I’m the Captain Now
A tale as told by Stormy, Shaft, and DervsOasis, 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.”
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.”