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Maybe the real plot was the friends we made along the way. [Last Updated: January 18, 2019]

I'm 23 years old, a blue-collar worker, and my major is in Psychology! 4.0 baybeeeee

Obviously I enjoy reading and writing if I made an account on this website, and I like to think I'm not half bad at it. I first started writing and roleplaying at the start of 2010 and I've stuck with it ever since. I've had a couple of dry spells along the way, but I always seem to come back to it. I enjoy most genres, but if I had to pick a couple of favorites, they would be sci-fi and high fantasy, with the latter being preferred. Some of my favorite and best characters have come from Elder Scrolls roleplays! What can I say? It appeals to the D&D nerd in me.

Ask any of my friends and they'll tell you that the history sections of nearly all of my characters are obnoxiously long. Absurdly long. Probably too long. I probably definitely have a problem, and it's because I get so carried away with telling their story. I want my readers to know how their story influences them as a person and I love creating tragedy and watching a character overcome those tragedies and finding themselves, watching their identities shatter and coming back together. I've always been a fan of characters overcoming their weaknesses and obstacles and I try to make that show in many of my characters. You could say that I even try to write my characters in such a way so that they can inspire me, as pretentious as that also might sound.

I also try to research whatever it is I'm writing about so that I'm not just pulling shit out of my ass - unless that's what my character is doing, in which case I try to make sure that's made clear in my writing. Just because I'm a melodramatic piece of shit doesn't mean I don't try to write a compelling story. I typically enjoy writing characters with a grey morality because evil is cringey and benevolence is exhausting, so anything in between I think is the sweet spot. That being said, I still like to write characters who are outgoing and friendly. Even in the characters with a "positive morality", I try my best to incorporate flaws so that they still feel human. I've written an artist who loves being alive, is a compulsive flirt, and tries to see the beauty in all things. He is also a coward, a fool, and sometimes he's accidentally a thoughtless heart-breaker. I've also written a high-school valedictorian, who was a humble and intelligent young woman who wants to do right by the world and help others as they've helped her. This came after her depression post dropping out of Yale due to a bad drug problem. She's been clean for a while now, but her past haunts her. I've written a priestess who has suffered through an immense trauma and while she is typically a soft-spoken and compassionate individual, her trauma manifests itself through her buried frustration and bitterness, which stems from her crisis of faith.

So there you have it. Hope we can write together some time!

Prime Rib Boneheads
@He Who Walks Behind
@Ruler Inc

These Tickle My Funny Bone
You can find me in:

The Elder Scrolls: Fruits of Contention (Chapter 2) by @Gcold
The Elder Scrolls: Vengeance of the Deep by @Dervish
Mass Effect: Sinless by @Amaranth

Most Recent Posts

What perspective does episode 1 follow?
Motley Three

5:30 PM, Last Seed 16
Evermore Castle Cellars

with @Frizan and @Hank

The kitchen basement was no small reprieve from the stifling air of the boxes – poor Piper, the young Imperial woman who tumbled out onto her face, who made Saddi think it might be funny to kick his grandfather’s crate over, but instead found Dar’Jzo aptly and dexterously rolling out of the crate and immediately found his footing. His feline eyes immediately scanning the dark surroundings of the room, quickly adjusting to the dim candlelight as he made mental notes of possible exits, hiding places, and improvised weapons. Some of the crates had their tops peeled off, and he observed the debris on the ground – some ingredients were going to be used more than others. Potatoes and onions were likely candidates if he felt compelled to poison a stockpile. The smell of food from the kitchen wafted down through the floorboards above, and he listened carefully for any footsteps or conversation.

Even as Saddi helped Cilo free Narzul from the confines of his own crate, he watched his grandfather with a sense of estrangement – this was not a side to him that he was used to seeing.

The Redoran warrior emerged from the crate with a scowl fit to chastise the gods themselves. This was easily the most humiliating thing to have ever happened to him and he bade the young Khajiit, whatever his name was, to maintain a respectful distance with his baleful glare. Narzul straightened his armor and checked to see that his sword was in place. He opened his mouth to speak when he was rudely interrupted.

"What have we here?" The muffled and indeterminable voice of one figure spoke, spooking the mercenaries and prompting them to turn around. "Seems like someone's been playing spy in the dark."

"Who are you working for, huh? Bellemont? Prince Narcisse? That bastard Everard?" The first one stepped forward menacingly, one hand brushing aside their cloak slightly to reveal leather armor and sword.

One of the mercenaries started to say something, but Dar’Jzo, slowly reaching for a dagger on his belt, set off the second cloaked figure. The cloak flew off in a swoosh, and the masked, leather armored figure beneath unsheathed a steel sword. The first figure reacted similarly, but with an additional wave of their hand, four more near-identical combatants emerged from the doorway.

"We won't allow espionage under her grace's nose." It was now hard to tell which one said those words, but all of them were eager to fight. "You better surrender now, before we kill you!"

Saddi threw his hands up in surrendering gesture, but the first figure’s gesture to invite the four others sparked a familiar twinkle in his eye. He looked to Dar’Jzo, and though his expression was stoic and unreadable as always, he knew that his grandfather was trying to come up with a plan – his eyes were glancing about, assessing not just the strangers, but also his environment and his allies beside him. Saddi glanced between the cloaked men and Dar’Jzo, looking nervous, but he spoke to his elder in his native tongue of Ta’agra – he was certain that these strangers would not know.

“Dro’ahnurr. The four were illusions.” He whispered.

Dar’Jzo’s ear perked. Indeed? Then it seemed that his grandson’s pursuits were not time spent wasted. He glanced to both his sides – to Piper and to Narzul – and slowly raised his hands as Saddi did.

“Between death or surrender, this one says we surrender.” Dar’Jzo said simply.

When Cilo began to object, Dar’Jzo silenced him with a harsh hiss; but as he did so, his ear twitched, and the men ahead of them would not notice the end of his tail flicking in the darkness behind him – nor the fact that Dar’Jzo had never retracted his claws, though he was not sure if they knew if he could retract them. He simply hoped that the other two would catch and understand his cues and follow suit, allowing the strangers to approach before striking.

Narzul was clever enough to figure something was up, even though he had no way of knowing what Saddi had deduced. He knew what a Khajiit with a plan for disobedience looked like, however, and the Dunmer too slowly raised his hands. Inwardly, he cursed. Was he really following the lead of a cat? He'd been so relieved to hear Do’Karth deserted, but apparently there was no end to the furry n'wahs among the company.

It took every ounce of willpower she had not to scream some form of obscenity at Dar’Jzo. Oh how she wanted to bring out every khajiit-specific slur her ears had picked up over the years, to throw each and every one at the cat like an array of knives. To Piper’s great chagrin, the men attempting to apprehend their party were a much bigger concern. “Fucking whoresons…” she muttered, one hand over her mouth trying to hide the driblets of blood leaking between her lips. She didn’t even have a weapon handy. Her dirk, during the Imperial’s unladylike tumble out of the thrice damned box she was kept in like a packet of saltines, left her grasp and was scattered several feet away. Her sword and armor were in another crate.

Piper gave a glance to Dar’Jzo. She had an inkling about what he intended, but it did not raise her confidence in the fuzzy bastard. “If this goes to shit, they won’t get the chance to wring your neck, cat…” Reluctantly, Piper raised both her arms in surrender as she spat out globs of crimson onto the ground.

The man before them quickly approached to apprehend Dar’Jzo, who was in the center and seemed to speak for the rest, while the other moved behind them, while the men from the shadows seemed to stand at the ready. When the first cloaked stranger went to grab Dar’Jzo by the wrists, the khajiit with his sleight of hands grabbed him first and dug his claws into the flesh of the stranger’s wrist, causing him to drop his weapon. With a swift pivot of his feet a second later, Dar’Jzo held the stranger’s sword-arm firmly locked behind his back, twisting him in such a way that his vulnerable torso was aimed towards Narzul. His fluid movement must have disguised the motion of his other hand, for he simultaneously unsheathed the blade from above his tail and threw it toward the stranger approaching Piper. The second stranger flinched, and threw his arms up to take the sharpened edge of the dagger to his upper bicep. Though the khajiit didn’t immediately incapacitate anyone, he had set his allies up perfectly to finish the job.

It took a moment for Saddi to process everything that happened within the last second, not anticipating his grandfather to move with such fluid precision and barely any wasted energy. His surprise was replaced with a sense of urgency as he noticed the four illusions beginning to close in on Dar’Jzo’s back, who in the midst of the chaos spared a quick glance towards him. Saddi responded with mystical incantations and the spiraling motions of his hands before pointing his finger at the illusions -- on two of them, Saddi failed to pass the spell save DC, but the other two were dispelled with their forms shimmering as they were snuffed out of existence, filling him with a sense of smug satisfaction as he glanced toward Cilo.

Piper was amazed by the Khajiit’s grace. No movement was without purpose or intent, and he guided his body expertly. She hardly even saw Dar’Jzo draw the knife, it seemed that all of a sudden something was flying through the air at her assailant from nowhere. Piper was struck something between dumb and awe, and her face, now without the helmet to disguise it, showed it clearly.

The unsteady shuffling of the man in front of her broke Piper out of her trance. He was reaching for the knife in his arm, trying to pull it out. She was more than happy to assist.

The Imperial seized the grip of the blade with one hand, tearing it out savagely, and delivered a strike with her palm to the stranger’s chin with the other. While he was recoiling from the blow, Piper shoved the dagger into the man’s armpit and yanked it back out with force, setting off a bellow of pain from him.

What started as agonized bawling turned into a vengeful growl. The man began to lunge at Piper, his one good arm fishing for his sword. She lost control of herself. Instead of striking him with a fatal blow with the dagger, Piper let out a scream of her own, a primal shout of fear and anger, and punched her attacker square in the middle of the face with her fist, fingers wrapped tightly around the grip of her weapon. He stumbled backward, rivers of blood draining from his nostrils, and finally fell to the ground with a moan.

With her heart beating wildly and her breaths near uncontrollable, Piper dropped the dagger and soon fell to the ground herself, tripping backwards over her own feet as she retreated.

Meanwhile, Narzul’s honed instincts launched the dunmer into action the moment Dar’Jzo made his first move. Thinking the cat would make a suitable distraction, he turned his back for just a moment to retrieve his ebony blade from the crate he was stuck in before. With no time to don his shield, he grabbed the sheath of his sword and flourished his draw in anticipation of parrying an oncoming blow -- only to find that their foes were either already grappled or momentarily incapacitated by his allies. He didn’t think for a second to appreciate or observe the old khajiit’s preternatural agility or the greenhorn girl’s grit and spunk, there was only the opportunity for merciless glory before him. He dropped the sheath in his other hand, and with both hands firmly grasping the grip of his longsword, lunged forward with a powerful thrust and his eyes like two cold rubies, his focused mind quiet save for two familiar words: become dust.

Dar’Jzo had all the time in the world to prepare for Narzul’s follow-up, so when he saw the dunmer preparing to land the finishing blow, the khajiit pushed the man off of himself before firmly planting his boot against his back and kicking him abruptly forward onto Narzul’s blade, who, with all his strength, raised him into the air a few inches and his blood poured over his hands. The combined forces made the blade slide through his armor like butter, and the sickening, bloody squelches of rupturing organs and cracking bone signaled the stranger’s death knell. The veteran tossed him off his blade with contempt, and with that one’s death, the two remaining illusions vanished, mere inches away from striking at Dar’Jzo’s rear.

Dar’Jzo looked to Piper, who was clearly flustered within the throes of her adrenaline rush -- but she got the job done, though perhaps not as thoroughly and cleanly as he would’ve liked. The yelling and snarling could have attracted attention, which would defeat the purpose of being here. The man was still alive, if on the edge of consciousness and close to bleeding out. The old khajiit narrowed his eyes, as if he didn’t trust that the man would truly stay dead. So he walked over to the body, raised his foot, and callously stomped down onto his throat -- another sloppy squelch of gore followed, before a grinding twist of the foot snapped the bone in his neck, prompting Saddi to cover his mouth to hide his shock and repulsion. Was this truly his grandfather?

The stranger’s hands went limp around Dar’Jzo’s ankle and the light in his eyes quickly faded. The assassin turned his gaze to Piper.

“This one hopes the smooth-skin’s screaming did not alert the castle.” His gravelly voice grumbled. “That would be unfortunate.”

All of the blood being pumped through her body during the struggle seemed to have all gone to Piper’s face. She could feel a hot wave pour over her cheeks, and with no helmet to disguise it, it only intensified her embarrassment. She felt so ashamed and humiliated she could have almost cried, and she heard only judgement in Dar’Jzo’s voice, while Narzul paid no attention to her whatsoever.

A sheepish, pouty frown had found itself screwed onto Piper’s face as she climbed to her feet, the cat’s dagger she dropped loosely in her hand. She held it out to Dar’Jzo, eyes averted. She couldn’t stand to look at any of them, having thoroughly emasculated herself in front of all the others. “This is yours.” She said quietly.

Dar’Jzo accepted the dagger shook the blood toward the side, his stoic face still fixed on the younger imperial woman. It was an odd sight, to say the least, to see the hot-headed girl so self-conscious. At a time like this, there wasn’t much time for it. However, the paternal side of him didn’t say anything about it -- it was probably the most generous thing he could do, even if casual glances from Saddi and Cilo off to the side saw him as callous. Dar’Jzo looked at the dagger, inspecting it for any damage to the edge of its blade, only to become preoccupied with the thought of how effective she would’ve been if she had a different weapon. He didn’t know Piper very well, but she didn’t seem the type to be especially proficient or even satisfied with a little knife.

The khajiit kneeled down and undid the baldric to the scabbard of Piper’s opponent. It was a little short -- likely a shortsword, but it was serviceable enough for their needs. Standing back up, her approached Piper wordlessly, his hand extended with a serviceable weapon being offered to her with only a nod and grunt to repay the gesture Piper had paid to him just moments ago. Such was the way the Baandari had taught him -- a gift must be returned in kind.

“Thank you.” Piper said, following several seconds of silence as she examined the blade. It was simple, with little ornamentation, which suited her just fine. It did seem quite worn, however, and if she had the time and a sharpening stone she would have touched it up a little. In the end it was still a blade and still sharp, sharp enough to cut open flesh reliably. Her brother spent more time with shorter blades than she did, but Piper could use them just fine. It always helped to carry a backup, anyways. She fastened the borrowed weapon to her own belt and left Dar’Jzo with a small bow, hunting down the crate that held her equipment.

Piper scowled as the select pieces of armor she was able to fit in the box came tumbling out clumsily. They had gotten jumbled during the journey, a mess of the neatly packed parcel she had left them as. She was able to bring her cuirass, greaves, gauntlets, vambraces and of course, her helmet. No warrior goes anywhere without proper headwear; those who did were not warriors for long. How she would have loved to have it after making a fool of herself…

“Cilo,” she called out to her fellow Imperial. “Help me with my armor.” She sat silent for a moment before finally adding a quick “Please.”

The man was quicker than she thought he would have been; he had no troubles with the straps and fasteners. She was certain she would need to walk him through every step, but there she stood in her plate just a few moments later. Reunited with her shield and longsword, Piper felt much more comfortable.

“Are we ready?” She asked, her voice reverberating within her helm.

“Hmph,” came Dar’Jzo’s affirming grunt. He had just collected his quiver of arrows and finished testing the draw weight of the shortbow. It was fine as it was, since the dwemer longbow he inherited from the company’s late Roze was likely going to be too cumbersome in the narrow hallways. Mobility trumped anything else here, and he wasn’t going to need to be doing any long-range sniping. He met the cautious and fretful glances of Saddi, who was still staring at him as one would to a dangerous stranger, but then just glanced towards the others. Narzul had finished getting his own affairs in order before nodding to the others.

“Let’s get to it, then.” The dunmer declared. “Khajiit--” He began to say, before realizing there were two of them -- he barely acknowledged Saddi while in the midst of the more capable Dar’Jzo. Given what he has seen of that one’s skills, he’d be the one best fitted to scout ahead. “Elder one,” he clarified, “take point.”

“We’ll stay behind then.” Saddi pitched in. “Cilo and I will watch over the exit.”

And so they dispersed. With Narzul’s might and tactical expertise, Dar’Jzo’s cunning and agility, and Piper’s grit and tenacity, although motley, surely there was nothing that could stand in their way.

Kneel for No Man

@Spoopy Scary & @Stormflyx

Mid-Morning, 14th of Sun’s Height, 4E208
Southern Doodyvaj Mountains, West of Falkreath Hold

After what had felt like too long, the group that had been gathered by the entrance to the forest had made their way off on their scouting mission at last. Even someone hard of hearing would have been able to discern the booming laughter of Fjolte, and the whoops and cheers of Mazrah in the distance, quietening down eventually until the camp was left only with the carefree sounds of morning.

Raelynn held in her hands the last two mugs of brewed tea, and there were only two people whom she had not forced a mug of it upon. The young Nord, Calen, and the Imperial Ambassador, Aries. From what she knew of the woman, she knew that she was a noble through and through. It showed in the way that she carried herself, and in the moments she chose to speak - as well as in the ones that she refrained from speaking.

Holding the mug daintily in her fingers, Raelynn stooped low outside of the woman’s tent, her voice was soft too. Soft and thick but with clear enunciation so that Aries would hear them through the fabric walls and door of the tent. “Ambassador Machella? Are you awake?”

There was a brief silence that followed and made her wonder if it was still too early in the morning for Aries to be awake, but those thoughts were ushered away by a weary and haggardly voice that emanated from the tent within.

“Yes, yes…” The noblewoman groaned inside. “Come in, please.”

Having been granted permission, the Breton gingerly pulled back the fabric to slip inside. She kept her eyes low to the ground, obscured behind several silvery curls that fell in a perfectly imperfect way around the shape of her face. “I come bearing gifts…” Raelynn said with a carefully measured cadence, lifting her eyes at last to meet the ever-piercing gaze of Aries. With an easy motion of her hand, she indicated that the gift was in fact a hot beverage, and she held it out politely with her fingers only just pinching at the handle.

Aries eyed the cup with some suspicion, but as her dry lips rubbed together she finally relented and accepted the hot tea into her hands, cradling it close to her body within her hands.

“Thank you,” she said, a hint of her fatigue infiltrating her voice, “Raelynn, was it? We’ve had quite a long journey. Shame it’s only now, I should hope, that we’ve met properly.”

Her question was somewhat ingenuine; she knew exactly who the Raelynn in the group was, being intimately familiar with whomever allied themselves with Gregor. It immediately put her on edge, now face to face with someone she was determined to call her enemy and anticipating some form of foul play. She would’ve dealt with them all personally if Sora hadn’t embarrassingly stripped everyone of all agency to prevent anyone from seeing proper justice done. Despite this, she took a sip of the gifted tea, recklessly unafraid of drinking from the cup -- perhaps even looking for just cause to let loose and burn someone to ash -- Aries abandoned some of the pleasurable tone in her previous voice and looked away, setting down the cup beside her with a tired and irritable tone, “Have you come to voice your complaints, then? Because before we begin, no, I am not the one leading this caravan, and no, I cannot do anything about it.”

“Hawkford, yes,” she added with a precise nod, her mouth hanging open slightly as her eyelids twitched. She had not expected Aries to be so ruffled, even though she did not feel personally slighted by Aries’ quickfire. The woman was clearly strained, and not without reason. “We’ve actually met once before...” Raelynn’s voice trailed off, as if their having met before was a minor and inconsequential detail to her, but one she had been banking on discussing anyway. “And there are actually no complaints from me. I’ve just been commanding something of a check on the party. You were on that list too.” Carefully she eyed the Ambassador up and down, for any signs of physical injury but it was clear that there were none. Hers was a mental injury, and no matter how Aries tried to hide it, if anyone would see through it here - it was Raelynn.

“Raelynn Hawkford…” Aries echoed skeptically. She never thought to remember that little merchant’s girl back in the old days of Daggerfall. In fact, Raelynn Hawkford was a name that she had kept in mind for quite a while, for she was ever mindful of the list of possible enemies she could have made over the years -- the theft of opportunity for Fontaine’s hand being one such probably cause -- though she had little reason to suspect that this Raelynn would be the same one from those many years ago.

“Salosoix’s daughter?” Aries added for clarification -- but Raelynn didn’t need to answer. Aries huffed a long sigh and reached again for the tea, taking a few long drinks from the mug before abruptly setting it back down on the ground. ‘I hope that was poisoned,’ Aries thought to herself in a long, aching groan. It would give her an excuse to release some tension. She took the pillow from her bedding and tossed it onto a stool a few paces away. She continued in a tired voice, “Yes, I remember you. It’s a small and curious world that we’d find each other in a desert. I hope you haven’t taken my slight towards you at your father’s ball personally. You’d possibly be killing the last surviving official of the Empire, and where would we be then…”

“The one and only,” she said with a level of pride in her voice. Despite the strange tension that was brewing in the tent, it was always an undeniably pleasant feeling when people recognised her name and family. Such things seldom occurred in times of strife, and it was a welcome reminder that beyond the walls of war, life still existed. She couldn’t help but chuckle dryly at the mention of the ball, even if she thought such things were behind her, she felt something akin to a jab of humiliation at the reminder. “Oh not at all," she sighed "believe me when I say that was not the first time my father tried to give my hand in such a way. That water is long under the bridge, if there was even anything in it to begin with. I heard you were to be married?"

The woman took her invitation to sit. The stool was lower to the ground than the cot which had been prepared for Aries, but her already short height didn’t make her look out of place on it. She smoothed the skirt of the cloak down with her hands, before interlacing her fingers over her knees as she sat. Raelynn also took to observing in the way in which Aries drank the tea, and smiled again in her direction, “it’s pine and mountain flower, it may well lift your spirits. It seems that you might need that…” She said watching the Ambassador curiously.

Aries snorted, partially out of amusement but also a twinge of disbelief. Her chin was now resting on her open hand, propped up by her knee, as she dryly replied, “That is old news, miss Hawkford. You know how men are. He was just another bastard loyal to his treasonous family. In short, the Motierres got what they deserved.”

Though sullen, Aries was still sharp. Her eyes shot back up towards Raelynn, and like her eyes, her words that followed cut deep, “We all must lie in the beds we make, miss Hawkford.”

Raelynn blinked in response, everyone she’d spoken to so far this morning had been cooly pleasant with her, if not a little aloof. Aries words were deliberate on her part no doubt and once more did naught to alleviate any anxious feelings and the Breton visibly squirmed in the form of a snarl-like twitch that tugged at her lips. She knew exactly what the Ambassador was alluding to; "I guess we must."

“You’ve lied in yours.” Aries said, lowering her head. “I’ve lied in mine. I don’t pretend to be a perfect woman. Is it wrong of me to be a righteous woman? I’ve bloodied my hands too, so in that case, should I stop trying to find justice? Whatever that is nowadays?”

Aries’ fingernails were digging into her knees, frustration welling in her chest. It was like the anger and rage she felt so often before, yet this time it stung, like water filling up her lungs that made it hard to breathe. Raelynn was sitting right before her: the woman who loved and conspired with an evil man who managed to escape justice, temporarily embodying everything that was morally repugnant within the last few months. Yet she walked away. Every time she faced certain death, she remained unbound. Killing her herself was within her power, but the consequences would then fall on her lap. Where was the justice in that? There was a part of Aries that wanted to hear that word: yes. That it was time to stop. She could finally, simply, just stop. To let the rotten world find Oblivion, untouched by her own hand. She wanted the permission. Yet, she knew even if she had gotten it, she would never allow herself a moment of peaceful rest. Bloody hands weren’t a good enough reason.

“I believe that we should always search to be righteous,” she added in response to Aries, taking note of the frustration that was passing over the woman, sensing the anger emanating in her aura. She realised how utterly hypocritical it was - coming from her lips, but she did not flinch from her statement. “I know how that must sound, I know you know the things I’ve been witness to.”

Aries sighed, ending the grinding of her teeth, before tiredly looking up at Raelynn, who was still prim and proper. Finally, she asked, “So why have you come? Surely not to observe my contemplations.”

It had not gone unnoticed by Raelynn that Aries was not looking herself. For sure, she did not appear entirely different at a surface glance - but it was in what a healers eye knew that she ascertained that Aries was frayed. “Our current circumstances are not the best. Truthfully, I came to see how you are… As I said, you were on my list.”

“It is a challenge.” Aries admitted, however she kept her cards close to her chest and remained guarded. “Of course, it is nothing I am not up to task for. To take on such challenges is to meet the expectations and responsibilities of the mantle I was bequeathed.”

She took another long sip, letting the floral and herbal taste of the tea seep into her tongue and waft through her senses before drinking it down and continuing the conversation with a question of her own. This being a vulnerable moment for her, she dared not to allow herself to be in the company of others for too long. Disrupting the typical Breton dance of playing with words with the abruptness of pointed Imperial speechcraft, she proceeded with some deflection, “I’m well enough, thank you for your concern. I fare rather well in the heat, perhaps better than most. Might I suggest attending to one of the three Nords?”

That made her smile, “oh please. If I have to attend to Fjolte today I might be the one who strikes the killing blow,” she said, rounding it off with as easy a chuckle as she could manage. “As for the other two, I’ll attend to them in due course,” she brushed a strand of hair from her face, tucking it behind her ear as she too took a sip from the cup. “You’ve kept largely to yourself, and, well I of course understand why - but I still have my job. When it comes to what I do… I too have to meet the the expectations of my own mantle of responsibility.” The Breton was not about to take no for an answer from the Ambassador, “at least let us talk, I’ll feel at ease. Even if I only I stay to see you drink your tea.”

Aries released a long, drawn-out sigh of resignation. She would’ve smirked at her -- she was clever and sassy, which she admired in a woman -- but she was too worn down and wasn’t exactly warmed by having her own words used against her. Her eyes bore into Raelynn’s with a dry expression, slowly raising the cup to her lips and sipping lightly on its contents. Immediately she was hit by the astringent taste of pine needle and medicinal qualities of mountain flower; wild-tasting, bold and granular, nothing at all like the lavender, hibiscus, or rose hips to which she was more partial. While not entirely unpleasant, she swallowed it down as if it were more like medicine than tea.

“Very well…” She conceded. As the morning sun beamed down on the tent, it prompted Aries to remove the silken pastel-red shawl from her shoulders, leaving only the red silk gown on her person. Slits up the sides showed a bit of her thigh as she recrossed her legs and leaned in closer. “What would you like to talk about?”

“I suppose we’ve about covered all conversation required to be had about the Daggerfall gentry,” she said with a raised eyebrow and a slight smirk— it was not arrogance, but perhaps something of an admiration - despite a nervousness in her presence, she did appreciate to hear of just what had happened between Aries and Fontaine. That, and the lack of dismissal was quite disarming. They were just two women in a tent. “But really I should apologise for not meeting with you earlier— considering that we have something of a history, in hindsight it feels rude. But, you were acting under a noms de guerre, Janelle? Is that true?”

Raelynn carefully straightened up on the stool, despite it having no back to lean into she was able to hold a perfectly statuesque posture and mirrored Aries by crossing her own legs too. A hand dropped into her lap with the palm facing upwards, and the other wrapped around the handle of her tea.

“Yes.” Aries replied simply. “I’m sure you can imagine how important it was for me to hide my identity in the company of Dwemer occupation. Sevari would’ve had me cooped up in room the entire time were I not so stubborn.”

“I have to confess in all honesty, you did not catch my eye fully until I heard gossip about an ‘Ambassador Machella’ liberating a floor of prisoners in Kthrakz…” The healer blinked several times before lifting the mug to her lips so that she could take a small sip. “A delightfully bold move, by the way. I wish I could have been there to see it. I heard the prisoners really rallied behind you.” The ocean blue eyes of the healer were suddenly aglow, was it with mischief? Or something else? A sudden sense of joie de vivre at the situation at hand?

“If not me, then someone else.” She answered. “Rallying the enemy’s prisoners against them is hardly difficult.” Aries said in dismissal of the flattery, though it didn’t seem to be inspired by humility. A woman such as her didn’t have that kind of interest. With her head dipped down in thought, her eyes flicking back up to Raelynn created a demure appearance that was quickly betrayed by the words to follow. “Besides, the manpower was beneficial. I suppose the same reasoning was used to keep Zaveed. Gregor. Even yourself.”

“Even myself,” she replied, keeping her cool and holding her tongue. It wasn’t the place to bite back and she knew she had little of a leg to stand on, all things considered.

Aries casually took another sip as if she hadn’t just directly insulted the woman before her, whether it was by comparing her to the likes of them or suggesting that her stay was a result of Sora’s mercy. The blasé expression on her face read as if she was too tired to care, but at least that meant that she wasn’t showing any sort of anger or resentment. It was simply a callous indifference.

She continued, her voice slow and measured, “Whether said enemy be mer or man, if monsters could even be dignified as such, they typically meet with the same fate. Accomplices to such ends, too -- surely you knew, Ms. Hawkford, that you would be risking everything, potential and all, of which there is much to be said. Why then?”

Her eyes fell to the contents of the mug she was holding and she began to move it in her hand - her wrist performing a slow circular motion that was just enough to shift the sediment that had been sitting in the bottom. She watched as the particles were turned in the liquid before they settled once more. Raelynn kept her breaths calm and quiet, her upturned palm turned over so that her hand hooked around the knee. “You are associated with Sevari, and you were working with the Poncy Man, so I shall assume that you know at least in part of my experience in Gilane, yes?” The Breton smiled again and took another sip from the cup. Of course Aries was curious about it, she’d most likely been on the outside looking in at the situation and she was now provided an opportunity to finally ask her questions. “I didn’t have a good experience in Gilane, Aries.” Her head tilted to one side and her eyes narrowed, closing slowly as if to wind back any thoughts of the terrors that did indeed continue to plague her.

“All of my experience considered, it never felt like I was risking everything -- especially after being held over the edge with a knife at my throat.”

Aries swirled the cup of tea in her own hands, mimicking Raelynn’s motions when her eyes were drawn to the ugly scarring in the center of Raelynn’s as she told her story. She knew from Sevari that one of the women from Samara suffered at the hands of his brother, though he didn’t mention them by name -- Aries didn’t care then -- and only now did she learn who it was exactly was on the receiving end of Zaveed’s sick amusement. Though before Aries believed that there could be no cause for forgiveness for necromancy, or even the fraternization with necromancy -- to say nothing of lichdom rituals -- she understood now at least what kind of predicament the woman was in. Rather, she understood what Raelynn wanted her to believe. That she was a victim of being on the receiving end of both Gregor’s love and affection and Zaveed’s cruelty, and if she had to choose there was ever a lesser evil in this world, it must’ve been Gregor and his necromancy. It was easier to rationalize evil acts when there was a greater evil overshadowing it, especially when they offered protection from the other.

Though it was difficult to discern, truly, if this was the truth or the facade Raelynn sought to portray in order to hide her own evil. That could have just as easily been her own paranoia, though.

There was a pregnant silence separating Raelynn’s succinctly worded explanation and Aries’ own response, creating a pensive air in the middle of the ambassador’s incisive interrogation. Still, given what she knew of Zaveed through Sevari, the stories of others in this group, and witnessing the aftermath of his handiwork, it was curious why she would tolerate his presence after everything was said and done. She wanted to test the waters and see if she could instigate some kind of emotional response from Raelynn to get down to the truth of the matter. Finally, after what must’ve felt like several tense minutes of consideration, Aries bowed her head for a sip of her tea and concluded, “I see. It must have been quite difficult for you to be around that feral cutthroat after all this time. Or have you fallen in love with that one too?”

Aries was more calculated in her speech than she was verbose, that was for sure, and that took very little to know. She also had a dramatic flair to her manner that showed itself in the nuances of her actions. Once again, Raelynn restrained from firing back, in particular at the suggestion of her having any kind of unsavoury romantic inclinations for Zaveed. If she had not seen through it for what it was, she would have found it crass, but of course an Ambassador was not the type to be so brazenly tactless.

“Is this not the travelling group of second chances and proving one's worth?” Suddenly her tone was wry, and the way her lips pursed after her words was telling of mixed and unresolved feelings, not only on the subject of Zaveed - but it applied to Gregor, to herself... Raelynn’s head tilted in the other direction as she held back briefly to let her words sink into Aries’ thoughts. She wondered just what was going on in the Ambassador’s head, how many cogs were turning over, and whether she was already making her plans. “I never imagined my companions would consort with the same individual who gave me this--” The left hand raised. That infamous left hand with the hole shot through it, now healed, but still a sigil of her pain. “Yet here we are,” the wry rasp left her tongue and made way for something of a weariness, and she almost found herself slumping in the stool. “No, I have not fallen in love with Zaveed of Senchal,” she concluded with finality before returning to her tea as if to swallow such words back down.

They had left a bitterness, but also the faint impression of a smile on Aries’ face, briefly demystifying the disposition apparent in her countenance. It was slightly amused, though somewhat sympathetic (as well as validated, for her plan had worked as intended) as the truth behind Raelynn’s emotions came center stage. She set the cup down beside her feet, and delicately offered her hand to Raelynn with a look that a mother may give to coax an upset child.

“I beg your pardon, it was cruel of me to prompt you like that.” Aries cooed. “As I’m sure you know, a woman can never be too careful, so I am glad we’re in agreement regarding him. I can’t imagine the strife he must have put you through.”

“I have done what I can to make my peace with it, on my own, in my own way,” she sighed, and returned Aries’ gracious gesture by placing her hand on top of hers. “Peace with what happened, and peace with him being here. It’s how I am able to maintain a sense of… myself, of who I am, who I was, and who I wish to become,” she admitted rather candidly with a slight nod of her head.

All that remained in her mug was the last dregs of the beverage and so she followed suite with Aries and placed it upon the ground. “I am under no illusion that I am innocent, but I am regretful of my actions. I did what I did. There is no sense in downplaying or denying them now, is there? It would be an insult to everyone with whom I travel, and a waste of precious time when we could be better utilising it...” The hand lifted from her knee, and she ran her fingers over the plum silk of the ascot around her neck, and she thought immediately of her unborn child.

Being so forthright about her crimes as an accomplice to necromancy to an Imperial Ambassador was an incredibly audacious play. What truly stopped someone like Aries from ending both she and Gregor where they were, afterall? Raelynn had from this moment until they reached governed civilisation to convince the woman to not do that. A thought danced through her mind of whether Gregor was aware of the lengths she was willing to go to for him even now. The bitterness continued to permeate.

“You know,” Aries began, “I’ve always found it to be an incredibly pervasive and, honestly, rather toxic message that it takes abuse to create strong women. That, insufferably, we must endure agonies in order prove ourselves worthy of respect. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that doesn’t mean that those unfortunate women are less deserving than the rest.”

She lifted her hand, though it meant taking it away from Raelynn’s, to touch the bottom of Raelynn’s chin with the end of her fingertips and nudged her slightly to lift her head up. Aries stared into her eyes with her own, and her expression gradually changed from sympathetic to serious.

“You are not strong because you had to endure whatever it was that he or Gregor had done to you. I suspect you’re strong regardless.” She said. “You don’t have to be the victim.”

The stillness of the atmosphere was disturbed by Raelynn’s considerably deep breath, she was literally in Aries’ hands and yet she had no fears about it. The resplendent green of the Imperial’s irises were fierce and the command in her voice even more so. “I do know my worth,” she began - and while at first her voice was soft - a resonance began to grow as though Aries’ own words had been the spark to ignite a fuse she had been toying with aimlessly until now. “There is still potential for absolute greatness in me, despite what the odds have said.” Just like that, her eyes shifted from clear waters, to a tumultuous sky, and then to hardened steel at last. Her lips parted to bare just enough of her teeth, adding to the resolute expression that was turning on her face that gave such a reverberant weight to her words, “I have defied them all so far.”

She hadn’t felt a flame like this since the day she stood toe-to-toe with Governor Razlinc Rourken amidst the diamond rain of her shattered chandelier.

“I've been the subject of games for long enough and I'm tired of it.” Raelynn's tone was sharp and pointed, but the words were not aimed towards the Ambassador. Her eyes shifted sidelong at nothing in particular as she remained in thought. “I want to make it through this alive, I want to help my companions make it through this alive.” Raelynn paused again and brought her hands to her lap once more, she cleared her throat. “The time for morale boosting words is over, I want us to take action… You can help us, help me.”

“If you want the world to take you seriously, you’ll have to stop being a pushover.” Aries commented matter-of-factly. The fingers daintily touching her chin were suddenly pinching it, holding it, and a few flick of the wrists showed her control of her as he moved her head around before directing her face back towards her. Aries’ weariness did little to take away from the stern expression on her face. If Raelynn wanted to think of her as a bitch, that was fine, but this was the best way she could probably help her right now.

“For example,” she continued, her eyes now smoldering, “we have a rapport now, which means you have the capacity to betray me. And if you do, then I will crush you like I crushed Fontaine Motierre when he betrayed me.”

Raelynn’s own eyes narrowed, a dangerous squall formed that contrasted beautifully with the fire and brimstone of Aries. Her lips quirked into the slightest of snarls as she straightened herself. Usually, the woman was delicate, pretty, and proper. And yet how easily that physical presence seemed to change when tempered with the right influence, it was as if she was now a sturdy rod ready to catch and absorb all of the lightning that came for her. With a swift motion, she swatted away the hands of the Imperial - freeing herself from her grasp. “I’m no Fontaine Motierre, Aries. I have little desire to betray you.”

Having her hand being slapped away was precisely what Aries was looking for, prompting an earnest smile even if Raelynn’s words that followed provided some cause for concern -- her word only mattered so much. At least she felt validated in knowing how fluently she could read her like a book. She leaned back into her own personal space.

“I hope not.” She replied. “Though I’m interested in how you quantify little. Should I be worried?”

“Likewise, should I?” Raelynn replied softly. The implication behind such a statement clear as crystal.

It was a setback in regard to trust -- that’s all it took to revive her suspicion of Raelynn, but there was no doubt that Aries kind of enjoyed her company, which is more than she could say for most of the company she kept these days. She finished the cup of tea that was delivered to her with one last swig and handed it back to Raelynn, an air of finality beginning to envelop their conversation.

“No matter. I’ve appreciated your candor. If ever in the future should you take up issue with one of the group decisions being made, or yet another hasty decision on Daro’Vasora’s part, come to me and I’ll give you my advice on how to proceed. Unfortunately, I must be a little too… bold for their palate. You would have to relay them on your own.”

It hadn’t been easy feat, to walk into the lion's den and sit herself upon the paw, stare directly up into the jaws. But nothing that was necessary was ever easy, Raelynn just had to remain ever mindful that lions had claws. And teeth for that matter. But she could at least strike this from her list, and as long as she and Aries were working alongside each other, it was friction she could push to the back of her mind. Their meeting had not been without genuine pleasantries either. Gods it was nice to be in the company of someone from home, awkward history aside. It gave her an idea. “I understand the difficult position you’ve been put into. I don’t believe you were expecting affairs such as these, were you? Rest assured, Ambassador, that my priority today and for the foreseeable is to ensure that each of us makes it through this war in one piece, back to our homes that I also hope remain in one piece, your counsel is one I can certainly make use of.”

Raelynn held her finger up in a quick point, before bringing it to her lips, her eyes trailed to the floor to observe her own mug where it sat. “You are too bold indeed, I know how it feels to be in that position with this group. Be seen with me and I can assure you that you will become far more palatable in their eyes soon enough - perhaps so much so that I shant need to be your little bird.”

“Perhaps.” Aries muttered thoughtfully. “As far as counsel goes, let some be my parting gift to you. Gregor? Do budget your time spent with him. I’m sure you love him, faults and all, but he sealed his own fate and he’ll only bring you down with him. He doesn't deserve you, but if you stay with him, you deserve what you get.”

On that threatening note, Aries leaned back in, her voice hushed, “You want your power back? You want to keep it? Ask any chef how to prepare a lamb, darling, and they’ll tell you that you have to trim a little bit of fat.”

“It is just as well then that I am no lamb,” she said with a half smile, a glimmer in her eyes, and a spark in her purr. If that was a veiled threat, then it had simply been water off a duck’s back. For now however, Aries could see her as a lamb all she wanted... But in time, and through action, she would discover that Raelynn was in fact the wolf, through and through. There was no way that Raelynn would outright rebuke her suggestion, but she did ponder over whether there was something in a little distance from Gregor - even if only superficially. “But I shall remember your words Ambassador, and I shall not forget your time this morning. That said - I promised I’d take my leave once you’d taken your medicine…”

After clearing her throat, she rose from the stool - and in the same was as she had ran her hands over the fabric of her cloak when she sat, she did the same again upon standing. “This talk of chefs and of lamb, you have truly given me food for thought. I hope that I’ve done the same for you…” With the two empty cups in hand, she gave Aries a polite curtsy -- even pushing a foot back to bend her knee just so. “I wish you a restful day, and I hope your mind clears. Until next time.”

Now that it had all been said, Raelynn made her way elegantly from the tent, her footsteps silent as she went with the empty mugs in hand. As she glanced into them, she could see the last of the tea leaves sitting in the bottom of each, if she was a woman with a predisposition for the mystic, perhaps she could have gauged something telling on what was to come based on the different ways they had settled. Or perhaps that was a load of nonsense, and with a sigh she placed them on the ground close to the fire. She supposed that Calen would have to wait for his own liquid vigour. After Raelynn had put decent distance between Aries’ tent and herself, she exhaled a long breath, as if the stress of the situation had caught up with her. That could have gone so many ways - the Breton was relieved it had gone as it had. She had survived her visit into the lion’s den - and had come out not only unscathed, but with vigour of her own.

Likewise, Aries found herself alone in her tent pondering over what had just transpired. She felt slightly blindsided by what unfolded moments ago, not expecting to have the conversation she just had from an unlikely source, nor the budding relationship that might later blossom into something fruitful. She was full of surprises, that one; there was something to be said about being easy to underestimate, and even if Aries herself came of it on top -- or so she felt -- there was no guarantee that would always be the case, especially now that her ambitions have become emboldened. There was still the matter of her acquaintanceship with Gregor and the complications that invited, but if they were even remotely similar, then love wouldn’t be a good enough reason to sacrifice herself. Still, she couldn’t help but wonder if righteousness had won out today. Should she have been harder on her, warn her of the punishment awaiting her, or was she right in offering her a chance for atonement? Until that tree comes to bear fruit, its knowledge remained out of reach.

Maybe it was foolish to reach for justice in this new world, especially with her own bloodied hands, but was that a good enough reason to stop? It was all she could do to preserve some sense of order.

“Bloody hands can’t be a good enough reason.” Aries muttered to herself. “If it was, what purpose would an Empire serve?”

Perhaps that went both ways, though. Was it reason enough to tolerate the so-called “tragic couple,” even if only for so long? Could she acknowledge them as more than just the perversion of justice? Maybe… Gregor certainly had no chance, but maybe this woman did.
Meeting of the Minds

The week-long journey was an arduous ordeal for a multitude of reasons; though Aries had heard that the former Samara cell had held their trial for Gregor, they had excluded many affected parties who likely had every right to be in attendance. They were made to wait with bated breath until those who had broken out early delivered the news. Calen, for one, was not a person who could sit idly with a guilty conscience. So, when Aries discovered that the bard had left their trial early, fidgeting uncomfortably in his seat whilst cradling his head, she sought to console him in her pursuit of answers.

Calen looked at her with a feeling of uncertainty, though he wasn’t sure if it was due to his own emotional fugue. He didn’t quite feel certain of anything really, if he was on the right side or not or who he could possibly trust. The man he knew longest of anyone in this motley crew of mercenaries, adventurers, soldiers, cutthroats – and now an Imperial ambassador – turned out to not just be a necromancer, but one of the vilest entities known among all legends and lore? He didn’t know what the others decided to do with him for he left too soon, but not so soon that he didn’t hear a few of the others advocating for Gregor’s life – if such an existence can even be called life anymore.

Yet as he sat himself down on a cold boulder to steady his wobbling knees and dizzy mind, he looked up at Aries’ face which was barely made visible by the orange glow of distant fire light – from what he could discern, it was mostly characterized by dire concern with notes of sympathy. A voice inside of him was screaming for relief, to be relieved of the burden of knowledge. For so long his voice had been the one to soothe others, and his ears open to the words that weighed on others. He wanted desperately to have his own worries and burdens be shared, though the expectation of being the strong, kind, and wise listener told him otherwise. If he showed vulnerability now, showed himself incapable of coping, who then would the others have to turn to? Then a hand was delicately placed upon his shoulder, and Calen looked back up at Aries, who stood backlit by starlight.

“We need to know.” Aries said with a comforting softness in her voice. “For everyone’s sake.”

Calen hesitated for a second, weighing his options in his head. If not an ambassador of the Empire… then who?

The week-long journey through the Alik’r desert and into the mountains to the north was physically arduous, made only harder with the information Calen had given her. To think that this group, even with all their flaws, would still permit a lich to exist within their company. It would take every ounce of her willpower to not act on her own accord to torch Gregor where he stood, and she would not have hesitated if she was certain that the others wouldn’t have turned on her if she had her will realized. Many sleepless nights were spent wondering when his betrayal would be at hand or weighing out the consequences if she saw to his end herself. Would her potential death be worth the slaying of a hideous monster, or would her survival be worth Gregor’s hour of reckoning? It was as they said: it’s not paranoia if they’re out to get you.

There were a few times when Sevari approached her out of concern for her health, though she pushed him away and assured him that she was fine. She was self-aware enough to know that the stress was beginning to weigh on her and wear her down. Sleep never came easily and food was hard to swallow, but she had to keep up appearances, thus came one of the consequences of outing herself as ambassador. She had to be a leader for these people even if they didn’t necessarily care for her. She had to put up a strong and certain front, to appear sure, even if she wasn’t right. Even if Sevari was the closest person she had to an advisor, she still found herself stuck in the mindset of treating him like an outsider to the inner circle that consisted of only herself. She couldn’t help but note that it was all too similar to how she found the bard a week ago after Gregor’s trial.

Ordinarily, she wouldn’t have considered entertaining such a person – though some bards like those of Daggerfall were typically well acquainted with officials of the highest order, Calen was of humble ranking; from the threads on his back to his mannerisms, he seemed to her as the type that found himself more at home in a tavern than a court, no matter how proper his manner of speak may be. Still, having watched him (as well as a few others) along the journey, he had a way with speaking to people, no matter who, to get them to like him. She wondered if he would retain the same charisma and sagacity to go toe to toe with her.

“Calen,” she said to him during a brief stop along the Jerall mountains, her face weary and braided hair frazzled and undone in comparison to it’s usual elegance, “How little have we talked? How impermissible it must be to have avoided one another for so long.”

The bard looked curiously up from the rock he has seated himself upon, finding himself a sight all too familiar to him since a week before: Aries standing over him. It barely took him a second to remember the proper etiquette, and he immediately stood upon noticing her approach. Upon doing so, he couldn’t help but notice he stood a few inches taller than her. It wasn’t something he expected given the poise Aries had. Even so, her appearance has been distinctly disheveled since the day Gregor’s truth broke out as the bags under her eyes had indicated, and he was sure that she, like everybody else, was deprived of the luxury of a proper bath for quite a few days. Still, she held herself with a certain admirable grace that was difficult to ignore – Calen has fallen for, well, not less for he did not measure beauty in such ways… but simpler. Aries’ intensity was distinctly arresting.

“I can only assume that such might be the burden of your duties, ambassador. All the better that I have not distracted you from them, no?” Calen respectfully quipped back, quickly changing tact while still finding the opening to insert a subtle flirt.

Aries found herself with a smirk on her face, apparently satisfied that her expectations of the bard had, somehow, both been subverted and yet fulfilled at the same time. Calen was unexpectedly quick to adopt the level of deference appropriate to her station, and yet he was ballsy enough to attempt a bit of banter with her.

“You think yourself capable of such a thing, do you?” Aries replied. “That better men haven’t tried?”

“Men of higher station, perhaps,” Calen fired back with a wide smile, “but not better. How may I be of service, ambassador?”

“By relaxing, for one.” Aries said, a genuine and entertained smile finding her face. “At ease, bard. Take a seat.”

“Very well,” he said, finding his seat upon a stone facing the green light in the center of the Jerall mountains. Aries found the spot next to him and joined him in the apprehensive appreciation of the view. Calen felt the urge to ask what warranted this honor, but he knew better than to look gift horses in the mouth. It was better, he thought, to watch and learn.

“Absolutely dreadful, isn’t it?” Aries said, appraising the view.

“I’m more inclined to call it poetic.” Calen answered. “Without the context, the light might be considered beautiful or a sign of the Divines… but I suppose this goes to show that beauty doesn’t beget beauty, given what the Dwemer have wrought. Singular and happenstance, never promised.”

“Appreciate it when it appears, then?” Aries proposed.

“Indeed.” Calen agreed.

A tangible, quiet wave of melancholy washed over them. Aries was right about something though, and that given the context that Sora had given the group, there was a sense of dread that emanated from that mountain. It was a small chance that he would’ve found the group that was responsible for unleashing the Dwemer upon the world, and Aries herself had found herself staring daggers at the khajiit responsible. Yet, too little has been shown from them to accept that responsibility to make it up to the rest of Tamriel. All they had done thus far was run away from the problem they created.

“Someone ought to teach Daro’Vasora how to give a proper speech.” Aries said idly, though her tone had laced humor into her words. “That was… melodramatic.”

“We can’t all be thespians.” Calen joked. “Though such is the curse of the lone wolf. Never wanted leadership, doesn’t accept help – that’s just Sora, but combine that with a guilty conscience, and it’s no wonder why she’s forcing herself into the position. Maybe you could lend your expertise?”

“I’ve tried to talk to her once.” Aries responded. “It was after I saved her life and tried to frame our discussion as for the good of her friends. Still, she wanted to argue. The problem with clever people is that they think they’re cleverer than they are.”

“Is that why you’re talking to me? Because everyone likes me, and have your words come out my mouth will work better?” Calen pried.

For a moment, Aries’ brows furrowed and looked sideways at Calen with narrow eyes, who slyly peered back at her with a wide and toothy smile.

“Checkmate, is it?” Calen jabbed playfully.

“So it would seem.” Aries said, her guarded voice sounding as though he returned behind her defenses. “How strange for you to play the fool and for me to not pick up on the deception.”

“Oh no,” Calen quickly inserted, “there’s nothing fake about me, don’t take it personally. I’m just smarter than I look.”


“If it’s any consolation, I don’t disagree with you. Frankly, it’s upsetting that my word would be taken over yours. These people aren’t soldiers though. They’re not looking for people to tell them what to do or how to fix the problem, they’re looking for ways to ignore or forget about it, and as a bard that’s where I come in… and if the bard is speaking hard truths, then you know you’re in a quagmire of a predicament.”

“You speak like a learned man, yet dress in the threads of a commoner. Why, when you could be so much more?” Aries asked.

“Acknowledgement of my humble origins.” Calen answered. “I studied at the Bard College in Solitude, but I’ve never forgotten where I came from – but the more poetic answer would be that I am but a man, and you are but a woman. How much more could either of us be?”

Aries smiled and replied, “We could be heroes. Station didn’t protect the Elder Council any more than it did the peasant-folk. St. Alessia’s legacy, however… isn’t that something worth aspiring to?”

“That’s a lofty aim.” Calen commented.

“What can I say other than I’m a lofty woman?”

“Fair enough.” Calen agreed. “But someone will have to chronicle these legacies, so for me, a man is enough.”

Despite the light-heartedness of the conversation, the circumstances of their prior meeting had not left their minds, nor the minds of anyone, Calen rightly figured. One shared look and it was obvious that there was a certain elephant in the room that was waiting to be addressed. None of what they were just discussing really addressed the more immediate and supernatural concern troubling the group.

“I still can’t believe it.” He continued. “I’ve known Gregor for a pretty long time, and yet… has he been hiding this secret this whole time and I was too foolish to see it? Or is this recent, and I was too blind to help him?”

Aries thought for a moment about what Calen was saying, measuring her words carefully, before finally saying, “There’s an old Breton back home who was once one of my teachers, Lord Picard. A chess maestro. He said it’s possible to commit no mistakes and still lose.”

“That phrase sounds stolen.” Calen remarked.

“Possibly,” Aries chuckled, “but is it any less valid? Divines can testify on my behalf that I’ve done the best with the cards I was dealt, and yet here I am… having spent a week in the desert and without a bath.”

Calen laughed at that, grateful for the counsel that Aries was able to provide. It was an interesting conversation to say the least, and believed he at least left a lasting impression on the ambassador with his own quick wit and social graces.

“Tell you what,” Calen said with an air of finality surrounding his words, “if we make it over these mountains and into Skyrim, I know that place like the back of my hand. I can find you a good, clean river to get you all washed up as soon as possible before we get to the next city or village. And if we make it to Solitude, and it’s still standing, allow me to treat you to a dance if my lady has the time.”

“A dance.” Aries echoed skeptically.

“Just like in the Breton courts. I know the music, the steps; even if for just a minute, I can take you back to Daggerfall.”

Aries smiled blankly back at the bard and clasped her hands together. What a shame, to think that she had enjoyed his honest and insightful conversation up until this point, only for it to be spoiled by what she assumed to be the bard’s true motives. While on one hand it was refreshing for motives to be so simple for a change, it felt shallow and cheapened whatever wisdom he had to share, and that the bard’s talents were wasted. She cut off their discussion there, only saying, “I appreciate the gesture; however, I am not interested in returning to Daggerfall, but to the Imperial City and restoring the Empire. Thank you for the conversation.”

With that, she stood up and walked away to the bard’s dismay. He shook his head and sighed. Well, this wouldn’t have been the first time. His intentions might have been misinterpreted by the ambassador – he was simply just an affectionate person who showed his affection is somewhat unorthodox ways – but that wouldn’t have been the first time either. Given time, he was sure, she would thaw. On the other hand…

He was probably being a little too casual with the ambassador. Ah, hell, she’ll get over rank and file soon enough once everything goes down the chamber pot like it usually does.
Common Ground
with @Leidenschaft

Alik'r Camp, late night - 17th Midyear, before the trial

Aries had to spend a little time to herself after her chat with Sevari; a little time to decompress from the day’s events, from the news she had learned, from all of it. A little too much time, perhaps, as she did indeed have a plan in place to move forward with the information her agent had given her, but it was her woe to bear witness to the consequence of her late action. She had intended to speak to Latro herself; she knew Sevari had a relationship with him within some capacity, strained though it may be, but he was also lacking in delicacy. She knew how he spoke to his superiors, to his brother, his comrades, so she knew how he would speak to his friend. Their twilit silhouettes against the dusk horizon framed their gestures, so Aries retreated towards the center of camp where she knew they would ultimately return to. Where Latro would return to. Daro’Vasora’s tent was only a short distance away.

She found herself waiting by bonfire as the sun fell and the heat within the sand was sapped by the cool air. A curious feature of Hammerfell, she always thought, for the past two years she had to endure the blistering heat beating against her skin only to look for it again after sundown; but after a long day of wearing those stuffy robes in which she has disguised herself in, she finally peeled off the layers and exposed the skin of her arms and her collar, letting the sweat cool her skin like beads of ice against the breeze. The silks and cottons she wore, which has thus far remained hidden beneath her other layers, hugged her figure in a way that was more complimenting, even if they were still particularly modest, and likewise, protected her modesty.

The shuffling of the reachman’s feet through the sand eventually made its way through the center of the camp. Aries could tell by the weight of his footfalls alone that the conversation did not go the way Sevari had hoped, but Latro’s tightly clenched fists and the murder on his face sealed the deal. She didn’t have to be savvy to spot it. She did not stand from her seated position on the bench, nor did she seem hurried to stop his advance. She simply spoke softly, gently, from her seat around the fire, although loud enough for him to hear and pointed enough for Latro to know it was meant for him.

“I’m sorry, you know,” Aries said aloud, hearing him walk past, “for not being truthful with you when first we met.”

Latro froze for the second time that night, caught off guard by the voice of another. He still held the Dwemer box beneath the folds of his cloak and he only stared at Aries for a second before returning his eyes to the sand, “No one is.” He spoke quietly, shaking his head just the slightest, “Not really.”

He looked back up ahead of himself as if to be along on his business again but he stayed where he was. A few beats and he looked back at Aries and sat next to her. “Jaraleet. Sevari. Gregor. Raelynn.” Latro listed off the names like he grieved for them, though they still yet lived. Perhaps the tone was telling of his opinion of them now. He looked to Aries, “You.”

He sighed, lacing his fingers together and putting his hands in his lap, “Though I suppose you barely pretended to be anything but what you are. Gregor, though. He’s… he’s either not a monster or so good at hiding it that I can never trust or tolerate his presence again.”

He shook his head, putting his face in his hands, “Everyone, everyone lies in the end.” Latro whimpered, “Even me.”

“What are you? What are you and a spy doing in Hammerfell?” He asked. “Was it true, what Sevari said? Keeping the Thalmor out and trying to bring them back into the Empire? Or was that a lie too?”

Aries huffed a sigh. He asked a lot of questions in a short amount of time, and she had to figure out how to address all of them at once.

“I can’t speak for Sevari,” Aries began, “even as much as I’d like to. Ultimately, his decisions and actions are outside of my jurisdiction, even as much as I’d like them to be. I can only speak for myself.”

Aries finally turned to look at Latro directly. “My name is Aries Machella. I am an ambassador for the Septim Empire. I was originally in Hammerfell on a mission of diplomacy when the Dwemer invaded. I met Sevari when I arrived in Gilane after fleeing Sentinel, and I can confirm that we were working against the Thalmor.”

Aries paused for a moment and continued, “Fighting a war on two fronts… the fall of the Imperial City, the occupancy of Anvil and Skingrad… that is why I was so… cautious. I apologize we didn’t meet on the best of terms.”

Staring back into the fire, “As for Gregor…” She spat his name distastefully, “if it’s any consolation, I didn’t know for much longer than you did. I had meant to be the one to inform you, but Sevari had gone and done so soon after he informed me.

“He likes being direct.” Latro chuckled, a humorless thing despite, “If you knew how we met, you’d know how true that is.”

“I don’t know if it would’ve been any better depending on who told me. I’m only angry because I trust the people around me to be truthful with Sora and I.” Latro shook his head. “And now no one is. I fear there’s only going to be more secrets and lies hidden under this latest one. I’m afraid even to dig any deeper.”

“I’m sure you can imagine that there is great emphasis on my safety and remaining inconspicuous, and yet I’ve laid myself bare for all to see and put one possible future for the Empire in jeopardy. You couldn’t possibly uncover anything more from me, and I’m afraid any further distrust from this point on would be self-indulgent pity.” Aries replied nonchalantly, followed by a sardonic and humorless smile. “You see? You can trust me to be absolutely forward with you. It’s because I understand I should be less afraid of offending someone’s sensibilities than the threat we are facing this time.”

Aries stared back into the flickering flames that made the centerpiece of the campsite.

“So,” she continued with an air of finality, “would you do so well as to lend me your ear?”

Latro sighed, nodding his head once and then a few more times, more open, “Mm,” he grunted, “Fine. Go on.”

“If it were up to me, I’d incinerate him and his ashes and we’d be well on our way.” Aries said. “But Sevari had a point. If either of us killed him and waited to explain the situation until after the fact, it would sound like a weak excuse… but we can’t recklessly spread the word either and cause undue panic, tip off Gregor, and cause more harm -- we make a controlled leak of information to trusted individuals, and make sure that those of us who know are prepared to handle the situation accordingly.”

Aries peered back at Latro, and gravely added, “Sevari never saw you at the palace. When we met, you seemed like such a helpless thing. I know now that isn’t true; I knew that if I wasn’t the one to tell you, you’d very well march into the lion’s den and possibly get yourself or someone else killed; or maybe you’d succeed, but who among your friends would trust you then? The only way this ends favorably for you and all of your friends is if we make a proper plan of attack before we quarantine Gregor. So, as much as even I hate it, we need to be patient.”

“I wasn’t going to.” Latro said, just louder than a whisper. He wrapped his arms around himself and sighed, his eyes closed and his head low until he looked back at Aries, “I’m very angry. But I’m not going to charge off and try to handle this on my own. I’m not who I was.”

“I wish to convene with Sora over this. Perhaps we should put this to a vote, have Gregor’s peers decide his fate.” He said, pausing and thinking, “I don’t want him killed. Does that make me horrible? To not want someone I held up as my friend dead?”

Aries sighed. There was once a time where she would’ve disregarded Latro as spineless, despite what she has seen from him in the Gilane palace. The answer was simple to her: condemn him to the executioner’s block as per Imperial law, it was a no brainer… but she also didn’t have any attachment to the man, Latro, being a reachman, likely had little respect for Imperial law, and this wasn’t Imperial land -- granted, it was Redguard land, and necromancy was especially taboo to them. What Latro wanted ultimately didn’t matter, but that wasn’t what he wanted to hear. Then again, that also wasn’t the question he was asking.

“It’s a difficult truth to confront.” Aries replied somberly with a nod. If nothing else, she could join him in his melancholy. “I was engaged once, you know. Their family was ready to happily receive me into their family. We both belonged to noble families, and such affairs were considered quite important matters in Daggerfall. Then I learned that his father was the one who payed to have my father killed by pirates when I was just a girl. I found evidence too. I thought about burning their house down, but I didn’t. I knew them for too long. Maybe my fiancé was innocent. So, I brought the evidence to court instead.”

Aries knew she was lying a little bit by leaving some parts out of her story, but it would get the point across regardless. She continued, spitting out the next few words as if they were an insult still fresh in her mind, “Then, of course, my very own fiancé had the audacity to challenge me to a duel. My father was murdered, but he was more concerned about defending his family’s honor and was willing to kill or hurt me to do so.”

Her eyes then fell back on Latro.

“This isn’t so different. You’re not wrong to hold yourself back, but you should know that it takes a certain breed of desperate men to resort to necromancy. I’m willing to wager that he has had to hurt or even kill a lot of innocent people to even still be here today. Imperial law is harsh on necromancy for a reason. You might not want to hurt him, but I don’t know how much sleep he will lose over hurting you.”

Latro sighed at that, as if Gregor was already plunging a dagger into his ribs. The thought of Gregor disregarding every pleasant interaction they’ve had put an ache in his chest. He wondered if any of it was true, or if he was being strung along by a soulless monster. “You’re right. I know.” He said, nodding, “I’ve seen the Traitor’s Cross put to Grave-Singers before. I’ve done it myself, only once.”

“But if it comes to that… I’m not going to do it.” Latro shook his head, unflinching in that decision.

“That’s your prerogative.” Aries said with a nod. “I just wanted to be sure where your mind is at. I won’t discourage you from talking to Daro’Vasora, I think that might even be for the best -- but if you would, could you get her to see it our way? We just want to minimize the collateral damage.”

“Of course,” he nodded, “We’ve got enough of that already.”

Latro’s sigh signaled the start of the quiet spell between the two, sitting beside each other. He looked sidelong at the woman next to him, thinking on how he didn’t know her at all. He knew the spy better than her, which was still fuck all of an amount, but it may as well have been the man’s life story in comparison to how well he knew Aries. “Who are you?” He asked, “Really? A noble from Daggerfall ends up in Gilane with a spy.”

“I prefer to think that my role as Imperial ambassador has elevated my station even above nobility, but in short, yes.” Aries replied with a humored smile. “I was in Sentinel when the Dwemer first arrived and put the blade to the King of Hammerfell. They had undone many hard years of diplomacy with one swipe… so I was forced to retreat, fighting my way out until I reached Gilane where I found Sevari. I had hoped Gilane to be the place where I, representing the Empire, and the Redguards could have a foothold in Hammerfell. Perhaps the shared effort could not only force the Dwemer out, but reunite our people… you know how well that ended. It was nothing I could have prepared for, but it’s the first failure of my career all the same, and the cost was an entire nation...”

Latro nodded along, looking to Aries as she finished. When they had first met, he thought her a woman carved from stone, who could weather any storm and spit back its fury ten-fold. But a woman like any other human sat beside him. Maybe stronger than most, but not as strong as he thought. “I’m sorry.” Latro said, “A man named Francis once told me that not all things hinge on one failure.”

Latro paused, it seemed a dumb notion to be lecturing Aries of all people about anything. “That is to say, not all is lost.”

“Of course not.” Aries quickly agreed, as if the melancholy of the subject before was suddenly no longer there. “We’re heading north. Whether we head toward Skyrim or High Rock, we’ll have options. Solitude and Markarth are heavily fortified cities, I have pull in many of the Breton kingdoms, and even Orsinium can be a safe haven if I play my hand properly.”

As he tried to give her some console, however misplaced it might have been or so she felt, her mind, too, fell back on the time she had met Latro. There wasn’t much time for impressions, but the one she gave was ripping an arrow out of Sevari’s gut, searing the wound shut, and later threatening him in the tunnel after the Ohmes-raht started getting cold feet. It was slightly humorous in retrospect, but there was nothing funny about the circumstances they met under

“I am beholden to many responsibilities, Latro, and they yield much greater consequences. That’s what I meant.” Aries said, looking back at Latro. “About the burden of leadership. I am not a military commander, but it is my duty to see the Empire’s interests fulfilled. Would you not whet a fine blade with the same care if it made the difference between life and death?”

“Mm.” Latro nodded, “If given five hours to fell a tree, spend four sharpening the axe.”

He looked at Aries, seeing her differently, but in no way meek. He thought he’d like to have the same mindset as her, the strength to shoulder the burden of leadership. He was the son of a Chieftain and yet had never been a leader of men. He could learn something from her. Perhaps she’d be a good person to get council from. “We’ll be going through the Reach.” He said, “I’m the son of a Chieftain. I told Sora that if they will not accept me, I will change them. With words or my steel.”

“It might not be a Breton court or an Imperial senate, but we have politics of our own. Perhaps I’ll have need of your council if it comes to words.” He offered, cocking a brow.

“Perhaps,” Aries replied with a smirk, “I've never worked with the Reachmen before, admittedly they're somewhat of a mystery to me. They’ve been underneath the Empire’s notice for quite some time, given the lack of diplomatic or adversarial potential. I imagine we'll be working rather closely together from this point on -- to make up for the other’s shortcomings.

“I must warn you though,” said continued, mocking a feigned coyness with a gentle hand delicately placed against her chest as she rolled her eyes, “I’ve apparently developed a reputation of being difficult to work with. That’s even been said by politicians of the highest caliber.”

She simply shrugged, “Giving them hell is half of the fun. I’m sure the worst among them would challenge me to a duel if they thought there was a chance of winning.”

“That’s pretty much the extent of our politics. We’re not much different than the Orcs, the strong rule. We take what is owed, and strike down any who would disagree.” He nodded, “You’d probably do well.” He smiled.

“Think of it, though.” He shrugged, “You have a Chieftain friendly to an Imperial ambassador ruling. You’d perhaps be the first to have a chance to whip the unruly Reachmen tribes into shape. It’s about time my people have a home for themselves, and maybe you and I could be the strongest voices to call for that.”

He cleared his throat, too much dreaming, “If you’d have me.”

“I’m not left with many other options, am I?” She asked rhetorically. “Frankly, we could use as many allies as we can get our hands on. I’m in no position to be picky, and you’re the only one who could provide any sort of counsel.”

Then she smirked, and added, “By the way… trying to appeal to my sense of grandeur, plant the idea of a lasting legacy, and aspersing an entire demographic to promote their implied need for a savior? You’re beginning to speak like an actual politician. It needs polishing, though.”

“You think?” He chuckled, laying back and propping himself up on an elbow while he ran his fingers through the sand. “I never really thought I’d had a tongue for politics, but if you say so.”

He shrugged, “I’ve tried at a life of peace, but this war dashed it against the rocks.” He sighed, “My mentor told me that all good people abhor violence, and should abstain from it until all other options are exhausted. He wasn’t against a duel here or there, traveling and testing himself against the fencing masters all over.”

“You’ve won duels, I take it?” He asked, looking at Aries, “I learned everything I know from a famous duelist. Francis Martell, former Table Knight sworn to Prince Narcisse in Camlorn. Who taught you?”

“I’ve won a few; Bretons are quick learners though, so eventually I received fewer and fewer challenges.” Aries began thoughtfully. “First it was my father who taught me, before he passed. Then I was taught by a Direnni, an Altmer named Aurelia. They’re certainly an esteemed and talented bloodline, even if their name is no longer at the forefront of the minds of non-mages. I’m familiar with Sir Martell; you were lucky to have him. Many of the Glenumbra lords mistake famous names for being competent teachers, but I’ve come to appreciate what a few hundred years of elven neuroticism has done for my riposte.”

Latro laughed at that, “I’ve only heard of them by name, never met one.” His eyes grew wider at her mention of Francis, “Have you met him? Francis, or Sir Martell, as he was once?”

“I believe he once accompanied his prince during a summit in Daggerfall, and I, my mother, as she made her presence known within the court. I don’t recall speaking to him at length though, I was young and mostly listened and studied. I do recall, however, that he was one of the few young men who didn’t make any attempts in courting me. He’s a respectful and chivalrous sort devoted to his code, and I did hear a tale or two of his exploits, though he wasn’t boastful of them as many of the lords were fond of doing.” Aries explained, looking up thoughtfully as she recounted her memories. She slid over on the bench she was seated on and expectantly gestured to Latro to sit beside her.

“Does any of that sound familiar?” She asked.

“That does sound like him.” Latro chuckled, recalling Francis and how even if his oaths to Prince Narcisse had been broken, he still acted every bit the knight he once was, “He’s a good man. He taught me everything I know, perhaps a master of no weapon but my hands, but enough to fight well with any.”

“We should spar sometime. Nowadays especially, and with the company you’ve decided to keep, it’s a good thing to know how to be handy with some steel.” He shrugged, “How about it?”

“Are you suggesting I could learn a thing or two from you?” Aries scoffed, finding humor in the challenge. Truthfully, she didn’t care much for indulging him, but building rapport with the company didn’t work the classical way -- playing politics worked well with other politicians, but common folk responded better to acts of good faith. So instead of trying to manipulate him, Aries fired back and said with a confident smile, “Perhaps I might, if for nothing else than to provide you with a demonstration.”

“Indulging a commoner.” Latro chuckled good-naturedly, “Careful, they might not let you back into high society if they ever find out.”

“They can try!” Aries replied with haughty laughter, subconsciously placing a hand delicately in front of her mouth, masking it. “I’m a Machella; we know things the others do not. For instance, how to keep our manor the only one left untouched when the commoners had enough and burn the rest of them down.”

Leaning toward the flame, Aries let herself feel comfortable in Latro’s presence now that she was certain she had placated his emotions -- that he wasn’t about to become the same savage he was back in the palace -- and the cautionary thought of unleashing fiery magic was dispelled from the back of her mind.

“Truthfully,” she began, “this job of mine has given me perspective once I began travelling the world and immersing myself in their cultures. The politicians back home… they’re like rats, scurrying about for the slightest sliver of power, and have nothing to do once they have it except to defend it and build stagnant wealth. To be fair, it was how I earned enough power to become recognized by the Elder Council. It’s quite curious how power becomes the prerequisite for more power, but now I can do something with it. Affect nations, create change -- meaningful change. I’m out of high society’s reach now. Nobles cannot guarantee an audience with foreign leaders, but I can.”

She sighed and rubbed her forehead -- she was talking too much when she usually prided herself on keeping her cards close to her chest. Perhaps the recent events were beginning to wear on her.

“I suppose,” she continued with an air of finality, “this is my way of reconciling with recent events. There will continue to be opportunities ahead of us, despite the ones we’ve missed.”

Latro smiled and nodded, appreciating the rare display of her sense of humor before it vanished before him once again, but also appreciative of the insights Aries was able to provide.

“I appreciate everything you’ve done for me. For Sora. For us.” Latro said. “I also appreciate our conversation. I’ll keep everything you said in mind when I talk to Sora.”

Aries watched him and his disposition carefully before reflecting his smile back at him. “Of course,” she said. As she watched him turn his back and walk away, she felt a flutter of satisfaction in her chest. It was a pain to pick up after Sevari, but in the end, she felt it was worth it. Breaking him down left him disorganized enough for Aries to find the pieces and reorganize them to her liking and let him get into Sora’s head. Which meant that she didn’t have to be the one to worry about convincing the prideful khajiit that made herself this motley group’s leader -- but there was more to all of this than just having it fit her narrative. She found herself looking forward to her next meeting with the young Reachman after a few minutes of meaningful connection. Not that it was a surprise to her by any means, but she welcomed the feeling she thought long lost since the days spent in Sentinel.

The ambassador looked into the fire once again and was felt renewed by a sense of ease. Whatever problems facing them now or what lies ahead were going to solve themselves.
<Snipped quote by JunkMail>

I elect Bobbi. While Kashmira is an inch shorter she's much more thicc so all those curves won't fit in there.

Plus she has experience with hiding drugs in assholes, so

Beach Festival
@JunkMail @Ruler Inc

We're at the festival. By the tables writing our wishes. Red and blue balloons. Just shout when you get there.
Matthew Detmer

Okay, Matty.

Of the few good people Israel got to know around here, Matt was one of them. They weren’t what one would call as being “part of his circle” – he wasn’t much of an intellectual and their interests were somewhat disparate, save for skating – he was kind of a nobody who Israel had met by chance; but he was good people, good enough that he was willing to show the newcomer around Charity Beach. The only question as of right now was who was we? Israel opted to not bother thinking about it too much; he’d learn more when he arrived.

The thing about the festival that was actually worth thinking about was the entertainment this year. How was a local festival able to afford a high-profile pop star? It was no big secret that the mayor managed to pull some strings to attract some media coverage of the city. Promoting the city for an economic boon, that was one thing, but where did the city get the money to begin with? They certainly weren’t putting it to use in Los Costas, or even some of the roadways. It was likely to just keep getting funneled into the touristy sections of the city, the businesses of which being the most likely to gain from the whole fiasco. What then will development do to the costs of living in the area? Likely perpetuate an even greater economic divide between districts.

Israel rolled his eyes and sighed. Open eyes made a man tired, but to rest meant closing them. There’s never an easy answer.

His footsteps brought him closer to the festival; the crowds were gathered, and the singer was standing on stage and making a scene. As he pushed his way through the crowd, he looked for his crazy-tall friend, but his own shorter stature made it hard to find him over the rest of the crowd. “By the tables,” he said, sure, but so was everyone else. As he pushed his way through, he heard a commotion somewhere else in the crowd – he didn’t think much of it, as everyone were letting go of their balloons, and someone probably someone throwing their beer around – until the pop singer interrupted her own song and began to yell, “Holy shit people, there's a fucking monster running around! Get the fuck out!"

As if on cue, one of the monsters bulldozed through the crowd, toppling them over like dominoes until a man was pushed into Israel, who, likewise, felt his back strike the sandy beach. Hearing the impact of someone land next to him, he turned over to look – only to see a pair of legs, the upper half of the body missing from the waist. Immediately, he squeezed his eyes shut and turned his head away. One of the monsters roared, though he couldn’t tell from where – his heart was racing, pounding painfully against the inside of his chest as gasped for shallow breaths – he clawed himself out from underneath the dogpile of people. He kicked sand to get himself back up to his feet, and soon after, kicked off his flip flops and began a mad sprint in a blind direction – if it was away from the center of the crowd, he didn’t care where he was going.

However, running blindly had him collide with another, taller person. Fear gripping his heart, he looked up almost expecting another one of those tumor-ridden monsters – but instead, he saw Matt.

“¡Coño!” He exclaimed, unable to think in English in his current panic. “¡Asere, vámonos!

Background Checks

As she always did, Naryxa had left the dossiers unopened in her inbox. She always found it much more revealing and interesting to get to know a person - nowadays, it was as if everyone wanted to get to know each other beforehand based on information they could skim from the extranet and through hacking possessions. Was there really anything so bad about genuine connection and intuition?

Well, unlike some of the others on the contract, Shy had no such qualms with violating the privacy of her coworkers. Aside from pure and simple curiosity, there was of course also the matter that she was now collecting framed offense after framed offense on her growing resume of galactic violations. Developing AI, okay, that she could admit guilt to – but being responsible for it going rogue and killing hundreds of researchers, or blowing up an interstellar barge? No, no, no, no! She might’ve been callous in some respects, but she wasn’t evil. So, she resolved herself to finding out the truth and clearing her name, so what better place to start than her newest associations? Sure, maybe they wouldn’t have incriminated themselves, or maybe they were just that dumb and dragged everyone else down with them; or maybe it was their employer who wanted to frame them and collect an easy bounty. One way or another, she had to research new “friends” to see if she could rely on them to pull their weight. Who better to be the investigator than the tech-wizard?

When they had finally docked on the station, Shy was the last to get up, preferring instead to watch the others as they left. Gauge their faces, listen to what they said, and carouse through the ship without anyone watching her. She made a beeline toward the cockpit and browsed around before opening the interface from her omni-tool and linking it to the ship’s navigational computer. She still felt annoyed that the pilot wasted the opportunity to trace the signal that sent the transmission, so part of her wanted to know where this ship had been to New Syrtis before. After she finished downloading what she wanted, Shy cracked open one of the compartments and attaching a small recording device underneath the console for safe measure.

After a few minutes, Shy finally walked down the boarding ramp of the ship. She peered over to see Ardan and Naryxa still in the hangar and in conversation, and as she walked past she heard, “You’re… well, not like the others.”

Shy snorted and rolled her eyes. That’s what they always said.

She had been taking it easy on Omega for a while, so of course she had her own room. Her drones were stationed right around her door just in case some two-bit bounty hunter thought they could collect her while she went to work on her console. The dossiers were hardly telling; they had a pilot from the quarrian fleet, an asari xenobotanist and ex-huntress (Special ops agent? Intriguing,) a vorcha (ugh, gag.) merc and ambusher, a human… ninja? Weird. Then there was the batarian merc, veteran, and shock trooper, and the turian blowhard soldier who likes to blow up soldiers hard. If there was anyone among them who could’ve done the damage to the ship, it would’ve been Ardan. The only problem with that is that nobody seemed to know what the job was or where they were going, and there wouldn’t have been any time to prepare beforehand. Still, at least that meant she knew for sure that the others couldn’t have done it even if she didn’t totally trust the turian.

‘Let’s see what everyone’s up to.’

With just a few commands, Shy tapped into the extranet and began browsing through the local networks. With as big as Omega was, there were quite a few of them floating around, but Afterlife had by far the most connections. Aria would probably blow a gasket if she found out that someone had been using her club to spy around, but this wouldn’t have been the first time Shy hacked into the network. It was as simple as finding the line of code that gave users administrative permissions and rewriting her own address with it, and she could walk straight through the firewalls like a ghost in the machine. One would think that hacking into technology in the era of space travel would be a little harder.

So… who was connected? There were a few familiar names she recognized, none from her “allies” – but perhaps if she simply just… ah, yes, the bar. Of course. A collection of identification numbers associated with different names and credit chits was stored in a database in afterlife. Fishy? Yes, but mostly useless unless you knew how to get there and how to interpret the information. On top of that, it normally required a password. Fortunately for Shy, she knew how to read zeros and ones. Their employer, Cherk, was nowhere to be seen in the database. Either he didn’t call Omega home, or he’s been around the block and knew how to hide his trail. Fishy, but she at least appreciated all the credits he sent her way for compensation… even if it only was ten percent of what she was promised. Working down the list of suspects, she looked up their pilot, Kori. Nothing. To be fair, she seemed a little immature and probably wouldn’t drink in the seediest bar of Omega, assuming she drank at all. However, it only took a minute to find the turian, “Ardan Parvius.” Judging by the history of transactions made… he was kind of a regular here. Huh. Who would’ve known they’ve both been squatting on the same shitty rock for a while? The thought sent chills up her spine before she shook it off and glanced at the ID of his credit chit.

“Yeah, I think I’m just gonna write that down for future reference.”

The number on its own was mostly useless, anyways. Mostly. Ardan wasn’t going to miss anything. Much.

Maybe a few drinks.

But from the looks of things, it seemed he only made a transaction a few minutes ago. If there was someone next to her, she would’ve offered to bet a hundred credits where someone could find him. Thinking quickly, she moved through afterlife’s network until she found the security cameras. A mute image popped up on her screen, an overhead view of the crowded bar that made it hard to tell who was who; but a quick scan over the barstools showed a turian and an asari in conversation. Focusing the image, sure enough, it was her two crewmates again.

Seriously? Naryxa fell for it? What good did living a few hundred years do her if she fell for one of the dumbest lines in the book? She noticed the computer on the counter, something that could put in more orders for drinks while the bartender was busy somewhere else. Shy’s fingers a blur, she tapped into the computer, and soon, audio was playing through her console. It meant activating voice features, which might’ve shown on a small indicator light on the computer next to the pair, but it was Omega – the computers here were largely shitty pieces of malfunctioning hardware half of the time. Shy wasn’t worried about it.

“…my master is myself and my code is my own.”

“Okay, cringing now.”

Shy was pretty late to the conversation, and was only able to catch the tail end of Ardan’s story, where he said some kind of garbage about making the galaxy safe for other people – yeah, if his conduct on the ship was anything to go by, she didn’t really buy it and just assumed he was saying it just for Naryxa – and it seemed the energy was beginning to wind down. Whatever it was, it doesn’t sound like either one of them admitted being a mass murderer. Well… that depends on what one considered being a mass murderer given this line of work. Any one of them could technically qualify. When Naryxa began speaking, Shy listened intently.

“…I think I will stay at the safehouse tonight.”


Shy stopped herself, and swiveled her head to look bug-eyed around her dark, computer-lit room. Turning back to her monitor, her chest tight and face flush with embarrassment, she severed her connections to Afterlife’s network, shaking her head and forcing herself to forget what just happened.

Whatever, at least those two weren’t up to anything… like explosions and framing and bounties, or…

Wait, what time were they supposed to be meeting at that safehouse? Looking at the mail again, there wasn’t really a time, but shit, it would probably be wiser to rest her head there instead of the apartment from where she made herself known. It was best to lay low until this all blows over. Downloading all the contents from her console and onto her omni-tool (just in case), she then shut everything down. She grabbed the bag containing her gear; armor and guns and whatnot, then rallied her drones together for a safe escort through Omega.
How to Plan a Murder
A Big Sweaty Posse
Campfire Politics

ft. @Leidenschaft

17th of Midyear, Early Evenine
Alik’r Desert: Nomad Camp, Hammerfell

The march out of the prison was an estranging experience. Whence before under the identity of the an innocuous merchant woman, it was simpler to engage with others, but as Aries greeted the open warm air with her first few steps onto the sun-baked sand, she didn’t have much time to enjoy the space and light -- even as oppressive as she knew it would later be, for she did not relish the ambiance of dungeons -- as she felt the dozens of staring eyes on her back. There would be a few who would try to speak with her, and she would humor them briefly before turning their attention to the horizon ahead. Then the stares of the few she knew would land on her, and those were not as easily brushed off. Of those whose glances she accidentally met, she simply faced ahead and continued their trek onward. They were fortunate that the young Nord man had hid their wagon and horses under the cover of some rocks and met with the rescue party as they had exited. It almost made them look like an organized company. Almost. Doubly so when they had met with the Alik’r nomads, with whom Shakti was able to communicate with.

Aries had done her own fair share of talking with the nomads; though she obviously wasn’t able to as quickly build a rapport with them as Shakti could, but with her help in creating a baseline, Aries knew about their people well enough to create communicable relationship with them and organized the starving and injured prisoners and/or members of the company appropriately. For some, the mission ended as soon as the nomads pitched their tents for them. For her, it ended by around sundown, after the last of starving were given food, the last of the injured were seen to and treated, and everything on today’s checklist was checked off. She had little time to entertain the questions of her comrades, at most only humoring them with a brief quip or the standard Imperial facade of bravado, “The Empire is alive and well.”

It was exhausting.

By the time sundown came, her neatly kept hair was frizzed and sticking out in places, dirt and grime was packed under her fingernails, the last few rays of orange sunlight glistened off sweaty skin, and she resigned herself to sitting on a small stone just outside of camp to catch her breath, and have a brief moment of isolation. But then the sound of approaching footsteps came, and she felt herself tense once more.

“Here.” Sevari offered a cup of water to Aries. She looked a damned right mess, but he figured they all did about now. All rough and stinking in their own way from the day’s events. Sevari took a seat next to Aries, the both of them having their eyes on the expanse of desert swallowing the falling sun. Aries silently mouthed her thanks as she accepted the cup.

Sevari looked into his own cup, taking a few gulps of water and wiping his mouth on the back of his forearm. He may have been shirtless before, but he did replace it when he came to talk to Aries. He figured she’d appreciate the modesty. “I heard what you did.” He began, “That’s… well, it’ll go a long way for these people.”

Aries, even as tired as she was, listened carefully to his words. This was a moment that she wasn’t particularly looking forward to, so she kept an ear out for things such as tone and inflection, underlying assumptions, and unspoken sentiments. Part of her perhaps hoped that things would be simpler if she could just stop pretending, but she never really expected it. Moments like this reminded her that there were plenty more to come. Trying to decipher what people wanted from you or what they were trying to say to you was a different kind of headache than pretending and building trust. In Sevari’s case, he already knew the truth. He also rarely made any attempts in hiding his displeasure with her, which is why she found his insinuation unsettling.

“That was the idea.” Aries agreed softly. “I sense that you don’t agree with the decision.”

“We have a job. When the Penitus Oculatus told me to protect you on top of everything else they shoved my way when they told me to come to Hammerfell, it was under the same pretense they always give me.” He shrugged, swirling the water around in his cup, “Whatever it takes and however I want. I’m sure that extends to you too. It’s not that I don’t agree with it, I just didn’t know it was going to happen this soon.”

“That’s fair.” She said with a nod of her head. “Neither did I.”

“But there’s something else.” He said, shaking his head. He wondered how to begin, but found himself coming up short. If anything, Aries knew he was honest. Whether or not she liked it was a different matter, but there was no changing how he handled things. Quick and brutal honesty was ironically his way of doing things, being an Inspector. “Gregor.”

Aries sighed, gulped down her cup of water, and offered a dry look to Sevari. “I'm growing awfully tired of hearing that name. Right then, what did he do this time?”

“We had a necromancer trapped inside. Sirine killed him but Gregor had already soul-trapped him. He shook the woman to her core, should have seen her after she realized what she’d helped do.” Sevari shook his head, only then realizing that the fist holding his cup was shaking, “I was ready, Aries. I had my gun pointed at his damned head, but who else but my fucking shit of a brother stopped me.”

He breathed out a long sigh, eyes closed and calming his nerves, “If it was just me and Gregor in that room…” He looked at the sand as if it could give him worthy advice, “Should I have?”

At first there was silence, occasionally interrupted by some far off laughter from the camp behind them, but it was like the initial silence of a brewing tea kettle given all that Sevari knew of this woman. Soon enough, as the brew began to steam, there came a rattling of the ceramic cup against the rings on her fingers as her hand shook.

“Without hesitation…”.

Then abruptly the cup flew from her hand and shattered against a rock embedded in the desert sand, sending shards flying in every direction. Aries growled to herself, no words, just her throat rumbling in aggravation like an angry dragon as she stood to her feet and glanced towards the camp.

“Soul trapping…” she snarled, “to think I’ve been foolish enough to have suffered a necromancer in my presence this whole time!”

If Sevari was startled by Aries’ outburst, he hid it well under his stoic exterior. “It’s only a matter of time, Aries. Who knows what he’s doing with the souls, or how many he’s trapped over his years.” He planted his hands on his knees and pushed himself up to stand, grunting, “I wouldn’t be surprised if Mrazac was his doing. My brother can testify as to his powers. I can as well, Jaraleet, Sirine and her brother.”

He hooked a thumb in his belt next to one of his holsters, “It’s only a matter of just what sort of justice he’s in for.”

“Why would Zaveed protect him?” Aries demanded. “Why would he give a single damn about any of them, especially Gregor?”

But before Sevari could answer, Aries huffed a sigh and began pacing.

“Maybe that’s a question for another time, but we need to take care of Gregor. Spreading the word might work, I doubt the others know… unless they do? Have they knowingly been harboring a necromancer? No, no, haven’t I heard from somewhere about them condemning the Dwemer’s use of soul gems? Perhaps they wouldn’t… Shit, but if Zaveed really is defending Gregor, then what happens if we out him? He’s a dangerous enemy, and that would also put that other pirate tart on their side, and… you? What about you? What does that mean for you? Would you defend your brother if it also meant defending Gregor? Divines, damn it, why would I even bother asking you if I wasn’t sure?”

Sevari’s frown grew more and more deeply set as her tirade went on. He could see the stress of the day was getting to her. Here he was, thinking she was a stone-face, iron-heart lion of a woman. He never stopped to think that if life could sink its jaws around his throat and choke him, it could happen to her. He held a hand up, “Aries.” He tried getting her attention, “Listen. If my brother is willing to harm me over this, he isn’t my brother anymore. Regardless of what Gregor did to my brother, he’s still one of those necromantic pieces of shit.”

“I’ve seen what they do, in Skyrim, way back. There’s nobody here who could stop me without killing me if it meant putting down one of those crazed fucks.” He chanced a step closer, “Loyalty is what matters here. You and me, we were in Hammerfell before all this, we know what happened. It’s been you and me for a while yet.”

“You really want to know the truth of it?” He said, letting the weight of everything so far seep back into him, working under his skin like thorns to his bones. With dark eyes he looked to the camp, “If it meant being a step closer to finishing all of this, a step closer to toppling this enemy to get back to the original order of things, back to something I knew…” he folded his arms, “I’d burn this all clean and move on with my night.”

Giving Sevari the platform to speak gave Aries time to breathe and ruminate over what he was saying instead of getting distracted within her own tangled weave of thoughts. The day began with her being on guard around Zaveed and Gregor and keeping her identity hidden before she delved into a dungeon, kill a few deep elves on the way there and back, free prisoners, reveal herself, organize them on the way back, endure the attention and questions all the while, and seeing to everything and everyone being seen to until sundown all under the desert sun -- enchanted ring or not. That didn’t even cover the last week or so; the weight of Gilane’s failure still weighed on her shoulders.

She stared toward the camp beside Sevari.

“I wonder about that.” Aries admitted. “By Akatosh, I know I’ve the means… I would light so tall and so hot a pyre, the resulting Dragonbreak would make the Warp in the West look like a footnote in history.”

But then she sighed, and said, “But I’ve a responsibility to uphold… I’m supposed to represent them; to be the best the Empire has to offer… Sevari, I’m used to having the bird’s eye view... Safe in my roost, moving the pieces around, maneuvering my way through politics. Living in Daggerfall made Council politics look like child’s play to me… but this? Here? There are too many pieces, too many sides, and I’m on the ground… not in my roost. I can’t see the whole picture from where I’m standing, and I’m tired of guessing. I’m tired of looking over my shoulder.”

Aries noticed a slight crack in her own voice, reminding her to steel herself and resolve. She took in one deep, large breath and slowly let it loose. A moment passed, and then she asserted to herself, “I need my control back.”

“You should keep in touch with the realities of being on the ground.” He said, watching the camp’s goings on with Aries, feeling her energy gutter out, “We get through this, we can put you back up in that gilded tower. If there were more Chiefs of Station with a grasp of what it was like to be in the shit, I’d probably be less stressed.”

“That roost will make you soft if you let it, Aries.” He glanced sidelong at the woman, “But being here, on the ground, it’ll make you hard. Hard and brittle, and it’ll break you all to pieces if you don’t find some kind of rest.”

He downed the rest of his cup and wiped his mouth off on his sleeve. He sighed, watching the people going about their business, “These people are reunited with their families because of you. It’s a victory. Let’s take these where we can.”

“You're right.” Aries conceded, a slight smile sneaking into her face at the mention of the people and their families. For a moment, she appeared deep in thought before looking sideways toward him. “I had a team of advisors with me when I landed in Sentinel; they were slaughtered by the Dwemer. To think I'd find myself now taking the counsel of an assassin… but I suppose security is also under an Oculatus’ purview. Taking that into consideration… how do you think we should handle Gregor?”

Sevari frowned, nodding. It wasn’t long ago that he had a team, however loose it was. It wasn’t long ago that there was an entire bureau in Gilane, a Chief of Station, everything he’d need to retreat to if things went bad. Now they had ascended so far above bad that there was nothing. Just him and Aries. But Valenwood was much the same, alone amongst enemies and living a very finely crafted but brittle lie, with a handler he knew only in dead drops and secret messages. “There used to be an entire bureau here, filled with Inspectors and Intendants. It was like a small safety net. I had a team, eight of us at first.” He sighed, scratching at his beard, “Lost contact with one after another until there was only four of us. Now there’s me, and you.”

He cleared his throat, took his moment as he tossed his cup to the sand and hooked his other thumb in his gun belt. “Who knows when we’ll be able to get any other kind of justice that isn’t just you and me taking Gregor out to a field like a lame-legged horse and shooting him in the back of the head.” He chuckled, “Or you make a bonfire out of the bastard.”

“I could go straight to Sora, tell Latro first, start building momentum in his head. If I can get her lover riled up then I can get to Sora.” He nodded, “Then they’ll handle it. We can let them keep him under their custody for us, after this is all said and done with the Dwemer, we can bring Imperial justice on him.”

He hooked his finger in the trigger guard of his pistol and lifted it from its holster, dangling it on his finger, “Unless you want me to…” he said, “I could wait until he’s sleeping, got a knife. Done it before.”

“Tempting.” Aries admitted. If there was any hope of justice being had in an Imperial court of law, it would be in Skyrim or High Rock, assuming the Dwemer hadn’t already left their mark there. Taking the time to travel to either of those places already opened them up to several days worth of risking trying to keep him under custody. There was still the concern of a necromancer’s involvement in Nblec’s death, what it meant, insulting Governor Rourken to her face, and being absent for the assault on the palace -- he must’ve been desperate enough of a man to have the balls to try escaping custody in the dead of night. Even a trained team of escorts would probably have their hands full. But a few refugees? Some without much combat skill?

“He’s... unpredictable.” Aries said after some thought. “Most desperate men are. Most necromancers are desperate men. But to just kill him would mean having to justify ourselves to the others. Maybe that’d go well, maybe it won’t. It’s difficult to say since I don’t know who his friends are. I’d rather not meet the same fate as him. If we can reach a consensus with the others and let them do most of the work for us, we won’t be the ones with a target on our backs. We need to leave this desert alive.”

“It’s what I’m hoping on doing, leastways.” He said, replacing his pistol and his thumb in his gun belt. He sighed, puffed out his cheeks as he blew it out, “Going to Sora it is then. We can’t let Gregor know we’ve had plans for him since Gilane.”

“I can take care of Latro. One more thing, Sevari…” Aries said before hesitating for a moment.

“I'll make an exception for when it's just us. Around the others though? You'll have to address me correctly from now on, now that I'm back to having to posture myself before the masses.”

There was a difference in her voice and disposition from the first time she scolded him for speaking out of turn as she put it, even following it with an uncommon chuckle. A genuine smile and a hint of humor was a rare treasure, but in the midst of her normally severe demeanor, it gleamed and glittered brighter than her jewelry.

Sevari smiled and nodded. When she reverted back to her place as a politician and a strong figure he was put at ease. If there was one person here that could keep him on a straight path through everything that had happened in Hammerfell, it was Aries. He looked at her, “Fine.” He said with a nod and a smirk, before replacing it with an air of duty, “Ambassador Machella.”

Charity Beach: Los Costas_

The apartment was somewhat dirty, though not cluttered. The ground was vacuumed, belongings were neatly squared away, but years of cigars and cigarettes had yellowed the walls and an inattentive landlord refused to replace the peeling wallpaper or cracked windows. The carpet was stained so many times over the years, it retained a brown color even if it was technically clean. The furniture was cheap, and that included the fold-out futon sofa and the small coffee table in front of it, the wood chipped in places. It faced a television that was probably made in the ‘90s and had poor resolution, and a young Latino man stared stone-faced at the images flashing on the screen.

It was the news.

His mother stopped watching the news long ago, she said, since they only played depressing content most of the time. She wasn’t wrong, but he fond it important to stay up to date on what nonsense they were peddling this time. But most importantly, it looked like he was finally getting someone’s attention. The image of a crowd of people surrounding a pavilion displayed on the television, and a masked figure in a grey hoodie stood above them before a podium with their fist raised. Israel smiled. A woman’s voice narrated the video as a brown haired woman appeared next to the cropped and shrunk video.

“…At 7:00 PM yesterday, a flash mob appeared in Downtown Charity of all places, adding one more to a long string of protests that have broken out over the past five years in a local anti-corruption and injustice movement. The protest was led by an anonymous spokesperson of the movement, calling for justice on behalf of the city’s impoverished. One of our reporters attended this rally, and here is what was recorded…”

The video ballooned once more, and Israel heard his own voice being played back to him.

“…We will not be kept down! We will not be held accountable for the injustice that they did unto us! We will not allow ourselves to be farmed like human livestock, taxed and siphoned to line the pockets of capital interests, or the bought-out politicians like—”

The video was interrupted before they got to the good part, and the brunette appeared again.

“This protest comes just days before the annual Beach Carnival, and has been a cause for concern among local business owners if this unrest will affect the tourism attracted by the carnival. Now tuning into one of our reporters covering the event, Bonnie Lauren. Good afternoon Bonnie, how are you doing?”

A live-feed from a camera downtown revealed a blonde hair woman in a shiny red dress standing next to an older, heavy-set African-American man in a fishing hat and Israel immediately frowned. He knew both of those people. The reporter, not personally, but the man…

“Doing great Danielle. I’m here today in front of the admission gate to the Beach Carnival, the skies are clear, the sun is shining, and I’m with one of the long-time local business owners Tyrell Jackson. Tyrell, you were just telling me that you’ve been working with this carnival for the past… twenty or so years?”

“Twenty-one,” Tyrell said with a nod, his voice was rough and gravelly. “Never missed a year, in addition to my regular business.”

“Which is the Snake n’ Boot Bar and Grill, right?”

“That’s correct, ma’am.”

“So, in your experienced opinion, what do you think these protests mean for the carnival with them happening so recently?”

Tyrell cleared his throat and gave his take, “I just wanna say to all o’ y’all out there to listen – you can protest any time o’ the year y’all want, with three exceptions: the fourth of July, nine-eleven, and around the Beach Carnival. Businesses up by the beach like mine rely on the crowds it attracts to stay afloat, and anything that makes Charity Beach looks bad makes the carnival look bad, and that means less commerce for all of us. That’s is, normally… but these kids protestin’ the law, and the mayor, and police? Capitalism? It’s all part o’ this whole socialism craze takin’ the younger generation. Listen to what they be sayin’… defendin’ the downtrodden? Defendin’ themselves, defendin’ what’s theirs? The sounds just like the gang talk comin’ from The Boyz. Its just another gang, that’s all they be.”

“So you think that this might mean another gang like The Boyz or Red Crowns?”

“Maybe, or maybe they really are just The Boyz, and this just be some crazy new strategy they got goin’ on.”

“That’s all for today Tyrell, thank you very much.”

“Thank you for havin' me.”

“Back to you, Danielle.”

“Thank you, Bonnie…”

The television abruptly turned off.

It was bullshit, all of it.

It was no coincidence that Bonnie Lauren sounded and looked so much like Tomi Lahren; they were essentially the same person. They were a pretty mouthpiece with no brains to be used by corporate media. If she was good at anything, it was finding the right people to peddle their bullshit to the public. Tyrell was an old-fashioned black man like Bill Cosby, who fed into the idea that they had to conform to what was desired of them. They severed themselves from their colored identities long ago, and Tyrell fell into the trap of black conservatism. Not to mention all that he said was a lie; there was no way in hell that his beachfront bar in the nice part of town would suffer without the carnival. Even without it, he'd be able to support his grandchildren all throughout college.

But to compare the cultural revolution of Charity Beach to The Boyz was an insult. Israel lived in Los Costas, he was exposed to plenty of their kind and knew the differences. The Boyz used the same message in their outreach for support and gain more members to make money. Drug trafficking, gun trafficking, it was all about gaining power and controlling through fear abuse. They used addiction to ensure brand loyalty, the threat of violence to ensure cooperation.

No, the revolution was bigger and better than that. It was about change. It was about making a difference, opening opportunities, and exposing those who would do everyone harm. It was about fulfilling the promises that was made to every young American when they were children.

But it was a long road ahead, and as much as he loathed to, he had to play the part of the citizen until then. Israel slipped on his shoes and headed toward the front door. He called out to his mother, “Mama, I’m heading out to the carnival! Me piro!”

“¡Chao pescao!” She called back.

“¡Y a la vuelta picadillo!”

Israel opened the door and stepped out, letting the thick, heavy wall of Florida’s humidity hit him. In his striped tank top, sandals, and the hand me down fatigues, he was well accustomed to the weather. He combed his fingers through his hair, threw on a pair of cheap aviator sunglasses, and huffed a sigh as he double checked his pocket for his phone and wallet.

“Well,” he muttered to himself, “it’s back to pretending I’m a capitalist.”
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