Moonlight and Moonshineby Shafty and Greenie
19th of Midyear, Early Morning
It was unclear how long Meg had been sitting out at the edge of the village by herself, staring off into the dark distance as she clutched a bottle of ale in her one hand, the other simply digging into the now cold sand. It was a relief she had remembered to bring her cloak along with her backpack, the latter now set to the side, one of the five various bottles of liquor empty- she hadn't been picky about what she had brought along, and she really didn't care whether the taste was appealing or not. As long as it made her numb. The already empty bottle of rum had been tossed to the side, looking forlorn and uncared for.
Eyes shifting from the shadows to the sky, Meg found herself gazing at Masser and Secunda as if it was the very first time. Her hand left the sand, grains spilling as she lifted her arm and reached up towards them. What was it that J'raij would call them? It took her a good moment to remember. “Jone an’ Jode.” Barely a whisper, her voice still managed to break the silence, and she found she didn't care for the sound of it. The lip of the bottle met her own and she took another swig before setting it down between the knees of her outstretched legs.
Still the faces showed themselves to her, no matter how much she tried to push them to the side. Her father, Marne, Sylven. The Greymane and the Battle-Born. The farmers she would work for. The Jarl in Dragonsreach. All dead. The streets of Whiterun had been painted red in blood with only automatons making their way through the corpses. Jaraleet in a room before a crying, tortured man, face blank as he prepared yet again to extract the truth. Gregor and an army of undead ruthlessly killing everyone in their sight. Her nightmare plagued her, even as her eyes remained open. And then there was the conversation when she had just been about to leave her tent. Once more she felt the stinging in her eyes, the lump in her throat. She hurt him, hadn't she?
“Fuck it all.” She brought the bottle up again and took another gulp.
Sevari plopped himself down next to Meg, uncaring if she wanted company or not. If she wished to be alone, she could scream it in his face and he’d move on no more damaged than he came. But there was no screaming, not even any looking at each other. The revelation from the night before still weighed heavy on Sevari’s conscience, pressing him down harder than anybody he had ever killed. In a way, he killed Latro, or whatever semblance of peace the young man was trying to cling onto before he crashed into his life like a bull.
He brought his bottle to his lip and tipped it back, closing his eyes, only to find it dry. He grunted, tossing the bottle to the side and he took the fuller one from Meg’s hand, not offering but not protesting. He gulped down the ale and handed it back, wiping his mouth off on his forearm. “Can’t sleep.” It wasn’t a question, or an explanation of why he’d come, it was just a statement. He lit a cigar, puffed on it a bit, and added a harsh whisper, “Can’t ever fucking sleep.”
Blinking in surprise at the sudden appearance of the Ohmes-Raht Khajiit, Meg was barely able to register when the bottle had left her hand and when it returned. She vaguely wondered if it was a khajiiti thing to be so quiet and sneaky, despite how large he was in comparison to the others she'd seen in her years. The Nord hadn't expected company as she drank herself to a near death, but she wasn't about to shoo him away either; she didn't quite have the mind for that right now. Pressing the bottle to her lips once more, Meg took a long gulp before setting in next to her, digging the bottle down in the sand so it stayed put while still in reach of Sevari.
"See things y'don' wanna?" she muttered after a moment of silence. Finally turning her head his way, Meg was able to make out his features due to the light of the moons, and it was clear he was as burdened as she felt, though what might be bothering him she had no way of knowing. "Or... jus' like tha'?" Her teeth pressed against each other, lips pulled tightly as she looked back to the distant sea of dunes. It seemed whatever reprieve had been sent their way after the prison break was long gone.
“Seen a lot.” He nodded, puffing on his cigar again and the smoke was coming from a Bosmer village near the southwestern coast. Him and his boys were investigating rumors of what the Thalmor and their sympathizers were up to in the jungles and- “What about you? I’ve never seen you so dour.”
"Me?" For a moment Meg felt a hint of panic and perhaps even a little dread, but it seemed to leave as soon as it came. What was the need to hide what she felt anymore? Everything she thought she knew was cracked and broken- there was no need to pretend to be happy. "Bad dreams..." She bit down on her lip, hard enough that it was painful though the skin didn't break. "Didja know... the Dwemer're in Skyrim too? I didn'."
A harsh breath left her lips and her hand tightened around the neck of the bottle she had reached out to drink from again. "I saw 'em, Pa, my family, Whiterun... all dead, like in Imperial city." She stopped and pulled at the bottle that she had only just set into the sand, and in no time it was empty. "Shit." Her breaths were coming quickly and she needed relief. Tossing the now useless thing to the side without a thought, she reached for her pack and grabbed onto the first drink her hands fell on, still unsure of what it was. "I saw him... Jaraleet... doin' wha' he does t’get answers. I saw Gregor..." She stopped, struggling to open the bottle, unable to continue with her words.
“I knew.” He said, to answer Meg’s question about the Dwemer and grabbed the bottle, gently taking it from her struggling hands. “I knew about Jaraleet too. A man sticks to what he does best. It’s a rough world, it makes rough men.”
He grunted as he popped the cork free and handed it to Meg, “If it is any consolation,” he began, sighing with the words because he knew it wouldn’t be, “He didn’t choose it.”
At least it wasn’t for him. He never chose any of it. But somewhere along the line, he decided to start. “If you think Jaraleet is a bad man, Meg, I’m sorry. I’m sure there’s plenty orphans that think the same of me.” Sevari looked out over the dunes, moonlit and lifeless. Peaceful like a sleep without dreams. “The sad truth of it all is that the world needs people like me and Jaraleet.”
"I- I don' think he's a bad man! I don' think you're
a bad man! I don'- I... I dunno wha'
t'think." Her hand was shaking as she held the bottle tightly, eyes now wet, once again remembering the conversation she'd had before stumbling out here. Sniffling, she took a gulp of the drink, eyes shutting tightly against the taste- she'd never had something that tasted so strong before. Maybe it would help numb the pain, whatever it was.
"He told me tonight. Of all nights... tonight. Why... why? An'- an’ then he said..." She shook her head before stuffing the bottle in the sand. Unable to stop herself, she pulled her knees up under her chin and started rocking. "I know I ain' the best, smartest… I don’ talk fancy, I know I do stupid shit. Jus'..." She sniffled again and roughly wiped her eyes. "I'm not a fuckin' child. Why didn' he just tell me? Why lie?" Her mouth trembled as she turned to face the khajiit man. Her eyes were still wet yet demanding. “Why didn’ you
“Because, I know what I am.” Sevari said, he patted Meg’s hand, “Judgement does not bother me until it comes from the Gods themselves.”
"I wouldn've judged," Meg replied plaintively, having a hard time not spilling her tears and eventually just giving up, the hot trails of salty water quickly cooling down in the cold desert night. Once more she rocked back and forth, her bottle nestled against her after she was done taking a rather large swig. "I never did, no' even when I was a li'l kid. Not for J'raij, not Jaraleet, not you..." She sniffled, shaking her head. "Maybe tha's why y'all think I'm stupid." Her eyes narrowed and she actually laughed, though it lacked humour and was filled with disgust instead. Was that was Gregor was thinking the night she tried to ask him if he'd been the one to kill Nblec? That she was just a stupid little girl? He sure wasn’ wrong.
"Didju know Gregor was a necromancer too? Ya seem y'know everythin'. Jaraleet sure as fuck did."
“He did.” Sevari nodded, “I did. I was going to kill him in the prison. I was going to blow the back of his head out and leave his dark knowledge all over the wall behind him.”
Sevari sighed, eyes closed as he took the bottle and swigged from it, placing it back between him and Meg. He looked at her and it pained him to know she felt that way about herself. The way she reminded him so much of La’Vashara only laid itself over the pain and added to the crushing grip around his chest. “Meg, look at me.” He said softly, laying a hand on her shoulder. When her wet, red eyes were on his, he laid a hand on her other shoulder, “Don’t you ever call yourself stupid for not holding judgement.”
He squeezed her shoulders lightly and carefully pulled her to him. As much as he would never admit it, the hug was for him too.
It was hard not to start crying some more, and even though a very faint part of her mind was telling her to toughen up and stop being such a baby, Meg refused to listen to it, shoulders shaking and breath heaving, sniffles continuous as she simply let out the torrent of drunken sorrow on the poor man in front of her. In hindsight she would end up hating herself for seeming so weak, but at the moment she felt exactly that. The barriers she had put up while talking to Jaraleet had cracked with drink and were now crumbling with Sevari's blunt words.
She finally managed to speak, though she didn't move away from the hug, unwilling to lose this surprising yet welcomed comfort. "Why didn' ya just do it then? Kill him?"
He shrugged, “As stupid and unbelievable as it sounds,” he shook his head, “No one let me.”
“But, no, Meg. You are not stupid, you are kind, tolerant, loving, curious,” he squeezed his arms around her just a hair for a second, “Everything I’m not. Everything I can never be now, because it’s too late. You’re all of that, but you’re not stupid.”
“Who called you stupid, made you feel like this?” He asked, a fatherly tone to his voice and a levity that was working itself to death to be heard in his voice, “I’ll punch them. Or I’ll hold them still while you do.”
A watery laugh escaped Meg and she finally looked up, wiping at her face as she did. "No one, no' really. Jus' kinda feels like it sometimes, y'know. An' maybe I make it too easy for others t'think tha'." She sighed softly and gulped some more of the strong alcohol, now getting used to the taste and enjoying the stinging sensation. She was feeling a little more peaceful now, relaxed even. Perhaps it was just the effect of all the alcohol now in her? "I don' think it's too late for ya, y'know? It's only too late when yer dead. Y'ain' dead yet." She paused and blinked, head tilted as she struggled to think. "He's dead now though... kinda ish? Liches are dead, righ'?" She raised her free hand. "No- wait- un
dead. Tha's the word."
The memory of his face made her shudder, and once again she lifted the bottle to her lips.
” Sevari’s voice came harsh and quiet. He tensed, feeling his heart skip a beat when he heard what Meg had said.
Unable to help herself when she heard the change in his voice, she found herself becoming rather still before speaking, her own voice rather small with a hint of trepidation. “He- uhm… did- did I say somethin’ wrong?”
“He’s…” he unfolded his arms from Meg and held her across from him, his brow cocked, “He’s a lich?”
Meg's mouth felt rather dry- she gulped a little before nodding, eyeing the large Khajiit to see if she was the one who was earning his ire. “I didn’ know anythin’ 'bout it 'til t'night!” Her hands fell away from the bottle for a second and she nearly dropped the liquid all over herself, barely managing to grab onto it again. “Nec- nercer- necromancer was bad 'nough, but he's a fuckin’ lich now.” Once more she shuddered and a look of fear crossed over her features, though it was two fold- she was wondering if she was not supposed to have told Sevari or something.
Well, she'd already blathered, there was no point stopping now. “He looked… dead. Like drained. An’, he was actin’ all diff. Like he reg-regretted everythin’ he'd done.” She paused to whet her whistle once more before continuing. “Jude an’ Gaius wan’ him gone. Gaius wan's him gone
gone, dead. Erryone else said he gotta stay… me too.” The last part came out rather small once again. “I didn’ know wha’
t'say.” Her uncertainty was back, hands shaking as she held the bottle in her lap, looking down at it. Was she supposed to have said anything like this to him or not? He was part of the group, right?
“Good fucking Gods…” Sevari sat back on his elbows, looking gape-mouthed at the stars. How could this have happened without him knowing? How could he have let Gregor achieve this? He was more dangerous now than ever. “You stay away from him, Meg. Don’t even cast an eye his direction. If he even looks at you, you tell me and Jaraleet. You understand?”
Meg’s head slumped downward, chin pressed against her chest. He seemed… she didn’t know if it was fear or something else. Her hands were still clutching the bottle but she hadn’t taken a sip since she blurted out Gregor’s secret. “He didn’... seem dangerous though…” She blinked and peeked at Sevari, hoping to maybe reassure the khajiit man… or perhaps she was simply trying to reassure herself. “He kinda seemed… sad? I dunno… I dun think he’s gonna be hurtin’ anyone… ‘sides… even if I said anythin’ t’Jaraleet, they’re frien’s. He… he [i]knew from ‘fore, didn’ tell me, didn’ tell no one. Kinda feel bad, y’know? Like I wasn’ trusted or sommat.” Now she brought the bottle to her lips, tilting her head back as she drank deeply, ignoring the little that escaped the sides of her mouth, lettin them trickle down her chin to splash on her shirt.
“Meg,” Sevari said, watching her quaff her drink, “Meg.”
He frowned deeply and tipped the bottle down from her lips, prying her fingers away from it until he had it in his own hands, “Meg, stop with that. It’s not going to fix anything. You might pass out drunker than shit for any amount of time, but trust me, whatever demons you have weighing you down are going to be waiting patiently when you wake up.”
“Tell me what I can do.” Sevari said, “Anything.”
For a second Meg returned the frown, but then her bottom lip trembled and she looked to her empty lap, hands shaking as she dropped them to fill the hollow. She shook her head, once more feeling water fill up in her eyes and trickle down her face, the hot tears cooling down in the desert night air. "I dunno," she finally replied, voice breaking so that she stopped herself from saying anything more beyond those two words. What he said was true, but... She brought a hand up to her cheeks and wiped at them, though it did little more than wet the rest of her face. There was so much that didn't make sense to her even if it seemed clear to the rest of the world.
"Hurts righ' here," she muttered after a moment, rubbing a fist at where her heart lay beneath her clothes and flesh. "How d'ya make tha' go 'way then? Knowin' the truth didn' help shit."
Sevari shook his head, “Never did.” He said lamely, almost apologetic, “Never will, maybe. The truth needs to be known though. There’s no sense in laboring under a smiling lie if it means forsaking who you are or the truth of your circumstances.”
“Gregor was on this path far before we met him and this was going to happen whether he was with us or not.” Sevari frowned, taking a hypocritical swig from the bottle before cocking his arm back and sending the bottle sailing far down the dunes. “We’re going to have to deal with it. Jaraleet knew, I knew. But there wouldn’t be any good coming from letting the news spread like fire or we’d all be charred.”
“Accept things as they are, Meg,” Sevari said firmly, looking at her, “But never decide that they have to be that way always. Always look forward, if life is a battle then hardship is the enemy. Be a step ahead. Two steps ahead. And when you’re cornered with nowhere to go and shit piles up,”
Sevari frowned, “Get a fucking shovel. It’s good to be brave, Meg. If life’s a battle, it’s not about good or bad. It’s wrong or right. It’s right to win.” Sevari chuckled at his own stupid words and it felt as if he was partly saying them to himself. “Fuck losing.”
"Fuck losin’," she repeated. Taking a breath and letting it out slowly, her drunk mind was trying and failing to analyze her thoughts. What was winning and what was losing in this current situation, with everyone upset and unable to trust the other person? What more was hidden that would eventually come out to the surface? She herself was finding more solace in the company of bottles and someone she had previously thought had hated her than with her own companions of two months.
Meg brought her hands up to her face, palms pressed tightly against her closed eyes, fingers digging into her dark hair and pressing into her scalp. She was out of tears for the time being, feeling hollow and cried out. It's good to be brave.
Maybe if she kept reminding herself, she would eventually be
brave. There had to be something good that came out of this, otherwise… No, there has t’be.
She’d have to dig around to find it perhaps, but maybe that was something worthy. She wanted to win, yes, but she also wanted good… good that was something real and not just falsity and lies.
Eventually she spoke up, though her eyes remained hidden behind her hands. "Will y'be comin' t'Skyrim with us?"
Sevari cleared his throat and shifted where he sat, sniffing, “What I mean to say, Meg, is that wallowing like this won’t solve this. You have nothing to prove to anybody, you proved it to me that you’re willing to die for your friends when I had to snatch you and that bleeding Argonian idiot off the Gilane streets.” He smiled at Meg, “You only have yourself to prove yourself to. And, yes, I’m going to Skyrim. I have to see if there’s anybody left in… those I know.”
“Aye…” she replied after a moment, letting her hands slide down from her face to land in her lap once more. She took another deep breath and let it out, nodding to his words even though she still looked rather miserable and lost. “I'mma havta see how t'get 'bout doin’ that.” She bit down on her bottom lip for a moment before allowing herself a weak smile in his direction. “Glad you'll be comin’ along, I like talkin’ to ya.” She hesitated for the smallest moment before tottering up on her knees and reaching over, giving the Ohmes-Raht a heartfelt if somewhat wet and clumsy hug.
Sevari snorted softly, wrapping his arm around the drunk Nord he’d somehow come to have a kinship with. “If you need help getting about to doing that all you need is ask, Meg.” He patted her on the shoulder before writhing about in her arms to face her, holding her out in front of him, “But if you lose me in this godsdamn fool’s errand we’ve all taken on, and gods forbid have only Jaraleet with you, you keep those words close.”
He smiled at her, “It is good to be brave. Now, come on,” he got to his feet, gently pulling Meg up with him and holding her still when she leaned a tad too far to the left, then the right as he held her steady, “We’ve got some sleep to catch up on.”
“Aye, aye,” Meg mumbled in agreement, allowing herself to be steadied; even in her drunken state she knew full well that she was near toppling over and landing on her face. She managed to grab her pack with one hand as she clutched at Sevari with her other one. “Thankies for… er… all.” She attempted to wave her hand to motion towards anything but failed, hand weighed down by the pack she was holding and the bottles still inside. “Good t'be brave… aye.”
That would be for tomorrow though, when she would be feeling the consequences of tonight's overindulgence. For now sleep beckoned, and a heavy lidded Meg was more than happy to enter its embrace.