Hidden 2 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by Spoopy Scary
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Common Ground
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Alik'r Camp, late night - 17th Midyear, before the trial

Aries had to spend a little time to herself after her chat with Sevari; a little time to decompress from the day’s events, from the news she had learned, from all of it. A little too much time, perhaps, as she did indeed have a plan in place to move forward with the information her agent had given her, but it was her woe to bear witness to the consequence of her late action. She had intended to speak to Latro herself; she knew Sevari had a relationship with him within some capacity, strained though it may be, but he was also lacking in delicacy. She knew how he spoke to his superiors, to his brother, his comrades, so she knew how he would speak to his friend. Their twilit silhouettes against the dusk horizon framed their gestures, so Aries retreated towards the center of camp where she knew they would ultimately return to. Where Latro would return to. Daro’Vasora’s tent was only a short distance away.

She found herself waiting by bonfire as the sun fell and the heat within the sand was sapped by the cool air. A curious feature of Hammerfell, she always thought, for the past two years she had to endure the blistering heat beating against her skin only to look for it again after sundown; but after a long day of wearing those stuffy robes in which she has disguised herself in, she finally peeled off the layers and exposed the skin of her arms and her collar, letting the sweat cool her skin like beads of ice against the breeze. The silks and cottons she wore, which has thus far remained hidden beneath her other layers, hugged her figure in a way that was more complimenting, even if they were still particularly modest, and likewise, protected her modesty.

The shuffling of the reachman’s feet through the sand eventually made its way through the center of the camp. Aries could tell by the weight of his footfalls alone that the conversation did not go the way Sevari had hoped, but Latro’s tightly clenched fists and the murder on his face sealed the deal. She didn’t have to be savvy to spot it. She did not stand from her seated position on the bench, nor did she seem hurried to stop his advance. She simply spoke softly, gently, from her seat around the fire, although loud enough for him to hear and pointed enough for Latro to know it was meant for him.

“I’m sorry, you know,” Aries said aloud, hearing him walk past, “for not being truthful with you when first we met.”

Latro froze for the second time that night, caught off guard by the voice of another. He still held the Dwemer box beneath the folds of his cloak and he only stared at Aries for a second before returning his eyes to the sand, “No one is.” He spoke quietly, shaking his head just the slightest, “Not really.”

He looked back up ahead of himself as if to be along on his business again but he stayed where he was. A few beats and he looked back at Aries and sat next to her. “Jaraleet. Sevari. Gregor. Raelynn.” Latro listed off the names like he grieved for them, though they still yet lived. Perhaps the tone was telling of his opinion of them now. He looked to Aries, “You.”

He sighed, lacing his fingers together and putting his hands in his lap, “Though I suppose you barely pretended to be anything but what you are. Gregor, though. He’s… he’s either not a monster or so good at hiding it that I can never trust or tolerate his presence again.”

He shook his head, putting his face in his hands, “Everyone, everyone lies in the end.” Latro whimpered, “Even me.”

“What are you? What are you and a spy doing in Hammerfell?” He asked. “Was it true, what Sevari said? Keeping the Thalmor out and trying to bring them back into the Empire? Or was that a lie too?”

Aries huffed a sigh. He asked a lot of questions in a short amount of time, and she had to figure out how to address all of them at once.

“I can’t speak for Sevari,” Aries began, “even as much as I’d like to. Ultimately, his decisions and actions are outside of my jurisdiction, even as much as I’d like them to be. I can only speak for myself.”

Aries finally turned to look at Latro directly. “My name is Aries Machella. I am an ambassador for the Septim Empire. I was originally in Hammerfell on a mission of diplomacy when the Dwemer invaded. I met Sevari when I arrived in Gilane after fleeing Sentinel, and I can confirm that we were working against the Thalmor.”

Aries paused for a moment and continued, “Fighting a war on two fronts… the fall of the Imperial City, the occupancy of Anvil and Skingrad… that is why I was so… cautious. I apologize we didn’t meet on the best of terms.”

Staring back into the fire, “As for Gregor…” She spat his name distastefully, “if it’s any consolation, I didn’t know for much longer than you did. I had meant to be the one to inform you, but Sevari had gone and done so soon after he informed me.

“He likes being direct.” Latro chuckled, a humorless thing despite, “If you knew how we met, you’d know how true that is.”

“I don’t know if it would’ve been any better depending on who told me. I’m only angry because I trust the people around me to be truthful with Sora and I.” Latro shook his head. “And now no one is. I fear there’s only going to be more secrets and lies hidden under this latest one. I’m afraid even to dig any deeper.”

“I’m sure you can imagine that there is great emphasis on my safety and remaining inconspicuous, and yet I’ve laid myself bare for all to see and put one possible future for the Empire in jeopardy. You couldn’t possibly uncover anything more from me, and I’m afraid any further distrust from this point on would be self-indulgent pity.” Aries replied nonchalantly, followed by a sardonic and humorless smile. “You see? You can trust me to be absolutely forward with you. It’s because I understand I should be less afraid of offending someone’s sensibilities than the threat we are facing this time.”

Aries stared back into the flickering flames that made the centerpiece of the campsite.

“So,” she continued with an air of finality, “would you do so well as to lend me your ear?”

Latro sighed, nodding his head once and then a few more times, more open, “Mm,” he grunted, “Fine. Go on.”

“If it were up to me, I’d incinerate him and his ashes and we’d be well on our way.” Aries said. “But Sevari had a point. If either of us killed him and waited to explain the situation until after the fact, it would sound like a weak excuse… but we can’t recklessly spread the word either and cause undue panic, tip off Gregor, and cause more harm -- we make a controlled leak of information to trusted individuals, and make sure that those of us who know are prepared to handle the situation accordingly.”

Aries peered back at Latro, and gravely added, “Sevari never saw you at the palace. When we met, you seemed like such a helpless thing. I know now that isn’t true; I knew that if I wasn’t the one to tell you, you’d very well march into the lion’s den and possibly get yourself or someone else killed; or maybe you’d succeed, but who among your friends would trust you then? The only way this ends favorably for you and all of your friends is if we make a proper plan of attack before we quarantine Gregor. So, as much as even I hate it, we need to be patient.”

“I wasn’t going to.” Latro said, just louder than a whisper. He wrapped his arms around himself and sighed, his eyes closed and his head low until he looked back at Aries, “I’m very angry. But I’m not going to charge off and try to handle this on my own. I’m not who I was.”

“I wish to convene with Sora over this. Perhaps we should put this to a vote, have Gregor’s peers decide his fate.” He said, pausing and thinking, “I don’t want him killed. Does that make me horrible? To not want someone I held up as my friend dead?”

Aries sighed. There was once a time where she would’ve disregarded Latro as spineless, despite what she has seen from him in the Gilane palace. The answer was simple to her: condemn him to the executioner’s block as per Imperial law, it was a no brainer… but she also didn’t have any attachment to the man, Latro, being a reachman, likely had little respect for Imperial law, and this wasn’t Imperial land -- granted, it was Redguard land, and necromancy was especially taboo to them. What Latro wanted ultimately didn’t matter, but that wasn’t what he wanted to hear. Then again, that also wasn’t the question he was asking.

“It’s a difficult truth to confront.” Aries replied somberly with a nod. If nothing else, she could join him in his melancholy. “I was engaged once, you know. Their family was ready to happily receive me into their family. We both belonged to noble families, and such affairs were considered quite important matters in Daggerfall. Then I learned that his father was the one who payed to have my father killed by pirates when I was just a girl. I found evidence too. I thought about burning their house down, but I didn’t. I knew them for too long. Maybe my fiancé was innocent. So, I brought the evidence to court instead.”

Aries knew she was lying a little bit by leaving some parts out of her story, but it would get the point across regardless. She continued, spitting out the next few words as if they were an insult still fresh in her mind, “Then, of course, my very own fiancé had the audacity to challenge me to a duel. My father was murdered, but he was more concerned about defending his family’s honor and was willing to kill or hurt me to do so.”

Her eyes then fell back on Latro.

“This isn’t so different. You’re not wrong to hold yourself back, but you should know that it takes a certain breed of desperate men to resort to necromancy. I’m willing to wager that he has had to hurt or even kill a lot of innocent people to even still be here today. Imperial law is harsh on necromancy for a reason. You might not want to hurt him, but I don’t know how much sleep he will lose over hurting you.”

Latro sighed at that, as if Gregor was already plunging a dagger into his ribs. The thought of Gregor disregarding every pleasant interaction they’ve had put an ache in his chest. He wondered if any of it was true, or if he was being strung along by a soulless monster. “You’re right. I know.” He said, nodding, “I’ve seen the Traitor’s Cross put to Grave-Singers before. I’ve done it myself, only once.”

“But if it comes to that… I’m not going to do it.” Latro shook his head, unflinching in that decision.

“That’s your prerogative.” Aries said with a nod. “I just wanted to be sure where your mind is at. I won’t discourage you from talking to Daro’Vasora, I think that might even be for the best -- but if you would, could you get her to see it our way? We just want to minimize the collateral damage.”

“Of course,” he nodded, “We’ve got enough of that already.”

Latro’s sigh signaled the start of the quiet spell between the two, sitting beside each other. He looked sidelong at the woman next to him, thinking on how he didn’t know her at all. He knew the spy better than her, which was still fuck all of an amount, but it may as well have been the man’s life story in comparison to how well he knew Aries. “Who are you?” He asked, “Really? A noble from Daggerfall ends up in Gilane with a spy.”

“I prefer to think that my role as Imperial ambassador has elevated my station even above nobility, but in short, yes.” Aries replied with a humored smile. “I was in Sentinel when the Dwemer first arrived and put the blade to the King of Hammerfell. They had undone many hard years of diplomacy with one swipe… so I was forced to retreat, fighting my way out until I reached Gilane where I found Sevari. I had hoped Gilane to be the place where I, representing the Empire, and the Redguards could have a foothold in Hammerfell. Perhaps the shared effort could not only force the Dwemer out, but reunite our people… you know how well that ended. It was nothing I could have prepared for, but it’s the first failure of my career all the same, and the cost was an entire nation...”

Latro nodded along, looking to Aries as she finished. When they had first met, he thought her a woman carved from stone, who could weather any storm and spit back its fury ten-fold. But a woman like any other human sat beside him. Maybe stronger than most, but not as strong as he thought. “I’m sorry.” Latro said, “A man named Francis once told me that not all things hinge on one failure.”

Latro paused, it seemed a dumb notion to be lecturing Aries of all people about anything. “That is to say, not all is lost.”

“Of course not.” Aries quickly agreed, as if the melancholy of the subject before was suddenly no longer there. “We’re heading north. Whether we head toward Skyrim or High Rock, we’ll have options. Solitude and Markarth are heavily fortified cities, I have pull in many of the Breton kingdoms, and even Orsinium can be a safe haven if I play my hand properly.”

As he tried to give her some console, however misplaced it might have been or so she felt, her mind, too, fell back on the time she had met Latro. There wasn’t much time for impressions, but the one she gave was ripping an arrow out of Sevari’s gut, searing the wound shut, and later threatening him in the tunnel after the Ohmes-raht started getting cold feet. It was slightly humorous in retrospect, but there was nothing funny about the circumstances they met under

“I am beholden to many responsibilities, Latro, and they yield much greater consequences. That’s what I meant.” Aries said, looking back at Latro. “About the burden of leadership. I am not a military commander, but it is my duty to see the Empire’s interests fulfilled. Would you not whet a fine blade with the same care if it made the difference between life and death?”

“Mm.” Latro nodded, “If given five hours to fell a tree, spend four sharpening the axe.”

He looked at Aries, seeing her differently, but in no way meek. He thought he’d like to have the same mindset as her, the strength to shoulder the burden of leadership. He was the son of a Chieftain and yet had never been a leader of men. He could learn something from her. Perhaps she’d be a good person to get council from. “We’ll be going through the Reach.” He said, “I’m the son of a Chieftain. I told Sora that if they will not accept me, I will change them. With words or my steel.”

“It might not be a Breton court or an Imperial senate, but we have politics of our own. Perhaps I’ll have need of your council if it comes to words.” He offered, cocking a brow.

“Perhaps,” Aries replied with a smirk, “I've never worked with the Reachmen before, admittedly they're somewhat of a mystery to me. They’ve been underneath the Empire’s notice for quite some time, given the lack of diplomatic or adversarial potential. I imagine we'll be working rather closely together from this point on -- to make up for the other’s shortcomings.

“I must warn you though,” said continued, mocking a feigned coyness with a gentle hand delicately placed against her chest as she rolled her eyes, “I’ve apparently developed a reputation of being difficult to work with. That’s even been said by politicians of the highest caliber.”

She simply shrugged, “Giving them hell is half of the fun. I’m sure the worst among them would challenge me to a duel if they thought there was a chance of winning.”

“That’s pretty much the extent of our politics. We’re not much different than the Orcs, the strong rule. We take what is owed, and strike down any who would disagree.” He nodded, “You’d probably do well.” He smiled.

“Think of it, though.” He shrugged, “You have a Chieftain friendly to an Imperial ambassador ruling. You’d perhaps be the first to have a chance to whip the unruly Reachmen tribes into shape. It’s about time my people have a home for themselves, and maybe you and I could be the strongest voices to call for that.”

He cleared his throat, too much dreaming, “If you’d have me.”

“I’m not left with many other options, am I?” She asked rhetorically. “Frankly, we could use as many allies as we can get our hands on. I’m in no position to be picky, and you’re the only one who could provide any sort of counsel.”

Then she smirked, and added, “By the way… trying to appeal to my sense of grandeur, plant the idea of a lasting legacy, and aspersing an entire demographic to promote their implied need for a savior? You’re beginning to speak like an actual politician. It needs polishing, though.”

“You think?” He chuckled, laying back and propping himself up on an elbow while he ran his fingers through the sand. “I never really thought I’d had a tongue for politics, but if you say so.”

He shrugged, “I’ve tried at a life of peace, but this war dashed it against the rocks.” He sighed, “My mentor told me that all good people abhor violence, and should abstain from it until all other options are exhausted. He wasn’t against a duel here or there, traveling and testing himself against the fencing masters all over.”

“You’ve won duels, I take it?” He asked, looking at Aries, “I learned everything I know from a famous duelist. Francis Martell, former Table Knight sworn to Prince Narcisse in Camlorn. Who taught you?”

“I’ve won a few; Bretons are quick learners though, so eventually I received fewer and fewer challenges.” Aries began thoughtfully. “First it was my father who taught me, before he passed. Then I was taught by a Direnni, an Altmer named Aurelia. They’re certainly an esteemed and talented bloodline, even if their name is no longer at the forefront of the minds of non-mages. I’m familiar with Sir Martell; you were lucky to have him. Many of the Glenumbra lords mistake famous names for being competent teachers, but I’ve come to appreciate what a few hundred years of elven neuroticism has done for my riposte.”

Latro laughed at that, “I’ve only heard of them by name, never met one.” His eyes grew wider at her mention of Francis, “Have you met him? Francis, or Sir Martell, as he was once?”

“I believe he once accompanied his prince during a summit in Daggerfall, and I, my mother, as she made her presence known within the court. I don’t recall speaking to him at length though, I was young and mostly listened and studied. I do recall, however, that he was one of the few young men who didn’t make any attempts in courting me. He’s a respectful and chivalrous sort devoted to his code, and I did hear a tale or two of his exploits, though he wasn’t boastful of them as many of the lords were fond of doing.” Aries explained, looking up thoughtfully as she recounted her memories. She slid over on the bench she was seated on and expectantly gestured to Latro to sit beside her.

“Does any of that sound familiar?” She asked.

“That does sound like him.” Latro chuckled, recalling Francis and how even if his oaths to Prince Narcisse had been broken, he still acted every bit the knight he once was, “He’s a good man. He taught me everything I know, perhaps a master of no weapon but my hands, but enough to fight well with any.”

“We should spar sometime. Nowadays especially, and with the company you’ve decided to keep, it’s a good thing to know how to be handy with some steel.” He shrugged, “How about it?”

“Are you suggesting I could learn a thing or two from you?” Aries scoffed, finding humor in the challenge. Truthfully, she didn’t care much for indulging him, but building rapport with the company didn’t work the classical way -- playing politics worked well with other politicians, but common folk responded better to acts of good faith. So instead of trying to manipulate him, Aries fired back and said with a confident smile, “Perhaps I might, if for nothing else than to provide you with a demonstration.”

“Indulging a commoner.” Latro chuckled good-naturedly, “Careful, they might not let you back into high society if they ever find out.”

“They can try!” Aries replied with haughty laughter, subconsciously placing a hand delicately in front of her mouth, masking it. “I’m a Machella; we know things the others do not. For instance, how to keep our manor the only one left untouched when the commoners had enough and burn the rest of them down.”

Leaning toward the flame, Aries let herself feel comfortable in Latro’s presence now that she was certain she had placated his emotions -- that he wasn’t about to become the same savage he was back in the palace -- and the cautionary thought of unleashing fiery magic was dispelled from the back of her mind.

“Truthfully,” she began, “this job of mine has given me perspective once I began travelling the world and immersing myself in their cultures. The politicians back home… they’re like rats, scurrying about for the slightest sliver of power, and have nothing to do once they have it except to defend it and build stagnant wealth. To be fair, it was how I earned enough power to become recognized by the Elder Council. It’s quite curious how power becomes the prerequisite for more power, but now I can do something with it. Affect nations, create change -- meaningful change. I’m out of high society’s reach now. Nobles cannot guarantee an audience with foreign leaders, but I can.”

She sighed and rubbed her forehead -- she was talking too much when she usually prided herself on keeping her cards close to her chest. Perhaps the recent events were beginning to wear on her.

“I suppose,” she continued with an air of finality, “this is my way of reconciling with recent events. There will continue to be opportunities ahead of us, despite the ones we’ve missed.”

Latro smiled and nodded, appreciating the rare display of her sense of humor before it vanished before him once again, but also appreciative of the insights Aries was able to provide.

“I appreciate everything you’ve done for me. For Sora. For us.” Latro said. “I also appreciate our conversation. I’ll keep everything you said in mind when I talk to Sora.”

Aries watched him and his disposition carefully before reflecting his smile back at him. “Of course,” she said. As she watched him turn his back and walk away, she felt a flutter of satisfaction in her chest. It was a pain to pick up after Sevari, but in the end, she felt it was worth it. Breaking him down left him disorganized enough for Aries to find the pieces and reorganize them to her liking and let him get into Sora’s head. Which meant that she didn’t have to be the one to worry about convincing the prideful khajiit that made herself this motley group’s leader -- but there was more to all of this than just having it fit her narrative. She found herself looking forward to her next meeting with the young Reachman after a few minutes of meaningful connection. Not that it was a surprise to her by any means, but she welcomed the feeling she thought long lost since the days spent in Sentinel.

The ambassador looked into the fire once again and was felt renewed by a sense of ease. Whatever problems facing them now or what lies ahead were going to solve themselves.
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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Lemons
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Lemons They will look for him from the white tower...

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17th of Midyear, late at night...

The last time Gaius had felt alcohol in his blood, it had been an uncountable time ago. At least, that’s what it felt like, though it was only a few months ago. Or something. Before the Imperial City had been sacked, in any case. He’d been occupied ever since, too much to open up a bottle or tip back a tankard, or keep very good track of time. And so, he found himself grimacing at the burn of liquor as it went down and looked ruefully at the two bottles that he’d purchased and would never be able to finish. Sighing, he slid them in his tunic pockets in lieu of drinking more, opting instead to wander aimlessly about the celebrations, a distraction that served just as well.

Perhaps an hour after his conversation with Meg, he spied another familiar face. Not someone he knew, no. A familiar face. Though he’d seen it most often in the mirror or the barracks instead of on a grizzled Ohmes-Raht, he knew the taut wariness that lurked behind the khajiit’s eyes: the look of a man who had seen a very large amount of combat. Despite his own wariness, he found himself fascinated by the man; had he seen him somewhere? Perhaps after the prison raid? He wasn’t sure. He’d barely even been conscious returning from Kthrakz, let alone awake enough to recognize a face. Weighing his options for a bit and fingering the still-pocketed bottle, he shrugged heavily to himself and approached the man, holding the unopened bottle out.

“Care to share a drink? You look like you could use one.”

“And a few more besides.” Sevari mumbled, only looking at the face to take the offered bottle and bidding him sit next to him, seeing the tell-tale signs of a life of military service in his every move, “Gaius. You look like a legionnaire. I’ve seen a lot of them in my time, worked with a few Legion men and women.”

“Sevari.” He offered his hand out to the man, straightforward, there was a comfort in that. No games, no tip-toeing. Talking to Legionnaires was a respite in the constant charade of service to the Penitus Oculatus, in which you weren’t supposed to exist. Inspectors, it was no wonder why his ilk were called Specters, a shortening and a bogeyman title. Here one day, gone the next, with a new name and a new job. “You were one of the men we sprang from Kthrakz. Milonem. The name is well-respected, isn’t it?”

Gaius nodded along as the newly-named Sevari introduced himself and gave him a firm handshake, sitting down beside him. “You’re not wrong. I’m a Legionnaire through and through. And right again: the Milonem family has been around for a decent long time. My father was Triarius in the Prima Cohort. We used to be much more well known; after Father and Mother died, I drove us into the ground before my much more competent sister--” he swallowed heavily as memories of Helena rippled through his mind, and he had to pause for a moment before he continued. “--Apologies. Before my more competent sister took over the administration.”

“On to matters more present, and,” he chuckled lamely, “less upsetting. You said that you’ve worked with the Legion before. What’s your line of work?” He had a sneaking suspicion, given that there weren’t a huge amount of jobs that aligned closely to the Legion, but he didn’t want to offend with haphazard guesses. Best to let Sevari speak on his own.

“Inspector.” Sevari said, leaving it at that. “Those special people who fight the Empire’s enemies when the Legion is too heavy-handed. I’ve been fighting the Empire’s enemies for a long, long time.”

Gaius cracked a wan grin, quickly warming up to the fellow soldier. “So have I, friend. So have I. And I suppose now I’m doing so even more with these damn Dwemer.” He fished the corked bottle out of his pocket, popping it open. “Still, I look forward to seeing the looks on their faces when we reclaim the Imperial City and burn their airships to cinders.” Raising the bottle in the air in toast, he prepared for the burn of the alcohol. “To wars, fought and won!”

Not exactly a gentleman to miss a toast as it was occurring, the sight of Gaius and Sevari imbibing together hit that part of Fjolte that had missed and longed for familiar camaraderie and brotherhood. How could he continue to walk past that of all things? It was a festival was it not? He had been feeling much more himself in the days since his escape, and it was hard for Sevari not to stick out, the Nord had not seen much of him after he had walked through the prison, sour and heavy. He seemed less so now.

“Hah! Nothing like a toast among brothers—” he remarked with his usual beaming smile as he swaggered over with the confidence and enthusiasm that would have made anyone believe he had been part of their meeting all along. He had no ale of his own, but that didn't stop him from raising an invisible glass anyway, “to life, freedom, and friendship!” a mirthful chuckle rolled off his toast and he brought himself next to Sevari, giving him a hearty slap on the shoulder. “Thanks for saving my neck, friend…” for a second, his expression slipped into one far more serious and sincere than he wanted - not that Fjolte was one to disguise feelings. “You two look like you're talking a bit deep for a festival…”

“What else do two old fighters talk about but their aching knees and numerous stories about every scrape they’ve been in?” Sevari raised his cup a tad to the newly arrived Nord, resplendent in his insufferable fucking beauty, “Wouldn’t expect a Ponce like you to understand.” He quipped good-naturedly with an impish grin while lighting a cigar he’d put between his teeth, “Or could it be the first time in forty-some years that I’m wrong?”

“You might be wrong indeed. I've been in plenty of scrapes, don't let the smoulder fool you…” he laughed and took a seat on one of the stacked crates. “Us Nords come out of the womb ready to brawl, I certainly did. I'm still a man of my youth though, not as old as you two farts by the sounds of it.” He nodded in the direction of the Imperial. He could not remember seeing him in the escape. “I'm Fjolte, by the way, friend!”

“Gaius,” the Legionnaire responded in kind, inclining his head at the boisterous Nord. He smiled at his antics; after the soul-sucking trials of the past few weeks, talking to someone who seemed both generally happy and sane was a welcome reprieve. He turned to Sevari, eyes twinkling in a way that they hadn’t in far too long. “Careful, Sevari. This one looks like he could eat a cow and still have room left over to guzzle a keg and start punching.” With that, he turned back to Fjolte again, passing over the bottle after taking one more long pull and wiping his lips. “To life, freedom, and friendship!”

“Aye!” Sevari toasted, raising his glass. “I think Fjolte knows I’m only giving him shit. I pried the bars apart so he could crawl through them and taste the air of freedom again.”

He chuckled, “And that’s why he should think twice before calling me an old fart. Figured the baby-face young Nord would have some manners.” He took a gulp from his cup and chuckled good-naturedly, “Besides, I’m not even fifty yet, you ass.”

“You laugh at the thought of me eating a whole cow, but it’s been done! Of course, I had my brother Honon the Fat to help me but we cleaned it down to the bone just the two of us. Just regular Loredas activities…” he sighed, letting his thoughts wander to home. He hoped his family were alright. Sevari’s words lifted him from dipping his toes too much into the melancholy of it all, and he laughed aloud - his usual bellowing laugh. “You’re not that old, and I’m not that young. Don’t let this handsome mug fool you both, I’ve seen some shit.” He ran a hand through his sand-coloured hair, and let his laughter patter out. “So what’s next for you two then? Where will the wind carry you after tonight?”

Gaius exhaled a heavy breath. “The wind will carry me where it always has, eventually. Back to my people, back to my home, however long it takes me to get there. I don’t care how many miles and Dwemer lie between us, but I will see the Imperial City reclaimed.” Then a snort. “But after tonight? Hopefully a blacksmith.” He tossed his head back, draining the rest of the bottle and grimacing at the burn.

“Can’t have a legionnaire without his armor.” Sevari said, tipping back his own cup and growling at the burn, wiping his mouth off on his forearm, “Finally, someone who likes whiskey.”

He turned to Fjolte, an eyebrow cocked, “You’ve seen battle? When?”

Made sense of course that Gaius was a Legionnaire. Fjolte almost felt bad for his own past allegiances, but he was no longer ashamed and scared of consequence. He saw no use in hiding it. War put people against each other, simple as, and there was no going back from the truth of it now. “Aye, battle for Windhelm - some others during the civil war. That must have been the last one though… Most fucking memorable I’ll tell you that. Raelynn was there too, well, she was there after. Frightened and out of her depth pulling bodies from the wreckage…” he sighed with a soft laugh and ran his hands through his hair, hoping that he hadn’t just caused potential tension with two new friends. “Now we’re back in the thick of war, I suspect there will be more battles to come.”

Sevari cocked a brow at that. He spit off to the side and lit a cigar, letting the moment drag on as the tobacco crackled with his inhale. He let out the smoke as he spoke, quiet-like, and his eyes didn’t leave Fjolte’s, “Which side?”

The Nord just shrugged at the question and the corners of his mouth curled into an awkward smile, “the losing one.” Fjolte rolled his shoulders back - hoping that his confession wouldn't start a fight or damage any chance at bonding with the two of them, but there was a lightness to him that suggested he'd already accepted if they did choose to hold it against him.

Gaius tensed up, knee-jerk reaction to the presence of a Stormcloak at the ready. His lips began to curl into a snarl.

Then he paused, and thought for a moment before staring Fjolte dead in the eyes. “You know,” he began slowly, “I knew a lot of good men and women that died during the civil war. Riki Armandgove, Srani Briza, Sextus Quirinus, and so many more. Many were at Windhelm.” He heaved in a deep breath. “But there are bigger trolls to kill right now. Maybe after all this, then I'll have to fight you. But for now?” He forced out a lopsided grin. “I’ll shut up and drink.”

“I learnt a lot back then, did a lot of terrible things too - we all did. I like to think I've made good on that in the years since, and if not yet - well I'll keep working towards it,” he said hopefully, his eyes pointed up to the stars. “I don't tend to pick many fights these days either so good luck with that in the future,” the Nord began to laugh, “and for what it's worth, I don't intend to fly those colours anymore. I'm a free man now!”

“Now, now.” Sevari mumbled, taking a pull from his cigar, “What were we but two sides of the same coin? I was never in the Legion, but I was there in Skyrim. Always good men on either side. The real enemy is still out there, and I intend to shove these Dwemer assholes aside to get back to those piss-skinned, knife-eared Thalmor cunts.”

Gaius belted out a sudden laugh from deep in his belly, and raised his empty bottle. “The wisdom of an old soldier, eh?” He turned to Fjolte, this time with a huge, genuine, apologetic smile on his face. “Sorry about that, Fjolte. It’s been a long couple of weeks, as I’m sure it’s been for you too. Fuck the elves, hmm?” He tossed the bottle back, cocking his head for a moment in surprise when he realized that it was empty. “...Except Anifaire. She’s alright, from what I remember.”

“I bet there are some Dwemer that are alright. Good and bad eggs everywhere right? Let's just all get through it in one piece,” Fjolte commented as he placed his hands flat behind him and leaned back on the crate. “No need to apologise to me either. Not much I'll take offense to, brother.” He wondered whether or not he'd met Anifaire, he had recalled a quiet and timid Altmer from the escape, “Anifaire huh? That the girl with the voice softer than a unicorn's fart?”

Gaius nodded and stumbled, realizing that he was probably drunk and furthermore, that he didn’t care in the slightest. “If she’s tall, yellow and meek, that’s who you’re thinking of. Only high elf I’ve ever met that didn’t have a stick the size of Dagon up the arse.” He laughed. “There were three altmer in the Jeralls, counting her: freak that looked more like a ghost than an elf, named Sulandi or something stupid like that, and Durantel. Real shithead of an elf, carried himself like a Thalmor.” He swayed, leaning against a wall. “Couldn’t stand that fop bastard.”

“Ah, Durantel.” Sevari nodded, a knowing grin on his face, “He was on my list. I was going to spit him on my sword in Gilane back when I was masquerading as Dwemer Secret Police. Hell, I might’ve done it for fun.”

Fjolte nodded along with them, taking from his pocket a short smoking pipe, and letting it sit on his lower lip while he scrambled another pocket for his bag of alchemical ingredients. “Ahh yeah, Durantel. I wanted to kick my foot so far up is ass he’d smell my feet you know?” He said in a humourful tone, he didn’t know who the fuck Durantel was, but he’d clearly wound up Gaius and Sevari. Finally stumbling across the bag, he took a pinch and loaded the pipe with it. “Shit, need a light…” he muttered, looking to his left and right for a means to do so. “Be so kind as to pass your flame to a new friend?” He asked, motioning to the lit end of Sevari’s cigar. “I’ll share if you do, this will blow your knickers off.”

Sevari shrugged, puffing a few times on his cigar before handing it over, “That’s the most harmless thing anyone’s threatened to blow off of me.” He said, watching Fjolte light his pipe, “What is it? Moon sugar?”

He frowned a bit, “Don’t tell me you’re a fucking skooma smoker.”

Gaius laughed, maybe just a touch scornfully. “Thought you’d seen some shit, Sevari. Come on, if he was on the skooma, how would he have survived in prison? Boy would be dead from withdrawal already.”

“Very barely, is how. I knew a man who was hooked on it, I tied him to a post for five days and only gave him water twice a day.” He shrugged, as if torturing addicts was a simple hobby of his, “He got clean. He also gave me what I needed to know.”

“Not skooma,” he laughed as he took Sevari's cigar to light the end of the pipe. As he held the small flame into the bowl at the end, it lit up into a violet flame with magenta sparks. “This is something I created after several failed experiments. Can't tell you fellas what's in it though, don't want anyone stealing my recipe…” Fjolte laughed again and took a long drag from the pipe, letting the smoke fill all the way to his lungs - after holding it for some time, he exhaled it as a series of perfectly round rings before handing the pipe to the Ohmes-Raht with a grin, his pupils dilating just so.




After an hour or so, having finished the pipe entirely, the three were sat down around the piles of crates. Each once lounging back in their own way. Fjolte sat in his usual relaxed pose with one leg outstretched and the other brought up to his chest, his arm lounging lazily over his knee. There were beaded tears clinging to his eyelashes as he let rip a laugh from the pit of his stomach, and it wasn’t the first of that night either, his stomach felt sore from the endless clenching of laughter, so much so that his other hand grasped at it, and he panted in pain in between each roll of chuckles.

As stories, theories, ideas, and opinions were passed back and forth, the laughter carried on to an almost obnoxious level. “Do you… Do you… Do you think that it would be better to have hands for feet or feet for hands?”

”I have been told that I must have some giants blood in me somehow, you know, because of the size of my…”


”Bosmer women are so fucking hot. Dunmer women too… And Altmer… Women are hot”
“Yeah, women are hot.”
“This sand is pretty hot too, or is it just my arse?”


“If oranges are oranges, then why are lemons not yellows?”
“Why are grapes not purples?”
“And pineapples blues?”

”What the fuck happens if I get scared half to death… twice?”
“Fuuuuuuuck.”


”What’s the meaning of life?”
“Woah...”


”Do teeth have a taste?”
“Mine taste like…. Teeth.”
“Yeah, mine too.”


”What language would we think in if we were deaf?”
“Can you hear your own head?”

“What was that sound? What’s that smell?”
“Sorry, my bad”
“Sounds like you blew your fucking knickers off.”
“Oh, gods.. Party is over. Abort”
“Yeah, fuck me.. I’m out.”

“What’d I do?!”

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Stormflyx Queen of Doggos

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The Colour of Happiness


with Hank

Morning, 19th Midyear, 4E208
The gathering of the tribes, Alik’r desert, Hammerfell





Gregor had not left his tent since the trial. He felt like he had been run through by a blade and spent most of his time seated as comfortably as he could with his arms wrapped around his stomach, slowly rocking back and forth, his eyes staring into infinity. Only the occasional conversation with Raelynn could drag him from his stupor. The party had confronted him with the full weight of his conscience and it rested heavily upon his shoulders and his heart -- that same heart that beat no longer, the soul it once contained now somehow, inexplicably and indescribably, elsewhere. Gregor despaired in silence. It was not something he could explain to Raelynn and even if he could, she could not help him with it. This was his problem. It did not have to be hers. She had already suffered enough because of him. Everyone had suffered enough because of him.

He could not sleep. Not since the change had he been allowed to drift off into the peace of slumber. All Gregor got were waking dreams -- nightmares, more like, that danced before his fluttering eyes. All of it was death. Not even familiar death, that he had dealt or witnessed himself. Gregor saw the deaths of dozens, hundreds, thousands of strangers, one after the other, flashes of blood and broken bodies. In the darkest depths of the night, he could almost hear their screams.

Cursed. That’s what he was. Perhaps it was divine punishment. Had Arkay found a way to torment him after all? Or was this the work of the Ideal Masters? Gregor could still not remember what had happened out there in the desert. Something, like an insidious splinter in his mind, told him that the Ideal Masters were hiding from him exactly how they had resolved their pact with him.

“It’s wrong,” he whispered through dead lips. “It’s all wrong.”




It was still dark and the sun had not yet risen, nor was it about to — not that it would have stopped Fjolte from waking up at his intended hour from his bedroll under the stars. There were so many stars to look at, and a beautiful teal smattering of clouds and dust surrounded them. It was a sight he would never tire of. He gave a long yawn, and stretched out his muscular arms fully - the span impressive. While on his back, he brought the knee of his left leg to his chest and held it there in a tight stretch, repeating for the right. There was an exceptional chill in the air that only came after the sun had been away for some hours, and it felt good to have the cold air over his body - his completely nude body. No need to don garments when you were a free man. The Nord stood with a youthful and carefree grin on his face, feeling that same breeze embrace him It was only the sand that gave a slight warm touch to the bottom of his feet.. With his hands on his hips, he took in a deep breath and sighed it back out; “ain’t a thing like a fresh morning before a sunrise.”

He had work to do.

It took him very little time to dress, he went without his armour today. Just shorts, his cotton jacket, and the handwraps. He seriously contemplated his shoes… Best, just in case he finally decided, before picking up his bag and rummaging through it for… yes! three eggs. He’d boiled them the night before, and now as he made his way over the sand he peeled and ate them one by one. He wasn’t about to do anything on empty stomach after all. He reached his destination, the tent where he knew that Gregor and Raelynn had made their temporary home. As he approached, he realised he’d been whistling to himself along the way, and he abruptly stopped - wondering if the Breton was asleep, she’d not be happy to be woken by his melodies that was sure. He knew that the Imperial would be awake though, he just did. Hard to sleep when you were so weighed down, that he knew from experience. He raised a closed fist to the flap of fabric that was the door, and tapped against it with his knuckles, “knock knock, rise and shine…” he uttered softly, his voice still gruff from sleep.

A few seconds passed before the tent flap parted and Gregor stepped outside. He was already dressed in black and steel, his face the only uncovered part of his body, but almost invisible beneath the shade of his hood. “Fjolte,” Gregor said and gave the man a respectful nod by way of greeting. There was a deep hollowness to his gleaming gaze and his shoulders were visibly slouched. “I don’t know what to expect,” he admitted immediately. “Lead the way, I suppose.”

Fjolte’s eyebrows raised at the sight, and he gave a half-smile in the direction of Gregor. “That makes two of us,” he commented bluntly with a shrug. As for leading the way, he did just that - and began walking over the sand in a direction that led them away from the heart of the camp. He walked quietly for a while, not moving too quickly - he had observed the overall slowness of the Imperial, and he wasn’t about to leave him struggling and lagging behind.

After some minutes, and once they were out of the earshot of the camp, the Nord glanced sidelong at Gregor and was sure to take a deep breath before he began to speak. “I’ve but three rules Gregor. First is that have to listen, and listen to everything,” there was a vagueness to his words, and a softness to his tone that suggested that there was something spiritual involved in the listening. That it was more than listening to the words of the Monk. He continued over the sands, rising and falling over the small dunes that littered their path. “You must trust. I’m trusting you right now, didn’t bring my weapon, that’s cos I trust you’re not going to hurt me. In return, I need you to trust me, and trust in my word and in my process… Strange as it may seem.” his voice began to trail off as he stopped dead in his tracks, looking from left to right, as if he was trying to remember the way. “What we speak about together during these sessions, I want you to know I won’t be sharing anything. Not with Raelynn, and not with your leaders, don’t matter how much they ask me to. When we talk, we’re two brothers. I don’t expect the same from you — if you want to share our conversations with anyone then by all means do so.” With another moment of looking over the horizon from left to right, he settled on right and turned that way to continue their path. “Third rule is that you try. You don’t have to do everything I ask, but you have to try. That’s all I ask of you. Doesn’t sound so bad, eh? Can we come to a gentleman’s agreement on this?” Fjolte turned to look at Gregor, even in the slight gloom his smile was visible.

“You are nothing like my brother,” Gregor said. It wasn’t a malicious statement but just an observation. He threw his hood back and ran a hand through his hair, which had fortunately retained the volume and lustre of life. He thought about Fjolte’s rules and nodded again. “We can.” He wasn’t sure how much weight his promises to try held without knowing what it was that he was supposed to try, but there was nothing he could do about that.

“Be a bit weird if I was your actual brother, I’d likely be smaller for a start,” he added with light laugh. He didn’t know how much he could get away with where Gregor was concerned, but it wasn’t going to stop him throwing a jest if he could. Maybe the man would laugh back. Wasn’t likely to happen, at least not yet. “With that out of the way, I hope you’ll come to enjoy what we do together — and I hope that it will help you.”

After more walking, they eventually came upon a tall rock face that must have stood several times of even Fjolte’s height. It was covered in sharp rocks that stuck out, small areas of ledge dotted here and there, and sections where the rock looked as though it had been carved out. It had a certain texture to it, that made it perfect for one thing - scaling. The Nord looked at it with a wonder in his eyes, and he sighed happily while stood under it’s looming shadow. “Beautiful isn’t she? By my estimation, sun will be rising soon. That looks like the perfect spot to observe, doesn’t it?” He pointed a finger up at the top of the rock face — there it seemed to lie as a flat shelf of the rock.

Out of all the things that Gregor might have expected Fjolte to start with, mountaineering was dead last. “You want me to climb the rock,” he said, his gaze drifting from Fjolte to the edifice and back again. It was not a question. He opened his mouth to say something else when he remembered that he had promised Fjolte that he would listen to everything and try, so he closed it again and approached the rock. The leather of his studded gauntlets was rough and had a firm grip on the stone when he placed his hands upon it. Gregor gingerly found purchase on a ridge and hoisted himself up a few inches, supporting himself with the steel toes of his boots. He found that it was easier to lift his own weight than before and his muscles did not tremble from the exertion. And thus he made his way to the top -- not fast by any means, but surely and without faltering. He pulled himself onto the flat shelf of the rock edifice’s peak and shimmied over to make space for Fjolte until he sat with his legs dangling over the edge. Had he been afraid of heights before? Probably not. Gregor remembered the tree he used to climb in. This wasn’t very different.

“I’m impressed!” Yelled the Nord from the bottom of the rock, he had intended to climb alongside Gregor, but his immediate willingness and surprising skill, had well — surprised him. He laughed before beginning his own climb. Of course, he wanted to challenge himself, and he took to the furthest part of the rock - the part that was roughest and began his own climb. He gripped at the stone, the corded muscles in his arms rippled as he pulled his weight up, tucking his legs behind him. He didn’t need them for this. There was a certain finesse and grace to the way he moved, like he’d done it many, many times. Fjolte was meticulous in where he placed his hands, and in the way that he breathed with each movement. In no time at all, he’d reached the top too, and he took the seat beside Gregor, his own legs hanging over the edge now. There was a layer of sweat across his face and chest too, and he was somewhat exerted. Not that he minded, he’d challenged himself and won, so he was smiling too. “You did it! Have to admit I expected some more resistance from you.”

“A promise is a promise,” Gregor said as he stared out over the desert below them. Fjolte was right, it would be dawning soon and they had a premium view. But how would it help? The light of the sunrise scattered the darkness, true, but it could not illuminate an abyss. “I don’t want to resist anymore.”

“What have you been resisting?” Fjolte asked as he placed his hands behind him flat on the rock and leaned back. He looked out across the desert too, observing the tents. He wondered just how many there were — perhaps he would count them later on a walk.

It was a surprise that Fjolte did not know the answer to that question. Or maybe he just wanted to hear Gregor himself say it out loud. “Death. Judgement. Morality.” The Imperial did not look at the Nord. It was easier to talk if he could pretend he was alone with merely a disembodied voice for company.

Fjolte just listened, bringing up a hand to stroke through the small amount of stubble that he wore as his beard. He hummed in response to the words said by the Imperial. He just wanted to sit with them for a while, he didn’t wish to look at the man either— it was a hard sight to come to terms with, even if he knew he would have to face it eventually. “How does it feel now that you’ve stopped resisting?”

That made Gregor laugh bitterly. “I don’t know. Awful, I suppose. I have conquered death but coming face to face with judgement and morality was…”

He fell silent and shrugged.

“Felt like shit, didn’t it?” Fjolte said, finishing his sentence for him before sucking in a breath through his teeth. “Not that’d know how it feels in your exact position. I heard and felt what they all said and it wasn’t even for me. Bet it stings you something fierce…” He sat up and leaned forward this time, looking over the edge of the cliff. He could see in the sands, even from this height, the soft indentation of their footprints. “But you sat there and did it, you looked that judgement in the face and took it. Every word, every nuanced movement of those people that you have travelled with…”

“What is it that you want to feel, Gregor?”

What a strange question. Gregor didn't speak for a long time and resigned himself to watching the start of the sunrise as the first rays of light appeared over the horizon.

Eventually he spoke. “Content with who I am, what I've become. This… thing. I can't be a good partner to Raelynn otherwise.” His voice cracked and the leather of his gauntlets crackled as he balled his fists. “I promised her a house. A home. Did you know that?”

Fjolte almost laughed, almost. But that was just the memories of the Raelynn he knew, the one that was difficult to tie down and to have open up. The knee jerk reaction fell away and he realised that to hear that actually made him feel happy for her, and only reassured him that he was doing the right thing by helping Gregor. He was helping them both he supposed. “I didn’t actually, but that’s a beautiful goal Gregor. That’s a goal of happiness, not just to be content, but to be happy. You can work with that - we can work towards that.”

His own blue eyes looked over upon the horizon as that same light that had hit the Imperial hit him too. Was it a more beautiful sight than the night sky? Probably not but it was close, and watching it from their vantage point made it all the more special. With every ray that peaked out, the stars began to disappear one by one. Fjolte smiled knowing they would be back later and then he looked at the mans hands, the clenched fists. “You should let go of whatever else is sitting on top of that, blocking it… Unclench your fists.”

Gregor did as Fjolte said. “I don't see how unclenching my fists helps with letting go,” he said. “Hell, this isn't something I can 'let go’ of. I'm a murderer and a necromancer. Everything between us is confidential, yes?” A sudden recklessness beset Gregor and he spat out the next words with unexpected ferocity. “I killed the Vigilants. Hannibal wanted to burn the trove of scrolls and books that the Altmer in Falkreath had. I couldn't let that happen. I needed that information. I killed his friends, his lover, and then I killed him. His soul was the first I sacrificed to the Ideal Masters.”

For the first time Gregor looked at Fjolte. Lights danced in his eyes. “Explain to me how I am to 'let go’ of that.”

The Nord blinked slowly, but he was not all that shocked deep down, the man was a necromancer afterall. He’d seen him in full force in the prison, felt and tasted the horror that had oozed from his being. Soul trapping… Robbing an afterlife… It still made his stomach turn to think of it, to imagine that he could be denied Sovngarde. It was a wound in his mind that felt fresh, but now was still not the time to ponder that. So the confession made by Gregor now, as disgusting as it was, Fjolte could not allow it to shake him, and in fact somehow he felt like he had more in common with the Imperial sat beside him. It was no kinship, or brotherhood, but he understood that the two of them had experienced the kind of anger that pushes a man over the edge of normal limits. He had not dabbled in the dark arts during his violent past, but really, if he had any kind of magical talent in his body then who was he to assume he wouldn’t have gone down a similar path?

He sat quietly for a while, nodding and humming as he collected his thoughts and formulated his response, rubbing his stubble again, moving his jaw from side to side. “It helps because you’ve just told me something you chose not to tell your friends. It helps because it just does. Feels good to say it. Maybe it won’t now but it will, you know?” He brought his hand to the back of his neck and gently scratched, his mouth scrunching up at the side as he groaned, “I was a Stormcloak, myself. I remember very clearly a day where I cut open a living human being just to see what their insides looked like.” His voice was low, a growl even, and he looked down into his lap, yet his disposition was still calm, his mood had not changed nor had he faltered at the words of the Imperial. He had not hesitated with his own confession. “I spent so long being angry and that’s how my anger manifested, needless violence. Yes Gregor, what you tell me is confidential, I said as much to you. I may not have touched dark magic, but darkness has lived in me and I worked hard to rid myself of it.”

“Whatever you have done, I do not believe it compares,” Gregor said, deflated. The moment had passed and he was back to his demure self. He looked away and shrugged. “War is hell. I know that. That it brought out a beast in you does not surprise me. It is admirable that you have become a changed man, of course, I don’t mean to belittle your growth or achievements, but are you really equipped to… treat, I suppose, a monster like myself? A killer in the employ of a warlord is one thing. A necromancer that turned on his allies and murdered them, forced them to fight their own resurrected friends, and then fed their souls to the great maw beyond the void...”

Saying it out loud made it even worse. He didn’t believe Fjolte when he said that it would help. This wasn’t an unburdening, it was just a condemnation. “It is entirely another. I suppose you are hoping that the same methods that worked for you might work for me, regardless of the depths of the depravity that I engaged in,” Gregor said, his tone flat. He was thinking out loud at this point. “Perhaps it does not matter who I was. You are treating the man I am now. I do not believe I would do such a thing ever again.” He nodded to himself. “Yes, perhaps. Very well. Go on.”

“I wouldn’t compare our experiences, only share my own so that you know who I am. Is anyone equipped to treat a Lich? Has it been done? I don't think so. Can't say I read about it in any books. Doubt Mannimarco dragged his arse up a cliff on the whims of a Nord Monk…” He could sense Gregor's mood shift, but that was to be expected. How could the man possibly do anything else but ebb and flow between his thoughts of guilt? Fjolte shuffled and repositioned himself on the rock, Gregor wasn't aware of it - but all of this was progress.

“I don't know what will work for you, but I trust in myself - in my faith that this is why I'm here. Meeting you of all people, at this time right now? It aint a coincidence. I've spoken to men who come to me for help, but they don’t even know what they want. How can anyone find what they want if they don't know what it is? If they can't clearly picture it?” After he spoke, he pulled his legs back from the edge, and moved to a position of sitting with his legs crossed instead, he motioned for Gregor to do the same with a tilt of his head. “You knew what you wanted almost immediately when I asked you. So tell me about it. Let go of… all of that, and tell me what that happiness looks like.”

Ignoring the fact the did not have to breathe to survive, Gregor inhaled slowly and sighed, draining all the air from his lungs and leaving him empty once more. He joined Fjolte and sat opposite from him, as cross-legged as his armor would allow, but stared down at his hands, avoiding the Nord’s blue gaze. “Happiness,” he repeated. The lich was silent for a long time, the only sound around them being the wind as it gently soared over the dunes, and the almost audible depth of Fjolte’s patience.

“Happiness is a house… somewhere secluded, but not too isolated. Raelynn will want to be close to civilization. Maybe in a forest, or by the sea,” Gregor began. “It’s a large house, a manor. Not a castle, though. That’s too martial. Something elegant with a lot of light and fresh air. There’ll be flowers, and animals, and a room where Raelynn can be creative. You know, potter around, work on her alchemy or her other hobbies. And somewhere she can see patients, perhaps. I don’t think she’d ever abandon her calling as a healer.”

The more that he talked, the more tender his voice became. It sounded as if he was speaking about something so fragile that anything more than a loving whisper would shatter it. “But I saw the way she helped her father’s business in Gilane. She’s shrewd, you know? I think she might want to follow in his footsteps and become a merchant of her own. So there will have to be space for that, too. An office,” he said and smiled. “I just… want her to be happy and safe and free to pursue her dreams.”

“And what will you do in this house?” Fjolte asked after a long breath of his own, he could feel the change in Gregor's voice, the way he only looked at his hands. But he was trying, and that brought a small, hopeful smile to the Nord’s face. “What will you do when Raelynn is occupied?”

Every question had a reason behind it, and so far Gregor had been more receptive than he'd expected. Fjolte smiled again with a warmth and deep seated wisdom in his eyes. He was a jester at any other time, but now he was as steady and solid as the rock they were sat on. “You don't need to answer it right now if you can't, but think about it,” he rolled his neck, letting his head move from side to side as he continued to slowly breathe in and out, soaking up the delightful heat of the sun. “Now, think on that feeling… Let it fill you from head to toe… Imagine it is tangible and inside of you, growing.” Fjolte stuck a hand in his pocket, and began rummaging until he found his copper bell, holding it delicately in a pinch of his fingers so as not to ring it prematurely.

“Feel that image of happiness in your chest - expanding with every breath you take… Bigger, and bigger, and bigger… Let it take root within you… Does it have a colour? A smell?” The Nord's usual boisterous voice had been replaced with a soft whisper of his own - he didn't want to shatter the fragile glass of Gregor's imagined happiness either. “Listen to what it tells you, Gregor…”

“It's as blue as ice and smells like lavender,” Gregor breathed. “All I do in that house is taking care of it, to make sure that Raelynn can do what she wants. I don't want something for myself. I had my chances, Fjolte, I don't deserve anything. I will be its guardian and caretaker and that is good enough for me.”

“You do want something for yourself. You want Raelynn, you want a life together. Half of that life is you. You want that for yourself, it's good that you want that,” Fjolte wanted to place a comforting hand on his shoulder, to give him a squeeze and anchor him to the thoughts and feelings that he was conjuring, but perhaps it was too soon. “How do you feel now?” he asked quietly, running his thumb over the bell. They were not ready for that yet, not just yet.

Gregor shook his head. “Tired.” That dream was so far off. Right now he was in the middle of people who would either kill him if they knew what he was, or people that hated him for what he'd done. There was no safety and comfort here. And these were the people he'd have to defeat the Dwemer with in order to make that dream a reality. How was he going to make sure that they succeeded? How was he going to make sure he would keep Raelynn alive? “So tired.”

The Nord turned his head back to the sunrise with a sombre expression, placing his hands into his lap. “Sounds about right. I'm grateful for every sunrise I get to see and watch, makes me feel small. Humbles me, and that’s no easy feat…” he chuckled airily. “What ails you the most right now? Where do you need me to start?”

“You tell me,” Gregor said and looked at Fjolte again. “This was your idea, was it not? I haven't slept since the ascension. All I see when I close my eyes is death. Ghosts haunt my every step. The people I've traveled with for months hate me. Hell, I hate myself. Everything I've done for a whole decade was a grave mistake. The world is afire. My soul…”

He grimaced and shifted in his seat. “It's not here. I don't know where it is, but it's not here. Not in this desert, or this country, or this realm. What can you even do to help? Where do you even start? I don't know.”

“You said there are things you don't remember… We start by retrieving those memories. We need the full picture… Think about what you do remember.” Everything that Gregor said made his eyebrows furrow, deep in thought as he got to work in planning how best to put him back together. Lost his soul? Ironic… the Imperial clearly had his doubts but that was to be expected. People in general were skeptical of spiritual activities and journeys such as that which he was wanting to take him on. “It's not going to be easy, it might not even work… We're going to take this at the right pace, consistently because I don't feel like giving up on you without trying fucking hard. I'm quite certain Raelynn won't allow me to give up, and she's not giving up on you either.” He sighed, this was a mammoth task, this was a commitment and a half if he'd ever taken one on. At least Gregor hadn't pushed him off the cliff, so there was at least that.

“I don't think anyone hates you either, they're scared of you, aye. Best thing you can do for them is push them out of your mind right now, push that to the side and work on being better. You want to be the man who can give Raelynn a home? Let's do it, nobody can hate that man.”

The lich did not say anything for some time. “Retrieve my memories,” he muttered at last. “How do you propose we do that?”

At that, he smirked. “We'll take a journey into your mind, the deepest parts of it - and we'll find them.” That… really did not answer the question, and more than likely would leave Gregor with more, but that was Fjolte, unwilling to give away his secrets. Slowly, the Nord rose to his feet, standing to his full height with another big stretch, before he peered over the edge of the rock again. Their footprints had now gone, buried under the shifting sands once more. “Alright, time to get back to camp. If she's not already awake, she will be soon… You ready?”

Following Fjolte's example, Gregor got to his feet and stared down at the sands below. “Climbing up looked much easier,” he said and glanced sidelong at Fjolte. “You sure about this?”

Meeting Gregor's glance, he gave out a laugh in response, “be my guest - but I think I'll take the shortcut this time!” With a roguish grin, and a glint in his eyes he turned on his heel and made his way across the ledge to a slow incline, an easy path to the bottom that had been there all along.

Despite himself, despite everything, the Nord’s jest was so simple and pure that it elicited a chuckle from Gregor all the same. He followed Fjolte down the incline, heavy boots kicking up sand and dust that had laid dormant on the rock for a long time. The idea of reliving the missing memories filled him with trepidation. Was he ready to discover what had happened? Would Sora and the others be mad if they knew that this is what they were doing, instead of something more obviously conducive into turning him into something resembling a normal person? Gregor could see why Fjolte wanted to start with the memories, though. First make his mind whole and then the rest.

Once they were back at the bottom of the rock, now looking up at it from the other side, Gregor turned back to Fjolte. “What now?”

Fjolte met Gregor’s gaze with no hesitation. It was coupled with his easy-going smile even if inside he too, had feelings of unease - he would not allow them to surface. “The exercise we did? The meditation? You need to commit to that now. I want you to familiarise yourself with the feeling of happiness that you thought up.” With one last look at the rock, Fjolte began his walk back over the dunes at the same pace as earlier. “It’s the most important part of all this, it’s the damn key to keeping you anchored when we go searching. Know it by fucking heart, the smell, the colour, the way it makes you smile to think of it. Everyday for as long as we do this, you meditate on that feeling.” With the sun reaching a decent height in the sky, the Nord squinted at the horizon, bringing a hand up to his forehead to give shade.

“Start building your home now too, in here-“ he pointed to his own head, tapping on it as he cast a glance in Gregor’s direction. “Make Raelynn smile, make her laugh - learn the sound of it and let it fill your meditation… You need a powerful anchor.”

“Very well,” the Imperial replied. There was something ominous about Fjolte’s words, however. He spoke as if there was something that could go horribly wrong if he failed in his given task. How was he going to make Raelynn laugh now? It had been so easy before but everything was different now. He could barely get himself to smile, let alone someone else. “Easier said than done but I’ll try.”

Without thinking of holding his tongue (did he ever, anyway?) he threw out a quick response, “yeah, you didn’t exactly choose an easy woman.” He interlaced his fingers and placed his hands on the back of his head, elbows sticking out. “You’ll figure it out, I have faith in you.” There was a sincerity in it too, despite the feeling of disquiet about what they were about to embark on. He had to get ready too, his own mind would have to be completely clear - his supplies replenished… He huffed a loud sigh at the thought.

“So, was this morning everything you thought it would be, Gregor?”

“I had no thoughts about what this morning would be,” he replied. “The ways of monks are alien to me.” Gregor pulled the hood back over his head and hoisted his scarf over his face. He was eager to get out of this desert and back in a climate where that kind of appearance made more sense. If they encountered a smith, he thought, he’d buy a helmet with the last of the money Salasoix gave him. That would be even better. “So what do you think?”

As they trekked, Fjolte thought of his own experience with Gregor, and momentarily he looked upwards, as if to find an answer there. “I mean… You didn’t throw me off the cliff,” he laughed, before sighing again and answering properly. “You did as I asked. Cleared the obstacle I presented you with… It was no problem at all for you…” Ahh, fuck it! he thought before he placed a hand on Gregor’s shoulder and gave him that gentle squeeze of encouragement he had been tempted to earlier. “You faced the obstacle and discovered a new path waiting for you. I think we’re going to be alright.”

Gregor had to resist the urge to recoil from the Nord’s touch. He didn’t want to offend the man, it just felt oddly intimate after everything. His body wasn’t normal anymore and anything that happened to it felt strange and unwieldy. Still, Fjolte’s intentions were good. “I’m glad you think so,” he said, a deliberately measured response. “Whatever that means,” he added. What was alright for him now? For the hundredth time, he wished he hadn’t gone through with his mad plan and internally cursed himself.

It was silent for the remainder of the journey back to camp, as much as he wanted to whistle, to hum, to sing… He refrained from it, putting more space between he and Gregor after everything. He just felt that Gregor was happy to listen to his own thoughts not. There was little else Fjolte could do today, he’d given the man enough food for thought - and enough for himself too. The days ahead were already daunting and he began to run through a mental list of everything he must do. He was about halfway through it when they arrived back at the clearing to the camp. He stopped, giving Gregor one last look, and a final set of words. “Remember to meditate, I’ll come for you when I’m ready. I have to prepare myself too…” His hand grasped at his beard again, eyes falling over the camp as it had started to come to life now that morning had broken across the Alik’r. “I’ll be seeing you, Gregor...”

With everything said and done, he continued on his way, picking up his pace now - his eyes set on a much taller rock face in the near distance...

Looked like a quiet enough spot for him to make himself ready.
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19th Midyear 4E208, near noon, Alik’r camp...




Things were starting to fall into place. After a morning meeting with various tribal leaders who wished to speak to the one who led Shakti’s group of friends who had done the Alik’r a great service. She calmly and rationally explained her goals and plans for ending the invasion, and while the leaders decided to confer with each other about what the Alik’r would do in response to that information, they did at least agree to help outfit the expedition to reach the border and provide supplies and protection for the group to make it to Skyrim. From there, it was anyone’s guess if they would pledge warriors to the cause.

It was, at least, a far more pleasant exchange than what had occurred as a part of the insurgency; Daro’Vasora vowed to herself that she would never let herself or the others become a part of anyone else’s cause, theirs would be their own and anyone they fell in with would be allies, not commanders or benefactors. What was at stake was too damn important to leave in the hands of strangers with unknowable agendas.

After packing most of her supplies, the Khajiit decided there was one more thing she wanted to do before being stuck with a caravan for weeks with little privacy or room to think. Daro’Vasora went to the market and found the woman who had given her her poncho and purchased a long green and gold scarf, insisting she wanted to support someone with such generosity. With the gift obtained, she set out to find Megana. There was a lot left unsaid, and she needed to correct that.

A few moment later she stood outside of Megana’s tent, stopping herself from knocking on the fabric when she realized how silly that would have been. Instead, she called softly. “Meg? Are you in there?” she asked.

There was a momentary quiet that followed before shuffling could be heard, and soon enough the tent flap was pushed to the side to reveal the Nord woman, peering out. One look at her was enough to tell she had clearly not had enough sleep the previous night, dark circles under her eyes, hair still rather messy and uncombed, though there seemed to have been some attempt to slick it back with water. “Sora!” There was a note of pleasant surprise in her voice as she held the flap to the side with one hand and ushered the Khajiit woman inside with the other. There was a small mess within, including clothes and empty bottles strewn about.

“Uh… sorry ‘bout the mess,” she intoned, sounding slightly embarrassed. “I’m still packin’ up, didn’ get back in last night ‘til late.”

Saying that, she hastily pushed aside most of the clothes and other items and picked up her bedroll, dusting it off before setting it back down. “Uhm, sit down! Please!” She fussed about some more with stuffing things in her pack before pausing, feeling the effects of the previous night summoning another headache. Deciding that perhaps a little break was in order for herself as well, she sat down on the ground, eyes on Sora.

“So… how’re you?” After all… that?

The Khajiit entered as gracefully as she could muster, carefully navigating the clutter in the tent before finding her way to Meg’s bed and gently setting herself down. “The day one has to apologize for having a messy tent on the day they are preparing for a journey is the day I stop treasure hunting.” Daro’Vasora said tactfully with a smile, carefully not letting her eyes linger on the empty bottles for long, as to avoid giving Megana the impression that she was being judged for coping with her troubles in a far too common way.

“I’m… as well as I can be, I suppose. That trial wasn’t something I ever wanted to go through, but I think it went about as well as could be hoped for.” she said with a resigned sigh, her mind wandering over everything that had happened yesterday. It had felt like it didn’t want to end and the mood was so foul Latro and herself hadn’t even attempted to engage in anything resembling lusty behaviour. They’d quietly gone to sleep holding each other close before sleep eventually took them.

Eventually.

“If you don’t mind my saying so, you seem like you’ve been having a rough go of things. How are you holding up?” she asked, suddenly remember what she was holding. “Oh! And I picked this up for you. I thought it was your colour, and you might like something nice when we go back to your homelands.” she said, offering the scarf to Megana. “It’s a small way of saying thanks, for everything you’ve done for me that I haven’t had the chance to say yet.”

Surprised by the gesture but more than a little touched, Meg left whatever gathering she had been attempting and gave her full attention to Daro'Vasora, walking over to where the Khajiit woman sat and settling down beside her. She took the scarf very gently, as if it was made of glass and she was worried the slightest bit of force may ruin it. A smile came to her lips thereafter and she held it in a more familiar fashion. "Yer right, I love the colours, green's m'favourite… always been since y’don’ see too much of it in Skyrim, ‘specially durin’ winter." She paused in her words as she quickly wrapped the scarf around her shoulders, wanting to show her appreciation as soon as she could.

"Y'don' have t'thank me for anythin'," she replied, and without warning she reached out to give Sora a heartfelt hug. "You'd've done the same, no? Friends gotta have each others’ backs." There was a small sniffle and she pulled away, looking sheepish as she wiped a lone tear. "Looks like these bloody things don' know how t'stop bein' wet."

“I’d like to think I would, Meg, but until you’re put into that kind of situation, it’s hard to say.” Daro’Vasora admitted quietly, but she felt like she would have. As she leaned into the hug, returning it, her thoughts turned to Roux, how she had tried to save him, and Raelynn, in turn. She acted instead of hesitated; it wasn’t a question that she needed to try something.

“But maybe I would have done what you did, I hope I would. There’s been a lot on my mind lately, the acts of others, my own. Even with this whole thing with Gregor, it didn’t feel right considering casting him away after all we’ve been through… I couldn’t stop thinking how it must have hurt Raelynn. They both threw themselves at our mercy because they trusted us, because they are our friends and want to show that means something when it matters.” she sighed, pulling away slightly but pulling Meg’s hand into her own.

“All of it has got me thinking that you risked your life to save me when you thought no one else would. You didn’t even question it; I’m someone you barely know, and I sure as shit didn’t deserve the kind of love you all show me but I’m trying so hard to earn it. I couldn’t even say thank you when we met again, I was just so caught up in everything… Meg, I am sorry.” The Khajiit said, her words coming out in a torrent before she caught herself with a deep breath and closed eyes. “I don’t know how to repay this. I don’t know how to earn this.”

"No, no, no, y'don' havta say sorry!" Meg seemed slightly panicked, and she tightened her grip on the hand that was held by Sora's. She sighed softly before smiling at the Khajiit woman. "You've been through so much for us. Y'didn' have to, y'chose to. Rhea was gone, but y'kept us together, even when things were hard... shit was really hard..." Her lips curved downward, looking at their hands as she shook her head. "The decisions y'had t'make, when we left Gilane... last night even." Once more she shook her head. "None of that is easy... someone's always gonna be angry... I dunno if I'd be able to..." She paused, thinking of her own decisions and how blindsided she had been. "I woulda been shit at doin' half the stuff you've had to."

She looked up at Sora, meeting her green eyes. "We're the ones who should be the one's thankin' ya. Ain' like we've made it an easy job..." She sighed softly, attempting to smile once again. "'Stead y'come here an' ask me how I'm doin', an' sayin' thanks t'me." Her smile brightened a little. "Yer s'posed t'be all haughty an' order folks aroun', Sora! Y'need lessons I think!"

Daro’Vasora smiled at that and offered a chuckle. “Oh, live life like me and just be a selfish asshole for most of your life and being the bad guy in someone else’s story comes real second nature. I’m used to making people angry; the hard part is figuring out how to make it right again later. That’s where I’m at. But if you have lessons for how to be a haughty hardass, I’m all ears.” she said with a playful elbow to the ribs.

She said in comfortable quiet for a few moments before asking. “So, how have you been handling everything lately? I’ve been so caught up in my own thoughts and problems I never thought to check in on you. You seem… distraught, I’d venture to say? I’m here if you need someone who’s impartial and not in the middle of it all, whatever it is.”

Meg couldn't help but laugh at Sora's response to her silly remark, and her cheery look remained until the latter's question. Unable to help herself, she fiddled with the hem of her shirt, pulling at some stray threads that had probably been pulled out by getting caught in something or other.

"Guess I am," she finally admitted, looking away from the thread and back up to Sora once more. "I can't help thinkin' 'bout m'family back home... an' what might've happened there. Any time I do, all I can see are the streets of Imperial City an' all the people jus'-" She stopped, knowing full well Sora would know what she meant. "On top of that..." Her eyes shifted as she looked away to the side. "I... well..." She let out a huge sigh. "After the meetin', Jaraleet came t'talk t'me, 'bout what happened, 'bout his own past. It wasn't really a... happy chat. But he also saing he loved me. I should've been happy, but I... was sad. Angry. I couldn't say it back. I know I must've hurt him."

The Khajiit blinked slowly. “Huh. He said he loved you? I didn’t think Jaraleet was capable of complex emotions…” she muttered, shaking her head. “I know you guys have been getting closer, but didn’t realize it was to that stage for him. Question is, do you feel the same way, putting aside all of the complexities going through you right now? Why are you sad and angry, towards him, or something else?” she asked.

Meg couldn't help but sigh yet again, feeling childish yet unable to keep herself from talking now that there was someone who might be able to... something. She wasn't exactly sure what she wanted truth be told.

"I like him," she finally replied, looking embarrassed but continuing nonetheless. "More than a friend... but..." She looked down at her hands, unsure how to continue, whether it was fine to mention who he really was. "He never tol' me 'bout his past 'til last night... Righ' now, I feel like I don' know anythin', that everythin' I knew was jus'... not true." She chewed on her lip for a moment before wincing, having bitten a little too hard. "He knew Gregor was a necromancer, but he never said anythin', he said he didn' want Gregor t'hurt us, t'hurt me. But tha' kinda secret... I dunno, Sora. I'm jus' really confused right now."

“It’s like finding out the person you knew was a stranger all along.” Daro’Vasora nodded in understanding. “It’s hard to say if you can really love someone if you don’t know much about them in the end… it’s just infatuation otherwise.” she said gently, filing Jaraleet’s knowledge of Gregor’s condition away but deciding not to bite into it now. Meg needed support.

“It’s like this… can you even name anything about him that most people would know? What are his hobbies, his aspirations, his goals? What’s his favorite colour, food, just anything at all?” Daro’Vasora pressed with a frown. “You cannot love someone unless you know their heart, the essence of who they are. For all we know, Jaraleet isn’t actually his name and he’s allergic to mammoth fur or whatever people in Skyrim like to line their blankets with. You might not like the truth when it comes to light, whatever it is. Are you willing to risk all of that?” she asked.

“I…” Meg paused, unsure of herself and her thoughts. Once again she was playing with the stray threads on the hem of her shirt, pondering over what the Khajiit woman was telling her. She knew Sora was trying to help and looking out for her, and she knew what was being told to her was true. What did she really know about Jaraleet before last night? There was so much they had done together due to the dwemer forcing them into a group, and as such she felt affection for him, especially since he had approached her when she was the most lost and loneliest since the invasion. But what he had told her that day hadn't been the truth, even if his intentions were kind and sincere.

Was caring for a person enough? Would that help solve all differences and ultimately help prevail over all obstacles? She had spent more than a year with J'raij and had known him better than herself, yet hadn't been able to confess to him. Why had this been different? Because she was lonely and death seemed only an accident away? Meg didn't know, and the lack of this knowledge made her want to curl up and hide somewhere no one could find her. But… she couldn't. She couldn't ignore this and hope it would never resurface.

“What do I do then?” she finally asked, her voice low and filled with uncertainty.

“You need to figure out what exactly it is you need, what's important to you.” Daro'Vasora replied with confidence. “It's clear to me you need honesty and trust in a partner, and that secrets and deceit hurt you… which is healthy, truth be told. I think you need to figure out of you like who the real Jaraleet is, if you feel you can trust anything he tells you, and ask yourself if that's someone who can make you happy when life goes back to normal.”

Daro'Vasora hesitated, looking at the scarf about Meg's neck and wondering about her own fears about Pale-feather and Latro's mortified talk with her the night before, about him being afraid he was going to hurt her. “The thing is Meg, we were all brought together because of a war and we didn't have anywhere else to go. Most of us wouldn't have even looked at some of the others in this group in our regular lives- me included.” The Khajiit admitted, no hesitation or remorse in her tone.

“But you have to ask yourself what bonds were formed out of genuine warmth or a response to the stresses and high emotions. Take away the common cause and what remains, what was even genuine and real? I know most of us are going to drift separate ways back to our old lives, but the question is who is going to remain close because their bonds went beyond a shared hardship? I am so used to people abandoning me and me then that I cannot tell what's real for me or not for the most part, but I feel more sure about Latro than I have about basically anyone in my life since I started adventuring on my own. I feel like Judena and I will remain close as family for the rest of our lives because of the bonds we shared beforehand, and I have no clue about everyone else.” She admitted, looking to meet Meg's eyes. “I just know I'm still trying to rationalize that people cared enough for me that they risked their lives to save me. Doesn't make much sense, but I am humbled.”

She squeezed Meg's hand and leaned her head against her shoulder. “You need to ask yourself if Jaraleet is someone you can imagine yourself settling down with, starting a family, living in a home. A life past war and adventuring. Can you see that future, or do you feel that these feelings and attraction is based entirely on a shared hardship and feeling like life could end tomorrow, so might as well find pleasure and comfort where you can?” She asked.

"Tha's the scary part," Meg mumbled, letting out a breath. There were so many hard hitting questions she knew she needed to answer. She could take advice from others, but ultimately finding out what she wanted- needed- was her own journey she would have to take up on her own. She was alone in this matter; it was a scary thought, and once more the urge to curl up and hide crept up on her.

"And that's when you should be bravest then."

"I'mma havta figure all that out," she let out after a good moment of silent contemplation. "I dunno the answers to any of that..." She looked to Daro'Vasora, feeling pitiful, ashamed. "I told Sevari last night that I wasn' a child... but maybe I really am. Hearin' what yer sayin', understandin' it, it's all easy. Actually doin' somethin' an' not just... feelin' sorry for myself is the hard part." A scoffing laugh left her. "Fightin' off a frost troll seems easier than havin’ t’deal with this sorta shit.” Once again she was chewing on the inside of her lip, thinking to the two separate conversations she’d had the previous night, one completely sober, the other anything but. “Maybe it’s my own fault, y’know. Preservin’ my innocence? More like feedin’ my stupidity.” She paused realizing Sora wouldn’t know what she was talking about. “Somethin’ Gregor said t’me at that party… he’s said if Jaraleet hadn’t told me anythin’ ‘bout his past, t’was ‘cause he was preservin’ my innocence.”

“Respectfully, that’s not his choice to make.” Daro’Vasora replied, perhaps a bit more tersely than she had meant. She sighed, pulling away somewhat. “What I mean to say is it’s not his choice of what innocence is to you, or what he needs to ‘protect’ you from. If he’s not willing to let you in because of that, it’s not because he sees you as a partner, it’s because he sees you as a dependant that needs to be shielded from the big-bad shit he’s done.” the Khajiit said, rolling her jaw.

“You’ve travelled, been in danger. You’ve killed people, for fuck’s sake. You aren’t a child; you have just as much stake in this fight as anyone else. If he wants you to be someone special to him, then he needs to see you as someone he can trust with the burdens he carries, and that you’re strong enough to carry them. It goes both ways; give and take. It’s what I told Latro when he told me he was worried about his own demons coming back to hurt me; he could never hurt me, and if this part of him does, it was my choice to be there for him because he shouldn’t have to face them alone. Jaraleet shouldn’t have hid all of that shit from you, and certainly not with some toothpick-thin reasoning.” Daro’Vasora said.

Nodding rather slowly, Meg couldn’t stop herself from sighing once more. It was hard not to feel as if she was responsible for this situation, though she had to agree with what Daro’Vasora was telling her; as much as the words were hard hitting, she knew they were true. Did she want to live her life always wondering if there were things she didn’t know about her partner, whoever he may be? No, that was an obvious, as Sora had pointed out earlier. If she had been fine with it, then she wouldn’t have been feeling so shitty and conflicted right now.

“Thanks,” she finally murmured, looking to the Khajiit woman. “I mean, for sayin’ all tha’. I dunno wha’ I’mma do… bu’ I needed t’hear tha’ an’ I dunno if anyone else would’ve tol’ me all tha’ y’have. Maybe it ain’ so bad t’be alone for a while more… ain’ like I don’ have friends, righ’?” Even if nothing was to pan out for her, it didn’t mean that she had to lose a friendship, right?

“Well, you aren't alone with me, provided you don't expect there to be kissing.” Daro'Vasora smiled, playfully patting Meg's arm. “You don't need intimacy to give yourself worth in people's eyes. You're someone with a big heart and a lot of courage, it inspires me when I sometimes lose my way.” She admitted.

“So, enough of that. Are you happy to be heading back to Skyrim? Who's waiting for you back there? I never asked about your family before.” Daro'Vasora said.

“T’be honest, I'm kinda worried,” the Nord admitted, her smile from Sora's previous comment lingering for a moment before wavering. “I have my Pa, my step ma an’ my li'l brother, Sylven. I'm sure they're alright…” Her voice trailed to a small pause before she continued onward. “The whole time we were in Gilane, I jus’ couldn’ wait t'head back t'Skyrim, an’ that want was even more in the bloody hot desert… knowin’ the Dwemer are there, guess I'm just scared that wha’ happened in Imperial City happened there too. I dunno if Pa's alright… Sylven's jus’ a kid...” She shrugged. “Guess I shouldn’ worry 'bout that's jus’ yet though. We gotta get t'Skyrim first.”

Daro'Vasora nodded, her features resigned. “I'm not going to pretend like everything is going to be okay. But thing is, this whole mess is on us and if we can't protect the ones we love, we sure as shit are going to avenge them. You just can't worry about what you're going to find when we haven't even reached there yet.

“My sister was coming to visit me, a couple weeks after the expedition. I pray to S'rendarr she wasn't on the road when the invasion hit, that she was still in Leyawiin when the news reached her. There hasn't been a day I haven't thought about her, and I'm worried if I think of her and Roux and Zegol at the same time, she shared their fate.” She shook her head, barking a rueful laugh. “What a stupid, irrational thought, right?”

Meg shook her head. “Maybe, but I can get ya. So much has happened, ain’ a surprise t'just end up paranoid an’ think anythin’ can cause somethin’ or other.” There was a small frown on her face as she thought of the various misfortunes that had fallen upon the group since they had first met on the expedition. And with that, she ended up smiling. “I guess we jus’ gotta remember the good stuff too.” She nudged Sora gently. “Like you findin’ yerself a lover, eh?” She allowed herself a cheeky grin before continuing. “An’ so much more… guess sometimes it's hard t'remember, but maybe that's just means we gotta try hard to.”

“Daro'Vasora, finder of relics and men with exceptionally peculiar standards. Lucky me.” She smiled somewhat bashfully. “We're going to look back at all of this as some grand adventure, I'm sure. But Meg? I've been thinking about this whole thing for weeks now and I don't know if it helps, but I have a suspicion the Dwemer massed for a massive attack on Cyrodiil because they knew it was the capital. Nobody heard any rumours or had any idea what was going on, right? It was a big shock. But that's what doesn't add up; if they came from the North, if they invaded Skyrim first, there would have been refugees, messengers, the Legion, all of that. Why wasn't there any?” She asked, looking to Meg to see if she could come to the same conclusion.

"Huh..." Unable to help herself, Meg brought a finger to her mouth, chewing at the tip as she thought over Sora's question. "That's... That's bloody strange. Nords wouldn've just let a buncha mer walk all over 'em... there shoulda been a whole lotta noise... Gods knows Ulfric knew how t'make people regret bein' in Skyrim..." She blinked, thoroughly confused. "D'you think they were subdued somehow? Or maybe they joined forces with the dwemer." Both seemed unlikely to her, truth be told.

The Khajiit smiled. “Well, if I had a fancy airship armada that can fly over mountains and make trips in hours that would take a marching army weeks, why wouldn’t I bypass a bunch of rustic stone cities with no strategic value and instead go to rip out the throat of my enemy? If I know that the Imperial City was the center of everything, the crown jewel of Tamriel, somewhere I could stage and protect my fleet that can reach all corners of the continent from the most easily defended city of all, why not surprise my enemy and take it when they aren’t expecting it? It would be a lot easier to topple such a prize if you take initiative than to slowly work your way slowly hold by hold.

“With the Dwemer, we can’t think like a traditional army; they don’t have to worry about chokepoints or passes or leaving cities unchallenged. They can go wherever they want and nobody can do a damn thing to stop them from doing it. So with that in mind, I think there’s a good chance that most of Skyrim’s avoided the worst of this invasion and at worst, they probably had time to react to what they saw and plan ahead. Your people are Nords; give you a day, and you can turn your dining room into a barracks. Give your people a week, and your dinner table just turned into a battering ram. Give it a month and your entire house is now a siege tower. Never before has there been a people more enthusiastic for a good war.” the Khajiit grinned at Meg.

Meg's finger dropped from her mouth as easily as it had found its way in, landing in her lap as she gaped at Sora. "Huh!" She blinked a few times before shaking her head in bewilderment. "I didn' even... I didn' even think of that. Of course... that makes a whole lotta sense! They could've just flown over like dragons an' headed to wherever they wanted... and in the meantime, givin' Skyrim the chance t'prepare, jus' in case."

She breathed out, feeling a sudden spark in her light up once more, one she had thought had been diminished for good the night before. "Pa, Marne, Sylven... could be they're doin' alright then." She looked to Sora and spontaneously clasped the Khajiit woman's hands, hope seeming to light up her eyes despite the dark marks around them. "Thanks, Sora. For everythin'. The scarf, yer words, an' all the rest." Her grip tightened. “Yer a true leader, an y’can count on me t’follow ya ‘til the end.”

Daro’Vasora smiled slightly, squeezing Megana’s hands back. “And here I was coming to thank you for saving me and all of that, but I suppose we both have things to be thankful for. I promise that whatever this end is, I’m going to do everything I can to get us home safe. You better introduce me to your family if we find them, alright? You’ve got a pretty new scarf to show them.”

Meg let out a chuckle at that. "Pa's gonna be wonderin' what's gotten t'my head, wearin' pretty things; he's used t'seein' me dressed up like a boy since I was just a li'l kid. Still..." She lowered her head a little so that her nose was pressed against the scarf, hiding her lips though the smile could still be seen in her eyes. "I love this an' I'mma treasure it. An' I'm sure Pa'll be happy t'meet ya. Sylven will for sure." She hoped anyway, she had plenty of stories to entertain her family with about the motley group she had spent time with.

“Take it from me; you can still be rough and tumble without losing feminine charm.” Daro’Vasora said, patting Meg’s thigh as she stood up. “I never thought you looked like a boy, just practical.” She reassured her friend with a warm smile. Her gaze turned to the tent’s opening. “I’ve taken up enough of your time, we have a long journey ahead of us. But if you need to talk to someone who isn’t an emotionally stunted murder-lizard, I’ve always got time and two very large ears.” the Khajiit said, rolling her shoulders back and cracking her neck. She began to leave the tent before turning back one last time. “The green, it suits you. I look forward to seeing you somewhere that feels like home.” she said, and soon, she was gone back into the tent city.

Meg watched Daro’Vasora leave before returning to her previous task of putting away her clothes. Looking to the bottles, she blinked before deciding to hand them off to the Imperial Redguard pirate, who seemed to have a thing for storing water in them.

The scarf remained loosely wrapped around her, a reminder of good things, past, present, and future.

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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by LadyTabris
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A Desert Night

tabby & poo
On the initial journey from Gilane, the dirt and heat of the desert had felt nothing short of oppressive. Each step was unpleasant for Anifaire, her thoughts and feelings at their lowest. It seemed all was a failure and she could do nothing about it.

Leaving the prison, the heat didn’t seem so dry, and she realized she was so dirty it was beyond repair. In the most dire need of a bath than she had ever been in her life, Anifaire felt more satisfaction than ever. Somehow, beyond her despair, the group had succeeded. In the back of one of the wagons, she found herself leaning into the sun, careless for how the sand sprayed her, the journey as far from the first as could be.

As they arrived, the entire tent city reverberated with the high of celebration she felt. Through all her time since leaving Alinor, she had never felt so welcomed by a strange people without even speaking to any of them, though she knew she owed it to her group’s success. Though she often would struggle with feeling inadequate over not playing her own part, the cooled evening air felt like it was washing inhibitions off her.

She weaved her way through the large crowd, for once unconcerned about the possibility of being lost or running into unfavourable circumstances like she had in the past. The atmosphere forbade her fears; no hostility directed itself towards her. She brushed past others, no destination in mind, until to her surprise she found herself at the front of a crowd watching a wrestling match.

Two redguard women, unarmed, circled each other. One stood, fists raised, a grin on her face, but the other, quicker, grappled her around the waist, using superior size to push the former back several paces. Their bare feet slid in the sand, but somehow each kept balance like it had no effect, until the woman being grappled shot up her knee, knocking the larger one to the ground.

All around her, men and woman cheered, shouted, and generally made a ruckus following the hit. The woman next to her, an Imperial far shorter than Anifaire, threw her arm around the elf’s shoulders, a bottle of… something, in the other hand. The stranger, friendly as she was, was intoxicated and without balance; the pair were knocked to the ground. As Anifaire collected herself, and the other woman scrambled to apologize, the crowd filled in around them, people rushing forwards and cheering over the wrestling match.

The Imperial, trying to stand up, handed Anifaire the bottle in her hand. She made it to her feet, using the elf as a confused ladder, and just as quickly she disappeared into the shifting, river-like crowd. Anifaire backed out of it, the adventure enough for the moment, and was able to use the benefit of her height to see over enough heads to make it to the outskirts of the tent city.

The atmosphere was more subdued, and while she felt less exhilarated, she could breathe again. Finding a half-clear area still well within the bounds of the tents, she discarded her shoes, wanting to feel the sand now that it was cold. She sat in the sand, resigned to be dirty until a bath was available, and the sand felt nice.

She tilted the bottle in her hand up to her face, sniffing the contents: wine. Anifaire placed the bottle in front of her. Was it all right to drink it? She frowned.

“We haven’t had any time to talk yet, have we?” A voice asked from behind her. Not four paces away, Alim lay on a caravan cart, his head dripping from the jug of water he used to half drink/half wash himself after he was broken out of captivity. His chin rested on his crossed arms as he looked at her, smiling easily.

He was in need of a huge retelling of what happened while he had been captured and away, but at the moment all he wanted was some comfort, and to hear Anifaire speak. Or perhaps they were both one and the same? It didn’t matter, he was far too tired to try and philosiphize himself out of certain ways of thinking.

He dragged himself up, though his body felt like it weighed thrice what the normally lithe man was used to. Groaning, he hopped onto the sand and made his way to Anifaire, setting his rump down next to her. They hadn’t even talked about him kissing her yet either. Well, it would certainly come up soon, he believed.

“Alim,” Anifaire greeted, surprised. She’d thought about him throughout the journey, nervous, and faced with him now her face erupted with blush. She crossed her legs, shifting to better face him. Idly, she traced the sand around the circular bottle of wine, He had kissed her; she felt butterflies in her stomach at the thought but couldn’t decide what he could possibly have meant by it.

“Oh, everything is… you’re all right, aren’t you? Being imprisoned…” After seeing him initially, the concern of injuries had slipped her mind, but he seemed so tired now.

Alim blinked, realized they both had their legs crossed and were looking at one another. He gave a small laugh. “I’m very good, thanks to you.” he told her with a smile. He did feel aches in far too many places. Blunt trauma and bruisings he had ignored over the past few days to get through the experience, but now everything hurt. But he also knew none of it was serious, though his back problems had come back a bit.

Somehow, even though he had been the one imprisoned, he was mostly worried about her. Probably because he had not seen her in a long time. “How are you? I mean, how have you been?” he asked, looking past the unkempt mass his hair had grown into, giving him a more wild, rugged look than his previous smooth, princely aura.

Anifaire felt relief that he confirmed his well-being, though it didn’t feel like she deserved much of the credit. At his question, she considered what to say; the state she had been in right after Gilane was awful, and she wasn’t sure how to talk about it. In the moment, she was simply glad he hadn’t seen her like that, and felt embarrassed.

“Gilane and… leaving… was difficult.” She didn’t want to lie, but the time was something she wanted to forget. “I was worried about you.” Trying to think of something positive to say, she blurted out: “I learned to make mashed potatoes.”

“I was worried about you t-...wait really?” he asked her. Normally he’d laugh, but she usually seemed to sheltered. She was learning new things! “That’s awesome Ani! How’d that happen? Who taught you?”

“Zaveed,” she answered blankly. The Khajit seemed strange, but not so bad, yet he’d done bad things. Her brow creased, thinking.

He smiled, and reached up to brush her cheek a bit with his fingers. “You’ve learned a lot since I was away.” He told her. Alim knew people, and he knew how to see different changes in them; subtle things only a keen eye could see. She seemed far wiser and more experienced. She had already been intelligent to begin with. “That’s the best thing you can do. Keep improving yourself, I mean.”

Anifaire smiled brilliantly, a flash of pride at everything she’d been through appearing. “Thank you…” She trailed off, looking down at the wine bottle she was playing with, tracing out the sand around it, hollowing out a hole. She blushed lightly, thinking of how he kissed her, but afraid to ask about it, she rambled amicably. “I think I like this desert now. Do you like the desert?”

Alim smiled and nodded. He knew she was nervous, and it was probably the most adorable thing he had witnessed in years. He kind of wanted to milk it, but he couldn’t help but reach for her dainty hand and hold it. His thumb rubbing the back of her hand caringly. “I do. I like it very much.” His dark eyes met hers.

She nearly jumped in surprise, muscles jolting lightly, but she didn’t want to pull away. She relaxed her shoulders, tightening her hand slightly. “It’s nice here.” She paused, nervous to look over at him, and tilted her head back to look up at the stars. Somehow, they seemed more plentiful in the desert. “Alim…” She wasn’t sure how to ask her question, but she wanted to kiss him again.

The redguard relaxed, feeling a quickening of his heart rate when she squeezed it. Even being as experienced in women as any, Anifaire always found a way to melt his heart. He looked up at the stars too, following her eyes. It was very beautiful up there. Like all of the jewels of the world had been plucked and placed in the sky.

“Yeah, Ani?”

It took her time to speak. Finally, after debating a few sentences in her head, the pressure she felt from leaving the silence hanging pushed her until she blurted out, “you kissed me.”

Alim’s eyes opened wide, both out of surprise and sudden fear that it had been the wrong thing to do. He knew women and he could tell she liked him, but he had just been so happy to see her and to have busted out of the cell. “Sorry…” he said, deflating a bit. “I was just...No, there’s no excuse. I apologize.” he remarked, unable to tell how she would react next.

Anifaire’s jaw loosened in surprise, frowning quickly. She raised an arm, gesturing with it as she spoke hurriedly. “No! Um-” She paused. “I didn’t mean that I didn’t… I was just... surprised you wanted to kiss me.” She stopped, nervous he would think she wanted him to leave her alone, and her hand dropped back down to her lap.

“I thought we were um…” he didn’t know how to react to this. She was obviously far more worldly since last they spoke. But she still seemed a bit sheltered, and he wasn’t sure how to approach this. “I thought we were getting closer? I...simply wanted to. Have you ever felt that before? The desire to kiss someone? It’s nice, right?”

His brow raised and he gave her a charming grin, though there was an obvious warmth to it. “You know if you wanted to, we could kiss again?”

Anifaire slowly broke out into a smile. She toyed with the hem of her shirt nervously, but nodded in agreement.

“I would like that,” she said quietly. Her head tilted down, she had butterflies in her stomach. “I was only worried you only thought… you were only being friendly to me to be nice, or…”

Alim smiled, chuckling at such an intelligent and beautiful woman being so sheltered. He reached up to grab a handful of lush elven hair gently, and he kissed her. With his other hand, he cupped her cheek. He’d never had a woman need to lean down to kiss him, but he found he didn’t mind.

She never thought she would be kissing someone who wasn’t an Altmer, she realized, though it didn’t occur to her until she noticed how she had to lean down. That expectation, she realized, wasn’t something she particularly cared about.

No, kissing Alim turned out to be perfect. As seconds trickled by, her muscles relaxed, and she leaned over closer to Alim, her hand digging into the soft, cool sand. The desert was lovely by night, she decided. It had grown on her.

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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by DearTrickster
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Nap Time

17th of Midyear - 4E208
Dwemeri Prison Ruins Kthrakz




The morning heat scorched the desert sands, great stone walls of the Dwemeri ruin not far in the distance, hidden in the shade of a large dune under a canopy of tarp to protect the caravan, the camels, and lone vigilant guard protecting the group’s belongings occasionally making a peek at the prison for movement before retreating to the shade. Judena’s wide scaley head hidden beneath a lightly shaded scarf, tucked safely inside her shirt to secure it. Golden eyes squinting against the odd swirl of sand, she stood tall and vigilant, her long red scaled tail sweeping behind her, wrapped with cloth as well to protect it from the harsh sand. It wasn’t natural for an Argonian to be away from water for so long - frankly she was not pleased about their extended travels across the desert. She did not vocalise her complaints but a singular look shared with her fellow Argonian, Jaraleet confirmed he was miserable as well.

For the prison break, Judena hoped with all her heart for its success. Alim missing among them was heartbreaking, to all people she saw his presence missed most of all by her student Anifaire. The young Altmer woman clearly harbouring strong feelings for Alim, Anifaire spoke no word of it but it was writ all over her expression ever since they left Gilane without him in tow.

She gripped the staff of her spear, a glow of mage armour glimmering over her body. Judena decided and volunteered to watch the caravan, watch over the sleeping corsair passed out in the back of the wagon. Knowing full well she was not suited for sneaking anywhere. Occasionally Judena peeked into the back of the wagon to remind herself, Maj Noor was still there.

Ready as she was for danger, Judena found her mind wondering all over the place as one does when they are bored. Touching on her thoughts of the medicinal fix for broken minds Daro’Vasora presented to Judena. Where she was scared to hope, she hoped and imagined nonetheless when given time to do so.

A notion she would have cried herself to sleep over once upon a time, it had been a very long time since she ever felt that way.

Smiling now at the thought of gaining back her ability to remember, she held onto that.

Maj Noor was indeed sleeping as if she was dead to the world, in the wee hours of the morning did alcohol finally pull the insomniac into a sleep. As the alcohol passed through her system filtering through her hard working kidneys, did the mage’s stomach turn rumbling - unsettled. Cracking her eyes open pausing before pushing herself up in a panic to the edge of the wagon to vomit the contents of her stomach into the sand surprising Judena with her sudden appearance.

Groaning after the heaving subsided, she pushed herself away leaning against a sack of apples reaching behind her she dug around in the sack pulling free a red apple, swiping her wrist under her lip removing a few drops of vomit. Judena disappeared to return with a skin of water for Maj, careful to avoid the vomit.

“How are you feeling. . .” Judena began to ask, checking her journal ensuring she got her name right. “Maj Noor?”

Gratefully accepting the waterskin, Maj drank deeply then siped lightly spitting out the remains of bile in her mouth.

“I’m awake,” she said plainly, the headache throbbing away. “Thanks for the water, where is everyone?” She looked around past the wagon seeing they were obviously on their own.

Judena read from her logbook, “We are currently alone because the others entered the Dwemeri prison to free Alik’r prisoners, hoping Alim is among them and Sirine’s family, while hopefully recovering a bit of Dwemer technology.” Smiling pleasantly at the young mage.

Maj regarded Judena, dutifully reciting her own memories across a page. She pitied the Argonian, Mazrah and a great deal of others felt a great affinity for their forgetful elder. Her positivity was endearing to say the least, she wondered how she managed to survive for so long the way she struggled.

“Well I better get going to join them, they can’t be far ahead-” Maj pushed herself up from the sack, wobbling slightly - holding her head. Finding her center she took a bite of the apple before jumping down to the sand. “Point me in the right direction.”

Judena shook her head, “I apologize Maj, the others have been gone into the prison for more than an hour. You would surely get lost before you found them or something else found you. I urge you to stay here with me.”

Maj frowned at Jude, “Mazrah let me sleep instead of joining her?”

“She insisted you needed to sleep, having been awake for three days straight before passing out last night. You suffer from the inability to fall asleep yes? I quite often take my ability to get a good night sleep for granted.” Judena patted Maj’s shoulder. “We can keep each other company while we wait for their return, it is quite boring to stand watch on your own.”

Maj casted her eyes away, scratching at an itch on her neck thoughtfully chewing through another bite of her apple.

Judena smiled brightly heading over to a barrel walking it by the side of the wagon for Maj to have a seat. “Please have a seat! We can chat while you wake up.”

Maj took the seat hefting herself onto the barrel, legs dangling, her heels tapping the wood. “Aye, I guess it’s better than trying to go back to sleep now.”

Judena reached to grab a second apple for Maj when she finished her first one, throwing the core into the sand, “I am glad we have this time to speak! It is so rare to see a redguard practicing magic or a land bound pirate.”

“Aye…” Maj began, not in the mood to entertain but satisfying Judena’s curiosity was something she could do at least in return for her watching over her. “About as rare as seeing an Argonian practicing magic as well I suppose.”

Judena considered that and laughed good naturedly, “Indeed! There are not many like us.”

“It ain’t without consequences, but I learned from the best master of illusion and conjuration. I’ve got an imagination that can come to life right in front of you.” Maj gestured with her apple at Judena as the Argonian dictated their conversation as they had it, it made Maj uncomfortable, for no real reason. They weren’t speaking of secrets and conspiracies but detailed account of her words by someone else’s hand didn’t sit well with her. She rolled the apple across her sleeve, “So, how’d you lose your memories?”

Judena finished a sentence then knocked a knuckle across her forehead, not missing a beat, “Took a boom to my head when I was younger.”

Maj winced, nodding. Knowing a few sailors and pirates alike having the same accident. “Happens all the time, clumsy fucking shiphands.”

Judena shook her head, “It was not one persons fault, but the wind.”

“Still a shit covered stick regardless of whose fault it was.” Maj commented.

“Indeed,” Judena agreed, “It is what it is.”

“Aye…” Maj took a thoughtful bite, “The dunes kind of look like waves,” Leaning onto her knee she looked out at desert trying to imagine big blue waves, feeling a tug in the pit of her stomach. “If you close your eyes,” She finished dryly.

Judena looked out into the dunes, “I miss the ocean as well. That was a pleasant note to being in Gilane. Are you used to being on land for this long?”

“Only when I was a kid did I go months and months on land before going back to the sea over the summer. Hated it then as I do now.” Maj said, “It ain’t natural.”

Judena nodded in understanding being outside of one’s element. “It will not be for much longer.”

“I miss the rain, the warm misty rain that would gently roll over the Imperial City, the thundering monsoon season in Argonia. Even the chilly rain in Skyim was welcome after a humid summer day.” Judena sighed wistfully, “Cleanses the soul,” She continued to write away in her logbook, noting her own thoughts irrelevant as they may seem in the future.

Maj took a few more quick bites of her apple then hopped off the barrel, removing some apple skin from her teeth. In spite of her headache Maj did like Jude’s company, it was pleasant there had to be a way to owe her back for watching over her while she blacked out. Her immediate thought was something easy and she hoped as kind as the old lizard, “Something like this?”

Casting Calm, Maj lifted her fist a blue outline around her fingers as she tapped into her magicka, slowly she opened her fist to show a small blue ball of magicka formed in the palm of her hand - carrying with it an illusion for Jude. It floated through the air gently landing between her eyes.

The illusion began firstly when Judena she heard the pitter patter of rain against the wagon roof, Judena turned to check a smile growing across her face she turned back to a gorgeous scene of Wayrest’s coastline came to life before her, the sun a warm orange glow over the horizon, a beautiful sunrise kissing the blue sky. The light rain washed over the city, Judena felt the humidity and even smelt the salty breeze of the sea, rain fell across her head soaking through her clothes. She shivered with delight. Marvelling at the illusion, she closed her eyes humming with content. A reminder of one of her favourite things to feel.

Maj smiled as she watched Judena’s expression, closing her eyes keeping the illusion up for several minutes. “This is Wayrest, grew up here. Still one of my favourite places to watch the sunrise.”

Judena breathed, “It is beautiful.”

Maj held onto the illusion as long as she could be breaking concentration, taking a deep breath and rest on top of the barrel. Her headache crashed in with a vengeance, she held her head groaning. “Ow.

Judena sighed with content, patting her back and handing her the waterskin once more. “Thank you, Maj Noor.”

Helping to nurse her head, the pair chattered on helping time pass until their friends arrived back from their successful prison break. Lapsing in and out of silence, the scritch of pencil against paper, a chuckle for a joke and groans of hangover pain. By the time the others returned Maj hardly noticed the logbook and Judena could still feel the warm rain across her scales.
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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Stormflyx
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Sweat, Sand and Smiles

*this one aint Raegor, kids.

Afternoon, 17th of Midyear, 4E208
Gathering of the Tribes, Alik’r Desert, Hammerfell





The mission in the prison had been a resounding success. Not only was the lexicon that Sora had coveted now in their possession, they had also been able to rescue a significant number of prisoners. Alim was back, which was great news, but among the other escapees was one man in particular that grabbed Mazrah’s attention: a tall, burly Nord with the greatest grin she ever did see, and a lightness to his movements that put a smile of her own on Mazrah’s face. She considered herself to be a good judge of character, even if the reality was that she was more likely to be oblivious to subtle deceit than to detect it, and something about him told Mazrah that he was a kindred spirit. There was no real time to talk during the journey as Mazrah naturally gravitated towards the vanguard of the caravan, side by side with Shakti as pathfinders of this ragtag band of misfits, but once they arrived at the colorful and vibrant oasis and finished unloading the supplies -- a task for which they had obviously both volunteered, given their strength -- she tapped him on the shoulder immediately.

“Hail, friend,” Mazrah said and beamed at Fjolte, noticing with a certain measure of satisfaction that they were of equal height. “Good to see a man around here with some real muscles on his bones! The name’s Mazrah but my friends call me Maz. Who are you?”

By the God's it felt good to be back in his clothes again. A simple pleasure, really, but a pleasure nonetheless. It felt good to breathe in the open air again too. That's what he was doing. Taking in long, deep breaths. Between those breaths he was practically inhaling carrots from an open sack too. He had a never ending appetite - and allowing himself to be in close proximity to a sack of food probably wasn’t his best idea, but he told himself that unloading the wagon allowed him… Certain privileges.

It was as he was getting into his fifth that he felt a strong tap on his shoulder, he had of course noticed the Orsimer woman as they were going - his eyes had an appetite too, but still she had caught him off guard. “Whoah!” he said, removing the carrot from his mouth, as if he'd been caught red-handed stealing them. But, he was surprised to see that the Orsimer, named Maz, was sporting perhaps a bigger smile than even he could plaster across his mug. “Ahh this is nothing, I'm out of shape. I'm normally twice this size,” he said in jest as he flexed and arm, but also half-eyeballing the incredible physique of the green Goddess in front of him. “I'm Fjolte, of Rorikstead… You can call me whatever you want though…” he said with a playful wink and a smouldering half-smile.

Mazrah had seen that look on many other men’s faces over the years and, feeling mischievous, she decided to play along -- for now. “Is that right?” she asked, cocked her head and bit her lip at him. “I’ll have to think about what I want to call you. Maybe if you… impress me, it’ll be a nice nickname,” she added and made a show of looking the Nord up and down. “Nice to meet you, Fjolte. How did a man like you end up in a place like that?”

He laughed heartily at her, “I have many nicknames already - it's but a wonder that people even call me by my birth name these days, sister.” It was true, and he paused momentarily as his blue eyes looked up, as if he were indeed counting off the list in his mind. He nodded, satisfied that he could think of so many on the spot. As he looked back to his new friend, he gave a friendly smile and took another bite from the carrot.

“You know,” he began, “I had been travelling through the mountains that border my homeland, Skyrim - a wonderful place…” his arm waved out in front of him as if he were painting those very mountains in the air in front of him, his voice suddenly deep with a dramatic flair. “It was a damned storm, and as I set to make camp in a cave for the night, I heard the sound of something deep within its depths…” He then turned to meet Maz's eyes with an intense stare, dropping slightly into a cautious squat. “Damn Dwemer had found me alone up there, they'd heard stories about me you know… They decided to ambush me… But I didn’t go down so easily sister, I must have taken three of them out before they took me down and brought me to the prison.” He rose back to his height, shoving the last bite of the carrot into his mouth before placing his hands on his hips proudly.

“Alright!” Mazrah exclaimed, grinning like an idiot, and slapped Fjolte in the shoulder in a display of instant camaraderie. “That’s what I’m talking about. Way to show those pompous shits that you’re not taking it lying down.” She nodded in approval and her grin turned into a smirk. “Doing a good job at impressing me so far. That hammer isn’t just for show, eh?”

“Well…” he began, his disposition softening only slightly at the mention of the hammer that was slung across his back. “Not for show exactly, not that one anyway,” he wiggled his eyebrows and laughed again before turning to the wagon again to take a seat on the back. “What about you? Were you a prisoner too then?” He propped his foot up on his knee, and watched Maz, happy to have found someone of a similar spirit indeed.

She laughed and rolled her eyes at Fjolte’s tasteless joke. “Me, a prisoner?” she continued and shook her head in admonishment, tutting as she did so. “Malacath would have my hide. I’m with the people that set you free! Between that and our assaults on the governor’s palace and a prison transport, my spear has wet itself with gallons of Dwemeri blood. You have some catching up to do, big man,” Mazrah said and it was her turn to place her hands on her hips and strike a pose.

“Seems like you've been through a lot together, eh?” He thought over what she had said, a palace and a transport. All while he'd been shut away behind bars. He ran a hand through his hair. He still needed it to be cut, he might have been in his clothes but he felt raggedy and out of shape still. “Oh, and don't tempt me with a challenge like that, I might just take you up on it!” his eyes narrowed and he smirked in delight. “Other stuff to catch up on too apparently… More than one way to wet a spear” he remarked with a boyish grin, his eyes locked on to Maz's. If nothing else, his crude humour had not deterred her so far.

“I thought it was a hammer?” Mazrah asked as dryly as she could before she chortled, unable to suppress her amusement. For a man that was just broken out of prison, Fjolte’s joy of life and charm were delightfully spirited. She was going to have to let him down eventually, of course. “What’s next for you, now that you have your freedom back?” she asked, changing the subject, keeping him in suspense for a little while longer.

Fjolte thought about the question, he of course already knew the answer but perhaps wondered if a woman like Maz could understand it. He decided that it didn't matter. “I'll do what is needed of me, and what is fated for me, sister.” He smiled, only this time it was not a roguish grin - it was just made a sincere warmth. “Whatever I do will be right, and will lead me onwards in my journey.” He held a pause for a while, finally throwing an impish wink in her direction as he hopped down from the wagon. “Right now, I'm itching to move and just do something, you know?”

“It’s a good life, isn’t it?” Mazrah reflected and took a deep breath, enjoying the warm air and the smell of the oasis. “To go wherever your feet take you and do what you feel is right. I’m the same. You should stick with us. The Khajiit over there, Daro’Vasora, has a plan to stop this Dwemer invasion. That would be a noble fate, no?” she asked and playfully punched him in the shoulder. “If you want to do something, spar with me. I’ll kick your ass but it’ll be good practice to get you back into shape.”

“I don’t know if that one really wants me tagging along Maz,” he said with a sigh, “we have… a history - she was less than pleased to see me.” The Nord laughed almost nervously, and shrugged his shoulders. “I’m going to have to do something to get back into her good graces - not quite sure why I’m not in them anyway, you know? Last time I saw her she was pretty happy with me.”

Mazrah stared at Fjolte for a few seconds before her gaze shifted back to Daro’Vasora on the other side of the camp. She burst into uproarious, unrestrained laughter and pointed at Sora. “You and her?” she managed. Another wave of laughter followed and she doubled over, hands on her knees and her lungs gasping for breath. She straightened up and looked away, wiping at her eyes, but as soon as her gaze met Fjolte’s and saw the sheepish expression there she broke down into a fit again, howling with laughter. “I’m sorry,” she wheezed and fanned at her face with her hand. “It’s just -- you’re so -- and Latro’s so --” Once more, her amusement wrestled control away from her and Mazrah actually had to walk away a few feet and hide behind the cart while she fought to control her breathing and stop the sniggering.

He was not offended by it, he just listened to her words as they were puffed out in between her bellows of laughter. Hell, it made him laugh too and he had no idea who or what a Latro was. Laughter was infectious, and as long as people were laughing, so was he. “Yes me and Sora!” he said from behind a loud chortle, “only the once!” he followed up to clarify, pointing a finger in Maz’s direction. “Pretty memorable evening, the lass has claws.” Fjolte placed a hand on his own stomach as he felt it pull with each rumbling laugh. “Anyway, it’s in the past now but I guess--” he too found himself wheezing, “if she has a new beau she might not like my being here, that may explain it.”

He steadied himself on the back of the wagon, his laughter dying down somewhat. “Wait! I’m so what?!” he asked, his mouth half open in confusion.

Reappearing from behind the cart, Mazrah had finally regained her composure, though a shit-eating grin was still plastered on her face. “Claws,” she repeated and shook her head, laughing silently and massaging her jaws. “You’ve got to stop, my face hurts.” The Orsimer took a deep breath and exhaled slowly before she finally heard Fjolte’s question. “You’re what? Oh, right. You’re so big! And… manly! Latro, her lover, is… well,” she replied, searching for the right words, “not so much those things. In the short while that I’ve known him he’s successfully disguised himself as a woman on two separate occasions. The only way you two could be any further apart is if you were an orc.”

As Maz explained the differences, something dawned on him. There had been a woman who had taken his eye on their way out of the prison. He’d only spotted her once or twice, but she had been sporting such beautiful long locks of hair. The realisation hit him harder than an angry Giant, and his eyes went blank, his face even more so. “Not that Breton with the long hair, eh? And the orangey eyes?” He took a step back and turned to face away from Maz, this might be the one time that he ever truly found himself embarrassed. “God’s…” he said as he leaned over, placing his hands on his knees. “Fucking hell I thought that was a woman!”

The shrieks, guffaws and cackles of Mazrah’s fit of merriment that followed were loud enough to echo off the high cliffs that surrounded the oasis and she sank down on her buttocks, leaning against the cart for support, tears streaming down her face and her arms wrapped around her abdomen. She laughed and laughed and laughed until she could no more and buried her face in her hands, the silent wracking of her shoulders only interrupted by the gasps and wheezes as she drew breath. For a woman that was already easily amused, Latro’s mistaken gender had been the final nail in the coffin. Mazrah looked up at last, eyes puffy and voice hoarse. “I’m sorry, Fjolte!” she squealed and stamped her feet, almost frustrated that she couldn’t stop laughing. “Oh gods above,” she stammered and cast her gaze to the sky, slowly breathing in and out while she clutched a hand to her chest, her breathing shaky as she almost broke out into laughter yet again. “I really needed that,” she grinned and dried her cheeks. “Yes, that’s Latro.”

He shook his head in disbelief at himself, unable to stay too red-faced over it for too long of a time. The Nord rose back up to his height and smiled, laughing quietly at himself. “Ahh, don’t be sorry. It’s pretty funny isn’t it? I tell you though, he’s a good looking fuck. I can’t be mad at him. Good on him for being a beautiful lad.” He swaggered over to the wagon again, plonking his ass back down on the wooden ledge. “I hadn’t seen a single woman for over a month Maz, it was an easy mistake. Good on Sora though, happy for the lass…” He sighed, brushing away the wetness from his own eyes. He hadn’t really laughed that hard for some time. “What’s this about a spar anyway?” As he spoke, he gave the Orsimer a playful poke in the arm. “You want to go toe-to-toe then?”

“Hell yeah,” Mazrah said eagerly and got to her feet. The laughing fit was definitely over now and she was ready to do something with all the excess energy her mirth had given her. “If you’re not a pussy, we can spar with our real weapons. I promise I won’t accidentally kill you.”

He immediately gave a laugh that suggested he knew something that she didn’t. He shifted himself off the wagon, tugging at two long, red cloths he was wearing as a belt. He untied the knot that held them in place and began winding one of them around his left wrist, taking it over his palm and fist. He wiggled his fingers like a wave at Maz, saying nothing as he did the same for the other hand then tilted his head to one side so that his neck cracked. A smug grin crept over his lips as a hand reached to free the hammer from his back. He watched Maz closely to see her reaction as he swung it one handed playfully before letting it drop onto the sand with a soft crunch. “Oh sweetheart, I am the weapon.” He winked at her before bringing his right leg back, the knee of the left at an angle to the ground, his right arm came up to protect his face and as he waited for her to ready herself, he moved in this stance - switching between legs and arms, almost like a dance.

It was an impressive display. Mazrah rolled her eyes and blew him a raspberry before shooting him a cheeky grin. “Alright, big guy. Have it your way.” She took off her bow and quiver and propped them up against the cart, out of harm’s way, before she removed her spear from its strap. She brandished it with a flourish, spinning the long weapon around her, just as close to choreography as Fjolte’s movements, her feet moving fast in the sand. Finding a spot she was apparently satisfied with, Mazrah dropped into a low crouch and held up the spear with her right arm over her head, angling the shaft so that it rested on the back of her outstretched left hand, the tip of the spear pointing at Fjolte. “Ready when you are.”

“I’m a Nord! I was born ready!” he laughed, watching her movements closely. She was sticking to what she knew, and so was he. This would be interesting. Moving around on the sand like that almost made him forget that he probably wasn’t in the best shape to be doing this, and with a nice ranged weapon like that she might find it easy to make fast work of him. He’d have to play the long game for this one. He took a quick dive in her direction - hoping that his body would behave itself. Last thing he wanted was to go for a flip and end up arse over tit. He had to groan, but he got enough height to spin his body for a single rotation at least, his leg was straight and pointed for a kick he knew would not land, but he wanted to show her anyway. He dropped back onto the sand, balanced on one foot in a low squat - the momentum of the spin was enough to move him in a crouching roll to Mazah’s right - close, but not close enough for her just yet.

He was fast, at least. Mazrah hopped backwards from his approach to stay out of his range and stabbed in his direction with her spear, guiding the weapon with the splayed fingers of her left hand, like a billiards player showing off with his pool cue. It was flashier than it was practical, but what was the point of sparring if not to show off a little? She had the advantage and pressed it, forcing Fjolte to evade the thrusts of her orichalcum spear -- she wanted to see how he would do so.

He smirked at her as she came at him. She was good with her weapon, precise, efficient. He couldn't find it within himself to be worried about her just yet though. He watched her movements closely and as she came for him with the spear he bent himself backwards, his right leg at a sufficient distance from his left so as not to trip him over. If she was going to show off, he would too. Or at least, continue too. The theatricality of a spar was half the fun after all. It was uncomfortable though, and he slipped a little as he came back up to his height. “Gods, I'm all out of shape,” he panted, “you're going to give me a workout and a half, aren't you, gorgeous?” He grinned, working his feet against the sands again to draw nearer to her still. He wanted to tempt her to start closing the distance.

“You better believe it,” Mazrah purred. She continued to prod and poke at Fjolte, maintaining her distance and not caving to Fjolte’s desire to get up close and personal. She grinned, enjoying the sight of the Nord contorting himself into all manner of positions to evade her spear. They were at the edge of the camp, but some people had caught sight of them and stopped to watch. It must have been a very outlandish sight for the desert nomads. Mazrah wasn’t above to giving them a good show, and she backed away from Fjolte only to run towards him instead. She planted her spear foot-first into the sand and hoisted herself up and into the air, bolstering the momentum of her own leap by using the spear as a pole-vault, and somersaulted clear over Fjolte’s head.

“Hyah!”

Hands still on the spear, she quickly pulled it in close to her body before sending the tip straight down while she sailed over Fjolte, emulating the way she had killed a Dwemer guard on the streets of Gilane back when they were freeing Shakti from the prisoner transport. Mazrah completed the corkscrew somersault and landed elegantly on her feet, dropping low into a feline crouch to disperse the kinetic energy. The gathered tribesmen and women ooh’ed and aah’ed appreciatively and a broke out into a small smattering of applause.

So you can jump too… he thought with a smirk, his eyes narrowed. Now was not the time to underestimate her. She struck hard and fast but he dodged each thrust with the movement of his stance. A quick pull here and a sudden duck there. She was set about in a rhythm that was easy enough to crack. She was performing for the crowd. This had become much less about the spar as it was the attention, and Fjolte felt the same.

The moment she jumped up he readied himself for her lancing motion, placing his weight on the back of his right foot. As it came down, he pulled himself low to the ground and into a backwards cartwheel with a slick fluidity. Her spear whistled down past his ear. “Nice stunt,” he commented with sincerity, genuinely impressed at her. “I pity whoever takes the two of us on for real, eh sister?” he laughed as he planted his hand to the ground, using a swing of his legs to propel himself into the air just as she had done. He didn’t get as much height as she, but that wasn’t necessary - he wanted to spin. He managed two rotations of his whole body in midair, leg outstretched as it had been earlier in the spar. This brought them close enough together to go for it if she wanted to. His impressive jump had elicited another cheer from the crowd. If she was going to get applause, he wanted it too.

“Not bad, not bad,” Mazrah said and flashed him a mischievous grin. She fell to the temptation and moved in to attack Fjolte from close range, using her spear as if it was a (very long) quarterstaff. The duel would look more spectacular that way and, besides, she wanted to see what those big hands were good for. She was light on her feet as she danced around him and swung her spear sideways in a two-handed grip, angling to give him a good smack on his ribs.

And he let her. Had to let her land something after all, he took in a sharp breath and tensed his upper body and arms as if to brace for the impact. He caught the tail end of its graceful swoosh through the space between them, it thwacked against his bicep. No way was he letting that Orichalcum smack his chest. He let force of the hit guide him into a quick roll on the floor. The crowd gasped - the two of them had the people fully enthralled in the action. “Ooof,” he exhaled with a laugh, moving ever closer to her - almost too excited, “impressive way to handle that length… That really fucking hurt.” he joked with a quiet chuckle.

It was his time now though, and with a rapid movement of his feet on the sands he closed in on her, his stance shifting and changing entirely as he finished playing evasively - his fists came towards her at her shoulder height. He wasn't about to catch a handful of tusk, afterall.

Fjolte’s strategy worked. His fists struck her in the shoulder repeatedly and Mazrah almost dropped her spear. He still had the strength of the bear inside him, despite his captivity. The Orsimer hissed in pain initially but that was quickly replaced by an appreciative peal of laughter while she fended him off with her spear and struck him twice sideways across the leg. “You’re stronger than you look,” Mazrah joked in turn.

“I bet you’re exactly as strong as you look,” he huffed out as he took the hits to his legs. They stung too. But this was good - the burning sun on the back of his neck, the soft sand beneath his feet, and the fresh air moving in and out of his lungs. It was exhilarating, and he didn’t care that she would probably best him. As the spear came back to flick his legs again, just in time he jumped up high enough to avoid it. “Come on Maz, give me what you’ve got,” he said with a smirk of concentration as he ducked into a squat on the ground, and gave a quick sweeping motion with his leg to knock her to the ground.

The sweeping strike connected and Mazrah felt her own weight being torn out from beneath her. She twisted in the air as she fell so that she landed on her hands -- but in doing so, she’d dropped her spear. “Clever,” she grunted and flipped back on her feet.

Now was the time to move, he closed in on her with another impressive flip back into the air. “Gods it feels good to move!” He yelled out into the air, his hands were closed fists and he moved as though not to punch Mazrah, but to push back her arm from taking a swing at him.

Mazrah accepted the challenge that Fjolte’s arms, rippling with muscle, posed and pushed back against him, her heels digging into the sand until they cracked the solid ground beneath. She strained with effort as the Nord and the Orsimer struggled against each other. Fjolte was bigger and heavier but Mazrah’s denser muscles gave her greater pound-for-pound strength. She grinned, beads of sweat on her forehead, and stared Fjolte in the eyes. “Are you ready for this?” she grunted.

“Give it to me already,” he said back through clenched teeth as the two were locked, ready for one or the other to buckle and make the next move. As he continued to push, somewhere beyond Mazrah, from the corner of his eye he saw a flurry of bright blue, then green, then pink. He knew what that was. He brought his attention fully to Mazrah, nostrils flaring as he swiftly let go and ducked down again for another leg sweep, hoping the force that Mazrah had put behind her would bring her down instead.

This time she was ready for him and Mazrah leapt over his head instead, flying clear of the leg sweep and landing behind Fjolte. She whirled around as her eyes went over red and she flooded her body with the hyper-adrenaline that was unique to the Orsimer race. Her grin turned into a feral snarl and her muscles bulged with enhanced strength. She wrapped her arms around Fjolte’s torso and locked his arms in place. Her body pressed up against him from behind and she attempted to wrestle him to the ground. “Here it is,” she growled, her voice raw and guttural.

He made the decision to go down, to follow where her strength was pushing him. Whatever she was doing was intense. Not only could he feel her strength, but there was a shift in her energy too, as if something else had taken over. Interesting he noted to himself as he struggled to free an arm. It was useless, and so he took a powerful stance as he came down. “If you wanted to get me on the floor…” he hissed - jaw clenched, his arms trembling under her strength, “shoulda just asked…”

There it was again, the flashing of colour in the distance - except it wasn’t so distant now and he could make out the forms of three beautiful women… Three beautiful dancers doing what they did best. Moving in unison with each other, their bodies sculpted but still soft, movements sultry and sensual. His mouth opened at the sight, that was it now, the arms wrapped around him were no longer leading his attention…

Despite her every intention to show Fjolte who exactly was the biggest, baddest bitch between the two of them, Mazrah’s gaze followed his and she, too, forgot what they were doing as the dancers flaunted their femininity. And so the pair of them sat in the sand, her grip around Fjolte relaxed and casual, staring for a few seconds, until Mazrah realised what they were doing. Her face scrunched up with mirth and she started laughing, patting Fjolte on the shoulder. “Looks like we have that in common,” she giggled.

It took a while for what she was implying to register, in between stealing glances at the women he looked back to Mazrah, an eyebrow raised as he put it together… “Well shit, knew you were too good to be true Green Goddess…” he laughed too as he relaxed into the sand with a deep sigh, feeling the adrenaline leave his body with each breath thereafter. “Gave me one hell of a kicking though, I'll give you that… Can't wait to see what you do when someone's not on your side…”

“Sorry not sorry,” Mazrah teased and poked her tongue out at him. She appreciated how easily he accepted what he would be losing out on. Too many men would get mad instead. Seeing that the fight was over, the crowd dispersed with a feeling of anticlimax. Mazrah didn’t care. She’d made a new friend, that was all that mattered. “The trail of dead and broken Dwemer I’ve left behind since Gilane speaks for itself,” she said smugly. “You’ll see for yourself sooner rather than later, I think. This fight is far from over. Forget what Sora thinks about you, man. I want you by my side, kicking ass and taking names. How about it?”

“Not just Sora though…” he said with a comical grimace, sucking air through his teeth awkwardly, but there was a glimmer of boyish humour sat in his eyes. He shrugged his shoulders and held his hands out before releasing a louder laugh when he realised how ridiculous the situation was. “But really, I haven’t travelled with a tribe like this before, I’m a nomad not a warrior - least not anymore. I’ll think about it though sister. I always get to where I’m meant to be. Maybe it’s with you and with Sora again, and Raelynn too.” SHIT! he thought, he’d named her. He turned his head sharply to look back at the dancers and away from the Orsimer’s gaze while she put two and two together… He hoped that wouldn’t make her laugh as hard as the first time, but actually, he didn’t mind if it did. People needed to laugh.

Another surprise. Mazrah raised an eyebrow at him. “What’s this about Raelynn?” she asked slyly. “She’s also spoken for, you know. Damn shame. I don’t blame you. How do you know her name already?”

“Known her for years, oddly enough. Nine actually.” His mind trailed back to the memory, and when he thought hard enough on it he could still feel the searing pains across his body from the bandit chief, Logvsim, and he happened to run his palm over his chest as if to check whether they were truly gone. “And yeah, I know. Met Chuckles in the prison, actually. Barrel of laughs that one.” Fjolte’s voice became strangely distant as the image of Gregor puppeteering a corpse in the abyss of Kthrakz came to mind.

She laughed at that. “Chuckles! Yeah, he’s a bit stiff, but I think he’s nice. Sora threw a party for us back in Gilane and… well, long story short, Raelynn and I did moon sugar and rolled around on the carpet for a while. Gregor didn’t mind. I thought that was pretty gracious of him,” Mazrah said, still oblivious to the necromancer’s true nature, her voice light and breezy. “So did you and Raelynn ever... you know,” the Orsimer said and batted her lashes at Fjolte, “do it?”

“Hey, don’t bat those lashes at me it won’t work now,” he spoke quickly, in a teasing manner of his own. As for what she was wanting to know… What he and Raelynn had was different to the one-night affair he’d shared with Sora. They had never been an item, or in love, but he had a deep respect for Raelynn and what they’d experienced together. “We did,” was all that he felt like saying to confirm Maz’s question, when all of a sudden he was intrigued by what else she had said, and he turned his head back to her, “you did what now!? Rolling around on the carpet?” That gave him a reason to laugh again. “I would pay to see it, I really would,” he wheezed.

“Of course you would, you old pervert,” Mazrah purred and rolled over so that her leg was hooked around Fjolte’s and her chest was pressed up against his side. With her mouth close to his ear, she continued. “We were like this, gripping and clawing at each other’s flesh, caught in the throes of the moon sugar,” she whispered and planted a kiss on Fjolte’s cheek, her tusks grazing his skin gently. She was grossly exaggerating, of course, but she couldn’t resist the opportunity to tease Fjolte like this.

Having Mazrah wrapped around him again like this, in a far more… suggestive fashion was definitely welcome to him, but it also felt a little off - it was a joke he wasn’t too keen to be the butt of. “Hey, slow down there - I get it, I get it. How am I going to find cold water in the fucking desert you absolute tease?” he laughed.

The thighs though... Now those he did give a second look too… Hell, if she was going to misbehave so was he. He pressed a finger to the back of the very leg that was wrapped around his and slowly he dragged it over her skin and found that despite her incredible musculature, it still had the unmistakable feminine softness to it that he adored so much. “Maybe I could stand to hear a little more…” he admitted in a soft breath of a voice. He knew she was about to eat him alive, but he couldn’t give a shit.

“Too bad,” Mazrah said bluntly and pushed herself away from Fjolte, her eyes alight with mischief and schadenfreude. She leapt to her feet and retrieved her spear from the sand, looking down on Fjolte with amusement. “That’s all for now. Maybe I’ll tell you the rest of the story another time. I guess you’ll just have to stay with us to find out, eh?”

And there it was, she did indeed throw him back out but that was to have been expected. It was a nice moment all the same. He knew what kind of woman she was now, and he decided that probably wouldn’t be the last time she’d try such a thing with him for her amusement. The Nord laughed and formed a faux-sad face at her, to reassure her that he was not mad or put out by her sudden, but inevitable betrayal. “You want me around that badly Green Goddess, I guess I had better,” he winked and gave his usual grin at her before he found his feet too.

“This has been grand! I’m glad to have met you today, I’m glad we could sweat it out together too.” His voice was jovial, and expression roguish but it soon slipped away to one of genuine appreciation and humility. His eyes warm and honest, “I mean that, I needed it. Thank you Maz!”

“Think nothing of it,” she said and clapped Fjolte on the shoulder with a wink. “What is it they say in High Rock? The pleasure was all mine? Something like that. Don’t be a stranger, big boy.”

And with that, the Orsimer gave him one last wave and departed at a light jog in search of food. She could eat a horse, she felt.
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Hank J. Wimbleton

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Precipice of Change

This one is.

Morning of the 19th of Midyear, 4E208
Gathering of the tribes, Alik’r desert, Hammerfell




Somehow, after all had been said and done with the gathering, Raelynn had found she had slept quite well. For the first time in what felt like a long time, she had drifted off and stayed that way. It had not been a peaceful sleep, but she had not been harassed by the plague of frequent waking, of sweating, of horrendous nightmares. The gathering had been and gone. Everyone that mattered knew their business now. Everyone that mattered knew everything. The words and confrontations had stung her, and she still felt a sharp pain in her chest in the cavernous space where her breath had been dragged out by the angry grip of her companions. Yet, they were both still here. Or at least she was here. Gregor was not, but strangely she felt no worry of his whereabouts.

She stared up from her position on the bedroll, Gregor’s side was practically untouched. Her side was crumpled and had still had her warmth within it and the pillow had an indentation to it from where she had been resting. There was a single smudge of black kohl against the fabric.

She brought her hands to her face and slowly drew her fingers under her eyes gently, adjusting her vision to the morning light that was sifting in. She sat up, letting the blanket slip from her frame. Gregor must be with Fjolte. She knew the Nord was an early bird and it made sense to fetch Gregor at that hour for whatever it is they were going to do. The thought crossed her mind of whether he might be off somewhere in a situation that she had been in with him. Walking the smoke. Her face scrunched as she fell deep into that thought, bringing a closed fist to her chest, it wasn’t pleasant to imagine and so she tried to shake it free with a soft shrug of her shoulders. Raelynn blinked, her sapphire orbs glossy with the dew of rest, and she made her way outside of the tent, her clothing a simple pair of linen trousers and a cropped vest.

She found a soft spot of sand to sit in, on her knees and took a deep breath in, letting her shoulders soften. It wasn’t until she did so that she realised how heavy the weight of that tension had been, the feeling of anger and the bitterness that had been consuming her... Her arms fell to her sides before she moved them together, one hand on top of the other in the shape of a point. Then she made a slow diving motion to the sand, her hands pushing against it as she brought herself flat, stretching out her back under the warmth of the sun. It probably looked so strange to any of the passers by as she worked through a series of poses, holding her body as still as a statue - even when it resisted against the stretches and she faltered. Even when the feelings of vicious spite held onto her fiercely. She just tried to breath and let them roll away, before moving in a graceful flow through her salutations, finally arriving back on her knees at the very end of the sequence.

He would be back soon, and so the Breton made her way back into their tent, and began her second ritual of the day — her hair. Carefully she combed it, removing the knots that had formed through the night, shaking free the grains of sand until it was smooth and shiny as ever, soft enough that her hands could now work through the lengths to form it into braids. She hadn’t braided her hair in so long, she thought as she did so, watching herself in the mirror - her tongue poking out at the side of her mouth in concentration as her oiled hands turned strand over strand, leaving behind lustre and the scent of lavender and oranges.

It didn’t take long for the worry to start to seep through, now that she was no longer occupied and just waiting. Her eyes flickered over the tent. She picked up a book and pressed at the pages but the she could not absorb the words. She plucked through her belongings, perhaps if she changed her clothes it might pass some more time… A dress today? Trousers? A tunic? And what about a belt? What about some rings - an earring, a brooch? Boots or sandals? What colour today? Maybe violet, maybe white… Finally she huffed out a long sigh and folded her arms over her chest, she was just going to have to wait it out…

The lich slipped into the tent like the tent like a phantom at the opera. There was more substance to his presence now, it seemed, and the face that revealed itself when the black hood was thrown back and the scarf pulled down from his nose bore, ever so slightly, signs of life in its eyes. Even if Gregor and Fjolte hadn’t achieved anything yet, he felt a little better to know that they were going to do something, even if it was only getting his memories back. Thinking so hard about what happiness meant to him brought back the love he felt for Raelynn at the forefront of his mind and he looked at her with a smile that brought some warmth to his cold, sharp face.

“Good morning,” he said and sank down on his knees next to her, his eyes going over her fresh clothes, her oiled and braided hair. She looked good, healthy, well-groomed. Gregor hadn’t taken care of himself since the ascension -- there was little need, since his skin no longer produced sweat and his hair no longer became greasy -- but there was still a disheveled quality to him, an inevitable consequence from walking around. He untied his hair and handed the leather strap to Raelynn. “Would you like to style my hair today?” he asked and gestured towards her braid. “Looks good, what you’ve done.”

There you are she thought to herself as she watched him enter the tent through the reflection in the mirror. Her natural reaction was still to steal a glance at him, and she looked over her shoulder to do just that, but the difference in his face caught her off-guard again, and all she could manage was a quick smile before she turned back to the clothes piles in front of her. “Good morning to you too…” she uttered softly, lowered over the piles as she folded them back up into a neat pile.

With him beside her, she felt more at ease - and immediately noticed a lack of smell, and by that she could not detect the scent of smoke staining his clothes, nor of any herbs which only served to make her curious about what he had been doing. She held the strap between her fingers awkwardly, looking at it… It filled her with a mixture of emotions, images from the last night became clear. How she’d undone his hair from it’s knot before they had made love. With a soft sigh she placed it on the dresser, out of her sight. She could not deny him his request, despite her feelings and so she gave him a sideways look before breaking her silence, “not Gregor Sibassius asking for someone to style his hair?” Ahh, there was a smile.

She picked up her comb and shuffled herself so that she was behind him, and tentatively at first she began to pull it through his hair. Combing from his hairline to the tips slowly, as if he was made of paper and she was scared to tear him.

“Not just someone,” he said as she moved behind him to do as he had asked. “Only you.” He hadn’t failed to notice how she had looked away from him quickly after seeing him over her shoulder. It stung, but… what could he realistically expect? Gregor knew he looked like a corpse. It would be tremendously magnanimous if Raelynn could ever get used to that, let alone after a few days. He pushed the thoughts aside and focused on the homework Fjolte had given him; make her laugh. It had been too long. “Fjolte made me climb a rock,” he said and smiled himself at how silly that sounded when stated so bluntly. “Can you imagine that? Went surprisingly well, though.”

“Climb a rock?” She asked, peering over his shoulder to be closer to his face - as if to check his expression. She stopped combing - holding the tips of a section of his hair between her fingers, her eyebrow raised quizzically. “I… Sometimes I don’t understand that one, but…” there was only one thing she wanted to know, and even if the thought of Gregor climbing a rock were amusing, she needed to know what else they had done - discussed… If he felt better. If any of it had helped. Raelynn bit her lip and moved back to focus on his hair, her movements relaxing as she discovered that no, combing his hair did not hurt him. “But he must have had some… Deep and mysterious reason for it, I suppose.”

Gregor shook his head gently, restricting his movements so as not to disturb Raelynn’s combing too much. “He wanted to look at the sunrise while we talked. Well, I suppose you’re right, there was a lesson, about overcoming a challenge to find the path waiting for me. There was a slope back down on the other side that would have been much easier to scale.” He fell silent as he wondered if he should tell Raelynn about the things Fjolte had volunteered about his past, but Gregor eventually decided against it. “He’s going to help me recover the memories I lost surrounding the… ascension, I suppose would be the word for it. But we didn’t really do anything yet. He was mostly just relieved I didn’t throw him off the cliff.”

Raelynn nodded along as he spoke, her fingers were now running through his hair too - and she was doing about as much styling of it as Gregor was… She was just combing quietly. First the with the teeth, and then her fingers delicately followed, twirling strands absentmindedly as she listened. “It’s a good job you didn’t throw him off the cliff. The damn fool would have survived and would likely try to tell everyone he’d performed a triple somersault from the peak…”

So all they had done was talk, that was interesting... Her eyebrow raised again, her lips narrowing into a pout while her mind worked through the information. “I see… Did he tell you what that would entail? I mean… Are you? Is that what you want?” She asked, leaning over his shoulder again, her fingers splayed over his scalp. “Sorry… of course it is, you need to know… you need your memories.” Once more, the Breton retreated to his back and carried on.

“I do,” Gregor said, not picking up on the implication behind Raelynn’s trepidation. “As long as I don’t know what the Ideal Masters exactly did to me and my soul, I’m not… whole. Once I am, we can see about treating me. He…”

The Imperial trailed off and cleared his throat. “Fjolte wants to help me become the man that can give you a home. ‘Nobody can hate that man’, he said. I haven’t forgotten what I promised you, Raelynn.”

“I trust him... To help you that is,” she admitted in a soft voice as she focussed her attention to his hair again. She sat quietly for a while, just combing. Just enjoying the mundane task he had asked of her, her shoulders and posture became relaxed the more she ran her fingers over him, and she was almost able to forget the situation at hand - even with the discussion of the Ideal Masters… The ritual gone wrong. Eventually she knew what she wanted to say; “and don’t go thinking you’re going to just give me a home. We’ll do it together, I want… I want to make that a perfect home for you just as much.”

That was cause for Gregor to fall silent for a while. His eyes were downcast and his hands lay silent and limp in his lap. “Are you sure?” he asked her eventually, his voice heavy with uncertainty. “Do you still want that with me? You were at the trial, you saw how they all… everyone hates me. I’m a monster. Just… it’s just… I need to be sure you know what you’re getting into. You could lose friends over this. Over me.”

Raelynn sighed, her hands falling by her own sides. She watched as his hair fell loose again from how she had been holding. Uncurling from itself. He needed strength, he needed to be held up and all she could think about was their night in the spring, how she had raised him up with reassurance and with love. It was all she had, afterall.

“I shan’t think of the trial when we’re in our home. When I’m in your lap by our hearthfire… Reading something, maybe reading to you. I won’t remember Gaius when we wake each morning, and you bring me flowers from our garden… When I work in my study… I won’t think of it.” Her voice wavered, a melancholy pierced her words but her eyes were warm, and slowly she let her arms wrap around his waist from behind him. “There is no home without you. Of course I’m sure.”

When she wrapped her arms around him he placed his own hands over hers, the coldness of his touch hidden beneath the leather of his gauntlets. It was such a simple gesture and yet it was possessed of more power than any sword or spell. Gregor closed his eyes and let the wave of emotions roll over him -- relief, love, gratitude. Even now, even in his current state, she could reach him in ways that nothing or nobody else could. “Thank you,” he whispered and gave her hands a gentle squeeze. He found that he could truly believe in Fjolte’s words now. There was cause for hope. With her, for her, Gregor had every reason he needed to push himself to rebuild. “I think I might take up gardening,” he said eventually and opened his eyes again, a faint smile playing with his lips. “Make sure the house is surrounded by life. It’d feel good to nurture something like that, don’t you think?”

She hummed in response, drawing upwards to place her head against his shoulder as she closed her own eyes. “Yes it would… There will be windows that are open, and carry the scent of your wonderful flowers through the rooms… It will be beautiful.” Raelynn allowed the image of the home to form in her mind as she spoke, smiling as she did so. “Our bedroom should have a balcony that overlooks your garden so I can watch you at work… And we can spend our evenings there, watching the seasons change.” Her voice was barely a whisper, just a warm and dreamy breath. Her arms reacted to his touch, and she held him tighter.

“Perfect,” Gregor said. This is what Fjolte had meant, he was sure of it. How could anything be a more powerful anchor than this? “Everything is going to be alright. I have faith. As long as we have that to work towards, we will be just fine.” Some of his confidence returned to him and he extracted himself from Raelynn’s embrace so that he could turn around and face her. She was still unsettled by his face, he knew that, but she was going to get used to that. She had to. Gregor smiled at her and his eyes smiled along with it, the otherworldly quality of his gaze tempered by the human warmth and emotion that shone through. He didn’t look so bad now. “I love you, Raelynn Hawkford, and I will do everything in my power to deserve the love you’ve shown me.”

He already had. But… This was important to him, feeling like he was working towards something for her was important - essential even, to him becoming himself again. She couldn't take that from him. As Raelynn met his eyes with her own, she recognised them at once, darker than ebony and warm as they'd always been. The eyes she'd fallen in love with. Everything else had changed, but as long as she had his eyes everything else would be fine. “I love you too,” she answered with one hand on her chest in a fist. Wishing to kiss him, but still unsure… She simply rose up once more, unclenching and placing that hand gently on the back of his neck before pressing her forehead to his - a sign of loving solidarity. Raelynn's lips touched the tip of his nose but she did not kiss him. Instead she spoke as softly as she could, “always.”

While he yearned for her kiss, Gregor understood that she might not be ready. It would take time to reach that level of physical intimacy again. He tried not to let that realization sour his mood, the optimism that she had filled his heart with. Sitting back and letting Raelynn get back to what she’d been doing, the Imperial decided to bring up a lighter topic of conversation. “Any plans for the rest of the day?”

The rest of the day? It occurred to her that today was the last day they’d be spending with the tribes, and this fact brought her out of her state of relaxation with a quick curse, ”shit” she began, fumbling over her clothes to begin the packing. “I wanted to find some merchants before we left… I need some supplies.” Her hands reached for her satchel, and she rummaged through it - even in such a hurry she moved delicately. “I need some more plants, reagents, an oil… among other things too…” She looked back up to Gregor, a slight panic across her face, before she shook her head. “I’ve gotten myself into a tizzy now…” Raelynn’s shoulders began to shake as she laughed quietly. “I should get a move on, really… I want us to have just, some us time. If you want to…”

It was endearing to see Raelynn panic over something as mundane as supplies again. Gregor gave her a reassuring pat on the arm. “You have plenty of time. In fact, I’d like to come with you. I want to see if the merchants have something I need,” he said, his hands performing the routine gear check without looking that had become second nature over the years, making sure he had everything on him -- his money, his weapons and his various belongings and nick-nacks. He put his hood up and hid his face behind his scarf. “Can’t see anything, right?” he asked, slightly nervous.

“You want to come along?” she asked, slowly blinking in surprise before she ran her lower lip through her teeth, a shy smile appearing there. “You know I can’t really recall… When we’ve done something quite so mundane, together.” The Breton leaned towards Gregor, moving her own hands over the scarf, gently tugging at it here and there. She made folds against parts of the the fabric to deliberately cast shadows over his face, and smoothed it out over his shoulders where it had been on the crumpled side, allowing him to look neat and as though it was simply the stylistic choice of a gentleman. “That’s better, needed a woman’s touch.” She tilted her head while looking at her handiwork. She could still see his eyes. “What is it that you need?”

While waiting for her answer, Raelynn got to her feet and hung the satchel over her shoulder - in the full sunlight, while standing, she looked unusually frail - even by her willowy standards. Still, she held her graceful posture - and actually, she could feel some kind of bizarre joy in the idea of them running an innocent errand together.

“You’ll see when we get there,” Gregor said as they stepped out of the tent and began making their way to the center of the camp, where the market stalls were. He didn’t want to speak the idea out loud -- it sounded a little dumb when spelled out and he wasn’t sure if it would work until he tried it. “Let’s just say I’m looking for something to make me a little less inconspicuous, despite your best efforts with my shawl,” he added after a few seconds and glanced sideways at Raelynn with a smile. She couldn’t see that but maybe she could see it in his eyes.

“Well, alright then if you say so… I don’t mind the shawl so much though…” She commented with a smile, unsure as to whether she should link her arm through his. Did he want that? Maybe on their walk back. It was still early enough for things to be quiet and uncrowded. It was welcome too, Raelynn wasn’t fond of being jostled around droves of people. Aside from the odd tribesman, the market was very empty indeed. The scent of spices hung in the air alongside the familiar sound of food hitting a hot pan - that loud sizzle that was enough to rouse hunger in most. Her eyes followed the line of stalls. It certainly wasn’t Gilane or the Imperial City, but the familiarity and absolute normality of a morning market was a comfort to her. Not even Gregor could stop her from pottering over to the spread of trinkets, supplies, and folded coloured fabrics. She oohed and ahhed at most of everything.

She picked up a bunch of dried flowers, holding them in one hand while she continued to look at the wares of this particular merchant. He had books too, oddly enough, but she was already carrying too many as it was. She pursed her lips to the side, it really did pain her to leave them, but she finally settled on some more parchment, an ink pot, and the dried flowers.

There were still several more stalls to peruse, at least.

In the meantime, Gregor strayed from her side once his eyes found the stall he was looking for; an armorer’s shop. The Redguard staffing it regarded Gregor’s approach with wariness and he refrained from greeting the Imperial, perhaps hoping the black-swaddled figure would leave if he ignored him. That suited Gregor just fine for the moment and he perused the gear on offer in silence. It was an eclectic ensemble and he doubted that the man crafted many of the pieces of himself. There were a lot of different styles on display and Gregor figured that the man was a merchant, not a blacksmith, and that his collection had been acquired by trade instead of craftsmanship.

He paused when he saw an old greathelm, forged from dark steel, in the unmistakable style of the knights of the Third Era. It was a relic from a bygone age, or at least fashioned in its image, and Gregor stared at the faceplate for a long time. It was a symbol that represented chivalry and virtuous living, standing up for the poor and the downtrodden. It was a barbuta helmet with an enclosed visor, sporting a horizontal slit to look through and a series of tiny holes below that to breathe through, that could be flipped upwards on a pair of hinges by the temples. He could hide himself, Gregor the monster, behind it and become something else. Something better. Looking down at his armor, he realized the helmet would compliment the rest of his equipment quite well. It would look natural, normal, like he’d always been a hedge knight, a wandering guardian…

The exchange of septims was quick and unspoken and the Redguard merchant nodded, grateful to be rid of the shady customer. Gregor turned away, averting his face, and quickly lowered his hood, pulled down his scarf and donned the helmet. The world closed in around him and he was briefly submerged in darkness until it sank properly around his head and he could see through the visor. His range of vision was larger than he had expected but he could still very easily see the edges of the helmet when he looked up at the sky or down his nose. It was strangely comforting; a reminder that his identity, his nature, was now hidden. This could be the beginning of becoming the man that Calen had believed him to be. One day he might even be worthy of the ballad the Nord had composed for him.

“What do you think?” he asked Raelynn when he caught up with her, the sound of his voice metallic inside the greathelm.

The Breton had been far too interested in her find to notice, or hear Gregor’s approach. She’d managed to find, strangely enough, a copy of a book she had remembered reading years ago. She may have had too many already, but one more was not going to hurt. Just one more… She was internally justifying it to herself. It’s not another vanity item, it’s not shoes, or a cloak… This is useful. Yes, useful.

The voice came as a shock to her, it sounded as though it echoed, and she slammed the book shut in her hands and turned to face the sound. It was Gregor, in a greathelm… That had been what he wanted then. It was as clear as day, he looked like a Knight, a slightly disheveled one, but a Knight all the same. Raelynn carefully brought her thumb to her lip, and traced the outline, deciding how she felt about it. She couldn’t see him at all now, but something about this gallant appearance enticed her and that was clear as day too in the way that her eyes narrowed as she continued to hold her gaze on him. She liked it.

Of course! She was hesitant about it, but she let a hand drop to her satchel, through the goods until she found what she was looking for. She also removed a hairpin from within one of her braids, causing said braid to fall loose from its place and become a curled strand grazing her collarbone and framing her face. “You need just one thing more,” she commented with an alluring smile as she lifted the sprig of lavender from her bag, and stepped towards him to pin the small flower on the breast of his cloak. She wondered if it looked silly, if he would even like it… But she had seen Knights in Daggerfall with the flowers of Lady’s on occasion. Stepping back, she took in as much as she could of his darkened, concealed visage - her expression more a question, and that question was, do you like it?

Gregor’s hand brushed against the lavender. He thought back to their first night in Anvil and the Imperial lowered himself in the same proper curtsy he had greeted her with then. It felt like a something out of a dream. “My lady,” he said and inclined his head before rising back to his full height. “You honour me with your mark.” It was obvious that yes, he liked it.

She couldn’t help but chuckle at it, that despite everything they could find a moment like this. That despite all of the darkness they had both endured, when it was just Gregor and Raelynn together, golden moments could be found. “Sir Gregor,” she said somewhat theatrically, playing along with him gleefully, lowering her head in his presence. She almost wished she had on a dress so she could give him a lady’s curtsy back. “My Knight, I require your assistance and guidance to return me safely to my tent…” There was an added eloquence to her speech that was somewhat a mockery of the true nobility, but it was not malicious.

In a demure fashion, she stuck out her elbow for him to take, looking away from him as if shy of it, too chaste and innocent to be touching a man. Deliberately overacting with a smile in their little game, when really she was testing the waters of whether or not this was going to feel strange, feel alien to her. Yet, she wanted his touch all the same.

Immediately grateful for the helm as it allowed him to maintain a perfect poker face while smiling behind the visor, Gregor stepped up to Raelynn and hooked her arm through his, his other hand resting on the pommel of his silver longsword. “Of course, my lady, this way,” he said and they began the trip back to their tent. He could walk with his back straight now, the urge to hide himself and stick to the shadows gone. It was remarkable what one piece of armor could do for a man. “Thank you,” Gregor added, softer, his voice meant for just the two of them now. “For humoring me.”

This is probably how they should have started their relationship, she thought to herself as she strolled quietly arm in arm with him. It was a stark contrast to their early morning in Anvil when they were walking similarly, driven only by lust and their eyes harbouring a sinful hunger. Now, all she could feel was a deep and heavy pang of regret. How was this going to work now? There were still things left unsaid and undiscussed, their fight for one. If he really was going to go searching for his memories he’d find that one - and they would be forced to acknowledge it then. For now, their moment was a peaceful and happy one, so she pushed any other thoughts and fears to the side and placed her hand on his arm - her thumb moving in small circles there. The soft warmth of her eyes and her relaxed countenance gave little away as to the feelings inside.

“No,” she began as she turned her head to the side to look at him - forgetting his face was behind the steel now, she turned back, “thank you for coming out with me.” Raelynn paused for a while as they made their way - she moved so lightly over the soft sand, feeling the heat of it warm through the soles of her sandals. She would miss the desert for some things, she was sure of that, and yet she couldn’t wait to be rid of it all the same. “I want us to do… More of this, just me and you. I…” What the Breton wanted to confess was her frustration and upset at their relationship now suddenly being the business of all of their companions… That she was bitter that they were now likely under the scrutiny of everyone and all she wanted was this. Solitude.

Gregor understood perfectly well how she felt. After everything it would be an incredible blessing to be able to just retreat into the shadows of a woodland home and forget the worries of the world and the judgement of others. But that was not to be their fate just yet. Gregor had made up his mind -- he wanted to stick it out and see this dangerous, lopsided war through to the end, even if it frightened him to think of everything that could go wrong. It was jarring to think that he had stared down Rourken less than a week ago. Where had all that sensible fear been that day? Marching down the hallways, mowing down innocent servants with volleys of Dwemeri gunfire, his heart naught but stone; it was a far cry from the way Gregor felt now. He had been so sure of himself, his skills, his path, as if Destiny itself had been on his side. Now he knew that was nonsense. There was no greater force that looked after him. He had alone in his madness -- alone, except for Raelynn.

“I do too,” he said at length as he roused himself from his reverie. “The world has different plans for us, though. We cannot know peace until the Dwemer invasion is stopped. Rourken won’t forgive us for what we’ve done…. what I did. We’ll just have to steal these moments where we can for now. I sincerely believe that these people, as strange as it is, stand the best chance at succeeding out of anyone. I want to help.”

A pregnant silence fell. “I want to repent,” Gregor added quietly.

“You’re right, and I want to help too… I never thought that my trip to the Imperial City would ever bring me here.” Her pace slowed down as she thought reflectively upon her journey. While only a short amount of time had really passed, so much had changed. “I’m a very different woman to who I was when I left Skyrim last… Do you remember in Anvil that I feared this war?” She asked as she glanced up at him again, “I thought to leave and head home?” Her hand squeezed tighter around his arm as she looked to the ground. “You convinced me to stay, convinced me I could help and now… Well, I suppose that I believe it. Not only that, but I want to help… Sora, Latro, Jaraleet, Judena… All of them. Help in all the ways that I can, if it means I get to steal even one of these moments with you from time to time…”

Suddenly her free arm found its way to him too, and she delicately held onto him with both. Embraced him with both. “We can both repent, Gregor.”

It was undeniable that Raelynn had some level of involvement in Gregor’s actions. He’d instinctively almost told her that that was nonsense and she had nothing to repent for… but that wasn’t really true. The woman on his arm had had every opportunity to try to stop him, to talk him out of it, to chastise him. She never had. Gregor knew she’d been swept up by the force of his personality and his mission and that there was a darker, more vindictive side to her that enjoyed seeing her enemies laid low, but he wondered how Raelynn felt about everything now. Did she have regrets? Did she wish, like him, that everything could still be undone? Or was she just unhappy because Gregor had been caught in his web of lies?

He decided to ask her outright. They had promised to not have any more secrets between them, after all. “Do you regret being a part of… what I’ve done?” Gregor asked. “If you could do everything over again, would you stop me?”

There it was, a question she hadn’t wanted to be asked, she didn’t fully know the answer. She stopped dead in her tracks, and let go of him. Carefully she stepped away and made her way over the sand. Instinctively she wrapped her arms around herself as if a great chill had taken over her. “I wanted to help you to be saved, I know that to be true. You made me feel safe and I… I should never have pushed you, something changed when I, when I fell in love with you, when I saw you - thought you were dying.” Her voice trembled, she paced again - feeling not that much different than she had only nights ago. “I didn’t realise until it was, well…” Her voice quietened and she looked everywhere as if the answers were in the space between them. She looked everywhere except at him. “Yes I would have stopped you.”

Stopped him from what? Taking souls? The Ritual with Nblec? Hunting down Zaveed? Rourken? His Ascension. She had tried to stop him in the prison… She did not entirely regret what they’d done together. He had made her safe. But she did regret not being able to save him. “I told you that all I wanted was to save you Gregor…” Her hands grasped at each arm and she bent forwards slightly, her teeth setting a pressure on her lower lip as she shook where she stood. “I’m sorry that I couldn’t.”

The black knight could only stand and watch, the steel of his helm an impassive barrier that revealed nothing about what he was thinking or feeling. It was hard to see her like this and know it was because of him. It was also strange to know that she would have stopped him, had she known then what she did now. Would he have even let her, or would he have pushed her away to become just another heaping on the pile of sacrifices he’d made in pursuit of his goal? Perhaps the only series of events that could have led them to this moment was the one that occurred, and if anything had changed they wouldn’t have been here together.

“I don’t think there was anything you could have done,” Gregor said, sounding defeated and speaking truer than he knew -- truer than he remembered. “I’m sure that if you tried to stop me, I would have pushed you away. I was far too obsessed… I’d already sacrificed so much. But it’s good that you would try, if you were given another chance to do so. It means I haven’t ruined you completely. I would never forgive myself if I had.”

“This heat…” she said quickly as she wiped a finger under each eye. “The sand…” she continued, trying to blame the wetness of her eyes on something else, unwilling to cry in front of him now, least of all when the crowds were slowly beginning to appear. “It’s a rather bothersome place,” she mumbled over a shaking breath, dabbing at her cheeks with a small handkerchief she had taken from her satchel. The Breton took a deep breath and stood up straight again, interlacing her fingers together while she peered out at the horizon now, her eyes narrowed so as to stop another tear from forming and falling.

“I can try my best now, I can try my best to help you — find your… soul,” finally she cast her eyes upon him, without turning her head. The irony was… Well... She lifted her head again, and swallowed back any remaining sadness that had been threatening to invade their moment, and with grace she added, “I still believe I can help your family, I owe it to you and to them, for my part in this...” In her hands, the handkerchief was being wound tightly around her finger as she spoke her truth, it was painful, but she wanted him to feel her conviction and stalwart dedication to still saving him.

“Then not all is lost,” Gregor said, mustering the most optimistic thoughts he could. He didn't really believe that Raelynn could help his siblings. More experienced healers and alchemists than her had tried. But nothing was impossible. Maybe a fresh mind and a pair of eyes was exactly what this illness needed. “If they can be cured and live healthy, fulfilling lives until a death at the hands of a more natural cause, then I shall consider my quest a success after all. Thank you.” He closed the distance she had created between them and placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “Soon there will be no cause left for tears. We shall be out of this desert before long.”

There was the Dwemer medicine which Daro’Vasora had alluded to. After enough time had passed, Raelynn set to question her about it. But not now, now was their last day at the camp with Shakti’s tribe before they set off towards the Reach. With Gregor’s hand on her shoulder, she felt steadier still and yet as if they were on the precipice of change, something was coming. Things had never stayed quiet for long on the road so far, but today was quiet. She knew only that she had to be strong for Gregor now, regain the trust of the companions, become stronger in herself - find a way to harden to steel. All of these thoughts circulated in her mind until finally she placed her own hand onto his.

“You’re right… Who knows what will happen next for us, for us all... It’s a long way until our journey’s end. Let’s find moments to cherish as often as we can.” If he had not been wearing his helm, this was a moment where her hand would have instinctively found his cheek to caress. For Raelynn, it was still too soon to really know who Gregor was now, how much of him was still there and which parts of him were gone, she felt a plangent grief within her born of regret but she did not let it rise to the surface.

Besides, there was hope on the horizon. There had to be.
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6:30pm, 13th Sun’s Height 4E208, Southern Druadach Mountains, West of Falkreath Hold…

The heat of the desert was behind them.

The climb had been long and arduous, even taking into account that this was a low pass through the Druadach Mountains many leagues South of Markarth. It was a passage that was used for generations by hunters and nomads, farmers and creatures of the wilderness alike. It was also a particularly popular place for bandits, the farmer had warned who had charged the party’s path through the mountains on their maps to wish them safe passage. The Alik’r and villagers along the way helped provide proper clothing and supplies for the journey, and nearly a week of scaling rough terrain with increasingly sparse vegetation, watching the temperate climate give way to a cool and rainy alpine climate, the absence of Dwemer patrols became a stark contrast to the past two months of their near-constant presence. One could be forgiven for being out in this remote region and thinking that the world was always as it had been, and that the troubles in the cities were from a different time and place.

For many, the absence of contact with the outside world was trying, and tensions grew and faded between various members of the party with infrequent arguments or debates, but it was at least a peaceful reprieve from the chaos that had dominated their lives for so long that what their lives had been before were daydreams belonging to the strangers they had been a few short months ago. Although supplies were dwindling and their rations were supplemented by hunting and gathering, there was a beautiful simplicity to the journey that was in a way liberating. Nights were spent around fires, and while some days left them hungry or miserable in the rain, time was passed with stories and song and it was easy to forget the troubles they all faced on the selfless mission they all agreed to take on. They all knew reality would set back in before too long, so it was worth appreciating the merits of a somewhat cleansing journey.

They had crested the worst of the range on the night of the 13th, heading down the Eastward slope into the Reach proper. The rain clouds that had hounded the group for two days at that juncture began to part and to the Southeast, far towards the Jerall Mountains way in the distance, and a sickly green glow filled the sky like a perverse and unnatural thunderstorm. Had any experienced the Oblivion Crisis, it would have contained a pervasive feeling of dread for those who understood what they were looking at. Daro’Vasora, clad in the red and brown Nordic-style leather armour she had acquired from traders, stepped ahead, her eyes narrowed and ears pulled back. “This is where it all began.” she said, a thousand memories rushing back. She recalled the expedition camp, marked now where the green light was emanating from like a pyre, how many dozens of lives lost? The Khajiit’s fist was clenched tightly. It was a decision that had cost far too many lives, and she shouldered her share of the blame.

“One day, people will look back in the history books and see this as just another obscure footnote in history, much like I have done so many times before. Never before have I considered what it must have been like for those who had their lives destroyed by the events that enraptured me as a young girl, and even now as a grown woman. Those stories only tell of the heroes and those who survived to make their mark in history, not the countless innocents whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” She said, looking down at her clenched fist before turning to the others.

“I was where that light was on the fateful day that changed all of our lives, one of Rhea’s chosen for an expedition that shouldn’t have been different from the many I have done before, as were many of you. It’s hard for me to not look at all of your faces and think that you weren’t there in the beginning, and I remind myself daily that for many of you, it wasn’t your decisions that led to the Dwemer returning and destroying your lives and so many others.” Daro’Vasora said, her eyes meeting Shakti’s for a moment with a furrowed brow and a frown. “I can never find the words that would ever make up for the mistake that cost you everything, but for standing here today, as resolved as those who were there in the beginning, you have my undying gratitude and humility; may my actions prove my resolve in setting this all right again, and ending that.” she said, pointing behind her towards the green pillar of light.

She sighed, crossing her arms and disturbing the dirt beneath her feet. “It’s going to be dark soon, this looks to be a good enough spot to set up camp. I’m going to help pitch tents and get the fire going. If any of you have strength to spare, see if you can gather up some food in the wilderness.” she paused, nodding to herself. “Alright, let’s get to it. At least it’s an interesting view.” she said, stepping away from the group to go unload the horses.




“You’re from here.” Latro heard Sevari say. The two of them had filled the spaces between them only with the sound of their horses’ hooves in the dirt and awkward glances. Latro couldn’t say he held much scorn for the Khajiit, and it looked as if the man had taken it upon himself to do that for him. He scratched at the short, black beard his jaw decided to give him in the wake of a razor’s absence and the energy to use it.

For whatever reason, Latro couldn’t see the reason for Sevari’s hesitating. He shrugged, working at Faolan’s saddle straps. “Aye.”

More silence. Just the sound of buckles and leather, Sevari grunting as he hefted the saddle from his horse and set it down beside Stranger. He groaned as he sat on his new seat. Latro payed it no mind, or at least tried to. The constant stilted interactions between them was starting to grate him. “Was there anything else you wanted to say?”

“I don’t know.” Sevari said, “We haven’t even spoken much since we met back on the roads with the stagecoach. The last time we spoke was…”

Again with the forlorn head-hanging and dropping shoulders. It was starting to get old. How a man like this was rumored to be the bloodiest outlaw and most feared assassin in Southern Tamriel with an attitude like this was beyond him. But taking a look inward made Latro feel too much the same. He’d killed twenty-four men here. Exactly twenty-four. He kept count. And for all that fearsome reputation he’d made for himself all he did with it was try to make like he didn’t have it. “The last time we spoke was an argument.” Latro cleared his throat, “Where I threatened to kill you and Jaraleet.”

“Mm.” Sevari grunted, nodding his head but not sharing a gaze with Latro as he spoke. “You weren’t you. It was the stress, and the news, and everything.”

Sevari finally looked him in the eye and sighed, “I know how it feels.”

Latro thought back to the argument. He thought back to how it felt like he wasn’t even there. But to fool himself into thinking that Finnen Pale-Feather of the Crow-Wife Clan wasn’t the one to be blamed for taking his axe and breaking apart Nord heads and poisoning men was an affront to the dead. “You think you do.” Latro said, growling as he picked Faolan’s saddle off of his back and dropping it to the ground, “But you really don’t.”

Latro turned and left Sevari, keeping his eyes on the dirt underfoot and not even glancing at the trees and rocks around. The foolish notion that if he ignored the Reach it would be like they weren’t there. Until he agreed with himself that it was stupid and looked out at the horizon. That green pillar like a headstone, a monument to the great mistake shone against the gray iron of the clouds as they pressed down on him with the same weight. There was no rest to be had for him. No stop for the reminders of what his life had wrought.

Not until he was dead.

But thoughts like that would do him nothing. He slipped his shirt off and draped it over one of his shoulders, letting his skin feel the cold mountain air. As much as he did not want to remember what happened here, his soul would always yearn for home. He indulged himself in the cold at least, reveling in something that wasn’t a scorching sun and nothing but rolling dunes as far as the eye could see like a dead sea. As he strolled about to find Sora he locked eyes with someone he very much did not want to.

But as much as regretting the past would do him no good, neither would trading glares with their newest comers. Zaveed of Wherever the Fuck stood opposite him and instead of bearing his teeth or scowling, or any other sort of useless and petty posturing, he nodded. He took a few tentative steps closer like an animal at the edge of the fire’s light until he put some confidence in his steps. He stood opposite the Khajiit now. He was once a faceless bogeyman and then a sneering enemy. Now though…

He offered his hand out. “No ill will.” Latro said, though his voice held no warmth, “How’s that?”

Zaveed had looked up from plucking the materials from his pack to see Latro approaching, the memory of the Reachman’s face in the Gilane crowds forming nebulously in his mind. Back then, it had felt like such a triumph to see the despair, the anguish, the resignation upon Latro’s fair features. He’d been an enemy, simply another target to bring down on the hard climb to freedom, and now things were so much different. The two had avoided one another for weeks, doubtless fueled by the many unsavory actions and stories that had built something of a wall between the two of them, and this group at large.

And now, Latro approached, the offered hand like a crack in a dam.

He smiled, not snidefully or with any lingering animosity and took the offered hand, giving it a brisk shake and helping tear the crack asunder.

“No ill will.” Zaveed agreed, nodding his head. His ear still ached somewhat from the golden piercing he’d acquired from the Alik’r before they’d left for the journey East, nestled on the opposite lobe of the Dwemeri metal one he’d gotten in Gilane. He still wore his customary sleeveless armour, the pistol strapped to his chest and the axes on his hips. If the cooler weather bothered him, he didn’t show it; he’d weathered worse storms than mere cold mountain air.

“I know my presence among you is a point of contention for all of you, Latro, and there is precious little I can say that will make amends for the things I’ve visited upon you, but I do sincerely hope that my actions since then have proven my intentions are just.” the Khajiit said, coiling the thin rope around his spare hand that would act as a snare for some rabbit. He considered the many things he wished to say like a catalog in his mind before deciding to go forth without much hesitation for the consequences.

“I’d like to think that men such as us, men of violence and action, often make the choices or have the choices made for us that could just as easily turn the people we meet into friends or foes.” Zaveed said, pausing as he met Latro’s gaze. “While I regret we met as foes, I will not apologize for what I have done. Am I wrong in thinking that perhaps you had been in a situation such as mine, where those set before you were enemies when under other circumstances they might have been friends?” he asked conversationally, addressing Latro as if he were someone he’d known for some time under much more pleasant circumstances.

Latro bristled, however briefly, at Zaveed’s mention of never apologizing. But he knew his words held truth in them. He never knew why foreigners took up arms in the Dwemer name, but he tossed that aside for the now. He nodded, “I won’t fault you.” He sighed, “This was my land once. My home, and the things I did to fight for it would make me a monster in these peoples’ eyes that we have with us.”

He glanced back to Sevari sitting alone and maintaining his array of weapons before turning back to Zaveed, “We do monstrous things for noble reasons.” He nodded, slow, “No forgiveness needed, no apologies needed.”

Latro frowned at Zaveed, though not in anger, just curiosity. “Why?” He asked, looking the Khajiit over. He seemed no more a monster than himself. “You three could’ve gone anywhere after the prison. You killed probably as many Dwemer as myself back there when at first you stood with them and did their dirty work. Why’d you stay?”

“The Dwemer took everything from me.” Zaveed replied simply, resting his wrists upon his axe heads. “I was a privateer of some renown in the Dominion’s service, Captain Greywake. I had a mighty vessel and a crew of 50 who were my family because my whore of a mother sure wasn’t much of a parental figure when she abandoned my sister and I onto the streets of Senchal when we were two, and the bastards who abused me when I took to their ship that would one day become my own sure weren’t very inspiring role models before I decided to kill them to give myself a good night’s sleep.” the Cathay shrugged. “What came after, however, was the best time of my life. A warm place to sleep, building fame and reputation, never going hungry again. The Wrath was my home.”

Zaveed’s gaze turned to the pillar of green energy with a frown. “It was a storm, and unfamiliar waters for a job taken out of obligation to blood rather than the substantial coin that came with it that unraveled my entire life like a torn thread. My ship went down, most of my crew lost at sea.

“The rest of us who managed to make it to Hammerfell’s shores were quickly set upon by Dwemer patrols. I was given a choice; become their knife in the dark and maybe, just maybe, I could earn my freedom and a comfortable position in their new empire. Refusing meant dying in some fighting pit for the dear Governor’s amusement. I have learned that one should never rue the cards they are dealt, but rather play their hands the best they can.”

He sighed, returning his attention fully to Latro. “Apologies for the lengthy tale of woe that I have served you, but I figured it would give some context as to why Sevari and I came into your lives the way we did, and that when I say that life dealt me another hand after Raelynn saved my life, I decided that my honour depended on how I used that gift going forward.”

Zaveed smiled. “I got my brother back after not seeing one another for over two decades, I found my sister once more, and I found someone who saw me as I was and not a near mythical figure and decided I was worth helping. So, it became a rather simple choice; we were going to that prison to retrieve Sirine’s brother whether or not fate put our two groups together again or not. We served each other’s interests, and after that it seems Sevari’s taken a soft spot to you in particular. He’s not particularly well versed in the art of friendship, so you’ll have to forgive him for calling you one.”

“We beat each other to shit in a warehouse.” Latro shrugged, “What came after… he saved my life. I helped him in Al-Aqqiya, saw him kill his own brother.”

Latro sighed, shaking his head, “It’d just feel wrong not saying we’re friends after all of that. No matter how much of a dour, violent prick he is, anyways.” He crossed his arms, “Maybe we’re not that different, like you say. There was a time when I was death in these mountains, Forsworn. A time when I was a whore in Wayrest, and a time,” he looked at the green light in the endless distance, “when I pretended I was never any of those. I forgot in the process what kept me free and alive.”

“I played the hand I was dealt the best I could, like you.” He smiled something that had a twinkle of cruelty, “I killed the men who thought they owned me and the men who raped me. Burned the brothel and a good part of the docks down with them. I guess, what I’m trying to say is that I like the way you think.”

Latro rubbed his jaw full of dark, long stubble and pointed at Zaveed’s own with his chin, “How was it, by the way?”

Zaveed tilted his head, gazing back at the light. “I’d never allowed myself to forget what I was. The reason I introduce myself as Zaveed of Senchal is not so much to give myself a pompous title, but to rather remind myself of what I have pulled myself out of. I wish I could say I do not understand what it means to be passed from man to man, and sometimes woman, for grotesque gratification, but it’s a pain I know all too well.” His eyes darkened and a scowl crossed his features.

“It is an indignity I vowed I’d never suffer again, and I would not permit any under my influence devolve to such depravity. So one night, after how many weeks of never sleeping the whole night through before some creature I was supposed to call a crewmate gagged me and tied me so I could not claw their fucking eyes out, I took an axe and opened their throats while they slept. The last one I left it there, splitting his skull on an angle, like so,” he explained, tracing the path with a claw down his temple, between his eyes, and across the dimple on the far side. “And then I went back to my hammock, and I slept soundly for the first time in as long as I could remember, knowing full well I could die the next day.”

The Khajiit sighed, rolling his shoulders. “Maybe, in another life, it would have felt satisfying, but I was so fucking weary of it all. I came to the ship to escape starvation and disease and found myself the plaything of things worse than a boy who was barely a teen could understand.

“And instead of being given death for murdering half a dozen of Dar’Narra’s prized sailors, he gave me back my axe and forced me to fight every single day against everyone else. If he didn’t think I fought hard enough, or suffered enough, I wouldn’t eat that day. Instead of withering away and accepting death, I fought, I grew stronger and more ruthless. Eventually, it gained me respect. The dagger at my back is my prize for surviving all of that and looking fate in the eye and spitting in it.”

“Every day I live as a free man is my prize.” Latro nodded, remembering what it was like being trained by his father to kill with axe and knife. It wasn’t dissimilar to Zaveed. “The Reach loves its children in its own way, and Hircunnen, or Hircine in the Empire tongue accepts no prayers. Everything you need is already in yourself. Pray for mercy and he’ll grant you death.”

“The Reachtribes breed wolves of men.” He frowned, “And on the night I shrugged off my slave’s chains and whore’s silks, they learned it. I tied the man who payed for me and the man who owned me to a wagon. I dragged them behind me, made them do what they did to me to each other.”

“And then did what I wanted with them.” He mimicked tapping a nail with a hammer, “Ever since then, I’m remembering what it was like to gain my freedom back. No pretending to be a prissy Breton ponce. Not a whore anymore, not a slave, not Forsworn. Finnen.

He looked around himself, at the foothills and the mountains. At the river valley far, far away. At the pale green pillar of light. “I’m home now.” He nodded, “I’m back.”

He looked the Khajiit over once more, “We’ll have to talk more sometime, Zaveed of Senchal.”

“Finnen.” Zaveed repeated the name, as if testing the waters with a raised brow. “And indeed we shall. Is that the name I shall call you?” he asked, before nodding towards Daro’Vasora. “Or perhaps what she calls you? You’ll have to tell me the story of how a hardened killer of the Reach won the heart of someone like her; you two are from quite different worlds.”

“Finnen.” The Reachman nodded, “Finnen Pale-Feather.”

And then he too looked at Sora, going about her work. The cruelty of remembering Wayrest lightened at the sight of her. “It’s something to do with that,” He nodded at the towering light, “And this.” He patted the lute on his back. His easy smile was there. “Well, work to be done.” And Finnen nodded to Zaveed and went his own way.
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No Going Back

A Dervy Shafting
13th Sun’s Height 4E208, Southern Druadach Mountains, West of Falkreath Hold…

“Seems strange seeing you again, outside of the palace I mean.” Daro’Vasora announced, coming up behind Sevari and crouching next to him by the fire where he was preparing some of their limited food for supper. She sniffed, trying to get a thumb on what the scent was. <I suppose we can speak Ta’agra without being rebuked for it now I’m not in a posh prison.> she added with a smile.

Sevari chuckled, <I guess we can.> he smiled in turn, <Odd, isn’t it? Even keeping you two prisoner and as unsavory a history we have, talking with you the first time like this…>

His smile turned downward a tick, a pang of longing maybe not for the warm sands of Elsweyr, but a sense of belonging and familiarity ringing in his chest, <It was like going back to a simpler time. Or as simple as my life ever was.>

He stirred the pot a little just as it began to bubble up again, keeping the meager amount of meat and wild vegetables moving inside the steaming broth. He figured he may as well make it look like he knew what he was doing. He was no chef, but making something to fill his belly out of scraps was his specialty since living dirty in the brush of Elsweyr and the jungles of Valenwood. When he had different names in different times. <You have the accent of a foreigner in your Ta’agra sometimes.> he said, his pronunciation almost seeming like it came from a different person, someone who hadn’t spent so long masquerading as a Colovian named Savian, <Meaning no offense. I just take it you weren’t born speaking it.>

<I was raised speaking the common tongue of the Empire and Ta’agra side by side, I’m from Leyawiin and the product of a robust education and a mother that insisted I learn proper court etiquette.> Daro’Vasora explained with a slight smile, reaching her hands out to the flames to warm them. <You know, I never blamed you for your part in all of that. Part of the reason I decided to speak to you now is because I wanted to thank you for what you had done for Latro and I; you’re a good man. I still don’t see how you and Zaveed are related.> she admitted, glancing over to catch the Ohmes-raht’s eyes.

<I think you’re the first person to ever call me a good man.> Sevari chuckled, shaking his head as if Sora had told a joke, <In a long time, leastways. I just did what anyone would do for their asset. Important ones, anyways.>

He still had his smile as he spoke, looking into the fire. Her mention of Zaveed brought him back to those days in the streets of the Senchal gutters, living on scraps and fighting for each day spent alive. It was rough, harsh, terrifying, and he was scared every single day of it. Looking at it, times hadn’t changed much if those things were what he was going by. <Zaveed and I aren’t. Not by blood. A bond, we spent years together in the slums of Senchal clawing a life out of the gutters. It made me who I am.>

<I was born in Torval though. My father was a Khajiiti Auxiliary in the Dominion army when they went to war with the Empire. Not that I ever cared a shit to make him proud when I was but a little boy, but I think my occupation now would’ve brought his and my mother’s death some justice.> he frowned, stirring the pot once more, <Should be done soon. Anyways, there’s probably a handful out of everybody in Tamriel that would count me among good men.>

<Brothers by deed, not by blood.> Daro’Vasora nodded with understanding. <I had heard what happened to Suffian from Latro…> she reached over to place a hand on Sevari’s shoulder compassionately. <For what it’s worth from someone who barely knows you, I am sorry. My sister’s well-being is one of the most serious of concerns I have, I don’t know how I’d handle losing her… let alone being forced to act in the way you did. That had to have been the most difficult thing you’ve ever done.> she said quietly, taking back her hand and entwining her fingers as she regarded the stew.

<I know you’ve done some things that many would consider vile or repulsive, much like Zaveed, but I believe you ultimately have honest and honourable goals in mind. I’m a historian; I’ve read many tales of predominant people who are remembered as heroes or just rulers, and behind almost every single one of them is a trail of blood and hardship that would make most people balk.> Daro’Vasora said, hoping it helped ease the man’s conscious.

<You didn’t have to help Latro and I; you had power in that situation, and you chose to listen to our concerns and act on them. You could have maintained Latro as an asset by much harsher methods, you could have held Zaveed over our heads as a threat… there’s a number of scenarios where you didn’t decide to use what power you had to do the right thing. It counts for something.> She said.

Sevari smiled, looking down at the toe of his boot. The right thing, condolences, justification. <Maybe it does.> he turned his head and spat, <But it won’t to the gods’ judgement. Look, Sora, I don’t need somebody offering forgiveness when I’m not asking for it. I’m glad Latro didn’t die, I’m glad my brother didn’t do whatever evil shit to you he did to Raelynn that he hypocritically tosses the weight of over his shoulder like it’s fucking nothing. Else Suffian won’t be the only brother on my conscience.>

He was breathing harder now, the mention of what happened in Al-Aqqiya burned him as if he’d tried to hug the fire in front of him. <My brother’s name never comes out of anyone’s mouth unless I just told them to repeat it after I told them, or I’m so out of earshot there’s a national border between me and them.>

He drew in a long breath that rattled the tail of itself as he put a hand over a quivering lip. He closed his eyes and growled. <It’s fresh, Sora.> he said, all the quaking anger guttered out of his voice, <It’s so godsdamned fresh I feel like I’m still gonna have his dry blood flaking off my palms if I rub them together. I’m sorry, I just don’t want my mind looking back there.>

His head turned up and he looked around at the trees and dirt, mountains and grass. So different from Hammerfell, <Especially now I’m so far away from it.>

The rebuke rattled Daro’Vasora to the core, prompting her to stand and walk to the other side of the fire, frowning. Sevari was still a dangerous man, an unknown to her save her brief encounters with the man, his deeds at the prison, and what Latro had told her. She slipped back into the common tongue, the efforts at reconciliation over. “I know it’s fresh, but you’re not doing yourself or anyone any favours by lashing out at even the mention of his name.” She replied, tersely. “You don’t feel comfortable talking about it? Fine, a few words is all you need, not barely contained rage.” she shook her head, crossing her arms as she stared at the man across the fire.

“Thing is, I let you and your brother accompany us because we had a mutual goal because there are so much bigger things to worry about than a cutthroat sea-raider and his brooding asshole of a brother who carries everything he’s done on his sleeves and refuses to let people close and then wonders why he’s lonely all the time.

“I get it, I do; I used to very much do the same thing because I assumed everyone I met was a treasonous curr who would backstab me when it was profitable to do so. But you know what? For claiming you don’t want to look back, that’s the only way you seem to look. Even I see your damnable adoptive brother looks forward to the point he shirks personal accountability. Maybe if the two of you met somewhere in the middle you’d actually be pleasant to talk to.” Daro’Vasora snorted, grinding the toe of her boots in the sand, her eyes rolling at the wasted effort.

“So, if it pleases you, I’ll leave you the fuck alone and we can go back to whatever we were before because I sure as shit don’t have time for this when there’s a war to fight. Just say the word.”

Sevari chuckled low and rueful, slipping a hand in his coat and pulling out his flask and a cigar, “Go fight it then, soldier.” He took a pull from the flask and then lit the cigar, “Or…”

He tossed the flask over the fire to land in the dirt at Sora’s side, and as the smoke from his puffing dissipated, he donned a guilty look. “I’ve never been a pleasant conversationalist. I’ve never been fucking happy for more than a few months. And I’m more likely to split someone’s face with my steel than reconcile.” He shook his head, “But fucking shit, woman, I’m trying at it so godsdamned hard.”

The thought of Zaveed himself pulling his pistol away from Gregor’s smug fucking face sent another lightning bolt of anger through him before he looked away, puffing his cigar a bit more, “Real hard.” He muttered, “I don’t have a ponce with a big damn temper to help me change my ways. I have that flask though, I’ve got this stew, and I’ve got some people around me silently hissing in my ear because my brother’s my brother.”

“So, we start over.” He sighed, “There’s whiskey there if you’d like it. I’ve got no plans of telling you to fuck off.”

Putting her toes under the flask, Daro’Vasora kicked it up to her hand with effortless precision and regarded it for a moment before casually tossing it back. “Seems you need it more than I. Besides, that shit rots my guts on an empty stomach. More of a wine kind of gal.” She replied, crouching down next to the fire once more.

“Look, I don’t really have the luxury of time these days, especially the way this story ends for me so I’d rather spend that time in the company of people who can remind me that this shitty world is actually worth giving my all to. My uncle died to the Dwemer defending a couple kids, I probably would have been a pile of discarded meat if I got there twenty minutes earlier. Your brother killed a former partner and lover of mine in a needless execution before doing you-know-what to me. Know what I decided?” she asked, looking up to Sevari across from the fire.

“I’d be doing both of them a disservice if I tried to forget them, or if I let my emotions dictate what I do next. I’m a very passionate person; it’s why I do most of what I do, but I’m all too aware that if I act out of anger, or hatred, or whatever, someone in this group could die and that would be on me.” she sighed, her eyes finding the pillar of green energy to the East. “Seems I still have thousands of lives to repent for.”

Sevari leaned over and snatched up the flask that’d landed next to him. He took another pull from it and his eyes didn’t waver from the opening, “Sora, I’m forty-fucking-two and just learning to be myself and not some fabricated identity. I’ve been chasing the same man and killing all his friends and acquaintances across Southern Tamriel for two decades.” He shook his head, “And all I’ve got to show for it is a scorned childhood friend, a wife who hasn’t seen me in near-twenty years and a son or daughter who doesn’t know who I am. We’ve all got something to repent for.”

“My mother, my father. I’ve done everything I’ve done for them. And they’d revile me for some of it.” His words turned to a mutter by the last, “So, how's this all end for you, then? Since you seem to know already. How’s it end for all of us? Glorious last stand?”

“Someone’s got to go through that portal that’s letting the bulk of their forces through, and someone has to put that lexicon into the machine that’s connecting Exodus to Nirn. Might as well be me. If I’m lucky, I’ll die of old age or a blade before the entire realm collapses on me and who knows what happens then.” Daro’Vasora replied evenly, prodding the fire with a stick to shove a log back into position. “Thing is, Rhea was the one who activated that machine that let the Dwemer come back in a desperate measure to save her group, but she’s no longer alive to set things right, so it might as well go to the person who refused to punch her in the jaw for even suggesting turning the damned machine on.”

Her gaze turned to the stars above, finally breaking through the clouds. “It’s not exactly what I planned to do with my life, but how many history books are filled with heroes who died before they left an old and weathered corpse? Pretty much all of them. At least that way my parents might be proud of who I became, and my sister can have someone in the family worth looking up to.” She said with a shrug. “Not that I fancy being a martyr, but it sure beats dying alone and forgotten in some Nord barrow looking for some dickhead king’s scepter that may or may not even be there.”

“Well…” Sevari said, not knowing what to follow it with. He instead thought of that while taking a few puffs of his cigar, “Seems pretty shit.”

“I’ve had my share of war. I can understand that. I know what it’s like looking every day in the face knowing there’s a chance you might not see its sunset. It comes with the job.” He shrugged, “If you truly think you’re going to do, you will. You’ll act like it, like you could die at any minute and you’ll not care. Then, when it finally happens, you’ll shake your fist at the Gods and curse fate. Not knowing all along that if you’d just tied your laces, just checked your weapons a bit more, you’d be alive.”

“Fill it anyway with people you love, or humor, or anything other than despair. I can hear it in your voice, a tiny whisper under all that snark that’s telling you that you’re going to die in the end.” He took a long pull from his whiskey, then another, “Take it from someone who’s been on both ends of a blade, pissing myself and begging for my life, screaming at the pain of my wounds like a child.”

He flashed a smile <It is good to be brave, and be bravest those times.> he shrugged, “Or at least that’s what I try to tell myself. There’s an off chance we all make it back safe. I’m clinging to that one, if you don’t mind.”

“The Ahzirr Traajijazeri, an informal handbook of the Renrijra’Krin. It was one of my favorite books growing up as a young girl in Leyawiin where the most exciting part of my day was leaving the house and having pretend battles with sticks with other children in the streets.” Daro’Vasora replied with an acknowledging smile. “I never much took to authority or the stuffy rules and laws that were hoisted upon me when I was a girl, so you could imagine how a ragtag life of a partisan appealed to my imagination. Could be a big reason I ended up getting my honourific from my father.” she said with a speculative shrug.

“I thought I was being pretty plain I’m expressing that I am pretty sure I’m going to die, but I really don’t want to. It’s just been quiet enough the past few weeks that I haven’t been able to focus on more pressing things rather than speculating about what-ifs. The problem is, I cannot think of another way. For all of my experience and smarts, I’m still dealing with a lot of hypotheticals and unknowns. This is thrusting a pike blindly into the smoke and hoping it sticks something that’s trying to kill me, not the controlled and measured actions of a duelist.” Daro’Vasora said, grinding her teeth in concentration, coming up short, and shaking her head. “I walked a Moonpath before we left the Alik’r and my ancestors advised me to seek advice on this matter, and perhaps it’s arrogance, but I don’t really see anybody who couldn’t tell you the difference between Clockwork and Dwemer craftsmanship being able to offer much insight into this little problem of mine.”

“Fine.” Sevari feigned offense with a small smirk, “So, we can sit here and talk about dying or we can talk about something else. There’s talk about camp that you and that insufferable fucking Nord have a history. How the fuck does a Stormcloak have a history with anybody else who isn’t a fucking backwards, xenophobic prick like them?”

Oh, that bloody big mouth… Daro'Vasora thought, resisting the urge to scowl. Fjolte liked to brag without consideration of the people he was with's feelings. She'd have words for him later.

Instead, she said, “At the time, I didn't know his past and he gave no indication he was anything other than infatuated. We worked a job, survived a rival's attempts to off us, and it seemed like an ideal way to shut him up.” Daro'Vasora shrugged.

“You know,” Sevari said, his eyes almost watering at the effort it took to not smile at what he was about to say, nor Sora’s irritation, “I’ve tried everything from steel to hard words to shut somebody up, but I’ve never fucked them before. Do you usually come to that decision or was that a particularly pressing matter?”

She rolled her eyes at that small amount of sass. She couldn’t be bothered to dignify Sevari’s observations with words.

Sevari let go a small laugh that died down until he sighed, almost as if he breathed the merriment out of his lungs with the breath, “I could do it for you, you know. Shut him up. I won’t fuck him, but nobody slights a friend of mine and walks.” He shrugged, straightening himself and rolling his shoulders, “Leastways, I can find an excuse to do it myself. Wouldn’t need our fearless leader being worried to death about exes when there’s a war on. And I might stop at hard words.”

He looked around, but no sight of Latro, “Your scary little Reachman that unnerves even me might just up and off him with his dinner fork if the Nord boy speaks the wrong word.”

Daro’Vasora blinked. “Is that where your mind goes immediately? By S’rendarr, no. Just, no.” she replied, shaking her head. “Being annoyed by someone’s antics is hardly worth harming them over. Despite his guarshit, he’s still a friend, I suppose. Is that what you consider us to be?” She asked.

Sevari shrugged, “Might as well try for it.”

“And sometimes,” he held his hands up and chuckled, “I’m a simple man. Being violent comes second nature to someone who’s lived a life like mine. Apologies if that isn’t to your liking.”

Daro’Vasora rolled her jaw in thought. “We’ve all got pasts that shape who we are. I don’t judge you for being violent, Alkosh knows I’ve left a few people crippled to die in my line of work. It’s also why I have a hard time trusting strangers or partners because a big part of me expects to be stabbed in the back as soon as people get what they want.” she said, looking around at the faces working around the campsite. “Thing is, these people have done more for me than I ever thought I’d deserve, they stayed with me when they have every right not to. I’m lucky to have them and I’m going to do everything in my power to keep them safe. I’d send them home if I could, but we have to make sure we have homes to go home to first.” she said, crouching by the fire once more and resting her elbows on her knees and her chin on bridged fingers.

“Home…” Sevari smiled wistfully, “I don’t even know what that is. Maybe I’ll find one somewhere, settle down and then drown myself in a fucking lake. As much as I want one, I don’t. I’ve been place to place my whole life.”

“I always thought drowning would be one of the worst ways to go, it kind of goes against your need to breathe air and your body fights you the entire time.” Daro’Vasora mused, looking up across the flames at Sevari. “I can honestly understand what you mean, though, about not settling down. I basically had an apartment for long enough to have an arson burn it down and I had a room at my uncle’s place in Imperial City which was kind of my base of operations between being out in the field constantly. All this camping and trudging through mountain passes is pretty much my comfort zone, I get stir crazy if I’m not out and seeing the world and following my passions. It’s just a lonely life at a times.”

“Isn’t it?” Sevari said, getting to a knee and moving the stew to the side of the fire, keeping it warm while not letting it burn itself to mush. “I’d like to settle down one day, but I don’t think I ever could. Work is what I’ve known all my life and I’m damn sure not going to rot away my last years of it shoved away in an office in some bureau.”

“I’ll probably just disappear to Valenwood and smuggle myself into Alinor. Strike at the heart of the fuckers.” He chuckled grimly. “Soup’s on. Help yourself.”

“Don’t mind if I do. Thanks for being the chef tonight… is it bad I get the impression Zaveed might actually have a knack for it?” Daro’Vasora asked, heading back around the fire and grabbing a pair of the wooden bowls and spoons. She scooped out a bowl for herself, setting it aside, and then filling another before offering it to Sevari. She sat close to him, cross-legged in the short grass and taking in the soup’s scent.

“I don’t think you’re too old to learn new things, or change tact in your life. If that were the case, how would anyone ever retire?” Daro’Vasora shrugged, scooping a bit of the soup into her muzzle and letting it linger, quenching a thirst she had before grunting appreciatively. “Not bad. Could have used some pepper and cayenne, but as far as camp food goes, it definitely does the trick.” she had a few more spoonfuls before continuing her discussion with Sevari.

“I always wanted to see Summerset, I heard it’s beautiful. It’s too bad the people running it are anything but.” she observed, chewing through a chunk of hare. “What about starting an investigation and security company?” she asked.

“Me? A business owner?” He snorted before shoveling a spoonful into his mouth, “You’re right, missing something. Never claimed to be a chef. But, no, the authority and legal ambiguity my organization gives me has served me well.”

He shrugged, “Maybe I’ll transfer though. I’m getting along in years and playing spy is a younger man’s game. Sick of playing coy about godsdamn everything.” He chuckled a bit, swallowing down another bit of the soup, “Could you imagine me a fucking bodyguard? If I have any more pull with the old shitheads up-top I can secure a place in investigations. With the way Cyrodiil is going to be after the Imperial City was lost?”

“It’ll be like the Law was never a thing. Gods know I’ve been an outlaw to the Dominion for long enough, the Oculatus will be begging for an Inspector like me to bring the law back. I know how criminals work.” He said, “But it’ll be the same deal as last time. My way, alone if I want.”

“Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out.” Daro’Vasora observed between indelicate spoonfuls of the gruel. “Why the doubt? Figure it out as you go, take opportunities where they arise. Not everything has to be meticulously planned out.” she shrugged, finishing off her portion and setting the bowl down. Her gaze turned to Zaveed, who was perched on some stone like a gargoyle, surveying his domain. “Does your future include him, by chance? I gather you two have a long and complicated history. He seems… different than what I remember, being on the wrong side of his blades. If I didn’t know what he was capable of, I’d have mistaken him for a good person.” she murmured, resting her wrists on her knees and returning her attention to Sevari.

Sevari too looked Zaveed’s direction, perched on some stone like an arrogant prick, waiting for someone to ask him about his fancy title. But that was Zaveed, always the showman. It’s what he’d wanted of life before life showed him what it decided. He sighed, turning back to his bowl and drinking up the last of the broth, wiping his mouth on his forearm. “Something, something tradewinds take me where they want and some other bullshit is probably what he’d say to me.” He chuckled, “We’re grown men who’ve been apart and living our own lives for twenty years. I don’t see myself on the deck of a ship the rest of my life and I know damn well stepping on dry land may as well be walking on broken glass for him.”

He smiled, although something more was behind it, “We can both do our best to keep in touch, but we belong in two different places.” He turned to Sora, “What about you? On the off chance that you’re not an oracle and you survive, what next? What about the Reachman over there?”

She smiled in Latro’s direction, the Reachman keeping himself ever busy and distracted. “For what it’s worth, I hope you do. Good family’s hard to come by, I’ve come to realize in all of my travels. As for Latro and I, well, haven’t quite thought that far. I’d like to continue exploring ruins and hunting down relics and artifacts for coin and renown, but I know that’s not the life he wants. If he asks me to stay with him in the Reach, I will. If he wants to come with me, I couldn’t ask for a better companion.” her fingers drummed upon her leg in contemplation. “It can be pretty lonely on the road with no one to watch your back.” she observed quietly.

“Do you think he wants to stay?” Sevari asked, “I knew he was something else from the first time I saw him. It’s why I picked him out of everyone to snatch up first. I knew he wasn’t Dark Brotherhood because I would’ve remembered taking his fucking head off way back when, figured he was Forsworn.”

“You know they have no love for his kind in the West? I assume he told you already.” Sevari said, “Takes a certain kind of person to live with and love that. He’s loyal as a fucking dog and after what him and I’ve been through…”

Sevari nodded as Latro’s gaze fell to them. He took a break splitting firewood to wave and Sevari nodded back as the man returned to his work, “Wolves know wolves. Keep him. He’ll never fail you if you do.” His mind went to La’Vashara, “It’s not every day people like us find someone who can keep up.”

“He’s… going through a lot right now.” Daro’Vasora replied, her gaze averting for a moment, her breath heavy. “I’m willing to help share the burdens he carries, and I’m no stranger to making enemies with small minds. I’m no stranger for being feared, despised, and hated for what I am, as I’m sure you have been, too.”

She returned her gaze, an intensity in her eyes. “He’s gone so long without anyone believing in him. I’m not going to be the one to let him down when he needs me. You doubt my resolve?”

“‘Course not,” Sevari chuckled, “Just recognizing that it’s needed living a life like this. I’m sure you’re a saint in his eyes. I never could find someone like that, so it’s a treasure. I told Meg and Jaraleet the same. You and Latro seem more fit for each other, I’ll admit.”

“Saving each other’s asses from the Falmer tend to bring people together. Besides, I’ve a soft spot for singers.” Daro’Vasora grinned, leaning forward. “I will treasure him, always. I’ve dug all sorts of invaluable objects from ruins, never expected the most valuable find of all to be in that ruin over there.” she said, nodding towards the pillar of green light. Her expression shifted into a frown, and she shook her head. “So, what made you decide to stay with us? It seems to be outside of your jurisdiction. I’m beginning to think you like us.”

“I’m beginning to think you’ve got wishful thinking.” Sevari smirked, setting his bowl down and taking another swig from his flask, “I’m in service to the Empire’s eyes and ears. Everything is my jurisdiction.”

He sighed, leaning back on his elbow, “Helps if there’s people I like though.”

“Isn’t that the truth. Funny thing was, in the beginning, I couldn’t stand most of these people, and I’m sure the feeling was mutual. Now I’m willing to put my life on the line for them.” Daro’Vasora snorted, although a smile crept on her lips. “I think I’m okay with that. I never really appreciated what friends were until a bunch of them decided I was worth rescuing. I have to admit, it was pretty flattering.”

“The only visitors I got was that insufferable bastard over there,” Sevari jerked a thumb over his shoulder at Zaveed, “And a scorned ex-lover whose boyfriend I was going to kill. Believe it or not, you and I shared circumstances for a minute. Wonder if they would’ve come for me.”

He shrugged, “Probably not.”

“Don't be so sure. Zaveed did toss himself at my feet, asking me to shoot him if that is what it took to earn my forgiveness so you all could coexist in peace like a maniac. I have this suspicion that he'd risk no less for you.” Daro'Vasora said, turning her gaze back to Zaveed. “For his gross amount of faults, he does at least seem to care a lot about you and Sirine. Besides,” she smiled, “I think you're one of us now. You might be surprised at what that can mean; I know I was.”

“As long as we don’t hold hands and sing songs at the fire tonight, I can live with that.” Sevari smirked, sighing, “It’s been a long time since I’ve had a family. There was my old gang, whatever kind of murderous, hedonistic villainous family it was.”

“I’m glad to have gotten that last big score so they could put themselves on the shelf. The ones who weren’t put in the dirt, anyway.” He looked around at the odd company he’d set to keeping, landing back on Sora again, “No going back for any of us though. We make history or be it now.”

“No going back.” Daro’Vasora agreed with a nod, rising up to her feet. She stretched, her back cracking at the exertion. “It’s a rather strange thing, being a part of history being written; this is going to be one of those events that people hundreds, if not thousands of years, are going to look back upon with impassive eyes and not fully grasping what it all meant. I guess it’s up to us to figure out how we’re being recorded.”

She walked up to Sevari, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Thank you for the chat, and for sticking with us. Try not to be so hard on yourself, alright?” she asked, walking away and calling out to the other’s, “Food’s up!”
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Stormflyx Queen of Doggos

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The Dirge of Dusk, The Ballad of Dawn





13th Sun’s Height.

I fear that the Reach is too dangerous. That we’ve simply taken an exercise in readying the parameters for our tombs, who knows what will happen to us here? We must find good food, clean water - for dysentry will annihilate us all faster than any Dwemer ambush will. Why does it continue to feel as though the world is turning upside down?

It’s perhaps time to step up and evaluate the situation for what it is at last, we are now beginning the march to where Daro’Vasora claims it all began. If what she says is true, I will need to work harder, be better, be stronger. We will need potions, I must be diligent in my work. It is past time to replenish my supplies. I must send out a group. I can’t carry on acting skittish with the group, it is time to step up. Has enough time gone by for them to see past my sins?

I continue to think about my father, my mother. Of Daggerfall. I wonder when it will be that I see them both again. Is my father still at sea? Who is taking care of my mother in his absence. Is she lonely? Does she worry for me? I must write her a letter as soon as I am able.

I have much more to fear - and yet so much more to be joyous for, the hope that I prayed for...





The weeks of trekking had not been easy on any of them, between lack of sleep and lack of food, little time for true rest, tensions and tempers flaring from time to time… It had felt like a long journey to reach here. In some ways, Raelynn wondered if she had felt it the most. The eyes of the party on her, the whispers and conversations of her companions that her mind tricked her into believing were about her and her alone. This of course, was not the truth in the slightest, but training with Jaraleet on top of everything else had left her feeling more exhausted than she should have let herself be.

She had ceased their training for some time now, and it was clear that Jaraleet was slightly chagrined by this. But the Breton had taken ill, she had become prone to headaches, and there had been several occasions of vomiting in private. Much of her withdrawal had been attributed by the others to the changing climate, her training, Fjolte and Gregor’s activities... It had not been easy for her, or any of the travellers, but now there was some kind of home camp being set up. Maybe now they would all get suitable rest before moving on again.

“You alright there blondie?” Came the voice of the rambunctious Nord, the newest arrival to their group, Fjolte. He swiftly took a seat in a lazy slouch on the log beside Raelynn. The apple that he was working on was a little overripe, but he wasn’t about to pass up on it. He’d already scarfed off his stew, everyone else needed the seconds more than he did. He too, had noticed Raelynn’s retreat from the group now that they had stopped.

“Yes, I’m quite alright, actually…” she said truthfully, smiling at him, even if her forehead had the obvious crease of worry sitting there. “How are you fairing? I see you’ve been spending a lot of time with the others on this trip.”

He laughed roguishly, running a hand through his disheveled hair which had seemed to have had a healthy spurt of growth, despite only just having had it trimmed. His beard too, had reached past the point of being neat stubble. “You know me, I like to keep spirits up and make friends… And sing crude ditties obnoxiously loud of course. Make my presence known, you know?” He paused, looking at Raelynn, at her eyes. What was she thinking? He observed the way she occupied silence just by being, sitting still with her journal held open over her knees. One hand was on her lap and the other on her stomach - the fabric of her cloak being rubbed between her thumb and forefinger. “How are you and Just Gregor?” He asked, straight into the meat of it.

That gave her reason to look at him again, and all she did was smile and give a small nod. She rarely gave anything away - her countenance often inscrutable. “We’re in a good place, if that’s what you want to know.” Her fingers pinched tighter at the fabric, and she lowered her head bashfully.

“Yeeaaaahhhh…..” Fjolte replied before taking another bite of the apple. “Glad to hear it then.” He wanted to probe into their relationship more, but decided against it, seeing that she was quite content there. “I might have been making friends, but you’ve been keeping to yourself. Just you and Scales, and when I’m not the one bothering Gregor, it’s just you and him. You avoiding us all or what?” The Nord displayed as much of a smile as he could, unlike the Breton, his expression was easily read - and it was laced with concern. He’d seen the Argonian and Mage come and go, each time Raelynn looking more worse for wear. Bruised, hunched, sometimes bleeding. Always muddied and exhausted, only to be fine to try again the next day, and the next day, and the next day...

Now, both of her hands sat in her lap against the pages, and her smile faded - a look of shame came to her. “It’s hard to be around everyone,” she admitted frankly, sapphirine eyes scanning the camp. Hovering for a second on each individual. “I don’t like them to look at me, not after everything. I fear what they think of me, what they see…Who they see, so I stay in shadow until I am needed...”

He listened carefully, and could hear a note of pain in her admission - she had always been such a closed book to most in the time he’d known her, and yet here she was, admitting her feelings. “Friends always need each other Raelynn. You need them and they need you, I’m willing to bet when they see you, they just see how hard you are on yourself.” Compelled by the emotional turn in the conversation, he put his arm around Raelynn’s shoulders and pulled her closer to him much to her surprise. Then, much to his, she let him. “You’ve barely said a word to Sora. You should. You should go and see her.”

“Thank you friend,” she replied in kind, resting her head on his shoulder to look up at him with a smile. “I’m glad you’re here, I’m very grateful for what you’re doing.” If she was to be honest with herself, it was nice to have the comforting touch of her old companion. Despite what they may once have been and had, there was nothing but a platonic affection and mutual respect now and she needed it. “I’m proud of who you turned into,” she said with a quiet laugh, “you don’t go running into danger anymore. Not on purpose, anyway.”

Fjolte beamed down at her, “and then there’s you, who seems to be the one running into it headfirst. How the tides have turned eh?”

“Indeed…” she replied with something of sigh before she removed herself from him, almost hesitantly. She caught herself glancing at the soft apple in Fjolte’s hand - she shuddered at the thought of it. “Fjolte,” she began, pulling out of their embrace, “don’t eat those apples anymore - they’re bad. I’m afraid, actually,” she quickly paused and turned to a blank page in her journal with a huffed sigh. “I’m afraid that we need to find better supplies - and quickly. Real food. Fruits, not just meats. Clean water… A source for washing, a source for drinking. I need herbs to make medicine. If someone takes ill...” The words rattled from her at an increasing pace as her worries took over. Finally Fjolte took her hands and pulled her back to the present moment.

“I’ll go scouting - look for whatever we need. Believe it or not I’ve spent plenty’ time out in the wilds to know how to find an apple or a carrot. If it’ll put your mind at ease, I’ll go on a provision run. Besides, might come over well with the women if I rock up with a cart full of proper grub eh?” There was a mischievous twinkle in his eye and he winked in Raelynn’s direction.

“It’s no joke,” she chastised seriously, “you should take at least someone with you. Zaveed is good at provisioning, as is Mazrah. It’s dangerous out here. I’ll make a list of the items you must return with, if you can find them then I’ll feel much more at ease.”

The Nord just listened, and once she was done he gingerly lifted the bottom of the cloak to observe her feet, giving a nod, raised eyebrows, and a long sigh in quick succession. Raelynn, on the other hand, looked entirely confused by it and felt the need to even give him a sharp kick for it until he spoke. “Aye, there we have it - some good old bossy boots. If I’d known you’d put them on today I’d have kept a distance.”

In response, the Breton narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips until she broke down and started chuckling. “It seems I did…” she admitted, flushed and awkward. “Sorry Fjolte… I just don’t think I’m going to find much reason to smile if sickness spreads through the camp because we slack on simple hygiene and keep eating rotten apples…” She raised her hand to knock the cursed fruit from his palm to the ground. “Don’t you bloody well dare…” she warned him, with a glaring heat in her eyes as she observed the Nord follow it with his own, clearly and absolutely thinking about it.

“Eh, if it’s all the same blondie, I like you in the bossy boots. Gettin’ involved, giving orders. Never thought I’d see the day you gave so much of a shit. You suit this, you’re from Daggerfall mind, this is what you were born for - bossing others around.” He let go of her hands and scratched the back of his neck with a smile. “So you bring me that list, and I’ll see who I can rope into going for an adventure with me.”

“And then I’ll do as you said, talk to Daro’Vasora that is.” She sighed, remaining in her position for a while as she once again looked over the camp. What would she even say to Sora? Had things blown over between them? They had always said they trusted each other… But the gathering had been awkward, emotional, and ugly. She groaned and eventually rose from her seat and gave Fjolte one last look. “I’ll be seeing you.” With that, she made her way off to the place where the Khajiit was working.

Fjolte gave her one last smile while watching the sway of her hips. He also admired the shape of her bottom as she made her departure, and with a content sigh he whispered under his breath “some things stay the same…” With a slight tilt of his head, and a squinting of his eyes he observed further, “maybe get a little bigger...”




“Daro’Vasora…”

Raelynn stepped near silently towards her, hands at her front and concealed past her elbow in black velvet gloves. Her grey cloak was exquisitely lined with fox fur around the shoulders, the length to her knees. The Breton’s hair was wound in a tight braided knot, separated into two distinct strands that hung to her chest on either side of her head in her trademark gentle waves. “Thank you for your words,” she remarked sincerely with a smile.

“Raelynn.” Daro’Vasora replied, turning to face her friend with a warm, albeit tired, smile. She stepped forward to place her hand gently upon Raelynn’s arm. “It’s always been remarkable to me how you manage to look resplendent even so far from running water and a tailor.” she remarked with a light chuckle before her expression grew somewhat more somber. “Which words in particular? My practice at inspiring speeches, or from an earlier time?” she asked, reflecting how they hadn’t had much of a chance to speak in private since the trial.

That made her laugh, “you just seem to have a way with them when we find ourselves on a new part of this journey. To put everyone at ease, I suppose. As for me? Well… Thank you for that but I assure you it’s just a lot of time, magic, and potions…” The way that her expression changed did not go unnoticed by the Breton, and she sidestepped the Khajiit to take a seat on a nearby rock. “Are you well? Have you been drinking enough?” There was very little that could stop her natural healers instinct at a time like this, and she looked Daro’Vasora up and down with a keen eye, looking for any sign of injury or illness. “If you are tired, I am going to have to prescribe you immediate rest,” she said playfully, even if there was an undertone of seriousness within it.

“Drinking?” Daro’Vasora replied with a wry smile. “No, not enough. Plenty of water, though.”

She folded herself cross-legged on the ground next to Raelynn, leaning back on outstretched arms. “I’m always tired, sleep eludes me these days. Blame it on poor life choices, but I’m a very light sleeper when I don’t have a roof over my head and the weight of the world on my shoulders. I’ll admit, it’s getting heavy.” Daro’Vasora replied, finding a twig on the ground and slipping it between her teeth. “I suppose it’s safe to say I’m doing about as well as I can, but I’ve been worried about you since, well, y’know.” she looked over to her friend, a frown crossing her features. “I was worried you weren’t going to talk to me again.”

It was of concern to Raelynn that she was not sleeping, but it was of little surprise. Sleep had been an elusive thing to her as well. “Then you’ll take staggered rest… Lie down when tired, take it when you can. You’re no good to anyone exhausted… I can make you a potion or a tonic to assist you with it, now that we’re camped I can gather whatever ingredients that I can.” She rounded off her words by giving the Khajiit something of a stern look - to reiterate that she had simply no choice in the matter, it soon softened, however… “I feared that everyone wouldn’t wish to speak to me. I’ve been… Reflecting and… I’m sorry if I’ve been distant. I needed space… I didn’t want to get in anyone's way…”

Daro’Vasora reached over and took Raelynn’s hand, meeting her gaze with reverence. “There is nothing to be sorry for; I never went anywhere, Raelynn. I meant it when I promised I would help you with Gregor, and I will never, ever give up on you.” she promised, a sigh escaping her lips. “I won’t pretend this hasn’t been hard, or confusing, or painful.” she said softly, her gaze finding the earth below. “I can’t imagine how it must be for you. We love who we love, and sometimes that means enduring hardships that anyone who isn’t you cannot possibly understand. When I spoke to you before all of that, you asked me to trust you that he had changed, and I listened because I trust you. Thank you for believing in me, putting yourself before all of us. That took incredible courage.”

Raelynn squeezed her hand in return, letting her thumb run over the back of her hand gently, comfortingly. “Logically, I know all of this to be true. I’m just…” The Breton paused while she waited for the words to come to her. The right words. “I’m not frightened of what the future holds, I just know I need him in it. More than ever. I’m thankful that you listened to me, listened to us. If it had gone badly… If you’d elected to exile or-” she stopped, closing her eyes tightly trying to push back the thought of someone executing Gregor from her mind, even if she had pictured it so vividly since. The image she’d created herself had been haunting her. “I don’t know what I’d have done.”

Carefully she moved from the rock and down to the ground, to sit beside Sora in as dainty and ladylike a manner as she could, taking her other hand in hers, sitting close enough to the Khajiit to hear her tired breaths. “So thank you Sora, for your trust.” With one last smile, Raelynn placed her chin on her friends shoulder and whispered again, “thank you.”

“I’m sure if our positions were reversed, you’d have done the same for me.” The Khajiit smiled tiredly, recalling Megana saying something similar to her a few weeks ago. She had told her she wasn’t sure if she would have been able to do what the Nord had, but this at least felt right. A frown creased her features. “I… am still not sure how I feel about all of it, to be honest. I try to act like I know what the fuck I’m doing, but inside I look at Gregor and I have a hard time reconciling exactly what he is with what I’m seeing, the calm and polite man he is now compared to the monster that had caused so much pain. A big part of me is torn up inside, but I’m relieved it’s all done and over with. There’s still so far to go, and I just want to make sure we’re all in this together.” she glanced around at the people milling about, her eyes settling on Latro speaking with Zaveed, of all people. What in the world was that about?

“You're right, and who knows how long this will take, what else awaits us. I just want to get home safely, me and…” she stopped and pulled back from the embrace. “Whatever your feelings and thoughts are about him, they're valid. I will never tell you that you're wrong. I can try, but ultimately, only he can show you who he really is.” She sighed and squeezed Sora's hands tighter, just looking at the Khajiit with an expression somewhere between regret and encouragement. She had a way of hiding her pain in her eyes, far beyond the ocean blue. “I don’t know if I’m happy, but I don't think I'm sad, either. So… I think I know what you mean.” She followed Sora's eyes, and found her watching in the distance Zaveed and Latro. She knew that would be worrisome for her, and so she squeezed again, this time releasing an amount of magicka that would provide a gentle warmth from palm to wrist. “We have each other, I'll always help you with anything that I can.”

“Thank you.” Daro’Vasora replied, closing her eye briefly, thankful that Raelynn wasn’t becoming defensive over the discussion and her opinions. She felt too tired and threadbare to fight, and for weeks now she’d felt the fire in her heart burn down to embers. She wasn’t a soldier, or a hero. She was just some silly girl who got caught up in the world turning upside down and doing her damnedest to try to keep her footing. She couldn’t even bring herself to hate Zaveed, having seen him in their company for so long. He’d always seemed rather affable and generally harmless that it was hard to think it wasn’t just an act, something that he was putting on until the next time he decided to let his claws out.

Her arm throbbed and she winced at the memories.

The flood of warmth from Raelynn’s hands helped ground her, and her eyes opened again, staring at the soft glow of the pale hands that looked and felt rougher since the last time they’d been this close and intimate. “I have to admit something.” she said after a few moments of contemplation. “I think this plan of mine is a one-way trip.”

“What do you mean?” Raelynn asked quietly, their voices now only murmurs against the buzz of the rest of the camp. She was concerned and it was etched across her brow which now furrowed harshly, and yet the healer did not relinquish her grip on Sora’s hands, in fact she pulled them closer into her lap. “Would you like to go somewhere more private?” she asked, the features of her face softening with concern and worry and somewhere in between that a show of love and respect for her friend.

“Talk to me, we can work this out, so don’t say that,” Raelynn continued - the weight of the realisation heavy on her heart all of a sudden. Instinct took over from somewhere, and she moved closer still to Sora, releasing her hands so that she could embrace her friend instead. “Don’t say that.”

The Khajiit leaned into the embrace, placing her hand on top of the arm around her, holding herself close to Raelynn for as long as she dared. “Yes, let’s do that.” she said at last, slowly unwrapping the two of them. “Come on, let’s go pitch a tent. This isn’t something I’ve wanted to bring up near anyone else.” Daro’Vasora replied, getting to her feet easily and helping Raelynn to hers. The pair gathered a bundle of fabric and cloth that encapsulated the pegs and poles and carried it to a small clearing that would have done a decent enough job of keeping someone from sleeping on too many hard rocks.

The two knelt across from each other, working on the knots. “I’ve been thinking on this for the past few weeks, what that lexicon is, how I think it works.” Daro’Vasora began, the chords coming loose in her fingers. Having sharp claws were quite handy at picking at tight knots. She let out a long sigh, her hand stopping and sinking down into the bundle. “There’s no easy way to really say this, but I cannot think of a way to put the lexicon into the the planebridge coordinate without it immediately cutting off Exodus from Nirn. Whoever does it will effectively be cutting themselves off in a realm that’s collapsing with no way home.” she paused, looking up to Raelynn, her eyes heavy with bags from a lack of sleep and general exhaustion.

“And even if there was, there’s no telling how much time dilates between our worlds. Whoever goes into Exodus will think it’s maybe hours or days; it could be months, weeks, or years in real time. Remember what Rourken said to us, how it had only been about 600 years since her people vanished?” the Khajiit asked quietly.

The Breton took in a deep breath, her nostrils flared and her hands slowed on the ropes until she eventually brought one up to her chin to think on what Sora had just told her. Raelynn was surely intelligent, she knew that. She was well read, she had studied the Dwemer informally with all the resources that she’d had at her disposal - and still, this was hard to wrap her mind around. Her eyes narrowed and she sucked in a long breath through her teeth. She had no idea what to say or offer the Khajiit.

“This lexicon? You are certain this is what will happen? I’m afraid my knowledge of the Deep Elves is limited to what I’ve read in books, I certainly have no knowledge of their devices. But I wouldn’t mind taking a look at this lexicon myself,” she offered, placing a hand on top of Sora’s comfortingly. “What you’ve admitted has frightened me Daro’Vasora… I can only imagine that feeling is amplified for you... This isn’t a worry that is going to be mended by a ‘we’ll do this together’ is it?” This revelation was painful to process, and she knew that actual work and study was required to solve this mystery.

“I’m not certain about anything, a lot of this is speculation or piecing together what I’ve heard or have seen for myself.” Daro’Vasora admitted. “Honestly, all this technology is new to me. I’ve never seen anything like this; I didn’t even think something like this could exist. But Raelynn?” she said, squeezing her hand back in turn with a slight smile. “‘We’ll do this together’ is exactly what I need right now. If I can’t think of a solution to the problem, maybe somebody else can. If you want to study the lexicon, I’ll fetch it from my bag. I just know that we have a lot of trouble between here and Red Mountain to worry about that stuff right at the moment.”

“Doing it together… That’s all good but… Answers, facts, a plan. This is what we need to get through this. I don’t believe there’s anything I can do right now, let us just have this night.” There had been little Raelynn could have done in the past few weeks to have stopped many of the things that had happened. Namely, Gregor’s change. She had tried to bargain for time but it had been useless. She felt the impossible weight of that failure on her heart whenever something brought that memory to the surface.

“I feel like study and logistics is all I will be able to help you with on those matter. I don’t… Daro’Vasora, if what you say is true, I cannot follow you in there.” Raelynn said it with such an absolute conviction, that it was as if she was holding something back.

“I’d be disappointed if anyone did. No sense in bringing friends along for a one-woman job, you know?” Daro’Vasora sighed, staring back at the pillar of light, that haunting ethereal green glow. “I’m not going to pretend I’m not scared or that it’s something I particularly want to do, but I’ve accepted that this is on me. I’ll set it right.”

“You must stop blaming yourself. You have to stop.” Raelynn’s head tilted to the side as she met the Khajiit’s gaze - the usual severity lined her ocean blue orbs as they narrowed. It was almost as though she was scolding Sora. “We have many good men and women out there with incredible skills, it’s time we put to paper a plan on how to utilise them, no? This is not a one-woman job. You might stand at the front, but you have the strength, faith, and unyielding loyalty of those good men and women behind you.” She held a pause before glancing to the side with a dry and sardonic chuckle, “there I go giving the ‘we’re all in this together’ speech after all.”

“Not bad for your first attempt, you might have a talent for it after all.” The Khajiit smiled. “I just ask people help get me there and through the door. Even if it was true, that it’s not my fault, it makes it easier to face the worst case scenario if I tell myself I should have died or been taken by the Falmer rather than stand by while Rhea activated the device. I didn’t want to die then, and for weeks afterwards, I told myself, ‘better them than me. Don’t apologize for surviving’.” she sighed, wrapping her arms around herself. “But after seeing everything that resulted from that choice, I have to hold myself accountable for doing nothing but looking out for myself and only myself. It was if that lexicon was a brick going through a Tamriel-shaped Window, and all of the pieces that fell free were the people who were lost because of it.”

Raelynn watched as her friend retreated into herself once more, she would always do that thing with her arms. “That’s fair. It’s good that you don’t forget, let it push you forwards but don’t carry the burden of it all. Did you do it with bad intent? Did any of us? You had no idea, Rhea had no idea… You have done everything since then to put it right.” she affirmed. “We’ll put it right.”

“I’m hoping so. I’d feel rather silly if I were wrong about this whole thing and all of this was for nothing.” Daro’Vasora smiled. “I kind of think intent in this situation is irrelevant. It’s like if a mage were practicing magic in the mountains, causes an avalanche, and then ends up flattening a village. They didn’t mean to cause the avalanche, but it wouldn’t have happened if they’d picked a better location to be showing off.”

“And I would say to that, that it would not only be a mage capable of creating an avalanche. A mammoth could find his way up that mountain, step too loud and cause the very same avalanche… So then why did those villagers choose to settle under such a dangerous mountain?” She asked with a smug expression. She knew that both she and Sora could debate over the whys and why nots like this endlessly if they wanted to. She liked that quality in the woman. But, there was little time for philosophising on blame and responsibility when they were sat with the task of ending it once and for all.

“How many mammoths do you see climbing mountains? I’d think you’d never been to Skyrim before.” Daro’Vasora teased with a giggle.

She leaned into Raelynn, letting out a long breath. “I’m fine, truly, I am. It feels good to get all of this out, I just don’t want to scare people. The ironic thing is I’m finally realizing the kind of person I want to be, and I look back at who I was before we all met and I wonder what was wrong with me. I was a lousy person. No wonder my parents sent me up to Zegol; it was probably the first time since I was born they could actually relax.”

“Hmm, you don’t need to explain that to me. I was hardly Saint Raelynn of Daggerfall myself. I’m still not - and I’m far from it. I’m sure you weren’t lousy; just misguided.”

“Oh, I was the worst.” Daro’Vasora exclaimed with her arms held wide. She began to count on her fingers. “I stole from my father’s merchant company just to see if I could get away from it. I shirked responsibilities because I knew my sister, the worry-wart she is, would do them for me so we wouldn’t get in trouble. I always acted brazenly and without much thought for authority and rules. I was a little asshole runt, got to the point my mother basically had me under house arrest in Castle Leyawiin doing chambermaid tasks because they couldn’t trust me on my own before I decided I was going to be a treasure hunter.” she reflected, shaking her head. A pair of fingers massaged her temple.

“I think that’s why I’m never going to willingly have kids. If one of them turned out being like me, I’m pretty sure I’d pack them up in a box and ship them off somewhere so I didn’t have to put up with it.” The Khajiit decided, her arms wrapping about her waist. “My parents are better people than I could ever be, and I think I was going to try and use my sister’s trip to Imperial City to show her that I could change and try and make things up to her.” a frown returned to her face. “I just hope she didn’t get caught up in all of this, that’s what’s really getting to me. Not all of the Imperial City refugees, not the occupation of Gilane, none of that. It’s hoping my sister’s okay.”

Raelynn picked up a water canteen from her side as Sora spoke of her sister, she hadn’t recalled mention of her before and if indeed she had mentioned her, the Breton suddenly felt bad for not having paid attention. She took a long drink from the canteen, holding it out for Sora to take when she was finished. “I’m an only child, a very small family. I think that if your sister has even a quarter of the strength and determination that you have - then she’ll be just fine. It does feel good to share this, doesn’t it?” She asked, wrapping an arm around Sora to embrace her. She wanted her to feel as safe as possible, so that she could be vulnerable - if that would help to heal her for now. “Oh, and for what it’s worth, you’re still an asshole runt,” the blonde giggled before wiggling the fingers of the hand that was wrapped over Sora to tickle her.

She leaned into the embrace with a pur and closed eyes. “And don’t you forget it.” she replied with a smile, enjoying the closeness she was sharing with Raelynn. It wasn’t the intimacy from the oasis, but she found she needed this escape more than she was willing to admit to herself.

Daro’Vasora took the canteen, drinking gratefully as she felt the water ease her surprisingly dry throat. Oftentimes when travelling, she often forgot to pay attention to minor discomforts, so the sudden relief was stark and very welcoming. It was a blessing and a curse; she could push herself hard, but she also at times forgot to take care of herself. The Khajiit wondered what it would have been like being an only child, as much as she acted like it at times, or what her older brother would have been like had he survived infancy.

“It feels very good to share all of this, it’s soothing. I think I just needed to hear someone tell me it’s going to be alright, that La’Shuni is going to be alright. I just wish I could stop thinking or imagining the worst at times and just take things as they come. I think I needed someone like you in my life… I never really had a girlfriend to share these thoughts with.” Daro’Vasora admitted with a contented sigh.

“I can’t say that I have ever had friends until I wound up with you all. Acquaintances, yes… Real friends? Perhaps only ever really my mentor from the college. Something about consistent peril makes you grow genuinely fond of those who accompany you,” she mused, a thoughtful expression on her face. She gave the Khajiit a squeeze too, before adding with a soft laugh, “don’t tell anyone I’m your friend though, it will really start to tarnish my reputation as a stuck up bitch.”

“I’m glad to have you as my friend too.” She finally admitted after several moments of silence. She bit her lip suddenly, sucking in a sharp breath nervously. Her eyes closed and she relaxed her grip on Sora. “We said no more secrets, yes?”

The sudden change in disposition surprised Sora, and she reflexively straightened up to look Raelynn face to face. “Of course, I promised, you promised.” she said, raising a brow. “What’s on your mind?” she asked.

The Breton nervously bit at her finger - but she did not seem overly anxious in a distressed way, “Well, this has to remain between us two, if that’s okay?” Raelynn relaxed her grip from Sora, and pulled her knees up to her chest, as if she were retreating into a shell. “You must promise that you tell nobody.”

Daro’Vasora knelt in front of Raelynn, placing her hands over the Breton’s gently and looking in her eyes with a sincere gaze. “Raelynn, after everything we’ve been through, this thing with Gregor, the warehouse… all of it. Why would I have ever given you cause to not trust me?” she asked. “You can tell me anything in confidence and nothing will ever change that.”

She listened studiously to her words, nodding along with her. “This may well be the most important secret I ever ask you to keep. But I need someone to know… To tell someone.” Her chin trembled and she took in a long, deep breath and closed her eyes, even her hands shook which only made her clench to Sora furthermore. “Daro’Vasora, before Gregor… Well, before he changed - you are aware that he and I…” Her brow furrowed as she lingered on the awkwardness of the topic at hand, before shaking her head - strands of hair falling loose around her face. “I’m with his child, Sora.”

What ordinarily should have been a cause of celebration, a feeling of joy and excitement almost seemed like a cruel joke with everything that had happened. Gregor being a lich, unable to respond and feel like he would have before, the dangerous road they all followed, the uncertainty of the future. Some might have looked at this like the gods playing a cruel jest on Raelynn. Daro’Vasora crawled around Raelynn’s legs and wrapped her arms around her, holding her close to her body.

“This just means that you both have something to live for, something to look forward to when this is all over.” she said quietly, running her fingers through Raelynn’s golden hair. Deciding to take some of the tension from the situation, she said after a moment’s thought, “You better name her after me.” she smiled, kissing Raelynn’s brow. “I know you must be afraid, and you don’t know what the future might hold for you, for this child, for Gregor. But you’re Raelynn Hawkford, there isn’t a damn thing in this world you aren’t capable of conquering and if Mara blessed you with a child, well, maybe you earned it.” she sighed, almost dreamily. “There’s something poetic about a healer giving life.”

“Well that may well be it, I’m not afraid at all. In fact, I’m more sure than I ever have been. I have reason to fight and win this war, reason to fight for myself. Oh Gods…” she sobbed, leaning into Daro’Vasora. “When I realised, when I felt… Sora, I don’t think I’ve been so happy in my whole life. All of the jewels and treasures of Nirn could not compare to this…” Using the back of her thumb, she wiped away the pooling tears of joy from the waterlines of her eyes.

“I still have some time, before I need to tell him. If I were to tell him now, it would distract from his progress. Gregor doesn’t know, I’d like it to stay that way - it’s why I ask for your discretion… God’s, please, just let me have this. For a while.” In the height of her happiness, her voice cracked desperately. As if the very news of life, was keeping her alive too. Raelynn kissed Sora back on her cheek, embracing her tightly.

Daro’Vasora’s fingers traced where Raelynn’s lips had touched, and the urge to lean in and kiss her properly came and passed with some restraint. Instead, she shyly smiled and said, “Well, I supposed you’re eating for two now. This will be our beautiful little secret, until you’re ready to share with the world. You’re going to be a wonderful mother, and… it really means the world you came to tell me first. My gut is fluttering right now, my heart is pounding!” she said with a laugh, shaking her head. “You know, this doesn’t surprise me a damn bit, the way you two went at each other.” the Khajiit remarked with a suggestive wink.

“Excuse you,” Raelynn interjected with a laugh, “as if you are anyone to place comment on the rate of… well,” even with Sora, she was still coy about discussing her sexual exploits openly like that. The blush of her cheeks started to darken.

“Our beautiful secret,” she repeated slowly with a smile and a redness on her cheeks. “My miracle,” she whispered. It filled her with a sense of euphoria to share it, and to see that Sora was happy too - and even more so, the things that she said about her - about being a good mother. She hadn’t really thought of it, strangely, whether or not she would be a good mother. Maybe she had just felt it instead. She’d felt it a lot in the days since discovering - a protective instinct that had awoken within her. Something that had always been there…

“I’m going to get so big,” she remarked with a blank stare. Her fingers plucking at the material of the shirt beneath her cloak - she’d already begun to notice a slight change of shape - a growing softness around the most feminine of her curves. She chuckled once more. “Thank you Sora.”

“What’s this, Raelynn being bashful? That’s hardly like you.” Daro’Vasora replied with a low, almost seductive purr. “Soon you’re going to lose all that flexibility with that big old belly of yours. It’ll almost be a shame.” she giggled. “Almost.”

That warranted a slap. A playful one, but a slap nonetheless. “How dare you. I'll keep practicing my flexibility thank you, even with my big belly!” After that, the Breton yawned, her eyes droopy. Just as she had noticed with Fjolte, it had been nice to be held… By someone.

“Hmmm,” she began, casting a shifty glance to the half-constructed tent, “think anyone would notice our absence if we just… If we just lay down for a bit? Rested our eyes together?”

“After pitching a tent after a long hike? We’d have to be terribly out of our senses to not want to take a quick, several hour nap after the fact.” the Khajiit replied, nuzzling Raelynn affectionately. “I think they can figure things out on their own without being told what to do. I’ll keep you warm, that’s for damn sure.” she promised, a playful smirk on her countenance.

With raised spirits and a playful mood in the air, the pair quickly put up the tent, a quick process born of ample practice the past few weeks, and found their way inside, a loose and unorganized pile of blankets, furs, and pillows tossed in haphazardly. Daro’Vasora collapsed into the soft heap, feeling the aches of her legs fading like water running down a rock. She sighed contentedly, kicking off her boots and patting the spot next to her, beaconing for Raelynn to join her.

The Breton didn't need to be told twice, and at that Raelynn lay down onto her side, resting her head on her arm. “I'll be the judge of that,” she commented softly - her tired voice was as soft and thick as velvet as she made herself comfortable on the spread, moaning out with a long sigh as she stretched. “Let's get our rest, my friend…” she slurred, her eyes heavy lidded - the weight of her secret had been lifted and she was left with a feeling of content she thought had long been forgotten. Daro’Vasora pulled herself close behind Raelynn, wrapping a protective arm about her belly from behind, her muzzle resting on Raelynn’s neck. Soon, their breathing seemed to become one and the sands of sleep shrouded them together.
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13th Sun's Height 4E208, Evening

If it had merely been a year ago, Megana knew quite well that she would have been grumbling about the warmer weather of Sun's Height. However, this was a cool blessing now that they no longer had to contend with the Alik'r desert. There were many who she could clearly tell were cold, and even she had to wear her old dark clock over her new grey and green trimmed tunic, along with the scarf she had been gifted. Still, this was a boon and she wasn't going to complain. The air smelled and felt familiar, but it wasn't just that... it was knowing she was finally back home. The underlying stress and fear for her family's fate was still there, but something about being back in her homeland was rekindling a fire in her that had flickered to a mere ember in the last couple of months. Falkreath itself had been a place she frequented in her travels with J'raij, but the same could not be with where she found herself. As she had told Sevari weeks ago, she wasn't normally the sort to run headfirst into trouble, and the Reach spelled all sorts of that.

Raising her head up towards the sky, the Nord woman took a deep breath and smile, enjoying the scent in the air. Letting out a happy sigh, she looked around at her companions who were in various stages of unpacking and putting up tents. Righ', 'nough dawdlin' an' time t'help out. Sleeping under the stars wasn't something new to her, but she was sure someone else would be happy enough to spend the night in something she helped put up. Pushing her bangs away from her face and behind her ears, she looked around to see if she could find anyone-

"Well you're certainly looking chipper." The voice was a now familiar one around the camp, enough that Megana knew it was Sirine even before she looked her way. Like most of the others, the Imperial Redguard seemed affected by the cooler temperatures, a short dark cloak around her shoulder, the hood pulled a little over her head, though not quite enough to hide her hair, which seemed to have grown the slightest bit since it had been trimmed. It seemed she too was now sporting different clothes, a dark green tunic over a pair of no nonsense woolen pants, tucked in a pair of dark boots. A glint at her throat showed the gold coin that Meg had spotted more than once; it always had her wondering why someone would ruin a good and proper coin that could have been spent; now it was useless. Maybe it was a rich person thing?

She looked away from the coin, green eyes meeting Sirine's brown ones. While she wouldn't necessarily call the former pirate a friend, she was certainly an ally now and had been doing her best to help the group during their journey north. Meg still found herself intimidated by the woman, but it had lessened in the passing days, and seeing Sirine in a much milder state of mind than when she had first come to them put the Nord a little at ease. "Yer righ'," she agreed with a grin, walking over to the woman. Without asking she grabbed a few of the tent poles that were laying about on the ground.

"Bein' here's like..." As she worked to help Sirine, who seemed surprised but more than happy with the help, Meg found herself latching onto a simile that anyone in their group could understand. "... like drinkin' water after bein' parched in the desert. It's nice bein' back... well, home, y'know? I mean, this here ain' exactly where I lived, but... ya get what I mean?"

"Hm, I do believe I can understand the sentiments." Meg looked up at the other woman who had a small smile on her face. It wasn't quite the grin Meg would see Sirine break into around Zaveed and Sevari- something that had completely changed Meg's perception of the 'stern and scary' former pirate- but it was enough to make her feel further comfortable with the woman.

"What 'bout you?" she decided to ask after a few minutes, fueled by her confidence. "What's home for ya?"

There was a stifled laugh before Sirine spoke. "What, I haven't given you my whole 'the sea is my home' speech? Poor thing, you're missing out."

"I though' that was jus', like, somethin' sea people liked t'say," Meg admitted after a moment, rubbing her nose sheepishly.

"Oh, heh, it certainly is. Goodness knows Zaveed and I have spouted that line plenty of times... but the sentiment remains. You seem comfortable here, it shows clearly to a pair of eyes that aren't your own. Me on the other hand..." She gestured at Meg who seemed very much at ease with setting up a tent that wasn't her own. "The opposite. The only time I was on land for more than a couple of weeks before this dwemer problem was when I was a child, a few years in Gilane. Even then it was the last place I wished to be. The stillness of the ground left much to be wanted after the rocking of the sea."

"Tha' made me throw up more 'an once," Meg replied, her expression perturbed as she tried to imagine any sort of ease on a ship. "When we got to Gilane, I was sure I was never gonna be anythin' but green faced like an orc. No offence t'orcs. Jus', how can y'like your tum goin' up an' down in all ways?"

Sirine couldn't help but laugh out loud now, making no effort to hide her amusement. "You get used to it, landlubber. In my case, my mother gave birth to me on a ship, so I had no choice in the matter. It’s almost a weakness, truth be told. Sleep comes much more easily when I can hear water in the distance.”

“The desert musta been hard for ya then.”

“You have no idea,” Sirine replied, the dryness in her voice easy to hear. “Then again, perhaps you do, seeing you so full of life now.”

Meg couldn’t help but grin once more, her face reddening at the former pirate’s words. “Y’think so?” She hadn’t realized her joy at returning to the land of her birth would be so noticeable.

“It’s as easy to see as this damn cold is to feel.” Her voice was dryer still, but the look in her eyes was soft. “Don’t feel embarrassed or put on the spot. It’s not a bad thing. There’s a certain strength in being able to show that which you feel. If anything, I think I might find myself a little envious of you.”

“But yer strong,” Meg argued. Nearly finished with her self imposed task, she paused in her work to stand straight and cross her arms over her chest. “Y’can fight with the toughest, y’saved yer brother from the prison-”

“True, but not by myself. Like I said, strength comes in different forms, and just because I know one way doesn’t mean I know it all. Needing others may seem weak but… a single finger is weaker than five forming a fist, no? I had my friends, they made me stronger. Perhaps one day I shall learn the strength you possess.” Sirine smiled once more, and Meg watched her fiddle with the coin around her neck not for the first time.

“Why’d y’wear that coin?” she asked curiously, unable to help herself.

For a moment Sirine seemed surprised and even a little abashed; Meg was about to tell her it was fine if she didn’t reply, but the Imperial Redguard spoke up. “It reminds me that trust and faith in the right person is worth the risk.” She was quiet for a good while after that, enough that the Nord was surprised when she continued to speak. “And what of that amulet of Mara peeking from beneath that pretty scarf?” The quiet moment of contemplation was gone and Meg could see the teasing look on the other woman’s face. “Who’s the lucky lad?”

“Er… no one really.” She scratched the back of her neck, feeling awkward. “It’s a reminder too, of one of m’close friends. I used t’travel round an’ go treasure huntin’ with him. Met him when I was a kid in Riften…” She shrugged a shoulder as she lifted up the amulet to look at it, fingers almost stroking it. “J’raij was a thief bu’ so was I, though I didn’ know tha’ ‘bout him ‘til I met him again once I was grown an’ on my own. He gave this t’me on one’ve our expeditions, tol’ me t’give it t’someone…”

“You haven’t though.” Sirine pointed out the obvious, though her tone was uncharacteristically gentle. Meg looked up when she felt a hand on her shoulder, letting the amulet slip from her fingers as she found a pair of sympathetic dark eyes looking into her own. “You loved him, didn’t you? And I’m willing to bet he’s now…” There was a slight pause.

“He’s dead,” Meg supplied, looking down at her boots, scuffing the ground with one until it kicked at a pebble that flew a little distance away.

“My condolences,” Sirine replied. The hand on Meg’s shoulder squeezed before releasing her. “I can sympathize, I’ve felt that pain, though it has been a long time since I’ve loved a person. Loss though… I think most of us here are a little too familiar with that, hm? That’s the way of the world we live in. People come and go like the changing of the tides. Well… most people. Some stay, some we follow… those we grow close to.”

“Tha’s this group for me.” The somber look on Meg’s face shifted slightly, making place for a little positivity. “At least, a few of the people here, anyway.”

“Anyone you’d be willing to give an amulet of Mara too?”

Meg smiled but shook her head. “No’ this one. This one ain’ for tha’ no more. ‘Sides… I think I still gotta whole lot t’learn bout love.”

“It’s a lifelong process,” Sirine replied, though she then waved her hand dismissively. “But don’t take my word for it. I’m by no means an expert on that field of life.”

It didn’t take much longer for Meg to finish setting up the tent with Sirine helping out in the end. She couldn’t help but still feel a little awkward around what felt like a much more experienced woman, even when it was obvious the she was more learned in some thing than the former pirate was. “There we go,” she said, looking at her handiwork. “All done, y’should be fine.”

“I appreciate the aid,” Sirine returned, smiling at the younger woman. She grabbed her bedroll and tossed it inside before picking up her backpack next. This she was rather careful with, setting it inside in a much more gentle fashion before ducking inside. “Come along.”

Meg blinked, not having expected an invitation to enter; she hesitated for a second before following inside, where she found Sirine was loosening the drawstrings of her backpack and fiddling about inside. Not feeling it was polite to watch, she looked away at the sparse area, admiring her handiwork. “Yer brother,” she started after a moment, “he didn’ come with us.”

“No, he didn’t,” Sirine agreed. The sound of rummaging through the pack ceased and when Meg looked over, she saw the other woman was looking at nothing in particular, eyes lowered and hands slack. “He decided to stay with the Alik’r village to recuperate, and from there, wherever the winds take him.”

“Jus’ seems…” Meg hesitated, wondering if she should continue.

“Go on.” Sirine’s eyebrow rose, waiting. “I don’t bite, usually.”

“Well…” Her voice trailed before she finally continued in a hurry. “Jus’, ya went through so much t’find him an’ save him, but now yer here an’ he’s there an’... well, would’n y’both wanna be together?”

“Ah.” Sirine’s smile was tinged with sadness. “Sometimes when you love someone, when you care about them, you have to learn to let them go as well. Easier said than done.” Meg watched as the Imperial Redguard’s hands tightened around the lip of the backpack. “There are still times I wish I’d had the courage to push him out of the nest sooner than this- all of the pain he’d had to endure…” She shook her head quickly, as if dispelling her thoughts. “Whatever happened, happened and lead me to this moment.”

“The gods’re somethin’ tricky in the way they do thing,” Meg commented.

“Fuck them,” Sirine replied simply, her hands loosening their grip before once more fiddling about inside once more. “I don’t want to give them credit for the paths I’ve taken. My choices were mine, the good times, the trying times, the hellish times. And even now, whatever peace I have found… it’s due to my choice, not theirs.” Meg watched as the former pirate pulled out a couple of rolls of paper first, and then two wooden quills along with a pot of ink. “My apologies for those blasphemous words.” A chuckle escaped Sirine. “I can tell by the look on your face you don’t quite agree, and that’s fine. We all have our little biases for and against.

“Enough of that though.” Sirine grabbed the items that she had taken out and stood up, approaching Meg, who was looking at her with curiosity and barely hidden apprehension. “I noticed on the way here that you like to draw out maps as well as write, which I have to commend. Writing is something I have indulged in since I was a child and believe me, it helps at times to calm oneself down, simply let your thoughts flow.” She pressed a roll of paper into Meg’s hand before slipping in a quill as well as the inkpot. “However, your writing is, for the lack of a better word, atrocious.”

The Nord woman sputtered, especially when Sirine let loose a chuckle. “It doesn’t have to remain that way,” the former pirate added once she had finished displaying her amusement. “I can help you with your writing and spelling, if you wish. I taught my little brother, Bakih, when we were both quite young, as well as other crewmates and underlings of mine. If someone was part of my crew, I wanted them to be literate. That and… well, I quite enjoy teaching. So, what-”

“That’d be great!” Meg’s look of shock and then embarrassment was replaced by surprised enthusiasm, eyes shining as she looked from Sirine to the paper, eyes shifting back and forth. “That’s- thankies!” Without thinking about it, the Nord woman reached out, wrapping her arms around a very shocked Sirine, giving her a hug that was very much not expected, seeing how the former pirate was standing as stiff as a board, a weak laugh escaping her as she finally extracted herself from the embrace.

“Goodness, you remind me of… well, never mind that now.” A little flushed but seeming happy, Sirine nodded at Meg. “First lesson, don’t scrunch the paper like that in your fist. Treat your supplies with respect. Second lesson will have to wait as I’m sure there are more important tasks to partake in at the moment. Dawn however is the best time to find me.” She smiled, still not a grin but a much more at ease smile than Meg had ever seen her deliver. “I look forward to this.”

“Aye, me too!” Meg grinned in return, loosening her grip on the roll of paper as instructed while taking care to hold the quill and inkpot properly. “Thanks so much, I’mma make sure t’come tomorrow morn!”

“Mhm,” Sirine replied, finding it hard to keep the smile off her face. It was strange how something so small and almost petty made the Nord woman glow like Magnus itself was shining down on her. Are you really one to think such things, Sirine? Who is wearing what is nestled against your throat? “On your way then, student of mine.” She made shooing motions with her hand.

The warm and wholesome feeling remained even as Megana left her tent. There was something to be said about doing things for others without wanting anything in return. Was this how Zaveed had felt when helping her? She would have to ask him, though she expected nothing more than a teasing non reply slathered with charm in return.

For the time being though, she settled down to write a few notes herself, making good on what she had told Meg.

“It seems I have made a new friend.”
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Hank J. Wimbleton

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Alone


The sun had settled below the horizon and dusk retreated across the night sky to follow it while Gregor walked. His face was stoic, almost expressionless save for a slight furrowing of his brow, and his gait was that of either a man annoyed or a man on a mission. As it so happened, Gregor was both. He could feel in his bones that tonight was the night. This sacrifice would be enough. It was an exhilarating thought and the lingering negative emotions that remained from his confrontation with Raelynn were slowly expunged. He knew he loved her and that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her, but the Pale Reaper also knew that she was nothing compared to the importance of his task. If she couldn’t deal with the consequences of his path then so be it. He did not need anyone. He could walk the long walk alone. He had been alone for ten years before. What was different now? Nothing.

He took a deep breath, enjoying the sterile, clear smell of the desert at night. Gregor turned his head this way and listened for any sounds of the party and the oasis encampment he had left behind, but none were audible. He had walked far enough. Nobody would interrupt him here. Gregor looked up at the stars and stared, recognizing some of the constellations. He briefly wondered if the sky would look different later. Focusing on the here and now, Gregor looked down and took off his backpack, rummaging through it to find the necessary tools and ingredients. He used his foot to clear and flatten an area in a circle and then drew the pentagram with bone meal and blood. He paused to look at his hands -- they were steady as a rock. Gregor smiled to himself. He reached into the backpack again and pulled out the black soul gems. Five points on the pentagram for five souls. It felt… predestined. The universe had guided him towards this moment. He sank down onto his knees in the middle of the pentagram and placed the gems where they belonged, gently pressing them into the sand so they would stay upright.

A thought occurred to him that stopped him in his tracks. For such a monumental moment, everything he was doing felt so… mundane. His movements were just ordinary movements, even if the objects he was handling were extraordinary. The clothes he was wearing, the way he styled his hair… there was nothing special about it, about him. And yet, if everything went according to plan, these would be the last things he would ever do as a mortal. The Pale Reaper shrugged, eager to get on with it, but Gregor found himself looking up at the sky again. Wouldn’t it be appropriate to reflect on everything that had brought him here?

He thought about his family, first and foremost. The familiar memories of his childhood and his youth, the carefree years in Anvil, all together and happy. Gregor remembered the long afternoons in the golden summer light out in the yard with his father and his brother, playing at being soldier, Hector doing what he could to instill some actual skill and discipline them, but often powerless to stop the boys from simply rolling around on the grass and smacking their wooden swords edge-to-edge. The memory made him smile. Marcus had been so eager, so hungry, to devour everything he could learn and catch up to his big brother. Gregor had never been a very passionate child and had seen fit to do things at his own pace. Such were the luxuries of the firstborn, he mused. He remembered how his mother would watch them from the kitchen window and call them inside for dinner when it was ready. Every time, Hector would take a moment to kiss Gaia and whisper something to her that Gregor could never hear. The way his mother smiled without fail meant that it was probably something sweet.

And Julia was born, of course, bringing some lightness and silliness into the dynamic between the big brother trying to be important and the little brother wanting to be just like him. Even as a young girl she’d always been playing with her dolls, fussing over them and bothering her mother for things to satisfy their fictional needs. Gregor knew, deep down, that Julia had children of her own by now. He wondered if they knew his name. Gregor took a deep breath and suddenly became aware of the tears on his cheeks. The memories were so vivid, so clear, that recalling them ripped open old wounds almost instantly. And yet those memories were the very thing that Gregor cherished and wanted to protect most of all. He did not want his life to be stolen from him by a disease. And as much as it had hurt to leave everything and everyone behind, to go so far away for so long that any nieces and nephews he could have might not even know who he was, it was essential that he had -- for their sake too, or they would suffer the same fate that he had and be forced to watch their mother wither away and die before her time. And, ultimately, with the passage of enough years, that same death would come for them too. There was no future for the Sibassius bloodline without Gregor’s intervention. He held their lives in his hands.

He gingerly put the last soul gem in place. The air changed immediately. Something was coming. Gregor closed his eyes and did not startle when the five soul gems were cracked asunder by an incorporeal force. He did not have to look to feel the essence within slither free from their crystalline prisons; the screams of the Dwemer’s victims echoed from somewhere far away. These souls were steeped in fear and malice. He spread out his arms.

“Welcome,” the Pale Reaper whispered.



13th of Sun’s Height, 4E208
Southern Druadach Mountains, West of Falkreath Hold


The rains had come and gone. Gregor had weathered them all in silence as he stood vigil during the dark mountain nights and even now, when the sun pierced the heavens and bathed the valley below them in light, droplets of rainwater and dew still clung to his faceless armor and his black cloak. After Daro’Vasora’s speech, Gregor helped to unload the horses without being asked. His undeath made him tireless and while his movements were slow and measured, he was steady and reliable. Gregor ignored the glances of the others and said nothing when he stood shoulder to shoulder with Sora as they unfastened more supplies. What was there to say? Weeks had passed without incident but that wasn’t enough time for anyone to forget what had happened. Gregor didn’t blame them or expect otherwise. He focused on helping out where he could instead, putting his strength to use and spending most of his sleepless nights watching over the party -- but never alone. There was always at least one other person awake, to keep an eye on him as much as anything else. Gregor had ignored their stares too and retreated behind the inscrutable steel of his helmet.

Once their work was done and the camp was set up, Gregor briefly looked around for Raelynn and saw that she was speaking to Fjolte. It had been too long since Raelynn had spoken to anyone that wasn’t him or Jaraleet. Gregor’s self-imposed status as a silent pariah did not have to be hers as well, so he decided to leave her to it. While he certainly had the tireless energy left to forage for food he knew the party wouldn’t like it if he wandered off on his own and out of their sight, so Gregor sat himself down on a fallen tree at the edge of the camp and did the same thing he had done so many times before: take care of his blade. The weight of the claymore in his hands was comforting and he laid it across his lap before he produced a whetstone, a cloth and some blade oil from his backpack. He looked up occasionally while he worked, taking note of Zaveed speaking to Latro, but for most of the time Gregor focused on his thoughts.

Fjolte had recovered some of his memories with the use of a strange and alien mixture of herbs during one of the nights they had made camp. Gregor did not pretend to understand how the Nord’s concoction worked, but it had summoned visions that Gregor could only assume to be the truth of the matter. They were disturbing and he hadn’t found the courage to talk about them yet. He remembered a fight between himself and Raelynn just before he had set out into the desert and the words that he had spoken were nothing but awful. Had it really been him? Gregor had asked himself that question a hundred times. It had been his body and his voice but the words he had spoken to her in their tent seemed so cruel, so callous, so loveless… it was hard, very hard, to believe that they had been his own. It wasn’t the first time that Gregor had felt that sometimes he wasn’t in control of his actions. There was a side to him, or there had been, that could almost be said to have a mind of its own. He had tapped into the darkness in his soul deliberately before, but this was different. Was that why he hadn’t been able to recall those memories? Because they weren’t truly his? Everyone had always said that the dark arts were corrupt by nature and that one couldn’t practice them without becoming a monster themselves. Gregor had never wanted to believe that and had always considered that to be superstitious nonsense. Perhaps there had been truth to it after all.

He listened to the rasp of his whetstone across the rippled edge of his sword, the chirps and songs of the birds in the trees behind him and the soft whispers of the wind through their branches. The air was cool, he knew, and it would be a pleasant change for the others. It all felt the same to him. Gregor wasn’t even bothered by his wet clothes. He had tried to made peace with these changes ever since they had left the gathering of the tribes behind but it was hard to say if he was making progress. Some days he felt liberated by the lack of sensations, some days he felt a deep yearning for biting cold or searing heat. He saw that the others had started a fire and watched as a cooking pot was hoisted over the flames. Gregor had tried to eat something on Raelynn’s insistence and found that it tasted like nothing. He hoped the others would enjoy their meal.

Sevari was among those tending to the stew. Gregor hadn’t spoken to him since the Khajiit had pressed the barrel of a pistol to his face in the prison. In fact, he hadn’t spoken to anyone that had been in that damned room with the damned Dwemer executioner since then. While that was probably for the best, it nagged at him that he had never thanked Zaveed for his unlikely intervention. For him to defy his own brother after the argument he’d had with Gregor in the oasis… it was deserving of gratitude, whatever Zaveed’s motivations might have been. Gregor saw him speaking to Latro and wondered when the time would be right. Would it ever be? Was there a point to waiting around for some magical signal to tell him that it was alright to express his thanks? Probably not. If he was to talk to any of them again, he would have to initiate that. They could easily and wilfully go the rest of their lives without seeing him again. Gregor knew that. Not for the first time, Gregor questioned what he was doing here. Perhaps it was nothing more than a fool’s hope to think that he could redeem himself in the eyes of the party. Still, there was only one way to find out.

A voice came from his left. “Is it true what they say about you?”

Gregor turned his head and saw Mazrah standing there with her arms crossed and her head tilted, staring at him like a historian might stare at a curiosity. There was no disdain or hatred visible in her eyes. Gregor wondered why she approached him now. The two of them hadn’t spoken since… the party, he realized. That felt so long ago already.

“Yes,” he said and averted his gaze.

Mazrah frowned and took a step closer. “Show me.”

Gregor shifted and grabbed the hilt of his claymore tighter. A drop of water slid down his helmet’s visor and fell on the soft earth below. “No,” he whispered.

The huntress looked at him with something approaching pity, but not unequivocally so. She’d been told what Gregor had done to turn him into this thing. It was hard to imagine the nice man she knew from the party to be such a killer. Worse than a killer, even. Hell, it was hard to imagine their faceless traveling companion to be those things, too. There hadn’t been a single instance of aggression or trouble from him, not one word of protest -- not even a whisper.

“You’re a strange man, Gregor,” she said at length and shook her head. “We’re going to forage for food. Are you coming?”

He shook his head and squared his shoulders. “I have to finish this,” Gregor said and resumed whetting the blade with the stone.

Mazrah could see that the edge was already as sharp as it was ever going to be. She finally took the hint, however, and her posture softened a little. “Take care,” she muttered and returned to the camp, discomfort visible in her eyes. She wasn’t easily disturbed but being around Gregor… it was like the very air itself was stifled by his melancholy.

Behind her, the lich was left alone with the birds, the wind and the rasping of his whetstone. Pine needles had fallen from the trees and settled on his cloak, and he looked like he’d been sitting there for more than a hundred years.

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Greenie Follow the Strange Trails

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Moonlight and Moonshine

by Shafty and Greenie


19th of Midyear, Early Morning

It was unclear how long Meg had been sitting out at the edge of the village by herself, staring off into the dark distance as she clutched a bottle of ale in her one hand, the other simply digging into the now cold sand. It was a relief she had remembered to bring her cloak along with her backpack, the latter now set to the side, one of the five various bottles of liquor empty- she hadn't been picky about what she had brought along, and she really didn't care whether the taste was appealing or not. As long as it made her numb. The already empty bottle of rum had been tossed to the side, looking forlorn and uncared for.

Eyes shifting from the shadows to the sky, Meg found herself gazing at Masser and Secunda as if it was the very first time. Her hand left the sand, grains spilling as she lifted her arm and reached up towards them. What was it that J'raij would call them? It took her a good moment to remember. “Jone an’ Jode.” Barely a whisper, her voice still managed to break the silence, and she found she didn't care for the sound of it. The lip of the bottle met her own and she took another swig before setting it down between the knees of her outstretched legs.

Still the faces showed themselves to her, no matter how much she tried to push them to the side. Her father, Marne, Sylven. The Greymane and the Battle-Born. The farmers she would work for. The Jarl in Dragonsreach. All dead. The streets of Whiterun had been painted red in blood with only automatons making their way through the corpses. Jaraleet in a room before a crying, tortured man, face blank as he prepared yet again to extract the truth. Gregor and an army of undead ruthlessly killing everyone in their sight. Her nightmare plagued her, even as her eyes remained open. And then there was the conversation when she had just been about to leave her tent. Once more she felt the stinging in her eyes, the lump in her throat. She hurt him, hadn't she?

“Fuck it all.” She brought the bottle up again and took another gulp.

Sevari plopped himself down next to Meg, uncaring if she wanted company or not. If she wished to be alone, she could scream it in his face and he’d move on no more damaged than he came. But there was no screaming, not even any looking at each other. The revelation from the night before still weighed heavy on Sevari’s conscience, pressing him down harder than anybody he had ever killed. In a way, he killed Latro, or whatever semblance of peace the young man was trying to cling onto before he crashed into his life like a bull.

He brought his bottle to his lip and tipped it back, closing his eyes, only to find it dry. He grunted, tossing the bottle to the side and he took the fuller one from Meg’s hand, not offering but not protesting. He gulped down the ale and handed it back, wiping his mouth off on his forearm. “Can’t sleep.” It wasn’t a question, or an explanation of why he’d come, it was just a statement. He lit a cigar, puffed on it a bit, and added a harsh whisper, “Can’t ever fucking sleep.”

Blinking in surprise at the sudden appearance of the Ohmes-Raht Khajiit, Meg was barely able to register when the bottle had left her hand and when it returned. She vaguely wondered if it was a khajiiti thing to be so quiet and sneaky, despite how large he was in comparison to the others she'd seen in her years. The Nord hadn't expected company as she drank herself to a near death, but she wasn't about to shoo him away either; she didn't quite have the mind for that right now. Pressing the bottle to her lips once more, Meg took a long gulp before setting in next to her, digging the bottle down in the sand so it stayed put while still in reach of Sevari.

"See things y'don' wanna?" she muttered after a moment of silence. Finally turning her head his way, Meg was able to make out his features due to the light of the moons, and it was clear he was as burdened as she felt, though what might be bothering him she had no way of knowing. "Or... jus' like tha'?" Her teeth pressed against each other, lips pulled tightly as she looked back to the distant sea of dunes. It seemed whatever reprieve had been sent their way after the prison break was long gone.

“Seen a lot.” He nodded, puffing on his cigar again and the smoke was coming from a Bosmer village near the southwestern coast. Him and his boys were investigating rumors of what the Thalmor and their sympathizers were up to in the jungles and- “What about you? I’ve never seen you so dour.”

"Me?" For a moment Meg felt a hint of panic and perhaps even a little dread, but it seemed to leave as soon as it came. What was the need to hide what she felt anymore? Everything she thought she knew was cracked and broken- there was no need to pretend to be happy. "Bad dreams..." She bit down on her lip, hard enough that it was painful though the skin didn't break. "Didja know... the Dwemer're in Skyrim too? I didn'."

A harsh breath left her lips and her hand tightened around the neck of the bottle she had reached out to drink from again. "I saw 'em, Pa, my family, Whiterun... all dead, like in Imperial city." She stopped and pulled at the bottle that she had only just set into the sand, and in no time it was empty. "Shit." Her breaths were coming quickly and she needed relief. Tossing the now useless thing to the side without a thought, she reached for her pack and grabbed onto the first drink her hands fell on, still unsure of what it was. "I saw him... Jaraleet... doin' wha' he does t’get answers. I saw Gregor..." She stopped, struggling to open the bottle, unable to continue with her words.

“I knew.” He said, to answer Meg’s question about the Dwemer and grabbed the bottle, gently taking it from her struggling hands. “I knew about Jaraleet too. A man sticks to what he does best. It’s a rough world, it makes rough men.”

He grunted as he popped the cork free and handed it to Meg, “If it is any consolation,” he began, sighing with the words because he knew it wouldn’t be, “He didn’t choose it.”

At least it wasn’t for him. He never chose any of it. But somewhere along the line, he decided to start. “If you think Jaraleet is a bad man, Meg, I’m sorry. I’m sure there’s plenty orphans that think the same of me.” Sevari looked out over the dunes, moonlit and lifeless. Peaceful like a sleep without dreams. “The sad truth of it all is that the world needs people like me and Jaraleet.”

"I- I don' think he's a bad man! I don' think you're a bad man! I don'- I... I dunno wha' t'think." Her hand was shaking as she held the bottle tightly, eyes now wet, once again remembering the conversation she'd had before stumbling out here. Sniffling, she took a gulp of the drink, eyes shutting tightly against the taste- she'd never had something that tasted so strong before. Maybe it would help numb the pain, whatever it was.

"He told me tonight. Of all nights... tonight. Why... why? An'- an’ then he said..." She shook her head before stuffing the bottle in the sand. Unable to stop herself, she pulled her knees up under her chin and started rocking. "I know I ain' the best, smartest… I don’ talk fancy, I know I do stupid shit. Jus'..." She sniffled again and roughly wiped her eyes. "I'm not a fuckin' child. Why didn' he just tell me? Why lie?" Her mouth trembled as she turned to face the khajiit man. Her eyes were still wet yet demanding. “Why didn’ you lie?”

“Because, I know what I am.” Sevari said, he patted Meg’s hand, “Judgement does not bother me until it comes from the Gods themselves.”

"I wouldn've judged," Meg replied plaintively, having a hard time not spilling her tears and eventually just giving up, the hot trails of salty water quickly cooling down in the cold desert night. Once more she rocked back and forth, her bottle nestled against her after she was done taking a rather large swig. "I never did, no' even when I was a li'l kid. Not for J'raij, not Jaraleet, not you..." She sniffled, shaking her head. "Maybe tha's why y'all think I'm stupid." Her eyes narrowed and she actually laughed, though it lacked humour and was filled with disgust instead. Was that was Gregor was thinking the night she tried to ask him if he'd been the one to kill Nblec? That she was just a stupid little girl? He sure wasn’ wrong.

"Didju know Gregor was a necromancer too? Ya seem y'know everythin'. Jaraleet sure as fuck did."

“He did.” Sevari nodded, “I did. I was going to kill him in the prison. I was going to blow the back of his head out and leave his dark knowledge all over the wall behind him.”

Sevari sighed, eyes closed as he took the bottle and swigged from it, placing it back between him and Meg. He looked at her and it pained him to know she felt that way about herself. The way she reminded him so much of La’Vashara only laid itself over the pain and added to the crushing grip around his chest. “Meg, look at me.” He said softly, laying a hand on her shoulder. When her wet, red eyes were on his, he laid a hand on her other shoulder, “Don’t you ever call yourself stupid for not holding judgement.”

He squeezed her shoulders lightly and carefully pulled her to him. As much as he would never admit it, the hug was for him too.

It was hard not to start crying some more, and even though a very faint part of her mind was telling her to toughen up and stop being such a baby, Meg refused to listen to it, shoulders shaking and breath heaving, sniffles continuous as she simply let out the torrent of drunken sorrow on the poor man in front of her. In hindsight she would end up hating herself for seeming so weak, but at the moment she felt exactly that. The barriers she had put up while talking to Jaraleet had cracked with drink and were now crumbling with Sevari's blunt words.

She finally managed to speak, though she didn't move away from the hug, unwilling to lose this surprising yet welcomed comfort. "Why didn' ya just do it then? Kill him?"

He shrugged, “As stupid and unbelievable as it sounds,” he shook his head, “No one let me.”

“But, no, Meg. You are not stupid, you are kind, tolerant, loving, curious,” he squeezed his arms around her just a hair for a second, “Everything I’m not. Everything I can never be now, because it’s too late. You’re all of that, but you’re not stupid.”

“Who called you stupid, made you feel like this?” He asked, a fatherly tone to his voice and a levity that was working itself to death to be heard in his voice, “I’ll punch them. Or I’ll hold them still while you do.”

A watery laugh escaped Meg and she finally looked up, wiping at her face as she did. "No one, no' really. Jus' kinda feels like it sometimes, y'know. An' maybe I make it too easy for others t'think tha'." She sighed softly and gulped some more of the strong alcohol, now getting used to the taste and enjoying the stinging sensation. She was feeling a little more peaceful now, relaxed even. Perhaps it was just the effect of all the alcohol now in her? "I don' think it's too late for ya, y'know? It's only too late when yer dead. Y'ain' dead yet." She paused and blinked, head tilted as she struggled to think. "He's dead now though... kinda ish? Liches are dead, righ'?" She raised her free hand. "No- wait- undead. Tha's the word."

The memory of his face made her shudder, and once again she lifted the bottle to her lips.

“He’s what?” Sevari’s voice came harsh and quiet. He tensed, feeling his heart skip a beat when he heard what Meg had said.

Unable to help herself when she heard the change in his voice, she found herself becoming rather still before speaking, her own voice rather small with a hint of trepidation. “He- uhm… did- did I say somethin’ wrong?”

“He’s…” he unfolded his arms from Meg and held her across from him, his brow cocked, “He’s a lich?”

Meg's mouth felt rather dry- she gulped a little before nodding, eyeing the large Khajiit to see if she was the one who was earning his ire. “I didn’ know anythin’ 'bout it 'til t'night!” Her hands fell away from the bottle for a second and she nearly dropped the liquid all over herself, barely managing to grab onto it again. “Nec- nercer- necromancer was bad 'nough, but he's a fuckin’ lich now.” Once more she shuddered and a look of fear crossed over her features, though it was two fold- she was wondering if she was not supposed to have told Sevari or something.

Well, she'd already blathered, there was no point stopping now. “He looked… dead. Like drained. An’, he was actin’ all diff. Like he reg-regretted everythin’ he'd done.” She paused to whet her whistle once more before continuing. “Jude an’ Gaius wan’ him gone. Gaius wan's him gone gone, dead. Erryone else said he gotta stay… me too.” The last part came out rather small once again. “I didn’ know wha’ t'say.” Her uncertainty was back, hands shaking as she held the bottle in her lap, looking down at it. Was she supposed to have said anything like this to him or not? He was part of the group, right?

“Good fucking Gods…” Sevari sat back on his elbows, looking gape-mouthed at the stars. How could this have happened without him knowing? How could he have let Gregor achieve this? He was more dangerous now than ever. “You stay away from him, Meg. Don’t even cast an eye his direction. If he even looks at you, you tell me and Jaraleet. You understand?”

Meg’s head slumped downward, chin pressed against her chest. He seemed… she didn’t know if it was fear or something else. Her hands were still clutching the bottle but she hadn’t taken a sip since she blurted out Gregor’s secret. “He didn’... seem dangerous though…” She blinked and peeked at Sevari, hoping to maybe reassure the khajiit man… or perhaps she was simply trying to reassure herself. “He kinda seemed… sad? I dunno… I dun think he’s gonna be hurtin’ anyone… ‘sides… even if I said anythin’ t’Jaraleet, they’re frien’s. He… he [i]knew from ‘fore, didn’ tell me, didn’ tell no one. Kinda feel bad, y’know? Like I wasn’ trusted or sommat.” Now she brought the bottle to her lips, tilting her head back as she drank deeply, ignoring the little that escaped the sides of her mouth, lettin them trickle down her chin to splash on her shirt.

“Meg,” Sevari said, watching her quaff her drink, “Meg.”

He frowned deeply and tipped the bottle down from her lips, prying her fingers away from it until he had it in his own hands, “Meg, stop with that. It’s not going to fix anything. You might pass out drunker than shit for any amount of time, but trust me, whatever demons you have weighing you down are going to be waiting patiently when you wake up.”

“Tell me what I can do.” Sevari said, “Anything.”

For a second Meg returned the frown, but then her bottom lip trembled and she looked to her empty lap, hands shaking as she dropped them to fill the hollow. She shook her head, once more feeling water fill up in her eyes and trickle down her face, the hot tears cooling down in the desert night air. "I dunno," she finally replied, voice breaking so that she stopped herself from saying anything more beyond those two words. What he said was true, but... She brought a hand up to her cheeks and wiped at them, though it did little more than wet the rest of her face. There was so much that didn't make sense to her even if it seemed clear to the rest of the world.

"Hurts righ' here," she muttered after a moment, rubbing a fist at where her heart lay beneath her clothes and flesh. "How d'ya make tha' go 'way then? Knowin' the truth didn' help shit."

Sevari shook his head, “Never did.” He said lamely, almost apologetic, “Never will, maybe. The truth needs to be known though. There’s no sense in laboring under a smiling lie if it means forsaking who you are or the truth of your circumstances.”

“Gregor was on this path far before we met him and this was going to happen whether he was with us or not.” Sevari frowned, taking a hypocritical swig from the bottle before cocking his arm back and sending the bottle sailing far down the dunes. “We’re going to have to deal with it. Jaraleet knew, I knew. But there wouldn’t be any good coming from letting the news spread like fire or we’d all be charred.”

“Accept things as they are, Meg,” Sevari said firmly, looking at her, “But never decide that they have to be that way always. Always look forward, if life is a battle then hardship is the enemy. Be a step ahead. Two steps ahead. And when you’re cornered with nowhere to go and shit piles up,”

Sevari frowned, “Get a fucking shovel. It’s good to be brave, Meg. If life’s a battle, it’s not about good or bad. It’s wrong or right. It’s right to win.” Sevari chuckled at his own stupid words and it felt as if he was partly saying them to himself. “Fuck losing.”

"Fuck losin’," she repeated. Taking a breath and letting it out slowly, her drunk mind was trying and failing to analyze her thoughts. What was winning and what was losing in this current situation, with everyone upset and unable to trust the other person? What more was hidden that would eventually come out to the surface? She herself was finding more solace in the company of bottles and someone she had previously thought had hated her than with her own companions of two months.

Meg brought her hands up to her face, palms pressed tightly against her closed eyes, fingers digging into her dark hair and pressing into her scalp. She was out of tears for the time being, feeling hollow and cried out. It's good to be brave. Maybe if she kept reminding herself, she would eventually be brave. There had to be something good that came out of this, otherwise… No, there has t’be. She’d have to dig around to find it perhaps, but maybe that was something worthy. She wanted to win, yes, but she also wanted good… good that was something real and not just falsity and lies.

Eventually she spoke up, though her eyes remained hidden behind her hands. "Will y'be comin' t'Skyrim with us?"

Sevari cleared his throat and shifted where he sat, sniffing, “What I mean to say, Meg, is that wallowing like this won’t solve this. You have nothing to prove to anybody, you proved it to me that you’re willing to die for your friends when I had to snatch you and that bleeding Argonian idiot off the Gilane streets.” He smiled at Meg, “You only have yourself to prove yourself to. And, yes, I’m going to Skyrim. I have to see if there’s anybody left in… those I know.”

“Aye…” she replied after a moment, letting her hands slide down from her face to land in her lap once more. She took another deep breath and let it out, nodding to his words even though she still looked rather miserable and lost. “I'mma havta see how t'get 'bout doin’ that.” She bit down on her bottom lip for a moment before allowing herself a weak smile in his direction. “Glad you'll be comin’ along, I like talkin’ to ya.” She hesitated for the smallest moment before tottering up on her knees and reaching over, giving the Ohmes-Raht a heartfelt if somewhat wet and clumsy hug.

Sevari snorted softly, wrapping his arm around the drunk Nord he’d somehow come to have a kinship with. “If you need help getting about to doing that all you need is ask, Meg.” He patted her on the shoulder before writhing about in her arms to face her, holding her out in front of him, “But if you lose me in this godsdamn fool’s errand we’ve all taken on, and gods forbid have only Jaraleet with you, you keep those words close.”

He smiled at her, “It is good to be brave. Now, come on,” he got to his feet, gently pulling Meg up with him and holding her still when she leaned a tad too far to the left, then the right as he held her steady, “We’ve got some sleep to catch up on.”

“Aye, aye,” Meg mumbled in agreement, allowing herself to be steadied; even in her drunken state she knew full well that she was near toppling over and landing on her face. She managed to grab her pack with one hand as she clutched at Sevari with her other one. “Thankies for… er… all.” She attempted to wave her hand to motion towards anything but failed, hand weighed down by the pack she was holding and the bottles still inside. “Good t'be brave… aye.”

That would be for tomorrow though, when she would be feeling the consequences of tonight's overindulgence. For now sleep beckoned, and a heavy lidded Meg was more than happy to enter its embrace.
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A Huntress, A Wolf…

A Mountain Looming...


Latro stepped out into the glaring sunlight, a hand held over his brow like a visor and moaning with the strain of his eyes adjusting. There was something he needed to do. He’d been putting it off too long and now he’d gone and threatened the lives of one of his friends. Several, actually. If he waited any longer…

He shook his head, not wanting to think on that. Going about his morning activities, he’d stop every so often and have to shake himself from the recollection of his dream. Those too were getting worse. It was only getting easier of a decision to take up Mazrah’s offer to control the wolf inside of him, and today was that day. Freshly clean and ready as he could be for the day, he stood outside his and Sora’s tent, watching the going on of the camp. Children were kicking around a ball or practicing swordsmanship. Vendors were setting up stalls and the smell of food was tickling at his nose on the soft breeze.

First order of business was breakfast. He dumped a ladle-full of water down his throat before he did the same for his hair, the harsh sun already raging over his pale Reachman skin. Parting with his septims, he continued on towards his destination with two meat skewers, taking the first steps towards where he needed to be. Admittedly, for a woman of her stature, it was surprisingly hard to find her.

It was a good fifteen minutes of looking before he did, following pointed fingers and nods of Alik’r people that finally brought him to the Orsimer woman who was at once both fearsome and friendly. He drew in a breath through his nose, resuming the walk towards her. He raised his hand in greeting, which also held a meat skewer, “Mazrah.” His face was stuck somewhere between trepidation and determination, “I’m ready.”

She had been towards the far end of the canyon that sheltered the tribes by herself, to work out -- exercise was something she’d neglected ever since she arrived in Gilane and that simply wouldn’t do. Mazrah looked up when she heard Latro’s voice and approach and a slow grin spread across her face when she saw that he was serious about it. “Good,” she said as she straightened up and she beat her fist to her chest once. Her skin was glistening with sweat and she had to readjust the strap of her top to prevent it from slipping off and baring her breasts entirely. “I’m proud that you have the courage to seek me out and confront this head-on. The first step is often the hardest,” the Orsimer huntress added. Her eyes lit up when she saw the meat skewer. “Is that for me?”

For the first time that day, Latro managed a small, almost indiscernible smile. But it was a smile. “Yes.” He said, his voice a bit happier just to have her company. There was something about the woman that brought him courage when he thought there was none to be found. “I figured breakfast was in order. Something light.”

As she took the offered skewer, Latro bit into his own, speaking around his mouthful, “So, what’s to do first?”

“Thank you,” Mazrah beamed and tore into the meat with delight. She was hungry after her exercises. “Good question,” she said with her mouth full and motioned for the two of them to sit down where they stood. The sand was pleasantly warm in the shade of the canyon but not too hot. She swallowed hard and grinned. “First we eat and talk. There are some things I need to know.” Without regard for tact or gentleness, Mazrah pressed ahead. “What usually draws out the wolf in you?”

Unperturbed by the woman’s forwardness, he sat calmly and chewed on the thought, his eyes cast off to the side while he did so, “Anger.” He finally said, but that wasn’t enough, “Anger, fear. Pain. When they mix, I lose control. It’s like somebody else takes my wrists and legs and holds my head to watch myself tear through men like silk.”

“I used to like it, revel in it. To beat my chest and lay low men twice my size and see their hubris shrink to the size of a louse’s prick.” Even now, he found his hand shaking and his knuckles white while gripping his skewer. He was sheepish of a sudden, chuckling and taking another bite, “That’s how it feels.”

She nodded. “That sounds familiar.” Mazrah looked at him with curiosity, however. It was a peculiar way of describing the sensation and she had to remind herself that the things that Latro experienced could not be identical to the berserker’s rage of the Orsimer people. He did not have that blood in him. That was clear as day. “Not identical to how I would describe my rage, but I think it’s enough to work with,” she said and finished the rest of her meal with a few hungry bites.

“Before we ever deliberately draw out this wolf of yours -- yes, that is part of it -- we’re going to practice some techniques to help guide your emotions,” she explained. “Have you ever received any lessons like that from anyone?”

Latro shook his head. The only training he had ever done was with his father, Ruddy-Bull. He was a harsh teacher with harsh lessons and many a time he went to bed still bleeding and sore. Fighting the other children first coming of age was a ritual and a test, whether it was pitted against one in the circle or given a weapon and shoved into a mass of them all punching and slicing and snarling.

To say the Reach loved its children was a half-lie. It loved only the strong. “No.” Latro shook his head, “Never. They wanted the wolves out of us, the warriors and killers. None else.”

“Whatever you have for me to learn today, I will learn it.” Latro smiled with some effort.

So the Reachmen were more feral than the Orsimer of Orsinium. That was an interesting revelation to Mazrah and not one she had expected. “That’s the spirit,” she said with a grin. “We’ll start with something simple. Breath is the key to control, so breathing exercises to keep you grounded and focused, even when rage claws at your heart, are the foundation for everything else we’re gonna do.”

She made herself comfortable in the lotus position and placed her hands in her lap. The nostrils of her nose flared as she took a slow, deep breath, held it for a few seconds, and exhaled equally slowly. “Like so,” she said and gestured for Latro to copy her.

Latro nodded, looking Mazrah over as she sunk herself into the lotus position. For something she’d said would be drawing on his aggression, this was starting to look a lot more like what Raelynn was teaching him. He decided to follow Mazrah, he too crossed his legs and drew in a breath. He held it at the top and let it go, a beat passed and he drew in another…




Finnen let his breath out in a grunt, taking Mazrah’s shoulder to his gut in stride now as he sprawled. She’d come on fast this time, or faster than the other times anyways, and he almost let her get the better of him. His eyes were wide as he felt Mazrah’s arms tense around his waist and her hands snake around his thighs to dig their fingers into the backs of his knees.

He drew in a breath, growling with the effort of keeping his legs out and straight lest Mazrah gain the advantage as she was so damned fond of doing. His own arms, which even Sora had noticed had grown since he’d started training with Mazrah, wriggled under the Orsimer’s shoulders. He roared, keeping his core tight and trying not to buckle under the strain. Already his right leg was shaking like mad, soles of his feet scratching the grass away and digging into the dirt beneath, but slow as slow, with the looming of a glacier her hands started to slip from his legs and they came slowly face to face. Their beared, growling teeth and flaring noses and wild eyes were inches apart. Their muscles writhed, taut beneath bare and sweat-slick skin threatening to burst apart.

They strained under the tension of each other’s strength, quietly growling and countering each of each other’s subtle repositionings. He could feel his heart pounding, threatening to sunder his ribs to dust. He only remembered to keep his breath going and even as he was suddenly whooping through the air. He found himself on his feet though, skidding through the dirt and grass several feet away from Mazrah. She was smiling, and so he returned his own, beating his chest once with both of his strong fists as he growled. The icy mountain air that replaced the dry and furious heat of Hammerfell burned away at his lungs with each heaving breath, the pain of it cutting through his fatigue as he looked across the clearing. Mazrah’s shoulders were heaving half as much as his own.

He slapped his hands against his thighs and his chest, bellowing out a vicious roar and sticking his tongue from his grimacing lips as he waited for the huge woman to charge him again. Though he kept his face a warrior’s image, he smiled in his thoughts, she’d taught him the Orsimer ways well and he reveled in it. A warrior once more.

Mazrah did not keep him waiting in suspense for very long. Despite the challenging nature of their work together, she enjoyed sparring with Finnen, Latro’s wolf. He was much stronger than he looked and as ferocious as any Orsimer she’d ever known. Except, perhaps, her brother. The warrior-huntress dashed across the forest floor, kicking up dead pine needles and earth as she went, and barreled into Finnen with her prodigious strength, wrapping one arm around his torso and one hand around the wrist of his right hand, while her feet worked to subdue Finnen’s legs and force him to bend the knee.

“Deep breaths,” she growled in his ear while their bodies wrestled against the other’s strength. “Remember that you are Latro the bard and not just Pale-Feather the killer, remember your love for Sora!” With that, Mazrah’s eyes went over red and her muscles bulged with power, lifting Finnen into the air by his waist and throwing him into the dirt with an overhead toss. She knew he hated to be manhandled like that, but that was the point. In the deepest depths of Finnen’s rage, Latro should be able to retain control.

Again, Finnen felt the air rushing around him as he turned in the air. This landing was not so graceful as he landed arse-first, rolling onto his back as he sprang off his hands to squat on his haunches. His eyes were wide, teeth beared and breath growling in his throat. He had not been so challenged since the Red-Bear.

But Pale-Feather… Finnen shook his head, again standing and forcing his hands open when they tried to close into crushing fists. He didn’t need Pale-Feather. His palms again slapped his thighs and his chest, he remembered the face of Sora. The strength of his promise to her and the strength of the kinship he had with the woman before him. Mazrah.

He breathed in deep, hot breath smoking on the air as it left his snarling lips. This time, he wouldn’t let her come to him. She had been given the easy task too often. The dirt beneath his feet near exploded from the force of his tensed legs as they propelled him, barreling into Mazrah’s hardwood stomach. He let go a small chuckle as he felt Mazrah’s hands around him like the roots of trees. His muscles almost buckled under her strength and it pained him to strain under them. But pain was the fuel, it made the fire grow.

His teeth felt like they were going to snap as he set his jaw, arms and core burning as he slowly lifted Mazrah, arms around her waist and legs. Her toes dangled but an inch from the grass of the clearing but it was a testament to his strength he’d gotten now. Rediscovered and renewed in Mazrah’s lessons. He took a few shaky steps forward and grunted as he pressed forward, the dirt grinding beneath his and Mazrah’s feet.

Mazrah’s eyes widened in surprise as the much smaller Finnen managed to lift her off her feet. It was an incredible achievement and it contributed to the understanding she had developed over the past few weeks about the things Latro had said; how he’d laid low men twice his size. It had seemed an impossible and empty boast at the time. However, her hands were still free. Finnen was doing this to prove a point instead of trying to win. Mazrah wrapped her arms around Finnen’s neck and yanked backwards, shifting their combined centers of gravity so that her feet touched the ground again and Finnen’s face was tilted towards the earth, disorienting his balance. From there, Mazrah hooked her leg around Finnen’s knee and forced him backwards with her berserker’s strength, laying him out on the ground. She quickly got on top of him and pinned his arms to the ground with her knees.

“You have to use more than your strength,” Mazrah said with a grin, breathing hard, looking down on him. She pressed a finger to his temple and tapped repeatedly. “Use your head. You have nothing to prove to your enemy until they are defeated. There’s still too much Pale-Feather in charge.”

He heaved in air and let it go in a laugh that came straight from his belly. “I forget.” He chuckled, looking away sheepishly towards his arms, trapped under Mazrah’s tree trunk legs. “Hard not to see this as a friendly competition. Hard to have to remember why we’re doing this.”

He frowned for but a second before Mazrah stood, taking her offered hand as she lifted him to his feet. He brushed himself off and the pair of them made their way to their packs, piled around a tree. Finnen rustled around and managed to find some jerky inside his travel pack, draining half his waterskin before he even threw the jerky into his mouth. “Tell me,” he said between chewing and breathing, “you said you’ve never been to the Reach?”

After plopping herself down on her butt next to her belongings, Mazrah shook her head at Latro’s question. “Nope. When I left Orsinium I went to other parts of High Rock, like Daggerfall. I wanted to see the big cities I’d heard about. Didn’t really care for the massive stick the Bretons stuck up their collective arse, so I went to Hammerfell and that’s where I met you guys. The Reach has missed out on my fantastic presence so far,” she explained and winked. “Are you excited to go back, Latro?”

He smiled, nodded his head as he took another piece of jerky from the sack and offered some to Mazrah, “Part of me.” He said, “The part of me that’s scared of myself wanted to find some other way to Skyrim. But that part of me, Latro, was always a lie.”

He ran his hand through his hair, the tie coming out with his fingers and his long locks falling free again. “I’m Finnen of the Crow-Wife Clan. I’m not Latro, and lying about being a man of peace won’t do me any favors.” He smiled across to Mazrah, “But nor am I a mindless beast. I thank you.”

“What was it like? Your home? Your tribe?” He asked, “If your people have those.”

“Right, Finnen, sorry,” Mazrah said and smiled sheepishly. “I keep forgetting. When we first started you talked about Finnen as if he was something to be feared. I have to admit it’s… a bit confusing that you’re embracing that name again. But don’t worry, I’ll get used to it.” She, too, produced some food from her pack, veal that she’d bagged and prepared the night before, and munched away, answering Latro’s -- no, Finnen’s -- question in between bites.

“Orsinium is a big city. Not like Daggerfall, but a big city all the same. The king rules all but there are also… I guess you could call them clans, but they’re more like big families, led by the oldest male,” Mazrah explained. “Ornim that live in the strongholds out in the wilds are different. They’re more like a tribe, with a chief and everything. I’ve never been to one.” She shrugged and then her eyes lit up. “There’s probably strongholds in the Reach! Maybe we’ll come across one, eh?”

She swallowed the last of the veal and leaned back, resting on her hands, enjoying the cool air on her skin. “Back in Orsinium my father was the Hand of Mauloch when I was growing up. I guess it’s the same thing as a general. My brother killed him in single combat to become the next Hand. It’s pretty barbaric, I have to admit, but that’s just always been our way. Then my brother was a big fuckin’ idiot and got himself stripped of his title and exiled. I thought that was as good a time as any to leave as well and see more of the world.” She took a deep breath and sighed. “The Ornim of Orsinium don’t really… well, the men, at least… they don’t like that I like women better than them,” she finished and rolled her eyes.

“There’s a few!” Finnen chuckled, “Some trade with some of the tribes that are more friendly. Some tribes even have little tusks, mostly the ones in the Dragontail mountains. I’ve never met them, but stories are told.”

“The Hand of Mauloch, like a War-Chief? My father was that, long ago when Madanach and his brother were peaceful and the Forsworn were not even a thought.” He smiled, remembering the precious few good moments with his family in the Reach. “So you left Orsinium because you were different in a way everyone thought was a much bigger reason than it ought to be?”

“I know the feeling. I was a runt, one that grew to look womanly. My father was a worshipper of Malacath, and he hated the weak and the beautiful.” Finnen shook his head, “Almost everything in my life that I’ve done has been to prove that even if I was everything my father hated, he would respect my strength, at least.”

“It wasn’t long until I became Forsworn. I too was cast out from my peoples’ lands for that. And here I am,” he smiled, fierce and defiant, “Ready to offer a rebuttal to those who would see me gone forever, who would disagree with who I love, man or woman. Betmer or Reachwoman.”

“Your brother was exiled too? Why?” He asked, simple curiosity.

Finnen’s story was inspiring and Mazrah returned his defiant smile encouragingly. Her face darkened when he asked about her brother, however. “He wanted war,” she said bluntly and shook her head. “It sounds like your father would have loved him. Maulakanth, his name was. The Maul of Orsinium, and then the Hand of Mauloch later. That was no coincidence, my father named him appropriately. He tried to instigate a conflict between Orsinium, the Nords to the north and the Redguard to the south. Damned prideful, he was. Believed that the passive stance of the king was an affront to all Ornim and that we should be taking the fight to the ne vorshu, the unworthy, to extract crunzurga. Revenge. The blood-price. Orsinium has been destroyed a lot over the ages. Our king believed that the key to avoiding that fate yet again was to avoid conflict, just defending our borders where necessary. After a few years of them going back-and-forth about it like a pair of mules, the king had enough when Maul threatened to attack Nord territory in Skyrim unprovoked.”

She laughed but there wasn’t a lot of mirth to be found in her voice. “An idiot, like I said. I tried to counsel him but he stopped listening soon after he killed our father. It’s a shame,” Mazrah said and looked away. “We were close, once. But our mother raised me and our father raised him. The differences proved… what’s the word?” she asked and cocked her head. “Real fancy word. Oh yeah, I’ve got it. Irreconcilable.”

“I’m sorry.” Finnen frowned, chewing in silence for a few seconds, “At least your home is still yet safe. I don’t know what’s been happening in the Reach, not even in my own Clan. I haven’t been back here in years.”

“Perhaps my people have been better. But knowing they answered the call when the Dwemer propositioned them to secure the Eastern Reach…” Finnen shook his head, sighing, “My people have wanted a home for so long we’ve thrown ourselves at the feet of these… these slaughtering conquerors. There’s better ways.” He muttered.

“Do you miss him?” Finnen asked, “Miss home?”

“I’m not so sure Orsinium is safe,” Mazrah said. “But I hope so. I don’t really miss the city but I miss my mother.” The Orsimer smiled at the memories she recalled when she thought about Durash. “Right now I’m enjoying our adventure and the opportunity to be a heroine. They’ll sing songs about us, Finnen. Mazrah the Mer-Killer and Finnen the Ferocious. Mark my words.”

Then she shrugged. “But Maulakanth… I miss who he was. I don’t miss who he became. Knowing him, he’s gotten himself killed by now somewhere in High Rock or something. It’s either him or everyone else,” she mumbled and wrapped her arms around herself.

Finnen’s lips formed around her brother’s name once more, noiseless. Naught but a whisper, he recited it to himself and felt a memory tickle at him. The convoy, they spoke of a Maulakanth. But, to tell Mazrah? Finnen looked sidelong at Mazrah, her dejected face, “I... believe he still yet lives...” he said, just louder than the breeze.

Her eyes were on him faster than an eagle’s. “What did you say?” she asked, surprised. “How do you know?”

“I was with Sevari, before our convoy was attacked the other Ministry Agents spoke of him.” He said, a bit nervous at Mazrah’s reaction, “He was not with us, Sevari and I were the only survivors I know of from the attack. But if he still lives and still serves the Dwemer…”

His hand carefully and slowly went to his belt, his axe and knives scraping across the earth as he brought them closer. “He’s still out there.”

Her breath caught in her throat and her heart skipped a beat. “In Gilane,” Mazrah whispered, eyes wide, “the hotel, when it was attacked... they said there was a big orc, right?” It was something the survivors had told them, but Mazrah had never for a second believed that it could be her brother. The thought simply hadn’t crossed her mind. “He was in High Rock when I last kept track of him. What the fuck is he doing with the Dwemer? Why would Maul, of all people, bend the knee to a bunch of gray-skinned twats?”

The more she spoke, the angrier Mazrah sounded. She picked up a pebble and flung it at a tree, striking it with satisfying force and dislodging some of its bark. Her mind raced as it considered everything she knew about Maulakanth, about what his motivations could be. “They must have something he wants,” she hissed and looked around the clearing, as if that would contain the answers she needed. “Fucking cunt. If he makes me fight him, after everything else he’s done, I will shit inside his throat, so help me Malacath.”

At the thought of Maulakanth, he scanned the trees. He wasn’t expecting the Orc to be lurking between them, but the thought did nothing for his nerve. If he faced him, he thought, would he ever see Sora again? He stood, donning his belt and buckling it, sparing a glance back at the trees that lingered as he spoke, “We should get back to the others. See what’s to do.”

It took a while for the Orsimer woman to reply. “Yeah,” she said absent-mindedly before she finally looked back at Latro, seeing he was on his feet. “Yeah, alright, let’s,” Mazrah mumbled and followed his example. She squared her shoulders and unclenched her jaw. Hammerfell was behind them and so was Maulakanth, in all likelihood. She’d come back and kick his ass later.
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Stormflyx Queen of Doggos

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Constellations.


Greenie & Stormy

13th Sun’s Height




From the blistering desert, to the significantly less blistering mountain range of the Reach - it seemed that the journey had been endless. While most had their complaints, there was at least one who felt completely at home. The newcomer Nord, the one that most were still unsure of. He had only just been freed from a prison after all, and then had immediately volunteered to be the caretaker to the recently transformed Lich, Gregor. If he had wanted to make an impression… He had certainly succeeded in that regard.

But this was his home, his temple - the wilds of the world, the roads less travelled were of great comfort to him. The open sky and open arms of Nirn were inviting and nothing felt more freeing to him than the familiar embrace of complete and utter freedom. So, out of everyone in the party, Fjolte was probably smiling the most.

The Nord was changing too, access to food and real activity had brought his body back from the brink - and his spirit. There was also the matter of his beard though, that was growing back at a rapid pace. He looked more disheveled than he had when they had left the Alik’r. Not only the beard, but his hair too. Maybe it was the world's way of telling him he should grow it out for a change.

They were setting up their camp for the night, and, well - not ever wanting to stick himself in a tent, the Nord had already rolled his bed out for the night and was ready to stick in and help whoever else needed it. When Fjolte caught a glimpse of Meg pottering around, he decided that person could be her. He shrugged and slid himself off the rock he’d been sitting on, and with a relaxed pace he headed over, realising he hadn’t really said an awful lot to her yet - despite knowing her from some years ago.

“Scraps!” he said with his usual carefree and toothy grin. “Staying out of trouble this evening I hope?”

"Now tha's somethin' I ain' heard in a very long time." Meg had her arms filled with her bedroll, but she was quick to let it drop on the ground as she turned around to face the Nord man who was nearly a foot taller than her, returning his grin with one of her own. She had definitely noted his presence around the camp, but with the situation as it was and the graveness of Gregor's condition, she hadn't thought it would be a good idea to disturb the monk. Truth be told, she had been in her own contemplative mood for most of the journey, her thoughts and emotions a ball of yarn in her mind that she was trying to sort out.

That being said, every day meant they were nearing Skyrim, and so every day she found her mood lightening from the previous day, and it was apparent from the way she was actually making an effort to look pleasant and take care of herself. The dark marks around her eyes seemed to have receded, and her hair, though messy for the most part, seemed almost on purpose.

"Talos, sure is good t'see y'again, though I didn' think you'd've remembered that name!" Chuckling, she reached over and gave the large man a friendly hug. Even such an action made her nostalgic, reminding her of the people she would interact with back home. It was comforting in a way. "Trouble fin's me, not the other way 'round, y'know." She stepped back and looked up, taking in his scruffy look so unlike what she remembered from five years earlier. "Y'sure look differen' from there. So. Wha' 'bout you, eh? Don' tell me ya jus' ended up in the desert on an adventure or sommat."

A hug! Now that was something that made him smile in his heart, so excited he was that someone gave him such a greeting, that he squeezed Meg as his huge arms enveloped her, and lifted her up with the sheer force. It was then that the Nord realised that probably made the poor girl uncomfortable, so he put her down softly, with a glowing grin.

“Strange how the wind blows old acquaintances back together eh? And yeah, tell me about it troublemaker! How could I forget you?” he said with a laugh as he placed his hands on his hips and sighed. “It’s been a strange trek hasn’t it? Can’t remember travelling with such a large group…” His voice trailed off as his eyes followed around the camp slowly, taking notice of everyone individually and how they appeared to be settling in, or in some cases not quite so much. He sighed in a carefree manner and let his grin return, thinking of how to explain his adventure to Meg…

“Well you see…” he began, his eyes moving from left to right, voice lowering as if this was a great secret. “I was looking for something, something valuable… something dangerous. Up in the mountains that border our homeland…” He drew closer to Meg, his voice quieter still (for a change), “I had set up camp for the night. Just me and my trusty steed… Joben. I had followed a map to a secret cave there were I was to retrieve the famed sword of the great warrior Diana Prionsa. Such a legendary sword is this one, it is said to be able to slay a God…” He paused, to gauge Meg’s reaction at his tale so far…

Meg's eyes were wide, arms loosely held to her sides as she watched the Nord, laning a little closer as his voice quietened, though she really needn't have; it was as much for effect as well as her truly being engrossed in the story. She knew he told fantastical tales, yet this one sounded something that could very well have been the truth. Besides, it seemed he was as good at weaving stories as he had been when she had first met him. That had been a fun day indeed, now that she thought of it. A fight or ‘scrap’ with a couple of idiots who didn’t know better, and then drinks and banter with a friendly stranger to soothe the burn of the wounds. What else did a Nord girl need, really?

"A legendary sword, eh?" She grinned, her smile bright as she recalled her little misadventure in Gilane. "Soun's like we got somethin' more in common than bein' Nord. I went on some treasure huntin’ back in Gilane, for Raelynn’s Pa. But that’s nothin, you’re the only tellin’ your tale. So?" She prodded his arm and nodded encouragingly. "Then wha' happened? Don' just leave me hangin' here." With no further thought, Meg plopped herself down on top of her bedroll, sitting cross legged with her hand under her chin, green eyes staring at Fjolte expectantly.

“Aye, legendary indeed. But it wasn’t to be, Scraps. I got myself ambushed by a damned Dwemer patrol. Reckon they were looking for the sword too.” He shook his head slowly, eyes veering off over the distance to the right of him, an annoyed huff escaped his lips. Even his hands balled into angry fists as he plopped himself down onto the ground beside Meg. “Didn’t go down without givin’ them a good fight though, I tell you that much. Must have taken out about eight of them with my bare hands before they took me down. Well, then I ended up in the prison o’course.” After that he simply shrugged. “Gotta say though, everything happens for a reason. Wouldn’t be sittin’ pretty with you tonight if I hadn’t been in the right place at the right time now.”

"Yer righ'," Meg agreed with a smile. If she thought about all the troubles they had to go through to reach this point, then maybe she could think about all the good that had happened during the time as well. "Y'wouldn' be here an' we wouldn' be talkin', an' how sad would tha' be, eh?"

Treasure hunting for Raelynn’s Pa? That was of interest to him, and so as he relaxed into sitting he looked at the Nord with a curious smirk. “Treasure hunting in Gilane? Well actually I’d say that’s about everything I want to hear about right now…”

"Aye, aye!" Unable to do anything other that grin at the smirk, Meg's legs immediately began to jiggle about as they normally did when she was excited. "Haha, are ya sure though? I'm bettin' y'got much more interestin' stuff t'talk abou'..." She paused a moment before sitting still, bringing a fist to her mouth and mock coughing, as if clearing her throat. "Fine, I'mma tell ya 'bout tha' then."

She pursed her lips, sifting through memories that seemed a lifetime ago yet were only a little over a month old, truth be told. “I needed septims, an’ Raelynn’d mentioned her Pa migh’ have some work for someone with my er… talents.” She looked a hint of sheepish but mostly proud. “Dunno if y’remember, but I’m pretty damn good at huntin’ down treasure. Soooo I went t’their place, an’ I’mma tell ya, tha’ place was grand, got me worried if I was t’touch sommat, it’d get dirty.”

Fjolte watched the Nord with an intensity he rarely showed outside of his work, a seriousness to his eyes that suggested that Meg was the absolute focus of his attention. He remained silent for the most part, occasionally the corners of his mouth would turn to a smile. Her enthusiasm was infectious, and that joy radiated over to him where he sat.

Scratching at her head for a moment, she continued onward. “So, her Pa had this sword, an’ wanted t’complete the pair, ‘cept the sister sword belonged t’another merchant who was ‘bout t’leave for the desert. So I had’ta sneak into his place… climbed a tree an’ jumped into the garden. There were three wagons there an’ ‘course I checked the wrong ones firs’...” She chuckled, though she didn’t seem embarrassed by her tale- while it lacked the flair with with Fjolte told his stories, Meg was clearly enjoying retelling her adventure to the tall Nord. “When I got t’the righ’ one, the wagons started off. I managed t’pick the lock an’ found the sword. A bow too, sold tha’ though. Had t’use it t’get away from the caravan an’ ran like my ass was on fire ‘til they were outta sight. I got paid good though! Bought sweets an’ clothes an’ drink with the gold.”

He was silent for a moment, and after that moment he laughed from the bottom of his stomach at the story. It was a fantastic one. “Oh Scraps,” he said through chuckles, “you sure showed them. Man…” he sighed almost wearily, “it’s good to have escapades like that, keeps a fire in you. Sounds like the sweets, clothes, and drink were well earned if you ask me.” It had been a long time since Fjolte had bought something like that, he was so used to just making do with what the land provided. The clothes on his back were old, and had been repaired and remade more than once. “Can’t even remember the last time I made a septim, y’know? All I want is all around me, don’t need much else.”

He’d recalled Meg having kept to herself somewhat on the trip, he wondered if something had been bothering her but he dare not ask in case it ruined the happy mood. It wasn’t his place to pry, either, so he held back any thoughts he was having of poking and prodding at the girl. “Good to see you again, y’know? Despite everything you’ve probably gone through you look stronger and more spirited than ever.” He gave a soft chuckle again, and nudged her in the arm with his elbow gently. “Always been a good egg, haven’t ya?”

"Maybe jus' a l'il rotten," Meg jokingly replied, returning the nudge with one of her one. Her grin simmered down to a smile as she thought over what he said. It was a relief if she was being honest with herself. "All tha' travelin' gave me lotsa thinkin' time, y'know? It... it's been an adventure but also a whole lotta hard shit..." She looked a little guilty as she cast a glance at him before her eyes shifted to the dirt between her boots. "I feel kinda bad sayin' tha', ain' like ye've been sittin' in a tavern this whole time." One glance at the man was enough to show that he'd seen more than his share of strife, from his clothes to his hair to his general disheveled state of being. Yet somehow he'd managed to retain a smile on his face and a happy tone for others.

"How'd ya do it?" she asked after a moment of lingering quiet. "Bein' back here, Skyrim, tha's what's gettin' me happy again, but b'fore tha'... it's like if I didn' ignore shit, it'd just make me sad an' upset. But you've been cheery since I saw ya after the prison." She finally looked back at him, still smiling though the questioning look in her eyes was clear.

“I have faith,” he began with a smile and a loose shrug of his shoulders. “Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. I spent far too much of my life being angry, being sad…” He absent mindedly began to pluck at a loose thread on his shorts, rubbing it between his thumb and forefinger as he gazed out across the camp. “It fucks you up, it fucks others up. I mean, it’s okay to feel like that once in a while if that’s how you feel. You just can’t set up camp and live there y’know?” Within the silence, his smile faded and the light went out in his eyes - as if he was thinking on memories from years ago.

“Being good, being nice, caring - all that’s easy I suppose. Rather see people smile and laugh than not. I’m not stupid, I know people see me as a bit of a joke y’know? Always been that way even when I was a soldier.” He paused again, blinking before he grinned and sat up straight with another laugh, “so hey, if I get to make everyone feel a bit better about their own shit for even five minutes because I’m the joker, well so be it. I’ll wear that badge with pride!” He beamed, and snuck an arm around behind Meg carefully while she had been listening, raising his hand to ruffle her hair. “Nothing to feel bad about Scraps, don’t be afraid to say what’s on your mind for fear of offending me. I’m unoffendable.”

"I don' think yer a joke," Meg replied with a shake of her head before casually leaning against Fjolte- after nearly a month of keeping to herself, it felt nice to share a moment, and who better than with someone from home? "Hones'. I kinda wish I could be like you', y'know? I wanna be like tha', t'not take things t'heart so much tha' I just end up in..." Her forehead creased as she tried to think of a good description. "Like bein' stuck in a room with no light, no windows an' no door."

She paused once more, trying to gather her thoughts. "I hate thinkin' people see me as a kid, bu' maybe tha's how I acted." Smiling ruefully, she shook her head. "There're always signs pointin' to the truth, but I'd just... push ‘em away an' not take heed. I couldn' do that anymore when... well... the whole Gregor thing. Things were out an' there was no turnin' back. I drank a shi'load tha' night, like an idjit." Sighing, Meg looked at her hands that had been busy fiddling with the dark green and black trim on her new tunic. "Haven' since then though... was told it ain' gonna solve anythin'."

Looking up at Fjolte once more, Meg couldn't help but feel guilty yet again. "Sorry! Didn' mean t'make things all, er, gloomy an' such! I'm doin' okay now, really."

“People think you’re a kid? Or do you just think that’s what people think? Don’t know that anyone can say that about you after all you’ve gone through. I mean… Not that I know what has happened to you all… Save what I’ve overheard that is.” Fjolte looked down on Meg with his carefree smile again, letting his arm wrap around her as if to scoop her up and make her feel comfortable and safe from her own sadness. “Not a bad thing to take things to heart either - means we still have one y’know?” The Nord slapped his chest with the flat of his palm, the happy, toothy grin lighting up his expression alongside the sincere sentiment.

The crackling of the campfire, and distant chattering was the only sound for a while as he let Meg just breathe. He needed to as well, to take in the surroundings they had been blessed with - he filled his chest with the air and exhaled slowly with his eyes closed. “You want a drink? You have one. You want to go thieving swords for gold? You go do that too. Do what you want, Scraps. Ain’t nothing wrong with just being who you are. Willin’ to put a septim or two on it that’s why all your friends here love you.”

"More'n I think it... Honestly, I don' actually figure others do..." Meg was mumbling a little, the realization of her words striking her. "More what m'noggin' likes t'make me think." She couldn't help but smile though, feeling a little lighter as she quietly listened to the monk. It was strange that there was a substantial amount of years since they had seen each other yet it was still as friendly, easy and comfortable as the first time. The man knew how to make people feel at ease and almost at home.

She followed suit, breathing in deeply, taking in and enjoying the familiar scents, the warmth of burning wood and the crisp mountain air. She breathed out, a soft sigh, and continued. "Not gonna lie... I like carin' 'bout things. I like feelin', well, feelin's. An' yeah... I do love 'em all too." Her smile broadened once more, not a grin but seeming much less solemn than before. "We've been through a lot... I've been with 'em since, well, it's been three months? Maybe more, or less, I can' quite remember, but since the beginnin’. Everyone's like m'family really. Even you." She nudged his side with her arm before letting out a giggle.

"Say. D'ya really think y'should be tellin' me t'go an steal things?" She raised her eyebrows in mock surprise. "Are y'really a monk there?"

“Sounds like you need to tell your own noggin’ to pipe down a bit then eh? There’s a great deal o’power in just being content in being you y’know? Means that nothing anyone says can bother you.” Thinking nothing of it, the Nord hooked his arm a little tighter around the Nord and pulled her closer with a content sigh. He’d be damned if this didn’t feel like just a nice, natural moment to be enjoyed.

“That caring that you do? It’s rare to find that in people. Don’t let anyone tell you to stop being that way. Especially not your inner saboteur.” He stretched out a leg, the other remaining bent at the knee and pointing upwards, his free hand flat on the ground beside him. Fjolte tipped his head back to gaze up at the sky. “I… Guess I’m not really a monk like my mentors were, but I try to live as closely to that as possible.” His head turned back to face Meg, expression unusually neutral, “I’m as close as I can be though, and if I say it’s alright for you to go steal a few things from some filthy rich merchants then you best believe I’m the damned authority on it, Scraps!” He almost sounded genuinely cross, and as if he was actually delivering holy commands to the woman beside him - but his eyes were filled to the brim with mischief and mirth.

Meg blinked a few times, a little surprised by the tone with which Fjolte spoke. Her mouth opened to apologize, but then her green eyes caught his blue ones and his intention was clear as crystal to her. “That so?” she replied with a giggle. Then she stiffened, her own expression one of solemnity as she raised her hand in a salute as she’d seen the habit of Imperial soldiers. “Well I guess I best be takin’ yer words t’heart too then. I’mma go lootin’ the next fat merchant I see an’ if tell ‘em it’s with the blessin’s of the Fabler!” Salute done and over with, she broke into another laugh before relaxing her stiffened stance as she shuffled closer, letting out a happy sigh as she leaned against the Nord, humming under her breath.

“Y’know what’d really make this like ol’ times?” she commented after a little moment. “Mead. Feels like ages since I drank any.” Her eyes shifted to her pack but she restrained herself- she’d keep it only for a special occasion, she really didn’t want to fall into her bad habit all over again. “An’ maybe seein’ yer hair back t’how it used t’be. Though, yer lookin’ pretty good as is.” She pursed her lips in thought before smirking, reaching up and gently tugging at his beard. “Y’plannin’ on keepin’ this?”

His eyes widened in surprise when she came for the facial hair, and it elicited a long laugh from him that had caught him off guard in a not unpleasant way. “Dunno. It doesn’t really feel like me to grow this out too much. Joked in the prison I could make a braid and bead the shiting thing before long… Reckon it’d make me look a bit wiser or something? Bit more serious? Or would I start looking like an old codger?” His laughter died down, and he stretched his other leg out, the warmth of the campfire reaching the two of them as they huddled together on the outskirts of the camp.

A drink would be good too, godsdamned good in fact… “So let’s share one then! Don’t tell me you’re holdin’ one out on me? I haven’t had a mead in…” Fjolte took in a breath and his eyebrows lowered, nose scrunched as he actually thought about the last time he’d actually enjoyed alcohol. “Fuck if I know, before I got locked up. Didn’t have any in the desert.” He could see from her expression that it bothered her, and he’d remembered her sharing a bad experience. Getting drunk to avoid feelings. He narrowed his eyes, and brought a hand up to his chin, stroking his fingers through his beard. “Y’know, drinking doesn’t have to be about getting blitzed. You shouldn’t go soaking yourself alone to bury sadness and anger - but there ain’t a damn thing wrong with sharing a bit of drink with a friend to celebrate, wouldn’t you agree?”

"Wise lookin' with wisdom," Meg replied, a teasing lilt to her words though she had to admit he was right. She didn't think she had enough self restraint to keep away from drink forever, but in good company with good words, perhaps she could learn some control. "Yer righ'." She smacked her thigh lightly before easily standing up in a single motion. "Ain' no better time than now, celebratin' bein' back, celebratin' good times with a friend." She gave him a grin before picking up her pack, unbuckling it and peeking inside. "There y'are." Pulling it out, she carefully set the bag back down -she didn't want to break the inkpot stowed within- and quickly returned, settling down next to the man as if she'd never left to begin with.

"Here ya go," she offered, holding out the bottle for him to partake. "Hard t'believe I got this in Gilane an' never even opened it. Huh, mayhaps the gods were waitin' til now. Seems about righ' though. Go on then, first one's on ya."

“You’re looking wise and mature yourself Scraps, that hair, the clothes. You mean business, bet you’d even kick my ass.” He laughed, taking the bottle carefully as if it was a source of contraband that might be confiscated at any time. He looked around shiftily before taking the cork from the top, and lifting the bottle to his lips. Taking a large mouthful, he savoured the taste for a few seconds before gulping it down, followed by a loud sigh. “S’good stuff that.” The Nord held the bottle in his huge hand before passing it back to Meg. “Bet some of the others wouldn’t mind a sniff of this either.” He tittered under his breath like a young boy up to no good. “Trust a Nord to find another Nord to down a mead with, that’s what I say!” He smirked boyishly, and took a look up at the stars again.

“You know, this is about my favourite thing to do? Just be out in the wild and look up at the sky.” He grinned and pointed to a set of stars to the right of them, “that set over yonder there looks like my brother Honon’s dismembered leg.” He commented with a loud laugh, his head tilted to the side so much so that it brushed against hers. The mead already had made him feel a warmth inside that the campfire simply couldn’t have done.

"Ya think?" Meg was still the smallest bit hesitant as she took the bottle, pausing to look up at the stars as well. She couldn't help but laugh- anyone else would have pointed out some profound constellation rather than the likeness of their brother's missing leg. She then pressed the bottle to her lips and took a small gulp. As she felt the drink go down her throat, she couldn't help but sigh happily, the familiar taste nostalgic. "Didju know I used t'be hired t'protect the Honningbrew's merchandise when I was younger?" She took another tentative sip before setting the bottle on his lap, keeping her hand around it so that it wouldn't topple over. "I might've... er... lost a few… in my tum."

He could definitely picture Meg as a guard at the Meadery, it didn’t take a whole heap of imagination. It didn’t take a whole heap of genius either to know it would probably have been quite a boring shift, so it was of little surprise to him that things went ”missing”. “Aye well, happens to the best of us. We can’t protect them all,” he said with a playful wink in her direction.

She rubbed her nose sheepishly before pointing up at another cluster of stars. "Those stars there, make me think of sweet rolls. Pa used t'buy 'em for me lots when we moved t'Whiterun. Thought it might sweeten my mood." She chuckled under her breath, shaking her head. "Poor thing. He did loads for me, by himself. I hope he's doin' a'ight." She turned her head, bumping her forehead against the large Nord's head. "What 'bout you? Y'got family back home?"

“My parents, my sister and her husband, and my nieces,” Fjolte said quietly, thinking about the two girls. It had been months since he’d seen them last. He knew how quickly they grew at their age and so he couldn’t help but think about how much bigger they might have gotten in that time. “Good strong Nord family us Dhjariksons,” he said in a voice soft as a whisper. He sniffed, bowing his head from the stars, he could make out the shapes of Meg’s face with her this close, pressed against him, it was almost enough to turn his thoughts away from his family. He hoped they were safe. He had been praying for them every day.

His hand balled into a soft fist out of sight of his companion, but he soon relaxed and began to pluck at the blades of grass beside him instead. “I’m sure your Pa is doing well, Scraps. Us Nords are hardy folk, don’t take too well to invaders now do we?” His arm curled around her again, and he gave her an almost comically strong squeeze - as if to remove all of the worries from them both in the moment. He smiled down at her again. “A sweetroll constellation eh? Makes sense to me that’s what you’d see,” he chortled before pointing to more. “If that isn’t a fucking chicken right there…” The Nord waited for Meg to comment on his observation, and he grinned up at it, proud as punch for having made out its form - his hand gently caressing her arm as he continued to hold her close.

"Hm... yeah, yer righ' 'bout that... though Pa ain' a Nord... but he's been in Skyrim plenty long 'nough t'be mistaken for one." She smiled, thinking back to when she was just a rebellious teen with a temper that needed to be quelled. "He taught me t'fight with m'sword an I ain’ too shabby, so I'm sure I'mma see him soon 'nough, pro’ly beatin’ some bandit ass. An' I'm sure you'll see your family soon as well." It was much easier to think that her Pa was still somewhere in Whiterun, or Riften, or maybe even Riverwood, alive and thriving, than to think the dwemer may have gotten him.

Once the conversation shifted back to the stars though, Meg couldn't help but laugh out loud. "A chicken?" She shifted slightly, and with Her legs now folded comfortably to the side, she was very much at ease, enjoying the warmth she felt from the closeness to her companion; it was hard to sit still and not snuggle. "Huh, y’may jus’ be righ’ ‘bout tha’. Well, ya jus' havta make sure y'don' kick it, the guards sure's oblivion don' like people messin' with 'em."

“Ha,” he laughed out at her, a short sharp exclamation in response to Meg’s humour, “they sure do, you’d think the chooks were royalty in some parts eh? Dunno what’s worse. Kicking a chicken up the arse or lollygaggin’.” Fjolte reached over to pick up the bottle to knock back another swig. She seemed in good spirits again, at least. He handed the bottle back, wiping his lips with the back of his hand.

She snickered at her own silly joke for a little bit too before quieting, her mind returning to previous thoughts of family. "When this's all done... what d'you think you'll be doin'? Back on the road, adventurin'? Or maybe jus’ spendin’ time at home… Rorikstead?"

“Rorikstead aye, the whole group should come to my home! My sister Helga throws the most amazing feasts! God’s, the thought alone makes my mouth water something fierce. Pig on a spit, fresh bread, dumplings, stews, hams, cakes… The whole damn lot,” he sighed. “We have a race, and whoever wins gets to blow the Dhjarikson ceremonial horn and have pick a’the pig,” he explained with a proud grin, waving his hand in front of him to demonstrate the enormous size of the hog. “Course, we don’t do it so much now that Honon can’t run, on account of him only having the one leg. Seems like he’d be at a disadvantage really…”

“Now I just show my nieces how to do some tricks. Handstands and backflips y’know? Taught little Astrid to do some - tell you what though, Risica is more interested in learning how to fight. She’s a bit like you actually, scrappy little thing. Can’t tell her shit!” Fjolte laughed, picturing them both in his mind. “What about you? Gonna go back to guarding old Honningbrew’s?”

Meg took a gulp of the mead, this time with no hesitation, smiling once she finished the mouthful. "Gods no," she replied, shaking her head. "Tha' sorta thing was fine for a while, but, I got my Ma's need t'travel an' go places. I mean... never thought I'd be goin' out all the way t'Hammerfell, I liked Skyrim plenty 'nough, but y'could say my fancy's been tickled- it'd be nice t'see more of Tamriel without havin' t'run for my life. At least, that's what I'm hopin' anyway."

"It would be fun t'be home for a while too though," she admitted, smiling softly. Fjolte's enthusiasm for his family brought up memories of Whiterun with her father, when it was simply the two of them. "We never had feasts like your home; sounds almos' like Sovngarde. T'was just me an' Pa for the longest time; we'd go to the tavern an' just sit an' chat with the others there. That sorta thing stopped when he married though. I have a li'l brother, Sylven. He's pro'ly like... this high now?” She brought up her free hand to show how high. “Five years old." She smiled wryly before continuing. "I kinda left home once he came along, though' maybe I was gettin' in the way of Pa an' his new family."

Taking another sip, Meg handed the bottle over to Fjolte once more. "Treasure huntin', maybe. Or... maybe somethin' else, like the Companions. Tha'd be nice, eh?"

The Nord moved his hand again, this time to her lower back, and he shuffled around some to face her more. “Well you know, you’ve an open invite to one of our feasts! Anytime!” His fingers gently danced over the small of her back now as they talked, his voice abnormally soft (by his standards), and gentle.

“I think I know what you mean, and you’re still young too. Could easily carve out a good life for yourself, doing whatever it is you want. Should always follow where your feet and heart want to carry you,” he remarked, joy and contentment glowing in his eyes, their colour highlighted and brightened by the big moon that was on display. “When I was in the prison, kind of got me thinking about what’s important to me. I’ve travelled and wandered a lot in my life. Maybe if Kyne grants me enough grace to make it through all of this chaos alive - might be time to set some roots down y’know? Least, start thinking about it.”

A shame, that the moon was so bright - had it been total darkness surrounding the two, the sudden blush of crimson on his cheeks might have gone unnoticed. He leaned into it anyway, giving the back of his neck an awkward rub, his mouth turning to a mock grimace. “Never really admitted that out loud til now…” His gaze shifted from left to right until he eventually stuck a finger up towards the sky again, blurting very quickly, “looks like a quart of a wheel of cheese! Holes and all.”

Grinning, Meg tapped at the amulet of Mara peeking out from under her green and gold trimmed scarf. "Maybe yer the one who should be wearin' this then?" she teased, prodding him with a loose fist, finding it endearing but also amusing that for once, she wasn't the one red in the face. "Cheese, is it? Y'sure about that? I dunno Fjolte, looks very much like another amulet jus' waitin' for ya to grab it."

“Hey there now,” he interrupted, his voice jokingly stern. “I mean I just wanna be there for my family, be a good uncle more than anything. Be in the girls lives, take care of my own Ma and Pa. Not getting any younger, the two of them.” His eyes did linger over the amulet, and the thought of settling down with, well, with someone gave him pause. He let Meg continue...

Chortling, she couldn't help but poke him once more before relenting. "I'm just jokin' with ya, honest." Her grin wavered slightly though for the most part remained intact. "Guess when yer in that sorta... situation, y'get t'see what life's all really about, what's most important to ya." And what's important to me? That was a question she had no answer to yet. Bits and pieces floating about, waiting to be put together. "Y'know, I wanted it too, for the longest time. Love an' all that." She gave him a sidelong glance before continuing. "But when the chance was there I... I couldn' take it. It wouldn' have been right or fair, t'me, or t’him even. Still, had me miserable." A half smile had now replaced the grin. "Bein' back here's made it easier."

He was incredibly curious in whatever it was that had happened, but as he had done earlier - he warned himself against prying, at least not right now. “Well honestly, Scraps, that’s big of you. Smart too, even if it was hard.” His shoulders shrugged but his smile was warm. “I don’t think that when you’re ready again to look for it, you’ll have much difficulty either. Damned beautiful woman like yourself, by the time that all comes around you’ll have beaten that negative voice in your own head that stands in your way y’know? Once you love yourself first and foremost, love’ll find you.” The monk gave a big stretch, removing his hand from Meg’s back, shifting his weight to the side where he lay down. With a sigh he rolled onto his back. “How’d you fancy finding more shit in the stars with me for a bit?”

For a little while Meg remained quiet, seeming deep in thought. "Well, I'mma take Fjolte the Fabler's word for it, seein’ he’s the authority ‘round here." She smirked down at him before nodding, and then easily reached out and grabbed her bedroll, plonking it down behind her. In no time she was laying down on her back, head resting on her makeshift pillow as she stared up at the stars with a smile on her face. "Sounds like a plan t'me, I can already see... ah yes, lookie there, looks kinda like- no, wai', tha's your brother's leg again."

He drew his stare from the skies back to Meg with another of his loud laughs. It really was Honon’s leg up there, down to the toes and everything. As she made herself comfortable beside him, a thought crept into his mind that he couldn’t rightfully ignore. It practically opened his mouth for him uncontrollably, he sat upright again. “Y’know, this here makes a pretty good pillow too…” His lips curled at the corners into a boyish smirk, and he flexed his right arm - his bicep bulging impressively. “Just sayin’” The tone was roguishly bold, but effortlessly charming all the same. He gave his eyebrows a quick wiggle - as well as a gentle nod of his head, awaiting her response. At the end of the day, he was but a man alone with a woman, afterall.

Meg blinked at Fjolte before letting out a giggle, the expression on his face too much for her mirth to be contained. That being said, she easily scooted over to his side because yes, his arm did seem a very nice pillow substitute indeed. "Well, if yer offerin', who'm I t'say no?" He was clearly flirting, and if it was a month ago she would have probably declined, but right now she was happy to share a silly yet touching moment with someone who reminded her of everything she was familiar with.

He could barely contain the feeling of delight that came over him when she took him up on the offer. It had felt like forever since he’d been close with a woman even like this, and unsure as he was on whether this was something he wanted to pursue further than tonight, further than a cuddle beneath the stars - this was special either way. It was more than just a hug, it was acceptance. Slowly he placed his arm outstretched for her to rest on, finding himself once more on his own back, fighting to stop himself from smiling ear-to-ear - still wishing to play it somewhat cool. “Pretty nice way to finish the night,” he commented quietly - looking at the details of her face again, her eyes - as green and shiny as emeralds, and her lips... They appeared so soft and alluring as she lay there at his side. “I’ll be your pillow whenever,” he whispered flirtatiously, turning back to the stars again.


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Hidden 1 mo ago Post by Spoopy Scary
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Spoopy Scary ☠️🌸soft grunge🌸☠️

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Meeting of the Minds



The week-long journey was an arduous ordeal for a multitude of reasons; though Aries had heard that the former Samara cell had held their trial for Gregor, they had excluded many affected parties who likely had every right to be in attendance. They were made to wait with bated breath until those who had broken out early delivered the news. Calen, for one, was not a person who could sit idly with a guilty conscience. So, when Aries discovered that the bard had left their trial early, fidgeting uncomfortably in his seat whilst cradling his head, she sought to console him in her pursuit of answers.

Calen looked at her with a feeling of uncertainty, though he wasn’t sure if it was due to his own emotional fugue. He didn’t quite feel certain of anything really, if he was on the right side or not or who he could possibly trust. The man he knew longest of anyone in this motley crew of mercenaries, adventurers, soldiers, cutthroats – and now an Imperial ambassador – turned out to not just be a necromancer, but one of the vilest entities known among all legends and lore? He didn’t know what the others decided to do with him for he left too soon, but not so soon that he didn’t hear a few of the others advocating for Gregor’s life – if such an existence can even be called life anymore.

Yet as he sat himself down on a cold boulder to steady his wobbling knees and dizzy mind, he looked up at Aries’ face which was barely made visible by the orange glow of distant fire light – from what he could discern, it was mostly characterized by dire concern with notes of sympathy. A voice inside of him was screaming for relief, to be relieved of the burden of knowledge. For so long his voice had been the one to soothe others, and his ears open to the words that weighed on others. He wanted desperately to have his own worries and burdens be shared, though the expectation of being the strong, kind, and wise listener told him otherwise. If he showed vulnerability now, showed himself incapable of coping, who then would the others have to turn to? Then a hand was delicately placed upon his shoulder, and Calen looked back up at Aries, who stood backlit by starlight.

“We need to know.” Aries said with a comforting softness in her voice. “For everyone’s sake.”

Calen hesitated for a second, weighing his options in his head. If not an ambassador of the Empire… then who?



The week-long journey through the Alik’r desert and into the mountains to the north was physically arduous, made only harder with the information Calen had given her. To think that this group, even with all their flaws, would still permit a lich to exist within their company. It would take every ounce of her willpower to not act on her own accord to torch Gregor where he stood, and she would not have hesitated if she was certain that the others wouldn’t have turned on her if she had her will realized. Many sleepless nights were spent wondering when his betrayal would be at hand or weighing out the consequences if she saw to his end herself. Would her potential death be worth the slaying of a hideous monster, or would her survival be worth Gregor’s hour of reckoning? It was as they said: it’s not paranoia if they’re out to get you.

There were a few times when Sevari approached her out of concern for her health, though she pushed him away and assured him that she was fine. She was self-aware enough to know that the stress was beginning to weigh on her and wear her down. Sleep never came easily and food was hard to swallow, but she had to keep up appearances, thus came one of the consequences of outing herself as ambassador. She had to be a leader for these people even if they didn’t necessarily care for her. She had to put up a strong and certain front, to appear sure, even if she wasn’t right. Even if Sevari was the closest person she had to an advisor, she still found herself stuck in the mindset of treating him like an outsider to the inner circle that consisted of only herself. She couldn’t help but note that it was all too similar to how she found the bard a week ago after Gregor’s trial.

Ordinarily, she wouldn’t have considered entertaining such a person – though some bards like those of Daggerfall were typically well acquainted with officials of the highest order, Calen was of humble ranking; from the threads on his back to his mannerisms, he seemed to her as the type that found himself more at home in a tavern than a court, no matter how proper his manner of speak may be. Still, having watched him (as well as a few others) along the journey, he had a way with speaking to people, no matter who, to get them to like him. She wondered if he would retain the same charisma and sagacity to go toe to toe with her.

“Calen,” she said to him during a brief stop along the Jerall mountains, her face weary and braided hair frazzled and undone in comparison to it’s usual elegance, “How little have we talked? How impermissible it must be to have avoided one another for so long.”

The bard looked curiously up from the rock he has seated himself upon, finding himself a sight all too familiar to him since a week before: Aries standing over him. It barely took him a second to remember the proper etiquette, and he immediately stood upon noticing her approach. Upon doing so, he couldn’t help but notice he stood a few inches taller than her. It wasn’t something he expected given the poise Aries had. Even so, her appearance has been distinctly disheveled since the day Gregor’s truth broke out as the bags under her eyes had indicated, and he was sure that she, like everybody else, was deprived of the luxury of a proper bath for quite a few days. Still, she held herself with a certain admirable grace that was difficult to ignore – Calen has fallen for, well, not less for he did not measure beauty in such ways… but simpler. Aries’ intensity was distinctly arresting.

“I can only assume that such might be the burden of your duties, ambassador. All the better that I have not distracted you from them, no?” Calen respectfully quipped back, quickly changing tact while still finding the opening to insert a subtle flirt.

Aries found herself with a smirk on her face, apparently satisfied that her expectations of the bard had, somehow, both been subverted and yet fulfilled at the same time. Calen was unexpectedly quick to adopt the level of deference appropriate to her station, and yet he was ballsy enough to attempt a bit of banter with her.

“You think yourself capable of such a thing, do you?” Aries replied. “That better men haven’t tried?”

“Men of higher station, perhaps,” Calen fired back with a wide smile, “but not better. How may I be of service, ambassador?”

“By relaxing, for one.” Aries said, a genuine and entertained smile finding her face. “At ease, bard. Take a seat.”

“Very well,” he said, finding his seat upon a stone facing the green light in the center of the Jerall mountains. Aries found the spot next to him and joined him in the apprehensive appreciation of the view. Calen felt the urge to ask what warranted this honor, but he knew better than to look gift horses in the mouth. It was better, he thought, to watch and learn.

“Absolutely dreadful, isn’t it?” Aries said, appraising the view.

“I’m more inclined to call it poetic.” Calen answered. “Without the context, the light might be considered beautiful or a sign of the Divines… but I suppose this goes to show that beauty doesn’t beget beauty, given what the Dwemer have wrought. Singular and happenstance, never promised.”

“Appreciate it when it appears, then?” Aries proposed.

“Indeed.” Calen agreed.

A tangible, quiet wave of melancholy washed over them. Aries was right about something though, and that given the context that Sora had given the group, there was a sense of dread that emanated from that mountain. It was a small chance that he would’ve found the group that was responsible for unleashing the Dwemer upon the world, and Aries herself had found herself staring daggers at the khajiit responsible. Yet, too little has been shown from them to accept that responsibility to make it up to the rest of Tamriel. All they had done thus far was run away from the problem they created.

“Someone ought to teach Daro’Vasora how to give a proper speech.” Aries said idly, though her tone had laced humor into her words. “That was… melodramatic.”

“We can’t all be thespians.” Calen joked. “Though such is the curse of the lone wolf. Never wanted leadership, doesn’t accept help – that’s just Sora, but combine that with a guilty conscience, and it’s no wonder why she’s forcing herself into the position. Maybe you could lend your expertise?”

“I’ve tried to talk to her once.” Aries responded. “It was after I saved her life and tried to frame our discussion as for the good of her friends. Still, she wanted to argue. The problem with clever people is that they think they’re cleverer than they are.”

“Is that why you’re talking to me? Because everyone likes me, and have your words come out my mouth will work better?” Calen pried.

For a moment, Aries’ brows furrowed and looked sideways at Calen with narrow eyes, who slyly peered back at her with a wide and toothy smile.

“Checkmate, is it?” Calen jabbed playfully.

“So it would seem.” Aries said, her guarded voice sounding as though he returned behind her defenses. “How strange for you to play the fool and for me to not pick up on the deception.”

“Oh no,” Calen quickly inserted, “there’s nothing fake about me, don’t take it personally. I’m just smarter than I look.”

“Indeed…”

“If it’s any consolation, I don’t disagree with you. Frankly, it’s upsetting that my word would be taken over yours. These people aren’t soldiers though. They’re not looking for people to tell them what to do or how to fix the problem, they’re looking for ways to ignore or forget about it, and as a bard that’s where I come in… and if the bard is speaking hard truths, then you know you’re in a quagmire of a predicament.”

“You speak like a learned man, yet dress in the threads of a commoner. Why, when you could be so much more?” Aries asked.

“Acknowledgement of my humble origins.” Calen answered. “I studied at the Bard College in Solitude, but I’ve never forgotten where I came from – but the more poetic answer would be that I am but a man, and you are but a woman. How much more could either of us be?”

Aries smiled and replied, “We could be heroes. Station didn’t protect the Elder Council any more than it did the peasant-folk. St. Alessia’s legacy, however… isn’t that something worth aspiring to?”

“That’s a lofty aim.” Calen commented.

“What can I say other than I’m a lofty woman?”

“Fair enough.” Calen agreed. “But someone will have to chronicle these legacies, so for me, a man is enough.”

Despite the light-heartedness of the conversation, the circumstances of their prior meeting had not left their minds, nor the minds of anyone, Calen rightly figured. One shared look and it was obvious that there was a certain elephant in the room that was waiting to be addressed. None of what they were just discussing really addressed the more immediate and supernatural concern troubling the group.

“I still can’t believe it.” He continued. “I’ve known Gregor for a pretty long time, and yet… has he been hiding this secret this whole time and I was too foolish to see it? Or is this recent, and I was too blind to help him?”

Aries thought for a moment about what Calen was saying, measuring her words carefully, before finally saying, “There’s an old Breton back home who was once one of my teachers, Lord Picard. A chess maestro. He said it’s possible to commit no mistakes and still lose.”

“That phrase sounds stolen.” Calen remarked.

“Possibly,” Aries chuckled, “but is it any less valid? Divines can testify on my behalf that I’ve done the best with the cards I was dealt, and yet here I am… having spent a week in the desert and without a bath.”

Calen laughed at that, grateful for the counsel that Aries was able to provide. It was an interesting conversation to say the least, and believed he at least left a lasting impression on the ambassador with his own quick wit and social graces.

“Tell you what,” Calen said with an air of finality surrounding his words, “if we make it over these mountains and into Skyrim, I know that place like the back of my hand. I can find you a good, clean river to get you all washed up as soon as possible before we get to the next city or village. And if we make it to Solitude, and it’s still standing, allow me to treat you to a dance if my lady has the time.”

“A dance.” Aries echoed skeptically.

“Just like in the Breton courts. I know the music, the steps; even if for just a minute, I can take you back to Daggerfall.”

Aries smiled blankly back at the bard and clasped her hands together. What a shame, to think that she had enjoyed his honest and insightful conversation up until this point, only for it to be spoiled by what she assumed to be the bard’s true motives. While on one hand it was refreshing for motives to be so simple for a change, it felt shallow and cheapened whatever wisdom he had to share, and that the bard’s talents were wasted. She cut off their discussion there, only saying, “I appreciate the gesture; however, I am not interested in returning to Daggerfall, but to the Imperial City and restoring the Empire. Thank you for the conversation.”

With that, she stood up and walked away to the bard’s dismay. He shook his head and sighed. Well, this wouldn’t have been the first time. His intentions might have been misinterpreted by the ambassador – he was simply just an affectionate person who showed his affection is somewhat unorthodox ways – but that wouldn’t have been the first time either. Given time, he was sure, she would thaw. On the other hand…

He was probably being a little too casual with the ambassador. Ah, hell, she’ll get over rank and file soon enough once everything goes down the chamber pot like it usually does.
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Hidden 29 days ago 28 days ago Post by Greenie
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Greenie Follow the Strange Trails

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Belonging

by Dr. Dervs and Greenbean


13th Sun’s Height, nighttime

By the time Sirine had finished her daily writing and packed away her belongings for the night, the sun had already set, though there still remained a lingering redness in the horizon. Stepping out of the tent Meg had helped set up for her, the former pirate couldn’t help but grudgingly accept that there was a certain frigid beauty to Skyrim that warmer lands did not. She sniffed the air delicately, the cool night air mixed with the scent of grass and smoke strangely appealing to the senses. Despite the difference in temperature and the fact that her short cloak was wrapped around her so tightly that she could no longer tighten it further, it made no sense to the Imperial Redguard to spend her time cooped up in a small tent with nothing interesting to look at, at least not until she was sleepy.

Dark eyes roaming the campsite, Sirine made her way through the campfires and tents. At one point she caught sight of Meg snuggling up to someone who was not Jaraleet- Fjolte. Her eyebrow rose in clear surprise but she looked away after a small moment; it was none of her business who the younger Nord spent her time with, and clearly the two were more than comfortable. Besides, her gaze had soon fallen on a much more familiar figure in the distance, lounging on the grass in a fashion she was now used to seeing. She had seen him chatting with Latro before letting herself be distracted by Meg, and despite the awkward peace between the two formerly separate groups, it had been hard for her not to feel a little tension. Still, she had kept to her own affairs, knowing full where she was needed and where she wasn't.

Her lips turned up at the corners and stretched into a closed smile, eyes brightening with anticipation as she stepped lightly, keeping the sound of her footfalls to a minimum while carefully inching closer and closer. She was glad she had decided to only keep her dagger on her person for the moment; the lack of a clunky sword made for quieter movement.

Time to see how good your ears really are, Captain Greywake.

Zaveed had been lying on a soft patch of grass, his gaze skyward towards the twin moons, his eyes drinking in the crimson hue of Masser… Jode, he corrected himself, studying the craters and wondering if his people truly resided there. There was much to the Khajiiti faith and pantheon he didn’t understand, not truly, and he was painfully aware of how that ignorance was going to doom him to the Scuttling Void.

Was it too late in life to find the right path, to become illuminated in Jode’s light? He didn’t know, and with a sigh, he slumped down into the hands behind his head.

Maybe I’ll take up Daedra worship. They don’t seem too picky. he mused darkly in his own thoughts.

Suddenly, he sensed a figure and he smiled despite his gloomy thoughts. “I was wondering when you would come and find me, Beautiful.” he called out quietly, taking in her faintly earthy scent. She was upwind of him, and after spending long enough at her side, her cadence was familiar.

No one else would would have approached, regardless.

"Ah." Sirine let out a loud and exaggerated sigh as she paused in her steps, crossing her arms over her chest in a show of annoyance that wasn't truly there. "And here I thought I was making as little sound as an ant beneath a rock." Her arms dropped loosely to her sides as she started to walk once more, no longer taking care to keep quiet as she reached the khajiit man and lowered herself on the grass. She settled down in a cross legged fashion, sitting perpendicular to him.

Studying his face, Sirine couldn’t help but admire the bold black markings on the dark grey fur, though her eyes paused as they fell upon his ice blue eyes, noting they seemed a little lackluster despite his smile. "Hm..." Reaching out, she tapped his shoulder with her knuckles. "You seem in a contemplative mood, Zaveed. Have you forgotten that's Sevari's domain?"

“Contemplation is not brooding, Sirine. Am I not allowed to take a break from being flippant and brash?” he teased, glancing over to Sirine. “We’re quite a far way away from the sea now, I hope you don’t feel as if I’ve led you astray. We’ll get back sooner or later, I just thought you might like to scale a mountain or thirty for that once in a lifetime experience.” Zaveed chuckled. “Not because mountains aren’t abundant, but because who in their non-addled mind would do this more than once for fun?”

"No, no you aren't," she replied immediately, smiling despite herself. "Though that is quite fair, brooding is most definitely his thing. Please don't take his example there, one's enough." She laughed lightly before looking away from his face and to their surroundings instead. "I'm not going to say I don't feel the lack of salt water, but-" Waving a hand at the mountainous region they found themselves in, she continued. "-this has a beauty of its own." She looked back down at him, raising an eyebrow. "Is that what you've been thinking about? I hope you don't feel as if I would hold this journey against you. I knew full well it may take its time."

“I was mostly trying to keep the mood light; heavy thoughts upon my mind and all of that.” Zaveed’s smile faltered a bit and his gaze returned to the moons above. “When we met, when I was dying… that’s been on my mind of late. Much of my life has been spent simply trying to earn my right to live without much consideration on the toll it’s been reaping upon my soul. With Gregor what he is, it’s put that veil between life and death into a contrast I seldom took time to contemplate.” he sighed. “I’ll cease to be, and I don’t want that. I don’t know who my family was, and looking up there, I wonder if they’re looking back or if that’s just some skooma-born myth of a superstitious desert tribe. You know that’s what Khajiit means, yes? Khaj means desert, -iit means one’s location or occupation. Hence, of the desert. My heart’s always detested sands, it belongs to the sea, but isn’t that a bit backwards for what one such as myself should be?” he asked in a somewhat rambly contemplation.

Sirine was quiet, the smile on her face tapering to a more solemn look. Without saying anything she scooted a little forward, resting her hand on his arm, conscious of the fur beneath her palm. Hearing his words, she wondered how long it must have been before he'd had a chance to speak them out loud. No one expected deep, existential thoughts from him, that much she knew; despite it all they still mostly saw the khajiit man as an outsider among them, someone charming yet deadly. Had anyone taken the time to listen to him, to truly understand him and look beyond what he let show? She doubted it, and it made her heart twist painfully.

"Just because we're called something," she finally started, "or look some way, it doesn't mean that is all we’re meant to be. If that were the case, I would be sitting pretty in some beautiful manor in Gilane, staring at the city below from some gilded balcony, or perhaps in Anvil. Who knows. We are what we are, but that hardly means that is all we can be." Hesitating a moment, Sirine distracted herself, lightly running her fingers over his arm before speaking once more. "You know fair well my thoughts on the divines and my thoughts on family. If I'm being completely honest with you, I don't know where my soul will be headed once I'm gone... I only know that I want to live my life without any more regrets.

"Our paths, we had never been given a choice of which way we would be shoved forward. Despite that, we made what we could of life, for better or for worse, and when there was finally a chance, we trusted each other and took the path we believed was right. All of our choices have led us to this point in life where... well, look at us." She smiled down at him, squeezing his arm gently. "From a privateer and pirate to paving the path of becoming heroes who will hopefully save Tamriel."

“Respectfully, I know exactly where mine is going. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.” Zaveed responded as gently as he could, a tension in his voice. His gaze remained skyward. “The thing is, I’ve spent so long thinking about just making it day to day in a world of hard people that I never stopped to think what happens if I should fall. Morality never factored into my thoughts; losing simply wasn’t an option for me, so I didn’t let myself take many risks or chances where I didn’t think the odds were in my favour.” he shook his head. “I’m hardly hero material, Sirine. I might be helping people who might fit those britches some day, I’m doing this purely for selfish reasons. The Dwemer took everything from me, so I’m going to take everything right back. I’ve never apologized for what I am, but I will make them apologize for what they are.”

Sirine's brow furrowed as she looked down at the hollow of her lap. Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, she felt resentment towards higher beings who thought it was their right to meddle in mortal lives in what she deemed was cruel and unfairness on their part, even though she knew her feelings would make absolutely no difference to anyone. She was reminded of her now dead friend- where was his soul? What about the rest of her crew? Her eyes closed; she needed a moment to compose herself before speaking up once more. "Is that truly selfish, Zaveed?" Her voice was barely a whisper as she looked down at the hand that was resting in her lap, barely able to see the healed rope burns around her wrist, a continuous reminder of her sordid past. "It sounds just about right to me. If someone's hurt you, I don't see what's wrong with giving them back what they deserve." It was hard to keep the bitter tone out of her voice, so she simply gave up on it.

“Well, heroes in tales don’t typically go seeking vengeance. There’s usually a lot more selfless actions and care about the innocent; I’m not the kind of person people tell kindly stories of.” Zaveed chuckled lightly, slumping down again. “It doesn’t much matter what’s right or wrong to me at this point, I’ve never known Jode’s light. Innocence as a youth cannot compare to the decades that came after where my survival turned into a life thriving off of other people’s misery. I don’t even know what moon sugar tastes like; I’m awful at being a Khajiit. And for that, I am destined to the Dark Behind the World.”

Sirine finally looked away from her lap and back at Zaveed, her expression undecipherable. It was true enough what he said; ultimately a person had to live up to the decisions they had made and bear the consequences. But... "Why did you help me out of that brothel Zaveed?" she finally asked, her eyes staring at him pointedly for a good moment before averting her gaze, looking instead at the night sky and the moons above them. "You could very well have taken whatever information I had and just left. In fact, I wouldn't have been surprised if you had, anyone else would have. Who in their right mind cares about a whore in a tavern?”

She paused to take a breath; her hand curled into a loose fist, bunching the cloth of her tunic in its grasp. “You didn't leave though. You did more than was expected of you. You bore so much trouble in the desert, and then at the oasis. I could see the way they all looked at you- yet you took it all gracefully. And then the prison, where you could have lost your life more than once. All I wanted was information, yet you gave me so much more for the pittance I did for you. Why? Was it all for the sake of vengeance against the dwemer?"

“A man’s only as good as his word. If I can’t keep my promises, sure I could have short-term gains at someone else’s expense, but then I earn a reputation as being untrustworthy, dishonourable. In our line of work, that’s something you cannot afford.” the Khajiit explained with a frown.

“But it’s true, I didn’t have to do more than find out where Bakih was as per our agreement. It just didn’t seem very fair or just that I found Marassa and leaving you without at least trying to see your own personal quest through… and after my, hm, ordeal, my perspectives on a number of things have shifted considerably. I had once frequented brothels without much consideration for the circumstances of the women working there, but maybe I was feeling vulnerable myself, but where you were in the Scorpion’s Song just had this air of pervasive darkness.” Zaveed said, sitting up and taking in Sirine with his icy eyes. “But you were someone who risked a lot to help me, expecting so little in turn. I’ll be honest, the idea of just leaving you in that shithole without at least getting you out of that life filled me with this sense of guilt and self-loathing I didn’t think possible.” he chuckled darkly. “As I said, vulnerable.”

"I would have been fine if it was simply vengeance," Sirine replied, her hand slackening as she let go of the cloth she'd had in her grasp. "But it makes me happy to hear that it was something more than just that." She sighed softly and cast a glance in his direction, meeting his eyes for a second before looking away yet again. "I never cared for the gods or what comes before life or after, but I know the same can't be said for others." She hesitated, unsure if what she wished to say was even worth saying at this moment. "It just seems unfair to me that your fate would be decided even before you leave this world."

“I haven’t led a good life, at least not one that could be considered particularly savory. Barely fending off death gives one a certain new perspective on things, yes?” Zaveed smiled, placing his hand over Sirine’s. “Maybe it’s too late for me to change one’s stars, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to sit about and wallow in futility. I’m going to use the time I have left to figure out the person I should have been all along. I’ve been thinking a lot of the boy I was… I wonder if he’s still in there.” he pondered.

"I used to wonder that about myself." When Sirine returned her gaze to Zaveed, she let it stay on him, this time refusing to look away. "After everything that was done to me, and everything I did to others, how could I ever go back to the person I once was?" Her hand turned beneath his, fingers wrapping around his. "I would have thought it impossible, but I'm not too sure about that anymore." Smiling, she squeezed his hand before continuing. "I think a person just needs a little encouragement from the right people to find that part of themselves they feel they've lost. I'm still searching... but you've shown me that it's worth the risk to trust again. I think if you truly wish to find that boy, you will."

"This is plenty encouraging," Zaveed said with a smile, squeezing back. "You know, it's rather droll and lonely doing this kind of search alone. I think I'd very much like it if you were with me when we do go on that journey… you've become a part of me that I know I cannot do without. I never realized how lonely the world can be without someone who sees you for who you really are, past the reputation and the name."

"You don't have to worry about that," Sirine replied, looking up at the sky once more, her smile still very apparent on her face. "From Gilane to the Alik'r to here in the Reach- if I'd wanted to leave, I would have done so much earlier than now." She remained quiet for a moment after, simply relishing the peace. "The truth is that I like this feeling, this belonging. After those months by myself, meeting you that day and waiting for your return was like..." She couldn't help but chuckle as she gave him a sidelong glance "... like catching the scent of saltwater even before you can see the waves. The thought of losing that- losing you- frankly it's a little scary."

She lifted her free hand to her hair, the slightest hint of awkwardness showing itself as she fiddled with her locks. "In simpler words, what I mean to say is that I am happy being here with you and I'm not planning on going anywhere."

“Belonging…” Zaveed repeated softly, placing a hand upon Sirine’s cheek, his gaze steady and his heart racing. “Maybe what we both needed was ground beneath our feet to ground our souls. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, Beautiful Sirine, but I know that you will be there and it doesn’t seem so frightening. I would very much like it if I woke up tomorrow and you were the first thing I laid eyes on.” he admitted.

Sirine's hand stilled in her hair, her face beneath his hand becoming flush. In the deep recesses of her mind she could remember feeling something similar to this a long, long time ago, when she was merely a silly child who knew nothing of the realities of the world and the darkness it contained. Her hand fell away from her hair and settled on Zaveed's, smile warm and eyes warmer still. "I guess being away from the sea isn't so bad after all," she murmured, a low laugh emitting from her as she closed her eyes, savouring the moment. When she finally opened them, dark brown eyes met icy blue ones, and it was difficult not to lean towards him. "Let's make that happen then, hm?"

Without another word or hesitation, Zaveed leaned in and gently kissed Sirine, the faintest and most teasing of brushing on their lips. He felt young again, and the woman before him made him feel like he imagined what most people experienced when they found a partner they connected with, who made them feel like better versions of themselves, that they wanted to dedicate themselves to. There had been plenty of women in Zaveed’s life, they had simply been one night acquaintances, two people mutually deciding to indulge their baser instincts or conduct a simple transaction. This felt like it meant something, like he earned it.

Zaveed was determined to make sure he continued to do so.

Sirine's grasp on his hand tightened, a smile on her lips as she returned the kiss. When was the last time she had enjoyed one? She couldn't remember, it had been much too long... but she was quite certain that this sweet and tender meeting of lips was something she would be remembering for a very long time indeed. After a moment, she pulled away the smallest bit, though she was still close enough that her nose almost touched his. Her eyes met his and her smile widened, feeling as if her heart would expand out of her chest.

"Come with me," she said, gently tugging on his hand as she stood up.

Zaveed rose with Sirine, holding her hand as they walked towards her tent, a surprisingly nervous flutter in Zaveed’s gut surprising him. Why that particular feeling, he wondered, looking around almost bashfully to see if anyone was watching. This was something they both wanted, a bond they shared, and Zaveed was daring and courageous to the point of legend. Women didn’t intimidate him, and he certainly knew his way around them… so why was this different?

When they arrived, Sirine held open the tent flap, ushering Zaveed inside. He sat on the sparse blankets, watching her come in as he removed his boots and weapon belt, leaving him just in his trousers and shirt. He smiled at her approach, holding his hand out for her to sit with him. “Sirine, I…” he said, feeling his heart pounding in his chest. “I do not wish to rush into anything, or to give you the impression that I’m after something more, ah… lustful.” he said with a nervous chuckle, running a hand across the back of his head, shaking it.

Taking hold of his hand, Sirine sat down before him on her knees. Her gaze was now tinged with wetness, and her free hand reached up to rub away the tears before settling lightly on his forearm. "You have no idea how happy it makes me to hear that," she replied softly, leaning forward to press her forehead against his shoulder. She couldn’t help but remember the last time she was this close, in tears, vulnerable, grieving. It was much of the same now, except there was no sadness, only warmth. "But I already knew this, Zaveed... no one else has ever treated me with as much honour and respect as you have. This- what we're feeling, I like it. This is why I feel if ever again I..." Her voice trailed before she continued, "... as long as you wish it, it will be you."

Lifting her head, she brought her hand to his face, resting it gently on his cheek as she looked into his eyes. Smiling, she leaned in and softly pressed her lips against his, lingering for a few seconds before speaking once more. “For now, let’s sleep, hm?”

Zaveed adjusted himself, laying down while gently pulling Sirine down with him. As they faced one another, he reached out gently, cradling her cheek and pressing his brow against hers, his eyes closing slowly. “And as long as you wish it, I will be by your side. The world doesn’t always make sense, and it can be cold and cruel, but I know that you are the fire that warms my heart and lights my way.” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. “And when we wake up in the morrow, we will face whatever it holds together.”
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