The night had crept across the sky with the same slow determination the party had come together around the fire with. Each of them nursing wounds both physical and mental from the events of the day. Latro himself sat by the fire, going from staring at the embers to looking at Rhea, who had resigned herself to sitting a ways away from the others. He knew there was nothing he could say to console her, she would have to come upon it on her own. As for the others, they either stayed quiet or added to the din of hushed conversations.
Another aftershock of a tremor ran through Latro’s body as a breeze rolled through, swaying the fire slightly. His clothes were mostly dry and these little bouts of shaking were the only tangible evidence on him that the previous events were not indeed a bad dream. He fretted on that, hoping at any moment to wake up in his tent, go to meet the others in the first chamber, descend in the lift and have yet another mostly uneventful expedition into the deep-reaching ruins. Alas, he never did, and the onslaught of memories beat him over the head with the reality of it all each time. He sniffled and returned his hands to wrapping themselves around his chest, trying to conserve the warmth the fire was giving him.
He sighed, looking once more to the ravaged mountain, a faint suggestion in the night, but the pulsing pillar of energy glowing still, albeit just a touch more faintly. “What did we do?” He whispered to no one in dejection.
Daro’Vasora was leaning against a tree, still just within the warm radiance of the fire, her eyes locked on the energy that showed above, cascading above in a mesmerizing albeit entirely unnatural light that bathed the valley with a sickly green glow. A stick that had been shaved down of bark was grinding between her teeth, her mind racing with endless possibilities of that very question Latro asked.
“Other than accidently murder people we’ve been sleeping beside and eating with for the past few weeks? We blew up a mountain. Past that? Divines know if I have any idea. This is why we don’t trust ancient cave paintings when dealing with sophisticated dwemer bullshit.” she said, her voice even, exhaustion setting in.
The warmth of the blazing fire did little to ease the chill of fear writhing inside her. Brynja had nearly drowned on the escape out of the ruins, her steel-plated armor weighed her down like an anchor. Yet, she managed to survive. They all did. For better or worse. She had long since removed the armor, and had taken to drying herself out by the fire, seated next to Megana. In the orange glow of the fire, Brynja might have appeared less intimidating to her companions without her full set of armor. She appeared far more gangly, her arms and legs, though well muscled, took on an emaciated look with her still-wet clothes clinging to her like a slippery second skin.
Her set of leather trousers and jerkin took a bit longer to dry than cotton or canvas. Her hand slipped inside the flap of her rucksack, where she fished out a silver flask. Her last bit of alcohol. And she wasn’t about to savor it. The spiced whisky scalded her tongue in an intimate way. If she was going to die anytime soon, best drink the last of her reserves. With the last drop gone, Brynja sighed aloud, replacing the flask inside her pack.
“Does it matter what we did or didn’t do?” Brynja asked in return to Daro’Vasora’s question, not particularly looking for an answer. “We’re all alive. Somehow.” Her eyes were cast on the dancing flames, trying to block out the fact that the sky had turned green, casting the surrounding landscape in a pale green glow.
“Can you honestly look at our accidental cataclysm and think that it doesn’t matter, not even a little?” The Khajiit retorted, glancing over at Brynja, stick bouncing between her lips as her tongue worked the letters she spoke. “I’ve done a lot of solo expeditions, even hurt quite a few people and cheated others along the way, but I can’t say I’ve ever completely changed the landscape or annihilated an entire camp of innocent people who were just looking to get paid along the way. You have to admit this is just a bit fucked up.”
“Of course it is.” Latro spoke with perhaps the most harshness anyone had ever heard his voice, “I can go with you if you’d like, we swim back upstream and turn off that big fucking light and maybe put the rocks back up there.” Perhaps it was the fact he was too exhausted to care, perhaps it was Vasora’s earlier jibe about toying with ancient machines that he took just a bit personally, but he found it hard to hold his tongue at the person a few hours ago had saved his life and he’d bandaged, “It was do or die. In all of your expeditions, have you never had to do something or die?”
“What I meant was,” Brynja exhaled, an attempt to clarify what she meant seconds ago, “We can’t change the fact of what has happened.” She added softly after Latro’s last question to Daro’Vasora. “Accidental cataclysm or not.”
Daro’Vasora put up her hands, as if to ward off future blows. “Look, I’m not looking for a fight. Of course I’ve had to do all sorts of things to survive, and I’m definitely not complaining that I’m here and not up there. I just…” she struggled with the words, rubbing her freshly bandaged palms. “I’ve just never had anything like this happen to me. This is the kind of bizarre, unspeakable nonsense that happens in dusty old tomes in the library, not to real people. Any time I had to hurt or kill to survive, it only ever affected the ones who put me in that situation. I’ve always prided myself on keeping things contained. This… this is beyond me.”
“I’m sorry,” he spoke softly, in his more normal tone this time, “None of us have. This is...” He shook his head, “Damn it.”
Kneeling at the edge of the fire’s glow, Mortalmo’s lips moved silently and feverishly as he eyed the others, his eyes hard and his face creased with worry. Reduced now to simple furs and fabrics, still damp, he shivered. Either from the cold garb clinging to his skin or something else entirely, he could not, would not say. Still, he pulled his cloak closer around him, and inched ever so closer to the fire. The dwemer, Mortalmo decided, he was right to be wary of. Nothing good ever came of venturing too deeply into their ruins; the unearthly light hanging about them all was evidence of that fact. “Music,” Mortalmo said to himself, softly. “Music could help.” He rummaged through his pack for the bundle of cloth that he prayed had kept the contents within safely intact. His hopes were dashed within mere moments. Unravelling the cloth revealed the flute, cracked into two disproportionate pieces.
Snarling then, he seized up the ruined instrument with vigor, striding purposefully towards the edge of the fire, before casting the thing into the flames. “Damn it all! Damn it all to Oblivion!” The altmer released a shaky breath, taking a few steps away from the fire.
About a quarter of the way around the fire from Durantel, Gaius sat, staring unblinkingly into the core of the flames and watching the pieces of carven flute crackle away into smoke and ash. His armor was scuffed and scratched from the tumble down the river’s stony bed, and his face was ashen pale, a far cry from its usual tan shade, and totally expressionless. His sword’s sheath hung conspicuously empty by his side, the weapon lost somewhere up the raging dark waters. He’d barely survived the trip down the river. His armor had weighed him down so much that he’d breathed about as much water as he did air, and it showed. His journal lay in front of him, utterly beyond salvaging. The pattern of blocks he’d drawn just the night before—it seemed so much longer ago—had turned into a smudged mess of running ink, and all of his previous entries were similarly illegible.
“All I wanted was to find my brother,” he murmured, voice totally devoid of feeling. His hands began to shake, and he slowly stripped his gauntlets off, looking as if confused as they quaked. Whether from shock, fear, guilt or anger, he didn’t know. “Was that really too much to ask? Was it, Akatosh?” Anger slowly began to seep into his words as he rattled off the list of divines, and by the time he made it to Talos, he was bellowing in rage, spittle flying from his mouth as he kicked the edge of the fire savagely, scattering embers and sparks across the small campsite.
Mortalmo’s head whipped around to face Gaius. “You cry to false gods. And perhaps this is your just punishment.”
“Oh, here it comes.” Daro’Vasora murmured, looking back towards the mountain. It was surely less volatile than what was to come.
Gaius’ eyes bored into Durantel’s as he shook with rage. “Is that really what you worry about right now? What gods I choose to worship?” He flung a hand over towards the mountain, or at least what was left of it. “How many people are dead now, altmer? How many innocent lives were just lost for the sake of curiosity? Surely somewhere in that lauded mind of yours, you can find the idea that maybe, just maybe, their lives are more important, more worthy of agonizing over, than the worship of Talos!” He threw the gauntlet in his left hand to the ground and stood before the elf, fists clenched as he hyperventilated.
A laugh barked out from Mortalmo’s throat, and he stared back at the imperial with contempt. “Please, do try to calm yourself now.” Condescending, as an adult would speak to a petulant child. “Does the farmer grieve for his butchered cattle? Does the fisherman send a prayer for each fish he manages to snag on his line? Must I beg forgiveness to each and every blade of grass that is trampled beneath me?” He rolled his eyes. “I’m not at all concerned with those who died atop that mountain.”
“And that’s probably why Talos broke your flute, Durantel.” Daro’Vasora chipped in, a mischievous tone to her voice, forcing an unexpected laugh out from Brynja. Even Latro snorted.
“You two remind me of one of the tombs I went down in High Rock, I was partnered up with a really zealous Bosmer who couldn’t go a day without praying three times, and a Nord hardline sovereigntist who was only doing it for the cash to raise a warband. The two spent so many nights arguing theology, really just chewing each other apart, the great ideological clash of men and mer that’s been going on ever since the Reman dynasty decided the Ayleids were a bunch of assholes.
“So anyways, to make a long story short, the two got in an argument as per usual, only this time, both decided to get into a shoving match, real manly stuff you see. The Bosmer gets his leg stuck in a bear trap, and the Nord thinks that hey, Talos finally made himself known. He struts ahead confidently, refusing to help his companion, only to forget that it was the Bosmer who’d been disabling all the traps ahead. He ends up with half an arm cut off from a swinging blade not ten steps later.” She smiled at the story, bouncing a foot up and down atop her knee, looking the two over. “And to think you two were doing so well in there, all brothers in arms against the falmer. Now look at you. We’re safe for a few hours and suddenly you’re arguing over how someone chooses to grieve. Do I need to get you both to go for a hike in opposite directions until you forget what the disagreement was about?”
“Your wit, cat, as ever, is both scathing and striking. I really did enjoy the fable. You can trust that I have no intention of coming to blows with the child before me.” Mortalmo frowned at the sky. Green suited it just as poorly as red.
“Keep picking at scabs and it isn’t your intentions we’ll have to fret over next fire.” Latro said, picking apart a piece of dry long grass, “People died. People will mourn, let’s keep all of our teeth together about how they’ll do it or there’ll be more to mourn and no one to limp back to the White-Gold city because Auriel’s favorite son decided to stoke fires with Talos’ most devoted acolyte.”
Mortalmo’s lips pressed themselves into a thin line. “I will not be the one to cast the first blow. I can say this much.” The breton spoke more sense than he was comfortable admitting aloud. Perhaps it would do some good to let Gaius alone for a time.
Gaius deflated, all the fury rushing out of him, and he sat down heavily, face buried in his hands. “Divines, eight or nine, I don’t care. Just…” Just what, Gaius? Fix this? A deep breath. No. This was not the gods’ place to fix, and he was a fool for even entertaining the idea. He lifted his head, staring up at the eerily-lit sky. After a moment he stood, back hunched, to retrieve his gauntlet before sitting down again, looking fruitlessly at the polished surface of the metal. What do I—we—do?
“None of this fucking matters.” Brynja stated, her eyes picking out the distraught figure of Gaius across the flames, she sympathized with the Imperial internally. She had felt like that in her time with the Legion as a healer, looking over every battle field for her brother, and even in her final years of service with Rorik. “None of it. What matters now is what we do. And that’s just it. What the fuck do we do now?” For some, payment would come to mind, but for Brynja, she was inwardly voicing her own concern. Were her services even needed?
“Now? Now I think we are all owed compensation for services rendered.” Mortalmo pointed languidly towards Rhea’s huddled form. “The expedition is over, is it not? We’ve all played our parts accordingly, and now I see no reason as to why we should remain in each other’s company past our remuneration.” Though, the immensity of the event that had transpired demanded some level of appreciation. Leaving this ordeal to rumor and hearsay was a poor course of action.
“I’d rather not talk coin so close to a graveyard.” Latro pursed his lips, “It is a point to be made, though. We could depart on our own endeavors once we reach White-Gold.” For once though, for whatever reason, wandering alone did not hold the same spread wings of freedom they once did to him. He looked around the fire, to Rhea, back still turned on all that was going on. He spoke to Vasora, “Where will you go?”
“I’ve still reason to claim Imperial City as my base of operations. Rhea’s from there, as well. I always figured that’s where her capital to fund the expedition is kept, not up in camp. It would be a bit silly to carry entire chests of coin up a mountain, wouldn’t it?” She asked rhetorically, sitting up before deciding to walk over to the fire and join the group proper. She sat next to Latro, enjoying having her feet free and facing the fire. “Truth be told, I was never really all that interested in coin. It’s passed my hands in such quantities that I could go months without worrying about lodging or food to nearly resorting to panhandling some months. For me, it’s always been about finding the next hidden treasure to appraise and sell to prestigious or ludicrously wealthy patrons just to build a name for myself. Those paintings and carvings we found in the ruins were probably the most valuable things I’ve come across in years, I was hoping to take credit for it.” She started to grin before looking back at the light behind her, her expression soured. “But you all know how that turned out. All any of us have to show for that is that we’re alive, I suppose. What about you, any grand adventures planned after this one, or was that enough excitement for a while?”
“Write songs, about this, maybe. The Snow Elves. Wander.” Latro shrugged, “I never peek over the mountains before I get to them. Maybe I’ll go back to High Rock, become some noble’s court minstrel and live out my days never worrying if my tent’s got a rip and that those gray clouds seem awful dark.”
“Oh, come now. You know you’d go stir crazy within a month. What kind of song can be inspired by being trapped in some nobleman’s keep? Ode to the Chamberpot? The Seven Hour Audience with the Peasants?” Daro’Vasora giggled. “You signed up for an expedition for a reason, and travelled all this way for what I presume is some sort of adventure, am I wrong?”
Latro smiled, “True enough,” he shook his hands of all the pieces of dried grass he’d torn apart, “And what of the quarrelsome companions? Durantel, Gaius?” He smiled softly to the Nord woman who’d sealed his gut-wounds shut, “Brynja?”
She shook her head softly, the sudden intake of whisky had a hold on her, “I… won’t be going anywhere. If it’s to the Imperial City, so be it.” There were other reasons for her to continue on with the group, but she wasn’t about to voice them so publicly, what with the whisky making her tongue loose.
“There’s been many a time that I missed a healer and an able sword in my travels.” Latro smiled, “Perhaps you’ve a few songs waiting to be written.”
Her brows rose at Latro’s words, an unexpected comment that left her without anything to say. She could feel the heat rise to her cheeks, where she cast her eyes down towards the fire, he reminded her then, of Rorik. “It is my duty. If… the need arises again, you can count on me to be there once more.” She said, lifting her gaze to meet his with a nod of her head.
Gaius sighed. “The Imperial City for me as well. I need to let Helena know that I’m alright.” And maybe Lucius is back, he added to himself, reminding himself once again of the reason he’d actually come on this sojourn.
“I believe,” Mortalmo began. “That notifying some higher power of what happened here seems pertinent. We have no way of knowing what that device unleashed.” The faintest shudder ran throughout Mortalmo’s form. “It all seemed far too deliberate a result to attribute to simple malfunction.” Maybe paranoia was beginning to grip him, maybe. But Mortalmo could not count out the possibility that the choices made in that mountain would have far-reaching consequences. “So I agree, the Imperial City would not be a poor choice.”
Judena had spent her time away from the fire and core conversation for sometime gathering a scraped together meal for everyone. Carrying sore shoulders and a heavy heart from being ejected out the mountainside. She had spent the first minutes out of the water recording several pages of what she witnessed in hopes to not miss a single detail. Truthfully her feelings poured across the freshly restored pages, high in contrast to her daily logs being concise in nature. In her arms she carried several fish of various sizes, already gutted and ready to be roasted. It was all she thought to do while others struggled to reconcile with what they saw.
Perhaps it was the shock and grief, perhaps it was just being tired from nearly dying three times over in much too short a period of time, or perhaps it was the security of the sky above her head and the warmth of the fire, but not soon after Brynja had taken her seat next to her, Meg had closed her eyes, rested her head on her knees, arms wrapped around them as she held them close to her chest. It hadn’t been restful, but she hardly expected rest to feel any sort of rest for the next few weeks at least. Still, she hadn’t really wished to share her feelings or anything of the sort at that time.
She had lifted her head not when the argument had ensued, which was probably for the better. Who needed fights about true gods and false ones right after escaping death? And why had such topics even been brought up? She couldn't understand it. Didn't Durantel realize that they had to work together to keep each other alive so as to come up here? Any of them could have chosen to leave a companion behind... but they hadn’t. Her grip around her knees had tightened before relaxing once more. She couldn't have expect someone to think like her if her own father still held his prejudices against others who were different that him.
Still... it always made her wonder what went on in people’s minds that caused them to continuously bring things like this up. Perhaps it was the older altmer’s way of dealing with the shock of what had happened?
Nevertheless, it was when talks had calmed that Meg finally opened her eyes, letting out quiet breath. Her green eyes flitted from person to person, listening to their plans of what they would be doing now. She honestly hadn’t the slightest clue, having expected this expedition to have gone long enough that she’d have time to make up plans.
“What of you?” Brynja asked, Meg, as she preferred to be addressed, had stirred from her hunched position. “Are you coming with us?”
"Uh..." Meg thought about Whiterun for a bit before mentally shaking her head. She definitely couldn't go back there; her father would wonder what was the matter while her stepmother would probably have another hissy fit about her returning so soon after leaving.
"Why not?" she finally answered, giving the older Nord a small, lopsided smile. "I've been slackin' in adventures for a while now. Imperial City..." She couldn't help but let out ghost of a laugh at that. "Should be fun headin' somewhere I've never been. My father's from there but..." She lifted her shoulders in a shrug. "Not like he'd ever go back."
Similar to Meg, Sol had remained silent for the grief-ridden, anger fuelled conversation darting around camp. He’d been stuck wandering through his own thoughts, still trying to shake off the shock of what had happened. This was groundbreaking… literally. He couldn’t understand how it had all happened so fast; the room, then the ceiling caving in, nearly drowning in the river - as he recapped everything in his head, a light shudder went through his body. Sol had never been a strong swimmer, after having never really been taught to do so as a child. Although he didn’t have a true fear of water, it was certainly uncomfortable being caught in it. Especially in heavy armour. Even after clambering out of the river; spewing water from his lungs and taking several painful but wonderful breaths of the icy air, his armour weighed him down - sodden and retaining most of the water it had taken on. By the time the fire had been built, he’d stripped most of his armour off, setting it near the fire to stop it rusting. As of now, he sat with his back to the fire, shivering in his thin clothes, the shirt still torn and blood-stained at the shoulder. The wound hadn’t reopened, thankfully, but it still hurt like a bugger.
Tilting his head up to look at the sky, now a sickly green hue, Sol considered their situation. Unlike the others, he didn’t particularly feel any loss for those still on top of the mountain and within the ruin. He was just hired muscle, and hadn’t built up any kind of relationship with those that had died. But the others certainly didn’t need to hear that - while unaffected himself, he could understand grief. But regardless of how everyone felt, something had to be done about this tragedy. What was the purpose of it? Surely a mechanism of the Dwemer, but what did they have to gain from half-destroying a mountain for a light show?
“Has something like this ever been recorded?” He asked quietly; question directed towards the closest researcher to him, Daro’Vasora, though he was eager for an answer off anyone present. “Should we be worried about other Dwemer ruins holding the same nasty surprise?”
“Are you set on going back into any of them?” Latro asked, “I’m no historian, but surely it’d be talked about if something like this ever happened before. I wonder how far off anyone can see this.” Latro wondered, looking again at the light ascending far past where his sight could reach.
“I mean other than the Dwemer vanishing instantly at the Battle of the Red Mountain? Nothing I’ve come across. They disappeared two eras ago. A lot has been lost in that time.” Daro’Vasora replied, looking towards Solandil with tired eyes. “It’s been widely accepted they paid for their hubris of trying to become greater than the Divines and the Princes, culturally they believed that there was nothing they couldn’t accomplish with technology and ingenuity. They even largely shunned magic because of it. Problem is, books have a hard time surviving thousands of years and most of our insight about them has been limited to what scholars have interpreted by studying the ruins and estimating what purposes they served.”
The Khajiit looked back to the light, her fingers tracing along her palms. “However, if there’s one thing I know about the Dwemer, it’s that nothing they ever built was without purpose. The real question is this; what is the purpose of a device that expels so much energy and maintains the output?”
Judena listened, building the fire more to cook what she caught spearing the fish in a circle around the embers. She sat back on her heels, eyes on Rhea’s back concerned for their leader. Jude possibly had the best of their trip outside the mountain, thrown against rocks by the powerful torrents. Bruised but not feeling the chill of the night from the water. Daro’Vasora puzzled over the machinery casting the eerie green glow in the sky, it truly was a mystery. Sol’s question was one that she wondered herself as well. In all her time in and around ruins of various origin, nothing quite compares. “Dwemer artifacts have unique markers for age, the majority of intact pieces we have been able to study come from deep inside preserved ruins. Similarly to the one we were just in, untouched for hundreds of years to tell us a story that we clearly do not know much beyond the surface. A puzzle, I feel as though all the clues just went up in the most spectacular fiery fashion.” She gestured to the mountain. It was frustrating from a scholar and historian’s point of view to see all your clues be torched without much of say. A tragedy on all fronts.
She rotated the fish, evenly cooking the meat. She wondered idly how much she would forget the next morning, thankful for recording everything in detail as it was fresh. “I am unsure how to proceed from here. The Imperial City would be the best route to collect our bearings, recover and decide.” She plucked a spear using Flames in her hand to finish off the fish, “Please, I caught enough for everyone to have two. I will go see to Rhea.”
She stood carrying a spear to the Imperial woman. Offering it wordlessly, the explorer seemed wrapped up in the confines of her own mind. “Ma’am. When you are ready to join us, the fire will do well to chase the chill away of the water and the events of the day. If there- If there is some consolation, I did record names and likeness of everyone I met at the camp. We can bring some families peace in their account and loss.”
Jude stabbed the spear into the ground close to Rhea. “If you can, eat it before it gets too cold.” Taking a few backward steps she idly scratched at her ‘beard’ then walked back to the fire.
In the time Jude had gone and returned, Meg had decided eating some fish was the right course of action for the time being. All that being jostled about did cause her to feel peckish, though it was only now that the she felt the hunger, probably due to the lovely aroma of freshly cooked fish. By the time she took her first bite, she had to make sure she didn't have any saliva rolling off her chin.
She swallowed what was in her mouth before speaking up. "Thanks for the fish, Judena." It was certainly nice of the Argonian to make enough for all of them.
“Aye, many thanks.” Brynja chipped, she had helped herself to some fish as well.
For Anifaire, the shock was beginning to fade. She felt loss over the explosion, but rather than for the lives at the top of the mountain, she grieved the loss of everything preserved in the lower levels of the ruins. She’d been so close, standing right next to Dwemer writings, and hadn’t been able to study any of it. Now it was destroyed. As for the people… that loss didn’t hit her. Without the bodies staring her in the face, it was difficult to be distraught over people she hadn’t known.
She’d sat, quietly, by the fire. Her clothes were dry now, and she’d begun to feel more comfortable, especially as she ignored the chatter of those around her. Conversation seemed too foreign, as though after the ordeal she’d been through, she’d forgotten how to interact with others in a setting that was far less life threatening.
Despite the exertion of the day and not having eaten since the morning, Daro’Vasora wasn’t hungry. Her guts felt twisted and she wasn’t the kind of person who ate when stressed; it was rather the opposite. “Thank you, I’m not hungry at the moment. Save some for me though, I think I’m going to go for a walk.” she told Judena. Despite feeling rather exhausted, she needed to clear her head and take a few moments to reflect away from the group. Rising up with protesting and sore legs, she offered a half-hearted waved to the group, stepping outside of the fire’s warming glow as she headed towards the river.
Judena watched her associate go, waving a little. Then quickly she plucked two spears in one hand then another two for her other hand.
Mortalmo eyed the fish skewered over the fire doubtfully. He still had some jerky left in his pack, even if it was slightly damp. Better that than to be fed by a lizard. He rose from his post then, and strode towards Anifaire, nearly brushing shoulders with Daro’Vasora as she made her exodus from the campsite. Wordlessly, he extended a piece of jerky towards the younger altmer, seating himself. The poor thing needed to eat, and he disliked the thought of Anifaire consuming a meal prepared by Judena even less than if he were to eat out of that animal’s palm himself. He saw Solandil, back turned to the fire, out of the corner of his eye. Deformed as he was, the three of them were better off allying themselves with each other than not. The way the albino had handled himself in the ruin was nothing short of admirable.
He turned his focus back to Anifaire then. “My lady,” He spoke to her softly, an unfamiliar compassion staining his voice. “I would be happy to share my provisions with you.”
Anifaire looked up in surprise when Mortalmo approached her. She considered the offered jerky for a moment before accepting it. It would be more agreeable to her than fish, with her weakened stomach. At least it didn't have a smell.
“Thank you, Durantel,” Anifaire replied, polite, a reflex but sincere. She began nibbling at the jerky, and thankfully it didn't turn her stomach. Things didn't feel quite normal yet, but she was getting there.
“It is my pleasure to be of service to you.” Spoken clearly and sincerely. He leaned closer then, voice dropping to a low whisper, amber eyes boring into Anifaire. “I am yours to call on. I dislike and distrust near all of our company. It would be wise of you to stay close to me, my lady.” He pulled away from her then, and called out to Solandil. “I have some jerky left to spare, should you lack sustenance of your own.” Let the others see what company he chose for himself. He had no intention of making nice with lesser creatures, least of all the ones currently surrounding him. He found solace in the knowledge that he would soon be free of them and their foul companionship, once Rhea dolled out her owed septims. Perhaps he would purchase some sort of curio to send back to Alinor.
Anifaire nodded in response to her companion, mulling over the words briefly. She glanced around at their companions. While competent people, she didn’t feel very comfortable in their company. They were a strange bunch, many of which were unlike anyone she’d ever met. Durantel was, of course, a more amiable companion. Normal. She doubled down on the jerky.
After retrieving her spears of fish she took a seat down beside Gaius, nibbling away in mindful company. She saved two spears for Daro’Vasora but offered one of her two to Gaius. She had not heard what he said earlier but the event of the day dragged his shoulders down. “Here you are. Be careful of the bones.” She freed up her hand then dug out her logbook, scanning the pages for a name, “Gaius Milonem the Third, we carry with us the task of delivering the dead’s final accounts to their families. The unfettered story of what had happened here today. It is a burden, but we carry it all the same.” A snort came from Mortalmo’s direction.
She tore into the meat, flipping to the next page remembering her first notes in regards to the Imperial man. They were all positive, detailing the way his voice sounded to how he wore his clothes. Her notes were of this nature in regards to everyone she met, details. Wiping at the grease gathering at the edge of her mouth she finished her portion, digging into her dry bag she pulled free a heavily bruised but intact apple.
It had been a rough nine days.
The first two days had been spent on foot, navigating the difficult mountainous terrain and Southern Jerall foothills, having to forage for food when the opportunities arrived. The survivors headed East, towards Bruma, the closest city. Exhausted, dirty, and generally in low spirits, the group spent a couple of days in the city replenishing supplies, sleeping in proper beds and eating proper meals, and arranging passage to Imperial City to the South. The light from the dwemer ruin seemed to have died down somewhat, although it was all anyone seemed to be interested in talking about in town. Rumours were plentiful, and only a few even came close to the mark. By the time the caravan headed South, most, if not everyone, was all too ready to leave the gossipers behind.
Spirits had improved considerably by the time the caravan made it to Imperial City, the four wagons traveling during the day and stopping for the night to allow the horses rest, food, and water, and now that everyone was rested and fed, the tension that followed them was a lifetime away, it felt, save for the occasional moment when recollections of what happened that day in the mountains came back; the glow in the night sky to the North, although fainter, was a harsh reminder of what had come before.
It was a relief when the towering walls of Imperial City were spotted at last in the distance; at a circumference of roughly five kilometers and a population numbering in the hundreds of thousands, it was easy to see how Imperial City was the long-reigning capital of multiple Empires and arguably the de facto center of all of Tamriel, both geographically and economically. It was Alyeids who constructed the city back in the First Era, and since then it had changed hands a number of time, and now both men and mer had something of a claim to its heritage.
Behind its colossal walls was a ring of six districts, the Westernmost one, the Talos Plaza district, that acted as the main portal into the city itself from the only bridge into and out of the city. As the caravan drew closer, evidence of the Great War lingered with damage to the walls and masonry all over, the reconstruction efforts for such a colossal city slow going given its scale and limited manpower and resources after the greatest war in modern history. Even today, labourers and masons were hard at work trying to restore the splendor of the city, but as great as their work often was, the repairs were often discoloured and uneven as a result of being the first new masonry done in centuries. The entire city was covered in similar scars, and those were on top of those earned during the Oblivion Crisis when Mehrunes Dagon himself rampaged through the city with his Daedric hordes.
After a brisk 20 minute ride to cross the bridge itself, which was absolutely teeming with horse and foot traffic, the caravan passed through the towering wooden gates, the Imperial Dragon sigil still proudly cast in iron upon the facade. Entering the Talos Plaza district, the expensive residential area of the city filled with mansions and most of the city’s nobles and aristocracy, Rhea turned to speak with the others,
“Home sweet home. My family residence is in this district, as is the bank where I’ve been keeping my expedition investments stored away to afford my explorative whims.” she said with a sad smile, looking at each of her companions in turn. The heavy losses they endured made each of them precious to her, even if they didn’t always see eye to eye, and it would be bittersweet to say goodbye. Still, she owed them their dues for the expedition, and it wouldn’t take long to free up the funds.
“Valerius Manor is in the Southwest, two blocks from the Temple District gate. The family name is out front, as are a pair of gargoyles that flank the front steps. It’s hard to miss. Come by in three nights, I will have your compensation packages put together, along with a few extra surprises as a token of my gratitude and to hopefully help make some pleasant memories out of the ordeal. You are all invited for supper that evening, if you wish to stay. I will also arrange transportation for those of you who do not call the city home to return to your own.” Her expression lightened up somewhat, signalling for the carriage driver to stop as she dismounted. She called up one last time, “Remember, three days! Of course, that’s not to say I’m adverse to a social call if I happen to be home before then. Farewell!”
With that, everyone was left with three days to spend in the largest city in Tamriel.