediately round off every fucking thing with perversion. There is no depth to you, just an emotionally stunted boy. Grow up.”

“That's where you're wrong, Sora. Nothin’ forced about it. I just escaped from death and got freed from a prison…” Still, her words were biting and he flopped back down onto his rear, choosing to close his trap for the time being… “and honestly I always enjoyed your company - even if the feeling apparently wasn't mutual…” starting now.

“Wait… You know Fjolte too?” asked Raelynn, an eyebrow raising to a spectacularly sharp angle.

The Khajiit sighed, grinding her teeth into the bone. “Yeah. We had an expedition together a few years back, had a third partner that tried to backstab us.” she explained, stretching a single leg out. She stared at him for a moment, deciding to cut him off before he dropped the relevant detail in his irreverent, tactless way. “We stopped him, and you know how he gets. After surviving a few close calls, we fucked, if for no other reason than to get him to shut up for a few minutes.” she grunted, annoyed. Her tail flicked on it's own. “That was about the only time his company had any merit.” she added, throwing more thorns at him to make the corpse pop.

“Keep serving it, Sora… You know I enjoy when your claws come out…” he replied with a wink, as quickly as she had indeed served - he sent it straight back to her with a shit-eating grin for a garnish. She rolled her eyes in response.

Raelynn on the other hand sat with her mouth agape and eyes flitting between the two of them, speechless. Her brows softened and she pursed her lips - utterly confused by the entire thing. “But-” she began, before stopping. “I…” words were failing her, and before she knew it, the Nord’s hand was on her head, fingers drumming over her hair lightly.

“You know what? I’ve got literally anywhere else I could be right now, so I think I’m going to go do that. Have fun catching up with the oaf, Raelynn. Come find me when you’ve got some time.” Daro’Vasora said, standing suddenly and brushing herself off.

Fjolte felt… strange, to say the least. He didn’t want to be a thorn in Sora’s side, but he didn’t appreciate her branding him as an oaf so flippantly. “Heh, alright then. There was me thinking you might want to help me fix our friend’s magical impotence, but go on - off you scamper to anywhere else.” He glanced down to Raelynn who was giving him a narrow-eyed, quizzical look. “I suppose we can do it ourselves, blondie.”

That caught the Khajiit off-guard. “The fuck are you talking about? She asked. “If this is more of your games, I swear…”

“What I do isn’t a game, Sora, it’s my purpose…” he said seriously for once - yet not offended by the Khajiit’s tone and manner. He took from his satchel a pouch and waved it in the air with a smile once again. “Surprised the Dwemer didn’t keep this for themselves. It’s a damned good blend if I do say so myself!”

Raelynn was dubious of it, she knew that Fjolte enjoyed his substances, and practiced meditation to a level that far surpassed her knowledge of the art. She knew what he was hinting towards though. She understood that Fjolte liked to guide people through their own minds using some skills he had picked up and developed on his nomadic journey. “I’ll try it Fjolte, it can’t exactly make anything worse, can it?”

She let the Nord lead her away from the crowds to a shaded spot, and looked over her shoulder to Daro’Vasora - her expression showed trepidation, and her hands trembled. “I’d like you to come, actually…” she admitted quietly, almost ashamed that she was asking such a thing. In that moment she just felt that the Khajiit understood the causes of her pain more than Fjolte did.

Daro’Vasora had her arms crossed, an uncertain visage crossing her countenance. Seeing Raelynn tepid and uncertain, a far cry from her usual confidence and self-assured nature, made Daro’Vasora realize that she was scared and hurting. It couldn’t be too different from her experiences with the Moonpath, could it? She watched Raelynn’s hands shake and knew that she needed a friend, now more than ever.

She wouldn’t abandon her in her time of need. She forced a smile and approached, taking Raelynn’s hands in her own to steady them, to reassure her.

“If it helps you find yourself again, I’ll do whatever it takes. You aren’t alone; I’m in.” Daro’Vasora promised.

The three of them sat around a campfire nestled well under the shade of a hanging rock,it was like a small cubby cave. Fjolte had made a makeshift entrance and privacy screen around them with a blanket thrown over the outside edge of the rock. It only had to be a little dark, but most importantly they were to be confined. Sora and Raelynn sat together with Fjolte adjacent, his legs crossed and his smoking pipe in front of him. He’d placed two cones of incense at either side of the campfire, lighting them to release a strong woody smell into the air from one, and a soft floral from the other. They combined into the smoke of the fire.

From the pouch he took a pinch of the herbs and sprinkled them into the flames. Immediately the flames grew and burned a rich violet, releasing plumes of lilac and blue smoke. As Raelynn inhaled it she began to feel immediately dizzy and hazy, but not in an unpleasant manner at all. After that, he tipped a small tankard of water into the fire strategically. Steam began to rise and combine with the smoke, enhancing the fragrances and increasing the potency of his herbs. That, and it turned up the heat in the makeshift cave tent.

“Hold her hands, Sora, she’ll need your guidance and comfort…” Fjolte said in a low voice as he watched Raelynn’s pupils dilate. He himself was feeling slightly warmed. He got up and walked towards her, taking a long white cloth which he applied to her eyes as a blindfold, tying a soft knot in the back before resuming his seat.

“Breathe Raelynn. In, and out. In, and out… Let your mind guide you… Tell us what you see…” And then he blew more dust at her face, not that she would see it, but she felt it spray her cheeks.

“Hold on…”

It took a while, and more than a few deep breaths until whatever drugs were in the herbs really kicked in, and now that she was in the darkness she felt as though she was falling, there was even wind in her face. Was she falling or being dragged? A burning sensation overtook her wrists, as if something was binding them that way, she knew it wasn’t real. It wasn’t real, was it?

Her breathing quickened, and she began to panic. ”Who is here?” she muttered, squeezing Daro’Vasora’s hand in an intense grip.

“Listen to this one's voice, Ko'Raelynn. Your senses are simply shifted, not gone. Let this one's voice be the path you stay true to what is real and what your mind has conjured. Daro'Vasora is here.” the Khajiit promised, flinching under the crushing grip. She was focused on Raelynn, monitoring her expression, the sweat on her brow. It wasn't unlike her own experiences with Moon Sugar, but this was looking inward rather than reaching across the stars to connect with ancestor spirits.

The effects of the incense filled her nostrils, the feline senses much more acute, and her mind might have wandered into its own channels had she not had years of learning how to focus her mind under the influence of potent stimulants and substances. “What you see cannot harm you; let it wash past you like a wave, flow down the river. Do not resist the flow.” she said soothingly. “Tell this one what you feel, what you see.”

This was no river. But a paved corridor of darkness that she found herself floating down upon, her body felt as light as a feather. The only illumination on the hallway was the the purple haze of smoke pooling through from somewhere, each cloud of it seemed to contain a thunderstorm. Flashes of lightning momentarily gave the room light and she could make out the path. The scene seemed to flash and move before her eyes until Sora spoke and gave the image a feeling of clarity. Raelynn nodded; “I feel… Lost, I feel like I’m being watched.”


A bell rang out and from the darkness, a shape came to her. Holding a weapon at their side that as she focussed on it, appeared to be pouring with blood. With every strobing flash the figure came closer and closer still. She could only make out a pair of piercing blue eyes nin the darkness, harbouring anger. “Get back!” she said aloud with a hard determination in her voice, prompting Fjolte to give another ring of the bell...

Before it could make contact it disappeared in a huge cloud of aquamarine powder, as fine as flour or chalk. Just gone, and the colour stained the walls. In its place was the ghostly outline of her familiar, which began to howl out at her.

“A wolf…” she gasped, releasing grip on Sora’s hand. “I have to keep going,” the Breton remarked.

Daro’Vasora moved her hand gently onto Raelynn’s wrists. The wolf seemed to have a particular meaning to her, a familiar sensation. “Follow it, focus on its cry; let it guide you, no matter what you see.” she said, flashes of images permeating her own mind that she forced to ignore, focusing instead on Raelynn’s face. Nothing else was real; just her.

She could feel Daro’Vasora’s touch, the brushing of her fingertips against the bare flesh of her wrist tingled and kept her anchored to reality, even though the darkest corners of her mind were pulling her in. Sora’s hand was preventing her heart from thundering with the fear of the sensory overload she was experiencing. The next vision that she saw was of another figure, dressed in black and launching a bottle against a wall. She watched as it flew across the air towards the wall until it collided. Making no sound - the contents spraying up the wall.

It wasn’t wine. It was blood and she could smell it - the sharp metallic tang filled her nostrils. There was a feeling that she’d been here before. The figure in the cloak had noticed her too, and slowly… slowly, the head began to turn. The storms that were contained within the smoke flashed out with their threatening lights again. The eyes within the hood were azure and ghostly… The mouth of the creature opened as if to scream, a bright light shining from inside the mouth. “NO!!” Raelynn cried out, panting.


As had happened to already, the second figure disappeared into a thick vermillion haze of powder. As it settled onto the ground, she could make out a path made from the pawprints of her canine. As she continued further through the darkness, it felt as though the conjuration was becoming unstable and Raelynn trembled, her breath shuddering. Everything started to feel colder.

She took another deep breath - she could feel the smoke and steam work it’s way through her throat to her lungs where it sat there and stung. She coughed.

The path became forked before her eyes. Left and right - and darkness in the middle. “I have to choose,” she said, her hands fumbling over Daro’Vasora’s arms. To the left she felt the familiar ice cold that had stained the room where she had healed Gregor. To the right, as she focussed in on it she could hear the same waves from the docks where she had healed Zaveed. “I have to choose who to save again,” she uttered, distressed by the thought of it.

“Your path does not diverge, Raelynn; those are the paths of those you have given or had taken a part of yourself,” Daro’Vasora replied, her tone conciliatory. “You are not bound to either; you feel as if your choices only benefit others, that they own your powers. You belong to no one to yourself; your gifts are yours to give, not for others to take. Your path does not diverge here, Ko’Raelynn; it continues forward as it always has. Step forward, and do not waver. Look for the wolf, listen to it’s cry.”

The mage walked forwards towards the dark - as if to take a leap of faith in its direction. No sooner had she chosen her path, did the other two close off to her, and a doorway appeared, with a light spilling from under it. A warm, golden light.

Fjolte watched the two from behind the curling swirls of steam and smoke that filled the entire atmosphere, lighting up his pipe. He observed the interesting dynamic between them and fought hard to suppress a boyishly smug grin from his lips as their hands touched. He took a long draw, feeling everything fill his mouth and then his lungs. He could see from Raelynn’s composure that she was getting somewhere. That, and the heavy sweat on her brow, neck, and decolletage. Her collarbones glistened with it. The strands of hair that framed her face were all clinging to her, wet. The way she was breathing reminded him of a warrior excited by battle.

“Almost there…” he said softly, sprinkling another pinch of the herbs into the flames. He didn’t want to assault her senses too heavily but he knew that she needed a push to keep going. She needed to be confronted and find her way. He nodded in Daro’Vasora’s direction before taking another drag from his pipe. This time blowing out several neat rings of smoke. “Keep your mind open…”

As more smoke surrounded her, she felt the intensity of that which her mind had conjured grow, and the doorway became spectacularly bright, but behind her she felt a chill run up her spine that terrified her to her core. Another shadow. All she could do was move onwards, too scared to turn back. Her steps were hasty, and she made into what felt like a circular cellar, this one was lit up with blue flames on the walls, but still there was something not right about the room. In the middle of it all, sat the spectral shape of the wolf, expression and posture placid.


The canine form disappeared into smoke, and was replaced by the slender figure again. In the light of the room, she saw that the figure was not a monster at all, but still she was scared and trembling. Raelynn clasped a hand to her chest, gasping sharply with the realisation. “I know who you are…”

“Tell Daro’Vasora what you hear.” The Khajiit instructed gently, the pungent fumes causing her to blink, her own senses starting to feel dulled and confused from the chemicals working their way through her veins.

”It’s okay if it’s me…”

Raelynn’s voice, haunting and ethereal from behind her. La’Shuni spoke, another ghostly voice overlapping Raelynn’s, vying for attention, pleading.

”Vasora, where are you…?
This one needs you…
La’Shuni is afraid, she is alone…”

“Look for the wolf.” The Khajiit instructed, forcing the voices from her head, but her voice sounded like Roux’s. Through the haze in her own mind, she knew that it was going to be harder to tell what was real and what was an illusion.

”La’Vasora, you are bold, reckless, impulsive.
From this day forward, you will be Daro’Vasora.
I am so disappointed in you.”

Her father chided, a sigh in his breath.

“Feel this one’s touch upon your arm, ground yourself. Follow the path that is your own, do not follow those who demand you leave it.” Daro’Vasora said, her voice somewhat more forceful that before on account of her own troubles.

You are here for Raelynn, Daro’Vasora. Do not let yourself fall prey to this. This is not about you, it is about her. she thought, cautioning herself.

“Raelynn,” spoke the figure in a voice that was simply a deathly rasp. The exhalation that followed the word soured the air. The lights dimmed. “You’re afraid,” Raelynn replied. She was afraid too, evidenced by the pounding of her heart as she stared into the burning eyes of the figure. ”You’re angry…” The figure was emanating wisps of energy, glowing in blues and reds - contrasting colours that were ugly together and hard to look at. Releasing a toxicity into the air that Raelynn felt throughout her entire body. She began to shake.

”I know who you are. I know what happened to you... What you were asked to do...” The more that Raelynn spoke and found her voice, the angrier the figure seemed to get. The energy was spiking and the walls of the room began to close in on them.

Fjolte poured more water into the right spot of the campfire allowing the steam to continue to engulf them.

“You had parts of you stolen…” said Raelynn, lifting her hands to look at them, she looked at the scars that were seared into the flesh. “But that is not who you are. You are not what was done to you…” The shape of the wolf materialised in front of her, as if it knew what was to come. To the figure, the words were a challenge, and in slow motion it began to sprint towards the room at Raelynn. Once more its mouth opened, the unnatural light shining out like a beam of destructive force, the Breton stood her ground, the wolf primed its body to strike, but Raelynn waved her hand. “You need not protect me from this,” she said, still bracing herself for what was to happen.

Daro'Vasora hurriedly pulled Raelynn against her. “Do not waver, Ko'Raelynn… this is your moment, what you've been searching for.” she pleaded, clamping her eyes shut.

”It's okay if it's me…”

”Only two hands, my dear…”

”You failed her, you failed me… I am so disappointed, Daro'Vasora…”

”Sister, where are you? This one is so afraid…”

Her body trembled as she held onto Raelynn tightly. The voices and visions coming strongly now, and her ability to fight was weakening. “The path. Please, do not leave it.” she whispered into Raelynn's ear.

The screaming figure was almost at the point of contact Raelynn, and still she held her ground, coalescing in her hand was the golden light she knew as her own magic. “Raelynn!” She repeated back to it finally, stopping the figure in her tracks. With golden fingers pressed to the chest of the figure before her, and as they did the light enveloped her, stripping back the cloak to reveal in front of the Breton a reflection of herself.

A part of herself that she had buried, that she had not confronted. There was only pain in her eyes. The wolf cried, howling ruefully at the sight. Raelynn pressed her whole hand fully against the chest of this version of herself. “None of this was our… my fault. I did the best I could with what I was dealt.” She said with a finality, and watched as the figure began to fade away in a breeze.

Fjolte was still sat cross legged with his pipe held between his lips. His own eyes were relaxed, and eyelids heavy as he continued to mediate the activity for Raelynn, and apparently Sora now too. He noticed that Raelynn’s hands were glowing with the smallest of small golden wisps, and he smiled.

He gave her some time before he got up and walked to Raelynn with silent footsteps, gently removing the blindfold, “don’t open your eyes just yet… Go slow…” he whispered into her ear, placing his hands then onto her shoulders as if to hold her to the spot - to remind her that there was a tangible, real world outside of whatever graphic trip she had created in her mind. “When you’re ready… it’s time to wake up again…” he whispered into her other ear. All in all, he was incredibly surprised at how well it had worked. He hadn’t expected Raelynn to have been so susceptible to it - at least not enough to access what had been lost to her during her first attempt. Either she knew it had always been there, or something else had been paving the path for her before she ever walked upon it. He was not attuned to the arcane, and even with his knowledge of the mind and of meditation, magic was simply not something that had ever touched him or flowed through him like it did for Raelynn and other mages. In a way, he was jealous of what they could experience.

It came time for Raelynn to open her eyes - and when she did, she saw first that her hands were glowing with gold. She wiggled her fingers, and turned her hands over to look at the backs of them, and the palms too. “I’d let everything else die down before you try to really access it, blondie…” came the voice of Fjolte from behind her. “Remember how it feels again, give it more time.”

Her entire body was fully alert, and the cave was no longer in shadow, but highlighted with purple and pink - in fact everything seemed to be the wrong colour, but that fact did not alarm her. Daro’Vasora was orange and it brought a smile to the Breton’s face, she reached out with a finger to touch her nose. “Sora,” she said in a soft slur, her pupils huge and eyelids drooping.

“Oh boy…” said Fjolte as he sucked air through his teeth. “Maybe I gave you too much after all.”

For Daro'Vasora, the world was on fire.

All around her Imperial City burned, and in her hand was the lexicon with so many doors it could open. Bodies littered the streets, cut down by the Dwemer war machine and massive shadows covered the streets like circling birds of prey, the airships that were the backbone of military might.

Other shadows came swiftly, and suddenly the airships were engulfed in flame and ice, the visage of leathery wings…

Somebody poked her nose.

The Khajiit looked before her and saw La'Shuni standing there, dressed in a green cloak and leather jerkin, her sister's pale grey fur looking so much like their father's, including the jaguar-like spots, but their eyes were the same.

Daro'Vasora was about to ask why she was wearing such a strange outfit when La'Shuni spoke, but her voice was that of Raelynn's, only slurred.

Daro'Vasora screwed her eyes closed and opened them once more, and Raelynn stared at her, glassy-eyed and dopey. Her hands were shrouded in golden light.

The Imperial City faded into the background and Daro'Vasora leaned over and pulled Raelynn into a tight embrace. “Well done, Ko'Raelynn!” the Khajiit exclaimed mirthfully, a wide smile upon her lips. She still felt the effects of the smoke, but with something real to focus on, it swirled dauntingly in her peripherals, vanishing if her eyes tried to focus on it.

“How do you feel?” she asked.

Raelynn was taken aback by the Khajiit’s display of affection, but rolled with it regardless. Her fingers running over Daro’Vasora’s fur. It really was surprisingly soft. She let a relaxed purr roll from her tongue and into Sora’s ear as she did so, feeling her body catch up with all of the motions. “My chest burns…” she commented in a gravelly voice which gave weight to her observation. “My body is still spinning in an opposite direction to my head… and the cave is pink….” she giggled and brought a hand to her mouth daintily.

Fjolte watched on. He was pleased with himself, and the usual smug grin displayed that. “You both took a trip through fire and smoke, down the rabbit hole...” His own voice was slurred too, his eyes carrying the tell-tale signs of someone under the influence. “It’s no Moonpath but it’s about as close as I can create…” he yawned, stretching his huge arms into the air, the flames dying down. “I wonder what the smoke showed you Sora, good things I hope,” he said with a cavalier wink.

The Khajiit’s expression darkened and she looked away. “If it’s all the same, I’d rather not talk about what I saw.” she replied tersely, albeit without malice. “I know what I saw isn’t real, it’s just… things I’ve seen or fear.”

“Nothing to fear but fear itself, Sora…” he said, his tone comforting all of a sudden with a sincere warmth that underpinned it. “Our own mind makes things of wonder and things of great terror… It’s alright to be afraid. I won’t pry any further.” The Nord remarked with an air of finality in his voice, and a gentle nod.

Raelynn watched Sora’s face change before her eyes, and she placed a hand on the Khajiit’s lap. “We can talk about it some other time if you’d like, when it’s not so… raw.”

Daro’Vasora was surprised by the affectionate gesture Raelynn showed, feeling an anxious swelling in her gut as she looked down at the hand and then into Raelynn’s eyes. She listened to their words, feeling somewhat embarrassed that she was being so guarded when Raelynn had asked her to participate in something that made her so vulnerable. She ran a hand across her mane, down the back of her head and resting on the nape of her neck, the points of her claws pressing in somewhat. “I relieved the fall of the Imperial City again, the brutality and death of it all. My sister was there; older, different… but still distinctly her. Before the incense had caused me to fail to see the difference between what is real and what is from my mind, I had heard voices. My father berating me, La’Shuni terrified and calling for me. I heard Zaveed’s taunts…” she said, her voice subdued. She took Raelynn’s hand into her own and looked into the Breton’s eyes. “I recalled what you said to me, in the warehouse. The choice I could never make.”

Raelynn’s back straightened at the mention, and her face glazed over - even under the influence she managed to pull a composure from within to mask her feelings. “I buried it… I buried that feeling.” her eyes flicked from Sora to Fjolte, and back to Sora once more as she smiled at the Khajiit. She knew what the woman was alluding too - she’d even spoken about it with Latro, but to discuss it with Sora would be to make it all too real, and all too easy to step back into the shoes of the same Raelynn who wanted to lie down beside Roux. “But… Please, don’t think on it. I was concussed, I didn’t know what I was saying...”

“Even so, it stuck with me.” The Khajiit replied with a heavy set frown, shaking her head slowly. “It feels wrong to carry guilt or pain from that day, especially in light of what you’d endured, but…” she caught herself, a lump forming in her throat. It wasn’t worth digging up the past, and admitting she still had phantom pains in her arm and could hear Roux’s voice when no one was around wasn’t going to help anyone. She forced herself to smile. “Yeah. That’s right, you were concussed, talking out your ass. Sorry, this is why I didn’t want to say anything. It’s not worth anyone’s time.”

The Breton nodded slowly as Sora spoke, letting her get her words out - even though she could see the Khajiit was struggling. Raelynn placed her free hand atop Sora’s, holding a pause for a moment before she spoke calmly, and eloquently; “it would be rather rude of us to discuss such matters in our present company - and state, might I add…” she chuckled in an airy fashion, as if to make the situation seem more jovial than it was. It seemed to work, Fjolte was sporting a cheesy grin, and didn’t appear to be at all concerned about the undertones of the conversation - and he certainly wasn’t reading between any lines. Raelynn gave Sora a squeeze on the hand, as if to let her know and give reassurance that she wasn’t about to close the door on it just yet, and that it was left ajar for the Khajiit to walk through again, later.

Daro’Vasora nodded with a polite smile, feeling somewhat put on the spot and flushed from her indiscretion. “Look, this was fun and all, but I should go freshen up and clear the head. I think I’ll stick with moonsugar from now on; this shit just isn’t fun.” she barked a laugh, attempting to look sly and far more in control of her situation than she wanted to let on. She stood, shaking the sand off with a shake of the head. “I’m glad it helped you, Raelynn. You deserved a win.” she said with a smile before making her departure.

Raelynn was then left alone with Fjolte, and she felt a sense of strength and accomplishment that she hadn’t for a long time. “Thank you,” she said with sincerity.

“No need to thank me, you did it, not me.” He said with a shrug, playing it down. He didn’t need to laud it over her. He didn’t want to either. “Just be careful, don’t go messing around with magic and the like for a bit, you’re still recovering and coming down. My shit is strong, y’know?”

“I take it you’re going to stay with us for a bit then?” Raelynn asked with a smile, watching the Monk as he rolled his shoulders.

“Course I am! But for now, I’m fucking hungry… I could eat a whole horse…” he laughed from his apparently empty stomach, figuring that the Breton probably wanted a moment alone. He felt awkward about Sora too, but she’d be alright. She was a strong woman. He rose to his feet and gave Raelynn one last wave before he swaggered back off to the centre of the celebrations, singing some Nord drinking song on his way at an obnoxious volume.

Raelynn just sighed, pulling her knees to her chest, she would have to speak with Daro’Vasora again, but for now she was waiting for everything to stop spinning so much.

“Mind over matter after all….”

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A Good Time with a Girl

by Shafty and Greenie

17th of Midyear, Sunset

The events of the prison along with travelling had exhausted Meg. She had been adamant on not taking it easy as she had when she'd left Gilane and ridden in the wagon, but by the time the group had reached the tent village, the intoxicating enthusiasm had her wishing she hadn't pushed herself so much. Despite the excitement in the air, the music, dancing, and most of all the scent of the delicious food, the Nord woman found herself having to fight off sleep, her head slumping and jerking back to wakefulness more than once.

It was probably best to rest... but she didn't want to. The evening almost reminded her of New Life Festival, and she wanted to take in as much as she could. Rubbing her eyes as hard as she could, she wandered about until she finally caught sight of a barrel of water meant for drinking. Unable to stop herself, she grabbed the ladle that was meant to dispense water into cups and instead dumped a couple of ladle full over her head, hoping the shock would induce wakefulness. Perhaps it did, but what had her up and stepping back was a rather miffed woman who scolded her tremendously before shooing the Nord away.

"Sorry!" Meg continued to call out sheepishly until she was safely out of the woman’s sight. Letting out a huff, both embarrassed but feeling somewhat better and alert, she was pleased to see she'd found her way at an entertainment she actually found interesting enough. Grinning and completely uncaring that her hair was still wet as well as parts of her shirt, she leaned forward eagerly, eyes following the sword fighters.

She might have felt a shadow fall over her, a shirtless figure of large stature with dark skin, his scarf wrapped about his head in the Redguard style. He sipped at his water, watching the spar, seeing if he could tell either the man or the woman would be able to boot his pompous brother’s face in the dirt. Sevari looked sidelong at the seemingly attractive woman next to him, utterly dwarfed by him. Parts of her shirt clung to her toned and slender midsection and the view commanded his eyes to look. Had it really been that long for him? That he would just stare like some boy. Even so, maybe she’d be receptive to a good ti- that was Meg. That was Jaraleet’s woman, he chided himself as recognition gripped him. He then shuffled a bit away from her, hoping she didn’t notice his eyes on her. He tried at some conversation, remembering what his brother had said about integrating.

“Are… you well?” He asked lamely, still looking sidelong at her. “I haven’t talked to you since…”

Meg jerked at the sound of the voice- despite being a sneaky thing herself, she hadn't actually noticed the man standing next to her until he spoke up, much too engrossed in the show taking place before her, now that she was wide awake. Green eyes immediately swerved to look to her side... and then up, blinking in recognition when they landed on the familiar face- it wasn't as if she knew too many Ohmes-Raht. "Oh! Uhm, Sevari!" She sounded rather shocked that he of people would be here. Casting a glance about to see if perhaps Latro or Jaraleet were about, she came to the quick conclusion that no, she was the sole member of their group at this particular place. Well, not anymore, he was clearly part of their group since Gilane. At least, in her opinion. She knew there had been some fuss about his disappearance, but really... it wasn't as if people purposely allowed themselves to be capture, right?

Still... he was intimidating. "I... uhm, I'm well," she replied, sounding equally awkward, even though a part of her was actually a little pleased. If he was asking if she was well, that had to mean he didn't hate her, right? "Thankies! Uh... think we ain' talked since Jaraleet got hurt..." She scratched at the back of her head, fiddling with the small locks of hair, guilty expression as clear as day. "Uh or was it when we were plannin' on savin' Sora...?" She pursed her lips a little, finger tapping her chin as she tried to recall. "Oh, uhm, how're you? Shudda pro'ly asked ya that myself, eh?" She let out a small sheepish laugh; clearly her brain was a little fuzzy even without alcohol.

“Ah, that’s… good.” Sevari cleared his throat of nothing and shuffled in place. He took a long sip of his water since his mouth wasn’t set on doing anything else, it seemed. Finally, he spoke, “I’m glad, you know.”

He let that hang in the air and realized she wouldn’t know what the hell he was talking about, “Jaraleet. I assume you know what he is.”

"An Argonian?..." As soon as that came out of her mouth, Meg knew her answer was a very stupid one. She face palmed and then rubbed her forehead hard. "Yeah... I know whatchu talkin' 'bout. Gregor tol' me the same... back in Gilane..." Her voice trailed and she looked at the khajiit man curiously, unsure of what he meant. "Yer happy? What 'bout? Er- I mean, it's good yer happy! Jus’ wonderin' what 'bout!"

“He’s…” he said at length, unsure of how to word it in a place like this, out in the open, “He’s from the same world I come from. You don’t love when you come from there. You don’t find love, it doesn’t find you.”

He sighed, chuckled awkwardly, “Anyway, it’s good.” He nodded, “Was he your first?”

He smiled at her, before it dropped and he held a hand up, “First love.

Meg flushed to such a degree that she could practically feel the heat radiating from her face; she was extremely grateful when Sevari clarified what he meant. "Uhm well... ain' like he said anythin' or I did..." It seemed so strange talking about this with a man she had felt hated her just a few minutes ago, but she was rather flustered and the words just kept coming out. "Not the firs' though. I er- I had someone I liked 'fore, in Skyrim." Her hand fiddled with the amulet of Mara that still rested against her collarbone, and she lifted it up, eyes lowering to look at it. "He was a khajiit, bu' like, he died 'fore I could say anythin'. We used t'go tomb raidin' together."

She breathed out and let the amulet fall against herself, eyes returning to the Ohmes-Raht. "Why- why'd y'say that?" she finally asked, sounding a little off. "Are y'sayin' y'never loved?" It seemed impossible not to at least love someone, no matter what a person may have been involved in.

Sevari almost choked on the mouthful of water he had. He leaned away from Meg, spluttering until he recovered. How she had come to that conclusion was unexpected enough to have him doing that. Albeit, it was a sensitive subject. “I’m not saying that…” he said, his mouth working but nothing coming from it, “I’m saying… I’m saying even when you do find it, you’re forced to make a choice. Love or the job. As for which I’ve picked, been forced to pick…” he threw his arms out in a gesture to where they were, the circumstances they were in, “Well, I wouldn’t be here if I picked the job.”

He frowned, shaking his head, “Even when I thought I found it for good, it just couldn’t be. Her belly was swollen when I left her and I know it wouldn’t do any good to try to see her again.”

A little worried for his life, Meg had hesitantly patted the large man's back with much more force than one may have expected from her, though she did stop once she saw he was somewhat composed. The slight frown remained on her face though. "Isn't that... I mean- pickin' love, isn't tha' worth it?" she asked. She could tell she was intruding in territories that probably shouldn't have been poked about in, especially with this still rather intimidating Khajiit, but she couldn't help herself. If she learned one thing from her misadventures since the Jerell Mountains, it was to seize the moment.

"Why'd ya leave... her?" she continued to ask, though once again she was hesitant. "Didja not love her? Or... somethin' else?" She chewed on her lip for a moment before speaking again, this time rather rushed. "Sorry, don' mean t'pry but, like, if y'think Jaraleet's foun' somethin', then why'd it be diff'rent for ya?"

“Because there’s always consequences for everything.” He breathed, “I left her because there were people who wanted to kill me for making the choice I did. I left her because I chose love, it’s not always a good ending when you pick the right choice. They would’ve killed me and her and the baby.”

He sighed, “I ran away from them because my life never let me make it normal. Even Zaveed, I count the man as my brother and they took me away from him when I was twelve.” He shook his head, “Then turned me into what I am today.”

"That's..." It was hard to find the right words to speak after hearing what Sevari had to say. Meg looked down, mouth downturned and eyes stinging as she thought of the unfairness of such a situation. "How... how could someone jus' take y'away when y'were just a li'l thing..." Head shaking, she clenched her fists. It didn't matter that she didn't know who these 'they' were- it was just wrong. Her thoughts returned to Gilane, to Zahir. Children needed their families, whatever little they had. How cruel was the world where separations like this were forced upon the innocent? Why did the Divines allow such things to happen?

"T'be honest," she finally muttered, still too unsure of her feelings to look away from the ground, "I dunno much 'bout you or whatchu are... I actually thought y'hated me... but y'saved Jaraleet, an' y'helped us with gettin' Sora back. Y'didn' havta but y'did." She finally looked at him, a little pointedly, eyes narrowed though not meanly. "Just 'cause things didn' work b'fore doesn' mean they won' work now though, no?"

As much as Sevari was hopeful Meg was right, he was just as much a realist. A good life was as promised as a long life- not at all. He’d seen men killed over words or wrong looks. Even so, he shrugged, “Maybe.”

He looked into his cup and sighed at Meg’s words, shaking his head, “I never hated you. It’s just that there was more hanging in the balance than just Sora, and even then.” He said, “She was safe under my custody, when I was working under the guise of the Dwemer’s Secret Police. If they caught you, it might have cost you more than just Jaraleet. It might have cost everybody some.”

“So, no. I’m an abrasive man, a violent one, in all honesty. I’ve known little else than killing and robbing and lying for causes great and small.” He nodded his head, frowning, “But I don’t hate you.”

"If ya did, I wouldn' have blamed ya." Meg relaxed her gaze and let it return to the sword fighters instead, though it was clear that she wasn't really paying attention to the feats being performed before the crowd. "I hated me then. 't'was stupid, thinkin' I could just go an' do somethin' by myself like tha'. I cudda gotten Jaraleet killed... cudda ruined things for everyone..." She shrugged her shoulders, letting out a breath. "I wasn' thinkin', I was jus' so... pissed she'd been gone so long an' no one even noticed... or I thought no one did."

She paused a moment before looking up at the Ohmes-Raht yet again. She didn't look intimidated any longer, nor was she; he seemed less scary and more... sad and beaten. Her eyes roamed over the myriad of tattoos, both impressed by the array but also wondering how much it had to have hurt to get them all on his person. After realizing she was staring at the tattoo that depicted a sword through his neck, Meg quickly looked up, meeting the Khajiit’s eyes.

"Can I ask y'somethin'? Why- why'd you decide t'help us?"

Sevari looked away awkwardly, letting Meg stay in her reverie until her eyes began to roam. The question she asked seemed to be on everyone’s mind, so he couldn’t blame her. He rubbed at his neck- or the tattoo on it- and spoke, “I needed people to help me with a task. Latro was the first one I came to and I knew he wouldn’t be able to help me until Sora was safe.” Sevari scratched his stubble, still not able to tell these people absolutely everything. “Latro and Jaraleet are my friends. I decided to help because of that.”

He looked down at himself, glancing over each of his tattoos and smirked, “Never seen a tattoo before?” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at some mats and tables near a tea maker's tent, “Come, let’s sit. Ever had a good tea before? I can tell you about these things over some.”

"I have seen 'em b’fore," Meg replied, face reddening a little; she guessed he had probably caught her staring. "Jus', not so many? An' like, so many differen' lookin’ ones." The occasional tattoo here and there was normal enough, but Sevari looked like a mural, though not necessarily unpleasant. Awkwardly scratching the back of her still damp head, she did have to admit that the sound of tea sounded very pleasant, and probably a much better way of staying awake than dumping water over herself.

"Well, if yer offerin'..." Her look of embarrassment quickly shifted to one of genuine curiosity, more than willing to listen to the Ohmes-Raht's explanation about his tattoos, and of course, at the possibility of making a new friend.

Sevari nodded, admittedly smiling a bit on the inside. He seldom did this before but spending time in the company of somebody who wasn’t an unrepentant killer was… he liked it. He hadn’t felt like this in quite some time. Not since Ja’Vashara. That tinged his smile with sadness some, but it was the same far away wistfulness as looking out at sunsets.

He spoke to the tea maker and returned to their short table, sitting cross-legged and placing Meg’s tea before her before he sipped from his own. “Honestly, I’ve no damned clue what they put in different teas but I know it’s good.” He chuckled, “I’m sorry if you were expecting a connoisseur. So, point one out.”

He straightened up on his sitting pillow, offering Meg a full view of almost all the tattoos, save for the three-steepled chapel. To be honest, none of his art had been gotten for good reason, but he would be honest with her. Her eyes bade him do so.

Meg couldn't help but chuckle at the Khajiit man's words about the tea, shaking her head. "Oh, ya don' havta worry 'bout that," she told him reassuringly. "I'm more a... well, an ale an' mead sorta gal. Any tea'll be good for me, I'm sure." Saying that, she took a sip, a small hum of satisfaction escaping her as she set the hot drink back down. Lips pursed and eyes narrowed, she allowed herself to peruse the tattoos yet again, eyes falling upon the most easily recognizable one to her. Nodding, she spoke up.

"Talos... does that mean you've been t'Skyrim?" It was easy to hear the hint of excitement in her voice.

“I have.” He smiled a bit, “It was mostly business, though. Not too much sight-seeing but I was all around. I got this there too. I’ve… been a servant of the Empire for some time. It only seems appropriate I find something in their culture I identify with. Another?”

Meg couldn't help but grin, one leg wiggling excitedly as per her habit when she felt happy. It wasn't such a big deal, but she always felt a sense of pride and joy when thinking of her homeland, and especially during these very hot days- it was just nice to know someone else who had been there as well.

"Uhm..." Putting her happiness to the side, her bright eyes were once more resting on the sword tattoo that seemed to pierce Sevari's neck. "Well, what 'bout that one?" she asked, motioning towards his neck with a finger.

“Ah,” his hands went to his neck, rubbing it nervously. He would’ve been apprehensive with anyone else, but Meg’s non-judging eyes held his trepidation from him, “You know what Jaraleet is, Meg, what he does. I was never a peaceful man. This is a symbol in Tamriel’s criminal world. Skooma syndicates look for Colovians with these sorts of markings when they need blood spilled.”

He breathed out a sigh, mind flashing back to things he’d done that at first glance- or hell, even the hundredth- seemed hard to justify that it was all in Imperial service. He sipped at his tea, “Which next?”

In truth, Meg was still mostly unsure of what Jaraleet was before the dwemer attacked. She had her guesses, and there was that which Gregor had insinuated the night of the party... but she didn't have the guts to actually ask about it after openly accepting the Argonian man despite his past- it just didn't seem right to.

"Y’mean... something like the Dark Brotherhood then," she murmured to herself. She looked at his chest once more, slightly nervous- she wasn't sure if she was stirring up memories that he perhaps wished to keep hidden. Still, if he was offering yet again, then perhaps it wasn't that bad? It wasn't as if she had thought him pure and unblemished- who was, really?- but she really didn’t want to end making him feel bad about himself...

Y'think too much. Shut up, mind.

"That one," she blurted out, motioning towards words in a language she wasn't able to read, but knew was Ta'agra- J'raij would often write in it. "What does that mean?"

Sevari was much more happy and forthcoming with this one. He patted his ribs where it was, “A saying in Ta’agra, it means ‘it is good to be brave.’ Something I keep with me to remind myself. I’ve been alone my whole life with seldom and fleeting friends and loves.” He said, “But through it all, when I’m shitting my trousers and shaking to my bones, or just doubting my life, I remember the words. A mantra.”

That made Meg smile. She relaxed from her earlier nervous disposition and took a sip of the tea, contemplating on the meaning. "I like that," she declared, once she set her tea back down. "An' I've heard it b'fore too... my friend J'raij used t'say it 'fore he went off t'sell somethin' he probably shouldn' have been sellin'." She giggled and shook her head, though calmed down a little after, eyes lowering as she looked down at her hands still holding her cup of tea. "Ain' easy bein' brave when yer alone... Scary even."

“And that’s when you should bravest then.” Sevari smiled, looking at Meg. She really was a kindred spirit with Ja’Vashara. Meg may have come from the other end of Tamriel that he did, but she couldn’t make him feel any more at home. “Hell is easier to walk through if you pick a direction. What else catches your eye?”

"That one there." She easily pointed out the white sailed ship tattoo'd on the Khajiit man, recalling her journey from Anvil to Gilane. "Not one for ships m'self though... was sick the whole time comin' here from Cyrodiil." She grimaced before chuckling. "Not gonna lie... I don' wanna go sailin' for a long, long time, maybe never. I like m’feet touchin’ the ground, thankie very much." Then she blinked, wondering if she might have babbled a little too much. "Eh... no offense if ya like ships… I’m sure they’re nice ‘nough for people who’re used t’them."

“By all means, put me in a saddle and I’ll get where I want to get.” He chuckled, “It’s less about the ship than what it represents. I got this after I was sprung from jail in Bravil after a job. Long story, but the ship with white sails means I’m a criminal that escapes too much to be held for too long.”

He winked at her, “One of my many talents.”

"Ooh...!" Now that made sense to the Nord, and she couldn't help but grin a little as she thought of her own escapade. "I get it! Hrmm… maybe I should go an' get one of those too then, eh?" She pulled at a lock of hair, twisting it around her finger in thought before explaining. "I lived some years in Riften... y'pro'ly know it's pretty, er... well, it's shady. I might've learned some things there that weren' precisely... good? But sure kept my ass alive when I was headin' down in the crypts lookin' for treasure." She seemed almost smug. "The guards never did catch li’l wee me. Pa did though." She shrugged, though the proud look on her face remained intact.

“So you’re not as innocent as I thought, then.” Sevari smirked, “I’d take Riften over Senchal or Torval any day, at least the parts I’m from. Trust me, you knew me a few years ago, you’d know shady.”

He chuckled, he pointed to another of his tattoos, “Renrijra. In Ta’agra it means criminal, lowlife, mercenary.” He touched his fingers to the ones on either side of his chest, “Fusozay Var Var, Fusozay Var Dar. Enjoy life, kill without qualm.”

He touched another, “In Ta’agra, this means ‘thank you, Anequina, for my ruined youth.’ Elsweyr is beautiful. But get too close and you’ll see.” He nodded, “You’ll see. As for escaping,” he twisted around to show the chapel on his back and the two eyes, “Three steeples, three years. I was supposed to be in there for twenty, but I made good friends and they decided they needed me out sooner. I got the eyes in jail, it means you go behind my back and I’ll see your treachery.”

“Y’sure been ‘round lots,” Meg remarked. She had been sipping on her tea as she watched Sevari point out a few other tattoos. “Hammerfell, obviously, Skyrim, Elsweyr, I’m bettin’ it’s safe t’say Valenwood… Cyrodiil? Morrowind?” The last two were just guesses, of course, but she continued onward anyway, letting out a huff. “If it hadn’ been for the dwemer attackin’, I’d pro’ly still be wanderin’ ‘round Skyrim. I’d never really been ‘round the Reach… ‘cause of the Forsworn-” she raised her eyebrows and glanced at the Khajiit - “I’m not usually someone who run t’wards danger…” She flushed, remembering that was exactly how she had first met the man sitting across from her. “Usually.”

“You tend to live longer that way.” Sevari chuckled, “Cyrodiil, yes. Morrowind, no. I’ve never liked swamps, couldn’t stand the ones in Valenwood, so Black Marsh is a no.”

He sipped his tea, “You’ve… never been outside Skyrim?”

“Like, 'til now? Nah.” Meg shook her head as she picked up her tea, draining it until only the dregs remained. “Jerall was m'first venture an’, well, even that was just at the border. I… well, I always wanted t'go 'round Tamriel, but not like this… this was more bein’ chased 'round.” She shrugged once again. “I s'pose we jus’ gotta take what we get?” That didn't sound quite fair to her though. “Part of me says once.. well, once whatever's s'posed t'happen happens, then I'm just gonna stay in Skyrim. The other part wants t'see more, without havin’ t'worry 'bout dwemer.”

“Huh.” Sevari nodded, “Well, you really are traveling now, then.”

He chuckled, taking the last sip of his tea. “Well, I did make a bet with that asshole I call my brother. Keep an eye out, I’m setting up a duel.”

He rose, sighing and scratching at his chest. He looked at Meg, saw the look in her eyes. It really was the same as Ja’Vashara, there was a mischief there, but not any evils. He smiled, turned away from her and chuckled a bit, letting the moment flow on until he spoke, “I’m glad we had this talk.” He said, “You… remind me of someone. I miss her a lot, to the Moons and back. You and her both, you’re good people. Keep that.”

He kept his smile, wistful as it was. One last look at Meg and a wink and he turned and took the steps away from her and back into the crowd.

"I'm glad we talked too!" Meg called out as he left, staying seated where she was for the time being though her eyes followed the two eyes and three steeples on his back until he was lost in the crowd. This was certainly not how she'd fathomed a talk with the Khajiit man would have gone. She let out a happy sigh, smiling to herself as she looked down at her empty cup of tea. Deep inside, most were good, and he had shown that as well. She hoped perhaps he'd realize that he could indeed have more than he believed he deserved.

If Jaraleet could, then why not Sevari? It was that simple to Meg.

With those thoughts, she stood up, ready to whet her lips with something a little stronger, and perhaps some food.
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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Lemons
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Lemons They will look for him from the white tower...

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For Old Times

Lemons, and the incomparable Greenie

Nighttime, 17th of Midyear
Alik’r Desert, Hammerfell

There was something a little bit eerie about how quickly Restoration magic and alchemy healed up wounds, reflected Gaius.

Of course, he was grateful for it; if it didn’t work so well, he would be laid up with bloody bandages covering his back. As it was, he was up and walking. Not particularly happily, since it didn’t heal quickly enough to completely axe out the pain, but he didn’t want to remain bedridden from a wound again so soon after recovering from his last. And so, that night found him meandering cautiously about the celebrations, reflecting on what had happened over the past month. He plunked himself down heavily on an upturned, empty barrel with a wince and a sigh, feeling once again for the spot on his back where an ancestral shield had sat for decades. He dropped his head and shook it gently. “No more of that, Gaius,” he murmured to himself, “you’re alive, aren’t you?”

"Oh!" Bottle in one hand and a couple of small spicy meat pies of sorts in the other, Meg had been making her way through the crowd, enjoying each and every spectacle that she came across, though now that she found herself hungry, there was nothing that truly caught her attention in the face of food and drink. With those in hand, the Nord woman was at last ready to fend off the heat and tiredness she felt returning by filling her stomach and allowing herself to get a little buzzed. She had not expected to bump into an old companion she hadn't seen since that fateful day in Imperial City.

Not one to shy away from dust, Meg settled herself on the ground next to the barrel that the older soldier had seated himself on, smiling up on him. "Been a while, eh?" she started, letting out a happy sigh. "T'think we'd finally meet 'gain over here of all places..." She blinked before holding out her pie holding hand. "Wanna bite?"

Gaius gave Meg an appreciative smile and a “thanks,” taking one of the pies and nibbling at the edges, lost somewhat in thought. He let a minute or so pass, then turned to face her, realizing, now that he wasn’t bleeding from a whipping and confronted with an Imperial ambassador, how much...rougher wasn’t the word...how much more resilient Meg seemed than the Nord that he’d first met in the Jerall mountains. He’d had his doubts; perhaps it was overdose of soldiery, but her honest, easygoing exterior had caused him to wonder whether she’d be able to handle herself. That question had been answered quite fully now.

“To be completely honest? I thought you’d all scattered or died in the disastrous Colovian Rangers incident. I didn’t think I’d ever meet you again.” His face wrinkled with lines of sadness that hadn’t been there only two months before. “What a horror show that was. I wish I could slap some sense into whoever organized the sortie against the Dwemer outpost, but I don’t think that’s an option any more.” He heaved out a huge sigh. “But enough of that kind of talk. How have you all been? I saw some new faces.”

"Ahh, I'd never joined 'em," Meg replied after a moment. She leaned back against a wall and she contemplated the bottle in her hand, stretching out her legs though not so much that she would obstruct the path for anyone passing by. "I'd stayed with Judena an' the other in the camp in Skingrad... from there we'd gone t'Anvil." She smiled as she took a gulp from her bottle, settling it down to the side when she was done. "Aye, we have new faces- well, new for you... Raelynn came with us when we left Imperial City. Jaraleet an' Gregor joined us in Skingrad... uhm, then there's Maz an' Maj who we met in Gilane... Sevari, Zaveed an' Sirine are really new..." She blinked some, a little surprised that the latter two were still around. She didn't like being judgemental, but the dark tales she had heard of the one and the conversation she'd had with the other had her unsettled and confused.

"It's been wha', two months? Feels like ages..." She thought of Rhea, Brynja and Rhona, but decided tonight wasn't the time to broach painful subjects. Gaius didn't need to feel more sorrow after a long awaited freedom. "Seems fate's on our side now though. We've foun' Alim, we've foun' you, an' looks like we're finally ahead of the dwemer for once."

Gaius chuckled mirthlessly. “Fate, hmm? I guess, in some way, I came looking for you after Anvil. A…” he paused for a moment, “a friend told me that she’d heard through the merchant grapevine that there was a resistance against the Dwemer in Gilane. I thought if I rustled up enough trained fighters, I could tear Anvil apart. Funny how fate always finds a way to get you back on the track you need to be.”

He shook his head. “It’s a shame Rhea isn’t here to celebrate with us. If there’s anybody on Nirn who didn’t deserve the fate that they were dealt, it’s her.” He went quiet, looking down at the pie in his hands before abruptly changing the subject, standing up with a suppressed yawn and a lame smile on his face. “So, where did you find that drink? I could use some about now.”

Meg's eyes had dropped to the ground at the mention of Rhea's name, remembering how that last rush from Anvil had taken her life. It wasn't so long ago, yet after the events of Gilane, it felt like months... and still the pain remained. She had done all that she could for them, and in the end her life had been viciously stolen from her.

That could not happen to Daro'Vasora. Or anyone else in their group, for that matter.

"Oh, I got m'ways," Meg replied with a small smile, picking up the bottle and holding it up for the Imperial man to take. "Not stolen, don' worry." She had managed to pick it up for free though, the merchant rather enchanted by a tale told of one of her escapades in Skyrim. "It don' taste half bad either."

“Well, as long as we have some drink, shall we think happier thoughts? We’re alive, aren’t we?” Taking the bottle, Gaius examined it for a moment, wondering what kind of drink it was, before shrugging and holding it to the sky. “To being alive!” With that, he took a long pull from the bottle, chugging down the liquor and enjoying the slight burn that came with it. When he was done, he handed the somewhat lighter vessel back to Meg. “So many terrible things have happened within the pasts few months, perhaps we forget that it hasn’t all been bad. Many good things have happened as well. Fate may be on our side now indeed.” He gave Meg a small, tame smile and a nod. “Thank you for reminding me of that, Megana.”

He leaned back, looking at the stars that wheeled in the glass-clear desert sky above him, marveling at how much brighter they looked than in the Imperial City. “If I had a drink of my own, Akatosh,” he muttered, “I’d pour it out in your name.”

Meg looked at the man, a little grin finding itself on her lips. “Well, y’can always pour it in yer mouth,” she suggested a little cheekily, though she did sober a little. “I’m kiddin’... an’ I agree too, best t’think of happier thoughts now.” Her mind wandered and she thought or her previous encounter earlier in the night with Sevari- it had been an unexpected yet enlightening experience, and she was very happy to have made a new friends… perhaps she could round off the night with yet another one.

“So, uhm, b’fore you came with us t’the mountains, where’d ya live?”

“Imperial City, all my life. Talos Plaza district, to be specific.” His face creased with a faraway worry for a bit, before he shook his head, dragging them back to the moment, doing his best to forget the current state of his home. “Somehow, most people that come to the city do so in times of crisis. I suppose that’s the nature of the seat of power. I wish they saw it in peace more than they do.” He leaned forwards, ceasing his reclining, and winced a bit as the remaining injuries in his back stretched. “It’s a beautiful city, it really is. Standing just inside the gate and looking up at the White-Gold Tower is a feeling that’s hard to duplicate, and at night, the Arcane University blazes with a rainbow of lights. It’s like looking at the aurora in Skyrim, only even brighter.”

He turned to her, nostalgic mistiness fading out of his eyes to be replaced with curiosity. “Speaking of Skyrim, what about you? Where were you born and raised?”

“Riverwood,” Meg replied immediately. “Lived there a few years ‘til Pa decided t’move t’Riften. Stayed there a good while ‘til er, he decided he wanted t’live in Whiterun, so we ended up headin’ that way.” Unlike with Sevari, who had found her admission of crime amusing, she was unsure whether Gaius would be of the same mindset. “My Pa, he’s an Imperial like ya, used t’live in Imperial City too, til he was ‘bout my age or maybe a li’l older. A soldier too… yer a soldier, right?” She didn’t wait for an answer, continuing her tale. “He… didn’ really enjoy tha’ kinda life, y’know?” She scratched the back of her neck, thinking she might actually understand why now. “Which was pro’ly a good thin’, else I’d not be around.”

If Gaius was surprised that Meg’s father was an Imperial soldier, he didn’t show it. In fact, he laughed, and not the half-hearted chuckle of before, but a full-throated, throw-your-head-back belly laugh. “Doesn’t sound too unlike my father. He was a soldier and loved it--shows you where I got it, I suppose--but he didn’t much like the fighting. Hated it, actually, even though he was very good at it. He just wanted to help the Empire, and fighting was the best way he had.” He shrugged. “I’ve always been fond of fighting, but I’m nowhere near as good as he was in his prime.”

“Still,” he went on, “I’m glad to know that Whiterun is still holding together. When last I saw it, it was in shambles. Is old man Balgruuf still Jarl?”

She couldn’t help but laugh out loud at hearing the Jarl called ‘old man’, it was funny and unexpected from the Imperial, though reminded her of how her own father would call the leader of Whiterun in the privacy of their home. “Aye, well, last I was there, he sure was- hadn’ been there for months ‘fore I left for Jerall.” She looked at the older man curiously, crossing her legs before turning so that she was facing him completely. “So were you like deployed there, or somethin’ else, jus’ passin’ through?”

“Stationed,” he replied shortly. “Battle of Whiterun. I was one of the legionnaires that defended the city. After the battle, Balgruuf got away from that housecarl of his and ended up drinking in the Bannered Mare nearly every night to show the people of his city that he was still part of them, even after the civil war. We had some interesting conversations over a flagon.”

“So if you hadn’t been in Whiterun before you left for the expedition, where were you? Just wandering, or were you somewhere more pressing?”

“Maybe y’ran into my Pa then,” Meg replied with a small smile. As the days passed on and they kept moving from one location to the other, she found herself thinking more and more of her father and little brother, wondering how they might be. She didn’t hate or even dislike her stepmother, but felt rather indifferent. It was an odd feeling for one who liked to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, but there was still lingering feelings or discontent.

“I left Whiterun, erm… a li’l after my twentieth,” she added after a moment of thought. “I wanted adventure? I was workin’ at farms in Whiterun, sometimes usin’ m’sword t’protect wares… I wanted t’see more though.” She smiled as she looked up at Gaius, wondering if he’d find her itchy feet and wanderlust relatable. “I used t’go after bandits for bounties, t’was dangerous but I managed… but I started treasure huntin’ once I bumped into a friend from Riften.”

A little after her twentieth… Gaius smiled, more to himself than to Meg. He’d forgotten how young many of the people on the ill-fated Jerall expedition had been, many seeming still in their twenties. He laughed at her description of her antsy, wandering feet. “One of the perks of being in the Legion: there’s a lot of all-expenses-paid travel. I wish I could’ve wandered when I was that young, but,” his face pulled into a jokingly-sour expression, “I ended up having to run the family finances for a few years. Not a fun time, I can tell you!”

He leaned back again, settling into a position more comfortable for his back, before continuing with a bit of a non-sequitur. “What kind of people are your family?” After a beat, he realized that the question might have been a tad out of place and went on: “I don’t mean to pry. My parents died when I was fairly young, and so I enjoy hearing people talk about theirs.” Something that might have been a faint blush faded onto his face, and he turned his body--not just the head this time--towards Meg, listening intently with a ‘go on’ expression.

“Oh it ain’ pryin’,” Meg replied with a shake of her head. “I don’ mind talkin’ ‘bout them at all. There’s my Pa, o’course. Ma died when I was just a li’l thing… Pa didn’ get married ‘gain ‘til I was grown up. So there’s his wife, an’ my li’l brother, Sylven.” She rubbed the back of her neck, thinking of Marne and wondering how things would have been if her own mother had still been alive. Would they have remained in Riverwood? If that was the case, would she had ever met J’raij? Would she ever learn the skills that brought her to this place at this time?

“Pa’d say I’m like Ma,” she continued. “I dunno though- she sounded more like someone who rushed into battle. Me, I like stayin’ back ‘less I havta go forward. Guess I got some of m’Pa in me too.”

Another laugh burst from Gaius, and he felt the knot of tension in his stomach that had been there since the Imperial City unravel slightly. He wiped a laughter-laden tear from his eye, then stood shakily from the barrel, still grinning. “Thanks for talking to an old man like me, Meg. You’ve helped more than you know.” He gave her a Legionnaire’s salute, then made to walk off back into the festival.

Now, let’s see about getting some more of that drink.
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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Dervish
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Dervish Let's get volatile

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A Dervy Shafting
17th of Midyear, Early Evening, Alik’r Desert…

If the Alik’r feared detection by the Dwemer, they certainly didn’t show it. The camp was bright with fires and it was certainly as grand of a festival as one would expect from the New Life festival at just about any major city, or to commemorate the end of the Oblivion Crisis. Here were many different tribes of the Alik’r Desert joined together to celebrate victory, life itself, prosperity… just because. Daro’Vasora had some time over the festival been given a poncho, a pretty sky-blue thing with silver seams with some kind of lizard motif. She wasn’t really sure how it came onto her person; she recalled leaving the cave with Raelynn and Fjolte behind, and her head had still been swimming with images and sounds from whatever the Nord had been burning. She must have been shaking, because a voice that she wasn’t sure was real or not told her so, and before she knew it, she was covered in the poncho and her benefactor nowhere in sight. They must have assumed because it got cold at night that she was, as well.

Now the drugs were wearing off and she had regained full sensation of her limbs and senses, save for a minor tingling down her neck and spine, Daro’Vasora’s spirits had lifted considerably and she wandered aimlessly, taking in the sights and sounds of a culture that was far from her own. The Alik’r were people of a desert, not unlike the Khajiit of Anequina, but the way they carried themselves had a number of differences she found curious. She found herself enraptured by a fire breather and a sword juggler, their silky smooth movements reminiscent of the dancers not so far from where they were; she gasped and applauded when the crowd did, and she found laugher came easily to her lips.

It wasn’t long before the scent of roasted meat caught her nose, and before long she had a handful of boar kebabs with onions, dates, and tomatoes in her hand and some kind of frosted fruit ale that had been served from a bed of frost salts. She enjoyed her meal as she went along, looking at the impromptu marketplace, admiring the craftsmanship of jewelry and blades, and a few of the former prisoners who recognized her approached and warmly greeted her properly, thanking her for what her and her friends had done.

Daro’Vasora realized she couldn’t remember the last time she’d really been this at ease and happy, save for the brief spell of the oasis. Here it was easy to forget the invasion, the war, all the troubles at home. She wasn’t hiding in a cave with tensions riding over, nor in a posh hotel that could be raided at any time. Maybe it was Fjolte’s drugs… who cared? There was a lightness to the air, and the Khajiit almost felt like dancing.

Perhaps that was why she was gravitating towards the sound of music and the almost imperceptible thunder of people’s feet moving to the beat of a drum. It was there that she caught sight of someone she very much always loved to see. With quiet feet, she snuck up behind Latro and wrapped an arm around his waist containing the kebabs, pressing her head against his neck affectionately.
“Why hello there, stranger; come here often?” she purred flirtatiously before letting off a girlish giggle, offering the kebabs. “Hungry?” she asked.

Latro jumped a bit, he’d been staring at the small Dwemer box, but when he realized who it was his face broke out in a beaming smile. He looked at the offered kebabs and took one, a slight bow of the head and a wink to his lover, “Oh, this is my first time, actually.” He took a bite of the kebab, “You know, the woman I love wouldn’t appreciate me taking advances from such a beautiful stranger.”

That earned a bemused smirk. “Is that so? Maybe she should learn how to share.” Daro'Vasora said, curling her tail somewhat. “What does she have that I don't?” she pressed teasingly, her eye catching the box. That was curious.

“That thing's really caught your eye, hm?” she asked, having a quick drink before offering to swap it for the cube. “It's not like you to be fixated by an artifact. Figured out what it is?”

“No,” he shook his head, turning the box over in his hands while still looking at it. He remembered how the different colors tinged his emotions before he pulled his eyes from the box and looked at Sora, “No. I remember they were glowing different colors and they made me feel different emotions based on the color.”

“Anyways,” he put it away in a satchel he’d gotten, “That’s a nice poncho.”

The fact he didn't offer for her to take a look at the cube made her feel like he was hiding something from her, prompting a dejected frown. “Well, maybe we can solve it together. It's not my first strange Dwemer artifact I've mucked about with, won't be the last.” she said with an inflated sense of confidence before huffing a sigh, pulling the fabric of the poncho in front of her. “I don't remember how I got this. Turns out helping a friend out Fjolte's way is a bit of an assault on the senses.” she said somewhat evasively.

“You know him, do you?” Latro asked, his smirk and his tone not exactly matching, a certain suspicion ringing an otherwise innocent sound. “Should I be jealous at this most joyous reunion?”

An impish smirk crossed her lips. “Oh, but you have a girlfriend, remember?” she teased, concealing her face behind the cup of ale for a lingering, taunting moment. When she saw that he wasn’t amused, she held the drink to his lips. “I’m going to be honest with you, I always am. Do you trust me?” she asked.

“Oh, I do, Bluebird.” He said, using a finger to tip the cup a bit so he could take a sip, licking his bottom lip as it came away seductively, “I could show you just how much you mean to me. That cave was too cramped and quiet but I hardly think anyone would hear us here.”

Daro’Vasora reached up to caress Latro’s cheek and pinch his chin. “Now where’s the fun in that? I like to make you sing, after all…” she trailed off, shaking her head for a moment as she gazed up into his eyes. “So back in the old days of when I mostly solo delved and went through temporary partnerships frequently, Fjolte and I had gone on an expedition in partnership with a third party, who promptly betrayed us when they thought they could get away with it. You can probably guess how that went for them.” she looked over to where she had come from earlier, where Fjolte probably was. “Anyways, he cannot tolerate a few moments without hearing himself speak, and between coming down from a life and death struggle, wanting to get him to shut up for a few minutes, and well, my own… urges.” she let the last word linger with its full implication. “We ended up sleeping together, and well, he’s the last person I expected to be pulling out of a cell in Hammerfell.”

The Khajiit pinched the bridge of her nose and shook her head slowly. “I feel like he’s going to find some way to rub it in my face, or bring it up at a bad time to rile you or me up because he seems like he feeds off of causing a scene. Trust me, he’s the last person I expected to come back into my life, and I don’t want you hearing rumours about him or me, especially from him. I want you to trust me, and know that my heart belongs to you. If my face could turn red, I’d look like a Nord with a sunburn right now.”

“Oh, now that I didn’t need to know.” Latro rubbed at his face. He looked to where her eyes went and shook his head, of all people they could’ve dragged out with them it was Fjolte. “I can’t promise anything if he opens his mouth and shit pours out. I might just close it.”

He sighed, growling and unable to look at his partner. He could feel the heat in his cheeks, “Well, I hope your certain urges are satisfied with little Reachfolk me.” He huffed, “I hope we don’t meet anybody I’ve fucked before.”

She leaned up to kiss him, pressing her lips gently against his own before whispering in his ear. “I just might like that.”

“Goodness,” Latro ran a hand down Sora’s back, tips of his fingers gliding along her spine to rest at the base of her tail, “How did an innocent man like me find you?”

Daro'Vasora giggled, flexing at Latro's touch. “What can I say? I've a weakness for pretty boys who can sing.” she said, pulling Latro into an embrace and burying her face against him. “So, do you know how to dance, or do I need to go find an eligible guy or girl and see where the night takes me?” she asked, gently rocking to the beat.

“I couldn’t guarantee their safety.” He smirked before Sora was leaned over backwards on one foot, weight held by one of Latro’s arms at her lower back before he took the lead again, her hand in his as she spun away from him and came back to coil up in his arms. His face was dangerously close to hers, “I know a thing or two. Fighting and pithy philosophy weren’t the only things Francis taught me.”

The remaining food was dropped to the ground by an outstretched hand before she grinned with half-shut eyes. She held her leg high against his pelvis and put a hand against his bare chest. “Is that jealousy I hear?” she purred impishly, playfully scratching his chest lightly as she twirled out from his arm, still holding his hand as she moved outward in a graceful twirl, her footfalls light and practiced as she reached the apex of her movement, leaning in to kiss his knuckles. “Then show me how you'll keep your cat from straying, my little Reachman.” she demanded in a sultry tone, playing on his words from earlier.

Latro chuckled, placing a hand that was firm but not forceful on the back of her neck. Their lips pressed together in a passionate kiss but just as Sora leaned in and just as he was beginning to feel the urge to let her, Latro pulled away and continued the dance with a flourish. He twirled around Sora, disappearing behind her back for but a second before reappearing and pulling her into an embrace. It was a nice game, he wouldn’t spoil it all at once by giving into his urges too early. He’d dangle it in front of her- and himself- until the need was so great it would be almost too unbearable.

Then, and only then, would he let her feel all the bliss and pleasure of his deepest gratitude and love. “Where did you learn to dance, Bluebird?”

She continued to move to the beat within his embrace, wrapping an arm across her body to touch his arm and then other reaching up to run her fingers through his long hair. “You learn a few things at court, and a few more when you spend years in the cosmopolitan center of Tamriel and take in the night life.” she replied with a smile, pulling away suddenly, her arms and legs moving like the mesmerizing flicker of flames as she stepped back, inviting him to give chase. He wouldn't be the only one playing cat and mouse with desire. With a finger, Daro'Vasora beckoned her lover with an inviting finger as she disappeared into the throng of dancers, glimpses of her showing between the gyrating bodies.

Latro gave his easy smile, following soon after. He’d long ago learned how to move through crowds but Sora was making a task of it. At least he had a good view of her swaying hips and behind as she moved through the people. As they breached through the mass of bodies, he grabbed Sora gently by the arm and pulled her into an embrace, kissing her deeply. “What now?”

“Now,” Daro'Vasora replied breathlessly after parting lips, “we lose ourselves to the night.”

It was hard to say when the dancing gave way to lust, and when passion guided them back to their tent to act on the tension, but Daro'Vasora and Latro had spent most of their night with barely a word spoken to each other and yet in perfect understanding. They’d both endured much, and tonight was about healing and remembering how to live for the moment and for each other. This was the first time in so long that they had together that wasn’t in hiding, as prisoners, or fearing for their lives. It felt like it was what life could be, a promise that things weren’t always going to be dominated by war and strife. They would still be able to find a life together that went beyond one forged by circumstances and conflict that would evaporate when the danger had passed.

Sometime after collapsing in exhaustion in each other’s arms after their love making, an intense romp that left both bruised, battered, scratched and sore in places that they both forgot were parts of their anatomy, they listened as the sounds of the camp died down and somehow managed to find some articles of clothing to maintain their modesty and headed out to the edge of the camp to look at the stars above, wrapped together in a blanket as they stared up in awe at the impossibly endless and bright sky, the stars like a thousand different candles.

After an indeterminate amount of time in blissful silence, still in one another’s embrace, Daro’Vasora finally spoke. “Have you thought about what comes after, for both of us?” she asked, exploring the back of his hand with a thumb. “I don’t want to wake up and find out none of this was real, that it won’t last forever.”

Latro took his moment, glancing sidelong at his love before he put his eyes back on the stars. He stayed quiet for some time until he worked at words he wanted to say, “I… Neither of us do.” He said, he looked at Sora and gave her a smile, “But I know I want to stay with you after this is over. I don’t have flings, Sora. I love fully.”

He looked back to the stars, “I’ve lived my life as if I didn’t have time for anything but a one, true love.” He sighed, “Now, I’d rip our fates from the Gods’ hands if it was not one where you and I
were together.”

A part of Daro’Vasora felt guilty about what he had said; much of her life was defined by casual, meaningless flings. She worried that if she admitted that, or the strange but wonderful intimacy she shared with Raelynn recently, would wound him. Would he think her unfaithful, someone who would abandon him when he began to bore her? It made a pit sink into her core, and she wished she knew the answer. “You’re so sure of yourself. I appreciate that.” she said quietly, pressing herself closer against him, her eyes no longer skyward.

“I just don’t know if I deserve that devotion, this is all new to me and I never want it to end, but what happens if I mess up? I’ve never been in a relationship for long, Roux was the longest by over a month and well, he betrayed me. I spent so much of my life after not forming strong attachments to people, I don’t know if I will ever be able to match this vision you have for me.” she said with a heavy sigh, squeezing Latro’s hand. “I love you, more than anything, and I know me telling you about Fjolte irritated or upset you. I’m sorry for that; I just never want to lie to you.”

Latro’s gaze didn’t falter from the moon as he listened to Sora. He didn’t even find the words for her until a long silence had started to nudge him towards speaking anything. He was zealous, just not good at these things. “Oh.” He said, then found it to be a supremely lame excuse for an answer, he looked at Sora in his arms, “Sora, there’s thousands of people who will condemn our love just because we look different. Just because we can’t have children. I don’t care. I love you, all I need is for you to love me, never lie to me, always be honest whether or not I’ll be upset.”

He gave her his easy smile, “I just need you to trust yourself that this is real. I trust in you that you will not leave me and I hope you trust me that I won’t do that to you. That’s what it’s about, isn’t it? Trust?” He chuckled, “And if we keep the reasons we started loving each other in the first place close to our hearts, then any fight we have can be weathered. It is good to be brave, no?”

A chuckle escaped Daro’Vasora’s chest. “Now where have I heard that before?” she asked with a smile. She looked up to meet his stare, drinking in the richness of his eyes. “I know this is real, I know it in my heart of hearts. I love you, Latro of the Reach, with everything that I am; I promise to always be honest with you, to never give up on you when times get tough, when life seems impossible. I know my parents would like you.” she promised, holding him tighter. “I just hope you can forgive me when I stumble, when I don’t know what I’m doing. My heart is true, I’m just a mess.”

Latro chuckled quietly, grasping up a fistful of sand and letting it trickle down to the ground, “That makes two of us, love.” He breathed in, taking in the warmth of Sora’s body against his, “I don’t know what the future will hold for us, but I know I’ll be right beside you when we find out. To think, I never thought we’d be on such an adventure.”

“So, now that we know we’re not going anywhere… what is it you want out of life?” Daro’Vasora asked. “No kids, just us. Let’s assume these cave-dwelling assholes get stopped and life goes back to normal, or close to it. What do you want to do, where do you want to live? That kind of thing.”

“Normal.” He said, shrugging and frowning, “Be normal. Go back to what I was. Just a traveling bard whose biggest worry is… is finding an inn before nightfall, or… what my next song is going to be when I get there.”

“I don’t want to fight wars anymore. I don’t want to be a hero with the gates of hundreds or thousands depending on me.” He shook his head, kissing Sora’s forehead and leaning against her, “I just want us.”

The Khajiit reached up to caress his cheek. “Well, I don’t think there’s going back to that just yet. Besides, think of all the inspirations for songs we’re living right now. I don’t think I can ever give up what I was doing before, doing expeditions and digging up history. It’s the thrill of the hunt and discovery, finding these things you’ve only read about in books that are older than your great-grandparents. It’s like finding out a fantasy or myth you enjoyed as a child was real, and you were the one to bring it to life.” Daro’Vasora said dreamily, looking back up at Jone and Jode and wondering if her ancestors were looking back at that moment.

“I don’t see why we couldn’t do both, don’t you? We can travel Tamriel, and who knows? Maybe if we pull this off we’ll be able to open doors to places we’ve always dreamed about. I always wanted to see Summerset.”

“Fine,” he nodded, “Just… No heroics. Travel sounds nice, though. I haven’t been outside Northwestern Tamriel, I wonder what Elsweyr is like. Ever been?”

Daro’Vasora shook her head. “No, which seems odd, considering the border was only a few kilometers away from Leyawiin. With all of the tension with the Dominion, the fact that a lot of ruins get buried by the desert, and, well… a sort of rejection of what I am, I just never came to pass. I spent most of my time in the Cyrodiilic wilds, Skyrim and Morrowind from time to time. Maybe it’s time for me to fix that?” she pondered.

“Perhaps,” He shrugged, “Sevari once told me it’s filled with nothing but shit. He’s a very angry man. And to think, most other Khajiit want nothing else but to go back.”

“I always took the saying, may your roads lead you to warm sands as a way of expressing finding your way back home. Most Khajiit I've met from the Confederacy seemed wistful and nostalgic for their homelands. Many, I think, are exiled.” Daro'Vasora explained. “Maybe Sevari's angry because he doesn't have a home or a place where he feels like he belongs?”

“He seems like a man who’s been without hearth and home for some time.” Latro frowned, “I can relate some. Before I found Francis, I don’t know what I was doing. Sure, I could play a lute but my life was just one day to the next. I never planned out more than a day in advance.”

“Life is blurry when your only interest is poppy-wine and where to be the most alone to enjoy it.” He said, his voice solemn, “I’m only lucky Francis found me. Put me on the right path to find you some years later.”

That brought a smile to Daro'Vasora's lips. “Right? Now you don't have to drink the entire bottle on your own.” she chuckled, leaning fully into him now. “You give Francis all the credit for your own accomplishments, you know that? I know he helped refine a lost soul, but you would have figured yourself out eventually. Besides, as if I wouldn't have heard your music in some forlorn tavern and subsequently try to get enough drinks into that handsome singer so he'd sleep with me.”

Her fingers intertwined with Latro's, amazed that despite all of the differences like smooth skin of his fingers in contrast to her dark fur and long, sharp claws. He placed her other hand over the back of his own, her eyes meeting his own. “I feel like nothing would have ever kept me from finding you, not in a thousand lifetimes... I am more sure about you than anything in my life. I am honoured that you chose me, that despite everything, despite who and what I am, I am yours and you are mine.” Daro'Vasora said with gentle reverence, bringing his hand up to kiss his knuckles.

“I will always find your song.” she promised.

Latro sighed through a heavy smile. Not in so long had he heard words that were so good and meant only for him. That the look in Sora’s eyes were so sincere, he was almost having to wipe at his own pair. “Maybe I should give myself more credit.” He chuckled, nuzzling a cheek on Sora’s mane, “And I don’t think you’d have had to put so many drinks into me in the first place. Your words, your face, your body, your mind. I would have grown smitten by the end of our first conversation.”

“Well, by now, I’m sure I’ve told you enough about my tribe, my status as the Chieftain’s and Witch-Mother’s son, next in succession and all that. What of you?” He asked, “You said you’ve been at court. You must be important, Lady Sora.”

The Khajiit giggled playfully, running her hand across his chest. “Oh? Some might think you have a fetish, my love. How did I miss your sly looks at camp in the mountains?” she purred, a seductive smile on her lips before she let out a bark of a laugh.

“By everything in Aetherius, no, I was never important. My mother is Count Caro's scribe, my father owns a major merchant company on Topal Bay.” Daro'Vasora explained. “I was invited to fancy dinners, even know which way to line up my forks and spoons, dress up all proper like, dance and curtsey and all of that other bullshit pageantry that comes with being in the presence of nobility. My family's just served Leyawiin since the Empire rolled in and murdered one of my ancestors, as he is so keen to remind me every time I see him.”

The Khajiit rolled her eyes. “He most certainly would have hated to see me get defiled by one of those filthy invasive humans with your strange flat faces, and how do you trust one with no tail? How am I supposed to tell you all apart when you have no fur patterns?” he said in teasing exasperation.

“However would I know?” Latro shrugged and put his hands up, “I have a hard enough time telling Meg from Gregor. At least the Gods made it easy with the fur and tails and muzzles.” He laughed.

“Shame about Sevari’s ilk though, forever cursed to walk the lands looking more man than Khajiit and not being able to recognize their reflection from the person next to them.” He sighed and shook his head, “The prejudices of men and mer, even betmer. It’s boggling to the mind, but I guess difference is terrifying.”

Daro’Vasora was quiet for a moment before gently, almost imperceptibly, nodding her head in agreement. “I never wanted to give him much validation, but I always felt that the Ohmes and Ohmes-Raht must feel so estranged from the rest of our kin, to look and walk like Men and Mer and miss much of what make Khajiit ourselves. For many, it must really emphasize that they belong nowhere, to be rejected for not being Khajiit enough, not Bosmer enough, not Man enough. Even for the Tojay, most find their ways down to the Tenmar forests to live in the trees because they are of such different forms than the rest of us.” the Khajiit sighed, staring up at Jone.

“The Moons give us everything, but they must feel like such a burden to others. I’ve never felt comfortable in my own skin, to walk the world of Man while being a cat, always gazed at with suspicion and distrust. It’s part of why I was so difficult in the beginning with the group, you know? I’ve spent so long expecting to be hurt or disregarded by strangers, no sense in playing nice and might as well share the discomfort.” Daro’Vasora said, a hint of remorse tinting her tone. “It’s why I never expected you to like me back… I rather thought you would have gone the other way in the Imperial City when I sought you out.” she admitted shyly.

Latro sighed, “Sora,” he chuckled almost incredulously, as if she was expected to know how obvious it was that he’d at least become her friend, “Sora, you were all I had down there. If I hadn’t found you or you found me, more like, I think I’d be dead. You saved me, and I didn’t think you would.”

“I was shivering, getting frostbit. Hypothermia was on my heels. You stayed with me, when I was terrified of dying.” Latro squeezed Sora in his arms, nuzzling his cheek against hers. “You were and still are my light in that darkness. You always will be.”

“Plus, if you don’t remember, I was a right smug bastard then too.” He chuckled, letting go of Sora save her hands in his own and kept in his lap, “Always talking down Gaius and that one Altmer. Mortalmo.”

He bowed his head with closed eyes, voice heavy as it should be, “Gods rest his soul. May he find peace with them he couldn’t find with us.”

Daro’Vasora shook her head. “Is it bad I don’t feel much towards him? I mean, no one deserves to die an early death, but after everything we’ve seen and endured… well, it’s hard to make room for people you aren’t close with. It’s hard to think of everyone I’ve seen die in Imperial City and Anvil as people, just the scale of it…” her voice trailed off. “I just kept trying to find you, find Judena and get the fuck out of danger. And here we are marching back into it.”

She hesitated for a moment, shivering despite herself. “We’re going to be crossing the mountains to the East and heading into the Reach, into Skyrim. We’re going by your home.” she said, letting her words sink in. “If that makes you uneasy, we can find another way. I just don’t know what’s waiting for us there, for you.”

That made his face harden some. The prospect of going back there after his exile, he didn’t know if they’d be friendly with him. And if they didn’t much care to see his face around those parts, what they would do to the people with him. His peoples were perhaps not the Mad Witchmen of High Rock like the old times, but it was still a bad prospect of an axe to the head as it was a sacrificial dagger to the throat.

He shook his head, “I’m going to have to be comfortable with it. Or at least shoulder it and keep my teeth together.” He looked to Sora, frowning, “I’m not going to postpone our march just because some bad feelings.”

“Besides, I don’t know who is in charge anymore. Maybe they won’t even know who I am and we can pay or trade with them for passage.” He shrugged, “There’re more Tribes than just mine in those hills. I don’t mind taking those high passes if you don’t. If anything, it’d make it easier on us, I might still know a little of that high country to get us through quicker.”

“If you’re sure,” the Khajiit cautioned, looking to meet his gaze. “It’s the most direct way with the best odds of surviving off the land without supplies, so on a map it’s very inviting. I just am never going to ask you to put yourself at risk because of bad blood.” she sighed, shaking her head. “We all need to get through intact, all of us, and I can’t lose you, especially if I know it was preventable. I’m honestly pretty scared.” she admitted.

“Latro… when I picked up that Lexicon, I knew everything changed.” Daro’Vasora said. “It was a way to end all of this, and before that moment I was resigned feeling like that we were just fighting against the inevitable and now everything is very real. This plan I have, the danger, all of it. I know it will work, I believe that in my heart, but what if we get there and it’s impossible? Is it better to pass on the torch or just let the world unfold as it will, or is it better to try and do the impossible and lose everyone I care about for nothing?” tears flowed freely now and she sucked in air between her teeth.

“If you were in my position, with everyone looking up to you and making these kinds of choices, what would you do? Am I doing the right thing, or am I being irresponsible and gambling with lives?”

Latro sighed and chewed his lip. He understood, truly, mostly because he didn’t know a lick of how to lead these people, neither. He shook his head, “We all, each one of us, know what we banded together for. Everybody.” He said, “And if they don’t, I’d remind them just what we’ve been doing the past months and let them take their leave if they were ignorant to the fact that we’re not running from this war,”

He looked into Sora’s eyes with a hardness that used to be unfamiliar to him, “We’re the ones fighting it the hardest.” He softened some, stroking her arm and squeezing her wrist reassuringly, “The ones fighting it on our lonesome, almost. Everybody who’s stuck with us this far has been gambling the entire time, and they know it. I know it. You think I didn’t know it was a gamble with some mad fucking odds to prostrate myself in front of Zaveed just to make sure I could be with you and force Sevari into acting?”

“You don’t think it was a damned mad gamble to assault the Palace with not even twenty people? Or that Prison back there?” He thrust his thumb over his shoulder as he said it. He nodded, giving a smile to Sora and folding her up in his embrace, “Me, everyone, we’ve done the impossible twice already because of you. Because of each other. We’ll do it however many times we need to until this is done.”

Daro'Vasora pulled herself into Latro, wrapping her arms around him and burying her face into his chest. “Thank you. I needed to hear that, I really did.” she said, holding him close for a few moments longer, taking in his comforting scent before falling back onto her knees.

“As many times as it takes.” she promised, suddenly laughing nervously. “By Alkosh, I've been a mess the past few weeks, haven't I? You'd think by now life and death stakes would be a tad routine.” the Khajiit smiled, wiping her eyes with the back of her arm. She took a few moments of meditative breathing to relax herself, and she opened her eyes with a loving smile.

“For what it's worth, it was pretty much a turn on to see you do something stupidly heroic for me. I guess we're all in this together, huh? It almost seems like a rite of passage to risk life and limb to save each other.” Daro'Vasora observed, thinking back. “I don't think I ever thanked Meg for what she did for me when I was captive, and Jaraleet. I should probably talk to both of them soon.”

Latro laughed at that, shrugging and nodding, “Yeah, well, I’m glad I have that effect on somebody. I’m glad it’s you.” He chuckled, scratching at his stubbled jaw. “Maybe you should talk to them. Better late than never, they’ll appreciate it.”

“Tomorrow, I’ll make some time. Tonight, it’s about us.” She said as she ran her fingers across her chin, grinning. “You know, you might look good with a beard.”

He smiled, giving a small chuckle at that, “You think? Always made it harder to hide. No one can tell it’s me with just a little makeup and a change of clothes, I can disappear. I used to like that fact. Nobody knowing if it was me or not.” He looked to the sand, scrunching his bare toes deeper into it, nodding, “But I don’t think I’m going to hide anymore. No more disappearing, running. I’m right here,” he smiled, “Nothing can change that.”

Daro’Vasora smiled, kissing him lightly. “You don’t need to any more, we’re no longer facing the world alone; this is so much more than surviving one more day. We’re fighting to live, to make sure that we have a tomorrow we can be proud of. Besides… do you know how much of a shock it was seeing you in dress and make-up?” she asked with a grin. “You know that’s a skill you have that I never had to learn, right?”

“Be glad.” He said, “It was one part necessity, one part desperation and sorrow. Rough men like pretty boys. I’m tired of being invisible. I am Latro, I am Finnen Pale-Feather, all of these things. When we go to the Reach, it won’t be gentle for me or any of us.”

“But when has it been recently? We, all of us, we still have each other. That’s all that matters.” He nodded. “Finnen the returned son. Chief Finnen Pale-Feather of the Crow-Wife Clan. Has a ring to it. If they won’t accept me, I will change them.”

“That was insensitive of me… I’m sorry.” She said, holding him close. “Wherever our road takes us, I will stand by you, no matter how hard it gets. And Latro?” she leaned closer to his ear. “You were never invisible to me.”

He turned to her, gave her his easy smile, and they kissed as a breeze brought chills and the sound of cricket-song.

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Stormflyx Queen of Doggos

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Evening, 17th Midyear
Alik’r Desert, Hammerfell

It had been such a long day, and as it was winding down for her, she listened to the music and merriment of the festival that had been going on all day. The fact that Raelynn was fresh from bathing deterred her from wanting to go out just yet. She was also exceptionally tired, spending time with the group and having to force herself to be overly cheerful was just not an attractive prospect. Besides, Raelynn’s absence amongst the partygoers would be noted by Gregor. He would know where to find her.

They needed to talk.

Try as she might, Raelynn had not been able to source a tent far enough from the noise as she would have liked. She could hear the obnoxiously loud bellowing laugh of Fjolte echoing around the oasis from somewhere - even above the sound of the music and crashing of drums. She shook her head and exhaled through her nose, enjoying the gentle breeze that was rolling in periodically from outside. Dusk in the desert was incredibly beautiful, the sky was ablaze with contrasting colours of peach and mauve, like slices of amethyst. Every now and then she would turn her head to catch a glimpse of it from the gap in the parting of the door. She was also waiting somewhat anxiously for Gregor’s arrival.

The tent she had chosen was at least larger than that which they had stayed previously. It was still no inn room though, but now they had room to stretch, and keep their belongings inside. It was more than a glorified piece of muslin cloth over some poles. She had made somewhat of a home out of it this time, winding her own silken scarves around the poles to add flashes of colour inside. A rectangular wooden board on the ground acted as a table for a few candles, flowers, and her jewellery. She’d found a small wooden crate to place her potion bottles, she lined them up beside a small pile of her books. A copper plate displayed a modest looking fruit platter. Even their bedroll was bigger. Having worked her fingers to the bone for the healers had provided privileges for her in sourcing more comforts...

She lay on her side in the tent in naught but a silken robe for her clothing. The almost sheer, lilac piece was cinched tightly at the waist with a thin line of the very same material, tied into a bow. Deliberately chosen The back of the robe was drooping over her shoulders, and a select few wisps of hair that were not held up in her bun were flowing in soft waves against her dewy, bare skin. Intentionally revealing The soft scent of lavender filled the tent, joined by the earthy scent of an incense cone she had lit in the corner that Fjolte had given her after their meditation. A sensual atmosphere she had created with purpose. He said it would help her to stay relaxed, it seemed to be working. Raelynn’s lungs were still burning somewhat, and despite the bath she could feel a mild stinging in her eyes.

She traced a finger gently across her collarbones in an absent-minded fashion as she turned the pages of the book she had suddenly become rather engrossed in, a book from the Investigator Vale collection. It wasn’t her usual choice of literature, but strangely she found herself enjoying it a little bit too much. “It’s obviously the florist you fool…” she muttered under her breath as she turned another page, smirking when she turned out to be correct. She wanted to look busy, to look relaxed, to look unbothered.

The tent flap opened and Gregor stepped inside the tent. He, too, had refreshed himself and his linen shirt clung to his still-damp chest. His long, dark hair was down and cascaded to his shoulders in waves. He looked at Raelynn with a small smile around his lips and his eyes immediately followed the curves of her body, visible beneath the fabric of her robe, with palpable approval, lingering on the bare skin she artfully displayed. He didn’t say anything as he joined her on the bedroll, propping up his head on his elbow, and glanced at the pages of the book she was reading. Seeing nothing of interest, he turned his head to look at the row of black soul gems he had neatly placed above their headrest. There were five of them in total and each twinkled with the essence of the soul within, but the gem in the middle stood out the most -- it was the opaque gem, black as ink, that contained the Dwemer executioner’s corrupted spirit. It was so dark that it almost felt like it would trap his mind there forever if he stared at it too long. Gregor averted his gaze and found himself staring into Raelynn’s eyes, blue as the glacial ice of Skyrim’s northernmost shores. They undeniably had a similar effect.

“Hello,” he said at last, his voice soft and deep, a low purr in the back of his throat. “Enjoying yourself, I see?”

Raelynn’s gaze instinctively lifted from the pages of the book as Gregor entered. His presence was immediately felt too. Whatever he was feeling, it was hanging like a storm cloud around him, bringing darkness and a heavy tension. Despite it, there was no restraint she could have mustered to reel in the expression she displayed upon seeing his hair out of it’s usual knot. He looked even more attractive. She blinked up at her Imperial in surprise before smiling - forgetting the purpose for her orchestrated scene altogether at the sight of him. “Somewhat, yes.”

She wasn’t the only thing he was looking at. It was as if with his entrance, the energy that the gems possessed amplified more so. A stab of insecurity pierced her chest and she swallowed, dropping her eyes back upon the last of the words on the page. She wasn’t taking them in, but he didn’t need to know that. At the sight of the final full stop on the page, she looked up to him again. “I’m sorry I didn’t get to see you today. My hands have been kept hard at work...” Raelynn turned to place the book on the ground behind her, brushing a hand up his arm when she turned back.

“Well, here I am,” Gregor replied, glancing aside to look at how her hand was caressing his arm before he turned his attention back to her eyes. He inched closer to her and placed a hand of his own on her hip, making small circles with his thumb while his fingers pressed into her skin a little through the thin fabric of her robe. She was beautiful and so attractive like this, it was hard to think straight. He forgot all about the things he’d expected her to say about the things that happened in the prison. “I hope your hands still have some time and energy left for me,” he added with a boyish smirk.

“Well of course, that goes without saying…” she purred, placing her own hand on top of his, interlacing her fingers with his to stop his motions before he got too carried away - before they both did. Raelynn tilted her head to the side with a serious expression so that his eyes would follow and he would focus on her words. “But maybe there are things we can catch up on first?” She leaned up towards him to place an innocent kiss on his cheek as a belated greeting, her lips curled to a more content smile and she released his hand - unable to resist running her fingers through his hair after all…

“How very decent of you,” Gregor said, his voice tinged with amusement. All of the recent excitement had made him impatient and he was briefly overcome with a strong, visceral urge to desecrate her when he cast his gaze over Raelynn’s body again, but he inhaled sharply to focus himself and forced his eyes back to hers. The way she played with his hair made him smile. “Very well. What’s kept you so busy?”

She kept her eyes on Gregor, even as his own gaze pulled away from her eyes to her body. There was a strong air of masculinity about him, that was different than usual. She could sense it, and it caught her off guard. It was the damned soul gems, it had to be. “I was in the healers tents most of the day, and then I spent some time with Daro’Vasora and Fjolte. I needed a break from staring at infections…” she sighed. “But that’s not what really what I wanted to talk about…” she let the last word hang in the air, before pulling her hand away from him and back to her own side.

Ah, there it was. The unresolved business and the tension that came with it. Gregor moved his hand from her hip to her lower back and moved even closer to Raelynn, so close that he almost looked straight down on her and cast her face in his own shadow. He felt a twinge of annoyance at the delay in gratification and wanted to deny her the comfort of having some distance between them. “Fire away, my love.”

“Gregor,” she said with a smile as she watched his hand travel again. She'd pushed him just enough to be antsy, made him wait long enough. Her eyes flashed with delight at her own deviousness. “I don’t think you're going to listen…” She looked back up to him, placing her hand on his own thigh, tracing her fingers so gently until she stopped and took it away again. “Is… this,” she shrugged her shoulder, freeing more flesh from the robe with ease, “what you want?” The Breton hooked her finger under his chin, as if she was going to pull him to her, but she moved to him instead, brushing her lips against his. “Do you want me?” she asked in as soft a breath as she could, her eyes closed.

If he had been able to keep his mind clear, Gregor would have realized that this had been part of Raelynn’s little game all along -- but the briefest touch of her lips against his and the way she shrugged off her robe was too intoxicating for such levels of awareness. “Gods, yes,” he muttered and kissed her, passionately and deeply, while his hands were all over her in a flash, untying the cinch around her waist as fast as he could.

After Gregor had extracted himself from their embrace to grab a towel and wash his face in the bowl of water he looked over his shoulder at Raelynn with a boyish smile while he put his hair up again. “We should do that more often,” he suggested casually and bent over to grab his pants off the floor.

“It feels like we barely get time too… Ever since the Palace…” She did not feel the need to dress, and instead simply draped one of their blankets over her body, her head resting on her hand as her elbow propped her up. She was going to allow him time to get comfortable again - he seemed suitably pleased with himself, and less agitated than he had been. He was love drunk. It was a good time for her to release some things from her chest. Her eyes were drawn to the gems above the head of the bedroll. “That's the good thing about festivals, they're loud and take care of those who may intrude…” Her mind wandered to Jaraleet again, and she chuckled quietly.

Gregor nodded. His gaze, too, wandered to the opaque crystals he had taken from the prison. He had put on his pants but decided to remain shirtless. He absent-mindedly rubbed the skin of his arm where the image of a broken soul gem had been tattooed into it while he stared. Catching himself, Gregor laid himself down next to Raelynn and smiled at her. “And what would they be intruding on now, hm? Do I have to take these pants off again?”

The temptation was real for her too, but there were more important things on her mind. “I'm afraid you've worn me out for the time being…” she smirked and raised an eyebrow in his direction, almost as if she was scolding him but there was no real malice there. “Actually my love, I wanted to talk with you… discreetly.” Raelynn gently ran a finger over his arm as she spoke. He'd never denied her a conversation before after all.

So there was no escaping it after all. Gregor had to admit that Raelynn had been kind enough to indulge him; the least he could do was acquiesce to her request now. His smile only faltered ever so slightly before he regained his composure. “Go on, sweetheart. Ask your questions. I know you have them.”

“When Fjolte and I came back… Something had happened with Sevari. I… Gregor, what happened in that room?” She asked, concern in her eyes, her hand resting against his arm now demonstrating the concern physically. “I mean, something really happened in there, I could practically taste it…”

The atmosphere in the room became almost perceptibly colder while Raelynn talked and within seconds, the firewood warmth of love in Gregor’s eyes had been replaced by the charcoal chill of pride. All of Raelynn’s work in placating and softening Gregor appeared to be undone in an instant.

“You saw what happened,” Gregor said and frowned. “You heard what Rourken said. You saw what this elf-spawn,” Gregor continued, pausing to pick up the Dwemer’s pitch-black soul gem, “did in there.” Raelynn had held it when he had asked her to, but he also remembered that she’d used the moment to wrap her fingers around his hand instead. Gregor pushed the gem into Raelynn’s hand now, denying her the choice to avoid the monster that lay trapped within, clasped her fingers around it and pressed it against her chest. “Feel,” he commanded.

The minute it made contact with her chest she felt it. It was as though it was going to tear a hole through her flesh. She recoiled immediately but he was holding it so firmly against her that she couldn't escape it. Fjolte's warning to her to avoid anything of the arcane and to take her time flooded her mind. “Gregor…!” she gasped out in a strained rasp of a voice, her eyes wide with absolute terror. It was poison, vibrating against her. Her hands trembled even under his grip and she lost her words. They sat in her throat like bile. She was completely vulnerable to the dark energy within the gem and she was feeling it through every fibre of her being. From the look in Gregor's eyes he had been poisoned by it too.

“I… can feel it,” she hissed through gritted teeth finally. “Get it off me!” she tried to push back against him as she said it, barely able to stand it anymore.

Satisfied with Raelynn’s reaction, Gregor pulled his hand and the gem away from Raelynn and put it back where it belonged. “Then you already know what happened. There was a monster in that room. I took his soul when Sirine killed him, for such a beast should not be allowed an afterlife. Sevari… took offense. It was pathetic, really,” he explained, his voice cold and utterly without sympathy. “He pointed a pistol at my head and couldn’t even pull the trigger. Zaveed took it away from him and he stormed out, impotent and upset.” Gregor shrugged.

She took a while to catch her breath, feeling incredibly disoriented from the gem, it didn't stop her from panting out after his next answer; “what? He tried to kill you?” pain in her expression fell away, replaced with visible upset. She reached forwards again to touch him comfortingly. “Were you hurt?” She hadn't seen an injury on him, but perhaps he just hadn't wanted to talk about it. “I should never have left you… I'm sorry,” Raelynn whispered with a hand on his chest.

Gregor scoffed. “Of course I wasn’t hurt. Sevari is no threat to me. What do you take me for?” He shook his head at Raelynn but his condescension was swiftly followed by a hint of admiration. “You should have seen Zaveed, though. He was so eager to swoop in and save the life of the man that almost murdered him. You trained him well. He might make a fine lap dog one day.”

“You know that I know how strong you are, doesn't stop me worrying about you…” she said with a smile, even though his words were worrying here. The vacancy in his eyes was about to make her nervous if he didn't settle down soon. She chose not to bite at his comment about Zaveed, although it was of interest to her that he had stepped in. “And now… you have more souls…” her eyes glanced back towards them, so heavy and present it was as if they were actual people sitting in the tent with the two of them. It was like mirrored voyeurism and it unnerved her the longer she looked at them sat their in a row. “We need to be more careful… To protect your secret…”

“They’ll be gone soon,” he said as he followed Raelynn’s gaze. “Tonight.” There was a heavy note of finality to his words, as if it was a decision that Gregor had made only then and there. He observed Raelynn carefully, curious to see what her reaction would be. Would she be happy for him?

It felt like a deadline. Up until now it had just been discussed. The event they talked about that would never come. It would always be one more soul. Was that what he he had meant? Did he believe this to be the last ritual? Suddenly the fingers of the hand on his chest clasped at it. “Are you sure?” she asked, her eyebrows drooped with uncertainty. “This is the one?” her voice wavered just as it had in the prison. She couldn't conceal her trepidation as well as she would have liked.

Gregor shook his head and placed his own hand over hers. “No, I’m not sure, but… don’t you think it’s time? After what the Ideal Master said last time, and now with such a bountiful and worthy sacrifice?” Gregor looked at the soul gem of the Dwemer soul-trapper again and marveled at its darkness. “His soul is steeped in the suffering he is responsible for. It shall delight them, I’m sure.”

She looked away. He was right, it was an exceptional soul to hand to them on a platter. “I always thought it would take us a lot longer… I” she fumbled on the words, looking over at the gem in all its abysmal glory. “When it happens… you'll be changed but I will remain the same…” She brought her hands around her middle, as if she had caught a chill. “What will you be… after?” she asked finally. She wanted to ask him who he would be more than anything. It made her feel small to be so vulnerable. But this was Gregor afterall. She looked it too, shoulders hunched as she hugged herself in an attempt to quash the deep insecurity seated within.

Merely bringing up the topic was enough to stir something within Gregor and he moved on top of Raelynn, hovering over her and forcing her to turn on her back to look up at him. The semicircle of soul gems almost looked like a crown on Raelynn’s golden head from that angle and Gregor leaned in until his face was only an inch from hers, his left hand suddenly around her throat and the nails of his right hand dragging over the skin of her hips, exploiting the nakedness of her form beneath him. “I shall be deathless,” he whispered, the black voids that were his eyes staring intently into hers. “I will gather more souls to save my brother and my sister and make them eternal too, like my father wanted.” The grip of his hand around her throat tightened -- loose enough for her to breathe, but strong enough for her to feel the tautness of his tendons in her flesh. “The Dwemer will know me as their reaper. And you…” He kissed her again while he pried her knees apart and imposed himself on her again, wilfully ignoring her insecurity. It didn't matter to him; she only had to know that he owned her. “You will be by my side to love me, take care of me, satisfy me… and I will keep you safe,” he finished, a ravenous hunger in his voice.

“Stop it,” she breathed out in a croak from within the grip around her throat, she pressed a knee against him to get him to move. She was not in the mood for his usual dominating arousal after she had opened herself up like this. That, and his answer did nothing to make her feel reassured that their relationship would be the same after he'd changed. She pushed gently against his chest, away from her. “I'm more than that… You're more than that to me…” she said again, her free hand grasping at the blanket to cover herself. Suddenly wondering if tonight had just been about… satisfying him, and nothing more. “Gregor, please…” she finished, narrowing her eyes in his direction.

Gregor's eyes flashed and he abruptly pulled back from her when she resisted. All the indignation and vindication he'd felt since the prison bubbled over now, an overwhelming and destructive conviction that the whole world could lick his boots, and when Raelynn didn't give him what he wanted, that world suddenly included her. “You are what I tell you to be,” he snapped, ice cold, and he got to his feet. The fading light of dusk illuminated him from behind as it poured into the tent through the flap and the shadow that fell over his features was almost unnaturally thick.

“You were scared of me in the prison. Now you're scared again. What are you afraid of? That you can no longer control me and use me after I've changed?” Gregor pointed an accusatory finger at her. “You never could, Raelynn. I do what I want, whenever I want it. You're mine because I will it,” he hissed.

It was the gem, she knew it. It was so corrupt that it was causing him to act out in this way. Maybe once it was about control, maybe sometimes even now it was. But that wasn’t why she was scared. He didn’t deserve the truth when he was being so vitriolic, it would go over his head now. She brought herself back up to her knees and reached out a hand towards him. “Please, just take a breath. You’re getting too incensed, don’t say something you’ll regret…” she was trying her hardest to remain calm herself, unsure of whether he was about to lash out or leave. Neither of those things were in any way ideal. “I was scared in the prison because you made yourself vulnerable. Bakih and Fjolte didn’t know your secret and now they do. That puts you in danger. That’s why I was scared.”

“Vulnerable,” he repeated. “Wasn't I right to take that butcher's soul? Am I not right to seek the safety and dignity of my siblings? You said it yourself, I'm not a monster. I shouldn't have anything to fear from these people. Sevari was stopped by his own brother. What's the rest going to do? Nothing.” He paused and made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “Or they can die. It's all the same to me. To us. Because you're with me, not with them. Right?”

She could feel fear rising in her her chest as he spoke, he wasn’t settling down and she couldn’t understand how they’d gone from being love drunk, to this. He was being cruel. Her hands began to shake so she pulled them around herself again, wrapping the blanket entirely around herself - the chill in the air becoming so much. “Gregor…” She squeaked, surprising herself with her own pathetic mewling. “Of course I’m with you… And you are right, you are. I just want you to be safe. Us to be safe.” Her tone was almost shrill as she held back her tears. Unsure of what else she could say to him.

“We will be,” the Pale Reaper said in supreme confidence. “Have faith in your knight.” He knelt back down in front of Raelynn and cupped her cheek with his hand; a tender gesture undermined by the total lack of any visible empathy on his face. He leaned in closer and planted a kiss on her forehead, before he whispered in her ear.

“Don't question me again.”

The way that he did that… it felt as though he was mocking her and she felt herself pushed back into a wall by him. As if she really was just a thing, just an object. He had been unable to see reason or listen - he barely resembled Gregor at all. Even the atmosphere he was creating was different, she couldn't stand it. The kiss on her forehead was cold and loveless… Without truly thinking, as he stooped down to her like that - the husk of Gregor, she brought her left hand up, and despite the fierce trembling she swung it around to meet his cheek with a resounding thwack. Immediately she gasped in shock at her own actions, followed by a loud, ugly sob.

For a moment it looked like the slap had brought Gregor back to his senses, but the slack-jawed and wide-eyed expression of surprise and regret turned into a loathsome scowl almost immediately. The Pale Reaper refused to muster the decency to be angry, or upset, or to show Raelynn any kind of validation and acknowledgement. He got to his feet without another word, finished dressing and grabbed some of his belongings that he would need for the ritual, including the five soul gems themselves.

“Don't wait up for me, this might take a while,” he said as casually as if he was simply going for a haircut.

Whatever anger she had been feeling was not dominating her now, just a strange feeling of regret as she watched him dress and pack away the soul gems. “It's not enough time…” she said in a pleading tone as she looked at him. The lack of reassurance from him was gnawing at her inside. She wanted to get up and grab him, to drag him away from the doorway of the tent until he at least gave her something. “I want more time!” she cried, hands fumbling over the ground to locate her robe to dress herself.

“Just, just let's keep our wits about us. We can properly plan it… I can help you,” she slipped her arms into the robe and let it fall around her before she stood up, “we didn't - what if I can help you - help your family…? You have the soul gems… Give me time. Please.” Unlike Gregor, she was frantic and paced the tent, her hands reaching around the pile of books as if to find a miracle written within their pages. She knew it was futile, and she realised that the longer she scrambled around the more impatient he was going to become and his words came back to the front of her mind. She stopped.

He watched her struggle and stumble over herself impassively and waited for a few seconds after she stopped before he said anything. “Everything will be fine,” the Pale Reaper said, slow as slow and calm as calm. “You don’t have to be afraid. I know what I’m doing. Haven’t you considered that when I am immortal, we will have all the time in the world?” He cocked his head at her and raised an eyebrow.

You'll have all the time in the world,” she said quietly, composing herself. Crying and pleading had done nothing, and she was left with a feeling of humiliation for having acted in such a way. “And I'll live to satisfy you until I simply don't.” Raelynn let her gaze drop to the ground. “You don't understand, and if you don't then maybe that's all I've been to you.” As she let the words fall, as she spoke them clearly into the night like that - she felt them too.

Gregor took a deep breath and tensed up, balling his fists and clenching his jaw. “I’m not going to stand here and listen to more of your self-pity,” he said, scathing and audibly aggravated. There was more he could say, more of her failures and flaws to point out, but why waste his breath? He had more important things to do. He slung his backpack around his shoulders and stomped out of the tent, the flap obscuring him from sight. The sounds of his footsteps in the soft sands faded away into silence.

He was gone. He was actually gone, he'd left like that. Without his presence holding her down, the slow simmering heat that had been her anger began to boil over.

It started with the scarves. She ripped them from the tent poles, letting them fall to the ground one by one. Behind her eyes a mixture of rage, humiliation, and heartbreak - they had combined to create an aggressive tantrum and she sniffled hard, her jaw clenched to the point of pain and a vein protruded from her neck under the pressure. She spun around to launch a foot against the wooden board, the sheer force of it extinguishing the candles and sending them tumbling down - wax spilling against sand and cloth. A mess. She dropped to her knees and grabbed at the flowers, shredding through them with her hands, tearing away at the petals like an incensed game of “he loves me not”.

She reached for the plate and sent it flying out of the doorway of the tent with great force, the fruit falling around her. She grabbed at a pillow and held it over her face, screaming through it until her throat was hoarse and the anger had left her, leaving her with nothing but sorrow, alone in the darkness.

He was gone. Gregor was gone.

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ft. @Leidenschaft

17th of Midyear, Early Evenine
Alik’r Desert: Nomad Camp, Hammerfell

The march out of the prison was an estranging experience. Whence before under the identity of the an innocuous merchant woman, it was simpler to engage with others, but as Aries greeted the open warm air with her first few steps onto the sun-baked sand, she didn’t have much time to enjoy the space and light -- even as oppressive as she knew it would later be, for she did not relish the ambiance of dungeons -- as she felt the dozens of staring eyes on her back. There would be a few who would try to speak with her, and she would humor them briefly before turning their attention to the horizon ahead. Then the stares of the few she knew would land on her, and those were not as easily brushed off. Of those whose glances she accidentally met, she simply faced ahead and continued their trek onward. They were fortunate that the young Nord man had hid their wagon and horses under the cover of some rocks and met with the rescue party as they had exited. It almost made them look like an organized company. Almost. Doubly so when they had met with the Alik’r nomads, with whom Shakti was able to communicate with.

Aries had done her own fair share of talking with the nomads; though she obviously wasn’t able to as quickly build a rapport with them as Shakti could, but with her help in creating a baseline, Aries knew about their people well enough to create communicable relationship with them and organized the starving and injured prisoners and/or members of the company appropriately. For some, the mission ended as soon as the nomads pitched their tents for them. For her, it ended by around sundown, after the last of starving were given food, the last of the injured were seen to and treated, and everything on today’s checklist was checked off. She had little time to entertain the questions of her comrades, at most only humoring them with a brief quip or the standard Imperial facade of bravado, “The Empire is alive and well.”

It was exhausting.

By the time sundown came, her neatly kept hair was frizzed and sticking out in places, dirt and grime was packed under her fingernails, the last few rays of orange sunlight glistened off sweaty skin, and she resigned herself to sitting on a small stone just outside of camp to catch her breath, and have a brief moment of isolation. But then the sound of approaching footsteps came, and she felt herself tense once more.

“Here.” Sevari offered a cup of water to Aries. She looked a damned right mess, but he figured they all did about now. All rough and stinking in their own way from the day’s events. Sevari took a seat next to Aries, the both of them having their eyes on the expanse of desert swallowing the falling sun. Aries silently mouthed her thanks as she accepted the cup.

Sevari looked into his own cup, taking a few gulps of water and wiping his mouth on the back of his forearm. He may have been shirtless before, but he did replace it when he came to talk to Aries. He figured she’d appreciate the modesty. “I heard what you did.” He began, “That’s… well, it’ll go a long way for these people.”

Aries, even as tired as she was, listened carefully to his words. This was a moment that she wasn’t particularly looking forward to, so she kept an ear out for things such as tone and inflection, underlying assumptions, and unspoken sentiments. Part of her perhaps hoped that things would be simpler if she could just stop pretending, but she never really expected it. Moments like this reminded her that there were plenty more to come. Trying to decipher what people wanted from you or what they were trying to say to you was a different kind of headache than pretending and building trust. In Sevari’s case, he already knew the truth. He also rarely made any attempts in hiding his displeasure with her, which is why she found his insinuation unsettling.

“That was the idea.” Aries agreed softly. “I sense that you don’t agree with the decision.”

“We have a job. When the Penitus Oculatus told me to protect you on top of everything else they shoved my way when they told me to come to Hammerfell, it was under the same pretense they always give me.” He shrugged, swirling the water around in his cup, “Whatever it takes and however I want. I’m sure that extends to you too. It’s not that I don’t agree with it, I just didn’t know it was going to happen this soon.”

“That’s fair.” She said with a nod of her head. “Neither did I.”

“But there’s something else.” He said, shaking his head. He wondered how to begin, but found himself coming up short. If anything, Aries knew he was honest. Whether or not she liked it was a different matter, but there was no changing how he handled things. Quick and brutal honesty was ironically his way of doing things, being an Inspector. “Gregor.”

Aries sighed, gulped down her cup of water, and offered a dry look to Sevari. “I'm growing awfully tired of hearing that name. Right then, what did he do this time?”

“We had a necromancer trapped inside. Sirine killed him but Gregor had already soul-trapped him. He shook the woman to her core, should have seen her after she realized what she’d helped do.” Sevari shook his head, only then realizing that the fist holding his cup was shaking, “I was ready, Aries. I had my gun pointed at his damned head, but who else but my fucking shit of a brother stopped me.”

He breathed out a long sigh, eyes closed and calming his nerves, “If it was just me and Gregor in that room…” He looked at the sand as if it could give him worthy advice, “Should I have?”

At first there was silence, occasionally interrupted by some far off laughter from the camp behind them, but it was like the initial silence of a brewing tea kettle given all that Sevari knew of this woman. Soon enough, as the brew began to steam, there came a rattling of the ceramic cup against the rings on her fingers as her hand shook.

“Without hesitation…”.

Then abruptly the cup flew from her hand and shattered against a rock embedded in the desert sand, sending shards flying in every direction. Aries growled to herself, no words, just her throat rumbling in aggravation like an angry dragon as she stood to her feet and glanced towards the camp.

“Soul trapping…” she snarled, “to think I’ve been foolish enough to have suffered a necromancer in my presence this whole time!”

If Sevari was startled by Aries’ outburst, he hid it well under his stoic exterior. “It’s only a matter of time, Aries. Who knows what he’s doing with the souls, or how many he’s trapped over his years.” He planted his hands on his knees and pushed himself up to stand, grunting, “I wouldn’t be surprised if Mrazac was his doing. My brother can testify as to his powers. I can as well, Jaraleet, Sirine and her brother.”

He hooked a thumb in his belt next to one of his holsters, “It’s only a matter of just what sort of justice he’s in for.”

“Why would Zaveed protect him?” Aries demanded. “Why would he give a single damn about any of them, especially Gregor?”

But before Sevari could answer, Aries huffed a sigh and began pacing.

“Maybe that’s a question for another time, but we need to take care of Gregor. Spreading the word might work, I doubt the others know… unless they do? Have they knowingly been harboring a necromancer? No, no, haven’t I heard from somewhere about them condemning the Dwemer’s use of soul gems? Perhaps they wouldn’t… Shit, but if Zaveed really is defending Gregor, then what happens if we out him? He’s a dangerous enemy, and that would also put that other pirate tart on their side, and… you? What about you? What does that mean for you? Would you defend your brother if it also meant defending Gregor? Divines, damn it, why would I even bother asking you if I wasn’t sure?”

Sevari’s frown grew more and more deeply set as her tirade went on. He could see the stress of the day was getting to her. Here he was, thinking she was a stone-face, iron-heart lion of a woman. He never stopped to think that if life could sink its jaws around his throat and choke him, it could happen to her. He held a hand up, “Aries.” He tried getting her attention, “Listen. If my brother is willing to harm me over this, he isn’t my brother anymore. Regardless of what Gregor did to my brother, he’s still one of those necromantic pieces of shit.”

“I’ve seen what they do, in Skyrim, way back. There’s nobody here who could stop me without killing me if it meant putting down one of those crazed fucks.” He chanced a step closer, “Loyalty is what matters here. You and me, we were in Hammerfell before all this, we know what happened. It’s been you and me for a while yet.”

“You really want to know the truth of it?” He said, letting the weight of everything so far seep back into him, working under his skin like thorns to his bones. With dark eyes he looked to the camp, “If it meant being a step closer to finishing all of this, a step closer to toppling this enemy to get back to the original order of things, back to something I knew…” he folded his arms, “I’d burn this all clean and move on with my night.”

Giving Sevari the platform to speak gave Aries time to breathe and ruminate over what he was saying instead of getting distracted within her own tangled weave of thoughts. The day began with her being on guard around Zaveed and Gregor and keeping her identity hidden before she delved into a dungeon, kill a few deep elves on the way there and back, free prisoners, reveal herself, organize them on the way back, endure the attention and questions all the while, and seeing to everything and everyone being seen to until sundown all under the desert sun -- enchanted ring or not. That didn’t even cover the last week or so; the weight of Gilane’s failure still weighed on her shoulders.

She stared toward the camp beside Sevari.

“I wonder about that.” Aries admitted. “By Akatosh, I know I’ve the means… I would light so tall and so hot a pyre, the resulting Dragonbreak would make the Warp in the West look like a footnote in history.”

But then she sighed, and said, “But I’ve a responsibility to uphold… I’m supposed to represent them; to be the best the Empire has to offer… Sevari, I’m used to having the bird’s eye view... Safe in my roost, moving the pieces around, maneuvering my way through politics. Living in Daggerfall made Council politics look like child’s play to me… but this? Here? There are too many pieces, too many sides, and I’m on the ground… not in my roost. I can’t see the whole picture from where I’m standing, and I’m tired of guessing. I’m tired of looking over my shoulder.”

Aries noticed a slight crack in her own voice, reminding her to steel herself and resolve. She took in one deep, large breath and slowly let it loose. A moment passed, and then she asserted to herself, “I need my control back.”

“You should keep in touch with the realities of being on the ground.” He said, watching the camp’s goings on with Aries, feeling her energy gutter out, “We get through this, we can put you back up in that gilded tower. If there were more Chiefs of Station with a grasp of what it was like to be in the shit, I’d probably be less stressed.”

“That roost will make you soft if you let it, Aries.” He glanced sidelong at the woman, “But being here, on the ground, it’ll make you hard. Hard and brittle, and it’ll break you all to pieces if you don’t find some kind of rest.”

He downed the rest of his cup and wiped his mouth off on his sleeve. He sighed, watching the people going about their business, “These people are reunited with their families because of you. It’s a victory. Let’s take these where we can.”

“You're right.” Aries conceded, a slight smile sneaking into her face at the mention of the people and their families. For a moment, she appeared deep in thought before looking sideways toward him. “I had a team of advisors with me when I landed in Sentinel; they were slaughtered by the Dwemer. To think I'd find myself now taking the counsel of an assassin… but I suppose security is also under an Oculatus’ purview. Taking that into consideration… how do you think we should handle Gregor?”

Sevari frowned, nodding. It wasn’t long ago that he had a team, however loose it was. It wasn’t long ago that there was an entire bureau in Gilane, a Chief of Station, everything he’d need to retreat to if things went bad. Now they had ascended so far above bad that there was nothing. Just him and Aries. But Valenwood was much the same, alone amongst enemies and living a very finely crafted but brittle lie, with a handler he knew only in dead drops and secret messages. “There used to be an entire bureau here, filled with Inspectors and Intendants. It was like a small safety net. I had a team, eight of us at first.” He sighed, scratching at his beard, “Lost contact with one after another until there was only four of us. Now there’s me, and you.”

He cleared his throat, took his moment as he tossed his cup to the sand and hooked his other thumb in his gun belt. “Who knows when we’ll be able to get any other kind of justice that isn’t just you and me taking Gregor out to a field like a lame-legged horse and shooting him in the back of the head.” He chuckled, “Or you make a bonfire out of the bastard.”

“I could go straight to Sora, tell Latro first, start building momentum in his head. If I can get her lover riled up then I can get to Sora.” He nodded, “Then they’ll handle it. We can let them keep him under their custody for us, after this is all said and done with the Dwemer, we can bring Imperial justice on him.”

He hooked his finger in the trigger guard of his pistol and lifted it from its holster, dangling it on his finger, “Unless you want me to…” he said, “I could wait until he’s sleeping, got a knife. Done it before.”

“Tempting.” Aries admitted. If there was any hope of justice being had in an Imperial court of law, it would be in Skyrim or High Rock, assuming the Dwemer hadn’t already left their mark there. Taking the time to travel to either of those places already opened them up to several days worth of risking trying to keep him under custody. There was still the concern of a necromancer’s involvement in Nblec’s death, what it meant, insulting Governor Rourken to her face, and being absent for the assault on the palace -- he must’ve been desperate enough of a man to have the balls to try escaping custody in the dead of night. Even a trained team of escorts would probably have their hands full. But a few refugees? Some without much combat skill?

“He’s... unpredictable.” Aries said after some thought. “Most desperate men are. Most necromancers are desperate men. But to just kill him would mean having to justify ourselves to the others. Maybe that’d go well, maybe it won’t. It’s difficult to say since I don’t know who his friends are. I’d rather not meet the same fate as him. If we can reach a consensus with the others and let them do most of the work for us, we won’t be the ones with a target on our backs. We need to leave this desert alive.”

“It’s what I’m hoping on doing, leastways.” He said, replacing his pistol and his thumb in his gun belt. He sighed, puffed out his cheeks as he blew it out, “Going to Sora it is then. We can’t let Gregor know we’ve had plans for him since Gilane.”

“I can take care of Latro. One more thing, Sevari…” Aries said before hesitating for a moment.

“I'll make an exception for when it's just us. Around the others though? You'll have to address me correctly from now on, now that I'm back to having to posture myself before the masses.”

There was a difference in her voice and disposition from the first time she scolded him for speaking out of turn as she put it, even following it with an uncommon chuckle. A genuine smile and a hint of humor was a rare treasure, but in the midst of her normally severe demeanor, it gleamed and glittered brighter than her jewelry.

Sevari smiled and nodded. When she reverted back to her place as a politician and a strong figure he was put at ease. If there was one person here that could keep him on a straight path through everything that had happened in Hammerfell, it was Aries. He looked at her, “Fine.” He said with a nod and a smirk, before replacing it with an air of duty, “Ambassador Machella.”
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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Greenie
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Greenie Heaven don't play like violins

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Crashing Down

Greenie Dervs did somesuch

18th of Midyear, Mid-morning, Alik’r Desert…

The tent’s flaps were tied open to allow the morning light to enter, as well as to provide what little breeze could be afforded in the Alik’r desert. Having followed the example of the native tribes, Daro’Vasora and Latro had their tent facing to the North, keeping the blazing sun from shining directly into the tent, and colourful fabrics were adorning the tent to provide extra layers against the permeating rays. It was a beautiful place, and Daro’Vasora quite enjoyed the inhabitants of these lands. She truly was beginning to understand even a sliver of what Shakti appreciated about her homelands. The Alik’r Desert was so much more than dunes and endless seas of sands; it was about the closeness of the people and how they adapted over centuries to be inseparable of the fabric of their home, like the individual blood cells pumping through the body.

Daro’Vasora had managed to procure some small crates, which she covered with her mystery poncho, to use as a makeshift desk and some floor cushions to let her do her research and studying in relative peace and comfort. Latro was out and about somewhere, and across her desk was a map of Eastern Hammerfell and Western Skyrim with various thin strips of leather proposing different passages, her Dwemeri medical tome, opened to a page held by another strip, along with several ingredients in small jars that she’d gathered from a highlighted section, and the lexicon itself, the key to the entire endeavor. A teapot sat invitingly on some fire salts and it was in one of those cups she was invigorating the mind with some local brewed tea that was surprisingly sweet.

She’d found a leather worker earlier in the day with what coin she had, but was politely refused; her and her friends had brought back many loved ones of the tribe and several of the city-folk, it was to be an honour to help where the craftsman and his apprentice could. At the very least, Daro’Vasora decided, she could translate some of the medical journal for these people while doing her own personal project for Judena, who had been very withdrawn of late.

A shadow passed by the front of the tent, she looked up from her parchment and quill. Seeing a figure there, she called out, “Enter, if that’s what you’re after.”

"Good morning." Accepting the invitation as soon as it was given, Sirine entered the tent, her steps quiet yet deliberate. Having eaten some dried fruits and quenched her thirst, she was feeling quite refreshed and had decided it might do good to wander and see what else the tent village had to offer. There were distractions a plenty, and she still had to go find Bakih to have that chat Zaveed had suggested the previous night... but for now she had someone else in mind. She was still unsure how the khajiit leader group deemed her, but Sirine figured if she was going to try and understand this motley group and integrate with them, it would be good to at least share a few words with Daro'Vasora. Goodness knew the last time they had exchanged words, it had been rather heated, but she bore no ill will or resentment towards the khajiit for that. She had to do what she had to in order to protect her friends.

It was easier for Sirine to think in such a manner now… now that her brother was safe.

Her eyes roamed over the makeshift desk, taking in the maps as well as the tome, and last of all, the lexicon, where her gaze remained for a few seconds before looking to the khajiit woman. She bore a friendly expression on her face, lips upturned in a slight smile. "My apologies if I caught you in the midst of some work," she said, gesturing with her hand at the tome and map. "I can come back at a later time if you wish."

Daro'Vasora waved her hand lazily, as if half-heartedly clearing the air. “Oh, don't worry much about that. I'm an exceptional multitasker.” the Khajiit said with a shrug. “Sometimes lateral thinking while focusing on another problem yields results that otherwise elude me.” she gestured to the teapot. “Tea?” she offered. “I think it's using some dates and maybe aloe, but I'm hardly an alchemist. What can I do for you?” she asked, her expression neutral as she studied Sirine's face. She knew she was close and loyal to Zaveed and Sevari, but that hardly made her a hostile entity. Alliances were made under stress in peculiar fashion.

"Very well then," Sirine replied with a nod, making her way closer to the khajiit, though she did pause at the mention of tea. "Don't mind if I do." Not one for elongating moments and making others wait impatiently, the former pirate quickly poured herself a cup of tea, taking only the time to sniff the tantalizing aroma before settling down on the ground cross legged. Holding her tea lightly with one hand, she settled the other in her lap, returning her attention to Daro’Vasora.

"Well," she started, "I didn't actually come to ask a favour, rather to acknowledge and thank you for your help in retrieving my brother. I know your friend was there as well, and though it pained me then to admit it... it's more than clear that two khajiit and an Imperial would have had a very hard time- no, an impossible time to break into and come out alive from that place." Her eyes remained on Daro'Vasora as she continued. "My words were quite harsh and emotion driven when we first met in that desert, and I do understand why the same was from your and your lover's side-" Her eyes shifted to rest on her tea, letting out a small breath. "I am hoping perhaps we can have a fresh start."

Daro'Vasora shook her head, topping up her own cup. “You've never done wrong by me or the others. You had been told my people were the enemy and you prepared for a fight on behalf of your benefactors. It's no different than us aligning ourselves with the insurgency, except the brothers haven't tried to kill you.” Daro'Vasora smiled tersely, taking a delicate sip before setting her cup down.

“For what it's worth, I'm grateful and relieved you found your brother alive and well. I've lost my uncle to this war, and I fear for my sister's safety. She would have been preparing to make the journey to the Imperial City to visit me right around the time this invasion hit.” She let out a long sigh, meeting Sirine's eyes. “This war has cost a lot for everyone, and I won't pretend I have it worse than anyone else. I just want to make sure that I'm doing the right thing and trying to stop this war so no one else has to suffer.”

"That's quite a task you've taken on yourself," the Imperial Redguard commented before taking a sip of her own tea. The taste was intriguing, not quite what she was used to, but something she could very well get used to. She let out a satisfied breath, though her mind was already occupied with other thoughts. Her eyes once returned to the desk, or rather the objects that lay upon it.

"I'll be frank in saying I couldn't have cared less about this war, save vengeance for my brother having been stolen from me," she admitted, setting the cup down on the ground beside her. She recalled the resentment she had felt against Zaveed when he had mentioned he was a dwemer agent; her first instinct had been to simply cut him and let him bleed out in the bathtub- she was quite relieved she had resisted that temptation. Shaking her head, she continued. "It isn't that way anymore, not quite. Having my brother back alive and well can't be enough." She wasn't like Daro'Vasora, she didn't quite have the compassion to care about anyone other than those she liked. But that included more than just Bakih now. She had friends, and she refused to think of their lives in danger. The dwemer posed a very big threat.

"Am I safe in assuming you have some sort of plans or ideas on how to proceed with this... quest?"

“If you're asking if I have anything more than a theory, I'm afraid I'm going to have to disappoint you.” Daro'Vasora admitted, picking up the lexicon and turning it within her hand. Something small that contained so much unspeakable power, it was hard to properly appreciate past the ornate and precision manufacturing of the object.

“This lexicon, if I am correct and the Governor wasn't spinning a fable to me when I was her prisoner, is the key to everything. It should contain the coordinates to Exodus, the plane the Dwemer had vanished to at the Battle of the Red Mountain, and it simply needs a strong enough energy source to punch a hole and create a bridge between Mundus and wherever Exodus is located. It's like a cosmological map of sorts.” the Khajiit explained, setting it down.

“If I'm right and mythology has a grain of truth to it, I think I know where I need to go to cross that bridge and close it from the other side.” Daro'Vasora said, turning her gaze to the map, the many long and winding paths that promised immeasurable hardship. “I'll go it alone if I must, but it's worse to do nothing and let this invasion continue unabated. Everything I love and hold dear is at risk, and I cannot lose anyone else, not without trying my damnest to fix this mistake I made.”

Daro'Vasora straightened her posture after few lingering moments. “So, why do you ask? I figured you three would be gone by now, seeing your brother to safety and doing whatever you aspired to before encountering us.”

"I don't think there's any place I can go where I wouldn't be accosted by the dwemer." Sirine bit the inside of her lip, wondering how to answer this rather pointed question. She wanted to leave the desert, but she had made a promise she didn't feel the desire to break. Even if she did, she would once more have to start from nothing, and she knew very well that Bakih would once again try to aid her in her endeavours despite having no real wish to head back into the life of a sailor.

"Besides that..." she finally continued, still quite unsure of how to put her thoughts forward, "perhaps our feelings have changed? Sevari considers you all to be allies, and he has friends among you. Zaveed..." He was certainly a point of contention among the group, but it seemed as if there was some acceptance to his presence now. "He is willing to put aside the past to keep his promises and to... try to be a better man. Perhaps staying with your people will aid in that? I remain here because they are here, because there is nowhere else to go..." She shrugged her shoulders. "And perhaps I wish to see an end to the world as it's now become." Her jaw tightened momentarily and she breathed out. "It's as you said. I cannot lose anyone else, either."

Daro’Vasora cradled her fingers on the table while regarding Sirine in silence. She picked up a broken stick from another meat skewer she had for breakfast and slipped it in between her teeth. “And perhaps ours have not. Has Zaveed told you what he's done to us, to me in particular?” she asked, her stare unwavering.

Sirine wasn't particularly surprised to hear Daro'Vasora's question. She breathed out softly, staring at the warm liquid before taking another sip of it. Once she was done, she set the cup back down and spoke up. "Yes. He told me in quite clear words the night we arrived at the oasis." Her jaw was set as she recalled even earlier before their journey have begun and her temper had been tested, when he had told her they had reasons to be upset, and to forgive him for this. "He never hid what he did from me, he has been quite open and honest with me from the very beginning." She looked back at the khajiit woman, dark eyes staring squarely into green ones. "I simply believed that if he is able to look past what was done to him by yours, then perhaps the same would be reciprocated. If not... by all means ask us to leave."

That raised a brow, and the Khajiit searched her memory for what Sirine could have been possibly talking about. “What ours did…” her voice trailed off, her tone one of confusion rather than simmering hostility.

“You have me at a loss, I'm afraid. Zaveed murdered my friend in front of me after forcing me to choose between him and Raelynn, he broke my arm and then paraded me through the streets to have rotten shit and rocks thrown at me while the mob screamed for my head, and he forced Latro to surrender himself or he would shoot me in front of him. In what part of that story did I do anything to warrant that from Zaveed?” she asked, the stick snapping between her teeth as her knuckles went taunt.

"I'm not going to try to justify what Zaveed did to you," Sirine replied after a moment of silence. "He never said he was a good man, neither did Sevari for that matter, and nor am I a good woman. We all have our dark and dirty pasts.

“What happened to you, to Raelynn, it wasn't right- it was wrong. And wrong things happen during war." She looked down at her lap. "Nblec's murder shook the little sense of peace that was being forced on Gilane... and you know the rest. Your friend's murder was unfortunate. Zaveed..."

Her eyes narrowed and she looked up. "When I first came across him, he was a wrecked, damaged man, saved from the brink of death by your healer, and then simply left on docks, to rot perhaps, I know not. I saw the scars on Zaveed’s chest from the necromancer when he was bathing. I saw the being that… man summoned in the prison when I went to save my brother, I heard his cold laugh. That... evil, fear inducing laugh." Flashes of her nightmare raced through her mind. "Zaveed may have done despicable things, but he left your friend's soul intact, while his was nearly stolen from him by Gregor." Her fists tightened. "That..." She couldn't speak any longer, feeling nausea well up within her as she once again saw the soul gem she had inadvertently helped fill in the prison.

"Sevari wanted to kill him," she managed to add, her voice rather strained, as if she was parched though she was anything but. "Zaveed stopped him. That monster of a khajiit, that 'sack of shit', was it? Yes... he stopped the murder of the necromancer who nearly stole his soul, just to keep the peace and make good his promise to be a better man."

Daro'Vasora's world came crashing down.

So shocked was she by the revelation about Gregor that she didn't immediately notice her claws puncturing tiny holes in her palms as she stared wide-eyed at Sirine for her impassioned speech about Zaveed's virtues, seeing the Imperial-Redguard woman's expression shift uncomfortably, an unmistakable fear and disgust filling her features as she recounted the tale. Daro'Vasora's mind raced.

Sevari and Zaveed had both looked perturbed after the rescue, as did Fjolte, Sirine, and Bakih.

The only one who seemed buoyant was Gregor, an expression of triumph on his face when he emerged.

The silence on the ride, the uncomfortable glances.

There's a darkness inside of him… a hunger… her own words came back, an echo of when she first spoke to Raelynn about her fears of Gregor.

I just have to reach… and take it. Gregor spoke in Anvil to her, at the tavern…

“S'rendarr's mercy…” Daro'Vasora replied, her body shaking. She gripped the table's edge, blood staining the blue fabric of the poncho as she tried to steady herself, her head spinning.

“I had no idea… by S'rendarr, I had no idea.” she gasped, feeling her chest tighten. All this time, Nblec's mysterious death, the pain that came after everyone immediately after. Tears welled in her eyes, her throat tightening. At any moment, he could have turned on them, taken their souls…


She knew. She fucking knew.

When they were at the party, where she baited Daro'Vasora before twisting it into a joke about Gregor's sexual prowess. Everything was blurring together, like a puzzle she couldn't figure out.

“Why didn't I see this before?” she asked quietly, her eyes unfocused.

"And here I thought you were the one keeping him in check." Sirine did not take any pleasure in seeing Daro'Vasora in her current state. In fact, it caused her even more disgust and resentment against the necromancer. Zaveed had never hidden who he was, yet here they had such a dangerous man in their midst, who kept his secret so tightly hidden that not even the leader of their group knew. "Jaraleet had mentioned it wasn't common knowledge, but I thought you at least... clearly I was wrong."

She frowned, seeing the blood that was staining Daro’Vasora’s clothes; reaching out for the pot of tea, she poured more into the khajiit woman's cup. Perhaps something stronger would have been better, but this was good enough for now. "Breathe." She could understand how this had to feel shocking; perhaps she even felt betrayed? But she was the leader, and as a former captain, Sirine knew that Daro'Vasora would have to remain composed and keep her wits, despite what she may feel inside; there were many people counting on her. "And drink."

Idly, the Khajiit nodded, drinking from the offered tea cup, composing herself, although the shakes refused to fade. “Might come as a surprise to you, but I stumbled into a position where these people chose to follow me. I sometimes don't know what I'm doing, and all we have is this bond together… fucking shit.” Daro'Vasora spat; her mouth felt like bile.

“Who all knows this?”

"It surprises me yes, but at the same time no." Sirine didn't explain what she meant- she didn't quite think the Khajiit needed a list of virtues as to why, even though in her short time with the group she could see for herself that Daro'Vasora had the guts to make hard decisions, including the one allowing Zaveed, Sevari and herself join the group.

She drained her cup of tea and set it back down before speaking once more. "Everyone who was in that room where my brother was caged. Zaveed naturally, Sevari... my brother, though truth be told I don't know if he recalls what happened, he wasn't in the right state of mind then. Jaraleet." Her eyes narrowed and she shook her head. "Raelynn and the Nord, Fjolte... they weren't there then, but..." Once again the disgust and loathing could be seen on her face. "He called her to him, and she went." Even now it was hard for her to fathom how someone who healed and nurtured others to health could associate with such a vile being. His laugh still echoed in her mind, the way he had commanded the dead dwemer to rise- she lowered her head, the back of her hand pressed against her mouth.

Daro’Vasora steepled her fingers in front of her mouth, her mind racing. “If you were in my position, what would you do?” she asked quietly, her tone not betraying her thoughts.

"If I knew I had a necromancer in my midst? Or if someone was keeping such hideous secrets from me, while I was in charge of the welfare of more than just myself?" Sirine crossed her arms over her chest. "I was once in a position not too unlike yours, and I took care of dissension rather harshly, with a dagger to the neck." Her eyes met Daro'Vasora's. "That doesn't mean I expect you to do the same, however."

“I’ll take it under advisement.” Daro’Vasora murmured, not even quite sure if such a thing were possible even if she were so inclined. She looked down at her map, the papers… everything was at risk if this was handled indelicately. “There’s some things I need to take care of, as you could probably imagine, but if you or Sevari wish to continue traveling with us, you are more than welcome to.” She looked up, putting her hands on the table. “Give me time to think about Zaveed, to find out where others stand. Right now, we have a bigger mutual problem to address. Was there anything else you needed?” she asked.

Sirine shook her head. "No," she replied as she loosened her arm and stood up, dusting off the back of her tunic before standing straight. "My apologies for being the bearer of bad news. I will leave you to your thoughts." Giving the Khajiit woman a nod, the former pirate then turned away and quietly exited the tent.

Daro’Vasora watched Sirine leave, calmly finishing her cup of tea until she heard the footsteps fade. The Khajiit set her cup down and leaned forward, cradling the back of her head as she contemplated the gravity of the situation.

Tears began to fall onto the map like rain.
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Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by Leidenschaft
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Leidenschaft Relax, only half-dead

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All to Pieces

Nomad Camp, Hammerfell
Late Night
17th Midyear, 4e208

Bridges of Kindling…

by @Mortarion and Me

How a desert with heat that threatened to broil the skin from Latro’s body could instantly turn to something akin to a tundra when night came around was mind-boggling to the Reachman. If things were sunny, they were hot. If not, they were cold. Day and night, sun and clouds, it was normal in the Reach, in High Rock, even in Skyrim. He sat on his lonesome at the edges of camp, sleep eluding him almost like Sora in the crowds earlier, and so he snuck out of their tent when she was fast asleep with that soft snore she always fell into when she was deep enough in it. He tip-toed soundlessly through the moonwashed sand, the shine bright enough to cast shadows and light to make sure his steps were sure. There was no sounds but the breeze flapping loose tent flaps or the soft or loud snores and other sounds of sleeping people. It was even quieter out on his lonesome, sitting on the peak of a dune with pale gray desert stretching off to nothing but hazy rumors of dunes at the edge of his vision. The stars were bright pin-pricks in the sky, tiny, infinitesimal, but innumerable bastions of light in the void.

He looked to the box again, turning it over and over in his hands, finger tracing the green in the deep-set angular lines running all over the Dwemer box. It brought him some warmth out of its odd workings he’d just pinned on whatever magic it held. He’d his shirt on, sure, but his cloak was wrapped around him and he was holding the box close to his chest to weather the cold. This was the only thing keeping him calm all night. This was the most peaceful he’d felt in so damned long, not even with Sora. Sitting and nuzzling each other, talking about hopes and dreams, fucking. Those were all good in the moment, but his mind would go back to the Palace. Back to Al-Aqqiya, with Quintus’s head spilled over the sand like a dropped egg. He’d felt disgusted, guilty, horrified. Powerful. So, so powerful, to hold onto a man’s life between thumb and forefinger. Take away so easily what the man was and ever will be. The fear in his eyes, the quiet and final acceptance that replaces it in the last moment of life.

But the green glow of the Dwemer box kept him mostly peaceful. His heart was still thumping in his chest, but his anger was always at the back of his mind instead of grabbing his wrists and puppeting him about. He remembered now why he never wanted to go back to the Reach with Francis. Violence was intoxicating, it was liberating, a challenge to the world to make sure they knew he was not the one to try to enslave or rape or maim. Now that he knew Sora was taking him, and all the rest of them, into the heart of his old home…

He didn’t know if he was eager and anxious for the right reasons. He sighed, looking down at the box and staring at it, unblinking, face bathed in its subtle green glow. The mystery of what made it its color, of why the different colors made him feel different in their own ways seemed to take his face in its hands and make him stare and wonder and think.

“Latro.” He almost jumped back from the voice, staring at its owner for a few seconds before realizing who it was. The recognition brought him no comfort. “I figured-“

“That you’d skulk around me for days without saying a fucking word to my face?” Latro scowled. He’d killed for this man, in ways uglier than he’d ever done for Sora. In ways he’d only done for the Forsworn. How many Nords had he cut the traitor’s cross in? Beheaded? Dismembered? “What is it now?” More dejected now than angry, “What could it be that-“

“I’m sorry.” Sevari said, not stepping any closer to him, “I’m sorry that you’ve done so much for me and the one time you needed me most I couldn’t be there. Trust me, I’m as broken over it as you are.”

“Fucking impossible. Don’t lie to me.” Latro said, flashing him another scowl, his anger returning refreshed and anew at his words.

“I was taken by the Bhaanu Sasra and I couldn’t do anything about it. I was a child then, and I left Zaveed and his sister alone. My brother and my first love.” Sevari said, Latro thought he heard a crack in one of the words but he let Sevari continue, “I was a child. But I’m a man, full-grown now for twenty godsdamned years, Latro. I promised myself that nobody would make me feel that weak and helpless again and I still couldn’t stay with my wife.”

Sevari paused, Latro said nothing, just listened. “Now… now you know how violent and cruel a man I am. I’ve even beat you to hell and threatened your life and had the gall to call myself your friend and you said nothing on the contrary.” Sevari let out a shuddering breath and growled, steeling himself, “I don’t deserve that. Gods know it.”

“I fucking know it.” Latro snorted ruefully.

“You do.” Sevari nodded, “You do. I’m sorry.”

“That’s it?” Latro said, his heart beating like a war drum now, his body threatening to throw the Dwemer box at Sevari’s head, “That’s fucking it? You can’t just disappear on me the single time I needed a favor from you and come crawling back mewling some sad kitten, you daft prick!”

It was all silence then. Latro’s anger cut through the moment like a knife. He wanted to hit Sevari, push him, take him to the ground and push his fucking thumbs in his eyes. Rip chunks from his damned face. “You are a sad, lonely, self-destructive man.” His fist was shaking around the Dwemer box, “I’d have been less angry about it if I found out you were killed. At least then, you’d be a martyr instead of the beat to shit, drug through the mud, brooding piece of shit staring gape-mouthed at me.”

He stepped up to Sevari and stabbed a finger at his chest as he snarled in his face, “You can’t say anything to me because it’s fucking true.”

“It is.” Sevari said, quiet. Latro looked into his eyes but Sevari didn’t meet his. “All of it. I’ve been sad all my life. Angry, because it’s easier. Everything I’ve done that’s given me the reputation of being an independent, deadly, efficient killer is the product of me doing more and more impossible shit in the hopes I don’t come back.

Sevari was staring dead in Latro’s eyes now. Latro’s finger on Sevari’s chest had faltered a bit and he returned it to his side. He stepped away from Sevari, looking at him as he continued, “Or maybe, against all odds, I can kill the one knife-ear that’s defined my entire fucking life.” He sighed, “Even after that, I don’t know what the hell I would do with myself after.”

Latro swallowed. He expected Sevari to argue. He’d always seen Sevari as an implacable, deadly, rough man hewn from wood. The gnarled thing before him now, though… Latro folded his arms around himself. “Fine.” He said, sitting back down,more dejected than angry, “Fine. Sit. You smell like fucking.

Sevari did as he was invited to, though keeping some space between the two of them. Latro thought it wise, he was still not happy with the man. He heard Sevari shift, “Oh, she’s asleep now. That’s not important, though. There’s something else. I figured I would go to you first, or Aries would, and then you and I would bring the news to Daro’Vasora.”

Nothing after, and Latro looked to him, “Go on.”

“Gregor. You know about him?” Sevari asked. Latro was confused. He shook his head, “In the prison. Fuck, in Gilane. He almost took my brother’s soul. He’s a fucking necromancer, Latro.”

“Fucking Gods…” Latro tensed. The news about this, he thought Gregor was his friend, but now… he was a necromancer, a Grave-Singer, like the stories the greyheads would tell around the fire to scare each other. And he was a fucking liar. How could he stand in his and Sora’s, everyone’s presence and keep all of that a secret? How could no one have known? “Fucking Gods…”

“Aries and I have reason to believe he is responsible for Nblec Mrazac’s death.” Sevari continued, though leaving that too on the open air.

Latro leaned forward, placing his head in his hands, eyes staring stark white, pupils opening up to dark pits as his blood thumped in his head. It felt like someone had put ice in his belly until he realized he was holding his breath. He slammed the Dwemer box into the sand at his feet, “Fuck!” His yell pierced the night and at any other time he would’ve been uncomfortable with that, but he could care a stray fleck of piss about waking anyone now. Gods, wake everyone for all it mattered, rally them now to put Gregor’s head on a fucking pike. “All this time… I had my suspicion. I hinted at it after the debriefing, and he kept that fucking face of his still! Like he was a fucking innocent man like the rest of us, or we were just a herd of idiots and imbeciles!”

“Quiet, Latro-“

“Fuck quiet.” Latro spat, “I’ll fucking kill him. A liar, a traitor, he brought the Ministry down on us. He almost had Sora killed. I’ll rip his heart from his godsdamned chest!

The ice was there again, but spreading out until it gripped his heart and put it in a frenzy. He looked at his hands, when he tried to open his fists they only closed tighter to the point of shaking. He stood, as if he was going to go and find him. Or find Raelynn and bait him out of the darkness with her. Every cruelty he visited on the Nords, he would visit on the Grave-Singer. Everything, and more. Pale-Feather ripped the cloak off of his shoulders and threw it aside, breathing heavy and growling.

“Latro.” Sevari put a firm hand on his shoulder and Pale-Feather knew not what Brettic babble this cat-man mewled at him but he snatched his hand in a crushing grip, seeing the shock and pain in the big man’s twisted face, “Latro, please! Think! It would ruin everything so far! Every victory small and great, it would ruin Sora!”

His grip faltered. Loosened, until the cat-man shook it from his grip and stumbled away from him holding it and wincing. He hissed at the pain, and Pale-Feather smirked. Sevari looked at him, “Sora wouldn’t just muster the levies and kill him, she’d think first.”

“Sora…” Pale-Feather frowned. He looked around him, this was not Gilane. They were far from the Palace, they’d been far from Wayrest too… “Sora.”

“Sora, you fucking fool, your woman.” Sevari spat. “Don’t go being brazen, Latro. We need to think on this, we don’t know how powerful of a necromancer Gregor even is.”

Latro looked at his feet, closed his eyes and breathed. The ice was gone. “You’re right.”

“Funny coincidence that you two are talking about Gregor, I wanted to talk with you about him Sevari.” Jaraleet said as he stepped into the field of view of both men, moving so that he was standing in the middle. He turned to look at Latro, silent for a second as he thought on how to approach the former Forsworn. “I know you won’t like to hear me saying this, but Sevari is right. We need to think before we act when it comes to Gregor.” The Argonian said gravelly before he paused for a second. “Also, I think it’d be in everyone’s best interests if we kept quiet. We don’t need to make an unnecessary commotion. Or if that’s impossible, I’d suggest we move a bit further away.”

“How much did you know?” Latro asked indignantly, turning to face Jaraleet. “How much did both of you know? And kept from me?”

“I also had my suspicious that he had killed Nblec, suspicions that were confirmed by Gregor himself when I confronted him.” Jaraleet said, looking at Latro straight in the eyes. “I also learned that he was a Necromancer when he and I took a little side-job for Raelynn’s father.” The Argonian continued on. “Mind you, this all happened before you asked me for help when Sevari requisitioned your help. And I also had good reasons for keeping silent on the whole matter.”

Latro waved Jaraleet off, turning from him and walking away to his former spot on the dune’s crest. “Everybody seems to have these damned good reasons to shield the truth of that fucker from us.” He snatched his cloak from the sand, hiding the fact he barely remembered taking it off and sitting where he was when he was peacefully alone, “Well, go on. Tell your reasons.”

“It is simple, really.” The Argonian replied, indifferent to Latro’s reaction. “If something must be done about Gregor, it must be done quietly, quickly, and more importantly: smartly. Preferably without involving the whole group.” He continued on, crossing his arms. “Believe me when I tell you, Gregor’s sanity hangs on by a thread in my opinion and what happened in the prison, well, it only reinforces my belief on that. There’s no way to predict how he’ll react or do if he feels cornered.” He finished, turning to look at Sevari in the hopes that the Ohmes-raht would support him.

“I’ve killed a necromancer before.” Sevari said, crossing his arms, “They’re dangerous. A lot of men died. If Gregor is powerful enough, he could lay this entire fucking camp to ash and blood.”

He spit, lit a cigar, “And be all the richer for it.”

“You think I don’t know? My people spin tales of Grave-Singers and their horrible doings.” Latro frowned, only slumping around himself more, “And you were going to keep this from Sora and I for how long?”

“Until now.” Sevari shrugged.

“Until it was too late. Think of how many souls he got in the Prison. In the damned Palace.” Latro spat, “You let him grow more powerful for what? So you could handle it smartly?”

“These are my friends. My family.” Latro stood again, “There’s a monster in our home and the two biggest, baddest killers are biding their time and scratching their chins because they don’t want to cause an argument?”

Jaraleet let out a sigh and shook his head, looking at Latro with a frown. “It’s precisely because I don’t want Gregor to kill them and raise their corpses as puppets that I’ve been biding my time.” The assassin replied back, letting his arms fall loose. “Listen to me Latro, while it’s true that Gregor has grown more powerful I think, at least right now, you are overestimating him. Do you truly think he had the time to soul trap every being he killed while we were in Gilane? I very much doubt so, he has managed to keep himself hidden so far for a reason.”

“Look, I’m not saying that Gregor shouldn’t be dealt with, far from it. I’m just saying that we do it in a way that doesn’t put the rest in danger. You hear me?” Jaraleet continued on, not giving Latro a moment to speak. “What would you do if he killed Sora and raised her corpse? Or Meg? Hmmm? If we approach this in a half-assed fashion there will be losses.”

“It’s a matter of striking first.” Latro growled, “Everybody sleeps. No one dabbles in necromancy as a fucking hobby, I know the end goal. I’m telling Sora. We’ll convene on this and deal with it our way.”

“It’s why I’m telling you now. We don’t have time to bide anymore.” Sevari shook his head. “Our justice or Imperial justice, either way, it needs to be done and over with.”

“You think I didn’t want to kill him?” Sevari added, jaw clenched and he held out his hand, the space between thumb and forefinger was minute, “I was this close. This close. I want this as bad as you do.”

“Oh, doubtless.” Latro rolled his eyes. “I should’ve known better than to trust a spy to be open with me.”

“Fine, if you two want to be the heroes and deal with Gregor, be my guests.” Jaraleet replied, his voice cold, as he took a step closer to Latro. “I will help you two with this little endeavor, but let me make one thing clear. If Meg gets hurt because of this I will hold you responsible, the both of you.” He said, briefly turning his head to look at Sevari before looking al Latro’s eyes once again. “Is that clear?”

“You think I’m not worried about her?” Latro faced Jaraleet, “I was breaking bread and sharing drink with her before this entire fucking Dwemer fiasco started.”

“Don’t ever facetiously call me a hero for wanting to protect my family. I should be holding you responsible for not telling me fucking sooner.” He took another step forward, teeth bared and anger gripping him, “Don’t ever insinuate that I’d be stupid enough to risk that girl’s life for a chance at retribution. I’ve done a lot of horrid, unspeakable things, Jaraleet.”

“But I’ve never been stupid.” Latro paused, shoulders heaving with his breaths, “The love of my life hangs in the balance too. Open your fucking eyes and see that. Maybe then you’d understand why I’m so fucking angry by everybody deciding to hold their tongues until we’ve suffered some necromancer even a day too long.”

He stepped back and wiped a hand over his forehead, “Raelynn. I let Raelynn get so close to him and even she can’t tell me.” He shook his head, “She’s either so fucking scared she can’t even tell anyone she’s shoulder to shoulder with or Gregor’s broken her fucking head.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, the life of the woman I love is also at risk here, so you’ll forgive me if I’m not exactly in an agreeable mood to your plan. You’ll also have to forgive me for doubting about that bit about never being stupid, but how you’ve been acting right now doesn’t inspire much confidence in me.” The Argonian replied coldly, a hint of anger in his voice now too.

“As for Raelynn, her only crime is falling in love with the wrong man and being too blinded by it to see him for the monster that he’s becoming.” Jaraleet continued on. “I can assure you, should we confront Gregor, she will side with him. What will you do in that case?”

At Jaraleet’s words, Latro clenched a fist. He only noticed it when the pain of his nails digging into his palm almost made him wince. He felt cold again, and it was not the wind. It was like a storm in the Pale inside his stomach. The circular logic of the two men before him had his mind running its own circles. In the frenzy of it, Latro felt like he was losing himself. A whirlwind of indignation and resentment caught him by his limbs and he was staring Jaraleet in the face.

“I will do what needs doing, little lamb.” Pale-Feather looked too. His voice came like winter, cold and flat and cruel, “You have the insolence to inform me of your tip-toeing around a danger to me and mine, then the gall to call me stupid for it to anger me, Lizard-Man?”

“You speak of caution and I hear the excuses of cowardice and a weak will.” Pale-Feather frowned deeper, held his two hands up level with his eyes, fists shaking under their own tension, veins in his forearms bulging in the corded muscle, “I would cut the Traitor’s Cross in the Grave-Singer and the Cat-Men and any fool who kept this treachery from my ears, who let a wolf past my threshold to slobber at my people’s necks.”

As quick as Pale-Feather had come, he was swallowed back inside and Latro stepped back from Jaraleet. He wrapped his cloak about himself and tried to make like he wasn’t just a bit scared of what had happened. It had not been long enough since his urges stood out so brazenly against his wishes. It was the bloodthirst of a Reachman that gripped him, not the Latro he knew himself to be.

He swallowed, sucking in a sharp breath that tremored all the way to his chest. “I’m...I’m going.” He stammered quietly, eyes not meeting the two men he called his friends, especially the one he had just threatened. That made him the most guilty, “This is a lot. I have to think on this.”

He turned and left, Sevari staring at Latro’s shrinking back as he made his way back to the nomad camp. He looked at Jaraleet, then to Latro, “Is that what you saw in the Palace?” He asked.

“Partly, yes. And in Al-Aqqiya as well.” The Argonian replied to Sevari’s words as he looked at Latro’s back. “Not in this same intensity though. But maybe I’m noticing it now because it was directed at me.” He added, letting out a sigh. “I understand he feels frustrated, and I won’t fault him for snapping at me.” Jaraleet said, shaking his head slightly. “But I don’t want to deal with Gregor in a half-assed manner. Which is what I’m afraid Latro will doo.”

“Throughout the conversation, well, he seemed more like a rabid animal in search of blood rather than a man willing to protect his people. Or maybe that’s how it is for Latro, how he protects those dear to him.” He mused out loud, shaking his head. “I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been gripped with such a fury myself.”

Sevari shook his head, “No.” he said, taking a long pull from his cigar and running a hand through his hair, “If that’s just how Latro was, there’d have been no chance in him making it to the Palace with Sora back in Gilane.”

“A rabid animal and a corpse-raiser.” He said, the smoke filling the air around his face, “I don’t know. Not about any of this. Sora will be more level-headed, Latro seems like he’s buckling under something. You saw him, it was like two different people.”

Jaraleet let out a sigh, shaking his head, “You are right. I suppose I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt.” He said, falling silent as he thought about Latro’s behaviour “Whatever it is, I hope Sora can help him. Otherwise, I think this problem of his might get worse as time goes on. It almost seems like the man whom I accompanied to the docks back in Gilane, the man who didn’t want to torture someone, is almost gone.”

“This whole thing is weighing on us all, friend.” He shook his head and sighed, “I’m the one who forced him into this. I made him kill for me.”

Sevari growled, “Damn it.” He said, the very real possibility that Latro’s current headspace was all his doing was starting to settle in on his shoulders, another demon crowding in on his already weighty conscience, “Damn it all to hell. I need a drink. I’ve got a bottle, do you have a taste for the stuff?”

“Sounds good to me, truth be told I could use a drink as well.” The Argonian said, patting Sevari’s shoulder. “I’m not sure if it’s any consolation, but I don’t think you are the only one responsible for Latro’s current….predicament.” He said, letting out a sigh. “I think the whole situation at Gilane put such a strain on him and, well, every man eventually breaks under pressure.”

“But I think neither of us need to continue with this kind of conversation, at least not for the moment, what do you think my friend?”

“Fuck it.” Sevari sighed, leading on as the pair left the edge of camp and began their walk, “I think we should talk about absolutely anything but this shit. Even if it’s us just drinking in silence.”

Their footprints were left in that sand, on the dunes at the edge of camp. By morning, they would be blown over, covered. No one would be the wiser to the malice and resentment that hung over them there. The only evidence left was the quiet sobs of a man feeling himself being broken to pieces by the day, and Sevari unable to sleep, laying with his back to a naked stranger and cradling a bottle.
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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Mortarion
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The Choices We Make

By Morty & @Greenie

18th of Midyear, late morning, Alik’r Desert tent village

It was somewhat shameful, but when Megana Corvus woke up the day after the prison break; the sun would soon be nearing its zenith and it was more than clear from the sounds of people outside her tent that most folk had been awake for quite a few hours. Groaning piteously and holding her head with both hands, she pleaded with Stendarr to have mercy on her throbbing head. Tea with Sevari had been nice, drinking rum with Gaius had been nice… having a stupid bet with the locals in a hookah den that she could down more drinks than they could had been stupid. She hadn’t won, and now she was nursing a dreadful hangover with lighter pockets than before.

Swaying as she slowly pulled herself up to a seated position, the Nord reached around with a hand, patting away at the ground until she found her shirt, carelessly dropped on the dusty ground in her drunken stupor. This is m'tent… righ’? A moment of panic had her standing up suddenly- the next instance she stumbled and moaned, head hanging and arms pressing against the sides, shirt still dangling from her hand in her face. The smell of smoke and drink filled her nostrils and she let out another groan, this one of pity and disgust. She really needed to control her inhibitions.

After a good while of freshening up and managing to find another shirt to wear, Meg guzzled down some water before finally heading out of her tent, eyes lowered against the light. She didn't quite feel hungry… or rather she felt as if she'd probably throw up anything she attempted to eat, so for the time being her mission was to simply survive, and hopefully find Jaraleet. She hadn't seen him since their arrival at the village, and truth be told he had seemed withdrawn even after the escape from the prison. Meg had been preoccupied with the entertainment the previous night, but with regret looming heavily on her senses, she hoped to find him and see how he was doing.

Unfortunately for the Nord woman, Jaraleet had withdrawn from the village almost immediately afterwards the celebrations had started. In truth, the Argonian hadn’t been in any kind of festive mood after their successful escape from the prison; what they had seen in the Necromancer’s room, plus the confrontation between Sevari and Gregor, had left the Argonian with plenty to think over. And so, like he often did when he needed to think, the assassin had found himself falling into the training exercises that had been ever-present in his life since he had been handed over to the An-Xileel.

Through fields you till,” The assassin intoned in Jel as he lunged with his sword, “Through broken earth,” he continued on with the follow-up move. “Through crops that you will grow,” Jaraleet followed up, his breath heavy with the strain of exercise. “Honor that which is change.” So absorbed was he in his training and his recitation, that the normally keen eyed Argonian didn’t notice when Meg found him in the middle of his training routine.

“There y'are!” It had taken a while to find the Argonian, though probably not as difficult as it would have been if he was any other race. Meg paused a little ways away from Jaraleet, seeing he was absorbed in his training, though that did not stop her from speaking up. It was a shame she was still hard harbouring the remnants of her hangover, because otherwise she wouldn't have been amiss to a sparring session.

“Didn't see much of ya last nigh’,” she continued, pushing her messy hair away from her eyes- it was still damp from her attempt of dunking her head in water to clear her fuzzy mind. “Doin’ a'ight?”

Jaraleet paused as he heard Meg addressing him, his stance visibly relaxing as he turned to look at the Nord woman. “Hmmm, I didn’t feel in a celebratory mood truth be told.” He said to her, a look of concern briefly settling in his face as he noticed the poor state that Meg was in. “I am, more or less. Didn’t had much sleep last night, truth be told, but I’m used to that kind of things.” He said as he approached her, frowning slightly. “You don’t look too good yourself.”

“Wha’, me? I'm fine!” The declaration was only hampered by a little bit of sheepishness, knowing that despite her change of clothes, she did probably still look like a mess. However, she wasn't quite concerned with her state right now, a frown on her own face to rival his.

“And I’m Sanguine in disguise.” The Argonian replied drily to her comment that she was fine, shaking his head slightly. “Did you overdo it with the drinking?” He asked, raising one eyebrow in the direction of the Nord woman.

Meg let out a begrudging huff. “Maybe a li'l. What about you?” Ya didn’ feel like celebratin’?” From what she recalled, everyone had been taking a break from dour moods, enjoying the music and laughter and general happy vibes. Even the Khajiit man she had deemed scary had seemed in a celebratory mood of sorts… so why not Jaraleet?

“No, I didn’t.” He replied, somewhat bluntly, to her question about not feeling like celebrating.

“What's the matter?” Hands at her hips, she looked up at the Argonian, a decisive look on her face.

“Just got a lot of things on my mind to process at the moment.” He answered. It wasn’t the full truth, but it wasn’t a complete lie either. “Is it really all that surprising that I didn’t felt like partying after all we’ve been through?”

“Well, kinda?” Meg let her arms fall loose as she approached the Argonian man, her expression no longer annoyed, the frown on her face shifting to one of concern. “Everyone was happy t'get outta there, not jus’ alive but with Alim an’ Sirine's brother, an’ we even foun’ Gaius an’ Fjolte of all people!” A hint of a smile came to her face at the Nord she had never expected to see again, but it left as she focused on Jaraleet once more. “So… why not you? Wha’ is botherin’ ya?”

Jaraleet smiled at Meg, touched by her concern, and pulled her into a quick embrace. “I’m fine.” He muttered as he hugged her, letting go of her a second afterwards. “I’m just...worried about what the future holds. And some things I saw while in the prison.” He admitted, letting out a soft sigh. “Guess I’m a bit different from the rest. I’m not used to partying, truth be told.” He said, letting out a soft, self-deprecating, chuckle.

“We dunno what the future's gonna bring,” Meg replied quietly. She had been surprised by the spontaneous hug though not averse, and a little disappointed it had ended so quickly. “Tha’s why we gotta take the chance t'enjoy when it shows itself, no? Gettin’ out of there, alive with our friends…” She nudged him, a small smile on her lips. “If ya don’ know how t'party, I'm sure y'can learn.”

“Hmmm, I never said I don't know how to cut loose, you know.” He replied, smiling softly in her direction. “I'm just not used to partying all that much. And I wasn't in too much of a mood to do so, like I said previously.” He added after a second. “And I'm sorry, for worrying you I mean.” Jaraleet said softly, placing his hands on her shoulder and giving them a light squeeze.

“So y’said,” she agree, letting out a breath. “Min’ tellin’ me why y’weren’ in the mood then? What did y’see there?” Meg didn’t expect him to be shaken by anything, not after Gilane.

“The lair of a Necromancer.” He said, crossing his arms over his chest. “I'm not shaken, if you are thinking about that….it was more the…” The Argonian said, pausing for a second as he thought how to explain himself. “The cleanliness of it all, I suppose. The place was equal parts a laboratory, I suppose, and a butcher shop where the prisoners were sent to be processed. It wouldn't surprise me if that's where the Dwemer got their means to power their automatons and other war machines.” Jaraleet said, pausing for a second to allow Meg to process what he had just told her. “It left me thinking, and without much of a mood to celebrate.”

“I’ve seen ‘em b’fore,” Meg replied after a moment of silence. “In Skyrim… sometimes me an’ J’raij would stumble on ‘em. Dunno ‘bout… ‘em bein’ clean though. Filthy, bloody. We were lucky they were abandoned.” Her face looked disgusted just thinking of the sight and smell, and what sort of horrible people could go through with doing such vile deeds. She let out a sigh, reaching out to pat Jaraleet’s arm. “I can see why y’wouldn’ wanna join in… jus’... hm.” Her lips were pressed tightly as she tried to think of what to say. “Y’don’ havta keep things in, y’can talk about ‘em. If not t’me, then t’others. Like Sevari? He’s yer friend.” She recalled the chat with the large Khajiit, her frown softening a little. “If anyone’s gonna know how y’feel, it’d prob be him. He did say y’both came from the same world.”

Jaraleet smiled at Meg’s words, nodding slightly. “You are right, I can talk with him. Like he said, we both come from the same world.” The Argonian said, chuckling softly. “Like you said, if anyone gonna know how I feel, it’s probably him.” He said, pausing for a second as a thought crossed over his mind. “And you, you do seem to have a knack for knowing how I feel.” He added with a small smirk.

“Well o’course I do,” Meg replied, sounding a little grumpy. She crossed her arms over her chest, letting out a sigh and shaking her head. “Y’should know by now I would. Ain’t like we’re friend’s or somethin’.” There was a definite hint of sarcasm in her voice, though she did manage a chuckle afterwards, relaxing her stance. “So don’ tell me, ye’ve jus’ been fightin’ with yer shadow since we got here? Didja eat an’ sleep at least?”

“I know, I know.” Jaraleet replied, smiling fondly at Meg. He chuckled sheepishly when she asked him if he had at least eaten or gotten some sleep. “Can’t say I did.” He admitted, knowing full well that the Nord woman would probably be less than pleased by his admission. “Honestly, it’s fine, I’m used to this. I swear.” He added after a second, hoping that Meg wouldn’t be too mad at him.

“Hmph.” Meg’s little frown returned and she shook her head even more vehemently than before, short messy locks bouncing as she did. “Tha’ ain’t good enough. I don’ think it'll kill ya t'take a break an’ head back t'get some food an’ rest. 'Sides, I'm sure the others'll wanna know yer doin’ fine too.”

“Believe me, I know my limits. And I’m nowhere near them right now.” He said reassuringly, chuckling mirthlessly when she mentioned that the others would probably want to know that he was doing fine too. “Do you really think so? I’m not exactly the most popular member of our little group.”

“Y’don’ havta wait ‘til y’reach yer limits t’take a break,” Meg snapped, shoving the toe of her boot hard against the ground. She huffed before shaking her head yet again, this time less vigorously than before- her head still hurt and she really didn’t think it would help the way she was feeling. “Sorry.” Letting out a loud sigh, she then took a calming breath before continuing. “I’m just still feelin’ the remainin’ hangover… that bein’ said… I think yer wrong. I think more people like ya than y’think.”

“Alright, alright, how about I take a break now, and get something to eat with you. Does that sound alright to you?” The Argonian finally relented when Meg snapped at him, placing one hand on her shoulder. “If you are still hungover, it probably wouldn’t hurt to get something to eat, and probably some water to drink as well.” He added, a note of concern on his voice.

“Yeah well… you should too,” Meg replied, still sounding rather grumpy. “So yeah” She did find herself somewhat peckish now, and if it finally force the Argonian to let down his 'hair’, she was ready to be appeased as well. It was strange, she wasn't sure why it annoyed her so much that he seemed so self-depreciative when at times- no, it was most times- she felt the same about herself.

Attempting a smile, she reached up and took hold of the hand on her shoulder, removing it from there but keeping a hold of it nonetheless. She motioned with her head towards the tent village. “C’mon then. They have some pretty good food.”

“You don’t need to keep convincing me. I already said I’d go.” The Argonian replied, chuckling fondly. He smiled as Meg motioned towards the village, “Then lead the way, I haven’t been around it too much so it’s probably for the best that you show me around.”

“A’ight then.”

Leading the way back to the masses of tents and through the makeshift streets were no big feat for Meg, not after her ventures the previous night, even though much of it had been passed in tiredness or a drunken stupor. Now that she was awake and somewhat focused, she could appreciate the simple beauty of life here, reminding her of stories she would hear from passing by Alik’r warriors when she was much younger. She had found them so strange yet fascinating, and it had been hard to imagine such a large expanse filled with only sand. Not so any longer.

As she continued forward, her eyes caught sight of the teahouse she had visited with Sevari, and the conversation between the two loomed in her mind. “What did he mean?” she wondered aloud, looking at Jaraleet. “Bein’ from the same world?”

Jaraleet was silent for a second before he let out a sigh. “We are both assassins, spies.” He said, looking at Meg in the eyes. “In our world, we are just tools. As easily as discarded as a blade that dulls. That’s what he meant when he said that we are from the same world.”

“Well tha's jus’ wrong,” Meg replied sullenly. She didn't like- no, she couldn't stand such a thought. Everyone had a life, everyone was an individual with feelings. Treating people like they were just to be used and thrown away like a worn item was disgusting and sad in her opinion, and she couldn't think how anyone could make her change her mind about the matter. “Yer no tool! Yer a person, jus’ like me! Sevari is a person too.” Her lips pressed tightly after that, unsure she would be able to control her words.

But that’s what I am, Meg. What I’ve been all my life, and I accept this. The Argonian thought inwardly, opting to keep silent by how Meg had reacted to what he had said. “If you are thinking something, you know you can tell me, right?” He said as he pulled her a little closer to him, squeezing her hand softly. “Please, tell me what you are thinking.”

Gritting her teeth in an attempt to stay rational and not overly emotional, Meg remained quiet for a good moment before finally speaking once again. “It jus’ doesn’ seem fair,” she finally muttered. “Everyone's gotta choice… everyone should have a choice. D’you… wanna stay what y'are? Be a tool?”

“I….” Jaraleet began, falling silent as he pondered Meg’s question. “It is...a difficult question for me to answer.” He admitted finally, letting out a sigh. “This life is all I’ve known for as long as I remember.” Jaraleet said, shaking his head slightly. “Truth be told, I can’t answer your question. What I want is something I’ve had not much chance to ponder.”

“A li'l change never hurt anyone.” She paused in her steps and let out a sigh. Perhaps it was easy for her to say, she had never really been a stagnant sort; as soon as she had found herself growing weary of life in Whiterun, she had left for adventure. But not everyone was like her, as she had discovered time and time again in the last couple of months. It seemed despite the difficulties and lack of a mother she had endured as a child, things weren't all that bad.

She smiled a little. “'It is good t’be brave’, that's a Khajiit sayin’, learned it yesterday. An’ I gotta say, change needs a person t'be brave…” She licked at her dry lips, wondering if she was saying too much now. “It's yer choice anyway.” She abruptly changed the subject, pointing to a stall where a sweet and bready scent was coming. “How's ‘bout we try some of that?”

“One last thing, before we go in there.” Jaraleet said as he pulled Meg a little closer to him. “Thank you Meg, for what you said.” He told her, pulling her into an unexpected hug. “I think...I think that if I had a choice, I’d like to stay with you.” He said quietly, letting go of Meg after a moment. “Come, let’s go in there.” He added, motioning to the stall with his head before he guided Meg there.

“Ain’ like I'm goin’ off anywhere,” the Nord woman replied, somewhat molified by the hug she received. She knew very well there was still much she didn't know, but now wasn't the time to go into that. Smiling genially, she nodded. “I'm here, rain or shine- or snow if yer in Skyrim.” Pulling her money pouch from her belt, she held it out for the Argonian to take. “Here, we can use whatever's left.”

“Thank you.” Was Jaraleet’s simple reply as he accepted her money pouch, making his way into the stall with Meg and ordering for the two of them. Like he had told Meg, there was much he had to think about but, right now, he could enjoy a meal with her and her company. Whatever doubts he had could wait after that.
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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Hank
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Hank Dionysian Mystery

Co-Admin Seen 9 hrs ago


I am the resurrection and the life.
He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;
and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

- Jesus of Nazareth

Gregor awoke with a start.

His eyes shot open and he saw the sky overhead. It was almost dawn and the last light of the stars was slowly being chased away by the imminent sunrise. “Raelynn!” he called out instinctively and he sat up straight, looking around for his lover with frantic eyes. There was nothing but desert around him. The copper hues of the sandy dunes spread out in all directions, up to the horizon, and a deep blue, utterly cloudless sky hung suspended overhead. The Alik’r, he remembered. He was in Hammerfell. That much he knew. But something was wrong. Everything was wrong. Why was he here? Why was--

Looking down on himself, Gregor saw that there was a dagger stuck into his heart all the way up to the crossguard. He stared at it, uncomprehending, and at the dried blood that caked his bare torso. “Raelynn?” he whispered, softly, breathless, pleading, and tore his gaze away from the impossible towards the dunes, the horizon, the sky. She was nowhere to be seen. There was nothing to be seen.

“Am I dead?” he asked himself, eyes wide and mouth agape. No answer came, nor any pain, darkness or oblivion. He was not dead. Not anymore, at least.

He became aware of the fact that he was sitting in the middle of… something. Gregor climbed to his feet and took a few stumbling, uneven steps, away from whatever unnaturally smooth surface it was that coated the ground -- something told him it was vile and corrupted. After he was clear and his feet touched naught but sand, he turned around and looked back.

The sand had turned to glass in a wide circle around the spot where he had lain, a perfectly flat plane with a reflective, mirrored surface. Upon the glass, placed along the arms of an invisible pentagram, were the shattered remains of five soul gems. Upon closer inspection, the glass did not reflect the sky of the Alik’r desert. It reflected a dark sky, devoid of stars, with a black hole that slowly consumed everything--

Gregor recoiled. Panic began to set in. He couldn’t remember how he got here, or what he’d done. What was the last thing he could remember? “Think, Gregor, think,” he hissed and grabbed his head with his hands, eyes furtively searching for answers, explanations, hints, but his mind wouldn’t cooperate; it was like trying to run or fight in a dream. None of this made sense and he was alone. He was alone and it was his fault. “Why?” he whispered.

Something came to him and he snapped his fingers. “The prison!” That’s where the party had gone after Gilane. That’s where he had gone. What had happened in there? It was then that Gregor remembered the dagger that protruded from his chest. He cursed and grabbed the hilt with trembling fingers. Why didn’t it hurt? Why was he still alive? How was he still alive? Gregor wasn’t sure of anything but the fact that he had to get that thing out of him. Fear twisted his insides. He closed his eyes and grit his teeth and pulled.

The dagger came loose without a fight. Gregor had been holding his breath and gasped. He opened his eyes again and looked down. The dagger had left a thin wound behind, a clean thrust, but no blood came from it. He had just pulled a dagger from his own heart without bleeding.

“What in Oblivion…” he stammered.

He hadn’t been holding his breath. His fingers hadn’t been trembling. There had been no fear in his gut. Sure as sure, Gregor looked upon his hands and saw that they were still. He checked his breathing and realized he wasn’t breathing at all. He hadn’t been since he woke up. And the fear he felt… it was real, but it was distant, almost like it belonged to someone else that was merely watching him. Inside his body, Gregor did not feel anything.

The sun rose over the horizon and the first rays of dawn touched his skin. The light was just as cold as the rest of the world and brought no warmth to him. Slowly, damnably slowly, Gregor realized the truth of the situation. He wanted to laugh but the joy died in his throat. Why couldn’t he laugh? It was done. He had succeeded. He was beyond the reach of Arkay now, beyond the reach of his family’s curse. Everything he had worked for over the past decade had finally come to fruition. Gregor looked at the dagger in his hand and, after a few seconds of deliberation, stabbed himself in the stomach.

It hurt, but only vaguely so. He pulled the blade free and, once again, no blood came from the thin slit in his skin. Gregor took a closer look at himself and saw that he was pale. His hands were darker and their skin was mottled somewhat… like a corpse, Gregor realized, of which the blood had pooled in its extremities. He stepped closer to the pool of glass and peered into it, deliberately avoiding looking at the black hole in the sky and focusing exclusively on his own face. His skin was ashen; only a hint of his tan remained, there were dark circles around his eyes, his lips were bloodless and his cheeks were gaunt, as if the skin had pulled taut over his cheekbones.

He was most definitely undead. Once more he cracked a smile and tried to laugh in celebration, and once more was he halted by the unassailable feeling that something was dreadfully, horribly wrong. Something he couldn’t remember. Only the feeling of the memory remained. It was cruel irony for him, of all people, to forget the circumstances that surrounded this very moment. It was a deeply uncomfortable realization and Gregor’s smile faded into nothing. What if he was alone out here? What if Raelynn was gone? He needed Raelynn. “I’m sorry,” he heard himself say, as if he was talking to her. Why was he sorry?

After grabbing his belongings -- Gregor found his backpack and the rest of his clothes next to the glass -- he located a trail of footsteps that led away across the dunes. His own, presumably, that would hopefully lead him back to wherever he had come from. He hoped, wished, prayed that she was there. None of this would be, could be, right without her. Gregor got dressed, hiding the caked blood beneath his shirt as best he could, shouldered his backpack and set off, eyes squinting against the rising sun.


It had been a near endless night. When she had finally set out into the desert to track him, it was already halfway between midnight and dawn. The silent hours had kept her company on the lonely trek across dark sand. Her mind on one thing only, her hand wrapped over the hilt her sword. If she had a mirror, she would be horrified at herself. Her eyes were red and bloodshot, dark circles sat underneath them on her pale skin. Her hair was unkempt and hidden under a purple scarf worn around her head and face as a mask.

She had dirt across her fingers, buried in her nail beds. Her clothing was not fitted to her figure, it allowed movement - kept her cool, but it did not flatter her body. Just simple, white linens over her tiny frame. Her expression had thus far conveyed a silent fury, that was until she came across the clearing in in between the rocks, where the winds seemed to die and sand sat still. Still enough for her to see Gregor's footprints, finally. She bent down to place her fingers against one, to brush at the carving in an almost scholarly fashion. He had been here. She continued forwards, finding respite in the long and narrow gap between the tall rocks, it was cool, and the ground was almost hard for a while.

As she came to the end of the walkway, where once again the desert was all that lay on the horizon, she saw in the far distance a dark shape - a person, walking alone through the vast ocean of sand. “Gregor…” she breathed, the grip tightening around her sword but it was as if the very sight of him swayed her heat and she began to tremble. If she could see him, then he would undoubtedly soon see her. They were the only souls for miles around.

He did see her. The loose clothing and the scarf made it hard to tell but something in Gregor's heart told him that that was Raelynn. Her name escaped his lips in a desperate whisper and he sped up his pace, but it was like his legs refused to run. He could only go so fast. It was bizarre -- he felt stronger and simultaneously slower than before. Nothing made sense. “Raelynn!” he yelled, the same urgency in his voice as when he has called out her name after waking up. “Is that you?”

She didn't know how to respond to him. She could only see him begin to move faster but it wasn't fast at all, it was as though he was putting power into his movement and still nothing. She was entirely overcome as her mind went blank. She could only think of the man who had left their tent, her jaw shook and she took a single step back, she didn't want to leave, but she was anxious over whom that was. She stopped thinking about the sword, so much so that her grip weakened on it immensely, a feeling of relief moved through her hand and she looked at it. What a heavy thing to have carried all this way… She did not wish to speak, but she could show him. Slowly, with trembling hands she unwound the scarf from her face, and let her hair shake out from under it. Long waves of hair, almost golden in dawn's new light.

“It is! Oh gods, Raelynn,” Gregor said, his voice hoarse. He was overwhelmed by a great and terrible sorrow, a tsunami from far away that had finally reached him, and he stumbled and fell. Something was so wrong. With great effort, he got to his feet again and trudged onward, fighting through the sand, while an indescribable pain in his soul almost drove him to tears. Only she could make it better. “Raelynn, please, come here, why won't you come here?”

She watched him carefully, she could hear him begging her to come near and yet her feet stayed where they were. She reached out a hand towards him, she didn't feel frightened, just unsure. Eventually she took a long breath and began to move, she started forwards with all of the hesitant grace of a curious doe, her heart beating fast in her chest. She was ready to bolt like a doe at the first sign of something being amiss too. “Gregor?” she croaked - realising that her voice was about gone and her throat dry. Still she moved, as he had asked.

Gregor nodded as vigorously as his strange, unwieldy body allowed. “Yes, it's me,” he said and redoubled his efforts to close the remaining distance between them. “Of course it's me!” He stumbled again but remained upright this time. “Have I been gone long? Where are we? Raelynn, baby, what happened?”

“Hours,” she began, unable to take her eyes off him. Now that he was coming closer she could make out the details of his appearance, how his skin was tight around his face… how it was no longer full of warmth, but looked cold. His fingertips… “you left our… you left the camp.” She stopped moving, her fingers barely touching the sword now, so much so that it slipped from them and hit the sand with a light clatter. “I left later than you… You left alone, I don’t know what happened.”

At last, Gregor reached her but something stopped him from pulling her into an embrace. He saw the sword she'd dropped and the look on her face. He stared at her, helpless and forlorn. “Which camp?” he asked eventually. His despair was evident in his voice. “I can't remember. There was the prison… my mind, Raelynn, it doesn't work right, it won't cooperate. I woke up with a dagger--”

He fell silent and covered his mouth with his hand, eyes alight with fear and magic. With his free hand, Gregor undid the buttons of his shirt and let it slip off his shoulders. The slit in his stomach had disappeared, evidently already repaired by the same forces that animated his undead form, but the wound in his heart and the blood were still there.

“The camp with me… with our friends and the prisoners…” she uttered softly in a toneless voice as she continued to take him in with her eyes. Seeing his chest like that gave her a reason to step forward, closer to him. She raised a hand, alight with small golden wisps to the wound, not pressing it, just hovering over it. Nothing happened and she gasped. “It worked…” she finished with a sigh, pulling her hand away - her senses continued to be alert to him making a sudden movement, but there was something about him that made her confident that he could not.

They were over an hours walk from the camp. Gregor had to have been here for a long time, how long had the ritual taken? How long had he been unconscious? “I don't know what I should say…” she admitted, finally meeting his eyes with her own, a sad look of concern sitting in them. “I don't know what I must do…”

Gregor stiffened. “I did something,” he whispered. “Didn't I? I felt it before when I couldn't find you. I… I don't remember, but I'm sorry, my love.” He sounded both heartfelt and heartbroken. His arms dropped uselessly by his side. “I don't know what to do either. It worked… whatever I did out there, but something's not right. It's… I'm…” he stammered, unsure, but the longer he looked at Raelynn the better he felt he could put into words what he feared. “It's like I'm not really here,” he managed at last, an expression of confusion and desperation on his face. “Does that make sense at all?”

So he did not remember. She could not ascertain whether that was a better or worse outcome for her. The spiteful, still hurting parts of her wanted him to know exactly what he’d done. But the part of her that recognised Gregor already in pain and disarray just wanted to get him to safety before anything else. “Shhh shhhhh…” she uttered gently, to indulge him in his confusion would only make matters worse. The medic in her took over, and she placed a hand gently below his chin - the coldness of his skin, still a surprise to her. She rose to her tiptoes to be level with his eyeline, waving a finger in front of them. She could feel his apology, but there was little she could do for him here. Soon enough, the sun would be hotter than she could bare, and she looked at him - knowing she had to take over now. “Camp is an hour or so away, can you make it back?” she asked in a voice laced with concern, her eyes soft and delicate now.

It was an immense relief to see kindness and compassion return to Raelynn's eyes and he nodded slowly. “I think so,” he said, voice unsteady. “Gods, this isn't how it was supposed to be. They've… there's…” He sighed in frustration and shook his head. “Let's go.”

She saw exasperation in his expression, and she had no understanding of any of this. It was completely other-wordly and outside of her realm of understanding. What can I do? she thought to herself, watching him. She had to be his strength again. That she could do. “We will figure this out. I can help you… If you would like me to,” without thinking, she plucked the sword up from the ground and sheathed it once more. Then she took his hand into her own. She would lead the way, she would get him back to camp. That is what she could do.

“Yes, yes, please,” Gregor said gratefully and squeezed her hand when she grabbed his. He could not feel the warmth of her skin anymore. Gregor bit his lip and looked down at his feet while they walked. Was this really what he had been hurtling towards for ten years? He was cold, not just to the touch but down to the bone, and slow and disoriented. This was no state to be in. Perhaps it was all just aftereffects of the ritual that would fade with time, the rational part of him thought. There was no way of knowing. Only time would tell. And that, at least, he had more than enough of. Finally.

After half an hour of walking in silence, Gregor saw movement from the corners of his vision and watched with wide eyes as he saw the spectral shape of a caravan pass them by, nothing more than transparent, white silhouettes trudging through the sand without disturbing it. He could hear them, the braying of their horses and their chatter, but it sounded like it came from underwater, or from very far away. He almost stumbled again as he forgot to look where he was going, turning his head as far as he could to keep his eyes on the apparitions, until they disappeared into thin air. It was like they hadn’t been there at all.

Even in the slow manner with which he had been walking Raelynn sensed a change in his movement still. She stopped in her own tracks to look at him, watching his head move and turn. His attention pulled to something she could not herself place, sense, or see. “What is it?” she asked, instinctively stepping in front of him, releasing his hand to touch her sword again, not fully aware of herself. All she could think about was getting him back to the tent.

Gregor opened and closed his mouth a few times before he found his words again. “Ghosts,” he said with certainty. “Souls that were lost wandering the desert. I can see them now. There was a caravan…” He finally pulled his gaze away from where they had vanished and looked at Raelynn again, only then noticing that she had stepped in front of him with her hand on her blade. It was touching. “It’s fine, there’s no danger. We can keep going.”

She glanced sidelong at him, rapping her fingers over the handle of the blade before nodding, taking from her side a canteen of water which she drank from. It was beginning to get drastically hot, they still had a way to go, and shade was gone. As she took a gulp, she considered whether he would need some too. She recognised that this whole time she'd felt… awkward. Not knowing how to address his situation, not understanding a lick of it. She felt out of her depth, maybe the reason she wanted to urgently to find her way back to the camp was to come back to tangible familiarity. This walk through the desert was like a strange dream. Nothing was right. “I'm just… Alert,” she confessed to him, holding out the water towards him, half out of curiosity and half out of it just being the normal thing to do.

“I understand,” Gregor said. He accepted the canteen without thinking and took a swig of water. He blinked in surprise when he barely felt it going down his throat and the expected refreshing sensation that he associated with a sip of cool water in the desert sun withheld itself from him. There was no parching thirst to soothe, he realized. Gregor muttered a curse to himself and gave the canteen back to Raelynn, holding it out as if it had personally offended him. “Thank you,” he remembered to add.

Raelynn observed him quizzically, taking it back and hanging it back over her shoulder at her side. “Let's keep moving.” Once more she took his hand in hers and continued through the sands.

Finally they reached camp, and fortunately it was still quiet. She was once again grateful to have pitched the tent far from the crowds. As they walked toward it, she could see a white hot light burning on the ground, just a few feet from the entrance of the tent which she recognised as the plate she'd tossed out. She glanced at Gregor quickly before heading with an increased speed towards their tent at last. As she lifted the flap, she looked at him as if to give him permission to enter first.

Gregor bowed his head and stepped into the tent. Even if he could no longer feel heat, it was still pleasant to get out of the glaringly bright sunlight. That small relief was immediately undone by seeing several of his belongings strewn about somewhere that he could not remember ever visiting before. “I have no memory of this place,” he said and turned to Raelynn with weary eyes. Now that they were in the half-gloom of the tent, she would be able to see that there was the slightest hint of something cerulean twinkling behind his pupils, not dissimilar from the reflection in a cat’s eyes at night, but entirely out of place in a human. He sighed and sat down against a pillow, letting his exhaustion wash over him and dropping his arms limply by his sides. “I’m sorry,” he said in a repeat of his words from before. “About… earlier, and about this. I… I think I’ve made a grave mistake.”

She quietly followed him in, her footsteps soft. As he lay down she reached to a bowl of water and passed some over her face, wiping away the tan-coloured dirt that had set across her forehead. Now that her face was clear again, the redness of her eyes appeared darker and more harsh. She ran a brush through her hair and tied it all away from her face in a single ponytail that practically pulled her face back it was so taut.

She carried the bowl over to where Gregor had chosen to sit. Her eyes glancing across at the mess of the tent. “Damned dogs must have got in here for food…” she lied with conviction, not wanting to admit that it had been her own fury. Her fingers tentatively hovered over his chest, the buttons of his shirt that he’d haphazardly fastened. With an almost ritualistic grace she began to unbutton them. A far cry from the many times she’d torn them open with reckless abandon. The wall of professionality sat between them now, and she took an almost clinical posture by his side, taking a damp cloth to wipe away at the blood on his chest. Her eyes briefly met his as he made his apology again, “don’t apologise, you have no memory of it...” She hadn’t meant it to sound callous. God’s no, she was just so… unsure of it all. She only knew she couldn’t show him that, she had to give him reassurance that she knew what she was doing. That she could help him, that they could get through this. “We don’t know that yet… Let us just clean you up and… We’ll know the next step then…”

Even in his current state Gregor could tell that things had changed between Raelynn and him. It was obvious in the way she relieved him of his shirt and set about cleaning his skin. He could hardly blame her. Gregor wasn't the same person, or even the same type of creature, that she had known before. There was a large void where Gregor's lurking anger and mortal fear had been, the place in his soul where the Pale Reaper had made his home. An enormous weight had been lifted off his shoulders and he would have been able to breathe freely and stand tall if it weren't for the new and almost as equally unpleasant fears that had wrapped themselves around his throat. What if he was never going to be the same? What if Raelynn would never get used to it? What if he was going to lose the rest of his memories too, despite all his efforts? And why oh why did he feel so deeply and thoroughly violated?

“You're probably right,” Gregor said at length and conjured a wan smile. He could see himself in the mirror on the other side of the tent. It was an unsettling sight. He did not feel like he was looking at his own body at all, but just a vessel that happened to occupy the space around his eyes. Somehow, Gregor was convinced that he was somewhere else, and not inside his own head. That this was all just… a window into a world he no could no longer call home.

“Are you afraid?” Gregor asked softly, forcing himself to look away from the mirror and down at Raelynn while she worked.

As she continued to work in cleaning him, she listened to his question and thought about it. It didn’t take her long to find the answer; “I’m not,” she said truthfully, slowing down to look up at him, she too was able to find a small smile for him before she got back to work, nearing his heart now - the open, bloodless wound. “I mean, I don’t think you’ll do anything that should make me or anyone be afraid of you, or of this...” She continued on, noticing that the water in the bowl was starting to get too dark for it to be effective at cleaning. “I’m worried about you…” she confessed as she placed the cloth down. “Worried about me… But no, I’m not afraid.” She cleared her throat and turned back to look at the wound again, almost fascinated by it. “Are you… in pain?”

“No,” Gregor replied and followed Raelynn's gaze to the mark on his chest. He thought about what she'd said. It was good that she wasn't afraid, because he was. “In fact, I don't feel much of anything. No thirst, no hunger, no heat… nothing. Even if I injure myself it doesn't really hurt and then the wound disappears by itself.” He frowned. “Except this one.”

“I can close it for you, if you’d like” she said as her eyes met his. She felt his words and they stung her. She hadn’t considered the changing and loss of senses in undeath. “And your memory is clouded?” She knew from her own experiences that it was likely temporary, a reaction to his trauma. Simply having been stabbed through the heart would have been enough to kickstart such a reaction. “If it is any consolation to you, I don’t think the problems with your mind will last,” Raelynn said softly, placing a hand on his - hoping it would comfort him.

Close the wound… the thought hadn't even occurred to Gregor yet. For some reason, he had just assumed he would have to deal with that being on his chest forever. “Yes, please,” he said and placed his other hand over Raelynn's. “As for my mind… it helps to hear you say that. I'm glad I can put my faith in you. I'm… really happy you're here.” Gregor gave her hand a squeeze before he sat back and allowed Raelynn to get to work.

“I made a promise to you, it meant something to me... I don't intend to break it,” the Breton said clearly towards him. She began to lift her hand as if to stroke his cheek but caught herself before she did. “Do you remember anything at all? Maybe talking… I don't know, you don't have to…” Raelynn bit her lip, it was too much and suddenly she felt awkward for asking. She reached over to her satchel, carefully combing through the contents until she came across a small velvet pouch. She took a specialist needle and spool of thread from inside. “I should, uhm, bring fresh water, I'll be back.” With that said, she took the bowl and swiftly got to her feet, leaving him alone in the tent while she fetched it.

With Raelynn gone and the rest of the camp still quiet, Gregor was left with nothing else but the silence and his thoughts. What did he remember? He remembered the prison, that was for sure. The image of a large man he couldn’t remember having seen anywhere else came to him, with blue eyes and a messy beard, stepping out of a prison cell. He remembered being afraid for Raelynn’s safety and how Jaraleet had come with him to search for her. But after that… he closed his eyes and rubbed his temples in a futile attempt to stimulate his memory. Nothing beyond that revealed itself. He could not remember the outcome of their sojourn into the prison, nor the journey to this camp, and most certainly not any time spent here. He realized he had no idea which day it was, or how long it had been since the prison. People could have died in there, people he considered friends, and he had no way of knowing. It was frightening not to be able to rely on his memories. He clung to Raelynn’s words of encouragement, that it was something temporary and that his memories would return to him.

But she had recoiled from touching his cheek. That stung, and yet at the same time Gregor could no longer find it within himself to be upset. Despite the fog that permeated his mind he felt a certain sense of clarity. Not cognitively, but emotionally. He thought about things that had angered him before and had continued to anger him up until his final memories and felt… peace. Zaveed was no longer a monster to him, but just a broken man that had been pushed into a corner by forces beyond his control. Gregor wondered if Zaveed was still with them, and if not, if he would ever see him again. He almost felt like he wanted to apologize. It was strange to feel this way and yet deeply familiar. It took a minute of musing and rumination before Gregor realized why; it was reminiscent of his old ways, before his father died, before he took up arms, and before he started practicing black magic. Without the incessant fear of death hanging over his head he felt more at ease than he had in over a decade, despite all the current causes for concern.

He thought about Raelynn and felt nothing but love. It was hard to imagine now that he’d done something to hurt her. Gregor looked around the tent. She’d said something about dogs, but he didn’t see the snout of some animal looking for food in this mess. He saw anger. Fury, even. Had she done this? Had he? Gregor bit his lip, pulled up his knees and wrapped his arms around himself, waiting for Raelynn to come back.

As she re-entered the tent, clean water in hand, she saw that Gregor had moved and despite having been relatively calm until then, the sight of him like that gave her a start. “What's wrong?” she asked, stepping back through towards him and resuming her seat. What a stupid fucking question to have asked. Everything was wrong. “Sorry, a silly question,” the Breton whispered before he could answer. She picked up the needle from beside her and pulled at the spool to free the thread. She did not want them to be here, she wanted to take him into her arms and tell him everything would be okay, but truthfully she did not have that certainty.

Small talk? Would idle chatter about anything alse ease the strangling tension? “It's hard to know what to say right now, isn't it?”

“Yes, it is,” Gregor said. It was a small relief that Raelynn acknowledged it. He smiled again, more sincerely this time, and relaxed so that she could stitch him back together in more ways than one. “Maybe…” he began, unsure, and continued with more certainty after a few seconds’ pause. “Maybe we should just focus on something else, talk about something else. You could fill me in about what happened in the prison and afterwards, for example.” He kept his tone light and casual, as if he was merely asking to be informed about his shenanigans during a drunk night out.

She smiled back at him, threading the needle, deciding where to start. Give him all of the details? No, she'd tell it as she remembered and in no other way. “Well, I remember breaking out Fjolte in the lower levels when you appeared with Jaraleet - swinging your sword through the guards just to reach me…” She smiled again, wider this time and a soft blush appeared on her cheeks. She placed a finger either side of his wound and gently pushed it together. “I went with him to collect his clothes, when I returned… Something had happened in the room. We'd been separated you see. A fight had broken out down there… With a prison torturer, I guess that's what he was.” Her voice grew quiet with concentration as she pushed the needle through his skin for the first time. “Does any of that sound familiar yet?” Raelynn was unsure of how much to tell him in this state. On the one hand, he would remember eventually - but on the other, this is the point where she had known him to change. Maybe poking too much at that might stir it all back up for him.

Gregor chuckled when Raelynn regaled how he’d fought to be by her side. That sounded like something he would do. But the rest of her story didn’t ring any bells just yet. He looked up at the roof of the tent and tried so very hard to picture the scene--

“Sevari,” Gregor muttered and looked back down at Raelynn. “I remember him pointing his pistol at me. What was that about?”

She didn't want to tell him what had happened, she didn't fully know or understand it herself. She'd only heard the story last night from Gregor's mouth anyway. Was she the most reliable source? She gave a resigned sigh. Honesty was the best policy. They'd promised not to lie and hide things from each other. “You took the torturer's soul. He was… He was a necromancer.” As the words fell, she swallowed back a lump in her throat, and the hand holding the needle almost began to shake.


Gregor sank back into his seat with the resignation of a man who finally received bad news he knew was a long time coming. His memories weren’t really gone, just inaccessible, and therefore he failed to be surprised. He thought about it for a bit and rubbed his eyes as if he could massage the weariness out of his soul. “I doubt I was very tactful about it. Right?”

“I wasn't there. I don't fully know, but when I came back you were… Your Wrathman, and the torturer… They were there too, under a spell.” She sighed again, her forehead creased as she concentrated on telling him in the easiest way possible. “There were more soul gems and you took them all... I took your hand and led you out. Sirine found her brother and we all escaped. We travelled and I did not really see you until last night…” Raelynn was rushing through it with a nervousness on her voice. She took a deep breath to let the words ruminate and steadied her hands to perform another stitch. It was then, in the silence, that she felt the absence of a heartbeat.

It was so easy to picture himself in that moment, snatching up the soul gems for his own dark purposes, that it felt like a memory. Gregor felt concern rise when Raelynn neared the end and the silence that fell afterward spoke volumes. Something had happened last night, before he had presumably set off into the desert to make his sacrifices and perform his rituals. “If you don’t want to talk about what happened here,” he said softly and gestured towards the rest of the tent, “that’s fine. If you do, that’s also fine. Whatever you need.”

She didn't. Not yet, not now. But her eyes followed his hand and she looked out over the mess. “I did it, it wasn't you,” the words came out sounding defeated and she felt a pain in her gut that was just shame. “You know, I'd like to hear something you do remember…” Raelynn pulled the thread taut at the final stitch, tying it off masterfully. “Something beyond all of this, something good… I can start, if you'd like? Maybe it will help you clear your mind. Stop focussing on it for now, my love, and we'll come back to it later.” She spoke her endearment so naturally, not realising that she'd said it either. If she had she might have gotten flustered again, but her hands were busy cleaning the needle in the freshwater.

There was no hesitation. “I remember when you first told me that you loved me,” Gregor said. He briefly brushed her cheek with his fingers before lowering his hand again. “You looked so beautiful on that mezzanine, towering over me…” His smile was almost enough to restrain the melancholy in his eyes. “I remember that when things were bad, we overcame them.”

He looked down at his chest and saw that the wound was stitched shut. “Thank you.”

His immediate answer brought a smile to her face too, and she brought both of her hands down to hold his. Raelynn relaxed her posture and let her legs stretch to the side. “I remember the first time I saw you. I'd been helping a wounded ranger, and through the smoke of cannonfire I saw you.” Her grip on his hand grew tighter, and her eyes grew warm as she recalled the memory. She took in a deep breath through her nose as if to even call the her mind the scent of the scene. “I saw you, and I just felt something, I don't know if you did… The way you looked on that battlefield…” she stopped, suppressing a girlish giggle. “I've never looked at another man the way that I looked at you that day.”

“Seems so long ago now, doesn’t it?” Gregor mused and laughed to himself. “You gave me a look when we talked for the first time, when you were healing Jaraleet. I noticed that. I was so busy with my own problems that I didn’t give it much thought until I ran into you again on the streets of Anvil. It took me a little longer than you, but I felt something alright. The price of being old and obsessed, I suppose. Asking you out for dinner was the best decision I ever made,” he said and smiled sheepishly. Suddenly the lazy, pleasant expression on his face vanished and he sat up straight, like a man alarmed by his own fluttering heartbeat. “Gods, Raelynn,” he stammered, close to panicking. “Don’t leave me. I need you.” His hands grasped at hers and he stared at her with wide-eyed desperation. “I know I’m all fucked up but you can’t leave me. Please don’t leave me.”

As he sat upright, a stream of golden light hit his features from the cracks in the flapping door as it moved against the breeze. In that sunlight, his ashen skin warmed up and he looked like he had before in just a flashing moment. He was still Gregor, somewhere. Just as quickly as the illusion came, it disappeared and he appeared cold again. But she was neither afraid nor deterred. He was still Gregor, his desperate grasping at her reminded her of that. “I won't, I'll be here, I'll be right here. Always.” She took his hand and squeezed again. “But don't you… You can't leave me either, when I'm… When you're…” A breath was catching in her throat and she noticed her own chest rising and falling rapidly as panic set in for her too. “If I stop being enough for you… Tell me, I'll understand. I'll understand…”

He looked like he had been unexpectedly slapped very hard in the face. “What?” he asked, barely more than a whisper. Gregor leaned forward and shifted so that he was sitting on his knees and he put his hands on her shoulders. When he looked Raelynn in the eye again, the expression on his face was nothing but serious. “You won’t,” he said. “How could you? Having you is like… catching lightning in a bottle. How can that ever fail to be enough?” His voice was strained and he sounded nearer to tears than anything else. “Don’t say that. Come here.” He took her in his arms, as strong as ever despite everything, and kissed her forehead -- not at all like the false and cold kiss from the night before, but an outpouring of love, as best he could. “Don’t say that.”

That was all that she needed to hear, and hearing it was enough to give her the faith to reciprocate his passion and love. Her arms wrapped around him too, tightening around his chest. “I love you, Gregor. I love you, and I won’t give up on you or leave you. I will find out how to make you well again. I promise.” His kiss was invigorating, and as much as she did not want to, she slipped free from his strong embrace so that she could look him in the eye. Finally she let her hand caress his cheek. “We’ll do this together.”

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A Raw Truth

A Dervish and Stormy special

18th Midyear 4E208, mid-morning, Alik’r camp...

It wasn’t like Gregor to not tell her where he was going and immediately her mind began to think of the worst case scenario. She couldn’t even remember falling asleep, it had just happened. She’d been so exhausted that the moment her head had touched the pillow she’d fallen into the grip of slumber. Now she had woken up to find he was not there, she was instantly hit with panic - an intense paranoia crept over her as she scrambled over the bedroll to find a note or anything that he may have left for her as a clue to his whereabouts.

“You can’t just wander off now…” she muttered through gritted teeth as she combed her hair quickly and wound it into a tight knot on the top of her head, the shorter strands framing her face in their soft curls. She was making herself as presentable as possible before making her way out of the tent to search for him.

Where is he?

She walked with purpose, but slowly - observing the camp with keen eyes, letting her senses guide her too. There was no screaming to be heard, so clearly he hadn’t been found or caught. Everything was slow as the people of the camp began to wake from their own sleep.

Gregor, where did you go?

She watched as several Alik’r gathered around to chat, women were folding linens, roasting foods over campfires, talking amongst themselves, carrying their children in their arms… They were graceful in the way that they started their day, performing their many tasks - making it look as easy as breathing.

Is he alright?

After a lap of the camp, and no luck in finding Gregor, she decided to make her way back - hoping that he would be found in their tent now....

When Raelynn returned, Daro’Vasora was standing outside of the tent, arms tightly around her waist. Her eyes were sunken, haunted, she looked up at Raelynn with an unblinking gaze, registering it was her and not a mirage. She had no idea how long she had waited, but it was long enough to have a thousand terrible thoughts cross her mind. Shadows prompted fear, anyone in a dark robe could be coming to harvest her next. After a few moments, her mind finally focusing on the woman in front of her, Daro’Vasora simply said, “Raelynn. I know.”

Raelynn knew at once what she meant.

Who had done it? Who had told her?

Where is Gregor?

Her worry intensified as she mentally flicked through the list of who would have told Daro'Vasora. Sevari had been as mad as anything, but it couldn't have been him. Fjolte hadn't even spoken to Raelynn about it yet, it couldn't have been him. Jaraleet had perhaps known for some time, it wouldn't have been him. That left Zaveed, Sirine, and Sirine's brother. Of course, “that bitch.”

Now, Sora was standing in front of her tent. God's had she looked inside? Where is Gregor? Had he already been taken somewhere? She suddenly felt an ice cold grip around her heart, suffocating her from the inside. Her hands began to shake but she pulled herself upright. “So what now, then?” she asked, as delicately as she could.

“I need to know… why didn’t you tell me, any of us?” Daro’Vasora asked. Her tone was not one of accusation, but rather uncertainty and pain. “Raelynn, we promised each other we would help one another with the demons our lovers are facing but this, I… I don’t know what the right course is. I wanted to talk to you, to hear you say it, to help me decide what comes next.” She looked around before returning her stare towards the Breton. “Would you prefer to talk somewhere more private? I haven’t talked to anyone else.”

“Here is fine… Let us just sit,” and so Raelynn approached slowly, and sat down at the doorway of the tent, her legs outstretched in front of her. It was a quiet spot to have placed her tent and she was all the more grateful for it now. But what to tell Sora, exactly? Inside she felt angry - livid even, that the secret was out. Part of it was relief. There was a moderate flush of humiliation as she thought about what this implied about her and her own image - but she had long gone past that point now.

“I don’t suppose I really know how to explain this,” she admitted, feeling an anger sitting in her stomach. “I’ve never been in love, Daro’Vasora,” she said as she placed her hands on her knees and gazed out across the distance. “Nor has anyone ever loved me. Lusted for me? Yes… Really loved me? No.” She sighed, noticing her fingers begin to tremble. She hated this, every bit of it. She hadn’t even come to terms with what had become of Gregor and now she was having to do this. It wasn’t the time, was it? “I’ve lived my whole life with a closed heart and I always thought I was happy that way - actually, I was happy like that. I didn’t need anyone by my side to complete me or to love me or shower me with affection and then I met… Gregor.”

Daro’Vasora sat cross-legged to the side of Raelynn, close, but not invasive. She studied how Raelynn reacted, the turmoil gripping inside of her. This wasn’t a furious rebuke, a defiance. This was a woman who was afraid of losing someone she loved. “Love us makes do stupid things.” Daro’Vasora replied. “Makes us overlook the things we never would have permitted or accepted. Raelynn…” she said, wringing her hands in front of her nervously, not wishing to have this conversation with her friend, but knowing it could only get worse. “Do you understand what he’s done?” she asked quietly.

“That may be so, but I willingly did it too, you know. I didn’t know about it at first. I just thought he was a man with a secret and I couldn’t resist myself and I wanted to find out what that was. It was, well it was fun. I thought after everything I’d seen I deserved some fun.” She thought back to Anvil, of sitting under Dibella’s altar with innocent eyes looking up at him, she almost smiled at the memory. “He was strong, powerful, intense. I liked his darkness. It made me feel safe,” she continued, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear as it fell loose from her bun. “I understand what he’s done, I know what it all means. But I know why he does what he does, or did it… I just…” The Gregor she had seduced and led away from his prayers in Anvil was entirely different to the one she had sewn up earlier that morning.

“I almost told you… In the spring…” she said, her voice quieter and cracking. Her face so devoid of life and painted only with exhaustion. “I just couldn’t find the words.”

“Where is he now?” Daro'Vasora asked. She could feel the pain radiating from Raelynn, and despite herself, she reached out, placing her hand on Raelynn's thigh. “I wish you had told me, finding out the way I did… I'm afraid for you. Has he hurt you? All of those souls, Raelynn… why?” she managed, her own voice straining to keep composed. She looked around, her eyes darting nervously for others, for him.

For some reason her skin felt raw to the touch and she wanted to flinch away from the Khajiit, but she hadn’t the energy. Sora had so many questions. Raelynn continued to look out into the distance, but her sight began to blur and it felt as though everything began to spin. Her hands hit the ground, fingers splayed against the sand as she gripped at it - only to feel it slip through her fingers anyway. She felt like she was choking. She hated this, she’d had the opportunity to tell Sora in her own way pulled from under her and now, confronted, she couldn’t find the words. “Gregor is gone…” she said quietly, a melancholic tone sat beneath her voice that suggested she was talking about something far more than just his present location.

“No, he hasn’t hurt me - he wouldn’t hurt me. He fought for me, almost died for me. He wouldn’t hurt any of you. I know this, he cares about all of us.” She took Sora’s hand into hers, into a lightly clenched fist and she brought it to her own chest - placing it where her heart was beating. “I’m not lying to you - and I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I really wanted to, I almost did… I’m sorry it wasn’t me who told you… I’m sorry it wasn’t me.”

Those words.

Those damn words.

Daro’Vasora bowed her head, her eyes clenched shut. Everything about this was awful, and she couldn’t see another way forward. “If you asked him to stop, would he have?” the Khajiit asked quietly, her heart pounding like it threatened to burst. “I don’t think so. This all started in Gilane, where things started going so, so wrong. I think he took that administrator’s soul, and in response we were hunted down by Zaveed and Sevari. All of that happened because of Gregor’s secret, his hunger. What do you suppose happens now? Suppose everyone stands up to him, tells him he has to stop? Do you think we’re still safe then?” there was an undercurrent of anger to Daro’Vasora’s voice as she strained to keep her composure.

“Raelynn. This is serious. The others will need to know, they have the right to know, as did I.” Daro’Vasora said, pulling her hand free and wrapping her arms about her waist once more. “I won’t be the one to make the decision of what to do with him, since the last time I made a decision without consulting anyone you all hated me for it. I don’t want to make the choice that will cost me my fucking soul.”

“And I paid for Nblec. Twice.” She said, holding her hand up, the scar as clear as day in the sunlight. “They would have come for us anyway, whether Nblec died or not.” She began, her posture straight, her words diplomatic. “We all in that room elected to torture the administrator. All of us but Calen. We got roped into the dispute with the Poncy Man and Rourken.” Raelynn’s own voice was strong too, a difference of opinion that she stated with conviction. “We were told to kidnap a Dwemer person of interest… It was dangerous from the start. He put us in the centre of that volatile storm, Daro’Vasora, it was never going to end well - you must know that.” She brought her knees up to her chest and turned to meet Sora’s eyes. “I know that it’s serious…”

She took a long breath, thinking over her words carefully but not calculatingly. “Gregor was a man alone on his path for a long time, carrying a burden no man should ever have to feel the weight of. He got lost and strayed too far… But he’s a good man, and I know you don’t believe it. Gods, I wouldn’t either -” She sighed again closing her eyes tightly. “He’s done terrible things but he’s not a monster, my words - my voice will not tell his story in the way that only he can. There are some things that only he can answer. But I promise you, he has stopped… He has stopped. If the others wish him to leave then I understand, but Daro’Vasora, if it comes to that, you need to know that I will be with him.”

Daro’Vasora looked away from the scar, she certainly didn’t need the reminder of what Gilane took from Raelynn. “I know what was taken from you. Did I not help you reconnect with your magical font?” she said quietly. “I’m not here to argue over hypotheticals. All I know is as soon as that man died, you got tortured and that ate away at me. Then someone I cared deeply about was killed and I was brought to a place I thought I’d never escape from.” she said, feeling deeply torn about everything. How last night had been the first night in so long she remembered what freedom and peace felt like to have it all come crashing down cruelly. Had this place not extracted enough of a toll already?

She shook her head, returning her gaze to Raelynn. “You put me back in that room again, where I’m forced to make a choice I never can. Either way, one way I lose you, and I cannot do that. I can never do that. I care about you, in some ways more than just an unlikely friend that I can’t explain. This hurts me, and I spent all morning wondering if I was going to find you as a lifeless husk one day because you said something he didn’t agree with. For one of the very few times in my life, I don’t know what to do. It’s a decision I do not wish to make.” the Khajiit said, reaching her hand out towards Raelynn. “What would you have me do?”

“At least you were given a choice that day… I wasn’t.” Her head drooped and her eyes watered ever so slightly. She hadn’t meant the words to sound malicious. She pulled herself back together, “I can bloody well see that you've been worrying…” Raelynn remarked in a voice laced with her usual terse tone as her eyes fell upon Sora's hand. She hadn't noticed until now but the Khajiit's hands were bloody. She recognised what the injury was. Sora had done this to herself. “Sora…” she sighed and scooched around to sit opposite her, taking the hand and reaching for the other. It was she suspected, exactly the same intense puncturing to the palm.

“I'm so tired,” she began as both of her hands lit up with gold. “I am tired of thinking and worrying about Gregor, about this secret, about my father, about shadows and crowds and people... About what he and I have done together because of this damned war.” Her voice was as flat as it could be, but the magicka that formed in her hands was warmth and light. As she held Sora's hands in her own, trails of it began to wind around from Raelynn's knuckles and over the Khajiit's wrists like delicate vines. “This is my decision just as much as it is yours. I know that I will have to choose him or everyone. I'm no fool… I already fought my father tooth and claw over this, I don't fancy fighting you or anyone else…”

The Khajiit watched in no small wonder as the wisps of magic began to encircle her wrists like serpents, all too appropriately considering her birthsign. She felt the stinging in her hands she barely noticed given the rest of the stress fading, and it helped remind her of Raelynn’s greatest gift; her compassion.

Tears welled up in Daro’Vasora’s eyes and a slight upturn of a smile crossed her lips. “It was never a burden you had to hold on your own, Ko’Raelynn. I never wanted you to feel like you were trapped with no one to turn to, we could have figured something out, to stop him before he went too far. After everything we went through in Gilane… you reached me in ways I forgot I even needed, and I feel like I’ve failed you for not seeing this, for not finding a cure for him faster. I don’t want to fight, I just want to make sure that my friend survives and can one day go home proud of everything she is.”

“I was selfish, I wanted him to myself. And maybe that's why I said nothing. Because if I did it would stop, wouldn't it? When everything else was being destroyed around me, he made me happy…” Raelynn closed her eyes, knowing she shouldn't do it, but she concentrated further on the flow of energy emitting from her, and the magic continued its journey up Sora's arms. “You didn't fail me, I promise you didn't…” She opened her eyes again, looking Sora in hers, they were bloodshot but with a smile she could still make them sparkle. “Please stop worrying about me,” she said convincingly as Gregor’s crude words and behaviour of the night before flashed through her mind. She felt pain in her chest, as if her flesh was bruised from the Soul Gem.

“Gregor needs me, needs people… More than ever. I don't want us to leave. But I understand if you can't be around him.” She blinked back tears of her own as the image of his gaunt, ashen face intruded her thoughts. “I don't believe he can hurt anyone anymore.” Of course, she did not know that for certain but it was all she had.

Daro’Vasora wanted to reach out and embrace Raelynn, but her hands were effectively bound until Raelynn finished her work, the punctures closing and fading before her eyes. Taking note of the redness in Raelynn’s eyes, she said, “I won’t stop worrying until I know you’re safe. I’ve lost too many people I care about, and I won’t lose you, too.” she said with a somber gaze. “What happened last night? You behave as if you know something is terribly wrong, and you’re not fighting me on this. What do you mean he cannot hurt anyone anymore? Please, talk to me. I want to be here for you, no matter what form that might take.” she promised.

Raelynn thought about it, she lingered over the question for a while as her hands continued to work against Daro’Vasora - the energy about reaching her shoulders and neck now. “Hmmm…” She began to rub her thumbs in slow circles over her healing palms, slowly, slowly…

“There’s not a great deal that I don’t understand about the body. Over the years I’ve studied it, taught myself new techniques and alternative ways of healing. I’m an alchemist too. I don’t know how much you know of me or my past studies because these are not things that I discuss...” She sighed with a shake of her head, “I'm a secretive woman, clearly…”

“Something has happened to him. He has no memory of what and even-” she really was going to share the details of their intense evening with Sora, she almost did, but she reigned it back in. “Daro’Vasora, do you trust me still?”

The Khajiit, despite herself and the turmoil within her, smiled. “Is this not what we promised each other in the spring? Were our situations reversed, I can't say I'd have done anything different.” She said, thinking of Latro's struggles with Pale-feather, how it had terrified her in the palace and how she accepted it was going to be difficult going forward. “I trust you, Raelynn. Even if others in this position wouldn't, we have been through a lifetime of hardship together. Look where we came from; we hated each other. Now I can't imagine life without you.”

Raelynn held out another silence, knowing that to stay in control she had to relinquish some, she knew that. But she also knew that she and Gregor were not the same now. She could not help him alone, and the feeling of sheer inadequacy burned her almost to a spiteful point of rage but she leveled herself out. “Then trust me once more.” As she said it, she let go of Sora’s hands and brought hers to her own chest, her lip trembling.

“Please allow me to tell him that you know, please give me the rest of the day with him… If you can do this, I will bring him at nightfall to the cave.” She hoped Sora knew which one, it seemed that Fjolte’s hanging rock had become a place of importance. “You asked me what you should do,” she spoke with clarity, and yet there was a fear in her voice, “there are others that you trust. I think you should bring them to gather. Whoever you need… I know you find him loathsome, but please bring Fjolte. He’s… my oldest friend here and it would be a comfort to me. Despite his arrogance, he can be sage and-” She bowed her head and brought her hands to her face, quietly sobbing into them all of a sudden. “I’m sorry.”

Daro’Vasora reached out, gently pulling Raelynn’s forehead against her own. “I trust you. I know it is something you’ve struggled with, and the truth is not one easily accepted. You feared losing him, losing us.” The Khajiit said softly, running her fingers through the long blonde hair. “I will do what you ask, and do not be sorry; what matters is what we do next, together. You choose to trust in me, and I will do the same in turn. I will gather those I feel are reasonable, and we will speak to him tonight. Keep him safe, and none will know of this until those we choose to share this with are told in his own words tonight. Thank you, Raelynn, for believing in me. We may not be able to set this right, but we will at least try to make it work. After everything, everyone deserves a chance, as terrifying as their actions may be.”

The sudden touch felt intrusive and strange - an overload of sensations on sensitive skin. Like running a finger the wrong way over a blade of grass. She stiffened and held in a breath, but nodded against Sora. “Yes…” Was all she could say for a short while as she let her few tears fall. “I have to help him, I promised him that, maybe I just can’t do it alone… Not this time, I’m not well enough myself to help anyone…” She pulled back from Sora slowly, wiping a finger under her eye. She huffed out a breath, “what is this war doing to us? I’m coming undone at the seams...”

“I will bring him at nightfall… Light a fire so I know you’re there. Thank you Sora, I will not forget this.”

“It's what friends are for, right? Pulling each other back together again?” Daro'Vasora said with a reassuring smile that didn't quite mesh comfortably with the fatigue and worry in the Khajiit’s eyes. She stood up, regarding her now healed hands and Raelynn's remarkable talent. “I know you won't, and I know you would do the same for me. The sun will shine on us all again, we just have to keep searching for our dawn. Don't lose hope, we will find the answer.” She reached down, stopping herself from touching Raelynn's shoulder. “Together.”

“If I had any wine I’d drink to that,” she said - an uncertain smile on her lips. Change was fast approaching to turn everything upside down. It made sense to happen now, now that everything had already changed - might as well happen all at once. Raelynn could not see any good from this, but it was necessary. There was a feeling inside of her that had noted her own unhealthy habits of late. Perhaps before she could help anyone else, it was time to heal herself. “And you’re right, I would do the same for you… I.... owe you for this.” She glanced away from Sora when she said it, “it’s not like me to owe anybody - I must say it feels strange for people to actually want to help me when really they shouldn’t.”

Daro’Vasora crossed her arms, scuffing her bare foot into the sand, feeling the grains raise up between her toes like mountains rising between plates. “You know, I’ve spent a lot of my life feeling like people weren’t giving me a chance to prove myself, that I could be trusted, that I was worthy of affection. Maybe this is a mistake, but I don’t feel like it is. I just know if I were in your situation, I’d want someone who cared about me not to give up on me and to give me a chance. Don’t think of this as owing me anything, or even a real favour. I’d like to think after everything, we’ve all earned some benefit of the doubt. Besides,” a shy smile crossed the Khajiit’s lips as she glanced back up at Raelynn. “I promised I wouldn’t give up on you.”

“I know… I guess we’re just not that different after all. I don’t want it to be a mistake. I hope I haven’t made a mistake…” she confessed, pulling her knees up to her chest. “I’m glad that we’re friends.”

She sighed, tightening her arms about her. Her toes dug in deeper. “Raelynn.” She said quietly. “I’m terrified of all of this.” Daro’Vasora admitted, her gaze breaking as she looked to the camp, anywhere but where she needed to.

“Is it wrong that in all of these revelations, I’m just terrified that I’ve lost him completely? Or that I’m about to? That I’m too broken now… That I’m not strong enough for all of this, not smart enough… That I don’t know enough. I don’t know how to be enough anymore and words don’t help because I feel so much like...” Raelynn struggled over her words, her fingers clenching at the loose linen of her trousers. “I feel so unlike myself and so unprepared for this war. I used to be strong and unshakeable, I used to get by alone. Now look at me, God’s look at us. Look at how we’ve changed.”

“None of us have remained unchanged by this war.” Daro’Vasora agreed, closing her eyes for a few moments. “But it doesn’t mean we’re not stronger. Raelynn,” the Khajiit turned once more to look upon her friend with kind emerald eyes. “You’re such a brilliant and courageous person, I look up to you. I always have.” she admitted with a shy smile, rubbing the back of her neck bashfully. “Broken doesn’t mean we can’t be fixed, and asking for help when you need it is a sign of strength and courage, not weakness. It wasn’t that long ago I was going it alone, plundering tombs and not acknowledging that if something happened to me, no one would have been able to help me, let alone know where I was. I learned from all of you that having people who give a shit about you and stay by your side when the world is in cinders matters. We can take on anything, Raelynn… together.”

“I must admit, it’s hard for me to imagine you working alone like that, I’ve only ever known you to be with this group. I was only picked up by chance. Had it not been for the attack in Anvil… You know, I had actually bought my passage back to High Rock?” She laughed too, releasing her grip on the cloth as she relaxed with the turning tide of the conversation. “I even think the proof of payment is on a slip of parchment lodged somewhere in my journal…” She smiled up at Sora, “don’t forget to remember that you’re really quite brilliant and courageous yourself. It takes a certain… ingenuity, to do what you do.”

The Khajiit covered her mouth to conceal a put upon smile, feeling somewhat embarrassed yet complimented all the same. “Kind of you to say, but unless you mean sneaking around and stealing stuff from ancient burial sites before other people of ill-repute do, I'm hardly anyone special. I just try to consider my opinions and I hope I make the right choice. I’m well-learned and I’ve survived on my own, but I am so bad with people.” she said with a rueful chuckle.

Raelynn noticed quite clearly that Sora was not used to such attention and compliments, and she grinned almost devilishly at her embarrassment as a result, she couldn’t quite resist poking some more… “But you are special, I think we all probably are in our own way - but… You are leading this group of, dare I say it, misfits. None of us are that equipped to fight in a war but you lead us and make the decisions that push us forward and keep us going. Your damn long-winded speeches motivate us,” she remarked with a joking roll of her eyes, “you’re doing the best with the cards you were dealt. You didn’t ask for them, you didn’t ask for us. We’re all being… well, a pain in your arse if you don’t mind my saying… but you’re doing well.” Even though the Breton had only been trying to bring about a bashful redness to Sora’s face, she felt the words resonating, there was a sincerity to them that she wasn’t used to expressing so openly. It felt nice to do so.

“You’re younger than I, younger than many of us here and your tenacity and spirit drives us. We each have our own agenda, yes… But we all want to survive this, don’t we? You found love in Latro - you grow each day. You will continue to make missteps and incorrect decisions, what I’m trying to say is that you should not dwell on your decisions, nor on what you perceive as mistakes… We take what we’ve got, and we do our best with it.”

Daro’Vasora listened, holding her cheeks, her tail flicking behind her in the sand. “Raelynn, I… I don’t know what to say. That was… my goodness.” she said rapidly, her mind screeching for something, anything, witty or insightful to say. She came up short, feeling flames burning up her cheeks and the back of her neck. “I needed to hear that. When you say it, I might even believe it.” she admitted, smiling shyly.

“I know this isn’t the best of circumstances we’re in, but after everything we’ve been through, us all being here… I know we’re doing the right thing. Maybe a few more long-speeches and we’ll be across the mountains and in sight of our goal. I might not have asked for anyone, or any of this, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I can’t imagine anyone else taking this journey and I will do my damnest to make sure we all go home in the end. That’s my promise, and my dream; we’re all going to do the impossible together.” she said with a dreamy sigh, walking over to Raelynn and kneeling before her, taking the Breton’s hands in her own. “Thank you, for everything you are to me. For believing in me. It’s more than I’ve deserved, but I promise I will earn it.”

“And I will earn it too, I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep trying to find more reasons to… Be, and to… live.” Raelynn held Sora’s hands just as tightly, looking her dead in the eyes with resolve. “We’re going to make it through this, you and I, and everyone.”

“We can do it together.”
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Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by Greenie
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Greenie Heaven don't play like violins

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There's an Endless Road to Rediscover

18th of Midyear, late, morning, Alik’r Desert tent village

It was hard not to feel somber even with the mood of those she passed by still being rather festive. Sirine smiled at a passing Redguard woman who offered her a couple of fruit without her even asking for one. She had offered to pay for it, but it seemed the villagers were still very much grateful to their group- the woman promptly told her she wouldn't be accepting any money, and that it was her honour. It felt very strange, but Sirine decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth and simply accept the offered free fruit.

Without realizing it, her feet were leading her to the edge of the village, though not so far that she was devoid of shade. Finding a tree to settle down in front of, she leaned back and looked at the expanse of sand before her, the dunes of gold melding into a clear blue sky. Where it ended it was hard to tell, the sands seeming forever. As small, sad smile tinged her lips as she set the fruits down on her lap, sighing softly.

She really hadn't meant to get emotional like that in front of Daro'Vasora, but it seemed that with her freedom the former pirate had also been freed of the mask she'd worn for months. Happiness, sadness, anger, all were emotions she could feign as easily as the next, but they seemed to be showing themselves much more easily than she would prefer. Leaning her head back against the smooth tree trunk, her eyes closed as she let her hands drift down to the ground, digging into the loose, almost sand-like dirt. It felt nice, stress relieving in fact, though she'd now have to wash her hands if she wanted to eat-

"Siri?" The voice was hesitant but her eyes flew open instantly, recognizing the speaker. Footsteps approached and came to a stop beside her; she looked up, a smile on her lips but worry in her eyes. What was he doing up and out of a tent? Why wasn't he resting?

"Bakih," she replied, her voice calm and steady despite the stream of worried thoughts flooding her mind. She easily scooted over and patted the spot beside her. "Sit down, little brother."

He didn't hesitate any longer, and soon enough he was the one with his back against the tree, with Sirine leaning against him, his arm around her shoulder. She took in a deep breath and let it out, smiling. Despite everything, her worries for the future, his future... this was nice. It eased her a little to know that regardless of all that had happened, he was alive and... relatively well.

"You should be resting," she finally pointed out, looking at him with a sideways glance, the reproach within clear.

"Maybe," Bakih replied, shrugging a shoulder before smiling down at her. "But I don't want to. Not there, in an enclosed place where I can't see the sky anymore." He let out a short breath of air. "I..." Sirine could see the uncertainty in his expression... or was it fear? "I'd rather have no roof over my head than something enclosing, encroaching."

Sirine reached over and grabbed his hand despite the dust and dirt on her own, seeing it was already clenched into a tight first, knuckles white from strain. He hadn't said much yesterday during their journey to the village, simply listening quietly to what she had to say. A lump filled the former pirate's throat. Zaveed had been right the previous night- she couldn't make Bakih's decisions for him, he was his own man. Perhaps she had needed him before, but right now she needed to be there for him.

"You're not there anymore, little brother." She carefully opened his fingers before gently folding her hand over his. "You're here now, with me." Her hold on his hand tightened a little. A stinging in her eyes, a burning in her nose, and she knew she was close to tearing up once more. Don't. There is no need to. "We're both safe and sound." She bit the inside of her lip, eyes lowering to their clasped hands. "I'm only sad that I did not find you sooner."

A long moment of silence passed, with Bakih looking out in the distance while Sirine's eyes remained lowered, unwilling to show her wet eyes. She needed to be the strong one, she needed to maintain her control, for him.

"I thought you were dead." Bakih finally spoke, his voice tight. Sirine looked up to meet his light brown eyes with her darker ones, both pairs equally wet. "When I saw you there, I thought it was... a dream. And then, a nightmare." His mouth turned downward. "An illusion, a conjuration."

"I'm alive," Sirine returned earnestly. "No dream, no illusion, I am flesh, blood and bone." She let go of his hand and reached up, stroking his auburn hair, so different from hers. It really was amazing how different they looked from one another, though perhaps not as much as two sibling Khajiit born at separate phases of the moon. "Not a day passed that I didn't think of you, little brother. After all you've done for me, sacrificed for me- I wanted to tear down every dwemer my eyes fell on for taking you away from me." A fire returned to her eyes as she thought of how she mercilessly killed the dwemer guards she came across at the prison. Their lives were worth nothing to her when it was her brother's on the line. Even now, even with him sitting next to her, she could still feel the anger, the pain and sorrow.

"Did any of the others...?" Bakih's question was left incomplete, but she knew very well what he wanted to know. Of course he wanted, no, needed to know. Her crew was his family as well. He'd had his friends, his lovers, his moments of happiness and sorrow despite his wishes for change. The pain she had felt and still felt was one he must have been feeling as well.

"No." Sirine shook her head, eyes lowering until she could barely see a glimpse of light. "I'm sorry Bakih. I had returned to the docks in attempts to find you when I knew there was no fear of being caught by the dwemer. The shambles of our ship... the bodies-" She stopped herself abruptly, unwilling to say more.


Once again she shook her head, and as she did, she felt Bakih's arms encircling her into a tight hug. Sirine smiled; eyes still stinging she returned the hug, simply listening to Bakih continue to speak. "I know he was your good friend, Siri. Last I remember of him, he was yelling out curses and flinging whatever he could find at the dwemer ship. He was not the sort who would allow himself to be taken." She felt him shake; at first she thought he was crying but it quickly became clear that he was laughing instead. Just the realization caused her heart to lighten.

"Unless the one taking him was a certain captain of a ship," she added as she relaxed once more. The back of her hand touched against the fruit that somehow hadn't rolled off her lap, and she quickly moved it away so it wouldn't get dirty. "Here, Bakih, be a dear and take these. Eat them actually, I'm not quite hungry at the moment."

Bakih was more than happy to, and Sirine couldn't help but smile as she watched him eat. In a way she still felt rather motherly over him, even though they were barely five years apart in age. Still, it wasn't hard to see the small boy she had helped around her father's ship, or the teenage lad who had joined her in her quest to up her brothers. And now, a man, seeming whole on the outside, yet she could see the darkness that lingered behind his eyes.

"Was he ever, you know...?" Bakih motioned with his hand before biting into the second fruit, ignoring the trail of juice that trickled down his chin.

"He wasn't my lover," Sirine replied. "Is that what you thought, silly boy? No, but he was my most trusted friend, and you know quite well I refuse to ruin something good for carnal pleasure."

"Hm." Bakih's response was very short as he wiped at his chin with his sleeve, not caring if it stained. "And that... other Khajiit? Zaveed, was it? Are you-"

"We haven't fucked either." Sirine smirked, enjoying the scandalized look on her brother's face from her crass words. It passed however as she continued. "We are recent friends, and without his help I wouldn't have known where to even find you. He and his brother, the Ohmes-Raht with the guns..." She smiled and shrugged lightly. "It's like being back on the ship, you could say. And now with you here, I feel almost complete again."

It was hard to tell what he was thinking as his eyes returned to the distant horizon, and after a small while she prodded him gently with her elbow. "Tell me what you're thinking, Bakih."

"I..." Once again there was hesitation in his voice. She watched as he looked away from the desert and to his outstretched legs instead. "When you spoke to me yesterday, I was still in shock, and not really all there. Hearing you say we can no longer travel together... it almost felt like you wanted to get rid of me."

"No, never!" Sirine bit down on her lip to calm herself. "Bakih, you know that couldn't be further from the truth, I just-"

"I know," he replied, raising a hand to stop her from continuing. "I know. Like I said, I was still in shock, and you were as well. I can read you as well as you can me, Siri." He chewed at the inside of his cheek before continuing. "Where do you go from here? Will you be following after them?"

Now it was Sirine's turn to hesitate, unsure what her brother wished to hear. Mulling through her thoughts, she fiddled with the coin hanging from her neck. She couldn't lie to him though, she never had and she wasn't about to start now. "I made a promise, and I intend to keep it. You know that home for me was never Gilane, never Anvil, never land. It was always the expanse of the sea where I felt the most alive, the most free. But I know it's not the same for you, Bakih." A short sigh left her. "I don't want you to live at my behest, I don't want you to feel beholden to me. You deserve to live as you wish."

Once more she grasped his hands, eyes earnest as she looked into his. "I'm free now, physically, mentally, perhaps even spiritually. You are the one person who has been with me without question for my whole life. I want the same for you, whatever you feel that is. There are many roads for you to walk, not just the one that I lead you down... but if you wish to come, it's yours to rediscover once more." She squeezed his hands before letting them go. "And you can take all the time in the world to decide."

Bakih smiled down at her, his arm tightening around her big sister's shoulder. "I know, Siri, I know." He paused and shook his head before continuing. "You've always been like this, thinking that everything is on your shoulders alone, and that you're responsible for all that happens, good or bad. It's not the case." He smile shifted into one of amusement. "Stop being so big headed, big sister."

"You dare," Sirine replied, a laugh escaping her, and then a few more. She shook her head as the laughter continued, under her breath yet continuous. "My head isn't so big anymore. Even my hair is shorter."

"It looks so strange," was her brother's reply. "I think I prefer it longer."

"I think I prefer not being roasted in the heat, if it's all the same to you." Sirine gave him a sidelong critical look before gracefully getting up to her feet in a single movement. "Come." She reached a hand out toward her brother. They had done enough moping, and the small lighthearted banter had her remember words from last night once again. They were alive and together- it was time to be proud and happy and just... live a little while they could. "Let's go pay homage to our father's people and buy ourselves something new to wear."

"Are you sure?" Bakih asked, raising an eyebrow in much the same fashion as Sirine normally did.

"Are you mistrusting your big sister's judgement?"

"Maybe a little, yes."

She laughed. "Well at least if we look like fools, it will be happy fools. Now off your ass and let's go."

Bakih sighed, shrugged, and then smiled. Grabbing her hand, he pulled himself up to a stand.

"As you wish, Captain."
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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Amaranth
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Amaranth the Kasaanda

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"Before you embark on a journey of revenge..."

Alik'r gathering, sometime in Midyear, 4E208

"...Dig two graves." Or five. Shakti thought bitterly. She had emerged from the prison in a bloody haze, bone tired. She was drained mentally, physically, and spiritually. Yet, still the party had needed her to lead them across the Alik'r. Without her, they would surely be burned to death as if they were all going for a swim in the Deadlands. So the Alik'r girl called on a yet deeper reserve of strength that lurks in the soul of all men and mer and persevered. Covered in dried gore, sweat and gods-know-what-else, she successfully led them all to the resting place of her tribe. Though, what they found there surprised even Shakti. It was the Anseilak Hunding! The Gathering of the High Desert. She didn't expect it to be so early though. Had she lost track of time? It was possible. These past few weeks were quite hectic and even in the best of times Shakti had trouble keeping the days and nights straight. Either way, it didn't matter. The entire party was overjoyed to be out of the desert.

Shakti felt differently. Instead she stood, leaning heavily on her blade. She had missed her tribe, her people. But coming back... it felt strange. She had been gone, what? A year, two years? She felt like she had been gone for an Era, at least. What would she say to her family? Stumbling out of the Alik'r, covered in blood, bleeding from still-open wounds, leading a band of strangers, rogues, mages. What could she say? She touched the cut under her eye and winced. Wiping the blood onto Khesh's cloak, she sighed and followed the party into the tent city, looking for her family.

Dragging her sword in its sheath along the sand, she finally shuffled up to her tribe's campsite. Someone spotted her and their face lit up. She recognised the man as a boy she had grown up with, Domalen, though she called him Dom. He was a year younger than her and she always suspected he had a bit of a crush on her. He waved her over and Shakti- no, Tariyeh-smiled and headed over. Dom had already called to Tariyeh's mom and her siblings and they all had nearly sprinted over. Karayyah, her mother was nearly weeping and also close to slapping Tariyeh. "I told you to take care of yourself Tariyeh!" She exclaimed, half laughing and half crying, "You look like you just fought your way through half of Hammerfell." Her mother licked her thumb and wiped some blood from her daughter's lightly freckled face before pulling her into a tight embrace, the kind only a mother can give. Tariyeh couldn't help but smile over her mom's shoulder. When she was finally released from her mother's grasp, she pulled her brother and sister into a hug as well. They were both slightly younger than her but still exuded the same youthful exuberance that Tariyeh too, had exuded before she set out on her journey. Still, it's not like all of the light had gone out of her, and so she grinned involuntarily at the soft embrace her siblings gave her. In that moment, she forgot her doubts and worries and even her exhaustion and just bathed herself in the utter relief of being back with family.

Finally, she let go and collapsed onto the warm sand. Her mother and brother and sister followed suit and, after a lengthy begging process, Tariyeh finally relented and agreed to share most of her adventures. She started from the beginning and explained how she had trekked from the camp and met up with Israhal and spent some time with him learning new sword techniques and practicing already known ones. She explained how she had wandered into Gilane on the trail of Khesh and ended up getting captured, only to be rescued by her soon-to-be friends. She showed off the scar on her arm to the ooohs and aahhhhs of her siblings. She regaled them with what she remembered about the party (minus Calen making a fool of her), she explained how she had beaten Mazrah, the Orcish woman, in a contest of drinking, much to the amusement of all. She reenacted her duel with Sevari and how she had lost the trail of Khesh. She also revealed the scar on her side Sevari had given her. Her mother tsk-tsk'd her in response, "You always were too rash for your own good, Yehyeh." Everyone laughed at that.

Next, she told the tale (or at least her fragmented understanding of it) of how several group members ended up getting captured and Sevari and his brother ended up as turncoats and they mounted a daring rescue which involved Tariyeh heroically being stuffed inside a servant's gown and sneaking her way into the palace in which the prisoner was being held. Both of her siblings expressed doubt as to the veracity of the story, "Were you unconscious when they put you in the dress, Yehyeh?" Tarinah inquired. Tariyeh shot her younger sister a death stare before continuing. She explained the rest of the escape and the burning of their hideout and the subsequent escape into the Alik'r, proudly led by the one and only Alik'r Warrior in the party. She told them about how they had camped out for a few nights at the Mouth of the Alik'r Oasis. Her mother looked at her eldest proudly. "I always knew you could step up to the mantle of leadership if you needed to, Tariyeh. You make me so proud." Tariyeh modestly shrugged, but took the compliment in silence before she continued. Conveniently leaving out the encounter with Calen, she finally reported about the past days, about how they planned to save some lost comrades in a prison complex. She glossed over the more brutal parts of the story but recalled how she had found Khesh and killed him, showing off his cloak as a grisly trophy, and how Khesh had told her the Warden had also been a Knight and how she had confronted him as well, slaying that traitor and claiming his cloak as proof in addition to learning that the final knight of the cabal of traitors had fled to Skyrim. She detailed her plan to hunt down the last man and be done with her grisly task, confessing that it was wearying her.

Truthfully, 'weary' was an understatement. Ever since the prison and the two traitors, she hadn't been able to sleep peacefully at all. Her mind and body ached, not just from the exertion of the past few days, although that surely had something to do with it. She found herself waking in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat and reliving hazy memories of things that may have happened or may not yet have happened. Through some unholy combination of shame and compulsion, she felt sick when she thought about finding her friends. She felt feral, like a wild animal that did not belong among civilised people. So she sequestered herself away in a tent among her tribe, praying to all the gods of the desert and the Alik'r that none of the party would come find her. Her only guests were her brother and sister and mother, occasionally coming to check on her. She waved them off by insisting she was merely exhausted by travel.

At dusk she emerged to bathe herself and hunt down some food. Most were already asleep. She crept through the maze of tents and bodies who had not made it to tents before passing out. Thankfully, it was a short jaunt to the springs that the gathering was based around. There were a few evening bathers, cleaning up after a day of revelry, but Tariyeh thought nothing of them and disrobed before submerging herself in the chilly water. It was a nice contrast to the heat of the air. Despite the sun slowly disappearing over the horizon, the air had not lost its warmth. She slid down into the water, her head momentarily disappearing beneath the surface before re-emerging, her hair sopping wet and draped over her face. It felt nice to be clean again, at least physically. She really wished she could pour some water into her brain and clean it out. It felt mired in the same dust, blood, and sweat that had pervaded her body a few minutes before. She lacked the clarity of purpose she possessed at the outset. Every action now had to penetrate a layer of emotions and thoughts before she could make sense of it. She felt fear, anxiety, shame, and darkness, but perhaps also hope. She allowed herself to float on the surface of the water for a bit, staring up at the now-darkened sky. She exhaled and sank down, the lack of fat on her body or air in her lungs causing her to gently descend in the water. She waited for a few seconds, blinked and rose again. Why didn't she want to see her friends again? Or anyone? She somehow felt like she should be happier about seeing her family again but... The thought of seeing the rest of the group churned her stomach. Her voice was sore from so much talking. She floated about the pool again while sinking deeper into her own thoughts. She knew she couldn't hide forever, she'd have to find them eventually. She hoped they weren't too worried about her. They probably weren't. She had talked about how much she had missed her family, so they most likely assumed she was just doing some catching up. Although, it was strange that none of them had tried to seek her out. Tariyeh shrugged it off. It didn't matter. She listened to the sound of the pool in her ears, the strange calm of the waters mixed with the sounds of the gathering dying down.

Tariyeh emerged from the pool, brushed a few tresses of her hair from her face and grabbed a robe to dry with. She didn't bother drying her feet, they were already covered in sand, but she patted herself down and replaced her own tunic and leggings. She didn't feel like heading back to her tent just yet, but she had already dried off, so instead she headed a bit further from the camps and sat on the sand, drawing elaborate concentric circles in the still-warm sand, just like she used to do as a child. It was more comforting than she had expected. Still, she felt less alive than she did back then. Her mind and heart and body seemed to be enveloped in a stiffness not unlike that which she had seen in corpses many times before. But why? What had slain her heart and left her mind to harden into a corpse?
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Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by Greenie
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Greenie Heaven don't play like violins

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~~For the Dancing and the Dreaming~~

By Dervs & Shafty & Greenie & Tricks

17th of Midyear, Night, Alik’r Desert

Zaveed wasn’t sure what hurt more, his body or his pride. He lay prone on the ground, the blunted straining sword just out of his reach. The dirt felt cold against his skin, and despite his best efforts, he knew that it was going to be quite awful when he tried to move again.

His mind raced over the many possibilities of his loss, excuses, really. He’d never learned to fight with a sword. His hand was injured. His fighting techniques were around two weapons. He was tired after a long journey and the daring prison rescue. All of those things, perhaps. But dead men couldn’t make excuses for why they underperformed, and he had to suck up his pride and admit one thing.

He just got his ass handed to him by a 17-year-old kid.

The crowd had been loud celebrating his defeat, or his opponent’s victory, but now they were trying to get him to move. Other fights to be had, you see. He opened his eyes and saw Sevari and Sirine staring down at him, prompting him to reach into a pouch and pull out the ten Septims that he let roll out of his hands into the sand.

“Ow.” he wheezed.

"Well that was quite entertaining," Sirine commented, not even attempting to hide the smirk on her face, especially seeing the lackluster fashion he dispensed the septims he had bet. It wasn't a lie, it was very fun watching the fight, reminding the former pirate of the silly duels she would oversee and break up on her ship. Reaching down, she grabbed on to his wrist and gave it a firm tug. "Up already, Zaveed, otherwise the next fighters will be dancing with swords on your prone form."

“You know, I’d pay ten whole septims to see that, Sirine.” Sevari made a show of folding his arms and nodding, he then made a show for Zaveed at noticing the septims he was owed, bending down and snatching them up with overacted glee, “Oh, good, what else could I find here but ten septims!”

Sevari clucked his tongue, “Child with a stick, Zaveed.” He shook his head mockingly, “Do you think you’ll have to start calling him Captain now? Isn’t that the pirate rules?”

With a gruffness, he slapped his hands on Zaveed’s collar and helped him up, which was mostly Sevari hauling him to his feet. He roughly patted his shoulders and dusted off his back as well, patting him on the shoulder consolingly, “If it helps…” he jingled a coin purse with some good weight, “I couldn’t resist the betting. Feels good to have money again.”

“Oh, shut your gob.” Zaveed winced, feeling aches in places he forgot he had. “Next time, I’ll pit you against a toddler and watch in glee as you’re helpless against the assault against your shins. Redguard children are mean.” he said, shoving Sevari playfully with his good hand. “Since I clearly took the fall for you, drinks are on you. Aren’t those the criminal underworld rules?”

"Aye, seems fair to me that the one with the money should pay," Sirine chimed in, raising an eyebrow as she looked to Sevari, an amused expression dancing on her face. Her dark eyes were lit, clearly enjoying the moment- a far cry from just a while earlier. It was fun to watch and listen to the two bickering brothers without having to worry about the consequences of being overheard… or having a brother stuck in a dwemer prison. "Don't be stingy now, hm? I may find myself a little thirsty as well, now that I think of it." Her eyes narrowed and lips pursed in thought. “Perhaps even a little hungry…” She lifted a hand to her mouth in order to hide a silent laugh.

“I don’t offer charity.” Sevari smirked as he leaned towards Sirine, tossing the coin purse in the air and catching it in the same hand, he turned on his heel, “Follow, my upstanding compatriots, and we will get something to cure our sobriety.”

The night was a good one so far. He’d won ten septims and had a good show of his brother getting his arse served to him like a four-course meal by a boy half his age on top of it. It was the small things in life he had to appreciate, he learned long ago in the gutters of Senchal. And he was reaping the benefits of his lessons in the form of the wine he sipped at now, sitting with his two finest companions yet.

It brought memories of his old gang back. Those Black Dog Brigands since scattered to the four winds. Hs sighed and stretched his arms up to the skies, looking to Sirine, “How is he, your brother?” He asked, “Not too shaken, I hope.”

Sirine looked at the wine in her glass; despite her earlier goading, she was wondering if she should partake or not. It was no habit of hers, not even a sporadic one for that matter, but she didn't wish to be rude and it was not like she didn't trust her two companions. Taking a small sip, she set the drink back down before smiling at Sevari, appreciating the question about her brother's welfare.

"He's as well as can be expected," she finally replied, shrugging her shoulders a little. "Still processing what happened, the fact that he is alive and no longer in that place. He didn't know I was alive until he saw me... he was quite sure I had gone the way of the rest of the crew."

Zaveed stepped between the two, placing a hand on each of their shoulders. “That’s what we can share a drink to; family.” he said encouragingly. “Sure, sometimes they’re a right pain in the ass, or aren’t there when you need them, but there’s nothing like it in the world. Bakih’s safe and sound, I got to see my sister again and know that she wasn’t killed by some uppity terrorists, so let’s just take a moment to appreciate where we are and what we got. And me? I couldn’t ask for better company. My brother and I are free, and I couldn’t have been gifted with a better friend. What do you lot say? Shall we go find somewhere to finally take the sticks out of our asses and have fun for a change?” the Cathay grinned, momentarily considering stealing his coin back to see if he could get away with it.

Sirine let out a breath before taking not a sip, but a gulp from her drink. He was right, of course. Tonight there was peace, and she wanted to keep her smile on her face. It had been much too long since she had felt so free and burdenless that it seemed she needed to learn how to have fun once again.

"Well Captain Greywake, what do you have in mind for us stick up the asses, hm?" She winked and offered a grin in return. "Aside from watching you in another sword fight, that is."

“I think the Captain has had too many swashbuckling adventures for tonight.” Sevari chuckled, taking a swig from his glass and letting it wait on his tongue as he thought on what to do. Finally, he swallowed and nodded as if he’d come across the best idea to be had since breweries and distilleries. “We could scour the four corners of the world and peruse the ancient libraries of Nirn to find out just how the fuck Jaraleet got Meg of all people to fancy him.”

He smiled, all innocence, before it disappeared with a shrug, “I’ve no clue, what’s to do around here?”

“I vote sit on our asses and drink until said ass no longer hurts, nor my pride, and then see where tonight takes us.” Zaveed replied, stretching out his arms and sniffing the air. “And finding out what smells so enticing.”

As the trio walked, Zaveed smirked at Sevari. “So, brother… are you hoping to scour those ancient libraries because you are jealous of the cute Nord girl finding companionship with our murder-happy lizard friend, or do you see too much of yourself in him and wonder why you're single?” He asked, reaching over and tapping Sevari's necklace. “Might be that you're still wearing jewelry Marassa made you from back when you decided you started to like girls. Don't think I've forgotten that.”

Sirine peered up at Sevari, taking note of the jewellery around his neck. “Is that what that is?” She couldn't help but grin at the knowledge. “You know, that is cute. Adorable even.” She hadn't expected such a thing from the large and seemingly colder natured Khajiit.

He reached up and cleared his throat, tugging his collar up. His being Ohmes-Raht, he felt the heat in his cheeks, “A keepsake from a simpler time.” He brushed Sirine’s teasing off gently, “I’ve never been a man able to be tied down is all. My job isn’t exactly one that guarantees a stable home life.”

He eyed the coin on Sirine’s own necklace, “You’re one to talk.” He said, nodding towards it, “What’s this about, if we’re going to be cheeky about sentimentality?”

I certainly deserved this. Sirine chewed at the inside of her cheeks and barely managed to ignore the heat that rushed to her own face. “Er,” she started, looking anywhere but at the Cathay in their midst, “a… memento as well, you can say.” She coughed a forced cough and rubbed at her face with the back of her wrist, inwardly scolding herself for not making sure to keep it under her tunic.

“It's the same coin I gave her when we first met. Something about me being cheeky when she told me only people who paid her could call her beautiful. Isn't that right, Beautiful Sirine?” Zaveed said with a innocent smile and a wink before inspecting his claws as if they were the most interesting thing in the world.

The former pirate shot a glare in his direction before letting out a childish huff. “Yes, yes,” she grumbled, though there was no real annoyance to be heard in her voice, at least nothing that was genuine. “It was a very nice coin, very shiny.” She waved a hand carelessly, attempting to make light of the matter though her face still retained the flush on her cheeks.

“Oh, fuck off.” Sevari grumbled, rolling his eyes. There was a certain part of him that held some resentment towards his choice of careers, but life itself was pulling him away from things since before he ever held a blade. He mumbled under his breath, “I’m going to need a loose woman by night’s end to deal with all this damn love in the air.” He huffed, “Leastways I can wake up next to something.”

Looking for a quick turn of the conversation, he eyed a vendor’s stall. It was fully stocked with skewers of goat and lamb. “Oh, how long it’s been…” he shook his head and bit his lip as if the skewers were the most buxom lover he’d ever seen in his life. “Three.” He held up his fingers and slapped the septims in the man’s table, sliding then forth and turning on his heel to his companions, “Mara’s tits, I’ve been hungering for something that isn’t hard tack and jerky.”

“Ah, explains the sour expression and the perpetually working jaw you've been sporting for the past few days.” Zaveed quipped, taking a kebab and breathing in the roasted lamb. “Funny how something so simple can take you back years, before I even thought I could hurt another person and thought someone would take me in off the streets.” He mused, steering his companions off to an unoccupied bench, sitting down with uncharacteristic weight.

Stretching out his legs, Zaveed took note of Daro'Vasora and Latro disappearing into throngs of dancers, and he turned away quickly, feeling a flush or guilt and shame. “Well, have you ever learned to dance?” He asked his brother. “Maybe there's a wanton lass in there waiting for you to sweep her off her feet.”

“Maybe.” Sevari said around a mouthful of lamb, watching Latro and Sora weave through the dancers like rain down a window. Ever since things had gone awry with Marassa his mind had trouble not straying to the months he spent with La’Vashara. “I lack the certain feminine smoulder that Latro has. I’m also devoid of the stunted social intelligence that drew Meg to Jaraleet.”

“The only woman I’ve spent any significant amount of time around in Hammerfell is Aries, and well…” He snorted, “I doubt she’s set on ravishing me any time soon.”

"She's certainly something," Sirine commented, seating herself down on the bench. Her eyes were focused more on the stick of kebab rather than the throng of dancers, her earlier joke about feeling hungry now a reality with the scent of the lovely meat. Taking a small bite, she savoured the flavour of the hot and tender lamb, having to close her her mouth quickly so as not to salivate.

"Fear not, Sevari,” she continued once she had swallowed her food, “I’m sure you'll find someone to warm your bed for the night, despite your lack of femininity or... scales."

“Or charm.” Zaveed added helpfully, biting into a chunk of lamb and chewing thoughtfully. “Try smiling, act like you're the catch women should fawn over, not some forlorn teenager who never got his dick wet. Go up to someone who clearly is single and looking a bit bored or left out, introduce yourself. Offer a drink or dance, or just ask if that seat is taken and strike up a conversation. By Riddle Thar, have you forgotten how to talk to strangers in a way that isn't vaguely threatening or work related?” Zaveed remarked drolly. “What do you have to lose, hm?”

“Oh, yes, thank you. How do you do this, what did you call it? A smile?” Sevari sneered at Zaveed and shook his head, “Work is just… easier. I had a fucking wife once…”

“Besides, you should know me by now. You remember? Don’t push me at things or I’ll push back.” He sighed, a growl rattling from his chest, before he chuckled and shook his head at his brother, “Give me time, Zaveed. I can cross a desert in my own time, I can get a damn harem together by the end of the night, just watch.”

“Ten Septims say you won't.” Zaveed grinned back. “Even if these women likely rarely met an outsider who is quite as worldly and well-storied as you.”

Sirine paused with her kebab in midair, looking from Sevari to Zaveed, blinking at the latter. "Are you sure you want to bet more septims?" she wondered aloud. It seemed as if the Ohmes-Raht already had good luck with winning his brother's money.

“I have to earn them back somehow, besides, look at that mopey face; I’ve more of a chance of winning this particular ransom than if I were to bet on Magnus rising in the morning.” Zaveed pointed out with a wink.

Tapping her chin with a finger, Sirine now looked away from Zaveed and to Sevari instead. The latter did have a somewhat... dour disposition, but there were many ladies who liked that in a man. "Is that so? You have me interested now. Allow me to wager ten septims against yours then. I say Sevari can muster up the charm needed."

“I’ll take that bet too.”

The small stature of the Redguard mage rose from a table not too far from where the three friends conversed. Wild black hair tamed into a bun with fine bit of string, missing her cloak and heavier tunic, blithe in her greeting, smiling like a shark having overheard their conversation. Unabashed in her eavesdropping. Neither bothered by the heat of the desert but extra wary of running her mouth of her great magical talents. She knew better than to garner unwanted attention. Tossing the small bag of septims onto the bar, making a satisfying Klink! as it hit the counter.

The trio had grabbed her attention in a positive way, Maj recognized Captain Greywake - known in the western seas to be a terrible scourge. Another point that was obvious, they shared in being stranded on land instead of being out at sea.

“I say Sevari has a solid chance, women out in these parts like scars.” Maj pointed out. “Warriors stand a pretty good chance methinks.”

“What, are you offering to take one for the team?” Zaveed asked this cheeky newcomer with an amused smile. “I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced... Maj, was it? Didn’t you get impressively drunk the night before the prison raid and the Argonian had to nurse you in the wagon while the rest of us were being heroic?”

“You are absolutely correct, I would argue that it was heroic of me not to join you in my stupor. Really,” Maj shrugged with a wink, “I’d blame Maz, she dared me to drink more.”

“Maj Noor, former member of the Scarlet Harpy I know of you - Captain Greywake. In spite of all the whispers, glares and lingering tension settled upon your trio here what context I do have lacks the sting.” Maj said, quick to address it and even quicker to let it be done. She was aware of the rift between them and the group at large. “Wrinkles will smooth out given some time.”

She hoped for as much. Maj knew she had her own work cut out for her if she were to stick around.

“Wrinkles.” Sevari scoffed. Seeing how Zaveed in particular welcomed Latro and his party to Gilane, it would take a damn good amount of time before they could ever be true companions in their eyes. “I’d think it’s thread-bare right now. Hope you two took up sewing because I’ve never had the talent.”

He looked then to Maj. A small woman, though she held a certain… edge. He’d seen women like her before, even entertained one sticking around in his old gang of highwaymen. “Sevari,” he reached out a hand to shake, “I see my brother has a reputation that precedes him. I like to be more subtle. Less annoying that way.”

“Wrinkles… I was going to say craters. I’m hardly a popular man in any particular social setting, which is where a ship comes in very handy.” Zaveed said with a cheeky grin, resting his hand on Sevari’s shoulder. “What Sevari means to say is he prefers to not be noticed because he’s afraid people will find him droll and boring.” he said, giving Sevari a sarcastic pat on the shoulder before stepping forward, his shoulders squared away, his hands resting on his axes casually.

“I have heard of the Harpy, I’ve had the pleasure of crossing paths with Captain Sette on a handful of occasions when I made my way up towards Wayrest and that general side of the pond.” He said to Maj with a respectful nod. He didn’t pry for information; Maj being here could either mean she was kicked off of that particular ship, or a terrible fate befallen it like the Wrath. Instead, he changed conversational tacts. “So, my dear, what brought you into the company of these fine people? Had I known you also had sealegs, I’d have sought you out sooner.” he tossed a thumb as his companions. “Care to accompany us while we whet our appetite and enjoy what our gracious hosts have to offer?” he asked, his grin unfailing.

“Overheard you taking wagers for Sevari’s abilities to woo and recognized you. Busy minding my own, usually.” Shaking Sevari’s hand, her own dwarfing in size by comparison - she squeezed good naturedly regardless. “Aye, don’t mind if I do.”

She took up a seat beside Sirine, sticking her hand out to shake next. “Captain Sette was one of my mentors, won’t go into details. Locals easily spooked at the first mention of well-“ Maj flittered her hand out, “You know.”

“In a city like Gilane, it wasn’t a problem. Folks had bigger shit to worry about. Among the Alik’r... Let’s just say I’m not all that interested in being run through with a sword.” Maj pulled a face miming a hilt sticking out of her abdomen.

Sirine had taken hold of the offered hand, shaking it politely before letting go. This newcomer certainly had an interesting air to her, and she found herself smiling as she listened to the banter. "Yes," she agreed with a nod, "it would be nice for our gracious hosts to remain just that- gracious." These weren't the fat and lazy sorts she had met in the city, they were people harden by the life in the desert, warriors who knew the way of the sword.

“You may call me Sirine,” she added with an afterthought.

“Well, I can see you are here, in this camp, but how did you end up with Daro’Vasora’s group?” Zaveed asked, crossing his arms. “Back when Sevari and I were doing quite reputable associates of our oh-so-kind benefactors, we had quite a bit of intelligence to work off of for who was in that group and what sorts of shenanigans they had been up to since arriving in Gilane. I had no idea you were among them until we met you on the road.” the Khajiit clarified. “You seem pretty chummy with the Orisimer, I didn’t quite catch her name.”

Leaning her elbows onto the counter and taking on an dreamy expression she said, “Mazrah. Far more than chummy - we are fast friends with extraordinarily good benefits. I think she’s amazing, and she’s also the reason why I was pulled in on these affairs.”

“Probably the only reason why I can catch a good night sleep on land. Nothing quite like sleeping after being thoroughly worn out.” She bumped her elbow against Sirine with a grin. “Which is another reason why I think Sevari stands a chance. If he were a woman I can say with confidence as a Redguard lady myself, that I would happily take a seat on his face.”

Zaveed winked at Sevari. “Hear that, brother? Your cause isn’t lost after all. Even women who prefer company of women think there’s something alluring about you.”

In the meanwhile. Sirine had been fiddling with the gold in her money pouch, making sure she actually had the ten septims waiting there to bet on this silliness. She looked to Maj and chuckled at her words, though she had to disagree in general- being worn out was something she didn't really wish to feel for a while, and frankly the idea of doing anything of the sort with Sevari was far from her mind as well. Still, it was crass humour and it amused her.

"Time to mingle," she added in the Ohmes-Raht's direction, standing up and stretching out. "Come now Sevari, you're not going to find someone sitting on your ass."

“This is an exercise in futility. If anything, all this prodding is making me not want to fuck someone.” He shrugged, ripping the last piece of lamb from his skewer and tossing the stick, “I’m a fisherman, not a hunter. But if you’re going to force my hand.”

Sirine couldn't help but laugh inwardly at the poor Ohmes-Raht; perhaps they were being a little too pushy? She couldn't back down now though, she had money on the line. "It's time to leave fishing or even hunting behind, and to learn the art of plundering while you have the perfect teachers available." She gestured towards Zaveed and Maj with a wink before looking out at the rest of the people merrymaking, a smile tinging her lips. "You know, perhaps I too shall partake in some of the enjoyment as well. I can't remember the last time I danced." Taking hold of her waterskin, she took a gulp, and for the first time in a very long time she wished it was something stronger.

"Heh," she murmured under her breath. Freedom and relief brought forth many frivolous thoughts, it would seem.

Occupying Sirine’s vacant seat, Maj sat beside Zaveed cupping her hand to her mouth calling after Sevari, “Just insinuate your face is a chair and you’ll be fine!”

“Does that particular line work for you often, I wonder?” Zaveed pondered into a glass of ale. “It’s nice to finally meet you proper, by the way. As you can imagine, it’s been somewhat awkward being in my position, like I’m the lamprey to Daro’Vasora’s fish. Your paramour in particular looks like she has this particular urge to remove my head and spine from my shoulders.”

She cackled with delight, “You would be surprised. As for Mazrah, she will hopefully come round after some time, actions speak louder than words for her.” Maj assured him, “Her and I agree on a great deal of things but that is not one issue we see eye to eye on. I admire and appreciate the passion rallied behind Daro’Vasora as a leader, but I hardly know her beyond Mazrah’s recounting of her.”

“Had we all been dealing with the consequences of your actions Zaveed at sea, a few butting heads of crew and captain ideals would simply result in a disastrous mutiny.” Maj commented, waving the barkeep to bring her something to quench a building thirst. “It is a waste of time and energy with Dwemer to worry about.”

That prompted a good nature chuckle from the Cathay as he ran a claw around the rim of his glass, making it sing with the vibrations and light scraping. “It does my heart well to know that my reputation was such as to cause such great discord among crews who may or may not have had the pleasure of crossing my path. And what of the Harpy, my dear? Any tales of Captain Greywake cause stirrings among the crew?”

She pressed her lips trying to remember, “I remember this one story from the superstitious kitchen hand, telling this rumour over a pile of peeled potatoes.” She templed her hands, “She bent the ear of anyone who would listen, she was a good storyteller, but a storyteller nonetheless.”

Maj was a storyteller herself and she resisted the urge to cast images, outing herself as a mage wouldn’t do her well. “I’d paint you a picture. Anyway, she used to tell stories of the storm bringer Captain Greywake. Wherever him and his crew appeared, a terrible black storm followed behind them. Crackling lightning,” She made bursts with her hands, “Booming thunder in time to the boom of canons across a bow, half mad and blood thirsty as a privateer could ever hope to be.”

Maj snorted, “We all reckoned she had a few too many fantasies to ride out figuratively and literally. Stocks of carrots would appear in her bunk, uneaten, all the time.”

Zaveed burst out laughing mirthfully, clapping his hands together with unbridled joy. “Oh, I think I would have liked her. I would have paid her handsomely to spread that kind of fable across every port in the Western hemisphere. I might even throw in a few carrots, myself.” he said with a flirtatious wink. He held out his glass for Maj to cheers. “So, what are we drinking to? The storytellers our generation, old friends, new ones? Perhaps present company?”

The barkeep placed her own tankard in front of the mage she scooped it up and cracked it against Zaveed’s, “Hell, why not all of the above?”

“Cheers, mate!” A satisfying clank with a bit of sloshed ale across the lip of the tankard, Maj took a long drink pulling back for a sigh of relief. Raising her tankard again, “Cheers to being stranded in a sea of sand. At least it is a sea of something.”

“I prefer my seas to be wet and have fish, but alas, I’ve learned that one needs to enjoy life’s misadventures, no? They make for the most interesting stories.” Zaveed said with a smile that shifted gradually to a frown as he set the glass down, letting out a resigned huff. “I suppose you and I also have another unfortunate thing in common, Maj.” he said quietly. “We lost our crews, our families, even. Those two over there are all I have left.” Zaveed said, looking up to glance at Sirine valiantly trying to get Sevari to dance, the absurdity of it all making the Cathay’s smile peak through, like a bit of sun breaching an overcast day. “I know we might be strangers, and it is improper for me to bring it up, but I do want to say I understand better than anyone. Sirine and I both do, and I am sorry for all of it.”

Maj regarded Zaveed for a time her own smile dimming considerably. “I would have followed the crew and her Captain anywhere in this world even into the world below had I the choice.” She looked to Sirine and Sevari, her hands wrapping around her tankard for comfort. “For some gods damning reason I survived, turning up in Gilane in time to greet a new reality completely unknown to me.”

Another pause and sip of her drink she licked her dry lips, before speaking again, “It is nice to know I am not alone in this particular brand of loneliness.”

A silent spell fell between them as they stared into their glasses, minds on a place from another time, another place.

“Well, no use in wallowing in what’s done, is there?” Zaveed said suddenly, forcing enthusiasm. He put an arm across Maj’s shoulders, the other hand sweeping the horizon. “Somewhere far in a land that isn’t a giant fucking sandbox is a ship that’s waiting for me to be at the helm and showing the world that Captain Greywake is immortal and can be anywhere, and presumably with far too much treasure to his name. Perhaps a certain Redguard named Maj would like to join him, hm? You seem to be a clever sort who enjoys big boats and larger than life company, tales of courage and dastardly deeds that are sung in shitty taverns from coast to coast.”

That cracked a brilliant grin across her face, an equally bright shine returned to her green pair of eyes, “Aye! An offer I couldn’t rightly refuse, proper fame and glory awaits.” She replied setting her mind onto the future, it was really all she could do - inwardly stomping away from the bubbling sadness. She puffed up her chest, “You’ll be sorely needing an expert like myself to craft our fantastic tales.”

“I’ll admit, my ego is rather substantial; I quite need someone to tell tall tales that make me sound like I’m some subaquatic terror beast that even the Sload fear to tread near, that causes typhoons with my laughter. I’m sure we can think of some equally inspired truths for yourself, my dear.” Zaveed said with a toothy grin and a wink.

“I’m sure I can, my imagination is a gift to men, mer and everyone in between.” She said, “Now, interestingly Zaveed, I have heard plenty about you on the high seas and from the the mouths of our group. I’m sure you have just as much to say about others you’ve met here as they do about you.”

“You think quite highly of Sirine for example,” Maj gestured to her, “‘Beautiful Sirine,’ pardon me,” grinning a shit eating grin.

If the Khajiit was phased by Maj’s cheekiness, he didn’t show it. “Of course. She helped me when I was recovering from a bought of being nearly dead, and I helped her get out of rather unfortunate life circumstances, and in turn we both promised to find our wayward siblings. As far as meeting strangers go, it turned out to be a rather pleasant turn from what I am accustomed to.” he replied, smiling as he watched Sirine wear away at Sevari’s defenses, namely the stick lodged so firmly up his ass it was indistinguishable from his spine.

“I’ve my thoughts on the others, yes, but why sully a perfectly pleasant night with idle gossip? Doubtless there’s quite a few words about me that are less than flattering, so why tarry on that when present company is much more interesting?” he countered, finishing his glass and sliding it away. “So, what sorts of illicit things have you heard of my brother and Beautiful Sirine, hm?” he asked.

Maj pouted slightly into her tankard, “I actually like gossip…”

Resigning, she answered his question, “Oh you know - torture, terrible beat downs, kidnapping and public humiliation. As you said, none of it flattering in the least. Many others are happy to list the reasons why they loathe to have you around.” She scratched the tip of her nose with her pinky, “Sirine not so much, some have said somewhat positive things about talking with her, not being the sole proprietor of their misery but still painting her with the same brush as they paint you. Perception is a tricky thing you see.” Maj said thoughtfully, “Reputation casts a shadow.”

Zaveed shrugged. “They were terrorists who were murdering administrators and setting all manner of criminals back into city streets. It’s not like I wasn’t tasked without reason, and I’m damn good at what I do. Besides,” he said, giving Maj a sidelong glance. “You’re a pirate. You know that yesterday’s enemies can sometimes be today’s friends before returning to tomorrow’s enemies. The difference is I’ve moved on from the reasons these people loathe me, they have not. It’s of no concern to me; so long as I don’t wake up with a cut throat and we continue to have a mutual goal, I don’t see any reason why I cannot be cordial with this group. Besides…” he sighed. “It’s good to be around company again, even if it isn’t ideal.”

Nodding along, the silver hoops in her ears bobbing well. Maj replied, “Of course, I would not lie to say I wouldn’t have done the same had I been in your boots.”

“Beautiful Sirine is ideal I think.” Maj rounded back to her, “Come on, if you’re not going to gossip we can at least talk more about her. A blind man could see you care about her more than an exchange of favours.” The former Corsair prodded along, bumping her elbow against Zaveed’s arm.

“Can’t fool me.”

“Fool you, my dear? It is plainly clear that you are much too crafty for that sort of thing.” Zaveed replied, smiling. “And perhaps I do. It’s a difficult thing to find adequate words for, but it is such a curious thing that the morning after my life was saved by one who considered me a monster and told me compassion is what set her apart from me, that someone would find me and show me a kindness I’ve never really known. She wears the coin I gave her when we first met, given as a jest, but she turned it into something more. She never doubted that I would help her, and I never questioned that I would. Sirine helped me realize that maybe my life wasn’t as fixed as I thought it was, and that we can change our fortunes if we accept when the winds change.” he said softly, massaging his palm with a thumb and looking down. “I’ve not sure what it all makes the two of us, or if our roads are meant to join, or what we even are to each other, but I think for the first time in far, far too long, life isn’t so lonely.”

Maj listened knowing full what he meant, leaning her cheek into her palm. It was clear as the endlessly blue sky. After a few moments ruminating on those thoughts Maj sighed, “Indeed, I am finding life is a lonely affair but it’s never for very long - company finds itself some way and somehow.”

Raising his empty glass, Zaveed held it up to toast. “Well, here's to the company we keep.”

The glasses clanged.

“I’m not going to do it.”

Sevari stood with one hand gripping his gun belt and the other clutching his cup, which was running dangerously low. Despite himself, there was a part of him that didn’t want to disappoint the woman inviting him to dance. But, damn it, he always had to make everything a fight. Every so often, he’d cast a glance towards Zaveed and Maj, another godsdamned pirate. The bastard was laughing too much for his own good, probably saying something about his fancy fucking children’s-scary-story nickname.

And then this woman, looking at him with her brows raised and a finger waggling at him to come and dance, as if he was making any effort to make her think he was working so very hard to restrain himself from joining her. Fuck it, he thought, knocking back his ale and then tossing the cup to the side.

He offered his hand out to Sirine, his eyes looking to the side as he spoke, “Only for a little.”

She grinned, a rarity that was showing a little too often tonight, taking the Ohmes-Raht's hand to lead him into the throng of other dancers. "See, that wasn't too hard, hm?" She smirked up at him, unable to keep herself from chuckling. "I apologize if this puts you on the spot, but I have to admit, maybe you do need a bit of a stress relief. Goodness knows we could all let go of some darkness after today." She paused, realizing something. "Thank you, by the way. I... was a little too much in a shock earlier, but I appreciate the stand you took. Not just that, it was your connections that made it possible to save Bakih. So yes, you deserve many thanks."

Sevari chuckled despite himself, looking away from Sirine, “No thanks needed.” He said, before clearing his throat awkwardly, “But I appreciate it. You shouldn’t have had any part of that. You have your brother back though, so let’s just rejoice in that, eh?”

He hesitated for a second, eyes glancing towards Zaveed. When he was sure his brother wasn’t looking, he lay his hand softly on Sirine’s back as they swayed, and at the lack of protest, he finally let it rest there. That was what you were supposed to do, wasn’t it? Gods, he could barely remember the last time he’d danced. Was it with La’Vashara? He chuckled again, realizing he was doing a lot of that, and pushing the barrage of thoughts away. “It’s nice though,” he smiled a little, “This little reprieve.”

"Right?" Not that it didn't feel odd; she was somewhat grateful that she still remembered how to move to music from when she was younger and living in Gilane; one of those tedious things her mother had insisted she learned which the then young sailor rather wished she could shirk for lessons in sword fighting instead. "I have to admit, it is quite nice to see a smile on your face rather than your usual frown and grimace." She teasingly- and childishly- stuck out her tongue at the khajiit before nudging him lightly with her arm. "You really shouldn't make it so easy for your brother to pester you like that. Frankly I'm a little surprised you haven't found a lass to spend time with already. Big strong man like you should have no trouble."

Sevari laughed at that, nodding his head, “I guess even the best fisherman doesn’t catch anything if he doesn’t cast his line. Believe it or not, until recently, I haven’t put a thought towards finding someone to settle down with, or at least put up with my shit.” He opened his mouth and hesitated, just now becoming aware that he really had trudged down a lonely path for half his life, “Twenty years. That’s how long I’ve spent doing nothing but work and finding the occasional woman for a night.”

He looked up and away from Sirine, swaying to the music in the basic and low effort movement that could be excused for dancing before he spoke again, looking back at her, “Seven.” He said, sheepishly grinning at himself, “Seven in twenty years, and none of them I spent more than an evening with.”

“Godsdamn, though, sometimes it only made me feel less in somebody’s company knowing I couldn’t stay with them.” He frowned before nodding towards the other two pirates, “What about you? I could’ve put money on my brother whisking you away in his arms, or are you waiting for a more gentle man to come along?” He chuckled.

"Now, now, who's to say I'm not the one who will be doing the whisking around here? I have quite strong arms myself." Sirine smirked as she motioned towards her toned, scarred arms. "A gentler man wouldn't be interested in someone like me, I suspect. The truth however is..." She paused a moment, trying to think of a delicate way to mention what was on her mind without making things awkward. A smile came to her lips as she tapped at the coin around her neck. "Your brother was the first person to hand me coin without expecting anything in return. It was in jest, true, but after servicing others for far too long, it meant more than that. And perhaps I wish for it to remain that way and see what becomes of it. I like this... companionship." She shrugged a shoulder. "And if the time for whisking comes, well, Captain Siri is quite adept at taking what she wants."

She laughed under her breath as she cast a glance in the direction of the other two seafarers, seemingly amused, though she did have to admit the Cathay Khajiit was perhaps a little too charming and good looking for his own good... But now is the time to focus on the brother before me.

Her smirk returned as she looked back up at Sevari, ready to tease and bring the subject right back onto him. "Now tell me, truthfully, is your brother correct and you are jealous of our emotionless, pragmatic, assassin Argonian friend?"

“Me, jealous?” Sevari feigned a scoff. “Happy, yes. I’ve never been able to keep love for long. My career is hard to keep a family with.”

“I wish him a long and healthy life with Meg.” He nodded, letting the words hang on the air for a few before he chuckled, “But, I am a little jealous. Love is running through our little party here and even Gregor has a woman. The women have women.”

“Maybe I’m just not meant for anything more than a night’s time of just trying get some release using someone else as they are you.” He shrugged, “Leastways, I’m not thinking about how rough life is in the midst of that.”

"I find that ridiculous," Sirine finally replied, having listened to Sevari quietly without interruptions. A small crease on her forehead showed that she was skeptical of his words. "You're just as capable as anyone else; unless it's something you yourself want, there's absolutely no reason to resign yourself to being a lone wolf when there are probably many who desire your friendship, your companionship. Whether that puts them in danger is not solely your choice, Sevari, it's theirs as well." She laid a hand on his arm, her expression softening. "You feeling jealous is normal, and it only means you wish for more than just a one night's romp between sheets. Give yourself a chance at some happiness- life is easier to face when you have someone by your side... Maybe it's not just you who needs someone, but someone needs you."

Sevari gave Sirine a heartfelt smile as he looked away from her, nodding his head and chuckling, “Gods, I didn’t know this dance would be so heavy.” His smile softened, “I know, Sirine. I left my wife in Elsweyr twenty years ago, because my life would’ve ended hers. And our child’s,” he added, “I don’t even know if it was a girl or a boy. All I know is her belly was swelling more and more as the weeks went on.”

“I said goodbye, we cried. I rode off into the sunset, hoping they wouldn’t come for her.” He shook his head, “Maybe I lost my chance at happiness when I left her, or when I was just a child, or any of the other shit things that have happened to me.”

He fell silent, “Or maybe you’re right.” He chuckled, blinking and sniffling, refusing to meet her eyes for a few moments, “I sincerely hope you are. Or else I’m going to have a word or two with whichever deity decided my life should be like this.” He chuckled.

"You're going to have to excuse me, but fuck deities." Sirine couldn't help herself and reached up, patting the side of the larger man's face; despite her falling out with them, Sevari reminded her of her older brothers, a familiar feeling that felt comforting in itself. "Twenty years is a long time to have been alone, Sevari. Twenty years, goodness- you were barely even a man then. If the gods, fates or whatever judge you so harshly for doing something that ultimately was selfless, or for something that was never in your control, then maybe it's best to disregard them. We have enough things meddling in our lives without needing to put up with more bullshit from divine beings." Despite her passionate speech, she did smile. "And of course I am right." She winked. “That should never be in question.”

Sevari laughed, shaking his head, “Now I know why he likes you.”

“Other than, you know.” He nodded to her, “He’s lucky to have you. You two make a great pair, and you’re not meek enough to let him run amok. He needs somebody there, because like it or not, after this Dwemer problem is resolved I’ll probably ride off into the sunset once again. Not that he ever fucking took my advice.”

“I’ve never stuck to one place too long. My old gang are the only ones that can say I’ve stuck with them for more than a few months and even most of them have either been hanged or retired. Perhaps I’ll find someone who’ll follow me across the world and not get tired of me.” He shrugged, “Whatever life brings is what it’ll bring.”

“Maybe I should just try tossing coins to people and being a cheeky little cunt. I have the one thing he lacks,” he chuckled, “Mannish good looks and a mouth that knows when to shut itself.”

“I have gotten most of my success by sitting down and brooding over my drinks.” He frowned, “It works.”

Sirine couldn't help but chuckle at Sevari's words, shaking her head. "I'll admit I've seen it work for others. Perhaps that is why I find your brother, hm, a pleasure to accompany- I'm normally the one who broods in the corner, nursing a bottle of water." Her laughter softened to a smile. "Dark thoughts no longer stay as dark, I suppose."

She stopped in her swaying, taking a step back to look over the man standing before her, arms crossed loosely over her chest. "Perhaps that is what might help you. Not a female version of Zaveed, no." She laughed at the thought before shaking her head. "Someone cheerful, someone compassionate, someone who can draw you away from your brooding. Someone who can make you laugh because goodness knows, as handsome as you may look with a frown, that smile and laugh is even better.

"That won't happen with me as your tag along though." A cheeky look came to her face as she scanned the crowd. "There are plenty of pretty lasses here tonight who I'm sure would be happy to make your acquaintance over a drink. Go on then." She winked once again. "Win me some money."

Sevari gave her a smile, tipping the hat that wasn’t there, “I’ll do that, then.” He said, “Tell my brother to set the septims aside.”

"That I will," Sirine assured him with a chuckle. With that said, she gave his arm one last friendly pat before weaving her way through the dancing crowd, ready to sit down. Dancing, or whatever it was that she had been doing, was strangely more tiring that the dance of blades. Still, she felt a sense of accomplishment.

Happiness even.
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Twin Moon’s Dance

Shaft & Dervs
18th Midyear 4E208, early evening, Alik’r camp…

The elixir was nearly prepared, the glistening of moon sugar in the mortar and pestle was carefully extracted with a metal spoon and melted over a candle, the tent flap open and the sugar was bathing in the light of Jone and Jode, preparing Daro’Vasora for her journey. It had been a few weeks since she’d last walked the Moonpath, but this time there wasn’t an anxiety or sense of obligation to do so; she genuinely wished to speak to her ancestors for guidance and to feel their comforting presence. Tonight was one such trail of discussion she wished to pursue, among other things.

A shadow came across the tent. Latro had returned.

“Hello, love; please do not block my moonlight.” The Khajiit said, concentrating on her task with a surgeon’s precision.

“Sorry.” Latro stepped inside the tent and took a seat inside, watching Sora prepare whatever it was. He wondered if he caught her at a bad time, he’d hate to sully her quiet moment alone, but there was no one else he trusted to talk to that wouldn’t immediately write him off as a crazed monster.

It didn’t change the fact he was scared of what had happened last night. All he remembered was anger, and words that were far away and not his own but in his voice that were crueler than anything he would say if he had control. And he didn’t. Perhaps that was what scared him most. It was like the Palace all over again, the Reach, Markarth Side. “Sora, I…” he struggled with the words, not knowing how to say this without scaring her, or perhaps there wasn’t, he looked at her with glistening eyes and a crack in his voice betrayed all his efforts, “I need to talk.” He caught himself, almost embarrassed, “But it can wait, I don’t want to interrupt you, I’m sorry.”

She caught the tone in Latro’s voice, looking up at her Reachman with a concerned look. “No, please, nothing is more important than making time for you when you need me. Last time you sounded this way was when we were captive in the palace.” Daro’Vasora said with a frown, taking a momentary glance to make sure the sugar was melting evenly. “I am almost done my preparations for the Moonpath. I was actually going to ask for your assistance in a few minutes, but it can wait. What’s wrong, Latro?” she asked.

“It’s getting worse, Sora.” He blurted, his head falling into his hands, “It happened again and I… I threatened Jaraleet. I was angry and it was like somebody else took my wrists and puppeted my tongue.”

“It was just an argument.” He said, looking at his hands, “But that day by the river, with my friend… that was just an argument too, and I killed him, Sora. I’m wrong, something is wrong and I’m so scared.”

He grit his teeth and his shoulders twitched as he choked back a sob, tears welling up and running down his cheeks. He wiped them on the back of his hands, “I don’t want to hurt anybody. I don’t want to hurt you.”

It took everything in Daro’Vasora’s control not to drop what she was doing and rush over. Instead, she carefully poured what she was melting back into the pestle and headed over to Latro, sitting next to him and pulling him close to her, running her hand through his hair. “I’d say it’s okay, but we both know that isn’t what you need to hear right now.” she said softly.

“The difference is today and back then is today you didn’t act on those impulses, you remained in control. There’s more you than Pale-feather in your mind, and that’s what we will hold onto and nourish. I promised you I wouldn’t give up on you, no matter how hard this becomes... you are unwell, that’s all. You’re still you.” she said, leaning in to kiss his forehead tenderly. “You will never hurt me, I promise. Tell me what happened.”

Latro should’ve perhaps felt comforted at Sora’s reassurance, but he was not. It felt good to have her up against his own body, and though it felt like reaching into the mouth of a lion, he reached his arms around her and held her there. “That is my promise to make, Sora.”

He took a few breaths, “Sevari and Jaraleet…” Now this was but another issue coming to light, the matter of Gregor. But Sora needed to know that too. “They told me of Gregor. I felt betrayed, by Gregor and them as well, for keeping the knowledge from me for so long.”

“Things got heated, and in all the anger, I could feel myself ebb away from my own body. It hasn’t happened this bad since I was young, in the Reach.” He said, “I told them I would do horrible things.”

He wanted to squeeze Sora tighter but instead he gently but firmly pushed her away, wrapping about himself. His voice came as a whisper, a terrified thing, “And I know I could.”

“Latro.” Daro’Vasora said firmly, pulling his chin to face her. Her eyes locked to his, a resolute gaze upon him. “You are not Pale-feather, and if Pale-feather harms me, it isn’t. You.” she said, stressing every word. “I will never blame you for that, and yes, I am scared of what could happen, of some monster in my lover’s body coming after me, but I know you’re still you and that’s what I will fight for.” she said, sighing suddenly and the intensity leaving her body. She pulled close to him, her arms wrapped around his as her head rested against his shoulder.

“I don’t know your past, not really, but I know enough. Do you want to know what’s different now, Latro?” She asked, intertwining her fingers in his own. “You were alone then, and now we will face this together, figure it out together. I love you, so damn much. Please don’t push me away… you need me as much as I need you.” she pleaded quietly, letting out a long sigh.

“Well, that just goes unsaid.” Latro tried at a smile as he nuzzled into Sora’s mane, “You’re the only one willing to deal with me.”

That earned a smile. “Well, you did write me a song. You wouldn’t do that just for any wanton lass, would you?” she teased, kissing his cheek as she held him in place for a few moments, her frown returning. “I don’t know what the future holds, Latro, but we’ll figure it out together.” her gaze returned to the pestle.

“I need to finish my elixir. I was going to ask your help, actually; I will walk the moonpath before tonight and I need you to keep watch over me. I need to ask my ancestors for guidance; I know about Gregor and his necromancy, I found out today. Raelynn asked me to call a meeting with people I trusted with this to have Gregor explain himself so we can decide what happens next.” she sighed, kissing Latro’s cheek. “I just need more perspective to know what I should do; this terrifies and infuriates me.”

“I know,” Latro smiled at Sora, touching her arm as she rose, “Just tell me what to do, Bluebird.”

She placed a hand over his own with a smile of her own. “Just look after me when I take the elixir. I’m not going to be here, and my body’s probably going to react so please don’t panic.” she said, stepping back to the pestle and candle, her attention back on melting the sugar into a vial.

“If there’s anything you want to know about this whole thing, this is as good of a time as any. I’d offer to share, but it wouldn’t work on you. You’d just have a euphoric high before crashing hard.” Daro’Vasora explained, carefully changing containers.

“Sounds like…” He frowned, thinking of his poppy-wine. It had been so long since he’d had any of it. “Sounds like something anybody could enjoy one way or another.”

He chuckled, and then looked at his lover quizzically, “React?”

Daro'Vasora winked over the vial at Latro. “Maybe if you're good, we can take some later for fun. You remember how Raelynn and Mazrah were at the party.” She said, corking the elixir and staring at it thoughtfully.

“I'll shake, wake up exhausted. Sweat, probably mutter some shit while under. That sort of thing, it's called a sugar fit. You see junkies in streets doing that kind of thing and to achieve the mental and spiritual state of being I require, it's a fucking powerful dose that would probably have someone who doesn't have a luxurious coat of fur shaking and hallucinating for three days.” She explained, smiling sweetly. “Crystalized divine energy is potent.”

“It sounds like it.” He muttered, watching Sora go about the preparations for whatever kind of ritual this was, “Is it like what happens after a Lone-Path or before a Witch-Mother reads the chicken guts or throws the fingerbones?”

The Khajiit blinked slowly. “Assume I'm the most ignorant woman of all time when I say I have no idea. I will say I haven't had to eviscerate poultry or cut off fingers for my ancestors. But you never know what Maakro-ra is going to do next… you know he's made me watch his death six times already?” She asked conspiratorially.

Latro chuckled sheepishly, “Like a seer, I mean,” he smiled, “Witch-Mothers and the like will take an elixir with seer’s caps and other herbs. They speak in tongues and writhe about and after that we have an answer to something we all had a hard time with.”

He shrugged, “They also give it to you when you come back from your Lone-Path. I never got to, though.”

“Ah.” The Khajiit replied, returning to Latro with the vial in hand. “Maybe it is like that, you'll have to let me know. One moment I feel myself getting faint and light headed before I am pulled into Jode's light. When I come back, I feel like I had the worst night of my life, like returning to a physical form makes you hyper-aware of how flawed and gross you are.” She held her hand out for him to return to his feet.

“And look, I don't know if it is something that would help, but I have some of the sugar left. Maybe if you are having another episode I could give you some? I'm not sure how I can help you when you feel the dark return.” She murmured quietly, looking away for the briefest of moments in shame.

“Hey,” Latro said as he got to his feet, putting a gentle hand on Sora’s cheek and guiding her eyes to his, “You help. More than you know, you help already. I still must consult with Mazrah on her idea.”

He kissed her gently and stepped back from her, “But we’ll talk on that after.”

She smiled sadly in turn. “Okay. Thank you, by the way. Let's go make a damned fool of myself.”

Daro’Vasora’s eyes opened, and all around her was the dark and endless abyss of stars and auroras dancing around the improbably suspended bridge she awoken upon, kneeling as she had when she had begun the ritual. Adorned in her familiar red gown, Daro’Vasora rose to her feet, feeling the warmth of the stone beneath the bare pads, the moonlight guiding her way. Before long, she ascended the stairs flanked by blue torchlight, the ethereal flames scattering shadows across the ancient masonry. When she reached the landing, the two Pahmar on the diases. She smiled, reaching up to stroke the one on the left’s head, being rewarded with a tilted head and a purr and she took the time to offer the same treatment to the one on the right.

“Hello, my friends. It has been some time.” Daro’Vasora said affectionately, looking towards the amphitheatre where her familiar ancestors already stood waiting, save for Shani-ko, the massive Senche-raht who laid easily on her flank, grooming herself with a torso-sized paw. In their customary spots were Maakro-ra, her Cathay ancestor who had been slain when Leyawiin was subjugated by the Empire eras ago, and Darenja the Intrepid, the Ohmes who had served Queen Ayrenn in the 3 Banners War. The two male ancestors stood, Maakro-ra with his arms crossed defensively much like Daro’Vasora was prone to do, and Darenja with his arms behind his back, a military posture being betrayed only by the elvish smile upon his face. Daro’Vasora found her place on the twin moons engraving on the floor and knelt, placing her hands upon her lap.

“Honoured ancestors, this one has returned to seek your wisdom in all things.” she said humbly, bowing her head in deference.

“Rise, Ma-Khajiit; it is good to see you again, and so soon.” Shani-ko said, her rumbling voice soothing as always. Daro’Vasora did as was instructed and looked her ancestors in turn; even Maakro-ra seemed to be of a pleasant disposition today. “What troubles you, Daro’Vasora?” the Senche-raht asked in a motherly tone.

Daro’Vasora gathered her thoughts, her hands folded behind her back as she looked up to the endless stars above before turning her gaze back to Shani-ko. “This one has been thrusted into a position of leadership with those she has mentioned before, and she has done her best to shoulder that mantle. These people have become Daro’Vasora’s friends, and she has taken a Reachman as her mate, but the path has always been uncertain, and it feels that no matter what choices this one makes, she is always making a mistake that gets someone hurt.” she explained with a heavy sigh.

“Latro, my Reachman, has had a long and troubled past that has torn his soul into two conflicting parts, like his own Dro-m’Athra dark spirit. This one has tried to reassure him the best she can, but Daro’Vasora knows that it is getting more difficult for Latro to contain Pale-feather.” she said uncomfortably, her hands wringing behind her and her foot scuffing the stonework below them. “She is afraid she will be hurt by him, but she is determined to not leave him in this darkness alone.

“There is another darkness in this group of companions that follows Daro’Vasora. She has learned this morning that the Imperial named Gregor, a man consumed by this hunger she could not explain was revealed to her to be a necromancer.” Daro’Vasora explained, her eyes narrowing. “She is a fool for not having seen it before, and she wonders how many people has this one unknowingly fed to this monster by tolerating his presence, to appease Raelynn, this woman who has become such a friend to this one, but she loves him.” the Khajiit sighed, bowing her head. “This one has affections towards her, not unlike what she feels towards Latro. She is still trying to understand these feelings, and she feels ashamed of herself for them.”

Maakro-ra spoke up, but his tone wasn’t the usual vitriolic bark she was used to when addressing her in previous visits. “Darkness consumes many in our lives, this one knows that all too well. Maakro-ra has considered what you had said in our previous meeting, and he has accepted that he perhaps has let hatred for the injustices he has suffered blind his judgement more than considering his love for you. This one is sorry that your choices have caused you pain and confliction.” he said softly, kneeling before her in solidarity. “Do you believe this Latro and Gregor can be redeemed?” he asked.

“She don’t know.” Daro’Vasora said, her voice cracking and tears filling her eyes.

“It seems that these people, your companions, have followed you for a reason, Daro’Vasora. If anyone can shine Jode and Jone’s light upon them, it is you. We have watched your struggles, often with a heaviness in our hearts, but it has always been so clear to us that your heart has been on the right path since we’ve last spoken. This Latro… he loves you, that is clear to Maakro-ra.” he said, placing a hand over his heart and bowing his lion-like head. “It is that light that causes him to fight this dark spirit of his. If he slips, do not fear him or push him away; he will need you to find his light when his days go darkest.” the Cathay ancestor advised with a cautionary tone. “This one fears your road ahead will suffer far more pain and suffering, but he promises that it will not always be that way. Determination and patience, Daro’Vasora. They have served you will and will continue to do so.” he paused, shaking his head.

“The necromancer, however, this one cannot give you advice you may wish to hear. His kind is a blight to the natural order, how many Khajiit do you think have been denied the Moonpath or the Sands Behind the Stars because of their ilk?” Maakro-ra asked. “The Imperials have always fancied that dark perversion, and this one considers it fortunate he was not soul trapped when they took Leyawiin from Anequina.” the edge returned to his voice and he stood once more. “Do not suffer his presence, do not permit him to spread his corruption to the world. There is no justification for whatever set him down that path, but if one becomes powerful at the expense of another, they are a tyrant.”

“It is compassion that served you well in Anvil, Daro’Vasora.” Darenja interjected, his voice pronounced and proper, inflictions of Valenwood in his cadence. “When you came to us last, you were this close,” his finger and thumb were held up, an inch apart. “To abandoning these people who would become your friends, this man you took as your lover. You would have hated yourself if you had one that, and this new Aldmeri Dominion might have had them in chains or killed in the streets like your friend Rhea. While I agree with Maakro-ra about being there for Latro when he needs you, and he will, perhaps it isn’t unwise to show the same temperance for Gregor if he shows that he’s demonstrating he is open to reason and change.”

Daro’Vasora nodded. “Raelynn suggested that this one find people this one trusts to bring to a private meeting for Gregor to explain himself. She said he had changed, and whatever transformation he had undergone has removed the evil that was in his heart. Daro’Vasora does not believe he has changed, but she is willing to put faith into Raelynn. Love may have prejudiced her heart to his crimes, but perhaps it is love that has helped us endure the unthinkable. This one knows it was helped her survive captivity; they all came back to rescue Daro’Vasora from bondage when she was ready to sacrifice her own life for them. Should this situation be any different?”

Darenja smiled at her. “Perhaps not. I’ve found in my travels that trusting your instincts and embracing compassion are two companions that should seldom be far apart. Follow Raelynn’s request, see what he has to say, and let your decision be where you feel yourself being pulled towards the most. All I will say to that is once you have decided, do not look back. You have a long and dangerous journey ahead, and you will need to focus on what comes next. A commander never lets her thoughts linger on fallen soldiers and comrades for long, because the war shall never wait for you. Do you have a plan for what comes next?” he asked.

Daro’Vasora nodded, more confidently this time. “Daro’Vasora has found a lexicon, one of the Dwemer communication devices that controls many of the devices in their cities. This one has coordinates, kind of like a map, to this plane that they have been banished to during the Battle of the Red Mountain so many years ago. If this one can get to this plane of theirs through the main portal, she plans on using the lexicon to rewrite it’s destination so it closes the gateway to Mundus and stops the invasion.” she looked down for a moment, her features resigned. “She recognizes that it is an action that may cost this one her life and trap her in their dying world.” her words lingered in the void.

Shani-ko smiled at her. “It was not long ago that Daro’Vasora would had considered something so selfless, she would have gladly let the world burn around her so long as she wasn’t affected by it. The last time you came to us, Ma’Khajiit, you were considering leaving your companions behind to their fates and you have since heeded our words for learning to trust them and to let them past your walls. Continue to put your faith in them as they do in you, and they will help you find the solution to the challenges you face. You need not resign yourself to such a grim fate, always hold onto hope.” The Senche-raht purred, leaning forward so her head rested upon her massive paws. “What you must ask yourself, Daro’Vasora, is if you are willing to do what is required. What you speak of could cost many innocent lives.” Shani-ko cautioned.

Daro’Vasora nodded, remembering the child and his mother in Gilane’s streets. What she planned to do could doom so many people such as them; she did not hate or fear them for how they had seen her when she had been Zaveed’s prisoner. In fact, she hoped they had found peace in their new home. “It weighs heavy on this one’s mind, Shani-ko. Daro’Vasora cannot rationalize taking innocent lives in response to the lives that were list in Cyrodiil… in Hammerfell, and Skyrim, too. What weighs heaviest on her is her role in causing this conflict to happen. Had she stopped Rhea, not been complicit, that device would have remained silent and so many people would remain alive and well today. Thousands of perished souls weigh upon Daro’Vasora, and she thinks the only way to save more is by taking what’s left of the Dwemer people.”

“You did not know what your actions would hold, Daro’Vasora.” Darenja interjected. “Why guilt yourself over something that anyone would have done in your situation? What had happened was outside of anyone’s realm of expectation; you are not responsible for what the Dwemer had done in their return. You gave them freedom to return; this is how they chose to use that freedom. You need to carry onward, only looking for the next step in your war. If you let the past burden you, you will never survive.”

“Perhaps.” Daro’Vasora said, closing her eyes. “One thing Daro’Vasora tries to tell herself through all of this is that the Dwemer plane, Exodus, was apparently going to collapse upon itself if we did not do what we did, unintentional as it may be. History is ripe with conflicts and loss, but perhaps that alone, when the dust settles, will give an entire group of people a second chance at life. This one does not wish for anyone to die, to be forgotten to history. It feels as if this one’s paws are tied.” she said quietly, opening her eyes to gaze upon her open palms.

“What Maakro-ra knows of your heart, Daro’Vasora, is that you have grown considerably in such a short time. You had been quite insolent for most of your young life, looking inward only to serve yourself. You had never considered the lessons this one had to teach, nor try to understand his perspective because it conflicted with your own. Now you are considering putting all of Tamriel before yourself, and you are deeply for your companions, for your lover.” the Cathay said, bowing his head. “This one is proud of you, for the bright and compassionate woman you have become.”

Daro’Vasora smiled at him, placing a hand over her heart. “Thank you, Maakro-ra. This one is sorry for her childish disposition and the grief she caused you.”

“Maakro-ra believes that you are on the path you need to be, and trust in your companions and the compassion in their hearts, the pragmatism in their voices, the resoluteness in their convictions. No one person ever has the entire picture, but rather a piece of a complicated puzzle. Perhaps when you add them all together, you can see clearly what must be done. This one knows you will do well by them, by everyone.”

“I’ve always watched you with interest, Daro’Vasora.” Darenja said, his hands folded nicely behind his back. “You were never one meant for a quiet and subdued life. There’s a spark to you, this determination and grit, that I don’t think will ever go out. I’ve watched you struggle and get back up time and time again, to take every setback and loss as a lesson for how to better yourself.” he chuckled, grinning widely. “Many didn’t see signs of a leader in you, and I doubt you did, either. But I did. All you needed was the right life lessons and context and your greatest strengths could inspire and strengthen others. You listened to us when we told you to give your friends a chance, and they’ve done much to repay that kindness. It’s a continuous loop of giving and taking; they will carry you when you fall, and you will pick them up when they stumble.” he looked to the two Khajiit to his side before returning his gaze to Daro’Vasora. “Don’t let the challenges ahead discourage you, Ma-Khajiit; you’ve found yourself good people. Do not stop believing in them, and you can do damn near anything you put your minds to.”

She bowed to him, hearing the wisdom in his words.

“Your time here is running short, Daro’Vasora.” Shani-ko advised gently. “Is there anything you wish to ask us before you wake?”

Her thoughts turned to family and she looked Shani-ko in the eyes. “Daro’Vasora’s sister, La’Shuni… has she come to see you, is she okay?” she asked, feeling a sinking feeling as the ancestors gave each other glances.

“Time will reveal the answers you seek, Ma’Khajiit. You will see her again, much as you see us. Have courage and faith in family, in your friends.”

It didn’t sit well, but Daro’Vasora bowed her head and knelt before the ancestors once more. “This one hopes that they have been given the same clarity and comfort as you have afforded Daro’Vasora. Until next we meet, thank you. She will earn your faith.”

“You already have, Daro’Vasora. Go well, and may your roads lead you to warm sands.”

Suddenly, Daro’Vasora’s eyes shot open and she gasped for air, the unfamiliar skies of the Alik’r Desert looming above with the moons facing her, bathing the sand in a gentle light. She felt hands around her, and she immediately felt comforted by a familiar scent.

“Hello, my love. Did you miss me?” she asked affectionately. Her body began to shiver and she felt weak. “Please tell me you brought something to eat.”

“Oh, of course, I just decided to go out for a stroll while you were flopping and writhing on the ground.” He chuckled with some relief, “I can find some though. I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve eaten.”

“Well, gives me an excuse to walk off the leg cramps… how bad was it? Entertaining, horrifying?” She asked, sitting up and holding her arms close as she shook. “You'd think I'd get used to this… my teeth fucking hurt.”

Latro smiled, hugging Sora close to him and then getting to his feet. He offered out his hand, “You were shivering like it was cold at first. Then you were whispering and all of a sudden you were shaking like mad. I’ve been holding you close since that.”

He shrugged, “But it couldn’t have been for more than a few minutes. Usually when the Witch-Mothers take the elixir it’ll last hours, but it isn’t like that.”

“If it lasts more than four hours, see a physician.” She smiled weakly before coughing into her arm. Specks of shimmering spittle shone on her fur. “Well, if you lick it off, maybe you can get a buzz.” She suggested with a smirk.

Latro laughed, shaking his head and placing his forehead gently against hers, “If I start taking you up on that, you may worry.” He caressed her shoulders and helped her up. “Well, let’s get some food in you and we can talk all about just what in the hells that was.”

As he led her out of their tent by the hand, he turned back to her, “Did Mackerel make you watch him die again?”

Daro'Vasora snickered at that. “Oh, he'll hate that. I'll have to call him that next time he thinks that the races of Men are cruel savages. He actually more or less gave his blessing to you. But no, he was oddly deferential tonight. They all were… might be something to do with me not being insolent this time.” She shrugged. “Their words, not mine.”

Latro snorted, “In his defense, the races of Men think mine are cruel savages.” He chuckled, thinking back on some of the things he saw living in the redoubt and living with the Forsworn, “And in their defense, we can be. We need a strong Chief to set things right, to give us a singular voice to the silent and gagged many.”

He smiled at Sora, squeezing her hand, “And we here do too. This tribe of ours needs a good Chieftess, you’re doing great.”

She looked over to him, raising a brow and returning the hand squeeze. “Oh, Chieftess? That’s something I never thought I’d ever find myself addressed as… Empress or Queen, maybe, but Chieftess sounds so much more delectable. Are you sure you’re just not trying to lure me into your tribe so you can be chief with exotic tastes?” she teased wrapping her arms around his and resting her head on his shoulder.

“It wouldn’t be the first time they found me odd. Maybe it is, just a little. You and me, together, you know?” He smiled at her and shrugged, planting a soft peck on her lips, “But this is the most right thing in the world to me.”

“Who knew the Dwemer would have been such good matchmakers?” she said, returning the kiss and hugging him tighter. “So, I suppose you’ve put some thought about what comes after all of this, because you know you’re stuck with me now.”

“A tiny cottage nestled away in the countryside near Farrrun, we own a dog we found on the streets one night we were out dancing in the city and you begged me to keep her- it’s a girl.” He smiled, “We make our living off of taking trips to exotic places and writing of our experiences, as well as my renown as the hero bard of High Rock. We visit the others from time to time, but we mostly enjoy only each other’s company on long voyages to islands near and far and treks to places people could only dream of getting to.”

“We’ve also adopted a child, or perhaps two, but no more. Just enough for one to always have company and we always let the other know their sibling won’t be the sole receiver of our love and affection. One takes to music well while the other is more interested in tales of heroes, our’s among them and perhaps even the first they learn.” He shrugged, his easy smile perched upon his face, “Just a couple daydreams here and there, you know.”

“Just a couple.” Daro’Vasora murmured, thinking about what he had said. Children, settling down? It was so outside of what she had ever expected for herself, it came as something of a surprise. Then again, it’s not like they really had time to learn what the other wanted or a whole lot about the small things in each other’s lives. She smiled. There would be a lifetime to figure all of that out, wouldn’t there?

“You know cats and dogs don’t mix, right?” she replied with mock indignation. “I think I’d like somewhere warm for a while, where we can listen to the sea and hear music in the air. I’m… not sure about the kids yet, I don’t think I’m responsible enough to be a mother and they kind of get in the way of me stealing some long-dead noble’s personal treasures and pawning them off to museums and collectors to make ends meet.” she looked to him with curious, but loving, green eyes. “Is all that really what you’ve been thinking of? I’ll have to think on some of it, but I’m sure no matter where we go, or what we do, or how many stinky orphans we call our own, I’ll be the luckiest woman alive.”

“It won’t happen all at once, I know. We still have our younger years to spend day-drinking on a Stros M’kai beach where nobody will find us.” He chuckled, playfully butting his hip into hers lightly, “The orphans will come when the grey hairs do.”

Daro’Vasora reached up to flick her ponytail. “Not sure if you noticed the colour of my mane being so lost in my veridian eyes, but I’m pretty damn close to grey naturally.” she teased with a smile. “Stros M’kai sounds lovely, might be just the place for me to write the book about our adventure here, and for you to write me more songs…” her voice trailed off and she looked off at the festival grounds ahead before asking quietly, “do you really want all of that, with me? Do you actually think I can be that kind of person?”

“If you don’t think so, well, you’ve proven yourself wrong before.” Latro smiled, taking Sora’s hands in his, “I want everything like that. I’m not looking for a Chieftess to rule with me, or a wife to be by my side because that’s what people are supposed to do.”

He looked her in the eyes, a small hint of a smile remaining as a tender seriousness enveloped him, “I don’t need a companion, Sora. I don’t desperately crave and claw at the prospect of someone to spend my life with.” He shook his head, “This is happening with you and I together, because I want it to. I’m choosing this. It isn’t fate, it’s just you and me.”

“I won’t force you to bend yourself into a mold of what I want this to become. Whatever tomorrow brings,” he smiled, “I’ll be there. With open arms, and open eyes, yeah?”

“Well, I suppose the past couple months have been a bit transformative for me.” The Khajiit said with a smile, stopping her walk to take both Latro’s hands in her own. “Neither of us are very traditional, never been the sorts to do things because people expected us to. Maybe it wasn’t fate or the will of some divine or another, but I feel like something drew us to each other, like a light at the end of a dark tunnel.

”Before you, I felt people were disposable in a way, that it was pointless getting attached because people come and go and I’d be a fool to trust in anyone’s intentions but my own. You changed all that; you changed me.” Daro’Vasora said, her voice faint as she reached up to place a hand on his cheek. “I was so close to leaving everyone in Anvil. I almost left you, but you forced me to take a hard look at myself and who I was as a person, and I didn’t like what I saw. I’ve tried damn hard to try and be the kind of person everyone seems to think I am, and with you, I might actually believe it. You opened my birdcage and let me fly.” she leaned up and kissed him tenderly, the faintest trace of sugar still on her lips.

He smiled, running a hand down her cheek, “Of course, Bluebird.” Then a rumbling was heard and a tightness reminded him of itself in his stomach, he chuckled sheepishly at the moment’s abrupt close, “Now, let’s stuff our faces.”
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Hank Dionysian Mystery

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To Speak Ill of the Dead

The Trial of Gregor Sibassius

18th Midyear 4E208, late evening, Alik’r camp…

The sun had yet to set, and that meant that there was still time. Every minute in which Gregor did not arrive back to their tent was a minute lost with him, perhaps forever. All that she could do was sit. Sit in front of the mirror, gracefully as possible. Her back was straight, shoulders relaxed, her head high and chin pointed. No expression.

The fingers of her left hand held a thin kohl, which she swept over the lids of her eyes. They were no longer bloodshot, the bags had gone - a simple touch of magicka sorted that, all it ever took was the slightest effort. She hadn’t been able to find the time lately, now all she had was time in abundance. Time alone, time to think, time to be scared. So this was all that she could do, paint a face to hide her face. Her dress, simple cloth - fastened in a halter around her neck and clasped in place with a thick gold choker. As she had taken it from her clothing bag, she had remembered buying it in Hammerfell, how she’d been saving it for a special evening. Special evenings did not belong to her any longer, and so what was supposed to mark a memory was just a piece of gold now hanging around her neck like a noose.

Raelynn placed a hand on her chest, expecting to feel her heart beating like that of a newborn bird - fragile and trembling. There was still the pain, grasping onto her ribs, unable to let go for now… But she was still, as calm as still waters. Her hands did not shake, her chin did not tremble, she was just still.

Gregor's return was silent, like an owl gliding on its wings, and it wasn't until the tent flap opened that Raelynn would have noticed his presence. He was dressed entirely in his old black battledress, complete with hooded cloak and scarf pulled up to his eyes; an outfit that would have been wildly impractical for any mortal in the Alik'r. For Gregor, who no longer felt heat and had every reason to cover his visage, it was merely practical. Every inch of his skin was hidden. His only visible features were his eyes, glowing faintly like a predator's in the dark.

He did not say anything. Something was amiss, he could tell, and he waited for Raelynn to explain.

Gregor’s silent entry was something strange indeed, but she was used to his presence and it did not cause her to flinch, or strike a fright through her. She kept her eyes on her own in the glass, until in the background of the mirrors image she could make out his. Without turning, she looked into them and spoke as clearly as she could, “they know, Gregor.” They were words she had never wanted to say, words she said and took blame for deep within. “They know what we did.”

For almost half a minute it looked like Gregor had turned to stone, so motionless was he, and when he moved to sit down it was slow and cautious, like an old man, or more accurately like someone who has received very bad news. The words out of his mouth were soft and filled with trepidation. “What happens next?”

Raelynn began to run a comb through her hair. Slowly, slowly… Looking at her own reflection in the mirror, Gregor in the background - she watched him lower himself to sit as though he were wading through quicksand. “I… Found some level of agreement with Daro’Vasora… We’re to meet them at a cave by nightfall. I asked her to bring her most trusted - and there we gather.” She stopped momentarily with the comb midway through her hair. “I don’t know what happens beyond that… I don’t know how much I can protect you, protect us.”

The reply came as barely more than a whisper. “I’m sorry. For this. For everything. You don’t have to protect me. This isn’t your… fault, your responsibility. Save yourself, if it comes to that.”

She continued to smooth her hair down with the comb, only this time did she turn her head to actually face Gregor properly, “I didn’t throw you to the wolves in Gilane, and I’m not going to do so now either. I…” She paused, wondering what more she could say, and turned back to the mirror, resuming the ritual she had started. “Whatever happens, I’ll be by your side.”

Slowly, Gregor shook his head. He put his face in his hands. The only sounds were the teeth of the comb going through Raelynn’s hair and the muffled activity of the camp beyond the tent. “Thank you,” Gregor said at last.

“Before we get started here, I want to make one thing absolutely crystal clear; what you’re about to hear is going to be upsetting, it’s going to hurt, and if word of this gets out to the Alik’r, we’re all dead.” Daro’Vasora announced to the gathered group around the fire that had been set up under the overhang that she had spent with Raelynn and Fjolte the night before. It was a beautiful night, the air was cooling down but despite of the temperature beginning to crawl lower and lower, Daro’Vasora didn’t feel cold; there was something far worse at stake here, and the sugar had yet to run its full course. She felt exhausted.

“I gathered you all for this meeting because this affects you all most of all, and I’m hoping shared history counts for something. For those of us who were there at the beginning, and those we met in the rangers, we have all survived the unthinkable by learning to respect and trust in one another.” The Khajiit began, letting the words sink in as she paced around the fire, only occasionally making eye contact with those seated around the fire.

“Point is, I’ve come across some hard news to swallow that has challenged a lot of what I thought about us as a group, and I promised I would keep it quiet until we all had a chance to speak together as one because despite how I feel about this particular situation, I cannot ignore everything else we’ve all been through, and I want to stress that when I get to the reason for our gathering, I cannot have anyone scream or shout or otherwise draw attention to us; our lives depend on how well we keep our shit under wraps.” The Khajiit said sternly, pausing to take in the faces across the flames.

“It does not matter how much we’ve earned good will with the Alik’r, this will certainly cause some of us to die, if not all of us. Let that sink in, if you would. I fancy seeing tomorrow, and the day after, until we see our ultimate quest done.” Daro’Vasora said, stopping and scanning her eyes around the group to make sure that she registered looks of agreement and understanding.

The Khajiit sighed, wrapping her arms about her waist and stared into the flames, gathering her thoughts. This was something she still couldn’t believe she was about to say, and she still didn’t want to believe. Her gaze scanned up to Raelynn, who was staring blankly ahead, virtually expressionless, the flickering flames highlighted the golden shimmers of make-up she’d painted her face with.

“I asked each of you because we are friends, companions, and we’ve all done some rotten shit over the past couple months, if not our entire lives. So, you can imagine how hard it is for me to have to say something like this, and I just want to say that I will not be the one making a decision from this, just making my own suggestions. You’ve all made it very clear how you all take to me making controversial decisions on my own.” She looked to Jone and Jode, imploring her ancestors for guidance and strength.

“Fuck it, here goes; I learned this morning that Gregor is a necromancer, and he has a trail of soul-trapped bodies in his wake. Nblec was one of them.” Daro’Vasora said suddenly, almost blurting it out. She rolled her shoulders and neck, trying to center herself and trying to ignore the sinking pit in her heart and soul as she uttered the words; it felt like the words hit the group as hard as they hit her earlier.

“I will leave it to him to explain what he has done, but by whatever god you beseech for help, hear him out. Despite the weight of what I have just said, he deserves to have his story told by him. I myself don’t know the details or why, but I’ve learned to trust in others who have trusted in me.” Daro'Vasora said, meeting Raelynn’s gaze and sighing before crouching next to the fire, staring into the flames. “So, let’s hear his story and decide what happens next when we’ve had a chance to listen and discuss it.”

Latro looked up from the flames playing with the shadows of his face, making his fierce eyes and harsh frown that bit moreso. Of course it was all a show. He had to be implacable, harsh, strong. Every bit the son of a Chieftain he never was. He was again shirtless and shoeless, the small scars gained over a lifetime of rough living now standing out paler than his tanned skin along with the new ones added the past weeks, lithe and corded muscles looking stronger than the man himself. “Speak,” He said with some authority, his expression softened somewhat as he looked away from Gregor, voice so soft the man before them all would have to read his lips to know what he said, not that they moved much with the whisper, “Friend.”

Despite having only known the entirety of the group for all of a couple of days - tonight would be the first time they would see Fjolte’s face devoid of a smile, or any kind of joy. Why he’d been asked to attend this, he wasn’t rightly sure. He hoped it was merely to be there for Raelynn, and not that she’d expected him to jump to her defence. That was not a position he wanted to be in, but still he sat at her side, and when she’d placed her fingers on the sand he took them into his hand, and nodded in her direction, to which she simply returned a collected stare. This was not his quarrel, not a place for him to share his opinions - yet, at least. He watched as her eyes moved slowly over the audience before them, landing on Latro as he too spoke out.

Slowly the black-clad figure seated by the fire began to uncoil from his position. The knees that had been pulled up almost to his chest extended and the arms wrapped around them released their grip, gauntleted hands finding purchase and support in the sand. Gregor looked up from the same spot between his legs that he had been staring at for the entirety of Daro’Vasora’s monologue and finally threw back his hood while pulling his scarf down, revealing himself. It could not be undone anymore.

The flickering light of the campfire was unkind to his face. His cheekbones cast long shadows over his gaunt cheeks, his lips appeared to have almost disappeared, so colorless were they, and the orange dancing flames were reflected in cerulean in the light behind his eyes. He was dead, that much was obvious. If any of those that had been summoned and gathered by the fire gasped, he ignored it.

Staring ahead into the fire, he began to speak.

“My family is cursed. An illness that ravaged my father’s brain, stealing his mind and his memories, took him from me when I was twenty-eight summers old. Before him, my grandfather suffered the same. And my great-grandfather. I learned this when I read the documents and journals my father left to me in his will. These described in great detail his search for a cure, a preventative measure, to save himself and his children. Magic, alchemy, prayer, surgery… nothing worked. Even after his illness had set in he continued to search, desperate by then, and it wasn’t until right before his passing that he came upon the trail of a final option. One last thing he hadn’t been able to try. One last method of cheating death. And with the last entry in his journal he left the task of exploring that possibility to me. His final words were thus; “it has to be you.” That last option was necromancy. Lichdom.”

For the first time, Gregor looked around, meeting the eyes of the party each in turn. The expression on his face was not one of defiance or pride, as had been so common before whenever Gregor’s methods were questioned, but unassuming, sincere humility.

“At the expense of the souls of the Dwemer, and others before them, I have achieved this by bartering with the Ideal Masters, Daedric lords of the Soul Cairn, one of the infinite realms of Oblivion. I believed that if I stuck to the souls of outlaws, those who had already forfeited their place amongst the living, I was justified in doing so. Not just for myself but for my younger brother and my younger sister as well. The subsequent arrival of the Dwemer and their actions in the Imperial City marked them next. They were the enemy to you,” Gregor continued, eyes falling on Daro’Vasora, “one that some of you could even begin to sympathize with, but they were just a resource to me, waiting to be harvested. Not the foot soldiers and the common rabble but their leaders and officers. Worthy souls for a worthy sacrifice. Nblec first and Kerztar later. When you were all busy saving Daro’Vasora, Raelynn and I tried to assassinate Rourken. She was too powerful… far too powerful. But the major that had served as Sevari and Zaveed’s boss was a suitable alternative.”

He paused and returned his gaze back to the flames. “Then there was the Dwemer necromancer in the prison. His soul was stained black with death. If not for our timely intervention, Bakih would have been next. It seemed only fitting that I should take his soul, from one necromancer to the next, to put an end to his abuse of the souls of the innocent. Sirine struck the killing blow, unwittingly becoming a part of my crimes. I felt so vindicated, so justified, I merely laughed in her face…”

Silence stretched on for a few moments. “It is no small measure of irony that it is only now, through the clear lens of a dead man’s eyes, that I see how cruel that was, and that I know that this is no life for my siblings. I was afraid, you see. I was so terribly afraid… and that fear gave birth to a monster, the Reaper from the Pale, who thought that the ends justified the means -- any means. I lied, I murdered, I condemned. For all of that, I am sorry. I’m sorry that I lied to you, Daro’Vasora, about the medicine; that was just an excuse I made up. Jaraleet, I am sorry that I pinned Nblec’s death on you. I’m sorry that I put all of you in danger by acting so selfishly. I’m sorry that I led you all to believe that I am a good man,” he said, his voice growing more strained the longer he spoke.


His words caught in his throat and he looked at her with an expression so pained that it was as if his firstborn had crumbled to dust in his hands. No further words came and he averted his gaze. After a few seconds he managed to find his voice again. “Do not think harshly of her. She saw past the monster, judged me for the worth of the man beneath and thought me not beyond redemption. She did the same for Zaveed. It is her way.”

With a final, solemn nod, Gregor signed off on his words. “That is my story. I swear it is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If you have any questions, ask them. If you have any fears, voice them. If you have any judgement… go ahead. Just know that the monster died out there in the desert, buried deep with my mortality in a pool of glass. I am just Gregor now.”

As Gregor spoke of her, the Breton beside him simply closed her eyes - her lids slowly meeting each other, she exhaled a long breath and squeezed on Fjolte’s fingers.

“I…” uttered a single voice amongst the crowd, a tender and vulnerable thing; the cadence in Calen’s voice lacked its usual projection, its sing-song whimsy, and instead trembled as he tried to find the strength and wisdom to summon the proper words to mind. He usually found little issue with remaining the neutral observer like his tutors had taught him to be so long ago, but now he found it too hard to accept what he was hearing. For the first time, he felt speechless. He looked up from his feet and onto Gregor’s emaciated face, illuminated by firelight, and he felt nothing but pain in his chest. To think he had truly been so heartless.

“I wrote a song for you once…” Calen said, trying to figure out where he was going with this as he went. “I sang your praises as if you were one of those vigilants… was that ever true? Was that a lie, or did you pretend that you were one of them? How many…?”

Calen… she thought, looking to him as if he were her brother. She’d dreamt of him, of shielding him from great darkness and now here she was - she’d been responsible for bringing it to him. She thought back to his blood on her hands, his face as white as snow. If it was not for the warmth of the flames to conceal it, she wondered if she’d see that same shade of white, sickly. Raelynn felt his words, the inflections of his voice - even when the Nord just spoke, it was melodic.

Nothing was coming to Meg's lips; frankly she was impressed that Calen had managed to muster up something to say. Try as she might to say even a word, her mouth was clamped shut in a straight line, very different from the easy smile that normally graced her face. The waves of thoughts in her mind were thunderous, however, and threatening to take her under. Once more her mind returned to night of the party, her conversations with both Jaraleet and Gregor, her suspicions about Nblec, and how the night had simply ended with her feeling stupid for not listening to the Argonian in the first place. He had known, hadn't he? Green eyes shifted away from the hands curled on her lap to cast a heavy lidded glance in the Argonian's direction, though it was merely for a second before she looked back at Gregor.

Necromancy, so vile, so disgusting. She could see in her mind’s eye the places she'd traipsed through with J'raij, the altars, the bodies, the bones, the sickening stench. To think such a person had been among them for so long, someone who stole souls from others. To think there had been people who knew of these vile deeds-

What was there to think and feel? They had been her family, people she had trusted with her life, people she had been willing to put her life on the line for. She believed in them blindly, overlooking suspicions no matter how strong, pushing them away and to the back of her head so that she could be happy and at peace. Innocent, pure? No, that had just been stupidity and childishness; it no longer deserved a place in her, not anymore. What trust? It seemed no one here had trusted others enough until the truth revealed itself and there was nothing else to do but admit to the crimes. Meg could feel the bitterness of her thoughts as her lips remained sealed tight, her now lackluster eyes finally making their way to Sora once more. It was only then she felt something other than betrayal; her lips curved downward into a saddened frown. It was painful thinking how this news had to have affected the person who had been going out of her way the most to make things right while trying to keep them together.

At last she spoke, her voice as dry as the desert sand. "Fuck if I know what t'say..." Her teeth pressed hard against each other, grinding. "Kinda feels like... nevermind." She fell silent once more, unwilling to share her thoughts for the time being.

Raelynn’s eyes fell on Meg as she spoke, the girl whom she had watched grow, the girl whom had shown great bravery. She’d sat in their room that night, Gregor had comforted her while she had patched up Jaraleet. Meg was truly innocent, and as she glanced over and across the flames she saw parts of that innocence drift away. She felt the stinging itch in her chest again, but it was too deep within her to scratch.

As the conversation progressed, Anifaire felt increasingly disturbed. She related to Meg’s speechlessness; furthermore, the tense situation urged her not to speak at all, even if she did have something to contribute. Eyes stuck on the creature that was Gregor, she was on edge, worried at any moment the tension would snap.

“I was with the Vigilants for a long time,” Gregor said to Calen, leaving Meg to her thoughts for the time being. “That much was true, and we slew many an abomination together. What I didn’t say was that they were a means to an end. Every time we cleaned up a necromancer’s lair I would sneak out a book here, a scroll there.” Could he tell them that he had turned on the Vigilants eventually? No. Even now, there was such a thing as too much honesty, Gregor realized, and it pained him. “Until I eventually learned enough. The Vigilants died… fighting an Altmer necromancer that was beyond anything we’d faced before. It was from his scrolls that I learned of the existence of the Ideal Masters. I carried Hannibal’s body to Falkreath myself, to make sure he was buried properly. It was… awful.”

The apology to Daro'Vasora felt like it evaporated like a cup of water on a desert rock. Her gaze didn't waver from the flames, but the bone in her teeth grated. “So, what exactly are you now?” She asked Gregor, prodding a log further into the fire. “What was it worth, how many souls again?”

“How do we know?” Latro said, shifting in his seated position next to Sora. It felt like the words he’d thought up were for himself, though this trial was not aimed towards him. “When is the Reaper going to come calling again, Gregor? You looked me in the eyes and told me you were happy I was alive after Sevari and I barely survived the attack on our lives. There was sincerity there, I thought, and now sincerity here.”

“And then after that you fucking lied.” His voice grew cold and unforgiving like a winter’s wind. It was as if his next words were going to be on punishment the likes of which he practiced in the Reach. But, once again, he breathed and his eyes were cast to Sora for but a second before going back to Gregor’s pale ghost-lit pupils, “How do any of us know if those souls really were enough?

Latro’s words cut Raelynn to the core, he was someone that… What was he exactly? He was Daro’Vasora’s lover but he was more than that to her. An unexpected friend, a friend with whom she had shared intimate secrets with, some with only him. She couldn’t meet his eyes, not now. She could barely remember the day she’d met him in the infirmary. She remembered healing him, but mostly the memory of stroking his hair was the most vivid. The absolute silence of that moment had been a peaceful place to escape to when she’d felt scared. Now the silence from the very same man was what scared her.

Gaius was...stunned, perhaps. No, not quite the right word. Poleaxed, maybe, was closer to the truth. He hadn’t known Gregor. He hadn’t shared any of the hardships that the man-turned-Lich had shared with the rest of group, didn’t know who Nblec was, and felt supremely out of his depth. He hadn’t seen much of the undead, past a few draugr during his time in Skyrim; his job was to kill men and mer. Living creatures. But he’d seen the aftermath of their attacks throughout the weakened empire, and there was a special nook of his heart reserved solely for hating them. His thoughts churned as he struggled to reconcile the idea of the steady Imperial that he’d held in his thoughts--Gregor Sibassius, whose exploits he had heard just a touch of here and there from some of his old friends from the Jeralls in the past day--to the…the...creature in front of him.

He abruptly stood, walking away from the fire a few strides and staring out into the desert as he tried to forcibly calm his hammering heartbeat and found little success. He was reasonably sure that the gnashing of his teeth was quite audible.

As the mutterings and the thoughts of the council subsided, Alim glanced this way and that. He’d been less than enthused throughout the entirety of the hearing, which was an oddity as all here would surmise. Even in the direst of circumstances, he was always able to find some modicrum of humor or good will. But as it stood, this seemed to be exception.

He cleared his throat, and leaned forward. It was as if he had materialized out of the crowd, though truth be told he had simply been quiet and hung back to allow others their questions and comments. It was time a few of his friends learned a bit about him, however.

“Well, this has been enlightening.” He spoke aloud, no doubt drawing attention to himself. He looked far more rugged and unkempt after having languished in the prison for Akatosh knew how long. His normally tied hair, cropped at the front was undone into a long dark mane, and there was a handsome goatee on his face.

He sighed, knowing he wouldn’t be able to provide much needed laughter in this dark time. Only experience. “I must admit I am biased.” he remarked, his gaze drifting to Gregor. He shrugged almost guiltily. “I don’t really like you, Gregor.”

He let the remark sink in. “However, I assume that since we’re here in a council, and you being at least my traveling companion, that you have a shot at redemption. Other necromancers we would simply behead and be on our merry way. Because most of them deserve it. You might not. I cannot provide an insightful ruling. It’s not my place. However, I can tell a story.”

Clearing his throat, he waited until at least most eyes were on him. “A few years ago I left my life as a sailor somewhat unexpectedly and violently, and found myself in Elsweyr. I met some very fine folk there. But after a week or so, I received word that Khajiit were being stolen. Well, they were disappearing, but they were being stolen, truth be told. As a forward scout and mage I infiltrated a cavern system with a few of my newfound Khajiit friends and ran aground of an order of dark mages wielding black magic.”

The memory wasn’t something he cherished. He would delete it from his mind if he could, were it not for his brother’s involvement. “I personally killed the Necromancer leader in front of a dozen helpless, tied up Khajiit. Khajiit bound and scared beyond belief. That their soul would be entrapped and their bodies used. I-...”

He halted his speech, shaking his head. He would not mention his brother. Not now. “Necromancy is the foulest magic a man or mer can wield. But I have looked into the face of an evil son of a bitch. Someone who would go against nature and all sense of morality to further their own agenda.” It was something that could always get Alim disturbed. He still shuddered to think what would have happened had he not been there. “I have to say that I am at a loss. The fact that Gregor has been caught not only lying, but practicing that bastard of a magical art means his honor is beyond repair save the highest form of redemption… and I have also seen a bit in his eyes...I saw in his eyes what I saw in the vile sorcerer I killed… But I have also seen goodness.”

He realized just how much of a downer he was being, and shrugged again. “Hell, he might be a good drinking partner if he could control his inner demons. But make no mistake...they are demons… If I were to make a ruling, and again, it is not my place so worry not. I would not see Gregor harmed or removed from the group. But I would not trust him either, and a group member we cannot trust is nothing short of a liability. We should watch him, and work with him to purge these dark urges. We should be a team for him. We cannot lose our own roles in this. We need to support him and attempt to aid him, lest we are as bad as the Dwemer. But I am afraid if left unchecked, there could other innocents at stake. Some of us could be bound and helpless...used for schemes and treated as meat puppets.”

He took a long breath, and shut his mouth. It was their turn now. “Hope that helped.”

Anifaire listened raptly as Alim talked, surprised by the story, yet she could not peel her eyes off Gregor. The man’s strange change in appearance was disturbing like nothing she had ever seen, and simply hearing normal words come out of his mouth was alarming. He looked like he should be buried. It was like watching an accident; she couldn’t turn her head to look at her companions’ reactions, though they made her almost as nervous.

Alim’s words hit Raelynn too, it was because of Alim that she was here and that was something she would never be able to forget, or be grateful to him for. At least, in some ways she was grateful - for all the good she’d experienced on the road, she’d experienced much terror alongside it. Yet here they all were together still. She met Alim’s eyes with her own, they were so familiar and warm and he was beautiful inside and out, he had been there for her without judgement from the beginning. She could only hope that would remain. She mouthed across the flames to him; “thank you.”

Latro nodded along. It was years ago in the Reach that one of his tribesmen had been caught cavorting with Grave-Singers. He cut the Traitor’s Cross in him without much of a trial. Gregor was lucky in that regard, that he was not caught among his people, for there would be no words or stories. Just blood. “I too have put the blade to a Grave-Singer. His ilk was not there to save him. Only a sentence and an execution.” He looked to Gregor, “But I am not with…” he hesitated, knowing the lies and ambiguity that shrouded his true past, but threw the trepidation over his shoulder, “with my tribe. You and I are among friends, Gregor.”

He looked to Raelynn, the only thing keeping his voice from being a vile hiss was their history as friends, instead it came out flat, “What have you to say?” He straightened, “What we decide affects you the most out of us, and you have a role in the decision.”

Gregor held up a hand and looked to Raelynn, requesting that she held her silence for a moment longer. “If I may, I would like to answer some of your questions first.” He turned to Daro’Vasora.

“I am a lich. The Ideal Masters guided me in a ritual that has placed my soul… outside of my body. I am not sure where it is, truth be told, but powerful magic binds it to me and animates me. This same magic will keep my body frozen in my current condition. I will not age. Any wounds I receive, unless they should be too grievous for the spell to overcome, will be undone. I feel no hunger, no thirst, no warmth, no cold. Most importantly, my brain will not deteriorate. Whatever happened to my father and his ancestors cannot happen to me anymore,” he explained, his voice as neutral as he could manage.

Her next question was not so easy to answer. Gregor opened his mouth and closed it again. Instead, he took off one of his gauntlets, revealing the mottled, darkened skin of his hand, where the blood had pooled, and rolled up his sleeve far enough to reveal the tally marks inked into his skin. Five of them were fresh. There were fourteen all told.

“They will be enough because my pact with the Ideal Masters is finished,” Gregor said and looked at Latro. There was a great sadness in his eyes. “Alim… does not really understand. I was never the subject of inexplicable ‘dark urges’. None of you were ever in danger and you never will be. I had a plan. It has been carried out, for better or for worse. My work is finished. I am no longer afraid.”

Daro'Vasora regarded Gregor as he began to take off his gauntlet and had to suppress reacting to the grotesque discoloration of his hands and fingers past a brief widening of her pupils. The tattoos told the tale of too many lives lost, but she simply nodded, grinding the bone even further as his gaze returned to the fire. He mind wandered to her discussion with Latro earlier and his struggles with Pale-feather. If Gregor was speaking honestly, and she had no reason to suspect he wasn't at this particular tribunal, this Pale Reaper wasn't so dissimilar to Pale-feather. Her gaze shifted up to Raelynn, who was beginning to stir and a pang of sadness for her friend filled her heart. If for no other reason, she shared that part of Raelynn's struggle, at least.

Explanation of his appearance or not, Anifaire could not hold back her reaction once Gregor had removed his gauntlet. The last thing she wanted was to draw attention to herself, but the gasp escaped her nonetheless and finally she peeled her eyes away, unable to look anymore.

At his words Raelynn almost flinched. [i]Dark urges[i]. And still she had been called to speak, by Latro no less. Where to start? What to say? All she knew was that she must be true. This situation felt crude to her, she was sat under a microscope and her laundry aired. She took her time, freeing her hand from Fjolte’s and placing both on her thighs. She was sat on her knees, looking picturesque in the light of the fire, and yet its flames did nothing to warm her countenance. She could barely tell whether or not she’d been listening, watching. Who had she been looking at? Perhaps it had just been the fire, the hottest parts of the log at the bottom that burned red against grey.

“I shan't repeat the gross details of my ordeal, but you all know that I have been a changed woman since,” she began, clear and resonant against the silent tension. “We all know why that happened,” she had to stop, and the Breton almost began to lean forward under the weight of mood surrounding her, the air thick and choking. “More than all of you I have seen his darkness… I've seen all of him, good and bad. This man risked his life to make the world brighter for me once more, to shine a light against shadow so that I wouldn't have to fear… He almost died because he thought he'd lost me…” For the first time, Raelynn's head bowed down, her face concealed.

Once again, slowly, she came back up - air in her lungs. “I am not afraid of this man, but I am afraid that tonight I may lose the love of my life, never knowing whether or not I could save him.” She placed a firm hand on Gregor's thigh, fingers splayed against it as she gripped him there protectively. Suddenly, one tear rolled down her cheek - carrying with it the black kohl that outlined her eyes. A thick, harsh crack over perfect porcelain.

Calen hugged his arms amongst the crowd and shuddered. A lich. Much like the King of Worms himself? He read many stories of awful necromancers and liches of days long past, like those of Mannimarco or Potema, but to see Gregor stand here this evening with all life stripped from his face, he knew what he said to be true. He couldn’t claim any knowledge or understanding of the process to lichdom, only that it was said to require unspeakable and horrific acts to sever himself from his own soul. The bard could taste bile in his mouth. His mouth opened slightly, but no words came out. Instead, he looked upon Gregor with hurt and pity, and shook his head. He never wanted to turn his back on a friend, but for the first time, he was the first one to turn around and walk away.

The lich watched him go with heavy eyes and a heavier heart. It had always been his opinion that Calen was the best among them, the most pure, the most righteous, the kindest and, in a sense, the wisest. To see the young man he had known for longer than anyone else present turn around without another word and leave was a special kind of pain that would have brought him to tears before. Now, with the ripples in his soul coming from so far away, Gregor could not even bring himself to do that. It was a dull ache that rang inside his mind and his chest. He desperately wished it was sharp. One last time.

It was very tempting to follow suit and leave like Calen... but Meg didn't. For once she knew that she could no longer run away from matters that were important, or push them under the rug. Seeing Gregor looking so different than anyone could remember sent chills down her spine, and she couldn't keep her gaze there for more than a moment, looking back to her lap instead. Her initial shock at the matter had calmed, but it did nothing to take away from what she still felt. His story- how much could she believe of what he said was true when such a heinous thing was hidden from them all?

"So..." she finally uttered, looking up at Gregor, though unable to meet his eyes. "Yer a lich- guessin' there ain' no goin' back from that. So." Her teeth ground against each other once more before she breathed out. "What were y'thinkin'... I mean, 'bout us, the group, did y'think you'd just stay? Or somethin' else?” She paused once more before continuing. “An’... y’mentioned yer siblin’s… what’re y’gonna do for ‘em now?”

“I don’t know,” Gregor said softly, turning to Meg, seizing the opportunity to distract himself from Calen’s departure. “At the very least I have bought myself more time to try and find another cure for them. It won’t be any help if the Dwemer aren’t defeated, though. How can we be sure they won’t do a repeat of the Imperial City massacre elsewhere? That’s why I want to stay.” He stared at Meg, even if she couldn’t meet his gaze. “I want to help.”

Finally meeting his eyes, so different than what she remembered, the Nord woman nodded before returning her gaze to her lap. She wanted to believe him, and perhaps she did- he had never hurt any of them, at least nothing that she knew of- but she didn't know if that was enough.

“Judena?” Daro'Vasora called out to her Argonian friend, a woman she considered as much family as her own flesh and blood. “Have you anything you would like to say?”

Judena stood stock still as she listened to the news, her journal poised and ready to follow along with the meeting having dropped suddenly at the revelation. Her eyes burrowed into the corpse of the decent young man she had grown to know. Roiling through her was disappointment, disgust, and rage. Stooping only to gather her journal at Daro’Vasora’s address to her personally, she dusted off the cover with a firm swipe. Her beard inflated, darkening at the base. Her spine straight as a board, neither blinking nor a twitch across her body - tension coiling like a tightly wound bit of twine.

“I have plenty to say, Daro’Vasora.”

She drew up a deep breath, her voice hard as stone with uncontrolled hiss at the end of her words. “I am appalled! Disappointed, angry that what I thought was a nice young gentleman had been a monster since the start. A monster that we had been harbouring this entire time!”

Her fist clenched around her journal and she glared at Gregor. “You were robbing innocent people of their afterlife in your quest to protect yourself from memory loss.” Pointing accusingly at him, “It disgusts me, I would never want anyone to suffer deterioration of the mind, of those present know very well how I struggle daily to maintain my sense of self.”

“I do not care for your reason, Gregor. It is no means to an end when the end is absolute horror."

Clenching both of her hands she turned to Daro’Vasora, beseeching her friend knowing she would understand, “To be soul trapped by a necromancer robs one from their afterlife, if my soul was stolen it would break my soul’s reincarnation cycle with my Hist. It terrifies me, the very thought of never to returning to the sacred pools.” Shaking her head, “I do not know if others realize this weight of consequences he had chosen to partake in.” Speaking helped articulate the wave after wave of emotion she felt crashing over her.

The Khajiit nodded in agreement. “And I would be denied my journey to the Sands Behind the Stars to live among my ancestors who have guided me through my whole life.”

Looking to him once more, his horrifying appearance refuelling Judena’s anger. Throwing her hand at him, “You are a shell, a dead man walking. It is against the natural order, worse still you have dragged us all unwillingly into your insanity.”

That did it. Judena. It was Judena who pried at the floodgates, wrenching them open with her words and still Raelynn sat as stone faced as she could, and just let them fall. She didn’t want to weep, to cry out loud. She sucked her lower lip into her mouth and bit down on it. Judena was right in her words, and passionate. Raelynn wanted to go back to the morning at the hotel, she wanted to take the time to sit beside the Argonian and share an apple with her. Time.

Jaraleet had been silent ever since the conversation had started, watching as everyone reacted as Gregor’s secret was revealed to them all. “What has been done has been done already. No matter our feelings, our opinions, that won’t change.” He finally spoke, his voice cold and devoid of any emotions. “I understand that this is a….hard time, to say the least.” Jaraleet continued on, his eyes scanning the room before they finally settled on Sora. “But, right now, we need to come to a decision about what to do, the rest can wait. At least for the moment.”

“Like Daro’Vasora said at the start, if word of this gets out to the Alik’r, we’re all dead. It won’t matter what we think about Gregor, about what he has done, we’d be equally guilty as him in their eyes.”

Anifaire gulped, fearing for their place here. It was the last thing she wanted jeopardized, just as she was feeling comfortable, yet it wasn’t as though she had any place in the decision. She curled in on herself slightly, tensing, waiting, and trusting the others she knew to handle the situation, if hesitantly.

Latro sighed, his eyes closing with it before they opened again. It had not been long ago when he told the Argonian he was going to drop his guts at his feet and then do the same to half the party. But this was not then, and that was not him. He regarded his companion with a nod, “We wait.” He said, “We wait until we’re out of this damned desert and then decide what happens.”

He looked to the rest of the party, frowning, “We only need to decide what that is.” He said, crossing his arms and looking to Gregor, “We can’t kill you, so any talk of execution is for naught. We can force you into exile.”

With his breathing finally brought back under control and his heart no longer pounding so loudly in his ears that he had difficulty hearing, Gaius turned and walked back to the fire, lips tight and nostrils flared, heaving a laborious sigh. He stared at Gregor with eyes that were little more than slits, clenching and unclenching his fists until the knuckles cracked all on their own, struggling to keep himself controlled.

“I don’t know you,” he rumbled slowly, “and I won’t pretend to know what’s happened to this group since Skingrad that would have something like you so ingrained within it. But nothing good has ever come of meddling with Oblivion, and you are the proof of that.” He panned his head about. “If this being,” he spat the word out like a swear, “that might have once been a man has done all of this for such a petty reason, then nothing he says can be trusted.” He crossed his arms, eyes glued once more on the lich. “I say, we leave him for the wolves.”

“Good luck finding wolves in the desert.” Daro’Vasora sighed, standing at last. “If I might interject, I have some thoughts on this whole wretched situation. Gregor,” the Khajiit said, looking the man in the eyes with a steely stare. “You might not be able to change the past and your actions, but you are still accountable for what you have done, the choices you’ve willingly made. As Judena has said, you have cost 14 people an afterlife and despite everything they could have done to deserve it, I know of at least one who did not. That’s on you, and no amount of pity or remorse will undo that inkstain on your ledger. That said…”

She turned to the group, her body slouched, her features offering an air of resignation. “As stated before, I won’t be the one to decide what happens here, but if we’re going to vote on it, I’m going to vote that Gregor remains. Like Jaraleet said, what’s done is done and we can’t bloody well change the past, but we all know what the future holds. We’re about to march into Skyrim, a land that is occupied by the same bastard Dwemer that sacked Imperial City and took so much from all of us. Look, I am as fucking disgusted by all of this as any of you are, but if we lose Gregor, we lose Raelynn, and I know at least one of you wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her.” The Khajiit said, looking to where Calen had had been for a brief moment.

“Many of us are going to get hurt, and maybe even fatally so, on the road ahead. There’s no sense pretending that isn’t what we’re about to face. Gregor lied to us, used us, hell, Raelynn’s torture and my own suffering at the hands of Zaveed can be stretched back to his initial choices in Gilane.” Daro’Vasora’s fist tightened before she reached up suddenly, tossing the bone into the fire. “But listen to us; we’re talking about lynching someone who hasn’t done a damn thing to us when the rest of the world seems sure as shit intent on making us suffer for every bit of it. If we cast Gregor out, we are accountable for that, as well. He takes another soul? That’s on us. At least in our company, we can keep an eye on him and see if his promises actually mean a damn thing.”

The Khajiit walked over to Gregor, crouching in front of him, regarding him for several moments, shaking her head. “Let’s be clear. Your words mean nothing to me, your actions do. You’re going to live forever and you no longer feel like selling off people’s fucking souls to some heartless Daedric shitheels, great.” she spat, jabbing a finger into his chest. “Earn it. Spend all of eternity making this world better than you could have had in your mortal life time. Put your undying body to use and be our shield against our foes, and help us reach Red Mountain alive. That will be your penance in my books.” she said firmly, glancing towards Raelynn before stepping away to the outside of the circle, feeling the cool air brush through her fur. The circle felt suffocating all of a sudden.

“Just my thoughts. Do with them what you will.”

“I agree with Sora’s words.” The Argonian spoke, his eyes trained on Gaius in case the Imperial man did something suddenly. “I can’t speak of any morals, nor pass any judgements; it is not my place to do so. But I know that the road ahead won’t be easy and that we’ll need all the help that we can get.” He continued on, briefly turning to look to Gregor. “If you offer us your help, then I accept it.” Jaraleet said, crossing his arms over his chest. “Think what you will of me, but I aim to ensure that we survive.” He finished, shaking his head slightly. “We can’t afford to bleed ourselves dry, not when we have so many enemies. Think about that.” He added before finally falling silent.

“I’ve made more enemies than any of you will ever know.” Latro said, grunting as he got to his feet to side with Jaraleet, “And let it be known to us all here…”

His eyes went over every other set of them in the cave until he fell on Gregor’s, “If you give me or anyone else a reason to count you among them, you won’t be one for long.” Latro frowned, sighed, “So I am begging you. Stay my friend, Gregor.”

Meg had stayed as she was, head bowed and messy bangs falling over her face, covering her expression. Her ears were still ringing from everyone's words, but the ones that were sounding the loudest were what Judena had said. She swallowed, mouth dry yet eyes threatening to tear up. She had heard the rage in the Argonian woman once, when she had given her the news of Sora's capture in Gilane. This... was different. There was nothing soft about her words, each statement was like an arrow at the Imperial man- lich- straight, true and piercing. And who better than Judena to know how it must feel to no longer remember things, especially that which mattered? It had been a small source of amusement, hearing the elderly woman mispronounce names, or a sense of familial bonding when she would read accounts from her journal... but for once, hearing those harsh words made it clear to Meg that it was much, much more than that.

And then, Sora's words. Skyrim. They're in Skyrim. They-

She couldn't think of that. Not right now, with emotions running much too high already. Swallowing hard yet again, she took a deep breath and let it out, hoping that some of the stress, anxiety and tension would leave as well. It did not. Licking her lips, she looked at those gathered before her eyes landed on the Khajiit woman who was now a little apart from the rest. So far Daro'Vasora hadn't led them astray, and as of now, she trusted their leader the most.

Stendarr, I don' call on y'much, but please, guide me. "I... I agree. Gregor should stay."

“Fine,” Gaius muttered to himself, wheeling about. “I’m getting out of here before his face makes me sick.” With that, he stalked out of the cave and disappeared into the rapidly-deepening shade.

It was only recently that such a barrage of disgust and insults would have provoked Gregor into a fit of great rage, spurred on by that damnable pride of his. Now it just left him feeling weak and reeling. It was like he had awoken from a dream only to find he had set fire to his own house and burned his family alive. Fourteen afterlives denied… he wanted to throw up. Gregor still vividly remembered what it felt like to derive sadistic pleasure from condemning them to the most ultimate humiliation and punishment that existed. He looked even paler than before and the expression on his face was cold as ice, his mouth a thin line and his eyes deep and hollow. He almost wanted to defend himself. If he didn’t, it meant he just accepted what they said about him. Was he ready to come to terms with his status as a monster? Raelynn’s words in the oasis spring echoed in his mind when he had asked her that very same question. But no good would come of it. It didn’t matter. He looked down at the ground and thought about what Daro’Vasora said instead. Penance. Shield. Prove it. Was there a path towards salvation? Perhaps he could still earn his right to exist in this realm. And after that, when all was said and done, he could retreat with Raelynn into the shadows of obscurity and live out the life together that they wanted.

“Thank you,” he said, his voice barely more than a whisper. Beyond the circle and the light of the campfire, a host of ghosts stood silent vigil.

Crossing her arms, Judena heard Sora’s reasoning, Latro’s logic, Jaraleet and Meg’s acceptance of those terms. Finally tearing her glare away from Gregor, she looked to the retreated backs of Calen and Gaius. Struggling now to remain angry… her eyes settled on the small and doubtlessly convicted form of Raelynn, her beard remained inflated. There was no appealing to her, Judena turned her thoughts of anger to the tragedy that both of them presented. Hugging her logbook to her chest for a few moments before slowly opening it in her palm, flipping through pages - from over a couple weeks ago knowingly searching for a moment that tugged at the back of her mind. Landing on the night at the party, she had taken time to describe how merrily everyone enjoyed themselves full of fine foods, brilliant smiles, and great company. Everything felt so far away even while she groped for some semblance of peace in this storm of emotions.

She began to read her thoughts from that night the pages had a few drops of wine and crumbs in the crease. Her beard receded as she spoke, “Third of Midyear, fourth era two hundred and eight. My compatriots Megana and Gregor have moved onto other company, our talk of life, love and the things between unknown to them means the world to me - while I fear what the new day brings whether that is a hangover or more darkness. I am not afraid, love will always be found here.”

Over the fire she looked to Raelynn. “Daro’Vasora, I do not want Gregor here - my heart rumbles with so much anger. I see logic in our safety coming first, I hate keeping secrets even for good reason.” Closing her eyes.

“We simply cannot run nor push this problem away. Concessions, reigns, and chains will be needed if we are to move forward with this monster amongst us.” Closing the logbook with a soft swip.

“Then let that be your vote, Judena.” Daro’Vasora replied with heavy resignation with her tone. She was so damned tired of all of this, the intrigue, the lies, the divines-damned war. She couldn’t remember the last time she slept soundly, nor a day gone by without some fire or another to try to put out and she was taking it all in stride… but this was getting to be too damned much.

“I’m going to go gather my things and plan our next move. You have my vote, my thoughts on the matter. The rest of it is up to you lot.” She said, turning to look at Judena. “Come find me when you’re of a calmer temperament. I’ve got something for you.” the Khajiit said, pausing as if considering if there was more she needed to say before shaking her head and walking away from the cave, letting the cool air fill her lungs and heart.

“Chains.” Latro said, frowning at Gregor before looking to Sora, “That’s my vote.”

He turned and left behind Sora.

“Chains?” came the voice of Raelynn again, her eyes wide - distraught. “No. No. He’s not a monster, please don’t do this-” her voice raised, the words laced with desperation. “I won’t let you, I won’t.”

Fjolte placed his hand out and onto her leg with a solemn expression, “Raelynn.” He sighed - it was a gruff sound, from the back of his throat. He really didn’t want to be here, he didn’t. This was not his business and yet she’d made it so. All he could do was speak from his experience, the group was relatively quiet now and he ran his free hand over his face - exasperated. “I’ve been around and seen a lot of things. I’ve done things myself that you couldn’t imagine, and honestly I’d rather you didn’t. Don’t have a reputation for being smart. I make a lot of mistakes, wrong calls… There’s only one thing I’ve ever been sure of - faith. My faith.”

The Nord’s voice was clearer now, this was who he was - a man who could deliver words to comrades in times of great need. “I believe in second chances, I was given one. I was given another one. The woman beside me gave me my second chance. She gave me my third, probably my fourth. Point is I’ve gone through a lot of chances I probably didn’t deserve… Won’t know til the day I kick the bucket if I’ve redeemed myself enough to make it into Sovngarde…”

“Our power to forgive, and redeem, and change - it’s what sets us apart from real monsters. I’m not gonna sit here and act like what Gregor here has done wasn’t monstrous, but a real monster wouldn’t walk into this circle - let alone sit down and listen...“ Fjolte sighed again, glancing across to Raelynn who was shaking now, her chin trembling, yet her hands were placed carefully on each knee still. “I know I’m not part of this group. I don’t know Gregor, I don’t know most of you. I just follow the path that my faith sends me down. I see now why the path brought me here. I offer my services to you, I will be his chains.”

Gregor looked at him, a hint of curiosity breaking through his mask. “How?”

The monk did not want to meet Gregor’s eyes, but the situation required it. He would have to get used to the sight, and he met them with his own ocean blue eyes with a half-smile. “I’ve travelled… Learned things, methods. Helped Raelynn get her magic back… I’ve put back together fragmented minds on the road, I’ve walked people away from their demons - helped them fight back against the darkness inside their mind…” He realised that this would sound incredibly cryptic to any in the circle who were not familiar with spirituality, and he sucked in a long breath through his teeth. “Together we can walk a path, Gregor, that will help you heal - prevent the urges of which you speak… We can discover what is left of you to be a force for good. But it cannot be walked alone, he can not be weighed down by iron.”

There seemed nothing left for Meg to say now. She had given her opinion, as useless as it probably was, and ultimately she guessed the decision of how Gregor was to remain with them would be up to wiser and more capable people than her. What she needed was to sleep. Or to drink. Or both.

Without a fuss or sound, the Nord woman rose and silently left the rest.

Jaraleet looked on as Meg left the group, letting out a soft sigh before he turned to look at those that remained. “I have nothing else to add, you all know my thoughts on the matter already.” The Argonian said, walking out of the cave shortly afterwards he was done speaking.

With nigh on everyone having departed from the meeting, Gregor closed his eyes and held his head in his hands -- not a gesture of sorrow but of relief. There had been reasonable fear to think that they might have settled on his execution after all, as misguided as that would have been. He understood, perhaps better than anyone, the sway emotions could hold over one’s actions. After almost a minute of silent contemplation, Gregor looked up at Fjolte again, seeing nothing but sincerity in the man’s eyes. He wasn’t sure what the Nord would want of him but a part of him was open to the idea of surrendering his spiritual healing to someone else -- someone that wasn’t Raelynn. He did not wish to hurt her any further. “I accept,” he said with a nod.

Whether out of satisfaction or in contempt Gregor did not know, but the ghosts at the edge of the light dispersed and vanished.
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Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Greenie
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Greenie Heaven don't play like violins

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By Morty and Greenie

18th Midyear 4E208, late night, Alik’r camp.

Silence reigned over the Alik’r camp as Jaraleet made his way back into it, each step taking him further and further into the rows of tents that formed the temporary city that their nomadic hosts called their home for the time being. His steps were resolute as he navigated through the maze that were the ‘streets’ of the city, a clear destination in his mind and yet, despite the certainty in his step and the direction where he was going, doubts gnawed on the Argonian’s mind. He knew full well that he had to talk to Meg, the look that she had given him during the groups meeting was a clear indicator that they had, no, needed to talk, and yet Jaraleet wasn’t sure how to approach the Nord woman. He was certainly sure that she was angry at him, and with that knowledge also came the certainty that he had hurt her; the very thing that he had been trying to avoid.

But how to approach her? What to say? Of this, the Argonian wasn’t sure but he knew that it was time for him to stop lying to Meg. So absorbed was in his own thoughts that, at one point, the Argonian had stopped looking ahead, his gaze instead cast downward as he continued to try and sort his thoughts.

"Oh... Jaraleet." The voice belonged to Meg, recognizable to the Argonian but devoid of the usual enthusiasm when she was talking to anyone. She had just left her tent, pack on her back and her cloak on top of that, as if she was headed out somewhere. It was hard to tell in the dark, but the little light that escaped the tents was enough to show she was not doing too well. Lips pressed together once more, eyes still heavy and seemingly only paying attention to what was directly before her, she hadn’t actually noticed the Argonian man until she nearly bumped into him. "Haven' slept yet? Or maybe yer goin' t'fight more shadows?" It was not her concern, not really, but she couldn’t stop herself from asking.

“Meg…” The Argonian said, his voice catching in his throat as he noticed the usual enthusiasm in her voice gone. He felt a pang of pain in his heart, his guts twisting with guilt as he noticed how she looked; this was his fault, he recognized. “No, no.” He finally replied once he got over the shock, shaking his head slightly. “I….I was looking for you.” Jaraleet said, letting out a soft sigh. “I wanted to talk with you.” He added, his voice quieter than before.

"Hm." Meg was quiet a moment before nodding. She turned around with a beckon of her hand, leading the way back to her tent, which wasn't actually too far away, given she had only just left it. Inside the she lit the candle which she had doused only a few minutes earlier, the wax still warm to the touch. Once she was done, she let out a sigh before turning around to face Jaraleet.

"About?" she finally asked, green eyes staring into his amber ones, dark eyebrows rising in question. "Gregor?" She couldn't imagine what else he might wish to say. "Seems I was righ' 'bout Nblec." An' y'knew it too.

“About Gregor, yes.” He finally started, somehow able to stare back into Meg’s green eyes. “And about other things too.” He continued on, moving a step closer to Meg than before. “I…” He began hesitantly, mouth suddenly feeling dry. “I know you are angry at me, and with good reason, but...but I’m here to try and remedy that, if you’ll let me.” Jaraleet said, letting out a sigh. “No more lies...no more secrets, I swear.”

“Well, I ain’ gonna stop you,” Meg replied with a nod. She looked around, eyeing the still messy clothes from the previous night; without much care, she kicked them to the side before sitting down on her bedroll. “Sit down, kinda tirin’ t'just stand an’ talk.”

Jaraleet nodded before sitting in front of Meg. “Don’t suppose you have a drink around? I feel that I could use one, well both of us given how this day has been shaping.” He said with a sigh before falling silent, the seconds stretching as he pondered on how to start. “I knew that Gregor had murdered Nblec, yes. I learned about it shortly after our little sparring match back in the Three Crowns, when the news were still fresh and everyone thought I had killed him.” He finally began, shaking his head. “I didn’t learn about what Gregor….was until later. After the party.”

“As for his...condition, I learned that today. Same as the rest of you.” He continued on, looking at Meg straight in the eyes. “I kept quiet about Nblec’s murder, tried to dissuade you from prying into the matter, because I wasn’t sure what Gregor would do if he was backed into a corner.” He said, letting out a sigh. “ I was….afraid that he’d end up hurting you, since you seemed so intent on getting to the truth of the matter.” He finally admitted, shaking his head slightly. “I….” He tried to speak before falling silent again. “That’s the main reason, truthfully, I didn’t know what Gregor would do and I was afraid that he’d hurt you. He had already jeopardized our position in Gilane by killing Nblec, I didn’t put it past him to try and attack one of us in desperation if we cornered him.”

Unwilling to interrupt as he spoke, Meg remained silent, though she was listening intently to his reasoning. Once he was finished, she shrugged off the cloak and pulled her backpack in front; undoing the drawstring that held it tightly closed, she reached inside and pulled out a bottle of ale. She would have preferred mead, truth be told, but she hadn’t been able to procure any. Still quiet, she uncorked the bottle and set it in front of the Argonian, letting out a sigh as she did. The way she acted was systematic, methodical, an so very unlike her. Really, it was just an excuse to give her time to think of what she wanted to say… but it was no good, because she still didn’t know.

She let out another breath and shook her head, looking to the dusty ground, fingers trailing and drawing out goodness knew what before she brushed it all away with the flat of her hand, ignoring the prick of sharper pieces of dusty debris. “I can understan’ tha’,” she finally uttered, eyes still on the ground. “I can understan’ wantin’ t’protect someone y’care ‘bout… I can get keepin’ someone’s secret. I know I do stupid stuff, goin’ an’ askin’ him jus’ like tha’, goin’ off t’fin’ Sora…

“But Jaraleet… he was a necromancer. An’ all this… shit tha’s happened, all of the pain… all because he did somethin’. Raelynn didn’ have t’be tortured. Sora didn’ have t’be humiliated, hurt, kidnapped-” Her breath caught in her throat, hands clenched into fists. It suddenly felt painful to even breathe. “Even if y’didn’ think I should know… what ‘bout Sora? She- she risked everythin’ for us. She coulda left us t’fuckin’ die in Anvil, y’know? She didn’ owe us shit. But she didn’ leave us. She came for us, she saved our asses. She deserved t’know, even if no one else did.”

“Maybe you are right, maybe I should have told Sora.” Jaraleet conceded with a sigh, taking the bottle of ale in one of his hands and taking a long drink. “But would she had even believed me if I had told her that I knew Gregor had murdered Nblec? Only you and Latro seemed to believe that there was more to what had happened with Nblec. And by the time I learnt that he was a necromancer, things were already in motion.” The Argonian said, shaking his head slightly. “Truth of the matter is, regardless of what Gregor did, we were already doomed in Gilane. The Dwemer already knew where we were staying Meg, I’ll admit that maybe they wouldn't have captured Sora, wouldn't have humiliated her, but I can say with certainty that we wouldn't have gotten out of Gilane unscathed.” He finished, taking another drink of the bottle of ale before offering it to the Nord woman.

Meg shook her head- for once she didn’t want to drink, wishing for a clear head to actually think and analyze what he was saying. It was almost foreign to her, this feeling of doubt and uncertainty, when all she had ever tried to be was trusting. "Y'can never know wha's gonna happen 'til y'do it," she finally replied. "Tellin' her coulda saved her some pain." She looked to the ground, shaking her head. "We dunno. We dunno anythin'. I dunno anythin'... 'cept this is wrong, all of it. An' I can' handle just... pushin' things away an' actin' like it's all fine 'cause it ain'." She paused, taking in a deep breath before letting it out. "It doesn' matter whether we would've been hurt or not, Jaraleet... tha' ain' the point. It's the trust. It's- where's it? How can we be a group with so many secrets an' so li'l trust, tha' somethin' like a necromancer was hidden?"

Jaraleet was silent as he pondered Meg’s words, taking another sip from the bottle as he thought on what to say. “I don’t know.” Was what he finally said, shaking his head slightly. “My whole life has been spent on the shadows of society, where secrets and a lack of trust were the norm and not the exception.” He explained, letting out a sigh. “So I couldn’t answer your question, not truly. I can see why Gregor lied, it was safer for him and, in this land, I’m afraid to say that it was also safer for all of us that he lied.” He said, swallowing hard. “Which is why we must keep quiet now, or else we are all going to die.” The Argonian spoke quietly, taking another drink. “I’m not saying it isn’t wrong, that this whole situation isn’t a mess….” Jaraleet spoke, trying to explain himself before he finally let out a sigh.

“All I’m saying is that we’ve gotta deal with the cards that we’ve been handed over, there isn’t much we can do truthfully. There are far too many enemies out there for us to tear ourselves apart. This group, with all its secrets and so little trust in it, is the best bet we have right now.”

"Is it though... is it?" Meg crossed her arms tightly over her chest, shaking her head. "Y'saw today. Gaius an' Jude. Calen. Even me- I couldn' even have imagined somethin' like... whatever he was. I didn' know what the fuck t'say, or if it'd even matter. How do ya just ignore an' act like it's all gonna be okay? It ain'!"

She frowned, shaking her head. "I'm not gonna go spreadin' shit aroun'," she added, eyes narrowed as she looked up at Jaraleet. "Fjolte can do what he wants with Gregor, y'all can do whatever." She sounded bitter, upset, even though she was trying to keep calm. "Ain' like I know anythin' anyway. Soon 'nough we'll be in Skyrim, least I know somethin' bout there..." Her voice trailed to a stop.

Jaraleet was silent for a moment, letting the silence stretch for a few moments. “I’m not saying it will all be ok, far from it.” He finally said, his voice quiet. “Throughout my life I’ve used whatever means were available to me to complete my missions. And, right now, my mission is ensuring that this group, that you, get out of this mess alive. If I need to shake hands with someone like Gregor, so be it.” He said quietly, letting out a sigh. “Don’t misunderstand me, I’ve not forgotten what Gregor did. Or it’s gravity but, right now, there’s nothing that we can do about it and we need all the help that we can get at present.”

“And….I’m in no position to judge him myself.” He finally added, letting out a sigh and taking another drink from the bottle. “I’m no good person, not like you, or Jude, or even Calen. It would be hypocritical on my part to judge him for the crimes that he has committed, not with the ones that I have done.”

Meg was silent once more. Her mind could agree to what he was saying, her mind knew there was sense to his words. She couldn't blame him either, she couldn't blame anyone. Her heart on the other hand was reaching its limit, disagreeing with logic and reason because it hurt.

Breathing out loud, she spoke up. Aside from Gregor, she knew there was more she needed to hear about, something that had been pushed under the rug for much too long. "You said no more lies... no more secrets. So tell me." Her green eyes were dark, piercing. "What else didja wanna talk 'bout?"

Jaraleet met Meg’s eyes, swallowing hard before he spoke again. “About my past, about who I am.” He said, letting out a breath he hadn’t know he had been holding. “Earlier today you asked me what Sevari had meant when he said we came from the same world.” The Argonian began speaking, looking at Meg directly in the eyes. “I told you that we both are assassins and spies, that is the truth. It is what I am, what he is.” He continued on, his hands gripping his knees. “But it is not the full truth. It’s...complicated to explain about it, since it’s something tied very deeply to the culture of us Saxhleel. Tell me, do you know about the Dark Brotherhood? Of it’s destruction?”

Meg shook her head. "I didn' really like gettin' involved in stuff like that." She had certainly heard of the Dark Brotherhood, but in name and never in deeds. Hers was always a life that dealt with bandits or thievery and nothing more unsavory.

“I see, I see.” Jaraleet replied, falling silent for a moment as he pondered where to start. “Since the Dark Brotherhood existed, we Argonians had a...relationship with them, you could say.” He began, letting out a sigh. “Those of us born under the sign of the Shadow would be trained as Shadowscales and sent to work with the Brotherhood, albeit they also were an important part of Argonian society itself.” Jaraleet continued on, pausing for a moment to give Meg time to process what he had just told her. “With the destruction of the Brotherhood, the Shadowscale tradition died too. This, of course didn’t last.” He said, his eyes falling down to look at his hands. “The An-Xileel saw the error that had led to the destruction of the Shadowscales of old, too tied to a group of outsiders like the Brotherhood who’s only link to Argonia was that they too recognized the importance of Sithis.”

“And so they created a new group, the Haj-Eix. Hidden Scales in the tongue of the Empire.” Jaraleet said, pausing for a second. “I was part of the first batch of trainees, handed when I was 5 years old to be taught the needed ways.”

"Five years?" Meg had to think far back to try and remember where she even was when she was that young. Riverwood or Riften? The years seemed to blur, though perhaps it made no difference. Her eyes had shifted away from the Argonian yet again, looking at her hands now resting in her lap, trying to make sense of what he was telling her. "So... since you were a kid, you were t'be a killer... an assassin, righ'?" What about what he had told her about his family back in Anvil? Was there any truth to that? She wanted to ask, but the idea that it could have been a lie kept her from doing so.

Jaraleet nodded in response to Meg’s question. “Yes, since I was 5 years old. Those of us selected to the training….we were family. We were all that we had when we had to endure the training sessions, when we had to learn to withstand torture so that we wouldn’t break and spill any information about Blackmarsh….” The Argonian said, his voice eerily neutral despite the horrible experiences that he was speaking about. “To this day the scars are still present all around my body, a memento of what I endured, what I lived through.” He said, shaking his head. “My birth parents, my mother died and my father has been reduced to an alcoholic wreck after her loss. Bandits got to them, you see.” He explained to Meg, looking at her in the eyes. “The only people I had in this world were my brothers and sisters in the Haj-Eix. At least before I joined this group….before I met you.”

"I can' imagine how that must've been." Meg's voice was quiet, nearly muted, the gravity of what he was telling her weighing down on her shoulders; she didn't know how hard it had to have been for him to admit this to her. A part of her wanted to get up and hug him, tell him it was going to be alright. But she knew now that hugs and positive words weren't always the solution... and she knew that it would just be selfish on her part, because she didn't want to face reality. She wanted the rose but not the thorns that came along with it, and that was just wrong.

"So now...?" She looked up at him, the heat from her eyes dampened. "Are ya still their assassin? Killin'... torturin'...?" It wasn't easy to ask, and she knew it had to be hard to answer, but now that the truth was out, she wanted to know.

“The last time I had any contact with the AN-Xileel, with the Haj-Eix, was back in Anvil. I told them that I was going to look into the return of the Dwemer, but since then….nothing.” He said, his shoulders sagging. “There’s been no contact, no orders from them. For all I know they think me dead, or that I deserted. I was already in troubles before the Dwemer returned.” The Argonian explained, shaking his head slightly. “I don’t know, truly.” He replied, an edge of uncertainty in his voice. “I’m left adrift in the currents of the river, with no clear destination in mind.”

Once again Meg didn't know what to say to this, or rather how to share her thoughts on the matter. She wanted to believe him, and in her mind she did, but her heart was still very unsure. "An' wha' if they did send y'a message? Wha' if that was somethin' that would hurt the group? You've known 'em yer whole life. Us... what... a month? a li'l more?" She hated the way she sounded, but she couldn't stop the bite in her voice.

“I don’t know.” The Argonian replied, uncertainty plain in his voice. “I truly don’t know what I’d do.” He said, desperation slowly, but surely, mixing with the uncertainty that he had displayed previously. “I….” He began before falling silent not second afterwards, his hands balled into fists. Part of him wanted to tell her that he wouldn’t do anything to hurt the group, to hurt her. But he wasn’t sure if he could say that, would he truly discard all that he was, all his brothers and sisters, for just one woman? “I don’t know.”

Sighing, Meg shook her head. Despite her uncertainty and her pain, she couldn't help but feel guilty for causing him the discomfort that he was clearly feeling. Once again she had the squash the impulse to reply that it would all be okay. She closed her eyes, stinging as they were, composing herself before finally opening them.

"I like you Jaraleet. I like you more than I like mos’ people, maybe more than jus' like, truth be told. If someone tried t'hurt ya, I'd make sure they'd learn the painful way not t'mess with someone I care 'bout. I'd've done the same for others in the group too, 'cause we're a family. But... after t'night, I dunno. The trust tha' was there is-" broken"-shaken."

“I know, I know.” Replied Jaraleet with a sigh, taking a deep breath to calm himself once again. “I won’t say that everything will be alright, you and I both know that there’s too much going on, both inside and outside of this group, for that to be certain.” He said, stopping himself from reaching out to Meg and to give her a hug, to try and console her somehow that way. “But I do know one thing.” Jaraleet said as he looked at Meg in the eyes, reaching for one of her hands and taking it in his own. “You….are someone who’s precious to me.” He continued on, his voice gaining some measure of confidence as he went on. “And I don’t….I don’t want to hurt you, not anymore.” He said, squeezing her hand softly. “Which is why I’m here tonight, telling you all of this, no matter how painful it might be. Because I don’t want to hurt you anymore with my lies, with my secrets.” The assassin said, pausing to take a deep breath. “You just said that what you felt for me went beyond more than just simply liking someone. The truth is….the same goes for me.” He finished, pausing for a second before he spoke again. “I love you.”

It took a moment for Meg to register what the Argonian had just said to her. She looked at him in surprise, blinking a few times, unable to bring words to her mouth. Love? It was such an easy word to say but with such complex meaning. She wanted to get to know more about him, spend more time with him, and then perhaps she could repeat the words. But right now, as much as she wanted to make things happy once more and just go back to whatever was normal, she knew it would be wrong to, at least now, when emotions were rife and she was not in her right mind.

"Thank you," she replied, squeezing Jaraleet's hand. "I... appreciate it, and one day I wanna say the same to ya. But righ' now... I am hurtin'." She paused, taking a breath, feeling sorrowful; she had searched for love for a long time, and now that it was being offered, she didn't know what to do.

“I understand.” Jaraleet said softly as Meg squeezed his hand. “I….know it probably wasn’t the best time to….say such things.” He spoke before smiling softly at Meg. “But I told you that there’d be no more lies or secrets from me, didn’t I?” He said, chuckling softly. “I know you probably need more time, so I’ll wait for your answer. Whatever it might be.”

“Thanks.” Meg gave him a weak smile, squeezing his hand one last time before letting go. Sighing softly, she grabbed her pack and pulled it back on before standing up and wearing her cloak as well. “I was gonna take a walk so… I’mma catch ya tomorrow, a'ight?”

Jaraleet merely nodded to Meg’s words, afraid that his voice might fail him. He watched as the Nord woman left her tent, remaining on the spot where he was sitting before he drew in a shuddering breath. Standing up, he left the tent and headed away from the tent and the camp in general. As he gained more distance, he started reciting an old poem. “Stars in darkness, constellation…” Soon he was out of the camp and out of eyesight, as if he had been swallowed by the shadows of the night.

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