Hank is a Co-Admin that helps run the Guild.

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Current Anyone else playing Apex Legends and loving it?
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Saw Unbreakable for the first time in preparation for Glass on Saturday with a friend. Gonna rewatch Split first, though. Gotta get that continuity right. Did NOT understand the twist the first time.
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Bio

Original join date: August 2008
Moderator since: 20 January 2016
Co-admin since: 5 May 2017

25-year-old Dutch guy living in Amersfoort, NL, with my girlfriend. I love Italian food and German beer. Also Belgian beer. And Dutch beer... just beer, really. Other than roleplaying my favorite pastimes are playing videogames, going on roadtrips through eastern Europe and scrunching up my face when the DJ drops Russian hardbass.

In the old version of the Guild I was the record holder for 'Most Infraction Points Without Being Permabanned'.

My primary roleplaying genres are fantasy and science fiction. Big fan of The Elder Scrolls, Warhammer 40,000, Mass Effect, Fallout and others.

Most Recent Posts

Done.
Harmony
and
Balance


Between the 15th and the 16th of Midyear, 4E208
Above the Oasis, Alik’r Desert, Hammerfell


In the midst of the night Mazrah had stepped out of the oasis, her bare feet carrying her silently through the camp and out of the mouth of the cave. She took in the sight of the endless stars that hovered silently above the desert dunes and placed her hands on her hips, a smile on her face, her golden eyes shimmering with the reflected light of the night sky. Masser and Secunda were both full and looked down on her from directly above, the crowning jewels of the incredible tapestry. It was as magnificent a sight as ever. While she had been more used to seeing the same stars between the snow capped peaks of the mountains that surrounded Orsinium, the Orsimer huntress had to admit as soon as she moved south into Hammerfell that there was something even more grand about the unobstructed view that the desert provided.

But she hadn’t come just to stargaze. Mazrah had offered help to Latro, the gentle man that carried a rabid wolf in his heart, but she couldn’t do that without proper preparation. It had been many years since she had received the necessary lessons from her mother to control her own beast, the sulphur and fury that burned within all Orsimer. Mazrah turned her back on the sky and began to climb the rocky edifice that stuck out of the sands beneath which the oasis lay. Her movements were easy and effortless and the stones were comfortably warm to the touch, still slowly releasing the heat that Magnus had instilled in them during the day. Her spirits high, Mazrah began to hum a tune to herself during her ascent. It only dawned on her after a few seconds what that tune actually was; an old Orsinian war-song. “Fitting,” she muttered to herself. The accompanying war-dance would help her with her task. Spontaneous inspiration was how Mazrah got most of her ideas and this time was no different.

She crested the top and saw the hole in the rock ahead of her where she knew the natural light filtered into the oasis, illuminating the river that ran through their camp. Feeling around with her toes, Mazrah nodded, satisfied. It was reasonably flat and smooth. She was going to need the space to move around. But first she sat herself down, cross-legged, and placed her hands on her knees and closed her eyes, just like her mother had taught her. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. She thought of Sora’s Moonpath, the mystical journey she could undertake through the power of moonsugar to speak to her ancestors. Mazrah had no such talents available. But she could definitely remember, remind herself, of who she was and where she came from. She thought about the streets of Orsinium where she had played with the other whelps, boys and girls alike; long summer days when the day seemed to never end, and when it did, the sky burned like a campfire for what felt like hours more as the sun set behind the peaks of the mountains. The woods, the valleys, the steep cliffs, all the places that she had roamed and explored as a young woman, bow and arrows on her back. Mazrah thought about Maulakanth too, and about their father, and how he would push Maulakanth so hard she feared that he would break. In the end, of course, he had, but years after their father had already died. She sighed and pushed her thoughts about him to the side -- he was long gone, probably dead and buried in an unmarked grave in High Rock by now.

After that, she opend her eyes and looked down at herself, her arms, her chest, her legs, eyes tracing the white lines and shapes across her green skin. Mazrah ran her fingers down her arm, remembering the pain she had felt when the wise women had worked the ink into her skin. It hadn’t been a cause for suffering, but pride. She felt sympathy for Latro well up in her chest as she thought about how scared he must have been to be subjected to his own most violent self without the proper guidance. Durash, Mazrah’s mother, had been there every step of the way, and Mazrah saw her in her mind’s eye -- hair so long it came all the way down to the small of her back, slightly shorter but stockier than Mazrah herself, but eyes that were just the same. Every time Mazrah had been disobedient or stubborn or just plain annoying, Durash had been unable to resist laughter, which never failed to disarm her adolescent daughter. “It is just like looking in the still water of a pool,” Durash had said with the warm smile that only mothers can muster. “I see myself in you so much.” And as time had passed and Mazrah had grown into the body of a woman with the same tattoos as her ancestors, it had happened multiple times that Orsinium’s rabble had mixed up mother and daughter. Mazrah snorted at the memory.

That was her anchor. As long as she did not forget where she came from and the warmth and guidance that her mother had given her, Mazrah knew that she could not lose control of herself. She had a lifetime of knowing exactly who she was behind her. She didn’t need a Moonpath for guidance: her mother had already given her all the guidance she needed to become one and whole. Latro hadn’t. From what little he had told her, it had sounded like he had been on the run from himself and his past for a long time now. Mazrah’s heart ached for him, for his suffering, and for Daro’Vasora’s too. Even the Khajiit had not been one with her heritage until recently. Mazrah could hardly imagine what that must have been like, to be caught between worlds and to feel out of place in both of them. As much as she liked Hammerfell and the Redguards and their funny, rigid ways, she was glad that she had been born and raised in Orsinium and by ancient Orcish tradition. It made her an unmovable object, for the bedrock upon which she stood was impenetrable.

She saw Maulakanth sitting at the table of their longhouse, his back raw and bloody, his head between his hands, trying not to cry.

Mazrah bit her lip and shook her head, trying to rid herself of the image. Their father and his treatment of her brother wasn’t representative of Orsinium as a whole. Mazrah only had to think of her mother to know that there was so much more to the ways of the Orsimer than harsh cruelty and senseless violence. Frustrated, she fiddled with the hem of her loincloth. How was she supposed to use the foundation of her own harmony and balance to help Latro if it was being undermined by other memories? She needed to have faith in the things she had been taught, in the indestructible spirit of the Orsimer and the way it had been tamed for generations. Latro could not stand on the same bedrock… but at least she could teach him how to stand.

In one smooth, fluid movement, Mazrah uncoiled her legs and got to her feet. She hummed the war-song again, slowly at first, making sure she was getting it right this time, before she dropped into a loose and flexible pose, her hands at the ready to greet an imaginary enemy. She remembered the roaring bonfires of Orsinium’s celebrations and the way she had seen her mother dance with the other huntresses as a child, and remembered the feeling, the urge, to join her. It was like a rising flame in her chest, a call that could not be ignored. That was how how her mother had first guided her in releasing her rage. That was the thing -- it wasn’t just rage, or mindless anger, but passion. To do something with every fiber of one’s being. She felt the feeling coming and opened herself to it. That is how the Orcish women danced: their eyes crimson and their blood singing, until the earth shook with the reverberations of their singular thought in that moment.

Here I am. All of me.

Gold turned scarlet and Mazrah danced, her voice soaring over the dunes, the rock trembling, a cloud of dust kicked up all around her, her muscles burning. This was not a fight. It was a release. And this was how she would make Latro whole again.

16th of Rain’s Hand, 5E150
Eastmarch Hold, Skyrim


Night would be setting in soon, she figured they had around an hour of good sunlight left. She felt it too, the air was growing colder and she couldn’t decide if she had ever felt so dangerously cold before. Windhelm was icy, but the walls, buildings, and torches must have been allowing some warmth because this was so much worse. This was just emptiness and so yes, it felt much colder. She wrapped her cloak around herself even more. It had always felt like a such plush garment, but right now it felt like paper. She wasn’t going to tell Viper that, he’d latch onto her first complaint like moths would latch to a flame. She was not going to let him have the satisfaction. Even if he could probably hear the chattering of her teeth.

They had found a relatively sheltered area that sat at the bottom of a large hill. It was protected by some crumbled stone walls and surrounded by trees and overgrown brambles bearing fruit, it was at least partially walled in. This was adventure, this was how it was! As she took her seat on the ground, she smiled, forgetting about the cold for the time being.

The trek had been both exhilarating and horrendous in equal measure. The nature was beautiful, and still the novelty had not worn off of finally being away from Windhelm. The horrendous part had been the grumping of Viper every time she took a step too far ahead, lingered too far behind, meandered too far from his side, asked too many questions, or pointed out another tree, leaf, or rock… Speaking of, “do you think this ruin might have been someone’s home?” Caeliana asked with a curious grin, propping up her chin on her hands. It had been a while since she had last asked him something, and so she felt she’d earned this one.

Viper had immediately set about to the task of preparing a campfire to warm themselves up with, cook some dinner over and, most importantly, boil some canis root tea with, when Caeliana spoke up. He was prepared to grit his teeth again but he found that, to his surprise, it was a fair question. The Dunmer straightened up and looked around, taking in the remnants of the building’s walls, the layout, the foundations.

“Could be,” he said with a nod. “Farmhouse, maybe.” Viper considered the ruin’s location, situated as it was at the bottom of a hill and looking out over a relatively flat, now featureless field. Trees clumped together in the distance, marking the beginnings of the foothills of the closest mountain range, and high above the canopy snow-capped peaks loomed, their silhouettes distorted by mistbanks and wisps of fog.

He turned back to the pile of dried firewood from his backpack, arranged it properly and gently coaxed a small flame into existence in the palm of his hand, which he then used to light the campfire. It crackled to life almost immediately. Satisfied, Viper sat back on one of the stones that littered the ruin’s interior and began rummaging through his backpack.

“I bet they were happy here,” she said quietly with a forlorn sigh as she allowed herself a long look at the scenery ahead. The field ahead was practically barren, save for some dry, patchy grass. The Imperial could quite easily imagine those same fields filled with soil growing wheat and vegetables in abundance for a happy family. Shadows were starting to seep in now as the day faded. Caeliana wasn't afraid, and she looked to her shield and sword, places out on the stone by the fire so that she could sit comfortably for their campout.

She watched the trees in the distance for some time. Each of them unique in their own way, some of them were leaning more at an angle - they must have been blown by the wind. Some of them stood straight, reaching for the sky like towers of branches and leaves. To Viper they were probably just trees, but to Caeliana they were much more. They were proof that things could grow out here, and that while life may not have been thriving, there was life. There was a note of melancholy to the view too, the contrast of the emptiness and the pockets of life littering sporadically through it reminded her that there was also death and decay, and that the decay was more prevalent.

The woman reached into her own bag to find a contribution to the dinner. She had a handful of dried berries that sat in her palm like jewels, and a corner of bread. The bread had seen better days, so it was best to eat it now before it became just more decay to leave behind. “It feels quite humbling to sit here, actually,” she remarked as she placed the food beside Viper. Maybe he would make something of it, maybe it would remain as a snack for after.

“Good,” Viper grumbled as he emerged from the foraging session throughout his own belongings. He placed an iron grille over the fire and a cooking pot on top of that. “Hold onto that feeling.” He glanced up at Caeliana and gave her a weary smile. “Humility will keep you sharp. I don’t much like to dwell on the past but if that’s what it takes for you to… I don’t know, be aware of your own insignificance out here, be my guest.”

After that, the Dunmer poured some water into the pot, along with a helping of scrag ends and seasonings. His eyes fell on the berries and the bread and after a moment’s deliberation, he threw the berries in the soup as well. He gave the bread back to Caeliana. “Dip that in the soup. Helps you forget that it’s stale.”

“It’s our responsibility to remember and honour the past. The old ways of life. You’re right, it keeps us sharp… Keeps us from becoming monsters.” Suddenly she shuddered, drawing her cloak around herself again, leaning to the fire, her eyes transfixed by the flames. She never had managed to learn destruction magic, it was a regret of hers. Viper’s command over fire must have been one of the many reasons he had such impressive survivability.

She began to pick up the scent of the soup he was making, and she nodded at the pot, “smells pretty good, we should share this bread, there’s enough for us both.” With that, she tore it into two pieces, and left the second half beside him. “I remember a few years ago now, Wulfharth roasted a whole pig just for us fighters. By Talos I’d never eaten something with so much flavour. It was so rich in fact that it almost made me sick...” She was watching him stir the soup and how the steam rose in clouds around his face, he looked as weary as ever.

“You’re the one with all the muscles,” Viper said and met Caeliana’s gaze through the swirling vapor. “Gonna need that bread more than I do. Suit yourself, though.” He lifted the spoon and had a taste of the soup. “More seasoning,” he mumbled, seemingly to himself, and he sprinkled another pinch into the pot. He then realized that she would’ve heard what he said and he added: “No, it won’t be as rich as the pig. Don’t worry.”

“You could use some muscle, to keep up with me on this journey,” she said with a smirk. “It’s only fair… I share things, we need to do that now.”

Having Caeliana here, talking about responsibility and honour, was such a sharp contrast to Viper’s usual experiences in the wasteland that it was almost surreal. It wasn’t a topic that was ever brought up in conversation outside Windhelm’s walls. On the occasions that Viper had talked to people while he was out ranging, survival was the only thing on anyone’s mind. He was about to speak his mind on the topic and opened his mouth, only to immediately close it again. He held up a hand and his knife-shaped ears twitched. Something was on the move outside the ruin.

“Hear that?” he hissed while his other hand reached for Heartseeker’s grip.

She had heard it, and she moved slowly forwards from the rock getting low to the ground, a hand on the hilt of her sword. She moved so precisely that it was in front of her in no time at all, without having made a sound. She did not need to say anything to him. Right at dinner… Couldn’t have been before… she thought to herself as she moved to the edge of the ruin so slowly that her cloak just dragged behind her, making no movement of its own. Her eyes narrowed as she tried to make out shapes on the perimeter, but there was nothing.

A blue aura formed in her hand, and her shield lifted from the place she had left it and came floating towards her until she took it into her hand. The silence was broken by a long and low howl outside. A horrifying howl that sent an immediate shiver down her spine. “You ever hear a wolf like that?” she asked under her breath, turning her head to look at him - a concerned and intense burning look in her eyes.

“Yes,” Viper whispered back, but it was bad news. “N’wahs get bigger every year.” Even after having left one at the watchtower, he still had two bear traps left and the Dunmer wasted no time installing them just behind two of the openings in the half-collapsed walls of the ruin. The wolves -- he doubted there was just one, the beasts traveled in packs -- had multiple angles of attack and the two of them couldn’t cover them all. Having installed the second trap, Viper looked around, mind racing, wondering if they were ready, where he could best position himself, what he needed to do. His eyes fell on the remnants of an interior wall, located squarely in the middle of the ruin, covered in moss and lichen. Despite its crumbled state, it was still a good way to put nine feet of extra space between him and the wolves and it allowed him to maintain overview of the situation. Quick as a spider, Viper pulled himself up and crouched on top of the wall on one knee, crossbow at the ready.

Outside, the wolves began to growl. “Not long now,” Viper breathed.

“Hmmm” She hummed, still low to the ground. She’d fought wolves in the pit before, they hunted in packs and they were smart about it. It would only take one of them to knock Caeliana or Viper down, she would be a fool to believe that it wouldn’t. How many? Was what she needed to find out, and she needed to break them from their cover so Viper could get his eyes on one and take a shot. But first, protection. Her hand came to her chest and she closed her eyes, focussing her magicka to her palm so that she could cast her Stoneflesh. She would be taking the hits - not Viper. She thought to throw a dose of Courage at him, but she figured he’d lay into her for it later.

Her eyes focussed on a rock just a short distance from her and she gave a nod to Viper, to let him know she was about to do something, her hand gesturing to the very rock she was about to throw into the clearing, and smack it into the bark of a tree. The noise might startle the wolves, and allow Viper to get the overview he needed.

It happened so fast. The spell was cast and the rock was lobbed forwards and into the trunk of the tree with such a force that it become lodged there. Out of the shadows sprung a single wolf - but it was much bigger than the ones she had seen, it had to be three or four times the size. “Oh shi…” she spat, coming up from the ground with her shield clutched in one hand, sword held out in the other. “That’s a big wolf Viper…” she said quietly, watching it sniff aggressively at the source of the noise.

Viper's eyes watched the trajectory of the rock with great interest. He had to admit to himself that he was pleasantly surprised with Caeliana's tactics. For someone who had only ever fought in the ring before, she took to this type of asymmetrical combat quickly. When the huge wolf appeared as if conjured by the rock, Viper clenched his jaw and raised his crossbow in position. Caeliana was right. It had to be among the biggest wolves Viper had ever seen. He'd have to strike the animal right in the skull to kill it instantly, and that was easier said than done.

But that's why all his bolts were poisoned.

He squeezed the trigger. The bolt hit the wolf in the flank as it took a step back from the tree and it yowled in surprise and pain. Growls came from two other directions in response. While Heartseeker's mechanics cycled to load another bolt, Viper followed the movements of one of the wolves with his ears, tilting his head to keep track of the source of the sound. It sounded like it was going to step into his trap any second now. Viper whistled to grab Caeliana's attention and he pointed to the right side of the ruins. With the Imperial at the ready, anything that triggered the trap could be slain immediately.

She moved quickly. A nod was all that was needed before she dove with precision in the direction Viper had alerted her to. She heard, and felt, the trap spring. It was so forceful that it vibrate through the earth and even the stone under her feet. That was a big one too. She came to the wall, and used the very rock she had been sitting on as a stepping stone of sorts to propel her leap to the top of the crumbling wall.

The wolf had his front leg in the trap. Good. It was big enough to mount, and so she did, hopping down onto his back, the sword in her hand slicing gracefully through the flesh of the neck in a downwards motion. It wasn’t enough to kill the beast, as she was to learn when he shook her free from his back, lunging at her. Mistake. She may have been on her back, but she held the sword at such an angle that the wolf came down on it with its own weight. “Hnnngrh,” she grunted as she pushed it off herself, realising her sudden predicament - she could no longer see Viper, and thus she could not receive his instruction until she got back over the wall. In this scenario, every second would count.

Viper opened his mouth to call out to Caeliana after she disappeared from his line of sight when the third wolf leapt into the interior of the ruins through one of the other openings, avoiding the bear trap by jumping over it. “Clever girl,” Viper growled and whirled his crossbow around to shoot at the beast. He was too slow, however, and before he could take aim and fire the wolf crested the wall he was kneeling on in a single bound and swiped at him with a huge paw, claws out. With nowhere else to go, Viper jumped backwards and off the wall, one hand extended in front of him, dousing the wolf in a shower of flames before he slammed into the ground nine feet below. The wind was knocked out of him and he winced, gasping for air. Above him, the wolf yelped in pain. The fire singed its fur and burnt its nose but the brief burst hadn’t been enough to set the wolf alight completely, and Viper could see its glowing eyes stare down on him menacingly, a guttural growl in its throat and drool dripping from its slavering fangs.

“Fuck,” Viper groaned.

She had to go around this time, the drop had been further than she could jump back up, and so she moved back around the wall, the scent of smoke filled her nostrils to her lungs and she almost stopped in her tracks to avoid it - but Viper was backed up. It was the third wolf, but the first was up and moving to the camp too. It was slower, with the poison coursing through it but it was still moving. She had a choice to make, hit number three or number one - she was dead centre of the two of them.

Viper came first, and she turned her back on the other one, something she was sure to get a lecture about when all was done. She intercepted the attack the burnt wolf was about to make on Viper with a rounding smack to its face with her shield. That got the attention she wanted, she moved to bring her blade down onto it with all of her weight, but the wolf snapped at her sword arm and nipped at her, it was enough to cause the Imperial to flinch and fall back, her sword dropped to the floor and her arm was left feeling sore. The steel bracers and Stoneflesh had nullified most of the damage but it had still taken her by surprise, worse yet, she hadn’t landed a blow.

As it lurched forwards at her again, she pushed back with her shield and made a blunt thudding contact with its nose. “Might need some assistance,” she called out through gritted teeth as she continued to shield bash the wolf, guiding it back and away from Viper with each whack.

After a few excruciating seconds, Viper was finally able to breathe again and he sprang into action, rolling onto his abdomen. The first wolf, the one with the bolt sticking out of it, was still approaching, but slowly, as if it couldn’t find the opening it was looking for. Viper quickly raised Heartseeker to his eye before pulling the trigger. The second bolt hit the beast right between the eyes and it collapsed to the ground like a marionette with its strings cut.

Only one wolf left. Viper scrambled to his feet and with a loud thwang and a wicked snick, Blackblood sprang from its sheath in Viper’s vambrace and into position. The serrated blade gleamed menacingly in the light of the campfire. Caeliana hit the wolf in the face with her shield one more time before Viper dashed forward, taking advantage of the wolf’s pain and disorientation, and slashed at its soft belly. Blackblood cut through the wolf’s hide like it was nothing, leaving behind a horribly jagged wound. Blood and guts spilled to the ground with a sickening splash and the wolf let out a bloodcurdling scream. It would be dead within a minute but Viper feared what it might do with the time it had left, prompting him to back away as fast as possible, his outstretched hand at the ready, fire coming to life in his palm. “Back off!” he yelled at Caeliana.

She did as he said once more, taking a hop backwards and dropping to the floor, the shield held up in front of her to protect her from stray flame. She stayed down until she was sure it was done. She could smell the flesh of the wolf burning. That, mixed with the smoke and the blood smell was almost too much and she had to put a hand over her mouth.

“I think you got it!” She yelled out from behind the shield still as the flames died down. At least, if nothing else, she had warmed up now. Not only that, but she was sweating and her heart was pounding from the adrenaline. Each breath was a struggle to catch and she flopped down onto her bottom now that the coast was clear. Caeliana let go of the shield and let it clatter to the ground. “Looks like we have meat for the soup now then,” was all she could think to say in between each breath and she looked over at Viper with a raised eyebrow.

The fight was over but that did not mean that the danger had passed. Viper flicked his wrist in a particular way and Blackblood retracted and resheathed itself while Heartseeker hung from a shoulder strap, leaving his hands free. He pulled a dagger from his boot and knelt down to skin the roasted wolf. “Pack up your stuff. You’ll have to carry the cooking put. Put the lid on it. We have to get out of here as soon as possible,” Viper said, his arm moving up and down with a sawing motion as he relieved the wolf of its hide. “Something will have heard this racket and I don’t want to stay to find out what it is.”

“You think it’s safer on the road in the dark?” She asked, reluctant to believe him, despite his experience. “You want me to walk on the road with a pot full of soup and you covered in blood?” The Imperial folded her arms over her chest, shaking her head. While he was right, something may have heard this - they would have heard it regardless, being on the road like this wasn’t really going to help them, was it? “Where will we go? We need a better plan than that. We can't just walk out there, surely.” The woman got down to collect her sword from the ground, the weight of it straining her wrist as she sheathed it.

“Not the road. Fuck the road.” Viper looked up at Caeliana with irritation in his eyes. “You're supposed to do everything I say. Trust me that we do not want to stay here. We'll go across the field to the edge of the forest. Go, grab your stuff.”

She grumbled under her breath back at him, doing as he asked in an indignant fashion. She lifted the shield over her shoulder and fixed it to the clasp so that it sat comfortably - and as he had requested she rolled up her things and stuffed them into her bag at a fast pace. “I’ll do what you say, never promised I wouldn’t ask questions about it.” The lid went back on the pot with a clatter and she lifted it up. “Lead the way then.”

And so they went, dashing across the field with naught but moon- and starlight to guide them. Viper, unencumbered by the pot, reached the edge of the forest first and used Blackblood to cut down severallow-hanging branches of the ubiquitous pine trees. He used some of the rope in his backpack to tie the branches together and in doing so created a makeshift shelter, like an open-topped pine-igloo. He beckoned for Caeliana to step inside and motioned to stay low. He knelt himself down and created a small gap in the thick wall of needles to stare out over the field, towards the ruin they had just abandoned. A quick look at Caeliana conveyed the need for utter silence.

Nothing happened. Ten minutes later, nothing continued to happen. At last, Viper exhaled slowly and turned back to Caeliana. “Looks like we’re in the clear,” he muttered. “And don’t tell me I’m paranoid,” he added quickly and held up an accusatory finger. “We only need to be unlucky once out here and that’s it for us.”

“Yeah. I know,” she whispered in response, watching out across the field, making out as much as she could in the dark. It wasn't easy to make anything out, or perhaps there was just nothing there. She reached into her bag carefully and took out the bread crust she'd stowed away in there. It had managed to pick up some dust from the ground of their last camp. Caeliana blew it off, wiping it against her cloak before she began to eat it, without the soup.

She had imagined that there might have been more roaming, exploring and adventure on her first day out - but it had been sneaking and vigilance and fighting. There had not even been a soul out with them. The only life having been the wolves that she and Viper had slain. She didn't want to feel deflated, it had only been one day - and yet she felt that this would be the first of a string of days like this. She stretched her legs so that they would poke out of the igloo that Viper had made, and she sighed quietly, wondering what the Dunmer would do next, and whether it was time to eat yet.

The Night Needs the Starlight


Alik’r Desert, Oasis
16th of Midyear, 4E208

featuring @Stormflyx





Having left Latro to his devices now, and satisfied with the work they had accomplished together - the Breton made her way back through the mouth of the cave and headed with a smile to the tent she had been sharing with Gregor. There was a lightness to her step today. Rest, water, and shifting baggage had done wonders for her spirit. There was only one thing she wanted to do, and that was to spend the morning alone with her Knight, and make sure he was feeling good too.

She observed him sitting with a cup of something warm, his Claymore in hand and a cloth to oil it with. Even in the desert heat, it was good to start the day with something to warm the chest and soul, and she knew that for Gregor, routine work on his blade was also something that warmed his soul. As she drew closer to him, she wound the top section of her hair into a loose bun on the crown of her head, fixing a beaded pin from her pocket to hold it in place right at the centre.

“You’re up,” she said as she approached, reaching down to take a sip from the cup next to him. It was a honey tea, sweet and somewhat luxurious. “Can we take a walk? I want to show you something…” There was an air of mystery on her tone, but her eyes had lit up when she saw him and she wore only an expression of pure joy upon her face.

Gregor had been about to protest by saying that he wasn’t finished with his routine yet when he looked up and saw the look on Raelynn’s face and the gleam in her beautiful eyes. There was no resisting that, so the Imperial put his belongings away and got to his feet with a curious smile on his face. He had found the time to wash his hair and his clothes sometime before and he looked well-groomed, if still tired.

“Lead the way,” he said and took her arm in his own.

The two walked arm in arm down the same passageway of the cave that she had walked through just the day before with Daro’Vasora. She traced the memory of her footsteps carefully until she could feel the breeze again, and it was then that she gave Gregor a knowing smile. “I came here yesterday with Sora, we did some exploring…” She began to hurry to the source of the sound of water, and walked the two of them through the gap in the wall that lead out into the hot spring of the Oasis. It looked even more radiant in the morning somehow, every crystal in the wall glimmering and glittering, the water an even brighter blue that seemed unnaturally beautiful, but ever so inviting regardless.

“I thought it was time we talked,” she said to him softly. She knew that such words were often the signal for serious discussion, but there was a breezy tone in her voice that would refute any notion of such a thing.

“By Kynareth,” Gregor whispered involuntarily as he laid eyes upon the crystalline walls of the cave and the pure spring at its heart. He had not seen natural beauty like this in many years. Possibly ever. He thought about Shakti’s words from the day before and smiled. It wasn’t hard to imagine that someone who had lived their whole lives in the Alik’r was so attached to it.

Raelynn’s words brought him back to the present and he nodded, catching on to the fact that she meant nothing malicious by it. The water of the spring was so inviting that Gregor held up a finger and slipped out of his linens with a mischievous sparkle in his eyes. He lowered himself in the spring and let out an audible groan of satisfaction. “Now we can talk,” he purred and motioned for Raelynn to join him.

She beamed at him, watching as each of his garments fell the rocks around the spring piece by piece. She couldn’t resist making a show of her own undressing for him, unbuttoning her blouse almost painstakingly slow until it slid from her shoulders and arms like liquid. She smiled flirtatiously at him, turning to face away as she removed her bottoms, and began a slow walk backwards into the spring - meeting him there with a sigh.

The water was once again so refreshing and invigorating, that she felt any sleepiness that was still sitting within her was washed away. “You’ve been quite popular the last couple of days… I feel I’ve barely seen you at all. I do hope Jaraleet doesn’t round the corners for another interrogation…” she chuckled roguishly to herself, as she waded to the edge of the pool.

“Missed me, have you?” Gregor said in a slow drawl. He felt the tension in his muscles begin to unwind a little and he allowed himself to rest, almost slack, against the side of the spring. “I like Jaraleet but I’m not ready for him to see me naked just yet.”

After a few more seconds he took a deep breath and sat up straighter, splashing some water in his face to freshen him up. “Was there something specific you wanted to talk about?”

“I just don’t like to share you,” she smiled while inching closer to him, “is that so bad?” The thought of Jaraleet walking in tickled her, and Gregor’s comment did nothing to stop her giggling. It was a childish and silly thing to think about, all things considered, but the image of it in her mind was amusing and she couldn’t help it. At the end of her laughter, she found her words. “Actually yes,” she tipped her head back against the edge, thinking of how best to say it. The best way was to be out with it, she finally decided. “I spoke to Zaveed yesterday, twice in fact.”

“The first time was not good, he was abrupt and forceful with his choice of words. A short conversation and I told him to kindly fuck off.” Raelynn lifted the lengths of her hair that were loose and let them hang over her shoulder, away from the sharp surface of the rocks surrounding her. “The second time was different, I had been feeling unwell and I suppose that made me more cordial.” Turning her head to face Gregor, she placed her hand on the back of his, “I wanted you to know about this.”

Gregor had to resist the absurd urge to pull back his hand from hers, but he could not hide the grim frown that settled on his face. The severity of his expression, combined with the droplets that rested in his beard, made him look like an old god that rose from its pond, displeased with intruders. “What is there to be gained from talking to him?” he said. “When I talked to him he was just as insolent and vulgar as he was during his taunts when he tried to kill me, and he evidently did not heed my request to leave you alone.” Gregor’s simmering anger momentarily parted when he realised that it could have been even more unpleasant for Raelynn. “Are you alright?” he asked, softer.

Where just days ago, she may have remained in her spot as Gregor grew tense, today it did not deter her, and she moved closer to him still, a small smile on her lips. “He’s vulgar by nature, I’m sorry he was like that to you. If it makes you feel better I scolded him for being a shit at the caravan.” She began to run her hands over Gregor’s shoulders, fingers tracing over the lines of his muscle. She thought on his question, and nodded in response. “It’s strange… We argued, and I refused him and it was as if I felt immediately better… I felt a little lighter. To not have to anticipate that very conversation, knowing that it was done and it didn’t kill me or hurt me… I felt better.” She gathered by Gregor’s expression and hints that he had not felt better. “Then last night we spoke about… Changing and being better… It was stranger still, after that I felt even more free of him. The first thing I was able to think about was… You.”

Some petulant, childish part of him grew jealous at the idea that Zaveed could do anything at all to make Raelynn feel better where he had not, but that idiotic notion was squashed with her last few words. Slowly, Gregor’s frown disappeared and he smiled as he studied her face and enjoyed the sensation of her fingers on his skin. He placed his own hands on her waist and pulled her a little closer, until their noses were almost touching. “I can’t say I entirely understand,” he murmured, his chest vibrating with the deep thrum of his voice. “But if you say that it made you feel better, I believe you. It’s…” He looked around the cave and sighed. “I wish it worked like that for me. When I see him, talk to him, all I feel is anger and bitter resentment.”

Her smile did not fade when he made his confession, but it was not out of disrespect - more so that it came from the most comforting parts of her, the parts that had been released from the cloud of Zaveed now. She placed a kiss on the tip of his nose and wrapped her legs around his waist, to be as close to him as she possibly could. “It’s okay if you don’t understand. You don’t have to understand it, and I wouldn’t expect you to right now. He is not my friend, we have spoken, but he is not my friend.” She said reassuringly to him as her hand dropped over his shoulder to gently stroke the area of his back where his shoulder blades met. She stroked him as softly as she would the petals of a flower, her eyes never leaving his, her smile warmer than ever.

“Of course you are angry, he hurt us, and I was the one who sent you after him. You did that for me,” her voice was quietly resonant and with her free hand, she began to play with the strands of hair that were framing his face. “I put that there, and there it stays until I can take it away. I want to take it away.”

It was like a lockbox in his chest was opened, its bonds uncoiled by Raelynn’s soft words and touch, and a sharp inhale of air preceded Gregor burying his face in the nape of her neck. Like she had done to him so many times before, he clung to her for strength and support now, and he bit back a trembling curse as the agony of all the wounds Zaveed had dealt him flared up again. “I want that,” he whispered, eyes closed and hands trembling. “It’s so heavy…. I have nightmares about it, about everything,” he said, words tumbling from him with increasing urgency. “Zaveed, when I was dying, inside the palace, Rourken -- I dream that I gun myself down with a volley of bullets, that it is my own blade that cuts me, that the souls I capture are just my own…”

He ran a hand up the back of Raelynn’s head, his fingers digging deep into her hair, and he gasped for breath as hot tears ran down his cheeks. The outburst of emotion was sudden and painful. Calen’s sincere question had created an opening in the steel walls Gregor had built around himself and now Raelynn had burst the dam entirely. “I don’t feel like myself anymore,” he stammered. “My hands… and all these scars,” he continued, his voice tinged by disgust and fear. “I thought I was fine. When we went to the palace… I was strong, confident. I don’t regret going there, or what I did, but maybe… maybe it was too much.”

Gregor swallowed hard. “I’m not getting better. I’m still so tired. When I talked to Calen he asked me how I was doing.” Gregor laughed, but it was an ugly, strangled sound that startled even him. He planted a kiss just below Raelynn’s ear to comfort her, and himself. “I wanted to cry. I can’t let go of my anger for Zaveed because I don’t know if--”

A few seconds passed in silence while Gregor’s shoulders shook. “I don’t know if I’ll be okay,” he managed eventually, his voice small and weak.

Raelynn had just been massaging the back of his neck while he spoke, she let him talk, she let him release - and she could feel it in his body when he had done so, the way he wilted when it all left him. She held a pause for a while, working her fingers harder against his shoulders. She rose up from the water so she was then looking down on him, piecing together her phrasing internally. “Then I will make you okay again.”

“Now that… Now that the shadow and pain that had been left by Zaveed has gone,” her fingers found each side of his face and she gently turned him to look up at her, thumbs brushing through his beard tenderly, her smile still there. There were no tears in her eyes. “The weight that was crushing me from inside has gone, and it left a void in me - space to love, and room to nourish.” The Breton kissed his forehead softly. “I have so much love in me now, so much to give. It’s all yours, all of it.”

“When I first met you, Gregor… I was just a girl, with no direction and little in the way of purpose…” She began to slide her hands down the sides of his neck, to his chest where the scars lay and boldly she ran her fingers across them, unafraid. “You gave me a purpose. You made me feel special. You make me feel special. When I’m with you I’m the strongest woman in the world.” She swallowed back a wave of her own emotion, taking his hand and placing it on the place where he would feel her heart beating. She placed her own on his. “So yes, I will heal you everyday - I will never give up on you… When everything feels dark, and everything starts to fall around you… I will be there. I will be your strength. I will always be there to save you.”

Like ugly strands of oil, Gregor’s anger seeped out of him. He became acutely aware of Raelynn’s heartbeat, his splayed hand pressed against her chest, and felt how his own heart thundered against his ribs, as if it wanted to leap through his skin and into Raelynn’s hand. He took a deep, shuddering breath and wiped away his tears.

With everything stripped away, his walls, his anger, his bitterness, his fear, Gregor was left with nothing but his deepest emotions. He felt two things: his love for Raelynn, bright and overwhelming, but a twinned darkness as well -- the things he buried deeper than anything else. Shame and regret.

For a moment, it was like he was a young man again, his beard too big for his face, his scars unbecoming, and he looked up Raelynn with insecurity in his eyes. “Am I a monster?”

“No,” she said calmly, brushing his hair again with the very tips of her fingers. “You’re just a man,” Raelynn smiled down at him, longing to take the pain and insecurity that was sitting there away with a snap of her fingers. But she knew that’s not how it worked, it required time, and affirmation, and work, and love. All of these things she had in abundance, for him. “But you’re a remarkable man, with a devastating past, doing everything he can for those he loves.”

Her fingers once again found their way to his beard, to his chin and she pulled him closer to her - close enough that her lips touched his and she held him there, kissing him lovingly. She pulled away slowly so that she could look into his eyes that were darker than ebony and told her his haunting story with only a glance, the remnants of his past life lay in those eyes. “I love you Gregor Sibassius.”

He nodded, almost imperceptibly, and mouthed the words after her: ’just a man’. She was right. Even if the mask he had put on when he strode into Rourken’s throne room and paraded her undead lover in front of her had been that of a monster, he was just a man on a quest. Raelynn saw that, the love he had for his siblings that had been the impetus for it all, and looked past the cruelty of his methods or the violent nature of his crimes. If she could love him, then… all would be well.

“I love you too, Raelynn Hawkford,” he whispered back. The weight of his life filled out his face once more but it was different now. It was neither the impassive mask of a killer, nor the fragile, soulful face of a weakened creature. It was the determined, noble countenance of the man he had been when he had met Raelynn in Anvil, a man who was so strong in his convictions, born from love and willpower, that he had denounced the gods, for their judgement was beneath him. He was righteous and he knew it. He was still damaged, and he probably would be for a while, but now he had what he needed to keep going. This would not be the moment where Gregor succumbed.

Suddenly he rose from the spring, his muscular torso shimmering with water, until his gaze was level with Raelynn’s, his strong arms around her. “You make me feel alive,” he said, power having returned to his voice, and he couldn’t suppress his grin. It felt like his chest was going to burst. “Like anything is possible. Together, we will take what we want and what we deserve.” He kissed her back, passionately and with force. “Thank you.”

The flutters from the night before had returned to her, and her smile became playfully devious, but there was an elated feeling inside that lit up her eyes as he looked at her. His passion, his words. She felt his spirit returning, and although she knew it would continue to take them both some time, she knew that they were on their way now, together. “So let’s be alive then,” she remarked in a honeyed whisper, kissing him back with a hungry vigour, tantalised by the very thought of them taking what was theirs - even if she was unable to picture what exactly that was in the current moment.

“Let’s,” he hummed, but there was something else in his eyes -- something deeper and more meaningful than the mere return of his spirit. A tenderness and a desire that was more powerful than any call to action. “And when all this is said and done,” he said, voice restrained but laced with love, as if he had never meant anything more in his life, “let’s build a home.”

That was it. That was the dream, right there. The very image she had pictured when she had first been set free - a home, and he had just put it into words and made it real. Suddenly, the air of cool and happy confidence she had been exuding to get her man back upright dripped from her and she just about melted with it. She was no longer holding him up alone, he had her too. Her head found its way to his neck, where she whispered into his ear, a feeling of euphoria sitting in her heart, “you’re already my home.”
15th of Rain’s Hand, 5E150
Windhelm, Skyrim


The underbelly of the Temple of Talos was empty, dark, and damp. It was precisely those things that meant it was a perfect place for Caeliana to remain undisturbed. People didn’t like to be in empty, dark places like that that lay under the shadow of a Divine who had not prevented the Calamity, and seemed to have long forgotten his worshippers. In a lonesome corridor, Caeliana had made a small den - the walls illuminated by a series of torches that lit up the stone with an orange glow.

The flames flickered and moved from the motions and gusts of air she was creating with her sword as she danced around with it. The echoes of the swishes sounded down the corridor - the only other sound being her breath with each jab and thrust. She wasn’t as fast today. Wulfharth had let his guards do just enough of a number on her that she still felt bruised and sore. She had still sat high enough in his favour to let the incident with the bear slide and not result in open wounds - or lashings like Biruk the guard had suggested. The whole thing had gotten her out of the pit for a few days though, and that was a blessing. Maybe Talos was watching over her after all.

Her bust lip was sore and her ribs ached enough to prevent her from moving as freely and aggressively as she wanted to. Armour was out of the question too, much too heavy right now. At least she’d had that damn jersey patched up though. Only the flames of the torches kept her warm now. She would slip back into her cloak when she had sufficiently purged the remaining agitated energy from her body. “Damn this place...” she huffed, expelling air from her lungs and anger too. “Fuck Windhelm… Fuck the guards… Fuck Biruk…” she continued, slashing at the air as best she could - her balance near perfect all things considered.

The door to the Temple opened and a gust of cold wind shot into the undercroft. Backlit by the featureless, pale daylight was Crimson-Eyes-Killer-Viper, the eccentric and irritable Dunmer scavenger and hunter that called Windhelm, begrudgingly, his home. Viper closed the door behind him and descended the stairs. The sounds of Caeliana’s voice and the slashes of her sword carried through the halls and corridors of the subterranean Temple and Viper followed the noise until he came upon the torch-lit corridor where the Imperial gladiator was practicing. Viper leaned against the wall and a spark of flame appeared between his fingertips, lighting the tobacco in his pipe and briefly illuminating his distinctive eyes.

“Got yourself in trouble again,” he growled. His voice was as deep and raspy as the rest of his kin. “What did you do this time?”

There was one thing that the Dunmer always managed to do, and that was to sneak up on Caeliana. Whether it was on purpose, or just the way he was - she was never fully sure. As if on cue, he had appeared in the darkness to startle her, back from whatever weary adventure beyond the walls he’d been on this time. She slowed down from her practice to catch her breath again, she was feeling rather tired of the fast pace by now. She began to step as slowly as she could, still swiping down at invisible foes - only now as if she was moving underwater. “Killed a bear. Put him out of his misery.” There was no sense in lying to Viper, he had a keen sense for sniffing out the truth eventually. “Hello to you to, by the way,” she grumbled back at him while she waited for his usual lecture.

“In the ring?” Viper shook his head and rolled his eyes. “You have to stop breaking his toys. He might break you one day. I've said it so many times: keep your head down, don't do anything stupid,” he continued before a sigh escaped him. “Bet you thought it was worth it, too.”

To explain or not? The thought did cross her mind but by now she knew better than to try explaining her reasoning to him. She simply looked him dead in the eye, with the same look she always had when something was important to her, eyes narrowed and hardened.“It was the right thing to do.” She rolled her shoulders, softening her stance at last. “What did you get up to this time anyway? You were gone a little longer than usual.”

Putting an animal out of its misery at the expense of one's own health hardly seemed like the right thing to do to Viper, but that's how Caeliana was. All these lofty ideals and morals from those damned books. He decided to let the topic go and answered her question instead.

“The usual.” The tobacco in his pipe went out and, annoyed, Viper paused to light it again. “Last site I hit gave me some trouble. On the tundra. Old watchtower. Pack of reavers showed up at the same time. Took down two of them, no problem, but the other two waited inside the tower ‘till nightfall.” He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, blowing out rings of smoke that drifted lazily throughout the air. “Long story short, I was shittin’ myself less than fifty yards from a vampire killing two grown men in seconds. Waited ‘till it left, grabbed what I could and scrammed. Took a different route home. Left my fucking bear trap, too.”

“A vampire?” that grabbed her attention. Her fingers closed tighter around the hilt of her sword as if she thought the offending creature would descend upon them there and then. “Where did it come from?” she asked as she paced towards Viper. “Was it just one of them? Have you told the guards? Did the vampire have a nest?” Her eyes flitted back and forth as she considered the scenario. She barely gave him time to register a question before she had another one locked and loaded and ready to fire at him. “Do you think he saw you? Followed you?” Her body tensed up again. A fucking vampire! She thought to herself as she paced back down the corridor again, finally relaxing the grip on her sword.

“Great gods of nowhere, woman,” Viper mumbled, exasperated. “Do you ever stop asking questions? No, it didn’t see me and it didn’t follow me. I’ve no fucking idea if it has a nest. You think I’m gonna risk my neck to find out? It went back the way it came, up the hills and into the forests ‘round the Throat of the World. This happened two days out from Windhelm, Caeliana. Don’t worry about it.”

“I’m only asking to gather information, do you have to get so short about it?” She smirked over at him, but only a little. She ran the sword back into its sheath and took a seat on a rock by the wall, resting her elbows onto her knees. “It just might be dangerous to have vampires coming closer. If you need someone to come out and help you… I can help.” The Imperial looked up from her seat at him, eyes wide. It wasn’t the first time she’d made the suggestion.

Viper couldn’t help but flash a wry smile. “And by helping, you’re talking about tracking down the vampire and killing it, right? You know that’s not what I do. Nobody does, and with good reason. It’s suicide. The only way I’ve survived so long is by minding my own business. I know what you’re thinking. What about all the poor people out there? Why don’t we do anything to help them?” The Dunmer scoffed and pointed in the direction of the Palace of the Kings through the walls of the undercroft. “That’s on Wulfharth, not us. He keeps the gates shut. I’m just an old elf trying to scrape by, and you’re a girl with a sword. No offense, but you’ve never been outside. You don’t know what it’s like. Not really.”

Her arms folded over her chest at his words and her foot began tapping at the ground. Next, the eyebrows furrowed and a scowl appeared on her heart shaped face where a smile had been just moments ago. “You could do with being less sardonic. If you weren’t you might not have to find company with a disgraced gladiator under a Temple, you know?” She huffed again, standing back up from her seat sharply. “When was the last time you saw me fight in the pit? You know I’m more than a girl with a sword.”

Her fingers rapped over the handle impatiently and she began pacing again, blowing a hair from her face as it fell from her bun. “Besides, you used to give me books that told stories of how one sword can change the world! One sword!” she repeated to him, coming closer to his face, wafting some of the smoke away with the back of her hand. “You’re right about one thing though… I have never stepped outside the walls. But I’m never going to stop asking until you take me, and if you don’t - I will go it alone.”

Viper groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. He was silent for a long time. “How old are you now?” he asked suddenly.

“I’m… 27 in just a few months,” she responded, the drama of her speech wearing off and her own temper calming back down again. She might have gone overboard this time.

The Dunmer nodded to himself. “Old enough to decide things for yourself,” he said. “By human standards, anyway.” He squared his shoulders and put out his pipe. “Can't believe I'm saying this. Fine. But!” Viper pressed a finger against Caeliana's sternum forcefully. “You do everything I say. If we have to fight, we fight, but if we don't have to, we don't. Survival is as much about avoiding danger as it is about defeating it. If you cross someone out there they won't just rough you up a little. They'll eat your liver. Got it?”

She frowned at him, at the jabbing of his finger and she swatted it away before a smile came to her face again as she realised what the Dunmer was saying. “I swear it on Talos himself…” Caeliana stepped backwards to a statue, where she got down to her haunches to reach behind, scrambling around - feeling her way through the dark until her fingers found a leather strap that she dragged out of the hidden space. She had been hiding it for some time. A bag, filled with supplies, hoarded rations, and a bed roll. “I'm glad you've finally gotten on board,” she sighed and her smile faded. “There's nothing here, Viper. I'd rather die out there than in here.”

Laughing in earnest for the first time in weeks, Viper laid eyes on the bag Caeliana conjured from its hiding spot. “You really weren’t kidding when you said you would’ve gone out there by yourself, eh?. Now you’ve left me no choice.” He was grumbling, but there was a glint in his eyes that showed he was still amused. “Can’t let you go out there by yourself. This Talos of yours would never forgive me.”

He looked back at her and frowned at her last words. “Don’t say shit like that,” Viper hissed. “A lot of people before you have had the same thoughts. Trust me when I say they all regretted it when they were crying for their mothers with their guts in their hands. You have to go out there with the mindset that you cannot and will not allow yourself to die.”

Her eyes broke from his gaze as she thought about the severity of his words. “Sounds like those men needed a girl with a sword on their side.” There was no arrogance to her words, and she half smiled back up towards him. “You already said Wulfharth will break me sooner or later, who is to say he won't spill my guts. Danger in here, danger out there. I'd rather risk it. I mean that. I mean, imagine his stupid fucking face when he realises his number Nine crossed the wall.”

“Would you even be allowed back in, once you’ve done that?” Viper asked skeptically. “There’s no real sanctuary to be found beyond these walls. Longest I’ve ever gone without returning to Windhelm is three weeks. You’ll be signing up for a lifetime of fear, stress and danger, if Wulfharth wants to make an example out of you and refuse you.”

“Yes, I have good warrior's blood, he'd find a way to use that.” She fell silent, averting her eyes from Viper once more, turning her face away now while she pretended to look for something in the bag. “And you're wrong, there is something out there. I know it, I feel it.” She knew he would have something cynical to rebuke it with, but she didn't care. He had said yes, that's all she needed.

Rising to the bait, Viper huffed indignantly. “Like what? I’m one-hundred-and-twelve years old, Caeliana. You think you can feel something out there that I haven’t seen yet? You’re not a mystic, you’re a woman with a dream. It’s admirable, but mistaken. You can come with me and see for yourself, but don’t be surprised if you find me telling you ‘I told you so’ before long.”

“Oh simmer down,” she called out at him, “take another puff of your pipe already.” There was no malice in her tone as she attempted to disarm him and have him wind his irritation at her back in, she even made a winding motion with her hand, mischief in her eyes. “You're right, I'm not a mystic. And if we go out there and you are correct then you can be hold it over my head forever that you were right. But, if I'm right… If I'm right and we do find something out there, then don’t be surprised if you find me telling you that ‘I told you so’.” The Imperial rose to her height, the bag looped over her shoulder and a dimpled smile on her face.

“Bah.” Viper waved dismissively. After a second or two, he lit up the pipe again. “Say what you want.” He looked at the bag over her shoulder and shook his head. “I still have business here. Meet me by the gates at dawn tomorrow. Don’t do something stupid again in the meantime, alright?”
Reavers.

The drug-addled, psychopathic maniacs that roamed the wilderness of Skyrim in small packs, armed to the teeth and too crazy to be afraid of the monsters that they shared their land with. Crimson-Eyes-Killer-Viper knew them all too well. Rejected by the civilized settlements -- or what passed for civilization anyway -- they made their home in abandoned forts and other ruins of the old world. Just like him, they scavenged for supplies, gear and valuables. Unlike him, they also raided farms, made the roads unsafe and killed innocents for sport. Viper narrowed his eyes at the sight of them and pulled his cloak a little tighter around himself.

He was perched sixteen feet up in the branches of a huge pine tree, scoping out the watchtower in the valley below him. There were signs of recent settlement around the tower but the place looked to be abandoned now. Knowing that appearances could be deceiving, Viper had settled into the tree for the day. If nothing else, he was a patient elf when it came to his work. His experience paid off once again when the reavers showed up. There looked to be four of them. Viper was unsure whether they were the ones that lived in the watchtower and were coming back from their own mission, or whether they were currently still on one. As far as living arrangements went outside of the massive walls of Windhelm, they could do worse than the watchtower. Viper snowly nibbled away at a piece of dried meat while the reavers fanned out across the tundra that surrounded the watchtower. The way they overturned the tents and cooking pots that were scattered about told Viper all he needed to know. They were on the prowl, same as him.

“Good,” Viper muttered to himself. “Unfamiliar with the lay of the land, distracted by their search. Easy.”

Slow as slow, the Dunmer climbed down and out of the tree. Once on the ground, Viper kept low and crawled down the hill towards the tundra, using glacial boulders that had been deposited there since before the time of man as cover to stay out of sight. At the bottom of the hill Viper peeked out over the top of one of the boulders, his face hidden by the hood of his cloak. One of the reavers kept watch outside while the other three had entered the watchtower. Even from here, some hundred yards away, Viper could hear them hollering and whooping to each other.

“High on something. Hist sap, maybe. Won’t feel pain. Shoot to kill.”

With practiced ease, Viper’s fingers unfastened Heartseeker from its strap and gently laid the crossbow across the boulder. The Dunmer never took his eyes off the reaver. Now that he was a little closer he could see that he was a male Nord, and a strong specimen too. His torso was bare and he kept rolling his jaw while his head shot this way and that, looking around but not seeing anything. Viper closed one eye and rested his cheek on the crossbow’s stock. The other eye was aligned with the iron sights on the weapon. Viper slowed down his breathing and improved his aim with a few minor adjustments. He had one shot.

With a loud thwang and a sharp metallic sound, Heartseeker fired. Viper’s aim had been true. The Nord immediately keeled over as soon as he was struck, the bolt sticking out of his face, having pierced through his nasal cavity and into his brain stem. Viper inhaled deeply -- he’d held his breath for the shot -- and burst into action. He dashed out from behind the rock and towards the watchtower, his soft leather boots carrying him across the frozen ground almost silently. Inside, the remaining reavers were still loudly tearing through whatever they had found. They had not heard their companion’s death. As soon as he entered the watchtower’s shadow, Viper’s deft fingers unclasped one of the bear traps from the side of his backpack and he knelt some ten yards in front of the watchtower’s entrance. He prepared the trap and placed a Fire Rune right beneath it. Then he sprinted away at a ninety degree angle and took cover behind a piece of rubble that had been smashed loose from the top of the watchtower in some long-forgotten incident, some forty-five yards away. He had deliberately left the corpse of the reaver and the bolt stuck in his face outside. The angle at which he had fallen made it clear where Viper had shot him from. He was counting on the other reavers to realize that. If they stepped out of the watchtower now -- and hopefully one in the beartrap, hidden in a clump of grass -- and looked for him in that direction, they would leave their flanks exposed to crossbow fire from his new position.

Seconds turned into minutes as the reavers continued to fail to realize that their watchman had been shot dead. Viper didn’t budge. There was nothing to be gained by moving. He had an advantageous position. Waiting was his best option. So there he remained, still as a statue, his breathing slow and even, barely even blinking.

At long last, one of the reavers finally stepped outside after calling out what sounded like a name repeatedly and, predictably, receiving no response. Viper could hear the woman curse when she saw the corpse of her erstwhile companion and she ran over to him.

“Rookie mistake,” Viper whispered.

Her brief scream of pain as she stepped into and triggered the bear trap was cut short by the explosive pillar of fire that engulfed her. Normally the force of the Fire Rune’s detonation threw its victims clear of the blast zone. That’s why Viper used bear traps that he firmly anchored into the earth. Caught in the cast-iron teeth of the trap, the woman’s body had nowhere to go. She was immolated within seconds and continued to burn as the magical flames created by the Rune latched onto anything flammable -- fur, mostly -- and roared with supernatural hunger. She died slowly and in extreme pain.

The two remaining reavers realized that they had been outmaneuvered and refused to step outside. That was annoying. Still, without anywhere else to go, Viper knew that the reavers would eventually hope that their invisible assailant had grown bored and left. Prey always did. He quickly glanced up to judge the position of the sun. Three more hours until nightfall. That was cutting it close, he reckoned, but he knew that he was practically invisible in the dusk, pressed up against the rubble, his cloak covering every visible inch of him. He had more time than they did. If something had heard the Fire Rune’s detonation or the woman’s screams, it would be drawn to the tower, not to him.

He waited.

As the sun slowly began to disappear behind the mountain ranges that fenced off the western side of the tundra plain, Viper became acutely aware of the shape of something moving towards the watchtower. It descended down the same hill he had first observed the reavers from. Viper’s eyes flitted between the newcomer’s presence and the watchtower. He tried to make his breathing even more silent and made himself even smaller, barely keeping his head high enough to peer out over the rubble. As he had done so many times, Viper wished he had been born as a Khajiit. It had quickly become too dark for him to make out the exact nature of the humanoid entity. In the wastelands of Skyrim, such a person or creature could be anything, or anyone. Whatever it was, it moved entirely silently and almost seemed to fade into its environment. Viper had to squint his eyes and concentrate to the fullest extent of his considerable mental acuity to keep track of its movements.

It paused at the half-collapsed, charred corpse of the woman, as if it was inspecting her. Then it moved into the watchtower without hesitation.

Their screams only lasted a few seconds. Viper clutched Heartseeker’s grip and trigger more tightly. Silence fell over the tundra and nothing continued to happen for several minutes. Above it all, the stars slowly twinkled into visibility, as eternal and uncaring as ever, while the last remnants of the sun’s light receded. Then, after what felt like an eternity, the shape emerged from the watchtower and left the way it came. Viper watched it leave and even after it disappeared from sight on the top of the hill, he waited for a few more minutes.

“Gods above,” he muttered and exhaled slowly.

A grisly sight greeted him inside the tower. The two reavers had been killed with what looked like a rapid succession of blade or spear thrusts. More importantly, however, was that they had been entirely exsanguinated. Fear and revulsion made Viper recoil involuntarily. Someone had once told him that the vampires of the old world only drank a little bit of blood and left their victims alive. They were a part of the continent-spanning society that had allegedly existed and preferred to hide in plain sight. If that was true, Viper thought to himself, vampirism had developed far more abominable forms and practices since the Calamity. Reluctant to stay more than a second longer than was strictly necessary, Viper was relieved to find that the reavers had put all their findings together in a single pile on top of a broken table. There were some old septims, two swords, fresh loaves of bread, salted meats and a selection of ores, probably mined from somewhere local. It looked to him like the watchtower had been inhabited by ordinary people of some kind until very recently.

“Maybe the vampire got them all. Fuck.”

After selecting the most valuable items among the reavers’ haul and stuffing them into his backpack, Viper snuck out of the watchtower and left the tundra as fast as he could, pausing only to collect his crossbow bolt from the Nord’s face. He would feel safer once he was under the cover of some trees again. That said, he made sure he did not go back the way he came. Sharing his trail with a vampire was absolutely out of the question.

He would not breathe freely again until the gates of Windhelm closed behind him, two days later.

“What’s the matter, Viper?” Fenrir asked as he looked up from his inspection of Viper’s backpack. Everything that went into and out of the city was carefully searched, and Wulfharth Backbreaker made sure that he got his cut. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

The Dunmer scowled at him. “No. It was a fucking vampire, alright? Are you done?”

Fenrir exchanged glances with Adunya, his Bosmeri colleague for the evening’s watch. “Yeah, we’re done here. Go on in.”

With an annoyed grunt, Viper snatched his backpack out of Fenrir’s hands and was just about ready to stomp off when the guard held up his hand.

“One more thing. Go visit Caeliana. Said she missed you and your stories. I’m sure she’ll wanna hear all about this vampire of yours,” Fenrir said, not unkindly.

“Fuck off.”

Fenrir sighed. Adunya covered her smile with her hand. “Just go and talk to her.”

“Hmph.”

Name: Crimson-Eyes-Killer-Viper, known more commonly and often addressed as Viper. His real name is a secret known only to him.
Age: 112.
Race: Dunmer.
Gender: Male.
Birthsign: The Tower.

Appearance:



Viper is of the same lean, wiry build as most Dunmer, his frame covered in whipcord muscle and devoid of any fat. He stands at a respectable 5’10”, though a lifetime of staying low has given him a hunched-over posture that makes him look an inch or two shorter. His hands and feet are rough and calloused and there are many scars all over his skin, a testament to the brutality and hardships of the wilderness. The color of Viper’s skin is typical of the Dunmer, a drab gray that looks more like wet ash than anything else.

Two deep-set, crimson-colored eyes peer out at the world with a permanent scowl of disdain from beneath his brow. The wear and tear of age and stress has cut deep lines in his face, from the corners of his eyes down to his jowls, and the downturned lips of his mouth further add to the impression that Viper is a man who knows little of joy and merry-making. Unlike many other Dunmer, his ears and eyebrows are unadorned by rings or other cosmetic flourishes -- something he considers a waste of time and precious metal. His hair and his beard are gray, ranging from light silver to dark steel. The sides of Viper’s head are shaved, leaving only a thin layer of hair, while the locks on top of his head are messy and perpetually windswept. He wears a mustache and a medium-length beard, though he shaves his sideburns.

The two sets of clothing Viper has are old patchwork Dunmer tunics and pants, obviously torn and repaired many times. They must have been pretty vibrant shades of red and tan at one point but all that remains is a shadow of such hues, and at first glance everything he wears appears to be brown or gray. Aside from two leather vambraces on his forearms, Viper wears no armor. An all-weather cloak, dyed in an alternating pattern of dark gray and ash-white, is slung around his shoulders, large enough for him to wrap entirely around his body.

Skills:

Highly Proficient: Marksman

Moderately Proficient: Alchemy, Engineering and Destruction

Somewhat Proficient: Restoration, Sneak, One-Handed

Spells: Flames, Fireball, Fire Rune, Fast Healing, Steadfast Ward, Sun Fire.

Equipment:

Heartseeker: Viper’s most prized possession and his primary weapon of choice, Heartseeker, is a giant crossbow that looks more like a man-sized version of a ballista. Customized to be wielded with two hands and fire bolts the size of proper arrows, the base design started with an old Dawnguard crossbow that Viper modified himself. A cylindrical barrel fitted just behind the flight groove contains 20 bolts and rotates to slide another bolt in place after Viper pulls the trigger, and an automated pulley system draws the string back for the next shot. The rear end of the crossbow is fitted with a wooden stock that allows Viper to rest the weapon comfortably against his shoulder and aim down the iron sights. It is totally unique and highly effective, being able to accurately strike a target with killing force at distances of up to 150 yards. He has two replacement barrels, giving him a functional combat arsenal of 60 bolts.

Blackblood: While Viper is highly reluctant to get up close and personal, he sometimes doesn’t have a choice. Fitted into the vambrace of his right arm is a vicious-looking serrated weapon, almost sickle-shaped in its curvature, that slides out and into position with a button-operated, spring-loaded system. This serves several purposes; he does not have to carry Blackblood on his person, he effectively cannot be disarmed (as the weapon is bolted tightly to the spring-loaded system in his vambrace) and he can’t lose it in a ruin somewhere. The weapon, about the length of a shortsword, is fashioned from a dark metal that keeps a wickedly sharp edge and it creates jagged wounds in its victims that bleed like a stuck pig. Viper’s best guess is that it could be some type of ebony alloy but he truthfully has no idea what it’s made of.

Bear trap: Two simple bear traps that Viper carries on his person. Combined with a potent Fire Rune, these devices have allowed him to kill people and monsters without ever having to lay eyes on them.

Poisons: Created with his skill at alchemy, Viper coats the edge of Blackblood and the bolts fired by Heartseeker in a variety of powerful poisons. This allows him to retreat after striking an enemy only once and simply waiting for them to either expire or become significantly weakened. If there’s one thing Viper hates, it’s taking risks.

Potions: Used to keep up his health, stamina and magicka, and to boost his accuracy with Heartseeker or his dexterity with Blackblood in a pinch. Viper is physically unimpressive and not very skilled at direct combat, but he can momentarily become a more dangerous fighter than he otherwise would be with the timely application of potions.

Backpack: A large leather backpack that Viper wears over his cloak. It contains all manner of useful knicknacks: an old map of Skyrim, dried food rations, a waterskin, oils and whetstones, a series of tools used to maintain and improve his jury-rigged weapons systems, lockpicks, rope, a bedroll, firewood, a woodcutter’s axe, an iron dagger, a cooking pot, a tea pot, seasonings and a torch.

Alchemy supplies: While Viper needs access to a proper alchemy station to create the best potions, he can create something in a pinch with the right ingredients, a mortar and pestle and an alembic, all of which he also carries on his person.

Misc:
Viper likes to smoke some pipeweed and drink canis root tea to relax.
While generally pretty fearless, vampires put the fear of the gods in his heart for whatever reason.
He is a surprisingly good swimmer, considering Skyrim’s climate barely lends itself to swimming.
Has basically no friends, just associates that he prefers dealing with over others.


Placeholder.
Welcome to the Guild.

but I think I'm getting better.


That definitely looks to be true. I had a peek through your gallery and the improvement from your older work to your newer work is very noticeable. Keep it up!
A Light That Never Goes Out


14th Midyear, 4E208
Oasis, Alik'r Desert
Evening, sometime after supper…

with @Dervish


Why it it seem that cooking pots never seemed to want to get cleaned after even a single use? Daro’Vasora had filled the large stew pot up with water from the river and had it boiling over the same fires they had prepared the meal on, with leftovers sitting on the bench of the wagon on the same bowls they had dined upon that night. For whatever reason, the sheep and beetle stew with cheese, carrots, and potatoes made for a cursed mixture that seemed to stick to the cast iron like red wine stained a white dress. The Khajiit frowned at the boiling water, mentally cursing herself for volunteering for the thankless cleanup duty following her rescue. Everyone had done so much for her, a small gesture of thanks was hopefully enough to begin to show her gratitude.

“I’m going to fucking throw you down river, let the goblins deal with it…” the Khajiit growled at the pot.

“You tell him,” Mazrah’s voice came from behind her, a smirk on her face. She had approached silently, years of hunting experience making her bare footfalls as quiet as can be. After a moment’s hesitation the Orsimer swept up Daro’Vasora in an enveloping bear hug and grunted with joy as she pressed the Khajiit to her chest. “It’s so good to have you back! How are you, anyway?” she asked as she sheepishly put Sora back on her own feet.

”Hrrgh!” The Khajiit grunted in surprise and having her lungs suddenly compressed under the mighty embrace of the Orsimer huntress, who either intentionally or unwittingly had lifted the much smaller treasure hunter up off her feet for a few moments. When the embrace let off and her feet touched the ground she sucked in a welcome breath of air and managed a smile. “Much better, I needed that.” Daro’Vasora said. She reflected had it been a couple months ago, she would have given the Orcismer an earful.

Incredible how quickly change could take root.

“I cannot begin to describe how surprised and overjoyed I was when I saw you, and the others. It was like a dream, even if I was scared shitless. For someone who barely knows me, you risked a lot.” Daro’Vasora said, returning the hug, not caring that Mazrah was basically naked as she pressed into the bare flesh. “Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I’ll earn this.”

Mazrah laughed, scrunching up her nose and deepening the dimples in her cheeks, and she ruffled a hand through Sora’s hair. “You already earned it, you silly goose. And it wasn’t that big of a deal,” she said, full of bravado. “Those Deep Elves got their asses handed to them. You risked a lot by taking me into your super secret group of secret super resistance fighters. Seems only fair that I help you out when you need it.” She motioned for the two of them to sit down and, once they had made themselves comfortable, Mazrah leaned forwards and her eyes went wide with curiosity. “You have to tell me, Sora. What was it like? Did they torture you? I hope not.”

“Well, what was I risking inviting you along in our merry band? Someone like you is hard to be anything but genuine inside and out. Bare skin holds no secrets.” Daro’Vasora winked before shaking her head. “No, nothing of that sort. They were good to me, treated me with respect and kindness. Like I was an emissary; I spent a lot of time with the Governor, and she gave me space when I needed it.”

The Khajiit reached down and held up the pendant at her throat. “This belonged to her mother, she told me. It’s from the bloody First Era, if you could believe it. She thought it would be of some comfort, that it would buy some trust between us. I think, in a way, she’d hoped we’d become friends when it was all over.” she said quietly, shaking her head. “All I had to do was be a spokeswoman for unity between all of our people, to show that they could do good for the world. And maybe they could; just not like this.”

“Bah,” Mazrah spat. “You are right, not like this. Doing good in the world doesn’t start with taking away with the self-rule of some of the most fiercely independent people of Tamriel. I’m not a fan. But I have to admit that I am surprised they were so kind to you. I expected the Governor to be… different.”

She looked at Sora’s pendant and nodded appreciatively. The significance of the words ‘First Era’ were lost on her. “Looks nice. You should keep it and tell everyone that you stole it from her with your heel on her throat.”

The Imperial City flashed across Daro’Vasora’s mind and she shook her head. “She was different. I admire her; she could be so much better if she’d hear it.” she said, grinning at Mazrah’s suggestion. “Maybe they’d believe that coming from you; I’m hardly that formidable. I think…” her voice trailed off. “It’s a good reminder of what I want to do, at the end of this road. Even if we stop this invasion, the Dwemer are still going to be here. They’re going to have to figure out how this world works, and their place in it.”

A slow whistle escaped Mazrah. “Woah there, chief. One step at a time. You’re already thinking about brokering world peace?” She shook her head but her tentative disapproval turned into amusement, and she laughed again. “You’re a strange one. I’ve never really thought ahead more than a week at a time. As for more, err, pressing concerns…” Mazrah ran a hand through her hair and cleared her throat. “Where exactly are we going? I didn’t really understand the first time.”

Daro’Vasora chuckled mirthfully. “No one’s ever accused me of being unambitious. I just like to have a goal in mind, is all. I’ve read more history tomes than I care to count, so it helps to rationalize this with what’s come before. But no, it wouldn’t be me doing the brokering; I just want to set the world straight and go back to my old life, if it still exists.” she said, finally taking the invitation to sit.

When both women were sat down, the Khajiit stared into the flames, the dancing fire making the reflective qualities of her feline eyes glow. “I’ve heard enough reports of a prison set up in a ruin to the North, it’s where the Dwemer have been sending most of their prisoners, I believe it’s where they were sending Shakti before you and the others rescued her. Aside from being good people for a change and trying to break some people out, I suspect they’re using a lexicon and a portal to send prisoners to their plane, Exodus. The Governor explained this plane to me, how it wasn’t quite completed when the Dwemer were banished there, and how in a couple hundred years in the time there it would be gone forever and everything within it.” Daro’Vasora explained.

“So, a labourforce could be, in theory, used to delay that from happening and to assist in the transfer of Dwemeri people from Exodus to Mundus. If we can get the Lexicon, we shut down the portal and transfer of prisoners to Exodus, and we now have the coordinates of how to get there. Then it’s a matter of finding a portal that doesn’t lead directly to a prison cell…” Daro’Vasora murmured.

“If I’m right about all of this, and it’s a big if, we could alter the coordinates of this portal on their side of the bridge and ultimately fuck things up for them. If they can’t get back, or the portal opens in on itself like a loop, we’ve essentially cut them off, maybe forever. Enough time for everyone to counter attack and force them out of the cities, anyways.” the Khajiit explained, with a shrug.

Mazrah was silent for a long time as she digested this information. When she was finished, she regarded Sora with a mixture of admiration and confusion. “I swear I’m not dumb,” she said at length and laughed. “But all that stuff about another plane and lexicons is so new to me. I’m impressed you seem to understand it all so well. Either way, if you’ve got a plan to try and kick the Dwemer in the teeth, I’m with you all the way. It’s exciting! Feels like I have a real purpose in life now. You just watch,” Mazrah continued, her cheeks rosy with enthusiasm, “I’m gonna be one of those heroes the people sing songs about.”

Daro’Vasora smiled affectionately, placing a hand on Mazrah’s shoulder. “I never would dare to presume you are not intelligent. You simply learned differently than I have; I’m fairly confident I could never track game across the wilderness and dress it after the kill, or know where to find clean water, or how to erect a shelter out of the wilds like you do. I just read a lot, and I’ve always been driven by curiosity, about history and the world we live in. I just rarely had to factor in how the smaller pieces fit together to make it all work. I’ve a lot to learn from someone like you.” the Khajiit promised.

“I appreciate that, more than you know.” she added, bowing her head in respect to the Orsimer woman. “I think no matter what happened, you were always going to be someone who ends up beloved and famous; you leave quite the impression, rather effortlessly, too.”

“Stop it, you’ll make me blush,” Mazrah whispered coyly and pressed a hand to her bosom in mock embarrassment, the way she’d seen the Breton ladies do in High Rock. “You know, if you ever want to go hunting with me, just say the word. It’s very… well, I won’t say relaxing, but it helps you focus, you know?” She scratched her chin and screwed up her eyebrows while she was thinking. “You become very in tune with yourself and with nature.”

“Maybe I’ll take you up on it one day.” Daro’Vasora said earnestly, looking to the Orsimer with appreciation. “I can’t promise I’ll be any good at it, but I’m willing to try and learn. I’d like to think I’m quiet enough.” she smiled. “I wonder if Latro used to be a hunter? I never thought to ask him.”

“Oh, speaking of,” Mazrah said and suddenly sat up straighter. “I talked to Latro. I think I can help him tame his wolf. It’s like the rage of the Ornim sings in his blood too. We learn to control it, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be the same for him.” She looked expectantly at Sora, half a smile on her face. “Good news, right?”

That prompted a concerned furrow of Daro’Vasora’s brow. “I… I don’t know, Mazrah. That state he was in, his Pale-Feather personality… it terrifies me and it isn’t him. I don’t want to lose him to it, and I might have ideas of how to reconcile these parts of his soul, but I don’t want to make it worse, or nurture the side I fear to the point Latro withers and dies.” she sighed, sliding a bone from her meal between her teeth to bite into. “What you describe is something that’s taught from youth in your culture, yes? But he’s a grown man, with a full life behind him. The same techniques you wish to apply may just make him worse.”

Taken aback, Mazrah’s face dropped. “Well… yes, usually taught from youth, but not always. Some tribes don’t believe in taming the rage, that doing so makes it weaker. Sometimes an Orsimer like that regrets their belief and wants to learn control after all. It’s not… I don’t know what you think it is that we do. He’d be thinking of you the whole time,” she explained hopefully. “That’s the whole point. Anchor him to a memory or a feeling that’s so powerful that it helps him focus, even when he is… what did you call him? Pale-Feather? I just don’t think that side of him can be suppressed. The things my mother taught me, which is what I would pass on to Latro, are to make sure that Pale-Feather only exists inside Latro, not besides him. A stranger in his skin, I called it.”

She rested her chin on her fist and looked at Sora quizzically. “What are your ideas?”

Daro’Vasora nodded, almost imperceptibly. “I trust you, Mazrah. If he feels he can learn from you, and you can teach him, I want you to try. Please promise me you won’t let him lose himself along the way.” she said, looking to the Orsimer sadly. “I’ve gone on something of a spiritual awakening, myself. I’m a being of two cultures, and for most of my life I rejected the body I inhabit, thought of the Khajiiti traditions as backwards and uncultured, like it was holding me back from being respected or trusted, or taken seriously. I’ve faced a lot of discrimination for being what I am, I wanted my whole life for people to see me for who I am.” the Khajiit explained.

“I’ve always embraced my Imperial identity, the culture and my family traditions of serving the Count of Leyawiin. I made a life in Imperial social circles, proving my worth by being smarter and more talented than most, hunting treasure and being able to explain to people the value and history behind it all. I gave culture back to the world, and my name began to mean something other than a girl who was caught stealing from her own father.” Daro’Vasora explained with a sad smile.

“But… I’ve always maintained my honourific, the Daro’. It means nimble fingered, clever of tongue. I didn’t understand that until recently, I didn’t know why I always maintained it as a part of my name, it is a part of me. I take the Moonpath to speak with my ancestors infrequently, they were the ones who suggested I didn’t turn my backs on everyone and leave in Anvil. They implored me to try and do right by them, and to follow my heart. That the two parts of my soul were actually one, and I was too blind to see it.” She reached to her waist belt and unclasped a leather pouch that she held in her hand and untightened the drawstring. The shimmering white moonsugar sparkled from within, not unlike the Khajiit’s eyes. “I want to offer to take Latro on a Moonpath of his own, to perhaps speak to his own soul and find the wholeness I have so recently discovered myself.”

Mazrah listened with great interest to Sora’s story and she leaned back after the Khajiit was done talking, drinking in the details. “The spirituality of your people is fascinating,” she said and her voice was tinged with awe. “The Moonpath… is it like a vision? If I could talk with my ancestors, my grandmother and all the women that came before her, that would be nothing short of amazing. Imagine their wisdom! Their stories!” The Orsimer huntress laughed in wonder at the thought. She glanced down at the moonsugar before looking back up to meet Sora’s shimmering gaze. “I saw a lot of things when I tried your moonsugar but not my ancestors, you know. I feel robbed,” she joked.

Daro’Vasora smiled enthusiastically. “It’s more than that; the moons, Jone and Jode, they are aspects of one of our gods, and Moonsugar is crystalised moonlight. It is almost like consuming a part of Lorkajj. I have met ancestors of mine, going back to the very beginning of my lineage, to those who have served Queen Ayrenn in the Second Era, to an ancestor of mine who fell defending Leyawiin from the Empire’s expansion. These are all people I would have never have known about because we do not not write stories of our history, for it is written in our souls, our blood, in the light of the Moons.” she held the sugar up.

“This is far much more than a narcotic that causes euphoria in other races; it can be turned into an elixir that allows my soul to travel across the moonlight to the Sands Behind the Stars, to speak with my ancestors, to petition them for their wisdom. So far, they have never put me down the wrong path, but it all depended if I was too proud or stubborn to listen.” she said with a smile and a slight chuckle.

“I’m afraid for someone who is not of a Khajiit, it doesn’t quite work like that, especially just taken raw like you have. You can understand why distilling Moonsugar into Skooma is incredibly addictive and dangerous, even for Khajiit. Your ancestors do not reside where mine do, and you do not have a relationship to the Moons like we do. But, with guidance and a careful dose, it can be used to help non-Khajiit confront parts of themselves that trouble them, and to find a more spiritual grounding, as it were.”

“Awh,” Mazrah said, visibly disappointed and a little jealous. “That does sound exactly like what Latro needs. We both have different ways of trying to connect and make peace with a part of ourselves that sings its own song,” she said sagely and her jealousy evaporated like virgin snow in the sun.

“I found myself a nice girl, by the way,” Mazrah said with a wink, abruptly changing topic. “You haven’t met her yet but I’m sure you saw her in the palace. Her name is Maj, can you believe that? We met in a bar in Gilane and I may have been drinking and I thought she introduced herself with Maz. Confusing as all hell. She was a sailor and the Dwemer sank her ship off the coast, so she’s got every reason to hate them. Hope you don’t mind I brought her along.”

“Oh?” Daro’Vasora asked with a tilt of her head at the sudden shift in conversation. She couldn’t help but smile at Maz’s enthusiasm. “Maz and Maj, two peas in a pod, as they say.” the Khajiit smiled. “I would say overall, Gilane was good to you. New friends, a new lady friend. I wondered who that was, I think I like her already. But please, look how I brought you along. It would be rather hypocritical of me to question your judgement in character for inviting someone to join us; we need all the help we can get.”

Pleased, Mazrah smiled and ran a hand over her scalp as she cast her glance across the cave. “Yeah, that was a productive visit for me.” She bit her lip and cocked her head as a small frown creased her brow. “But it seems unfair to say that Gilane was good to me when it was so rough to most of the others, including you.”

Daro'Vasora shook her head, holding up an arresting hand. “Please, don't trouble yourself by feeling guilty that the troubles myself and others endured should erode what the city gave you.” the Khajiit smiled, reaching up to place a hand on Maz's shoulder. “There's not enough good things these days, I consider each and every time one of my companions and friends smile about something a victory. We need to celebrate life, no let the troubles hold us down so we cannot appreciate the good that we find. Why would I ever feel slighted that you are happy, Mazrah? It reminds me of what we're all fighting for, life. Never apologize for living.”

That was caused for the Orsimer to grin and look Sora in the eye with nothing but admiration. “Look at you, just rescued from captivity in which you thought you were going to die, and already so wise again. If you had been an Ornim of Orsinium, you would have had nothing on your mind but vengeance. You continue to impress,” she said and placed her own hand over the paw that Sora had placed on her shoulder. “That settles that; I shall never apologize for living.”

That prompted a humbled smile and a half-hearted shrug. “I've just surrounded myself with the right people and listened to the lessons they've taught me, intentionally or no.” Daro'Vasora replied, squeezing the shoulder tighter. “And never do, Maz. You're a flame that can never be extinguished, it inspires people. I'm grateful you found me when you did.”

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