User has no status, yet


User has no bio, yet

Most Recent Posts

A Wholly Unpleasant Visit

A Shaft and Dervs collab
14th Midyear 4E208, Governor’s Palace, Early morning…

The dungeon door creaked open and a guard carrying a torch guided Zaveed down the prison corridor, the Khajiit carrying a bottle of rum in one hand and two goblets in the other; he’d been patted down and his weapons had been left behind in his quarters, save for the dagger at his back that he left with the Dwemeri prison officer that was on duty. No lockpicks, no keys, no weapons; nothing that would aid Sevari in escape or taking his life. Zaveed was lead to the cell, and the two Thalmor guards who were on duty and sitting in chairs were relieved, more than eager to walk away to stretch their legs and get something to eat. Zaveed grabbed one of the chairs with a free hand after shifting the goblets to the same hand that carried the bottle and sat it down in front of the bars before descending himself. Wordlessly, he poured the contents of the bottle in one goblet and then the other and offered one through the bars.

“It is not a good look for you, being in a small cell like this. You are not a zoo animal… have you been treated fairly?” Zaveed asked his brother, able to see him clearly in the dark thanks to the trait all Khajiit shared. Even the smallest bit of light could give them impressive visual acuity in the dark.

“It’s not the worst jail I’ve been in. Besides Marassa barely restraining herself from killing me and explaining in detail how she would do it?” He said, eyeing the still uneaten lamb hocks, “It’s been some high living.”

He sighed, taking a sip of the rum he’d been given and then looking at it as if it had slapped him, “You pirates and your rum. They didn’t have whiskey?” He said with much faux-incredulity before returning to his previous demeanor of quiet brooding, “I don’t suppose you’ve already cooked up a plan to get me out of here.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers.” Zaveed shrugged, taking a drink from his own goblet that he had been fidgeting with moments before. “And I’m afraid it’s a work in progress, for once I’m going to take this slow and careful; so far, the winning solution seems to be ambushing the escort party when you are safely off of palace grounds, or setting fire to their ship while they’re coming to collect you.” the Cathay sighed, drinking back heavily this time. “I’m afraid I haven’t had time to plot this out, the news is still fresh and doubtless they’re keeping a close eye on me because of our relationship and the fact that I have a reputation of being something of a wildcard.”

“Huh.” Sevari nodded, taking another sip of his rum and sitting back on the bed, “Well, I’m sure I’ll figure out if you come up with a plan on time. This is only going to end one of two ways.”

He frowned, staring into his goblet, “It doesn’t look good for me if I go to Alinor, Zaveed.” He took a sip and then shrugged, as if letting the cloak of sadness and regret off of his shoulders, “Can’t say I wasn’t expecting that though. I had fun tonight, brother, for what that’s worth.”
“No, shackles and a hangman’s noose seldom fill out a flattering attire.” Zaveed agreed. “And it was worth more than you know. I made a new friend, got to spend some lighthearted fun with my estranged brother, and I know my sister is safe. Sorry she threatened your life; we both know what she’s like when she becomes ill-tempered. I don’t think she’d follow through with that particular threat, though.”

“You weren’t there, brother.” He smiled softly, “I just wish we met again under different circumstances. Not with me ready, willing, and just about to kill her boyfriend and hang him from the mast by his gut-rope.”

He shook his head, sipping from his goblet, “I can’t say I don’t understand or deserve the aggression. I’ve been a horrible brother, Zaveed, horrible to you and Marassa.” He looked at his brother and smiled, “It was a good night.”

He gestured to the plate in front of him, “She brought me lamb, even.”

“Gut rope.” Zaveed repeated, gazing down at the dark liquid sloshing about in the concave mouth of the goblet. “Ew.”

Glancing up, he shook his head. “What’s done is done. I did caution you about pursuing vengeance as means to an end, but it would not do you any favours to bother you with that particular vitriol. You are punishing yourself worse than any executioner could. But yes, I could see how she’d have little love for you for that particular stunt. For a diplomatic mission, the Dominion has suffered a number of casualties. I imagine she feels towards her fallen the same way I feel about my drowned crew.” Zaveed sighed, tapping his claw against the metal, letting it ring in a steady rhythm. He looked towards the lamb. “It’s of my professional opinion one should never turn down offered food. You need the energy and strength to take advantage of an escape opportunity; their minimal compassion works against them in some cases. I just know I wouldn’t relish the idea of dying on an empty stomach, I’d rather shit myself unpleasantly in my dying moments and make those who did the deed have one final and terrible act of defiance to deal with.” he grinned.

“I’m sorry about your crew.” Sevari said, voice low, “Young Jacque seemed like the better man of everyone there. He was right, you know, he should’ve been a bard. Helena and I had some good nights too. I never needed a blanket and it’s better than taking care of it yourself when no one’s around.”

He swirled the rum inside his goblet, “Who says I was going to escape or defy anyone?” He said, smiling sadly to his brother, “Zaveed, I’m a bad man and if I live life outside of this cell then I’m only going to make more orphans and grieving families. I killed an innocent man in his own home four days ago.”

“I just took the knife out of his frail, shaking hands and put it in his neck. He didn’t know about what was happening outside of his home. To him it was just another day in retirement until some bleeding stranger stumbled in.” He shook his head, downing his rum, “Maybe, just maybe, past everything else I’ve ever done in my life… I deserve a hanging for that.”

“To all of them.” Zaveed said, raising his goblet is a toast before finishing it off. He picked the bottle and filled his goblet once more, sliding the bottle over to the bars for Sevari. He grunted, tapping his foot in annoyance before continuing. “You know, it’s a bit late in your life to start growing a conscience. I’ve never apologized for what the world made me, and neither should you. It’s so easy for those who were born in love and comfort who never knew what it meant to starve or have to fight just for the right to live to condemn men like us for becoming the creatures that they caution their children about, to tell us that we are rotten and horrible, but they fail to realize they would be just like us had they gone through the same.”

He stood, approaching the bars to look down at Sevari with narrow eyes. “Look, I forgive you for what happened. It wasn’t your fault, and perhaps I could have done things differently, but we can’t change the past. I already know I’m going to lose my identity when I die, to never feel warmth again or see the Sands Behind the Stars, but this world is full of rotten men worse than us, and how many of those do you think you personally killed? I know I’ve racked up quite a few bodies in my day, and many of them definitely had it coming.

“I’ve never been what one would consider a good man, but sometimes one predator hunts another that preys on a village. Do you think a shark gives a shit about the seal’s family after it evicerates it and eats it? If you’re as rotten as you claim to be, then stop worrying about it because you’re going to end up in the same rotten afterlife I am, so you’re already as low as you can go. So why not take the time you have left and maybe start being the person you want to be rather than the one that assholes made you be?” Zaveed asked.

“With speeches like that, I can see how people accept you as Captain.” Sevari nodded appreciatively without looking at his brother. He asked without turning his head, “Did you see Marassa talking with any of the Thalmor or Ministry agents? Anything about me? Watching me closer?”

The Cathay shook his head. “No, nothing out of the ordinary. Those charming fellows that are guarding your cell seem pretty bored and relaxed. Why? Do you think she’d want to make you more miserable than you already are?”

Sevari frowned, shaking his head and shrugging, “No,” he said, standing and stretching towards the ceiling with a growl, “She said the same thing you did, you know? Well, almost. The gist of it was the same.”

He strolled up to the door, pushing it open casually as if he was only in there for the fun of it. He took a step out, “I’d say the visit was nice, but…” he rubbed his neck and rolled his shoulders with a grunt, “You’re right, though. Fuck them. Still, a conscience the size of a louse’s cock is still a conscience. Sometimes they even grow.”

He looked to his brother, frowning, “Consciences.” He said, “Not… you know.”

Zaveed grinned, watching as the cheeky bastard strolled out of the cell like it was the most casual thing in the world. Of course Sevari had a flair for the dramatic; they were family. “Oh, I’m sure those grow all the same. But of course Marassa would say something similar to me; it’s almost as if we’re twins or something. I don’t see the resemblance, personally. I smile more.”

He glanced back at the still closed prison doors. “I assume you have a plan that isn’t going out the way I came in.” he observed.

“Over the past few weeks, I’ve talked to a lot of the servants and staff of the Palace. The guardsmen have strict orders of guarding the late Caliph’s old escape passage because as it turns out, sometimes exits can also be used as entrances.” He said, “It’s somewhere here, in the dungeons, I know that. It’s convenient, even if you can manage to kill the guards posted at the escape passage’s mouth, shimmy through spiders, rats and other creatures and their shit and piss, the guards on the other side of the prison door over there get to point and laugh at you before they unlock it and fill you with spears.”

“Every time the guards change shifts to cover the other while they shit or eat, the rats always run in the same direction. Sure, some of them may be living in the cells themselves, but I follow enough of them, it’ll take me to that little tunnel I can enter freedom once more through covered in spiderwebs, piss and shit.” He smiled, “I’d take that over a hanging any day. She’s nice, by the way, Marassa. I wouldn’t have gotten out if it weren’t for her bringing me the food with that lockpick.”

“Here I am, still thinking about her career before mine. She was the last person to be alone with me and what better alibi to blow back in her face like dust than the tray of food I’d have scarfed down otherwise.” He shrugged, “This way, it just looks like I smuggled a lockpick in myself. That doesn’t cover you, though. How do you want it?”

Zaveed shrugged. “I’m flexible. My thought was it’s pretty dark in this cell, so those inattentive loafs wouldn’t even notice you were gone, most likely. I can be blamed for the lockpick in the morning, but by then I’ll be collecting Sirine and leaving within the next half an hour.” he pondered out loud. “Either way, I’d like to do this quietly, and the more time you have for a head start, the better. If I act like nothing’s wrong, we’re fine. If you punch me out, they’re going to question why I didn’t call for help. I’d rather take the good chance over the one that raises a lot of questions.”

“Alright.” Sevari nodded, “I think it’s best you and Sirine go, though, sooner than later. It’s going to be very loud here very soon. Latro, your best friend, he’s not happy about his girlfriend being cooped up in this place.”

That gave Zaveed pause. “You’re making friends with terrorists now? You know they’re the same ilk that attacked Marassa and her troops in the streets, correct?” he asked suspiciously. “Are they planning on attacking the palace in a rescue operation?”

“It wasn’t them. They attacked me and tried to kill Latro too. If I hated every Thalmor supporter I would hate you and Marassa along with them.” He said, “Guilty by association, no? Latro helped me. He helped me do a lot. After everything, you and those wide-eyed foreigners are the closest I have to friends. Two of them, at least.”

“Now now, since when do I support the Thalmor? I just take their money in exchange for them leaving me to my own devices, but I take your meaning.” Zaveed replied diplomatically, blinking slowly. “So, this is going to be awkward, is it not? You befriending the same people who loathe me for my own actions against them? I can’t imagine they’ll be too keen on seeing me after I nearly murdered one of them, tortured another, and then broke Latro’s girlfriend’s arm before killing her old paramour. I don’t think you’re going to be able to justify that in their eyes, Sevari.”

“Maybe not.” He said, “But those are the people who aren’t trying to kill me right now. Or ever have. I know what Raelynn did for you. I don’t know,” he shook his head, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Zaveed sighed, crossing his arms. “You know, this isn’t going to end well for them or myself. You went through a lot of trouble to get me back into your life, and you very well might be throwing that away for them.”

“Never, brother.” He said, stepping up close to Zaveed, “Wherever I go, you can go. Consciences, remember? You don’t take a journey in one step. Maybe If playing to Raelynn’s second chance she gave you and Sirine’s word of how you freed her, they can come to at least half heartedly tolerate you at first.”

“I’m not telling you what to do. I’m not saying I need to choose between them and you. I’m just saying we need friends.” He offered, “Nothing but death is going to be a goodbye for us.”

“Uh-huh.” Zaveed grunted non-committally, tapping his foot. “The way this conversation is going, one of us is going to be saying that final goodbye sooner rather than later. They tortured a man to death; one of them is a necromancer that tried to soul trap me. Not the kind of company I’d expect you to keep, Sevari.”

“Me neither.” Sevari said, “Latro and Jaraleet, at least, are good. You know my feelings about that necromantic fuck for doing that to you.”

“You know I will defend myself, right? You might think they’re good people, but they aren’t. I know I am not, but they think they’re doing the right thing. I can’t follow this path you want for us, Sevari. It was supposed to be about you and I together, not tagging along with a bunch of terrorists that willingly joined an insurgency. They will be hunted by the Dwemer; I’d rather fade away and pursue my own life away from such attention. I’d like to sleep without worrying about my throat being slit.” Zaveed replied bitterly, grabbing the cell bars. “I’d be better off in here than with your new ‘friends’. You didn’t think to ask me first, to talk to me first? All of this is out of nowhere, and these are people that ten minutes ago I thought we were both treating like enemies. What else have you been hiding from me?”

“Nothing.” Sevari said, simply. “I’ve talked to them, you know? I’m not going to turn this into a fight, Zaveed, but some of them are better people than they would have you believe.”

Sevari shook his head and sighed, growling, “I need to go.” He said, stepping farther down the halls, “So do you. Until I see you again, brother! All my love!”

Zaveed waved him off. “This isn’t going to go the way you hope, Sevari.” the privateer muttered, picking up the rum bottle and the two empty goblets and heading back the way he came, pausing to take a moment to compose himself so nothing seemed amiss. Inside, Zaveed was screaming.

Night on the Town

@Dervish as Zaveed of Senchal
@Greenie as Sirine al-Nahel
And Leidenschaft as Sevari

13th Midyear 4E208, Late Evening, Outside of the Scorpion’s Song…

“Well, here it is. Thank you for being the chaperone for picking up my date, Sevari.” Zaveed grinned at Sevari. The two were standing in the middle of the street outside of the dung-heap of a tavern that Sirine worked at and helped Zaveed clean up and replace his destroyed clothing. Looking at the place brought out a burning anger in his heart knowing that someone he’d put under his protection was forced into a life of indignity by some lecherous bastard who probably never been in a real fight in his life. The Khajiit was feeling much more like himself; axes sat on his hips, his hands resting on them in their customary way; pistols strapped to his chest to put down a man who wasn’t worth the effort, and of course his beloved elven dagger with the sapphire pommel sat at the small of his back. His armour was mended with new grey leather stretched over steel plates, his arms were bare, showing defined arms and black trousers sat bloused in his thigh-high brown leather boots. Upon his ears were a series of rings from different locales across Tamriel he visited, an alloy rainbow of gold, silver and copper, and most recently, a ring of Dwemeri alloy was higher up his ear. Finally, about his waist was a fetching purple velvet sash; it was about the only local flair he’d seemed to take a liking to. He was not the scared and broken man he’d been only hours ago; it was time to work, and Captain Greywake feared nothing but having his time wasted.

“A pleasure.” Sevari said. He was dressed completely different to what he usually wore. Buck-skin chausses over cloth pants and curve-toe boots in the Hammerfell style, a simple tunic and a coat. He adjusted his wide-brimmed ranger’s hat, one side of the brim pinned up with a moonstone charm, and stroked where his beard used to be, hooking one thumb into his sword-belt on which was strapped a bone-handle messer and a pistol not unlike Zaveed’s. He’d taken great pains to disguise himself as somebody else after the attacks. “Let’s get to it, shall we? Just look tough.”

The pair made their way in, Sevari pushed past the door and held it open, scanning over the patrons while Zaveed stepped up next to him. The tavern at this hour was filled with the usual rough, scarred and mean types. He’d seen it all and was bored with it at this point in his life. “Back in my day, outlaws had a certain flair. Now they just look the same.” He muttered, finding his way to the bar and fishing his badge out of his coat. Holding it up, he spoke, deadpan, “Sirine has the night off.”

The man, who he assumed was Sirine’s boss, looked at Sevari and Zaveed with disgust. He reached under the bar and the pommel of something came into view. “Fucking cats-“

The head of a Dwemeri axe split into the bartop and suddenly the man stood stock straight and forced a smile onto his face, forgetting all about the weapon under the bar, “Of course, of course!” Zaveed pried his axe loose and vaulted up onto the bar counter, pacing back and forth, his eyes locked on the man as the axe clicked against the counter, held like a walking cane.

“Mind your tongue, scum, or your head goes where the axe went.” Zaveed purred, the clicks accenting his tongue with a rhythmic, thunk, thunk, thunk.

“Thank you for complying.” Sevari spoke again, equally deadpan, as he put his badge back in the inside pocket of his coat. His eyes never left the man’s own as Zaveed hopped off the counter after seeing Zaveed casually hop off of the counter to retrieve their new friend. Sevari pulled a cigar from his coat pocket and lit it with a finger, small flame at the tip.

The privateer pushed the swinging door open with his axe. “Oh, Beautiful Sirine, you can come out, my dear.” He called out in singsong. “If you’re with company, you can tell them to finish themselves off, we’re on a schedule.” He said, opening doors as he went, often to abashed or irritated faces that were quelled when badge was flashed.

Sirine was in the midst of getting dressed when the door opened to reveal the khajiit man. Her face betrayed no look of embarrassment but a small hint of surprise. "Oh, you came." She pulled down on her tunic and grabbed her belt, eager to get going now that there was no need for her to stay in this place.

The man in her bed, a stocky Redguard, did not seem pleased at having the room he was resting in crashed into. "Wait!" he protested, reaching out to try and grab her arm. "You can't leave yet! I paid for more than that!"

“I came, clearly, he did not.” Zaveed grinned mirthfully, stepping into the room, offering Sirine a sly look before turning to the man. He hooked the man’s arm with the backside of his axe, shaking his free finger at the man. “Hands off; she is an agent of the Dwemeri secret police on an assignment. You should feel graced you are not being taken off in chains, you foul-smelling leech. Or maybe that’s what you’re into, hm?” He asked, foot on the edge of the bed, axe pushing into the man’s chest.

A twitch to her mouth showed that Sirine was appreciative of the joke. "Clearly," she agreed as she stepped away from the bed, watching the encounter as one might observe a fascinating play.

The Redguard man lifted his free hand, cringing against the pillows and sheets. One look at the Khajiit's face had him babbling apologies. "I will go!" he yelped, fear clear on his face. "Get that axe away from me!"

Zaveed shoved it harder, forcing the man down. He crooked his head, like he was toying with prey. “Are you making demands of me? Are you in any position to disrespect my authority in such a way, curr?” he growled, effectively pinning the man to the bed.

"What?" the man sputtered, his eyes widening as he further realized he was very out of his depths. It was amazing what the lack of pants could do to a man's confidence. "N-n-no! Of- of course not! Please, don't hurt me! You- tell him to back off!"

The last of his words were clearly addressed to Sirine. By this time she was completely dressed, belt cinched tightly. A smile played on her lips as she approached the bed. "Oh, but I can't. I work for him now. The best thing for you would be to simply ask his forgiveness for your disrespect and hope it's granted."

The Redguard man blinked at her with his mouth open, unable to come up with words. He then slowly looked back to Zaveed. "I... am sorry?"

Sevari stepped into the room and in a few steps, crossed from the door to the bed, grabbing up a fistful of the man’s hair and hauling him out of the bed. He booted the man in his arse and sent him stumbling out, “Are we finished? We’ve people to find, we’re not robbing the man.”

“Oh, thank you.” The man whimpered from the ground, prompting Sevari to whip the pistol out of his belt and point it at the man.

“Leave here and hope I never see you again. I’ve robbed meaner folk than you.” The man did as he was told, Sevari turning back to Sirine And spoke through a cloud of cigar smoke, “Don’t worry, I’m a bag of sunshine.”

Zaveed leaned over to Sirine, covering part of his face to whisper to Sirine. “He’s really not.” he said, offering a playful wink afterwards.

Sirine raised an eyebrow. "Oh? I simply thought the clouds were covering the sun." She motioned towards the cigar smoke, smirking slightly.

He reached into his armour, pulling out a neatly folded piece of parchment. “As I promised, I did what I asked. You may not like what I found, however.” he said, his smile turning to a frown as he offered the parchment to Sirine.

She took hold of the parchment, her smirk disappearing as she opened it and looked at what was written. Eyes darkening, she looked back up at the two. "I see... so he's not here." There was a tightness to her jaw, as if she was containing herself from speaking her thoughts. The moment passed and she turned around. "I have something for you as well." Heading to a chest in the corner of the room, she quickly unlocked it and pushed the lid up. Inside was her rucksack, and next to it was the roll of paper she had been keeping her notes in. She paused a moment before picking up the other two rolls that she had stolen from Jamir's dresser.

"Here you are." She returned to the others, holding out all three rolls. "That's the little I discovered, what good it will do, I don't know... as for these, I found them in the owner's dresser. Make of it what you will- they are names of insurgents I believe."

Sevari snatched up one of the parchments, cigar clutched between his grinning teeth, “Oh, say what you want of revenge, but it will be sweet.” His eyes flitting over the paper and committing each name to memory. “I know a few of these. Krennic’s men put Farukh al-Majhar and a few of these others in the pits when they were arrested for running skooma. I heard he was torn apart by an Orc.”

His hands went back to his side, ashing the cigar on the ground and placing it back between his teeth, “Do you know any of the whereabouts of the others? Any mentions of a Khajiit woman and an Altmer traveling together?”

Sirine shook her head. It was a little frustrating that she could not wield as much information about their sister as she had been given about her brother. "Unfortunately the patrons who visit here don't often have useful words. But there was mention of an Altmer by an inn I used to frequent when I was younger. The Sand and Pearl, it was called. It's quite near the harbour."

“Anything peculiar about this particular Altmer? It is not as if they are uncommon.” Zaveed pressed.

"Aside from him shooing a commoner away with a threat to kill him?" The former pirate shook her head. "From what Darric mentioned, it seemed as if he was standing guard, but it's the word of a drunk, I'm not sure how much weight you wish to put in that."

Zaveed looked to Sevari and shrugged. “I never said this was going to be easy, but at least it’s a start. Shall we go have a look, or go knock on a few doors in accordance to the list that Sirine procured for us?” turning to the Redguard woman, Zaveed regarded her for a few moments. “What would you like to do about your former boss? Want to follow the story I told your last client and scare the shit out of him? He looked like an utter ponce, five Septims says I can make him soil his britches.”

“It would be nice to scare him out of here.” Shireen’s eyes narrowed as she thought of the treatment the man’s employees had to go through, the indignities they had to suffer, the gold he stole from them. Perhaps it wasn’t a necessity, but she wanted to know that he would get what he deserved. “That man doesn’t deserve a roof over his head, even one as shitty as this one.”

“A list of insurgents, you mentioned…” Zaveed’s voice trailed off as he offered Sevari a grin. “Shall we put the fear of Merrunz into the man for collaborating with the enemy and letting his imagination run wild?”

“If it’s one thing in the world that I take pleasure in is watching a man whose evils outweigh his fortitude squirm under my thumb.” Sevari let go a particularly cruel smirk, “It’s a shame Sirine was in the employ of a man helping the insurgency launder money through his tavern and she didn’t even know it, did you, Sirine?” He asked cheekily, knowing she would get the gist of what he was suggesting.

"What, me knowing such nefarious deeds were taking place right beneath my nose?" She shook her head in an obviously exaggerated no. "I could never have imagine such a thing. I am truly shocked."

Zaveed took the list of names in hand, holding them like some irrefutable proof of villainy afoot. “Well then, let’s make sure your last day on the job is a memorable one. Shall we?” he said, leading the trio out of the room and back into the tavern. Jamir, Sirine’s former employer, was still behind the counter, fussing over where Zaveed’s axe had buried itself into the wood when he caught sight of the two Khajiit boring down on him, Sevari heading off the exit while Zaveed vaulted over the counter and grabbed the man roughly be the scruff of the neck. “Well, well… it looks like you were caught in our little sting operation, Jamir; this list of names, friends of yours?” he asked holding the papers aloft for the man to see. “Maybe you should be more careful about consorting with terrorists, after all, one wouldn’t want to give the impression that they serve such disreputable beasts, surely you agree?”

The owner of Scorpion's Song wheezed; for a moment he attempted to detach himself from the hand that caught hold of him, but it soon became very clear to him that wouldn't be happening. His dark eyes flitted towards the papers; recognizing his own handwriting, they widened considerably when he realized what they were.

"Wait!" he protested, once more trying to free himself. "That- that's not what you think- I'm with the dwemer! I'm on your side!" There was a second's pause before he added, "How did you even find those?!"

A small sneer at her lips, Sirine looked away from Jamir and cast a glance at the rest of the tavern, eyeing the patrons as well as her former co-workers. Most seemed shocked and couldn't take their eyes off the scene at the counter; they were used to drunken brawls, not something like this. She could see a large, muscular Redguard she recognized easily, the bouncer of the tavern who for the most part usually let things slide; he seemed unsure of what to do, though his hand was reaching for the mace at his side.

Sirine had no love for him, but she also saw no reason in particular for him to get involved and potentially hurt. Crossing over to him in quick, confident strides, she smacked his hand away from the weapon. "Don't, Salim. I assure you you'd rather watch than get involved." The man named Salim frowned though his hand fell slack.

“Just act like everything’s just fine, Salim.” Sevari had a cruel-looking smile upon his lips, the tip of the cigar glowing brighter for a moment before Sevari spoke with a cloud of smoke, leaning towards the bouncer and adding quietly but tone none too reassuring, “Because it is.”

Even so, at some point, he’d drawn his pistol unnoticed by Salim from its holster and the barrel was resting on one forearm of his crossed arms, pointed at Salim, just to be sure. He turned back to Zaveed, “What’s the verdict? I say his crimes call for summary execution.” Sevari growled, “You look pretty guilty, Jamir. Best speak up now if it’s for something else you’d like to say sorry for, before my partner gets to it. Chop-chop,” Sevari made small chopping movements with his hand not curled about a pistol to accentuate, “Quick-like.”

Accentuating the point, Zaveed placed the pachments on the counter, and pulling his axe from its hoop, dragged the blade across the counter, pushing the papers in front of Jamir.

Sirine turned her attention on Jamir and Zaveed now that Sevari had his pistol pointed at Salim. The owner was shaking his head hard enough that his hair was whipping side to side, clearly in a state of panic. "No, no, you've got it all wrong! I'm not with the resistance! Those aren't my associates, you fucking cats!"

“And yet they weren’t disclosed to us, traitor.” Zaveed snarled, shoving Jamir’s head down into the counter on the papers; the axe was inches from his nose. He looked up at Sirine. “So, agent, what should we do with this piece of skeever shit? Take his hands…” he leaned down so his muzzle was inches from the Redguard’s ear. “...his balls? Or maybe we just keep taking pieces until he tells us everything? I’m sure there are some mutts on the street that haven’t had fatty meat in some time, yes?”

"No, no, no- wait- please!" With each word Jamir's panic seemed to increase tenfolds, the man struggling to pull himself from Zaveed's grasp. "I didn't do anything! Please! Don't hurt me!"

"Pathetic." Sirine made her way to the counter and stepped behind it, contempt in her eyes as she looked down at the struggling man. "You're very quick to beg when the tides turn against you, hm?" Without warning her fist shot forward and she dealt a blow to his gut, causing Jamir to slump in pain. Glancing at Zaveed, she continued. "No need to sully your axe with his rotten blood. Since he's so keen on begging, that's what he should be. A beggar. Toss the whole of him out."

“Such a pity.” Zaveed mused, pulling the man off the counter and to his feet once more. He shoved him to get him moving towards the exit, where Sevari had the door propped open. Grabbing the man roughly before the entrance, he held the axe up to the man’s throat, the sharp blade nipping at flesh to ensure his compliance. “Alright you lot, show’s over. Let it be known that this man is no longer the owner and operator of the Scorpion’s Song, if he is permitted back on this premises by anyone, or if anyone is caught aiding him, it will be constituted as treason and the offender will be executed like this sack of shit should have been.” Suddenly, the Khajiit grinned and winked at the crowd. “Enjoy your evening.” he said, dragging Jamir out of the tavern and then booting him in the ass to have him scamper off in the dark. “Go find a hole to die in, coward! If I see you again, I’m hanging you with your own entrails!” he shouted after him before returning to the entrance and delicately closing the door behind him.

It felt as if someone had been lifted a burden off of her shoulders. With Jamir's presence no longer looming over her, Sirine felt light, she felt free. Letting out a small breath, her hand lifted to her neck, fiddling with the coin, as had become a habit in the last three days. It wouldn't be long before she could meet Bakih again. But before then, there were other affairs to be taken care of, an immediate pressing one being who would be the new owner of the tavern.

She looked out at the crowd, her eyes searching until she found him. A blond Breton man, her former roommate now. "Him," she said. "He can take care of the tavern. Fairly good, and he won't bother the girls."

Sevari frowned, shrugging, “Alright.”

He made his way outside to stand with Sirine and Zaveed. He dusted his hands, ashing his cigar, “So, valiant cohorts, whatever shall we do now?”

“Follow our lead. Come on, we’ve had our fun, let’s get to work.” Zaveed said, placing a hand on Sirine’s back. “Get a good look at this place; it’s the last time you’ll ever have to step foot in here.” he said, stepping away to depart the building with a whistle.

Sirine looked up for a mere second before turning away with a shake of her head. "The faster I forget about this place, the better." She did spare one last glance though, silently wishing the others in there better luck before before she too stepped away from the wretched place. "Well. You kept your promise, you found my brother and you freed me from there... I'll keep to mine as well. Whatever you need me to do, I will."

Running a finger up under her chin, Zaveed smiled. “Fair is fair, you looked after me, and I will look after you. For now, we’re going to have a fun night on the town looking for my sister and possibly paying some terrorists some house calls. Sound like a good time for a lady such as yourself?”

"Lady would hardly be the word, but if you insist." Sirine's lips twitched as she nodded. "And yes, sounds like a wonderful time."

Something caught his eye, glancing down, Zaveed noticed the chord about Sirine’s neck and his eyes traced down to what it was connected to. A wide grin crossed his face as his took the coin he’d given her between his fingers. “Defacing currency and holding something I gave you as a momento? And I thought I was the charming one.” he said, looking up to meet her gaze. It was an oddly stirring thing, and something that made him feel important in ways he never really experienced before. Such a simple and harmless gesture had meant a lot to this girl, and it reminded him of his earlier thoughts of how choices that mean something to one person could mean entirely different things to those it affects. “You were miserable there, weren’t you?” he asked quietly.

Sirine was caught off guard- she had forgotten to shove the coin back under her tunic when she'd been dressing up. "It's not-" She had a hard time keeping the words straight in her mind, let alone on her tongue. And truth be told, it was exactly that. A memento, a reminder, a focus and a beacon of hope. "Miserable would have been fine. I was hopeless, I was resigned." It felt like she had to yank the words out of her, but she felt he deserved to know.

“Then no more. You’re free now, free to make your own choices and walk your own path. Never again will you be forced to lay with someone for coin for another’s profit. Walk this path with me for a while, discover what you are truly capable of.” Zaveed said, taking her by the shoulders. “One day, I’ll find my way back to sea again, and I’ll need a crew. It would be an honour if you’ll be the first of many to share in that vision, but for now, the air is sweet and there’s blood in the air. It’s a perfect night to see the town.” he grinned mischievously, dangerously. “How about it, Beautiful Sirine, care to join Sevari and I on our entirely off the books misadventure for family?”

Sirine's hand grasped her coin once more. Return to the sea? That was something she dreamed of every night. But right now it seemed like a true possibility, not just a pipe dream. "I said I would, and I do keep my promises as well." She looked to both Zaveed and Sevari, nodding her head once, a smile playing on her lips. The look in her eyes had changed; where they were once grim, they now seemed on fire. "Lead the way."

“The Sand and Pearl.” Sevari said, immediately walking in the direction of the docks. “How many Altmer guarding Redguard-owned taverns in Hammerfell have you seen? Something’s in that inn worth protecting by the Dominion.”

They made their way through the streets without any problems. Sevari headed their trio all the while, all up until they made it to the docks. The Sand and Pearl was not a hard establishment to find, planted almost right next to the docks so sailor could make a straight line from the gangplank to the front door. Sevari stopped in his tracks at the sight.

If Sirine’s contact only said there was one Altmer, then he must not be able to count. The Sand and Pearl was crawling, Thalmor and what he knew were Ministry Agents. Among them, he saw Marassa and Erincaro being escorted out of the front doors. It brought him relief that she was safe, but a sour feeling still tainted it when he saw Erincaro alive. “I can’t go.” Sevari said, voice heavy, “Damn it.”

Zaveed knew what the Thalmor would do if they recognized Sevari, prompting a sigh. “I’ve got this.” he said, his heart still pounding with excitement as he saw that Marassa was alive and well; Sirine’s tip had really come through. “You lay low for now, I’ll try to get her somewhere safe where we can all have a chat. I promise.”

Turning to Sirine, Zaveed said, “Just pretend we’ve been working together on assignments for a while now. I’ve been finding myself rather unpopular for… liberties I’ve taken on the job recently. And thank you; a promise means something to you.” he said with a smile, gesturing for her to head forward. He looked back to Sevari. “What will you do now?”

“I’ll go ahead of you, make my way to the archives.” He said, still looking toward Marassa and Erincaro with a look of something not quite malice or hatred, but softer, “I, um. I’ll look for any reports on Sirine’s brother.”

Zaveed clasped Sevari on his shoulder with a reassuring smile. “This is what it’s for, brother. She’s safe. We’re okay.” he said before adjusting his axe harness and strolling down to the gathered guards from both the extremely tense and irritable Thalmor and the Ministry agents, of whom Zaveed was only passingly familiar with them; their names didn’t stick.

He approached, holding up his badge to be permitted entry when one of the Dwemer approached. “We have this under control, this doesn’t require your task force, officer.” the Ministry agent said. Zaveed rolled his eyes and ignored the man.

“Marassa, it has been quite some time. I never figured you’d find your way this far North, but then neither did I.” He called out, stepping away from the confused Dwarf.

She turned to look at him, slowly blinking as she registered what she was seeing. “Zaveed?! You’re here? That means…” she said, her voice trailing off, not voicing to the others anything about Sevari. Zaveed simply nodded. They both knew that admitting their relationship to Sevari to the Thalmor was inviting trouble for all of them.

“It’s good to see you, sister. The armour suits you.” he said with a casual gesture. She crossed over to him quickly and threw her arm around him, the other holding the sword.

“Damn, Zaveed, it’s good to see you. I always figured you were still around, I’d just never known where to find you.” she said. He returned the embrace and grinned as she curiously looked him over and his familiarity with the Dwemer.

“Oh, you know her Majesty’s penchant for sending deniable assets here and there. And before you ask, I had a… career change recently.” he said, giving the Dwemer Ministry officers a side-eyed glance. “Our Dwemeri friends decided they didn’t like ships that much so sunk a lot of them and hired me on after a storm took mine. But the sea was never going to be the end of me, it’s too good of a mistress.” He glanced over Marassa’s shoulder at Erincaro. “The ambassador?” he asked.

“Emissary Erincary Syintar, at your service.” The Altmer said, approaching the reunion tepidly. “I apologize, Zaveed, I only know you from reputation. It has been an understandably trying period of time for us, I did not think to meet you here of all places… forgive me for saying so, it’s been years for you two, I would have expected something more…”

“Emotional, sentimental?” Zaveed finished with a shrug. “It’s never been our way. When you only see your sibling once a decade if you’re lucky, it takes time to warm up, especially when there’s quite a crowd and a bunch of terrorists trying to murder your eminence and my blood.”

“How did you find us?” Marassa asked, looking at Zaveed’s companion with curious amber eyes. “And who might you be?”

"Siri Nahel," the former pirate replied, deciding not to give her complete name. Looking over at the female khajiit, she had to admit she was a little surprised as well; like the Emissary, she would have expected a more emotional meeting between the siblings. Then again, with all these Thalmor and dwemer surrounding them, she could see why not. "This one's partner." She motioned with her head towards Zaveed.

Marassa stared at Zaveed. He shrugged in response. “Not that way.”

“Uh-huh.” She replied, turning to look at the Redguard woman. “Marassa, twin sister of your charming friend here. If he gets under your skin or says something inappropriate, feel free to punch him in the face. Auri-el knows I’ve been tempted a few times.”

“This is well and good,” Erincaro said, interrupting suddenly. “But the palace will be a much more secure and comfortable place for this sort of reunion.” he sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I also understand my fallen soldiers are being kept there. I would like to pay my respects as soon as permissible.”

Marassa nodded. “He’s right. Given your new job, I imagine you were heading that way anyways, Zaveed.” she said, and she moved to help make preparations to depart, leaving Zaveed standing with Sirine. He had a slight smile on his face.

“Would you believe me if I told you she was always that warm and inviting?” he asked his companion.

"I imagine there had to be someone to balance you out." Sirine let out a dry laugh before offering the khajiit man a slight wink. "I've taken her words under advisement- please be warned, I have quite the punch."

Zaveed tsked. “How could you ever want to maim this handsome face? It would be like defacing a monument, simply dreadful.” he teased, returning the wink. “Come now, time for you to see how people with disgusting amounts of wealth live. I can probably arrange to put you in a nice room for the night in the palace.”

Sirine's eyes narrowed for a split second before returning to normal, a placid smile finding its way on her face. "Sounds like a plan."

He’d made good time, all things considered. Surely, the reunion Marassa and Zaveed had had bought him a little time. Only a little, though, as he slipped between the large palace doors he could see them coming up from down the street past the large gates beyond the courtyard. It was an uneventful walk towards the archives and Sevari immediately set to work. The archives themselves were kept in a huge library, dusty tomes intermixed with newbound books on shelves that reached up almost towards the heavens it seemed, row upon row. He couldn’t imagine what history this place held, but he wasn’t here to try at it. He had a job.

Within the hour though, his search lit only by the sparse windowlight, candles and his own magelight spells, sorting by date and time of the reports, he’d found the dossier on one Bakih al-Nahel. Nodding, he had one more thing to do. Search for the blueprints of the Palace. A favor for a friend.

Friend? He smirked and shook his head. When did he decide to start calling that Reachman prick a friend?

He continued on his way, interrupted by one of the clerks in the archives clearing their throat. He turned to the source and found a small lady swaddled in silk robes smiling awkwardly, “Major Kerztar has requested your presence in his office. Urgent.”

Sevari nodded, his face an iron mask, but under the exterior cogs were working and his mind raced. He even found his heart quickening pace. He knew what that meant, or thought he knew. Either way, with Thalmor here, he had to tread cautiously. Tread he did, all the way up to the upper floors where the Senior Officers of the Ministry of Order in Hammerfell had their offices. He stood before the door, unable to move. He could leave. Now. Just cut and run with what he’d already had from the archives.

But he knew they’d only follow him. It seemed fate let them follow him all the way to Hammerfell too. It was useless. He sighed, Three knocks on the door. It opened and he saw Kerztar at his desk, a few Thalmor officers as well as Ministry Agents. Even Erincaro and Marassa were there. No doubt he had reported the events of that night he’d infiltrated their ship to the Thalmor officer that’d come to recover him after the attacks on the streets.

But he knew they wouldn’t be able to know it was him. Unless… his gaze went to Marassa. Kerztar spoke, the doors behind him creaking shut to reveal two more Ministry Agents he hadn’t seen coming in, “Sevari, do you recall my single rule for working alongside me?” Sevari made to open his mouth but Kerztar continued, “Never, never lie to me.”

“I don’t know what you mean, sir.” Sevari said, as deadpan as he could.

The Thalmor officer laid a dossier on the desk. He wouldn’t have been quite as nervous if he hadn’t seen the seal of the Penitus Oculatus emblazoned on it. “After the attacks, Kerztar and Fingalto Syintar decided to pool resources. Fingalto proposed that after the reported infiltration of his son’s ship, coupled with the attacks on his son’s troupe, that the insurgency was being funded, trained and perhaps maybe even staffed by… Cyrodiilic elements.”

“We raided Cheydinhaal. It was easy with the state of the Empire being what it is. We found so much to learn, Sevari.” The Thalmor said, “We even learned that you aren’t the only Penitus Oculatus spy here. But you are the only one in this office.”

He flipped open the dossier, spreading documents about the table and as he moved to each, he read them aloud for the room to hear, “Dar’Sevari, Bhaanu Sasra agent in Senchal, flipped by Inspector Cristus Aurelius. Responsible for the massacre of the entirety of Senchal’s Bhaanu Sasra training camp at Aeliel’s villa, crossed the border into Cyrodiil illegally to murder Aeliel himself as well as his security detail.” He went to another, “Dar’Jango, infamous assassin in Valenwood, responsible for countless murders of Thalmor sympathizers and Justiciars, as well as several high-ranking Thalmor. Accomplice to several drug-smuggling syndicates, money launderers and countless other crimes.”

He flipped to another, “Reassigned to Skyrim when Emperor Titus was murdered for your expertise on assassination, participated heavily in the retaliatory purge of Dark Brotherhood in the region and I have no doubt that the spike in missing Justiciars during that time was no coincidence.” He sighed flipping to one more, “Savian Kastav, notorious outlaw in the Elsweyr Confederacy, leading his gang on several robberies targeting Thalmor interests, culminating in the Great Caravan Robbery, in which you and your gang made off with a sizable portion of the Dominion’s funds. And finally, you’re here.”

The Thalmor officer smiled his toothy grin, “With me.”

“Never lie to me, Sevari.” Kerztar echoed.

The Ministry Agents behind Sevari grabbed him by both arms, jostling him more than needed in their task of putting shackles on his wrists. One of them jerked his arm out in front of him and “accidentally” pushed his elbow the wrong direction, prompting a grunt from Sevari. As the shackles closed around his wrist, Kerztar spoke, “I have arranged with Erincaro to have you transported back under heavy security to Alinor to stand trial for your crimes.”

“So be it.” Sevari said, eyes not having left Marassa all the while Kerztar told him his fate.

Marassa’s stare didn’t waver and she expressed nothing.

As far as dungeon standards went, the palace in Gilane wasn’t entirely awful. A small brick-sized window on each cell allowed some light in and air, and the beds even had mattresses. Sevari had been deposited in the cell while the Thalmor agents arranged for resupply of the Indrik so they could take their fallen, and Sevari, back to Alinor. Two Dominion guards stood outside of his cell, both of whom snapped to attention at the latest visitor.

“Leave us.” Marassa ordered. Despite her lack of affiliation with the Thalmor, her rank demanded respect and with a salute of a fist against the breastplate, both guards filed down the hall and out of the door. Marassa carried with her a plate of lamb hocks, and she slid it under the bars of the cell as she sat down against the frame.

“You know, I thought you were being paranoid about the Dominion finding out about you and what you’d done. I didn’t realize you’d been so busy in my absence, Sevari. I’m still having a hard time reconciling the man who’s slaughtered, what, hundreds? With the boy I loved back in Senchal. I bet you wish you’d told those men who came to take you to fuck off, huh?” she said, not looking at him.

“I did.” Sevari said. “Several times.”

His voice was quiet, racked with sadness. In the space of a handful of days, everything he’d worked toward in his entire life had come crashing down like a falling mountain. With similar weight. He knew this would come one day. That there was going to be a reckoning for all the things he’d done, and no amount of reconciling with Zaveed, pleading for Suffian to put down his sword and walk away, forsaking his duties to focus on himself and Zaveed… none of it would stop fate.

Nothing ever does, “You don’t say no to the Bhaanu Sasra. When I told you that if I had a choice, I would have stayed with you forever, I wasn’t kidding. What’s another street-urchin found murdered in Senchal, Marassa?”

“Nobody will get an apology for anything I’ve done in the name of collecting the debt the Thalmor made when they took a child’s normalcy away from him. My father may have made the wrong choice, but my mother didn’t do any crime. She was too busy loving me when no one would.” He spat, “My brothers, mean and rough as they were, were killed because of me. Because I, like my father, listened to Men I shouldn’t have. I’ll never forgive myself. There was going to be blood until I felt it right to stop in avenging everything the Thalmor took. Looking back on it now, though? I don’t think I ever would have.”

“So, no, Marassa. I don’t have to wish that I could tell the Bhaanu Sasra to fuck off. I only have to wish that my mother was still alive and a child never lost their way. I only have to wish that I could go back and die with her.” He said, voice growing heavy again, “So stop trying to reconcile, Marassa. It’s done. Those days are over, as sure as there’s bars between us.”

“Oh, is that what I was doing here?” Marassa said with a sigh. “I think that went out the window when you butchered two of my men on the deck of the ship and were plotting on assassinating my boyfriend, Sevari. We’re strangers now, and whatever chance we had to find out if we could have reconnected and ignited the embers of whatever we had in our youth died when those men did. I’m just here to say my goodbyes, and that those days weren’t meaningless to me so this is a courtesy. I hope you didn’t drag Zaveed into your hair-brained schemes; he’s a daft bastard, but he’s still my brother and he still has a future ahead of himself if he chooses it. I don’t much care for your self-pity party, Sevari.

“At least you had a family, my mother was a useless whore who left Zaveed and I to starve on the streets, and who knows who in Oblivion my father was. I just had my brother, and then you. You abandoned me, I was taken, and Zaveed ended up living through a nightmare for years until he learned how to murder people who wronged him.

“Life is such a fairy tail, isn’t it? Well in my case, my knight in shining armour was a bookish Altmer who didn’t look at me like I was some degenerate beast to be whipped into sword fodder, who fed me properly for the first time in my life and gave me a future.” she turned to face him, grabbing the bars in front of her. “And yeah, I fell in love with him and I fuck him. Does it hurt you to hear me say it? Good. If you’d even touched a hair on his head, these bars wouldn’t save you. I’d put an ash shell in your fucking throat and watch you choke to death in this wretched cell, your eyes bulging as you shit yourself in your final undignified minutes. So be glad you didn’t, because I’m here for one final mercy.” her voice was low, menacing. She meant every word.

“Mm.” Sevari grunted, still not looking at Marassa. Truth be told, it probably would’ve hurt more if this was the first nightmare marching straight out of his head into reality. He’d held his brother as he died, giving him the mercy of his own estranged brother’s knife in his throat before the poison could make him vomit up his own liquified entrails.

He’d watched his comrades die in the streets like dogs. He’d killed an innocent man in his own home, left him to be discovered by his elderly wife or his grandchildren or some other sappy bullshit. He’d been faced with just how much his life had withered like unattended crops while he was away chasing either death or vengeance. He watched the person he used to love restrain herself from killing him.

At this point, he didn’t know what hurt more- that she wanted to, or wouldn’t.

“Why?” Sevari said. “Is this vengeance? To leave me fucking alive?”

He stood, walking up close to the bars, close to Marassa. “Do it.” He said, firm. “They’re going to do it anyway, in Alinor. I’ll be hanged, you and I both know. So just kill a stranger.”

“Stop being a crybaby. It’s unbecoming.” Marassa said dryly, staring into her former lover’s eyes impassively. “So is giving up on yourself like you don’t have a choice in the matter.” she turned away from him for a moment, collecting her thoughts. “If our past means anything to you, then live, and make this world a better place than you’ve left it. You’ve got a lot of work to make up in that regard, and I’ve got enough people I care about, good people, to grieve over who died because of this fucking city.” Marassa said bitterly, thinking of the ambush and the soldiers she’d known for years just picked off like gnats by terrorists in the streets, dying in peacetime in a country that they had not expected to travel to, nor be harmed. It left a bitter knot in her guts. “This is farewell, but maybe not goodbye. I hope you find me again when you learn to stop fucking hating yourself and learn to accept that I’m not the same girl you knew back then. Maybe you can open your eyes and see me for who I am and accept that I’m in a good place now; isn’t that what family’s about? Celebrating each other’s happiness and supporting it or some other sentimental bullshit?” she asked harshly, gesturing at the lamb. “Enjoy your meal. I left something for you to pick your teeth with at the end of it.”

Sevari snorted, a humorless chuckle coughing past his lips. “Fuck,” he said, “You know I could have? I could have fucking killed him, but you were there. My brothers died because of me back in Senchal, Zaveed and I almost died and he lost his ship on our voyage here.”

He sat back down on the bed in his cell. “I didn’t kill him because you were there. I hate him, Marassa, with every evil bit in me, I want to choke the life out of him and I’d smile and laugh while he struggled under me.” He unclenched his fists, “But not because of some stupid fucking reason like jealousy. People fuck. It’s more than likely happening somewhere right now, it’s what they do. I didn’t kill him because it would mean you failed him. It would mean your career would be dust.”

He looked at his hands, scarred and scuffed and scabbed, “It would mean that you’d lose the first man in your life that you loved and stayed with you. I do hate him. With everything.” He said, “But you’re the most undeserving of the things my showing up does to people’s lives. I didn’t leave because you fucked up my mission and mounted a defense I couldn’t get through without dying. I left because I didn’t want to tear down everything that was once good in my past.”

“So sentimental. Thanks for respecting my career choices, if nothing else.” She replied, standing at last, posture erect and authoritative. Even though she was shorter than him, in that moment, she positively loomed over him. “I don’t know where that line is between you and the you I used to know, but I hope you start to see it more clearly. All I know is that people don’t become rotten to the core after a single bad choice; it’s many, consciously made, over years. I’ve accepted that Zaveed is one of those people who got a taste for power and blood to solve his own problems, and instead of stepping away from it, he bathed in it.” she said, her tone terse and her stare hard as she put her hands behind her back, a distinctly military posture to her bearing.

“I still love him, but it’s different now. Maybe you two can still find time to figure yourselves out, but I won’t have a part in it. You didn’t sacrifice my career, that’s a first step. There’s a lot more to go, and do it for yourself, not for me.” Marassa said, pointing an accuatory finger towards Sevari. “Just looking at you from across these rods all I see is someone who hates himself to the point he’s spent decades looking for the perfect way to die to make the pain stop. Maybe you’ll realize that’s not who you want to be one day.” She shook her head, looking towards the prison door. “And when you figure that out, come find me. I’d like to talk to the Sevari I know again, not whoever the fuck you are. Farewell, and stop giving up on yourself; it’s boring.” she said, stepping away from the bars and heading back down towards the exit, her steps a perfect cadence of years of intense drilling and practice.

Sevari didn’t watch her go. He just listened to it. He looked at the lamb, sighing, wondering if he could even reconcile with himself who he was now with who he used to be. He shook his head, pushing the tray away.

The door opened with a satisfying click of the Dwemeri-made lock, and Zaveed presented the suite to Sirine with a bow. It was a spacious room, meant for dignitaries, with its own private bath chamber, dining area, study, and balcony and a bed aligned so it could look out over the bay. “For your service to me and keeping appearances with our hosts, please accept this gift of actually having somewhere pleasant to set your head down.” he grinned. “For a little while. As soon as Sevari gets us what you’re looking for, we can start planning for what comes next. Is this to your liking?”

Sirine took a step inside the room, blinking a little as she took all of it in. It reminded her of her parents room at their estate, except much more gilded. It was a very far cry from where she had been living since the dwemer arrived, or even her ship before that; the expression on her face was enough to show that. "I should think so," she replied, glancing back at Zaveed. "Thank you." Her gaze lingered for a moment as she looked the khajiit man over. "Hm. You look anything but that bedraggled cat from the docks now."

He stepped in the room with her, taking a view out of the spacious window to the sea dancing in the moonlight. “Turns out that a bit of compassion from a stranger and entirely too much to drink in a few short days can do wonders for a man’s disposition. It also helps that I no longer have a literal hole in my heart and punctured lung, so that tends to put more of a spring in my step.” He chuckled, turning to face her. “I do have to thank you, for everything you’ve done for me. Not many people would have stopped to talk to someone in my condition, let alone agree to help them without much reservation. You helped Sevari and I find Marassa, which is a debt I sincerely hope I can repay in kind with Bakih… it feels strange to have gratitude for someone, but I think I would like to get used to it. Thank you, for your compassion and devotion to your word.” he said kindly, taking her hand and kissing her knuckles with a smile.

"You're welcome," Sirine replied, a small smile on her face. Why had she helped him? She had thought it was on whim the first day, a distraction from her usual habit, but deep inside she knew it had been more than that. Sirine wasn't a good person; how could she be after all she had done? But something had stirred inside her, something she both hated yet yearned for. Perhaps compassion was the right word.

"You reminded me of myself when my ship went down," she finally replied, turning her eyes away from his to glance at the sea beyond the window. The waves looked so beautiful and inviting- it was hard for her to believe that people could actually be scared of sea. Her smile remained but there was now a lingering sadness to it. "Swimming to shore with nothing but the clothes on my back..." Her voice trailed for a moment before she snapped herself out of it. "But that's the past and here we are."

The Khajiit nodded knowingly, stepping towards the balcony. “Our experiences are similar, at least in that regard. Merruhnz’s Wrath was a beautiful vessel, I had a 50 man crew and we were a scourge of the sea. I was known as Captain Greywake, and my name carried weight and fear across the Southern seas, and I was the bane of any who didn’t fly the Dominion colours… and sometimes even then.” he smiled ruefully, leaning against the railing as he let the salted air fill his nostrils. “Gods, it was freedom. I was respected, people flocked to join my crew, to shower me with drink and food and gifts for a chance to earn my favour, to contract me for jobs that they knew only I could do. It was all taken from in in a single night, a bloody storm and gales of the likes I’ve rarely ever seen in unfamiliar seas. I hit a reef, and it tore the Wrath asunder. Most of my crew perished in the waves, and everything I’ve ever worked for in three decades, just… gone. The Dwemer picked me up shortly after and offered me a choice; become their knife in the dark, or die in a fighting pit. You can see what I chose.”

"You've loved it as long as I have then," Sirine replied, feeling her sympathy rising for the man as she listened to him. "Like I told you when we first met, I was born out there, at sea- the waves were more a lullaby to me than my mother's voice." It wasn't usual of her to think of her childhood, not before others anyway- that had been something she kept for herself to forget the deeds of the night.

She looked at the khajiit. What could have lead him to a life at sea? "I didn't have many, not like your crew... I had to start over more than once. But it was enough, I think. I didn't need more than my brother." She let out a breath before looking back out at the wave, hands resting lightly on the balcony top. "That boy followed me everywhere. He gave up a good life for me." Her grip now tightened around the railing. "That's why I hate them. He was nothing to them, to their plans. Neither of us were. And yet-" She frowned, a crease marring her forehead before she relented once more. "I should be happy you chose to become one of them. I'd thank a god if I felt they were worthy of it."

“I’m not one of them, not really. I’m forced into their service at the threat of death, and I’ve gotten the last thing I’ll ever get from them. Sevari and I are going our own way, away from all of this, and starting over. I’d rather hoped you would come along.” Zaveed said, smiling at Sirine. “I can’t replace what the Dwemer took from you, or me, but one thing I’ve learned in my life is if you dwell on wrongs that happened in your past, you’ll never look forward again. I had a second chance at life from someone who had every right to kill me and send me to Namiira to be one of His… creatures. But she instead chose compassion, and only a few hours later, someone else comes into my life and continues this trend. Perhaps it’s a sign that it’s what I should try, too.”

Sirine wasn't all too sure about that. "Try, perhaps. Sparingly. I probably haven't sailed as far and wide as you have, but every experience has taught me if there's one person in the world who will show compassion and kindness, there are ten more who will do the exact opposite. Even one's own blood with turn their back on the other when it's for their own betterment." She turned away from the balcony and faced Zaveed, arms crossed loosely over her chest as she contemplated him. "Maybe I'm a fool, but I don't think you will double cross me, Captain Greywake. If it's to the sea you're planning on returning, then I am more than willing to come along for that journey. Once I know my brother is well and safe."

The Khajiit nodded. “We’ll find out soon enough, with luck. I’m confident he’s alive, or the dossier I found would have likely indicated he’d been… you know.” Zaveed said, glancing over. “But I am a man of my word, as few morals as I have left, that still means something. And I give my word to you, it is my goal to find myself a new ship and pick up the life I’d lost. Perhaps it will be a way for you to collect what you’d lost, yes?”

A knock came at the door, and instead of being ushered in, one of the palace guards entered. “Pardon me, sir. This couldn’t wait.”

Zaveed grunted in annoyance, the spell of his mood broken by the intrusion. He stepped away from Sirine and approached the man. “What could possibly be so important to intrude?”

“It’s about Sevari, sir. He’s been arrested by the Thalmor; they aim to take him back to Alinor and make him stand trial for his alleged crimes.” The elf said, looking sheepish as Zaveed gnashed his teeth in response.

“Is that right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Leave us. Now.” the Khajiit commanded. The Dwemer nodded curtly and departed as swiftly as he came. Zaveed began to stroll around the room, like a firestorm ready to break out. “Damn it, damn it all.” he growled, kicking a chair hard, forcing it into a wall. He looked to Sirine, his blue eyes like glaciers ready to shatter. “In Merrunz’s name, I am not leaving my brother to that fate. I lose him, you lose your own brother in the process. Are you willing to help me free him from bondage?” he asked.

"There's no need to ask," Sirine replied. This was most unfortunate news, and while she wasn't showing any obvious anger, her mood was soured. "I gave my word to you, and as it were I owe a debt to Sevari as well for his part in helping me out of the Scorpion's Song. Tell me what to do, I will do it."

Zaveed nodded, pleased at her willingness to see it through. “We do what a scorpion does; we wait for the right moment to strike. We play by their rules until we see an opening, then we take it. No stupid heroics, no fighting the entire garrison. I aim to have all three of us walk out of this building together none the worse for wear.” he looked at her with a sense of finality. “I will leave you to your privacy, if you wish. We all know it’s probably been some time since you even knew what that word meant.”

Sirine nodded, and with the smallest hint of hesitation reached out to place a hand on his arm. "We will get him out," she replied. "I aim to prove myself true." She wasn't sure if the Zaveed would be able to rest- she certainly hadn't been able to when she lost her brother- but there was the hope he was more sensible than she had been. "For now, I bid you goodnight."

Reaching out, Zaveed gingerly took Sirine’s cheek in his hand. He smiled softly. “You’ve never given me cause to believe that your word isn’t law nor your heart untrue. Until the morrow.” he said quietly, lingering for a few moments after sharing a gaze before stepping back and departing the room, the predatory spring to his step subdued as he closed the door behind him.

A Sunset in Al-Aqqiya

12th of Midyear, 4e208
Al-Aqqiya, Hammerfell
17 miles Northeast of Gilane

O Death, Where is Your Sting…

17 miles is a hard ride.

17 miles to the town that made Kerztar, Sevari, and the Ministry of Order infamous. Al-Aqqiya used to be a beautiful port town, the jewel of the coast, where even the Dwemer occupation felt like it had never happened. Until Sevari rode to town at the head of a platoon of Dwemer soldiers and Ministry agents. It was a bloody day. Sevari would never apologize for the lives he’d taken in the long scar he’d wrought across Tamriel from Anequina to Northpoint but the flames that had eaten Al-Aqqiya to ashes looked like the flames of hell that day. Mehrunes Dagon would have revelled in the destruction.

And it was to this town that three riders came, their steeds’ hooves leaving behind a cloud of dust that looked like the pillars of smoke that had reached up from Al-Aqqiya as they caught the burnt orange light of the setting sun. They came to a stop at the edges of the town, hanging about the charred walls and blackened beams that had once been peoples’ homes and livelihoods, like a skeleton picked clean in the deserts.

Even now, to look upon it, Sevari’s soul felt heavy. He remembered the screams, the smell of corpses laying out in the sun, the crows that came with watering mouths and hungry eyes for the feast like an audience to the bloody display. He knew why they wanted him to meet them here. He knew why they sent his brother to come to collect on the debt the Imperials thought they could hold over him forever. He knew they would be disappointed by the time this all ended.

“Well,” Sevari said, turning to Latro and Jaraleet, “We’ve come this far together. Why not go a little further.”

Jaraleet wasn’t used to travelling on horseback, being more accustomed to long treks on foot, and as such the Argonian wasn’t particularly used to the downsides of a 17 miles ride. Still, regardless of any discomfort or pain that he felt, he was a Haj-Eix, he had been trained to push aside anything that could be a detriment to his performance in a mission and so he kept quiet. He nodded in response to the Ohmes-Raht’s words, they had a mission to do today; what was a little more effort, more discomfort, if it meant seeing it through? To the Argonian the answer was obvious.

“Sevari.” He spoke after a few moments of silence, his eyes scanning the ruins of what was once Al-Aqqiya. “Did your contacts specify a location within the ruins of the town?” The assassin asked calmly. “It would be best to know beforehand so me and Latro can hide in ambush, in case things turn to violence as you fear.”

“Stick to the rubble, move quiet, keep me in sight. Just look out for anything I can’t see. If I don’t need you, all the better. If I do, don’t hesitate.” Sevari said, turning to Latro, “You’re quiet.”

“Not many words to say over this.” Latro shrugged. “We’ve got poisoned blades and it seems like everybody who’ll be in this ghost town will be ready to kill each other at the twitch of a finger at the wrong moment.”

Sevari nodded, “You’re right. Go, among the rubble, just keep me in sight. I don’t need you two on either of my shoulders.” Sevari looked back to the town they’d come to, “I’m sure they’ll just happen across me if I stroll in the place.”

Jaraleet nodded in response to Sevari’s words. It was a good plan, stay hidden but keep the Ohmes-Raht in their sights so that if, things turned out violent, they’d be able to ambush his attackers. With nothing left to say, the Argonian assassin retreated into the ruins that had once been Al-Aqqiya and did what he had been trained for all of his life: he hid and waited, making sure to keep Latro and Sevari in his sights and his hands close to his weapons.

Latro left the other direction of Jaraleet, quick and quiet. He moved through the streets and the ruins of the town like a panther, noiseless despite his bounding steps.

On the other end of town, Sevari tucked his pistol in his belt, checking over his weapons after. He nodded to himself, ready as he ever could be to get this over with. He began the long walk through the town, each step a memory of the grand fiasco the mission here was. Finally, he got to the mosque, still standing, though charred and destitute. Still, crows picked at the scraps of what once were people in the streets, their calls sounding like laughs at the man who had returned to bear second witness to his failure here. Out of the mosque and through the large creaking doors stepped five people. He cocked an eyebrow at the one at the head of them.

He was a large Khajiit, even larger than himself. Cathay-Raht. His face was marred by a burn scar that spread from his neck up to his brow on the left side and one eye was glossy white among it, gray pupil staring at nothing. The other four were Imperials and Redguard. These, he knew. Jahiim, his liaison with the Poncy Man. Quintus, his own partner. Ironhands, a man he only knew in passing, mostly by reputation. Sa’ad, his shadowy handler and Chief of Station for the Penitus Oculatus in Hammerfell, an office that held no real authority now the Dwemer were here. “Sevari, my brother.” The Cathay-Raht nodded, “Or is it still Dar’Jango, the feared assassin of Valenwood? Savian Kastav, bloodiest outlaw this side of Leyawiin? Or the other side seeing where we are now, as it were.”

Jaraleet followed Sevari as the Khajiit made his way to the ruins of the mosque, sticking to what shadows were cast by the ruined buildings, making no sound with his footsteps as he made his way through what remained of Al-Aqqiya. The Haj-Eix stayed in place as the 5 figures stepped out of the ruined mosque, his hands moving to grip his weapons but not drawing them just yet; it was clear that Sevari knew the individuals, so they were most likely the contacts he was supposed to meet, and there were still no signs of hostility and so the assassin merely waited and watched as the situation developed, ready to jump into action in a second as soon as it became necessary.

“Just Sevari.” He said, eyeing them all.

“And that’s whose failures I’ve come to address now.” Suffian rumbled, “Have you forgotten? What they did to us, what they fucking took from us!”


“Then why?” Suffian hissed.

Sevari could feel the hatred from where he stood. This wasn’t his brother. Was this what Zaveed saw when he first looked at him in that tavern? What Marassa saw? A man so changed by the storm of his life that he stood bent and broken as a tree lost among tempests?

“I couldn’t.” Sevari managed.

“Then you’re a traitor and a coward. Not only to the Empire, Sevari,” Suffian drew his sword, “But to our mother.”

They all charged at once, weapons held aloft. Sevari pulled his pistol and squeezed off a shot, catching Ironhand in the chest and doubling him over. He flipped it in the air and caught it by its warm barrel, drawing his messer and parrying Farukh’s scimitar and clubbing him over the head with the handle of his pistol. He saw Latro charge out of a ruined building and bat away Quintus’s sword-swipe with the haft of his axe.

As soon as the battle began, Jaraleet left his hiding spot having already drawn his weapons as soon as he had noticed the change in the ambience when Sevari had answered the Cathay-Raht’s question negatively. Scanning the battlefield, it didn’t took long for the Haj-Eix to notice the wounded Nord. He would be his first target. Taking advantage of the confusion caused by Latro’s entrance to the battle, Jaraleet approached Ironhands and, with a simple yet brutal, motion, thrusted his dagger through the Nord’s throat.

With the Nord taken care of, and even if he somehow still lived after that wound the assassin was certain that the poison would finish the job, Jaraleet turned towards the other combatants, parrying a blow from Sa’ad.

Latro sidestepped another thrust from Quintus, hooking his blade with the beard of his axe and lashing out with his knife, finding only air as Quintus himself ducked under it. The Imperial landed a heavy blow with his fist straight into Latro’s gut. Latro was sent away, sputtering and heaving in shallow breaths. He wildly swung at Quintus’s head but the Imperial came at him too quickly.

The big man wrapped him in his thick arms and sent them both into the charred husk of a building, blackened timbers shattering as they burst through them. They ended up on the ground, Latro putting up a hasty mage armor spell as he rolled to the side, Quintus’s blade biting deep into the floorboards where he had been. Latro struck out with a vicious kick, heel striking Quintus’s knee and sending him toppling over. Quintus was on top of him, twice his fist knocked into his jaw and made him spit blood. He could feel his cheek split a little more with each.

He moved his head to the side, planting his feet on Quintus’ hips as his third punch splintered floorboards. With a roaring push, he sent Quintus off of him and onto his back. Latro scrambled onto him, raining down blows of his own and roaring with each one, each time Quintus’ head collided with the floor until his head lolled, fuzzy and unfocused.

Latro grabbed up his knife, bringing it down savagely but his hands were wrapped with Quintus’s own. The Imperial’s strength slowed the knife to a crawl towards his throat as the both of them struggled.

To the Redguard woman’s credit, she recovered quickly from Jaraleet’s sudden intervention in the battle and changed her focus from Sevari to him. A second blow from Sa’ad’s scimitar was aimed at Jaraleet’s neck, which the Haj-Eix managed to intercept using the serrated side of his dagger. For a moment both combatants were locked in a vicious struggle as Sa’ad tried to overpower Jaraleet, until the latter felt a kick in his gut that doubled him over and threatened to make him spill the contents of his stomach to the ground.

It was only thanks to his training that Jaraleet managed to roll out of the way from Sa’ad’s follow up attack and avoid being pierced by the Redguard’s scimitar through the gut and, even then, he still got a glancing blow to his side, his blood spilling into the sand from the wound. It was also thanks to his training that the Argonian managed to stand up again as quickly as he did, retaliating with a sword strike of his own that Sa’ad managed to parry.

Both Jaraleet and Sa’ad were stuck in a deadly dance, both being able to easily parry, or otherwise redirect, the strikes of each other. And yet, as time wore on, it seemed that Sa’ad was the seeming victor, as she started to get in more and more blows past Jaraleet’s defences, the Argonian’s reflexes slowing down as his strength, slowly but surely, had seeped along with his blood from the wound that the Redguard had managed to score at the start of their duel.

Keenly aware that with every second that passed his chances of victory diminished more and more, Jaraleet decided to take a gamble. Leaving his defences open, he charged towards Sa’ad and slammed his shoulder against her body. Two things happened after that, first of them all Jaraleet felt the cold steel of the Redguard’s scimitar bury into his guts as Sa’ad’s last thrust connected with his stomach; second, the Redguard woman fell to the ground from the force of the impact.

Jaraleet took the opening instantly, knowing full well that if he waited but a moment longer he’d soon return to the Hist, and drove his sword through the throat of his opponent, twisting the blade for good measure before pulling it free.

Latro’s gritted teeth had set his head to throbbing and red creep into his face with the effort it took to match Quintus’ strength. The Imperial too was having a similar struggle, both men caught in a tense duel of who could overpower the other. Latro rose to one knee, shifting his weight down in a desperate effort and finally, Quintus’ strength wavered.

The dagger came down lightning quick but instead of the Imperial’s throat, it was his shoulder. Latro had to brace himself lest he tumble over, but it was for naught as the Imperial’s rough hands wrapped themselves around his head. Latro’s saw an all-consuming burst of white as Quintus’ forehead collided with his nose. They tumbled, Latro again finding himself on his back. Quintus landed a blow to his head and Latro spit blood to the side again, weak now. He tried to grab Quintus’ wrists, but the Imperial had too much strength in him, even after the bout of struggling over the dagger.

His hands wrapped around Latro’s neck, squeezing so hard the Reachman expected his neck to break, but instead he just rasped out noiseless cries. He reached up in one last desperate attempt and grabbed the dagger still buried in Quintus’ shoulder, twisting it. To Latro’s increasing panic, it only made the Imperial grit his teeth and squeeze harder, growling. His hands moved to his face, his thumbs digging into his eyes as Latro screamed bloody terror.

He pulled the knife free of Quintus and drove it into his side, once, twice. Quintus howled and yelped with each stab, rolling away and clutching his side. Latro heaved in a painful, burning breath and struggled to his stomach, then his unsteady feet. His shoulder collided with the beam next to him as he stood, taking his moment to heave in desperate breaths and recover before his opponent. The world swam and the ground seemed to shift beneath his feet. He heard Quintus roar again and he turned just in time to fall and skitter out of the way of Quintus slow and heavy charge, the Imperial finding purchase only on the support beam.

Latro heard it break, looking around him at the ruined house they were in before more creaks and cracks were heard. He scrambled away on all fours out of the house as it came down on Quintus in a racket of cracking wood and the falling roof loud enough to wake the dead. The impromptu demolition sent up a cloud of sand and ash and dust, obscuring everything in a radius around where the house once stood, stinging Latro’s eyes before he closed them, shielding his face at the sight of it.

As the dust began to settle, he saw a silhouette in the cloud, limping away from the wreckage and towards him. “Try...harder.” Quintus began to laugh.

Latro started to growl as he got to his feet, crescendoing in a full-on roar as he made his unsteady charge at Quintus. He drove his knife into Quintus with all his strength, the cross-guard pounding into Quintus’ gut with the ferocity of each, hard enough to lift his feet from the ground with each collision. On the last, Latro let him fall to his knees, kicking him in the head as hard as he could to topple him over. “Try harder?” He growled, “Try fucking harder, huh!?”

He began stomping the heel of his shoe into Quintus’s head. Even when Quintus was obviously dead with the sound of wet cracks that met Latro’s stomps, the Reachman didn’t stop, roaring and cursing with each blow. Finally, when Quintus’ head was practically a jelly of bone bits, teeth and blood, Latro stepped back, falling back onto his arse in the sand and breathing heavy, staring at the carnage he’d wrought. His eyes were wide with fury and his teeth still gritted, quaking breaths escaping him.

“It would seem to me that it was unnecessary to have such a display, he was clearly dead after the second stab or so in his gut.” A voice commented behind Latro, and the Reachman would feel a hand being placed on his shoulder. “Come, we have no time to waste, we should check in on Sevari.”

Latro sprang back at the hand on his shoulder, knife at the ready until he realized who it belonged to. He hadn’t even noticed Jaraleet approach from behind him. He only nodded to Jaraleet, getting to his feet and taking a breath, closing his eyes. It had been a long, long time since he’d killed a man like that. He hoped to have left that type of thing behind, leaving death as clean and quick as possible. But things never quite work out like that, it seemed. With one last look at Quintus, he followed Jaraleet.

“You were always the fucking coward, Sevari! Always the one to worm your tongue about and get us all into more trouble than we needed!” Suffian scowled, holding his sword out in a front-guard. “The Dwemer and the Thalmor both are after us and this is how it ends for us in Hammerfell?”

The inside of the mosque was just as Sevari remembered. They had holed themselves up in here during the first time he’d been in Al-Aqqiya, the doors barred and firing at the villagers pouring in through the windows. Even still, it looked like there was a war on. Al-Aqqiya was only a place of death now, it seemed. Ash and dust had coated itself in untouched layers about the hall of the mosque, prayer rugs left just like they had been those days ago when Sevari was first here.

Rotting, picked at bodies were in the windows, the corners, Dwemer and villager alike, coexisting more peaceful in death than life. The sun shone itself in the rays that caught the floating dust kicked up by the most recent fight here. Sevari chanced a look down at his wound, a long cut across his stomach, another on his shoulder, deep. It was dark everywhere the rays didn’t touch, and it was in those shadows that two brothers stood at odds. One on either end of the mosque, one on either end of a question. Family or duty?

“Answer me!” Suffian roared as he came at him again. Sevari could tell that his strength was being sapped away from him already as he side-stepped the horrible chop for his head, easily batting it away as Suffian stumbled past him.

“You wouldn’t understand, Suffian, please.” Sevari said, “Just put your sword down. You’re already cut-“

“And what? You think I was ever the type to-“ Suffian doubled over in a fit of hacking coughs that left his fist wet with thick, black blood.

“It’s starting to coagulate your blood in your veins, Suffian. It won’t be long.” Sevari said, lowering his messer, voice heavy. “Why the fuck did you have to put me at odds, brother?”

Still, Suffian was hacking up blood until his coughs had left his throat raw and wheezing. He made to slash at Sevari’s belly but the sword only flew from his fist, clattering across the ground into a corner. Suffian stumbled towards him, planting his hands on Sevari’s shoulders and coughing in his face. Sevari thought it might have been an effort to choke him, but… well…

“Suffian, please.” Sevari said, wrapping his brother in his arms. “Just… stop.

Suffian heaved in ragged, grating breaths as he lay against Sevari, making no more effort to fight. His hands fell to his side, and Sevari knew it was time soon. He struggled with the weight of his brother, but he brought them to the mosque’s statue at the end of its aisle, a monument to whatever patron deity belonged to Al-Aqqiya. He grunted, setting his brother at its feet. He shook his head, taking in the pitiful sight of him.

Blood hung in a long string of spit from his chin as his head looked about, tired, red eyes looking at Sevari from under the haze of the poison. Altogether, in that moment, he regretted putting the stuff on the edge of his blade. He wasn’t expecting his brother here, though. All the good it did them to bring him along. “Why, Sevari?” Suffian spoke between ragged breaths, “Have you forgotten?”

“Never, brother.” Sevari said, hiking up his pants as he knelt down to eye-level with the man he once knew as his closest, most caring brother of the litter. “I just started putting more thought into it. Do you think this is how mother would’ve wanted us to be? Seeking vengeance?”

He swept his hands around at the scene, reached a hand out and put it on his brother’s knee, giving it a squeeze, “This?”

Suffian only lay there, hands laying at his side as he looked to the ground and took his last breaths. He coughed again, wiping his mouth on the back of his sleeve, “Maybe not.”

“Let me ask you then,” Sevari said, voice soft and pleading, “Why, Suffian?”

“When I heard that you were so close, closer than I ever was,” he said, “What was it? What made you not want to? What made you run away from that damned boat?”

Sevari took his moment. He frowned, grunting as he came to sit beside his brother. He sighed, not knowing what to say at first, but he knew his brother deserved an answer before he went. “Love.” He said, leaving the word out on the dusty air, “Love. I saw her, Suffian. I saw Marassa, you remember when I would tell you and our brothers about her in that tea shop we’d meet in after assignments in Senchal?”

Suffian nodded, coughing with what sounded like a chuckle, “You wouldn’t fucking shut up about her. Always saying you’d go back to her, find her.” He sniffled, coughing up again and spitting a huge gob of blood from between his lips onto his chest, “Fuck.”

“I know.” Sevari said. “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah.” Suffian nodded, “Did you, though?”

Sevari looked at Suffian, his brother looking expectantly at him from his drooping eyes, lids getting heavy. Sevari frowned, “Hm?”

“Find her, fool, did you ever go back to her after we came back from killing Aeliel? You saw her here, right? What, on the streets near the boat, or something?” Suffian asked. “I was always hoping you would. Find a good life for yourself like you would say, or at least visit her from time to time. I think it would’ve been good for you.”

Sevari opened his mouth to say no, he hadn’t, but he stopped. He could tell him the truth, tell him that not only did he only find her with somebody else, but that she was with the target. As bodyguard and lover. That they were on opposite sides now and she was taken regardless, that he’d missed his chance forever to have a heartfelt reunion with her and the one he did have was anything but.

He lay his hand over Suffian’s, the last bit of strength in his brother used to squeeze his hand in his own massive paw. “Did you?” Suffian asked.

Sevari looked at Suffian, swallowed, looked away. He nodded, “Yeah,” he forced a smile. “Yeah.”

“Good.” Suffian said, a weak smile on his own lips. “Sevari, I’m dying. It fucking hurts.”

“I know.” Sevari said. “How do you want it?”

“Quick. Jugular.” Suffian said.

Sevari unsheathed his knife, but Suffian held up a hand, struggling wordlessly save for a few grunts to his shaking legs. Finally standing, he was still slumped over, holding his aching gut. He took a step forward, “We used to watch sunsets.”

“I remember.” Sevari said. “Would you like to?”

Suffian nodded, putting his arm out for his brother. Sevari took it, placing the heavy arm over his shoulders and walking towards the doors. He pushed one open while his brother pushed the other. It opened out onto a view of the ruined town’s main avenue, the sky blazing orange in the sun’s last show before it retreated back to be swallowed by the horizon. A flock of seagulls soared overhead, their calls echoing back to them across the sky. A soft breeze picked up a cloud of dust and sent it across the town’s street to reveal Jaraleet and Latro watching from a distance. “Beautiful.” Suffian said, a soft smile upon his lips, “Beautiful.”

“Tell me when.” Sevari whispered to Suffian’s nod.

It was a few moments of watching the sunset with his brother, like the old days. Before all this. The Bhaanu Sasra, before mother was dead, before they were set to killing each other. “Okay.”

In a flash, Sevari cut deep just under Suffian’s jaw, taking up a fistful of his brother’s robes as he fell away from him and brought him into a quiet embrace. “I’ll miss you. You damn fool.”

After a moment, Sevari stood, dusting himself off and smoothing out his shirt. He descended the few steps from the front door of the mosque and walked past Latro and Jaraleet, making his way to the horses, “Let’s go.”

Once they’d mounted up and ridden to the outskirts of town, Sevari reared his horse to her hind legs with a loud neigh. His horse pounding her hooves on the dusty earth and shaking her head as the trio stopped, one on either side of him.

“What now?” Latro asked, looking back at the town with the two others.

“Well,” he said, pulling free a cigar from his coat and lighting it with a small flame from his finger, “I don’t have a lot of places to go.”

“Jaraleet, man, you need a healer.” Latro said, tossing a healing potion he pulled from his saddlebag to the Argonian, “What will you do now, An-Xileel?”

Jaraleet caught the potion that Latro threw him easily, downing the bottle’s contents before replying. “What else but go back to the Three Crowns with you?” He replied, chuckling softly. “Like Sevari, I don’t have a lot of places to go either. So I’m staying with you lot, that hasn’t changed.”

Latro chuckled himself, nodding. He looked back to the town, empty now, but a few new bodies added to it. He frowned, before throwing back on his easy smile, “I think it’s time we go back, the three of us.”

“Three?” Sevari asked, cocking a brow, then shrugging, “I guess so. After all of this,” he shook his head, “You two are the closest things I have to friends now.”

“Worry not,” Latro smiled, “Jaraleet is the friendliest of us.”

Jaraleet laughed at Latro’s comment, shaking his head. “I think you’ll fit in just fine Sevari.” The Argonian commented, smiling himself. “Come, let us return to Gilane. You’ll see what I mean once you see this little group of ours.”

“Any man with his wits about him would’ve seen you two and seen enough.” Sevari smiled, sad still, “But, I think I’ll go. There’s nothing left for me here.”

He frowned, turned his horse away from the town, leaving it at his back as his horse ambled. He cracked the reins and dug his spurs at his horse’s flanks and the trio were off at a dead run. Perhaps, Sevari thought, if he rode fast enough away that the memories wouldn’t be able to keep up. A foolish thought, but one he’d had about a lot of places he’d left behind. He could hope, wish, that he would ride fast enough to never be caught up in another war again, another fight.

But hope never served him well these days. Perhaps if he just kept riding, he could forget at least the fight. Let the town go back to rest, to never bother another soul again with the ghosts that haunted its blackened ruins. Just let it be lost to time, another burned village, nobody knowing who’s done it in the first place and not caring. Just another ghost town.

Just a sunset in Al-Aqqiya.

Alright, duderinos.

Due to the extended periods of time between now and the last posts you were in, collabs or solo, we are hereby setting a deadline for you. If activity from the both of you both OOC and IC do not pick up by Dec. 16th, you will be removed from the RP. We have an obligation to the players of this RP to keep this going, and we can’t add the responsibility of puppeting the characters of inactive players to the list of responsibilities we already have.


Executive Thot
The Blood of Martyrs and Tyrants…

10th of Midyear, 4e208
Gilane, Hammerfell

Freedom, they cried, Blood and Freedom…

“You look dashing.” Latro heard the Dunmer speak, “If you had bronze skin I wouldn’t be able to tell you were Breton under there.”

“Reachman.” Latro corrected.

“Hill-Scum.” He heard Thunderhead’s voice roll. “You Forsworn? Figure a Forsworn would find some way to go back to living in shadow and killing innocents.”

“Your Dwemer were the ones killing innocents in Cyrodiil.” Latro spat bitter in no particular direction, not knowing where everyone was situated, only that they were rolling in a carriage. “And don’t forget what Ulfric did to us in Markarth, Pale-Shit.

“Enough!” Sevari’s voice, “If I have to kill the both of you to end my headache I’ll sleep like a baby after.”

They were quiet again for a while, the carriage’s wheels crunching over the dusty streets of Gilane and the sounds of the Ministry Agents with him in it. A banging came from somewhere and it sounded like a latch was opened. Latro hated not being able to see but the faintest suggestion of light through his hood. “We’re almost at the meeting area, check your weapons.”

The hatch closed again, Sevari’s voice, “You heard him.”

All around him was whetstones working at blade’s edges, the curious mechanical sounds of Dwemer rifles and pistols being worked. The Dunmer’s voice, “Anything out of the ordinary, don’t hesitate. We’re all coming back from this, grab a drink and laugh about it after.”

“Aye.” Thunderhead’s grim voice.

After a little bit of a ride, the banging came again, the latch opened again. “Five minutes, we’ll be at the rendezvous point with Krinnec’s men.”

“Oh, Sevari, your friends are here!” The Dunmer said in a mocking sing-song. “Family reunion? Is Zaveed going to pop up again there?”

“Shut your hole or I’ll put the barrel of my rifle in it and make another one.” Sevari said, sliding the latch closed again.

Latro worked at the manacles around his wrist. He couldn’t go anywhere if he tried before he was stuck like a pig for the effort. Still, they itched, felt uncomfortable in more ways than one. He sighed, just wanting to get this over with, or even settling for taking this damned sack from over his head.

“Maulakanth not with us? I miss him.” The Dunmer said. “Don’t you miss him, Two-Shafts? What about your best friend, Zaveed?”

Latro supposed the annoyed grunt he heard was Two-Shafts. Supposed as well, that Two-Shafts didn’t like whoever Maulakanth was. Thunderhead’s voice came again, “If we had Maulakanth and Krinnec’s Cathay-Raht boys here it’d be something of a reunion.”

“And Gilane would burn just like Al-Aqqiya?” The Dunmer said, “I still can’t believe what Krinnec’s boys did to the place. I would have thought Maulakanth would’ve swept through them like that, but…”

“But nothing.” Sevari said, bitter, Latro wondering just what had happened in Al-Aqqiya, “It’s done, Kerztar doesn’t want it coming up again, so I don’t either. Talk of it is dead.”

“Like everyone there?” The Dunmer prodded at Sevari’s patience.

“If Krinnec’s team hadn’t shown up, we would’ve remained cornered and strung up in the town square for everybody to dance around and sing mighty heroic songs about killing.” Sevari growled, “Do’Jaffi is just a Khajiit that kills for killing alone.”

“You can relate, no? Bhaanu Sasra, you and them?” The Dunmer said.

Suddenly there was a powerful crunch and the Dunmer was wailing and whimpering, “My finger!”

“Now maybe you’ll think twice before speaking out of turn, Knife-Ear.” Thunderhead laughed a low growl.

The banging came again, though somehow Latro could feel the franticness of it. Sevari opened the latch, “What?”

“Krinnec’s men… their wagon-“

Suddenly the loudest sound Latro had ever heard set his ears to ringing and he was weightless inside the carriage’s walls. He only had a second to spare to think on how the heavy metal walls that seemed like protection at first now seemed like a cage. Then all was that much more black…

He came to. He didn’t know where he was, what happened, all around him was black and an all-powerful ringing in his ears made his head throb that much worse. He could tell he was breathing, then came the realization he had a sack over his head, his breathing causing it to cling damp around his mouth with each breath in. He went to get himself up, spread his arms but he was shackled. There was weight on him, heavy. The smell came to him first, just as the ringing began to die down.

Burning, sulfur. And something else, was someone cooking meat? He reached up and grabbed the cloth around his head, yanking it from over his eyes and finally, he saw the bloody horror that the sack kept from him. The weight on him was Thunderhead, lower part of his face missing and dribbling blood. He realized in bloody terror and disgust that he was still somewhat alive, his hand grasping at nothing before he inhaled like the sound of a tub being drained of the last bit of water before a final gurgling cough sent thick bloody spittle about the carriage, Latro feeling it warm on his face. He groaned and cringed at the feeling, letting go a pitiful whimper at the now-dead Thunderhead atop him. The sharp cracks of rifles and pistols resonated within the carriage. He was alone, wondering if Sevari and the Dunmer were still alive. He didn’t see Two-Shafts either.

He thought to call for help, but who would answer?

He made to sit up and his head swam, falling back to his side, he let go a thin, acidic spew from his lips. He tried again and fortunately was able to shimmy from under Thunderhead’s corpse, the blood from his face making his Dwemer tunic stick to his chest and stomach. He stopped, needing to catch his breath and wait for his head to stop spinning. All around him was the sound of battle, a battle he couldn’t see from inside the carriage. He swallowed, tasting blood on his tongue. He guessed he bit it after whatever had happened.

He sat there, waiting. Waiting for what? The battle raged on outside and it didn’t sound like it was going to be stopping soon. Either way, when it did, he didn’t want to know who would be pulling him out of this wreckage. With all his willpower he forced himself to stand, poking his head out of the door, which was pointed open towards the sky now. The scene that greeted him was no less gruesome than the one inside the carriage. Another carriage was in the middle of the road, huge Khajiit tied to it like ducks waiting to be bought on the market from a vendor’s stall.

They were charred black, so that’s the meat that had been cooking, he realized sickeningly. There was a blackened crater in the road behind the carriage, he guessed that’s what had toppled them, but he had never seen a fire rune give out that much strength to throw a carriage of Dwemer metal like that. He looked around, saw Two-Shafts loose arrow after arrow, nocking them effortlessly though his face betrayed his desperation. They were coming from everywhere, up and down the street. Sevari and the Dunmer’s Dwemer guns sounded out their cracks on the smoky air but the few bodies that dropped did nothing to make the wave of bodies bearing down on them seem any less bough there were plenty around still, Dwemer and others of every race, Ministry Agents and Insurgents alike.

Two-Shafts was the first to go, loosing two arrows at once that struck two of his attackers and dropped them. One through the eye and the other in the throat, dropping the Redguard with a sick gurgle. Even so, the other three closed the distance quick and he had no time to draw his messer before his head whipped to the side at a mace’s terrible swing. Bits of skull and skin flung from him before he dropped like a brick, the pinging of metal to bone reaching even Latro’s ears over the carnage.

The Dunmer turned to Sevari, yelling something and before Sevari could answer, he turned to see the Dunmer take an arrow to the side of his head. The Dunmer stumbled back and fell on his arse, hand reaching up to feel the arrow, face all confused as if it hadn’t donned on him yet. He let go a string of gibberish before he tried to stand, eyes going cross and finally he dropped with no ceremony, finally dead. Latro had not seen a fight like this. He had only known the quickness and drama of a duel in the town square, the ceremony of it. Only to first blood or when the other would yield.

Even during his time with the Forsworn, it had not been this chaotic. This disgusting and impersonal and horrifying. Sevari ran towards him, catching sight of his head. He screamed, “Go! Get away now!”

Latro heaved himself over the side of the carriage and spared one last look at Sevari, turning around and firing a shot into one of the men coming at him before forgoing the range and braining the other one with a mighty swing of the stock. Latro gasped as he saw Sevari jerk back at the dull thud of an arrow into his side. That was the last thing he had the stomach to watch before he ran. A dead sprint away from the scene down an alleyway to wherever was the farthest away from this huge, drawn-out and sick grand display of hatred and death.

He ran for he didn’t know how long, just that his lungs were burning and the only thing that stopped him were his legs buckling under the weight of themselves, the dull ache of overexertion making them dead and unwilling to listen to him. He was in the alley that he and Sora had sparred in, the alley that he and Sora told each other that they shared love. As he heard the pounding footsteps scratching on the dusty streets, the yelling of men coordinating their search like wolves on the hunt, he knew this was the alley he was going to die in. He looked down at his manacles and sighed resignation. To fight or just let it happen? What would Francis do?

As he saw the first of them come into view, axe in hand and murder in the eyes, he instead wondered not what Francis would do, nor Sevari. He wondered what Pale-Feather would do. With that, he got to his shaking legs and stood to his full height. “Come on then.” He growled, “Fucking coward.”

This was bad. Of course, words like that were useless in times like these. It was times like these where commenting on how bad it was was akin to commenting on how wet the sea is when you’re drowning. Similarly, he felt a rising in his throat and retched up blood. His lips were already wet with it, and Sevari knew the arrow had gotten his lung. He’d need a surgeon, a healer. And bad.

He had holed himself up in a house, had to kill the owner when he made to impale him with a chef’s knife. The same chef’s knife he’d taken from the old man easily and stuck in his throat. He looked at the old Redguard, feeling sorry that he had to do it, but it was either the old man or him. Sevari was never too keen on dying for someone else’s bloody fucking convenience.

So, as he coughed and gagged up another mouthful of blood, heaved in a rattling breath, he calmly sat behind the overturned table with his rifle pointed at the door one of the insurgents had been working at with an axe. He felt weak, all the strength in him being sapped away despite all the anger. All the spite. He watched the door idly being chipped away, hack after hack as the insurgent on the other side gradually was pieced together from behind it with each swing. He thought on how ironic his life was up until this point. Anger, spite, sorrow. Revenge. That’s all he lived for. Now, a thousand miles away from home, he runs into his estranged family and fate doesn’t even grant him the dignity of dying in a pool of his own blood among however many Justiciar corpses he could make.

No. He would die here, in the house of an old man he murdered, murdered in turn by the very insurgents he was sent by the Penitus Oculatus to help. How’s that for bitter ends, Sevari thought and managed a tired but all the more rueful grin despite himself, I always knew it’d be like this.

Finally, the opening in the door was wide enough and the man on the other side came clambering through. He only made it half way before Sevari squeezed his trigger, slow and even. The Dwemer rifle boomed louder than thunder in the small apartment’s kitchen, the familiar jolt of it in his shoulder. It caught the insurgent center mass, through the chest, forcing him to grunt and then go limp, the hole in his chest smoking. The axe dropped from the corpse’s hands and Sevari worked the lever, the spent shell spitting out of the smoking breech before he shoved another one in with practiced, deliberate hands.

Then the door exploded off of its hinges, sending splinters of wood hurtling through the room straight at him, saved by his ducking behind the table. He popped up again in time to squeeze off another round, another deafening crack and another insurgent stumbled and slumped against the wall dead. Quicker than he could reload, another one came bounding through the door, Sevari pulling his senche-claw dagger from the small of his back. He swung his rifle and batted away the mace coming at him, slashing out with the dagger and finding purchase. The dagger bit deep into the man’s guts and sent them flopping out of the deep, long wound the wicked knife wrought.

The Redguard went away from him squealing, grabbing at his gut-rope and trying to put it back in, shock apparent in his eyes. Sevari laughed at that, a dark humorless barking as they came at him. He stepped, or more stumbled, away from a swing towards his stomach by an insurgent armed with an axe. He slashed out with his knife and cut his cheek open. Without any more room to work with, he turned on his heel and ran as fast as he could away. Which, of course, was to say that he jogged haphazardly with dragging feet out of the room, slamming the door shut behind him and finding himself in an alleyway. He kept going, not knowing where his flight would take him but not caring, as long as it was away from there. He took the turns and straightaways as fast as he could, sticking to side-streets and alleyways before he found himself among the alleyway zen garden. The same garden he’d watched Latro and Sora spar in. The same garden he’d sent Latro and Jaraleet on the little mission in.

The same garden a helpless Reachman was being choked to death in. To his credit, there was a body with a face like a bloody crater next to him. Latro’s manacled wrists struggled painfully as he thrashed about in the grip of the Redguard kneeling over him, a Khajiit watching impassively. He took the few precious moments he had where he went unnoticed to reload, the working of his rifle’s lever cutting off all the noise of the scene. The Redguard stopped choking Latro to look up at him, Sevari’s barrel staring into his eyes. The Khajiit was brandishing his scimitar but had yet to move. Even Latro stared gape-mouthed at him from under the Redguard.

“Bad luck.” Sevari said, squeezing the trigger and hearing the crack of his rifle, the stock jolting against his shoulder.

Latro and the ground around his legs were showered with bits of brain and skull, the large bullet the carbine was chambered in eviscerating the back of the Redguard’s head as it exited, not to mention his ruined brow. “What the fuck!” The Khajiit yelped, stupefied, “You help this Reachman when your own kind stands with the Redguard? How do you look at yourself knowing you help the oppressor instead of the oppressed? The Thalmor in Elsweyr will fear me and my kin when we come back to its sands! Where will you be?”

Sevari let go a long, rattling cough and spat blood off to the side. He took a last look at his fellow Khajiit, finishing reloading as he flapped his gums at him about Elsweyr and oppressors and whatever the fuck. He frowned, “Fuck Elsweyr.” He raised his rifle, shouldered the stock and took in another wheezing breath, “Fuck Hammerfell.”

The loud crack echoed off the walls of the alleyway zen garden, the bullet catching the Khajiit in the neck mid-charge and leaving his head lolling about with half his neck and most of his jaw gone. The Khajiit dropped to his knees and then slumped over, dead. Sevari dropped to his own knees next to Latro, who pushed the Redguard’s body off of himself and came to his side. “Are you… are you alright?”

“Have you always been that fucking blind?” Sevari wheezed through rattling breaths, “I’m fucking dying. Take me to the safehouse.”


“In the slums, the safehouse I took you to in the slums, you fucking idiot.” Sevari said, trying and failing not to let panic grip him as he made to flex his hands and finding it difficult. Hypertension. He was losing lots of blood, and most of it inside his lungs.

“Right, right.” Latro said sheepishly as he hauled him up and helped him walk. There was no way of knowing if Irranhu cell had betrayed him. They had their blasting powder he’d procured for them and that was that, the fucking bastards. If they targeted his carriage, there was a chance they knew about Aries. He had to get to her, she’d grown on him and he’d be damned if he let her share the fate of Forosien, Thunderhead, and Two-Shafts. Killed like dogs in the streets.

One by one, Latro watched Sevari struggle with the myriad locks upon the door. Finally, the door swung inward and the Khajiit stumbled inside as the door no longer held his weight against it. Pitifully, he tripped over himself and met the ground with his back, letting out a long, rattling cough as he rolled over to spit a gob of blood from his lips, right onto the fur rug he lay on. Latro followed soon after as Sevari called out with grating breaths, “Aries! Aries!” He cried out, “Please…”

The sound of hurrying footsteps could be heard coming from around the corner, followed by the exasperated sigh of a woman as a voice complained, “So I take it the commotion outside was your doing? Great. You better be dead or close to dead, because if you’ve blundered something up again…”

When the auburn-haired woman came around the corner, she saw Sevari bleeding on the floor, and for a brief moment, her mouth hung slightly agape, rendered speechless mid-sentence. She huffed, shaking her head as she picked up her pace to hurry next to the Khajiit’s side. She sat on her knees next to Sevari’s head, lifting it up onto her lap as she muttered under her breath, “Now what did I say last time about blood on the rug… sanguine on merlot… what are you thinking?”

Suddenly she looked up at Latro, eying him with a look of suspicion. Sevari must’ve trusted the mutt enough to bring him here, but then again, he probably didn’t have the clearest mind at the moment. She barked at him and asked, “What happened? Do you know any medicine or restoration?”

Sevari lay a hand on Aries’, squeezing her bracelet and looking at her with pleading eyes, eyes that knew the pain that would come soon at his request, “The arrow!” His voice was harsh but was only a grating whisper as he coughed wet into his fist, “It needs to come out. If it’s too deep… you’ll need to push it…” he swallowed and shuddered, “Push it through. I could die.”

“You know, for an Oculatus…” Aries muttered as she carefully inspected the shaft of the arrow, “you’re mewling a terrible amount over a risk you knew you’d be taking.”

Her eyes darted up towards Latro. “This looks like a dwarven arrow,” Aries said to him, “which must mean it’s pronged and pulling it out isn’t a good option no matter how deep it is.”

In one quick movement, both of her hands gripped the arrow and snapped it below the fletching, the sudden twisting motion causing the shaft to splinter and Sevari to groan and let out a sharp yelp. Aries, still unflinching, summoned a fierce blowtorch of fire from the palm of her hand and began singeing away the loose splinters of wood that could potentially catch his insides. Without looking back up at Latro, she snapped at him again, “Well? Speak up! Can you do anything to help or will I have to do all the work?”

“I-I can close the wound.” He blurted sheepishly. He was not expecting her to be here, though he remembered wondering whose fineries were here last time he was in this house. Was this Sevari’s lover?

He shook that from his mind and knelt down beside Sevari, who grabbed him by the collar, “Once that arrow comes out,” Sevari’s breath was ragged and he swallowed hard, taking another breath that seemed to agonize him, “Aries is going to cauterize the wound from bleeding any more. I need you to close it, do you understand?”

His grip grew weak around his collar but Sevari suddenly jolted Latro towards him by his shirt, “Do you understand!?”

“Yes!” He said, grabbing Sevari’s hand, “I understand. Let’s do this. Quick.”

Aries propped Sevari’s body up for Latro to hold onto so she could get to work, the Khajiit wincing and hissing with every movement. Balling up her hand, she unceremoniously shoved the arrow deeper into Sevari’s body with the heel of her hand before it stopped, just barely protruding from the skin on his back, making Sevari squeal and kick out with one of his legs, eyes screwed shut. Aries pushed on it again, causing the arrow to burst free on the other side, and without hesitating, grabbed the bloody arrow and yanked it free from Sevari’s body, finally throwing it aside. The Khajiit fell limp, head lolling back with his eyes out of focus and staring at nothing.

“Hold him still.” She ordered Latro as screaming hot plumes of fire suddenly blossomed out from both of her hands. She barely gave him enough time to prepare as she planted her hands on both sides of his torso. Within only a second, she felt his skin beneath her hands bubbling -- a cue that she wasn’t sure if it meant that even a second was too long, but she extinguished the flames nonetheless and appraised her handiwork. The wounds were seared shut. She quickly took Sevari from Latro’s arms, struggling a little more under the Khajiit’s weight than the Reachman did, and nodded to him.

“Alright,” she said, “your turn.”

At the same moment he nodded to Aries, he set to work. His hands were glowing golden-white even before she’d cauterized the wounds from bleeding, so just the movement of his hands onto Sevari’s skin had the wispy tendrils of magicka pouring into the wounds like smoke. Slowly, the wounds crept shut, the blackened skin around the holes growing back into Sevari’s skin tone but held the pale of scars. After a long while, he fell back onto his arse, dizzy. He wiped at his brow, looking worriedly at Sevari’s limp form. “Is he,” he gulped, looking from Sevari to Aries and back, “is he breathing?”

“Don’t worry about him.” She replied, her voice sounding distant. When she let Sevari onto the floorboards, she searched his body, eventually finding where he kept his weapons. A dagger was found at his side. She abruptly pulled the blade from it sheath, and with it, closed the distance between her and Latro. Its sharp edge was mere inches away from his neck, and suddenly her cold and distrustful eyes were trained solely on him.

“Who are you?” She growled.

“Latro.” The Reachman said level, chin held high and hands up in mercy, the chains of his shackles softly clinking, “Sevari had me here once, he had me help him with favors.”

“Latro?” She repeated, a hint of recognition in her voice. “How do I know you aren't going to stab me in the back? The fighting outside -- how are you unharmed while Sevari lays half-dead?”

Suddenly, Sevari stirred behind them, a series of wretched wet coughs escaping him and shaking the whole of him, “Fuck!” He cried, before he grunted and his arms went weakly to his sides, knees tucking to his chest as he groaned, “Fuck. Aries, Latro, we need to go. They’ll find us.”

Aries’ eyes bounced between the Reachman and the Khajiit before she muttered something incomprehensible under her breath and took the dagger off of Latro’s throat with a huff, though she still kept her eyes trained on him.

“Help him to his feet.” She ordered as began walking across the room where the bed was. It was relatively small, though it gave the appearance otherwise with how lavishly adorned it was. Gripping the bedposts by the foot of the bed, she began dragging it across the floor, scuffing the wood along the way, before giving one last pull and exposing a locked hatch that was previously hidden by the bed. Aries pulled off one of her necklaces to reveal a key that was kept hidden underneath her clothing.

“I was hoping we wouldn’t have to use this.” She sighed as she went to work.

“So you were listening all those times.” Sevari smirked then immediately grabbed his side as he cringed. “Get it open.”

Aries side-eyed Sevari as the lock on the latch popped off. As she undid the chains, she replied to him quite casually, “We need to have a conversation at some point about your habit for speaking out of turn.”

She flipped the hatch open, revealing a short ladder that would lead them down into an underground tunnel. Aries turned her back to it and walked in the opposite direction, towards a vanity desk pushed against a wall, and her hand reached for an unassuming suitcase which sat next to it before returning.

“I’ll go down first.” She said, carefully lowering her suitcase down into the tunnel. “Then you can give me Sevari.” She didn’t wait for Latro to respond or give any indication that he understood what she wanted before she lowered herself into the tunnel after the suitcase, gesturing for him to bring Sevari down once she made enough room for him.

“Is she your commander or something?” Latro asked, only smirking when Sevari shot him a scowl. The Khajiit pushed off of him none too gently and Latro snorted as he carefully lowered himself down.

“Out of turn?” Sevari asked haughtily before finding the ground with his back as his hand slipped. He seized up on the ground as Latro watched, cringing for the wounded man. No matter how much enmity there was between them before, the fact he saved his life, not to mention came back to find him before doing so, meant something.

It didn’t mean he couldn’t chuckle at him as he lowered himself down after. “Old bones starting to give out on you?”

“Shut the hell up.” Sevari’s breathless whisper came from behind clenched teeth, “Help me get up.”

Latro offered out his hand to the man and he took it. He hauled himself up with Latro’s help, though he couldn’t stand to his full height for how compact the tunnel was. Instead, they continued on, the trio crouching to various degrees. “You built this?” Latro asked.

“Oh, yes, I’m a fast worker.” Sevari smirked, before it fell away, “This used to be a safehouse used by the Blades in the Septim Dynasty’s time. Now, I use it.”

“I hope the tunnel is suiting you well, m’lady. Wouldn’t want the bottom of your skirts to get too dirty. Haven’t swept down here in some time.” He said, words rife with sarcasm. “Oh, did I speak out of turn again?”

Latro supposed it was a good thing that Sevari still had some sort of sense of humor. Though to whom it was a good thing remained to be revealed to him.

“You’re talkative for a walking corpse; not even an ounce of humility. You forget your place.” Aries replied in a low growl. “Respective stations notwithstanding, my hands are still covered in your blood. If you preferred, I could have kept them clean and let you die.”

Aries stopped for a second and glanced over her should toward Sevari with a look of pity, “...But I seem to recall an ungrateful kit mewling over his fear of dying. I believe this is also in light of, I can only assume, the second failure of your mission. So tell me: where is it, you think, you rank in the grand scheme of things?”

“When everybody’s neck-deep in shit, everything looks pretty equal, doesn’t it?” Sevari said, Aries’ growl only making him smirk, “Face death without begging for life, sister. Then, maybe I’ll start considering stations.”

After a while of walking, Sevari spoke up again, “This wasn’t my failure, Aries. The plan, incite chaos, arm the insurgency, stoke Irranhu cell.” He found himself scowling, but carried on, Latro’s brows cocking at this candid admission, “I worked twenty years alone and I’ve done fine. I let you into the picture, I let other agents take the lead in my mission here in Hammerfell…”

“I was almost captured, strung up and gutted because of this vendetta against the Dwemer!” He yelled, the confines of the tunnel almost making it an unbearable volume before Sevari leaned against the wall and erupted into a fit of coughs. Long, wet, gravelly things that made Latro cringe. “Half the reason I even came back to the safehouse was because a small part of me, an iota, was worried. I could’ve left you alone. So, fuck humility.”

The sound of Aries’ suitcase hitting the ground followed soon after Sevari’s outburst. Suddenly a small flame flickered to life in her hand, illuminating the dark tunnel that they had been walking blind in. Aries was sitting on the suitcase, staring intently on Sevari with a gaze too similar to how she was looking at Latro earlier.

“Look at me.” She asserted. “We don’t have a lot of time, but I want to make sure who it is I have behind my back before I’m surrounded by enemies.”

She leaned in and continued, “This is a war, Sevari, don’t trivialize it by calling it a vendetta. You might have worked for twenty years, but as far as I’m concerned, this is the only thing you’ve been a part of that actually mattered. Those were your duties to see through, your failures, but you’re too immature to accept responsibility. Secondly, you didn’t come because you were worried about me. You came because it was the only safe place in the city; you couldn’t go back to the Dwemer on the Reachman’s shoulders and you couldn’t go to the insurgency because you’re the face of Dwemer lapdogs. You were worried about saving your own hide.”

The plume of flame appeared to swell a little larger.

“So, you can probably understand why I worry about having such a person behind me.” Aries finished. “So, convince me that you haven’t forsaken your duty to the Empire. We both know the penalty for desertion during wartime.”

Latro watched the exchange behind the face of a man who was completely enthralled by a play. It was like one, with this much drama being dropped in his lap. To tell the truth, he didn’t know this woman, she’d managed to hold a knife to his throat and that never seems to leave the best first impression on someone. He still remembered the beating he’d sustained on account of Sevari, the pain, not just physical. But he’d saved him. Come back when he didn’t need to.

Sevari hadn’t been breathing all too quietly after the wound in his lung, so it didn’t take a sharp eye or a keen ear to tell that his breaths had gotten sharper and quicker. The scowl also betrayed it. Anger. The Khajiit stepped towards Aries, “My entire life I’ve seen people I cared about die. Left them to fate. My brother and his sister, the woman I loved, two of them. I went to bring back Erincaro’s head to draw out his father from Alinor. The woman I loved herself was waiting for me.” His voice quivered with barely controlled anger, “Tell me that you’d tear down the lives of everyone who cared about and loved you just to fill a hole in yourself. Just to fulfill some shit reasoning of justice or duty.”

“Maybe you can.” He spoke, voice low, “So, pardon the audacity of worrying about someone like that at my back.”

It prompted a slight smirk on the face of the Breton woman, giving just a faint warmth to an otherwise cold and steely expression, but her eyes remained the same. She continued, her voice calm and measured, “Your care is limited to only a few, whereas mine sees over hundreds and thousands. The meaning of duty is the burden of the larger picture. Perhaps one day you’ll see that and understand the stakes are higher for me.”

“Normal circumstances under Imperial law would dictate your defense to be insufficient and sentence you to death…” She mused, but then suddenly lowered her hand and the flame shrunk to that of candlelight. “But right now we’re not in Cyrodiil. The circumstance is abnormal. If nothing else, I believe I can at least make do with your morals.”

Sevari coughed something ugly, hocking it up and spitting to the side, “Law.” he smirked, “Do whatever you want with my morals.”

Latro watched Sevari push past Aries and continue down the tunnel on his lonesome. He flicked a hand up and a magelight floated from his fingertips. “I cared enough about Latro to fight my way to the first place I saw him at. I care enough to give you two a fucking light.” He growled, “Forgive me for coming back to see if they’d gotten to you.”

“What would you have done if they had?” Aries asked simply, her voice following after him. As Sevari crawled deeper into the tunnel and no response came, she looked toward Latro from the corner of her eyes.

“Latro, was it?” She asked, waiting for his nod. “I want you to think about that question before we try to rescue your lover.”

“Mm.” Latro frowned and shrugged, smirking, “Difference is, Aries, I’ll probably have more friends and less arrows in me when I attempt my rescue.”

“I mean to say that you should prepare a backup plan.” She responded matter-of-factly, getting up and picking up her suitcase. As she resumed their pace through the tunnel, she added, “I want her on my side, so I aim to help you… but consider the possibility of finding a new suitor.”

Latro had continued down the tunnel as if he hadn’t heard the last part of what Aries had said to him. He’d already imagined and turned in his sleep with the image of Sora’s corpse, his own mind betraying him in sleep, he didn’t need Aries helping it while he was awake. He just frowned at her and kept walking through the tunnel.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of walking in the cramped space, Sevari held out a hand behind him as the magelight illuminated another hatch above them. Sevari produced his own key and slipped it into the lock, the sound of it popping open. Latro hadn’t realized how much he wanted to be out of the tunnel until then.

Thankfully, Sevari placed his hands on the trapdoor and pushed it open while riding to his full height. He stood with his head obscured by the opening of the trapdoor for a second before he ducked back down, “It’s clear.”

The Khajiit hauled himself up and over the trapdoor exit, leaning against the wall and panting as if he’d run all the way here instead of near-crawled like a sewer rat with him and Aries. He pushed off the wall as Latro came up. He was sure Aries would make a fuss about no one helping her with her luggage, so The Reachman took it upon himself to offer his hand out.

Once Aries was out of the hole, Sevari kicked the trapdoor closed once more, locking it topside. Latro had to help him up from his crouched position he’d taken to lock the trapdoor and watched the Khajiit replace the sandy brown blanket the had been over the trapdoor. It had a curious looking seal on it and as soon as Sevari touched it with the tip of his white-gold glowing fingers, the sheet disappeared and instead only a square of dusty alleyway ground was there in place of it. “Huh.” Latro said, impressed.

They continued on behind Sevari and soon came to an establishment that looked nowhere near as seedy a place as he was expecting, nor was it as opulent as the Three Crowns. The dusty street threw up a cloud of dust with the wind, obscuring the building somewhat through a haze of red dust. When it came away and dissipated, Latro saw the sign atop it, The Haunted Tide Inn.

“Alright. We’ll stay here a couple days, lay low. Then we can go to the Three Crowns.” Sevari was racked with a fit of coughs almost immediately after he stopped speaking, Latro stepping up to him and lending him his shoulder and the Khajiit took it. “Let’s go.”

Aries kept her pace with the two men, her eyes darting around the Gilane streets while keeping her poise. She eventually found herself at Latro’s side where she seemed to take great care in controlling the volume of her voice. She said to him, “You’re to refer to me as Janelle. I am a merchant from Rivenspire. If it is not too much to ask, I would like to use your eyes while Sevari recovers. I will request nothing more of you than that.”

“I’m Shiburi.” Sevari said.

“Just Latro. Just a bard.” Latro nodded, turning to Aries, with his easy smile, “I’ll do as much. Janelle.”
A collab by Schaft and @Ionisus

Joseph closed the manila envelope the case files on Blackriver were in, deciding that it’d be best for him if he stopped reading all the shit that reminded him too much of little towns tucked away in his past and the people in them. The tree line zipped past his errant gaze as Jason took them on a course from the mountain roads that snakes down from the hills the safehouse was tucked away in and the depressing excuse for a town that White Tree was. His eyes fixed on the Explorer that Clint and Pari were in, wondering just how the old salt and that girl would get along. Well, he hoped.

As the Explorer took a turn down the road towards the Mulligan residence, he looked to Jason. Wondering now just how he and this fellow intelligence officer would get along. Surely, behind those business-first eyes of his, he was wondering what the hell kind of use a DIA agent was going to be on a homicide case. Foster had a nasty habit of putting all the theatrics into his agents’ first Operation. Making questions start to just boil over but before they could and those questions come frothing out of angry, frowning, heated mouths, he’d break the whole thing open as if their admittance into the unapologetically criminal conspiracy that was Delta Green was a gift.

It was years ago that the mountains of Afghanistan had shown Joseph just what they were hiding. Not just evils leftover from the CIA’s meddling there in the Cold War, but evils far darker and more ancient than the religions there that put Kalashnikovs in young men’s hands and Jihad in their hearts. It was the same unknowable evils under black marker in both Joseph and Jason’s files, tucked away and flagged by the Delta Green recruiters.

Although Jason’s attention was on the narrow trek of road snaking down the steep hill, every time Joseph flipped through the manila foldered files he was instantly distracted and looked over. Thankfully the winding turns kept him from swerving. He wanted to see the files, see all of this the way Joseph did. There was something in his look, something like a sour taste or a bitter word held on the back of his tongue. It surprisingly worried Jason. It wasn’t that nothing added up between the agencies, the tasking, or that he was told practically nothing but a suspected serial killing. It was that stare. The way Joseph looked like he needed to look away.

It never occurred to Jason until now that was how he had always been. When it wasn’t supposed to be seen, when you had to look away—those were the things he found irresistible.

“I read your file.” Joseph finally said, still staring out the window at nothing in particular. “Or what I could of it. Air Force PJ, Afghanistan. I was there too. My ODA was stationed near the Pakistani border. Before that, I was kicking in doors with the Ranger Battalions, cozying up with SEALs and even Delta a few times. You ever work with them boys much?” He asked.

“Yeah, I was a flyboy,” Jason said. “Selected for some highspeed shit, but uh…” He looked out at the hills rolling into the morning haze on the horizon. There wasn’t an answer waiting for him, just a dreary sky smothering the mountains. “Yeah, I was patching up Rangers all the time when they’d let me. Supported some SEALs and what I thought was Delta, but I was never given the chance to work with them. Worked with spooks in SOUTHCOM mostly.”

Jason smirked, and asked, “What side of the Pakistani border?”

Joseph let out a single bark of a laugh at that. Jason was an intelligence officer, an operator before him just like he was. The simple fact that there was so much damn black in his file meant he lived the things people made conspiracies out of. But to speak so coyly and nonchalant about it was still something that burned Joseph’s tongue. Not because of legality or some sense of morality, but because his mouth just refused to fit around the words. “Afghan mountains.” Joseph said, simply, “We worked with a spook once, said he was a Combat Controller.”

‘Probably was once,” jason replied of the spook. That’s how it worked, wasn’t it? A grain above the rest, a propensity for killing. And smart. Jason knew they needed to be smart enough to stay alive. Ghazni crept up from somewhere deep in his mind like the swallowing shadows between the trees blurring past them. Had he been smart then, or savage? Or was it luck?

“Foster said you were hunting Daesh meth cooks. I spent some time tracking their recruiters and people smugglers in the Middle East,”Joseph said, deciding he’d let on a little bit about where he’d come from. He knew this was a game to them, for a couple of spooks, secrecy was the word. Half-truths, fast-talking, outright lies.

“No shit? Syria then. Lebanon, maybe Turkey.” Jason replied, nodded in thought. He felt a little more at home next to the grizzled wolf that was Joseph knowing they had played in the same yard. “Yeah, mostly chemists cooking up meth. You’d be surprised how much other shit they like to make. Crude blister agents, chlorine based gases, explosives—but you know that.”

By now they had entered the town, but it was no less choked by the forest. Old stones of grimy buildings peaked up from ancient, defiant treetops. Nothing concrete was newly set, but looked steadily reclaimed by the hungry hills. Cracks were filled with dark earth and twisted grass. Paint was always faded, washed out in the filter of an overcast sky. Jason was just as foreign here as he was in Jordan, this time displaced in the shed skin of deep Appalachian country.

“What’s your impression of Foster?” Joseph asked.

Jason made an effort to look everywhere but Joseph's eyes. “He’s your boy, isn’t he? No bullshit it’s too early to tell.” They eased up to a stop sign, a testy nissan pickup coughing in rattles as it crossed the road in front of them. Joseph followed the vehicle with his eyes as Jason kept looking in the distance, adding, “No, not sure yet. Whatever this is I’m guessing it’s an interview. You want to see how we work.”

Jason wanted to tell Joseph he saw that look in his eyes, that he practically fell in its depth, but it wasn’t fear. He thought it was concern. Joseph knew something. Any one of the team members had to already be guessing there was more to this. Whatever it was had Joseph feeling something, but he couldn’t tell them. Jason was perplexed at this.

“But he likes me,” Jason went on, the Explorer rolling forward and ever closer to the Mulligan Residence. “Someone does, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”

Joseph chuckled, “Yeah, if being with him on assignments means he likes you, he fucking loves me.” It remained to be said that Foster only ever called him for assignments like these. Not ever things like assassinate a people smuggler in France or interrogate some ISIS asshole attempting to get into the US in Panama. It was always asset recovery of some strange books with oblivious flyboys just like Jason used to be, running SIGINT or HUMINT collection with Intelligence Support Activity operators in support of something shady he and Delta Green were at work at. Butt into a Homeland Security raid on antiquity smugglers, once. “And yeah, I want to see how you all work. I might have known Foster for a bit but the guy keeps you at arm’s length unless he thinks it’s time.” He frowned, “If he ever does. But that’s how it goes sometimes, you know.”

“Turkey, by the way.” He said, “Spent a lot of time there doing morally ambiguous things to the locals, as it were. When I wasn’t teaching Kurds how to kill ISIS.”

Joseph’s acknowledgement was something. It made Jason feel less like he was being toyed with. That they didn’t have to talk around, didn’t have to keep stepping in tune with the dance. From what Joseph was saying it sounded like Foster was one of those deep state guys you only see for a moment, someone far up the marionette wire. His mystique made Jason almost excited. Somewhere something in these hills was bringing them together. It had taken Moralez. He was the purpose, but it was morbid curiosity that had Jason hooked.

“So we aren’t focusing on Moralez, not the two of us. What’s our angle?” It was a meaningless question, but it opened up dialogue about the case. Unless otherwise directed, sometimes there was no angle for intelligence gathering, not when there was little known about their ‘target.’ The pattern would reveal itself weaved in the minds of White Tree. Buried deep in their secrets, in their fears, was whoever killed Moralez. Buried like the others meant to be forgotten in the hills.

“The CDC. One of Foster’s people knew them.” Joseph said, “Black welts in the town caught the attention of the CDC. The CDC caught the attention of somebody else, somebody who didn’t like them much apparently.”

Joseph, sucked his teeth, shaking his head. He wasn’t allowed to tell them the truth, not until Foster deemed it the right time or if they happened upon something that blew the assignment wide open for them and laid the truth bare. He found it appropriate the dark iron of the clouds pressed down on White Tree and the hills beyond with the same weight. The hills and mountains seemed to go on forever until they were just faint rumors in the mists beyond.

“I was telling the truth, Jason.” He said, fishing around in the inside pocket of his coat for his cigarettes and something else they’d need. “When I said to leave any weird shit we might find out here alone. Let’s just focus on finding this team or whatever happened to them. One step at a time.”

That was it, it seemed. Find the CDC team, see how it links up with Moralez. Jason tried to piece it together rationally, in the way his military analyst brain was trained to do. The black welts could be a biological weapon and its controllers disposed of the team. Moralez finds their trail and gets murdered. Jason shook his head, knowing that linking Moralez to the CDC team was mental red herring. Moralez was responding to a domestic call, yet something was nagging at Jason, telling him they were somehow linked. Nothing but conjecture, he thought, shitty spitballing.

“You know,” he said coming out of his reverie, “if you and I being in this car in the middle of strip mine, USA isn’t weird enough I can’t wait to see ‘weird’. You’re telling a bull to polish the china. So what, domestic terrorists leaked agents and dosed the locals?”

Then why not have Homeland Security and the F.B.I. in on this, Jason wondered. Nothing was adding up, but conjecture was only making him anxious. He wanted to be where they were heading, but the town’s 25 mile speed limit bade him wait.

Joseph chuckled at Jason’s quip. He’d have to save that one for sometime. If domestic terrorists were behind this, he could breathe just a tad bit easier. He thought that to be ludicrous coming from anybody else, but in his line of work, that would’ve only welcomed a sense of normalcy back into things. He shrugged, “Maybe, but that’s what we’re here to find out. I can’t imagine the town’s soil and water to be the cleanest after all the pesticides and chemicals tainting everything in a miles-wide radius.” He said, “But that’s what the CDC was surveying, now it’s our job to figure out why a cop got dusted, a killer’s loose, and the CDC team is dead. Why no fucking news outlet is giving this shit airtime is… well, what did I tell you about weird?”

“You get a town no one wants to remember and it’s easy to carve your own little slice of bad news from it. Also easier to cover up,” Jason replied.

“Stop here.” Joseph pointed to a condemned gas station to their left, and Jason parked it as inconspicuously as he could. The pair got out, Joseph surveying the surroundings before lighting his cigarette and walking to the trunk of the car. Jason stepped out and hung his arms over the car roof and the door, surveying the rusted out squalor with the hills looming all around them.

“I was reading about this area—about Blackriver in general,” Jason said, Joseph rummaging through the trunk. “The rivers turn black from all the plant tannins. Decay, you know? Black in the water, black coal in the hills. On their skin now.” He joined Joseph, “Why the fuck they name this place White Tree.”

Joseph shrugged, “Wishful thinking?” He shoved his hands in his pockets,. “Why the fuck’d they name it Greenland?”

In the trunk was tactical gear for the both of them that Joseph was very much hoping they wouldn’t need this early. He brushed the ballistic vests away to reveal a strongbox. He rustled around in his jacket pocket and produced a key, which fit neatly in the strongbox’s hole. A quick turn sent the lid swinging open on its own to reveal Velcro patches and a few wallets. POLICE, SECURITY, DEA, ICE, SHERIFF, FBI and whatever other agency or organization that wasn’t his emblazoned in bold on the patches. He grabbed two of the wallets, tossing one to Jason.

“If you’re familiar with the law, Jason, I’m not even supposed to be here in official capacity. Freeze, scumbag.” He flipped open the wallet to reveal an FBI badge belonging to Joseph Holt, “Unless I’m working in tandem with a federal agency. It’s a good thing Pari is with us. As for you and me slipping her leash, we’ll want these.”

He took another drag of his cigarette just as a gob of spit landed dangerously close to him, followed by a young voice calling him a fucking lost tourist. “Fucking kids.” He dropped his cigarette and placed his badge in the inside pocket of his coat. “Let’s get to it. Where to, Special Agent Jimenez?”

Without answering Joseph, Jason broke out in a trot after the teenagers. He peeled up his best fake, warm smile while Joseph followed after Jason like a hunter and his bird dog. There wasn’t any black marks on the teenagers’ as far as Jason could see, and he received defiant scowls his examining gaze.

“Not a tourist, just out here like those CDC fellas. You run into those guys at all? Asking about those marks cropping up around town?”

“Lot of good those pricks did,” one kid said.His hook nose peaked out from the shadow of his sweat stained ball cap. An almost vacant look gleamed like stones under the brim of his hat.

The other was almost a foot taller than him and rounded in every place imaginable. A mean-spirited stare soured his boyish, rosy-cheeked face, and Jason could tell he was being sized up. It was their outsider appearance, their otherness that assured the teenager victory. Jason hated both stupid and strong in one person.

“Yeah, that’s what it looks like. Well, I’ll tell you what-” Jason said, flashing his fake badge as Joseph came up on them. Both teenagers sucked in through their teeth, physically recoiling.

“Hey man, we didn’t-”

“Save it,” Jason interrupted, his warm front going cold. He retrieved two twenty dollar bills from his wallet and rubbed them twice between his thumb and fingers. The pair seemed shocked at the offer at first, but the longer Jason held the money in front of them the more a wickedness began to glimmer in their eyes. Twenty dollars, their stare said. A bribe from a cop.

“Listen, we just want to help. Honest. Give me something worthwhile and I’ll help you two even more. You understand that, right?”

“We never saw ‘em,” the hook nosed one said.

“Yeah,” the baby faced one added.

“But you heard about them?” Jason asked.

“Most people thought they were government men tryin’ to close the mines again,” the hook nosed one said. “People had them sores and what not but didn’t show ‘em anything at first.”

“I saw ‘em once, the welts,” the big one said. “Down the way from my house.”

“Most folks went to the doc if they had ‘em,” The other went on.

“What doctor?” Jason asked.

“Mrs. Anne Levy,” the hooked nosed one answered. “Treats a lot of us.”

“Horse shit,” the baby faced one said. “That girl down my street went to her and didn’t get fixed. She was a praying woman and it healed her. I saw it. Welts were gone. I saw it.” He said it as if he dared anyone to question him, like it was an invitation to ball up his fatty hands and prove his own faith.

His friend scoffed at that, then nodded expectedly at the money in Jason’s hand. “So we, uh, in trouble or…”

Jason handed over the money, thankful the boys were walking away as quickly as they could. He had given kids money in the Middle East all the time, and it shamed him to feel so dirty about it here and now. Jason tried to chalk it up to Joseph’s presence but he knew better. He also knew he detested the big one, now watching the lumbering teenager shove and demand his twenty from the other one that had actually earned it. Stupid and strong and god fearing people. It was the Middle East all over again.

“If the CDC was smart they’d have caught wind of this doctor and questioned her. I guess that’s where we start.”

Joseph nodded, “I guess it is.” He watched the kids shrink into the distance, “Just have to ask around for her whereabouts. Let’s hit up the bar, bartenders usually know a lot of the gossip around town and anybody who isn’t in the mines could be there.”

Diner was a nice word for the place. Of course, nice words weren’t always true words, as it were, and the sentiment held true for Vicky’s Diner. More a bar than anything else, seeing as the tables were empty and only a lonely soul hung at the edges of the bar, mooning into his glass of whatever beer they had in these parts. Despite the fixtures for bulbs being there in the ceiling, Most of the lighting was done by that big ball of fire in the sky and some strings of white, green and red Christmas lights hung about the walls.

It was what you’d expect of a dive bar in the middle of a mining town in West Virginia. Manning the bar was a younger woman, busying herself with the task of wiping down glasses for nobody in particular it seemed. Her dusty blonde hair was done up in a bun and she equipped herself with a soft smile as she smoothed her shirt down, nodding to the two men who’d just entered. “How ya folks doin’? Have a seat wherever you’d like, got beer and whiskey.”

“Well, thank you kindly.” Joseph’s warm smile brought him to the bar, an errant glance thrown to the old-timer at the far end. Skinny from age and grey, gnarled like the rest of the town, he looked to be as appropriately placed here as the big nose on his face, “Say, ma’am, I’d like to ask you some questions.”

“Go right ahead, hon.”

“My friend and I, we’re looking for Dr. Anne Levy.” He said.

“Couple of newcomers to the town looking for the doctor?” She asked, “Sick?”

“Just got some questions for her.” He said, “Wanting to figure out what she knew about the black welts and whatnot on some of the townfolk.”

“More of you government boys?” The gravelly voice from the far end of the counter rattled out of the man sitting on his lonesome, “People ‘round these parts don’t like strangers getting into everybody’s business.”

“I’m not looking to get into everybody’s business, sir, just Doc Levy’s.” The old man huffed at that, but remained quiet. Thankfully. “We were talking, Miss?”

“Mary. Mary Easton.” She nodded, “Don’t mind Clement, he’s harmless. Yeah, Doc Levy’s office is about a couple miles down the road towards the city from here.”

“Why the fuck are you helping these fools, Mary?” The old man protested from his seat. Joseph was beginning to grow tired of the old coot, “Them other folk didn’t do anyone good ‘fore they up and disappeared.”

“Thank you for your help, ma’am.” Joseph said, casting a glance to the old-timer. So was it common knowledge that the CDC team poofed into thin air? Joseph mentally noted that as he rose and went for the door, Jason in tow.

Jason could like any place with the right company, but it was the vague nostalgia that made him feel somewhat comfortable in Vicky’s Diner. Cigarettes and spilled beer had soaked the wood ages ago and the stale perfume held a hint of Texas with it. Jason found it grounding. When Mary talked he listened, committing everything to memory while trying to flash his most wolfish smile. A smile that said he could be open to anything, that he was handsome and fun and whatever Mary would want him to be.She wasn’t particularly pretty or striking to Jason, but he did it all the same. At least this time he was doing it on purpose and not helpless to an urge.

When Joseph led, he followed, finding the fresh mountain air sobering and liberating. Bars could bring the worst out in Jason. It wasn’t the alcohol or mean-spirited and hurting fluttering to bartop; it was the possibilities. If anything could be said about someone going into a bar it was that they longed for something, and Jason was no exception. In that longing and absence alcohol could fill it up, or at least people tried. And when that didn’t work sex was the next best thing—or the next step up in Jason’s view. He knew he was going to have to stay busy tonight, or get fucked up. Anything to keep him distracted.
With Friends Like These…

6th of Midyear, 4e208
Gilane, Hammerfell
Three Crowns Hotel, Gymnasium

So, the Reachman says to the Argonian…

The halls of the Three Crowns were eerily quiet at night. It almost seemed to be a hotel only in name, but Latro supposed that after the Dwemer killed the beating heart of the entire fucking Empire and set the world ablaze in a bloody return of iron-fisted rule and slaughter, people tend to put vacations on hold. He moved through the halls unimpeded by even a fly until he stood, staring down the stairs to the gymnasium. Even now, he could hear the movements and breath of someone there. The only person who seemed to ever make constant use of this room, and the only person he trusted with the task he had on his mind tonight.

He held the piece of paper that had been left on his bedside table to his eyes again. Tonight, it said. A single word that only held meaning to Latro, a meaning that weighed down on his chest like boulders. He crumpled the paper and tossed it down the stairs, following soon after. He stood in the threshold to the gymnasium, watching Jaraleet for a time and half-expecting him to say something like, ‘I could hear you from down the hall.’

As much as he was getting used to people being arrogant when sneaking up on them failed the Argonian said nothing, just the rhythmic in-out of breath as he hung from a bar bolted to a wall, hauling himself up and then down repetitively. Finally, Latro spoke, “I have a request.”

“Hmmm? Must be something important.” The Argonian replied, stopping his exercise routine to approach the Breton man. “So, what’s this request that you have for me? No one’s awake right now, so when I heard you coming I half expected it to be a Dwemer agent….or someone who works for our gracious host.” The Argonian said quietly, pausing for a second to cross his arms. “Whatever brings you here must be something that troubles you greatly….and that you don’t want the others to know about, no?”

Latro nodded, easy smile on his lips. Or at least as easy as it could be, given tonight’s things to do. “Raelynn was kidnapped by the Dwemer agents. I’m sure you’ve seen her lately.” He shook his head, remembering how she was in the infirmary, “Well, I know at least what race at least two of these agents are- Khajiit. The one that took Raelynn and the one that came after me a couple days ago.”

“The one that came after me gave me two choices.” Latro held up two fingers as he spoke the words, he wiggled his forefinger, “I meet him when he beckons me-” then wiggled his middle one- “Or he tells the Dwemer where we all lay our heads at night. Here.

“You’re the third person to hear about this from me. The only others are Raelynn, when she healed me from the wounds that the Dwemer agent gave me, and Sora.” His finger brushed the hilt of the Dwemer sword she’d gifted him, “Now you, as well. My point is...”

Latro pursed his lips, “I’m going to meet him. I need someone with feet quiet as mine to come with me. I want to hear what he has to say, and if he tries to take me, he won’t know you’re there. Might be we get to do the interrogating.” He said, “If not for Raelynn, if not for me, then just do it so we know that much more about our enemy when the time comes.”

“What say you?”

Jaraleet was silent for a second before smiling at Latro. “I will help.” He said, nodding at the Breton. “It is troubling that these agents are so easily able to find us, and so we must take steps to resolve this issue.” The Argonian continued, moving towards the staircases that led out of the gym. “Let me grab my weapons and I should be good to go. Then we can have with this agent.” The Argonian said before beginning to ascend the stairs. “I shall meet you at the entrance of the hotel, alright?” And with those words, the Argonian disappeared from Latro’s view.

It was only a few minutes before Jaraleet returned, clad in his armor and wearing the same cape that he had worn during that fateful day when they had captured Nblec. “Let’s go.” He said quietly, waiting for Latro to start moving before he began following at a slight distance.

Latro nodded, hoping to all the Gods there were in the heavens that Shiburi wasn’t following them this whole time. If he saw Jaraleet following him, things could get complicated. Bloody complicated. Much to his relief though, his scanning of the rooftops and the shadows on the streets held no sign of him. Though, the Khajiit’s first impression was that of a man who could best him at anything, pop out of anywhere. Were it any more absurd, he half-expected Shiburi to be dressed in Jaraleet’s clothes with the Argonian nowhere to be found when he turned around. Thankfully, his fears bore no fruit, as Jaraleet was walking up to him from his following distance when Latro stopped.

“We’re nearing the meeting place. You should keep yourself far enough away to be out of sight, but close enough to be in reach if I need you.” With that, the two separated. Beneath everything the past few days’ events brought, Latro took solace that bad memories of being violated as a whore in that Wayrest tavern weren’t the only ones. Ones of stalking the streets of Markarth, of setting up ambushes along the Reach roads, of being a knife in the shadows of halls his enemies thought were safe. He was no stranger to things like this, and he was sure Jaraleet wasn’t either.

It was why he was his first choice.

Jaraleet nodded in silence at Latro’s words, deciding not to answer to them as a measure of precaution. He was sure that the Breton would understand, after all he was starting to become keenly aware that the seemingly-delicate Breton man and him were very similar creatures. For one there had been his unhesitant backing of his suggestion to interrogate Nblec and now, looking at the way Latro walked, it became more and more apparent that the man was used to walking silently and infiltrating other places quietly, much like Jaraleet did in his line of work. He supposed he and the Breton should have a chat about that at some point, but for now it would do him no good to be distracted. They had a target to capture after all.

Latro ducked into the alleyway zen garden, lagging at the last steps, stopping to focus on hearing any movements from inside. Nothing. Either he wasn’t there or he was waiting in stillness. The darkness gave the Khajiit the advantage, neither Jaraleet or Latro being able to see all too well. But any movements, even the slightest shuffle would reverberate off the walls. Even so, Latro stepped cautiously, silent as a graveyard wind. “I know you’re watching me.” He said simply.

“I could sme-“

“You could smell me, perfumed soaps, choices. Fuck you.” Latro said, a face that told Shiburi he was in no mood to have a duel of cursing regarded the Khajiit as he dropped from his shadowed hiding place- more than a few feet up a wall, of all things. He didn’t make a sound as he dropped, not even his robes flapped in the wind. A muffle spell. “I’m here. If this is a trap, spring it.”

“If this was a trap, you wouldn’t have even seen me. It’s good that you’re here,” Shiburi said as he stepped fully out of the shadows and into the moonlight. “I trust you didn’t come alone. I never said you had to, but I pegged you rightly.”

“As what?”

“As somebody who isn’t as frail and naive as you’d have everyone else believe. You were dressed as a woman because your features allow you to pass as one when I first met you. It was hard to pick you out but you always walk the same.” Shiburi smirked, “Are you alone?”

“Yes.” Latro lied, straight-faced. “Get to the point of all this.”

“I will. Like I said, I was sent to Hammerfell before Tamriel all went to shit. I had a task to fulfill from some very important people. Your end of this bargain is to deliver a letter to someone named Hassiim. He and his brother, Saffi, are my friends. Or friends of the Dwemer.” Shiburi said, producing the letter from a pocket inside his robes and offering it to Latro. “You have gloves?”

The Reachman eyed the letter with caution. It could be poisoned with paralysis or any matter of something more deadly. He’d used tricks like that before. He slipped on a pair of leather gloves before taking the piece of paper gingerly, aware of any small needles or just a fine residue of poison that could be activated by sweat or the oils on his hand. Shiburi smirked as if in appreciation of his forethought. “That’s it? You want me to be a fucking courier?”

“For now. I need to know if I can trust you to do simple tasks before I ask bigger things of you.” Shiburi said as Latro’s face screwed up in annoyance. “I’ll say this. Keep those gloves on. Now go. He’ll be waiting at the docks. He doesn’t know the man he’ll be taking this letter from is a wanted terrorist, you’ll have an easy time.”

Without word, Latro backed away from Shiburi, facing him until he finally sank back behind the wall obscuring the zen garden from the streets. After a while of walking away at a hurried pace and feeling his thumping pulse in his neck, he heard Jaraleet fall in step behind him. “That’s what he looks like. Did you see?” He asked his compatriot.

“I did, yes. I’ve already thought on how we might capture him.” Jaraleet replied quietly to Latro. “I also overheard the conversation between you two, if you’ll pardon me. I must say that I agree with this Khajiit.” The Argonian said quietly, easily keeping up with Latro. “There’s more to you than meet the eyes. I suspect you and I are much alike Latro, or am I wrong?”

“I wasn’t always a bard.” Latro said, “And I had no doubt that you had something to hide about yourself from the time we set out on that mission together. Not many people kill without blinking.”

His eyes scanned the streets for watchmen, or Shiburi himself, “First things first, we deliver this letter. If Hassiim really is a friend of the Dwemer, I’d take him in place of Shiburi if we can’t get him.” Latro said, “But, no, Jaraleet. You’re not wrong, and with your tight lips about yourself, I doubt you’d let anything I tell you to slip, no?”

“Hmmm, it would be best if we could capture the both of them, but if this Hassiim really is a friend of the Dwemer that makes him a much more valuable target.” Jaraleet said, nodding slightly at what Latro said next. “Yes, of that you can be assured. All that I ask, of course, is that you do the same.”

“After this, we won’t be able to tell the others anything about what we’ve done or talked about tonight. This never happened.” He said, “Shiburi told me to keep these gloves on, so I wouldn’t doubt this envelope is laced with poison, likely deadly.”

After a while of walking, Latro finally asked, “So, how do you know the things you do? Poison, interrogation, killing. Not just any type of person remains calm on nights like these or on assignments like that day with Nblec.” Latro had his easy smile, “Fact for fact, truth for truth. You’re the first to have to answer.”

“So be it.” Jaraleet said, letting out a sigh in resignation at the fact that he was the one to have to reveal his secrets first. “The An-Xileel were the ones who gave me my training, they were the ones who endowed me with the knowledge of how to interrogate a man, how to kill them. Same with my knowledge of poisons, but that isn't something as uncommon as you might think when one lives in a place like Argonia. You could find elders who have much more knowledge than me and who haven't held a blade in their lives.” The Argonian said, shrugging slightly before speaking again. “Your turn.”

“So you’re an agent of Black Marsh?” He said, looking his companion up and down with interest. What the Argonians wanted in Cyrodiil or Hammerfell, Latro didn’t know, and he felt a supreme curiosity niggling at the back of his mind, “Sora knows this, no one else but you and her now. We’ll keep it that way, though.” He began.

“You’re not wrong saying that there’s more to me. You’re not wrong saying that you and I aren’t all too different, either. I learned how to wield axe and knife together, to set traps and raid in the dead of night from my Clan’s warriors in the Western Reach. When I was but a boy, I found myself in the Eastern Reach- in Skyrim.” He said, reluctance holding his tongue, and a bit of guilt too, “It was there that I became Forsworn. I was their knife in the dark, a poisoner. All times must change, and I saw my fellow Reachmen embedded in Markarth hunted and hanged. All but me.”

They continued walking for a short while, nothing between them but the soft winds of a Hammerfell night. Soon enough, they’d made it onto the harbor and standing on one of the docks was a lone Redguard, idly smoking a pipe. Latro could smell the tobacco on the breeze as he ducked behind a building, out of view. “He’s only expecting one. Maybe I can lure him here and we can capture him.”

With that, Latro rounded the wall and began his walk towards Hassiim. Every step set him more on edge, his throat growing drier and heart beating faster all the way up to his throat. He stopped for a second, took a calming breath and continued on before raising his hand, “Hassiim!” He whispered harshly.

“Shut up and get over here.” Hassiim waved his hand towards himself, beckoning Latro. When they were finally standing face to face, Hassiim held his hand out, “You have the documents?”

Latro nodded, completely unaware of any documents but continuing on with nothing but hope protecting him. And an An-Xileel assassin, “Yes. But I was followed, you have to come with me.”

“Just give them to me, quick. We’ll part ways in a second, come on.” Hassiim said, his voice devoid of patience.

Latro swallowed, “Fine.”

That wasn’t exactly his plan, but it was Shiburi’s. He handed the envelope over, the paper exchanging hands and… Hassiim nodded at him. “Good.” Without incident, Hassiim tore open the envelope and revealed the contents inside- a folded paper. “Bring me to the alley?”

Hassiim gritted his teeth and his hand shot for his dagger, but instead fell limp at his side as if the life in it vanished. “Wha-?”

The Redguard stumbled back, looking around him in confusion before he crumpled to the dock. “I… you…”

He fell completely still. Latro stood there, the absurdity and suddenness snatching his words away. After a moment, he leaned over to get a closer look at Hassiim. He wasn’t a corpse after all, the subtle rising and falling of his chest gave that away. Paralysis. Latro grabbed Hassiim by the collar and hauled him up, dragging him back up the dock and towards Jaraleet. When the Argonian arrived and lent a hand in carrying the Redguard, Latro shook his head, “It was a note. Paralysis poison, we have to bring him to the alley, the note said.”

“Hmmm, it seems we might have stumbled on something bigger than we might have thought initially.” The Argonian replied as he helped to haul Hassiim’s paralyzed form. “There's bound to be more risk involved than what he had originally prepared for...but we could learn a great deal more.” He mused out loud. “What say you Latro, are you willing to risk more than we might have bargained for?” He asked the Reachman, he was after all the one who had come up with the idea of this mission of theirs.

“I was neck-deep in it from the start, my friend.” Latro chuckled ruefully, “Shiburi might come after us if we foil his task this far into it, let’s see where this leads.”

He huffed, grunting as he helped carry the dead weight of the Redguard back to where this all began…

The Redguard crumpled to the ground at Shiburi’s feet. Latro and Jaraleet stood shoulder to shoulder opposite Shiburi, the paralyzed Hassiim between the two parties. It was a tense moment, a choking silence, Latro’s sweaty palms almost shooting for his sword. Then Shiburi spoke, “Damn good.” The Khajiit said, “Follow.”

They followed the Khajiit, exchanging glances all the while. They had the advantage of numbers, but after Latro’s first run-in with the Khajiit, he was still a bit intimidated. He absolutely hated it. “What are we doing with him?”

“You’ll see.” Shiburi said, “But in all honesty, you’d have to be touched in the head to not figure it out.”

Latro shot Shiburi a scowl. After a while of walking, they’d made it to a house in the slums of Gilane, a run-down, destitute thing with boarded windows and a door that looked like it would fall apart under the stress of a particularly hard sigh. Shiburi opened the door after undoing an amount of locks protecting what looked like what nobody would want and disappeared inside, beckoning them in. Latro looked to Jaraleet with raised eyes and an expression that asked the question his tongue didn’t.

He had been surprised when Shiburi hadn't made a comment about his sudden appearance, as if his presence had been a factor that he Khajiit had anticipated beforehand. “Could he have known about my presence?” Jaraleet thought inwardly, frowning slightly. Between him and Latro he was sure that they could take the Khajiit head on and subdue him but if his presence had been anticipated, then it was likely that Shiburi had prepared well in advance for any potential double-crossing from Latro’s part.

He helped Latro carry the unconscious body of the Redguard until they both stood in front of a house in Gilane’s slums. “We have to, if we want to accomplish our goal.” The Argonian replied quietly to the unspoken question that Latro had made to him. “You leave what is to come to me, if you'd prefer, and try to get information out of our other friend here.”

Latro nodded at Jaraleet offering to do the violence for him. His morals were yet intact and that was something he took solace in. “Alright, then. Let’s go.”

They both entered the house, Latro’s skin prickling, expecting a knife to the throat or a crossbow bolt to the forehead. When none came, he let out a long breath from his nose. He took in the space before him and found it surprisingly quaint. The table in the corner looked to be incredibly expensive and something straight from an aristocrat’s tea room, the accompanying chairs no different, if not mismatched. Around the barred windows were curtains that obviously held little purpose other than making the space more homely. The fireplace was going, firelight spilling out onto a fur pelt rug that looked to be from a big game animal. “I wasn’t expecting you to have a taste for the finer things.” Latro said humorlessly.

“It isn’t mine.” Shiburi responded, “We’ll keep our friend here. His brother doesn’t know about what he does when he isn’t bending knee and bending over for the Dwemer.” He said, “It will take a while for him to break. But he will. You can do the honors-” he nodded to Jaraleet- “Since you’re so set on crashing mine and Latro’s bonding time you’d best pull your weight.”

Shiburi gestured to a couple small crates opposite the chair he was using next to the fireplace, “Sit. It’s time I told you at least something.”

When they took their seats, Latro wasted no time in loosing his question, “Who are you really?”

“One of my names is Shiburi ibn Sev’Ahmet. That much is true and it’ll have to be good enough. I did come to Hammerfell- sent here- with a task to do.” He said before raising his hand to Jaraleet, “There are tools in the corner, get creative.”

“A very important person visiting here soon must die by my hand. I was pressgang’d into Dwemer service, like I told Latro, but it’s only all the more better of a position for me to do my job.” Shiburi continued as he turned back to Latro, “One of these tiny goals I must reach in order to make sure this very important person dies and my mission is completed in full is that I know where Hassiim and his brother live, his activities, his friends.

Hassiim was already beginning to stir, albeit in futility as Jaraleet bound the Redguard to the chair he’d been unceremoniously dropped in. “What is this? Who are you?”

“Hello, Hassiim.” Shiburi rose from his seat, taking the one opposite of Hassiim at the table. Latro could see Hassiim’s balled fists shaking in rage, “My new friends here are going to help me ensure that Hammerfell lives forever a prosperous and autonomous nation-state.”

“Sevari?” Hassiim said, teeth clenched.

“Sevari is another of my names. The real one, actually.” Shiburi- or Sevari- shrugged.

“I still don’t have clear answers.” Latro rose, fists clenching as anger took over his senses. He could feel the heat in his face, teeth clenching.

Sevari only raised his hands, “I was pressgang’d, sure. But I wasn’t sent to Hammerfell to be pressgang’d. The Dwemer arriving suddenly muddied up the water for me, but the reason we are all here now was decided even before this Hammerfell-Volenfell business.” Sevari looked at Latro’s fists and smirked, “You really want to do that again?”

Latro’s lip curled in contempt as he worked to control his breathing. It seemed every damned step forward only brought him more questions and he did not appreciate participating in these games if he didn’t know the prizes. Sevari reminding him of his beating didn’t help the matter. It was quickly becoming the obsession of a man who finally had a rival. “I want answers.”

“The Poncy Man must remain as the sole opposition to Dwemer supremacy in Hammerfell. Your friend, this Poncy Man, has deals with important people far to the south.” Sevari began, “There was a time that the Poncy Man and his merchant guild reigned supreme, second only to the Caliph himself. The Caliph’s sons liked the Knife-Ears- and don’t pretend you don’t know who I’m talking about-and their shiny gifts.”

“The difference between the Caliph’s sons and their late father though, the heirs were willing to strike deals and appease the Dominion outright. The Poncy Man, though? The Poncy Man is a patriot to an independent Hammerfell, through and through.” Sevari nodded and then gestured to Hassiim, positively fuming just next to him, “Hassiim was one of the late Caliph’s most trusted spymasters, a high-level Officer in the Eyes of Ra Gada. Oh, how we have all fallen from grace with the appearance of the Dwemer. Isn’t that right, my friend?”

“Fuck you, Sevari!” Hassiim screamed at Sevari’s beaming grin.

“Hassiim works to find the sons of the Caliphate, the ones who survived, at least. Hassiim wants to put them on the throne again and overthrow the Dwemer in the name of a Thalmor-appeasing regime of weakness and puppet-strings.” Sevari scowled then, hand shooting out and slamming Hassiim’s face into the table and creating a racket all the more violent in the stillness of the room, “I don’t like Thalmor. My friends south of here, they don’t either. You’re going to give me every name of your surviving connections and maybe I won’t have to yank your teeth out one by one. Speaking of teeth, I think I loosened a couple.”

Sevari turned to Jaraleet, “Well, let’s get to work, shall we?”

Jaraleet had remained silent as Shiburi, or Sevari as it turned out, spoke to Latro, making sure that Hassiim would be bound well enough so that he couldn’t escape unless he managed to, somehow, cut the ropes that had him bound to the chair in which he currently sat. “Let’s.” The Argonian said, tone cold, as he stood up and went to retrieve the assortment of tools that Sevari had stashed inside of the house.

Placing the tools in plain view of the captive Hassiim, Jaraleet knelt in front of the Redguard before he turned to look at Sevari. “Do you want to start?” The Argonian asked, still not having the full measure of the kind of individual Sevari was and, thus, opting to act with a measure of caution.

Sevari nodded, “Okay, Hassiim. Now is where you choose whether you survive or get thrown to the wolves.” Sevari leaned forward in his chair, “I know you were trained to withstand torture. That’s not surprising at all for a man of your former position.”

“Do you know what the Bhaanu Sasra is, Hassiim?” Sevari asked. Hassiim didn’t answer, instead glaring holes in Sevari from his seat, “It’s the Thalmor puppet agency that silences dissenters and major criminals. I learned everything I know about this craft we share, fieldwork, cloak and dagger from them. I was good at what I did.”

“At what I do. Let’s find out if my Bhaanu Sasra interrogation skills can hold up to the test of your torture resistance.” Sevari stood, cracking his knuckles by making a tight fist, “I always win in the end, Hassiim.”

Hassiim laughed a cruel thing out onto the still, dusty air of the safehouse, shaking his head, “That’s it? I expected more out of you, Sevari.”

“Pray to whatever God you Redguards have that you don’t see more.” Sevari frowned.

“I don’t pray.” Hassiim scowled, leaning towards Sevari. Sevari took his moment, sliding a pair of leather gloves onto his big hands, slow and casual, stroking one of Hassiim’s bearded cheeks.

“I suggest you start.”

Latro stood just outside the door to Sevari’s safehouse. Where the Gilane he had known for the past few days was lively, clean, and beautiful this place was everything but. Prostitutes wandered about with their chests exposed, skooma dealers and skooma addicts both roamed the streets, mingling among each other as they are wont to do. After a couple hours of waiting, Latro had seemingly befriended a street cat. With its appearance and tolerance of him, he was reminded of Sora, and that at least brought a smile to his face. The two of them had sat playing with each other for the last half hour or so, but as all good things must end when Sevari enters the picture, the cat scurried off when the door to the safehouse creaked open. “We’re finished, come inside.”

Latro nodded. Arrayed on the table was an assortment of cruel looking devices that Latro had not even seen before, onlynmade more crude by the blood caking half of them. Sevari busied himself with cleaning them, rubbing them with an alcohol-wet cloth. He talked as he worked, “Your Argonian friend is handy. I just might be starting to like the both of you. Neither of you seem new to this kind of work,” Sevari gestured to the crumpled mess that was Hassiim in the corner, “Speaking of work, I’ll need you to take him somewhere after a few days. Either one of you.”

“We weren’t able to squeeze much blood from this stone, but he doesn’t know yet how persistent I can be.” Sevari said non-chalantly, as if torturing a man and reducing him to the most base and animalistic he could be was a nice hobby like fishing or sewing, “I managed to get one name out of him though, Khesh. Keep your ears open about him. I know I will.”

“Sevari,” Latro swallowed, taking another step towards the Khajiit. “Who are you?”

Sevari stopped putting his tools back in the pockets of his leather roll he kept them in. Turning around with his usual frown, “The Thalmor sought to make an example of me back in my homeland for betraying them. By killing my brothers and I, they were looking to send a message to other would-be defectors.” Sevari folded his arms and nodded, “Now, I am a message to them.”

Latro and Jaraleet shut the door to Sevari’s safehouse behind them. The walk back to their side of Gilane was quiet, filled only with the sounds of night bugs and breezes. Latro was the first to speak, “You’re an agent of Argonia? The An-Xileel.” He began, running his fingers through his loose hair, “Why are you with us now?”

“Yes, that is correct.” Jaraleet replied when Latro said that he was an agent of Argonia, of the An-Xileel. “Believe it or not, it’s got nothing to do with my position as an agent of the An-Xileel.” He began speaking, crossing his arms over his chest. “I was stationed in the Imperial City, gathering information, when this whole….mess with the Dwemer began and I was caught in the crossfire, got stuck with a bunch of refugees making their way towards Skingrad.” The Argonian spoke, shaking his head slightly. “There, I joined the Colovian Rangers. Figured it was the best way to learn information about this new threat that had appeared out of nowhere.”

“There, I met Raelynn and Gregor and found myself sharing a campfire with you and the rest of the group.” He continued on, frowning as he remembered what came next. “Then the whole mess with the Dominion occupation happened, and I decided to stick with you since I knew you folks.” Jaraleet continued on, pausing for a second to let Latro process what he had just said. “Once we had gotten to Anvil, truth be told, I wasn’t too sure on what to do. Until I got chatting with Alim that is, he mentioned something about an expedition to the Jerall mountains and about a machine you had found in some ruins.” He said, pausing yet again but this time to catch his breath. “Way I figure it, you and the rest of your group know something about the return of the Dwemer and, thusly, you have the best chance of fixing this. It’s a bit of a gamble on my part, but there wasn’t much else that I could do. I doubt that I’d have managed to survive my trip back to Argonia by my lonesome with the Dwemer on the warpath and the Dominion suddenly making a move for Cyrodiil.” He said, letting out a sigh.

“If you are worried that I will hurt anyone in the group, fret not. My interest lay solely on defeating the Dwemer, nothing more and nothing else.” He said, deciding to forego mentioning his desire to obtain their technology for the An-Xileel. “I promise you that no harm will come to you, nor to anyone else in the group, from my hand.”

Latro nodded, “I was with the Rangers for a bit. Odd that I didn’t see you, but I guess given your career choices I can’t blame myself.” Latro chuckled. He listened to Jaraleet’s reassurance, “I should trust you. I, of all people, know the old saying that everyone sleeps. If you wanted any of us dead, they wouldn’t be here anymore.”

“But forgive me if I sleep a little lighter than I already do.” Latro smiled. He dropped it and sighed, “What do you think of all this, An-Xileel? Spygames carrying out the machinations of two Empires against each other?”

Jaraleet chuckled softly at Latro’s words, waving his words away. “There’s nothing to forgive, I understand you being cautious.” The Argonian replied easily, frowning slightly when the Reachman asked him what he thought of all that they had learned that night. “I think…” The assassin finally began after a few moments of silence. “That the river is leading our group through dark waters. We must be careful of what we do.” He said, shaking his head slightly.

“It is an unfortunate truth but I fear that we might be surrounded by enemies on all sides. that Sevari is playing, it would have happened regardless. The Dwemer are just an extra variable in an old game that has been played for a long time. And our little group, well, we are neck-deep in an important move in the game.”

Latro walked alongside Jaraleet as they made their way from the slums. The night’s events had certainly yielded more questions than answers, each one erupting into more like fighting a hydra.
Jaraleet was right, though. The game they were playing was not new by any means. He only hoped they chose the right side in all of this. He considered Jaraleet’s words carefully, sighing his breath onto the night breezes.

Joseph was sat at the far end of the living room across from Foster. The man had documents detailing the sites of bodies that were recently dug up around White Tree that were related to the Blackriver Killer. The room was silent as Foster waited for the small team to get settled and Joseph studied the board on which the map of Blackriver County with colored pins denoting exhumation sites and crime scenes. The sheer amount told Joseph that either the Blackriver Killer had been at this for a long while or he was very productive. Finally, Foster cleared his throat and all eyes were on him, Joseph’s included. Before he spoke, he wondered just how much Foster would divulge.

“Gentlemen,” Foster began, then nodded at Pari, “Lady. Two days ago, 2200 hours, Officer Morales of the West Virginia State Police was the first responder to the residence of Daniel and Vicki Mulligan on his patrol. His last correspondence with the dispatcher that night was confirming that he had made it to the scene. After further requests to respond as to his status, Sherriff Deputies in the area were called in to clear the smoke and find out what was going on.”

“They found the Mulligans gone, Morales was nowhere to be found. There were no signs of a struggle outside, no shell casings. There was a lot of blood found in the bedroom of the Mulligans residence, though. Obvious who the suspect is. We are led to believe that the most likely cause is that the Blackriver killer had the drop on Morales and it all went downhill from there. Morales’ cruiser was found about a mile down the road going towards the Vera Corporation mining operation.” He said, pointing to one of the colored pins on the map, where the Mulligan residence was, “Maryanne Roy is waiting for some of our team at the scene as we speak, so we’ll make this fast as we can.”

His finger circled the town of White Tree proper on the map, “I want the other section of our team canvassing the town. Our second priority is figuring out just where the hell the CDC team sent to White Tree went. They’d arrived a few days before Morales’ disappearance to investigate the appearance of the black welts on many of the townsfolk and haven’t sent home since.” Foster folded his arms, “We’ve got quite the case here in this small spit of a town, Lady and Gentlemen. State Trooper Marvin McClintock here is our resident expert on this town, he knows the ins-and-outs and layout of Blackriver better than any of us.”

Foster looked to Joseph, “Anything to add?”

Joseph nodded, looking out over the small assembled team they had here. Clint was the black sheep, but Foster needed him for this. They needed an inside man in Blackriver to lend a friendly, familiar face to the investigation. Or, at least, just a familiar one. Joseph cleared his throat, “We stick to each other out there like flies on shit. No going solo, you all have the cellphones we gave you, use them whenever you need to.” Joseph patted his holster, “I don’t want service weapons out unless someone’s coming at you. The last thing we need is to get in trouble because we turned White Tree into the OK Corral.”

He sighed then, running his hand along his beard, “I’m not going to elaborate, so take this at face value and remember it well.” He looked each of them in the eye, “We all know just how weird the world gets sometimes. You know exactly what I mean." His eyes were hard at that, that street dog in him bearing its teeth at falling bombs, "You find something that weird out here in Blackriver, you don’t hesitate to call me or Foster. Don’t read anything that seems weird, don’t touch anything that seems weird. Call.

Foster nodded slow, eyebrows raised as he fidgeted with the cufflinks on his suit, “Alright, people, let’s get mounted up. Joseph, take Jason and get into town, start interviewing people about the CDC and the killings while you’re at it.” He pointed to Clint and Pari, “Clint, introduce Pari to Maryanne Roy at the Mulligan’s.”

They split up. They mounted up. They drove. Joseph hoped he spooked them enough with that speech, he hoped everything would go as well as it could. But he knew White Tree would be the death of their innocence in the face of the things they would soon have to fight away. Blackriver was a hornet's nest of lies, poverty, intrigue, and more than likely- something far, far darker that usually only had the bravery to crop up in the far-flung vestiges of frontiers the world had. Joseph frowned as he shut the door of the Ford Focus, he'd seen it in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Somalia. Not in my yard...

The truth of White Tree and Blackriver County is that it is one of the most poverty-ridden areas of the United States. Joseph flipped through the files on Blackriver he'd brought with him, Jason in the driver's seat, the litany of modern savagery and death throes of the American Dream here contained on the pages in his hands. Mining and farming conglomerates have swooped down on White Tree and the surrounding small mining towns like leviathans after crumbs. Unemployment was the norm here long before the latest financial crisis. Local schools are falling apart and Joseph found it unnerving that there are scarcely few children in White Tree. Farming is done almost exclusively by agrobusiness giants, using Roundup Ready crops and titanic machines on fields so big they demonstrate the curvature of the Earth.

Joseph and the others reached the mining district in Blackriver that's been active on and off for more than a century and a half, a mere fifteen minutes from the safehosue. Its locals feel their lives depend on that activity, which resumed about two years back due to high oil prices. The last time the mines closed, it was due to unionization and talking to OSHA, so the locals won't be trying that again. They distrust strangers and bear a deep, dark faith in God and television. This is because they recently escaped from a level of poverty that involved getting shot at in the dark while tearing up crops sprayed with dangerous quantities of glyphosate, just to eat. These are desperate people, ready to kill for their oppressors.

>0712 HOURS…///

Joseph was only used to sites like these in foreign countries. Though, it remained to be said that the town itself they split off from Clint and Pari in wasn’t unlike the tiny, chewed up trailer town he grew up in back in Texas. The same one he spent a few eventful years as a Sherriff’s Deputy in, arresting so-and-so for such-and-such on any given day only to never see them again or to be reminded of their existence when he was once again pounding on their door for them to open up because his warrant said his boot would also serve as a key to their house. He had an errant thought of just how he’d try to single-handedly fix this town like he tried with the other one. Probably with the same results.

White Tree was very much the picture of what Steve Foster described in the morning briefing. It might have been picturesque at one point, but the financial crises of the 2000s had left its hand on White Tree, though the damage done was most definitely not done in one fell swoop. Even just fifteen minutes spent in the parking lot of the gas station in White Tree was enough. At the edges, a mangy dog sniffed at a paper bag and took off running when it sighted a pair of men walking towards it. The two men fixed Joseph and Jason with wary stares before turning their heads away and going about their business. The Ford Focus was the only car in the parking lot and it wasn’t hard to notice that cars sat destitute in the driveways of homes on the way to town from the safehouse.

The denizens of the tiny spit of the town of White Tree milled about on errands or just seemingly aimlessly at their own leisure, though there was noticeably few of them whatever they were out for. One might guess at it being work-hours at the mines, or just the fact that anyone who’d sensed what the town would become years and years ago already jumped ship and left the poor fools to fend for themselves. To their credit, as life always does, it persisted past the horrific advance of corporate industry and financial crises. Albeit, just as the wildlife of Fukushima or Chernobyl, life here was scarred and ugly. The two people around the Ford Focus were left to run rough-shod through the town with their questioning or just act as observers to this alien world. A passing group of teenagers eyed the duo from a safe distance. “Fucking lost tourists.” Said loud enough by one before he spat at them and they continued walking, laughing in the blood-boiling manner only a gaggle of street-youths could. These were the people they were here to save.

Joseph watched the youths walk away from them, shaking his head. “Fucking kids.” He took the last drag of his cigarette and dropped it smoldering on the ground, “Let’s get to it.”

>0720 HOURS...///

Windy mountain roads, trees, but the far-off plumes of black like devils trying to smoke the angels from their heavens evident from the porch of the safehouse. Even now, the smell still lingered in the car, diesel mingling with the smell of the forest. White Tree is a town seemingly only in name. There is one restaurant, Vicky’s Diner, no relation to the late Vicki Mulligan. A gas station, a general store, the very bare amenities for anyone scraping a living out of the mountain dirt. The neighborhoods are about what you’d expect, a sprinkling of tiny houses sitting in solitude and near destitution, far away from each other that even going along at 35 miles per hour on the almost jarringly rigid straightaways of White Tree’s gravel and dirt roads it takes thirty seconds to get from one dirt-road driveway to the next.

It’s easy to see why anyone distrusting of the city life, their fellow man or their president would live out here. As the duo passed a family walking down the road hard-eyed, dirty and callused, with a road sign behind them that read Jesus Loves You under the moss and dirt, it’s easy to see why being born here would make you such.

Police lights, finally. The closer they got, the clearer the scene became- this was a checkpoint. The road ahead was blocked off for some reason with three sherriff’s Ford Crown Vics arrayed with two of the vehicles on one side of the road with the remaining one on the opposite. There was a hold to let people through, but it was blocked off by two sherriff’s deputies- one holding a shotgun and the other an AR-15- as well as a spike strip deployed in front of them.

The two Deputies raised their hands for the car to stop, which it did. One of the Deputies to the side of the road approached the car on Pieter’s side while yet another walked up from the opposite. The Deputy on Clint’s side motioned for him to roll down his window, “Where you folks headed? I’m afraid this route’s blocked off for a while.” The Deputy said after Clint’s window was down.
Chapter I

I Did Not Come to Bring Peace...

...But a Sword...


The cold winds cutting along the porch of the run-down shack of a safehouse complemented the dark iron of the clouds well. The smell of the woods and the mountain air was tainted by the smell of diesel and smoke from the nearby mines, the only thing that drowned the stench of the tireless, obstinate march of industry was the cigarette held between Joseph’s lips. He took a draw and exhaled, letting it disperse on the air, watching the cloud drift off to be lost among the morning mists.

The medium-sized house had been procured a week before Joseph and Steve’s landing, the accoutrements and vehicles set up by nameless, faceless busy-bodies of the Agency. All of it- the vehicles, the house itself, the living arrangements, decorations, and the sizeable stockpile of ammunition, weapons and tactical gear- was paid for by Steve Foster’s slice of the CIA black budget offshore account, untraceable by local authorities and anyone else without proper clearance. At least it had good location, perched atop a hill where a lookout could be posted and see anyone approaching from any direction.

More importantly, deep-down, in the places where Joseph refused to let soldiering and tradecraft taint, he loved to be able to see the sprawling mountains in every direction and the lights speckled about the hills and the town at night. The relatively low light-pollution lent the night sky a clear complexion, an unimpeded view of the stars when it wasn’t cloudy. Although, despite even his hardest efforts to beat back the rigors of work, the front door from the porch to the living room creaked open. Footsteps, slow. “Review the files yet?”

Joseph shook his head. He could hear Foster sigh, “You know they’ll be here. You should look at their dossiers and get a feel for them.”

Joseph nodded. He turned around and brushed past Foster, entering the living room where the dossiers were arranged neatly in columns on the coffee table. He took a seat and grabbed up the first one, Jimenez, Jason.

After a good hour of reading and review of each of the team handpicked by Steve, he leaned back on the couch, took a swig from his flask and then walked back outside, sitting on the rocking chair on the porch. “How much do they know?”

“Hmm?” Steve asked, following him closely and leaning on the porch’s banister.

The team.” Joseph frowned, “How much do they know?”

“About the same I told you on your first.” Foster said.

“Well, that really addresses my concerns.” Joseph said. He shook his head and sighed, “Do they at least meet the criteria?”

“All. I made sure they’re not completely blind. That McClintock fellow is a native here, part of the town.” Steve raised his eyebrows, as if that made things all better. “The rest know there’s things out there at the fringes of our sight. Things the rest of the world, the public, the average joe shouldn’t know. Just not enough to be locked up like a gibbering mess.” Foster turned around and leaned over the banister, his hands propping him up as he looked out over the town, “Pretty soon, Joseph, we’re going to be old and grey. Or at least I hope we reach that, but...”

“More fuel for the flames.” Joseph nodded, more to himself than Steve, “I’ve got a few more fires in me.”

“Of course you do,” Foster said, “I do too. But that time will come, where we either find a good reason to use that special bullet we all keep secret, or we accept a little house on the prairie with a comfortable sum of money lest we trip and fall and accidentally shoot ourselves twice in the chest and once in the head.”

Foster didn’t have to elaborate any more. Joseph only nodded in agreement, knowing the old lions of the Delta Green pride were nearing the end of their reigns. “Well.” Joseph sighed, “Ain’t that a nice thought.”
Old Ghosts...

4th of Midyear, 4e208
Gilane, Hammerfell

Smoldering Bridges, Soot Fingers...

The Indrik was like all the ships in the Dominion navy dating back to even before Tiber Septim. Resplendent in glory, adorned with banners of coats-of-arms of the captains all the way back to the first. It had sailed the seas longer than most men had lived, holding true against the years just as well as against tempests and rogue waves and boarding parties. Tonight, it was Gilane’s honor to have her make port in its harbor. A couple guards with the misfortune of drawing the shortest straws for nightwatch sat on the topdeck, sharing a bottle of wine. They had been laughing about something or other for the past hour now. So hard and so drunkenly, that neither of them noticed the dark mass that silently slipped into the ship’s underbelly through the hatch in the deck.

Moving like solidified shadow, the crew slept soundly over his footfalls. One roaming crew member had the misfortune of wandering into his path. Dumbfounded, he locked eyes with the Khajiit. The hazel eyes were level with his own, cold, flat. That was the last thing he saw before a flash of movement and then all was void.

Sevari had prepared himself months in advance for this mission. Going over the overarching goal of the operation, going through his compartmented section of the entirety of the Penitus Oculatus’ mission here, and completely fixated on this single night. Emissary Syintar’s father had been one of the Thalmor responsible for the death of his brothers back in Elsweyr, ordering the Bhaanu Sasra assassination and the public display of their bodies, bloated and stinking from the lamp-post in front of the local tea shop they had all favored as a meeting spot after assignments that would have them going abroad.

It was a message to Sevari and Suffian. A message, those long years ago, that if they knew what was good for them they would leave forever or be killed brutally and savagely. It was Sevari’s turn to see Fangalto Syintar drop to his knees at the sight of his son’s naked and gutted form swaying in the breeze of a Gilane street. Called from his home in Alinor to Hammerfell just to drop to his knees and plead the Gods for mercy on his son’s soul. To bear the weight of a father who had to bury his son, and not the other way around, until he joined his wife in the next plane at the end of Sevari’s blade.

It was a thought that set Sevari’s lips to smiling for the first time in a very long time as he stalked the halls of the ship, the creaking of the wood hull rocking with the night tides lending an ambience to the scene. Finally, at the end of a long hallway, the gilded doors to Erincaro’s chambers. Always one for opulence and splendor were the Altmer. Sevari took a step forward before he heard the door opening from the other end of the hall, and then a few high laughs, kept quiet like two giggling child crushes not wanting to wake anyone. Sevari leaned out of his hiding spot and squinted, seeing Erincaro tip-toe out of his room with a Khajiit in tow, both of their heads of hair mussied up.

It was an unconventional, and somewhat taboo, relationship that had the seeds planted when she was very young and first conscripted into the military academy where Erincaro had been one of the instructors, teaching military history and diplomacy in lieu of martial prowess. The young Khajiit had taken well to her training; already a scrappy fighter from her time on the streets, having a warm bed and three proper meals a day revitalized the young girl in ways that broke morale on the other cadets. She blossomed into a rather striking young woman, with amber eyes and a chocolate coat of fur and an ornately braided mane atop her crown, the Khajiit had grown powerful and decisive, favouring a greatsword above other weapons and becoming one of the academy’s most promising students.

The Altmer had forgotten when their forbidden attraction came into fruition. Perhaps it was the late nights speaking of literature, her willingness to take on other lessons, a mutual appreciation for one another’s people. Although he was a member of the Thalmor, it was more for political clout than sharing a worldview with the more mainline party members; Erincaro loved the Aldmeri Dominion, and although he came from a refined upbringing, his heart always yearned for the wild lands and people of the Altmer’s princinpal allies, the Bosmer and the Khajiit. They were new, exotic, and the more he was stationed in Valenwood, Anequina, or Pelletine, he grew to appreciate them even more. It was so much more exciting than the boring class hierarchy of Summerset, and the obsession with perfection and the trite propaganda decrying the races of men as wrongful usurpers to the natural order; he discovered among the rest of the Dominion a sense of joy and wonder that he often tried to share with his fellow Altmer, to various degrees of success.

So when he came across a scrawny girl fending off a half dozen trained and armoured guards after they caught her stealing food, he knew that she was going to be something special.

And so she was. Now she was 38 years old and an accomplished infantry commander and now personal bodyguard at his request for this particular assignment, she had given the Dominion as much as it had given her, and even her Thalmor superiors respected her capability and capacity for duty, as well as begrudgingly tolerated her lack of deference towards political machinations. She simply could not be bothered with anyone unless they proved their worth in a tangible way; for someone who was born on the streets, someone who grew up with a silver spoon lodged up their ass didn’t entitle them to respect. Their ability to get things done did.

They were a kindred set of spirits, he knew. For a while, it had been a hush hush romance, behind the scenes as if it were shameful, but as word got out and repercussions were not severe, it became an openly known thing that they were an item, and they crew of the Indrik didn’t suffer for it.

“Feeling better after your failed meeting with the governor?” she asked him, trying to tidy up her hair as she walked. Her stupidly large sword was a constant companion, even to the bed chamber, and a dagger was strapped to her waist. He knew she was equally proficient with both.

“Oh, perhaps a few more nights of this, my love.” he snickered and leaned in for a kiss, which she returned. “We just have to act in good faith until she sees our intentions are sound.”

“Hopefully sooner, rather than later. I’d like to stretch my legs and see something other than the docks.” the Khajiit mused, stretching out a kink in her arms.

“Well, I must retire for now to compiling my report.” The Altmer rolled his eyes. “I’ve put it off for far too long. Rendezvous in an hour or so?”

“Agreed. I’ll be topside, the night air will be good, I think.” she said, heading down the hallway, and leaving Erincaro to his work.

Sevari sat and waited for the small commotion to die down. Perhaps for longer than he would have if he hadn’t heard something familiar in that Khajiit’s voice. He had a job to do, this night was years and years in the making. Finally, he pried himself from his hiding spot after he heard the doors to Erincaro’s chambers click shut. Noiselessly, he bounded down the hall, assisted by a muffle spell. Now, he stood before the door to his goal here. It would only take a turn of the handle and then a few seconds to slit Erincaro’s throat at his desk. But that Khajiit. He felt a wrenching at his heart the more he thought on where he’d heard that voice before. He clenched his jaw, teeth grinding against each other as his hand hovered over the handle of Erincaro’s door.

Only a few centimeters more and this could all be set in motion. His revenge here in Hammerfell would be underway. He lay his hand on the handle and breathed a sigh onto the stagnant air of the ship’s halls.

The night air was cool, and above, no clouds marred the brilliant night display of stars and gassy clouds far up in Aetherius that captured the Khajiit’s imagination as she leaned against the gunwale, staring wistfully at the endless expanse above, much as she had done ever since she was but a cub and wishing for greater things for herself. The trip to Hammerfell, or Volenfell, the same name by different tongues, was a nice break from the usual tedium of garrison duty and long range patrols near the Cyrodiilic border. For one, she didn’t have to wear her armour all of the time, and another it was almost like a working vacation for her and Erincaro.

If they’d just let her into the city. She sighed, looking towards the dim glow of street lamps of Gilane’s streets, the province of Hammerfell a mystery to her, but an enticing one. It was like Senchal, but without the filth and reek of desperation and corruption. However, she knew it was just because of her predisposition to hating her “home”; you don’t grow up a starving orphan and have fond memories of waking up in the gutter.

“It’s you, isn’t it?” A voice came from behind her.

Turning around with her blade at the ready, the length of it resting on her arm, the Khajiit faced the voice that came out of the dark. She didn’t recognize it as one of her crewmates, and it was certainly a peculiar question to ask.

She took in the face of the newcomer, an Ohmes-raht with a shaggy head of hair and tired eyes. No weapons were held at the ready, but he was dressed almost like the locals.

“Everyone’s someone to somebody. You’re trespassing, stranger.” She replied coolly, staring suspiciously at the face. There was something familiar about it, but her mind wasn’t lighting up.

“I don’t blame you, Marassa.” Sevari’s voice almost faltered at saying her name, knowing what he saw. She was in such love with the son of the man who’d ordered his brothers slaughtered, not even like lambs. Like pests. It didn’t make him hate her, oddly. It made him want to just give it all up and sink back to nothingness. “Your brother didn’t recognize me at first either.”

A long and slow blink crossed her eyes and the blade faltered for a moment; memories of a lifetime ago came rushing back. The boy she loved as a girl, now a man, and in Hammerfell of all places.

Wait… brother?

“Sevari?” she spoke the word, as if remembering what it sounded like, the entire situation seemed impossible, stupid even. There was no way this was real. “This is a long time coming. No visit, no card? ” she asked sarcastically, the scorn came naturally to her; it was like when they had first met. Her face contorted into a scowl when she saw her necklace she gave him so long ago. “So, you held onto it after all these years. Here I was thinking you feared commitment so you ditched me without a word. Why are you here, what is this about my brother?” she demanded.

Sevari looked away from her, almost in shame as he rolled his shoulders back in a vain effort to hide the necklace. After all the things he did to try to stay true to his family despite the things he was forced into, it was thrown in his face. If he were a younger Khajiit, perhaps he would’ve met her anger. But he only shook his head, “He also had the same scorn.”

“I didn’t believe him, you know, the first time he told me about how far you’d gone.” Sevari said, “I know you’re angry, I know you hate me. I just wanted to see if it was really you.”

And at this time? He chided himself, so unprofessional when vengeance was so close, the thing he wanted most in life, the thing he thirsted for, starved for, tossed in his dreams about. But looking at the bridges burnt, looking at what he sowed, right in the eyes and having it stare him down.

For some reason, hearing the same anger and resentment from Marassa hurt that bit more than from Zaveed, as shameful and wrong as it was. “Why him?” He whispered out. “Of all people?”

Marassa scoffed at him. “Oh, was I supposed to stay single and celibatete in case you returned to me? We were bloody children, Sevari; you being upset at my choice of lovers is just pathetic. I found a kindred soul and turned what could have been a terrible situation into an actual life, is that what you're jealous of? That I made something of myself?” she tossed her arm out and bashed it into her chest. “You wanted to know if it was me? Well here I am. Life moves on, Sevari; maybe you should have stopped dwelling in the past.”

“A fucking Altmer.” He grit his teeth, “You two have changed so much, your brother and you. I don’t blame you for finding another lover. To be honest, Marassa,” he sighed, feeling all too sheepish at all this, “I’m happy. But not about him. His father killed my brothers.”

“I shouldn’t have even talked to you.” He shook his head, “My only regret is if I don’t do this tonight, there will be others coming for him, your Knife-Ear.”

“For what it’s worth, I was going to kill him even before I knew you two were involved.” He breathed in and then out slowly, feeling the familiar tingling numbness of a mage armor spell envelope him.

The sword was held at the ready. “Oh, so you became an assassin. Isn't that charming.” she replied, beginning to pivot herself toward the door that led below deck. “I shout, you die. You cannot judge a man for the crimes another commit, but thanks for the warning. I guess I'll have more assassins to put down when the time comes.” she stood her ground, her stance lowering. “Do not make me kill you, Sevari. It would put quite the damper on our reunion.”

“It was ruined when I knew you liked Knife-Ears. You always did have a knack for being angry at almost everything that comes across your path. We were so alike.” He scowled, forgoing the drawing of his own blade.

He wouldn’t kill his old love, but what were a few bruises if she was so set on doing her job. He felt like a fucking child letting resentment like this grip him with such steadfastness, but there was a job that needed doing, “Shout, then. This isn’t my first time facing down shit odds.”

“This is your first time facing me. You won’t like those odds.” Marassa promised. She shook her head, annoyed. “You know, this wasn’t how I pictured our reunion going. I thought you, Zaveed, and myself would meet up one day, and laugh like we were young because of all of the divergent insanity our lives became. Who do you work for?”

“Oh, trust me, I thought the same before I found out you were fucking the son of my brothers’ killer.” He spat, “Sometimes life gives you the shit roads. I’ll tell you this much about why mine has brought me here, my friends don’t like yours.”

“Some friends, you look pretty lonely and you’re moping about a girl you ditched decades ago. You sure this isn’t just a suicide mission? It looks like the only thing you cared about is what happened to your brothers so very long ago. I’m telling you, Erincaro isn’t his father. Don’t be an idiot, Sevari; I do not wish to kill you.” She replied tersely. “Wouldn’t you rather spend more time making snide comments about my life choices like I give a shit about what you think? A much more productive use of both of our time than me bisecting you.”

“I’ve had a lot of people tell me they were going to be my killer.” Sevari threw his hands out beside him, shrugging, “Sevari yet lives, unless I’m his ghost. Either way, I could give a shit if Fangalto’s son was a choir boy in a temple. He’s a means to an end.”

“Lower your blade,” he said, putting a hand out, “If I wanted Erincaro dead tonight you would’ve slipped into his chambers and cuddled a gutted man. I saw you and I wanted to know the woman you’d become.” He looked her up and down in her clothes, strong like she always was but beauty had replaced her adorableness as a child, “It seems the Dominion even took my street family. I’ll tell it like I told your brother, the Bhaanu Sasra didn’t give me a chance to say goodbye. For what it’s worth, and probably shit all to you as it’s been for your brother, I would’ve never left you if it was my choice. We wouldn’t be eyeing each other’s blades.”

“Fuck the Bhaanu Sasra and fuck you, Sevari. You don’t get to decide that you felt bad about leaving us, leaving me, and not even doing anything. Shout, kick at us, wake us up. We thought you died, and until tonight, I accepted that. Look at where I am now; I was actually given a life by this Dominion you hate so much, and here you are threatening the family that took me in when you left me. It’s your loss, Sevari, not mine.” Marassa shot back caustically, reluctantly lowering her sword. Her hand clenched into a fist before she released her tension. “So, my brother, huh? Is he here, too?”

“I doubt you’d like what he’s become, either.” Sevari shook his head, “But at least you two are on the same side. He’s not the sweet boy anymore but who of any of us can say we’re still what we were back in Senchal?”

“He’s a whoring, sadistic, ruthless prick of a man but I’m still trying to be his brother through all of this.” Sevari said before he continued, voice heavy, “But that’s never going to be an option for us two, is it?”

“I met him six years ago for the first time since I was arrested, actually. He’s all of what you said, and more. Our duties took us separate ways, but he actually made an attempt to find me again… he just needed his own ship before that was feasible.” She extended out her hand to him. “Come on, let’s end this. Give me a chance to prove to you that I’m in a better place and this fool’s errand you’re on can die. It took me time to get over you being dead, so please don’t make me go through that again. We can start over, maybe not the same way, but you can actually belong somewhere. If anything we had meant anything to you, here and now, then please let this go.”

Sevari shook his head, sighing long, “You and I both know that with you is the last place I can belong.” Sevari said, looking away from her and out at sea, “The Dominion still wants me dead for murder of more than a few Thalmor, for desertion, for treason, espionage for a foreign enemy. My being with you would benefit you more if instead of a tight hug it was tight chains. At least then maybe you’d be richer for it.”

“You think we can’t get you new documents, a new life?” Marassa shot back, stepping closer to him. “And who do you think I am? I’d never turn you over, not for anything. The only reason we’re talking is because I want to get through your big, thick head of yours that what we had, some of that still matters. I can make it work. I will make it work. You just need you to say yes.”

“No.” Sevari whispered, and for the first time in years since they’d seen each other, Marassa could see wet at the edges of his eyes, “I can’t just walk away, pretend to be someone else under the thumb of my brothers’ killers. My mother’s killers, I still haven’t forgotten what they did to her.”

“So, no, Marassa.” He put a hand on the hilt of his curved Torval blade, looking at the ground and breathing heavy, “Shout if you want to.”

He didn’t give her the chance to, letting go a strong burst of magicka from his palm that coalesced into a bright magelight spell, ducking and launching himself to Marassa’s left, looking for an opening for the door below deck.

It was a trick she knew too well; she had done it enough times to shield her eyes when the first hints of white had appeared in Sevari's palm. She heard his steps rushing past, and towards the sound, she let her greatsword sink through the air. “We've been boarded!” she shouted, “To arms!”

Others who had been on the deck immediately sprung into movement, heading towards Marassa's call. She found the door below opened; time was running short. Sevari was going to murder Erincaro, and she would not tolerate the attempt.

She raced down the corridors of the ship, shouting for the sailors and marines to take up arms, and her eyes scanned the dark corners for her former lover and current murderous madman in the belly of the Indrik, praying he wasn’t already successful in his plot. There was a chance the boy she knew still existed, deep down, but all of that wouldn’t matter if he killed Erincaro. She’d see him flayed for that.

She reached the cabin at the very end where Erincaro was last seen, and he stepped out, partially armoured and a conjured sword in hand along with sparks in another. “What’s going on?” he demanded.

Marassa’s heart skipped a beat when Erincaro emerged, unscathed. “Oh, you know, ex-boyfriend got jealous and wants to murder you for your father’s crimes.” she responded flippantly, ushering him back into the door. “Stay in there, let me keep you save, as I’ve always done.”

The Altmer didn’t question any of it, although as he stepped back, he said, “You’re going to have to explain all of that to me, because this is nonsense.”

“Believe me, I know.” Marassa agreed, a ward coalescing in her hand as she took up position before the doorway. “Now shut up and don’t die, sir.”

Sevari watched them scurry about like ants from his perch. Klaxons were blaring all the while. He couldn’t believe it, to see Marassa so grown and yet so in love with a Thalmor Emissary. The son of the man who ordered his brothers killings. He shook his head, the weight of the years between his disappearance and their reunion bearing down on his shoulders. It hurt him to know that there would always be an enmity between him and Zaveed, but seeing all this made him all the more heartbroken.

It wouldn’t be good when they found out that the Emissary was not dead tonight, but not all was lost. They’d have other chances, if Sevari didn’t scare them off with this damned stupid wasted reunion. For so many years he had been the heartless professional. Adding family into the mix was breaking that from him, it seemed. He sighed once more, before disappearing back into the night. Zaveed would want to know about his sister’s whereabouts.
© 2007-2017
BBCode Cheatsheet