Alone in the Woods
Greenie and Dervs slam jam
15th Sun’s Height - Morning
The Durehahdddach mountains...
The sun was well up and the shadows of the evening had capitulated to the light of Magus, the valleys and hills covered in a warm yellow glow. The camp was roused, fed, and packing up the site with enough supplies and rest afforded for the weary group to continue the next stage of the journey, which might prove perilous in the heart of the Reach. Zaveed gathered his weapons, some dried meat and berries, and a pair of water skins, not figuring he’d need more than that for the short scouting mission Megana and him would embark on.
Their goals were simple; find a safe way down the pass, and locate any signs of hostiles that posed a threat to the group. The group would be fine beginning the first leg of the trip, a location picked out on the map and within eyesight from the lofty vantage point, but it was for Meg and Zaveed to discover what laid beyond that point.
“Ready to depart?” Zaveed asked, coming up behind Meg as she was finishing the last few supplies for her own travel pack. They had originally thought to use horses, but the terrain was unpredictable and while horses had an advantage of speed and mobility, they also would be far easier to spot. Airships didn’t seem to care how fast you went on land when they could simply cover ground faster with vastly superior sightlines. Just because the group hadn’t seen one in weeks didn’t mean that they were no longer a threat.
"Aye, aye," Meg replied, quickly straightening up and slinging her pack onto her back as she did. She had to admit she was excited yet a little nervous to embark on this scouting mission, especially with someone she knew very little of save for talk which she knew couldn’t just be rumours. That being said, she figured if Sevari and Sirine seemed fine with the man, he couldn't be that
scary? She doubted Sora would allow him to stay if he was any worse than Gregor... Besides that, she was still feeling rather confident in herself after her hunting adventure the previous day, and that had been something she was less familiar with than what she was not heading out to do.
"Ready as can be," she added cheerfully, giving the Cathay her usual smile along with a thumbs up. "Never been 'roun' these parts personally but ain' like that should make a difference, I mean, I don' think
it should, righ’?" Pursing her lips, she looked at him curiously. “Didju ever come this way?” Sevari had been to Skyrim- maybe his brother had? She was about to ask him when the she realized this was probably not the right time for banter. "Er, ah, never min’ that, we should pro’ly get goin' then!"
“Well, if it’s of any comfort, I’ve never been in this part of the world in my life. We’ll learn about it together, yes?” Zaveed replied with a grin, patting down where his weapons and equipment were to make sure he was set. He gestured for them to continue on down the path that had been plotted for the first leg of the journey. “I don’t mind having a friendly discussion to pass the time; we are not hunting, so it’s not as if we’re worried about startling game. So long as we don’t start breaking out into a rousing song we should be fine from dangerous game of the two legged variety, I think.”
"Oh yeah?" Now that she was given the okay to chat, Meg seemed rather at ease, and it showed as she stood up a little taller than she already was, eyes bright. "Well, it ain' no desert, tha's for sure. I mean, Skyrim. I wasn' born 'round here
, more t'the east, but still, this is my home. The air's the same I'm used to as a kid. Much warmer now though, if we came a few month's ago, there's still be snow roun' here I'm bettin'." She paused to take a breath, looking at the Khajiit man a little sheepishly. "Sorry, bein' back just makes me happy an’ when I’m happy I kinda get babblin’. Uhm so, where ya from?"
Zaveed chuckled, rotating his hand to encourage Meg to continue on. “No, it’s fine. I just cannot imagine living in a land such as this, somewhere so cold and buried in snow and ice for much of the year. I am from Senchal, as South as South goes.” Zaveed replied with a nostalgic smile.
“The seas around Topal Bay are warm, like a bath, and they shimmer like moonstones and lapis. Life stays the same there, there is no season of ends, just a few seasons where it rains a lot and the storms become ravenous. But is that not Nirn’s way of telling us she is very much alive? I feel like everything coming to a grinding halt from winter would be the death of me and so many other things. Thinking about it feels desperate, unforgiving.” he shrugged and offered an apologetic smile. “Hm, perhaps I should leave the poetic flair to bards. I just have a very vivid imagination.”
"It's pretty," Meg offered. She had to admit that even though such a place as he described would probably have her miserable and sweating buckets, the way he made it sound could easily tempt someone like her into at least thinking about visiting Southern Tamriel once again. "I kinda wish I had better word t'say what I wanna 'bout Skyrim." She chuckled and rubbed at her nose. "Didn' much like Gilane when I was there, even by the water- it was just so damn hot
." Lifting a finger, she tapped at her hair. "Tha's when I decided t'go an' get this hair cut." Her smile wavered despite her cheerful tone; she was suddenly reminded of Zahir and wondering how the young boy was doing.
"I may jus' end up goin' tha' way again though," she said after a moment. "Left someone behind there an' dunno if he’s okay."
Zaveed understood too well what that was like. “I left my entire crew, if they yet lived, back in that wretched city. Didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye, or see if they were still alive. I feel like I let a lot of people who trusted me down, and yet I’ve barely thought of them. I just was so desperate to get out of the cage the Dwemer had me in.” He sighed, glancing up at the sunlight trickling through the canopy overhead. “Part of me says I’m doing all of this for who’s left, that I couldn’t have saved them if I tried. Truth is, I have just been looking out for myself and accepted their fates as sealed.” he admitted.
He looked over towards Meg. “Apologies for derailing your thoughts. Please, tell me about this person you left behind if it’s not too touchy of a subject. It isn’t my intention to pry; we’ve barely had a chance to speak.”
"Y'don' havta say sorry," Meg immediately replied. She was finding this khajiiti man both easy to chat with as well as to listen to, and it was easy to forget that many in the camp were still wary of him. "I know I ain' the only one who's got people missin'... couldn've been easy for ya t'just havta leave 'em behind... but it ain' like you had a choice I bet. I know I didn'."
Her lips turned downward for a second before she forced herself to smile, and the more she thought about the boy, the more genuine the smile became. "He was a li'l kid, maybe ten or so? This high." She lifted her hand up to show how tall she remembered Zahir as, reaching a little lower than her shoulders. "I was kinda miserable when we got t'Gilane, an' t'was only after the... er... well..." She peeked at him before hurriedly looking away. "... broke into the garrison tha' I even went out into the city. Decided the next day t'get off my ass an' see if maybe I migh' just like somethin' 'bout Gilane? Ended up gettin' m'pocket picked, horribly, by tha' li'l skeever." She shook her head, a laugh leaving her lips. "He didn' realize I'd been doin' that sorta shit since I was smaller than him. Followed him an' tol' him I'd make sure he was fed if he showed me roun' the city. Turned out his father was taken prisoner... dunno where though... I'm hopin' maybe he's free somewhere now."
“You, a pickpocket? Say it isn’t so!” Zaveed gasped, putting a hand up to his muzzle before he grinned and winked at her. “I suppose everyone needs a mentor. Lucky for him he tried his luck on you and not someone with a… less agreeable disposition.” Zaveed nodded, thinking over how much of himself he wanted to really share. Meg seemed to be sympathetic enough; she certainly had a heart for small wayward souls.
“I wasn’t unlike Zahir. Sevari, that less charming version of myself, is my brother. Not by blood, mind you, but in the way that actually matters. We grew up on Senchal’s streets together as orphans. Stealing what we could, food, medicine, clothing, coin. Take it from me when I say that someone like Zahir is going to turn out fine; if he’s been living on his own on the streets for this long, he’s clever and knows what to get what he needs to make it by.” The Khajiit explained quietly.
“It doesn’t matter much who is in charge for people like him and once upon a time; you’re invisible to the powers that be. Who gives a shit about a scrawny kid who sleeps on the streets? No one. And that’s why he’s going to be strong and capable; he made by just fine before you came along, but now he knows that at least one person out there sees him as a person. It’ll keep his heart in a good place.” Zaveed said, scrambling over a rock and grabbing onto a branch before letting himself down a small drop. On the other side of the rock, he offered a hand to Meg to climb down.
"Yer righ'," Meg replied with a nod. She had been quiet as she listened to the khajiit, and his words resounded in her, reminding her of herself when she was younger. She had been lucky to have a caring if somewhat negligent father who eventually realized what she had been up to, but before that, she had wandered the streets of Riften with no care for the guards and associating with sour types that perhaps were better left along.
And J'raij of course. That thought brought a smile to her lips.
Taking hold of his hand, she easily made her way to the other side, jumping off and landing next to him only a little less gracefully than he had. "I believe ya," she added once she was standing upright. "I know bein' a sorta street rat m'self made me stronger than I seem. I guess it's just me that's gotta get passed leavin' him jus’ like tha’. I jus' hope he doesn' like hate me or anythin’. I left a note for him an' some septims. Hopefully he doesn' go gettin' himself caught again." Taking a deep breath, she decided she had to simply realize that whatever was meant to happen would happen. The divines would hopefully be gracious and look after him.
"Y'know," she started, deciding to change the subject, "if I didn' know from b'fore, I wouldn've pegged Sevari an' you t'be brothers. Not 'cause y'look differen', I know that's 'cause of the moons, my friend J’raij had told me ‘bout that. More 'cause er... y'both act pretty differen'."
That earned a laugh. “Oh, a few decades apart will do that. When we were younger, I was the shy and hopeful one, and he was the one who always kept us looking forward. Our big break was always the next one, always, always, always. My sister, who is by blood, and I knew it was a load of guar shit, but that little bit of hope was all we needed.” Zaveed frowned, stopping for a moment, his arms crossed.
“The empire took him away, promised him revenge for the death of his biological family. Marassa went next, the Dominion picked her up for stealing and an officer took an interest in her and personally groomed her to be the best soldier she could be. I was alone, so I turned to a privateer crew at Senchal’s docks because I didn’t know what else to do and I wanted an adventure.” he looked over to Meg, a frown across his features, water welling in his eyes.
“I wanted to be strong enough to save my brother and my sister, and instead found myself in the iron grasp of cruel men who raped the innocence out of a young boy and molded what was left into a hardened killer and marauder. So, sob story cut short, I never got to find Sevari again for decades because I had to fight my way up to captain my own ship after ending those who wronged me for years, and Sevari became a boogeyman for the Empire who did all sorts of clandestine murders and other savory crimes. By the time we found each other again a few months ago, we didn’t recognize each other… and we still don’t. Not really.” Zaveed said, wiping at his eye and looking away. “Apologies, this is unbecoming of me.”
"No it ain'," Meg replied, feeling her own eyes stinging with tears, her heart clenching in sympathy for both Zaveed and Sevari. It was so hard to imagine being cut away from one's family like that, and to be forced into such unseeming and unbecoming situations. It reminded her of thoughts she had in Gilane, wondering who really was the right one in the end. It had taken the dwemer arriving for her to realize how much she did actually miss her father and brother, and how she wished to make some sort of amends with her stepmother. "Unbecomin' is me bawlin' while bein' stinkin' drunk." Her lips turned downward, and there was no hesitation when she reached over and gave his arm a sympathetic pat.
"It ain' fair what happened t'the three of ya," she finally added, shaking her head and letting out a sigh. "It's really silly an' dumb bu' I wish there was some way t'stop... or lessen all the bad in the world." She sighed again before managing to smile at the khajiit man. "I'm glad that at least y'all got t'meet each other again. Even if y'don' really know each other well... I mean... it's like makin' friends again, righ'? At leas’... I hope it is."
“Life seldom is fair, Megana. The fact that your lot in life is determined by the station of your birth says plenty to that; neither you nor I were born with a royal scepter up the ass, and I’m not about to feel remorse of the life I lived. I did what I had to to survive; had I been born to a well-off and opulent family, the person you know as Zaveed might as well have been someone entirely different. I might have picked up a lute instead of an axe, I might have become a lunar priest and travelled to Anequina. Who is to say?” he said, a bitterness to his tone suffocated under a heavy blink and sigh. When he spoke again, his tone was more agreeable.
“Thing is, I survived, I found my brother and sister again, and we’re all alive. It’s something I know I cannot take for granted, and that’s why everything I do now is in service of trying to repair a relationship that might never be mended, and to live up to the expectations of the one who gave me a second chance at life, and the woman who saw me as who I was and not my reputation as Captain Greywake. I have to be thankful for what I have, and I am in a position to maybe do some good for a change.” Zaveed said with a sense of earnest determination.
There was a small quiet that ensued before Meg spoke up. "Y'know," she started, looking at him, "yer a lot more differen' than I thought you'd be." A lot of her assumptions had been because of the incidents in Gilane, and though she had not seen anything of what had happened, her opinions had been tinged, perhaps rightfully so give those circumstances. But now... and especially after learning what she had about Gregor, and knowing the complete truth about Jaraleet, it was hard for her not to show sympathy to the khajiit man, even if she abhorred what had been done to her companions. "Both of you, t'be hones', you an' Sevari. I'm glad for it, an' I'm sure y'can do good"
She smiled a little, recalling a conversation from the Alik'r village. "It's like I tol' Jaraleet back in the desert, a li'l change never hurt anyone. Jus' gotta be brave an' take the steps t'make it happen." Her smile widened. "I've been hearin' it a whole lot- it is good t'be brave. There's... lotsa stuff 'bout me I don' quite like but I'm hopin'..." She shrugged, looking slightly embarrassed. "I'm hopin' t'change those too."
“I’ve been getting that a lot, I’m afraid to admit. The consequences of your actions aren’t nearly as easy to brush off when you have to look them in the eye each and every day.” Zaveed said, smiling unapologetically. He noticed a clearing up ahead and decided that they should wait and observe before crossing when they reached it.
“Change is hard and painful, it’s hard to kick a quarter-century’s worth of habits and experience, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out; I’m nothing if not resourceful, and likewise, I’m sure you’ll find the path that was meant for you with time and effort. But Megana?” he said, stopping in his tracks to look her square on. “There’s plenty to like about you, as well. Don’t feel like you need to go changing all at once, yes?”
Looking back at him, Meg couldn't help but smile at Zaveed's words, nodding in agreement. "I know," she assured him. She had noticed the clearing as well and moved a little to the side, though her attention was still on the khajiit. "Fjolte said sommat like tha' the other day as well... wha' was it? Somethin' 'bout bein' content in bein' me. An' tellin' my own mind t'pipe down sometimes." She rubbed the back of her neck, contemplating a moment before chuckling. “Guess I’ll figure it out too, some day. For now though…”
Her mouth twisted a little, thinking of the dwemer that had interrupted what she reckoned had been a peaceful life for most people. Even though they were always there in the back of her mind, the occupation had been easy to distract herself from, just by being in familiar surroundings. “Gotta that care of the dwemer problem.”
“Fjolte also gave me some things to think about. I’m rather pleased with our decision to free him; he’s a good man.” Zaveed agreed. ”But for now, one day at a time, yes?”
The pair reached the edge of the clearing, keeping low and keeping within the treeline, surveying the way across. Were there any figures or out of place shape along the brush, animals or traps? They kept a vigil for a bit over 5 minutes before deciding to make their move. Keeping low and fast, they crossed the clearing, feeling exposed and pressured all the while, but they had made it across without issue. Zaveed made a show of wiping his brow and grinning at Megana, and the two carried on.
The forest seemed tranquil and Zaveed had to admit, he was beginning to see the appeal now they were working their way down the Eastern slopes. Somewhere to the North was Markarth, so the map said, and Falkreath was somewhere to the Southeast. All they had to do was get out of the Reach first and out of the Druadarch Mountains. Maybe find an inn somewhere and sleep indoors for a change. Rorikstead was close by, wasn’t it?
The thoughts consumed Zaveed until he had begun to realize that the forest seemed to be eerily silent; no birds seemed to be chirping, and they had not seen even so much as a deer in some time.
“Something’s wrong.” he said, his hands reaching for the axes at his hips. Suddenly, a sharp pain like a stinging insect was felt in his thigh. As a reflex, he reached down and felt a metallic cylinder with a feathered shaft sticking out of his leg. He pulled it free with a hiss, freeing his axes and turning towards the source. His vision had begun to blur and spin, his head felt light, his limbs weak. “What…” he managed, and Zaveed collapsed to his knees, the axes slipping from his hands as he tried to catch his fall. His hands slowed his descent, but by the time his face hit the dirt, the world had gone black.
"Shit!" Meg had been ready to take hold of her bow at the warning just in case, but she had not expected her companion to be struck so soon after his words. Without a thought she pulled her sword from its place at her waist and stood above the fallen khajiit, eyes darting this way and that as she tried to figure out which direction the dart may have been shot from. A glance at Zaveed showed he was alive at least, so that was a small relief.
"Show yerself!" she growled. Any sign of affability was missing from her face, eyes narrowed beneath the frown creasing her brow. She didn't expect a reply, and neither did she receive one, at least not a verbal one. It wasn't long before she was struck by a dart as well. Looking down in an almost surreal fashion, she saw the small yet effective projectile sticking into her side. Without a word she grabbed it and pulled it out, waiting for unconsciousness to hit her like it had her companion...
But it didn't.
Thinking fast, Meg let herself fall to the ground, sword clattering from her hand to the forest floor beside her. Her eyes were closed but her mind was still racing, very aware of her current situation. It seemed the divines were looking over her today; the dart hadn't pierced her skin and so she remained awake. She couldn't squander this opportunity; at least this way she had some sort of chance... she hoped. Daring to open her eyes one last time, her eyes fell on the khajiit she’d nearly fallen on top of, and then slipped down to notice the dagger sheathed at his back. Maybe…
Long minutes passed with Zaveed snoring heavily slumped into the dirt and Megana mimicking him to the best of her ability. The brush moved then very subtly, and with her eyes closed, she could not see their attackers. They spoke in a strange tongue and after kicking both captives to check their responsiveness and pulses, both Megana and Zaveed had their hands and legs bound in chord. A feather enchantment was cast on both of their prone forms and they were hoisted up and carried off quietly into the brush.