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3 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.
6 mos ago
If people actually ditch RPs after a week of no posting, it's no wonder nobody finishes games. People have lives folks.
6 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
7 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
7 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

Birdcage in the Sky

Sora’s Lost Days

13th Midyear 4E208, Governor’s Palace, early evening…

Another page was crumpled in a ball and shoved from the mirrored desk, joining a litter of three other failed attempts at finding words for something that was impossible. Daro’Vasora slumped down on the desk, staring back at her reflection and her emerald-coloured eyes over her forearm flat against the surface. Had she always looked this tired? She wasn’t sure; she wasn’t sure of anything anymore.

It had been days since she’d seen Latro or heard from Sevari, and she had held out hope that her lover was safe and Sevari would return with information, but word of neither arrived, save for the news that the convoy that was heading to the prisoner transfer was assaulted by insurgents, and many of the Ministry of Order’s men were slain in the ambush; Sevari and Latro were nowhere to be found. Daro’Vasora had tried to tell herself that it meant that they were safe, that Latro had escaped and found the others, but she couldn’t lie to herself so readily and she had cried herself to sleep.

To the Governor’s credit, her daily visit was a short one that was sympathetic. A new dress and sweets were provided, and the governor herself took off her necklace, leaving it with the Khajiit. It was a malachite pendant housed in a Dwemeri alloy harness covered in the simple, bold designs that the Dwemer seemed to favour. It was a pretty thing, and didn’t seem to fit someone of Razlinc’s station. The Governor smiled and explained that it had been her mother’s, the stone a gift from a Chimer suitor. That alone made the necklace more valuable than anything the Khajiit had ever found in her life, and yet it sat on the desk, unmoving with the now melted chocolates for two days now.

She pulled up another parchment, free of words, and stared blankly at the page, knowing that the words she committed to it could potentially ultimately either be the salvation of her companions or their doom. A speech, something to placate the populace. The publically humiliated terrorist leader publicly denouncing the violence and her part in it while exalting the virtues of her captors and how well they treated her and what they could offer Gilane and Volenfell. It was a lie, a sham, and every time she put words to the page, she either felt like she was consigning people she cared about to death or about to sell her soul for a little more time for them. After what she’d seen lurking far below the palace, however, she knew horrors awaited the streets in Gilane. Words weren’t going to prevent that, nothing she could do would.

All she was was a single, stupid girl in a foreign city who got in over her head and in trying to lead people to safety away and ended up bringing them into some overzealous insurgency that she didn’t even know if it was altruistic or opportunistic. Did it matter anymore? Did any of it? She stood up from the desk and headed to the balcony to clear her head. She was falling in love with the early evening breeze of the city, how Magus shifted ever so slightly as the hours ticked on, revealing more colours hidden within the city streets. She knew that somewhere down there, her friends were waiting, probably scared shitless about what had happened to her and Latro. Her mind lingered on Judena, and how she never told her how much she meant to her, and how the Argonian would wake up every single day for weeks wondering where Daro’Vasora was, and then re-discovering that she was gone forever. The constant anguish of the thought made the Khajiit choke back a sob. Megana would almost certainly be doing everything to try and find out where she was, even if it got her in trouble… Raelynn wouldn’t be able to do anything, not the way she was, broken and terrified. Did she blame herself for Roux’s death, Daro’Vasora wondered.

A breeze rolled by and prickled her bare arms, and for a moment she allowed herself to imagine it was Latro’s reassuring caress, like when she awoke from the nightmares. She had never allowed herself to believe she could ever be loved by anyone, nor feel it in turn, but ever since her and the Reachman had been trapped below the Jerall Mountains, hunted by Falmer, she felt a bond to him, a bond that had only grown stronger, even when she had feared he died in Imperial City, and when she foolishly nearly squandered it in Anvil. He didn’t look at her fur or pointed teeth with disgust, her slitted pupils with distrust, her tail in mockery. He looked at her like she was the only thing in the world, and that he’d found something in turn he no longer needed to hide in the shadows from. They loved each other, and it was the most pure and reassuring thing Daro’Vasora had ever experienced in her life, and it meant something. They’d never be able to have children, and society would frown on their union, but none of that mattered.

Nothing mattered anymore. The future she’d dared dream of was torn from her, the beautiful rose only she’d been able to grasp had been torn from her and only barren soil remained in Latro’s wake. It was too late to save him, but it didn’t mean she had to bow and submit to those who took him from her.

“You never wrote me that song.” she whispered to the golden sky. Her eyes widened with realization, and Daro’Vasora hurried back to her desk, and for the better part of an hour, the quill danced across paper, words coming to life before her eyes. The page filled, and she held it up to dry, watching on as the ink took to the paper to bond together like lovers. She smiled at the thought.

I’m like a stupid girl again.

The Khajiit returned to the balcony, humming a melody as she read the words over the page, trying to find a tune. It had all been so quick and spontaneous, she knew it wouldn’t be fine work and she certainly wasn’t a bard.

Still, she knew it was something he would have loved. She stood, staring at the amber-hues of the sky, perfectly preserving the moment in her mind like the fossil that took its namesake.

“I’ve never been good at this,” Daro’Vasora said to the sky, her voice carrying somewhat past her balcony. “You never had the chance to write me that song that you promised, and it was something I know I loved to tease you about, Latro… I just wish it had a chance to come true.

“You know, ever since I was young, I always had a fascination with singers and songs, how they could whisk you away to far away lands and tell a story that leaps out into your heart more than words on a page ever could. When I first laid eyes on you, with your dark hair and those eyes I could get lost in for hours, I fell in love with your voice. It took a while, but the rest of me followed suit. There’s days where I don’t know what I did to deserve you, but you’ve been the best thing that’s ever happened to me, Latro de Couteau. I’d hoped one day to fall in love with your voice all over again when you finally sang me that song that was just for me, I couldn’t think of a greater gift.” she grow silent, wiping an errand tear that had rolled down her cheek away.

“Now I realized that the greatest gift of all would be to have you back, and I was too stupid to realize that sooner. How many times have I lost you, only to find you again, to promise that it would be different this time? This time… you didn’t come back. I feel like it’s stuck this time, and my heart shatters at the thought, but you don’t need me to be crumble now. To the love of my life, who I fear I’ll never see again, I will say goodbye to you the same way I laid eyes on you, with a song.” she smiled, sniffing as her eyes welled up with tears and she inhaled deeply and sang, her voice high and light, the melody carrying from her lips well, even if she didn’t have a range to express herself,

Forever lingering among the stars
The view is ever far
Up above the moonlit high
There sits a birdcage in the sky

I waited here so long and brave
Isolated from people in a grave
Made up of my soul and mind
No thoughts for those I left behind

But here you are, not letting go
Among the stars all alone
Finally hearing a song that wasn’t mine
In this birdcage in the sky

You unlocked the cage and picked my lock
This beautiful thing quite the shock
I hesitantly took your hand
And when I leapt my life began

It felt like we fell for hours but even so
Holding hands I was no longer alone
The ground came close and though we’d die
You freed me from my birdcage in the sky

But you spread your wings, and we were aloft
You saved us from perilous drop
Soaring into the great unknown
There was no telling how far we would go

We’d finally found what we’d been missing
A song from someone who was listening
Though one day we would say goodbye
You saved me from the birdcage in the sky

Her voice trailed off, and she listened to the sound of rustling palm trees and the sing song of birds, taking in everything as if for the last time, for tomorrow everything would change. She had hoped that wherever Latro was, he had been listening. She smiled at the sky above. “Goodbye, Latro. Thank you for finding the best of me, for not giving up on me, for showing someone who didn’t deserve it the most genuine love and compassion she’s ever felt. Though we part ways and our souls may never meet again, you will always be with me. Always.

“I love you Latro, to the moons, to the Sands Behind the Stars, and when it all comes to an end, my heart will always yearn for you. You made me realize who I could be, who I wanted to be, and who I will be for you. I’m not ashamed of who I am anymore, of what I am. I don’t feel like I am in the wrong body, or that I’m carrying a mark of shame. At the end of it all, at the end of this trail, and though I no longer feel your embrace, I know you are with me. Thank you, for showing me my own moonpath. Thank you, for being the light of my life and freeing me from my cage. I hope you felt the same way; I feel it in my heart.” she said, clutching her chest. She looked down for a moment before looking at the moons above. “Give me strength for these final steps I must take, and I carry you in my heart; may your roads lead you to warm sands. Daro’Vasora knows in her heart who you were, and she will always find you when she looks to the stars.”

She walked away from the balcony, gripping the railing one final time, her touch lingering as she stepped away and returned to the desk, carefully folding her song and placing it gingerly on the desk. Producing another parchment, she set down to write what was effectively going to be her eulogy. Tomorrow, she’d have to give her speech to the crowd, and tomorrow, she would tell the truth to the gathered masses knowing full well the consequences of defiance. She would even wear the Governor’s necklace while she gave her speech. Glancing over at the balcony, two songbirds danced and fluttered along the railing, prompting a sad smile.

She would never see an evening as beautiful as this one again.
Parting Company

10th of Last Seed, The Howling Wolf Inn, late that night…

Do’Karth had quietly snuck back into the room he had shared with Sevine, the Nord snoring softly when his footfalls entered the room. The door had been unlocked; perhaps she had left it that way for him, or in her anger and frustration had forgotten to fasten the bolt behind her before she let herself drift off to sleep. He thought about rousing her, but decided against it; her words stung him to the core, and how casually she disregarded him when he needed her most still burned in his heart. She had not come to his aid in the aftermath of his dire mistake, and now it had come down to this. He’d been a fool to love her, to think she’d stand by him when things grew difficult, when he dared share his thoughts. He had seen too many friends die for a war he did not believe in, serving under men so cruel they might have been the Daedric Princes themselves.

Quietly, he gathered his things, rejecting the urge to scream at Sevine, to continue a fight that had ended it all. He thought about those who remained, Niernen in particular. Do’Karth sighed, knowing how the Dunmer felt about him. He wished he could go to her now; she would have understood his plight and been grateful for his company, but Narzul was not something he wanted to get entangled with. Fastening the drawchord on his rucksack, Do’Karth hoisted it on his back and turned to leave, noticing the amulet of S’rendarr still sitting in the corner where he’d dropped it. He’d leave it there, it was no longer of use to him. His gods had abandoned him when he needed guidance most, and if Sevine turning her back on him was their punishment for him daring to accept happiness in his life after years of trying to make amends for the crimes he committed, he no longer wished for their blessings. They were spiteful beings that were devoid of sympathy and heart. They could not understand the plight of mortals, and they would never try.

“Goodbye, Sevine. This one is thankful for the time we had together,” he said quietly, reaching the doorframe and his hold lingered on it for a few moments, a part of him wishing he could stay and make things right.

No, she made her choice. This one was not one of them. he reminded himself, and his heart hardened. “But your path was never going to include Do’Karth.” He concluded, stepping fully outside and closing the door one last time. He knew it would be the last time he saw the fiery hair he loved so much, and felt his warmth against him, the compassion and affection in her eyes, the way they had met and she had wanted to feel his ears. He thought of the day they confessed their darkest secrets to one another, and had instead of judgement, found acceptance and warmth. The tears rolled freely down his cheeks, damping his fur, and his bare arm wiped indelicately across his face. Memories that he’d cherish but would never relive; Do’Karth was a nomad, and he had to pay a penance for a life he was never meant to have. He’d likely never find love again, and maybe he didn’t deserve it. He abandoned his friends along the way for love, didn’t he? Jorwen, Solveig… he swore he would guard her, and he did not follow her. Jorwen had accepted him first and foremost, and now he was a slave or dead to the Kamal.

Do’Karth would find him, he decided. Even if he died in the attempt, finding and rescuing Jorwen would be the singular thing his redemption would mean. He left the inn, stepping into the unfamiliar Jehanna streets. He’d nearly lost himself in this damned city, nearly killed a man for simply being a racist piece of gutter trash, but still not worthy of death. He’d destroyed the relationship with the one person to ever show him love and compassion, and he turned his back on the other. There was nothing but pain here, and he knew that if the company kept the way it was going, he would be laying more friends to death, or forcing them to do the same for him. It was not something he wished to go through again.

He walked, reaching the gates of the city, and he looked back upon it and the people he was leaving behind, hoping they would understand why he could never say goodbye; he would never be allowed to leave Gustav’s clutches due to a damned contract he couldn’t read. With a sigh, he raised a hand to the city and placed another on his heart. “Goodbye, friends. Do’Karth will not forget you.” He said quietly, and he settled down the path, his bare feet and the tip of his staff the only sounds going into the night.

Do’Karth’s gods spoke no words of protest.
Echos of the Soul

A Shaft and Dervs collab
10th Midyear 4E208, Late Evening, Former Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary…

It was quiet in the mausoleum-like sanctuary, the rest, relaxation, and training area of Kerztar’s secret police force and Zaveed sat by the hearth going through pages of prisoner interment reports, searching for Bakih Al Nahel and comparing matching names to the written description he’d recorded after parting ways with Sirine, looking for the least Redguard looking Redguard of them all, and finding out that Sirine’s mother was an Imperial. He stopped for a few moments, feeling a headache coming on and as he pinched the bridge of his nose, he noticed that his hand was shaking. Looking at his disdainfully, he set down the papers on the end table and grasped his hand, feeling ashamed and angry at he was too weak to kill off lingering pain and emotional damage like he had so many men. It wasn’t as if he could take an axe to his own heart; his own dagger had proven to make those matters so much worse.

He stopped, inhaling slowly throw his nose and out through his mouth a few times, trying to calm himself down. The high he’d experienced from surviving the unsurvivable had worn off, and he was becoming increasingly aware of the little things that were putting him on edge. The grinding of a sword, people practicing magic, long shaped shadows… he was ill at ease and found himself snapping at his compatriots for minor infractions and comments, specifically how shitty he looked to be doing.

“Well enough to open your entrails and feed them to Merrunz.” he’d snarled at one Bosmer, and the shattered glass near the walls of the room where he’d thrown glasses and bottles to get people to leave the common area were a sign of the tempest waiting within. He wasn’t in the mood to entertain, and he knew he wasn’t well; he needed to do his job, even if there was a toll he wasn’t quite seeing the scope of.

He went to drink from the bottle of wine he had next to him and discovered he’d already consumed the whole thing. He grunted, annoyed, shoving it away with his fingers. It would be another projectile should someone disturb him, he decided.

He was still wearing the orange tunic Sirine gave him, and he’d given his armour to the blacksmith and tailor to mend while the company alchemist had given him a routine of healing potions to finish mending his aching and broken body. Breathing was harder when he strained himself, he’d noticed, and it hurt to bend down. He opened the tunic at the chest and ran his fingers along the diagonal slash, frowning as he recalled the nightmarish thing bringing the axe down upon him. He didn’t even see Gregor’s sword enter his body, on account of it being behind him, but a reason he felt so irritable today was one of the mages practicing shock magic was making him tense and flinch with the cackling of the lightning-like discharge.

He opened one of his potions and he drank, not caring if it tasted like goat scrotum. It would help get rid of the bruising and swelling he still endured. He wanted to return to himself, who he was at his best. With any luck, Gregor died and wouldn't be shitting nightmares into alleyways ever again.

His blue eyes gazed into the flames, the yellow tongues of fire reminding him of Raelynn's golden hair. He was trying to reconcile what she'd done for him with what he did to her.

Afternoon of the 13th…

The ghost town. Sevari was perched atop the dune on his horse, looking down on the ghost town in which the Sanctuary was hidden. Why was it always a ghost town or some equally spooky shit the Dark Brotherhood had to have? He coughed up something from his still-healing lungs and spat it to the side, kicking his spurs into his horse’s flanks and letting her amble into the ghost town.

He knew he was close when the horse began to huff and pound the dirt beneath her hooves, shaking her head in protest. No horse wanted to go near the door to the Sanctuary. As he walked up to it with his own two feet, he could imagine why. Through the skeletal hallways of the decrepit building, he found it. A door made of material that seemed to be solidified from the darkest spaces between stars. As it sensed Sevari’s presence, it spoke, “To whom shall I open, if I open at all…?”

It was like a chorus of whispers right in his head, that part of it, he never got over. Why they couldn’t just tear the door down and replace it with a door and regular fucking locks was beyond him. He coughed up a gob of bloody mucus and spat at the door, “Fuck off.”

It immediately began to rattle and grate open across the sandstone it was set in. “Sevari…”

“Mhm.” He stepped through and soon he was in the common room. This felt… odd. Just not right. Thunderhead and Two-Shafts weren’t here sharing drinks, Forosien wasn’t talking anybody’s ears off. He scanned the room, the sophomoric decor doing nothing to his mood anymore. That Lucky Lady statue had been decorated- or desecrated depending on who is asked- by Forosien and Saffi. He took a seat at the bar, grabbing up a corked bottle of wine.

He bit into the cork and yanked it loose, spitting it off somewhere in the room before he drank deeply, four long gulps of it. He wiped his lips and chin off on the sleeve of his coat, watching the candle’s flame dance. He was alone, content with it. He wondered if Zaveed was here yet. He hoped he was. He was the only reason he came back to this place.

“Sevari?” a voice came from the entranceway. Zaveed was wearing a house robe that left his chest, and the massive scar, quite visible. He was walking more in his usual stride, but less deliberate and confidently. He walked around to where Sevari was sitting, his face pale and etched with concern.

“I'd heard what happened… Bright Moons you made it back. Are you hurt?” he asked, grabbing the back of a chair, supporting his weight. “I was worried I'd lost you.” he admitted quietly, his state unfocused as he gazed at his brother.

“I…” he said, lips working unsuccessfully at forming around the words, but they just couldn’t. He’d killed an innocent man in his own home for the crime of defending it from a stranger, from him. He’d chosen Zaveed over his blood brother in Al-Aqqiyah. It was hard. It was a choice he never wanted to make.

Over the years, the fact that he hadn’t seen Suffian in so long, over 15 years. Now Hammerfell, in Al-Aqqiyah. He glanced at his sleeve, swallowing and gulping down another mouthful of wine when he saw a bit of blood still on the edge of his sleeve. It was a choice he never wanted to make. But he did.

“I’m glad you’re still alive.” Sevari said, looking at Zaveed and remembering Gregor’s words. That the child he knew was nowhere to be found in the man before him now. Sevari looked Zaveed up and down, the scar, his aura. Just… different now. But those blue eyes, there was a glint of the same eyes the orphan boy in Senchal had. “How… how are you? What happened?”

He dusted off a seat next to him, gesturing to it, “Sit, sit.” He said, the first genuine smile he had in a while, “I missed you.”

Zaveed sat slowly, feeling like he weighed a ton. He stared into the flames that reminded him so much of the girl his heart yearned for. “I more or less died.” he smiled ruefully. “It didn't take, I got better. Sevari…” he looked over to his brother, his eyes distraught.

“Gregor nearly soul trapped me. I felt myself being torn from my body. It was like being raped, but you know that nothing but eternal torment and then nothingness awaits. He's a conjurer, a talented mage. I tried to find Marassa and found him instead, one of my quarry in our hunt. I nearly had him, he was no match for me. Then…”

Zaveed stared back into the fire, his companion for the past few nights that brought him calm. “He has monsters at his fingertips of the likes I’ve never seen. I saw the Dark Behind the World. I felt myself being pulled into that nightmare by the Bent Cats… my skin looked like theirs. Choking back a sob, he buried his face in his hands. “I shouldn't be alive.” he wheezed.

Lightning quick, he sent the candles hurtling into the wall in a clatter, standing and kicking his stool across the room. First Suffian and now this. He stood, shoulders heaving in rattling breaths, “I had him.” Sevari said, “I had him. He was right fucking there! I had him and I walked away from that necromancer bastard!

“Sevari.” Zaveed's cracked voice cut through the tomb like room. “That's enough. All the better he yet lives, it was Raelynn who saved my life.” the Cathay said, soaked eyes staring pleasingly at his brother. “A life for a life. The score is settled and I am alive. Do not burden your heart with vengeance. Let go.”

“So what?” Sevari said, “We’re only going to make more scores staying here. With the Dwemer. Everything I worked for is gone, now. There’s no more friends for me in the world after I did what I did in Al-Aqqiya, Zaveed. It’s just us. Just me.”

Sevari took another stool and set it down next to Zaveed, gulping down a mouthful of wine. He rubbed at his face, sighing, “I want to find Marassa.” He said, his voice low, “I want to just make sure she’s safe and then disappear. Retire in Stros M’kai. Even Yneslea or Esroniet, no more Penitus Oculatus, no more revenge, just live my days peacefully. Quietly.”

Zaveed stood, finding a white Alinor wine by the Lucky Lady statue with his gaze and walked over to it, plucking it up with care. “I have an asset working the tavern drunks for gossip about Marassa's whereabouts as we speak. In exchange, I am trying to find where they are detaining her brother. Seems I'm not the only one with a missing sibling.” he said, pulling the cork with a claw and setting it on the statue’s hand. He drank deeply before slumping against the dias.

“What did you do in Al-Aqqiya, brother? You look as haunted as I feel.” Zaveed asked, the bottle reaching his lips once more.

“He made me choose. Suffian, my blood brother. He made me choose between the mission, between revenge, and you.” Sevari shook his head and looked at his hands, “I never wanted that. To choose between my families. But I did. I’m wanted everywhere now.”

“I Killed him. I made the choice.” Sevari said, “I thought I’d never see him again and have to choose between you and him after all these years. I Killed him and held him as he died and I’m the last of my blood. He didn’t even look like I remember him. Vengeance changed him even more than it did me.”

Zaveed sighed, muttering quietly. “Damn it all.” he had no emotional connection to Sevari's biological family and he only knew of Suffian by name. The thought that Zaveed's existence caused that chaos and forced Sevari to choose left a bloodied knot in his gut. “You could have went with him. It's what you wanted, isn't it? Your blood family?” he shook his head, crossing the floor towards Sevari.

“You don't owe me anything. You barely know who I am anymore, either. Just a few damned weeks where we've barely talked to each other as family or friends. For what it's worth, it hurts to hear that you were forced to make that choice, that you lost everything you hoped to have back.” Zaveed drank again, setting it on the table. Not knowing what else to do, he wrapped his arms around Sevari in a tight embrace. “I’m sorry.

“You're all I have left in this world, you and Marassa. I know what vengeance can cost a man, and you never deserved to pay that price.” Zaveed said softly.

Sevari trembled under Zaveed’s embrace and his words. This was the first time in years that he had been shown something other than cold professionalism or anger. Even Suffian didn’t treat him like family after everything. He held back a choking sob and squeezed Zaveed’s arm. “We always have a choice.” He said, quietly, “Always. I was never close to my blood family, besides my mother and Suffian. My mother is dead and Suffian has become a man I barely could see the old him in.”

“If I don’t have you or Marassa, Zaveed.” He took a breath and whimpered out another sob he tried everything to hold back, “I have nothing left. I wasn’t lying to Marassa when I told her the price on my head meant death if I ever set foot in Dominion territory again. The money I gave you was so bloody I was relieved to be rid of it. An outlaw in three countries, a traitor of both the Dominion, Elsweyr, and now the Empire. And my own damn blood.

“Everything has crumbled in my hands.” He took Zaveed in an embrace, “This family is all I have to go to.”

“We don't have to worry about bloody coin any longer; the sea did an admirable job washing that clean. We have several decades of catching up to do. I'm not planning on going anywhere, even if Marassa chooses her duty and comfortable life over us. I’m at peace with that. Come, join me by the fire.” Zaveed said, pulling away from Sevari with a reassuring smile and a hand on his shoulder.

Zaveed grabbed his wine and sat down in his customary seat once more, propping his leg up on a box. He felt more like his usual self, albeit more sentimental and grateful for Sevari having finally coming around to the brother Zaveed had missed. “I always felt blood didn't mean shit when it came to family. You and I don't share a drop of blood, but you're no different in my eyes than Marassa. Hopefully mother choked to death on a cock, the whore.” he said, drinking back the bottle.

“It's strange, between the fear and the aches and the emotional tempest in my soul right now from my ordeal, I don't hate Gregor. It was him or me, and I underestimated him. I've become complacent in my older years.” Zaveed said with a terse smile. “I keep mulling over the past few weeks in my mind and heart, and I remember Raelynn most of all. She hates me with every fiber of her soul, but she saved me because she wanted to show me her compassion was something I could never take from her.” he held out his hand in front of him, the fire light leaking between turning fingers. “I nearly killed her lover and she still used much of her power to stabilize me, and she told me to leave her and her friends alone, that I live because of her. Do you think she was wrong to do this, after what I've done?”

Sevari thought in that for a minute. He wiped his eye as he looked at the fire, taking in the warmth it offered. His mind meandered back to his conversations with Zaveed. We all have a choice, he’d said. Choices. It seemed a constant in Sevari’s life, everyone’s life that there’s always those few hard choices that make life what it is. Once they’re made, you can never go back. He frowned, sighed, leaned forward in his seat and propped his elbows on his knees, “We all have a choice, don’t we?” He said, “I guess it’ll be your choice to make her wrong or right in doing what she did.”

The words stirred something in Zaveed's heart. His own words had always meant picking an outcome for yourself, right or wrong. He'd never considered that when choices involved other people, they had a say in what it meant… what it was worth. He thought about that night, the ferocity in her eyes as she drove his dagger into his heart, the look of horrified resignation when she realized she couldn't go through with it, the furious frustration that grew from sparing his life. He lived because despite how much she hated him, she wouldn't sink to his level.

He felt filthy, degenerate. How would he cope with this time he should never of had, this chance to earn the gift she gave him.

“Perhaps you are right. This is my chance to be better than I was, to pay it forward, as it were. But first, there is something I must do for my associate. It seems fair, a life for a life.” Zaveed mused, picking up the stack of prisoner portfolios he had taken out from processing, promising the cute clerk to bring them back and her something special for her willingness to turn a blind eye for an evening. “The thing is, Sevari… I don’t know what the right thing is anymore. I don’t know what it means to be whatever it was that she saw that was worth saving. It’s been eating at me, and I am no closer to an answer. I am still myself, that hasn’t changed, but how do I move past everything that’s come to define me like barnacles on the bottom of a ship?”

Sevari looked at his hands, “I’ve been chasing vengeance for 20 years, Zaveed. For half my life. Everything I did up until now has been for one goal.” He said, shaking his head, “The money I dropped in your lap was from years of robberies, smuggling drugs and artifacts, murder for money, extortion. I never stopped to ask myself if it was right. If that was what the people I was trying to avenge would want.”

“It isn’t so much throwing your sword away as much as it is what cause you pledge it to.” Sevari shrugged, “Men don’t become evil all at once. It’s a long, straight road down, until you stop to look back and it hurts your neck to crane it so high. Men change. I know it all too well.”

He shook his head, leaning back in his chair as he folded his hands in his lap. “I’ll never be the young boy who shared lamb with you and Marassa in Senchal.” His voice was low and forlorn, “But I can be the man who makes sure at least you and I get back to being as close as we were, and never losing myself again. It’s us, brother. Fuck the rest.”

Zaveed chuckled in spite of himself. “I hope not, you were a bit of a cryer.” he said, smiling towards the flames. “Nothing will be the same, certainly. But I’m willing to try, at least, to do something different. You speak of your crimes like I’ve not been party to quite a number of rather high stakes actions against unwilling hands. I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve killed, stolen from, extorted… you know, the kind of mischief that they sing about in bloody songs in taverns like it’s romantic but leave out the part where a man screams for his mother while his entrails are sewn across the deck of a ship he’d only been on a month. I won’t apologize for that time; Tamriel is not a kind place, and it chose us to follow a certain path that many consider unsavory. It doesn’t mean one is beholden to that path forever. Look where we are now; did you ever think we’d be having this conversation in a Dark Brotherhood sanctuary, generously serving what one might considered indentured servitude?” he scoffed, drinking until the bottle was empty and casually tossing it to the floor. “So, what then? What’s next? You know neither of us are ever going to find peace.”

“No. Maybe not.” Sevari said, frowning into the fire and stroking his beard, “We’ve been savages too long, I’ve got a price on my head in half of Tamriel. If I don’t die in a pool of my own blood in the middle of a road in a place no one knows my name, I’d be surprised.”

He shrugged, chuckling bitter, “I’ve robbed and killed through half of Tamriel, there’s no way I can man a counter at some general store in Skingrad.” He said, “There has to be some way we can leave this behind. The Dwemer, Hammerfell, all of this.”

“Well, one day I’ll find myself a ship of my own again. Could always use a first mate.” Zaveed offered with a casual shrug, throwing an arm over the chair. “My first love will always be the sea, a man is free there, no one cares who you are, just what you can do. I wish you could see it like I do, Sevari. It truly is a thing of wonder.”

“I’ve always been more of a bandit than a pirate. The gang all went our separate ways a few weeks before I showed up in your tavern asking after you.” He said, chuckling, “I rode away from that robbery with 3,000 septims. The Thalmor will never forgive me for robbing that war fund caravan.”

“Life on the roads is hard, rough, but the closeness of a gang is something I’ve missed for a bit. What’s Wayrest like nowadays?” He asked.

Zaveed clucked his tongue. “My, weren’t we just talking about change? Live a little. I promise I will only lightly tease you if you get sea-sick.” He grinned, looking over to the Ohmes-Raht. “Wayrest is as it has been for some time now, a Corsair Republic where captains come and go to ply their trade, recruit for their vessels, drink the town dry and whores make a fortune. It’s more or less paradise, as free as a man can be. If you think you are a rotten scoundrel, take a walk around Wayrest street’s any given night and you’ll feel like you’re a pious man. I never made my way there as much as I’d have liked, perhaps it was because a part of me took the whole privateer business and my letter of marquis from the Queen quite to heart, another part of me felt that flying under the same flag as Marassa kept me close to her.” His face scrunched into a frown as he sighed, resuming his vigil by the fire. “I’m doing everything I can to find her, I promise. I trust Sirine to do right by me, she already has. She helped clean me up and gave me new clothes after my brush with Gregor, and I paid her handsomely to get information on Marassa’s whereabouts. I promised her in turn to help find her own brother and to get her out of that shithole of a tavern she’s working at. Probably the first woman I paid without the intention of bedding, I’ll admit.”

“Ah, how saintly of you. You’re a changed man already, Zaveed.” Sevari smirked, “Do you need me to go back out there and work some taverns? Where was her brother last time she’d seen him?”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Sevari; I might behead a homeless man for sport to keep up appearances.” Zaveed replied dryly before continuing, “Dwemer arrested him, same way we were caught. They were pirates caught out at sea when the hammer fell, if you’ll excuse my play on words. She thinks he’s alive, and the only way to know that for sure is to find out anything in this stack,” Zaveed patted down the pile of papers on the table next to him. “Matches his name and description. It’s what I’ve been doing for the past three days, recovering from my injuries outside… and up here.” he said, tapping his temple with a claw.

“Do you know when they made landfall?” He asked, “I’m not telling you how to go about this. I want to find Marassa too. I could go back to Gilane, scour the taverns and inns for Marassa, bring some of the others? Only a matter of telling them to report her location back to me, tell them it’s a sensitive case.”

“I’m afraid not,” Zaveed admitted. “Just when the Dwemer first arrived, whenever that properly was. If you want to keep playing our hand close to the chest, maybe. I just want to see her safe, but I fear if she hears that a bunch of Ministry agents are questioning for her whereabouts, she’ll go so deep we’ll never see her again. I’m also concerned, possibly rightfully so, about the terrorists finding out about her again. If they find out she’s a person of interest to us, she’s as a good as dead.”

“So, it’s just us then.” He nodded, sucking his teeth, “Alright then. I’ve found people who didn’t want to be found before. Just a matter of getting to known insurgents, finding a lead on whatever cell condoned those attacks. I’ve got a score to settle with them anyway.”

“Very well. I’ve been sitting in this miserable heap for far too long as it is.” Zaveed said with a trace of a smile. “Shall we go get ready for a night on the town?”

“Dress to impress, Zaveed.” Sevari stood with a grunt, “I know I will.”
Additionally, participation will have to be maintained going forward; any noticeable long term absence or inactivity will be considered grounds for removal. Life happens, but we also need to make sure that everyone in the game is putting in a similar amount of effort. If things are simply too busy, then it would probably be best if this game wasn't distracting from it.
In a Nest of Vipers

A Dervs and Shaft Collab ft. Stormy

The table was set for a fine dinner, much like the one Daro’Vasora had enjoyed at Salosiox’s manor with Raelynn when they had first met. The room was dark and spacious, and only light seemed to come from above, despite the lack of an evident source. However, this time, she knew she was the host. A nice table cloth with a golden trim wrapped around the circular table, and her two guests were dressed in finery, much like herself. Roux, ever so dashing in a black and blue ensemble with a tulip on his lapel and his blonde hair kept in a nicely kept ponytail, and Raelynn was wearing a fetching and revealing white dress that the Khajiit found herself in envy of; Raelynn was beautiful in ways she was not, and she was effortless in her appearance. She frowned, instead focusing on the meal she prepared… which wasn’t much else other than stale bread and questionable mutton. It reminded her of her time in the refugee camp in Skingrad, yet her two companions were dining as if it were gourmet.

Raelynn cleared her throat from her seat at the table, a sweet smile on her face as a giggle of mirth erupted while she raised her glass, “a toast to friendship!” she exclaimed, in her honeyed voice. The Breton tilted her head to the side, to look Sora in her eyes, she blinked slowly and appreciatively in the direction of the Khajiit. “A toast to Daro’Vasora!”.

It pulled the Khajiit back to the present and she smiled, raising her own glass to the toast and a clang of three glasses touched. She was glad to be here, with friends; amends were made with Roux, and Raelynn seemed to be more herself after her encounter. Still, it was strange they were doing this in a warehouse and not the conference room at the Three Crowns, but still, she wouldn’t complain; the danger was gone.

“I’m grateful to you both, this is for you. I was never sure if I was doing the right thing by you, but here we are.” she smiled, drinking from the glass. It was surprisingly tasteless and not at all refreshing. Still, it didn’t distract from the quiet and private revelry. Roux smiled, his lips were red; that was strange. “I need to leave soon.” He said, his mouth was filled with blood. “My wife and daughter, they’ve been waiting for a while. I chose them over you, you know. It wasn’t a hard choice, to think I’d end up with a cat, but I’m glad you’ve come around again, Sora… maybe it was a bit too little, too late though. Was this way of getting back at me, for all those years ago?” he asked. Blood was dripping from his mouth on his shirt. Daro’Vasora starred, her mouth agape. “You’re not well. What are you saying?” she asked.

“You chose me, in the end. Not to carry on with you, but to gift to a killer. It wouldn’t have happened but maybe if you’d kept better control of your friends, we wouldn’t have had to say goodbye.” He sighed, wiping his bloody mouth with a handkerchief. “I never had a chance to make amends.” he said regretfully, his head slumping.

Daro’Vasora’s claws dug into the table cloth; something wasn’t right. “Roux? I don’t know what to say. I didn’t choose you, I… I tried not to choose anyone! I went there to save you both. I’m sorry! What more could I have done?!” she demanded, her eyes narrowing with tears. “I never asked for any of this!”

Raelynn reached out a hand to touch Daro'Vasora comfortingly, but it was almost a cold comfort - as if the woman were possessed with an entirely fake happiness. She turned her head and smiled at Roux, her free hand was placed on his shoulder. “You will be okay now, but I did tell you Sora, my friend, that you could pick me.” Her head turned swiftly to snap back onto the Khajiit. “I wonder why you didn't…” she purred as she picked up her glass and took a sip from it, clinking the rim of hers to Roux’s before finally adding, “let your rose bring you to green lands.” It was completely incorrect.

Both of Raelynn's hands were bleeding, but she was unperturbed by it. It was as if she hadn't realised at all, that the left had a hole through it and the bleeding would not stop. Momentarily her face slipped to an expression of fear - as if a mask had shattered and slipped away, “don't let me stay here, don't leave me, don't leave me, don't leave me,” she repeated over and over with more panic setting into her tone the more times she said it. Finally, the clink of a glass stopped her and reset the scene. Raelynn was smiling again, glass in hand, the bleeding had stopped and there was not a trace of the blood now. “To friendship!” she exclaimed once more.

There was a pit in Daro'Vasora's guts, but she smiled and clinked glasses once more. “To friendship.” she agreed, looking down at the table cloth, and at the center of the table was a plate covered in human fingers. She grit her teeth and her eyes went to Roux, who was missing all of his fingers and his eyes as he sat perfectly still, slumped in his chair. A dark figure came out of the shadows and stood behind Roux. The grey fur coat and black mohawk were in shadows, but the ice blue eyes seemed to be glowing. “Hmm, it would seem as if Roux has had enough for tonight, my dear. Don't worry; you won't see him again.”

Daro'Vasora tried to stand, but she found herself tied to her chair and she struggled as Roux was pulled away into the darkness. Zaveed's glowing eyes never left her, nor did they blink.

Raelynn watched as it all happened, a gleeful expression on her face - as if it were merely a game. “Have you come to join the party?” she asked the Khajiit with a beaming smile. Suddenly, as if she recognised him at last her face dropped and she turned her head away - eyes filled with dread and absolute horror. She hid her hands under the table and tried once more to smile - as if not wanting him to see her fear. “There is no seat for you…” she uttered quietly, in a sickly sweet tone.

An ethereal chuckle filled the cavernous room, Zaveed’s eyes a pale specter of death. Suddenly, he materialized next to Raelynn, caressing her hand menacingly. “It is okay to scream, my dear; Daro’Vasora cannot help you. No one can.”

Suddenly he was behind Daro’Vasora, hands on her shoulders. “You won’t get away, you know. How does it feel that others should take the punishment for you? That no matter what you do, it will never make a difference? I will get what I want. And I already have so much of yours…” he purred in her ear.

Suddenly, the warehouse was lit, flames consuming the ceiling, but from the rafters, hundreds of ropes hung around the necks of people she recognized from Imperial City, the Colovian Rangers, and her companions, all with ghastly masks upon their faces as they had struggled to their last breaths. Latro hung next to her family, blood running down from his eyes, and La’Shuni’s hands were wrapped around the rope on her neck, her eyes staring lifelessly into the flames next to their mother and father.

She tried to scream, but the rope about her own neck was too tight, and she felt tears streaming down her face as she stared at Raelynn, pleadingly.

As Sora watched Raelynn amidst the chaos, she would see that gradually her white hair was turning black from the root through its entire length - her expression foul - and somewhere off in the distance behind the flames stood a shadowy figure - imposing and strong. The black caught her dress as the absence of colour took over Raelynn’s form entirely, her smile bright and beaming as she stood from the table - blowing Zaveed a kiss as she looked upon Sora again, her eyes cold as ice even in the flames, “the things that frighten you drive me mad.” She said in a low hiss as she leaned over the table to Sora. “Drive me mad…”

“The power, the rage, the violence…” It wasn’t just Raelynn’s voice anymore. Lurking underneath it was Gregor’s deep tone - his drunken words. “The power, the rage, the violence…” She repeated as she began to walk backwards slowly - drawing closer to the flames and the figure. “The power… The rage… The violence… It drives me mad.”

The further that the Breton walked, the more tempestuous and furious the flames grew, threatening to consume all. As she got only feet away from the shadow, the flames caught her dress alight, and so quickly tore through the fabric down to her skin. She looked over at Sora again in horror as the flames engulfed her - reaching out a hand towards the Khajiit before shouting one final thing, “I thought you were my friend!”.

Daro’Vasora tried to pull against the rope, to reach towards Raelynn, unable to breathe or scream, until she noticed a nail hovering over her hand. “It’s time.” Zaveed purred.

The nail came down.

Daro’Vasora screamed, her eyes opening suddenly. She was in the room in the Dwemer palace once more, Latro laying next to her, suddenly awake from the sudden scream. Her eyes darted around in the dark, fearfully, and she stumbled out of bed, naked and feeling entirely vulnerable as she stumbled towards a pitcher of water, splashing it upon her face as she wrapped her arms about herself, moving to the balcony outside, the open air inviting. It had seemed so damned real, and she rubbed her hand, not believing for a moment that it wasn’t impaled. Burying her face in her hands, she began to shake.

Latro’s blood thumped in his head at how he was awoken from his already restless sleep. When he realized he was not, in fact, back in the brothel was the moment he realized the one sobbing and quaking was Sora, not Mirabelle. Unlike Mirabelle, though, Latro could comfort Sora. He slowly came to Sora’s side, cooing out, “Love? Love?” Until he sat beside her, pulling her into an embrace, her head nuzzling hard into his chest, “It’s okay, you’re okay.”

They stayed like that until they were ready for sleep again, which was not for hours.

10th of Midyear, 4E208, The Governor’s Palace,
Gilane, Hammerfell...

The cast had come off the day before, and Daro’Vasora could scarcely believe that her arm felt completely normal since Zaveed had broken it. The cast and the fluid that was pumped into it daily was some kind of healing potion that was gradually soaked into her skin, and while it took a while to completely dry out the fur of the almost luminous cyan liquid, but once she had, it was like nothing had happened. Her and Latro had both been bathed and fed well, and it was almost like staying in a fancy hotel, if you were not permitted to leave your room. The Dwemer had treated them well, those that visited never overstayed their welcome. The same medical attendant that had healed Daro’Vasora came by to top up the cast and check on her vitals as well as make pleasant small talk while asking a few questions about Khajiiti physiology, and attendants changed the linens every few days and provided reading material and changes of clothing for the two of them. Daro’Vasora had found herself in dresses not dissimilar to the ones she’d seen Razlinc Rourken wear in both of their meetings, and Latro similarly looked dashing in fashion that was befitting a Dwemeri citizen. Their old clothing was washed and brought back folded, and so far, Daro’Vasora wasn’t in quite a hurry to put it back on.

Both Daro’Vasora and Latro had made the most of their time together, it being the most private time they had since they’d first gotten together. They ate together, sometimes bathed together, made love and quietly read the books provided, and there was never a shortage of conversation for the two of them. She asked him about his life in the Crow-Wife Clan and the Forsworn, lessons on how to sing better, and tales of his travels and his experiences. Likewise, she told him of life at home, her relationship with her family, Zegol, and some of her expeditions and finds. It was entirely candid and welcome, and despite knowing that the both of them were prisoners and their friends were still in danger, it was hard not to feel somewhat relaxed and easy to forget that the Dwemer weren’t their friends. They just had to make the most of a bad situation, but Daro’Vasora knew that it was to help soften them up somewhat for when the Governor or her men came knocking.

And on the 10th, they did.

Sevari and some other foreigners, a Dunmer and two Nords, of the Ministry of Order greeted Sora as she opened the door. Some of the others pushed past her before Sevari, who entered last and nodded to her, <Your Reachman will be safe soon.>

“You fucking Khajiit and your foreign tongue. I bet you were happy when Krennic’s Cathay-Raht were joining us for this.” One of the Nords grumbled with a voice like distant thunder.

“You’ll know the exact moment when I’m happy, Thunderhead.” Sevari said, casually strolling to Latro and offering out a pair of manacles, “It’ll be when I’m responding to a scene and you’re one of the casualties.”

“What’s this?” Latro asked, eyes going from Thunderhead’s death stare at the back of Sevari’s head to Sevari’s own gaze.

“Prisoner transfer. Kerztar arranged one with your little group of terrorists.” Sevari smirked at Thunderhead as if he was sharing a joke with Latro, “You’ll be glad to know you’re valuable enough to be exchanged for three Nords.”

Latro ignored Thunderhead’s utterance of ‘fuck you’ as he lay his wrists inside the manacles Sevari held out to him, the things snapping shut around them. Once again, he was a prisoner, as if the Dwemer were reminding him of their respective stations one last time. He stood and Sevari lay a hand on his back, the Dunmer stepping forward and shoving a sack over his head, “Can’t have anybody recognizing that pretty face of yours and trying anything.”

Latro felt himself be guided by Sevari through the room, “I love you!”

He couldn’t tell if Sora heard him but from behind the sack he could hear Sevari speak in the Khajiit tongue, <He says he loves you.> Latro felt a bit of relief as Sevari relayed his words, he assumed, then added deadpan in Cyrod, “How sweet.”

Daro’Vasora resisted the urge to chase after Latro, calling after him. “I will find you again! I love you!” she said, her arms wrapped around her waist as she watched Latro being pulled away; she never knew if she was going to see him again, but she had to hold out hope that Sevari was genuine in his efforts to keep them safe. If this prisoner transfer was legitimate, it would at least mean Latro was safe. It was all she could do to maintain her composure.

Kerztar arrived at the doorway just as they left, nodding to Sora, “Razlinc wants you. Come with me.”

“Oh, this should be good.” Daro’Vasora said, giving an annoyed huff as she watched Latro marched off by secret police at Sevari’s guidance. She sighed, looking to the beardless Dwemer who remained and reflecting how strange it was. “Best not keep her waiting, then.”

“A wise precaution.” Kerztar agreed, gesturing for Daro’Vasora to leave the room.

“You look well,” Razlinc said, walking astride the Khajiit down a polished corridor, arches letting in natural light and the refreshing coastal breeze. “Had I not seen you when you were brought to me, I would have not believed you suffered your injuries. Was your room to your liking?” she asked.

“Sure, it was a regular stay at a luxury resort. I wanted for nothing, except freedom.” Daro’Vasora retorted caustically, exercising her formerly broken arm, not quite believing that there wasn’t a kink or fracture remaining; it simply was a miracle they managed to heal it as thoroughly as they had in such a short time. She decided that being combative at the moment might be the wrong tact to take, she sighed. “I mean, considering our opposition to one another, I have been treated kindly and far more dignified than I would have expected. I will admit it was easy to forget I am a prisoner at times. I still do not quite understand why you want me, however. What separates me from the rest of your insurgents?” she asked.

Razlinc offered a polite smile, gesturing the Dwemer jewelry Daro’Vasora still wore. “You may very well be one of our best options for connecting the people of Tamriel to ourselves. You understand our history, our materials; you value it. I can also sense a certain degree of acceptance or understanding towards us. If our return to Tamriel is going to be long lived and fruitful, it starts with making connections like yourself. Perhaps with some rehabilitation, I can offer you a position here. Have I not been accommodating thus far?”

Daro’Vasora looked out at the city through the arches, shaking her head. “My friends are still out there, and I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again. It’s hard to trust in your intentions when you have none to let them live.” She turned to face the Dwemeri governor, whose namesake was for her entire clan. “How did you think people were going to react to this violent uprising you’ve orchestrated? Just quietly and meekly accept new rulers who take lives by the thousands just to make a statement? You might not have indiscriminately slaughtered the citizens of Gilane like in Imperial City, but everyone in this city lives under the yolk of a tyrant. There’s curfews and secret police snatching people in the dark, and yet you think you are just and right in standing here in your polished, gilded tower? Have you even walked the streets to see the suffering these people endured?” The Khajiit demanded, not caring about the consequences of her words. A guard moved forward to strike her, but Razlinc put up a hand to stop him.

“And you might be right, Daro’Vasora. I’ve made mistakes, and plenty of them. Perhaps we could have done things differently, but we couldn’t put our entire race’s existence to chance. The bridge between Exodus and Mundus is fragile, and I fear that should it fail, tens of thousands of my people will perish. The actions of the Dwemer across Tamriel is that of a wounded and terrified animal lashing out at the shadows, not caring who it harms so long as it lives to see morning.” Razlinc replied, her countenance showing signs of sorrowful resignation. “I want to be a part of this world, to see it at peace, to show the world what the Dwemer can offer outside of fear and war. When you first came here, under the guise of a historian who wanted to see her life’s research in the flesh, I was so pleased and grateful. I had no idea that people took an interest in our legacy, what we left behind, to have a passion for our achievements. The people of Tamriel are so varied and beautiful, so inspired, I wanted to offer you the opportunity to learn from us as we learn from you. Tell me, Daro’Vasora… had I come alone to this city and asked for the land to rebuild a home for my people, do you think the Redguards would have tolerated my existence? To give up what they had to give us the gift of life?” Razlinc asked.

The Khajiit thought for a long while before shaking her head slowly. “No, I don’t suppose they would have. I don’t even know what I would have done, myself. I never thought I would have ever had the chance to actually meet the Dwemer, let alone interact with them like we have. The good and the bad… it was all interesting. Then airships showed up in Imperial City and killed my uncle and a lot of people I’ve known for several years.” Daro’Vasora replied tersely, clenching her fist until her claws dig into her palms painfully before releasing the tension, her face returning to an impassive mask. “You’ve said it before, it wasn’t exactly your fault or the rest of Clan Rourken, but you’re invaders, all the same. How many lives have been destroyed from you forcing yourself as rulers in a strange land?”

“Too many for my liking, but I will not apologize for securing a future for my people.” Razlinc replied, arriving at an elevator, where an attendant opened the gate for them to board. “We can talk in circles, Daro’Vasora, and our answers will always be the same. Wrongs were done, decency verses survival. I doubt you’d have many qualms about following in my footsteps if our positions and fortunes were reversed. I hope that one day, if a stranger comes asking for your help, you receive them well, because you and I both know how that usually goes.”

The gate closed and the lift begun its descent. “So, Daro’Vasora, since history is already written in the stones and sands of this land and our being here isn’t going to change, I want you to help me find a better way forward since it’s clear my approach isn’t quite as effective as I’d wish. You have a unique perspective that being isolated for centuries has robbed from us, and to make it more palatable to you, the more you assist us, the more we can take the boot from your friends’ throats and possibly offer amnesty to those who would take it.

“You were caught up in a war that was not your own, and perhaps you felt you chose the right side, but the fact you are here alongside me and not in a prison cell for your actions should be taken as a mercy and a show of my good intent. Zaveed is being watched, and he should no longer be able to harm anyone the way he has again. If he goes rogue, I have no issues putting rabid dogs down. So starting today, prove to me you are willing to work towards a brighter future for all of our people with me, and I will grant your friends a place in that future and do everything in my power to hold the other clans accountable for their actions.” she paused as the lift reached its destination, the gate sliding open. “Even if it may lead to war one day.” She added with grim determination.

That caught Daro’Vasora off guard, to the point where she didn’t join Razlinc stepping forward. “You would go to war with the other clans?” she asked, dumbfounded.

The Dwemer governor turned and faced her Khajiit companion with a smile. “It wouldn’t be my first choice, but what happened to Imperial City and the others is an atrocity I cannot forgive. But right now, I cannot do anything while Volenfell is in such turmoil and the rest of the world is looking for a weak link in our armour. If such an event were to occur, I’d want to do it with the rest of Tamriel at our back, understanding that clan Rourken is here to become a part of Tamriel, not subjugate it. We are powerful, yes, but we are not infinite in number and reach.

“You have studied history and war, Daro’Vasora; you know how hubris and cultural supremacy often falter in the face of a dedicated and numerous foe. Barbarians have sacked cultural powers many times before, and forgive me if that seemed indelicate. I do not think such things about the people of Hammerfell, but it is hard not to think of Dwemer having superiority when it comes to technology when the Redguard are still armed much like we recall the races of men from centuries ago. It’s surprisingly stagnant.”

“Unfortunately stagnant.” Kerztar added, “History marches on, times change, but it is almost the only thing that does here. I’ve heard stories of this Great War of yours, how it shattered Tamriel through to the core. It makes our war with the Dunmer look like a skirmish.”

Kerztar sighed, “This Empire from Cyrodiil, The Thalmor. Crowns and Forebearers. Stormcloaks. The Insurgency. We aim to help break a cycle.” Kerztar shook his head at Daro’Vasora, “A cycle that you must be tired of, all of you, am I wrong?”

The Khajiit shook her head. “Do you know how many times I’ve read the thoughts of great leaders who claimed the same noble intention? Nothing ever lasts past a generation. The next happens, and then the next, and the lessons that were learned in blood are lost before some other hotheaded warlord riles up a disenfranchised populace to war once more. Peace never lasts, it can never last. The only reason this war feels like a true injustice is because we’re living through it, not reading about it hundreds of years later. Yes, I’d love to live in a world where nobody’s trying to murder each other for nationality or religion, race and long memories, but I’m not an idiot. I’d rather read about someone like me suffering than be that person, but here I am, not sure if I’m going to survive the year or lose the few people I care about because I got caught up in some world shaking event that should never have happened.” she sighed, placing a hand on her chest. “That I had a part in causing. The only reason your people were able to return at all, I’m certain, is because of what I had a hand in.” the Khajiit admitted.

Kerztar froze, eyebrow cocking as he looked to Razlinc then back to Daro’Vasora. “What you had a hand in?”

“The Jerall Mountains.” Razlinc said, suddenly dawning on the obvious conclusion. “The Planebridge Coordinate.”

Excitedly, she looked to Kerztar and locked eyes with Daro’Vasora. Suddenly, she crossed the distance to the Khajiit, tears in her eyes. “Whatever you did, you saved more lives than you’ll ever know. You must carry a terrible burden for everything that’s happened to you and the ones you love since that day, but know that I will try to make this worthwhile in the end. We will earn our place here, and you will be honoured for what you have done for all Dwemeri people. Thank you.”

The Khajiit’s arms hung loose at her side, not returning the gesture. It was tempting to dig her claws into the woman’s back, but she refrained. “All we did was shove a Lexicon back into its housing. We thought it was a way to keep ourselves from being overrun by the Falmer.”

“It was so much more than that.” Razlinc said, releasing Daro’Vasora and composing herself. “It had the coordinates to where Exodus, the plane we have been banished to for so long, and it connected our plane to Mundus. It thinned the veil between us, not unlike the Oblivion Crisis or the Planemeld we had learned about after our return from exile. It was how we knew we could go home; our own Planebridge Coordinate became active suddenly and received an influx of energy from a far off source. Think of it like a lighthouse, a way to see the way through the cosmos and planes of Aetherius. The amount of energy required was incredible; you literally have to rip a hole in time and space to create the bridge between planes. The Jerall Mountains is well protected now, but because of it, my entire people won’t perish and be removed from existence when Exodus collapses in the not too distant future.” she smiled tersely. “To think it was what Lord Kagrenac had planned to do to the Chimer and Nords at the Battle of Red Mountain. Perhaps in a way, it being us who were removed from Mundus was probably a mercy. Have we not paid for our mistakes?” she asked quietly.

Daro’Vasora’s mind was racing; the lexicon they had inserted into the device had opened the bridge between this Exodus plane and Tamriel, and Razlinc said there was another device like it on the other side in Exodus. They needed to communicate with the same coordinates… was that right? It was a lot to take it, but the sudden revelation gave her hope; maybe it was information she could use and pass onto the others. Maybe she could learn more from Razlinc and the other Dwemer, but she had to be careful not to scheme. It would only close the governor off. “We… found the body, a skeleton, of a Dwemer who passed away. The jewelry I wear came from that body, the lexicon was by the body. Maybe they removed it on purpose when the device was activated?”

Razlinc stood in contemplation for a few moments, her hands behind her back, posture erect. “Perhaps, but there is no way to be certain without studying the location. Come, Daro’Vasora; you’ve proven yourself an unexpected ally and savior to my people, and for that you have my gratitude. Perhaps, in time, we can arrange for your freedom and you will be celebrated. There are more things I wish to show you. Please, join me.”

The Khajiit nodded and fell back in step with the Dwemer. “You do know that if I’d known then what I know now, I would have absolutely refused to go through with it.” She added, knowing a bit of defiance would seem much more acceptable and normal instead of gleeful obedience. Razlinc had been far more often than Daro’Vasora ever thought she would be, and she had to play her part of begrudging but idealistic prisoner.

“I do not doubt it, nonetheless, sometimes great things happen completely by happenstance.” She replied. “I do think, however, curiosity would have gotten to you eventually. All the answers and mysterious you’ve tried to solve, suddenly there for the taking.”

Daro’Vasora was silent, her teeth grinding, wishing she had something to bite down into. She wasn’t even sure if the governor was wrong about that.

They walked through the subterranean corridors, not nearly as presentable or opulent as the upper levels, and it gave a very industrial vibe Daro’Vasora expected from most ruins. A pair of large alloy doors loomed ahead, flanked by a pair of Centurions that watched with impassive faces as they approached. The giant cogs and gears of the door moved at their approach, and Razlinc stopped in front of the door. “What I am about to show you is impressive, to be sure. It’s how we will ensure peace in this city should we not find a compromise, Daro’Vasora. I need you to be aware of how much is riding on your cooperation. You will help us find our peace, or I shall be forced to make it.”

The governor stepped forward through the doors, leaving Daro’Vasora with an unsettled pit in her stomach. When she stepped through after Razlinc, she suddenly became aware of several subdued mechanical sounds until her eyes adjusted. A number of mechanical constructs that looked like Centurions, roughly half the size and without the mask that the large ones outside the door bore, moved nimbly and almost quietly given their mass and speed; they were sprinting. A number of large obstacles were in the way, and the machines bounded over them with agility and grace, climbing walls with almost athletic prowess without much in the way of a slow down. Rotary cannons covered one arm, along with a double barreled harpoon gun. The other was a hammer instead of a hand covered by a retractable wrist blade that seemed certainly capable of cutting through a man or penetrating even thick armour. The smile upon Razlinc’s face was menacing, and the low lighting did nothing to assuage Daro’Vasora’s impression.

“You have done more than one thing for my perception of this world, my friend; you made me think of how wasteful and tragic the blunt assault on Imperial City was, the needless bloodshed and carnage of so many people. So it occurred to me that there was a program we had started already that would minimize casualties and could surgically strike against those who would take up arms against us. These are the Assassin Centurions, the new face of anti-insurgency warfare that we have at our disposal. When we finish their design and architect their protocols, they will sweep through the streets like a flood and remove the terrorists that plague our city. If you do not wish your friends to be considered terrorists by this technology, I suggest you cooperate fully and entirely, Daro’Vasora. We Dwemer are nothing if not efficient.”

“Efficient.” Kerztar said, a hint of something in his voice, “Have you heard of the trade town of Al-Aqqiya? My team was sent there to validate intelligence gained from interrogations that Al-Aqqiya was a hub for the insurgency’s smuggling operations and a place they were funneling in foreign fighters.”

“They were pinned down and steadily losing ground after the entire town armed themselves, Krinnec arrived with four of these things you see now.” Kerztar frowned and sighed, eyes closing, “That was only the first generation. Al-Aqqiya is no more. Help us make sure that we won’t have to use these things to hunt down your friends and every terrorist and their supporters in Hammerfell.”

Daro’Vasora could only stare.

A Stormy and Dervs collab

Gilane Docks, 9th Midyear 4E208, sunset...

It’s a strange feeling, knowing you’re going to die. Stranger yet is being at peace with it.

Zaveed had tried to stay alive the best he could, mind you. He broke into an alchemist shop and drank a health potion within an hour of his duel and escape from that Nadeen creature and the monstrous Gregor, and while it stopped his bleeding and held him together, it didn’t replace his lost blood nor mend most of his wounds; the axe strike and being impaled by the greatsword should have been fatal wounds, but his determination to live kept his body going when it was resigned to fate. People fled him when they saw the ghastly wounds and trail of blood, the axes on his hips, and the crazed looks in his eyes. It was okay; they were not the company he wished to keep.

It was when he lost consciousness and collapsed that he knew that their company would have been infinitely greater. A world of darkness and inky voids appeared, and his own hands and arms appeared coal black with traces of blue energy imbedded to his flesh; he looked like the legions of other Khajiit in this land of perpetual darkness and cold, where the walls seemed to crawl with spiders and worms, and scores of sick and pestilent people wandered aimlessly, coughing and vomiting up sickly bile, but it was the Khajiit that stood out; the Dro-M’Athra, he knew. It was the Bent Cats that fell to the Dark Behind the World, Namiira’s realm, that worked the cold forges and served her dark bidding. They were Khajiit that lost their connections to the twin Moons and Lorkhaj, never to feel warmth again nor the taste of sugar. Their personalities were gone, any sense of the individuals that they had once been erased to the Scuttling Void. Their hideous helms looked stitched together, like some gruesome scarecrows, their armour very similar to that of the Khajiiti warriors in the Confederacy, but glowing with the same blue energy that permeated their skin. The longer he stared into the Dark, the more of their eyes turned to him. Hands reached out to grab him, and before they touched him, his eyes awoken again, the warmth of Gilane’s coast filling his nostrils and bringing him to life for a moment longer. He’d seen the Dark Behind the World, and he knew it was where his soul was claimed.

He was about to lose everything that made him Zaveed, and he knew it was up to him to use these last minutes well. Coughing up blood and forcing himself off the ground with his bleeding knuckles, Zaveed forced himself up, following the same path that he’d taken with Sevari not long ago to see the ship that had brought his sister to Gilane. The sister he’d failed to save, to redeem himself. There was no time to fight, nor scream, nor cry. He would be gone soon, and he knew that Marassa was better than him. He knew she’d survive anything, she had to.

One of them had to carry on for Sevari.

The sun was starting to dip down into the horizon, and it wouldn’t be long until the last light he’d ever see in this world would be swallowed by the sea. He couldn’t take his eyes from it, and he saw the dancing of waves shimmering in Magus’ brilliant light. The sea was home to him, it always was. What he wouldn’t give for one last voyage to sea, it was where he was meant to live and die. At least the docks meant he was close, and he’d be able to sense his home one last time. He looked up and saw Masser and Secunda above, the twin moons that were his people’s gods, where all good Khajiit went when they died. He knew for most of his life he’d never walk that moonpath, nor taste the endless dunes of sugar and the land of endless warmth. He never cared for the idea of his ancestors, if his mother and non-existent father were anything to go by; he was simply the last of a line of bastards that shouldn’t have even been born.

He was okay with that.

He set down against a bundle of nets, looking at the setting sun, a smile upon his face. It wasn’t ideal, but it was the last peace he was ever going to know.

What had seemed like hours of searching Gilane for Gregor had brought her finally to the docks. Such a beautiful and peaceful view that was exactly the opposite of how she felt inside. He had told her earlier that he had been going to the hotel to collect his belongings, that was a long time ago, and she had felt in her gut that it had been a lie. It had been a lie worrying enough to coax her from the hiding place of their inn room after days of being cooped up in there. Did he truly think her to be dumb?No, not Gregor. But she knew that he had gone tracking for the Khajiit. For Zaveed. He had been desperate for the scent of him since the first night she confessed to her Imperial Knight what had happened. In fact, she had been the one to really dangle that piece of meat in front of him - something she deeply regretted now that she had completely lost all sense of where he was. She sighed out at the ocean longingly. “Where are you my love?” she whispered aloud as she clutched at her chest where her heart was.

As she held herself there, she heard a gurgling, rasping cough to her left and behind her - she turned and saw him. How could her search lead her to Zaveed and not Gregor? He looked minutes from dying - covered in blood and his face seared with pain. She tilted her head to the side and moved towards him - drawn to him in this state. All at once, she felt powerful and had forgotten what she had been looking for entirely. He was there, dying. Her abuser, the monster from her nightmares. The one who had stripped her of her power and happiness. She stood before him - blocking his sight from the glorious view he had been enjoying so much. “Well well well…” she growled, almost unsure of where it came from, her brows furrowing as her eyes narrowed to thin slits with hardened steel in them.

His blue stare slowly shifted from the brilliant hues of the sunset to the figure standing before him… over him. He looked up at Raelynn, realizing who it was and in spite of himself, he smiled genuinely as he studied her brilliant golden locks in the Gilane twilight. “Hello, my dear. Care to join me in appreciating the view? I suspect it might be my last one, I was not anticipating company.” He said quietly, coughing hard into his hand, which came back red. He chuckled, embarrassed. “My, how undignified. I wish I could have cleaned up first, but unfortunately, it is outside of my ability now.”

She smirked at the audacity of it, “I’m not your ‘dear’, and I’d rather not. I’d rather look at you in your last moments. The sunset occurring in your eyes, if we want to be poetic.” She folded her arms across her chest and studied him with a scrutinous glare. “I did warn you about him didn’t I? Now look at you.” It pleased her to see Zaveed torn and shredded like this, but the fact that he was somewhat content with it sullied the integrity of that feeling. “You’re not quite dead yet though are you?” She said in a cold, monotonous tone as she lifted her foot and kicked at him just enough to shock his body with a sudden jolt of pain again. “Almost there though, I know that much…”

The kick jolted a pained hiss through clenched teeth, but made no attempt to shield himself. He tried to glance back at the setting sun. “I will not sully your moment. You deserve this, I am at your mercy. Do with me as you please.” he replied, looking up to meet her gaze. “You were right about him, but I was right about you, wasn't I? I am happy to see you escaped. I rather hoped you would, unharmed.” Zaveed said, a resigned sigh escaping his lips. “You were never in any danger from me. I resent that you forced me to hit you. I was going to come back and send you home on a ship, away from all of this.” staring down and shutting his eyes, he whispered, “Away from me.”

She kicked him again, harder this time, her foot catching him between the ribs - and yet - there was no pleasure in it. He’d already given up. His words disgusted her, and her lips turned over gritted teeth into a snarl. She sank down to his level. “Why?” She asked him, her voice barely more than a whisper now, “why do you care so much what happens to me?” Her eyes travelled down to his waist, at the dagger sitting on his belt - she reached for it. Clasping it in her hand and pulling his precious possession away. It was the one he’d driven through the heart of Roux. “Don’t act like you resent anything you’ve done to me, I certainly didn’t force you to do anything. We always have a choice. Besides, I thought you were proud of what you’d turned me into…?” She twirled the dagger in her hand with the point of the blade sat against her fingertip and she turned her eyes away from him to watch where the tip almost pierced her skin. She was distant, still no warmth lay in her eyes. Just emptiness.

Tears welled in Zaveed's eyes, and when he looked up at Raelynn again, he smiled apologetically. ”I made a terrible mistake. I am so sorry.” he coughed again, the pain in his chest searing unimaginably; her boot connected where the axe had. “I never thought I'd utter those words, I have never apologized for anything I have ever done. Not once. Ever since that first day we met, the day I hurt you, I have been haunted by it, by what I've done. You reminded me of who I was long before I became Captain Greywake, before my own innocence was destroyed by those I trusted.” the tears flowed freely now, but his gaze did not waver. “I just wanted to be an entertainer… I wanted people to love me. You… you were someone that I visited horrors upon that I had endured in a fashion from those who held power over me. For once in my life, I saw the consequences of my actions. It was way too late.” he smiled, blood running through his lips. “Keep the blade. It suits you… it's the only thing left of my life that meant anything to me. It was my freedom, a symbol of overcoming my oppressors. Use it in turn.”

He was… apologising? Really? That drew her forward, her softer side, her compassionate side. She clenched her jaw, how dare he? His story was sincere - he had no reason to lie now, and hearing it took the breath from her. Everything froze, she didn’t blink or move - the dagger stopped twirling on her fingertip. She remained motionless for a while - the only thing she could feel was her heart racing in her chest - pumping hot blood throughout her entire being. “Don’t say that…” she growled from the back of her throat, tears forming in her own eyes at his admission, at the emotional outpouring - it struck her too. The weight of the words and the absolute sincerity of the dying Khajiits apology. She couldn’t help herself - she had to take the parts that he took and stole and destroyed from her back.

“You don’t fucking mean it-” she hissed through her gritted teeth, without really thinking for pause she drove the knife into a spot between his ribs exactly where she had kicked him with determination. The way it created a new wound and just slipped into him as if he were butter, she could see why he liked and appreciated this dagger. Her own thoughts at that moment disgusted her and she flinched.

Immediately she regretted it. It was the sound of the flesh tearing that did it and she wanted to scream in his face - but even that she could not do, not even strong enough to admonish him in his last seconds. She was bored of his resolve, of his peace with death. She didn’t understand why he was just allowing this to happen. “Fight back, God damn you! Fight back!” Inches from his face, her eyes bore into his with a flaming intensity. A tone of desperation on her tongue. “Fight back!”

The blade sunk in, the final blow with his own weapon. His body was already in excruciating pain, the addition of another sharp puncturing his lung was just another reminder that he was still alive. It hurt to sob, but his body trembled and his nose ran as his vision blurred. He reached out, placing his hand over her own on the dagger’s handle. “Thank you.” he managed. His jaw grew limp for a moment before regaining his senses. He pulled the dagger deeper into his chest with a grunt, a pitiful yelp escaping his throat. “I just…” he wheezed. “Wanted to see… the sunset… a final…” the words choked him, and in his mind, he saw the darkness and blue lines reaching out for him again. They would take away everything that was rotten about him and replace it with something else. It was what he deserved, wasn’t it?

If he wasn’t going to fight then this was wrong, and yet the other option was not right either. She knew what she was about to do would indefinitely come back to haunt her. She knew it was wrong, but as she closed her eyes and took in one long, deep breath, she knew she had to do it. Killing him here right now wouldn’t give her back what she had lost - it would only take more of her away. Strip her down to someone she didn’t recognise. She was already halfway there, in her minds eye she once again pictured her child-self sat upon the shoulders of her father. That Raelynn would never do this, she still had a choice. She carefully removed the dagger from him, not moving his hand from hers and instead she placed her other hand on top of his almost comfortingly. She had told Zaveed in the warehouse that her compassion was her gift. That it was what separated her from the likes of him.

It was time to show him.

So Raelynn did as she had done many times before - with another long breath she let the flow of restorative magicka gather in both of her palms before allowing it to penetrate Zaveed’s flesh and work through his body to the wounds. It may have been the close proximity to the ocean, and that they could both hear the lapping waves breaking against the soft shore, but the magicka seemed to fall in and out of Zaveed like waves too. The golden light floating around him like an aura. She would give him just enough and no more than that.

She paused as she pulled her hands away and felt her lips trembling at the revelation of what she’d done. She swallowed down a bitter pill of regret and pain before opening her mouth and eyes again to speak, “every breath you take now…” she began as she ran her hand firmly up his arm to his shoulder, to his cheek, “is because of me.” Her tone was hollow - as if having helped him still managed to take her essence away.

“You are now alive because of me. Because of my compassion. Because of my mercy. Because I allow it.” It was horrible.

He would be alright - he might need rest and more potions soon, but his wounds were closed and he was out of the woods, she had removed him from the brink of death. How he chose to act now was on him. She tossed his blood stained dagger away from his reach and saw that his blood was on her hands too. To see it, staining her palms crimson - a reminder of what she had done… She couldn’t say anything. She couldn’t understand why she’d done it and Raelynn really didn’t feel any better at all.

Just as quickly as the claws of death had reached from him, they faded, and under her healing touch, Zaveed felt his body meshing, and the pain he had endured eroded away into little more than aches. He did not understand; why had she done this? He listened to her words, finding comfort in them, the hand upon his cheek. He looked at her with wide eyes, the sudden compassion and care for someone who had been so vile to her and people she cared for. Eventually, through aching lungs, he asked, “Why? Why would you do this for me?” he asked, bewildered and overwhelmed. She was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen in his life, and she had chosen to forgive him enough, to let him live. It was overwhelming. “After everything I’ve done, and taken from you…”

“Because if I don’t… Then I simply become a monster like you, and my dreams become shattered like glass… Like yours did...” her voice was suddenly defeated - despondent, as if the choice between letting him die and letting him live bore the same consequence on her conscience. She blinked back tears from her eyes and got to her feet. Stepping back from him slowly as she attempted to pull herself together. The Breton’s eyes glazed over, suddenly cold and hardened again. “I want you to leave me alone now, and my friends too. I never want to see you again… Do you understand that?”

She continued to walk backwards from him, but there was a maelstrom of emotions within her that stopped her in her tracks, and as if some other force had taken over her body she charged back at him, diving to the ground on all fours, her hand grasping at his mane of hair to pull his face to the ground too. She felt much larger than she was - much more powerful and intimidating and without flinching she yelled into his ear ferociously like a sabre cat, “do you understand?” Her words cut through the silence like a sharp blade would through flesh. She gasped in fright at herself - not wanting to wait to hear his answer.

She was done now and completely exasperated, the Sun was about to set behind her on this day and the whole of Gilane was amber and glowing radiantly and yet she felt so full of shadows and gloom and hatred - for Zaveed, and even more so for herself. So she got back to her feet and began walking away from him for good this time, her heart heavy and mind clouded with confusion, her only desire now was to finally find Gregor. She knew somehow that he was not in any better shape than Zaveed had been. Time was running out.

Zaveed didn’t move, watched Raelynn go, a smile crept upon his face. “Perhaps I do.” he said quietly, humming an old sailor’s song as his eyes watched as the sun began to dip below the horizon. It wouldn’t be his last after all. The world became the most vibrant at this time of day, and the first of the stars made their appearance above. He stared up in wonder, as if seeing them for the first time. “Perhaps I do.”

Shifting Sands

Three Crowns Hotel, Gilane, 9th Midyear, 4E208…

It had been a disastrous week, with numerous setbacks. The Poncy Man sat in his study, idly spinning a globe on his desk, a single streak of sunlight illuminating the Northern hemisphere of the globe. Idly, he thought of it like a cleansing fire of Satakal purifying the world of those who would do it ill, namely the Dwemer that had chased much of his people back into the sands and had forced them from their cities. The Alik’r were still active, somewhere, across Hammerfell’s vast landscape, which only gave refuge to those who understood its secrets and consumed those whom did not. The Dwemer were crafty, to be sure, and the Redguard alone could not withstand their machines of war, but the sands did not care how elaborate and well-tuned your machine was; it would fail all the same, as heat baked the alloys like a forge and sand would clog the clockwork gears. About the only thing that had any hope of success were the airships, but sandstorms would render their visibility moot and get into sensitive works of the machinery, an unwelcome result if one were several dozen meters from the ground.

And so, the Dwemer were content to call the cities their prize and proclaim the province as their own, but if stone walls and comfortable ports were the brain of Hammerfell, the sands and desert was the heart and capillaries. The Redguard understood it as a part of their own souls; it was something the damned Deep Elves would never understand.

He huffed in annoyance, turning his dark eyes to a stack of parchments, reports from the various cells under his watch. He was but one of a dozen leaders in the Alik’r Insurgency, and the representative of the Merchant’s Guild, and under him six cells had flourished, and the seventh… it was too new to know. Initially, Samara cell seemed like a sure bet; a bunch of companions who had prior operational experience and encounters with the Dwemer that had both the motivation and the incentive to get involved. Roux had vouched for his partner, Daro’Vasora, and finding available help was becoming increasingly difficult as the weeks drove on. Losses simply couldn’t be replaced.

After a pair of somewhat disastrous assignments, the Poncy Man wasn’t sure if he’d made a mistake or not. Supervision was required, that much was certain, which was why he’d activated Hassan and Nadeen to keep tabs on the group, although Hassan had been pulled off to deal with renegade elements that made up Irranhu Cell and had been unable to rendezvous with Samara Cell in the meantime, which he had ideally made more pliable and trusting after putting considerable expense into sponsoring a party for the group. Daro’Vasora had made a fairly sound argument that none of her group had any experience in the sort of work that was asked of them, and that they’d been constantly on the run for weeks. Perhaps they needed to be eased into it, be given some assistance from those with field experience in Gilane. It was a part of why Hassan was going to make contact and help orchestrate their next assignment, but it had been three days since his last report, and Nadeen was growing ever more suspicious of Gregor and Raelynn.

Picking through a few of the reports, numbers flowed across his vision as he tried to keep tallies of everything that had occurred the past two weeks. Twelve members of the insurency across all cells had been killed or captured, eighteen Dwemer soldiers were killed, one of the Dwemer administrators that Samara cell was supposed to capture, eight city guards, and three of the foreigners for the Ministry of Order. Rations were spread thin with disrupted supply lines, the Intrepid was lost with all hands, and the war chest wasn’t breaking even. They’d need to make a move to secure finances. Perhaps with those uniforms Samara cell acquired, they’d be able to infiltrate a storehouse…

The face of his wife appeared in the doorway through the curtain. “Pardon me, Darak, but Hassan is here. He looks grim.” she said, looking somewhat embarrassed to have interrupted. He smiled at her, his precious Laimi, and couldn’t imagine ever feeling inconvenienced by her. “Well, I best not keep him waiting, then. Could I bother you to prepare a pot of tea for us?” he asked politely.

Hassan closed the door behind him and removed the sword from his belt, placing it beside him as he sat at the Poncy Man’s desk. There was nothing but silence as he poured himself a cup of tea, taking his first sip before sighing. He took a second to appreciate the tastes and undertones of the tea, eyes closed. It was a few more moments of silence before Hassan opened his mouth, “I’m very much not fucking pleased with Samara Cell.” He said, he placed his cup down gently before continuing, “I met with Farukh in Irranhu Cell, their leader after Samir was put in the pits and well… died. He acted as if getting back into line and following orders was akin to agreeing to forty lashes. Now I want to give him fifty.”

The Poncy Man drank thoughtfully from his own cup, electing to hold it and the saucer delicately. “No, I would imagine not, and I am of the same heart. Did you decide to give him his fifty lashes?” he inquired.

“No, as much as I wanted to.” He shook his head, “I gave him a warning that I would come back if he didn’t toe the line again. We are in a sea alone, surrounded by sharks. We need to step carefully and step all at once with each other or not at all.”

“This cell system seems to make them think the Insurgency is all their own, in their own little worlds, rather than just a way for us to keep each cell from selling out the other.” He sipped at his tea, “Just give me the word and I’ll go back there and give them a reason to promote a new leader.”

“At your leisure.” The Poncy Man said, setting his cup and saucer down with care. “You may be right, but it also is the only way to ensure that if one cell is compromised, the others do not follow suit. What news is there of Samara cell?”

“Romantics. There are a few of them involved with each other.” Hassan spoke. “Nadeen has noticed an Ohmes-Raht around the Three Crowns more than once. Latro and Daro’Vasora returned to the Three Crowns after curfew followed by someone. A few days later, Latro was tailed by someone who looked like Redguard or some Mer.”

“Samara Cell ended their party and Nadeen was on watch, she noticed another person who may be the same one who had tailed Latro leaving as the party died down.” He shrugged, “Too many to be coincidence. I suggest we watch Latro closer.”

“Interesting…” The Poncy Man mused, knowing that the Ministry of Order was certainly making their moves. Could this Ohmes-raht be a part of Major Kerztar’s group? All of the agents that had been encountered in the field had been foreigners; it all seemed like too much of a coincidence. The romantic angle didn’t surprise him; they were not a professional army, and danger had a way of bringing people closer together. He quietly wished them good health and fortune, but so long as it didn’t interfere with their mission. Hopefully the party had helped loosen their trepidation towards him. “Agreed. When you approach them, I shall have Nadeen keep an eye from the shadows. You will see the hand they offer, she will see what is hidden behind their backs.”

A voice came out of the doorframe. “There’s trouble. Daro’Vasora and Latro have been captured by the Ministry, the Cathay with the axes. They were just marched through the streets to the palace; the girl was injured, arm broken. I was unable to ascertain where they had been apprehended.” Nadeen stepped through the curtain, stepping beside Hassan, her face ever impassive. “I do not know what their intentions with the prisoners are, but it is unclear what information they could divulge under interrogation.”

The Poncy Man made a steeple gesture with his fingers, staring past them as he contemplated the news. “Then we need to move quickly; do you feel Samara cell is capable without guidance, Hassan?”

“I do.” He nodded, “Above all else, they have a loyalty to each other. Let us wait to see what they do.”

Nadeen shuffled almost imperceptibly. It was the most subtle of signs she had something else on her mind.

“Speak, Nadeen.”

“It’s the Imperial, Gregor, and Raelynn. I suspect they’re up to something… unsavory. They’ve been sneaking off on their own, and not just for pleasure. I have my suspicions, but they conceal their tracks well. I would like to continue to pursue this avenue of approach.” Nadeen replied, a suspicious glint in her eyes.

“Very well. Hassan, I need you to make haste to Samara cell. They must be made aware of what has transpired; we must make a counter blow and soon. Irranhu Cell can wait. Let us hope they are not foolish as to attempt something brash. Nadeen, please exercise caution and continue your vigil. I count on you in ways that I could never entrust to another.” The Poncy Man said, standing. “Is there anything else?” he asked.

“Nothing of note.” Hassan bowed, “I’ll make my way to Samara’s dorms, get them to the conference room and we’ll plan something.”

“Very well. Safe travels, my friends. We know the path forward, just not the obstacles that may lay ahead.” With a nod, Hassam and Nadeen filed out of the room, leaving the Poncy Man to his study. He sat in quiet contemplation for several moments before pulling open a drawer, revealing a 40 year old vintage bottle of Stros M’Kai rum that he had intended to save for victory over the Dwemer. Sentiment is overrated. he thought, pulling out the cork and topping up his tea cup with the dark amber liquor.

If the Governor was intent on playing the game more violently, then he would return the favour. Pulling out a quill and inkpot, he began to write down the next steps to be relayed to his other cells. Gilane’s streets would run red with traitor and Dwemer blood alike, and the palace would become a burning beacon to inspire the Alik’r for leagues to take up arms against the occupiers. The long game could no longer wait, he decided, unrolling another parchment and reading its contents with destain. Bahia cell lost a full half of its members in a surprise attack two nights prior at an ambush in the docks, and the insurgency wasn’t replacing its numbers like it should have. He sighed, pouring himself another drink, wondering how many parties he’d need to host to keep morale up. Daro’Vasora had been onto something there, and then she’d been stupid enough to get herself captured shortly afterwards.

The Poncy Man drank deeply from the cup, emptying of the rum in a single go. There would be repercussions for this, he decided. The Governor would not go unanswered.

If only he could reign in the problematic cells and make something work in his favour. The people needed a victory, not a rabble of self-minded idiots committing inconsequential acts that were detrimental to the cause, like Irranhu cell. He’d hoped Hassan made his point very clear to them; they could ill afford another misstep.

Gilane Streets…

“For the record, I think this is a stupid idea. You’re overreacting, sir.” Marassa said, walking alongside the Thalmor emissary with her sword resting upon her pauldron and her amber eyes scanning the gathered crowd for threats. It was a strange city, and the demand to have the two murdered Indrik sailors receive a proper burial in the city and the argument that their ship was no longer a safe haven after the brazen attack, Erincaro had decided to petition the Governor for protection in the palace. It simply reflected badly to have political dignitaries to your city assassinated by rogue elements, and the Indrik simply wasn’t ready to make the voyage due to lack of supplies due to shortages caused by both the occupation and the insurgency. The Dominion was effectively trapped in harbour, and there was no real time frame for making it out to sea.

“You are the one who wished to get off of the ship and see the city, captain. “ The Altmer retorted playfully with a sly grin. “Besides, if your childhood crush is as dangerous as you claim and wanting to hang me from my intestinal tract from a lamp post because of something my father did long ago, I’d much prefer to take matters into my own hands before he discovers how flammable timber in the shape of a sea vessel really is. I’m versed in the school of Destruction, captain; I don’t fancy my odds of repelling flames that suffocate the air out of a hull.”

“As you wish, sir. Just know you’re making my job absolutely miserable. You know most of the local populace wants us dead for the Great War, right?” The Khajiit replied tersely.

“I recall it was I who personally taught you our history.”

“Well, let’s say I don’t fancy reenacting it.” Marassa said with a resigned sigh, deciding to change tacts. “The climate is agreeable, to say the least. Reminds me of Anequina, assuming someone actually decided to build cities instead of living largely as nomads.”

“Speaking of which, why is it you never earned an honourific like most of your race? It’s occurred to me from time to time you don’t really talk about the Confederacy very often nor Senchal. Everything has always been so immediate and I felt it inappropriate to ask something that might be constituted as indelicate.” Erincaro asked, his hands folded neatly behind his back as he marched at the head of the column. Marassa knew him too well to argue with how irresponsible it was.

“I was young when you saved me from that shithole of a city and I never much cared for looking back. Considering most of my compatriots since then have been elves, my birth culture never really had a chance to leave an impression. I can’t even remember the last time I’ve had moon sugar, or considered my people’s gods. It’s all been Auri-el this, Magnus that.” she said impassively, her eye catching something in the shadows of a building up ahead. “Hold up. I think-”

The arrow whizzed by her head, missing it by half a meter. “Ambush!” She shouted, and the Dominion soldiers began to form ranks around Erincaro as chaos erupted. Two of the Dominion soldiers were brought down as arrows found their mark, which prompted the mages in the outfit to retaliate with destruction spells from anything deemed to be where the archers were located, flames splashing across building faces as the alarmed crowds screamed in alarm. The shields caught a few more of the arrows, likely from only a small handful of archers, and only from a 180 degree field of fire. The attack was sprung early, Marassa decided.

Several loud yells and screams came from all sides, and several masked warriors with swords and spears charged at the Dominion soldiers, only wearing meager armour as to blend in with the populace. Marassa grunted and held her sword at the ready; she hated being right all of the time.

Bodies crashed into shield, and the disciplined soldiers of the Dominion held against the onslaught, the heavy armour many of the company wore shrugging off the glancing blows of the blades and spears while many of their blades found their marks; Erincaro, although unarmoured, was a masterful mage and the precision of the ice spikes between his soldiers was something commendable. Marassa grappled a spear away from her body and drove her head into the face of a spearman, staggering him enough for her to drive her blade into his guts, pulling through to catch another sword in a brief lock that she side-stepped out of, bringing her blade’s momentum behind her back and into an overhead strike that the fighter managed to catch. Another approached behind her, forcing her to disengage with the first fighter and igniting a magelight in the face of the second to blind the Redguard enough that he didn’t see the large blade come horizontally to decapitate him in a single strike of the blade. The first man’s sword scraped down her backplate, prompting a snarled curse and and thrown elbow that nearly connected with the man’s face. Her hand coalesced the blinding white light again, distracting the fighter enough that her gauntleted fist struck him across the face holding the greatsword, which she pivoted and drove the blade back into the man’s abdomen with both hands. He fell limp on her blade.

“Sergeant, find us an opening!” she shouted towards a Bosmer who favoured twin blades and Ferin, the Wood Elf quite at home in the middle of a mass skirmish.

“Aye, captain!” Came the reply as one of her daggers plunged into the eye socket of one of the men in front of her as the Khajiit soldier beside her was brought down with a spear to the neck. She cursed in her mother tongue and stabbed the murderer several times before the spear was able to free itself of her compatriot. Of the twelve guards, 5 were already dead to the 9 attackers, largely thanks to the assistance of magic and armour that the mostly Redguard force was bringing on them; had they been a regular Alik’r formation, the ambush would have likely been far more efficient and their warriors unmatched. This felt like rabble.

“The way we came, back alley, make us an entrance, J’Razri!” Ferin ordered the Cathay-raht in the ranks, who carried an impressively large maul and at over 2 meters in height was a force to be reckoned with.

“J’Razri will make a way!” he replied, driving his maul down on one of the warriors who foolishly tried to block the heavy weapon with the haft of his spear, but the weight and strength behind the blow knocked it aside and crushed his shoulder. The massive Khajiit grabbed the screaming man by the face and tossed him aside casually as he worked his way forward, a landslide made flesh. Now away from the formation, he was free to use the full range of motion of his weapon, and when it struck, it was sickening.

“Back him up! I’m with the Emissary!” Marassa ordered as her team moved into formation, two more of her unit killed in the process; one to the sharpshooter that Erincaro slayed a few moments later, and one of the mages was brought down by a trio of swordsmen. Marassa let out a war cry to engage, throwing her hand out and one of the fighter’s hands were encased in hard ash and the other found a shoulder driven into them to make space while the greatsword was brought up in a diagonal slash towards the third. Mercuran, an Altmer shieldman who fought with both spear and sword and showed very little magical aptitude across his life, bashed the ash-shelled fighter across the face with his shield and drove his spear into the chest of the wounded swordsman that Marassa had managed to wound with her sword. With two dead, Marassa drove her pommel into the man’s temple before turning her blade over and driving it up through the man’s neck; the strength of the blow and the width of the blade severed the spinal column and the head was retained only by sinews of flesh.

The big Khajiit had managed to secure a passage to the alleyway, but arrows were sticking out of him; he was not holding his maul as proudly as he could have been. “Shit.” Marassa hissed, grabbing Erincaro by the shoulder and leading him to the opening J’Razri had secured. Only Erincaro, Ferin, Mercuran, and herself made it to the opening, the rest of the unit had been slain in the streets. The only consolation was that they had taken down far more than they had lost, but even the loss of a single one of her soldiers in what was supposed to be peace time was unacceptable in Marassa’s eyes. “Well done, J’Razri. We need to go, now.”

“This one is not going anywhere.” The Cathay-raht had said, his breath heavy and blood was soaking through his armour plating. “Go, captain. Take the Emissary and live.” he nodded to the smaller Khajiit with a grin. “It was always J’Razri’s honour. May your roads lead you to warm sands, captain Marassa.”

“Walk the moonpath, brother.” she clasped him by the arm for a moment, meeting his gaze for a few moments before ushering the survivors away. J’Razri pulled his helm off, an impressive braid falling loose behind his head as he spat a glob of blood from his lips. He looked at the encroaching enemies with fierce determination. “You will go no further,” he challenged, slipping his helm back over his head. “The five of you verses a mortally wounded J’Razri? You should haven taken this one’s arm to make it fair. Come, kill me if you can.” He said, finding the vigor to hold his maul with a sense of determination. The enemy charged, and be brought his hammer down to meet them.

Character Opinions ft. Daro’Vasora

Brynja: Ah, miss Whitehands. I didn’t always see eye to eye with her, and she’s a typically stubborn Nord, but she’s grown on me and her heart’s in the right place. She’s a bit of a mother bear and has been mostly looking after Rhona since her unfortunate encounter with her prick of an ex, but she could stand to lighten up a bit and stop letting herself be played like a fiddle emotionally. Sure, she can’t really help if one or both of her parents were probably trolls, but she’s an attractive enough woman, by man or mer standards. She just needs to get laid.

Megana: Behind a simple and unrefined tongue lays one of the most empathic and pure souls I’ve had the surprise and pleasure of coming across. Meg is kind and full of compassion, something that would normally make someone like her vulnerable to this world we live in, but she possesses grit and is willing to do hard things to survive or protect others. She’s one of the few people who are both able to put others before herself while being able to be unflinching in her resolve to set things right in her eye. It causes friction, but look who’s talking. I’m surprised anyone’s still left after my earlier conduct.

Calen: You know, he’s not as shifty as I’d first thought. Initially, Calen struck me as a snake charmer of a Nord who disarms people with his musical talents, large personality, and charming voice, and I’d had him pegged as a swindler. Turns out the only thing he’s swindling is Rhona’s heart, the way she looks at him. He’s been surprisingly dependable and has a set of morals and values he is loathed to compromise on. I hope this war doesn’t take that away from him, he’s good for morale and if he crumbles, I think it would be like seeing a historical landmark become destroyed; the sense of how things were would be gone forever and something truly valuable would be lost.

Gregor: There’s two sides to this man. The first is the somewhat soft-spoken and considerate family man who just happens to be incredibly unfaithful to his wife by fucking Raelynn like a man half of his age but still maintains this air of trustworthiness and courage that’s reassuring. And then there’s the other, a mask slips and there’s this dark maelstrom that emerges from the pits of his eyes and takes control of his body; he becomes more rigid, jerky, and he speaks like a man truly possessed by the same impulses that serial killers seem to employ to justify abhorrent behaviour. That on its own isn’t enough for me to feel he’s dangerous to any of us, but I worry that the day may come that he’s going to snap and that mask is going to evaporate in an icy fury that threatens to consume the rest of us. He assures me he is entirely focused on the Dwemer, our mutual enemy, and the rest of us aren’t in harm’s way. But what happens if any of us cross these invisible lines he’s laid out? He’s a man of absolutes who does not see the Dwemer as people, just a pestilence he feels he is the cure for. It’s haunting to think about, and I try to think of him like how he usually presents himself; that’s the part I could see myself befriending and trusting. However, it’s but a ship floating precariously on a sea, and there’s a storm on the horizon. I fear for Raelynn’s safety, but I warned her. I just hope she can curve those impulses he has.

Raelynn Hawkford: She’s tightly wound, pretentious, and a tad arrogant thanks to her dear father and an opulent upbringing, and once I thought that’s all there was to her. After her… incident, I’ve seen a side to her that’s soft and vulnerable and caring. Even before all of that, she found a romance with Gregor that seemed to really let her hair down, so to speak. Maybe they’re good for one another? Mara, I hope so. But lately, I think we’ve actually come to appreciate one another and she’s something I actually consider a friend now; we have quite a bit in common, and she chose to trust in me when she was at her lowest point. I hope that still means something in the days ahead, because truthfully, true friends are hard to come by and it’s not a word I use lightly. She’s lost so much of herself the last while, I need to try to help her hold onto what’s left. It’s the least I can do.

Latro de Couteau: Had you told me a couple months ago that I’d have fallen for the androgynous pretty boy with long silky hair and a soft voice that happened to be a fetching musician, I’d probably have assumed you meant a quick fling, but he turned out to be so much more. We’ve survived so much, and come to depend on one another to the point where it became clear that both of our lives would have been emptier without one another. When I thought he died in Imperial City, my heart broke, and I’d never experience such joy as when he came back into my life. I was an idiot and almost lost him again in Anvil because of my own insecurities and jaded, stupid ass, but this is new for both of us. I’d only loved once before, and that burned me. This burns in another way, a hearthfire if you will. I know who he really is, and I don’t care he tried to hide that from me; his heart is pure and he feared what I’d do. I understand that, and he decided to level with me a secret no one else knows. Besides, the Reachman bard’s good with his hands. It’s always the quite ones who have the most skill and dexterity. giggles Look, he’s better than someone like me deserves, and I think he feels the same way. We’re both slightly bent and damaged goods that make a nice matching set. Scars tell a story, do they not?

Rhona Amoretto: A pretty and polite girl who got picked up by Rhea because she liked to collect sad and broken things and see the good in people, I barely had a chance to talk to the girl. She’s not a fighter and doesn’t really do anything practical for the rest of us, and we haven’t eaten her goat yet, so I suppose she’s accepted as a part of the gang. I feel like she’s kind of a liability and way over her head, but then again I’m an anti-social treasure hunter with trust issues pretending I’m Ysgramor leading his companions against a dominant group of elves who’s really good at picking locks and sneaking about so I don’t have to get in a fight. She’s barely talked since she basically beat her deadbeat husband to death with a cudgel, and Brynja’s been mothering her. It wouldn’t surprise me if she finds somewhere safe to lay low, this isn’t her fight. She probably sticks around because Calen’s her knight in shining armour, or similar metaphor you find in some pulp romance novel under some teenage girl’s bed. I know I had a few.

Nanine Tilhart: Here’s an enigma. So some affluent-looking, based on her armour, Breton woman who carries herself like she’s grown up being fed from a silver spoon her whole life shows up in the refugee camp and joins up with the Colovian Rangers, right? She sits down, and immediately tries to analyze people like she’s a head doctor and gives her prognosis of what’s wrong with a few of the party without being really prompted and then she lays low for the next few weeks, emerging for a few quiet chats. She’s just kind of there, like a wall fixture that you get used to seeing but wouldn’t notice it right away if it disappeared, but as soon as you have use of it would be strange. She’s a talented mage, perhaps a bit smug, but I couldn’t tell you anything else about her. I can’t even remember what her voice sounds like she talks so little.

Alim: Speaking truthfully, I subconsciously pat down my pockets and belts every time he brushes by me. Man’s a thief, which I respect, and he’s done absolutely nothing to slight the rest of us, but he carries himself in such a way where it feels like’s he’s casing us and plans to make off with a big haul of our valuables. It’s irrational, and as odd as it does sound, I do trust him, he just reminds me way too much of Roux. I gave Roux my heart and my unquestioning trust and he fucks me out of the biggest discovery in my life that paved his way to fame and fortune and ended up with me having a burnt down apartment and barely a Septim to my name. Anyways, he’s a brutal flirt, sometimes to the point where I cringe and die inside but the rest of the ladies in our company seem to dig it, except for Mazrah for being the most aggressive lesbian I’ve met and Judena being a very… ah, distinguished Argonian who is the most low key lesbian I’ve met. I don’t think he’s made a pass at me, but that’s not surprising. He probably has feline allergies, the wuss. That aside, he’s been very dedicated and kind to everyone and he’s dedicated to us all, and he adds an air of normality and comfort to the group. I’m glad he’s around, I like him.

Tariyeh "Shakti" Nasaaj: How can anyone not find her enthusiasm infectious? Shakti is a charming girl with a huge heart and a spirit I hope never gets crushed. She reminds me a lot of when I was her age, just starting to take on the world and make my own way outside of Leyawiin. She’s naïve and has no idea what life’s like outside of her family enclave, but she’s learning fast and she went through great lengths to get her family sword back. She was generous to me, and it turns out a bit of compromise went a long way. I had to lie about what happened in the Jerall Mountains, I just don’t want her to hate us… me for our part in fucking up her life. I really don’t want to have to justify Rhea’s fuck up and the fact I didn’t punch Rhea in the face and let us all die. Life’s funny like that.

Solandil: Remember how I was talking about pulp romances? Solandil is basically the stoic and tough love interest for our female avatar in those stories, only in the books he eventually warms up and gently makes love to the main character for thirteen pages by a moonlit river. Solandil so far has not done that, and I think he never will. Brynja kind of likes him, I think. I think it’s because he looks like a silver medal to the gold medal of the rest of the Altmer, so maybe he feels like he’s second best, so the defective-feeling Altmer and the defective-feeling Nord are probably going to make defective babies if they get together. That was cruel, wasn’t it? Look, I never claimed to be a paragon. I’ll get the little runts little ancient Nord and Aleyid helmets to hide their pale and homely faces like a good aunt…

Brynja’s standing behind me, isn’t she?

Anifaire: When I describe to you an aristocratic Altmer who was born and raised completely in Alinor, you probably think of the Thalmor, right? Authoritarian bigots who basically treat my people and the Bosmer like sword fodder and think that the races of Men are a blight? Anifaire apparently skipped all of those lessons, because she’s a meek, quiet girl who can’t seem to loosen up and seems overwhelmed by the idea of her forks and spoons being mixed up for dinner, and probably wouldn’t fucking eat if there weren’t any. She’s overwhelmed by the real world, and the fact that she wants Alim to sneak into her pants to lockpick her chastity belt and make another 13 pages of love by a moonlit river…

If you tell anyone I read that trash, I will break your legs when you sleep.

Mazrah “Maz” gra-Durash: Ohhh boy, so here I am in Hammerfell for the first time in years and avoiding curfew and I stumble across a mostly naked and physically robust Orsimer named Mazrah who is brutalizing a creep. I break his fingers, we bond, and I decide hey, let’s bring her home to show the family. Turns out being a great choice on my behalf because besides annoying the piss out of Raelynn, Maz legitimately enjoys our company and is devoted to our cause and she’s flattered me to the point where I’m starting to wonder if I like women or not. I never really thought about it, but had I not been with Latro, I maaaay have taken Maz up on her offer to see what the fuss was about. Did you know Khajiiti fur feels great on bare skin? So I’ve been told, I’m somewhat of a deviant and I’ve barely had Khajiit partners. Apparently my type is vaguely feminine Reachmen. Anyways, Mazrah’s an impressive warrior and she is blunt and to the point where she’s certainly not plotting anything devious in the shadows. She strikes me as the kind of person who would be offended by the idea of stabbing anyone in the back because then she can’t see the look in their face when she murders them. I missed such simplicity in my life.

Judena: My oldest and most endearing friend, I’ve known Judena for years, ever since I first got started treasure hunting and doing historical research for a living. She’s a kind hearted old woman, even by Argonian standards, and she’s lost so much in her life, her homeland, her wife, and of course a lot of her mind. She gets up every single day, reads her journals and carries on with a smile on her face and the warmest disposition of anyone I’ve ever met; she struggles each and every single day and asks nothing in return because she wants other people to feel good about themselves. It bothers me when people are not patient with her for things she cannot help, and I’m glad she trusts me. Once you learn how to work around her limitation, she’s the most pleasant of company and she has decades of experience and knowledge that anyone would be a fool not to appreciate. I don’t tell her how much she means to me enough, and I fear that I’m running out of time to do so. She means as much to me as Zegol did, and I don’t think she knows that.

Jaraleet: I respect Jaraleet for what he can do as a fighter, and he’s a sneaky shit who operates from the shadows. I feel like he might have been born under the sign of the Shadow, but I have no way to prove that and I don’t know enough about Argonian internal politics to know if the Shadowscale practice is still in effect. He claims he was a simple soldier, but simple soldiers aren’t proficient torturers who are socially stunted oddballs who handle relationships with the same amount of tact as a Skeever going through your trash bin. He seems to think his way of doing things is unquestionable, and while he fumbles when this perspective is challenged by someone with a bit more mental agility than he’s accustomed to, he entrenches and refuses to budge. He strikes me as someone who doesn’t believe in the divines and if Alkosh himself came and scorched half of the world in divine fire, he would still refuse to accept the obvious explanation. Meg fancies him and good for her. I just don’t know if she’s going to find what she’s hoping for there, but he seems to be thawing a bit with her around. I’ve been wrong about people before, and despite everything, I do trust him… just maybe not to make the most sound judgements on his own.

A Shaft and Dervs Collab
Governor’s Palace, early morning 8th Midyear, 4E208…

“I don’t like this.” Sevari shook his head.

Kerztar’s office in the Governor’s Palace was similar to the Secret Police team’s barracks outside of Gilane’s walls in that what once were rooms simply for the use of holding treasure or guest rooms that were never used were repurposed into new things. Kerztar and the other Government staff stationed in what was once the Royal Palace had made it their own. Albeit, more pragmatic and official, rather than regal and opulent.

“You don’t have to like it, Sevari.” Kerztar said, just now turning around from his reverie in Sevari’s silence after the news, “I’m afraid that this is an order. Where I usually welcome ideas that might be better than mine, this is Governor Rourken’s orders.”

“This is some kind of fuck-up. You shouldn’t have let him handle this on his own, I told you. Roux was apprehended clean, it was quick, efficient and to the point.” Sevari found his voice raising by the last few words, to Kerztar’s frown, “It was that way because you gave me the lead. If Zaveed had his way, he would’ve abducted half the godsdamned crew to lure out the other half by sending them their cocks by courier. After, he would’ve set Villaume on fire outside Roux’s window to make him piss himself before he burst through the windows cackling.”

Kerztar rubbed at his nose and sighed, “And so you’ll have the lead again. You proved yourself when you got Hassiim after what we found out about him and the Caliphate’s spies.”

“I’m pursuing another lead on that case, you can’t pull me off of it now.” Sevari pleaded, “Find somebody else.”

“I don’t trust anybody else.” Kerztar shook his head, “Do you really believe Zaveed will spare a thought about following anybody else?”

“He barely spares a fucking thought to following you.” Sevari grumbled. “He’s too big of a homicidal prick to do anything different.”

“That’s why it has to be you, Sevari. It’s an order, be quiet and do it or I’ll let Razlinc put you in the pits for treason.” Kerztar’s eyes were hard at that, Sevari knowing when to cut his losses and fold. Now was the time.

He loved his brother with his entire heart. Not a day went by when he didn’t drift back to the night he was taken after spending four years with him and his sister. They were a family. He and Zaveed still were. It didn’t change the fact that Zaveed’s conduct so far was the sole reason he requested to transfer to another case once the chance arose. He was too loose.

“Fine.” Sevari said, shaking his head.

“I’ve called him up here to give him the news. He might take it better with you here.” Kerztar said, taking his seat finally, tenting his fingers in front of his face, “I hope you don’t have a problem with sitting in.”

Sevari let go a positively beaming grin. It wouldn’t have been happier if he started vomiting rainbows through his teeth and shitting septims. “I would love it more than anything.”

It dropped as instantly as it came, Kerztar not paying any mind to the raging torrent of sarcasm that washed over his obstinate demeanor like a deep-rooted rock splitting the waves, “Good.”

The door was opened by two of the Ministry's guards and Zaveed walked in with his usual swagger; if he were apprehensive about the meeting to come, he didn't show it. Before reporting in, he unfastened his weapon belt and let it hang over the back of a chair and removed both of his pistols, setting them upon the table matched to the chair before finally walking over to Kerztar's desk, his thumbs hooked into his waist belt. “As requested, Master Kerztar, here I am. I suspect this isn't to congratulate me on a job well done, given the dour look upon both of your faces.” he said, glancing over to Sevari before turning his attention back to the Dwemer.

Kerztar watched Zaveed’s every move. He had always been interested in the Khajiit, and not only for their physiology. When he learned Sevari was also a Khajiit, he was baffled, remarking upon the absence of a tail and retracting claws, the beard, the size of him. The fascination ended when he found out they were just like men and mer. Fallible, cruel, mortal. When Zaveed spoke, his gaze hung on the Khajiit’s all the while.

“No.” He said, simply. “Sit.”

When Zaveed finally did, Kerztar cleared his throat, “You get results, Zaveed. But your means have come under question by Governor Rourken. Be glad it hasn’t become common knowledge among her cabinet.”

“I entrusted you with the sensitivity of this mission when I agreed to give you the lead after Sevari transferred. I can see now what happens with that.” Kerztar sighed, leaning back in his chair. For the first time since Sevari had met Kerztar, it seemed like annoyance was starting to break through. “I’m putting Sevari back on the case and assigning the lead position back to him until you remember how the Ministry of Order operates.”

“Sluggishly and with undue loss of time and casualties to your own organizations?” Zaveed replied casually, arm draped over the back of his chair. “In a matter of days, I have leveraged a weak link in the very same terrorist cell that killed Mrazac, broke several undesirables out of jail while assaulting local guards, and attacked a prisoner convoy in broad daylight to free their compatriots. You wish to reprimand me for my methods? They tortured a man to death. I obtained information likewise and found out about connections we had no clue about before I took action.

“I single handedly detained their leader and her paramour in a single day and will return to interrogate another one of them later. Roux Dupris was on the wrong side of this, and he no longer served a purpose. Do I need to remind you that most of the Governor's prisoners are forced to fight to the death? I granted him a mercy.” Zaveed said, his eyes boring into the Major's. “You activated us because you wanted results, and now you wish to coddle people who murder your own in the streets and laugh in the face of your rule? I am cruel, yes, but do you not think they would think twice knowing what we are willing to do to them if they cross us?”

“It is a fine. Line.” Kerztar said, voice hanging on the vowels, “We can’t work as if this will be our way of life forever. My peoples’ rule is young and unsteady, but as time goes on, they will slowly accept it. Legitimacy will be gained on its own.”

“We are the ones who make sure it lasts long enough so it comes to fruition. I don’t have any sympathy for the people who did that to Mrazac. He didn’t deserve it.” Kerztar frowned, “But don’t fucking pretend you did any of that for Nblec. You might fool the sergeants and even the lieutenants, but you take a step back and remember who you’re talking to.”

“Certainly not a damned fool.” Kerztar said, “I don’t mind blood being shed for the cause, it’s inevitable. I can’t have agents representing my people bathing in it either and nailing young women to chairs.”

Kerztar leaned forward in his chair, eyeing Sevari then casting the gaze to Zaveed before standing. “Pick the right fucking targets.”

Zaveed picked at his claws. “Actually, it was a table, but I take your meaning, Master Kerztar. I never wished to insinuate you were a fool, and I couldn't give a damn about Mrazac or most of your people, that much is true, but pardon my audacity.” Zaveed said, standing in turn. “Your rule won't last if these terrorists feel that they have nothing to fear from you. Every attack grows their ranks, and you may end up standing upon ruins and bodies of your compatriots alongside me with the knowledge that you did the moral thing, but it cost you everything.”

Gesturing towards Sevari, he said, “We weren't given much of a choice. Serve you or die fighting. And honestly? You've been good to us, all considered, and if I have to nail every fucking man, woman, and child in this city to furniture if it ensured your reign wasn't a short footnote in history, then give me the hammer and let me work. Just do not tell me that my methods do not get results, because I scored your people a major victory. You have their leader; you may be able to find out where to find this Poncy Man and the rest of his allies are.” he leaned forward on the table, hands grabbing the edges. “So let me do my job so I may one day taste the air as a free man and your people can go to bed knowing that creatures of the night aren't going to slit their throats while they sleep.”

It was silence, deafening silence as Kerztar regarded Zaveed deadpan all through his speech and up to now. Kerztar looked to Sevari with a frown, gesturing to Zaveed. “I’m so very glad that my people can once again say that we have stories in the making of avenging heroes come down from the heavens to visit violence on the evildoers so that we may sleep soundly.” His voice was flat, “I don’t want them to fear you. I don’t even want them to fear me. You’re missing the point, Zaveed, the forest for the tree. At the end of this, I want them to fear the law.

“Do you not think they’ll take your conduct and flip it into recruiting material?” Kerztar said, “The propaganda writes itself. I don’t even want you anywhere near a damned hammer with your attitude, Zaveed. I wanted scalpels. For some reason, your brother is the only one who understands that. He got me Roux without nailing every man, woman, child, animal, whatever to a table for some sense of the greater good.”

“He got me Hassiim without it even making a peep, after what we found out about him.” Sevari glanced at Zaveed but made no gestures or expression to show he felt strongly about any of this, either way, “I deal in absolutes. The Ministry of Order deals in absolutes. Those even above my station in the High Government of the Dwemer, guess what they deal in.”

“Not rhetoric about nailing people to tables.” Kerztar said in a low growl as he leaned over his desk to the two Khajiit in his office. He held their stares on his own for a long while. He pushed off the desk and turned his back on them, looking out his window to the city beyond. “Get out of my office and do your jobs right.”

Rising from the table, Zaveed gave a theatrical bow. “And we absolutely slaughtered the entirety of the crew of the Intrepid, very scalpel-like.” he said with a sarcastic smile, righting himself. “Until the next time, Master Kertar, I do enjoy our little chats.”

He turned to leave, tapping Sevari on the shoulder. “Back to work, yes? I do hope our partnership does not bring you undue stress. I would loathe to make you look bad.”

With that, he strolled over to his weapons, strapping them to his person with care and he didn't wait for the guards to get the door as he stepped out into the hall, whistling a sailor's shanty.

“That went well, don't you think?” Zaveed asked, walking down the main market street with Sevari at his side. The Cathay bit into a massive kabab he found with his nose and chewed obnoxiously at the overly large chunk of lamb. “Bloody ingrates. Thanks for your unyielding love and support, brother; it helps to know I'm not facing down tight-ass elf slavers on my lonesome. Your spirited lament of how great I was for their idiotic cause brought a tear to my eye, and Mara above, a rise in my trousers.” he looked over at Sevari with an annoyed glint. “Well, say what's on your mind, brother. You're more stoic and short of tongue than a cheap whore who got sold to a 500 stone Orc businessman who forgot what a bathhouse and cure disease potion were today.” he let out an annoyed sigh. “It's tiresome.”

“The reason we aren’t fighting through criminals to earn our freedom right now after all of this is because Kerztar knows we are his best. Before we get too far into this, let me just cut through your fucking sarcasm for a second.” Sevari spat to the Cathay at his side. The same one he loved even more than his blood brothers. “I didn’t say anything as to your results to Kerztar because we both know what you were able to do. The problem, Zaveed, is that you’re a real fucking cunt. I love you, but it’s true.”

He shook his head. “As far as why I’m especially beaming and an insufferable ray of sunshine than I usually am,” His scowl then payed testament to that, “Your sister’s here.”

Zaveed stopped in his tracks, the kabab slipping through his fingers onto the stone street below. “What did you say?” he asked quietly, looking to his brother with a slow turn of his head.

“Your sister.” Sevari said again, “The third member of this triumvirate of dysfunctional family.”

Sevari kept walking, not looking at Zaveed, not for any transgression of his own. For everything he’d learned about Marassa the past few days. To speak of her now was a courtesy, but also an old pain brought to the surface once more. “I don’t think we could simply arrange for a visit. She’s currently guarding the Thalmor Emissary in town. Easier to do from his bed, I suppose.” He frowned even darker, “I don’t care either way.”

It was a bad lie, coming from a Khajiit where lying was almost half his job.

Zaveed caught up quickly, grabbing Sevari by the shoulder. “We both know there isn't a damned Embassy! What the fuck did you do, Sevari?” Zaveed demanded, forcing the Ohmes-raht to look at him. “I know that dejected look; it's the same stupid one you get when she spurred you as a cub. You didn't think that I should know this sooner? She can't be here! The whole city's gone to shit, and…” he stared Sevari hard in the eyes, his tone hardening “Tell me the truth. Is she truly here? How do you know this?”

“How the fuck do you think?” Sevari’s face was screwed up in anger to be reminded about their younger years, “I saw her. On the ship. Erincaro’s been here, he’s the one who talked Rourken before this all started. She’s been here without us knowing until now.”

“She’s safer than we fucking are, Zaveed.” Sevari spat, “One hint of trouble and she can drop the sails and be on her way.”

Zaveed's face contorted into anger, he stepped away, scratching his claws down his axes and pinching the bridge of his nose while pacing. Suddenly, he bellowed out in Ta'agra, <Fuck you, you stupid spiteful bitch Divines! Fuck. You!>

Composing himself suddenly, he kicked a vendor's basket over before returning to Sevari. He absent-mindedly tossed a coin over his shoulder at the vendor. “Do you think you're the only one with a hate-erection for the Dominion around here? She isn't fucking safe, Sevari. Did you forget what we did to Roux's crew already?” he pressed, gritting his teeth. “I need to find her.”

“She’s on a ship, so there’s only a few places she could be.” Sevari grumbled, tossing over his shoulder to Zaveed, “You know, the desert, could be in the middle of the street. The docks.

“It’s an Altmer ship, you know the type.” Sevari said, “Just walk around until you have to shield your eyes from a damned sun floating in the water, I’m sure they’ll just let you aboard. She’d be happier to see you than me.”

Zaveed rolled his eyes. “And I’m the cunt.” he retorted. “Maybe she would have been more receptive to you if you weren't sulking about in the dark with murderous intent. Must have been a heartwarming reunion, seeing what you've become.”

“Shut the fuck up and let’s go.” Sevari said, picking up the pace. He hated having acid spit at him. Especially when it had a bit of truth. “She’s living her life, I’m living mine.”

“And how's that working out for you? She was probably the smart one, turning you away. I didn't and it got me a new job in an exciting and exotic land where everyone loves and respects people like us.” Zaveed replied, his hands resting on his axes, irritated. “Family is complicated, is it not?”

“Mine fucking is.” He eyed Zaveed.

Sevari and Zaveed walked through the streets quick, not stopping for anything and at one point, Sevari barging all two-hundred some of his weight and towering height through a troupe of guards with an utterance of ‘Ministry of Order.’ Finally, they’d made it to the docks. At the far end of the piers bobbed an Altmer ship, the Indrik, gracefully. “There she is.” Sevari lagged a bit behind Zaveed as he started, “I don’t think our last meeting went well enough to invite another. You know, because I’m the big fucking idiot for letting everybody slaughter my family and not throating their cocks for the privilege.”

Zaveed’s eyes remained fixed on the Altmeri ship, more graceful and resplendent than the one he had captained and his heart paced. “Your words, not mine.” he replied without looking. “Is the man who actually did the dark deed aboard, or are you just projecting and blaming everyone who flies Dominion colours for the action of one man, Sevari?” he turned to face him. “You didn't try to kill me, or half of Senchal. You didn't try to kill her. So tell me, brother, where do you draw the line? Where do you leave an irrational miasma of fury behind and embrace reason?

“Get justice on the one who did the deed, Sevari, not lash out at everyone else. You've been led like a dog by people who do not fucking care about you to destroy more families than your own with the promise you'd get revenge. How many years has it been? How long have you lived for someone else? Do you think your biological family would be proud of who you've become?” Zaveed snapped, closing the distance and jabbing a finger into Sevari's chest. “Who the fuck are you? You're so twisted by hate and fear that you throw away what family you have left because the child inside of you wants to change the past and get revenge on someone who hurt you when you were young. Where is he, Sevari? What do you have to show for who you became?”

Zaveed slapped his hand on his chest. “I had a ship, a crew! I went from beaten and raped by people who took me in until I murdered those responsible and then I made something of myself!” he snarled. “I moved on, became so much more than a scared and starving boy, and I had everything. I lost it all because of you. All because you couldn't let go of something that happened decades ago, that you decided was more important than Marassa and I!

“And you know what? I've made peace with the fact your choice and appealing to our history got my crew almost entirely killed or enslaved, or that the gold you promised is gone with my fucking home. But what bloody right do you have to try and destroy what Marassa built for herself? You don't approve? Too fucking bad. You need to stop being a selfish twat who only destroys the things he alleges to love. Or do you think your father and brothers would have wanted you to make your family legacy being a murderous puppet for some Emperor who doesn't fucking care about you?” Zaveed stepped back, throwing a finger towards the ship.

“The family you have left, her and I, are you so fucking eager to lose us both because of this fool's errand? Or are you ready to suck up your pride and try to be a brother again? I bet Marassa didn't see the boy she loved, just some twisted specter of the man he should have been.” Zaveed huffed with a pause, softly, he added, “Did you even try to prove her wrong?”

Sevari took it. Took it pretty fucking well given his history of knifing men who yelled at him, much less touched him in the same moment. For all the anger that boiled up inside him, the only thing he showed was a balled fist that he let go before he spoke. “Where the fuck do you think I drew that line.” Sevari’s voice simmered with a quivering fury on his tongue, “If I didn’t give a shit about Marassa, do you think I’d still be here? Or do you think Erincaro would be dead in his sleep and me long gone without a word to either of you, again? I do this shit for a living, I kill, I lie, I make people trust me and think I’m acting in their best interest if it had a chance of furthering my goals before I disappear and leave them to the wolves.”

He cast a glance to the ship, “Instead I found her. I could’ve continued with my mission before she even got to her fucking lover.” He leaned forward at Zaveed, “I’ve drawn that line. Erincaro is fucking the woman I loved without a knife in his throat and his guts at his feet. I saved you from being expelled from service and put into the pits because Rourken willed it. Asking Kerztar to put you back with me if anything should happen like it just did with that fucking meeting. Now shut the fuck up and talk to your sister so I can start trying to be the brother I’ve always wanted to be, contrary to [i]your fucking belief.[/] I’m a shit person, I’m a liar, a thief, a murderer with too much blood on my hands. A shadow of what I was. I know it. But I’m still here by you.”

Zaveed was silent, staring at the graceful ship while listening to Sevari's words, feeling a pull in two directions. He knew Sevari was telling the truth, that he spared Erincaro Syintar's life because of Marassa's involvement with the Almer ambassador. He thought back on the meeting, the whole day's events and he wanted nothing more than to go to that ship and find his sister once more.

Instead, he said, “Not without you.”

He looked to Sevari, frowning. “It's been a long, difficult road and this reunion between us has been anything but warm, but when I go to her, you must be by my side, understood? I would love nothing more than to go to her now, but I'd be leaving a hole behind I'd never fill... You aren't the only one who's been shit at family.” he extended his hand to Sevari. “Let's go forward, together. Fuck everything else. We do this job and we go choose our own destiny. We get her back.”

Sevari regarded Zaveed with his outstretched hand. The offering of a new start, of something he had missed for so long. He remembered what he told Marassa when she offered. A resounding no, and leaving her behind for the second time. His eyes went from Zaveed’s hand to his gaze. The two shared a tense moment, Sevari feeling he was being torn apart. But he really did wonder, would his mother even recognize him if the boy she offered so much of that much needed acceptance and love to stood before her now?

Perhaps she’d say something along the lines of it being time to stop. That it was so fucking readily apparent that he loved his family so much that he did everything he’d done so far to avenge their memories. That whoever he was trying to prove that to would’ve already been impressed after twenty years of proving it in blood and scars. That this revenge wasn’t even for them now, but for him, almost. He swallowed, hesitantly at first, but he nodded to Zaveed. To his brother. “Okay.”

Zaveed clapped Sevari on the shoulder with a grin. “Okay. I can work with okay.” he said, a chuckle escaping his throat. “Now, let's go get ourselves a bloody drink and find someone to warm our beds tonight, we can regale each other of our tales and make up for lost time. Tomorrow we return to the hunt.”

Sevari breathed a sigh through his smile, a thing in such short supply for him these days, especially for being so genuine. “I’d like that.” He nodded, “I’d like that a lot, my brother.”

It had been about 4 hours of wine and ale in some port tavern that Zaveed infrequently visited not far from where the Indrik was moored, and neither Sevari nor him rightfully knew the name of at this point but no longer cared. Zaveed had replaced the kabab he had lost earlier, and looked at Sevari from over a pint glass. “So… have you find yourself with another woman after we parted ways all those years ago?” he asked mischievously, his eyes tracking a short-haired blonde Breton waitress as she carried a tray past.

Sevari chuckled softly, taking another swig of his third pint that night, “A few.” He shrugged, setting down the tankard, “My work so far has kept me from having too much fun. I’ve honestly been granted more downtime from the Ministry of Order than the Empire.”

“The work is tireless, but of course I’ve found time to wind down in ways I can. Whether it’s drinking in a quiet place or finding a woman to share a bed with for the night.” He looked down at his ale, his smile lessening a tad as he thought about Marassa. He couldn’t tell if it was the fact that she had come back into his life at all, or if she had come back into his life in a relationship with the son of the mer who ordered his brothers’ killings.

Silently, scenes played out in his head. He knew what the two of them were up to when he had first been about to enter Erincaro’s chambers. He imagined the loving and tender moments in their two lives together. What it was like for them falling in love. Before Sevari followed where his tipsy reverie beckoned him, he shook from it. It was only then he noticed he was scowling. He lifted the tankard to his lips and drained the last few gulps in one go. “Another.” He said to the barmaid before she even had a chance to open her smiling mouth and ask, before he half-assedly tacked on, “Please.”

Offering a sweet and well honed smile, the waitress offered Sevari a wink. “Sure thing, love.” she said, turning to pop the cork off of another Sentinel red wine and filling a fresh mug. Zaveed was transfixed; perhaps it was the alcohol, but the waitress looked familiar. The short blonde hair and steel blue eyes like the gleam of blades looked like a pair he’d lost himself in recently, and her petite frame was alluring. When she turned, she caught Zaveed’s stare and met him defiantly. “I certainly know that look.” She said with a flirtatious wink, setting Sevari’s mug before him. She moved over to lean over at the two Khajiit, leaning forward on the counter seductively. “Didn't your mother tell you it was rude to stare?” she asked.

“I would have asked her, but she was busy from one man to the next, sometimes woman, without much time to answer the inane questions of a toddler.” Zaveed replied with an apologetic smile. “You are quite the captivating woman, my dear.”

“Not the first time I’ve heard that. Won’t be the last.” She said with a sly smile, pouring herself a glass of the same mug. “So, I couldn’t help but overhear you two were brothers. Sounds like you’ve spent some time apart.”

“Entirely too long. Barely recognized the man when I saw him, but I think there is progress being made.” Zaveed grinned. “He’s probably smiled for the first time in twenty years, if you’d believe it.”

The waitress grinned at both of them. “Well, the way he looks tonight, I wouldn’t have been able to tell.” he eyes caught another table across the room. “I’ll be back, fellas. Make yourself comfortable.”

With that, she was off with her tray, and Zaveed finished off his tankard. He glanced over at Sevari with a coy look. “Well, if you aren’t, I am.”

“I’m not sure she’s the type to go after Khajiit with too many thoughts behind their eyes.” He chuckled, taking another swig from his tankard, and looking at the waitress. She was pulling the exact same tricks on the two old sailors at the other table that she was at his and Zaveed’s. He’d been in enough seedy taverns to know better than to think waitresses only had eyes for him. Then again, it only really mattered who had eyes for who for the night, didn’t it? Speaking of, his eyes were snatched and held by an emerald gaze from across the room.

Had he seen the two eyes before? Where the waitress had mischief in her eyes, these had a depth that fixed him and made him totter like looking straight down the edge of a cliff to the white-tipped tides below. Take a step, they beckoned, at your peril. He swallowed once, ripping his eyes away from the woman across the room. He glanced at Zaveed and forced a smirk, “What’s your plan with the waitress?” He asked, eyes zipping to and from the gaze of the woman across the room, “Usual dashing privateer routine?”

Zaveed grinned slyly, downing his drink before sliding the empty tankard away. “I was thinking dastardly pirate. Maybe I’ll get to start a fight or two along the way, sweep her off her feet in the carnage.” He pulled off a coin purse from his belt, plucking a golden coin from the pouch and having it dance casually between fingers. “Besides, I pay rather well for regrettable life choices. Those lads over there are so routine and uninspired; I am the epitome of exotic and irresistable.”

Sevari smirked and nodded, “Oh, I’m sure they said the same of themselves before they turned gray and couldn’t even take a shit without a trip to the local apothecary.” Sevari shrugged, “You should maybe get to doing whatever you’re going to before then.”

“Oh, dear brother; legends never grow old. I'll be departed before such indignities take me.” Zaveed replied with a toothy grin before suddenly hopping the counter, grabbing another bottle of wine and pulling out the cork with a claw. He held it out towards Sevari. “It's been a strange journey, but I'm grateful you are with me once more. This is how it should have always been; to family.”

After the clanking of their respective containers, Zaveed straightened out his tunic with a sense of formality.

“If you’ll pardon me, I think our darling waitress forgot something.” he said with a shit-eating grin and a wink before slinking off towards the waitress. Taking her by the waist, he his grin did not falter. “Hello, my dear.” he purred, holding out the bottle. “You’ve forgotten to have your fill.”

Guest of Honour

A Shaft and Dervs collab

6th Midyear, 4E208, Early Evening, Gilane Streets…

Even with the agony of a broken arm screaming at her with every step, Daro’Vasora felt the heat from the crowds and the conscious effect that their aggressive attention was hurling towards her. Her feet moved automatically now, conscious thought was fleeting, and being paraded through the streets by Zaveed and his Dwemeri entourage was humiliating and terrifying all at once; there was no escaping from this, and in her heart, she knew that running would only bring more pain and maybe even death. It was a prospect she didn’t care to entertain, as she very much wanted to live. Still, she tried to walk as upright as she could to maintain some air of dignity, even if her eyes refused to meet anyone in the crowd. She couldn’t look broken and defeated, there was an off chance that someone in the crowd would act, or inspire some act of defiance that would have this all worth it.

Was it, though? Was any of this worth it? Daro’Vasora thought, wincing as a hand shoved her from behind to keep her moving and jostling her arm. Roux had died in front of her eyes, and she had no idea what happened to Raelynn; she had failed them both, because she didn’t know how to fight. Now, presumably, she was being carted off to an execution and everything she was and held dear would be gone. Her mind fluttered fearfully to the thought of being soul-trapped, shoved into a gem to be used an extinguished to power a war machine. Her defiance deflated somewhat at the thought; she just wanted to run and hide and let everything wash over. She had gotten in over her head and now she was paying the price for it, her fate out of her hand.\

The feeling of hopelessness was insufferable. There was always a way out, wasn’t there?

“Try to smile, my dear; you’ve drawn quite the crowd.” Zaveed said behind her, waving at the gathered faces of the citizenry, Redguard, Dwemer, and everyone else alike. It was harrowing being the center of attention at the best of times, but the sensation Daro’Vasora felt wasn’t unlike accidently stepping on a pressure plate in a ruin and the moments of tense anticipation of what was coming next. She didn’t reply to Zaveed, instead staring directly ahead and trying to focus on just putting one foot in front of the other; she had to make it out, and she couldn’t do that if she lost her cool.

“Murderer! Blight!” A voice screamed suddenly from the crowd, and something warm hit the Khajiit on the hip. Soon, a chorus of yelling and incensed voices erupting from the crowd was deafening. The escort party formed a perimeter, weapons held at the ready, but it didn’t stop those in the crowd from tossing objects, usually rotten foot or even rocks at Daro’Vasora. Zaveed made a Tisk sound between his teeth. “It seems you aren’t the most popular person in these parts. If only one of your friends was here to take your fall…” He mused, raising a hand and shaking his head to prevent a brick from being hurled in his direction.

“Fuck. You.” Daro’Vasora hissed, her teeth clenched as her arm jostled.

“Ah, there she is. Poor luck, about the arm. Usually they’re so much more robust. If only you had cooperated, you wouldn’t be in such a predicament.” Zaveed replied with bemusement. “It’s too bad, really, that you had to do something silly like join up with a bunch of terrorists. Only a few days here, and you’ve thrown your lot in with some extremists who terrorize the citizens and murder those who champion their causes. Did you ever stop to ask yourself what your Poncy Man would do if he won, hm? Do you think he’d be merely happy if the Dwemer were to be removed, or would he continue to seek vengeance on those who accepted them afterwards? The streets would just grow more and more blooded, and you have certainly had your hand in that pot.”

Daro’Vasora spat in the dirt. “You talk too much, murderer. The simple fact you exist and have any sort of power is a testament that what your friends are doing is amoral.” she said, voice dripping with vitriol. Her hatred for the other Cathay at least gave her something to focus on that wasn’t the crowds of people and the agony in her arm. It was hard to talk, however.

“Roux had served his purpose, and he was no longer required.” Zaveed replied, keeping pace with the younger woman. “Others had much more… creative solutions for disposing of him, but you were the final gift he gave us. His death was quick, and largely painless. More than the rest of you deserve, I might add.”

“Then why am I still alive?” Daro’Vasora shot back. “You parade me through this street, to what, put a face to the enemy these people can hate?”

Zaveed shrugged. “Your words, not my own. That said, can you not see how they look at you, the embodiment of why they cannot live in peace? You really are quite hated, and you are taking the brunt of the wrath that your friends should be rightfully sharing. A pity, but I will have them dealt with soon enough. That I promise.”

“If you’re after fear or defiance, you’re going to be disappointed.” Daro’Vasora replied tersely. “I just hope someone throws their shit in your face, you bastard.”

A familiar face caught her eye and she stopped dead in her tracks. It was the Dwemer child that had bumped into her the day she had landed, looking at her aghast. His mother clutched him close to her, her face contorted into a furious scowl.

“Mother, what are they doing with her?” he asked, fear tinged in his voice.

“You monster. How dare you?” The woman shot at Daro’Vasora, who stared at her in an almost trace-like fixation. Everything seemed to be coming back in focus, and she felt an irrational sense of shame, as if she owed these people something better than she was. The Khajiit glanced away for a moment when a movement caught her eye followed by a sharp, immediate pain that flooded her consciousness. Blood trickled down between her eyes and her snout; the woman had thrown a brick, which lay upon the cobblestone at her feet..

“They should shoot you in the street, you bitch!” The woman screamed, tears were streaming down her son’s face. A guard stood between them and Daro’Vasora, cutting off her view, and she was moving again with a push.

“A real hero of the people, it would seem.” Zaveed remarked coldy.

The blood just ran down her face.

The day was going well enough. No Khajiit tailing him, no Dwemer putting him in cuffs, it was almost like the whole thing was a world away. At least for now, but nobody said he had to be back any time before curfew, so he would milk all he could from this. Currently, he was browsing the bazaar for anything he could get for Sora. She had the lead on him, two gifts from her versus his nothing. He just couldn’t have that now, he smiled.

He had already picked out a black dress that looked good enough for her in his eyes. How she would see it was a different question, but he would worry about that after. As he approached one of the vendors hawking different teas, wondering if he could find one that Sora would like, a group of children scurried last him. He caught himself from tripping and looked after their quickly disappearing backs in the crowd. It was then he noticed a bit of a commotion forming. He squinted his eyes to try to get a better look, but when that was fruitless, he took the first steps closer to the yelling mob.

They seemed riled, angry, hateful. Was this a protest? From over the top of some of heads in the crowd, he saw a troupe of guards escorting somebody through the street. He followed as best he could, slipping through the crowd until a feeling of dreaded, horrifying recognition caught his heart in a death grip. “Oh my Gods.”

Latro was then pushing through the crowds, shoving angrily and frenzied. He wanted to call out to her, but what use was it? That was the woman he loved, fur matted and caked with rotten food and blood. If the scene wasn’t all too real and happening before his eyes so helplessly, he would’ve been furious. He would’ve cut through this crowd wholesale and visited bloody violence on everything between him and Sora, animal, woman, man, child. As cruel and unlike him as it was, it called to mind a burning hatred he hadn’t felt in so long.

Finally, behind her was another Khajiit. A wicked looking cat with remorseless eyes. With evil in his eyes. Sevari’s words about his brother echoed in his mind and he found himself gripping the hilt of his sword hard enough to tremble under the tension. The Khajiit looked into the crowd and they locked eyes. Latro held his gaze, wondering just how quickly he could get to him and bury this fucking sword in his chest.

Someone apart from the crowd seemed to be moving against the ebbs and flow of the majority that caught Zaveed’s eye; a Breton face with enraged, passionate eyes stared him down with an intensity unmatched by even the most enraged of the crowd. Zaveed grinned at him and offered a wink.

“It would seem that someone doesn’t seem to share the enthusiasm for your fate as the others.” He mentioned to Daro’Vasora, taking his eyes off of Latro for a few moments to look at Daro’Vasora. “Tell me my dear, do you know him?” he asked, gently grabbing Daro’Vasora by the chin and forcing her to face in Latro’s direction. The look of shock that crossed her features was enough to tell Zaveed who this likely was.

“Ah, Sevari’s plaything. Marvelous. I had hoped to speak with him, but it looks like he is past that sort of pleasantries, would you not agree?” Zaveed asked Daro’Vasora, who starred at Latro, knowing full well what Zaveed was capable of doing to people she cared about.

”GO! RUN, NOW!” she screamed towards Latro as Zaveed grabbed her, drawing a pistol and holding it to her temple. There was no point in pleasantries at this juncture.

“Latro, was it? Why don’t you step out here, center stage. The audience would love to see their star performer make his entrance.” Zaveed called, the pistol clicked, the receiver glowing with soul gem essence. “Do it, or the girl dies.”

The crowd stopped around him, their eyes boring into the porcelain-pale skin among their swarthy selves. There was a palpable tension in the crowds and some looked set on throwing rocks at him now. A piece of him wanted them to. Eyes always locked on Zaveed’s, he stepped out of the crowd and breathed slow. The tingling numbness of a mage armor spell crawled across his skin as he regarded the Khajiit. “Your brother told me about you.” Latro spoke, voice flat and eyes blazing.

“Hopefully it was about my handsome looks and predisposition to getting exactly what I want.” Zaveed replied, appraising Latro with a quick scan up and down with his ice-blue eyes. “So tell me, Latro, what do you plan on doing? Are you quicker than a twitch of my finger, or do you think the crowd will stand by and idly let it happen? How about my diligent Dwemer companions, who are none too happy about the deaths that have been inflicted on their own? Do you feel talented enough to cross the space between yourself and myself without being gunned down, held down by a good samaritan, or killing your paramour? Think swiftly, because I have an appointment to attend to, and I loathe to be late.”

Latro looked to Sora and his eyes flashed with something more gentle, “I love you.”

He turned back to Zaveed, looking from him, to the Dwemer and the crowd. He already had his odds weighed out from the second he saw Zaveed and Sora. He wasn’t new to this but it didn’t take a professional to know he was on the shit end. As much as it pained him, Zaveed had all the cards. “Go, then. I’d hate to make you late.” Latro said, “We’ll meet again some other time if you’d like.”

“Perhaps I can schedule you in for this afternoon.” Zaveed nodded towards two of his escort. “You two, take him. If he doesn’t cooperate, kill him.” He said, forcing Daro’Vasora along. She planted her feet, shouting, “I’m not worth it, Latro! Fucking go!” Zaveed smacked her arm with the buttplate of his pistol, causing her to bellow out in agony. “Time to choose, Latro! Your skin or your girl!” Zaveed snarled, tossing Daro’Vasora to one of the other guards as he trained his pistol on Latro.

Wordlessly, and with eyes always trained on Zaveed’s own, he took the sword out of his belt. Still in its scabbard, he placed it on the ground. Arms held out to his side and grim-faced, under it his mind was racing for the next step in this game he’d been forced into. “I’ve been looking forward to seeing you in the flesh. Your brother and I already met and I’m sure you saw what happened with that.” Latro said as the Dwemer took his arms in their own, not having to wrestle him, “I’m not Raelynn.”

“Cooperate and you will not share a similar fate to her. I see you are not entirely stupid, but love does strange things to one’s mind, no?” Zaveed said, nodding to the soldiers, one of whom scooped up the discarded sword and checked Latro for more weapons. They escorted him to the front of the column, to the cheers of the crowd. “One day, four key members to this little insurgency dismantled by yours truly. I had anticipated this to be more difficult.” He grinned, and the procession continued. “My brother has a soft heart and an idealistic mind; had he wished to lay you out, he would, so I would be interested to know what kinds of games of his own he is playing. Forgive my saying so, but you do not appear to be formidable in the slightest.”

“Latro… why did you do this?” Daro’Vasora weezed, tears soaking her eyes and fur along with her own blood. “You should have ran. Fucking… urgh.” she grunted, from frustration or pain it was hard to say. She looked crestfallen; she looked up to look into his face. “I can't keep you safe. I didn't want this, why?” she pleaded.

To be honest, Latro didn’t have a plan. If Zaveed was right about Sevari, about him having a heart, perhaps he Khajiit would be loyal enough to him to free him. Perhaps he’d be loyal enough to free Sora as well. This was his gambit, every other option thrown to the wind. Latro swallowed, trying to play up his own panic he had hitherto been trying to suppress, “I don’t know, Sora.” He said, offering a sorry gaze at her, “I couldn’t. I couldn’t fucking watch this all without doing something. We’ve survived a lot together, I can’t leave you.”

“I'd hoped you'd have a better plan than this… we're going to be swinging by a rope by tonight, I fear.” she replied, struggling with a lump in her throat. “I didn't tell you where I was going in case it was a trap, I… I wanted to protect you. After everything, I can't deal with the thought of losing you.”

“How touching.” Zaveed sneered behind them, his pistol held casually to their backs. “You were always going to be fine, my dear; Governor Rourken requested you personally. Your lover, however… hm, perhaps she'll have a use for him yet. Maybe the pits? I do love a good mystery, don't you?”

“Fuck you.” Latro tossed over his shoulder, “You’d best hope I die in those pits or I’ll come back for you.”

“Ah, empty threats. A personal favorite of mine.” Zaveed chuckled, jabbing Latro in the back with the pistol barrel. “Your actions thus far make you far too easy to predict. You cross me in any way, she pays the price. Would you like me to demonstrate what I did to Raelynn for your benefit? That is what would happen. It is not an empty threat; my words are ironclad.” the Khajiit promised.

Latro decided to keep his mouth shut. It wouldn’t do anything any good to trade insults with this Khajiit. Now that he was firmly in the Dwemer’s clutches, he’d have to tread lightly. He could say any hard words that came to mind when this was over with and had his hands wrapped around this Khajiit’s neck.

They had arrived at the governor’s palace without any further incidents, and a few of the city guard had joined the escort, having rightfully figured that the prisoners being escorted were very important to the Dwemer, and despite some odd glances at Zaveed, they wisely elected to keep their comments to themselves. The outer gates were opened at their approach, a fixture once kept open now closed off to the outside world since the crackdown began, and Daro’Vasora once again found herself climbing the long and gilded steps to the entryway, Dwemeri soldiers stationed along the steps and through the courtyard to act as a deterrent for attacks. A pair of sentries opened the double doors to allow them inside, and before long, and ascending an elevator of Dwemeri construction, they were escorted to the Governor’s office. Rourken’s aide was ever present at a desk outside of the doors, and once he recognized Zaveed, he hurried inside. The doors were opened to permit entry.

Zaveed led the way and reaching what he felt was an appropriate distance, knelt in front of the Governor’s desk. Kerztar was there, unsurprisingly. The Khajiiti privateer still felt the rumours between Rourken and Kerztar were legitimate.

“Your Excellency, Master Kerztar… may I present to you Daro’Vasora and Latro… something or other. She is the leader of the insurgency group that has recently come into your city and caused irreparable harm this past week, including the murder of Administrator Nblec Mrazac, the freeing of political prisoners and terrorists, and assaulting the city garrison and releasing all sorts of unsavory criminals back into Gilane’s streets. As requested, I present her to you, and Latro here happened to come along for the trip. Something about being in love with her, it’s very sentimental, I assure you.” The Khajiit grinned, looking Rourken in the eyes.

Rourken stood from behind her desk, wearing a green and black dress this time, but the jewelry was the same. Daro’Vasora wondered if they had sentimental value, or even enchantments. “Exemplary performance, Zaveed.” she said, taking notice of Daro’Vasora’s arm. “What happened to her arm?”

“She resisted, so I persuaded her.”

“I see.” Rourken said, studying Zaveed’s face for a few moments before turning to regard Daro’Vasora again. “We can mend that easily enough. Jnand, please fetch a healer for Miss Daro’Vasora, if you’d please.”

“Yes, your excellency.” Her aide said, bowing before hastily departing the room.

“You may take your lead, Zaveed. I am sure the Major would like to debrief you. Your partner, Sevari, also has news to report today it would seem. You have served Volenfell well today.” she bowed respectfully. “Please take the time to refresh, you’ve been busy.”

“As you wish.” He said, rising to his feet and adjusting his waist belt. “Until my services are called upon once more, I am at your disposal.” he said, turning to leave the room. Offering a wink to his two prisoners, he strode out of the room with an arrogant smirk and soon had departed. The four escorting Dwemer remained, however, although they stepped back to take position up near the walls.

Rourken studied her two prisoners with interest, gesturing for them to take the seats at her desk as she gracefully returned to her own chair, setting down as lightly as a feather. “It is good to see you again, although I had wished under more pleasant circumstances and without your regretful involvement with the unsavory elements of this city. I had hoped that you’d have had sympathies for what we are trying to accomplish here, and I feel that perhaps in time you still may. It is why I had personally requested you, and miss Hawkford. Curious how Zaveed has failed to apprehend her.” She pondered aloud.

“Oh, he kidnapped her, alright. He also murdered my friend in cold blood after cutting off and mailing his fingers to me.” Daro’Vasora spat back. “Do you understand the kinds of monsters that work for you in this gilded tower, Governor?”

Razlinc cradled her fingers together, considering Daro’Vasora’s words. “Your appraisal, Major?”

“While it is true I’ve never paid into the business of sending saints to capture sinners, as the saying goes,” Kerztar said from his seat next to Razlinc’s desk, sighing, “I never intended for such grievous injury and insult. Zaveed was always less… professional, than his partner seemed. The ends we are after don’t sit well and justified with me.”

Latro bitterly huffed, Kerztar responding, “Professionalism in all things. You find this laughable?”

“Was it professional to slaughter a city? Did the ends justify the means then?” Latro said through gritted teeth.

Though the guards along the walls seemed to stir subtly, the Reachman didn’t go any further but bore holes through Kerztar and Razlinc’s eyes. Kerztar frowned, “You’ll have to take those grievances up with Governor Fallinar. We may share Clans, but no different a mer in ideology and beliefs from mine will you find.”

“Mhm.” Latro responded simply, spiteful sarcasm lacing it.

“Conduct will be reviewed, I assure you.” Rourken promised, looking her guests in the eye. “But extremist actions require extreme counter measures. Until your group arrived, we had attempted to handle things tactfully and root out these elements without causing much of a scene. It is regrettable you have been caught up in it, but surely you understand that there would be repercussions. How many Dwemer have died at the hands of the Poncy Man and his deplorable followers, do you think? Far too many.” she said, her face darkening somewhat. “Nblec Mrazak was a good mer who only wanted our peoples to find peaceful coexistence. He loved Redguard culture and actively participated in it; he spent his own coin and time trying to eliminate poverty and actively campaigned to use our technology and expense to provide clean and purified water for the entire city. It was to be his legacy and his way to show that the Dwemer had much to offer this province.” she sighed, shaking her head as her gaze fell upon Latro.

“As I’ve explained to Daro’Vasora the first we’ve met, Clan Kragen is not our own. My administration can do little except for admonish them for their conduct, and this is exactly why I am trying my damnest to ensure that Volenfell becomes a beacon of progress for all of our people so warlords like Fallinar do not become the norm.” She turned to Daro’Vasora. “You are a historian. You know of the Snow Elves’ fate, and it was not my people who had anything to do with that. Do you know how easy it would be for us to simply order the entire might of our technology to strike down like Volendrung itself upon resistance? What happened to Imperial City disgusted me. Give me a chance to prove to you that my intentions are pure and my motives are transparent; I simply cannot control every aspect of what happens in this city, and sometimes elements under my authority act outside of what I would consider tasteful behaviour. You are a link between my people and your own, help me find a better way. I loathe the idea of the streets filling with blood because extremist elements grow emboldened.”
“I…” Daro’Vasora began, turning her head and looking to meet Latro’s gaze. “I want to believe you, but all I see is your creature puncturing Roux’s heart in front of me and the torture he inflicted on Raelynn. You want to start making things right? Arrest Zaveed. Take him off of the streets. Show that his actions are not what you represent.”

Kerztar’s eyebrows went up at that as he frowned in thought. He finally nodded, “Rest assured that he will be reprimanded. I’ve not yet decided what action should be taken, but I have considered that route now that I know the extent of his strategy. I’ve known for some time he took a crueller and more hard-handed way to things.”

Latro let it go unsaid that he already had several actions being considered as to what should be done to Zaveed. It was not a usual thing to come across men like him, but now, every fiber of his being wanted to match Zaveed. Evil for evil, until they found out just who was better at it. Even now, he felt his breathing becoming more rapid, heart almost beating its way up his throat. He swallowed, sighing. Kerztar again looked to him, “Have you something to add? To suggest?”

To Latro’s surprise, Kerztar didn’t seem in the least bit patronizing in his questions. “No, Major.” Latro’s frown remained ever-steady, “It’d be best if you didn’t ask me for suggestions.”

Kerztar considered the man before him, his face, posture. He nodded, “No doubt it would be.” Kerztar said before turning to Razlinc, “The verdict is yours, Madam Governor. What should happen next?”

She considered the line of questioning for a few moments, her fingers separating as she placed them upon her lap. “He has done his duty as requested and without hesitation, and I am not in the habit of punishing subordinates who had done what they felt was within their authority. It is a failure on our part that we did not monitor their actions closely, so for now, take him off of the assignment and give him leave. You will have to discuss his conduct with him, is this agreeable?” she asked Kerztar.

Kerztar nodded, “Of course. Perhaps pairing him back up with his partner for the next few weeks will help set an example for him.”

“Oh, so much better.” Daro'Vasora replied sarcastically. “Two psychotic murderers can plot far more efficiently than one.”

“Do not mistake our cordial disposition as acceptance nor this meeting as an attempt at reparation. You are both my prisoners and stand accused of engaging in terrorist activities; I just happen to believe you can be rehabilitated, Daro'Vasora, and Latro shall be handled with the same grace you will be afforded. His safety and comfort should keep you satisfied enough to cooperate, should it not?

“Typically, I would sentence him to fight until his sentence has been fulfilled. It would seem that is disagreeable for both of you, so here we are, at an impasse. We are reining in a valuable asset out of good faith, not because you demanded it. The rest of your group will be regretfully dealt with in an appropriate fashion. You two, plus miss Hawkford, stand to be granted immunity and pardons for your part in these affairs should you cooperate.”

Daro'Vasora scowled. “Ever so generous. You'll do anything to shrug accountability, won't you? That perfect image you seem to want to project to the world while others get their hands dirty under your watch. I suppose we'll see your true colours soon enough. Let the others go, permit them to leave the city. They were coerced into action because they had nowhere else to go.”

“We both know that's impossible. Do you think I am so foolish as to not recognize that your companions seem to keep throwing themselves at my people and wish for revenge for Imperial City's fate? There was never going to be a diplomatic resolution, you and I both know this.” Rourken responded tersely.

“So condemn him!” Latro’s voice rose, “Do something to keep your peoples from slaughtering Thousands!”

“And risk war, Latro? Risk enmities that will grow like weeds years down the line to engulf our childrens’ Tamriel?” Kerztar asked, “Has this world not seen enough of that yet?”

“You saw to it that we saw more than we had ever wanted since the Great War, you fucking bastard.” Latro growled between bared teeth and wild eyes.

“Perhaps this was the wrong time to choose to have a civil discussion. It will not compromise our hospitality, I assure you.” Kerztar rose a single hand and the guards grabbed Latro and Sora up, “Since this healer is running late, we’ll bring you to him.”

He turned to Latro, the pair sharing a lop-sided gaze of hate-stoic professionalism, “As for you, you may wait in one of the suites for your significant other there.”

With a nod, Kerztar’s guards gently but firmly guided them out of the room and to their respective destinations in the Palace. When their paths finally diverged, Latro left his gaze on Sora, eyes sorry and pleading. He was determined as ever to make sure she was safe, albeit at the cost of throwing his own safety to the winds. When they’d made it to the suite, one of the guards opened the door and pushed Latro in. With clumsy, near-fall footsteps that pounded off the ground, he collided with the wall in front of him. He was still bound in manacles so it was a very unpleasant thing to hear a familiar voice behind him.

“What the fuck have you gotten yourself into now, Reachman?”

The medical wing was a very tidy place that seemed to have no shortage of material and machines that Daro'Vasora had never seen before and could spend years studying. She was instructed to lay down on a padded slab, and a medical assistant helped her lay down with her arm held for her. The assistant told her that she would be back momentarily, leaving the Khajiit to her thoughts, namely a fear that Latro was being interrogated by Zaveed as she lay there helpless.

A few moments later, the assistant came back and came with a few bottles. She held one up for Daro'Vasora to see. “This one will help your pain. This one will be to help heal the bruising and bleeding you are enduring, and this one will help your bones mend while you are in a cast. I will caution you; they have an unpleasant taste we cannot dilute.”

She wasn't exaggerating; the second bottle had a chalky taste and a poignant aftertaste that nearly made Daro'Vasora gag, but the others went down easily enough. Within seconds, her arm no longer hurt and she didn't feel the cool cloth wiping her face. The assistant measured her arm, and came back shortly after with a brass sleeve that she slid over the Khajiit’s arm and using a pump with a hose, she clamped the cast shut and screwed it in place, fixing the hose to a fill nipple and soon the cast was being filled with a soothing sky blue fluid that felt warm against her skin.

“Two or three days, and you should be good as new.” the assistant promised. The whole procedure was quick, and the medicine was unlike any she'd seen before.

“This is incredible,” Daro'Vasora said with genuine awe, looking over to the assistant, a pretty girl with silver hair. Roots suggested it was dyed. “What else can your medicine do?”

“Well, diseases are a thing of the past and we can regenerate damage or corrupted tissue. We've eliminated scarring, burns, and infections. Without an immediate cause of death or a hyper-aggressive infection or poison, you'd be hard pressed to find a physically ill Dwemer. We needed to prepare for the strange climate and diseases we weren't accustomed to back on Nirn.” she smiled apologetically, shaking her head. “Sorry, that must have been rude.”

“Not at all. A few centuries of isolation would make you vulnerable. I can't believe that didn't occur to me.” Daro'Vasora admitted before a thought crossed her mind. “What about something like mental illness and brain injury? It's a rather vexing problem without a solution here.”

“A broken arm hardly means a damaged mind, but I assume it's not for you that you're asking.” the assistant smiled. “There's been some progress, we can mend the damaged tissues, but the connections are much trickier. There are machines we've been trialing with various degrees of success, perhaps you have someone who would be a willing volunteer?” she asked.

“You know I was arrested, correct?” Daro’Vasora queried.

“Of course, but it's not my business to fret over anything other than my patients’ health. This is a good opportunity to study Khajiiti physiology. I could just go ahead and do it, but I would like consent first.”

“Knock yourself out, as long as it isn't invasive.” Daro’Vasora conceded, realizing she might have stumbled on a way to help Judena and Gregor. The assistant returned with a syringe.

“This might sting a bit.”

“You understand I have two choices now?” Sevari asked, casually swirling a glass of liquor. The bottle it had come from, which was a piece of art itself, squatted on the table he was sitting at.

“You and your fucking choices.” Latro frowned, eyes rolling, “Fuck it, just tell me.”

Sevari sighed, throwing back the rest of his glass’s contents. There was a bit of a pause as Sevari rose, arms crossed, and walked to the opened balcony doors. The sheer pale pink silk sheets billowed in the breeze on either side of him, framed by the gilded double doors and the cityscape beyond. “You know a lot about why I’m here. If you even uttered a wrong word, it would jeopardize this house of cards I’ve worked so hard to keep from blowing over in this damned storm.” Sevari said, “Believe it or not, the Dwemer arriving actually made my job somewhat easier. Now you and your friends come along and start stomping and shouting and having a grand tantrum around my little house of cards.”

“I would do anything to ensure that those cards don’t even shift a fucking hair.” Sevari turned to look at Latro, who regarded him with the same kind of defeated indifference he’d had the day they first met, “Anything. So my two choices are deciding if what I mean by anything is good or bad for you.”

“So?” Latro asked, distrust and fear making his palms wet and heart pound.

Sevari turned to Latro, making his way over at an easy pace. With one hand, the Khajiit placed it on his back and led him over to the balcony. Latro could feel winds, the temperature change. It was slightly colder than when he was at ground level with Sora. He also took in the cityscape, the domed buildings, the sea. Sevari spoke, “How tenuous do you think my position and safety is here, Latro?”

Latro was going to say something but he felt Sevari’s hand press into his back and he involuntarily stepped forward, closer to the parapet. “I’m among my enemies and they have no idea, but a single mistake, a single fuck-up.” Latro took another step forward, his stomach pressing up against the parapet now, “Do you think that people pushed to the brink and without choice will choose the safety of the person next to them over their own?”

Latro’s hands struggled against the shackles they were in, every fiber of will put toward not looking down. It wasn’t long before he felt himself start ever so slightly bending over the parapet. He bit his lip as hard as he could, eyes welling up and then the cityscape was a blur of tears. “They’re polite, but do you really think they’d go through the pains of investigating the death of a terrorist?” Sevari asked, lips agonizingly close to his ear, making him flinch back from them. “You’ll just be another corpse.”

Suddenly, Latro’s stomach left the parapet, with a hard push. His arms and legs flailed, the descent pushing his guts up into his head. He could feel the wind through his hair. He made to scream but the impact was too sudden.

“You wouldn’t have even heard me before a garrote was wrapped around your bird-neck.” Sevari stared down at him. He’d been tossed back from the balcony and now Latro saw the sinister looking smokey tendrils of magicka in Sevari’s hand. A fear spell. Not that he ever needed it. “My brother is going on administrative leave soon, as I hear it. You’re going to be put under my custody.”

The external door bolt disengaged and Daro’Vasora was guided into the room by one of the sentries and the door shut behind her. She felt like she’d accumulated one hundred years worth of filth and grime upon her person in just a few hours, and at that point she wanted nothing more than to bathe and find Latro to make sure he was safe. Stepping inside the room, her eyes adjusted and she saw Latro sitting on a chair with someone looming menacingly above him. When she saw that Latro was unharmed, at least physically, the tension subsided a bit, but she still was on edge for who this stranger was and what he’d done to Latro. “Who is this?” she asked at last, stepping closer to show some form of solidarity with her lover. Her mind was still somewhat hazy from the ordeals she’d suffered when it clicked.


“Sevari.” she breathed.

“Daro’Vasora.” Slowly, Sevari stepped back from Latro and the Reachman could breathe that much easier. He didn’t like his mind toyed with by spells and the like, but that fear was real, no matter the source. He swallowed, looking from Sora to Sevari and back. He couldn’t tell what was going to happen in the silence between them. Sevari simply retook his seat and poured out three glasses of the liquor he had been drinking before either of them came. “I’m tasked with watching over you. This will be your room for the duration of your stay here. You’ll notice the bath, the bed, the assortment of alcohol I’m currently enjoying.”

“The balcony,” Latro narrowed his eyes to lethal slits at Sevari’s smirk then, “Don’t bother, you’ll die in the attempt if you try at it. Drink?” He pushed one of the glasses towards the two of them with a finger.

Daro’Vasora didn’t hesitate; she grabbed the glass and drained it in a single go, none too gently setting it down. “I met your brother. He’s a piece of shit.” she replied indignantly, grabbing the bottle and topping up her glass once more. “I see Latro isn’t covered in blood and broken fingers, so what do I owe the pleasure?”

“He is, isn’t he?” Sevari smiled at Sora and then nodded towards Latro, “He and I are fast friends. I would never hurt him if I didn’t have to.”

“Fuck you.” Came Latro’s voice from behind Sora. Sevari leaned to meet eyes with him.

“You want those shackles off or…?” Sevari raised his brows and frowned. Without an answer, he stood with two of the glasses he’d poured, brushing past Sora and waved Latro to stand. When he did, he turned around to offer Sevari his shackles. They finally clinked and snapped open, tossed carelessly onto the bed.

Sevari placed Latro’s glass down on his chair and retook his seat at the other end of the room, next to Sora. “See, we can all sit here and talk like civilized people.” He turned to Sora, “So, did my brother talk about me much?”

She drank about half the glass, more thoughtfully this time, and replied in Ta’agra. <Civilized people do not break people’s arms with a smirk, stab a prisoner through the heart, and torture a girl whose only crime was getting caught up in some insane shit; she’s never hurt anyone. Zaveed never asked any questions, just tried to force me into an impossible choice. Why are you working for them?> she asked, looking the Ohmes-raht in the eye.

Sevari’s brows raised at that. It had been a long, long while since he’d met another speaker of the language. It was good that being in the Penitus Oculatus that they kept him refreshed if he ever needed to pose as a Khajiit he was not. He looked at Latro and then to Sora <I had nothing to do with that. He didn’t learn that shit from me so don’t go spitting acid in my face over some shit that wasn’t my lead I was pursuing.> He frowned at her then, mood gone sour, “Your friend here might have been roughed up the first time we met but I told him I wouldn’t have fought if he didn’t.”

Sevari breathed, still frowning at them both as he downed his liquor. “I’m not his keeper, I’m sorry for your friend, though.” Sevari poured himself another one but didn’t move for it for the time being, “I’m only working for them because I have to. If you really need to know, I’m sure Latro has answers.”

He stood, coming closer to Sora, <Not everything about my allegiances are cut and dry, friend. But that knowledge is dangerous to anyone who bears it.> he said in hushed tones. Sevari looked at Latro then back to Sora, <Nothing of that is to be discussed here.>

Daro'Vasora looked over at Latro, intent on picking up that particular thread in private. When Sevari approached, she stood her ground; he likely didn't intend on harm. <Do you really think any Dwemer can speak our tongue? Our people rarely, if ever, crossed paths and they probably thought us to be illiterate beasts. What allegiances are those? You keep hush about them, and your actions tell me you don't have any loyalty to the Governor or her lackeys, so why approach Latro? You don't seem enthusiastic about our detainment or your psychotic brother. So, level with me, with us.>

<You think they won’t find the fact that we aren’t speaking plainly in a tongue they understand to be a little odd?> Sevari narrowed his eyes, sitting back down and sighing, <Zaveed was hired to bring me here to fulfill a task given to me by people far away from here. I was forced into service when they found us after we were shipwrecked. It just so happens that your Poncy Man is a piece in a game that’s been playing out since before we were born. Empire against Empire. Man against Mer.>

Daro'Vasora nodded. At least Sevari wasn't entirely closed off; it was something she could work with. <We could merely say we were eager to speak our mother tongue since we are so far from home, and return to Cyrodiilic in a moment. I am sure Latro is probably lost and annoyed.> she replied, smiling at him from behind her glass.

<Look, Sevari; I’m an Imperial Citizen. I don't have any love of the Dominion, and I don't think you do either. You help us out, we help you out. We're in a bad spot now, but playing along with Rourken’s game might be an advantage. You could have killed Latro many times, and you didn't. For that, you have my gratitude. Please consider what I am asking; there's no need for this cloak and dagger nonsense when we are willing to cooperate willingly.> she said, filling her glass once more and finding a seat next to Latro.

“It's been a long while since I spoke my mother tongue, thank you for humoring me. These days, that is in short supply.” she said conversationally. “If you told me I'd be a Dwemer prisoner in a place a month ago, I would have told you to lay off of the Skooma and get away from me. So, are you and your bother close?” Daro'Vasora asked.

Sevari frowned even deeper at the question, “No.” he shook his head, “Believe it or not, he used to be a young boy who wanted nothing more than to entertain, to make people smile.”

Sevari had a smile of his own thinking back on the memories before it dropped, “But I failed him a very long time ago. I failed him and our sister. Put us on opposite sides.” He shook his head, downed another glass, “But the past is for the dead, no? What of you? Or Latro?”

“I’m an only child.” Latro spoke simply, “Your brother is a piece of shit.”

“So I’m told.” Sevari said said dryly, “Daro’Vasora?”

“Both of my parents and my sister are still back home, it's been a few years since I've seen them, but I have written.” Daro'Vasora replied, omitting details just to be on the safe side. She frowned, trying to imagine what had gone so wrong to turn the boy Sevari described into the bastard she met. “My sister was supposed to visit me in the Imperial City this month. I was going to show her around, make up for lost time. Now I don't even know if she's alive.”

“I would think so. Kerztar has never mentioned having to make trips farther south than Bruma. I doubt the Dominion would be any worse, coming up from Anequina.” Sevari said, “Latro’s Reachmen have enjoyed their recent time though, I hear.”

“What?” Latro asked, perking up immediately at the mention of that. “What do you mean?”

“The Western Reachmen have moved east, the Forsworn have been driven deeper into hiding, put to work in Cidhna mine or put to the headsman’s block. Many of the Clans who had been at war with the easterners are at peace and they’re positively licking the asses of the Dwemer for it.”

Latro shook his head. No doubt, his clan was among them. His lips worked at the words but nothing came out for a bit. He finally worked up the courage, “What of the Crow-Wife clan? Does Witch-Mother White-Horn live?”

Sevari shrugged, “I’ve no idea. Hammerfell is Kerztar’s jurisdiction since his disagreement about Fallinar, the fair-ruling Governor of Skyrim, marching his army south and parlaying with the Empire.” Sevari frowned, “I haven’t even been to Skyrim for years now since Titus was killed. I never liked dragons either. Forsworn less.”

Latro winded down. Part of him wanted his mother to be alive, his father too. All so he could ask them why, ask them how they were, even. Maybe just his mother on that last one. He was sure Sevari could understand resentment lasting for a very long time. “Oh.”

Daro'Vasora's heart skipped. This was the first she heard of Dominion campaigns since Anvil. Reaching out to take Latro's hand, she asked, “Do you know what lands the Dominion has taken, or what fronts they opened? We've been in the dark ever since escaping Anvil.”

She squeezed Latro's hand in her own, hoping to offer reassurance. His past was certainly becoming reanimated, no matter how hard he tried to leave it behind. They were both quite so far from home.

Sevari shook his head, “Our intelligence networks that are that far south in Tamriel went dark after the Dwemer attack.” Sevari’s head hung as he shrugged, “I’m working off of orders given to me more than a month ago. I don’t even know if the Directors or the Intendants are alive in Chorrol.”

Daro'Vasora considered this. “You're with Imperial intelligence, aren't you?” she asked quietly. He was being very upfront about his situation, so Sevari must have felt it safe to talk in the room regardless.

Sevari nodded once, slow. “I’ll try to do what I can about your situations. I can’t have my asset within the Insurgency cooped up where he can’t do his job.” Sevari narrowed his eyes and smiled suddenly, “You fucking smart ass.”

Latro shrugged. Sevari pointed to Latro, finger wagging as he let go a little chuckle, “Daro’Vasora, you have a risk-taking, blind-lucky Reachman.” Sevari took a step forward, serious as if somebody had snapped their fingers, “But be more careful. Don’t think just because Zaveed is on leave that he’s poofed into thin air. If I was still young and held no qualms, I would’ve just killed you. It’ll take a few more times of me having to pull you out of the dirt to put you back in now.”

He looked to Latro, then Sora, “Be thankful.”

Daro'Vasora let out a long sigh. “As much as one can, given their circumstances.” she agreed tepidly. “It could always be worse, and while things aren't ideal, at least we're not completely on our own. If I hear anything of interest, I'll pass it along. In the meantime, I'll play her game and see what shakes loose. Just promise me one thing, if you'd entertain a bruised and broken treasure hunter for a moment longer.”

“Within reason.” Sevari nodded.

“Do everything you can to keep Zaveed from killing any more of our friends.” she said softly, her eyes drifting towards the floor, tears beginning to well up in her eyes. “After today, I can't lose much more than I already have.”

Sevari opened his mouth first before said anything, closing it back up before speaking again, “Of course.” He said, nodding, “Everything I can.”

“Thank you.” Latro said. Sevari nodded and offered his hand out, Latro taking it and they shook.

“It pays to protect your assets. They’ll do the same for you sometime down the line.” Sevari said. “I have other things to do, tell anybody Sevari of the Ministry of Order will have their balls on a necklace if they do so much as speak too harshly to his prisoners.”

The door shut behind Sevari, leaving Latro and Sora alone in the room. It was a few moments of silence before Latro spoke, “I’m so sorry, Sora. I couldn’t leave you when I saw you paraded around like that.” He threw his arms around her and kissed her forehead softly.

She buried her head against his chest, her injured arm keeping her from returning the gesture. She sniffed, fighting back the emotional weight that pressed against her like a dam that was ready to burst. “I know… I know. Normally, it would have been the most romantic gesture, but I couldn't lose you, too. After what happened today… I can't. When they took us separate ways, I feared they gave you to Zaveed or someone like him.” she paused, suppressing a sob. “...I thought I lost you.”

“Never.” Latro smiled, looking at Sora and taking in her expression. To be honest, he didn’t have a plan when he saw Sora, throwing himself on the mercy of the Divines to keep him safe. Odd that Sevari would ultimately be his savior, “Never, Sora, not ever.”

He leaned back from her, chewing his lip before he spoke again, “I’m sure you have a lot of questions about Sevari and I.”

She shook her head, wiping her snout with an arm. She didn't care it was gross at that particular moment. “I just figured you two came to a compromise. He's not what he initially seemed and he's trying to leverage you for his own goals. Is that about it?”

Latro nodded, “I would think so. But I know he’s working for the Dwemer on account of his brother, I knew he would have to do something about me in this situation.”

“What did he tell you, exactly? Last I heard you were going to get the drop on him. Now we’re locked up in a rather fancy suite, I have a broken arm, and we might not be getting out of here alive. Funny how life turns out.” she replied.

Latro smiled sheepishly, “Yeah,” he said before working at the words he continued with, “He told me about as much as he told you. Jaraleet and I, we took a man to some safehouse.”

He leaned forward and talked in hushed tones, “He’s working for the Empire here in Hammerfell. As odd as it sounds, he is on the same side as us. The Poncy Man has deals with people in Cyrodiil.”

That didn’t surprise her; he did claim he was a member of the Merchant Guild; it all but necessitated cross-border trades. “Well, I suppose we’ll see what happens next… I’m sorry, Latro.” Daro’Vasora apologized, a sigh heavy on her breast. “I should have told you about the note I received, that I was going off alone. I knew it was a trap and I went anyways. I couldn’t leave him.” she said softly, as if admitting something with guilt.

Latro nodded, quietly sighing, “I get it, I know.” He cooed, stroking Sora’s hair before chuckling, “I just did the same for you.”

She groaned, although not irritably. “I guess we really do deserve each other. Well, since we’re in the kind of prison that would bankrupt a working stiff to stay a night in, care to help me into the bath? I need to wash blood, sweat, and rotting vegetables out of my fur. And please don’t tell me you’re into that kind of thing.”

“Only when it’s you.” He winked and then laughed, a good thing he did after all of this business. It told him he still had a sense of humor, and if you could laugh, things aren’t as bad as they could be, Francis had told him. “Now come, let’s get you into that bath.”

She couldn't help but smile as she accepted his help standing and walking over to the washroom with its polished brass fixtures. “Well, almost looks be enough for two,” she purred as she turned the faucet. “I think tonight needs to just be about us, tomorrow can wait. I'll tell you everything about who I am, what Roux was to me, the things I've done. I want you to know who I was before all of this, and then we can decide who we will be after it's done.” she reached over, cusping his face in her hand delicately. “This isn't the end of our song, my love. It's only just begun.”
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