The figure in the cage was a human woman, with lightly-colored hair and a short stature. It wasn't surprising, as West Weald was said to be mostly inhabited by Imperials, and the Gold Coast was frequently visited by other humans. Helspar couldn't tell which specific human race she was, though. Humans all looked the same in a way to him. He knew that Redguards have darker skins (and really good with swords), so this fellow traveler probably wasn't one of them. The Imperials were, well, the most boring and mediocre. If Heslpar ventured a guess, he would say that this woman was Breton or Nord. Neither one matter for now, as no mortal race had the ability to slink out between cage grates (as far as Helspar knew).
"Alright, I'll try to open it." Helspar told the woman. Like him, she had no weapon, tools or bags in the cage with her. Pulling out his repair kit once more, Helspar found no more slender enough pins inside.
"I'm going need a thin piece of metal; maybe a hairpin?" He asked. "I broke the only ones I had picking my cage."
Sure enough, the human woman was able to give Helspar what he needed. He got to work again. This time, he had a bit more experience than before. The lock was opened in a few minutes, though the pin still broke upon extraction. While he worked, Helspar frequently looked over his shoulder. The cavern was quiet, save for the crackling of torches and the occasional water dripping. He also spared a few glances at his fellow prisoner, but was too nervous to say anything.
"It's open." Helspar said. He moved back a few steps to give the woman some space, and just in case she attacks.
"I-" He was about to exchange the basic pleasantries people exchange with new acquaintances, when the distant sound of footsteps interrupted. A shadow appeared in the passage leading out of the cavern, and the cold sweat that had almost dried soaked Helspar's cloths again.
"Someone's coming," Helspar warned, pointing to the approaching shadow, "hide!"
Helspar immediately dashed off to a pile of rocks, not even bother to see what the woman did. He curled up behind in, hidden in the shadow cast by a nearby torch. His plan was for the unknown figure (presumably one of his abductors) to go by, and then book it out while they're looking the other way. He should have told the woman that. It's too late now; she had gone to hide in another spot.
Then the figure came in sight. It was a big Khajiit, almost a head taller than Helspar, wearing tattered leather armor and had spotted fur like that of a leopard. This Khajiit must be one of larger sub-species. Khajiits were basically unheard of in Stormhold (due to the damp climate), and were primarily slaves in Morrowind. This Khajiit was strange and intimidating to Helspar.
"Damn lazy tree elves." As the Khajiit came into the cavern, Helspar heard him mutter. "Ordering this one to do all the dirty work. Ritual? Khajiit thinks not. More like..."
The Khajiit was far enough in (and paying no attention) for Helspar to run out into the passage. But as the cat-man walked in front of a torch, Helspar saw a bow slung across his back, the very same bow that belonged him.
Escape would have to wait a little longer; Helspar's not leaving without his weapon. He could easily sneak up on the Khajiit. There's a bunch of rocks on the ground, and Helspar picked up the biggest one he could carry; it was the size of his foot.
The Khajiit was now at the cage Helspar sat in minutes ago. "Huh?" He stared at the open door. "Is this the wrong-"
Helspar rushed out as fast as he could. The rock was raised above his head, as he charged...
...Only to trip and fall flat on his face, right behind the Khajiit.
The Khajiit turned around, looking down at the prone dark elf and the rock beside him.
"Uh, hi?" Helspar's face flushed like the Red Mountain, with embarrassment. His heart was pounding so fast, that he could hardly hear the words blurting out of his own mouth. "Heh, so, this is not what it looks like! It's just a pran-"
The Khajiit growled, a dagger came out of its sheath, into his hand, and down at Helspar.
Helspar rolled away. The dagger embedded into the soil behind him. He tried to stand, but found the Khajiit's meaty hands gripped around his neck, and slamming him back down to the ground.
"Help!" Helspar croaked out. The chokehold tightened, and he felt himself suffocating.
"You owe me for busting you out!" Was what Helspar wanted the human woman to hear. Though what came out was a series of gurgles. The Khajiit was too strong; Helspar couldn't shake him off.
Before Helspar Dalas blacked out, he was riding in the back of a horse-drawn, open top carriage. A brown-coated Colovian stallion trotted on a thin layer of slush, pulling the well-worn wooden vehicle in between two others. It was the second snow this season in West Weald. Tiny snowflakes drifted in the chilling wind. It was cold, but not quite freezing; the snow melted as soon as it hit the ground. The road between Skingrad and Kvatch was almost barren; few travelers in the region wished to brave the cold. Even wild animals went into hibernation. Bird chirps were scarce, and the only sounds that stayed with the caravan were gusts blowing through the dried-up grass.
Then they came from the brushline, spells and arrows wielded by figures in metal and leather. The attack was so sudden that the horses panicked and tumbled. The carriage Helspar rode on drove straight into a ditch. His world flipped sideways, and the ground rushed to meet Helspar's face.
When Helspar woke up, the first sense to alarm him was sound. There were metal rattling, heavy footsteps and the terrified screams of an old man. "No, gods please, no! No!!" It sounded just like the carriage driver.
The source of the screams were gone when sight came to Helspar. All he could see was a dark and smoky cavern. The place smelled rotten, dank moistures mixed with torch fumes. Helspar was locked in a metal cage that was just tall enough for him to stand, and just long enough for him to lay down. There were a dozen other cages in the cavern, illuminated by three freestanding torches. Beyond the torches was a passage that turned beyond view. As far as he could tell, all other cages were open and empty, though some had blood and torn clothing still left in them. Leading out of each cage was a trail of someone being dragged across the muddy floor.
As for Helspar himself, he was uninjured, save for a slight headache. Most of his personal belongings were gone, though. His backpack, his trusty bow, quiver and skinning knife had all been taken away. So was the fur hat he bought in Cheydinhal. And, as expected from anyone who locked travelers in cages, his gold was gone too. At least they had the decency to leave his clothing on. This meant that they didn't search the interior pocket of his coat. Helspar's repair kit was still with him!
Helspar breathed a sigh of relief. He had something to work with. Now the question became whether or not he should do something about his current predicament. It was obvious that the denizens of this cave had malicious intents; anyone with common sense would try to escape. But what if they caught him trying to escape? Maybe they would only held Helspar there for ransom, and anything rash on his part would result in his death. Then he remembered the agonizing screams minutes ago. That was not the sound of a man being set free. And after all, no one would pay for Helspar's ransom anyway. The only person that cared about him was being worked to death somewhere in Vvardenfell. Helspar couldn't give up, for Gnarl-Braid's sake.
Armed with two slender pins from the repair kit, and negligible experiences in lockpicking, Helspar went to work on the cage lock. It never occurred to him how awkward it was to work a lock from the other side. His wrist must twist at a painful angle to insert the pins into the lock. He remembered one of Gnarl-Braid's huntmates sharing his thieving exploits. Just push one pin up and flatten the tumblers with the other. It was definitely a lot easier said than done. Sweat began form on Helspar's forehead, and his hands trembled inside his gloves. Thankfully, the lock was worn and loose. A cautious prod yielded a sharp click, and several clicks later, the pins broke. However, the lock had enough play at this point to be forced open.
"Ha, phew!" Helspar chuckled. He wiped the sweat from his face and pushed the creaking cage door open. Helspar couldn't believe it; he picked a lock!
Before he could celebrate, Helspar noticed that not all cages in the cavern were as empty as he'd previously seen. There was one more cage further inside than his. The door was closed, and a figure, partially obscured in shadow, was just stirring inside. This must be someone from the caravan. He couldn't leave this person there, could he? If Helspar had another survivor with him, he would have a better chance taking on his abductors. But then again, he didn't plan on taking on his abductors. He had no weapon, and the only way out was sneaking, so having someone else was just more noise...
Argh, to Oblivion with it! The regret would endless if he left them behind. So Helspar approached the other cage. Before he reached it, he almost tripped over on...a skeleton.
"Oh gods!" Helspar cursed (and nearly jumped). He stepped gingerly around the skeleton.
"Alright, alright." Kneeling in front of the cage, Helspar whispered to himself, trying to still his pounding heart. He placed one hand on the cage door and shook it.
"Hey, hey, over here." Helspar whispered louder this time, so that the person inside the cage could hear him. "You were on the caravan, right? We have to get out of here!"
Appearance: Compared to the typical Dunmer, Helspar Dalas is less angular. Standing at 1.8m and weighing in at 73kg, some people say he looks more human than elf, and it is not without merit. His eyes are narrow, often concealing his dark red irises. His dark hair grows over his ears, hiding the slight elven tips unless freshly trimmed. Helspar has relatively wide shoulders for his average build. He has a fit physique, but not heavily muscled. Finally, Helspar's hands are callused from working in the wilderness.
Helspar dresses in layers when traveling. Growing up in the warm and moist region of Shadowfen, Heslpar likes to wrap himself snuggly in colder and drier environments. A woolen long coat, scarf, leather gloves and a fur hat are his traveling essentials. To prepare for hostile encounters, Helspar wears a chainmail vest, leather bracers and epaulets. A guar hide quiver, loaded with up to a dozen arrows is slung with his backpack.
Helspar doesn't like to look others in the eye. His gaze will flick around left and right, until settling on an empty area.
Personality: When it comes down to it, Heslpar is a timid and mellow person. However, he appears to be more outgoing and gregarious at first glance. He enjoys the company of jovial crowds, but often takes a backseat and let other do the talking. Helspar is naturally empathetic, often sharing the mood of his companions, whether he likes it or not.
Heslpar solves problems through patience and creativity. He's not a scholar, but likes to analyze difficult situations before pursuing a course of action. Impatience rarely affects Helspar, to the point that some says he's too patient (and not decisive enough). Helspar is aware of the danger of inaction; he tries to make faster decisions, though he frequenly falls back to deliberation.
Unlike many dark elves, Helspar has few prejudices. He believes sentient spieces are equal for the most part (with some having "peculiar" tendencies). Magic is useful a tool for him; it does not make the wielder superior or sinister. One of the few things Helspar frowns upon is necromancy. Defiling the dead is taboo in both Dunmer and Argonian cultures. Plus, raised corpses smell absolutely putrid.
Helspar was born a decade after the end of the Planemeld. His parents, Dunmers unaffliated with any Great Houses, were soldiers of the Ebonheart Pact. His mother, Derevys, was a scout, while his father, Uvanon, was a healer. They met on the battlefields of Cyrodiil, and upon completing the campaign, had fallen in love with each other. They became engaged and settled down in Stormhold, taking advantage of the Pact's colonization initiatives.
Even though Stormhold was a city directly administered by the Pact (in the form of three vice-canons; Nord, Dunmer and Argonian), the majority of its population remained Argonians. There had been, however, an influx of retired soldiers like Helspar's parents, which caused increasing frustrations among local Argonians. This friction was further exacerbated by the roaming slavers, often abducting lone Argonians for rogue Telvanni or Dres lords.
Initially, Helspar's parents kept him sheltered. They had seen the horrors of war, and wanted their son to take part in no conflict, communal or international. The young Helspar was home-schooled, but he was rarely taught traditional Dunmeri culture. He played in the yard, but only went to the market with parent supervision. As the young Dunmer grew, so did his curiosity. At the age of twelve, his parents realized that his interest in the world could no longer be held. So they allowed Helspar to attend classes with fellow children in Stormhold. The earlier school days were abysmal for Helspar; his sheltered upbringing made him socially-awkward. He didn't get along with Dunmer kids (because he was never raised to believe in the Tribunal) or Arognian kids (because he was not one of them). In addition, Helspar wasn't the fastest learner either.
In his fourteenth year, Uvanon found Derevys sleeping with another man. The ensuing divorce was abrupt; Derevys stormed out of the house and never to be heard from again. Uvanon soon fell apart. Before he was fifteen years old, Helspar saw his father become an alcoholic. The family debt piled up and forced Helspar out of his study. He began running odd jobs to fuel Uvanon's addiction. Three days before Helspar's sixteenth birthday, his father became so miserably drunk to point of choking on his own flin. Helspar ended his father's pitiful life there with a quick knife slash.
Helspar's sixteenth birthday gift was a heavily armored debt collector. There's no money left in the household, so the only way to clear his family debt was slavery. The collector was going haul Helspar to a Dres plantation, until an Argonians intervened. This Argonian was Aca-Itla, an expert hunter that Helspar occasionally worked as a delivery boy for. Aca-Itla killed the collector, not out of pity for Helspar, but because he was one of many increasing brazen slave-snatchers in Shadowfen.
With nowhere left to go and nothing to do, Helspar apprenticed himself to Aca-Itla. Well, it wasn't as much of an apprenticeship as being an underpaid errand runner. He spent two years cleaning up Aca-Itla's shop and delivering around Stormhold. Helspar was only allowed to handle a bow when he reached eighteen years old. He was a horrible shot at first, though Aca-Itla said he had the patience for trapping. By the time he was 24, Helspar had become a mediocre archer and a skilled trapper.
Then, Aca-Itla let Helspar go. Gnarl-Braids, Aca-Itla's nephew, had come from Gideon to study with his uncle. The old hunter had only time for one apprentice, and his family obviously came first. Before sending Helspar off, Aca-Itla gave him a parting gift, a rusty old skinning knife.
Armed with said knife, a rickety short bow and an outdated map, Helspar made his way to Mournhold, the first Dunmer city he had seen. The city was loud, chaotic, and quite frankly, exhausting. Renting an inn room was expensive, and the constant preaching of Tribunal priests made him uncomfortable. So Helspar went to work in a kwama mine. It was not the right kind of work for him. Though he adapted quick to the kwamas, Helspar felt claustrophobic in the depths. After three months, he quit and was on the move again.
Helspar was 25 when he reached Blacklight, the capital of House Redoran. The city was one of the Pact's military strongholds, and everyone there did something related to war. Heslpar didn't involve himself in any of that. He remembered his parents recounting the horrific battles in Cyrodiil, and if there was one thing learned, it was that war would always be bad. So Helspar spent a year washing dishes in the local tavern. In some evenings, he would practice archery on scribs. His shot got better and he would sometimes bring back scrib jelly to sell. One day, a Redoran recruiter noticed him.
They told Helspar how the army needed a sharpshooter like him. Helspar, in return, always smiled and said no. But the recruiters were persistent. If Helspar refused to volunteer, they would conscript him.
Now 26 years of age, Helspar found himself reluctantly getting ready for battle. Pact troops were battling the thanes of Morthal. Helspar honestly couldn't understand why. What he also didn't understand was being pulled from the frontlines two days before an assault. Not long after, he was discharged from the army. He saw a Dunmer woman at the headquarters, someone who looked just like his mother. But before Helspar could approach her, she was gone.
Skyrim was a strange place for Helspar. The cities there weren't as suffocating as those in Morrowind, though its inhabitants were equally as loud, if not louder. Windhelm was too cold for Helspar, so he went south to Riften. Riften was finally a mild enough place to settle down. Lake Honrich provided enough moisture to sooth the skin, while the woods of the Rift were excellent places to unwind. Helspar took up jobs in the fisheries. It was stable enough for him to study alteration at the Mages Guild, and further hone his marksmanship by hunting with the local Undaunted. Helspar even fell in love with a strapping Nord lad, though it was unrequited, since the lad preferred the company of Nord maidens.
It had been seven years in Riften when Helspar received a letter. He had been promoted to supervisor at the fishery, so letters addressed to him were not out of the ordinary. Though the name of the sender was a curious one; Derevys. It was Helspar's mother; she had married a rich (and currently deceased) Nord man in Whiterun, and was dying of rockjoint and witbane. The letter was written by Mitra Battle-Born, the half-sister Helspar never knew existed. At first, Helspar doubted the letter's genuity. After a week of deliberation, and a reluctant consultation with the temple of Mara, Helspar decided to see his mother for the last time, before she passed away.
Turned out, Derevys died in that week of deliberation; Helspar arrived days too late. All that greeted him was his grieving half-sister. Mitra was Dunmer in appearance (like any mother's offspring), but lived and drank mead like a Nord. She would legally be inheriting the estate of her parents, except the officials in Whiterun didn't recognize a "foreigner's" claim and awarded her inheritance to an obscure cousin in Markarth. Mitra was mad, but what really drove her over the edge was the Helspar's presence. In Derevys' final months, she was so delirious that she couldn't even recognize her own daughter. Yet on her death bed, Derevys pleaded to see Helspar. Mitra was jealous; she blamed her loss on Helspar.
Helspar did not know what to say. He had prepared his condolences on his way, but with a frustrated Mitra yelling at him, Helspar was at a loss of words. His apologies were not good enough. Honestly, it wouldn't be good enough should their positions be reversed. Helspar knew what it was like to lose the only family he knew, and left alone in an unwelcoming world. Finally came midnight, Helspar murmured one last sorry and returned home.
The next two years were uneasy. Feeling utterly alone, Helspar gradually lost the motivation to work. Even worse was the political situation in Skyrim. Jorunn the Skald-King, the architect of the Ebonheart Pact, fell ill. Without Jorunn's cooperative directions, ultra-nationalists and xenophobes filled the power vacuum. Dunmers and Argonians suddenly found themselves discriminated by Riften natives. Helspar was fired from the fishery. He wanted no further part in the conflict, so he bought a rundown cabin near the Jerall Mountains and lived off the land.
Another year later, Jorunn died. Riften seceded from the Pact. On one of his rare market visits, Helspar learned that dark elves and Argonians were no longer welcome in Riften. This news was proven in action on Helspar's walk back home. A group of Nord "vigilantes" beat him senseless for no reason other than the shape of his ears. These hooligans even took his toiletries!
Enough was enough. The Rift couldn't be his home forever; maybe it's time to return to his first home, Stormhold. While passing through southern Morrowind, a Dres councilor offered Helspar a slaver's job. Helspar declined. That night, the councilor's henchmen attacked him, intending to keep the slave operation secret. Thanks to his honed instincts, Helspar managed to shoot a few of them down, and ran into Black Marsh without getting too hurt.
Stormhold was a completely different city than he remembered. Three vice-canons were condensed into one, whom was unsurprisingly, an Argonian. It still flew the Ebonheart Pact banner, unlike the recently separate House Dres in the north. Contact with Mournhold had been cut. A thick palisade now surrounds the outer areas, to keep out slavers that were no longer restricted by Pact laws.
The first place Helspar went to was Aca-Itla's shop. Aca-Itla was dead; Gnarl-Braids was running the place. They vaguely remembered each other, and Braids agreed to let Helspar in on the business. The reason was safety. Slavers posed a major threat to anyone venturing beyond the palisade, including hunters. Strength in numbers, or so they say. Having an extra archer was worth splitting the profits for Braids.
The last thing Helspar expected from his homecoming was romantic attraction. Yet within three years of hunting and selling game alongside Gnarl-Braids, he found himself falling for the Argonian. Braids was quick-witted and always had a joke ready. Braids was also a strong and nimble man. Most importantly, Braids listened to him. Perhaps he was just getting too lonely, but Helspar was not brave or desperate enough to confess his feelings. He saw Braids being very close to an Argonian woman. If Helspar told him, he would ruin their friendship, like with that Nord lad.
Helspar at 40 was hunting a dangerous type of prey. Sure, Gnarl-Braids, him and their associates were still taking swamp game animals, with the occasional wamasu for trophy. But in 636, the Argonians withdrew from the Ebonheart Pact, causing Morrowind to re-legalize slavery. Droves of slavers poured in from the north, often abducting entire villages in Shadowfen. The few Dunmers that remained in Stormhold were often lynched by the Argonians, whom feared a betrayal from within. Helspar remained safe, thanks to Braids vouching for him. He was now hunting slavers, partly to prove his loyalty, and partly out of his own conscience.
On a misty evening in 637, while Helspar, Braids and two other Argonians were stalking a band of Telvanni thugs, they were set upon from behind. The Telvannis outnumbered them three to one, because their necromancers had raised dead Argonians from Hei-Halai. The ensuing fight was one-sided. Seeing no way to win, Braids told Heslpar and another Argonian to run, while he and the other covered their escape. Helspar made it back to Stormhold, but the other Argonian did not. He brought guards out to find Braids. They found nothing; the Telvannis already crossed back to Morrowind.
When the news spread across Stormhold, Helspar was no longer welcomed there. Many Argonians believed he betrayed Braids and the others. However, he still had enough backing to be exiled, instead of beaten to death by an angry mob. Helspar left Black Marsh for Morrowind, for the second time in his life. Unlike before, he had a clear goal in mind; to rescue Gnarl-Braids. The goal was lofty, as he discovered upon entering Dres territories. Someone had recognized Helspar from years prior. Apparently, he was a wanted criminal in Deshaan. It mattered not, for the Telvanni were situated further to the north, and had a separate justice system from the Dres. Said justice system was the next problem. Helspar had no idea how Telvanni freed their slaves, if they did at all. He planned to buy Braid's freedom, except, Braids had be found first. After wasting his money traveling across Telvanni Peninsula, someone finally informed Helspar that his savings were nowhere near enough to buy a slave. The same person also said Helspar had promising alteration talents. Maybe he would like to work as a lab assistant?
Working his way up the Telvanni hierarchy would be the plan then. Helspar could curry favor with an abolitionist magister and win over Braids' freedom.
"Funny," the Telvannis laughed, "no magister would abolish slavery." The closest thing was Magister Therana, who was indifferent toward slavery, and even once admitted Sun-in-Shadow, an Argonian, into the house. Therana was currently traveling to Stros M'Kai, to present her research at the chartering ceremony of its Mages Guild. Helspar could wait for her in Morrowind, but Therana was known to be whimsical in her travels; she could be away for months. The Telvanni slave pens were notorious for their attrition rates, so the longer Helspar waits, the more likely it was for Braids to die. Plus, it could be easier persuading the magister in places where slavery is outlawed.
Stros M'Kai it was. Chartering a ship was out of Helspar's budget. A caravan through Cyrodiil was the alternative. The Alliance War had died down years ago, and the local counts had reestablished some order in the Imperial Province. What's the worse that could happen?
Motivations and Regrets: Helspar travels to Stros M'Kai for one purpose: get Magister Therana to free Gnarl-Braids. In doing so, he would achieve several more things. The first would be proving his innocence to Stormhold, which could allow him to return home. The second would be to confess his love to Gnarl-Braids. If he would be rejected, so be it; he needs to get it off his chest. The third would be to overcome his inaction. Helspar always waited; he must take initiative now.
The lack of initiative is Helspar's biggest regret. He feels like he has been a passive observer through most of his life. The divorce of his parents, the sorrow of his half-sister, not being able to say goodbye to his mother, his ejection from Riften and Stormhold, and ultimately, losing Braids. All of these could have turned out differently, should Helspar tried to make things better. Instead, he thought too much and acted to little.
Adept: Provisioning, Acrobatics, 1H Blade
Novice: Alteration, Lockpicking, Speech
Spells: Magelight, Telekinesis, Burden, Feather
Equipment: Beside his outfit, everything Helspar travels with have been taken by the mysterious assailants. This includes his Argonian style elm bow, it's guar hide quiver and a dozen steel-tipped arrows. Helspar's beige canvas backpack has also been taken. The contents in that backpack; his travel documents, journal, quill, ink, fishsticks, sweetrolls, cure disease potions, and change of clothes, are all gone. The skinning knife attached to Helspar's leather boot has been taken as well, though the small repair kit in his coat pocket is still there.