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I am Amaranth, witch of the wilds. Through shadow and legend I walk, haunting mortals like you. So... Are you a vulture , I wonder? A scavenger poking amidst a corpse whose bones have been long since cleaned? Or merely an intruder, come into this darkspawn filled page of mine in search of... a bio?

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17th Sun's Dawn ... or maybe the 16th, who could know these things?
Daggerfall, High Rock

Frygga staggered her way from a tavern, clutching her glaive for support. She had spent the night drinking and brawling, as all good sellswords do, and was not the only one stumbling from a tavern. Some, she could see, supported themselves on greatswords as they puked their guts out on the streets. Others relied on large longbows as walking sticks as they swayed back to wherever their next job would find them. Frygga was not weak enough to lose her breakfast over some watered-down Breton ale and instead leaned on her glaive as she watched the early morning scenes unfold. She was getting out of here. On a ship, yes, she had booked passage on some Redguard's ship that was bound to leave today... or maybe tomorrow. Either way she needed to get to the harbour. She would sleep off the headache on the ship that was sure to come soon whether they left today or tomorrow. The large Nord hefted herself from her glaive and rolled her shoulders before stalking down the street towards the sound of gulls and the smell of fish.

It had been her last night in this forsaken city of greedy nobles and court schemes and she had properly celebrated her departure with rounds of ale for every man in the tavern, as well as plenty of impromptu wrestling matches over who could drink more. The answer was Frygga. It was always Frygga. If she could not out drink you, she would certainly convince you she could when she picked you up and threatened to snap you in half like a twig. But it was all in humour of course. Sellswords had an odd sense of humour and Frygga even more so. You had to in that kind of work. When your two greatest enemies are boredom and death, your view of things tended to become a little warped. So sellswords found it intensely funny when Frygga picked up a smaller man and told him he would be inside out if he didn't admit she could drink more than him. And it was even more uproariously funny when the man's Orcish friend told Frygga she would be in two pieces if she didn't leave his friend alone. And the best joke of the night was when both of them came to blows and ended up bruised and bleeding but convivial on the floor of the tavern. Frygga rubbed her sore neck at the memory. That was one thing she would miss about Daggerfall. The fights.

The docks smelled heavily of fish and it reminded the Nord of Skyrim. The cool air and creak of ships invigorated her and helped to wake her up a bit. She brushed off her fur and leather tunic and adjusted the one good sleeve of the thing- Don't want to looktoo much like she just woke up- and looked around for the ship she had booked passage on. It was a fairly distinctive ship and she let her animal instincts tell her the proper area to look.

It didn't take long for her to find 'the Kismet' and she thumped her way up the gangplank with her glaive, her free hand instinctively checking her baldric for her double war-axes. You could never be too careful with seamen. They were often as treacherous and fickle as the sea on which they sailed. Damned gods-above knew how many had attempted to rob her and had been counter-robbed in the process or how many nobles had paid her to toss unruly sailors into this very harbour. Still, she knew not to provoke the seafarers and so she patted her axes to make sure she still had them, and then dropped her hand to her side again as she stepped onto the ship. She recognised the Captain and he seemed to recognise her and, even though he was engaged in some no-doubt frivolous conversation with a blonde strumpet, gave her a knowing nod that was sea captain speak for 'Yes I saw you board my ship and yes, I am okay with it.' Frygga responded with her own nod that was Frygga for 'Thanks.' and dragged herself like a wounded wolf below decks to find a bunk to hunker down in.

The bunk she settled on was a corner bunk, chosen because for one, it had no items scattered around it, which suggested it was free and two, it was a corner bunk, which meant it was harder for anyone who wished to run her through to sneak up on her while she was sleeping. Not that she suspected anyone would want to do that to her here, but well, old habits.

Frygga lodged her glaive between the roof, the wall, and the floor so it wouldn't fly off and hack an arm off while the ship rocked back and forth and clambered into her hammock. She nodded at a passing sailor and removed an axe from her belt and began to dig under the nail of her finger for dirt with the blade. Her stomach growled and Frygga growled back. She really just wanted to slowly drift into sleep, rocked gently by the ship, but alas, it appeared her stomach would not permit it. She slung her axe back into her belt and swung her legs onto the deck. Rubbing the bridge of her nose in annoyance, the Nord stood up and set out to find the galley. She swayed slightly and took a deep breath in response. Nords were natural sailors of course, so it wouldn’t take her long to find her sea legs. The swaying wasn’t from the ship alone. Frygga started thudding down the cramped quarters, intent on interrogating the first sailor she encountered about the location of food on this creaking tub.

The first unfortunate soul was sleeping soundly and snoring unsoundly in a hammock a few rows down. Frygga knelt over him, and narrowed her gaze, focusing hard on his face, as if through sheer will she could wake him. No, but she was merely steadying her mind and her body. Instead she shook the man violently, speaking to him in an angry hiss that she used to wake up comrades when they were being attacked during the night. It spoke of imminent danger and a need to pay attention immediately. The poor sailor woke right up and his hand fumbled for his boots, but Frygga just barked harsh laughter and spoke in what passed as a normal tone of voice for her. "The Galley, man. Which way?" The bewildered seaman grumbled a curse under his breath and pointed before flopping back down. Frygga laughed another bolt of laughter and resumed her thudding down the corridor towards the galley.

The ship's galley seemed empty save for the presumed cook, a young boy, not yet fit to be called a man. But he did have the look of a Nord, which raised Frygga's opinion of him slightly. "Speak pup, are you the cook?" She thundered, already ransacking a cupboard for anything vaguely edible. The Nordic woman did not wait for an answer and was already eating a hunk of bread, ignoring anything the boy was saying. Despite her nonchalance, she clapped the boy on the back jovially with one hand, the other still holding the chunk of half-eaten bread. "Thanks, pup." Frygga stated as she allowed herself to crash back into one of the galley chairs, nearly instantly falling asleep.
"Before you embark on a journey of revenge..."

Alik'r gathering, sometime in Midyear, 4E208

"...Dig two graves." Or five. Shakti thought bitterly. She had emerged from the prison in a bloody haze, bone tired. She was drained mentally, physically, and spiritually. Yet, still the party had needed her to lead them across the Alik'r. Without her, they would surely be burned to death as if they were all going for a swim in the Deadlands. So the Alik'r girl called on a yet deeper reserve of strength that lurks in the soul of all men and mer and persevered. Covered in dried gore, sweat and gods-know-what-else, she successfully led them all to the resting place of her tribe. Though, what they found there surprised even Shakti. It was the Anseilak Hunding! The Gathering of the High Desert. She didn't expect it to be so early though. Had she lost track of time? It was possible. These past few weeks were quite hectic and even in the best of times Shakti had trouble keeping the days and nights straight. Either way, it didn't matter. The entire party was overjoyed to be out of the desert.

Shakti felt differently. Instead she stood, leaning heavily on her blade. She had missed her tribe, her people. But coming back... it felt strange. She had been gone, what? A year, two years? She felt like she had been gone for an Era, at least. What would she say to her family? Stumbling out of the Alik'r, covered in blood, bleeding from still-open wounds, leading a band of strangers, rogues, mages. What could she say? She touched the cut under her eye and winced. Wiping the blood onto Khesh's cloak, she sighed and followed the party into the tent city, looking for her family.

Dragging her sword in its sheath along the sand, she finally shuffled up to her tribe's campsite. Someone spotted her and their face lit up. She recognised the man as a boy she had grown up with, Domalen, though she called him Dom. He was a year younger than her and she always suspected he had a bit of a crush on her. He waved her over and Shakti- no, Tariyeh-smiled and headed over. Dom had already called to Tariyeh's mom and her siblings and they all had nearly sprinted over. Karayyah, her mother was nearly weeping and also close to slapping Tariyeh. "I told you to take care of yourself Tariyeh!" She exclaimed, half laughing and half crying, "You look like you just fought your way through half of Hammerfell." Her mother licked her thumb and wiped some blood from her daughter's lightly freckled face before pulling her into a tight embrace, the kind only a mother can give. Tariyeh couldn't help but smile over her mom's shoulder. When she was finally released from her mother's grasp, she pulled her brother and sister into a hug as well. They were both slightly younger than her but still exuded the same youthful exuberance that Tariyeh too, had exuded before she set out on her journey. Still, it's not like all of the light had gone out of her, and so she grinned involuntarily at the soft embrace her siblings gave her. In that moment, she forgot her doubts and worries and even her exhaustion and just bathed herself in the utter relief of being back with family.

Finally, she let go and collapsed onto the warm sand. Her mother and brother and sister followed suit and, after a lengthy begging process, Tariyeh finally relented and agreed to share most of her adventures. She started from the beginning and explained how she had trekked from the camp and met up with Israhal and spent some time with him learning new sword techniques and practicing already known ones. She explained how she had wandered into Gilane on the trail of Khesh and ended up getting captured, only to be rescued by her soon-to-be friends. She showed off the scar on her arm to the ooohs and aahhhhs of her siblings. She regaled them with what she remembered about the party (minus Calen making a fool of her), she explained how she had beaten Mazrah, the Orcish woman, in a contest of drinking, much to the amusement of all. She reenacted her duel with Sevari and how she had lost the trail of Khesh. She also revealed the scar on her side Sevari had given her. Her mother tsk-tsk'd her in response, "You always were too rash for your own good, Yehyeh." Everyone laughed at that.

Next, she told the tale (or at least her fragmented understanding of it) of how several group members ended up getting captured and Sevari and his brother ended up as turncoats and they mounted a daring rescue which involved Tariyeh heroically being stuffed inside a servant's gown and sneaking her way into the palace in which the prisoner was being held. Both of her siblings expressed doubt as to the veracity of the story, "Were you unconscious when they put you in the dress, Yehyeh?" Tarinah inquired. Tariyeh shot her younger sister a death stare before continuing. She explained the rest of the escape and the burning of their hideout and the subsequent escape into the Alik'r, proudly led by the one and only Alik'r Warrior in the party. She told them about how they had camped out for a few nights at the Mouth of the Alik'r Oasis. Her mother looked at her eldest proudly. "I always knew you could step up to the mantle of leadership if you needed to, Tariyeh. You make me so proud." Tariyeh modestly shrugged, but took the compliment in silence before she continued. Conveniently leaving out the encounter with Calen, she finally reported about the past days, about how they planned to save some lost comrades in a prison complex. She glossed over the more brutal parts of the story but recalled how she had found Khesh and killed him, showing off his cloak as a grisly trophy, and how Khesh had told her the Warden had also been a Knight and how she had confronted him as well, slaying that traitor and claiming his cloak as proof in addition to learning that the final knight of the cabal of traitors had fled to Skyrim. She detailed her plan to hunt down the last man and be done with her grisly task, confessing that it was wearying her.

Truthfully, 'weary' was an understatement. Ever since the prison and the two traitors, she hadn't been able to sleep peacefully at all. Her mind and body ached, not just from the exertion of the past few days, although that surely had something to do with it. She found herself waking in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat and reliving hazy memories of things that may have happened or may not yet have happened. Through some unholy combination of shame and compulsion, she felt sick when she thought about finding her friends. She felt feral, like a wild animal that did not belong among civilised people. So she sequestered herself away in a tent among her tribe, praying to all the gods of the desert and the Alik'r that none of the party would come find her. Her only guests were her brother and sister and mother, occasionally coming to check on her. She waved them off by insisting she was merely exhausted by travel.

At dusk she emerged to bathe herself and hunt down some food. Most were already asleep. She crept through the maze of tents and bodies who had not made it to tents before passing out. Thankfully, it was a short jaunt to the springs that the gathering was based around. There were a few evening bathers, cleaning up after a day of revelry, but Tariyeh thought nothing of them and disrobed before submerging herself in the chilly water. It was a nice contrast to the heat of the air. Despite the sun slowly disappearing over the horizon, the air had not lost its warmth. She slid down into the water, her head momentarily disappearing beneath the surface before re-emerging, her hair sopping wet and draped over her face. It felt nice to be clean again, at least physically. She really wished she could pour some water into her brain and clean it out. It felt mired in the same dust, blood, and sweat that had pervaded her body a few minutes before. She lacked the clarity of purpose she possessed at the outset. Every action now had to penetrate a layer of emotions and thoughts before she could make sense of it. She felt fear, anxiety, shame, and darkness, but perhaps also hope. She allowed herself to float on the surface of the water for a bit, staring up at the now-darkened sky. She exhaled and sank down, the lack of fat on her body or air in her lungs causing her to gently descend in the water. She waited for a few seconds, blinked and rose again. Why didn't she want to see her friends again? Or anyone? She somehow felt like she should be happier about seeing her family again but... The thought of seeing the rest of the group churned her stomach. Her voice was sore from so much talking. She floated about the pool again while sinking deeper into her own thoughts. She knew she couldn't hide forever, she'd have to find them eventually. She hoped they weren't too worried about her. They probably weren't. She had talked about how much she had missed her family, so they most likely assumed she was just doing some catching up. Although, it was strange that none of them had tried to seek her out. Tariyeh shrugged it off. It didn't matter. She listened to the sound of the pool in her ears, the strange calm of the waters mixed with the sounds of the gathering dying down.

Tariyeh emerged from the pool, brushed a few tresses of her hair from her face and grabbed a robe to dry with. She didn't bother drying her feet, they were already covered in sand, but she patted herself down and replaced her own tunic and leggings. She didn't feel like heading back to her tent just yet, but she had already dried off, so instead she headed a bit further from the camps and sat on the sand, drawing elaborate concentric circles in the still-warm sand, just like she used to do as a child. It was more comforting than she had expected. Still, she felt less alive than she did back then. Her mind and heart and body seemed to be enveloped in a stiffness not unlike that which she had seen in corpses many times before. But why? What had slain her heart and left her mind to harden into a corpse?
Sisters of the Sands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Alik’r girl thought for a minute.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daro'Vasora smiled, wiping Shakti's tears away with the back of her finger. “Together.” she promised
Edge of the Attican Traverse, 2184

Kori’Andh looked at the human woman named Shy in disbelief, “What? I didn’t- I couldn’t- Why would I even try and frame six heavily armed mercenaries at once?” She finally finished, clearly flustered. “You can look at the wreckage out there! It’s real enough!” She continued, pointing toward the open door of the cockpit.

“Hey,” she replied dryly with a shrug, “our choices are to be shot on sight or willingly give ourselves to you. Not much of a choice there. Though honestly, killing over five hundred people is going a little far.”

As she spoke, Shy’s head turned and followed Kori’s gestures through the cockpit, giving her a good view of the floating mass of debris out in space. Her lids opened up at the sight, showing two wide, pearly eyes.

“Holy shit. You guys did a number on them.”

Ardan Parvius let out a low whistle as he looked out of the view port at the devastation. “Looks like they rigged up the eezo core, at the very least. I haven’t seen that kind of devastation since I watched a Dreadnaught bisect a pirate cruiser.” the turian said, halfway between admiring the thoroughness of a sapper’s job and perturbed about the senseless loss of life. All to frame them? There’s no way they all had bounties on their heads at the same time this quickly for the ship’s detonation. Someone set them up, but who?

The quarian didn’t seem the type, nor the Volus; it’s not as if there were any way to restrain the mercenaries and they all had their weapons and gear. It was way too quick and thorough of a job for any slack-assed amatures to hit them with. Ardan turned to the Quarian and the others in the shuttle. “So, either of you know anything about our client, or if he’s even capable of something like this?” he asked. “Who could have possibly known about this and had information on all of us to plan something like this in such a short amount of time? It’s not like you can just sneak aboard a civilian cruise vessel like that in heavily guarded Citadel Space and do something like that without a lot of planning, connections, and logistics.”

“Guys, just trace back the signal.” Shy groaned, as if it was she was explaining something obvious. “They’re not frequency hopping and or using short transmissions, so it’s not like they’re hiding or anything.”

Kori anxiously fussed with her Omni-tool, for a few moments before speaking, “Look, I’m just the pilot. I don’t know anything about what the job was, I was hired through a middleman. The same as you six I assume.” The light on her mask blinked a few times, as if she had more to say. “It… It was the volus. Cherk. I can contact him if you want.”

“Right now our priority should be to get away.” Khosin spoke up, voice calm. “The rest can wait for the moment. If they were prepared to put a bounty on our heads so quickly, who's to say someone isn't en route already to capture us.” He said, turning to look at the pilot. “Once we are away, and sure that we aren't being pursued, we can contact Cherk.”

“Goddess…” came a voice from the back, an Asari strode over to the view port, taking a place beside the Turian. She too looked out at the damage, taking it all in - an expression of disbelief on her face. “They had absolutely no chance against whoever it was that did this.” She did not need to look upon it anymore and so she took steps back, finding herself beside the Batarian. “I’m inclined to agree with you, but where can we even go?” She folded an arm over her chest and propped her elbow on it and began thumbing her lip. Thoughts swirling through her mind. She couldn’t understand who would frame her. From what she could gather at a glance at the rest of the group, they were just as surprised too.

“Omega,” a soft voice said. It belonged to a human that had followed a short distance behind Naryxa, emerging from the gloomy lighting of the rear of the shuttle. Kyo Zhang, his black leather jacket looking shiny and crisp over his combat hardsuit, crossed his arms and his face was set into an even deeper scowl than his usual severe expression. Twin swords were sheathed across his back, long enough for their tips to reach his waist. “I believe the quarian. She doesn't know anything. That would be careless. Whoever did this is is not careless.” He spoke in clipped tones, direct and to the point. Kyo looked around at his fellow would-be criminals, his gaze lingering on Ardan and Khosin. Their presence made him uncomfortable. The whole situation was deplorable. He hadn't been so cautious and careful his whole career only to be suddenly thrown out of the proverbial airlock now. “Leave Citadel space. Go underground. Contact the volus. Work from there.”

“Pre-gunpowder cosplayer has a pretty agreeable plan. That shithole's where I call home, and unless the Citadel governments have a desire to start a war with the entire damn Terminus Systems over six fugitives, then we'll have all the time in the universe to start figuring this out.” Ardan said, shaking his head at the ridiculousness of a human wearing glorified dinner utensils as if they were real weapons.

Kyo glowered at him but said nothing. Shy snorted in amusement.

Ardan looked to Kori. “We have enough fuel to make it home, right? It might be wise to find a fueling depot in this very system so anyone who monitored our jump through the relay doesn't immediately see us jump the way we came. If we act like we have a purpose that wasn't that,” Ardan said, pointing at the dead ship in a deadly cloud of eezo fuel, “Will give us a better chance avoiding law enforcement.”

“Omega is the obvious choice, criminals accused of worse have hidden out in the Terminus systems before. The law won’t follow us there.” The Vorcha stated calmly through razor sharp teeth, staying a distance away from the other mercenaries in a seated position. His long claw tipped fingers clasped around each other as he spoke. Such death on that scale was the definition of overkill. There was no thrill in that, extinguishing innocent lives like that. He didn’t suspect any of them as the perpetrators of such an act, whoever did it likely long gone, or just another face in the panicking masses.

“Every second spent arguing instead of speeding through space only aides the law on our tail.” Zaash added, outwardly not showing much concern or shock. Panic helped no one here. He’d had a bounty on his head before, not for terrorism though. Truthfully he’d rather not spend the rest of his spectacularly short life in prison.

“We have enough fuel, I did the calculations myself just to be sure but, but I’ll bring us back around to the depot and top us off just so we don’t look suspicious.” Kori answered, still fumbling with her Omnitool and looking half-heartedly at Ardan. “Once we are back in the Terminus Systems I’ll contact Cherk and maybe he can shed some light on this.” The Quarian nodded in affirmation of her statement and walked back into the cockpit, not bothering to close the door this time, though when she crossed the threshold, she silently exhaled a breath she was subconsciously holding in. Denying a mercenary the chance for payment wasn’t known to be good for one’s health in her experience. Let alone six of them.

Naryxa was no fool, she watched the Quarian closely, her fumbling over the datapad - the way she retreated, her nod. She was nervous - the very fact of that gave the Asari a confidence that she knew nothing about it. She followed the young girl into the cockpit and closed the door behind her slowly. Whatever the rest of them were going to discuss would only further worry the girl. “Are you alright?” she asked, rather frankly but with a soft expression on her face.

Kori turned to face the Asari, not bothering to sit down yet. She felt more at ease at the mere presence of the other woman, even though she had no problem believing that the Asari had more combat experience than Kori’Andh had years to her name. “Yes I think so,” the Quarian answered, still playing with her hands anxiously, “I’m just a bit shook up is all. Seeing the ship… All those people…” She shook her head sadly as her voice trailed off. “I’m not used to seeing things like that.”

She listened while moving to the seat that should be taken by a co-pilot, and slowly she sat down into it, with a wave of her hand she invited the girl to take her seat too. “Take a seat, you’ll be alright. As for the wreckage, it’s not the first I’ve seen by a long shot, and it won’t be the last. It doesn’t get easier I’m afraid.” She sat relaxed in the chair, one elbow propped up on the arm. “But that just reminds us that we’re still good in here,” there was a warmth to her tone as she placed a hand on her chest. She may have been laying it on thick, but it truly was a terrifying sight and the Quarian was in shock - she needed to calm down in order to fly them safely out. “You’ll be alright.”

Kori exhaled through her mask and did as she was told. The Asari was right. She still had a job to do, and that was get everyone home safe. There would be time to think it over later, for now, she had to fly. The Quarian Pilot tapped on the control surface and the engines responded quickly as Kori’Andh deftly swung the ship around towards the fuel depot.

“Thank you for your kind words. I’m truly sorry about what’s happened. Believe me, I know what it’s like to be kept from your home.” She added after a few moments, the words not distracting her from guiding the ship up close to the floating fuel station.

“I know that it isn’t your fault,” she smiled and stood from the seat, walking behind Kori as she flew the ship. Naryxa placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “I guess that for now, Omega will be our home. How bad can it be?” She of course, knew exactly how bad it could be, but she let the words sound light as they pierced the tension. She thought to join the others, but all she could hear from behind the door was sassy back and forth. The cockpit was a better place to be while that was happening.

Kori gave a grim smile beneath her mask, even though she knew the Asari couldn’t see her face. “It’s not all bad there. I usually sleep on the ship though, just so I don’t get robbed blind in my sleep.” The Quarian said ruefully as she hooked the ship up to the fuel station and initiated refuelling procedures.

She thought about what the girl had said, she knew that Omega was a dangerous place - she had just never really considered it from the perspective of a Quarian, a young one at that. She herself had worked on Omega made years ago, she did not fear the place. “Hmmm, I can't say that you're missing much by doing so. It's not as if there are any landmarks of note. I had a small apartment on Omega for a while.” She smiled at the memory, “that was a very long time ago. I'd say close to 150 years ago...”

“A hundred and fifty? Keelah, I can’t imagine actually wanting to live on Omega by choice, let alone own property there.” Kori shook her head again, this time it was more lighthearted than the previous instance. “I’ve only been there a year and a half and I hate it. I just want to fly ships!” The talking distracted her from thinking about what had happened and soon enough Kori’Andh was gliding the Eyas back towards the Mass Relay that would take them into the Terminus Systems once again.

“Well, it wasn’t so bad for me - back then it was a classier place.” She emphasised the phrasing, it most certainly was not classier at all, Omega had always attracted the wrong kind of people. “I was there because I danced, and for some reason, nobody fucks with the dancers,” the Asari shrugged with a small chuckle under her breath. “Maybe when we get there, I’ll get you out of the ship and take you for a tour around my old stomping ground... “

“I don’t know, walking around Omega sounds dangerous enough. Seeing the dancers would be interesting though. Dancers are well respected on the Flotilla.” Kori explained as she tapped in the mass calculations and sent them to the Relay.

“He better.” Shy remarked as she reached into her bag and pulled out what looked like a bite-sized chocolate candy. She wasn’t much good with people, let alone alien people, but all of her interactions with Cherk thus far brought her to the conclusion that he probably did a lot of sketchy business with a lot of slimy types of people. Despite her accusations toward Kori, he was likely the one the rest of them were catching heat for.

“What do the six of us have in common besides getting hired for the same job?” She continued, talking through her mouthful of chewy chocolate and caramel. “Let’s be frank, all of this is on those two… or one of them, at least. Whatever.”

“Certainly not professionalism.” Ardan muttered, squinting at the slob of a human. How the hell did they ever discover space flight on their own, he wondered. “I still don’t rightfully know why you’re here, human. Maybe our employer had second thoughts after seeing what you slithered out onto the flight deck wearing and decided to cut his losses rather than risk embarrassment.”

He sat down on the bench where he’d been before, pulling up his personal datapad and the results of the clawball match-up he’d been unable to watch due to the lengthy flight time to discover that his life was well and right fucked. It wouldn’t do to dwell on it, but he sure wasn’t going to start enjoying the company he shared.

“Nice professionalism.” Shy parried. “You still don’t know what an engineer is and why a ship needs one? Oh boy...”

She mindlessly balled up the candy wrapper and tossing it in his direction, though the drag against the air caused it to fall a few inches away from Ardan’s instead of its intended target -- his chitinous face. Had he really not realized that she was wearing this when she met Cherk? Or that she was a total badass? It was amazing how lazy some of these mercs were nowadays.

She leaned back in her seat and stretched, her feet still propped up on the table.

So lazy. And thoughtless. Not quite in the offensive way, though certainly that too, but in the dumb way. Which was another way of saying lazy, honestly. Too lazy to think. Maybe if he spent two seconds considering the whys and how, then he wouldn’t be wasting his breath telling her how he didn’t understand something. Spending two minutes to find out who you’re working with would save a lot of stress-induced headaches.

That being said, Shy didn’t get stressed, so she didn’t really give a shit who she working with.

“Plus this bitch takes names and kicks ass.” She boasted, followed quick by a second jab. “You bring one gun to the table at a time, I can bring four. I don’t know how good you are at arithmetic, but apparently Cherk’s cutting more than one loss.”

“Cute. It doesn't know how to stop chattering, like all small animals that have no substance to back up their screeching.” Ardan said, not bothering to look up from his datapad. “Apparently better at counting than you are. Three guns on my person. Unlike you, I know how to use them.

“You look like the kind of person to buy a crap drone program for your omni-tool and act like you're accomplished when it does what the salesman told you it would. Literally no one is impressed by a boast, kid. Prove you aren't useless on the job, then we'll talk.” Only then did he look up from his data pad to look down upon the little shit of a human. “I've been doing this longer than you've been alive. Go back to your toys, kid.”

Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to provoke the type of reaction he was hoping for in the human. Instead of getting defensive, her deadpan, cynical expression had suddenly contorted into one of amusement. Shy began giggling until it erupted into genuine, unrestrained laughter interrupted by the occasional snort as Shy clasped a free hand over her face to try controlling herself. Her other hand started to point at him, but any attempts at trying to argue or criticize him were rendered futile as her outburst kept her from getting a coherent sentence out.

Khosin inwardly let out a sigh. “Great.” The Batarian thought. “Someone with an inflated ego and a racist. Perfect, just perfect.” The former pirate mused inwardly, shaking his head slightly. “We’ve enough enemies biting at our heels as it is. Could we try not to throw petty insults around? I suspect our lives will be miserable enough soon, we don’t need to make them even more so by our actions.” Khosin said, looking first at Shy and then at Ardan. He knew there was little chance for his words to resonate with either party but, even so, he still felt like it was worth to try.

“I-I’m… I’m sorry!” Shy howled. “I’m just… imagining discount Blasto trying to hold three guns at once! Just to prove a point! Ahahaha!”

Kori brought the Eyas into the mass-free zone created by the Mass Relay and the shuttle winked out of the system, only to reappear in the blink of an eye back in the Terminus Systems. She guided the ship safely out of the path of incoming ships, hooked them up to the nearest comm buoy and set the autonav system to take them back to Omega. Nothing more for her to do here, the Quarian stood up and headed back into the cargo hold, gesturing for the asari to follow.

Once the group was gathered back up into the hold, Kori held up her Omnitool. “Okay, let’s see if the Volus can give us some answers.” She poked a few commands on her glowing device and after a few moments the slightly-transparent image of a volus appeared over her hand.

Before his figure even fully materialized on the omnitool, Cherk’s voice cut through the initial bumps of vocal processing. “Hello, Cherk Sab speaking. How can I —” the volus’s voice cut off with a hiss of his respirator, “Oh, it’s you.” Despite being unable to read his face, there was a stillness to his form that could only be described as irritation. “Make this quick, I’m in the middle of something.” Cherk’s respirator hissed again as he began to tap something into his terminal. His figure shifted a bit as he finished his tapping, and he let his respirator sigh for him. “I see.” The volus placed his palms flat against the table as he considered something for a moment. “I can’t say I expected this, I hadn’t mentioned anything about destroying a luxury liner in the dossiers I prepared.”

“That is because we had nothing to do with the destruction of it.” Khosin said as he stepped forward. “We had just exited the Mass Relay’s corridor at our intended destination and then the Ecliptic Moonrise was gone. A moment afterwards, wanted posters for the six of us appeared on the extranet blaming us for it’s destruction.”

“Convenient that you’re not on the ship.” Shy commented dryly.

“Someone knew we were coming.” Kyo crossed his arms and stared at the image of the volus with a heavy dose of skepticism. “The six of us, specifically. And they knew when we were due to arrive. Who would have access to that kind of information, other than yourself?”

Ardan didn’t speak up yet, instead keeping his eyes glued to the viewport at the wreckage with a stern gaze. Let the others interrogate the Volus; he probably wasn’t going to be forthcoming with information even if he was involved. Instead, a thought passed his mind. “Might want to keep this short; who knows who is monitoring transmissions.”

“That’d explain why you’re contacting me so quickly. Aside from myself, only our employer would know details.” Cherk’s respirator sighed for him again. “Ardan’s right - we ought to keep this short. I’ll have something more tangible for you when you get back.” The volus didn’t touch the claims of convenience, nor did he touch much of anything else. Under his breath he said something about accountant work being boring anyway as he moved to turn his own communicator off. “If you need something on the way here, buzz me. I won’t answer, but I’ll make a few arrangements.” His respirator hissed again, “I’d suggest not contacting any friends or family for a while.” With that, the image of the volus fizzled out.

The Eyas shuddered as it flew into the hangar, the automated sequence leaving little for Kori to do. So she sat in the Pilot’s chair in awkward silence, watching the landing through her visor. The Volus hadn’t exactly been helpful, but she didn’t know what she had expected. Selflessness was a rare thing in the Terminus Systems. There was a final clunk as the shuttle touched down on the hangar floor. Kori’Andh stood up and went back into the cargo hold.

“We’re back on Omega, and safe for the moment. I’m going to go explain what happened to my… er, employer. I will also see if I can get you all a compensation job here on the station if you are interested.” The Quarian rubbed her hands together nervously again, “It’s the least I can do after what’s happened. Just meet me back here in a few hours. Feel free to sleep on the ship if you need to just, ah, don’t touch anything.” Kori let out a nervous laugh and exited the ship slightly faster than she had intended. She practically slammed mask-first into Gallienus, the turian lieutenant who she answered to.

Gallienus clicked his mandibles and half-held, half-grabbed Kori’s arm. “Well well, if it isn’t my little suit-rat. We have some business to discuss.”
Sand, Swords and a Sparrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That night she dreamt of a great power underneath the sands, sleeping.
Edge of the Terminus Systems, 2184

Unlike its namesake, the Eyas soared through the dark void with Kori’Andh nar Chayym at its controls. Not that she had much to do at the moment - she had already plotted the course to the nearest Mass Relay at the edge of the system and the navigational computer was doing the actual flying and microadjustments to dodge bits of space junk and asteroids. Still, Kori checked and rechecked all the flight paths and sensors to make sure they were still on course. A good pilot didn’t get overly comfortable. The Quarian pilot stood up and stretched after she had done her second check of the instrumentation.

The Eyas was not a big ship by most standards, perhaps 25-ish meters long, but Kori loved it. She had practically built it from scratch. It was a converted survey shuttle, meant to be launched from much larger ships to scan and land planetside, and capable of limited FTL flight (though, it mostly relied on Mass Relays for longer trips). From what she had seen first hand and info she had dug up on the extranet, the main compartment of the ship had originally held sophisticated sensor gear for planetary scan. Of course, by the time she had found the ship, the equipment was useless and barely more than scrap electronics. So, Kori had stripped it out and functionally turned it into a small freighter. When she was ‘enlisted’ by Aria’s Organisation they had insisted she turn it into a troop transport as well as cargo hauler. She had dutifully installed cargo netting that could be flipped down to double as seats, which they currently were.

Kori sat back down and tapped the control panel to check on her passengers. She had been instructed by Gallienus that a freelance group of mercs needed transportation to a nearby system and that they’d be afforded a portion of the payment if she flew them out. Knowing that she didn’t really have a choice in the matter, and she’d only get about 10% of the credits anyway, Kori agreed. The Quarian glanced over at the camera feed displaying the cargo hold. Six of them in total, still there. Surprisingly they hadn’t murdered each other yet. She had seen a krogan and a turian go at each other last time. Naturally, she was a bit wary about giving another group of freelancers a lift.

She had no idea what their mission was and didn’t plan on finding out. All Kori’Andh knew was that their destination was some colony named New Syrtis and that it was civilised enough that she would nap on the ship while they did whatever violent acts the employer requested, and then fly them back to Omega. No blood on her hands and everyone was happy. The Pilot leaned back in her chair and put her feet on the control panel. They still had a fair few hours before they hit the Relay, might as well relax. Using her Omnitool, she set an alarm in her suit to let her know when they were a few minutes out from the relay and then drifted off into a half-sleep.

A soft beeping and blinking light on her suit’s visor shook Kori’Andh out of her stupor and she straightened up in her chair, quickly tapping a few buttons to make certain they were still on course. Thankfully, they were. The Quarian Pilot reverted the Eyas to manual control and guided the shuttle towards the approach corridor with one hand, deftly typing in the mass of the shuttle and transmitting the data and coordinates to the Mass Relay, which angled itself towards their destination as they entered the mass-free lane generated by the relay, catapulting the ship and everyone in it towards New Syrtis. A moment later, they blinked into existence a few light-seconds away from the verdant colony. Kori was surprised to see that the orbit of New Syrtis was abuzz with space-traffic, ships coming and going from the planetside spaceport. The most striking sight was a civilian cruise ship, slowly drifting in orbit over the ocean of the planet like some spacebound grazing animal. A cursory scan revealed the name of the ship to be the Ecliptic Moonrise, a passenger liner that made trips out to all the outer colonies in the Terminus Systems and Attican Traverse.

Kori’s suit visor auto-dimmed. She squinted to see what had caused it to engage. Sunrise? She manually shut off the light-protection function and looked again. The Ecliptic Moonrise it was gone.

In its place, a second sun.

“Keelah…” Kori whispered as she grabbed hold of the controls and swerved to avoid wreckage propelled toward them by the blast. She guided the shuttle to a safe distance and stared, in shock, at the data file she had brought up about the Ecliptic Moonrise. 533 people had been on board. Already, emergency shuttles were swarming like blinking flies over a fresh corpse.

Kori blinked and snapped out of her daze, she quickly tapped into the nearest comm buoy to see what was going on and if it was even still safe to land. The extranet connection pinged affirmative and the Pilot’s Omnitool was immediately bombarded with warnings about six suspects who were thought to have destroyed the passenger ship Ecliptic Moonrise in a bombing. Six suspects? The Quarian brought their pictures up on one screen and opened another. She flicked on on the cargo hold camera feed and compared the twelve individuals.

It was impossible! Someone was framing them! Kori’s mind raced with questions and courses of action but she sat, immobilised by her own fear. She should tell them right? They can’t land on the planet anyway, so they need to know that at least. Nervously, Kori got to her feet. She paced the length of the small cockpit and fiddled with her Omnitool. The report listed them as armed and extremely dangerous terrorists. To be shot on sight. The Quarian Pilot’s blood rapidly froze and then thawed as she checked - again - that she hadn’t been added to the list. Her blood cooled again when she realised C-Sec or whatever authorities were out here probably wouldn’t play too nicely with an associate of armed terrorists. She put a three-fingered hand on her own chest and bid herself to calm down.

Once she had regained her composure - mostly - she punched the cockpit door controls and passed into the makeshift passenger compartment. Deep breaths.

“We can’t land on the planet. There was a bombing and… they are blaming you.” Kori explained her breathless words belying her nervousness. To further provide proof of her claims she held up her Omnitool and displayed the APB. Sure enough, six rotating models of the six freelancers’ heads flickered into existence over her palm, alongside crimes such as ‘𝟱𝟯𝟯 𝗰𝗼𝘂𝗻𝘁𝘀 𝗼𝗳 𝗺𝘂𝗿𝗱𝗲𝗿 𝗶𝗻 𝗹𝗼𝘄 𝗼𝗿𝗯𝗶𝘁’ and ‘𝟰 𝗰𝗼𝘂𝗻𝘁𝘀 𝗼𝗳 𝗱𝗲𝘁𝗼𝗻𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗺𝗶𝗹𝗶𝘁𝗮𝗿𝘆-𝗴𝗿𝗮𝗱𝗲 𝗲𝘅𝗽𝗹𝗼𝘀𝗶𝘃𝗲𝘀 𝗮𝗯𝗼𝗮𝗿𝗱 𝗮 𝗰𝗶𝘃𝗶𝗹𝗶𝗮𝗻 𝘃𝗲𝘀𝘀𝗲𝗹.’ Kori turned off her Omnitool and looked out at the group, at a loss for ideas and looking for guidance.
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