Recent Statuses

6 mos ago
Current Probably not the most classy of things to quote a guy who is accused of sexually assaulting his then 7-year-old daughter there, bud.
8 mos ago
If people actually ditch RPs after a week of no posting, it's no wonder nobody finishes games. People have lives folks.
8 mos ago
@Lady Selune , I had the same problem, and that's why I decided to start GMing. You'll never have a hard time finding a game if you always run it. ;D
9 mos ago
My so-far fool proof system for interest checks is I complete the OOC first and then cherry pick sections of the setting and rules/standards and spruce it up with formatting and graphics
10 mos ago
Best way to ensure you join a game with staying power is pay attention to people who are a part of long lasting RPs and avoid people who flake or start multiple games in a short period of time.


Lowering the site's value since January 2012.

Most Recent Posts

Here's something to consider with post history: some roleplayers don't have an extended library of posts to choose from. Many are new, many more may dabble in different sections and individual roleplays of varying standards — you wouldn't want to make a hasty generalization: "This person wrote like this once or twice; they will definitely write like this for my roleplay."

Of course, especially with new players. But if someone does have a catalog of repeat instances? Ho boy.

I have a hard time joining RPs if I don't know the GM these days. I've made way too many character concepts and spent too many evenings working on them to have them go to waste because the GM can't be bothered to keep the plot moving.
@PrinceAlexus A counterpoint, but saying a character sheet is a big investment also goes hand in hand that participating in an RP is a big investment. I feel more comfortable taking a chance on someone who put effort into their sheet instead of someone who half-assed it.

A good rule of thumb is check the GM's posting history prior to even signing up
If they have run long-term RPs, they're worth taking a chance on. If the RP dies within a few weeks/ couple months, maybe give it a pass.

As I mentioned in my last post, I view character sheets as snapshots of a character at the start of an RP and not a total representation of them for the duration. I expect characters to grow and evolve as the story progresses.

@Karkinos I tend to treat personality sections as fields for character quirks, habits, and other things that don't change easily that doesn't fit in the bio or appearance section. Stuff that just helps with character consistency and offering tells, such as they wring their hands when they're uncomfortable, or break eye contact when they're lying. It's a good place for fears and phobias, prejudices, and things of that nature. It can be useful for other players as a reference, such as catching your character in a lie or reacting accordingly to certain body language or attitudes.
Thing is, when you only want to manage X amount of players for an RP, you need some metric to determine if a player is going to mesh with the group, of their character is appropriate, and in my eyes, if a player is willing to put considerable effort into a sheet and patiently wait for and meet deadlines, then character sheets are invaluable; as a GM, I personally like to draw parts of different characters' bios and introduce them into a plot. It's very important to me that my players feel like the story values their characters and gives them personal story arcs. Sheets facilitate that.

I never liked the idea of fleshing out a character's history over the RP because a) most RPs don't last that long to have that be relevant and b) what ensures consistency? A sheet helps you keep track of important character traits and history. Also being able to write an interesting and fleshed out bio is a good gauge of how a player is for writing for my RPs; my games are very collab heavy and are more collaborative storytelling than a game (current word count is over 500,000 words). I view the CS as a snapshot of a character at the start of an RP, not necessarily who they are going to be the entire duration.

One system doesn't work for every style, so it's a mistake to try and treat all RPs the same, and enforce a singular set of standards for all players. Variety is important. I just know for the past 7 years, I've found what works for me and mitigates a lot of headaches, player drama and conflicts, keeps players engaged and active, and ensures a consistent writing quality and standard for all players. Having a detailed character sheet and a two part audition process is a necessary evil, I feel. The more you can do to mitigate problems and ensure that players are at least starting off at a certain level and standard does wonders to ensure the game has a good chance of going smoothly to the point all a GM has to do is keep things moving along to keep it alive.

Also, check applicants' posting history; if they have a history of flaking and not staying with an RP for long, you do not want them.
I’m the Captain Now

A tale as told by Stormy, Shaft, and Dervs
Oasis, Alik’r Desert
Midday, 16th Midyear, 4E208…

“Daro’Vasora.” A Southern accented voice broke the Khajiit’s concentration as she worked on retrofitting some supplies into appropriate adventuring gear. Daro’Vasora looked up with a narrowed gaze and saw Zaveed approaching in that arrogant, carefree strut that she’d come to associate with him. He stood a bit apart from her, hands resting casually on his axes. He gestured to her arm. “How’s the arm?” he asked.

“Fuck off.” She hissed, spitting at the ground in front of him.

Zaveed put up his hands to stave off more vitriol. “I’m not here to arouse bad blood, my dear; I genuinely wanted to know if it was still causing you trouble.”

She turned away from him, her movements quick and jerky as it was clear she was doing everything in her power to ignore the source of her anger. “I only tolerate your presence here, murderer, because you offered something that we needed, no matter how despicable the cost was. At least I know Sevari can be reasoned with; two of our number can attest to that. Be grateful you have a brother who tolerates your miasma. Leave me the fuck alone.” Daro’Vasora growled, continuing to punch slits in a piece of leather to fit her lockpicks.

The privateer sighed, pinching the bridge of his snout with a thumb and a finger. “I cannot give you back your friend, but we need to find a working solution, Daro’Vasora. Our goals are aligned; that makes us allies. I know the place we are to go, I spent a considerable amount of time searching for Bakih, Sirine’s brother, and the Dwemer are nothing if not detail-oriented about their infrastructure.

“I am to liberate him to pay off a considerable debt I owe her, and you are looking for your friend and a potential solution to this Dwemer problem; it behooves me to behave in a fashion that is beneficial to your lot.” he explained calmly. “We jeopardize our respective quarry if we cannot at least trust one another to do our jobs, yes?”

Daro’Vasora glared at him. “I don’t trust you, period. Didn’t I just tell you to fuck off?” she asked.

Zaveed sighed, and with a shrug, he conceded. “As you wish.”

“About… what are you doing?” Daro’Vasora asked when Zaveed began to unbuckle his weapon belt. His axes and dagger fell to the mossy ground with a thud and he pulled a pistol from his chest harness, causing Daro’Vasora to tense and prepare to tackle the weapon from his hand; the last time she’d seen that particular weapon out, it was at her expense and forced her to sit idly by while he murdered Roux instead of charging him.

This time would be different. This time...

Zaveed held the gun out by the barrel, offering the grip towards the treasure hunter. Uncertainly, she took the grip in her fingers and Zaveed pulled back the hammer with a thumb, kneeling before her and pulling the pistol towards her forehead. He stared at her with his icy eyes, fearless yet resigned. “I cannot give you Roux back, Daro’Vasora, but if it can bring you a measure of justice for your loss, all you need to do is pull the trigger.” he said, holding the gun steady in her hands. “A life for a life.”

“What, I-” Daro’Vasora stammered before suddenly steeling herself, feeling her fingers grip around the contoured grip, her fingers sinking into the same grooves that had given Zaveed so much power over life and death. She leaned into the weapon, feeling the barrel press against his forehead and forcing to lean back. The rest of the cave faded from her sight, and she imagined what would happen when her fist clenched… would he feel a thing when the back of his head opened up and the foul mind that occupied his skull ejected in a splash of violent viscera? How would she feel when the deed was done, would she feel a measure of peace, of authority? It made it so easy to take a life, a small sliver of metal that recessed back into the grip. It was so insignificant a child could have the power… she’d never have to fight again, it would be enough to know that death could be delivered from meters away without more than a slight effort to discourage all but the worst fools.

The kind of fool that knelt in front of her, willingly putting the end of his long and interesting life in the hands of a woman who hated him. “What are you trying to prove, Zaveed?”

“Simple, my dear; either you do this now, or the moment passes and we can move past this point in our relationship. Sevari and Sirine can complete her mission and save Bakih; I might be something of a legend with my skill at arms, but it’s not as if I have a purpose anymore past that. If it helps, remember what I’d done and close your eyes; I will make sure your aim is true.” Zaveed said, reassuringly, considering the macabre circumstances.

Her grip was so tight, she felt as if she could crush the metals in her hand if it grew any tighter. Daro’Vasora was suddenly aware of the crowd gathered around her, silence hanging heavy in the air, the river’s song even seem muted. She felt the blood pumping through her veins, her ears hammered.

A slight shift of a finger, and she’d end this nightmare in an instant…

Her gaze met Latro’s, and she recalled what he had looked like… what Pale-feather had looked like, a being so fetishized by violence and slaughter that she’d grown to be afraid of the man she loved. Did he see her the same way now? So cavalierly holding a damned pistol to Zaveed’s head, intent to end the wretch’s life…

The pistol was withdrawn suddenly, and she held it aloft. “I’m keeping this,” she declared suddenly, marching off in the opposite direction. Zaveed nodded, rising to his feet and cleaning his knees off of the detris of the ground.

“So, that’s who you choose to be.” he observed to himself.

“Not me.” A cold voice snaked out from behind him. As he turned, Latro gave him only a moment to recognize who it was before he reared back with his fist and sent it hurtling into the Khajiit’s mouth. As Zaveed stumbled back, he shook his hand twice, one of the knuckles bleeding from catching a tooth. “Told you I’d hurt you.”

Raelynn had been sat reading from an Alchemy text and decanting potions when the punch was thrown, and the sound of the thwack startled her enough to lift her head and look up from the pages. It was Zaveed. What have you done now? she thought with a scowl, and unable to resist she made her way over to the source.

With that, Latro stalked off after Sora, lest he decide to pick up where she left off, the crowd dispersing with him. Sevari was the next to step up to Zaveed, but his hand was placed reassuringly on his shoulder, an exasperated half-smile on his face. “Can’t say you didn’t have that one coming, brother.” He spared a glance at Latro and Sora’s retreating backs before looking at Zaveed again, “What in the fuck was that, you bloody fool?”

The Cathay let off a low chuckle as he cradled his tenderized face and spat out blood that was not his before a more hearty laugh escaped his throat like a thunderstorm. “Do you not see, Sevari? I am merely being a diplomat. Now everyone can see what kind of leader she chooses to be, and her choice of whether or not to pursue vengeance over her fallen friend has already come and gone. The anticipation was getting to me, so I simply hurried things along. Things go much more smoothly when we face the same way instead of inwards, yes?”

“You,” he paused for a moment, the words not finding him despite his searching, he settled for a shake of his chuckling head, “You’re a fucking madman.”

He pushed Zaveed lightly and his chuckle became a full laugh, the sound of relief and bewilderment abound in it, “You and your fucking gambits, you ass.” He shook his head, “Don’t be a fucking romantic like that in the prison if we see somebody else we put away.”

Zaveed rapped his knuckles on Sevari’s chest. “It runs in the family, don’t you know?” he grinned and offered a wink. “You should have accompanied me on the Wrath, brother. You’d be absolutely maddened trying to figure out how I’ve grown into such a distinguished gentlemen. Besides,” Zaveed slumped down on a crate, his legs feeling weary all of a sudden. “Daro’Vasora does not have the eyes of a killer. It wasn’t as much of a gamble as you’d think, but she was given all of the power in the situation… and one of my sidearms.” he sighed. “That was my favorite one.”

The Breton, despite being so small, could really make her footsteps heard, and she did just that as she pounded her way over the stone to the place the two Khajiit sat. “What in the ever living fuck just happened?” she asked, an out of character use of colourful language for her. Her hands instinctively found their way to her hips and her foot began tapping on the floor impatiently. “What did you do to incense Latro?” She shot as lofty a glower as she could at Zaveed, before snapping her head to look at Sevari, tearing a hand away from her hip to point at him, “don’t you dare laugh either.”

Sevari’s smile had vanished as quickly as Raelynn’s foot taps. He held his hands up and took a step back as Raelynn acknowledged him. As it stood, he had no plans of laughing now.

“Oh, nothing too elaborate. I just forced Daro’Vasora to hold one of my guns to my head and make an executive decision of whether or not my blood would sate her hatred, lest I let this wound fester and this entire rescue plot burns up like some pisspot Nord village after a dragon’s been through. Crisis resolved; we all live, and no heart-wrenching betrayal haunts us when it’s much harder to dispose of a body properly. Other than that, is laughter between family so wrong?” Zaveed said impishly, regarding his claws with sudden interest.

“Is this a joke?” she asked, blinking in disbelief, running her lower lip through her teeth as an attempt to hold her tongue to stop a verbal barrage from flying from her face. All she could do was shake her head and tsk through gritted teeth. “I can’t believe you… After what we spoke about last night.”

“You forced her to make a decision whether or not to kill you in front of her friends?” She puffed a breath from her nose indignantly, volume increasing, and suddenly felt as though she needed to sit down. “I saved your life…” she said, stressing every word. “So what? So that you could go and gamble it away like that? Do you think this is a game?”

“No joke, no game. Just a gamble, just like waiting for a group of people to catch up with our wagon that I was certain were going to try and murder me upon contact.” Zaveed replied, regarding Raelynn steadily. “Words weren’t going to get through to her, and if we’re going to do this little job we’ve mutually agreed upon without distrust buggering it all to the Deadlands, then we needed to put this mutually murderous bit of escapades aside in an expedient manner. I knew she probably wasn’t going to go through with it, but if that was the cost for taking a life that was dear to her, then so be it.” Zaveed said, regarding Raelynn steadily.

“People are going to get hurt on this path, you know this. I know this. I’d just rather put this air of mutual loathing and distrust to bed so instead of wondering how many knives are going to be sticking out of me come morning, I can focus on wondering how many knives I can stick in some Dwemer bastard’s smug face before fate eventually decides I’ve had my fill of shitty deeds.”

“Why are you being this way…?” she breathed, face falling to a frown. “You didn’t think it might be the slightest bit traumatic for her to be asked, by you, whether someone lives or dies? Regardless of who it was - you didn’t stop to think that might remind her of something horrible?” All of a sudden her posture softened as she turned around to see who was and wasn’t watching, she felt her heart beating and chest tightening. “Stop talking to me like this… Like you’re so omniscient. Just stop it… Ripples Zaveed, ripples…” she began shaking her head in disappointment at him, the anger had left her body and it showed. She was just deflated now. Deflated and embarrassed for adding to the scene with her shouting.

“Raelynn…” Zaveed said quietly, stepping towards her. “She’s going to have to make these kinds of decisions, regardless of whether or not she feels she is ready for them. Everyone will, because that is the cost of pursuing this thread. Life and death, the very thing you held in your hand with my own; you had chosen at first to drive my own dagger into my heart, but you stopped yourself because you made the same choice she just did.”

The Khajiit sighed, crossing his arms. “Look, I’m not all knowing, I just know that I’m a man who’s done some pretty shitty things who’s had to make tough calls, like this. She made a choice; she chose to move past her grievances. Next time I go to talk to her, I know we won’t be expecting hostile intent. I have ideas, experience, skills… all of which can help us.” he grunted, exasperated, “But I can’t be of help if no one bloody well gives me a chance. Doing this, I stripped myself of only being a monster in her eyes, like a dog exposing his throat to show submission. Maybe we can all move forward now.”

“No,” her finger came up to her chest height and she pointed at him, taking steps back as he stepped forward to her. “I would have helped you to talk to her… You showed me something last night that was different. I tell you change doesn’t happen overnight and you force a scenario like that… Maybe you’re right - but I will never understand you…” came the voice as a low growl, ferocious and protective.

“Perhaps you are right, Raelynn. Perhaps you know a better way. Perhaps, if we had time…” Zaveed said, trailing off. “Maybe I just think I deserved the other outcome. I suppose that’s what this boils down to; I’ll never be able to repent who I was, and no one’s ever going to believe I can change, so I have something to prove, and if not… well, Sevari will move on and Sirine will get her brother back in the end, regardless. I’m sorry I’m not the man you thought I was.”

With a nod, Zaveed went to collect his discarded weapons and began to strap them back to his frame.

“I believed you could.” Raelynn tucked a strand of her hair that had shaken loose in the scuffle. She looked in his direction, daring him to look her in the eye and see her disappointment for himself that was sitting as a tear ready to fall. “Now I’m the fool.”

He didn't turn, not yet. “You know, I still go to sleep and hear the deafening sounds of my ship being torn apart, men and women screaming before they were crushed or drowned. People I've known for decades… just gone. I never gave up after that, but I never stopped feeling like I didn't deserve to be here in the end, the only one standing on the graves of my family.” the Khajiit explained, finally turning to face Raelynn, his face registering surprise at the tears welling in her eyes. He looked away again, feeling a crushing guilt. “I just follow the path I know, and it is hard to leave it. I never expected you to shed tears for me.” he admitted, the pit in his gut swelling.

“Fuck that.” Sevari said, shaking his head while lighting his cigar, “I liked a few of them. Hell, I fucked one a lot and I liked her and we talked about our dreams and what we wanted from life. But we’re alive. We’re trying to be better men, we’ll keep trying. Do it for them, the ones who never got to retire after the big score.”

“I poured a lot of wine and mead and whiskey over the ground and said a lot of words over the graves of the bastards I ran with before I came to you.” He huffed, “The ones who lived, who weren’t hanged or jailed, we were going to live for them because that’s what they would’ve wanted. Do the same.”

“Do it for your fucking brother, at least.” Sevari spoke through the smoke. “The one who’s trying to be a better one to you. If I could go back, I’d trade that forty-thousand and forget all about the Thalmor, just show up at that tavern to see Zaveed, not Captain Greywake. I’d be Sevari, not Savian Kastav. We’d just be brothers.”

“What a bloody waste of good booze.” Zaveed lamented with a pained smile. “I guess we cannot linger on what might have been, yes? Even so, going down with the ship wasn’t good enough. It truly was the best time of my life the past few years…” he shook his head, standing upright, his posture less sure, his shoulders slumped. “I’ll get over myself and continue being the easy to despise villain before long, it’s just tiresome. I think I shall retire to my bedroll and gather my strength, it has been an exceedingly long life of late.”

Raelynn’s eyes had flicked between the two of them as they spoke. Theirs was a strange relationship, with parts of their history they would never share and she would never know. The others would never know. Zaveed’s confession lay heavily on her. She’d been there in the very same shoes only recently. Devoid of hopes and her future unclear - but now it was clear as day. She took in a deep breath, and strode back to the two Khajiit men, her tears gone, a little anger still sitting in her stomach, but somethine else sat beside it. This was the small ripple she could make. “Gods be damned…” she muttered tersely.

She met Zaveed and wrapped her arms around him tightly, there was no brushing of her hands or any real movement of comfort, she just knew he needed to be held, and held with as much force as she could gather in her small frame.

The sudden embrace caught Zaveed off guard, and he had to step back a pace to retain his balance. A sob escaped his throat as he returned the gesture, holding her in his arms and wondering how long it had been since he’d really had someone do something as simple but supportive as this. His arms wrapped around her, his chin burying itself in her neck. “Thank you.” he whispered. His body shook, but for the first time in so long, he felt safe.

“Don’t thank me,” she whispered, “do better.” She loosened her grip, and stepped back from the Khajiit, her eyes darting to Sevari where she gave him a gentle nod. “We have a job to do, so pull yourself together, Captain Greywake.” She said it in a harsh tone, but there was something there that suggested an attempt to cheer him up. After that, she turned on her heel and made her way back to her work, thoughts running through her mind thick and fast. Her normally gentle feet stomped against the ground under the weight of it all.

Zaveed sunk down into a crouch, cupping his hands over his mouth as he watched her go. She was right, after all; there was a job to attend to, and he couldn’t see it through if he got caught up in silly sentimentality. He took a few moments to collect himself and purge his uncertainty, as he’d done so many times before, and soon he stood, cracking his neck and loosening up his muscles. Turning to Sevari, he nodded. “Well, that was humiliating.” he said with a wink, his usual charm and bravado back. “I’m going to go fight my own shadow, but you’re welcome to join me if you wish to have an axe swung at you a few times and call it ‘training’.”

“Can you believe that asshole?” Daro’Vasora exclaimed suddenly when they reached the edge of the encampment, away from prying ears. She still held the pistol in her hand, like it refused to leave her grip. She looked at it with a mixture of curiosity and distaste, and her mind kept racing over the small fact that she nearly made the decision to murder a man in cold blood. She tried, and failed, to keep her hands from shaking and the weight of it all.

“I’m okay; it’s just, fuck.” she managed, meeting Latro’s gaze.

“Should’ve given that thing to me.” He growled, “I’d have given us some peace.”

He closed his eyes and tried to control his breathing. Mazrah had talked about anchors, and he opened his eyes to his lover, a somewhat easy smile returning to him. “We’ll be through with this. Maybe we’ll part ways with them once we get done with the prison.” He placed a reassuring hand on Sora’s shoulder, “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll do everything in my power to make sure I’m a good man for you, Sora. One thorn in our side can’t erase the fact we have good people here with us. Don’t miss the forest for the leaf.” He smiled.

She pulled closer to him, burying her face in his chest. “You already are, Latro. You’re struggling with something that’s outside of your control right now, but I’m not going anywhere.” Daro’Vasora said, squeezing him tightly. “I never realized you had such a mean right hook, though. Always full of surprises.”

“Turns out I don’t just punch Falmer for you.” He smiled, squeezing her a bit tighter, “What can I do to make you feel better?”

That earned a laugh. “That’s it, that’s the secret. I’ll just have you punch everything that gets in my way, a mighty weapon without equal to end all wars. Latro, the second Numidium.” the Khajiit smiled, feeling comfort in Latro’s embrace, his warmth a reassuring presence. She sighed contentedly, grateful for the distraction. “This… this is nice. You’re doing plenty already.”

She stayed like that, letting the moments wash over her. Still, Daro’Vasora couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d almost crossed a terrible line. “Latro… I almost did it. I was so close to killing Zaveed, I didn’t hesitate and then I saw you and I remembered how I felt when you… when Pale-feather got out.”

He let go a long breath, “I’m sorry.” He said, voice quiet, “It won’t happen again. Mazrah says she can help me.”

He pulled back a bit to look his lover in the eyes, “But just say the word.” He whispered, “I won’t let him harass you like that. You are far more important to me than Sevari’s friendship.”

“Sevari…” Daro’Vasora said, her voice barely above a whisper. “It’s okay. I know. I’ll be fine, I just want you to know that I think I have more of a window into what you must be going through. We’ll figure this out together, I’m not going anywhere.”

“Sevari?” He asked, pulling away from her to look at her quizzically, “Why’d you say it like that?”

“Did I make a mistake, Latro?” she asked. “Why are they here?”

Latro looked away from her and thought about that. “You?” He said, “Us. We decided to let them be here. We just need to deal with the…” He paused, chewing his lip. He didn’t want to make it seem like it was a horrid decision to bring them along, “the circumstances that our choice brought.”

“I’ll be here, right beside you.” He squeezed one of Sora’s arms reassuringly.

She placed a hand on top of his, her eyes pleading. “I know you will. I'm just so damn tired of everything that our choices seem to bring. Everything from the first Dwemer ruins to coming to Hammerfell, and now we're going into another set of ruins to muck about with the same device that started all of this…” she murmured, closing her eyes and placing her forehead against Latro's chest. “I'm just so tired of losing everything.”

“I know, my love,” he said, giving her his easy smile. He knew she never forgave herself for letting Rhea activate the device that set all of this in motion. It had been a point of contention for them soon after they survived it. He wouldn’t let it be a point of contention now, “I know. But we have no other choice but to keep going forward.”

He remembered the bodies in the street. Women, children, pets, anything that lived. The Dwemer had swept down like a force of nature. And he could still feel the pain and loss of those thousands of souls lost there amongst the bloodied gutters. He shook his head and sighed, “We were there, Sora. We owe it to the Imperial City, all the souls there, to keep going forward.”

“I know. It's why I'm here. I could have left, I was so damn close, but I stayed.” she said, recalling Rhea's face in her final moments. “I wanted nothing more than revenge, then to run when it seemed hopeless, then I tried to give everyone a chance to start fresh away from the war and led them right to the thick of a much more personal one. It's not the necessity of what we are doing, it's how I'm doing it.” she explained quietly.

“I don't know why everyone looks to me, why they risked their lives for me. I've been disloyal, arrogant. I'm someone that has spent her entire life looking after herself and the prospect of trying to do the same for others is daunting.” Daro'Vasora reached up to Latro's face, searching his eyes for answers. “What if I'm wrong?”

Latro grunted at that, at first not knowing what to say. He didn’t know the first thing about leading people, but he did know what Francis had once said, and he spoke it to Sora in turn, “Leadership,” he started, gathering strength to start again with some confidence. Fitting, given the words to be said, “Leadership, Sora, it isn’t about being right or wrong. Leadership is about being sure.”

“These people trust you, I trust you. It sounds disingenuous, it sounds like a charlatan’s deed, but a leader sometimes only has hope and luck on their side.” He tried to give her his easy smile, “Hope and luck is how I’ve stayed alive long enough to meet you. It’s how we got you back from the Palace. You have to believe you can before you do.”

He hugged her once more, planting a kiss on her forehead, “And I already believe you can,” he gave her his easy smile, “I’ll be beside you through everything this life throws in our way, my bluebird.”

A warmth permeated Daro'Vasora's chest and she placed a balled fist over Latro's heart. “Hope and luck. I think I might know a thing or two about that.” she said with a warm smile, leaning up to peck the Reachman's cheek. “I think this bluebird name is starting to stick. I guess it's up to us to open the birdcage for the rest of the flock.”

She looked to the group, gathered around in their small factions, a vulnerable village built on hopes, luck, and dreams. They were putting it all aside to do what they knew in their hearts to be right.

“Thank you, for being the star that guides my way.” she said, taking Latro's hand in her. “Let's go do something worthy of song. Together.”
Ripples of Change

A @Dervish & @Stormflyx sexual creation

Alik’r Desert, Oasis
2am, 16th Midyear, 4E208

Most of the company had retreated to their beds, and once again Raelynn could barely sleep. She had decided to put herself to some use by exploring the cave for any kind of flora she could harvest to replenish her stocks. Without magic, she was at a disadvantage, and should anyone require her attention she needed to have at least something. So off she went with a knife and bowl in her hand to see what she could collect from the walls and crevices of the cave. Mountain flower seemed to grow just about everywhere but she hadn’t stumbled across any yet.

She approached a rocky corner of the cave that was illuminated by some glowing mushroom that clung to the walls. There was a sickly feeling in her stomach, and she knew that her exhaustion was catching up to her. She hadn't gotten a full nights sleep since… it must have been before the fight between Gregor and Zaveed. Had it really been that long? She'd barely eaten since the 13th, despite having made Gregor eat earlier that day. Her mind just would not stop, and so maybe if she did something important then her mind might just slow down. She hoped so, there was an aggressive pinching behind her eyes. Dehydration too.

She began clambering over the rock to reach the mushroom. Even stood on such a small platform made her feel nauseous all of a sudden, and as she looked down she saw the ground below toss and turn, her head spinning with it. “Fuck,” she groaned as she clasped a hand against the wall, shutting her eyes tightly to try and regain equilibrium. The knife and bowl dropped in the scuffle and she heard them clatter against the floor. “Damnit…” she muttered again, realising she was stuck for the time being, to afraid to move her foot lest she slip and be the one to hurt herself.

“Careful; don’t move, I will assist you down.” Zaveed called from below, having come over from his own inability to sleep and a curiosity of what the Breton was up to. Her sudden lack of coordination made the privateer concerned she was fighting a sudden illness; he’d seen his share of sailors try to carry on their duties despite some sea-borne pestilence that seemed to love hot and humid cargo holds to propagate.

He climbed up a bit after her, his grip and footing confident from years of scaling rigging. He offered a hand. “Please, let me help you down. I’ll gather the… fungus for you.”

She knew it was Zaveed, even if she wouldn’t open her eyes to look at him. If her head didn’t make her feel as if she was out at sea she might have had a snarky comment, but - help was help. It had to be him.. she thought to herself, finally letting one hand go from the wall, reaching it out shakily behind her for him to take.

“Okay… easy. Stay anchored, I’m going to help you climb down. Do not fear slipping; I have you.” He promised. He scaled up to closer to her level, taking Raelynn’s offered hand. “Okay, you climb down as far as you can go, and I will catch up. Ready?” he asked.

“Al..alright,” she sighed, trying not to say anything - she feared opening her mouth before she got to solid ground might warrant an unwanted bodily response. She shifted her weight onto the Khajiit, which gave her the confidence to begin stepping down, gripping his hand as she went. This was a strange turn of events, but… As she continued to move herself back the way she came, she found that she did in fact trust him. She closed the distance and at that moment, she opened her eyes. She was far enough down now.

“There you are.” Zaveed said with a reassuring grin. “A moment, if you would.” he said, seeing her set herself down safely. He scaled up to where she was before, seeing the mushroom she was trying to obtain. After a few moments of deliberation, Zaveed freed his blade and managed to hook his wrist around one of the outcroppings that let him catch the fungus as the sharp blade freed the stem from the concealed body of the fungus, beneath the damp crevices. With care, he slipped the mushroom into one of the pouches on his bandoleer and began to climb back down, dusting his hands off when he reached the landing and retrieving Raelynn’s prize from the pouch and placing it gingerly in her bowl that she’d gathered.

“Might I inquire what you are planning on using that mushroom for?” he asked. “I am not much of a botanist; I couldn’t even tell you which ones are safe to eat, and which ones make you hallucinate, and which ones make you shit yourself uncontrollably.”

“Thank you,” she said first, an slightly embarrassed smile crept over her lips and her cheeks flushed red which she tried to hide by moving her head just so that her hair fell around her face. He had caught her off guard, and of course it had to him. Where was Jaraleet to bumble through the caves now? “I.. well, you can use it for potions - specifically I would use it to fortify health. I wouldn’t recommend eating it though, you’d probably pass a glowing… errr, movement.” That did nothing to help the uncertainty she was feeling, the thought alone brought more colour to her cheeks, only enhanced by the mushroom glowing at her side. “If only I could get some Imp Stool and Blisterwort too, I’d feel prepared for anything. Alas, haven’t stumbled across any yet.”

“Ah.” Zaveed clapped his hands together enthusiastically. “The third option then.” he said enthusiastically, finding her bashfulness much more endearing than before. A flush of guilt crossed over him and his smile faded somewhat and he looked away for a moment to compose himself; it was a surprisingly normal moment he didn’t feel like he had quite earned, but he didn’t want to squander it. “Well, you just let me know what they look like, and maybe we’ll get lucky in our travels, yes? We Khajiit have excellent night sight, wouldn’t miss a thing in the dark, I promise.” he said with a hint of a smile.

He studied her for a moment, noticing she was rather flush and her eyes seemed to come in and out of focus. “Do you need to sit down somewhere? Perhaps dip your feet into the river?” he asked kindly.

“Imp stool is short and fat, and Blisterwort is slender and grows tall. Both are similarly coloured. I suppose this is why they have the same restorative purposes…” She wasn’t sure why she was telling him, she just felt so subdued and worn out that she could not find it within herself to be anything but cordial. Something about having a conversation that was normal and completely banal was refreshing too. “I can sit here, it’s quite cool actually…” she responded softly, lowering herself down slowly until she was sitting on the ground and she leaned back against the very same rock that had been such a nuisance, tipping her head back. She could feel her balance returning, and she didn’t quite feel like she was a word away from vomiting anymore, too.

He knelt before her, relaxing his hands on his knees. Letting out a sigh, Zaveed said, “Listen, Raelynn… about the last time we spoke.” he began quietly. “I was out of line, and my presence was the last thing that you needed.”

“Can’t say I was much of a gem of a conversationalist either…” she replied with a light sigh. “I was just surprised to see you and I didn’t like that very much at the time.”

“Who could blame you? I am hardly one people are particularly enraptured by my presence after meeting in a most unfortunate manner.” Zaveed replied. “I had thought I’d never see you nor your friends again, but fate brought us back together.” he offered the slightest of smiles as he met her gaze. “I was happy to see you again, for what it’s worth. I’ve had so much time to reflect on what you’d given me, and I’d like to think I’m on a path you’d approve of. Thank you for the chance.”

“What is it that you want from me, exactly?” she asked, unlike the times before there was no anger in this - just softness and confusion as she looked him in the eye too. His stare was intense even if he did not intend it to be. “You seemed frustrated that I had stopped fighting, but I haven’t you know. I just don’t fight like you do. I fight everyday and I haven’t given up.” Raelynn stretched her legs out against the stone, relaxing her posture as she did so, a long breath followed. “I’m confused by it all, and I’m hurting because I was punished for what I did for you.

“For what it’s worth, I’d have taken it back had I known the cost. One in my position normally isn’t confronted by his past so readily, and I don’t think I much care for what the mirror was showing after my little misadventure with your boyfriend.” Zaveed said, shaking his head and glancing back to make sure that said boyfriend wasn’t on his way to throttle him for talking with Raelynn. “I’m not sure how to answer your query, my dear; in the event of nearly losing my life and very soul, I…” he paused, groping for the words and coming up short.

“All I know is when you found me at the docks, when I was resigned to pass into some nameless husk as a part of Namiira’s legions, this brilliant light comes with the sunset and put me back together again. The following morning, another stranger comes along and without asking for anything, helps me pull myself back together again. To my surprise, I felt like everything was more vibrant, like I’d been living in a dark haze for so many years. My life on the seas was a violent one, and short for many. I’ve had to do some despicable things to survive, to end the abuse I’ve endured since my childhood. I’d gone so far down that path I forgot it had to start somewhere.” Zaveed explained, wringing his hands together. “It’s why I’m so capable of such cruelty without blinking an eye, it’s all I’ve known for so long. It’s hard for me to even acknowledge that that isn’t normal anymore, that most people aren’t like that. That it isn’t a fact of life everyone just accepts and goes along with. I guess what I’m trying to say, Raelynn, is that when you chose to spare my life, a part of me that’s been dormant and hidden for so many years begun to sprout, like a seed after a long winter. I see you, and I know I need to be better than I was, and I’m trying. I just don’t know how.”

“You talk so much sometimes, Zaveed of Senchal,” she said in a weak whisper, “today you might send me to sleep,” a choice thing to say after such a vulnerable speech he had given, but she meant no real harm by it. It was true, his words were almost relaxing to her in her current state. Her eyelids fluttered. “I don’t know what it is you must do, I only know that you must work at it everyday and never stop. Who do you want to become? What do you want to achieve in this life? Start there and expand…” Why am I helping him? Is it because I can’t get off my own arse right now?

Her brows furrowed, creasing her forehead and she rubbed at her temples gently.

“Something that my mother used to say to me when I was a girl, was that it was my responsibility in life to make tiny changes. If I could do that, eventually I might change the whole world. Bit by bit. When your heart stops beating at the end of your life, someone else's will start - a never ending cycle.” She closed her eyes as she spoke, picturing the diamond shaped face of her mother and it brought a smile to her face. She pictured the deep, emerald green of her eyes, and the way her smile could light up an entire room. “It was such a bold thing she used to say, but she made me believe that I could change the world just by doing small things... Like fixing a dislocated limb so someone can carry on without pain and go on to fulfil their own dreams. It’s like a ripple, Zaveed.”

“You will never change or undo any of the things that hurt people. You hurt me, and in my deepest despair I sent Gregor after you to kill you, Gregor was hurt, as were you. I brought you both back to life at the cost of my abilities. That was a ripple that continues to run its course and we are still affected until it comes to its end, in the movements that began after it.” She scrunched up her face, unsure if she was making sense or not in her confused and addled mind. “You can’t stop a motion once you’ve pushed. You can only start to try to make better ones in its place, to drown out the tremors it leaves behind. Do you… Do you understand?” She asked in a frustrated and slightly exasperated voice now, a headache pinching behind her eyes that continued to make her feel indeterminate over it.

“A ripple.. That is something I can understand.” Zaveed confirmed with a slow, knowing nod. “Sometimes, a stone breaks the surface and the ripples go in new directions, but the effect was still caused from a prior source.” he pondered, his face scrunching with concern for Raelynn’s evident struggle. “You have lost your ability to cast spells… do you know why?” He offered a hand to take her injured one. “Allow me to try and soothe your aches while we ponder this query. Sometimes, wounds are not all physical, other times they marr our soul. Perhaps that is what happened to you, you were forced into a position with two contradictory but equally valid decisions to make to uphold your values. You could not leave someone to die, despite your hatred, because that is not who you are. You hurt the man you love by sparing the enemy that he was sworn to kill. Is it any wonder while your soul is a maelstrom? You need to align yourself once more, Raelynn. Like any injury, it takes time and patience to heal.”

She did as he requested, and stretched out her hand towards him tentatively, before opening her mouth to speak again, “when I healed Gregor…” she almost stopped herself from continuing, but she felt safe enough to talk to him - strangely. “My whole body was golden, magicka streaming from my entire being and it was too much. I felt out of my body… I haven’t been able to use it since but I know how to get it back, I’m almost there. So yes, I am fighting, and learning along the way… About myself, about who I can be and what I’m made of...”

“And what are you made of, Raelynn? Who will you become?” he asked quietly, running his thumbs gently across her palm.

“Flesh and bone… Steel… I am made of fire and of water, greed and compassion in equal amounts. I’m just… I’m just me. I will become strong enough to make the right tiny changes.” Raelynn said, her gaze watching over at what she could make out of the camp, it was blurry and doubling and tripling… She shook her head and pulled her eyes away and onto things closer, namely, the sight of Zaveed’s thumbs moving across her hand - across the scar. She swallowed, and tensed up. It felt wrong, but he was trying. This was a different Zaveed, wasn’t it? It was too soon, and she took her hand back, crossing her arms over her chest. “We’re… we’re not there yet…” She hoped he wouldn’t kick up a fuss in offence.

He crossed his own fingers in turn, not reacting to her withdrawing her hands from his own. “It’s okay, do not worry about offending me. It is you who suffered at my expense, I’m just doing what I can to rectify that.” he explained with a polite smile. “Keep all of those parts in your mind and heart when you falter, never lose sight of who you are and what makes you strong and there is nothing you cannot come back from. Fire evaporates water, but it is also doused by it. Greed makes you wealthy, but compassion makes others wealthy at your expense. Steel cuts through flesh and bone, but it takes flesh and bone to temper and refine it into something useable. We are all made of contradictory parts that compliment one another, the key is to not be swayed to far to one side or the other, yes?”

Raelynn merely sat in silence briefly, allowing his words to sink in. The Khajiit wasn’t wrong. She felt the same way, and so she nodded. “A very wise way to look at it…” was all she could say for a while more.

“I hope for everyone’s sake that you can in fact change, Zaveed. I hope that you can start to make the right kind of ripples in the world, we need change now more than ever. And hope. We need hope.” She pulled her knees up to her chest and rested her head on them, her arms enveloping around so that she was in a tight ball, hair falling down the side like a waterfall of blonde. “Small steps though, okay?”

“Small steps.” Zaveed agreed with a smile, standing with ease without the use of his hands. “Thank you for your confidence, it’s given me much to consider, and maybe it’s not too late for me. I hope you get to feeling better.” He said, bowing slightly before adjusting his posture. “You take time to get better, yourself; my mushroom gathering services are always available, my dear.” he said with a wink before turning to return to the camp.

Raelynn took some time in the still silence of the night to think on what had just happened. Had she really just had a somewhat pleasant and meaningful conversation with the same Khajiit tyrant who had tortured and tormented her? Had she really just given him advice on how to be a better man? This felt stranger to her than having healed him. This made less sense. Gregor would not be happy about this development, but in a lot of ways she felt better inside. More like herself, and there was nothing left to anticipate from Zaveed now and that brought her a sense of calm that she would never have been given had this not happened. If she could find a way to communicate that to Gregor, then perhaps it would make him feel at ease too.

She felt something, a feeling of excitement - like butterflies when she thought of her Imperial and it brought a smile to her face that she couldn’t have hidden if she tried, she even giggled. She felt less heavy all of a sudden, and all she wanted was to find her way to his side and hold him. “Goodnight Zaveed,” she muttered under her breath as she watched the Khajiit fade from her view, and then she set off to make her own way to bed too.

Tonight, she was the one to wrap her arms around Gregor.

A Fountain of Serenity

Stormy and Dervs, emotional terrorism level: Hiroshima
15th Midyear, 4E208
Oasis, Alik'r Desert

“Raelynn? I was wondering if you were willing to go for a walk with me.” Daro’Vasora said, finding Raelynn apart from the others, reading what looked like a spell tome. The Khajiit was no longer in her dress, but rather barefoot in the same trousers and sleeveless tunic she’d been wearing when she went to rescue Raelynn well over a week ago. She offered an apologetic smile. “We haven’t had much of a chance to catch up since, well… you know, and I know you’ve been upset with me since yesterday. I’d like a chance to try and make up for it.”

Raelynn looked up from her book to find Daro’Vasora stood over her, in more relaxed attire than she had been prior - she appeared rested. The Breton felt herself tense up posturing herself against the Khajiit. If she had approached earlier, before Raelynn had been quite successful in her translations - she might have had a snappy retort for her, but for now, she was rather content and calm of mind. While she did not smile up at her, she did not frown either. A neutral expression befell her features and she stood up from her rock. Her own outfit somewhat similar to Sora’s. A silken blouse cut off at the shoulder, paired with high waisted cream linen trousers with splits up each leg that trailed to her hips. The only colour on her clothing was the mottled brown and gold of the delicate tortoiseshell buttons adorning the blouse.

“Lead the way,” she sighed in as plain a voice as she could, picking up her satchel after stuffing the books in there.

The Khajiit waited until Raelynn was well and ready to go, and she waited until they were outside of the camp’s perimeter, and outside of earshot of the others. “Don’t worry, I told the others we were just going to take a quick walk in the cave, stretch our legs, clear the air. Do you remember anything from that night, in the warehouse?” she asked, frowning. “I don’t mean to dig up hard memories, but Raelynn… I really tried to save you both. I am sorry I failed.” she said with a long sigh, her gaze down towards the moss underfoot.

She thought about the question and it caused her to close her eyes as if to search through the recessed for images of what she did remember. It occurred to her that she hadn’t really thought about it since. She knew in her heart it wasn’t the fault of Daro’Vasora. “It wasn’t your fault, you didn’t fail. It was a terrible situation that we were both thrust into, and it was Roux who paid the price.” She pictured his corpse again. She felt the feeling of the hard ground on her spine from when she lay beside him, holding his hand in the darkness. “I… I’m afraid I don’t remember much. Just shadows and sounds. Roux’s gasp as Zaveed took his life. I remember that, it rings in my ears…”

Suddenly, Daro’Vasora stopped and put her arms around Raelynn in a soft embrace. “I meant it, back at the party, when I asked if we were friends. Your answer meant something to me. This is why I wanted to talk to you, to spend time with you now that we’re in a better place. Roux… used to be my lover, however briefly, until he betrayed me and stole the most valuable find in my life and he became rich and famous for it while I barely had enough coin to afford my apartment, the same one that got firebombed a year later by more rivals I have.” she laughed ruefully. “Trust and friendship are something that have come very, very hard for me, Raelynn. I want you to know that about me. The girl you met two months ago… she expected every single one of you to walk out of her life and take advantage of her, so that’s why she kept you all at arm’s length, and made snide comments to get a rise out of all of you. You cannot imagine my shock and overwhelming gratitude I felt when those very same people came back for her.”

Raelynn wrapped a half-hearted arm around the Khajiit, she was slightly uncomfortable with the hug, but then she always was averse to touch. She listened to her words, offering nods and hums of acknowledgment each time she took a breath. Daro’Vasora needed to speak, and right now, all Raelynn could was allow her to fumble through whatever thoughts were running and running around in her head. Words she had probably been holding in their own prison.

She released Raelynn, taking a step back with her arms folded, the bone jutting between her teeth. “I know everyone’s mad at Latro and I for bringing Zaveed and Sevari along, but… it’s complicated. Latro and Sevari have a history, and it’s the only reason I considered it. Sevari doesn’t go anywhere without Zaveed, and Zaveed killed Roux, tortured you, broke my arm and made me a prisoner in a gilded cage. I have so many reasons to hate every fiber of his smirking being, but they also had supplies we needed to make this journey, to survive the desert. I made a call that put my own feelings aside for everyone’s benefit, and only time will tell if it was wise or not.” she looked to meet Raelynn’s eyes, a frown crossing her features. “Raelynn, I know how it must have made you feel seeing him, and I am so sorry for the pain I caused you. Please, forgive me. For everything.”

It was her turn to speak, and there was only one thing she could say to prise open her own gate of emotion. “It made me feel like shit.” The words came out so frankly that they sliced through whatever tension had mounted from Sora. “It made me feel like actual shit,” she repeated. “I still feel like shit.” She brought her thumb and forefinger to the bridge of her nose and pinched. Sighing. “Well, maybe I feel only like half of a turd now,” her lips curled at the grotesque imagery she conjured, and then she laughed. “I am trying to understand it. I am trying to be fair and not create a fuss or a scene over this. I just never expected to see him again. Let alone somewhat happy and doing well, when I feel so terrible. It’s a rotten kind of cruelty, and that is what sours my mood. It… It has very little to do with you, when I scratch past the surface.” She was trying to be pragmatic about it, but it was hard. It was very, very hard. She thought about the stone in the pond, her heart racing in her chest - was this what letting go felt like?

“I had been doing better, I felt strong. I felt like I was healing, and seeing him again ripped open the scars again. It feels like I have to start over once more.” Her tone was clipped, and the length at which it took her to speak made it sound like she was foraging through pictures and memories to piece the sentences together. It was painful, and that was abundantly clear.

Daro’Vasora nodded, she had feared as much. “When… Zegol passed, I felt the same way. I’d just lost my home to the Dwemer, watched people I’d seen and talked to every day I was in the city perish to guns and blades, and when I found his body, wearing his old armour he hadn’t put on since before I knew him and trying to protect two young boys, it ruined me. It took me past our time in Anvil to accept his passing, and not be besieged with grief. It still hurts me to think about what happened to him, but to give you an idea, I considered him my own flesh and blood, even though he was an Orc. It would be like if something happened to Judena.” the Khajiit sighed, squeezing her arms tighter about her waist.

She looked back at the camp, catching sight of the Cathay in question. “I have a hard time looking at him, and hearing his voice, and not feeling a sharp phantom pain up my arm, to not hear Roux’s final words, apologizing to me… accepting me. ‘May your roads lead you to warm sands.’” she said, finishing his final words far too late. Daro’Vasora closed her eyes, shaking her head. “You’re very strong, and I’ve always admired you for it. Honestly, I’ve kind of been jealous of you since day one. I just never thought I’d be in a position where I’d be hurting you so much. Can we try again, to be friends, I mean?” she asked softly.

“The things that he said to me and… What he’s done, what he did to Gregor - what happened after. Everything that I thought I was was stripped away and I think that part of me is still trapped in his room, fixed to the table. People say - he says that I am stronger now. But, if I could go back and make it so that it never happened then I would. I don’t feel stronger. I want to be myself again.” Her tone was warming, and it was less of a struggle to find the words the more that she said, her posture even relaxed and she began to walk languidly at Sora’s side.

“I know that people lose things, and people die and get hurt. That was something that had never knocked at my door. Zaveed he, he kicked the door in and intruded on my whole life. He left nothing unturned, he attacked me in every place it hurt the most all at once… You don’t hurt me, he does. I don’t know why you would find yourself jealous of me, I’m no one, always have been. Just a nomad drifting through life with no purpose or reason... Until I met Gregor, until I came here…”

Daro’Vasora reached over to turn Raelynn’s face to her. “You are someone. You are Raelynn Hawkford, someone who has saved so many lives because you took the time to learn how to be a healer and didn’t back away when they needed you most. Think back to the number of times we’ve all been hurt, and how you’ve stepped up to do the right thing. You’re a part of a powerful family, but you decided to step out and become your own person. I can appreciate that; I did the same thing.” the Khajiit smiled before it faded somewhat. “I was jealous because you’re beautiful, you’re a human, someone who could walk in any path in Imperial society and not be questioned for what she is. You know magic, I don’t, and yet you’ve also had a lot of experience in the field I made my life work. You’re very accomplished, and I spent much of my life being uncomfortable in my own skin. I wanted to look like you, talk like you. I’ve spent so long repressing who I am, I don’t even remember how my voice originally sounded. Kind of stupid, right?”

Raelynn closed her eyes, and placed both of her hands on Daro’Vasora’s wrists, wrapping gently to hold them. “I know. I know these things - I do, I do know this. I am accomplished, I am good at what I do - amazing at it, the best in fact. I know this to be true.” As she spoke, it sounded more like she was repeating a mantra she had already been repeating for some time - just out loud now. “I believe that there is more for me to do, somewhere. I don’t know what it is but I must get back on the path to finding it. I stumbled, I was pushed - I was dragged away but I’m working my way over rock, through rivers, and across deserts to get back to where I must be.” She opened her eyes and released her grip on the Khajiit’s wrists.

“You are someone too. All of those people in there risked their lives because you are someone to them. It is not stupid.”

“I know that now.” Daro’Vasora said with a slight smile. “Even found love, me, of all people. The past two months, despite everything, I am finding out who I am as if seeing myself for the first time, and knowing that I can be proud of myself for what I am while remaining who I’ve always been. I guess all I’m trying to say is I’ve walked this path with some of the best people I’ve known in my life, and I’ve accepted that they’re putting their faith in me to do the right thing. I just don’t want to do make the wrong choices, and I don’t want to be Rhea; I need people to help me when I stumble, and to tell me when I’m making mistakes. I don’t know how this journey is going to end, Raelynn, but the important thing is neither of us quit and no matter how much we lost, no matter how much it hurt, we never gave up. And Raelynn?” she said, leaning in closer. “I am never going to give up on you.”

The Breton suddenly felt awkward - had she said too much? Not enough? It was a strange sensation to say the least, “errr, thanks…” she mumbled before pulling back from Daro’Vasora - putting space between them. “Let’s just keep going, I think there might be something down here. I can feel a breeze.” It was true, from further down in the tunnel there was a cold breeze snaking through, enough to brush over the splits of her trousers and cause them to flap behind her. In the silence she could hear…. Something, was it water? “Do you hear that?” she asked the Khajiit with a puzzled expression upon her features.

“Ah.” Daro’Vasora said, feeling flushed with embarrassment. What’s wrong with you?” she rebuked herself. She was trying too hard, too fast, to make everything right again. Still, she followed along at Raelynn’s suggestion and indeed, she could hear more rushing water. “It sounds separate from the river…” she murmured, suddenly feeling the excitement and rush of potential discovery. This time, she took the lead through the wet ground, navigating a narrowing in the passageway, following the mysterious sound, until she saw light up ahead. She stepped through into the opening, and discovered the water was warm. When her eyes adjusted, she simply breathed, “Wow.”

They had discovered a natural spring, the water forced up from some underground source, and it was clearly one of the sources of the water that fed the river. However, that was not the most striking feature; the limestone walls were encrusted with quartz, and from the light ahead, a dazzling spectacle of light made the water shine brilliantly and all manners of white-hued colours dance across the walls. “I’ll be damned.” the Khajiit grinned, stepping aside for Raelynn to follow suit.

Raelynn’s eyes widened at the sight. It was beautiful - a hidden treasure in the already beautiful oasis. Better yet, the sounds of the camp were completely drowned out by the thick walls surrounding the spring. It was a perfect place. “This is… amazing,” she smiled gleefully and wasted no time in unbuttoning her shirt. She looked at Sora with narrowed eyes but - well, she was another woman, and Raelynn had stripped down in public baths before too. She wasn’t ashamed of her body, hell, she was immensely proud of it if anything. She was just too excited to get in and feel clean again. So excited was she, that she tossed her shirt with reckless abandon onto a rock - with her chest now bare she worked on the pants and slid them down her legs - kicking them away to the same rock that was now blanketed in her shirt.

The splits of her trousers had been so high to her hip, that she had foregone her usual underwear, but she simply shrugged and waded in. Sighing with delight at the warmth of the water. She turned back to face Sora with a smile - “come on, get in!”

The Khajiit laughed at the sudden shift in fortunes, how Raelynn seemingly sprung to life. She felt like a teenager again, sneaking around where she shouldn’t have been with friends. With a shrug, Daro’Vasora unbuttoned and discarded her tunic and pulled off her trousers, hopping in after Raelynn and splashing the Breton with a small wave. The sudden sensation of being immersed in water was beyond enjoyable; it felt absolutely soul cleansing.

“I think I’ll call this place Mara’s Gift.” Daro’Vasora said, laughing girlishly as she splashed Raelynn before resting on her back, allowing herself to float and bask in the sun above. It almost felt like a vacation spot that someone would spend entirely too many Septims for the privilege to enjoy. “When was the last time you’ve been swimming like this that wasn’t a crowded bath house?” she asked.

She watched the Khajiit float around, but she opted to wade over to the edge to recline, stretching her arms over the rocky surface. “Not since I was a younger woman, truthfully,” swimming for leisure was not something that she had ever really indulged in. “I like to be on land, water has always been for bathing,” she sighed as she felt the warmth of the water over her skin. “Speaking of, I have some oils in my satchel…” With a gentle push she moved over to where she had left her bag and reached in to grab three small vials. “Rose, Lavender, or Water Lily?” She asked with a smile, looking over her shoulder to Sora as she continued her gently movement on the surface.

Daro’Vasora considered for a moment before smiling. “I defer to your judgement, what do you think would suit me?” a coy expression crossed her face. “What do you think Latro would fancy?” she asked, swimming over to join Raelynn, resting her elbow over the lip of the pool. “I wonder if Shakti’s going to be pissed we’re swimming in a special spot her ancestors probably have been using for generations?” she mused, her eyes scanning the shimmer of the quartz.

“Well, we can't use Lavender. That's my scent, our men might get confused if we start smelling the same… I think Water Lily. It isn't overpowering… It's fresh… Delicate.” That was the vial she took into her hands, placing the others back in her satchel. The moment she was sharing with Sora was nice, but it was just delaying the conversation they had already been having. It was a welcome distraction. “I think she'd like this place, we should tell her about it.” Raelynn poured some of the oil into her hands and rubbed it across her palms. “Turn around…” she said with a giggle.

“We’ll keep this to ourselves for a bit longer, I think… hh, that is lovely.” Daro’Vasora said upon taking in the scent. She raised a brow at Raelynn, but ultimately submitted to the request and turned her back to Raelynn. “That better not be chloroform.” she replied dryly.

“Oh please,” she began jokingly before placing both hands on Sora's shoulders. She began to gently work the oils from her hands into her, starting at her shoulder blades and working up the Khajiit's neck, applying light pressure to the vertebrae until she reached the back of her head. Then she started to lightly scratch through the fur, the oil clinging to it, leaving the scent behind. “Whatever would they do to see us right now, I wonder…” she purred in a husky tone as she continued to massage the oil into Sora’s scalp.

Ahh.” The Khajiit gasped, tilting her head back and tensing appreciably at the touch. “I’ve… never had someone do this for me before.” she admitted with a purr, her eyes closed as she drank in the sensation of touch and scent; it was almost as if keeping her eyes open as well would have robbed her of the full sensation. “Oh, let them watch.” Daro’Vasora giggled. “We’re just gals being pals, right? Although, Gregor’s going to have to be careful I don’t steal you away for more girl time. I might get a little too used to this.”

She smirked at her comment, “You may have to get behind Mazrah first…” Her thumb and forefingers found their way to Sora's ears, and she lightly pinched and rubbed the delicate flesh between them. “You're very tense, especially in your neck. One would think you're carrying a great burden or concern that weighs you down. What's really on your mind? Tell me?” She was unsure whether or not to probe, but she had learned that Sora really liked to talk, and she would listen to her if she was comfortable to indulge. Once more her hands ran down the Khajiit's neck, before she held each shoulder firmly, massaging away the knots with ease.

“It’s almost like you’ve done this with a Khajiit before…” Daro’Vasora murmured. “I always thought the fur must have felt lovely under someone else’s fingers.” she said. In response to Raelynn’s question, Daro’Vasora grabbed the side of her head and pulled it to the side, her neck let off a loud series of cracks. “You… might say that. Alkosh, what hasn’t been on my mind?” she asked rhetorically, leaning forwards slightly to let Raelynn do her work.

“Roux, you, Judena… Latro.” Daro’Vasora’s words came in succession, slowing to a stop on Latro’s name. “He… changed in the palace. He went wild eyed, his mannerisms and speech were like that of someone else, he… butchered those men. He became Pale-feather, what they called him in the Reach, and now I’m afraid. Would he have recognized me in that state, would he have hurt me if I got in his way?” she asked quietly, her tone shifting to something more somber. “And Judena. I think I found some medicine that could heal her mind, but it’s something I don’t understand and I’m trying to learn as much as I can about before even attempting to use it, with her consent, of course. What if I’m wrong, or fuck it up? Will I just hurt her worse?” she sighed, running her hand through her mane, pulling out the leather strip that held her ponytail in place and letting her hair down, the first time Raelynn would have ever seen it that way.

“It’s a lot. I think about Roux and Zegol often, and I wonder what Rhea felt when she was leading. How will I handle loss if we lose anyone? What if it’s my fault? Did I make a mistake by accepting the two brothers to join us? I’m just doing the best I can without any time to think things through.” she sighed. “I’m sorry, it’s been bottled up, I’m rambling.”

As she had done so with Gregor, Raelynn moved her hands quickly to sit as far as they could under Sora's shoulder blades, under the water. She applied pressure with her thumbs, forcing the Khajiit's body to bend to her will. She tugged for less than a second and let it crack, knowing that the feeling of relief would erase that discomfort it had caused initially. She hummed along as Sora emptied the contents out of herself for the Breton to see. Her hands went back to massaging, this time under the water. Gentle strokes interspersed with pinches of the spine. “It sounds like a lot…” she wasn't entirely sure of the best way to respond, of how to help her - what advice to give.

“I'm afraid I don't have the answers…” Her hands returned to Sora's head, but she pulled back to apply more oil, larger droplets this time to work through her mane, her touch softened - barely there, and yet she moved closer to Sora, their legs touched under the surface of the water.

“I just think that in times of war, we are prone to fits of passion… Something about our mortality drives us to do the unspeakable for those we love. Things that we would never do if war was not hovering over us like a cloud - always ready to begin a storm that is out of our control…” She thought of Gregor, and what her own fear and self-loathing had driven her to ask him to do. “We are not ourselves in these times, we are challenged, and all we have is passion for what we desire to protect. For some that may be their land and homes, for others it is family and friends… Lovers.”

“We do the unspeakable to ensure we make it to the other side, to the next day… and the next.” Was she justifying it to herself? She knew it was wrong, even though she had felt she must do it - even if the majority would think it was morally reprehensible. But it had been necessary. “Latro did what he deemed necessary to protect that which he loves… You are doing what is necessary to ensure the group makes it to the end of this…”

The medicine had piqued her interest, but there would be another opportunity to discuss that… She ran her fingers again through Sora's mane, admiring it in a way.

The sensation of Raelynn’s bare legs against her own almost startled Daro’Vasora; she’d never been this close and intimate with another woman before. Still, she didn’t pull away. Rather, she leaned into it a bit, finding comfort in the Breton’s touch. “I’ve always looked at the world through the lens of a historian, the big picture. I can read about how men were tortured or starved, burned to death or executed, and it never resonated with me past painting a tapestry of understanding what had happened. I have tried to do the same for the invasion, but it’s… not quite the same when it’s happening to you. There’s emotions and personal stakes, and I think you might be right.” she agreed, opening her eyes and looking upon the quartz again. “At the end of all of this, I just want to be able to recognize the ones I love and myself. I want to make sure we all have a home to return to. Your father… is he safe?” Daro’Vasora asked suddenly, realizing she hadn’t even thought about Salosioux for quite some time.

“Do you think that historians partook in that which they studied? You cannot see the big picture, because the picture is still being created. We have no control over it, save for being able to paint some strokes here and there… When history looks back on us…” She stopped.

A feeling of guilt hit her, “it's a mess… Whatever happens to us, whoever we become… Tamriel outlives us in the end, eventually we become history. I see no benefit to worrying so much now about losing yourself. You were captured and challenged and yet you are still you.” She moved around to face Sora, moving close to her, so that their foreheads almost touched. “You are still you, and so long as you are with the ones you love then you always will be.”

The mention of her father snapped her out of her poetic mood, the sage wisdom left her and emotion returned; “I believe he is, he left Gilane before the raids. I have to believe he is okay, we almost left things on unpleasant terms. It hurts me to think too long on it all…” the short, sharp edge had returned to her voice, and she brought herself to the edge of the pool and leaned against the rock once more.

The Khajiit nearly gasped at the sudden closeness, the physical sensation of Raelynn closing the distance, as if they were lovers. She felt herself flush. When Raelynn pulled away, it was like a spell was broken. Still, Daro'Vasora was left feeling like a fool without consideration. “I… I am sorry.” she said meekly, letting out a resigned sigh. “I should just keep my mouth shut; I've ruined a perfectly good time here. Do you want me for me to leave you in peace for a while? I'll make sure no one disturbs you.”

Raelynn's eyes widened and she shook her head abruptly, “no, please don't. I'm sorry, it’s just that he was so very disappointed in me. That's the truth of it. It just hurts me to think again of his face - his eyes.” She pushed herself once more from the lip of the spring. “It's not something I talk about very often, it makes me inconsiderate.” She tried to smile encouragingly in Sora's direction. Her hands slipped back under the surface of the water to find hers again, and she squeezed her fingers lightly. “Don't leave, please. You ruined nothing.”

That brought a smile to Daro'Vasora's face as she returned the embrace of fingers. “Why do you think I am so bad at this? I never had anyone to talk to before.” she giggled nervously, looking her friend in the eyes. “I still remember the look my father gave me when I became Daro'Vasora, not La'Vasora. It looked like he was proud, but disappointed, melancholic perhaps?” the Khajiit mused, losing herself to memory. “I always thought it was a mark of shame, but I think to him, it was his little girl finally growing up and having found her path. I was caught stealing from his shipments, just for the thrill of it and to see if I could get away with it.” she explained. “I think for your father, he's just going to need time to adjust to the path you’ve chosen for yourself. You never struck me as a woman who rocked the foundations of your upbringing too much.” she smiled.

She found herself moving back behind Sora once more, instinctively reaching for the strap of leather that she had removed from her hair and had placed on the rock. “It seems, Daro'Vasora, that we are very similar in many ways…” Raelynn began to separate the hair of her mane into sections, twisting and braiding them as best as she could. “He hates Gregor… When I went missing for the second time… Gregor was sick with worry and my father was not exactly helpful and I suppose things got tense and Gregor threatened him.” She didn't know why she would tell Sora this. Sora already had the wrong idea about her lover- it was of course the right idea, but Raelynn would not accept that. Not now.

“I love him, Sora. I love the parts of him that are good, the parts that aren't so good, the storm and violence that he is capable of. It's who he is, all that he is is beautiful to me.” She closed her eyes, the braid complete, and tied at the base in a bow. It was not likely how the Khajiit would style herself, in fact it was completely different. The breton wrapped her arms around Sora’s waist from behind affectionately, resting her chin on the very shoulder she had massaged earlier.

The Khajiit leaned back into the embrace, nuzzling Raelynn's head as her hand moved up to run through the woman’s hair. “The Moons all have phases, the dark and the light. It is what determines what form a Khajiit will take. People are no different; I can tell he loves you, and you love him. He is the dark of the moon, you are the light. You must be the Bright Moon that guides his steps into the light and resist the temptations to go into the dark,” Daro'Vasora said, almost sensually, her voice little more than a whisper. “Each of us walk a path, sometimes it is shrouded in darkness, other times the moon illuminates the way. Always find the light, and you will never be wrong, Ko'Raelynn.”

Raelynn nodded softly against Sora's neck, her eyes closed tightly. She listened to every word her friend said, about the moon - and of light and dark. Did she know how true it was? Did she really know? It wasn't until she finally exhaled at the end of it that she realised how long she had been holding her breath.

She had held it for so long

“All I want is to save him,” she whispered finally, arms wrapping tighter around the Khajiit, her hands fumbling desperately to find one of Sora's, to hold it tightly. There was silence, until the gentle splash of a single tear broke the surface of the still spring in the moment.

They held each other in the silence, floating together. Suddenly, Daro’Vasora broke the embrace, turning to face Raelynn, gently resting her wrists on the Breton’s collarbones and gently tracing her claws on her bare back. She nuzzled Raelynn, whispering into her ear. “We will save both of our lovers. Together.” she said, turning her head slightly to place a lingering kiss on Raelynn’s cheek.

Nothing else needed to be said. Time continued to pass in the secret spring of the oasis, and yet no time passed at all. It was just a serenity broken only by the sound of running water echoing, and the whistle of the breeze moving in.

The Huntmaster

with Hank
15th Midyear, 4E208
Three Crowns Hotel, Gilane

The flies, it was always the flies. None of the bodies had been collected after the slaughter, left long enough for the heat and carnage to seep into the minds of those who would oppose the Dwemeri war machine, and now Razlinc Rourken stood in front of the corpse that belonged to Derak Mashad, the Poncy Man. One of the patrons of the Merchant’s Guilds, he had gone underground shortly after the invasion and few of his counterparts would say what became of him. He was never seen in public, at least until now; no one knew who the Poncy Man was, and it had kept him safe.

Until now.

The Governor had kept an eye on the Three Crowns Hotel for some time, having agents keep an eye on the coming and going of individuals, and it didn’t take long to figure out that many of its patrons were insurgents. It was a long game, finding out patterns, who reported to who, who was responsible for what. She had planned for the attack to coincide with Daro’Vasora’s speech, maybe draw her people out to spare them, and have them in easy reach if they did something stupid.

Unfortunately, they did something very stupid. Something unforgivable. It wasn’t the attempt on her life that bothered her, it was the callous disregard for life that Gregor had shown, using her people as morbid meat puppets and his audacity to gloat to her like they weren’t people he destroyed the souls and very essence of. Him and his damned group would reap the rewards of such cruelty, just as Irranhu cell found out during their brazen attack on the palace.

The Centurions made short work of almost all of them, their leaders and a small handful of other insurgents escaped the slaughter. Reports said they turned on Daro’Vasora’s group, which interested her greatly. However, she had other matters to attend to, as she stared into the dead, fly encrusted eyes of the Poncy Man and the pools of blackened blood that had long since dried up in the heat.

“You move quietly of one of your stature, Maulakath.” Rourken observed.

“Sharp ears for a city dweller,” the hulking Orsimer countered. He did not bother with honorifics or titles, even though he was speaking to the governor. It was beneath him. “The Breton girl and her Nord guardian are gone. The Redguard rogue has been captured. And then there’s this,” Maulakanth reported and held up the decapitated head of Mortalmo. “Refused to be taken alive. Powerful conjurer. Had to put him down.”
Rourken regarded the head impassively; it was morbid, sure, but nothing outside of what she’d expected. He had hundreds of years to get used to the death of her own people, a terrorist with cathartic, in a way. “You’ve done well, a fine instrument of my will. I have a final task for you, if you’ll have it.” she turned to look at him headlong, looking up at him with a stern gaze. “The group you had targeted has an Imperial necromancer in their midst. I believe they’ve disappeared somewhere into the desert, pursuing a quest I do not readily know.” she admitted, looking back to the Poncy Man. “You are to kill all of his companions, and bring him to me, if you can. He will be used as fuel for my own enchantments, as will his lover, Raelynn. It does not matter what condition they are in when they arrive, so long as they are alive. Is that understood?”

Maulakanth scoffed. “If you can,” he repeated in a poor imitation of Rourken’s voice. “Do you always insult your men like that? Of course I can. It will be done.” He shook his head before he remembered what he was going to ask her. The Orsimer cleared his throat and took a step closer.

“Rumor has it that one of them is an Orsimer. A woman. White tattoos, wields a spear and a bow. That true?”

Rourken did not rise to the bait; Maulakath was insolent, yes, but he always did what was asked of him. Instead, she nodded, not moving as he stepped closer. She did not fear him, nor did he fear her. It was not an even partnership, but one nevertheless.

“From accounts, an Orsimer fits that description. She arrived in the city gates not long after this Samara Cell entered the city via the ports. They joined together by coincidence, it seems, and she was a part of the force that assaulted the palace.” she paused, raising a brow. “A rather specific bit of details that coincided exactly with someone we’ve monitored. What’s the relation?”

Like the territorial growl of a sabre-cat with its hairs raised, a thrumming, guttural sound reverberated in Maulakanth’s massive chest. “Sister. Has to be. She turned her back on me years ago. It won’t be a problem, but I had to know.”

“I see.” Rourken said. She didn’t, not really, but she knew better than to pry into what the bad blood was. “Regardless, you do this for me, you will be free of your service. What is it your heart desires? I should like to have you remain a part of my service, but of your own will and with its own rewards. Land, a title, perhaps? You have been a friend to my people, let us be a friend to you.”

Maulakanth didn't hesitate for a second. “Orsinium.”

That prompted her to blink slowly. “You wish for the resources to conquer Orsinium for yourself?”

“And through me, for you.” Maulakanth tossed Mortalmo’s head aside, careless of where it landed, and slammed his fist into his open palm. “I was the Hand of Mauloch. War-chief. The king exiled me because he was afraid of what I could do. He is a coward but he believes himself to be proud. Orsinium will not bend the knee without an orc on the throne that tells them to. The only way to goltragga tarask, to take the throne, is by right of conquest,” he explained. He was usually not much of a thinker but he’d had weeks to formulate this plan. “Control Orsinium and you control the mountains.”

That gave Rourken something to consider, she thought on it, resting her chin on a finger. “And why would you turn Orsinium over to me? Why would you wish to see your people under my rule?” she asked, genuinely curious. “Are you proposing you wish to rule a client state?”

“Yes,” Maulakanth said, once again without hesitation. “The Bretons and Redguards have razed Orsinium more times than we can remember. Too much history there. Every time we prosper, they feel threatened, join together in one big club of puny cowards and swarm us like rats.” He hacked up some phlegm, spat it out on the floor and touched his collarbones with his fingers. It seemed ritualistic. “But everything is different now. They’re scattered and weak. In the world of the Dwemer, Orsinium can finally have the place it deserves.”

Something gleamed in his black eyes. And I can be king.

Ah, and there it was. Rourken smiled, extending a hand. “Orsinium is not the domain of the Dwemer, but Clan Rourken will stand by it should anyone challenge its sovereignty. I would prefer our peoples joined together as friends, not under the rule of strangers. Volenfell was never going to accept my people without hard measures, but difficult choices were made to best unify both the Redguards and ourselves. Now we are established, I would like to try a different tact. A military, cultural, and trade alliance between Volenfell and Orsinium. We will defend one another against the threats against our peoples’ existence as equals. Are these conditions agreeable?” she asked.

After a few seconds, Maulakanth shrugged. He didn’t understand why Rourken was voluntarily relinquishing the opportunity to control Orsinium herself. She was sacrificing power in return for… nothing, as far as he could see. “If that’s what you want, fine by me. Get me into the king’s longhouse and you’ll have all the trade and shocktroopers you want. Oh, and the culture too.” His lip curled up and he laughed, which sounded a little like a giant smashing two boulders together, as if she’d told the funniest joke he had heard all week. “We got a lotta that going on, for sure. You’re gonna love it.”

And with that, Maulakanth took the offered hand and shook it, restraining himself so he did not accidentally break her fingers. He may not have noticed her cast ebonyflesh upon herself prior to the gesture.

“All I wish for is my people’s ancestral homelands, and a place within Tamriel, not a sprawling empire. I do not wish to subjugate others, like the other Clans seem intent on doing. Truth be told, Maulakath, there may be a time I will have to call upon your people for help navigating this strange land and making the most of the experience yours have with mining and locating resources. I may need your warriors against other Dwemer, or the races of Men.” The Governor explained, shaking her head as she gestured to Derak Mashad’s brutalized corpse. “This is but one of the many, many leaders who have risen up against my rule since taking residence back in my family home, and hardly the last. A wise strategist never bites off more than they can chew when holding lands. Great conquerors seldom take huge swaths of land without dealing with insurgencies, agents of resistance to change. My people are powerful, but we are limited in number. The fact I chose to enlist the help of foreigners such as yourself was not a coincidence.” she said.

She met Maulakath’s gaze once more. “My people hold the greatest military power Tamriel has ever seen, but it does not mean we are infallible or infinite in number. If granting you the assistance you require to take Orsinium and formalize an alliance with my people is what it takes to solidify my control over the lands my ancestors once held, then it is a price I will gladly pay.”

Finally, Rourken stopped talking. Maulakanth had seriously begun to wonder if her speech would ever end. “That’s a lot of words to say ‘we could use the help’,” Maulakanth said and laughed again. “My people have no love for the Redguards, the Nords or the Bretons. You can always count on Orsimer if there’s a good scrap to be had. And if you need help against other Dwemer…” Maulakanth paused and shrugged again. “Same thing, really. Just as long as I can hold you to what you said about protecting our sovereignty.”

“This is where the cultural exchange could be of assistance, Maulakanth. As a king, you may be required to make long-winded speeches to your own people and emissaries.” She gestured to the head of the Altmer on the ground. “That will not be your only feasible solution, understand. Orsinium has been razed time and time again, I understand, because of the races of Men fearing your people to be savage raiders. Here’s your chance to prove me wrong, earn your mantle.” the Dwemeri Governor cautioned. Her back straightened with a nod. “My word is law. I give you it in good faith; the Orsimer will have an unshakable allegiance with Clan Rourken so long as I stay in control of my lands, and you live up to your promises.”

Maulakanth resisted the urge to say ‘whatever’, as even he realized that now was not the time for petulance. He’d gotten her to promise what he wanted, on perfectly acceptable terms. This was a great personal victory. “Good,” he growled and pressed his clenched fist to his heart. “Malacath take me if I fail. Now then. I have a necromancer to catch.”

A rare gesture of respect, Maulacanth inclined his head in something that could be construed as a bow and left.

Rourken didn’t watch the Orc march off, like a thunderstorm leaving the valley. He was crude, and perhaps a bit uncultured, but she felt him to be trustworthy as far as intent went; there would be time yet to groom him into someone worthy of the mantle he so greatly yearned for. Knowing what his prize was, and the naked ambition he shared with her, it made them unlikely but promising allies, so long as he retained her council.

The Dwemer looked upon the Poncy Man one final time before departing herself, her assistant waiting in the wings for her meeting to be concluded. It pleased her to see him staying by her side, loyal even after their shared experience. She would reward him well. “Assign four Centurion Assassins to Maulakath; make sure they are programmed to follow his orders. He is to be considered an officer of the Dwemeri forces. Additionally, see to it he is provided all of the supplies he needs for his quest. One does not hunt a boar with merely a knife.”


With Stormy
15th Midyear, 4E208
Oasis, Alik'r Desert
Early morning...

It was when the camp had finally fallen to a silence that she woke from her brief and fleeting sleep. Images that were both pleasant and not had danced a vicious ballet through her mind for hours. It was just as it had been the night before when she woke up with Gregor's arm over her waist and tucked under her chest. It was the only softness to be found tonight, the ground was hard and unforgiving. It was time to get up.

Raelynn moved with great care so as not to wake him, not that she could - he was sleeping heavily. She stepped barefoot out of the tent, her hair now free from the braid cascaded in waves over her shoulders, her face had been rinsed clear with the fresh running water of the waterfall that was the only sound she could hear now.

The fire had burned down to embers, and plates were both carefully and carelessly stacked around the makeshift seats - a clue as to whom had been sitting there. Perhaps it had been Judena who left a half eaten apple sitting on a log.

There were still several torches leading the way through the cave, and so the Breton carefully took hold of one after having collected two books, a quill, and ink from her belongings. She made her way to the mouth of the cave. The stone walkway had become cold, and there was an almost refreshing dampness to it that she appreciated underfoot.

She took her seat on the red sand of the Alik'r, her back propped up by the rocky surface that was the wall of the entrance. With one forceful push she stalked the torch into the ground beside her. There was a cool breeze to be enjoyed as she stared out at the seemingly endless expanse of the desert, its similarity to the ocean brought her father to the forefront of her mind and she meditated on the thought for a while, a silent prayer for his safety across the sea to High Rock. She knew in her heart it would carry him there, but there was still a shadow of doubt that maybe this time it would not.

She picked up the tome and opened it at the first page, plucking up the quill in her left hand. She sat for some time, her concentration falling on the pages of the book and nothing else, her tongue poked out just so at the corner of her mouth as she scrawled down notes in the margins of each page.

A blanket was descended over her shoulders, followed by a soft voice. “It is cold in the desert at night.” Zaveed said, stepping away to give her space, turning to leave. “I may never get the chance again, but I wanted to say thank you. I took your words to heart.” with that, Zaveed sighed, resigned to head back into the cave and the tension that came with it.

She hadn't heard the footsteps, too engrossed in the pages, and as the soft wool was draped across her she was almost mistaken by her own mind that it was Gregor. He could be silent, especially when he knew she was working. She had almost opened her mouth to thank him until she heard the voice. Zaveed. She lurched sideways, the book fumbling from her lap, quill hitting sand, and the inkpot spilling over. She was caught off guard and she took several quick breaths. She wanted to tell him to leave, to get away from her and there was a feeling of being completely exposed. “I don't want your thanks,” was all she could muster, a chill running over her spine.

The Khajiit looked up at the stars above for a lingering moment, as if they held some answers. He glanced over and noticed the ink spill seeping towards the book, prompting him to pick up the book and correct the ink pot, setting both down away from the spill. He raised his hands, backing away slowly. “I know. And I know an apology is worthless if you do not wish to hear it, but nevertheless, you had no reason or cause to do what you did and I’ve been struggling with that since.” he sighed, crossing his arms and looking out towards the expanse of the desert, the sky seemed so impossibly clear here. Had it always been this way, he wondered.

“I know what awaits me when I die. I will cease to be, and one of Namiira’s creatures will be left in my stead. It would have almost been a mercy to have had my soul taken by Gregor before He got His hands on it, but it is the fate I am resigned to. The Dark Behind the World, the Scuttling Void. You may not wish to hear my gratitude for you giving me a few more days or years yet, and the world seems so much brighter now.” he knelt down, his knees digging into the sand as he looked to the stars. “I don’t know how to find their forgiveness. I know I don’t deserve it, but I’ve been forced on this path since I was two years old. I just wanted to survive, and when I finally did… well, you see me as I am.”

His words meant nothing to her, it was only registering as noise. The same kind of noise that had been drowning her for too long. She could feel her heart pounding against her ribcage as if it would burst out, her lip trembled and she spat, “stop it. Can you just shut up?” Her voice trembled, and she still was instinctively moving herself away from him. “Show me where I asked for your life story…” She had not invited him to sit beside her, had she? “You don't even know what you did to me. How can you be sorry?” Raelynn still remembered his words from the docks, his story. “Do you even remember what you did to me?” she asked accusingly, her eyes staring intently at his own.

“I remember everything. You were my enemy then; you led me to find more dangerous people. It was the task I was given.” Zaveed said flatly, not meeting her gaze. “And now, things have changed and I’m forced to linger upon what I’ve done to you. You never asked to be a part of some terrorist group any more than I asked to be pressed into a secret police force at the threat of death. Before you tell me I always had a choice, the fact you sit here talking to me tells me you’ve never had your convictions tested or you made a similar choice as I.”

Finally, he looked into her eyes, his gaze unwavering. “I drove a nail into your hand. I killed your father’s guard and bashed his head off the table while threatening to start removing parts of his body unless he send you to a warehouse where you were concussed by me and watched me break your friend’s arm who tried to rescue you and I killed another man in front of you. These are the things I did to you.” he replied without hesitating. He opened his tunic and pulled it down to where the scar from his own dagger resided over his chest. “And this is what you did to me… but then you changed your mind. Despite the horrors I’ve bestowed upon you, you changed your mind and spared me instead. I imagine Gregor was not pleased with that development; It was not my intention to be a further burden.”

She wanted to interject and stop him, the Khajiit had a way of carrying on with his words, and right now it was infuriating. He wasn't listening. Her entire body tensed, and her nose scrunched in frustration, chin wavering. “Shut up.” She said through gritted teeth. “I am here because I will no longer let you have a hold over me, I was here. I will not move. I have hardly been talking, but instead listening to your words that you spill as if to shift your feelings.” She sat in silence, piecing together what she wanted to say. “I have listened. And listened. To everybody. Everybody gets their chance to talk but when it comes to me, nobody wants to listen anymore.”

The Breton ran her hand through her hair from her forehead to scalp and held it there in an angry closed fist. “You missed something, of course you would. It would never have occurred to you.” Raelynn's tone was breaking, a lump sat in her throat and she swallowed it down. “You made me…” She stopped herself, releasing her hair, placing her hands in front of her as they shook. Her eyes closed as she took a deep breath. “Your words, what you did, what you said to me… You made me believe that I am worthless.” Her eyes flashed back to him, full of rage and full of nothing at the same time. Her jaw was clenched but there across her face fell something blank, exasperation. The expression of a woman who had long since given up.

“You made me believe that I am worthless.”

“I will listen.” Zaveed said quietly. “You were never worthless, never in my eyes. I wanted to send you far away from that place to be with your family, so people like me could never harm you again.” he sighed, his temperance not matching hers. “Raelynn, you are one of the most remarkable women, nay, people I’ve ever met. I cut your bonds in that warehouse for a reason; I knew you could escape because you had the talents to do so. Ever since you escaped the first time, you’ve never been worthless. Someone worthless would have been resigned to their fate, to fall into pity but never take steps to help themselves, or others. You are not someone who has ever given up, and despite everything that’s happened to you now, you still push forward, following a path you feel is right. I have watched hardened sailors, privateers, smugglers, and pirates alike crumble at far less than you have.” he shook his head. “What I did to you was irredeemable, but it doesn’t mean that people cannot try to change. We are not beholden to our past unless we truly are worthless.”

Meeting her gaze once more, he said, “I do not want to have a hold over you, for you to fear me. Loathe and hate me all you wish, that is your right. I will never harm you again.” he begun unstrapping the dagger from his back, setting it down beside him. “That is the very blade you had begun to pierce my heart with. It is yours, if it will fill your spirit with strength and steady your hands.”

“I murdered three people that day. Three people just doing what you had asked them too. I killed them. Do you know how many people I have killed in my twenty-eight years? Three. Those men. I had to murder people because you saw fit to strap me to a chair and abuse me again. You don't know me, just as I don't know you.” Her mouth was agape, a venomous feeling taking over her entire body, she trembled yet again and tears formed in her eyes.

“I'm so thrilled that you can give your speech, to try to sway me or others to your side. To allow yourself to feel better. I don't know. I'm sure they will all soon forget what you did to me, maybe they already have. ‘Here comes that charismatic Khajiit, Zaveed, again with his lovely lady’ they'll say.” Her thumb found its way to her eye to scoop away at the tears. “I saw what you did yesterday, to Gregor.” She shook her head in disgust, biting down on her lip, “yes, I sent him to fucking kill you because I thought that if someone cared, or loved me so much to do that… Then maybe I'm not worthless after all. That I meant just enough to someone that they would fight for me...” She sniffled, and scooped up the book, moving it to her other side along with the quill and ink. “And you know what? It didn't work. Because I was the one who lost everything.” She blinked and thought about each event, it played out in her mind as fresh as if it were yesterday. They were now terrors that plagued her sleep every night, keeping the memory alive.

“I do not want your dagger. I do not want to have to hold a reminder of you in the very hands that you broke.”

“You didn’t lose everything.” Zaveed observed. “You have Gregor, your father lives and presumably is far away from Gilane by now. Your mother waits for you back in High Rock. Your hands will heal. Trust me; I am no stranger to scars. They do not take away from us; they are a story for how we survived. Raelynn,” Zaveed said, standing up to move directly across from her, sitting down far enough away to not intrude on her personal space.

“I spent my entire childhood starving and stealing food and cure disease potions just so I could hope to see adulthood. Monsters in uniforms stole my adoptive brother from me, and the Dominion took my sister, next. I spent my adolescence being physically and sexually abused by a crew of shitheel privateers because I thought I wasn’t worth anything. If that was true, I wouldn’t have survived. I killed those men, and endured weeks upon weeks of fighting for my life against those I didn’t kill. It hardened my body, and my soul, but I was determined to not only survive, but thrive.” He said, stressing the point with an intensity to his eyes.

“If you were so worthless, do you think that necromantic shitheel you call a lover would distract himself from his cursed quest to risk his life and expose himself to the world for your honour? Do you think I would have thanked you for trying to put me out of my misery after you ordered him to kill me? People die all the damned time, this entire land is filled with murderers and rapists and Gregor is hardly the worst creature I’ve run across in my travels, and you’re willing to let him do all sorts of unspeakable things but you balk at having to do anything yourself. Yes, I hurt you, I tortured you, I crushed your spirit. What are you going to do about taking your life back?” Zaveed demanded, reaching over suddenly and taking Raelynn’s hand, holding her scar for both of them to see.

Once more she flinched at him, finding it hard not to shriek out - but she couldn't. She didn’t want people to rush out, she didn’t want Gregor to come out to discover this scene. She yanked her hand back from his grip before his fingers had a chance to apply even a slight pressure, and she felt herself shutting down, defeated.

“Why have you stopped trying to fight back? I literally saw the afterlife and I didn’t let my body waste away when it healed, because I knew that my fights will never be over. I must be stronger than the next person I fight, and the one after that, and the one after that. Sometimes life doesn’t give you a fucking choice of when this happens, and people aren’t going to give you the fucking option if you’re going to have to fight for your life or not. I’m sorry I’m the first person in your entire life that’s harmed you like this, but you need to be ready for the next person to come along, the one who won’t be spending his time defying your lover’s warnings not to talk to you because I see that you are worth something. You want to feel like you aren’t worthless, Raelynn? Stand up.” Zaveed said, standing suddenly, looming over her. “Stand up and look me in the fucking eyes. Show me that I have no power over you; defy your fears, spit in its face. Tell the world that you will never stop fighting. Show me that Raelynn Hawkford is someone to be watched because there’s no telling what lengths she’ll go to to defy life’s obstacles. Do it. Now.

“I do not spit,” she remarked coldly, and pulled her knees to her chest to stare out across the desert once again. “You should go,” she said idly without turning her head to him, her eyes pooling over with tears and her breath shaking.

“Fine.” Zaveed said, stepping back with a shrug, the intensity faded. “But you’re never going to overcome your fears if you refuse to face them. If you don’t want me to have power over you, do not let me. It is simple as that.” he looked over at her tear-soaked face and shook his head. “And that starts with you learning how to stand up for yourself.”

With that, he begun to walk away, swallowed up by the mouth of the cave.

The last droplet that had slipped from her eye rolled down her cheek. It fell through the empty space with little control until it reached the silk of her blouse and came to rest there against her still-thundering heart. He had left her to her peace at last, and she would hold it for a while longer.
The Eye of the Storm

Hank and I wrote stuff

Late afternoon, 14th of Midyear, 4E208
The oasis, Alik’r desert, Hammerfell

At least the Khajiit had managed to scrape together the decency to make himself comfortable some distance away from the others, close to the entrance of the cave. Gregor, devoid of his black battledress and his weapons, looked far less menacing than the last time the two of them had met and as he approached and sank down on his haunches in front of Zaveed, he seemed almost harmless. He had rolled up the sleeves of his shirt to expose the tattoos on his forearms, the raven-haired woman and the tally marks, and his hair was rough and disheveled from the day’s fighting and the sweat that had dried up in it.

A few seconds of tense silence passed while Gregor studied Zaveed intently, taking in the sight of him from tip to toe; the earrings, the mohawk, the eyes, the claws on his fingers. His face did not show the distaste he felt for the Khajiit, firmly set into an impassive mask, but Gregor’s eyes betrayed him. They were not soft and warm anymore. They were black as coal and hard as steel and the lines beneath them were deep.

“You look well,” Gregor said matter-of-factly, speaking at last, his voice cutting through the silence like a hot knife through butter.

“I cannot say the same for you. You look like shit.” Zaveed replied. He was sitting with his wrists resting on his knees, his armour, shirt and weapons stayed neatly laid out by his bed roll nearby, save for a pistol and his dagger that sat on either side of him; he had silently elected to keep watch. Across his torso many scars were visible, especially the ones Gregor and his beast had added to the tally. The Khajiit had met Gregor’s stare unflinchingly with an air of indifference.

“Too bad when you tried to rob me of my vitality, my naturally handsome looks didn't go with it, yes?” Zaveed said, rolling his jaw. “Get to the point; I tire of games, Gregor.”

The Imperial narrowed his eyes at Zaveed’s demanding tone, but he did not bite. “I do. The Redguard’s dagger was poisoned.” His tone hovered between sharp and conversational and he looked away, towards the exit and across the dunes of the Alik’r that stretched to the horizon. “Took a while before I received the… appropriate medical attention.” Gregor’s jaw worked, as if he was mulling something over.

“Look,” he said abruptly and returned his gaze to Zaveed while he held up his hands for him to inspect. His fingers trembled slightly. “Nerve damage. Funnily enough, it goes away when I’m about to fight. Or fuck, for that matter.” Gregor smiled faintly and dropped his hands again. “I was wondering if your brush with… well, you know, would leave any lasting effects. It seems you’ve made a full recovery, haven’t you? Very fortunate.” The smile had left Gregor’s face. “Very fortunate indeed,” he repeated, emphasizing every word.

Zaveed didn't balk at the unspoken accusation. “Ah, yes, I forgot to thank dear Nadeen for unintentionally saving my life. I fear I won't get another chance at it; she just happened to hate you slightly more than I.” the privateer grinned at the Imperial. “And yes, it was rather fortunate that Raelynn took pity on me and decided to save my life instead. She is quite a talented healer; an art that is not common enough, I'm afraid. I'm no worse for wear, save for a few sleepless nights or feeling Namiira's tendrils trying to close about my throat.” Zaveed admitted.

Unlike the simmering anger and loathing Gregor kept behind a mask, Zaveed's tone, while terse, was still conversational and rather unperturbed. He would not show fear to this man; there was nothing to fear. Gregor had already played his hand, there would be no more surprises.

“For what it's worth, I hope you regain full sensation in your hands. Hard to shit out horrors when you lack fine motor control.” Zaveed said, catching an almost imperceptible shift in the man's gaze. “The others have no clue what you are, do they?”

“No,” Gregor said flatly, without hesitation. There was no point in denying it. His reason for approaching Zaveed hinged entirely on that fact. “Well, that’s not entirely true. Jaraleet knows. Raelynn knows. But the others don’t.”

The hard edge that fell across his features made it evident that he meant what was about to come next with absolute conviction. “It is better if it stays that way for the time being,” Gregor said. “I have my reasons for what I do. Good reasons. But they are not easy to explain. Considering your outstanding debt to me, I trust that I can count on your silence,” he added and cocked his head slightly. “Say, are you familiar with a clean-shaven Dwemer officer that worked in the palace? Quite close with the governor, as I understand it.”

The Khajiit nodded. “I owe you nothing, Gregor, but your business with the others is not my concern. You may not think it, but to me, you are not my enemy. While I find your tactics…” Zaveed clucked his tongue, searching for an appropriate word. “In poor taste, I do not begrudge you for having used them. You are not the first person to try to kill me, you will not be the last. Just do not presume that because you failed in taking my soul to fuel your disgusting crusade that I have my life indebted to you. Your girlfriend was the one who saw to my salvation, and I will honour that act if nothing else.” he said with an air of finality.

Zaveed leaned back, stretching out on the soft ground with with his jaw opened wide before propping himself up on his elbow. He looked about at the camp and the people milling about, and he caught sight of Sevari having a rather animated discussion with that Janelle woman. He rolled his eyes, turning his attention back to Gregor. “I do know him. Major Kerztar, he was my… employer for my duration in the Dwemeri hospitality. Not an unreasonable man, for a Deep Elf who forced me to serve his little task force at gunpoint. I take you encountered him, then?”

“Your boss? Fancy that. I did. Would you like to meet him again? He’s in the bottom of my backpack right now,” Gregor said and smiled. “Here’s the thing. If you remain true to your word and you do not involve yourself in my business with the others, then I shall find within my heart to agree with you. There is no debt. You were just a lowly pawn and a brute who was put into an impossible position by the Dwemer. The things you did… well, that was really your master’s fault, wasn’t it? The sword is not responsible for the wounds it inflicts. As its stands right now, my lover is safe and sound after all, while Rourken’s lover will be sacrificed to the maw behind the stars. Looks like I won, and that settles our quarrel.” His voice was condescending, like he was explaining something to a child, and his eyes were depthless in their malice.

“Does that sound like an interpretation of the events that you can agree with?” Gregor asked.

Zaveed rolled his eyes, laying back down again with his hands behind his head, closing his eyes. “Must you always be so grim? It is tiresome. Yes, yes, you rob people of a proper afterlife because you’re following the whims of some arcane quest I don’t care much to guess what the end goal must be. If you consider that a victory, hooray, good for you. Go enjoy the spoils.” Zaveed replied with mock enthusiasm before letting out a drawn out sigh, a single eye opening to take in the gloating Imperial. “I did what I did because I am very good at it, you see. Several decades on a ship, raiding fat merchants and putting smugglers to the blade, you see and do things that you don’t quite imagine yourself doing when you are a young cub looking at those tall masts like freedom. And they are… but freedom comes at a cost, and that often is blood.

“Who am I to question that a group of terrorists who tortured an innocent administrator to death need to be dealt with? Raelynn wasn’t the first person I’ve interrogated, and for what it’s worth? I take no pleasure in that particular deed. I just wanted to do my job to work off my sentence and hopefully get back to sea where I belong. You were all once my enemy, now you are not. I do not see why you have yourself so worked up over my presence here.” Zaveed asked conversationally. “We didn’t have to wait, but we did because we have a common cause with you lot. Don’t flatter yourself that I give a single shit about your megalomaniacal impulses, Gregor. You’re rather insufferable when you’re gloating, and if you decided to pick up where we left off again… you won’t have fingers to wave your little horrors into existence. You know I tell the truth of the matter.”

Satisfied, Gregor rose to his full height and looked down on Zaveed. “You talk a lot of shit for a cat that I’ve seen tremble with fear at my feet,” he said frankly, having dropped all pretense and venom from his voice. He’d gotten what he wanted, which meant that any energy spent on further trying to intimidate the Khajiit was a waste. “Our business is finished.” He turned to leave but stopped himself. “Oh, one more thing. Stay away from Raelynn. She hates your guts.”

“For a man who is so weak he has to have puppets do his dirty work, you’re one to talk. I saw the fear in your eyes, when my axe dug closer and closer to your heart. That was me who did that, not some monster that you were gifted by prostrating yourself to some Daedric master. I am a free man, and you are a slave. You have no power over me, and you can’t do anything to stop me without revealing your grotesque nature to everyone. Do you think they’re really going to accept you after that? Stand by you?” Zaveed kicked out his legs and was suddenly on his feet, staring Gregor in the eyes.

“I can deal with being hated because I am alive, you slavering cretin. Did Raelynn tell you I tried to help her drive my own dagger into my heart? I don’t fear death, Gregor. But you do.” He said, jabbing a claw into the man’s chest and leaning in close, their foreheads almost touching. “Remember that the next time you wish to try to have a quaint little chat with yours truly; if you try to fuck with me again, you will receive a shot between your eyes faster than you can pull whichever little toy your own masters gifted you out from your tightly wound sphincter. If anything happens to me, do you honestly think Sevari or Sirine will hesitate to drive a dagger into Raelynn’s throat?” he stepped away, gazing distastefully at his claw before wiping it off on his trousers.

“You can either stop being a dullard shitheel and get over yourself, or we can pick up where we left off. Just ask yourself if you’re willing to live with the consequences if you’re wrong.”

That did it. Gregor laughed and shook his head in disbelief, his anger bubbling over into cruelty. “That’s what finally got you all riled up and ready to go for another round? Raelynn? You fancy her or something? Face it, Zaveed. She saved your life because it was the most powerful way to distance herself from you and everything that you are that she could think of. She has nothing but loathing for you in her heart. You can insult me and my methods all you want, but at the end of the day I’ll be walking back to her side and you’ll be here, alone. You don’t know me at all,” he spat and jabbed an accusatory finger in Zaveed’s direction. “I do what I do to save my fucking family from a fate worse than just death! Meanwhile, even the man you call brother thinks you had it coming. You have no godsdamned right to judge me.”

Zaveed sighed, the flames in his eyes subduing into embers. “Excuse my anger; it is unbecoming. You are not my enemy; I should stop treating you as such. Normally, I would treat bygones as bygones, but… I can’t say I appreciated the sensation and knowledge I was going to be trapped in a gemstone and consumed like some raw meat. It’s new to me, and I hope to never endure that again.” Zaveed replied, looking over to where Sevari and Aries were having their chat.

“I don’t think you understand, though; Raelynn’s choices are her own, I was but one of them. You are another. Why would I begrudge that?” he asked quizzically, raising a brow. “I do not intend to win her over with words or charm, but rather demonstrate that her choice was actually a worthy one.” he crooked his head at Gregor. “Why, do you think I am infatuated with her?” he grinned, although not cruelly. “I assure you, I have no interest in robbing that from you. She seems rather… transfixed to you, regardless. If it gives you a shred of humanity, then I’m all for it.”

Zaveed sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “But yes, Sevari would think that. We’ve had a difficult time catching up the past three decades of time apart, and we are trying to figure out how to fit two non matching puzzles together and wonder what image it creates. I do not apologize for who or what I am, Gregor; I hold no animosity towards you, just your bloody temperament.”

The fact that Zaveed backed down from their argument was unexpected and disarming. Gregor’s anger still simmered beneath the surface, but there hardly seemed a purpose to it now. “She does,” he said at length, sounding more sincere than he had done at any point in their conversation before. Gregor took a deep breath and exhaled slowly through his nose while he rubbed his eyes, and he visibly appeared to deflate. Anger and hatred were exhausting and he’d carried so much of it with him. Now that he had been confronted with its source and they had traded their insults, it was spent, and he realized that it left only questions in its wake: things he had wanted to know about Zaveed the whole time but had been too enraged to think about.

Gregor opened his eyes, stared at Zaveed and something, some overwhelming urge, made him open his mouth and continue speaking. “I find it hard to forgive you. It’s… not in my nature. I woke up every day for a week wishing that you had simply died. Every time I saw what you had wrought…” He looked over his shoulder at where Raelynn was sleeping and felt his anger flare up again. It wasn’t spent after all.

“Forget it,” he muttered and cast one final glance at Zaveed. “We’re not enemies, you’ll keep your mouth shut, everything will be great.” Gregor turned away from Zaveed and began to walk back to where he came from.

“That’s fair.” Zaveed called after him, his hands resting on his hips where his axes normally were perched. “So don’t. You owe me nothing, and I owe you nothing. Simply coexisting without going through an exhausting argument each and every time we are in each other’s company and staying our blades is enough for me, I think. You’ll learn our predicament is all too common in this world one day.” he said, offering a slight wave as he turned to his own devices, still feeling his own embers catching wind.

Stopping in his tracks, Gregor tilted his head to listen to what Zaveed had to say. He clenched and unclenched his fists and almost turned back around -- enough, a sharp voice in his head chided, and Gregor kept putting one heavy foot in front of the other.

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