Everything looked like it was in place, and now all that was left was to take the step that there was no coming back from. Daro’Vasora’s throat was tight with anxiety and anticipation as she stared down at the white crystals that seemed to have a red-purple tinge in the candlelight below her on the room’s nightstand. She paused, recalling after Hector left her presence and she had claimed her room that Roux had provided, she felt at a loss and conflicted about what she should do. With a heavy soul and no particular desire to do what she knew needed to be done, Daro’Vasora headed out into the night towards the merchant stalls she recalled from earlier and it did not take her long to find a Khajiiti sweets merchant that sold a number of pastries from under a red tarp with gold trim, the twin crescent pattern so popular with her kinsman prevalent in the center in golden thread.
“May J’Mazzri interest such a lovely one such as yourself in some lemon tarts or sweetrolls? It is near the end of this one’s day, so he offers his wares for half of the listed price.” The merchant, an orange-furred Tojay-raht, a man-faced breed with typical cat ears that rarely were seen outside of the Elsweyr kingdoms; they must have been born abroad.
“Actually, I need to walk the moonpath and require Khenarthi’s grace. The crystalised lifeblood of Jone and Jode. Would you be able to assist me?” Daro’Vasora asked. The merchant nodded, receiving a small folded cloth from within a bucket and sliding it into a woven handbag. “J’Mazzri includes a bit of the sugar in most of his creations, but only a small amount so it does not arouse suspicion. But for Azurah’s children, we must help each other where we can far from home.” He bowed and was surprised to see a few coins placed in front of his nose.
“I’ll take three of those lemon tarts, as well.” she had said.
Since then, one of the tarts were gone, and she’d labouriously melted the moon sugar down in a bowl over a candle flame and made sure that Jone and Jode were visible through the window above. There wasn’t an exact incantation or prayer for this, at least not something most Khajiit outside of the Lunar Priests would know, but generally this was a fairly informal affair. It just happened to be one that Daro’Vasora hated doing. When the sugar had melted into something she could take back in a quick drink, she stripped down to avoid tarnishing her new clothing, locked the door, and opened the window to let a breeze through. Having put it off long enough, the Khajiit let out a long sigh and drank from the bowl, the incredibly potent sweetness almost immediately hitting a sense of euphoria. She sat upon the floor, where she’d laid out the blankets, and stared up at the moons, her vision growing bright and unfocused to the point of discomfort that she quickly stopped feeling as her body absorbed the moon sugar. She closed her eyes and she felt weightless, barely feeling the rise and fall of her breathing.
When her eyes opened again, she stood upon a bridge that floated incomprehensibly among the stars, green auroras dancing around enticingly as the torch-lit bridge led to a long set of stairs. She was now garbed in a simple red gown that was reminiscent of the plain robes that the lunar priestesses wore. The architecture was similar to what one would find in Dune, although she’d never been there herself; it was what she’d been told by those who occupied this place, a gateway of sorts to the sands beyond the stars where her ancestors and Khajiiti spirits could meet her partway, the nexus between living and death. At first she’d wondered if it were just a drug induced hallucination that played out entirely in her mind, but the consistency of multiple visits and information relayed that she couldn’t have possibly known made he feel that the moon sugar had helped her walk the moonpath and transport her spirit across the light of the moons to this place to speak with those who came before.
She just really didn’t care to visit the extended family very often. It was seldom a warm experience.
Her bare feet began to cross the heavy and warm stones beneath her steps, feeling as if they were baking in the hot desert sun, even without the presence of a star to warm them. The stair climb was exactly forty steps, each one somehow both weathered and frozen in time, a snapshot of some ancient place that was removed from the mortal world. As she climbed, torches ignited in blue flames; Shani-Ko had a flare for the dramatic. Daro’Vasora reached the stop and stepped through an archway flanked by two Pahmar, the tiger like Khajiit laying on individual dias, their coats taking on an ethereal glow. Ahead, a crescent shaped platform stood raised up above a smaller circular one, which she walked to stand upon. Those she needed were already waiting.
Shani-Ko, a massive Senche-raht sat towering over the others, over 4 meters from toe to the top of her head, her tiger-like face and form giving her a ferocious profile that Daro’Vasora could only see as a kindly woman who loved her family and seemed to have infinite patience. Looming yellow eyes stared down at the smaller woman, who regarded the Clan Mother fondly. Daro’Vasora’s lineage came from Shani-Ko, who had existed on Tamriel long before the men arrived from Atmora. She knelt before Shani-Ko, bowing her head in respect. “Clan Mother, this one is honoured to once again be in your presence.”
“There is no need for such deference, Ma’Khajiit. It has always been a special occasion when family comes to visit an old woman such as myself.” Shani-Ko smiled, allowing herself to lay down as to not be so monolithic and spare Daro’Vasora’s neck. “You are troubled and seek advice.” she mentioned.
“She only turns to us when it is convenient to remember that she is Khajiit and not Man. She prostates herself to the same Imperials that enslaved our people and wretched Leyawiin from us. She is ashamed of who she is, and she idolized those that have taken so much from us.” a much more scornful voice came from Shani-Ko’s right, a male Cathay that was of the same breed Daro’Vasora was, his spotted grey coat was comparable to her own. “Or did these Nibanese men reward you for putting aside your people and culture to embrace their own? Have you forgotten they were the ones that slaughtered Maakro-ra when they subjugated Leyawiin?” he demanded.
A ghostly image apparated before Daro’Vasora of the same Khajiit being dragged across the floor towards a man dressed in the distinctive armour of an early Septim dynasty officer from the 2nd era, after the Three Banners War and the beginning of the unification era under the new Empire. The Khajiit starred defiantly at the officer.
“Surrender the garrison and your people will be spared.” The man requested calmly.
“Merrunz take you.” the Khajiit snarled. The defiant look quickly faded as the broad blade was thrusted into his throat, covering it with blood that spurted from his mouth. The image faded away, like sand blowing across a street. Daro’Vasora rolled her eyes.
“Ah yes, this one recalls that particular image. You must be fond of it, esteemed elder, since you show it to me each and every time Daro’Vasora comes to speak with you.” She remarked dryly. Maakro-ra snarled in response.
“And as many times as it takes, Ma’Khajiit. You continue fraternizing with these men and forgetting what your ancestors have done to ensure you have that choice! You have known nothing but peace and comfort until now, and you forget that the reason you were not born into bondage and servitude is because of the sacrifices of those who came before.” Maakro-ra replied angrily.
“Should this one hold the successors of the men who murdered you accountable of actions of those born thousands of years before, or should she appreciate the peace that the honourable ones have made in the years since?” Daro’Vasora asked. “The Empire that exists today is not the Septims, this one was not even born when Martin Septim died to save Tamriel from Merrunz. Did he not redeem the actions of his ancestors with that sacrifice? What would appease you, Maakro-ra? Submitting herself to the whims of the fucking Thalmor like Pelletine and Anequina seemed eager to do?” she stood, not wishing to show deference to this man. She crossed her arms defiantly.
“Insolence.” Maakro-ra stated, lips curling over the left side of his teeth. “The High Elves have always given the Khajiit autonomy and treated us as partners rather than servants.” he didn’t seem to have a retort for her other points.
“You died two Aldmeri Dominions ago, elder. Try to keep informed. Much like the men of today are not like the ones who came before, the High Elves of today have taken a darker path that only promises suffering for all who fall under their banner. But Daro’Vasora is not a citizen of the Kingdoms, she has much more pressing matters than what megalomaniac elves have planned for the continent.” Daro’Vasora said, turning back to Shani-Ko. “Today, the Deep Elves of the North have returned, and this one feels responsible for what they’ve done. Mighty cities have fallen, the Empire might be shattered, and this one fears the Thalmor will continue to take advantage of this chaos to press their own machinations.”
“Good. Let the Empire fall.” Maakro-ra interrupted defiantly. It was the Senche-raht that snarled, silencing the Cathay into submission, her vocals making the chamber echo, even with the open stars above.
“Continue, child.” Shani-ko assured Daro’Vasora.
“This one has tried to fight them, they killed her mentor and friend, who was family to her. The loss has split this one’s heart, and she fears for the family she has left in Leyawiin. However, she knows she cannot make it home because of this war, so she must continue along a path, but none are bright. There is an obligation to those she survived the Jerall Mountains with, and her heart feels drawn to a Breton man that had protected and saved her from the Falmer, a legacy of Dwemer cruelty. This one wants vengeance, but it has cooled after seeing their capacity of cruelty and unimaginable power. Baan Daar has guided her hands and feet, she is sure of it, but even his blessings cannot account for every action taken against Daro’Vasora.
“She has also been requested to help another Imperial in his own personal quest to save his own family while hurting the Dwemer, and a former partner has requested this one’s services again to hunt for relics belonging to civilizations that no longer exist, and she admits it has an appeal and familiarity. This one is torn between doing what she knows would be just and looking after her own interests. “ Her hands wrung together, and she had to resist fidgeting.
“She does not wish to die or dishonour Zegol by throwing her life away, but she has skills and experience that might make a difference against the Dwemer as Gregor has pointed out. Latro has been kind and affection towards this one, and has done more to help her than anyone in some time. Judena is a friend and more wise than Daro’Vasora in things of historical value, and with her corrupted memory, she may be lost to this war and Tamriel would be poorer for it.” She paused, looking up at Shani-ko pleadingly. “This one does not know which path to follow.”
Another voice apparated to the Senche-raht’s left. “If I might interject, you’ll have to forgive Maakro-ra for his distrust. His circumstances were far different than most others; I feel he would have learned to love the world you inhabit if given the chance.” The man was Darenja the Intrepid, an Ohmes who was a handsome individual with bold features and a warrior’s braid of long blonde hair trailing out behind his head while his face and temples were covered in feline-reminiscent tattoos. They were his only features that distinguished him from a Bosmer, and his cross between Khajiiti and Bosmeri fashions only led to the visual dissonance.
“I served in the Three Banner War under Queen Ayrenn, a most honourable and beloved ruler, and I had been assigned as a liaison to our Bosmeri allies to the East to promote integration and trust between our people, who had suffered from great wars in the past. What made the First Aldmeri Dominion so powerful was it was an alliance built on respect and mutual support, and Ayrenn was a champion for all of our people. She could have easily have stood for Summerset and her own people, but she moved the Dominion’s capital to Elden Root and personally oversaw the resolution of numerous internal crisis of each of our three people.” Darenja brought a fist down into a palm. “It made us powerful and unified. I was honoured when I was asked to serve alongside our Bosmeri allies, and with them, they learned how to think and fight like a Khajiit, and I like them. Together, we shared our cultures and our dreams, I even took a Bosmer to be my wife. We served on both sides of our borders, and into Cyrodiil. Where the Daggerfall Covenant was based around Breton dominance and distrust in outsiders, and the Ebonheart Pact was filled with three races who mutually hated one another and only fought towards a mutual goal out of necessity, the Dominion was a force of cohesion and respect, only made stronger by allowing ourselves to be enriched by our allies.”
Darenja smiled, looking fondly at Daro’Vasora. “That’s one thing you’ve never understood or appreciated about yourself, Daro’Vasora. Maakro-ra is right in one regard; you have been ashamed of who you are ever since you earned your honourific; you have always thought it meant thief, like a badge of shame. Daro means you are nimble of fingers and quick of your tongue; you’ve had incredible wits about you and true, while much of the title was earned from your manipulation of locks, it does not mean that you are forever branded a thief like you feared. It has turned your heart cold to others, and trust is not something that comes easy to yourself.
“It has made you reject the skin you wear in your pursuit of identifying by the Cyrodiilic culture that you were born into. Without realizing it, you honour the Khajiit you are by the curiosity and pursuit of knowledge that drives you, and the nimble lifting of artifacts without being burdened by worry of if it’s wrong. You treat your life as if there is one side to sow and cultivate while letting the other wither and die because you feel cursed by the fur and claws that people see when they gaze upon you. Without realizing it, you’ve justified your actions to anything but the Khajiit you are, and it has created a chasm in your soul that can be mended by realizing that you do not have to embrace either Imperial or Khajiit at the expense of the other; your body and your mind will be whole when you learn they are one in the same. You feel that Imperial means order while Khajiit means chaos, and to follow that path, you sacrifice everything you’ve worked for.” he shook his head, making a flippant gesture.
“Nonsense; you’ve followed our gods since the day you were born, and you never just introduced yourself as Vasora to strangers.” He swept his arm across the chamber, grinning broadly. “You remember how to come here and speak to those who came before, sometimes fondly, other times rudely, but never boringly. If you learned to accept yourself and find peace, and stopped driving others away from you, your mind with be much more decisive. You know in your heart what you must do, but it seems to me every time you’ve found yourself lost or facing failure, it’s because you rejected the obvious solutions that the cultures that define you would have created. You struggle over whether or not to accept this Roux’s offer; that is the Imperial part of you entertaining it. Listen to the feline parts of you that lead you here this evening, Daro’Vasora. Embrace the wits that define you.”
“This one… she will think of what you have told her, Darenja.There is wisdom to be heard.” Daro’Vasora said to the Ohmes, placing a balled fist into a flat hand, bowing towards him, trying to hide the tears that had begun to well up in her eyes. She didn’t want to lose her composure, not here. She had to keep a clear mind, unimpeded thoughts.
“Look to me, Ma’Khajiit.” A deep and rich feminine voice called to her. She looked towards Shani-ko, who gazed down upon her with an almost motherly gaze. “You struggled to find your place in Leyawiin, among your family. It felt confining to you because the part of you you suppress wanted to see the world and find her own identity, even though if you applied yourself, you could have found success and honour in the Imperial courts. But that is not what it means to be Daro’Vasora, is it? The lesson you took from that, after you earned your honourific and were sent by your father to live with Zegol was that something shameful existed within you that made your family ashamed.” The large Senche-raht stood and walked towards Daro’Vasora, reaching out and gently taking her face into a single large toe, a surprisingly natural gesture from someone of such a great stature.
“They have always been proud of you, and while they miss you terribly, they knew that you would find your own path. You will find a warm hearth any time you return to them, and feel the love you’ve left out of your heart for the years since, that you’ve reserved for so few. These people, these friends of yours, do not turn your back on them and discard them like so many others. Walk the path your heart tells you and you will never make a wrong step; should you choose, and should you learn to trust and embrace those around you again, you could do great things, Daro’Vasora. Great accomplishments are in your future, and you can make a difference to so many lives. Do not feel responsible for the course that history has taken, but you have allowed fear and guilt steer you; allow yourself to feel brave and compassionate.”
Her form, along with the chamber, began to lose focus and shift. “It is time for us to part ways once more, Daro’Vasora.” Shani-ko said solemnly, her great maw smiling compassionately at the young woman who was one of those in her line that still had a long journey before finding her way to the sands beyond the stars. “This one loves you, and will be with you, even if you cannot see her.”
“Maakro-ra loves you, and he knows you will find the right path.”
“As do I, I eagerly await what tales will be spoken of Daro’Vasora in the years to come.”
“Go now, Ma’Khajiit.” Shani-ko said, chuckling softly, more of her body shifting into sand like an hourglass in its final seconds. “May your roads lead you to warm sands.”
Everything shifted and blew away suddenly, and Daro’Vasora found herself staring at the stone wall and wooden frame window in front of her, the euphoric numbness that she had felt for who-knows-how-long faded with each ebbing heartbeat. The warmth and comfort she felt was replaced by a shivering cold that she felt, her naked body shaking on the floor as the moon sugar withdrawal took hold. Tears streamed down her face as she began to sob.
“She loves you.” she managed with the slightest of breaths, feeling utterly alone and lost.