Sisters of the Sands
15th Midyear 4E208, after sunset
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