Splinters and Blisters
A Greenish Dervie doohickey
Morning, 18th of Sun’s Height, 4E208
The axe buried itself into the upright log, wedging itself only about as long as the blade into the wood rather than splitting nicely. “Son of a bitch.” Daro’Vasora growled at the defiant piece of lumber, before lifting the axe with the log stuck to it and driving it down again, driving the split further, and again until the two ends split entirely and popped off. Dutifully, she tossed the two ends into a hand cart before picking up another log and setting it on the felled trunk that had been used for this purpose for divines-knows how many years.
The axe came down again, the wood nearly splitting into two this time from the first blow. She had woken early, rolling over once more and discovering Finnen was no longer at her side and her tent was cold and empty without his presence.
Her hands ached, they always did when she split wood. It didn’t matter how many times she did it, either out on her own at a camp, or with others. How many times had she been the one to create the stockpile of wood for the evenings crossing the mountains? Bigger, stronger, and much more macho individuals always offered to do it, but sometimes, she had some things to work out.
The pain around her neck was gone, but she still felt Finnen’s hands grasped around her neck. Pale-feather had nearly taken her life, using her lover to do his dirty work. If only she fucking listened, she thought bitterly, tossing more wood into the wagon. Maybe the group wouldn’t be fragmented. Maybe Raelynn wouldn’t have abandoned her and dragged Fjolte with her. It just affirmed to Daro’Vasora that maybe she shouldn’t get people involved in her life, they couldn’t betray her or abandon her that way. At this rate, she’d be marching upon Red Mountain alone, with everyone either being dead or abandoning her when she didn’t want to be alone.
Sure, they checked up on her, the poor girl who was nearly murdered by the one she loved. She brushed them away, saying she was fine. She wasn’t, really. She just couldn’t afford to be the reason people left, like she usually was. What was the balance between being a good person who was at the mercy of others’ intentions and the hard-hearted bitch that shielded herself from others with scorn and mockery. She had always had to be the smartest person in the room, to prove herself unimpeachable in her talents and logic. It was a game to her, to rip into others’ insecurities or slips of tongue to bring them down to the size she always felt deep down.
Daro’Vasora, famed treasure hunter, explorer, and researcher, a 25-year-old girl who still felt like she had to impress her parents enough, to prove that she was worth more than being a shitty teenager who stole and soiled their reputation from her actions. She wanted nothing more than to be loved and appreciated, to not feel ashamed of who and what she was. Her slit eyes, her long tail, the claws in her hands, the coat of fur. It always made her different, always made her loathed.
Roux wasn’t the first person to betray her trust, to abuse her. Finnen wouldn’t be the last, either. She was just a damn fool for thinking someone like Raelynn would actually like her, and see past her being nothing more than a stupid fucking cat.
It didn’t matter, not really. In a few weeks, none of it would. Would people think about her, after the deed was done? Would she make her parents proud? Would Raelynn tell people in her high society life that she was proud to have been a close friend to Daro’Vasora? What about the history books that Daro’Vasora grew up reading, and still did to this day? What would they say about her?
So many questions, and not enough answers.
"Sora?" The sudden voice was a familiar one, and it wasn't long before Megana had found her way to where the Khajiit woman was chopping wood. She had returned to her tent the previous night and slept away the effects of both the mead and her tiredness in general. She hadn't realized she had been so tired until she woke up from what seemed like a dreamless night of only a few minutes to discover the night had passed and the sun had already risen. Pulling herself from her bedroll had been a task, but when she realized where she was and recalled the events of the previous night, a little energy returned to her.
Leaving her tent and wandering through Falkreath, she had hoped to see some familiar faces- she hadn't really had a chance to catch up with her friends save Calen and Judena, and even just two days apart without knowing their fates had been hard; thank Stendarr Zaveed had been there, even though she hated that the dwemer had hurt him.
Seeing the familiar figure of Daro'Vasora labouring over the logs of wood reminded her of the conversation from the previous night, though really she knew nothing. From what she could tell, the khajiit looked preoccupied in her work and thoughts- Meg couldn't help but wonder what sort of thoughts those might be given the little she had heard. And so no longer hesitating, she now stood a few feet from her friend.
"Ye- you're sure busy," she commented, arms wrapped around herself as she watched. "How're you doing? I sure missed y'all!"
The voice broke through the chaotic dark cloud that had enveloped Daro’Vasora’s mind, and when she looked up to see who was speaking, she saw a light shine through. A mixture of emotions flooded her, and she struggled to maintain composure. “Megana… I- I heard you were safe, that you came back. And…” she paused, trying to steady her breathing to calm herself. “And I didn’t dare believe it was true. I couldn’t take it if it wasn’t true.” she said quietly, the axe slipping from her fingers as she slumped down on the log, the strength failing her limbs. Her eyes were unfocused, and long, slender fingers worked through a knot in her mane.
“Are you okay?” the Khajiit asked after a few moments of collecting herself.
It wasn't hard for Meg to see that Daro'Vasora was barely being able to keep her inner emotions from spilling out, and she could understand why. If she had missed the the group so much, then how would the khajiit woman fair any better when her lover and two friends were missing, along with herself? Meg's mouth trembled a little, feeling pain for the woman standing before her. Perhaps she was their leader, but she was still a person with feelings, someone who needed as much comfort as anyone else.
"Oh Sora." She headed over, and without another word she wrapped her arms around her friend, holding her close. "I am okay, please don' worry 'bout me. I found my way back with Zaveed- there was no way we would’ve stopped searchin' 'til we found y'all."
She didn't let go as she continued. "But what 'bout you Sora? You... I don' think you're okay."
Daro’Vasora was surprised by the embrace, but she returned it readily, appreciating the physical connection and warmth. Her eyes remained unfocused over Megana’s shoulder.
“You’re certainly observant. I’m… coping.” the Khajiit admitted, breathing deeply, her chest rising and falling against Meg’s. He neck throbbed under her own makeshift scarf. “A lot has happened recently and I don’t know who I can really trust anymore, and everyone who was hurt under my watch feels like my responsibility. I haven’t had anyone to talk to, at least, not easily. I’m just relieved you made it back okay… I feared the worst.”
She broke off the embrace, still holding onto Megana’s forearm gently, her eyes not meeting the Nord’s. “I suppose I feel like I’m going to be finishing this journey on my own, and everyone I trusted feels like they’re slipping away or turning on me. It’s silly, I know… I still have you and Judena with me, but it feels fleeting.”
"I know it's gotta be hard." Meg couldn't blame the Khajiit woman for feeling that way, when it seemed so many they had journeyed with from the beginning were no longer there with them. She also couldn't blame Sora for feeling feeling as if she would be alone even if she did have people around her. Hadn't she felt the same way when she had been in Anvil and Gilane?
"It ain't silly," she added, shaking her head at Daro'Vasora's words. "Sometimes even if y'know something, the thought still comes in the noggin an' won't leave. Me? I know I ain't gonna be leaving until we get all this shit sorted out..." She faltered slightly, rubbing the back of her head. "I guess even when it's hard, we still gotta look for what's positive. Like... like yer sister! It's pretty amazin' that she's here, ain't it?"
“It is… I just don’t recognize her anymore. She didn’t have those scars the last time I saw her.” Daro’Vasora frowned. “She’s not the young girl I left behind anymore, but I never wanted her to be forced to fight and kill. It’s just another thing the Dwemer have to answer for.”
She reached down, grabbing a water skin and pulled the cork, drinking deeply for a few moments before offering it to Meg. “Finnen tried to kill me.” she said suddenly.
Meg nearly dropped the waterskin she had taken hold of. Eyes widen and mouth open, she managed to tighten her grip on the waterskin. Feeling her heart beginning to race from the shock of the sudden words, she quickly brought its lip to her mouth and took a few mouthfuls, wiping her mouth when she was done. Finnen of all people?
"Jaraleet had said sommat happened with Finnen... but I didn' know it was somethin like... that. What happened? Why-" She forced herself to stop, putting her free hand on Daro'Vasora's shoulder. "Only if y'want t'tell me. I know it can't be easy for ya."
“Pale-feather.” Daro’Vasora replied simply. “Leave it to me to fall for the guy with multiple personalities, one of whom is a murderous feral man who strangled me after Finnen went down to rest. I can’t say Finnen never tried to warn me, but I’m stubborn.” she said, pulling the fabric about her neck up more, the thought of hands about her throat returning. “I told him that I’d be there for him no matter what, and that if he hurt me, it wasn’t his fault. That I accepted the risk. I probably shouldn’t have, because I certainly am having second thoughts now.”
She shrugged, standing again and doing her damnest to look disinterested in the conversation at hand, despite it eating away at her like she was a fruit rotting from the inside out. She picked up the axe again and set up another log. “Roux, Finnen… two for two and I’m already starting to think that maybe I have shit taste in men.”
"I don' think we can be blamed who we fall for," Megana replied after a moment, watching Sora as she cleaved the log in half. "Sometimes... that kinda thing just happens. You grow close t'someone an' your feelings jus' get stronger an' stronger." She couldn't understand how anyone could have fallen for a necromancer, but in their group, their own friend had become the lover of one and kept his secret until it was out for all to know. And what about her own self? "Ain' like I haven't had my share... the first man I loved was a thief. As for others I've liked..." She shrugged, a sigh escaping her lips as she thought to last night's conversation. That door was now shut whether she liked it or not.
"You couldn't have known any of this would have happened." Her mouth curved downward. "It ain' fair t'blame yourself for things like that, Sora."
“I spent a good chunk of my life blaming anyone but myself for the mistakes I made. I guess I had to grow up eventually.” Daro’Vasora replied, tossing the split wood into a pile. “But you’re right; feelings are irrational, as are matters of the heart. I think maybe it’s just that I fell for the man Finnen pretended to be, Latro. I remember when I first saw Pale-feather in the governor’s palace, he frightened me. I guess instead of worrying about danger because I figured, what the hell, we’re all probably going to die any day now so might as well be selfish for a bit.”
The Cathay brushed a stray hair out of her eyes and returned them to Meg over her shoulder. “Look, I am glad you’re here, and honestly you’re a better friend than most I’ve had. You don’t need to hear your fearless leader mope constantly… I just haven’t had much occasion to be very cheerful of late.” she said, rolling her jaw. “It isn’t like I’m a stranger to danger and near-death experiences, but it’s rather… unendearing, non-enticing? Whatever, when people you trust hurt you. I’m sure you remember what I was like when we first met.”
Megana couldn't help but give Daro'Vasora a sheepish smile. "Not gonna lie, I was a bit intimidated by ya when we first met," she admitted after a small pause. "Wasn' sure what t'make of anyone t'be honest." The smile faded and she shook her head. "I... I can' say I know exactly how you're feelin', but I can imagine it must hurt a lot, worse pro'ly then when we found out about Gregor bein' a necromancer..."
Her mouth curved downward, and once again she couldn't help but shake her head. "You're wrong though Sora. Maybe your friends do need t'hear you mope. You don't do it constantly... more like the opposite. An' it ain' fair that everyone else got someone t'listen to them but you havta be strong all the time. It ain' like that. These kinda things- it's impossible to deal with them all alone, but yer not alone. Don' go pretendin' you're okay when you're not."
“Oh, don’t worry, Meg; I don’t.” Daro’Vasora replied with a terse smile. “The way I look at it is if you keep moving, your problems can’t catch up to you. There’s always the next quest, the next score. Things just get complicated when you start to let people in, and I’m certainly having my regrets.”
She sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Look, since Finnen… yeah. Since all of that, I’ve had half a mind to take this damned lexicon I found and march to Red Mountain on my own. Let everyone go home, not worry about this shit anymore. I move faster on my own and have a considerably lessened chance of being captured and having my limbs broken by psychotic pirates.
“I’m not okay, Megana, but it doesn’t mean I’m helpless or incapable of thinking clearly. It just means the box you idiots pulled me out of is looking more and more like an attractive, comforting option. I kind of miss when I didn’t care who or what a person was. A necromancer, a lich? Whatever, don’t take more than your share. A holier than thou priestess? Just don’t cram your dogma down my throat and we’re square. A murderer? Eh, we’ve all done shit we’re not proud of. Just don’t expect me to remember anyone’s names after I’m done if all goes well.” The Khajiit grunted, setting up another log.
Meg was quiet as she listened to Daro'Vasora, arms unknowingly wrapped around herself even though she didn't feel any sort of cold at the moment. She felt sad, though.
"I used t'do that too," she said after a moment of thinking and chewing on the inside of her thumb. "I'd huntin' on my own, or with only one other person. Havin' a group so big was weird for me, an' tbe honest I didn' think we'd be seein' each other after Imperial City..." She let out a cold sigh, shaking her head. She was unsure herself what she was trying to get at. "That's how it is though, I think. We... we're not meant t'be alone. Before things went t'shit, you were happy, weren't you? I dunno if you'd be able t'go back in that box again where y'just don' care anymore- I know I can't.
"Besides..." Her mouth pulled to the side for a moment. "Ain' like you're alone, Sora. I know I'm no Finnen or Raelynn, but I ain' gonna be goin' anywhere 'til this shit is done. So... even if ya try t'do it all yerself, yer gonna havta be disappointed 'cause I'm gonna be there too."
“I was, but also scared out of my mind.” Daro’Vasora admitted, plucking a piece of splintered bark and slipping it between her teeth. “It’s hard to relax when it feels like every stranger you meet might be the enemy, and finding out that certain members of the group that I’d grown to trust were less than savory didn’t exactly help my disposition. You take life as it comes, the good and the bad. Just because everything’s shit the past few months doesn’t mean there hasn’t been good; I just think that maybe, possibly, the best days are behind me and I need to focus on what’s coming up ahead.”
She let out a huff of a sigh, turning to face Megana, pausing in place for a few moments as if waiting, or debating something with herself. However, she stepped close to her friend and placed her hands on either of Megana’s shoulders. “You’re a good person, Megana, and a better friend than someone like me had the right to deserve, but I’m not going to ask you to toss away a promising future for my sake. You don’t have anything to prove, and what comes next isn’t exactly going to be pleasant. You have family, you have all the chances in the world to be the person you want to be. But this burden is mine, and I need to see it done. Meg… I know those scars on my sister’s face are because of the decisions I made. Those muscles that are suddenly on her arms and shoulders, the long and haunted stare when she thinks I’m not looking. I did that to her when I was too much of a coward to stop Rhea from activating that machine. I’m not going to stop until I at least try to fix this, for everyone.”
"It ain' about you askin' though, Sora." Meg managed to smile at the Khajiit woman, but there was still a tinge of sadness in her moss green eyes. "So I have a family- you do as well. How's it any different? D'you think my family loves me more than yours or somethin'?" She let out a breath, crossing her arms over her chest tightly. "People change, an' maybe even if y'don' like it, it's for the better. If I met my family now, my Pa will be wonderin' what in Oblivion's happened t'me. We're not who we were... we've all changed. You're not gonna stop doin’ what ya havta do, I know that. But you have t'know, I ain' stoppin' either. Maybe I was the kinda person who'd run away from shit before, but it's not me anymore. I don’ wanna[ be that person anymore."
She shook her head. "You... you havta stop blamin' it on yourself. It's not just your burden; we're all in it together. We all want the dwemer gone, an' things t'return to- well, maybe not normal, but t'some sorta peace." She reached out and placed a hand on Daro'Vasora's hand. "Please, Sora... don' try an' stop me from helpin' you."
“You’re quite stubborn, you know that?” Daro’Vasora’s face showed the faintest of smiles. “I suppose I know a thing or two about that. I don’t thank you enough for everything you’ve done, and who you are. I guess sometimes I just need a change in perspective… my honourific, Daro. I always looked at it like a mark of shame by my family, like it was their way of saying I was too rotten to ever be worthy of their love. That my nature was opposed to anything good that could ever be accepted, that would ever amount to anything.”
Her teeth worked the piece of wood in her mouth. “That’s a big reason why I pursued this life of mine, I wanted to pursue my passions and earn a reputation for myself, so when I finally do decide to return home, my parents would be proud of me enough to accept me back. The thing is, I’ve come to realize, is that maybe it was their way of accepting who I was and encouraging me to cultivate the fire in my soul rather than snuff it out to fit into a box they expected of me.” she sighed. “It took me far too long to realize that. I’ve realized I need people around me, who can help me see things in a different light. That’s why this all hurts so damned much… I put my trust in the wrong people.”
"I guess that's just part of the learnin'," Meg replied after a moment, raising a shoulder in a sympathetic shrug. It had taken their last night in the Alik'r Desert for her to realize things couldn't just stay the same if she ignored it, and even though it was a different, she felt she could sympathize. "Even if it ends up hurtin' worse than a dull dagger in the gut. But that' where ya got people t'help get through that pain." She regarded Sora with a small smile of her own. "Like you did for me, the day y'gave me this scarf." She reached up and patted the gold and green gift comforting her neck. "The stuff y'told me was what I needed t'hear, and I honestly don' think anyone else would've told me the same. You've been there for others, more than you realize... You've- you've been holdin' our hand t'keep us from fallin' over- so don't think I'm gonna let go an' have you fall. A'right?"
Daro'Vasora smiled, regarding the scarf fondly. It had been such a simple gesture without any particular meaning behind it, the Khajiit wanted to give her friend something she thought would look good on her as thanks, and it took on a special meaning for Megana, it seemed… she was rarely seen without it.
"I really wasn't expecting it to mean so much to you. It suits you." She said, gesturing to the scarf. Megana's words rang true; maybe Daro'Vasora had more of an impact on a personal level than she realized. It felt like a bit of the weight left her tired limbs.
"I am not used to anyone really looking out for me; it's hard to accept help when it's freely offered." Daro'Vasora said with a resigned sigh. "Usually people in my life expect something in return, or have ulterior motives. It's hard not to be guarded and push people away." She admitted.
"I am sorry, Meg. I know it isn't easy being my friend."
"It's okay," Meg replied rather easily. "At least with you, I know you're jus' gonna say what's the truth an' not hide shit. That's one thing that I appreciate a lot- I never felt like I was stupid, or some sorta child 'round you, like I do 'round some others. I know I can be... well, I seem silly a lot, and maybe I just like t'be friends a little too much, but a lot of it's because being alone and lonely ain't fun." She allowed herself a half smile, rubbing the back of her head.
"You been doin' this since you woke?" she asked after a moment, gesturing towards the logs with her hand.
“I tried to eat first. Didn’t stick.” Daro’Vasora admitted, flexing and clenching her fingers. “Anyone who thinks you are an idiot or a child is a judgemental fuck who needs to travel more. Intelligence is about more than how you speak, and being inexperienced isn’t the same as being ignorant. I’ve met a lot of people, and I’ve found most have some kind of insight that can enrich you if you are patient enough to listen, but no one seems to give them the opportunity to prove it.” she said with a shrug. “I suppose I relate to people who don’t feel like they fit into a tidy box. Ask Judena; I treasure her more than most everything in the world, but how many people do you suppose made the effort to learn who she is because of her memory struggles?”
"Their loss," Meg agreed with a nod. "I know I learned lots from her, map makin', writin' letters home? I wouldn't have thought of that if I hadn' seen how much she took care to remember an' note down everythin' that takes place." Her eyes lowered as she remembered that poignant day in Gilane. "You should've seen how... angry she was when she found out you were caught by the dwemer. I don' think she'd ever been so upset, or maybe I jus’ never saw her get like that. But it only meant she had that much love to give- y'don' feel that sorta rage unless you feel like someone's part of you."
“I suppose not.” Daro’Vasora replied ponderously, feeling awful her predicament had caused Judena so much anguish. She couldn’t very well leave and take on the road ahead alone, could she? At least being in the company of others, she could try to make amends and set things right. You can’t do that if you aren’t there to do a damned thing about the struggles ahead.
“Thank you, Meg. I needed this more than you might realize.” she said, suddenly embracing Megana tightly. “If for no other reason than my hands are getting sore.”
This time Meg was the one a little surprised by the sudden hug, but it was a pleasant surprise and she returned the gesture by hugging the khajiit woman back. Everybody needed somebody to lean on, even if it was for those rare occasions where they felt they might stumble, and if she could be there for her friend, then there really was nothing better than that.
"You're welcome," she replied with a smile as she finally let go. "I'm thinkin' maybe you ought to let someone else's hands hurt for a bit, eh? How about you an' me go get somethin' to eat?"
The Khajiit smirked. “You don’t have to twist my arm. Maybe it’ll be something edible this time.”