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Dominicus Drayk

"The world's gone up in flames, but we're still here, and we still have each other."

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a character in “Skyrim: The Mentor & The Sellswords”, as played by AugustArria

Description

Dominicus Drayk

Image

Basic Info

Name: Dominicus Drayk. Most commonly known by his last name. Close friends call him Dom.
Race: Imperial
Age: 22
Gender: Male

Personality

He has a tendency to try to play the wise guy, the smartass. Humor is as much a shield as his actual shield is. It's what he uses to deflect anything he doesn't want to talk about. On the surface, he doesn't seem to take much seriously. Everything's a joke, like there's something funny with a situation that only Drayk can see. All of it, of course, is to hide his insecurities, as much from himself as the others. Guilt tears at him for his past, for his addiction. And fear. Fear that at any time, he could call the flames of oblivion to his fingertips, and unleash them upon the world again. Under all the wisecracks and sarcasm, Drayk does actually care. The Mentor brought that part of him out. Made him see was he was doing to the world around him. And for the first time, made him feel guilt. He never would have been able to put out his own fire if not for the Mentor. And then the Mentor introduced him to healing magic. It was his salvation, a chance to redeem himself for his earlier years, and Drayk was delighted to find himself a natural at it. For this first time, his humor is occasionally good-natured. He has good friends at the Mentor's manor. He loves his life at last, safe with the knowledge that he's doing good now, and that he can be as laid back as he likes. Still...the urge remains. There's nothing quite like fire bursting from your hand...

Equipment

Drayk wears comfortable clothes when not on a job, mostly loose clothes of light fabric. His armor consists of adept mage's robes, orange in color, of which he hacked off the sleeves. On his left arm he wears a sleeve of scaled steel armor, ending in a gauntlet. He wears no leg armor over his breeches, other than the nordic-styled steel boots that come up to his calves. He has a wood and steel shield, known as Heartwood, and no weapons.

Abilities

The two abilities that Drayk has grown quite proficient at, and is willing to use in a fight, are his skills with Restoration magic, and his skill with a shield. He likes the idea that he can both heal and protect people, thinking of himself as the prevention and the cure. He has extensive knowledge of healing spells, taught to him by the Mentor, and is excellent with the shield, able to skillfully block attacks and catch arrows, as well as disarm other with it if need be. What he is truly a natural at, however...is destruction magic, specifically fire-based spells. Drayk has attempted most fire spells in existence, having built somewhat of an addiction to fire-making in his youth. He dares not use these spells again, though, for fear of falling back into his addiction.

History

Dominicus Drayk was originally from Cyrodiil, though he can't state that any city in particular was his home. He was born to a whore. He never knew his father, and never cared to. Almost as soon as Drayk could walk he was exploring the Imperial City, learning things the hard way. It didn't take long for him to toughen up, and to find a place among the urchins of the city, living on their own. He got into trouble, squeezed his way out of it, and then walked back into it again. It wasn't any surprise when Drayk started to develop a dislike for authority.

He discovered his ability to create magical fire at about 6 years or so, and was instantly in love. At first, it was a way to stay warm at night. And it made him popular. Oh, so popular. He could make fire from his hands. Surely Drayk would end up with some Guild of Mages, living the high-life teaching others to burn stuff, while the rest of the urchins were stuck in the streets and sewers of the city. That was the plan, anyway. Things didn't work out so well once one of the larger kids tried to literally beat the magic out of him, so that he could have it for himself. Drayk reacted instinctively, practically incinerating the poor boy on the spot. The other kids ran for the guards, and Drayk ran for the sewers. He escaped by melting down the bars on the doors, finding his way out of the city through a side entrance to the sewers. He never returned to the Imperial City.

He bounced from town to town, city to city, inn to inn, staying where he could for however long he could. But the fire became more than a necessity to stay warm at night. It became a hobby, to create as much of it as he could, in as exotic of ways. He learned to cloak himself in it, to literally wrap himself in fire, as well as to launch it in more concentrated blasts than the simple gout of fire from his palm. It became an obsession. Then he started to want to use it for something other than pretty lights. The land meant nothing to him, hell, half the time it was trying to kill him. He started lighting up any animals he saw. Then he moved on to structures, trying to find ways to set old forts and such on fire.

Eventually the people caught on to him, and a pair of guards tracked him down. They expected a torch-wielding maniac, not some dirty teenage boy in rags, with a maniacal look in his eyes. Drayk caught them off guard, lighting both guards up in flames, adding heat to the pile of burnt man and horse that they'd become. After this, he knew it was time to leave the country. Cyrodiil had turned against him. He managed to smuggle himself aboard a cart bound for Whiterun, in Skyrim. It would have to do.

His antics continued in Skyrim, though he tried to stay away from the major cities. He worked his way north and east, not minding the cold. It wasn't like he couldn't warm himself up when he wanted to. He eventually found himself in what was left of Winterhold, and his eyes fell on the College there. The idea of belonging to a group of people like himself was too great to resist. He easily passed the initial trials and gained entrance to the College, but it wasn't long before he was found over the roasting body of a fellow student who he'd gotten into a disagreement with. Once again he was forced to flee, thinking only of his own safety.

The Stormcloaks eventually caught up with him in the Rift, managing to reel him into chains and drag him to Riften, to await execution for the multiple murders he had committed since arriving in Skyrim. In was in the Riften dungeons that he first encountered the Mentor, and his life changed. Though Drayk never found out how, the Mentor convinced the guards to release Drayk into his custody, and for this, the young firemage was extremely grateful. On the long road back to his manor, near Solitude, the words he spoke him Drayk like nothing ever had. He had destroyed the world around him. He had killed people...too many to count. The Mentor forced him to admit his lifelong path of selfishness, to admit that he was the villain, that it had been him who had ruined the lives of so many people and so many things. And as it turned out, admitting the error of his ways was the first step towards a cure.

Over the two years Drayk has spent under the tutelage of the Mentor, he's never cast another fire spell. Instead, he grew proficient in the healing arts, and focused on improving himself physically as well. Of all the Sellswords, Drayk doubts there is one who sees the Mentor as as much of a father as he does. Of course, Drayk is aware that all it takes is one little spark...and his fires could reignite once more.

OOC

These questions will let me know a little more about you as a player.

What experience do you have with the Elder Scrolls universe?: Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim.
How often do you get online?: Every day.
How often can we expect you to be able to post?: I'm GMing another RP, as well as participating in a few more, but you can expect a good-sized post from me once every few days.

So begins...

Dominicus Drayk's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Claren Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Demea Ravenwing Character Portrait: Aria Windfoot Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Cassadin Hawke Character Portrait: Lok-Indra Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: S'Baad

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Contents
Prologue: Without a Leader
Chapter I: The Shadow Over Markarth
Chapter II: Hammer, Feather, and Flame
Chapter III: The Game Begins
Chapter IV: A Nest of Vipers
Chapter V: Waking Nightmares
Chapter VI: The Darkest Places
Chapter VII: The Fair Maiden
Chapter VIII: War Without, War Within
Chapter IX: The Library
Chapter X: Coldharbor
Epilogue: The Way Forward

Skyrim...

It was a land in turmoil. For years tensions had been on the rise between the Empire, seeking only to maintain peace in their northern province, to stay the wrath of the Aldmeri Dominion, and the local Nords, who believed their way of life was being threatened, and rightly so. The Elven Thalmor, representatives of the Dominion, sought to banish worship of Talos, and there was little the Empire could do to oppose them. Tensions reached a breaking point when Ulfric Stormcloak, Jarl of Windhelm, began his rebellion against the Empire by slaughtering the High King of Skyrim, Torygg, in spectacular fashion. Civil war appeared certain in Skyrim, at least until the Empire managed to lure Ulfric into a trap, forcing him and his men to surrender without a fight. The rebel Stormcloaks were then transported to the castle-town of Helgen, to be publicly executed, along with another individual who did not yet realize his importance. However, things did not go as Imperial General Tullius had planned. Helgen found itself attacked and destroyed by a creature out of myths and legends, and Ulfric and his loyal Stormcloak soldiers found themselves free once more... but these events have yet to reach the ears of anyone beyond the nearby town of Riverwood...

And though these events were of great import to the fate of the land itself, they are not the focus of this story, merely the backdrop. In the west of Skyrim, near Solitude, the Empire's seat of power in the province, was a large manor belonging to a man that went almost exclusively by the name of "The Mentor." It was a large building, complete with separate bed quarters, a large dining hall, a small library, training grounds, capable of housing perhaps a dozen individuals, and it was currently near its capacity. Those inside had experienced incredible amounts of change over the courses of their lives. Some had been murderers, others thieves, addicts, scum, monsters in the wild. They were none of these things now, due to the their Mentor's influence. Their lives and their talents had been turned towards a nobler purpose, and one by one, they became part of a group that had come to be known as The Sellswords. They were a guild of sorts, albeit one that wasn't openly accepting recruits. And though they didn't come close to the fame that the members of the fabled Companions received, the Sellswords did develop a reputation for being perhaps the most altruistic band of mercenaries in the land. The Mentor alone determined the contracts they would accept, and he and his recruits carried them out. For a time, all of their lives seemed to be on the mend. They were atoning for their past mistakes, finding out what they could do with their talents when they set their minds to it. They were building bonds of friendship, growing a sense of camaraderie. They were finding something of a purpose in the harsh, inhospitable north.

All that threatened to change upon the Mentor's disappearance. He had left the Manor before, often returning with new members for the others to meet, but not like this. He hadn't warned any of his students, hadn't given any plans to leave, hadn't received any contracts that day... nothing. It was as though he had simply up and left. And even though no one saw the Mentor depart, in their hearts, they could all feel it. The Mentor was gone, and he wouldn't be returning of his own accord. The Sellswords had always looked to him for guidance. Now he was gone, and they would have to decide for themselves what path to take. For many, the evils of their pasts would once again begin to creep up upon them, without the Mentor's guidance holding it back. All of them feared returning to the lives they had once led. some didn't have a choice; they could never go back. The only way was forward... to find the Mentor, and to find the answers behind it all.

All they had to go on was the hastily written note that had been found on his desk...




Prologue
Without a Leader



Dom Drayk
The Mentor's Manor, Dining Hall



Give him a chance. I believe in him. I believe in you. It starts in Markarth.

Drayk read the poorly scribbled note for what must have been the hundredth time that night. He hadn't even learned to read until the Mentor taught him two years ago. He knew the Mentor's handwriting, he'd stared at it for hours and hours those first few months, resisting the urge to light the paper on fire when he got frustrated. This didn't look like the Mentor's handwriting. It looked... like it was written in a panic. And in all the time he'd known the Mentor, and in all the time the others had known the Mentor (which was longer than Drayk, for some), they had never seen the man panic. He moved quickly when he needed to, but never panicked. But who would have written the note if not the Mentor? No one had gone up to see him in his study, no one new had entered the manor, and no one had left, for that matter. No one but the Mentor. Everything pointed to the Mentor leaving this note, and then simply vanishing without so much as a trace.

A full moon shone through one of the windows into the dining hall. It was somewhere around midnight now, meaning it had been over eight hours since anyone had seen the Mentor. Drayk sat in the chair to the right of the Mentor's, who had always sat at the head of their long table. It was a massive dining hall; perhaps three times their number could have comfortably enjoyed a meal in it. There was only one person missing from it now, but it felt as though the entire building was empty to Drayk.

More than anything, he felt frustrated. Everything the Mentor did made sense to him. Everything. Except this. Why would he leave like this? He wasn't dead, Drayk knew that much. The finest killer in the Dark Brotherhood wouldn't have stood a chance at bringing him down. He'd had time to write a note, albeit a poor one, so it didn't seem likely he was abducted or something ridiculous like that. Drayk had concluded that the man he'd known as a father had simply left in the middle of the day, without speaking to anyone, or being seen by anyone, and that there was a very good chance he wasn't coming back any time soon. It frustrated him to no end, and Drayk had learned that frustration turned his humor particularly acidic. He reminded himself to speak only when necessary tonight.

The Sellswords had gathered in the dining hall for an impromptu meeting of sorts. They had no leader now, so they had sort of just rallied here for a lack of a better place to be. It had been confusion, and a good few hours of searching the grounds before they'd concluded that the Mentor was nowhere to be found. And though it was midnight, of course none of them felt like sleeping. The Mentor was a symbol of their newfound purpose, and now he was gone. So they'd gathered for a talk, to determine their course of action. To Drayk, it was clear.

"It starts in Markarth," he said, sliding the note out onto the table. Everyone had seen it already, but it was still the only scrap of evidence they had to go on. "I say we start there. Take the horses and ride out at first light."

He looked around at the faces in the room. At Claren, Sinderion, Adrienne, Cassadin, Demea, Lok-Indra, Aria, Vanryth, and S'Baad. They were a screwed up bunch, but they were family now, and Drayk knew that whatever they did, they had to do as a group. They had no Mentor to lean on now, which meant they were just going to have to rely on each other.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Claren Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Demea Ravenwing Character Portrait: Aria Windfoot Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Cassadin Hawke Character Portrait: Lok-Indra Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: S'Baad

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Sinderion Direnni
Mentor's Manor, Dining Hall


Sinderion sat immediately across the table from Drayk, expending a great deal of effort to remain as impassive as possible. A muscle in his jaw jumped as he clenched it, and he consciously made himself relax, smoothing out the tawny features of his face. His eyes- an unusual robin’s egg blue that suited neither his personality nor his lineage- never left the paper in his compatriot’s hand.

Presently, he was propped on the table by his elbows, arms folded across one another in an attempt to convey nonchalance, or at least less anxiety than he was truly feeling, but the way his feet curled around the legs of the chair for stability was a dead giveaway to his discomfiture. It was not every day that one’s life flipped completely upside down; indeed, prior to this morning it had happened but once in his life. That had been a change for the better, an opportunity to claw his way out of the hole into which he’d fallen, though that was perhaps an unfortunate choice of idiom.

This, he could not help but feel, was the opposite kind of upheaval.

Still, there must yet be a reasonable explanation, something they were overlooking or simply did not have the evidence to see. Sinderion had been under the tutelage of the Mentor for eleven years, and never once in this time span had he known the man to do anything without a solid plan, set three or more phases in advance, and thought through as thoroughly as possible. In all likelihood, Sinder would outlive the one who had saved him, without ever attaining that kind of wisdom. But that in itself was an unpleasant thought on at least two levels, and he banished it from his mind.

What bothered him the most was that, despite this, and despite the advantages provided by senses well beyond the norm for man, mer, or beast race, he could say no more about what had occurred than anyone else. By the time he’d begun his search of the grounds, the Mentor’s scent had been obscured just as surely as any trace he might have left behind, save the one solid piece of understanding they possessed: the note. This was peculiar on its own for too many reasons to enumerate, and it would be pointless to list them aloud anyway, for the others surely understood why he was troubled by it.

His worse half spurned his present state of intellectualization and demanded action, something which the rest of him could not wholly disagree with. Their lives were disturbed, a massive change in the pattern of their existences for which the only viable solution was reversal- they needed the Mentor back, as soon as possible. Even so… who was he? And what caused the need for such haste that the context of these three statements could not be explained?

At last, Sinderion tore his gaze from the parchment, unsatisfied but willing to admit to himself that for now, it would be keeping its secrets from him, however much he wished it were otherwise. His vision flickered from one member of his strange little family to the next, taking in expressions, words, body language. He was not as skilled at interpreting such things as Adrienne, but he knew most of them well enough to pick up on a few quirks of habit and idiosyncrasies of action. Dysfunctional was an understatement, but like everything else, the Mentor had managed to make it work. The altmer could only hope that the tenuous bonds of broken souls slowly mending themselves would hold in his absence for long enough to bring back his presence, whatever that meant.

Whatever that took.

Drayk was visibly upset, but he was also proposing what seemed to Sinderion to be a reasonable course of action. Slowly, the elf nodded. Under most circumstances, he would have left it at that; a small declaration of assent- no fanfare, no dramatics. This situation, he thought, deserved something a bit more than the merest agreement.

“I do not understand what has occurred, but I would not wager that it will be as simple as finding him there. If it starts in Markarth, it will likely end elsewhere. All the same, that seems the best thing to do at the moment.” It was not a particularly optimistic thought, but then that wasn’t what he thought most of them needed. Being honest with them about what he thought this would involve would hopefully allow them to do the same with each other, and prepare them all as much as was possible for a longer venture than one to a city in the south.

He did not know how long it would take to find the Mentor, and he could only hope that they would all be there at the end of it, as little worse for wear as possible.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Claren Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Ulysses Character Portrait: Demea Ravenwing Character Portrait: Aria Windfoot Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Cassadin Hawke Character Portrait: Lok-Indra Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: S'Baad Character Portrait: Bellatrix "Bella" Whitewater

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Vanryth Galero
The Mentor’s Manor – Dining Hall




Tap, tap, tap...

An incessant tapping came from the oldest in the room, a scarred Dunmer sitting amongst his compatriots at the table. The quill in his hand drummed the table beside a piece parchment with his scrawling and thoughts. This was how he communicated fine thoughts to his companions now, through ink and paper. The reason was clear when he yawned, revealing an absence of where his tongue should have been. Vanryth quickly covered his mouth to save everyone from the sight of his disability. Once clear of his yawn, he rubbed his beard in quiet contemplation.

Like everyone else in the room, Van tried to think about what could have caused this sudden disappearance. The Mentor was always thoughtful enough to tell someone if he was going to go away for a bit, and he always came back eventually. This did not feel like one of those times where he would make his way back. Something felt... Different. Perhaps it was the note left behind. Hastily written, so unlike the Mentor. Van was much like Drayk in this regard, the Mentor had also taught Van how to read and write, though writing proved to be more useful to him than it did to Van. He wondered what could make the Mentor jot a note down in such haste... The Mentor was always patient and seemed like a careful man. It was a puzzle. And Van hated puzzles.

His hand now had drifted up and leaned on the table, covering up the left side of his face, obscuring the scars and the once crimson- now clouded eye. His vision didn't suffer from the obstruction as the sight was stolen from that eye. A thousand thoughts rushed through his mind, and he was agitated that he could not voice all of them. Though the clear mind that the mentor had instilled in him knew that the thoughts were useless, even if he had a voice. Those around him were the only ones (to his knowledge) who knew much of the Mentor, and even then it was scant. Most of them- Vanryth included- only knew him as the man who had saved them and put them on the right track.

Van sighed heavily and took a drink from the goblet that sat on the other side of his parchment. Alcoholic, no doubt. While the Mentor had succeeded in locking some of Van's demons away, more sprung up from the cracks of Van's psyche. This was one of them, the drink. The taste of it didn't matter- for obvious reasons- only the strength. Though he knew better than to over indulge on this night. The same could not be said on most other nights however. Van ventured a peak out of the window nearest him and was greeted by the sight of the full moon. It was high in the sky- marking it late in the evening or early in the morning. The sight of the moon caused him to shoot a glance at Sinderion before returning to the parchment in front of him.

Drayk was the first to break the silence. Van stopped the rythmic tapping of his quill as he spoke.

"It starts in Markarth. I say we start there. Take the horses and ride out at first light."

It was the next logical step it seemed. The Mentor had left them the note to follow, and it was rare that they went against his wishes. Though, Van couldn't help but wonder at what they would find in Markarth once they arrived.

Next Sinderion spoke.

“I do not understand what has occurred, but I would not wager that it will be as simple as finding him there. If it starts in Markarth, it will likely end elsewhere. All the same, that seems the best thing to do at the moment.”

Vanryth nodded along as he spoke. The boy had a point. Nothing was ever that simple. Though it was the only option they had at that moment, and Van was never the one to just sit around and do nothing. He pushed his hair back and leaned forward over the parchment and set his quill to writing. Vanryth finished his scratching and turned the parchment around and pushed it forward to allow those around him to read his words. The parchment was already full of Van's previous questions and statements- all marked through to allow for easier reading:

Vanryth Galero wrote:Where is the Mentor?

What do you mean gone? Where Oblivion's name did he go?

I'll check around the stables.

He's not here at all then?

Markarth? What's in Markarth? And who the hell is "him"?

I agree, we should heed the note. Too many questions not to. Let us just hope it doesn't lead to more questions. Though what we do when we reach Markarth is beyond me...



Vanryth leaned back with goblet in hand and allowed his misfit family to read his note. Van felt restless, like he needed to get up and get to Markarth that very instant. In his youth, he'd be out the door within minutes and saddled up for the road. With age comes wisdom as they say, and Van knew the wisdom of patience for now. It didn't mean he liked it and his subtle movements bespoke of his restlessness and eagerness.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Claren Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Demea Ravenwing Character Portrait: Aria Windfoot Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Cassadin Hawke Character Portrait: Lok-Indra Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: S'Baad

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Adrienne Jastal
The Mentor’s Manor – Dining Hall


Skyrim. A civil war was tearing the land apart at the seams, and all she could think was that it would scarcely have mattered to her in the slightest, save that right now, she could sympathize, for her world was shattering.

Was it selfish, to think that way? Adrienne supposed it must be, but… maybe, in its own way, that was a good thing. It meant there was some kind of self there to be concerned about, and for the longest time, she had feared that once all the layers of lies and disguises had been peeled away, there would be nothing left at all. But there was. At the very least, there was someone who loved the Mentor and was concerned for the welfare of his other fledglings.

If he stayed gone, how much longer would that remain? She’d rather weather the battlefield a thousand times than find out. Her concerns were the same as the concerns of the others: why would he leave without telling them? Why did that note look almost as if it belonged to someone else? Who was the ‘he’ mentioned, and why would his message to them contain such a cryptic reference? Her first thought was that perhaps this was some other comrade that the Mentor had left to save, but that was never something he carried out without warning them well in advance.

Beneath the table, her hands clenched together, knuckles turning white. Situated as she was between Drayk and Van, she could see all of the others’ faces without trouble. Sinderion was trying to maintain his almost supernatural stoicism, but his lines were tenser than usual. Drayk wasn’t even bothering to hide his apprehension, and she resisted the urge to place a hand on his shoulder. That wouldn’t help anyone right now, after all. What they needed was a solution. Van was cupping one side of his face in his hand, scratching away at the parchment in front of him with dogged persistence. Though he still made her a little more wary than the others, she had volunteered herself to read his written missives to them, on the rationale that it was the nice thing to do, and she had discovered that she liked doing nice things.

“Vanryth says he agrees and we should heed the note, that there are too many questions not to do so. He hopes it won’t only lead to more questions, though, and points out that he doesn’t know what we’re supposed to do when we reach Markarth.” She paused for a moment, and considered the implied question in that. “It seems to me as though there’s no reason we cannot simply ask around first. We all know that our Mentor has something of a reputation in areas of ill repute, for example, and checking with innkeepers never hurts.” There was, in fact, much information to be had this way, and one of her skills happened to be collecting it, but of course this time it would likely require all of them to check the city over thoroughly enough.

Still, he’d never led them astray before. If he said Markarth, there was bound to be something there that they needed to see or hear. Perhaps someone. Ordinarily, the prospect of a puzzle would have lit a peculiar light in Adrienne’s doe-black eyes and placed a small smile on her face, but at the moment, it was all she could do not to weep as her stability was ripped out from under her. All of that foundation, those first tentative steps towards living a worthy life as a worthy person, they had all been built on him. A few supports now leaned on the others: Sinderion, Cassadin, Drayk, Demea even, and all the rest to an extent… but the majority of the burden had been the Mentor’s, and now it was all hers again, long before she was ready for it to be so. The weight was crushing, and she felt her ordinarily perfect posture slackening somewhat, as though it were also physical.

She looked down at her hands in her lap, taking steady breaths despite her turmoil. They’d once handled so many poisons and venomous dealings that she’d thought herself almost toxic. They’d very nearly brought a blade to many throats or wrists, and none had been closer than her own. But the thought of crashing back into that life, into that persona, was still repulsive to her, and that was surely a good thing. She could so this. They all could do this.

Adrienne swore right then and there that she’d do whatever she could to make sure they found the Mentor and remained themselves doing it. It was not an impressive vow, there was no grand proclamation involved, just a silent promise to all of them. I will try. I cannot promise I will succeed, but I will try.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Claren Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Demea Ravenwing Character Portrait: Aria Windfoot Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Cassadin Hawke Character Portrait: Lok-Indra Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero

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Lok-Indra
Mentor's Manor (Dining Hall)

A feeling of angst consumed the air as confusion set in everyone's mind. Fear, panic, resentment, anger, and many other feelings ran rampant throughout the room. Lok peered around the room looking at his companions. His hands began to tremble with terror. He felt the loathing and bewilderment seeping back into his being. He caressed his staff in a calming matter. It was given to him by the mentor and always seemed to calm his mind. As Lok surveyed the room an intense feeling of dread came over him.

As he mulled over the situation a sudden realization came to him. He knew nothing of the mentor. "Who was he, where was he born, what was his past. Everyone else in this room has tattered atrocious pasts brought together by the mentors efforts. Not one of them had any resemblance of a normal life. What kind of person would be contempt living with all these monsters. Maybe he discarded us. It would be the first time any of us had faced abandonment.

All that was left was a cryptic note. "Give him a chance. I believe in him. I believe in you. It starts in Markarth." Lok read the note numerous times. It was only thanks to the mentor that he could read and write the in the languages of men and mer. While he can fully comprehend the language his speech was still a little broken. The room seemed to be filled with everyone agreeing to venture to Markarth to investigate further.

While Lok was reflecting on what action to take he saw Van slide a parchment with a few of his notes scribbled on it. One question in particular peaked Lok's curiosity. "Markarth? What's in Markarth? And who the hell is him?" "Him"... Lok began to wonder who was the person the mentor was referring too as him. Did "him" refer to a new member or a current member of the sellswords. Was this a test for one of the sellswords to lead the rest the way the mentor had. The mentor was getting older, it's possible he realized that his band of misfits would dissolve were he to suddenly pass away. Maybe this was a test to find someone that he could entrust to lead when he is gone. Lok gazed across the room at everyone. He never really trusted any man or mer except for the mentor. The thought of following another filled his mind with anger.

Everyone seemed in agreement with doing whatever it took to find the mentor. But what would it take. Many of them are wanted criminals throughout the land. Only thanks to the mentor's influences are they able to roam freely. Even with his influence there are many places that have not forgave their transgressions. Would they be allowed just to waltz into Markarth. Or would the guards be summoned to stop them at the gate. Lok did not want to throw away all the progress he made with the mentor by slaughtering the innocent, but he did not care if it led to clues regarding the mentors whereabouts. He removed his hood and spoke slowly in his broken tongue... "Mar...karth dan..gero...us pl..ace for me, but me... will go!"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Claren Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Demea Ravenwing Character Portrait: Aria Windfoot Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Cassadin Hawke Character Portrait: Lok-Indra Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: S'Baad

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S'Baad
The Mentor's Manor - Dining Hall


The world rocked for an instant, and S'Baad struggled to maintain his balance, both mentally and physically. The large feline stood furthest from the group, in his usual manner, but this had not excluded him from seeing or hearing the dreadful note and the strange words written on it. The Khajiit's whiskers twitched, and he resisted the urge to begin dry-washing his paws.

"This one wonders if it might not be a trap."

Certainly the idea was a little farfetched, but S'Baad was a thinker, and all the facts had to be considered in this situation. His mind was reeling from this blow, but if the Mentor had taught him one thing, it was to sort through the emotion and find the logic, the purpose. Purpose - the very word struck him a new blow.

"These ones do not know the handwriting," He began again, a thickly-accented rumble, "But these ones know it is not the Mentor's. This one thinks it best to explore this further before rash decisions are made."

S'Baad felt guilty once he finished; he knew the others were just as lost, and he was sure his attempt at voicing reason would be seen as cowardly. Still, he did not think it best to charge headlong into a situation they knew nothing about besides a location and a stranger they were to give a chance. The whole scenario was just too strange...

Still, the instructions supposedly came from the Mentor himself, and, as such, couldn't be ignored. And if he trusted the man they were to find, surely they could too.

Sighing softly, the Khajiit gave up his fight and began to dry-wash his paws, glancing about at each of his gathered companions, minus the recently-fled Demea, whom he hoped could retain that persona; the absence of her at this crucial moment would only serve to exacerbate an already tense situation.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk

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The Sellswords had conferred, and it seemed that only one logical choice lay before them: investigate further in Markarth. They had little to go on, other than the note left for them, and even that was suspicious. Although it seemed unlikely that another would have written it, there had been some debate about the handwriting. Those who had seen the Mentor's before, and those who had even learned to read and write from the Mentor's own hand, questioned the origin. But, lacking any other leads, it was the only path that seemed available.

Of course, there were other potential difficulties to contend with, apart from their search. The Argonian, Lok-Indra, had pointed out an important fact: Skyrim was an unwelcoming place for many of the Sellswords. Some were criminals, their crimes varying in severity. The former fire mage, Drayk, was forbidden from entering the Rift for his crimes there, as part of the deal the Mentor had made in securing his release. It was well known that the Sellswords had troubled pasts, but under the Mentor's guidance, they were most often allowed to conduct their business. Their efforts at redemption had given them some room to work with many of the guard forces of the cities of Skyrim, but without the Mentor at their head, would they be so lenient in allowing criminals into their city?

And how would they fare if things turned against them? If the guards denied them access to the cities? If, as S'Baad suggested, this was all some kind of elaborate trap, designed by someone whom the Sellswords had unknowingly made enemies with? Or if the answers they found simply weren't the ones they expected? Already, with the Mentor's absence, and the tension in the air, some felt the strain, the pull of their vices. As they departed the meeting, most trying to get some amount of fitful sleep before tomorrow's journey, one thing would feel quite clear:

Time was not on their side.




Chapter I
The Shadow Over Markarth




The party set out at first light, as they intended. Each member took a horse from the Mentor's own stables. It was decided that one of the group should remain at the Manor, in the event that the Mentor should return there. Cassadin volunteered, and the other nine rode south, leaving their home behind. The Sellswords were swift travelers, and had been fortunate in receiving clear weather. From Solitude, they traveled down the road through Imperial territory, to the town Dragon Bridge, before crossing the Karth River and following the road south, finally turning west before reaching Rorikstead. From there they entered the region known as the Reach, the westernmost hold in Skyrim, bordering both Hammerfell and High Rock, a beautiful and treacherous land of mountains, cliffs, rushing rivers and breathtaking waterfalls.

The domain of Jarl Igmund had seen a good deal of strife lately, mainly caused by the Breton Forsworn uprising, and their subsequent defeat at the hands of Ulfric Stormcloak. But that was twenty years ago. The Forsworn fled into the mountains, and though they are still regarded as a plague to the city, they have not threatened to retake it since. They would normally be a serious consideration for travelers wishing to enter the Reach, but a talented and well-armed group such as the Sellswords would tend to draw more caution from them.

As such, the Sellswords were able to pass through the mining town of Karthwasten, and penetrate deep into the Reach without drawing the ire of any of the Forsworn tribes in the area. As the sun began to set before them, dipping behind the highlands that surrounded them, the Sellswords had nearly arrived in Markarth...




Dom Drayk
The Reach - Outskirts of Markarth



"Tell me another one?" the young boy asked, sitting in front of Drayk in the saddle. He arched his neck backwards, the top of his head pressed up against Drayk's chest, innocent little eyes peering up at him, seeing him upside down. Drayk raised his eyebrows at the kid, sighing. "Another one, huh? Alright, let me think..."

They had found the boy foraging through some bushes alongside the road, trying to fill a small basket with berries. Drayk had positioned himself at the head of the group, as he liked to do. As the only one with a shield, Drayk thought that was how it should be. He could be the first to receive threats, and those behind him could deal with them. He had warned the Nord boy, who had introduced himself as Orrin, that it was very dangerous to be this far from the city on his own, what with the Forsworn moving through the hills as they were. Soon later, he found himself with the child in his saddle, telling stories in order to pass the time as they closed in on Markarth.

"There was this one night, back in Cyrodiil. What town was it again... oh yeah, Leyawiin. It was raining, total downpour. Always seemed to rain when I was down there. Hated it. Anyway, me and my buddy Liam were passing through town, trying to find somewhere to stay for the night, and get out of the rain. So we manage to get to this--"

"Where were you going?" the boy interrupted. "Uh," Drayk racked his mind for an answer. It was actually a little hard to remember. "Let's see, this was... six years ago, I think, so... well, nowhere really. It doesn't really matter for the story, anyway. As I was saying, Liam and I had found this lodge, so we shambled in soaking wet. The place was packed with people passing through town, and there were no rooms. Innkeeper assured us the others were full to bursting, too. But we see a bunch of guys playing cards around the tables, drinking and having a good time, so Liam says, hey, we've got a roof over our heads and some guys to play cards with. Why don't we try our luck?"

Drayk made sure to do a cautious glance of the surroundings, checking for any sign of trouble. The others weren't very far behind. Chances were some of them could hear his story, too.

"First thing Liam does is challenge the biggest, meanest, scariest looking Orc in the room to a game. He was crazy like that, never had the sense to start small. So the big guy takes him up on his offer, and they set up a table. I ask around a bit, and apparently this guy hasn't been beaten in a year. He's just that good. Thing is, Liam's a cheater. Never seen anyone who could cheat so often, and so well. I never would have known if he hadn't told me, he's that good. I'm watching him play, and I can't see when or where he cheats, but he wins the first game. After the Orc gets over his shock, he's furious. You ever seen a pissed off Orc? Yeah, you don't want to. Only this guy wants to beat Liam fairly, rather than rip his arms off. So he keeps playing, and he keeps losing. Ten times Liam beats him, and no one sees him cheat. The big Orc's ready to quit, but Liam taunts him, trying to get him to go for more. You shoulda' seen that. Little Breton half his size, taunting this Orc who's about ready to reach for his battleaxe."

"Did he play again?" Orrin asked. Drayk nodded. "That he did. Liam had started handing me the gold, because his pockets just couldn't take any more. They play again, only this time, the Orc grabs Liam's hand while it's under the table, and pulls his arm out for everyone to see. He rolls up Liam's sleeve, and everyone sees that he's got this contraption on, looks Dwemer made or something. I know what it is. We found it poking around in a ruin. As far as I know, it's just a bracelet, and I'd seen Liam cheat before he got his hands on that. He said he was planning on selling it once we found a... well, a more friendly merchant. The ones in Leyawiin were mean. Anyway, the Orc's convinced this thing is letting Liam cheat. There's a big crowd by now, and everyone believes him. Crazy Orc goes for his axe. Liam worms away right as he splits the table clean in two. I'm an accomplice, apparently, so a guy next to me grabs me. I punch him, and he tumbles back into this big Nord, like you're going to be pretty soon. He's piss drunk, and swings at the nearest face. Soon we got an all-out brawl on our hands."

"How'd you get away?" he asked. Drayk shrugged. He knew exactly how he'd gotten away, but of course he'd modify the story for the boy... and for himself. "We were pretty slippery back then, Liam and I. We got out in the confusion, with about a tenth of the gold he had actually won. You shoulda' seen it all flying out of his pockets as we ran, like the guy was dripping money. As you can imagine, we didn't think we'd be welcome in town after that, and just moved on."

"Did you ever find out how he cheated?" the boy asked. Drayk shook his head, smiling sadly. "Nope. He never told me, saying 'a master never reveals his secrets' or something like that. We parted company once we got as far north as Cheydinhal. He met up with his family there, and I kept traveling."

With that, Drayk wrapped up the story. The walls of Markarth, built into the side of the rock as they were, were in sight off in the distance. The boy slid from the saddle, saying how his home was just outside the city walls, and that he'd make his way back from here. He thanked Drayk for the ride, and the stories, and then was gone. The ever so familiar feeling of guilt welled up inside Drayk as he watched him go. That story wouldn't have sounded nearly so harmless if he'd told it as it really happened.

There were no harmless stories in Drayk's past. It had taken him far too long to see that.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Aria Windfoot Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: S'Baad

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Dom Drayk
Markarth



Drayk shifted in his saddle when Adrienne returned, but it wasn't the horse that made him uncomfortable. Rather, it was the news that there was someone in the company of the Mentor, apparently one of them. That didn't make any sense to Drayk, seeing as all of the Sellswords were currently searching for him. So unless he'd acquired a new charge, then the man accompanying him was using it perhaps as a cover. Drayk did not know how the Mentor learned of individuals such as himself, people to seek out and turn to good, but he did know that the Mentor was nothing if not deliberate. If there was going to be a new addition to the family, he would have warned them better before seeking him or her out, if only to at least make them aware of the potential issues that could come up. Everyone in the Sellswords had known about Drayk's sensitivity to fire before he'd arrived, and it had allowed everyone to help him break of his habit.

The half-dozen Sellswords led their mounts to the stables, and proceeded on foot. Drayk left his armor in his bags, so as to not appear as though he was expecting a battle or anything. But he wasn't willing to part with Heartwood, his shield, which remained slung across his back.

The guards opened the gate for the group, perhaps slightly grudgingly. The captain who had spoken with Adrienne gave her a nod as she led the way through the gate. Drayk averted his eyes, for the most part, keeping them more or less locked on Adrienne's feet as he walked behind her. Guards didn't have the best effect on him. Never in his life had he seen city guards as men who were meant to protect him, but rather men who were meant to protect him from others. This was due to the fact that a guard had never actually protected him from anything, as he had always been the aggressor in the past.

The sun was setting as the group made their way into the market just inside the gate. Most of the merchants were closing up shop for the day and heading home. The sound of the city's rushing waterfalls could be heard in the distance, further in and closer to the mines for which the city acquired the majority of its wealth. The architecture here was unlike any other city in Skyrim, and perhaps Tamriel, being largely of Dwemer origin. Everything was made of stone, carved into the mountainside. The doors were heavy bronze creations, and the dark golden color decorated many of the building's walls. The dwarves that had built this city had of course disappeared along with the rest of their kind, by means unknown.

Drayk found the city's appearance to his liking. Stone didn't really burn that well, after all. But other than that, he knew little of it, as he'd never come this far west after fleeing Cyrodiil, at least not until the Mentor brought him to Haafingar Hold. Even then, he'd never traveled into the Reach as a Sellsword. It was a marvelous city to look upon, though he got the feeling that, like any city, it wasn't as beautiful to live in as it was to simply behold.

"Might be some loose lips in the tavern," Drayk commented to the others, keeping his voice somewhat low, and doing his best to not meet the stony gazes of the guards around the marketplace. "And I sure wouldn't mind an ale after that ride."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Aria Windfoot Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: S'Baad

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Sinderion Direnni
Markarth


Sinderion was impressed. He for one knew that he would not have been able to talk down the guards as Adrienne had. He supposed it must be easy to forget the young woman’s negotiation skills when she so infrequently spoke. It probably helped that of all of them, the small Breton was perhaps the least intimidating. He was too tall, Vanryth too scarred, S’Baad too… Khajit (a singularly unfortunate truth in Skyrim). Aria’s body language was vaguely wild even now, though she masked it well, and there was something akin to a smolder in Drayk’s eyes still, at least to his perception. There was just something about all of them that wasn’t quite ordinary no matter how they strove to appear otherwise, and he supposed that Adrienne alone was able to disguise it completely.

He swung off his horse at the stables and contemplated his options, eyes drifting over his weapons. It would be better to take all of them in, lest he find himself needing to defend himself or his comrades with only the worst option at hand. He took his blades from their places lashed to his saddle and affixed one to each hip. The bow and quiver weighed comfortably in his back. He was only lightly-armored on the best of days, but left behind his gauntlets and greaves, swapping these out for ordinary boots and gloves. It was as close to ‘nonthreatening’ as he could manage. At least he’d look the part of a hunter more than a soldier.

Trailing after the others, he kept wary eyes trained on the people passing them by. He disliked crowds immensely, and would go to great lengths to avoid touching anyone. At one point, the press of the crowd on a narrow stone walkway was such that he literally had to contort to avoid brushing a woman who wasn’t paying attention to her path. Releasing a controlled breath, he surreptitiously checked on his allies. No problems yet; this was good.

I believe in you. And they’d have to believe in themselves. Sparing the stone-hewn architecture a glance, he mused that it truly was a tragedy that the dwemer were gone from the world, though many of their cultural practices were less-than-favorable.

The group came upon a tavern, then, built less into the stone than the rest of the buildings but still unarguably a part of the cityscape. The Silverblood Inn. Something in that name caused the barest tendril of discomfort to slither down Sinderion’s spine. Scenting the air, he decided that there was not much, if any, silver in the immediate proximity and relaxed, a minor slackening of tense musculature so slight it was almost imperceptible. Only those who knew him best would be able to recognize it.

Drayk was the first to speak, and Sinder nodded his consent. “If we do not make the attempt, we shall never know.” With that, he approached the door and pushed, venturing inside and propping the portal open with his foot for the easy access of the others.

The interior of the place was about what you would expect from such an establishment: dark wooden floors, dingy whitewashed walls, a counter with the inn’s keeper behind it, polishing glasses and metal tankards until they approximated cleanliness. The patrons, too, were the usual fare: mostly travellers, regulars, and the odd bard here and there. Sinder had considered being a bard once; even learned how to play the flute. A thought a long way from today, in a past so distant it was almost hazy now.

There was a fire in the hearth, and Sinder’s eyes found Adrienne first, then darted to Drayk. He was certain she would understand, perceptive as she was, and of all of them, she was perhaps the softest touch. It wasn’t as though he expected Dom to go berserk at the first sign of a flame, but it never hurt to look out for each other. He personally was going to do his utmost to assure that nobody tried to paw at Aria and that Van didn't get too deep into his cups, which were the other most notable trigger-points in a situation like this, assuming nobody attempted to give S’Baad trouble for simply being what he was. Their best behavior was necessary here, and the more precautions he could take, the better.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero

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Adrienne Jastal
Markarth - The Silverblood Inn


Adrienne nodded to the guard-captain as she passed, returning his gesture with genuine politeness. See, not a bad man. Not a man intent only on his own power. You know these things to be true, but it’s time to believe them. It had been incredibly difficult at first, to accept that the Mentor and the other Sellswords had no designs on her life, no plans to use her to some end. In the circles of High Rock she had moved in for most of her life, nobody spoke with you unless they wanted something from you or wanted you dead.

Passing under the stone archway, she could very nearly feel the tension in the group ratchet up several notches, and she smoothed her face into the very picture of unruffled serenity. Dom was trailing just behind her, and she could tell from the shuffling of his movement that he was uncomfortable. She spared a glance back, a reassuring smile, but his eyes were fixed firmly on the ground.

She found herself leading the way though she’d never been here before. This wasn’t so bad; she had a fairly good innate sense of direction, and as she’d learned, the inn was the heart of the average Skyrim hold, even if the keep itself was usually at the literal center of things. So she followed the steady stream of people, consciously telling herself not to stop and gawk at the architecture like a child who'd never seen a stone-hewn edifice before, and eventually they pulled up in front of the right sort of establishment.

She nodded sagely to Drayk’s suggestion, well aware that travellers would be expected to stop in such a place, and murmured a quiet word of thinks to Sinder as he held open the door for the rest of them. He was tense, too, much like his very own bowstring, but crowds tended to do that to him, regardless of the circumstances.

The Silverblood Inn was typical of such establishments, except… there was an undercurrent of something here that made her vaguely uncomfortable. The city, she could almost feel, had its own problems. Maybe it was just the unusually-somber faces on the patrons, or the tone of the bards’ music. It may well be nothing, but she hadn’t learned to read a room to doubt herself now.

She caught Sinder’s silent message and nodded nearly imperceptibly. She hadn’t thought of it immediately, but the meaningful look he shot Drayk made sense now. There were just too many risks here. Trying to deal with two at once, she clasped her fellow mage on the shoulder. “We’ll check out the bar and ask the keep for news, shall we? It would make sense for the four of you to learn what you can from the patrons, I think.” She tilted her head to one side expectantly and shrugged, as if to say that any alternative would be fine with her, but she did make her way to the bar. Keep Dom's back to the hearth, and Van away from the obvious displays of liquor.

“An ale for my friend here, and I’ll take some wine, if you have any.” She told the barkeep, laying out the necessary currency. “I’d also love a it of local news. It’s been too long since we passed this way.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero

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Vanryth Galero
The Reach




Vanryth stabled his as the others did, but kept his weapons on him. There could be trouble lurking even behind the stone walls of Markarth, and he would not be caught unawares. He did however, keep his hood up to try and keep a low profile. He made sure not to make eye contact with they gaurds as they entered the city and once passed the gates he felt a certain relief wash over him. They had managed to get into they city without too much trouble, so there was a stroke of luck. If it kept up, they may find the Mentor yet.

Vanryth looked upon the city in remembrance. Not fond remembrance, mind-- he spent most of his last trip to Markarth in the prison mines beneath the city. Cities tend to frown upon drunken assault and the like. At least he returned with some sort of mental stability. He would also do everything in his power to not return to those mines. He still remembered the painful callouses that mining heavy rock gave him. No... He'd prefer not to revisit a relic of his past.

A certain word from Drayk caught Van's attention. Tavern. Yes, that sounded like the best place to search for clues or information... And a bit of ale. It had been a long trek and a bit of alcohol would surely calm the nerves. He nodded in assent and followed behind his companions to the Silverblood inn. Ah.. The Silverblood. Certainly they wouldn't remember him. He was a younger lad when he was last here, barely a hair on his chin-- not to mention lacking of scars. No, they wouldn't remember him, it was a long time ago... Though Van couldn't help but feel apprehensive about returning.

Upon entrance of the tavern, Sinderion and Adrienne glanced at each other and at Drayk. Van followed their looks to the fire and understood their meaning and shrugged. Surely a hearthfire couldn't revert the man into the destructive force he once was? Still, he had to admit it was better safe than sorry and nodded at Adrienne's suggestion. He placed a hand on Sinderion's shoulder and nodded to a nearby table with a couple patrons. It wasn't like he would be able to ask the them anything anyway, that'd have to be Sinderion's job. Of course, Van would accompany the man on his investigations-- but not before he a mug in his hand.

Van motioned to the other bartender behind the bar, and made a drinking gesture, expressing his wish for an ale. Luckily, the bartender must have gotten a lot of silent types and before long a mug full of mead was on the bar. It wasn't his first choice for a drink, but he couldn't quite express his want of a good old fashioned ale without breaking out the quill and ink. Van picked up the mug and replaced it with a couple of drakes. He returned to Sinderion's side with his lips resting on the rim of the cup, taking small sips of the liquid. He couldn't taste it, but he could still feel it's burn. It was a nice burn too.

Van looked back to Sinderion and shrugged, nodding towards the patrons once more, as if saying, after you.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero

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Dom Drayk
Markarth - The Silver-Blood Inn



In the midst of their small group, Drayk made his way through the great bronze double doors of the Silver-Blood Inn. The interior was much as he expected, although the buildings here in Markarth were quite unlike any he'd seen. So much stone. Everything looked so cold and solid. Even the people appeared somewhat... darkened, by it? He didn't know how to describe it. There was a mood that hung in the air unlike most inns. The drinkers looked more like they wanted to escape something rather than relax with good company. The faces were darker, ever so slightly more downcast. Even the bard couldn't lighten the mood much, though not for lack of trying.

He'd expected the fire in the hearth. What kind of an inn wouldn't have a comfortably blazing flame for the patrons to gather around? The Mentor's manor had had a small hearth, but the others had typically been cautious about it when Drayk was around. At first he had been somewhat annoyed, feeling coddled by the rest of the group, but over time he came to appreciate it as genuine concern for his well-being. The candlelight had been beneath his notice; it was far too small a flame to draw his attention. This fire in the inn, though, was enough. Drayk was certain that of all the people in the room, he was the only one who could truly appreciate the beauty of its dance. Seductive, whispering promises in his ear, a one true lover that would never forsake him, no matter how many times he turned his back--

He tensed for the briefest of moments as he felt Adrienne's touch on his shoulder. Drayk tore his eyes from the fire and met hers. Her touch was soothing, her eyes calming, smothering the sparks that had ignited in his mind. He nodded at her suggestion of heading to the bar. Right, a drink. That's what he'd suggested the place for. And they needed information. He felt somewhat ashamed that the fire had managed to whisper to him just then. Drayk could remember a night, perhaps two months after arriving at the Mentor's manor, when he and the Mentor had stayed up for most of the night, sitting directly in front of the hearth fire. They'd talked endlessly, the Mentor always pulling him back when he started to drift towards the fire. By the end of that night, he had managed to simply speak to the Mentor, sitting around the fire, all thoughts of it driven from his mind. It was there, right in front of him, and yet it had been meaningless. Just a fire.

He knew what Adrienne was doing, putting his back to the flame. It was a precaution. He was just annoyed with himself for needing to take it. "It's alright," he said quietly, "I'm fine." He then managed to deploy a self-confident smirk as they took their seats at the counter. "She'll have to do a lot better than that."

He'd used the term she quite often, and Adrienne would know that he was referring to the flames. It was simply something he had always thought. It also actually helped him to push the flames away if he could relate to their relationship in a more human way. Any relationship could be ended when either party desired. The fire still desired him. He no longer desired her. It was as simple as that.

The barkeep brought an ale forth for Drayk, and wine for Adrienne, as requested, but harrumphed at the request for information. "I just serve the drinks, honey, and I got work to do, so you're going to have to get your--" but he was cut off by an older woman shouting at him as she swept the floor across the room. "Work? You haven't done a day o' work in your life! Unless drinking half our ale is working." The barkeep looked about to shout back at her, but then turned to Adrienne with a forced smile. "My apologies, lass, but you'll have to get your news from someone else. Now, if you'll excuse me..."

He marched off towards the woman sweeping the floor, and they proceeded to have an argument under their breaths that looked like one they'd gone through quite a few times before. Drayk smiled to himself before starting work on the ale. "The lodge in Leyawiin had a couple like that running it, except they were Argonians. They hissed at each other the entire time I was there."


Vanryth and Sinderion had chosen a table with two patrons currently talking over mugs of ale. One looked a local, judging by his casual garb, and the soot on his shirt pointed to the fact that he'd likely spent the day working a smelter. He was smaller than the man he sat next to, a Breton from his features. His companion was clearly a Nord, a big, powerfully built fellow with shoulder length brown hair and a dark red facial tattoo running down his right cheek. He was outfitted in scaled leather armor, identifying him as either a traveler of some sort, or more likely a mercenary.

The Breton greeted the Dunmer and Altmer perhaps surprisingly warmly, given the typical reception outsiders received in Markarth, offering a smile. "It's not every day we see your type in the City of Stone! A pleasure. The name's Omluag, and my friend here is--"

"Vorstag," the mercenary cut in with a much deeper, more commanding voice. He didn't appear as though he was having the best of days. "Is there something you want, elf?" He spoke towards Sinderion. He had no weapons around, at least none that were visible, but his tone was not entirely friendly, to say the least.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni

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Dom Drayk and Adrienne Jastal
Markarth - The Silverblood Inn


Adrienne smiled. “I’m glad to hear you say that,” she replied to Drayk, taking a sip of her wine. It was not of the quality she was accustomed to in High Rock, but then this was as much a boon as a detriment, so she kept herself from flinching and crinkling her nose at the bitter aftertaste.

The exchange between the bartender and the woman (probably his wife, though she wouldn’t dare presume), left her with an amused crinkle at the corners of her eyes, and she simply nodded sagely when the man told her he had no information to give. A quick glance over her shoulder revealed Sinder and Van in conversation with two patrons, so she figured it couldn’t hurt to rest for a bit.

Resting her chin in one delicate hand, Adrienne exhaled softly. “I heard you talking to that little boy Orrin,” she ventured mildly, looking over at her friend through he corner of her eye. “You don’t often speak of Cyrodiil.” It was a gentle observation, but there was the hint of a question underlying it. Adrienne returned her gaze to her glass, swirling the dark red liquid within it. An easy tactic, was poisoning wine, because people were likely to take the subsequent sluggishness for the effects of the wine itself. So easy, to convince a man that he’d just had more than he thought, and she’d be happy to see him upstairs, just to make certain he was all right…

Closing her eyes for a long moment, Adrienne took another swallow.

And you don't often speak of High Rock, Drayk wanted to say, but of course he didn't. While he hadn't really tried before, he suspected that Adrienne wouldn't be comfortable speaking of her past. None of them were comfortable with their pasts, in fact, but lately Drayk had found that speaking of it could, more often than not, help to air things out. Help to remind him of where he'd come from, and where he couldn't return. Adrienne was bringing it up because of the story he'd told to the boy on the way in, he knew. He'd spoken of that occasion because... well, he didn't really know the more common stories by heart, the ones that he'd never had any parents around to tell him. So his own experiences had to do. Perhaps strangely, the regret he felt at the alterations in the story were comforting. So long as he could still understand what he had done wrong, he would be fine.

"Have you ever been?" he asked Adrienne. "It's magnificent. Forests like you wouldn't believe. I'll... have to show you sometime. I bet you'd love it there."

Of course, the only way Drayk would ever be able to return to Cyrodiil was with the Mentor's help, considering his criminal history there. And even then, he had his doubts that the guards would let him through on one man's word that he was changed. He could likely smuggle himself back there, but... no, if he were ever to take Adrienne to Cyrodiil, it would be as a changed man, not the scared boy stuffed in a box that he'd been when he left.

"Hmm... I might just have to hold you to that," Adrienne replied, tone light but eyes serious. "High Rock is..." She closed her eyes for just a moment, trying to imagine the landscape. The magnificent bay, the windswept steppes, the sheer cliffs falling away into the ocean. "Hospitable, but not without unexpected difficulty. Beautiful, but harsh when you aren't paying enough attention. Daggerfall is called that because you have to be careful that one does not end up in your back, I think." The young woman's smile was rueful, and she tucked a stray strand of ash-blond hair behind her ear with her free hand.

"Much better wine, though," she continued, wrinkling her nose slightly. It was something of a joke, but there was definitely truth attached to it.

She wanted to ask about the truth of the matter behind the story Drayk had told, but she was not going to try and manipulate him into it. That would feel incredibly wrong, for a number of reasons. No, if he was ever going to speak of it, she wanted it to be becuase he felt comfortable enough to do so. Perhaps if she had a tale to offer of her own... but all of Adrienne's stories were the same, and none of them rang of a sense of adventure. They were all simply... uncomfortable. She didn't have much faith in her storytelling besides, if she wanted to tell them as herself.

Drayk found himself smiling slightly, more to himself than anything, as Adrienne spoke of High Rock and Daggerfall. Mara, but she was beautiful when she did that, that little nose wrinkling thing, and the thing with the hair and the ear and... he felt like a bit of a moron. "Daggerfall sounds way too complicated for me," he admitted. "It's a lot simpler here. In Skyrim they'll get you with an axe big enough to see from a mile off, and right to the face, too. But hey, at least they're honest about it."

He couldn't actually tell her what life was like among the more refined places in Cyrodiil, as he'd never come close to experiencing them himself. Somehow he imagined that the games they played there weren't nearly so deadly as those of High Rock. Or perhaps even the game they were playing now...

"Looks like Sinder made a friend," he commented, idly gesturing towards the table where Sinderion, Vanryth, and Aria sat, in conversation with a large Nord man. "We should probably go see if they've learned anything."

Adrienne contamplated the relative 'honesty' of a battle-axe to the face, giving the matter what appeared to be serious thought before she disolved into laughter. "Yes, I suppose there is something more straightforward about it, though I'm not sure it would hurt any less." Tipping her glass up, she finished the dregs of the wine and set it down delicately, pushing the vessel back towards the inward side of the bar with her first two fingers. Following Drayk's eyes, she noted the situation with a small piece of wonderment. Sinderion talking to a stranger was just one more reminder of how far beyond the norm their situation was. She wondered if that situation wasn't the beginning of some bawdy joke. An Altmer, a Dunmer, and a Bosmer walk into a bar... she'd heard a fair few jests in this pattern since arriving in Skyrim, but she had the unfortunate feeling that one with that start would only end in racism.

Standing smoothly, the Breton lass nodded amicably. "Let's."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Aria Windfoot Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero

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Vanryth Galero, Aria Windfoot, and Sinderion Direnni
Markarth


Sinderion turned his head to glance askew at Van, and followed the Dunmer’s eye-line to the table he’d indicated. While his comrade motioned for something to drink, Sinder strode over to the table indicated, taking his seat in the manner of Nords everywhere: without so much as a by-your-leave. The bench was hard beneath him and the air smelled of grime, but he was picking up mine-odor from the local man and the smell of steel and blood from the other. Warrior, then, probably, at least circumstantially so.

He seemed less gregarious than his companion, but then Sinderion wasn’t exactly sociable himself. A talkative man, he would never be, and it was only with careful consideration that he spoke at all.

The altmer’s lips parted hesitantly, as though he were hesitant to form them into speech. This was not the problem, exactly; he just possessed no gift for elegant speech or pleasant small talk. His words, when at last the bubbled up from his throat, were plain. “I seek a man. An imperial, of goodly stature, and a manner most uncommonly genteel. He travels in the company of another, and I am told he was here just yesterday. Might you know of him?”

Aria watched as her companions dispersed, standing on her lonesome for a moment or two before treading behind Sinder and Van. She couldn't help but to twitch away from tables where men seemed aplenty, pulling the dark hood of her cloak over her head and pushind her chocolate curls down her back. Keeping her head down, she took a seat near Sinder and listened in to their conversation. One of the men eyed them both, taking a longing gaze at Aria as he spoke. "Maybe I do...Then again, maybe I don't." He looked at the Altmer and the Dunmer before looking back at the Bosmer. "A bit of payment might...refresh my memory." He coughed up a pathetic attempt at a chuckle before taking a deep swig of ale, slamming his mug down on the table causing Aria to jump a bit. "Yer a twitchy li'l nit, aren't cha? Care to take that hood off-" The man reached out in an attempt to brush the hood from her head. She froze in fear and looked to her companions for some sort of help as she tried her best to avoid the grimy hand of the filthy tavern-goer.

Van's own hand intercepted the man's advance. He placed his own mug back to his lips and tilted, taking a swig but never breaking eye contact with the randy man. His single good eye flashed in irritation, signalling that this was not a good idea. Years of scars and a cloudy eye did seem to back that up. Vanryth then shook his head in a firm no and let the man's arm go with a push. Had he been in his younger days, he would have ripped the arm off, burned it to a crisp, and beaten the man with it. He supposed that wisdom really did come with age. Or he had been beaten enough to know better than to stir up any more trouble than was necessary. Still, the man was lucky that Van wasn't drunk yet. Instead of waiting for the man to respond negatively-- by probably throwing a punch-- Van quickly reached for a purse of coins and shook it in front of the man's face.

Sinderion was going to owe him for this. A glance at the altmer confirmed this.

The mercenary, Vorstag, took a deep gulp of ale, looking disinterested as the Dunmer defended his Bosmer companion from Omluag's advances. The worker smiled as he took the coins Vanryth offered him, however, but he had hardly fallen back into his chair when Vorstag reached out a hand, palm up, clearly asking for the coin. Omluag narrowed his eyes at him. "Why? The travelers are looking for information, and I'm letting them buy it."

Vorstag grunted in half amusement, half annoyance. "I know what you know and more, Breton. Now hand me the coins before I tell that Orc you've been pissing yourself over for the past hour how you drunkenly stated your intentions to murder him in his sleep." Omluag's eyes went... more than a little wide, before turning to anger. "You wouldn't..." but the careless look on the mercenary's face said otherwise. "Fine," Omluag said, relenting and dropping the coins into Vorstag's hand, before shoving his way away from the table and walking with a slight stumble from the inn.

His prize in hand, Vorstag turned his attention back to his three elven companions. He smirked at the scene for a moment, the Nord having an ale with a Dunmer, an Altmer, and a Bosmer. "Your Imperials were in this very tavern last night, unless that was a different pair of cloaked travelers. They were the only two in the Silver-Blood last night that weren't regulars, anyhow. They tried to get information from me too, actually. Well, the younger one did, the older man just watched him from the bar."

He shifted in his seat, his leather armor creaking slightly. "They wanted to know where they could find Rylin Moroth, that Dunmer spymaster of the Jarl's. She makes a habit of hiring mercenaries, so it just so happened I've worked for her in the past, but I'd never met her face to face. Real paranoid sort, always holed up in the Understone Keep, surrounded by guards. She's a personal friend of the Jarl's you see, so she gets protection from him, and she provides him with her eyes and ears... and probably more, but that's just rumors, o' course. I told 'em they were crazy, that Moroth would never meet them... but they seemed dead set on it. They thanked me for the help, and then left. Didn't even finish their ale."


Sinderion set his teeth when mine-scent started speaking, because what he was saying had absolutely nothing to do with what the Altmer had to ask. He was, admittedly, very glad that Van intervened before he had to, because Sinder wasn't entirely certain he'd be able to keep his interference only to what was necessary. They'd been told not to cause trouble, but for him at least, that became much more difficult when the locals were playing right into the fears of one of the Sellswords. That his Dunmer friend followed his judicious defense with a timely bribe earned him only a slight nod from the Altmer. Sinder supposed he'd be forced to split the difference at some point, but he was far from concerned about finances of all things at a time like this.

A perceptibly-narrowed glare followed the mine-scent out of the tavern, and part of him was very, very tempted to follow the man out, give him a few minutes to get lost, then track after him...

Shaking his head to clear it, Sinderion refocused on what the mercenary was saying. So, the person with the Mentor was younger than him, but also an Imperial. Apparently looking for the spymaster in the keep. "This other traveller was male also?" he asked, simply because he realized that nobody had never actually confirmed this within his hearing. "Can you tell us anything about appearance, demeanor, armament?" He was aware that the figure had been cloaked, but mercs tended to notice things like that.

"He was shorter than the old man, though not by much. Dark hair, shoulder length, stubbled beard. Neither of them gave their names, but I never asked. They seemed like trouble I didn't need." He took another swig of ale, clapping the now empty mug on the table. "He was very direct, to the point, didn't waste none of my time. Knew who he was looking for, and wanted to know where he could find her. Didn't see no weapons on neither of 'em. Old guy looked like he might of had something under his cloak, but by my estimation the younger one was unarmed. I'd like to think I know a mage when I see one, though... and there was magic in his eyes."

"You say that they were asking to find this...Rylin. Do you know where she is?" She had noted that he mentioned working for the woman, so asumed that he would know where she was. If that's where the Mentor was heading, should they not head there as well? She awaited his answer, keeping her head low and her body leaned away from him and those behind her. If she had it her way, she would have at least three feet clearance from all of the men in here - She saw them all as grimy no-good, womanizers. Except her companions, of course. But that was just her being...Her.

"He said she's usually heavily-guarded and in the keep," Sinderion reminded gently, aware that Aria was probably anxious enough to have missed Vorstag's initial claim to this effect. Turning his focus to the man himself, Sinderion inclined his head respectfully. "Thank you for your assistance. Unless there is anything else you could tell us, we'll leave you to your evening."

Aria blinked softly, taking a moment to recall the conversation, mentally pinching herself for missing the information that had been given. She chided herself for putting her entire focus on being guarded rather than taking in information as well as she should be doing. She placed her hands in her lap silently, hoping to the Gods that the man didn't have anything else to say.

Vorstag patted the purse of coins he'd pocketed. "All in a day's work, elf." As the words left his mouth, Drayk and Adrienne both arrived at the table. Vorstag slapped his hands upon his knees, and then stood. "If you'll excuse me, your company is a little... conspicuous for my tastes. Not that it hasn't been a pleasure, of course, but even a blind mudcrab could see you folk are headed for a fair amount of trouble. I'll kindly steer clear. Enjoy your evening." With that, he took his leave of the inn, tossing the bard a coin on the way out.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Aria Windfoot Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero

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The Sellswords
Markarth



Drayk led the way over to the table that Sinderion, Vanryth, and Aria currently occupied. He paused for a moment to watch the beefy Nord mercenary take his leave of the Silver-Blood Inn before slinking down into the chair formerly occupied by Omluag, landing with a thump. He looked at Sinderion with an amused smile written across his face. Their situation seemed an odd one for him to be cheery in, but any of the Sellswords knew that his commonly high spirits were as much a shield to him as the one slung across his back. He true feelings were likely quite similar to theirs.

"If I didn't know better," he said to the Altmer, "I'd say you were trying to make a friend or two over here. Learn anything interesting?"

"Mm," Sinderion replied, the monosyllabic reply normal but probably inadequate for the situation. "They- or perhaps simply this unknown man with the Mentor- were looking for the Jarl's spymaster. We also have a physical description, though I suspect it will do us little good. Also," he added as a contemplative afterthought, "I owe Vanryth here some coin." He inclined his head to the Dunmer man, but whether or not he was completely serious would have been impossible to pin down. Sinder didn't usually joke, or if he did, nobody noticed.

"Of course, that task woud be no easier for us to achieve then they." There was a definite not of query at the end of the sentence, as though he were uncertain of whether following was the best course of action to take. Still, if not that, then what?

As Sinderion was relaying the information he had bought, Vanryth pulled out the blank book he used to "talk" to the others with. He caught Sinder's comment about owing him some coin, and the dunmer held his glance for a moment before furrowing his brows. The next couple of drinks would be on him, that was a given. He then went found his quill and a small inkwell and set up on the table.

Van chewed the end of the quill as Sinderion spoke before dipping it in the inkwell and wrote something down, before scratching something out and writing again. Finally, he allowed the others to see it.

Vanryth Galero wrote:Rylin Moroth was her name. A personal friend of the Jarl's and surrounded by guards. Fantastic no?

We could bribe the guards to get us to the spymaster. No, not enough gold to go around.



Van then leaned back, put his mug back to his lips and took and finished it off. Now that they had a lead, they had to work out a plan to actually make contact with this lead... He didn't expect this to be easy. Nothing ever was for them. As he racked his brain for answers and solutions, he began his unconscious habit of tapping the paper with his quill, leaving numerous ink drops in the corner of the page. tap, tap, tap.

Adrienne was a half-step behind Drayk as the two approached the table, and she moved herself into the other unoccupied seat, settling across from Van with a small smile. Such little shows of optimism were habit by now, as much for her own benefit as the others’. She was initially silent, trying to think of the problem in the way most available to her: as a political problem.

Certain things were restricted to them, and direct access to the keep was probably one of them. They might be able to arrange an audience with the Jarl, but it was unlikely, if the problems with the Forsworn were as bad here as she remembered from the rumor mill in other parts of the country.

“I don’t suppose there’s a chance of just convincing them to let us in, but… maybe something more like a trade? We don’t have money, but we have what the Mentor has given us. Surely, there is some kind of work in this city that needs doing…?” She glanced at the others, uncertain of whether they had enough time to do something like that. Right now, they were only a day behind, but this could further delay them.

Vanryth Galero wrote:We are Sellswords...


It seemed the most likely solution to Drayk. The guard had been lenient with them in simply granting them access to the city. Access to the Keep was another matter, especially taking into account this spymaster's apparently paranoid ways. And while it would take more time to earn their way to an audience, the chances of any clandestine approach into the Keep succeeding seemed slim to none. They'd end up just thrown in prison, or dead.

"A favor for an audience? I'm down with that. Whatever we do, it should be tonight. The old man knows how to move fast, and we'll be hard pressed to catch him as it is."

The thought that their Mentor was actually evading them crossed his mind. From the sounds of it, he hadn't left against his will, and the message seemingly begged for him to be followed... so what reason would he have for not simply delaying and waiting for them to catch up? It didn't make any sense.


In agreement, the Sellswords moved out, hoping to press on before the night became too old. It had grown dark outside as they wound their way up the paths and stairways towards Understone Keep, the home of Jarl Igmund and his followers. The night was clear, the moon providing light which would perhaps prove necessary. Drayk imagined that their offer of mostly free services would not be wasted by the Jarl, if he was agreeable. He only hoped that their task wouldn't be too time-consuming. They needed to keep on this trail if they were going to catch up.

A pair of guards stood before the great doors into Understone Keep, but perhaps a half-dozen more maintained line of sight with the Sellswords as they approached. Drayk found his eyes darting between them, his hand itching to grasp his shield, just in case these men got the wrong idea.

"Hold there, Sellswords," one of the guards called out, making his way slowly over to them. "Captain gave us orders to deny you access to the Keep. A precaution, I'm sure you understand."

Adrienne allowed her steps to carry her a little further forward as the others stopped, placing herself at the front of the group and flashing a smile at the guards. "We do. We also, however, have need to see someone in the Keep, but I promise that we're aware of our position. We were wondering if perhaps we might convince the Jarl to pass along some task he finds suitable to folk such as ourselves, and earn our entrance on our merits, such as they are." She spread her hands wise out to her sides in a passive enteaty, keeping them well away from her sword and hoping the others were wise enough to do the same, for now.

The guard put his hands on his hips, one of them resting on the blade of the hand axe at his right. "A task, huh?" It obviously made sense to him. It was what the Sellswords did after all, though their usual customers were not of such high standing as a Jarl. The offer also seemed to weigh effectively with the guard. The majority of the things the Sellswords could do for the city were things that the guards would have to do otherwise. Could save them trouble... or lives.

"I imagine the Jarl may find that offer of interest to him. Wait here, I'll speak with him myself." He turned and slipped into the Keep, the great bronze doors clanging shut behind him.


It was perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes before he returned, a wait which Drayk found most uncomfortable. He felt as though the guards were almost pushing him into doing something wrong, trying to find some excuse to justify their suspicion towards them. But when the man returned, the tense air was dispelled, if ever so slightly, as it was now renewed with the new tension of learning their task.

"The Jarl has decided to accept your services, if you're agreeable with the task. He would have you clear the Forsworn from Hag Rock Redoubt, to the south of the city. They've come too close for the Jarl's liking, and he would rather not force the guard to leave the city in order to deal with them. Kill them, and you'll have your entrance to the Keep."

Drayk shrugged, and then nodded towards Adrienne. Forsworn they could deal with. And the redoubt was not far from the city, so they would hopefully be able to make good time. Assaulting the place at night would perhaps be troublesome, but they'd dealt with trouble before. They could handle this.

Sensing no disagreement from the rest, Adrienne dipped her head. "Very well. You have our thanks, and we'll return when it is done."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk

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The moon was high above them as the Sellswords departed for Hag Rock Redoubt to the south of the city. They rode without torchlight. It gave them a better chance of approaching unseen... and also helped keep tensions down for the Imperial in the party. It was something the group had grown accustomed to in their travels, and as such they had become adept at navigating their horses through the dark, and not becoming separated, even if there wasn't much conversation to be had. Tonight was also not a particularly dark night, with the moon shining brightly down into the valleys of the Reach.

Upon nearing Hag Rock Redoubt, the Sellswords would no doubt see another reason why the city guard had wanted it taken care of: it was well-situated, naturally. Similarly to Markarth, the redoubt was built into a corner of the rock wall, leaving only one apparent entrance... right through the front. There was no gate or anything, merely an arch of rock over a wide path leading into it. The path wound in a zig-zag pattern up the cliffside, ending in a sort of plateau area at the top, where the main camp of the Forsworn was situated. Lights from their campfires could be seen from far off in the darkness, but they were concentrated in the upper camp area, and not further down. It didn't appear as though the Forsworn were expecting an attack tonight.

Another route was available to them, however. To the left of the main entrance, on one side of the stone arch crossing over the path, was a tower, or an old ruin of one, that led all the way up to the top, to the camp level, by way of a narrow stone bridge spanning the gap. Judging by the position of the windows, there were three floors to the tower, likely all connected by a single spiraling staircase. The reinforced wooden door at the base did not appear barred, at least not from the outside, but it was possible that this route would not be open to them.

In all it was a relatively large, well fortified group of Forsworn, even if they were not expecting an attack.



Dom Drayk
The Reach - Hag Rock Redoubt



They'd left the horses a ways back, and now proceeded on foot, the redoubt in their sight. Their approach was subtle, however, and unlikely to alert the Forsworn to their presence, at least not until it was too late. From afar, they didn't appear to be particularly on their guard, and for the moment Drayk couldn't spot any sentries along the winding cliff walls. There was a fair amount of light coming from the tower to the left of the entrance, though. Probably just a hearth fire or two, but it indicated that the tower wasn't empty, at the least.

Drayk was glad to be back in what armor he had. Heartwood was in his left hand, the entirety of his left arm covered with steel armor, up to the shoulder. His tactics would be to locate the most dangerous enemy in the group and preoccupy them with his shield, wards, and healing magic, giving the others time to deal with the lesser foes, as well as healing and protecting the others if he was able to.

"Looks like two ways in," Drayk said quietly to the group as they moved forward, "The main road, or the tower. Looks like the tower takes us right to the top. Assuming that door isn't barred from the inside, that is. Otherwise, looks like we'd be stuck going up the winding path. Not sure how much I like the looks of it."

There were several back-and-forths to ascend if they were to take the main path, and if the Forsworn were to attack them before they reached the top, they'd have arrows raining down on them the whole way. The tower would be much tighter quarters, which Drayk actually preferred, though he wasn't sure if the whole group would pick hallways and small rooms over open spaces to fight. It also appeared to be occupied, and crossing that bridge at the top would be no easy task if the Forsworn were allowed to prepare for them. But in all, Drayk preferred the idea of the tight quarters in the tower to having arrows dropped on him all the way up to the top of the redoubt.

"Thoughts?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni

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Sinderion Direnni
The Reach, Hag Rock Redoubt


Sinderion’s usually-bright eyes were nearly black as his pupils dilated to filter in as much light as possible. Increased night-vision was not one of the more visceral perks of his condition, but this hardly mattered when you could smell more acutely than the average hound. The air here was thick with the smell of unwashed bodies, many in close proximity, most likely. He gave the group the signal when he first caught a whiff, and that was where they left their horses. It would be better to proceed as silently as possible from here.

Not everyone was particularly stealth-oriented, but they all did well enough for the purpose at hand. Deep in a crouch, Sinderion placed his feet carefully so as not to needlessly disturb any of the detritus that littered the ground. He noted with distaste that there were old bones strewn in with the refuse of old campfires and waste from the fortress. Not all of the fecal matter he could smell was animal, either.

While knowing what you were dealing with was always an advantage, sometimes, he imagined it must be nice that the unidentified stench in the air was just that: unidentified.

He wondered, looking at the fortress, if these Forsworn were true to form and communed with hagravens. For reasons very old and very personal, Sinder still felt a slow-burning hatred for hagravens, a smoulder in his gut stoked only by the presence of those particularly-foul creatures. Glenmoril witches were the only beings he hated more, and there was no mistaking the association between the two. The Forsworn were similar, but they had not forced werewolves’ blood down his throat and cackled at him as he lost control of his mind and body alike.

The low rumble he emitted from deep in his chest startled him back into the present, and he quickly quashed the memory. He had better control than this; the last thing anyone needed right now was to hear him growling of all things, and he clenched his teeth together, silently drawing his bow and nocking an arrow to the string. For now, he did not draw, just pulled the configuration taut enough that he’d be able to do so at a moment’s notice.

Drayk was speaking, and Sinderion forced himself to focus on the young man’s words. “We have to kill all of them either way,” he reminded, “and we are likely to be outnumbered. Whatever stops them from attacking all at once would be wisest.” He shot a glance at the approaches to the Redoubt and cocked his head to one side. “The side would be better, as long as the door is not barred. I could check beforehand, if you like?” That would be a bit on the risky side, but with his nose and his stealth, he should be able to avoid detection.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Aria Windfoot Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero

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Dom Drayk
Hag Rock Redoubt




"Right," Drayk said, after hearing Sinderion and Adrienne's input. "The tower it is. Not getting shot is always fine by me." With that, the shield-armed Sellsword led the way, the group close behind him. Drayk was no sneak-thief, but he understood the idea. Stay out of sight, move quickly, don't do anything loud and stupid. Simple, really. He was making some noise as he moved, mostly coming from slight adjustments in his armored arm, or his steel toed nordic boots hitting a stone in the road, but it wasn't as though he was shooting fireballs into the air and acting as a signal fire for the Forsworn.

They made quick time to the base of the tower, moving swiftly across open areas, well aware that the moonlight would probably give them away if any of the Forsworn chanced to watch for their approach. Drayk let out a held in breath when his hand touched the rough stone of the old guard tower. No sign of trouble yet. In fact, the door was actually slightly open already, and Drayk couldn't hear anything coming from inside. "Maybe it's Forsworn festival night, or something, and they're all passed out drunk at their camp. That would be nice." He was talking to himself more than anyone, but they would probably hear the comment all the same. Double checking that everyone was still behind him, he head-gestured towards the door. "In we go. Let's keep it quiet, yeah?" He then met Adrienne's eyes. "Stay close to me. I'll take their attacks and draw their attention, you wait for openings, when they make themselves vulnerable, and watch my back."

Drayk was well aware that Adrienne was the least experienced of them in matters of battle, and while Drayk was no old hand himself, he'd grown up with life or death situations, and the Mentor had taken him on a good deal of contracts, enough so that the mage had developed a good grasp of group tactics, and his own strengths and limitations. And, well... he was going to do his damnedest to make sure Adrienne made it through her first real fights in one piece.

Waiting no longer, Drayk gently pushed the wooden door open. He'd hoped it would go quietly, but no, it insisted on playing the song of its people for the world to hear. Fortunately, there wasn't anyone in the base of the tower to hear it. Shrugging, he took a few tentative steps inside. The Forsworn had obviously been living in here. They had redecorated the place thoroughly. Lots of horns, and antlers. They seemed to like those. A little fire burned in the hearth, though it looked like it hadn't been tended to in a while, and was on the brink of dying out. To Drayk, it looked like it was crying as it bled out. He paid it no mind.

Seeing that there was no one here, Drayk gestured towards the stairs that curved around the edge of the tower, spiraling upwards. Shield raised and at the ready, they moved up to the second level. It looked as though there had been something of a struggle here. Tipped over chairs and a smashed table. Drayk was starting to think his theory about drunken Forsworn may have actually been correct. There was no one here, either. The fire below attested to the fact that someone had been here recently, but for all he could see, this tower was completely unoccupied.

Expecting the third time to be the curse, Drayk led the way up to the third floor, but it was the same. A lone torch burned in its holster on the wall, the others out cold, and the few pieces of furniture scattered about like the second floor. The entire tower was empty. Drayk shrugged, before whispering to the group. "Either we're getting really lucky, or something's not right. Let's scout the bridge." He moved slowly to the door that would lead to the bridge. It had seemed precariously narrow from a distance, and for Drayk it was the biggest downside of choosing this route, but things had gone well so far, hadn't they? He placed his right hand tentatively on the door handle, and pulled it slowly open.

The door wasn't halfway open before a two-pronged arrow thudded solidly into his chest, burying itself just under his right collarbone. He yelped and stumbled backwards from the force, the door swinging wide open. He just barely had the sense to throw his shield in front of him, and immediately felt two more thuds as a pair of arrows stuck themselves into Heartwood. From outside, on the other side of the bridge, where the main Forsworn camp was located, came a rather sudden chorus of whooping and shouting. Drayk peeked long enough to see at least twenty of them, brandishing weapons and waiting on the far side of the bridge, with the warrior in the center catching Drayk's eye. A Briarheart, brandishing a war axe in one hand, his other hand glimmering with ice and preparing a spell, a great headdress and set of antlers adorning his head.

Drayk slammed the door back shut, turning around to brace it. "By the... I said not getting shot!" he yelled in frustration, grimacing at the arrow for a mere moment before yanking it out. His right hand exploded for a moment with a white light as his healing aura enveloped him and mended the wound. "The hornheads knew we were coming! It's a damn ambush." Drayk imagined it was good they had chosen the tower, as all those archers would have riddled them with arrows had they taken the other path.

There was a loud bang from below, the sound of a foot kicking a door. Drayk braced a table against the door before going to look. There were a dozen or more Forsworn charging up the stairs to meet them, bone axes and spiked blades in hand. And there was a call that was rather... inhuman, from beyond the bridge. A hagraven, a matriarch to the Forsworn. Well, this had gotten real ugly real fast.

"Incoming from below," Drayk called, readying his shield.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero

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Adrienne Jastal
Hag Rock Redoubt



To be fair, Adrienne didn't know much about how castle infiltrations were supposed to go, so the fact that they had met absolutely no resistance and were already climbing their second staircase didn't really strike her as something to be worried about, or at least it wouldn't have if the tension surrounding her comrades were not so palpable. Keeping her breathing slow and measured, she passed her tongue over her lips nervously, one hand on the hilt of Redemption and the other tingling with the chill of an unreleased ice spell. The climb towards the top of the stairs seemed endless, and when they finally alighted on the landing, she was only able to give the barest nod in return for Drayk's much-needed direction. A plan was something she understood, something solid, no matter how loose it was.

Slowly, slowly, Drayk opened the door, only to recieve an arrow to the chest for his trouble. Adrienne pulled in a sharp breath. It was not the first time she had wished she could use Restoration skills, but she'd never felt the absence so keenly as when it was her friends who would have benefited.

She need not have worried so much, of course, for he was more than capable of healing himself, and though she winced sympathetically when the arrow came out, there was no permanent damage. Given their location, trapped in the stairwell with their backs against a door that might yield at any moment to more enemies, Adrienne bit her lip and sidled up to the wooden portal, attempting to freeze the joints shut, then adding a two-inch-thick coating to the seams beween the door and the wall. It could be burned through by herself or Van if necessary, but she judged it more important to ensure that they were not simultaneously attacked from all sides than to give them access to the outside again. She really, really hoped that wasn't a mistake.

Sure enough, the Forsworn approaching from below did so with great haste, and the breton girl freed her lightweight sword from the scabbard at her waist. Stick behind Drayk and watch his back. Look for openings. I can do that.

The sound of numerous feet pounding up the stairs reached Sinderion's ears at about the same time as the call of the hagraven. Suppressing his equally-inhuman reaction to it with a visible shudder, the elf drew his bow all the way back, firing as soon as the first Forsworn came into range. The tight quarters meant his arrows wouldn't be of use for long, but he intended to capitalize for as long as possible and thin the numbers as much as he could. The shot was good, and buried itself in the neck of one of the lesser Forsworn warriors, dropping him. The obstacle created by his body slowed the incoing forces considerably, but Sinder's next shot went wide by centimeters, clipping the cheek of a Briarheart before hitting the stone wall and snapping violenty.

It was hard to pick out how many there were from scent alone, becuase frankly, they all smelled atrocious. The altmer resisted the urge to cover his nose and mouth to block out the stench- his nose might well be useful later even if it nearly pained him now.

Drayk took up his position at the top of the stairs, aiming to make something of a choke point, to allow the others to take them out while he held the line. Sinder got right to work, but the speed they advanced with meant that they were soon on them, wailing like so many fanatics and looking to split heads open with their bone axes. They were all armed with melee weapons, having prepared for the close quarters. The first to reach the top of the stairs looked to leap over the one-man shield wall that Drayk had created, but he caught him in mid jump, slamming the wind out of him and dumping him off to the side, where he landed awkwardly on his head. Adrienne would have to deliver the killing blow to him, though, as the next made his attempt.

His bone axe came down with a solid thwack, clanging off the wood of Drayk's shield. He deflected the blow to the side, before giving the Forsworn warrior a kick to the chest, sending him back into two of his fellows, one of which was the Briarheart, armed with twin swords. The group of enemies was stalled for a moment, and clustered, too. "Someone blast them before they crawl back up here!" Drayk shouted.

He didn't have to ask twice. At the call, Van was there over his shoulder. His left hand suddenly erupted in a symphony of static pops and crackles, accompanying the white electricity that danced across his fingertips dangerously. In his other hand, the steel longsword stood at the ready. A spark flickered across Van's eyes, though whether it was the reflection of the electricity in his hand or something more sinister remained to be seen. Either way, he pointed his hand of death down the staircase and let loose a steady stream of lightning, striking foes and bouncing off one another. If one would peel their eyes away from the spectacle, they would find a murderous grin plastered to his lips

His stream kept up until he was drained of his magicka at which the sparks flickered out, as did the grin on Van's face. The result was a number of charred bodies blocking the path of the Forsworn who did not suffer the lightning as bad. With his magicka now drained, Van drew his shortsword in his lef thand and pushed in front of Drayk. The man's healing prowess would do better if he had someone to heal. Besides, if Van was beginning to get overwhelmed all he had to do was shift back behind Drayk and allow his shield to take the blows. With some semblance of a plan in Van's mind, he shouted a wordless challenge and banged his weapons together. He may have been older, but he never forgot the thrill of battle.

A rather impressive full-man block from Drayk dumped a Forsworn quite literally at her feet. Adrienne blinked, a trifle surprised, but did what she'd been trained to do and plunged her slender blade into his exposed neck. Quick, clean, simple. That was how the Mentor preferred it, and though she had on a few occasions enjoyed it a litte too much, she had no love of prolonged conflict. There was more than one Forsworn to be dealt with though, and the numbers were definitely not to the Sellswords' advantage. Time to even the field a bit, I think.

Closing her free fist, Adrienne banished the ice spell and drew up another, this one in the Conjuration school. The bound battleaxe appeared in the mortal plane fresh from Oblivion, flying end-over-end and embedding itself in the nearest enemy body, a woman with a sword and shield. The small Sellsword wasn't done there, however, and swapped techniques yet again, calling up a much more powerful magic from behind the safety of her companion's shield. Come on, here we go... Atronachs still required an intense kind of focus, this ice one moreso than a flame would have. Slowing the enemy down would be a nice compliment to the world of mana-draining hurt that Van was putting on the rebel Bretons right now, though. Adrienne closed her eyes focusing on nothing but summoning the chill construct. As silly as it might have sounded, thinking of cold things really did help, and it wasn't long before gooseflesh erupted along her arms and legs. An exhale took with it a puff of steam, and at last the creature resolved into existence, charging forward to engage the line immediately. The briarheart found one of his swords frozen to the ground when the first spell the atronach hurled missed his hand by a few inches.

Adrienne let her eyes snap open, directing the atronach's progress mentally while keeping tabs on the bound battleaxe as well. She wasn't much to write home about at great range, but these spells were her way of making up for that.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Aria Windfoot Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero

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Sinderion Direnni
Hag Rock Redoubt


The press of the Forsworn was growing greater, but Sinderion could not help the feeling that they would soon be coming in through that door as well, one way or another. Slinging his bow back over his shoulder, he drew his mismatched blades and leapt lightly into the fray in the wake of Adrienne's atronach. Trusting that and her bound battleaxe the take care of his back, he went about relieving the pressure on their sole defender as best he could. If he had his guess- and it seemed he did- Van would be quick to join him here. Nodding to the dunmer, the altmer indicated that he would go left.

Following the path of the fel axe, Sinder moved quickly and quietly, his longer sword finding purchase in the troublesome Briarheart's side. Sensing movement behind him, he spun his dagger so that it was in a reverse grip and plunged it backward. The give of furs followed by flesh informed him that he'd hit his target, but the pain that bloomed over his upper back indicated that she was not yet dead, and in possession of a rather heavy mace. Pulling both blades loose, Sinder pivoted lightly on the stair, distracting with a bit of showy dagger-work before his sword thrust up and back, entering beneath the woman's chin and severing her spinal cord.

He straightened with a wince. His shoulderblades were not broken, but the mace had dug several furrows into his light armor and then his skin. It was nothing he couldn't cope with, but he'd have to avoid repeat hits to the area until either he or preferably Drayk could see to it. At least the numbers were thinning on this side; between himself, Van, and Adrienne's conjurations, they's hopefully be dead before anyone could figure a way in through that iced-over door.

A look towards Sinder revealed that the two had similiar ideas in mind. While Van had issued his challenge, Sinder went ahead and threw himself into the thick of battle. Lagging behind, but pressing forward nonetheless, the dunmer took the right. Due to his belated advance, a couple of Forsworn found themselves trapped between Vanryth and Sinderion. He would have to rectify that for them.

He came down hard and heavy with the longsword, biting into the stout wood of an axe instead of the soft flesh of a Forsworn. Van grunted and struck with his shortsword, which was promptly blocked by the flat of the axe blade. Now thoroughly irritated, Van grunted and shoved with both blades, looking to put distance between him and the Forsworn, but the warrior wasn't having it. He shifted his axe out to the side, sending Van stumbling forward. Too close to be effective, the Forsworn followed up with next best thing. He jerked his axe back and the wood struck Van in the jaw.

He saw a sudden light, then a blur, before ending in a haze of red. The strike hurt, and he could taste the blood on the inside of his cheek. Van growled-- signalling that the Forsworn had invoked the troubled dunmer's wrath. Van's longsword reared back and the pommel slammed into the bridge of the foe's nose. That was it. The blow carried the Forsworn down a couple of stairs, giving Van the room to strike. His shortsword bit deep into his chest, and Van grinned. It felt good to kill again.

His companions having utilized their skills effectively, the pressure was taken off Drayk. Adrienne's frost atronach was wreaking havoc among the Forsworn on the level below, and Vanryth's magic was taking its toll, as well as Sinderion's impressive close quarters capabilities. Van looked about to join the fray. Drayk checked that the Forsworn he had dumped to the side was dead, before preparing to move in behind the two elves that had thrown themselves into the fight. He'd be able to effectively guard their blind sides, and heal them whenever necessary.

Drayk didn't get the chance, however, as the ice-secured door behind them exploded, along with a good part of the wall around it, sending chunks of ice and stone flying about the room. The ground shook slightly as another frost atronach entered the fray, this one not nearly so friendly towards the Sellswords. It was a good two feet bigger than Adrienne's, one of its arms molded into the shape of a massive club, the other a pointed spear of sorts. Shards of ice swirled around it in a miniature storm, and a light blue light seemed to glow within its chest.

It turned to attack the nearest enemy it could find, which happened to be Adrienne and Drayk. Springing into action, Drayk pushed Adrienne behind him just as the atronach stabbed out with its spear arm, the point of the arm shattering on Drayk's shield, blunting it somewhat. The ice storm surrounding it slashed at him, against which his shield was no defense, and he could quickly feel multiple stinging cuts opening up. It then smash horizontally at him with its club arm, this attack having much more brute force than the stab. The strength of the atronach's arm took Drayk off his feet and send him skidding across the floor to the other side of the room. He scrambled to his feet, getting his shield back into its place just in time to catch another arrow from the archers across the bridge, who had a window to fire through once again. Their warriors were not yet coming across the bridge, however, apparantly still wishing to pin them in, and whittle away at them with magic and arrows. Drayk had to admit, it was working, even if they'd suffered losses at the hands of Sinderion's arrows and blades, and Vanryth and Adrienne's magic.

"Van, light this thing up!" Drayk shouted. They needed to deal with this quickly, and fire was the best way to do that. He knew what he was asking, and how much this would bother him. A few years ago, he would have simply ignited the thing himself, but not anymore. He couldn't turn back to that.

A call from above revealed a frost atronach and Drayk yelling to light it. Van took his hand off of the blade still enbedded in the chest of the Forsworn and then ignited in a firebolt spell. A half a second's charge and he pushed his hand forward sending the ball of fire directly towards the atronach. Being thorough, Van lit up with another before he felt his magicka drained once more.

When the opposing Frost Atronach crashed through the iced-over door, Adrienne's eyes went wide, and she scrambled backwards, aided by Drayk's move to position himself in front of her. The intitial intrusion had sent her to the ground, perilously close to falling on her own sword, and the situation only seemed to grow worse by the minute. Time, time, they needed more time! There were still foes below, and with Van diverted to throw fire at the atronach, Sinder was the only one dealing with them. Drayk appeared to be attepmting to cover both the enemy atronach and the door, which was probably splitting him too many ways.

Thinking fast, Adrienne directed her own atronach to stand in the doorway, effectively making a large ice-shield against arrows and the like for the moment. The poor thing probably wouldn't last too long, though, and she couldn't cout on it to be enough. Her bound battleaxe was finally returned to Oblivion as well, but on the plus side, her magicka had had some time to recover, bolstered by the enchantment on her robes. What they needed right now were some large-area measures, something that would give Sinder a fair chance against what was below and Drayk and Van a shot at what was above.

Biting her lip, she decided now was as good a time as any to give something new a shot. Moving away from the pitched fight against the Atronach, she tried to gauge the distance from herself to each of her friends. Satisfied that it would probaly encompass all of them, Adrienne sheathed her sword. This would need both hands. Ihaling as steadily as she could, she called upon the spell the Mentor had been teaching her when he disappeared. Please let it work this time... The spell, named Call to Arms, was perhaps the single most difficult one in her repertoire, but if it worked, it would be worth the magicka drain.

Painstakingly slowly, the blue-white magic gathed, first at the girl's feet and then spiralling outwards, hopefully far enough to reach the others, scatterd as they were. If it hit them or not, she could not say, but she immediately elt the haracteristic surge of adrenaline under her skin that meant it had hit her successfully. Setting her jaw stubbornly, she drew her sword again and approached the artonach, fully intent on helping Drayk distract it until Van could summon another firebolt or something of a similar nature. She'd once had fire spells herself, but hadn't tried using them in years. With a quick shuffle forward, she struck at the Atronach's side, chipping away a piece of ice but otherwise apparently not affecting it much at all. As long as she could stay away from its massive arms, it didn't really matter.

And still there were more. With the majority of the group now trying to deal with the massive magical construct on the top floor, Sinderion was left to do what he could amongst the Forsworn in the lower sections of the tower. 'Lower' here being not by much, as he was still on the first decending staricase and not likely to make it further by himself. Still, the stairs wound a bit, and he kept himself around the closest thing to a blind corner he could, taking advantage of his superior hearing and ability to keep concealed, alowing the Forsworn to come to him and be surprised by whatever attack he would launch. It was no advantageous choke-point, but it would do.

Since Van had helped him clear the first group, he waited on the second wave, a few seconds of restorative magic reducing the wounds in his back to dully-throbbing bruises. He knew only enough of healing to keep himself from dying, really; he was not the kind who could make large wounds disappear as though they were never there.

The pinderous thudding of armored footfalls alerted him to incoming enemies, and he cut off the spell, drawing his long knife and crouching, at the ready. The first man to come around the curve was incrdibly unlucky, Sinder's blade traced in crimon across his throat before he could even notice the Altmer's presence. The fact that their ally's body fell into them did alter the other four, though, and Sinder wasted no time, moving while they were still tripping over it. The first person to get clear was a slight woman with a flame spell in one hand and a short dagger in the other. Pressing forward to prevent her from getting the appropriate distance, Sinderion placed his knife between his teeth and caught her spell-hand, wrenching it upwards even as the gout of fire started up. Her dagger-hand was the next to move, and he earned himself a cut to the abdomen in the time it took to bury his sword in hers. Deftly, he twisted them both so that her sputtering spell caught one of the other Forsworn before it- and she- died.

This body, too, was thrown as a means of delay, but the third was ready for it, jumping over the corpse and landing lightly on his feet. Sinder met his incoming swing with the steel of his bloody sword, taking hold of his second blade again with his free hand. His attempted stab met a solid metal shield and skittered sideways, twisting his wrist and bruising his knuckles on the unyielding surface. With a frustrated exhale, Sinder broke the stalemate of blades and danced to the side. When his back hit the wall of the stairwell, he braced himself and kicked out with both feet, again catching the man's shield, but this time with enough force to cause a stagger.

Just in time, for the last Forsworn had freed himself of the entanglements of dead limbs and swung his axe. Sinderion backpedaled frantically, tripping over the stair behind him, which ironically saved him, the ae whistling by just past the tip of his nose. He hit the stairs hard, knocking the wind out of him, but forced himself to roll, again lashing out at shield-man with his feet, hoping to trip him as well. Someone with that much armor would stay down a lot longer than Sinder did, and he'd be falling down the stairs, besides. Adrienne's spell hit just then, and he could have praised the Eight for the girl's timing.

Still, the one with the axe was proving difficult. Gritting his teeth, Sinder caught sight of one of his allies out of the corner of his eye. "Aria!" He called sharply. "Shoot the one with the axe!" If you don't, I might not have an arm in a few seconds. The thought, like just about everything else about him, was suffused with an almost unnatural calm, but that didn't mean he wanted to part with his limb.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Aria Windfoot Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero

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Dom Drayk
Hag Rock Redoubt




The Sellswords had managed to deal with the last of the Forsworn warriors coming up from below, but there was still the matter of the enemy frost atronach to deal with, as well of the leaders of this particular band of Forsworn located across the bridge. For the moment, Adrienne's frost atronach was blocking the entrance, but it clearly wasn't going to be able to hold up much longer, as the archers across the bridge were pounding it with arrows.

The atronach clearly wanted to get at Vanryth, the source of the flames which were bothering it far moreso than the others, but Drayk quickly positioned himself in front of it, just as he felt the effects of Adrienne's spell. If nothing else, it would let him stand up to it longer. Van's fire had done a good deal to dampen the storm of ice surrounding the atronach, but unfortunately, the flames were doing just as much to mess with Drayk's head as they were to harm the atronach. It bellowed a sound from its core that was reminiscent of pain or anguish, or perhaps frustration, the light in its chest pulsing rather violently. The flames enveloping it danced over its body, and whatever positive effect Adrienne was having was wiped out and then some by his proximity to the burning atronach.

He felt sluggish, almost dizzy, even. Maybe his eyes were watering. Or maybe the atronach was melting, he couldn't tell. As if in a dream, he barely managed to get his guard up in time as the atronach slammed down on him with its club fist, sending him reeling from the shock of the blow. He was vaguely aware of Adrienne shuffling forward to strike at its side. In seeming annoyance, it retaliated with a stab of its blunted spear arm, before returning its focus forward.

At that instant, a second explosion rocked the doorway, though this time it was of fire, and not frost. Adrienne's frost atronach shattered entirely as a fireball exploded violently in front of it, and the pleased shriek of the hagraven beyond the bridge identified its source. Arrows began to flit through the air again, smacking against the far wall as they sailed through the room on the third floor. The fiery blast had distracted Drayk more than enough for the atronach to get in a clean blow to the body, smashing him sideways with the club fist. There was a sound crack of ribs as the shield armed mage was hurled back into the wall against the stairs. His head rather forcefully hit the wall before he toppled to the ground and tumbled about halfway down the stairs, coming to a stop face down, and not initially showing any signs of movement. The shield wall out of its way, the atronach made a beeline towards Van, looking to pulverize the fire-caster before it was inevitably destroyed.

The club-arm of the atronach came flying for her, and Adreinne was forced to duck back, dancing out of range with practiced, but perhaps overy-hasty movements. Attributable perhaps to her nervousness, one of her feet caught the other, and she stumbled even as her own atronach blew apart in a violent explosion of flame and shards of ice. One of the latter whizzed right by her face, catching skin and giving her cheekbone a ragged cut. She winced when the warm sensation of her own blood trickling down her face hit her, but this was nothing compared to what she'd have to deal with if-

"No!" She saw the atronach's next attack coming far too late, and watched with horror-stricken features as Drayk was thrown backwards, colliding hard with the wall and stairs, and she knew also that there wasn't another restoration specialist among them. What was more, the Oblivion-summoned construct did not seem inclined to stop there, and she scrambled back to her feet even as it summarily ignored her existence and made right for Van. It was at this point that Adrienne realized she had a decision to make: leave her friend to come around on his own and try to aid in the ongoing struggle against the ice-monster (with no magicka left and naught but a lightweight sword to her name), or see if there was something she could do to get Drayk back on his feet (with absolutely no skill in healing magic whatsoever).

It was far from the most pleasant of decisions, but at least it was easy. Wiping the thin lines of blood from below her cut with the back of a hand, she probably only succeeded in smearing it everywhere, but at least the distracting feeling was gone. Trusting in Sinder and Aria to be more use against the atronach than she would be, she hurried down the stairs, gingerly but rapidly picking her way around the various corpses that lined the walkway. Corpses... no. It was best not to think that way at present.

Sheathing her blade, the girl dug around in her pockets until she produced what she was looking for: a small glass bottle with a cherry-red liquid inside. She never thought she'd be thanking the nine for her alchemical talents, not when they had always been so inferior to the abilities she'd wanted, but right about now, anything would do. Pulling the cork atop the bottle out with her teeth, she dropped into a kneel beside Drayk and tried to turn him over with one hand. It wasn't working too well, so she set the bottle down on the stair above her and tried again. "Okay, come on Drayk, help me out here. Please be conscious, please be conscious..." Of course, the chances of that weren't terribly good, and what she really meant was please be alive.

Aria's shot was as precise as he'd come to expect, and Sinder rolled to his feet, aware that with that, the last of the flanking party was taken care of. That still left the majority of the enemy force, however, and-

The shattering of Adrienne's atronach was punctuated with the wild call of a hagraven, and Sinderion's entire frame stiffened, save his hands, which clenched uncomfortably into fists, the trail of his steel-hard claws leaving shallow furrows in the stone stairs. Wait... what? The altmer looked with disbelief at his hands, which had indeed sprouted too-familiar claws, and his panic was the only thing that broke the tide of rage fermenting slowly under his skin. As quickly as they had come, the razor-sharp protrusions retracted, leaving him at once trembling with both fear and a nameless, animal anger. How could he lose his grip that easily? It was but one hagraven, and he was better than this.

This particular realization was not quite enough to quell the snarl that ripped from his throat when Drayk went soaring over his head, and his hesitence, his weakness, might as well have caused his friend's injury. Surging to his feet, Sinder tightened his grip on both his weapons and launched himself at the atronach blocking his way to that damned hagraven. This needed to end, and as soon as possible. He wasn't sure how much longer his body- and more importantly, his mind- would be his, but he really didn't want to find out.

It was with the fervor of a desperate man, then, that he hacked away at the ice atronach, heedless of the damage he was doing to his blades, all too consumed in the satisfying crunch of landing a solid hit, in the shattering sound the largest chunks of ice made when they fell to the stone beneath his feet. He didn't notice it when his irises changed color, deepening from a bright blue to fully black, though he did register dimly the correspoding shift in his sight, sharpened as it grew. Perhaps it was for the best that he didn't think to connect the boon with its implications.

If he could speak, a slew of curses would fly out of Van's mouth. Alas, all that he could muster was a disapproving grunt. Drayk was sent flying by the enemy atronach as their friendly atronach was blown to bits by a Hagraven's fireball. The sudden appearance of all the fire probably had something to do with Drayk's recent carelessness. Beside him, Sinder pounced like a wolf on his prey, the offending frost atronach. Again, perhaps his sudden ferocity had something to do with the Hagraven outside. A shame how such a simple job could throw them all in such turmoil.

Alas, Van wasn't immune to his vices either, and he felt his rage building. A familiar feeling that always receded when he was either detained or had blood on his hands. Luckily, a frost atronach wouldn't bleed. He left his shortsword in the Forsworn to be collected later and followed behind the steps of Sinder, assualting the atronach in tandem. As he approached, he let a gout of fire burn at the icy exterior.

The fire melted the ice and weakened the intergrety enough so that when Van struck with his blade, it pierced deep within the icy beast. Leaving it for a moment, Van drew upon his magicka with both hands and let out a combined spray of fire, and used the metal blade as a focus to heat up the interior of the creature. He summoned every bit of magickal fire he could and held up the torrent until every ounce of magicka drained his body. But he still wasn't done. Rage guiding his hand he grasped the red hot hilt of his blade and pushed. The ice of the frost atronach gave no resistance to the heated blade cut the creature in twain.

For his efforts he recieved a brand on his hand and the pain only enraged him further. He turned, picked up a forsworn sword and looked to find his next corpse.

The first thing that came back to Drayk was the smell. Magical fire had always had a uniquely beautiful aroma for him, although in recent years it had taken on a more acrid stench as he had trained himself to be repulsed by it. It filled his nostrils now, the scent making his body tense subconsciously. Everything else was swirling darkness and intense agony, suffocating him when he tried to draw breath. The feelings of his body returned to him, and with it the excruciating pain in his chest, and the throbbing in his head.

There was a touch, and then a shove, trying to push him somewhere. His free hand pushed against the ground slightly to help the presence, and he felt himself eventually tipped over onto his back, a dozen swords stabbing through his chest with the simple movement, a heavy, pained groan escaping his lips. He lay there in darkness and pain for a moment, until a liquid dripped into his mouth, and everything came rushing back, an explosion in his mind setting fire to his body.

The fight, the battle, the Forsworn. The atronach, the fire. It had worn down his defense quicker than any blade could have. The fire. The fire. It had called to him, even before Vanryth had ignited the frost atronach. He had felt the desire the second he'd seen that thing, with the knowledge that he could have obliterated it with the power he had once commanded. Power that was still there, if he only had the will to call her back. He could chain her this time, bind her to his will. Force her to submit to him, and not allow himself to be tossed about on her whims any longer. It had been so long since...

No. He rejected the idea, disgust filling his core. He knew where that led. To the deaths of everyone close to him, to the destruction of any kind of stability he'd managed to build in his life. He'd obliterate this frost atronach and these Forsworn with his shield if he had to, with his bare hands. Not with fire. His eyes shot open, only the ceiling above him filling his vision. There was a presence nearby, one that he initially treated as a threat, his gauntleted right hand closing into a fist. When he turned his head, he saw Adrienne there beside him, and his prepared attack immediately dissipated, his hand relaxing. He took a glance around from the ground. The Forsworn were dead, at least in here, as was the atronach.

He coughed rather violently then, spitting a rather large amount of blood to the side, before letting his head fall back to the ground, and exhaling deeply, grimacing at what was obviously a large amount of pain. He managed to gather the energy for a minor healing spell, and the pain in his chest lessened slightly. This fight was certainly going to leave a few marks on him.

"Remind me to dodge next time," he said weakly, something of a grin forming on his face.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Aria Windfoot Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero

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Adrienne Jastal
Hag Rock Redoubt


Adrienne managed a shaky smile, still a little wobbly from the full-blown panic that had been about to set in when she hadn't quite been able to move him. Really, her strength was far too lacking for this sort of thing, but there was no time to lament it now. "You should definitely do that," she agreed breathily. "I'm not much of a healer, and the nine know we need you." Stowing the empty flask back in her pouch, she rose slowly to her feet and offered him a hand up. Once they were both standing again, she was at last able to take stock of the situation.

The Forsworn seemed content to just lob projectile attacks at them, and Adrienne frowned. It wasn't going to kill the quickly, but it would do just as well as anything else if they didn't figure out what to do soon. "Okay," she said slowly, looking around at the other four. "We need to-" she stopped short when she got a look at Sinderion, her breath catching in her throat when she realized what was wrong. His eyes were the wrong color. She'd always been just a tad envious of the bright blue he'd somehow managed to inherit, but they were no such color at the moment. Shaking herself, she decided not to ask right at the moment. Maybe it was just the residual effect of some spell... that she'd never heard of. She could only hope that it wasn't what she thought it was.

Swallowing, she continued. "We, er... we should heal, and probably not just sit here and wait for them to kill us. I have magicka restoration potions if anyone needs them." This was mostly directed at Drayk, who'd be doing the majority of the healing. She and Van would recover their magicka with time and likely not too much of it. Hers was already half-restored, due in large part to her enchanted garments. Other than this, though, she had no plan, and hoped that someone else would know how to best approach what was sure to be a painful situation.

Drayk was somewhat wobbly when Adrienne helped him, temporarily using the wall to support himself, before settling himself and focusing. A light grew from his right hand, building energy momentarily, before he released it upon himself, a powerful healing spell that caused him to visibly swell as he exhaled a sigh, feeling much more like his normal self, albeit rather tired. He accepted one of Adrienne's restoration potions to get some spellpower back, before setting about quickly fixing everyone injuries enough for them to press on. He didn't much like the idea of sitting around and waiting for the Forsworn to come up with another idea.

They had successfully trapped the Sellswords, but hadn't had the manpower to wipe them out once they had them in their grasp. That they weren't still throwing themselves into them implied that they didn't have the numbers anymore, and needed to fight more defensively, cautiously. Drayk adjusted the steel gauntlet on his right hand. Why not take the fight to them? All they had to do was make it across that bridge, and then Van, Aria and Sinder could carve through them. They were bow-armed, lightly armored, not prepared to withstand close combat of the likes those three could bring upon them. Sinder looked to be troubled, evidenced by his currently dark eyes, but Drayk didn't see that they had a choice. The sooner they dealt with these Forsworn, the sooner they could all collect themselves, and shrug this awful night off.

"Right. I say we take it to them. They're archers, a mage Briarheart, and a hagraven. They'll crumble if we hit them hard and fast. I can lead the way across that bridge, if you guys stay close behind me. I've got two shields, after all." In his right hand he prepared a steadfast ward, that would absorb magical attacks thrown at him.

The frost atronach had fallen, mostly due to Vanryth's concentrated fire, and Sinderion had the presence of mind to both stop attacking living things and not charge out into the open like a half-sane beast. That didn't mean that he was entirely himself, however, and he fought to stem the still-swelling tide of his anger. He could smell the hagraven now, and the wolf in his soul was not pleased about that. It had a different sort of memory than he did, one without much sense of time. Wounds dealt long ago produced grudges fresh as those dealt today, and there was certainly no reason, as far as the wolf was concerned, to let go of any of them, nor to delay in the bloody retribution they deserved. Timing was of far less concern than vindication, than vengeance, and it threatened to make him a monster.

He did not miss the way Adrienne's hitched upon glancing his way, and he realized with renewed disgust that some part of him must be changed already. The last thing he wanted was to scare her. She had a soul a little more fragile than the others, even if there was surprising steel in her demeanor also. Whatever combination it was, it tended to invoke his more protective, fraternal instaincts, and he hated himself just a little bit more for troubling her. Still, it was something he could not address right now, not while there was still a job to be done, and he roused his powers of speech to answer Drayk.

"As solid a plan as any. I will follow directly behind. Van should be in the first three as well, and Aria and Adrienne behind." It had nothing to do with the genders involved, though it might have sounded that way. It was simply that he and Van preferred to fight up-close, Drayk absorbed damage like a sponge, and the other two used arrows and magic from greater distances when possible.

As if to prove Sinder's point, Vanryth ignited an ice spell in his burned right hand (it aided the pain he felt in it) and spun the Forsworn blade in his left menacingly. Much like Sinder, Vanryth was digging back into the monster he once was, but a wiser, older mind held his reins. He was itching to get back in the fight, he wanted to spill more blood, that was true. He wouldn't be satisfied unless all of these wretched fetchers were dead. His mindset was perfectly mirrored in his body language. His shoulders were tense, arms stiff, and he bounced slightly on the balls of his feet. The brand on his hand merely ignited more of Van's long buried rage and he was barely holding it in. Had he been any younger, none of his companions would have been able to hold him back as he wrecked over that bridge. As it stood, some of the mentor's teachings stuck and he realized that working with his partners he and his companions might be able to maybe survive this. Still didn't mean he didn't look like a beast about to unleash hell on the first unfortunate soul he came across.

Another ice spike hurtling through the room to smash and shatter on the far wall reminded Drayk that they needed to act now, before the Forsworn came up with any clever ideas. "On me, then. Let's get this over with." They formed up on the left side of the expanded doorway that the frost atronach had blown open wider, Drayk first, then Sinderion, Vanryth, Adrienne, and Aria. He waited for the correct moment to go, listening for the telltale sign of the charging fireball spell in the hagraven's hands. He loosened his grip on his shield, took a deep breath to relax himself somewhat. Sinder would go straight for the hagraven, he knew. The sooner that thing was dead, the sooner his altmer friend could breathe easier.

Tendrils of light blue ward magic danced along his palm and fingers, ready to be activated. And there it was. The hissing of building energy, and then the flare as the spell took to air. The fireball smashed into the outer wall of the tower, shaking it slightly, and Drayk charged out. He remained somewhat low as he moved forward, his shield covering his right side, a steadfast magical ward enveloping his right. The bridge was rather precariously narrow, but not treacherous. There was nothing to trip them, just the chance that an arrow hitting them would make them fall the thirty or so feet to the winding path below.

No such arrows hit Drayk, though three slammed into his shield, and a fourth was redirected by his ward. An ice spike from the Briarheart disappeared entirely into the magical shield, weakening it somewhat, but Drayk was quick to reinforce it. He made a beeline for the questionably undead spellcaster, who had been in the middle of the group of about ten or so Forsworn archers, with the hagraven behind them off to the right. The archers were hurriedly switching to melee weapons, some of them simply tossing their bows aside. Drayk dropped his ward as he reached the Briarheart, slamming into him with his shield, the force taking the Forsworn entirely off the ground and dumping him on his back.

This allowed Drayk to get a very up close look at the warrior, pale gray skin and carved open chest, the magical briarheart shoved inside and the skin loosely stitched over. Before he had time to look any longer, and before the Briarheart had time to make any actions, Drayk punched the steel rim of his shield down onto the Briarheart's forehead, before punching a gauntleted fist into the weak spot on his chest, fingers wrapping around the briarheart inside and tearing it out, leaving the undead caster quite dead at this point.

Adrienne had no difficulty keeping her balance on the narrow bridge, and she suspected that the others wouldn't either. The twang of bowstrings was an unsavory reminder of their predicament, however, and though Drayk was able to catch or deflect the majority of them, their forward progress would eventually give the bowmen a flanking angle, so that they could aim at people other then the man with the wooden shield. Like her. Even as she thought it, an arrow whizzed by her ear, and only the fact that she flinched backwards saved the hearing organ at all. It flew into the empty space between herself and Aria, and it was at about that time that they finally made it to the Forsworn, Drayk lunging right for the Briarheart.

Some part of Adrienne understood that it would be a poor choice to interfere with Sinderion right now, so instead she looked to Van and Aria, then nodded towards the archers. Well, less archers and more melee fighters now, which she was frankly fine with. They'd lost their ability to hit from a distance, but she hadn't lost hers. If Van could keep them occupied, she and Aria could then pick them off from the sides and behind, effectively containing the largest mass of Forsworn remaining. That thought in mind, Adrienne summoned an ice bolt to hand and launched it- the slower they were, the safer her allies would be from unforeseen attack.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero

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Sinderion Direnni
Hag Rock Redoubt


As soon as the group had successfully reached the other side of the bridge, all bets were off in terms of Sinderion's participation in useful group tactics. Fortunately, the others seemed to understand this, and the hagraven was left alone. Adrienne went right, towards a cluster of former archers, and Drayk went straight ahead, to destroy the Briarheart. Sinder veered left, slinging the bow he'd been using back over his shoulders and drawing his blades. The steady, rapid sound of his muffled footsteps beat a match to the metronome-pulse of his heart, and both accelerated as the foul creature drew closer, by virtue of his unerring movement. Her stench filled his nose, blocking out just about everything else, and that was fine. There might as well have been nothing else, so intent was he on his goal. Repayment, in part, for a torment endured because of the cruel nature of these monstrosities and anyone twisted enough to contract with one.

It might have even been a public service, but he was far enough gone that the reason didn't really matter. She had to die.

Seeing his obvious approach, the hagraven drew another fireball from the ether, forming it in her hands with the ease of nature and long practice. This was of no consequence to Sinderion; he'd known worse pain before. When the threat of flames to the face didn't even hitch his step, the hagraven was suprirsed, enough so that she stepped backwards, firing off the spell even as the back of one clawed foot caught on a root and tripped her. That, combined with Sinder's reflexes, caused the projectile to fly wide, singing off a few of his golden hairs and doubtless leaving an angry red mar on his face from passing heat. It was in precisely that moment that he leaped, momentum carrying the Altmer forward until he smacked bodily into the creature, preventing her from taking flight as he knew they were prone and sending both to the ground in a tearing, lashing tangle of limbs.

Seeing the nod that Adrienne gave, Van replied with one of his own. He knew what that meant, and would have complied even if he didn't. Focus on the archers, the Hagraven would be dead soon enough. With Drayk handling the Briarheart, that left the archers to the rest of them. Vanryth didn't mind in the slightest, as long as his virgin Forsworn blade tasted the blood of the barbarians. He contemplated dipping into his race's heritage and igniting his Ancestor's Wrath around him. A quick glance over to Drayk would prove the idea.. Unsavory. Instead of an inherited cloak of flame however, he decided to dig into his flagging magicka reserves and summon a cloak of frost. It began slowly, but before long Van was enveloped in a swirling blizzard of ice, with him in the epicenter. He grinned, that would be something for the archer's to deal with.

Van rushed in headlong into the archers, painting a large target on himself. Luckily, since he had closed the gap, they had decided blades would be more effective than bows. At least he wouldn't have to worry about getting an arrow in his ass. The first Forsworn he came across, he gripped his forehead with his burned right hand. Gritting his teeth through the pain, he allowed the frostbite spell to seep through his hands and into the skull of the archer. He parried a wild blade from the side who chose to strike at Vanryth while he was occupied. The cloak he had summoned forced the offender to back off before he too became a statue of ice. By now, enough time had passed that when he tightened his grip on the face of the Forsworn, it shattered into pieces, leaving a frostbitten stump where his head had been.

Unlike his methods of destruction, Van's eyes burned bright with barely contained rage.

As it turned out, the entire cluster of archers would be dealing with more ice than they likely cared to encounter on the most frostbitten of Skyrim winter mornings. Adrienne lingered behind Vanryth, supporting him by firing off ice bolts or gusts of frigid magic directly from her palms. Since they'd drawn their melee weapons, she was in little danger for the moment, and Van would likely ensure that they didn't think to take bow in hand again. As it was, though, they greatly outnumbered the two Sellswords, and all things considered, she needed a better plan than gradually whittling them away. If only she still carried poisons, she could have- but no. It was better that she didn't. Nightshade was best left in the past where she belonged, and there were always other solutions.

Like spells. Adrienne targeted the largest cluster of people she could without hitting Van, a knot of combatants who looked about ready to make an organized charge for the Dunmer man. The abject fear settled in at about the same time as the demure, but perhaps slightly wicked, smile blossomed over the Breton woman's face. A few seemed to shake it off, but that deadly coherence and oneness of intent? Gone. So far gone, in fact, that one fellow even dropped his shield and simply stood there, trembling like a wreck. The ice bolt that lanced his heart might have been a small mercy, actually; terror that mind-numbing was nobody's friend.

Well, except perhaps hers, at this particular moment.

Drayk dropped the heart he'd pulled from the Forsworn's open chest with some amount of disgust, though the man had been at least to some degree undead, and therefore the deed had not been so gruesome as if he had killed another in that manner. He looked around to survey how the fight was going. Adrienne and Van seemed to have things in hand with the body of the Forsworn. Vanryth was tearing into them, and it would be best to not get in his way, while Adrienne was sowing dissension among them with her magic, which would make it all the easier for them to be dispatched. Sinder, on the other hand, had plowed into the hagraven as Drayk had expected him to, and the pair had gone to the ground, hacking away at each other. He headed in that direction, though there was little he could (or was willing to) do to separate them, or help the Altmer. He would be there in case he needed healing afterwards, however. It looked as though the fight was finally in hand. Now it was just a matter of everyone getting out alive and well.

The Hagraven's taloned fingers lent her some advantage in the grapple, but she was without the ability to cast, for fear of harming herself with the same magic that would surely reduce Sinder to, well... cinders. His body weight was superior, however, as was his technique. He would admit that this was not the way he preferred to fight- far too messy for that, and unwelcome in its evocation of what he had once been- but there was no denying that his muscles remembered what his mind strove to accept and deny by varying moments, moods.

He also still had his steel, and the dagger, he used to pin one of her hands to the ground, spearing through her palm and the claylike soil behind it. That left him with a wingless bird, so to speak, able to lash at him with only one arm. The Hagraven screeched her fury, and he snarled in response, registering an uncomfortable hesitation when he felt the press of elongated teeth on his lower lip. He would not use them to tear out her throat, no matter how the welling of his own blood on his tongue was reminding him of how it had tasted. Hot, coppery, raw... his entire body convulsed, and he felt his limbs beginning to stretch, his golden-tan arms sporting a fine covering of bronze-colored fur. This had to end, now, before it well and truly came unraveled.

Without another thought, Sinderion raised his sword, and, gripping with both hands, drove it right through the foul thing's heart, remaining motionless and white-knuckled until she too stilled. He rolled away and onto his back, breathing heavily and relishing the small victory that was his body returning to something entirely humanoid, even if his senses did dull as a result. He would not allow himself to mourn for that, not when they were still so much better than they would have been otherwise. The Altmer pushed himself to his feet and extracted both weapons from the body, plucking a few of the longest feathers while he was at it. Adrienne might have some use for them, after all. Heedless of the triplicate of gashes raked across his chest through his armor, he stooped, wiping off the tempered steel on the furs the Hagraven wore, and then looking towards the others to see how they fared.

He didn't know if he would be of much use to them right now, given the exhaustion he could feel beginning to weigh on his limbs and his mind, but he was ever a slave to necessity. Regardless of the fact that he was waging two battles instead of just one, if they needed him, he would answer.

Van was still waist deep in the fray, completely unawares of the situation of his companions except for maybe Adrienne. An icicle whizzed by his head enough times that he knew that she was behind him somewhere. That made him wary of his backstroke, he didn't want to clip her by mistake. However, he had known then long enough to know that barring any extreme circumstances, that they would eventually pull through victorious. At least, he believed that. For his part, he had to win his fight too. The frost cloak had since died, allowing the enemy the opportunity to approach without the risk of frostbite.

Yet the combination of Van's bloodlust and Adrienne's cool composure had severely reduced the numbers of Forsworn around them, and even those were nursing wounds. It wasn't long before those too were uncermoniously dispatched. Van had managed to escape the battle with only minor wounds and scratches, the most poignant of those was the self-inflicted brand on his hand. Though healing magic could stem the pain and save the limb, the brand would always be with him. Another scar for another battle. Fitting. Van had already gotten used to the scars won from battle, and it would only be another. Van looked over to Drayk to make sure that he didn't need to intervene and assist.

He wouldn't need to, however. The combination of Drayk's display against the briarheart and Sinderion's thrashing of the hagraven, along with Adrienne's spell, was enough to shatter the remaining Forsworn entirely, and the few remaining turned tail and ran, darting off into the hills, no doubt to scramble off towards other groups of the rebel Bretons. This made them no longer the Sellswords' responsibility; they'd been charged with driving the Forsworn from Hag Rock Redoubt, and no Forsworn currently remained alive inside.

Drayk set himself to healing their wounds, starting with Sinderion. They could now return to Markarth, and pick up their Mentor's trail once more.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: The Spymaster

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Dom Drayk
Markarth - Understone Keep




They'd need sleep evetually. That was what Drayk was starting to think as they passed through Markarth's gates once more. It had been a long ride from Solitude, followed by only a brief rest at the inn with no sleep to be had, followed by being ordered to wipe out a well fortified group of Forsworn, which had taken a good deal of the night. The Sellswords were the only ones on the street at the moment, except for the ever-watchful city guards, the unlucky ones who patrolled throughout the night. There was nowhere to hide from them now, and Drayk naturally found his eyes drifting towards the torches they carried around.

It was bugging him now more than ever. He'd almost died in the fight, and probably would have if not for Adrienne's timely potion. Before he'd met the Mentor, he'd been a terror with fire, fully capable of killing without remorse, without thought, for enjoyment, or some misguided idea that he needed to in order to survive, that he was the only one in the right. Now he was just useless around it. He was a wreck. He couldn't see straight, couldn't walk straight, couldn't get a coherent thought through his mind. He'd changed since receiving the Mentor's help, hadn't he? For the first time in a long time, he thought, just maybe... if he learned to control it, rather than simply hide from it, he'd be better off. He had learned restraint. Perhaps he could test it. Perhaps he could ask Van about it. It would obviously be a diffcult teaching process... but Drayk didn't really need anyone to teach him, rather just someone to stop him if he went too far.

It would have to wait, of course, as they were nearing the Keep, and he had more pressing matters to attend to. A clearly dreary guard jerked awake upon seeing the approaching armed individuals. Squinting through the eyeslits in his helmet, he quickly recognized them. "Hail, Sellswords. I was told to expect you. I trust your assignment went well?"

Adrienne had spent most of the ride back to Markarth fighting to keep her eyes open. The truth was, she really didn't want to go to sleep, for fear of what her mind would choose to play out when she lost consciousness. It had been easy not to think about it in the middle of things, when everything was do-or-die. But now... she was able to reflect on the carnage they'd caused.

She would never claim to be above it. She'd never say that she was some bastion of pure intention, an advocate of the peaceful solution, because she wasn't that innocent or that naive. True, she'd prefer not to kill people if she could avoid it, but there was no deluding herself so far as to make that spare inclination some kind of virtue. It was simply that, when all was said and done, the memory of what had happened would haunt her. Perhaps this was something that faded with time, would eventually leave her in peace, or as much peace as she could muster, all things considered. Gouts of blood and dead bodies were simply something she had not often seen, and there was something disturbing about a corpse, the way there was no breath or life left, and she shuddered at the number of times that had been her doing, or almost her corpse.

The worst part was, when she wasn't occupied with overwhelming terror that the next dead body would belong to a friend, she could clearly recall the rush of adrenaline, the sensation of being vigorously awake and alive, even as she was always scant moments, one mistake away from being dead. It made a strange kind of sense, she supposed, but... was she supposed to enjoy it so much? Or was it yet another manifestation of her weakness, that which ensured she was always a step behind everyone else in all the ways that mattered? A chill breeze played with her ash-colored ponytail, stippling her skin with gooseflesh, and she pretended that that was all it was and sat a bit straighter on her horse. They were approaching Markarth again, which meant her more depressing thoughts would be left alone for the moment. Fortunate.

Forcing a close-lipped smile for the guard, Adrienne nodded slightly. "It did, sir. Hag Rock Redoubt is cleared." For all her bitter reflection, her voice was steady and clear, the mask of the actress firmly back in place. She was confident, she was warm, she was without doubt or remorse. Van grunted his agreement alongside Adrienne, followed up by a spit to show his contempt for the fools they had slayed. He crossed his arms and settled into an intimidating pose, as if the faded blood stains from earlier weren't enough to do that for him. Still, despite the battle being in the past, the fight had stoked some embers of his past life that would not die down as easily. He still had the edge of the warrior. This gave him a dour air of disapproval as he stared at the guards, waiting for them to do their duty and let them in.

"Very good," the guard replied. "If the spymaster's awake, I'll inform her of your arrival. Wait here." He left the Sellswords in the sleepy company of the other remaining guards, although they looked significantly more awake now that they had an obvious threat to keep an eye on. Some time passed, moreso than when they had first come here. The guards outside began to glance towards each other at the other guard's absence, shifting about perhaps nervously with the wait. Finally, though, he returned, holding the door open.

"You're to leave your weapons here. The guards will hold them for you. The spymaster wishes to meet with you. I'll lead you to her." Drayk couldn't help but sigh. They needed to speak with this woman, certainly, but all this distrust was growing a little tiresome. They could have been on their way hours ago had the locals here simply been a little more open. But, if they had to jump through one more hoop to get what they needed, then so be it. He slipped his shield off of his back and laid it down before the guards, seeing as it was the closest thing to a physical weapon he had. He figured the others were as hesitant to part with their weapons as he was, but all of them could at least moderately defend themselves without steel in their hands.

Van shrugged and tossed the newly obtained Forsworn blade on top of Drayk's shield. The blade wasn't his, he had no reason to keep it. It was an ugly thing, a tool created solely for war. He was glad to be rid of it truly. Besides, it's not like a bit of iron and steel was his only weapons. He flexed his tender hand as he mentally went over his repertoire of spells. No, he didn't need steel in order to kill a man.

Once they were all disarmed, the guard gestured for them to follow, and the Sellswords finally entered Understone Keep. It was actually more of an entrance to the underground areas of the Dwemer city upon which Markarth was built. Bits of remaining Dwemer machinery still chugged away along the walls, their purpose largely unknown, but tampering with the things they left behind often led to poor results, and thus they remained. They moved directly into the main hall, passing a large open cavern area on their left, the way deeper into the ruin, as well as the locked up museum on their right. This led them into the central chamber, though at this hour it was completely unoccupied save for the guards stationed here.

They climbed up a flight of stairs, within sight of the Jarl's throne, though it was currently empty. Embers of the forge on the group's right could still be seen, though the one tending to it had turned in for the night. Instead the group headed left from the throne, towards the Jarl's personal quarters. A pair of large bronze double-doors were held open for them by a pair of guards, leading into what looked to be a dining hall. It was surprisingly scenic, a long table positioned alongside a pool contained by a low wall, a waterfall from above pouring gently into it. A balcony of sorts extended most of the circumference of the circular-shaped room, a few visible doors going into the rock above them and out of sight. A pair of guards stood watch over the double doors on the far side of the room, no doubt leading to where the Jarl himself lay.

No sooner had Drayk and the other Sellswords reached the center of the room, however, than the doors behind them clanged shut and locked. The five guards on the ground floor slowly slid swords from their waists, surrounding the visitors, but keeping their distance. Above them, a dozen or more archers of the guard filed along the second level, flowing seemingly out of the rock to surround the small company, arrows already pulled back, bowstrings quivering slightly as they aimed their projectiles at the four below them.

The last to enter was a Dunmer woman, striding from a door one the second level, her dark red hair nearly the color of her narrowed slits for eyes, pulled back into a tight bun. She looked unassuming enough, a simple white tunic and brown breeches all she wore, except for her equipment, a recurve bow and a quiver of arrows across her back. Of course, it was possible she'd just been woken up. It was clear, however, that the armed men in the room answered to her, as a few glanced in her direction, perhaps looking for the signal to fire. She spoke to the Sellswords, instead.

"It seems the only thing the Forsworn excel at anymore is incompetence. A pity. I suppose it was too much to hope they'd kill you, even if they knew of your coming. But it's no matter. Dealing with you directly was not how I would have preferred this, but we are, as you can see, more than capable of doing so. But first, tell me something: how long has the Shadow held influence over your company? I should have expected it, considering the wretched holes you were all pulled out of, but I never thought of your leader as one who served a darker purpose. Seems I was wrong."

As soon as they were surrounded, Vanryth leaned forward into a cautious stance, hands balling up and relaxing, waiting, begging the gaurds to make the first move. For if they did, he may perish in the process, but he would certainly make them pay for every drop of blood. Luckily for his lesser combat prone companions, the guards did not immediately attack. Instead, the Spymaster herself approached. The only thing she recieved from Vanryth was a cold glare as he tensed and relaxed his hands again. His companions near him would feel the static gathering in his hands as it raised the hair on their arms. He would need watching, else he may inadvertantly sign all of their death warrants. Though, he did wonder what this "Shadow" she spoke of was...

Sinder inhaled, sorting the information he was able to gain by scent and suppressing the instantaneous desire to tear them apart. It was not as difficult as it had been so many years ago, but moreso than it would have been a week previous. He put this down to the fact that though the adrenaline had long since left his body, the churning thoughts of what had occurred had yet to vacate his mind. He tended to dwell and to stew, a habit that the Mentor had pointed out on more than one occasion with gentle admonishment. Nevertheless, he smelled no silver, only ill-washed bodies and fear, which was all the same emitting from a number of the armed men facing the ostensibly-unarmed Sellswords.

Good. They were right to fear. One could never truly disarm a mage, and he was the only one of this group who could not call himself such. He lacked no confidence in his ability to survive without steel for entirely different reasons, but he resolved not to think about them. The knowledge calmed him, and when he asked the obvious question, it was in a voice that, while possessed of a genuine note of curiosity, betrayed no anxiety whatsoever. "...Shadow? May I request more specificity? Your reference is unknown to me." Glancing between his companions, he drew a fairly apparent conclusion. "To us, rather."

Drayk had a ward spell out and ready while Sinder asked his question. It was really his only defense here, apart from... well, trying to heal everybody as they all got filled full of arrows. Rylin Moroth, however, just looked irritated with the Altmer. "Please don't try to play stupid with me. Your Mentor was working with an agent of the Shadow. Those that have worked with the Shadow before understand that loose ends are not something that will be tolerated, and yet I am the very embodiment of the loose end. And here you are not a day later, armed to the teeth and asking for entrance to Understone Keep. What could you possibly want if not my assured silence through my death?"

Drayk took a tentative step forward, figuring himself to be at least less threatening than the two elves in the room. "Look, uh, ma'am? We don't know anything about any Shadow. We're just trying to find the old man, and we heard he came to see you. Really, we'd rather not kill anyone else."

"Hard to trust the words of a man with a past such as yours, I'm sure you understand," Moroth retorted, but then she took a moment to think, "but if you are telling the truth, and your Mentor has truly kept you in the dark about this... then perhaps all of us know less about the old man than we thought." After a pause, she gestured to the guards, who slowly lowered their bows. She then leaned forward against the railing, peering down at the four.

"You know nothing, then? Nothing of the Shadow? As I said, your Mentor was in the company of an agent when the pair of them so rudely came to visit me. I find it unlikely that he, who seemed so close to all of his charges, would tell you nothing of his involvement."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero

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Adrienne Jastal
Understone Keep


"An agent?" The word rolled uncomfortably off Adrienne's tongue, as if she had some indefinable difficulty with the syllables. In some sense, maybe she did. The idea that the Mentor- their Mentor could be involved with some kind of organization so secretive she'd never heard a whisper of it, and so insidious that this woman was almost willing to kill them on the simple suspicion of being affiliated was unpalatable to her. There had to be a better explanation for the evidence, but for now, she'd have to play along far enough to ask questions, and those at least would be genuine. "We had heard that the Mentor was in the company of another, but we did not know much of him aside from a basic description. The Mentor, he... he left without telling us, just a few days ago."

She paused, attempting to distill the infromation she wanted to seek after into as few words as possible. It could be that brevity did them favors here, and she did not desire to test the spymaster's patience. Biting her lip, she rocked back on her heels, then forced herself to stop the motion and stand taller. "Is there anything you can tell us about this Shadow, or our Mentor? We only desire to find him, and to bring him home." It sounded weak in her own ears, that sentiment, but it was the truest one she had.

At this point, it had been long enough that the guards had fully lowered their weapons, releasing the tension on their bowstrings entirely, though they made no sign of leaving, and the spymaster showed no signs of dismissing them. Not ready to let her guard down yet, it seemed. She looked her red eyes, a surprisingly cold gaze, on Adrienne. "I know nothing more of your Mentor than you do. That he was in the company of an agent of the Shadow is really all I could say for him. He hardly spoke a word the entire visit."

Vanryth relaxed his hands once the guards began to lower their own weapons, though he was still tense. He was not on the best terms with guardsman, and being surrounded by a number of their ilk did no favors for the troubled Dunmer. He was still nervous, he twitched and generally couldn't seem to stay still. He was ready for anything deemed hostile from any of the guards, his eyes never leaving them. He trusted his own companions to capture and digest the information the Spymaster gave them-- it wasn't like he would be able to add in a comment or question of his own. Such as life for the unfortunate man who had his tongue cut out.

She began to pace back and forth in her immediate area. This was obviously a discussion she did not have often. "The Shadow, though... I was not very close to the center, of that I'm sure. It's an organization, I think. Such subtle operations could not be achieved by a mere man or woman, nor was gender ever applied when we spoke of our employer. He was my contact, you see, a... handler, of a sort. The one with your Mentor. I played only a minor role. He needed information, eyes and ears in Morrowind, where I was at the time. More than ten years ago now. The pay was extraordinary, and though I was skeptical at first, he proved the Shadow's power to me."

Drayk was scratching his head at this point, trying to take in everything he could. "What did they want? What are they doing?" Though at first he'd only asked about the Mentor's whereabouts, her information about the Mentor's companion obviously intrigued him. She shook her head back at him. "That was far above me, I feel. I don't know what they want, or what their goals are in Tamriel, but I'm convinced their reach knows no bounds. I feel I'm no longer safe here now that the Shadow has located me. I was certain you were their assassins. They will surely follow close behind."

"And?" Drayk butted in. "You're forgetting the important part. What did our Mentor and his friend want with you, and where did they go?"

"They themselves needed to locate an individual," she replied. "Since I entered the service of Jarl Igmund, the Reach has become known to me as Morrowind once was. They sought a lowlife, a bandit in fact, a man of little repute, known to have grown up in Markarth before leaving the city about a year ago. I try to keep tabs on those within my hold, especially those with arms that could break the neck of a frost troll. This particular Nord fled for Windhelm, and joined up with Ulfric's rebellion. As luck would have it, our man Vodrin was swept by chance back to his homeland, sent to infiltrate the Reach with his cohorts. I informed the Jarl when the Stormcloaks thought they had crossed into our territory unnoticed, and the Jarl informed the Legate. Imperial troops have since ambushed those Stormcloaks, and taken them prisoner. They travel by caravan west towards the city, to be executed. If Vodrin survived the attack, he would be in a dingy little cage somewhere in that caravan. I sent your Mentor and the Shadow's agent after them."

At the mention that there might be assassins "close behind," Sinderion tensed like a drawn bowstring, his nostrils flaring as he inhaled. How close 'close' was, he could not say, but it would do little good to take any chances. However, there were also a couple of suspicious holes in this story, and he wouldn't feel at all reassured until they were filled in. "Two things, if you would: exactly how was this power demonstrated to you, and what makes you a loose end that this... entity would wish to be rid of? It sounds like your employment, now and then, has been nothing but gainful for the Shadow." Which meant there was something remaining unsaid, of course.

He was tempted to turn around and face the door, just in case, but there was just as good a chance that one (or more) of these guards was an assassin as there was that they would use the obvious entrance. The beast in Sinder was so assured of its own dominance that it wouldn't allow him to feel something as human (or elven, in his case) as fear, but it was a wary thing, driven to snarl at shadows and challenge the hidden to come to light. So he watched instead, eyes lingering on each visible individual for no more than a few seconds at a time.

Again, Van tensed up. Now there was the possiblity of assassins. Marvelous, he loved assassins. Bleeding bastards took his eye and tongue. Now this Spymaster was saying that their Mentor was in league with such a group. He was discomforted with the thoughts that the Mentor would align himself with such unsavory sorts. Did they really know the man they looked up to with such esteem? Once Vanryth believed he knew the man... Though now, not so much. He had so many questions to ask. Both to the Dunmer and to the Mentor. Though unless one of the guards would graciously produce some parchment and a quill, chances were his questions were going unanswered tonight. Once again, he felt frustration welling up due to his disabilities, and his hands once again tensed and flexed. He'd need a bloody drink after all of this.

"Employment for the Shadow was a for life arrangement, or so I was told," the Dunmer responded. "I was young and in search of the fortune that I could acquire with my talents, and the opportunity presented itself. He presented me with the gold, claimed there was plenty more where it came from. Naturally, I asked for the catch, and he responded with the lifetime service bit. Serve the Shadow until my death, and live my life in luxury as a reward. I asked for time to think it over, seeing as it was the rest of my life I was negotiating with. I was given a week. Each of those days, I received a letter containing a... prediction, if you will, of something that would occur that day. These were no minor things, mind you... the death of the Emperor's niece was the first. The capture of a fugitive on the loose for fifteen years the second. The Shadow caused these things, you see. Like an invisible hand moving over Tamriel as though it were their game board, and us their pieces. They needed people like me to maintain their reach, and I started to feel as though I didn't really have a choice in the matter. I accepted."

She sighed. "Their coin was good, but it quickly became clear to me that they desired something sinister. I was supplying information that led to assassinations, changes of power, vasts sums of coin changing hands. And yet my only contact was this single man, this Imperial. A Shade, he called himself. Voice and messenger of the Shadow. I wanted out, but apparently only death led to escape from service. An elaborate staged death later, several aliases, and closing up a whole load of loose ends myself, and I thought myself free of their reach. Seems I was wrong about that, too."

Adrienne felt herself struck with a genuine feeling of sympathy. People who played the world like it was their harp... she knew quite a bit about what those people were like, and she understood the allure of being part of that game. Perhaps, she conceded to herself, that was where the similarity ended, but all the same... she had no idea what she'd do if her old associates showed up on her doorstep one day, especially now that the Mentor was gone. The spymaster's position was entirely unenviable, and the Breton swallowed, whetting her dry lips with her tongue. "Was this the first cause you had to believe that they'd found you? Why did this Shade simply leave you be if you were in such a position?" In her heart of hearts, she hoped that the Mentor had something to do with that. Perhaps he'd insisted that the woman's death was unnecessary. She could believe a lot of things about him, that he'd been hiding things from them all along, that he knew more about this Shadow than they did, and even that he'd left them to keep them safe. But she would not, could not believe that he was in any way voluntarily doing the work of such a faction. There was something else to it, if only they could discover what that was.

And what of the Shade? Was he this mysterious him mentioned in the letter? Would it be a good idea to reveal its contents to the Dunmer lady? It probably wouldn't make a difference, and yet she found she couldn't. It felt like beraying a secret. If he'd meant for anyone else to know what that parchment said, he'd have found a way to convey it to them. No... on that matter, she would keep her silence.

"Perhaps I never had them fooled," Moroth said, shrugging tiredly. "I believed by cutting off their information in the area, which is what they hired me to feed them, that they would be blind at least long enough for me to make my escape. The Shade revealed none of his secrets, as always, but the ease with which he approached me seemed to imply they've known my location for some time, at least. I was alone in my study, turned about, and he was simply... there, with your Mentor beside and slightly behind him, seemingly deferring the lead. The few words he did speak, however, saved my life without a doubt. The Shade meant to dispose of me, but the Mentor pulled him aside, they spoke in private, and then stated they were letting me live, at least for a time. The Shade seemed pleased. Amused, even. Death will come for me if I remain here, of that I'm certain. I know not where I will go, however. Perhaps it is time I stopped running."

"Perhaps it's time we started," Drayk suggested. "We should get moving if we're going to cut off this caravan, I'd say. Are we free to go, spymaster?" He was eager to be off. They had what they came for, a trail to follow and a lead to investigate. He was just disappointed that things were only getting more complicated. It looked like quite the mess they were getting themselves into, and yet they had no other choice. And... well, if they could get to a decent place to wait for the caravan, they would likely be able to get a bit of sleep.

Rylin Morothi nodded slowly. "Go. If you should happen upon your Mentor, tell him I thank him for the time he has given me. And if you should happen upon the Shade... do not underestimate him."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero

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There was little else to be done. The door was open for them, and the Sellswords did not want to wait around for Moroth to change her mind, even though she now appeared to be at least cordial with them. Respectfully, the group left her and her guards behind, heading back the way they came, through the darkened halls of the Keep, past the low-burning braziers that could only take Drayk's gaze for a moment. A few guards gave them nods on their way out, and one even apologized for the deception, but other than that, their exit was silent.

So too was the ride they embarked on shortly afterwards, taking the road east out of the Markarth, towards Whiterun and Falkreath Holds. There was a slight chill in the air, intensified by the occasional gust of wind that passed through the highlands of the Reach, but the ride was not altogether uncomfortable. Just quiet. The four of them were exhausted from the day's events, having not slept since departing from just outside Solitude that very morning. They were practically falling asleep in their saddles, the adrenaline of the fight against the Forsworn, as well as the near ambush within the Keep afterwards having worn off.

Still, they managed to locate a semi-decent place to set up camp and wait for the approaching Imperial caravan, a slight indent in the rock wall along their right, providing them some shelter from the elements, but close enough to the road for them to be able to see clearly when the caravan was approaching. Deciding that the caravan had likely stopped for the night as well, for the risk of being ambushed by Forsworn in the night if nothing else, the Sellswords deemed it safe to wait until morning for them. Shifts were taken on watch, and the four finally got some much needed rest...




Chapter II
Hammer, Feather, and Flame




Adrienne was woken for last watch by Sinderion. It was the easiest watch of the night, all things considered, and she felt rather guilty that it had been given her without much consideration. Never did the raw newness of her membership here sting, except when it came time for each to pull the weight he or she was able. Then, it became painfully evident that, even compared to her compatriots, she still had far to go. That was discouraging, in the sense that palpable inferiority in any sense of the word added leaden weights to her barely-afloat sense of self-worth, but she was willing to accept the facts for what they were and make the best of them. What good did moping about it do, after all? She was at least better and more capable than she had been a year ago, and that, phrased in her head in the Mentor's soothing baritone, bouyed her spirits.

Enough so, actually, that she grew ambitious enough on her watch to spend some time in the surrounding area, gathering edible plants while still keeping an eye on the campsite. She rummaged through their belongings for the rest, using dried meat and dried herbs for something resembling seasoning. They'd had the foresight to bring basic camping supplies, which she was thankful for as she wrested the pot from a bundle atop one of the horses, along with a spoon made of wood. It had taken rather too much effort, and she'd dislodged more than a few hairs from her ponytail in the whole endeavor, but she was smiling softly as she sliced, crushed, and otherwise made things suitable for eating.

When it came time to actually throw everything together, though, she realized she had something of a predicament. Cooking this would require heat, which necessitated either fire or more magic than was prudent to use for a purpose like this on a day when she might need it for something more... violent. Adrienne bit her lip, worried eyes wandering to the sleeping Drayk, then shook her head sharply. It was a campfire. She had to be willing to trust him, or how were any of them ever going to learn to trust themselves? He could handle it; she knew this. Resolute, she left the pot for the moment and went off to collect some fallen branches. A small fire would be adequate; no need to broadcast their location with smoke signals visible for miles around. The treeline should obscure what little this would produce.

Moving away from where her three compatriots were sleeping, she tented the sticks and called the flames to hand. Understandably, she hadn't used the magic in a while, and it felt almost unfamiliar now. Nevertheless, the wood lit without difficulty, and she got to work, humming quietly to herself as she stirred the resulting stew. By the time dawn came around, it was simmering pleasantly and smelled not half-bad, if she did say so herself. More importantly, the plants she'd selected had a variety of nutritional benefits, some of them near-instantaneous even in this simple form. It should help recuperate the vigor that a short night's sleep hadn't managed.

The morning came too fast for the sore Vanryth. He had offered to take first watch, and it was lucky that no Forsworn chose that time to attack. Most of his watch consisted of him forcing himself to stay awake. Mostly mental exercises, categorizing his destructions spells, flexing his newly scarred hand. Anything to keep his eyes open. Still, it had only managed to marginally ward off sleep. When he was tugged on the shoulder by Drayk, signaling the end of his watch, he had barely managed to rise to his feet—even then with much protesting from his joints. A symphony of pops and cracks followed the Dunmer’s rise to his feet. He manage to spare a half-assed grin to Drayk before he made his way to his bedroll and fell asleep before he even had his eyes shut good.

When he awoke, his body ached and screamed protest from every nook and cranny of his bones. Age. Most likely. He was still too damn young to feel that too damn old. He was only forty-one. Though, one could surmise that a life lived as hard a Van’s could easily have shave many of those years off from his lifespan. He managed a grunt as his one good eye searched for the likely culprit as to his awakening. It was Adrienne skittering about the camp, collecting supplies for who knew what. He watched her with half-closed lids-- dreading the moment he'd have to get out of his bedroll. He wondered what she was doing, though the answer came clear enough when she managed to procure a pot and wooden spoon. Food. What a marvelous idea. When was they last time they had ate? The last thing Van remembered was that stale ale at the Inn. Some warm food would do some good.

Or a large quanity of spirits. But food seemed the wisest for now.

Finally, Vanryth forced himself to sit himself up in his bedroll. Or rather, tried to. About midway through, the soreness hit him in a heavy wave, knocking him back down to the bedroll and hard saddle he used for a pillow. This... Adventuring thing was for the young ones like Adrienne, Drayk, and even Sinder. Laying there in the bedroll, Van wondered how much longer could he keep it up. How much longer did he have on Nirn? If the other night had been any indication, it wasn't for much longer. He joined the Mentor so that he wouldn't have to fight anymore. Not fight a tribe of Forsworn on the whim of a paranoid Spymaster. Van sighed, too tired to be mad. Once again, he attempted to sit up, and this time was successful. Well, more successful. The soreness and aches only intensified as he sat. It was an early morning, and certainly a long day was to follow. He rubbed his face with his hand, feeling the strange texture of the scar on his hand rub against his face.

With that, he pulled one of his journals from his saddlebag and a charcoal pen, and rose to his feet, making his way to Adrienne. He might not know how to cook-- nor even knew what taste was anymore-- but that didn't mean he couldn't be helpful, could it?

Sinder's sleep had been uneasy. He wasn't sure if Drayk had noticed when the young mage woke him, but he'd regained his claws and teeth over the course of his fitful dreaming. Thankfully, he hadn't lost control of anything else, though it took a very quick, reflexive kind of self control not to savage the limb used to bring him from sleep. This... sleeping had never been as restful for him as it could be for others, but the fitful dreams had faded with time. Now, it was as though he was in his early twenties once again, not the mindless animal he'd been when the Mentor first found him, but certainly not the contained, stoic man he'd been a week before. He could perhaps understand the utility of fire-based metaphors for that, but he'd leave them for his youthful counterpart's thoughts rather than his own.

The watch itself passed quickly enough, though truthfully Sinder didn't do much watching. His night vision was fine, but it was nothing when stacked against the utility and acuity of his hearing and smell.

He'd woken Adrienne, then, and felt a bit guilty for doing it. It was clear that the youngest member of their merry little band was feeling the effects of the last few days quite sharply, and he almost wondered if he shouldn't have taken her watch, too. It wasn't like the sleep was doing him any good besides, but all the same, he understood that an extra few hours' rest wasn't going to be worth the blow to her self-esteem. She hid it well, but he suspected that she was not nearly so confident as her gilt tongue allowed her to appear. So he lay restlessly for another few hours, listening to the sounds of the Breton girl moving about. To her credit, she made little noise, but everything was magnified in the silence, even his own breathing.

Not until Van stirred did Sinderion rouse himself as well, flexing his limbs to return full wakefulness to them. He inhaled, a small smile touching his face at the scent of the prepared meal. Packing up the remnants of his slumber, he tossed his bedroll over the backside of his horse and buckled it in place before advancing to the fireside. "Fair morning," he greeted quietly, unable to muster up the necessary sincerity to wish them a good one. The factual inaccuracy was simply too obvious for that.

Drayk woke to the sound of a crackling fire. A more pleasant aroma than smoke reached his nostrils, however, and it was enough to dispel the tension he naturally felt. He rolled over to see the others already up and about, gathered around a small fire in which Adrienne was preparing a stew. Drayk's rumbling stomach was already thanking her for the thoughtfulness. He rose to his feet and stretched with a satisfied groan, working the cold of the night out of his limbs, before sliding his feet back into his steel-plated boots, and heading over to join the group.

"A breakfast of heroes, if I may say so myself," he commented, taking a seat. His eyes lingered on the fire, and he let them. His thoughts during sleep had floated about to how he had almost died the night before, how the presence of fire on the battlefield had turned him into a useless statue. How he probably wouldn't be speaking to his friends currently had Adrienne not intervened with a timely potion. Drayk was just glad nothing had happened to any of them while he'd lost his head. He was supposed to be the shield, the protection, the front line, and yet it was the others who were busy protecting him. It brought him to the second item he wanted to discuss with the group. For now it could wait... but he was tired of hiding from his faults.

"The caravan's probably on the move already," he guessed. "When they get here... we should probably have a plan in place, in the event they won't let us speak to their prisoners. I don't want to be taking on Imperial soldiers... but we need whatever information this Vodrin guy has. If he's alive and with the caravan, that is."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero

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Once everyone was settled and eating, Drayk brought up the possibility of having to fight the Imperials to gain control of the caravan and speak with the prisoner. Adrienne had considered that it might have to happen that way, though the young woman would vastly prefer that it didn't. Mercenaries they were, but as the Mentor had always made a point to remind them, violence was not always the answer. She chewed her lower lip for a moment, a contemplative frown turning her mouth downwards. "Well... the best advantages for such a small group are positioning and surprise." That much was likely obvous to all of them. "If we want to have both of them if it comes to that, then I could try stopping the caravan and talking to the prisoner on my own. We could decide what we want to ask beforehand in case it works. Otherwise, I suppose we could devise a signal in case it turns out they're less than amenable to the idea of letting me speak to him."

"That puts you at great risk," Sinderion pointed out softly, before spooning another portion of stew into his mouth. The Altmer chewed thoughtfully. It was not in his nature (which was perhaps more protective than most would suspect) to allow his friends to place themselves in inordinate danger. Still he saw the virtue in what she suggested. Swallowing, he continued. "Perhaps it would be wiser if at least two of us made the intial request. You are admittedly most suitable to do the actual talking, but..." he hesitated slightly, then shook his head, choosing not to complete the thought. Possibly, Drayk or Van would take it up. Perhaps they had something else in mind entirely. Either way, he lapsed back into familiar silence.

The idea of having to fight a retinue of Imperial soldiers did not appeal to Van. He was still sore from the following night-- plus he was severely lacking in weaponry. He suppose it was possible that if push came to shove, there was the option to rely on his magic at least until he could liberate something from a dead soldier. He didn't like that idea either. He was fully hoping that they could make it out of this without undue violence, wisdom of age perhaps. He scratched his beard for a moment, listening to Sinder put forward his own opinion on the matter before flipping his journey to a blank page on his knee and putting pencil to paper. His writing was messy due his tender hand, but he managed and before long showed his companions his thoughts.

Vanryth Galero wrote:If that is indeed the path we choose, I would volunteer Drayk. His shield and magicks would prove more useful to protect Adrienne with than my own or Sinderion's blades. However, I would rather prefer it if we could conduct our business without needless bloodshed. A retinue of Imperials are not a tribe of Forsworn, and I do not envy the idea of facing them down while at the same time worrying about their prisoners taking the chance to flee. But. The Imperials are not savages, they would not attack us without merit. Words I believe shall win this day.


The irony of the last sentence was not lost on Vanryth.

Drayk found himself immediately agreeing with both of his mer companions. While he highly doubted a group of Imperial soldiers would attack Adrienne simply for asking to speak with a prisoner, he strongly disliked the idea of sending her to speak with them on her own. Not only for the risk it would put her at, but because the mage figured something like that would seem... suspicious. If she introduced herself as a Sellswords, under the direction of the Mentor, the soldiers would likely wonder where her companions were. The Sellswords rarely did anything alone, after all.

"Yeah, I'll go," he said in response to reading Van's suggestion, a little more quickly than he'd intended. "And it might be better for Van and Sinder to stay out of sight. You know, with lots of Nords not taking too kindly to elven races." He couldn't speak for the entire Legion, of course, but there was certainly a good deal of racism among the locals here. Especially the Stormcloaks. In the event that they did get to speak to the prisoners, he didn't want them to be turned away because some Stormcloak refused to speak to a man who traveled with an Altmer.

Trusting himself to protect Adrienne in the event things went poorly was another matter, considering that she'd done as much protecting of him against the Forsworn as he had done for her. But the Imperials were not fond of fighting with mages, from what he had seen of their troops. If worst came to worst, it probably wouldn't be a problem.

"There is... one other thing I wanted your opinions on. Since we have some time to talk about it." He paused, and his eyes fell on the little fire Adrienne had constructed. He felt like he was trying to word things carefully for himself more than the others. He needed to know he was doing this for the right reason. "Last night, with the frost atronach, and the fire... I lost my head. Couldn't focus. I probably would've died if Adrienne hadn't been there with a potion." He had his arms draped loosely about his knees at this point, and managed to pull his eyes from the flame and force them to meet Adrienne's, hoping a little awkward nod would convey at least some measure of thanks. He had always been terrible at that kind of thing.

"I can't let that happen again, you know? Maybe next time it'll be someone else who pays the price when I'm made incompetent by the sight of a little flame. I... I need to overcome that. Stop hiding from it, but learn to beat it. Does... that make sense? It doesn't have to be an evil force anymore. I know better now. The old man taught me to be better now." He looked to the group, hoping for some reassurance. He was tired of being on his own.

Satisfied that the plan was settled (truly, she did not think they had to worry about it coming to blows, but caution was not a bad thing), Adrienne had been about to suggest packing up camp when Drayk spoke again, this time with considerably more hesitancy. She stilled, folding her small hands neatly into her lap. What followed... she could not say it was entirely unexpected, but she was conflicted. On the one hand, he was undeniably right. They were small in number, and their task seemed to be growing more enormous by the day. Everyone had to be at their best, and that was no less true of him than it was of her.

On the other hand... she was afraid. Not of Drayk, of couse not, but of what trying to suddenly overcome such a personal sticking point when already in a horrible situation like this might do to him. She swallowed, contemplating her hands, but glanced up again at the Mentor's mention. Pursing her lips, she turned that thought over in her mind several times. Recalling the few scant sentences on the note as well, the pieces fell into place and locked there. This was to be a wholehearted commitment; half-measures would not help any of them.

Her expression and words were solemn, but not at all unfriendly. "...Just tell me what you need me to do, and I'll do it," she vowed, not presuming to speak for Sinder or Van. The fact of the matter was, the situation was making harsh demands of them all, and they needed to do some changing, some growing, to accomodate that, else they would never succeed. If they were going to find him, they needed to believe in themselves and in each other, just as he believed in them. He'd said so, and never once had he lied to her. That was enough.

Sinder watched the exchange of words in ponderous silence. Whether or not Drayk knew it, his words also resonated deeply with the Altmer, who may at some point in the future need to do some bettering of his own. The problem was, he already felt his back pressed against a wall where his own matter was concerned, and what of his worse nature had escaped him thus far had proven exactly as he expected it to be. He could not allow himself to simply assume that the same would be true of Drayk, but... he had his doubts about how ready the young man was to actually confront his demons head-on. Perhaps it was simply Sinderion's own weakness that allowed his to be just as strong (only caged) as they had been more than a decade previous, but they weren't things that could be banished simply because one willed them gone.

Still... he had a feeling he sensed Adrienne's underlying point. "There is no course in such matters that is not dangerous in some way," he pointed out. "If you feel that the danger of remaining as you are outweighs the risk to all of us should you fail, then I think your proposed course is the best one." He emphasized the words 'all of us' just barely, but quite on purpose. The continued survival of each of them relied upon mutual trust, and that meant that they had to sacrifice a certain kind of wariness and simply assume that they would not be stabbed (or in this case immolated) from behind. Small steps, if you please.

But that thought was surely obvious, and he did not wish to condescend by expressing it.

"I won't fail," Drayk said, a definite conviction in his voice, "not with you guys here. I lost myself before because there was no one but me, because I was incapable of letting anyone help me. Incapable of admitting that I needed help." Adrienne's pledge to help had meant more to him than she could know. Or perhaps she knew just how much it meant. She had always been a closed book to him. And while he couldn't think of Sinder as an elder brother just yet, he knew he could trust the Altmer to do what was right, in the event that he forgot. That was his great, dark fear of tackling this... that he would forget how far he had come, that he would forget everything he'd come to know since the Mentor pulled him out from under the headsman's axe. But he had a confidence now he never had when he had just arrived in the manor. He'd never had anything before he couldn't stand to see hurt, and certainly not by him.

"We can take it bit by bit. No fireballs in battle just yet, obviously. What I need from you," he said, looking first to Adrienne, then Sinderion, and then Vanryth, "is just to stop me if I go too far. There's never been anyone to stop me before, not since the Mentor. I need to know that you can do that, if you have to."

"Done," Sinder replied simply. It wasn't a difficult promise to make, not when he understood exactly how much that guarantee was necessary.

Van too nodded in agreement. He may have felt old, but he was still young enough to jerk a young man's collar when the time needed.

Adrienne faced a bit more difficulty acquiescing to this than her promise should have afforded her, but the fact of the matter was, she simply had no idea if she'd be able to, both literally and in the sense of causing a friend harm. Her companions meant more to her than anything, and she detested the thought of even trying to cause any of them harm. She had to believe it wouldn't come to that. Chewing her lip, she nodded. "Okay. But... I don't think we'll need to, for the record." She flashed a smile, but couldn't sustain it for long; the topic was just too... personal, in every sense of the word.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: Qa'naro

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"Was it difficult to remember?" Drayk asked Adrienne, the pair of them waiting patiently (to a certain degree) on the road for the caravan to arrive, while Van and Sinder were out of sight, as was the plan. Adrienne would likely be able to tell that Drayk's mind was working about a mile a minute at the moment, only partially focused on the fact that they needed to convince Imperial soldiers to let their prisoners be interrogated. Drayk had never been very good at waiting.

Adrienne blinked, initially confused as to what he was referring. She stood presently shoulder-to-shoulder with Drayk, and the comment caused her to turn her head and tilt it upwards, thinking that perhaps the answer would be writ somewhere on his face. It was, to an extent, but he also looked like he was about to say something else, so she preserved her silence, looking back out and over the road they presently occupied. It occurred to her that she should be careful with her answer, but for once exactly how that should be handled was not immediately clear. It was fair to say that she was much more used to protecting herself and deceiving others than both protecting them and being as honest as she knew how. The revelation was not new.

"I mean, I don't think I've seen you cast a fire spell, but you must have lit the wood for breakfast. I haven't cast a fire spell in years. I'm not sure I'll even remember how." That, of course, he knew to be false, and he wasn't sure whether he disliked the thought or not. He'd been making flames since before he even understood what magic was, or how it worked. It was a part of him, somehow moreso than it was for others who could cast it. A living thing, living inside of him. The word parasite came to mind, but Drayk didn't know if it was appropriate.

The young woman's eyelids half-masted, hooding her dark oculars in a way caught between thoughtfulness and sorrow. "I think that it's the sort of thing one never forgets, though eventually it did grow to feel somewhat foreign, yes," she replied softly. "It seems with magic, what you know is what you always know, but some things cannot be learned. Perhaps we're all just made of slightly-different stuff." Her shoulders lifted, lightly, as though it had never once troubled her that things were that way, as though the thought had never crossed her mind that she'd have once given up all her fire, all her conjurations and illusions, for the simplest spark of healing talent. But this wasn't about her, it was about him, and so she didn't mention anything of the sort. "You'll know when you need to."

Foreign. That was the word. It was still there, not at his fingertips at all times as it once had been, but still within him, only now he hadn't spoken with it in so long that it had indeed become foreign to him. His goal was for a certain kind of peace between him and the fire. Not the domination it had exerted over him earlier in his life, and not the repression he'd forced it away with in the past few years, but a working relationship. Perhaps even that was too generous. All it was capable of was destroying. Perhaps turning the tables on it was preferable, perhaps that was how he needed to think of things.

He would have to ponder it later, as their target at last presented itself down the road, coming around a slight bend and into their line of sight. Several horse-drawn carriages made up the bulk of the caravan, the animals pulling large cages on wheels rather than supplies or free passengers. The Imperials themselves looked perhaps thirty in number, and even from this distance Drayk could see that some of them were not well. A few limped slightly, others cradled arms awkwardly as they moved steadily ahead, guarding their newly acquired prisoners. No doubt the Stormcloaks had not gone down without a fight. They could only hope this Vodrin was among the living still.




Persnickety bastard. The Imperial had the gall to call her out for "not sticking to formation". She was not part of his company, she was just attached to it for a little extra muscle. She offered her services to Legate Rikke, and here she is, being chewed out by a haughty Imperial bastard. If it wasn't for her, the stormcloaks would have done a lot more damage than they did. She truly lived up to her name as a defender in the battle, many of those Imperial men, including the Captain. However, she wasn't the confrontational sort, so she took the tongue lashing with zero excitement or emotion. He could run his mouth all he wanted, but what mattered was how he ran the company. As it were, they were currently traveling down a road in the direction of Markarth. She was perched ontop of her chestnut mare, lovingly named Berry, adjusting her armor and taking stock. The next time they found a hammer and anvil, she had some dents and kinks to work out of both her armor and her shield.

All the while the Imperial beside her chattered on about the glory he had won and the promotion he was going to get. She merely rolled her eyes as she checked her gauntlets over for third time. "For this Lynly, Tullius is sure to promote me. It's not going to be Captain Aelius anymore. No, it's going to be Major Aelius." Lynly didn't even raise her head for this. She instead looked behind her at the battered Imperials and the rolling cage of prisoners. It was almost sickening how this Captain was parading about as he was. They had went through hell, and for what? To capture some of her Kinsmen. The corner of her mouth twitched in disgust and guilt. Was she a traitor to her own homeland? Because she sympathized with the Empire-- no Talos' Empire she would turn her back on her people?

Lynly sighed, her nerves frayed. She wished the war would end. She wished it was over. She wished she didn't have to fight her kinsmen for an ideal. She rubbed her platinum brow with the lining of her gauntlet, and if that Major Aelius didn't quit yapping his trap, she'd have to slap him with the gauntlet. As if that wasn't bad enough, there was also a blasted Khajiit Caravan following them. Her day was just getting better. And it didn't seem to slack up as two figures appeared on the road up ahead.

How many times had they shirked his company? He'd been knocking elbows with them since joining their merry little Caravan and they weren't reacting as he'd imagined; surely not with camaraderie and lit pipes. Instead, they'd answered with the same bald-faced indifference he'd met with in the majority of city's he'd stumbled in. None in Skyrim seemed to like the beast races, much preferring to keep them out in the cold where they belonged. It was puzzling. Silly bludgers must've been jealous of their silken coats. Why else would they shun them? It wasn't as if they'd enslaved the Nords, injudiciously expelled of their past crimes, when slavery was outlawed, as if it were merely a misunderstanding. Not only were they bitterly bigoted – and beautiful, but he digressed – but those paper-skinned Nords couldn't take a joke; humour must've been as rare as warm weather in these parts. The cat's sharp, intellectual eyes were focused directly on him, flitting occasionally on the Imperial company marching ahead of them. For the time being, it wasn't as if they were bothered by their presence, so long as they stood out of the way. He'd already been told to keep that blasted flute stuffed in the deepest recesses of his satchel.

He puffed his cheeks solemnly and turned his claws in front of him, twisting them about, observing the unfortunate nicks chewed across the edges. Such disarray. Never had they been in such poor condition. Only a good jig would rest his dampened soul – but alas, those Nords would not allow him the pleasure. The rest of the Khajiit Caravan hadn't seemed any keener on his consonant exploits. An involuntary shiver travelled down his spine, reminding him that he'd better snatch up a heavy cloak whenever he had the chance. He was dressed in a tight, form-fitting leather vest, which obscured very little of his furred frame. His garments allowed for flexibility and agility; which was little required in such a frozen wasteland. To allow him to really stretch his legs if need be, in combat, while sprinting, or even climbing. The pines speckled across the landscape were hardly noteworthy. There were no hanging vines or interconnected trees or dewy waterfalls with overhanging vegetation. Even still, the Khajiit was unused to Skyrim's prickly pines, looming mountains and that fluffy substance they called snow.

The striped Khajiit hunched his shoulders against the wind, rubbing his arms as if that would somehow lend him some warmth. They were getting some particularly nasty looks from the surrounding troupe of Imperials, not so subtly thrown over their shoulders as they continued walking. On more than one occasion, he asked why they were following so closely, and each time he was met with the same halfhearted response: same direction, same road, same path, nosey. Apparently, the nomadic merchants wanted nothing to do with his curiosity: or him, for that matter. He caught them saying so one night while they thought he slept. His heart had clenched, forming a tight ball of comprehension. Fine, fine. More the better, they'd lose out on a grand adventure. And so, the striped Khajiit ventured dangerously close to the Imperial group, busying his hands behind his back, and walking as if he were suddenly on a tightrope, performing for a much more pleasant crowd.

The convoy, Imperials and Stormcloaks and Khajiit and all, rolled on into the Reach, their leader remaining proud, even if his company had paid dearly for their capture of the Stormcloak rebels. The Khajiit were a mere annoyance, a threat they had to be aware of, but one they could do little about. They were causing no trouble, and it was unlikely they were spies, nor could it be said that they were harassing the men. Still, Aelius would be asking them to hold back sooner rather than later, especially if they caused any trouble.

He held up a single fist upon noticing the pair of travelers on the road, and the caravan ground to a halt, the Stormcloak prisoners stirred from the monotony, craning their heads about around each other to see what had caused the captain to stop. It was not surprising that they were armed, given their current location. The woman carried a sword and the man a shield, and both wore the robes of mages, though the man's gloves and boots were plated with Nordic-made steel. Aelius spoke down to them from atop his horse, the majority of his men seeming glad for the opportunity to rest.

"Hail, travelers. A dangerous place to stand about in the road, wouldn't you say? This is an Imperial convoy. Please step aside. These prisoners must be delivered to their destination with all haste." There was silence for a brief moment, before a loud and booming voice spoke up from the prisoner's wagon. "Hail, Sellswords!" At which point the entirety of the group of prisoners shouted together. "HAIL!"

Aelius looked a bit dumbfounded, glancing back at his prisoners. "...Shut it back there!" he called. Lynly merely grinned to herself.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong

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Adrienne shifted back and forth slightly on her feet. She didn' have Sinderion's ears, but she could hear the sounds of the distant wagon trundling, the thuds as the wheels hit a rut in the road and smacked against the axles. So much of this country was still so wild; even the main paths from hold to hold were rarely cobblestoned or paved in any way whatsoever. Her arms, which had been folded comfortably beneath her cloak, she shifted to make her empty hands visible, fingers flexing slightly in their fur-lined gloves. Within moments, the procession she could hear was also visible, and she tried to mark the number and kind of people she could see. Most appeared to be rank-and-file Imperial soldiers, but there was a woman who stuck out for her lack of synchronicity with the formation. Probably a mercenary just like them. There were more wagons than she thought there should be- and was that a Khajit? Curious.

She jumped slightly when the two of them were shouted at by the entire wagonful of prisoners, but stilled her reaction smoothly, and a small smile touched her face. That was promising, if for no other reason than it was unlikely that anyone would just know their two faces unless they had could reason. It meant they were on the right track, at any rate. Now, to stay on it.

Adrienne waited for the body of the march to reach them before she spoke, remaining still out of deference and a desire to appear as nonconfrontational as possible. A quick scan of the men identified the one in charge, from both the quality of his armor and the obvious pride in his bearing- puffed chest, long stride, chin high. It had clearly crossed the line into arrogance some time ago, which meant that she needed to offer no challenge to his authority if she were to succeed. Flattery and charm, on the other hand, would get her exactly where she needed to go; it was a type of person she knew better than she would have liked to admit.

"Hail, sir," she called, audibly but not with unnecessary force. "I hope it is not presumptuous of me to ask, but might we have your ear for a moment?" Her eyes flickered briefly to the platinum-haired woman warrior, but were back on the leader's (in the legion, he was probably a Captain, which meant that if she were to try using his rank, she'd want to go one step higher by 'mistake') momentarily.

The captain looked none too pleased with the greeting his prisoners had given the pair in front of them, and he scowled as he dismounted, closing the distance until he was a few paces from Adrienne. Drayk stood a step behind and to the left, thumbs hooked under the strap of the shield slung across his back. He showed no sign of wanting to speak, but did his best to look friendly, at least. The captain placed one hand on his hip, the other casually resting on the hilt of his broadsword. His posture was not threatening, however, and it was unclear whether the move had been intentional or not.

"Captain Aelius, Imperial Legion. You have my ear for a moment, use it wisely. We've places to be."

"Of course, Captain," Adrienne demurred with a dip of her head. "We are Adrienne Jastal and Dominicus Drayk of the Sellswords, and we seek a man of great importance to us. We were informed that one of your prisoners, a Vodrin Stonehammer, might have the information we seek. If it were possible, we would speak with him, for any period of time you would be willing to grant us." Straightening from her slight bend, she looked the man in the eye and smiled, as though she had no concept that this might be unorthodox in the slightest. To be fair, she wasn't exactly incredibly familiar with how the Legion operated, but this was bound to be at least a little irregular.

"Of course, if you feel it wise, we would offer no resistance to accompaniment. I understand you bear a responsibility to keep the prisoners from being freed, and we would not wish for that security to be jeopardized."

"Sellswords?" Aelius echoed. "Never heard of you. Already got a mercenary, too. Don't much care for her," At that, Lynly glared an icy stare at the Imperial bastard. "You want something one of my prisoners can offer. I know which one this Stonehammer is. Bastard took more than a few of my men down before we overwhelmed him. Would have killed him there, but we were on orders to take him alive, specifically. He didn't stop being a pain in my ass after that, either. He's been keeping his men riled up ever since he woke. So I'm not sure how letting you two strangers talk to him can do me any good."

"I can heal," Drayk offered, drawing the captain's attention away rather suddenly, as though he had almost forgot the other mage was there. "Some of your men are clearly injured. Let us talk to him, and I'll fix them up." The captain regarded Drayk skeptically for a moment, before the mage lit a small ball of a prepared healing spell in his hand, to show him. A few of the men murmured behind the captain, unable to hear the conversation, but watching intently all the same. The captain rubbed his temples in thought.

"I'll give you a few minutes. The carriage is open to the air, I don't see why you can't speak to him while he stays locked up. My men will watch. The healer will get to work. Deal?" Drayk shrugged to Adrienne. It seemed a decent offer, if she didn't mind trying to extract information in the middle of two groups of soldiers. "I'll go with her," Lynly stated matter-of-factly. Anything to get away from the windbag for even a little bit.

"Very well. Our thanks," Adrienne replied, retuning Drayk's shrug with a similarly-styled lift of one shoulder. It wouldn't be the first time she'd spoken where a crowd could hear, after all. Since they'd undoubtedly be shorter on time than she'd like, it only made sense to get started now. Stepping forward, the young woman waited for the formation to part slightly to let her slip through and approach the cart while Lynly dismounted and followed silently behind. The prisoners within were mostly men, the majority wearing Stormcloak armor in various states of disrepair. Bloodstains and tears were quite common, with the smell one would expect to be associated with such a situation. For this, she lifted her deferential mask and replaced it with one made more likely of steel, straightening her spine and lifting her chin to project quiet, assured confidence.

It was not immediately obvious which one of these was Vodrin, so she spoke first. "I'm looking for Stonehammer. Who here answers to the name?" Without speaking, Lynly pointed at the one she figured was Stonehammer. They didn't quite take the time to introduce themselves before attacking, but she specifically remembered the man hammering away quite heavily on her shield. If the rest of soldiers didn't intervene when they did, she may have ended up with a broken arm for her trouble. Once she pointed him out, her hand with drew and placed itself back on her elbow. Her arms were crossed, as her shoulders turned in on themselves. She looked uncomfortable in the middle of the formation, with soldiers staring at them. Though she took small comfort in the fact that they were mostly staring at this Sellsword and the one called Stonehammer.

A general cheer went up in the prisoners' cart, shouts of "Stonehammer!" and "Death to the Empire!", among others. The man Lynly had pointed to stood, revealing his full height, which was ridiculous, even for a Nord. The man was near superhuman in his sheer size and muscle mass, but for all that, he didn't have many other intimidating qualities. His dark brown hair was braided entirely, falling below his shoulders, a goatee on his chin braided likewise. Several silver earrings pierced each ear, and wore a close-lipped grin that was more unsettling than anything else, what with the sense of knowing that accompanied it.

He took the one step necessary to reach the correct side of the cage he was contained in, the leather of his battered Stormcloak officer's armor creaking as he did so. His hands reached up to grip the interlaced bars of the cage as he leaned against, peering down at the woman who was simply puny to him in comparison. His voice was as deep as one would expect from a man of his size, but it carried no hostility in its tone. "My name is Vodrin, and I am called the Stonehammer. The reason for that would be more obvious if the warrioress here and her comrades had not butchered my men and rounded the rest up for the slaughter. I pity the horse that was tasked with lugging my weapon about."

He seemed to think better of his words, and gave Lynly a respectful nod of his head. "But you fought very well. Like a true daughter of Skyrim, if I may say so. You have my respect, regardless of your allegiances." At this point, Drayk was setting to the task of healing those Imperial soldiers that had taken injuries, but he was still able to listen to the conversation, since most of the soldiers had gathered closer to the cart, interested to hear what the Sellswords wanted with their hard-earned captives.

"Now, to the matter at hand," Vodrin said, looking back to Adrienne, "He told me you'd be following closely, and here you are. I have to admit, I expected more than the pair of you. You're a little small, but hopefully you'll do. I have the information you seek, if you'd be willing to perform the smallest of favors first. Willing to make a trade, girl?" There was something akin to a distant howl on the wind as he finished the question, and his grin grew slightly.

So it was to be a bargain. Not entirely unexpected, and Adrienne remained steady, undaunted by the man's massive size. And why should she be? Not only was he behind the bars of a cage, he gave no impression of being unreasonable. Still, caution was the name of the game, and she wasn't about to commit herself or any of the others to anything without knowing the terms precisely, fine print, caveats, and all. "That depends on what you consider 'the smallest of favors,' Vodrin," she replied with a small smile. "But we are mercenaries, no matter how diminutive we may appear, and we'd gladly hear your terms."

"They're pretty simple, really," Stonehammer said casually, before he pointed with a finger towards Captain Aelius. "Kill him." The entire audience got rather still just then, and Drayk immediately paused his healing spell, glancing over his shoulder at Adrienne and the rest. Stonehammer continued as though he'd said nothing unusual. "Just him. The rest I don't care about. They fought well, for the most part. This one, though, he stood behind the rear and watched his men fall under our weapons. A commander bleeds with his men, doesn't he?"

He pushed away from the cage, the discussion of the commander the first thing that had gotten him to show much emotion other than that knowing grin, which was soon returned to its place. "Either you kill him now, or I kill him later, when I get out of here. But only one of those paths sees you getting the information you want. I'm curious to see if your teacher had the same effect on you that he had on me is all."

The captain stepped forward, looking more than a little outraged. "That's more than enough out of you, I think. I'm not opposed to removing your tongues to make the rest of this trip quieter, you know."

Stonehammer's smirk didn't budge in the slightest. "Ah, but you'd have to come in here to do that, wouldn't you?" The captain didn't give him a response, instead turning to Adrienne. "I think I've had enough of this farce, to be honest. Why don't you and your friend move along?"

Adrienne froze at the request, temporarily rendered unable to speak. She'd expected something of this nature, to be sure, but not that request. As she processed the words, though, turning them over in her head, she realized that her immediate instinct to refuse- and venomously- might not be the wrong one. Narrowing her eyes, she scrutinized Stonehammer's face as though searching for something, an odd idea forming in her head. Crossing her arms over her chest, she looked once sideways- at Drayk, her face betraying a small hint of anxiety through the veneer of cool composure- and silently apologized to him and the others in case what she was about to do ruined their chances.

Without actually dignifying his comment with a verbal response, Adrienne held up a hand to silence the Captain, something she knew he wouldn't like, but truthfully, she didn't have much more patience for that type of person than Vodrin claimed to have. Once upon a time, she would have taken advantage of him without much guilt at all, and probably laughed at the foolishness of his arrogance afterwards, but she was a different person now. Even if... even if doing the right thing barred them from their goal, it would prove something else, and that something might be just as important in the long run.

Only one of these paths sees you getting the information you want. I'm curious to see if your teacher had the same effect on you that he had on me is all. That had to be the answer. And on the chance that it wasn't, well, she wanted to be wrong.

Drawing herself up to her (unimpressive) full Breton's height, she raised her chin and stared Vodrin down. "I refuse. Coward or no coward, I won't assassinate him just because you're blackmailing me into it. If you know anything at all of the Mentor, you know he'd never ask it of me either."

Captain Aelius looked about to force the issue when he was silenced, but backed off as Adrienne struck down Vodrin's offer. Drayk had ceased healing entirely at this point, much to the dismay of the limping soldier next in line, but the rest were quite focused on the confrontation occurring before them. A few of the Stormcloaks were casting ire in Adrienne's direction, others eagerly awaiting Stonehammer's response.

"The Mentor..." he said, as if the words were funny to him, "you're stumbling into a lair of wolves, hands bound and blindfolded, because he asked it of you. You've no idea just what kind of game you've become a player in. But you chase after him all the same, why? Because you're nothing without him. Nothing without the Master to watch over you, guide your steps, teach you a way to bring the world under your control." Another howl on the wind, almost more of a shriek, one that echoed about the steep slopes of the Reach, caused him to halt. A number of the soldiers looked about for the source, fruitlessly. Drayk was scratching his head in thought. They needed information from this guy, but all they were going to get for trying to comply with his command was a horde of Imperial soldiers bearing down on them. And the old man had taught them better, as Adrienne had pointed out.

"You're running out of time," Stonehammer pointed out. "But if you're so certain another way will present itself--"

"We are," Drayk said. "He wants us to find him. He'll find a way to reach us if we can't reach him. We won't turn back into what we were to find him. We're better than that now."

"Someone wants you to find him, that much is certain," was Stonehammer's reply, "I hope you aren't disappointed when you do, Sellswords."

He'd no sooner said the words than Drayk spotted a dark shape appear over a nearby ridge, coming directly towards them, and fast. A few of the soldiers spotted it too, and gave startled gasps, or even cries of alarm. The roar prompted drawing of weapons. It was a cry that rang throughout the valley, and in their heads. Captain Aelius slid his own sword from its sheath, looking up. "What the hell is that?" His men gave no answer. Some were too petrified to move, others more capable, drawing bows and pulling arrows back.

Drayk had only seen a dragon in books that the Mentor had shown him, old tomes, pictures drawn by artists, guesswork at what they would look like. They weren't too far off. This creature was armored head to tail in slate-grey scale, a long, flexible neck like a snake extending from the body, a wingspan that created a shadow that covered the entire caravan when it flew under the morning light. It formally announced its presence with a gout of fire shooting from its mouth, the blaze setting alight the path ahead of the caravan. Its second pass cut off the rear, pinning the caravan in place.

There was mass confusion among the soldiers, and the Captain had long since lost order among his troops. Most had bows drawn and were attempting to fire back at the creature. The Stormcloak prisoners cart was equally chaotic, the soldiers banging against the cage, screaming to be let out, that they would help fight it, some pleading that they wished to die with a blade in hand, not burned in a cage. Stonehammer was still amidst it all, his voice somehow raising above the din.

"Kill him, or something else will. It's a mercy, really. The offer still stands."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: Qa'naro

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Drayk and Adrienne seemed to have gotten into the caravan with little trouble, and Van was glad for that. It meant that they had that much less blood to shed that day. Van was standing behind a large boulder, obscuring his view from the distant caravan. He was close enough to be able to fire off a volley of ice or lightning if need be, but far enough to not be seen by the soldiers. Who, in a matter of fact, seemed too battered to even look for them. It seemed like the battle with the Stormcloaks took a lot out of the Emperor's men. Van nodded toward Sinder as the pair entered the caravan under the careful watch of a nordic woman. Things were going a lot smoother than he expected, and for once, the unexpected was a nice change from the norm.

Adrienne and the nord (or he assumed they did. All he could see over the throng of soldiers was the platinum head of the Nord) went to the prisoner cart while Drayk went around healing the soldiers. A trade Vanryth deduced. For once, could they ever get something for nothing he wondered. Probably not. Then this Stonehammer came into view-- there was no mistaking him. He was a bear of a man befitting the name of Stonehammer. Van found himself wondering how the hell they even managed to catch him to put him in the cage. The soldiers froze suddenly, and even from the distance Van was at, he could tell that something happened. Someone had said something. Whether it was Adrienne herself, or something this Stonehammer said, he didn't know. All eyes were on the Captain, then Adrienne, then Vodrin. What the hell's going on Vanryth wondered.

Alas, that mystery was one to be solved later. Something was carried on the wind, something dire and dangerous. Tis were no sound of battle or even a creature that Van knew about. His eye was forcibly torn from the caravan in order to find the owner of the sound. A dark mass, flying, streaking across the horizon and zeroing in on their position. It couldn't have been... Could it? They were only children's tales about Skyrim's past. Panic ensued in the caravan as Vanryth slowly realized that the thing flying towards them was no tale. It was real.

It was a dragon.

If there was any sign of danger greater than that, Vanryth would be hard pressed to find it. He bolted from the rock he was hiding behind, Sinder hopefully in tow, and ran to the caravan-- Adrienne and Drayk in particular. He ignited a lightning spell in his hand as he ran. Safety in numbers, right? Though how many numbers were required to defeat a dragon remained to be seen. Vanryth couldn't help but silently curse their luck... Along with the initial volley of arrows, a streak of lightning likewise followed their wake.

Sinderion crouched with his back braced against a tree, an arrow nocked to his bowstring, pulled taut. Regardless of their intentions now, there was no telling if any of these Imperials or their Stormcloak prisoners would become violent at any point in the future, and he'd be damned if he trusted any of them. The conversation, such as it was, filtered to his ears in soft tones, and he found himself with an instinctive dislike of the Imperial captain. Then again, Sinder instinctively disliked most people... it was sort of natural when your instincts defaulted to 'kill it first and ask questions later.'

When the first foreign sound whistled in on the wind, Sinder tensed, not quite sure what to make of it. Adrienne's refusal to accept Stonehammer's terms was something he would have been proud of (though perhaps not something he would have decided himself; it was impossible to say without being in the situation) if he'd registered it beyond the mere details. Instead, his every sense was straining towards that sound, and when the second one came, it sent a chill down his spine, lighting something beneath his skin on fire. It took everything he had not to bound off in the direction from which it was issuing, howling his defiance in return.

When the flying creature appeared, he understood why. His very nature was calling him, tugging at the loose threads of his sanity, urging him to fight an impossible battle and rend flesh with claws and teeth, to live with the memory of pure triumph or die with the taste of dragon on his tongue. His rational faculties informed him that it would almost certainly be the latter if it came to that, but each part of him was wholeheartedly commited to rushing into the fray behind Vanryth, the self-preserving considerations muted by the thought that Adrienne and Drayk were right there in the thick of things, and would likely not be able to escape without assistance, if at all.

The whole thing was headed to Oblivion in a handbasket already, as the Captain proved incapable of rallying his men in any organized manner. By contrast, the Sellswords seemed to be mustering, and he personally was at Drayk's side in little time, firing off a steel arrow, aiming for one of the massive reptile's diaphanous, leathery wings. Punch enough holes through those, and it would be forced to land. Whether that situation would be any better than this one... well, that remained to be seen.

What on earth...? Adrienne, generally quite quick of wit and not at all lacking in academic knowledge (the benefit of a highborn education), found herself momentarily floored by the appearance of a creature from myth. To be frank, she'd never really thought that dragons were real, let alone that she'd ever actually see one. Her doe-eyes were wide as saucers, her jaw slightly slack until she closed it automatically, shaking herself. If I don't do something, I won't be seeing anything much longer! she reminded herself, her hand flying to the hilt of her sword. Not much use at the moment, given its elevation. Biting her lips, she took stock of the situation quickly. Complete chaos in the Imperial ranks, and the Stormcloaks were all but begging to be released.

Understandable; she wouldn't want to be some flimsy steel bars away from dragon-food either. Well, she supposed there was nothing else for it. Either she let them out and maybe some of them would stay to fight as they'd promised, or she let them die, and there was no way she'd be able to do that. Resolved, she hurried to the cage, examining the lock. She was no good at picking these things, and frankly anything else would take too much time. Brute force was going to have to be enough, but that was something she lacked. Pursing her lips, she called up the magicka, blasting the lock with a concentrated dose of frost. It iced over immeidately, and she hoped that would be enough to make the steel brittle enough to crack under enough pressure. "Stand back," she warned the Stormcloaks inside, though whether any of them heard her was questionable at best.

Turning to the female mercenary who'd accompanied her here, the person most likely by her lights to actually help free these people, she spoke, loud enough to be heard over the din. "I've frozen the lock! If I heat your sword, you should be able to break right through it! Will you?"

"Yes," was the monosyabllic answer. Lynly had already drawn her shield and sword at the first sign of trouble-- which was in this case the cry from a fable. Scales and leathery skin, teeth the size of her torso and talons sharper than the sharpest skysteel sword. During her span as an adventurer, she had faced many foes and slain many, though a dragon was nowhere on that extensive list. She doubted that it'd stay that way, as it was much more likely that she would be added to the list of the thing's prey. If they were to even have a hope to survive this, they were to band together and fight as one. She held out her blade for the woman's magickal flames. Once the iron was glowing red from the flames, she struck hard on the frozen lock. Ice and fire met in a hissing symphony, shattering the lock in the process.

With nothing left holding the door to the latch, it swung wide to allow the prisoners to fight and die as true sons and daughters of Skyrim should. With a blade in their hand and steel in their eyes. As the prisoners escaped their prison, Lynly tried to catch the eye of Stonehammer, nodding toward him, speaking the most words she had thus far, from one nord warrior to another. "Empire or Stormcloak, an honorable man and a son of Skyrim should not die in a cage like some rabid dog. Take up arms, Stonehammer, and fight with honor. May we meet each other in Sovngarde if all else fails," She said, her shoulders square and her back straight. All evidence of the socially awkward Nord was erased upon the sight of a good battle and in the company of honorable men. She respected Stonehammer, respected him much more than the cowardly captain. So much in fact, she may even forgive if a certain... Imperial went missing during the fight.

"Stay close," she told the mage, taking her eyes off of Stonehammer. Lynly doubted the woman's robes could stop the fire of a dragon, nor it's teeth, though she had her own doubts about her own armor and shield. She had said that she would go with the woman, and she took that as being her temporary aegis. Lynly was nothing if not the honorable sort herself. It was in the Nords' blood. She held the shield out in front of her in a defensive stance, watching as the dragon flew, and waited.

The Khajiit who'd been prancing so close to the Imperial caravan might have been intimidating in appearance, but his quick-witted, survivalist intelligence begged to differ – so when the dragon's leathery wings beat across the skies like two mighty sails, billowing against the heavens, he'd suddenly disappeared. Cowardice has always kept it's proprietors alive. Healthy, warm, and whole. Recklessness and bravery usually, always in his experiences, ended in rolling heads, missing limbs, and a brokenness that could only be salved with heaping amounts of ale. Perhaps, even time couldn't, or wouldn't, apply it's soothing balm. Some hurts were incurable, inescapable. Shame was a Nord's most distinctive weakness, snaking through their bellies in the most agonizing ways. It ate them up, chewed, and spat them out. What was a Khajiit's weakness? An unhealthy curiosity, an insatiable need for shiny objects, and a dissatisfied need for moon sugar. His own weaknesses weren't far from the mark of usual Khajiit vices.

He did not desire to die today. Not with all of his dreams unmet. Nein pressed his back against an outcrop of rocks, raking his claws softly against it's rough surface. He imagined their horrified faces, mouths agape, eyes bulging. If they weren't ash and dust, incinerated by the dragon's fiery breath, then they'd end up in it's maw, ripped to gory bits. This was the first time he'd ever seen one – hadn't then been mere stories? Told to children to keep them from being naughty, or to describe what had happened in great, long-forgotten wars. This was different. This was very real. An overwhelming sense of self trembled down his back, prickling through his fingers, lending him hefty amounts of adrenaline. He would have stayed there until the dragon promptly killed every single one of them, or if by some miracle, they'd managed to stave the dragon's attack and kill it themselves. It seemed unlikely. But, it was her. Somehow, Nein found himself hooking his arm around the rock, swinging himself around so that he could make his descent. She was all lean lines and graceful movements. It was enchanting. He watched her dark head lift for air and caught the flush of exertion staining her cheeks. Ready for anything, and everything, even at the dragon's approach. It was a foolish thought, but he'd always been curious.

The Khajiit's fingers closed around his greatswords hilt, reaching around his broad shoulder. The blade came free from it's sheath with a sharp shiiink; clean from disuse, sharp from frequent applications of whetstone. It was odd. Even having his own blade made him feel out of place, as if it weren't meant for his hands, or paws, rather. No longer did he have decorative chains binding his wrists, or his ankles. He was free to do as he wished. These were unselfish acts of bravery, and courage, and loyalty. Certainly, all of these peculiar traits were unknown to him. For now, Nein would play at dauntlessness, and carry on his role as an uneducated Khajiit. He sidled alongside the woman who'd caught his eye, glanced at her sideways, and focused on the horizon.

The shouts and chaos among the men was more than enough to drown out Captain Aelius' cries of "What are you doing?" and "You do not have the authority to release those prisoners!", and as soon as Lynly had begun her swing to destroy the lock, he curiously began to put distance between himself and the prisoners' cart, swiping a bow from a nearby horse, and joining his men in attempting to put holes in the dragon's wings.

The Stormcloaks themselves scrambled to get out of the cage, all except for Vodrin Stonehammer, who waited patiently at the back, for his men to be free first. His face had gone more or less blank, no real emotions present to give away his thoughts, but the man seemed awfully calm, considering that he was in the midst of a creature from legend. As the last of his soldiers removed themselves from the cage, he stood, responding to Lynly words. "If all else fails," he echoed, before he dropped from the cart with a heavy thud, boots hitting the ground. There had been a moment of uncertainty among the men of the two armies, an instant in which they looked to each other and searched for any signs of hostility, but that was quickly erased. The two sides banded together, the Stormcloaks reclaiming weapons from a cart that had collected them after the raid, their mutual enemy uniting them.

Drayk had chosen to intensify his focus on healing the soldiers rather than concerning himself with the dragon, and the fact that it had just trapped them between two walls of fire. His magicka was draining quickly at this rate, too fast, considering how long this fight would probably last. "Adrienne!" he called. "Got any magicka potions?" He couldn't help but notice the massive Stonehammer as he healed others. The Nord was still unarmed, walking a relaxed pace towards a horse at the head of the column. A few of his men spared glances in his direction, before returning their attention to the more pressing concern that was the dragon. Drayk himself couldn't help but think of their own situation. That man was still their only lead, and the only way it seemed they could get his help was by killing that Imperial captain who had run off into the midst of his men...

No. The thought wasn't worth entertaining. Adrienne had turned him down, and so could he. They wouldn't sink to where they had been, even if that meant the Mentor would be lost to them.

The dragon had gained altitude since the ground troops had been able to coordinate a more effective attack against it. A lucky arrow here and there pierced a wing, and Vanryth's lightning was clearly having some effect, though it wasn't clear if it was doing anything more than annoying it. Eventually, it reached a height almost out of reach of the arrows, and circled, causing some of the men, and Drayk, to wonder if it was possibly going to be leaving. But those thoughts were dispelled when it suddenly pulled its wings in, fell into a dive, hurtled towards the ground, opened its mouth, and launched a pillar of fire before flapping its wings open and regaining height.

The Khajiit caravan that had been trailing the Imperials was hit directly, and more or less obliterated, adding a new kind of shout to the din: the screams of a living being on fire, those intensely agonizing moments before the release of death. It wasn't something Drayk could shut out, and he found himself standing quite still, forgetful of what he had been doing before, staring blankly at the ground a few feet in front of him, hearing only the screams of the dying.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong

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"Will do," Adrienne replied to the mercenary woman, fully intent on taking up the tacit offer of defense. Granted, she doubted very much that it would matter a whole lot to the dragon whether it had to burn through some plate before it reached soft-Breton-girl, but the thought was what counted, right? Besides, she had no intention of dying here and leaving the rest of her life unfinished, which meant they were all going to need as many advantages as they could give themselves. Numbers might be a good start, but the likelihood of a Frost Atronach standing up long against a (presumably) fire-breathing dragon was a bit slim, so help would have to come in lesser forms. She was no Daedra summoner at this point in her life, nor had she ever been, so for now it looked like bolstering their numbers in smaller ways would have to do.

Distance capability was key as well, so she summoned a bound bow, the purplish magic leaving her fingertips in a rush. Directing it to fire upon the dragon, Adrienne turned at Drayk's call for a potion and nodded quickly, reaching into a pocket of her robes and producing a magicka restorative. Though small in size, the liquid within was quite potent. "Catch!" she called, tossing it underhanded in his direction, mostly since there was a span of unguarded distance between them that she did not desire to navigate, in case it should make her a target.

Not long afterwards, the dragon pulled up and dove, setting the caravan that had been trailing the Imperials alight. The young woman swallowed past the lump in her throat; certainly, she would not have expected such a creature to know mercy, but... for what purpose did it kill them? Biting her lip, she shook the thought from her head quite literally and took a deep breath. If they had any hope of success, they'd either have to force it to land or get good enough at predicting its movement patterns to know when to shoot. And when to run.

The magicka potion hit Drayk square in the chest, knocking him out of his stupor. Amazingly, he reacted quickly enough to snag it before it shattered against the ground, uncorking it and downing the familiar tasting liquid in one go. He instantly felt his reserves replenish, magical energies returning to his fingertips. He wondered how long this round would last, before he needed another. The Khajiits had finally been released from their torment by death, but as the dragon made another pass, others weren't quite as lucky. It swooped low, snatching an Imperial archer in its jaws, the two clawed feet snagging an Imperial and a Stormcloak both. A simple snap of jaws and feet later, and their ribcages and spines were no more, before it released them, letting broken bodies fall into the valley below.

But the combined ranged attack they were putting forth was doing something, that much was clear. It was making lower passes, more frequently, temporarily laying off the fire in order to move ahead with more attacks with physical means. It seemed to be working from the rear of the column up to the head, and the soldiers at the back were taking the brunt of its blows. Stonehammer had reached a horse at the head of the column, and was currently rummaging through its bags, with no real sense of urgency. Shaking his head, Drayk turned his attention to the matter at hand: the dragon.

There were a number lying wounded at the rear of the column, Imperials and Stormcloaks alike, cut open by the dragon claws and teeth, those lucky enough not to have been obliterated in a single pass. They'd die without his help, of course. They'd probably die even with it, but seeing as he was the only one who could heal their wounds quickly enough to save them, it fell to him. He flipped his shield over on his back, figuring he would use both hands to speed up the process, even if it meant forgoing some defense. He doubted a steel shield would be much use against a dragon anyway.

Moving swiftly through the soldiers, whose eyes were largely skyward and not leveled with the ground, Drayk pushed and shoved past those who stumbled into his path, making for the severely wounded at the rear. The shadow of the dragon passed over him, a roar ringing in his head. The flaming remains of the Khajiit group danced in front of him as he neared, disorienting him somewhat, but he kept his eyes towards the ground, letting the din of the fight drown out the crackling of flames feasting on flesh and fur. The first man he came across was Imperial, a soldier curled up on the ground, trying to keep his inside inside, from a slicing wound a claw had clearly inflicted on him.

"Hold still," Drayk commanded him, sliding to a knee, healing magic flaring up in his palms. He let it flow into the fallen man, the effort of healing such a grievous wound so quickly wearing on him, but he pushed through it. When the task was done, he forcefully pulled the man to his feet and shoved him in the direction of the rest of the troops, to get him moving. On to the next. It was a Stormcloak soldier, a woman, shouting and trying to pull herself off the ground even as her blood ran in a current onto the stone and dirt. "That's the quickest way to Sovngarde, you know!" Drayk shouted to her, to which she spat at him. Ignoring her, he grabbed her under the shoulders and hauled her to the relative cover of the nearest supply cart, forcing her to lay still. This was going to be a challenge. He let healing magic wash over her, both hands outstretched. "Stop moving! This'll just take longer if you--"

His words were cut off when his world seemed to explode from his left. He'd heard the dragon's roar, but expected it to just pass over. Apparently the ranged attacks had worn it down enough to force it to land. It had swooped low, barreling through the supply cart Drayk had taken cover behind as it landed, sending the crates, the cart, and even the horses, flying from where they had stood. The earth had erupted beneath Drayk, and he felt himself lifted into the air, floating towards the far side of the road, crashing to the ground amidst the wreckage. The world seemed to shake as it landed.

Which way was up? It seemed like such a simple question, but when Skyrim flipped over and over in his vision, Drayk couldn't be sure. There was the dirt, the pieces of the cart, the slate scales of the dragon, the cries of the men, the siren's call of the fire. It was so close. An inferno in an unknown direction. In all directions, closing in. He made a feeble attempt at standing, but the dragon slamming a front claw to the ground put an end to that, and Drayk went back down to hands and knees, wondering why Adrienne's breakfast hadn't come back up yet.

He could feel it taking in a breath near him. Feel its dark eyes on him, whatever other wounded had survived the dragon's landing. He wondered where the others were. Maybe they would get away. Find the Mentor, get him back. Sinder could conquer the beast inside of him. Van could repair the ruins of his life. Adrienne could find something worth living for. Even if the world conspired against them, they could pull through, couldn't they? They were strong, stronger than he had ever been, even if he fancied himself their protector or some such nonsense. He was happy, at least, that he had changed who he was before it came to this.

That was the thought he held as the dragon opened its jaws and exhaled, enveloping Drayk and everything around him in a towering inferno, engulfing the entire rear of the column in flames before the dragon crashed through them to attack the rest.

At some point in the confusion, Drayk had left Sinder's side, and though the elf was in general loath to let his companions out of his sight at a time like this, he understood that they would not be at their best simply clustered around in a bunch, waiting for the dragon to attack them all at once. Arrow after arrow flew from his bow, a few puncturing the leathery wings in places, but for the most part, they simply glanced off the creature's underbelly. With a low, rippling growl of frustration, the Altmer replaced the weapon at his back. The waste of arrows was unnecessary, and achieving nothing of note except perhaps to drive the opponent to further destruction.

The unwilling lycanthrope watched with a flat blue-eyed stare as a Stormcloak soldier was plucked from the ground and crushed to death. Certainly, he had no intention of allowing that to be him, and Sinder crouched low, making a quick but quiet dash for the treeline. Overt force wasn't going to be able to match such a beast, but perhaps something more subtle would be of use. What that thing should be was not immediately clear, but he'd think of something if he had to. If that something was using the rare blast of rune magic he was capable to to fell a tree on top of the thing, well, then that would have been the best plan on the fly like this.

Walking the treeline, Sinder slipped towards the back of the column of soldiers, which was recieving the heaviest damage by far. There was a roar from overhead, and the dragon swooped low over the coniferous tops, apparently intent on landing. That was both good news and bad, the Altmer was certain. At least it was remaining more or less still for the moment, which gave Sinder the opportunity to implement his slapdash idea. Lining up the best angle he could, the elf murmured a few words beneath his breath, a spell his much more talented sister had once tried to teach him, and grim satisfaction narrowed his eyes when the rune took hold vertically at the base of the pine. Retreating backwards, Sinder caught the sounds of another firey exhalation escaping the creature's lungs, accompanied by shouts. Had he known Drayk was in the middle of that, it would perhaps have paused him, but he continued, ignorant for the moment of the circumstances.

The way he'd lined up his shot, the rune should blow the trunk to pieces, sending the tree crashing down on the dragon (which was big enough to make it the only target). If he were lucky, he'd break a wing or something. If he were unlucky... well, it didn't do much good to think about what he'd do if he were unlucky.

Drawing his bow taut, Sinder aimed for the dead-center of the rune and released. That half of the process, at least, went off without a hitch, and the rune triggered, exploding with a great noise and a shower of smouldering wood. The great tree shuddered and cracked, tipping forward and gathering mometum on the way down.

The dragon had been in the process of biting a Stormcloak soldier nearly in half when the tree came crashing down, and it had been just about to unleash a gout of flame when it collided, coming down hard on the base of the creature's neck, sending the fiery blaze up into the sky rather than tearing through the ranks of the soldiers as it recoiled. It managed to keep its wings out of the way, tucked into its sides, avoiding much damage, but the weight of the trunk pinned it in place momentarily, offering a small window of opportunity for anyone brave enough to approach the snapping jaws and the threat of incineration. It lasted but a second, however, before the head slithered back out from under the tree, the dragon free again as it quite nearly pounced forward, crushing more soldiers as well as the wagon that had contained the prisoners.

Lynly looked back at the breton girl who she had stepped in front of. Even if she wielded her shield expertly, if the dragon wanted to get at both of them, she doubted the shield would do much to dissuade it. A fruitless, but a proud and noble gesture. Luckily for them, the dragon seemed unconcerned with them, huddled together in the heart of the caravan. The warrior within her found the idea tasteless, that she be looked over by the giant hunter. The realist inside realized that this was probably a good thing. It left less scorched skin and bitten armor. The ground rumbled beneath them as if it was struck by Stendarr's hammer. Lynly's sword and shield fanned out, trying her best to keep her balance. A couple of steps to regain it, and she had accomplished the task of not falling. Now to much harder matters. Like the dragon.

If the ground shaking was any evidence, then the mountainous beast had to have landed. A gout of dragon fire confirmed her thought as that side erupted in a brilliant hue of red and orange. Now the beast was within sword range. She looked to the breton lass, who now had a bound bow in her hand, once more, and spoke words that were perhaps more suited to herself, "Don't do anything stupid and get yourself killed," she said before turning towards the direction of the fire. Adrienne merely frowned. Did she really come off as that naive? If so, she was doing quite a good job deflecting suspicion, but not such a good one being herself. Lynly knew she had to try and do something, she was paid to protect the caravan, not to watch it burn to the ground and have it's inhabitants eaten. A job she wasn't doing so well at, she noted as she waited for the dragon to give her an opening. Swaths of grass and dirt was scorched, the stench of burning flesh and leather filled the air. And there she was, staring down the creature that did it.

Just in time for it to breath fire on them. She tensed and hastily threw her shield up out of instinct, and expected the worst. Though the bath of fire never came and instead it jutted upwards like a volcano. She had the tree on the back of it's skull to thank for that, else she, her armor, and her shield would have been melted into one corpse. She had no idea that a certain Altmer had anything to do with it. Then it pounced, surged forward. The sudden aclarity of the beast startled her. She backpeddled as fast as she could, hoping that the Breton would do the same. Tripping over eachother at a moment like this would prove fatal for all involved-- except for the dragon of course. The crashing of a cart being destroyed drew no attention as the fang riddled face in front of her was a bigger prioity.

Now perhaps was the best opening she could find. She suddenly left the breton and rushed the Dragon itself, veering off to the side so that she could attack the side of it's face. Perhaps still too close for her comfort, but it beat attacking it where most of it's teeth were concentrated. She lashed out with her shield first, swinging it from below so that the edge of it bashed into the dragon's chin, and perhaps closing it's mouth, followed by a stab with her sword in the general direction of it's eye.

Her shield gone, Adirenne stepped out and to the side, circling quickly to the beast's other side. She too had no idea what had happened to Drayk or Sinder, and she couldn't see Vanryth right now, either, which collectively had her unsettled. Fortunately for her, she was too busy trying to stay alive and help slay a dragon to really remember all of her insecurity and unease about being inexperienced in combat, and when there wasn't even time for fear, all the girl could fall back on was something even older and more visceral than that: sheer instinct.

Where Lynly went left, Adrienne went right, targeting the other eye with a frost rune spell, hoping to lay it right on the massive creature's skin. She couldn't trust her shot with the bound bow, so into her free hand went an ice bolt, the daggerlike shape of the projectile spinning in the air just over her palm as it collected more and more of the frost her magicka ws producing. Her breathing was loud to her hearing, the pumping of her blood a series of dull throbs in her ears. Everything else was quieter, from the crunching of wooden carts to the shouts and screams of men. It was like developing tunnel-vision, only much more acute. There was only the cold burn of ice in her skin and the rush of her own heart and lungs.

Inhaling deeply, Adrienne lined up her shot, aiming for the opposite eye from Lynly, the one where she could only hope her rune had stuck, and held her breath for the space of a heartbeat. On the exhale, she let the bolt fly, praying to the nine that there might at least be some kind of relief for those who fought this monster.

The dragon had been in the process of rending an Imperial soldier when Lynly reached it, shield bashing into its chin, knocking out a smaller tooth entirely. The beast moved its head enough for the stab to miss the eye just below, but the blade still sunk deep into flesh, sending dragon's blood spilling to the ground at her feet. Having finished with its previous prey, the head reared back, preparing to snap down at the Nord woman with tremendous jaws. The attack was interrupted, however, by an explosion of frost magic, when Adrienne's spell struck true. Crystalline shards of ice fell from above as the dragon recoiled in pain, much of the right side of its face mutilated by the explosion. It pushed a few paces backwards, flapping wings at the attackers, powerful gusts only meant to delay them while it regained its composure.

At the head of the column, Vodrin Stonehammer was returning, his namesake in his hand, a gleaming one-handed weapon with a head easily twice the size of any man's skull. His eyes calmly scanned the survivors, looking for one in particular.

At the other end of the column, the inferno was beginning to sway, and not from the wind...

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong

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Drayk would not remember if there was any kind of thought process that had occurred in that moment.

As far as he could tell, there was only the fire, an intensity and a magnitude he had never experienced before. For a startling moment, it burned. Seared, scorched, singed, blackened. He had always been different. Fire had never burned him before. It had never hurt him. It caressed, it soothed, it warmed the body and the mind, a lover's embrace that could not be matched. He did not feel it at first. The signals of pain sent from his nerves to his mind were unfamiliar to him, unkind. Why was that? Why should the fire hurt him? It came to him quickly. He was resisting. His gates were closed, and so it sought to burn through his walls, eat its way to his heart, capture him in its own violent, destructive way. If he would only accept it, the pain would cease, replaced by something unimaginable to those that had never experienced it. In that moment, he was faced with a choice: accept or deny. Live, or die.

Conscious or no, the fire mage chose life, and was rewarded with bliss.

It was staggering, overwhelming. Like his very soul had lit on fire, ignited within his chest, warmth filling his body and mind. Not a burning, but warmth. It had been so long since he'd felt that embrace. How close he'd come to forgetting... he would never forget. Not now. Not after this.

From the outside, the inferno he was contained within seemed to stand still for a moment, before moving against the wind, beginning to swirl in a circular pattern, gaining speed and momentum quickly. It picked up off the ground, drawn to a center, swirling into something resembling a tornado. From within, Drayk was on his feet again, his eyes closed, hands slightly outstretched. His fingers tasted power again. There was little he was thinking about at the moment. The feeling was so consuming. He was aware of the danger near him, of the beast that had sought to kill him. He had half a mind to thank it for what it had done. It had forced the step he had been unwilling to make himself. But it had not intended to do so. It had meant to destroy him, and for that he could only respond in kind.

After her ice bolt had struck home, Adrienne had rolled to the side to try and evade whatever countermeasures the half-blind dragon would launch into, but she severely underestimated its reach and found herself tossed to the side for her trouble, three ragged gashes from its claws rent into her lower abdomen and hip. Tears stung her eyes as she tried to regain her feet, the sticky-wet sensation of blood running down her skin and soaking into her robes the least of her worries, accompanied as it was with a near-blinding pain. Red and white spots blossomed in her vision, obscuring nearly everything in her ordinary range of sight. The Breton supposed that she was simply lucky the dragon couldn't exactly see well either, as it had apparently switched targets, and no razor-sharp talon descended to end her miserable, wretched life.

It was almost ironic, really. How many times had she almost died, only to have that lasting oblivion ripped away from her by the forces of serendipity? She'd hated that, once, and even now, she was hard-pressed to decipher why she should be glad of her continued breathing. That was the pain talking, though. Most probably.

Sinderion, still dropped low and moving as quickly as possible while staying out of sight, paused in his movement when the dragon began to thrash around. It was far too unpredictable for him to make a shot right now, the product of the efforts of Lynly and Adrienne, though he had no way to know this, particularly. What he did note was that a mighty taloned forepaw caught the youngest Sellsword by the side, hurling her some distance from itself with a number of gashes. Mage robes were simply no match for such claws, though he doubted very much that even a full set of plate would do much better.

The wind shifted, and the scent of blood was in his nose. The filtering mechanisms were delicate enough for him to differentiate between species, and there was too much Breton- coppery, tinged with magic- in there for his comfort. Sinderion's hands tightened on his bow, his own life-essence filling his mouth when he bit down on his tongue with too-sharp teeth. The pack was in danger, and the beast was demanding that he act. Vengeance, protection... it didn't care which. He needed it, with a violence that made him shudder, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end.

It was only the loud snap as his bow broke in two in his hands, the wood shattering beneath the force of his grip. That... was not somethig the Altmer was usually capable of, and Sinder swallowed heavily. This wasn't good.

Nearly all at once, the tornado of flame condensed in height and increased in density, gathering around each of Drayk's arms in a rush, before he lashed out with his right, a shout accompanying his attack. It struck true, the explosive dragon's fire striking its creator in the back of the head, sending embers and smaller flames raining around it in a wide radius. The dragon itself was dazed, stumbling about, trying to turn itself towards the new threat behind it. Just as it did so he released a second blast from his other arm, directly into its chest. The attack forced it back onto its hind legs for a moment, visibly denting its ribcage and turning what was clearly meant to be a roar into a muffled, choking cough.

As it was, it was more pain that at last enticed the belabored Adrienne to find her feet. When the first great blast hit the dragon's head, the ricocheting flames bounced about everywhere, and a few struck her- one in the left shin and another on the right shoulder, singing through her boot and small mantle to blacken the flesh beneath. As fire will do, however, it threatened to continue its destructive path until little of her was left but ashes, and she rolled painfully onto her stomach, icing her own hands over with frost and using them to put out what smouldering embers remained after that. To her slash-wounds, she applied a similar procedure, effectively freezing the leaking blood and coating over the rends in her flesh. It was by no means a permanent solution, but her body could withstand ice for much longer than fire.

It was only with great effort that she pushed herself to her feet, wobbling unsteadily for a moment until she found her balance mostly on her good leg, in time for something violet to whizz by her nose.

The spectacular conflagration of lights, flames, and glowing arrows were enough to distract Sinderion from his growing rage, and he shoved his unwelcome thoughts aside, running to Adrienne as she righted herself and steadying her with his free hand, the other still holding the broken pieces of his imperial bow. "Are you all right?" He asked, eyeing the frosted gash-marks in her side for a moment before he forced himself to look away. It wasn't going to do anyone any good if he got too upset and went on an uncontrolled rampage. She didn't answer, and he suspected that she might be in shock.

The few remaining soldiers put arrows into it where they could, and a glowing purple arrow from a bound bow struck true as well, accompanied by a bolt of lightning that had clearly not come from Vanryth's direction. All of this combined was enough to force the dragon back into flight, weary and wounded, but still capable of lifting itself. Heavy beats on the wind saw it carried away from the valley, heading north.

Drayk found himself dizzy, from any number of possible causes. He'd just been burned by a dragon, and his robes were quite literally smoking, but for all that, he did not appear greatly burned, merely darkened by soot and ash. The adrenaline of the fight had left him, and with it the bliss of holding fire in his hands once more. He fell to hands and knees, trying to sort out the rush of thoughts he was now having, with little success.

Elsewhere, a woman had emerged from the treeline, from the direction the bound arrow and lightning had come from. Indeed, she held a glowing bow in her hand, electrical energy leaping from finger to finger on the other. She was clothed in gray robes adorned with dark feathers, the skirt of which curved back behind her legs at knee level, apparently to ease running with the flat soled knee high boots she wore. The hood was pushed back, revealing raven black hair that was currently damp with sweat, as was her face. She hefted a tired sigh, watching the dragon leave.

"You win," she huffed, speaking to no one in particular and not really taking note of the multitude of mangled bodies around the site of the caravan. "That's the last time I ever hunt something that can fly that fast."

At the head of the column, Stonehammer had found what he was looking for; he walked directly towards the still struggling form of Captain Aelius, whose legs were buried under a crushed supply cart.

Sinderion's glance flickered first to Drayk, remaining there for long enough to assess that though battered, he was niether in danger of dying nor about to attempt to reduce all of them to ashes, which was enough for now. Seeing Stonehammer, he ignored the man; having heard pieces of the conversation, he wasn't so naive he couldn't figure out the intent behind his grim march to the cluster of Imperials. He also didn't much care at the moment. A newcomer had appeared as well, a young woman holding a purplish bound bow. He was curious as to the reason for the stranger's presence, and he'd caught her quip, but it sounded absurd in his ears. Neverthless, there were more importan tthings to attend to. Adrienne was beside him, and he could see Drayk, but he'd lost track of Vanryth during the chaos.

Several things happened at once, and Adrienne's weary mind, fatigued by the strain of remaining conscious, struggled to process them with anything even remotely near her usual clever capacity. For whatever reason, her brain priortized Drayk, but he seemed to be okay, and something else was nagging at her. Dark doe-eyes instead swung to Stonehammer, approaching the captain, and she started forward, hand still at her side to staunch what little seeping remained. It was a futile effort, however, and there was no way she was making it in time to stop him from what he was attempting. "Why?" she asked, more to herself than anyone else in particular. "Why is it so important that he dies?" Looking around, it was plain to see that the ground had been watered with plenty of blood already, and right now in her exhausted state, she was simply unable to comprehend the need for more death.

Sinder wasn't really sure how to respond to that; he had to confess, he didn't care as much as she did. Death was a fact of life, and whether this Stonehammer chose to bring it to his adversary was little concern of the Altmer's. They were mercenaries by trade- they killed people for far less than the fate of a country. All the same, he felt... awkward. In her softer moments, Adrienne reminded him just a little of his sister, long lost to his past, and that engendered the instinct to do or say something that might put her at ease. Hesitantly, he placed his hand on her shoulder, shaking his head silently. "It is not our concern," he pointed out quietly. "Do not trouble yourself with all the world's ills." He also wanted to tell her to take a potion, but he wasn't sure if she had any, and Drayk didn't look in much shape to be healing anyone at the moment.

"Not yours, But mine," Lynly monotoned, breaking away from the group and marching her own way toward Stonehammer and the Captain. She still seemed to be in full control of her thoughts. It was as if she didn't just strike a dragon's head, nor if the dragon even attacked. Looking at her now, she would give no indication that she had even been in a fight or she had even been in danger. Perhaps it was the Nordic way. Lynly looked just as unperturbed as Stonehammer himself. Both seemingly had a like, singleminded way of doing things. Whatever Stonehammer's was, Lynly's was to see the job, and her honor, intact by the end of the day. She stepped in between the great Nord and the Imperial Captain, blocking his way with her sword. "Let him speak." She asked before turning to the man.

"Where were you? Where were you while your men and the Stormcloaks and these "Sellswords" fought and died against the Dragon? Why are you under a cart instead of on the field? Answer well Aelius," Lynly asked evenly.

The captain struggled to breathe, but managed to work his way out far enough to do so. At the annoyed twitch in Stonehammer's weapon arm, however, he stopped, and spoke where he lay. "Where was I? Among my men, that's where! I--" he winced and clutched his side momentarily, grimacing. "I took up a bow, to fight against the dragon, while the man you've seemingly joined forces with did nothing, leaving his soldiers while he searched for his bloody hammer! I'm under a blasted cart because I thought to take cover, not stand out in the open and be obliterated senselessly! What have you to say to that, Stonehammer?"

The Nord warrior shrugged slightly. "The man speaks true enough. Fear compelled him to fight among his men, all angles of retreat cut off, and further resistance against freeing us resulting in only his death. As for myself, I gave myself a task upon my capture, and I do not let tasks go unfinished. Aelius dies. If no one completes the task for me, I will do it myself. The loss of life on both sides was unfortunate, but unavoidable." His eyes flickered in the direction of the newcomer, who had noticed him as well, but other than that, they did not acknowledge each other. The young woman was still huffing at the escape of the great scaled beast.

"There is no honor in killing a wounded man," Lynly added, satisfactory with the Captain's answer. Had it been anything else, had he left the fight to cower, it would not have been Stonehammer who would have killed Aelius, but her. "And there is no honor in leaving your own men in order to placate your need for vengeance," she said turning to face Stonehammer. Had she not have to worry about the man scattering the Captain's brains all over the cart, Lynly would have lifted it up and let the man out. Though with the silhouette of the man baring down upon them, she doubted that would be the best course of action. Instead, she'd have to try and persuade the man to leave his vengeance behind, else even more blood would have to be shed that day.

"I can not allow you to slay this man, Stonehammer. I have agreed to aid him and his unit, and I will not turn a blind eye while he is murdered," She stated, jaw set and stare level. "There has already been too much blood shed today. Take what is left of your own men and leave, peacefully," she entreatied. Though as solid as a rock herself, Lynly really did not want to fight this man.

Her words caused the massive man to pause and think for a moment. His grip on the hammer relaxed somewhat. "You'll be finishing your trip to Markarth, I presume?" he asked of Aelius. The captain nodded wordlessly. At that, Stonehammer hooked his weapon onto his belt, seemingly satisfied. "Then he lives. The task can be carried out another day." Without further discussion, he stepped beside the cart and hefted it up, allowing the captain to slide out. He gestured down the road. "Go."

The Imperial captain signaled for what soldiers remaining under his command to follow, and the weary group set off, Aelius clearly eager to be away from the Nord. Stonehammer turned back to Lynly. "I have another task to carry out before departing. I was instructed to put these ones," he pointed to Sinderion and Adrienne, and then Vanryth and Drayk, "on their way. I must speak with them."

A calloused hand grasped Drayk on the shoulder, and the owner of the hand, Vanryth, made his own way to a knee. He would not allow his hand to falter until he was absolutely sure the boy was himself again. Van-- everyone knew the boy's plight with fire. Having been within a maelstrom of flame couldn't have done him any favors. Though the Dunmer was glad to see the boy was still alive and not a toasted crisp. In his other hand he held a steel blade, one he picked up very recently. When the dragon spewed his fire and engulfed Drayk, Vanryth himself was preparing to make the beast pay. Though he could not make it in time for his blade to taste the scale of the dragon before Drayk had erupted in a flaming tornado.

Though, the boy was alright, and it seemed like Sinder and Adrienne were as well. That was all that mattered at the moment, that they were all alive. He gave Drayk a comforting squeeze and let a wry grin crack his stoney exterior. They did just fight a dragon. Things could have turned out much worse.

Drayk did not recognize the dark elf at his side at first, seeingly only injuries and disfigurations, but the vague feeling that the two of them were aquainted kept him from reacting suddenly or violently. It came back slowly. That was Vanryth. The other elf was Sinderion. And the Breton was Adrienne. They were mercenaries of a kind, in service to a Mentor that had helped them overcome the things they feared most: themselves. They had been following his trail when they had been attacked by the dragon.

The mage pushed himself back on his heels, smoke still rising from his robes in lazy curls. Despite it all, he felt calm. The air smelled... good. Warm. Skyrim had always been too cold a place. He didn't feel cold anymore. The dragon was gone, and though it would be difficult to call it a victory, he was distinctly aware of the contribution he had made to the fight. His attacks had taken the creature by surprise, injured it, given the others a window to attack, and in the end, driven it away. He felt satisfied.

There was still the matter of moving forward, however. Drayk pushed himself to his feet, dusting himself off and rejoining the group. It seemed the Imperials had left, though the mercenary that had been with them remained. He wondered if the Nord would still be willing to give them anything useful. First, however, Stonehammer put his gaze on the newcomer, the woman in the dark robes, who had rather quietly joined the immediate conversation as well.

"You wouldn't happen to be here for me, would you?" he asked her, garnering a few puzzled looks from some of his men. She gave a cheery laugh that was rather out of place, shaking her head. "Don't you worry yourself. Shade pointed me this way. I just had to go after the dragon when I saw it. Hircine would have loved a kill like that. In any case, I think this little group is what I was supposed to find, so I think I'll stay and listen, if you don't mind."

Stonehammer shook his head, appearing almost amused. "You're a fool to trust him, Maya." She laughed at that as well. "Perhaps. I've never been one to live a safe life, though."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: The Representatives

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Adrienne at last realized Sinderion's presence beside her, and nodded her thanks to him, stepping away. Unfortunately, she wound up much less stable on her feet than she thought, and one of her legs gave out, sending her down on one knee. As the conversation between Stonehammer and Lynly continued, Adrienne focused on her breathing, using the hand that wasn't clutching her side to fumble around in her belt-pouches. Between the health and magicka potions they'd used up in the last couple of days, she was down to nothing but a stamina draught, but she carried several independently-edible ingredients on her, and she reached for a few leaves, laying one on her tongue and chewing deliberately. The effect was instantaneous, but rather small: her pain subsided to a dull roar, and she could feel a few of her tensed muscles relaxing.

The next was to slow her bleeding, but until she could get access to some bandages, it would still be problematic. She considered tearing strips off her robes and using those, but still more was happening, and she needed to pay attention. Rising to her feet, Adrienne glanced back and forth between the unfamiliar woman and Stonehammer. "You... you know the Shade?" she asked, voice still faint from the shallowness of her breath. Half-addled or not, there was no mistaking the importance of that particular revelation.

The faint sound of Adrienne's voice had turned Drayk's attention away from the conversation, at which point he finally took in her wounded state, and immediately became fraught with alarm. "Adrienne!" he blurted to himself, quickly moving closer to her. He took a moment to take in the extent of her injuries, grimacing as though struck himself when he surveyed the gashes in her abdomen. Wobbling back and forth on his feet, he rubbed his hands together rapidly. "Alright, okay, okay, I can fix this. Damn dragon, of all things. Just hold still."

It took a moment to call healing magic back into his hands, snuffing the flames that had yearned to ignite at his fingertips, but he did so in the end, his palms lighting up with yellow-white light. His right hand he let fall on her shoulder, to steady her in the event she felt the need to fall over or something. His left he gently placed across her midsection, allowing curative magic to flow into her. His magic was cut short quickly, however, when he realized his previous exertions had completely drained him of magicka.

"By the... damn it, anyone got a magicka potion?" Drayk glanced around the group. The one who responded to him was the one he didn't expect to: the woman garbed in feathered robes. "Hey, Fireball. Here. My own brew." She handed him a vial of swirling blue liquid, which he gratefully accepted, popping the small cork and downing it. He shook his head at the taste, but then got straight back to work, his magicka restored enough to continue. "This'll just take a moment..."

The woman, Maya, as Stonehammer had referred to her, sighed lightly before stooping to pick up the vial, which Drayk had dropped after finishing. "To answer your question, doll, I've known the Shade for a while. You could say we're... acquaintances. Friends, even. Though I doubt he would say he has any friends. He's not the type. Even so, he came to visit me at my little coven, and convinced me to drag myself all the way out here to the Reach. Said it would be worth my while. Can't say I'm disappointed so far, apart from the dragon getting away. Seems like the pieces are moving in earnest now, doesn't it Vodrin?"

The Stormcloak half-grunted, half-chuckled. "This Imperial convoy's proof of that. The Spymaster must have located me. It seems she prefers to keep her enemies close. Amusing how all her plans fall apart when she makes the slightest miscalculation."

When the immediate problem of potentially-fatal wounds to an ally had resolved itself with Drayk's intervention, Sinderion allowed himself to relax a bit, glancing down at the shattered weapon in his hands and immediately regretting, as he always did, his temper. It seemed that, even with years of strict self-control, he was not as immune as he had previously believed to mind-numbing rage, and the past couple of days had taught him that lesson with all the harshness of a whip laid across bare shoulders. What he did not understand was that the lesson was far from over.

It is in the nature of analytical minds to analyze, and this is no great surprise. So perhaps Sinder should not have been quite so shocked as he was when he felt, contrary to his expectations, another hot flare of rage. The source, once he gave it a moment's thought, was obvious: the latecoming woman was a witch. The early reference to Hircine he'd caught but chosen to ignore. Daedra worship was not as uncommon as some people liked to believe it was, and though he had a special bitterness towards the Lord of the Hunt, he was not so presumptuous as to believe a god would take any interest in him, and so any anger or assumption of guilt on the part of anyone but the ones who'd changed him was... foolish.

The reference to a 'coven' and the manner in which the woman was dressed were harder to ignore. She smelled like the forest and blood and magic, and that particular combination was not one he regularly encountered. The realization clicked into place, and no sooner had it than his steel sword rang free of his sheath, the now-usless bow discarded to the side. "Witch," he growled, and the extent to which the word was in any comprehensible language was unknown to him. He wasn't speaking from his rational mind, at any rate. The Altmer's pupils dilated, nearly obscuring the blue of his irises, and the nails on his hands hardened, extending by a half-inch or so. It was the sickening feeling of his teeth rearranging in his mouth that he actually noticed, however, and though his instinct demanded that he pounce immediately, the knowledge of what was happening to him was enough to stay the actual motion, for now. Chances were, someone was going to have to intervene.

Vanryth took in everything with his usual silence. He merely watched as the Nord woman talked down the Stonehammer, as the Imperials quickly left them, and as the new arrival made her own way to the group discussion. By the woman's own admission, she had connections with the Shade, and perhaps even the Mentor. The woman had knowledge, of which had been recently scant. Though, he couldn't help but think that this was all too convienent. Though he would never admit it, even if he were able, he would take all of the information with a grain of a salt. A bit of suspicion is healthy, while too much is being paranoid. Truth be told, Vanryth would rather be paranoid than be surprised.

Though the woman was a witch. That made things... Difficult. For Sinder at least. Vanryth turned his one good eye towards the Altmer and watched his body language carefully. The growled monosyallabic word and the ring of naked steel told Van that he would have to take Sinder's mind away from the witch and somewhere else. Perhaps appeal to reason. If something was not done, then the blood that the Nord avoided would be spilled elsewhere. He sheathed his own refurbished blade in his naked sheath and stepped forward in front of Sinder, obscuring his view of the witch and leveling a hard eye on the man. No, now is not the time for the beast Vanryth mentally entreated.

The woman had information they desparately needed, and it would be hard to retrieve such information from a corpse. But how was he to tell that to Sinder without a tongue? Once again, his disability got in the way of expressing himself, and he felt a pang of frustration, though he bottled it up. Cooler head must prevail after all. Instead, Vanryth raised a calloused finger and pointed towards Sinder's eyes and then pointed to his own one good eye. He repeated the process twice more, telling Sinder to focus on him and not the witch. Sinder needed to understand that this woman was important. He only hoped that the intelligent man inside would realize that and quell the beast begging to get out.

They needed the woman. Alive.

Adrienne might have been able to contibute to the discussion if she were not preoccupied with getting her flesh knit back together. She leaned heavily into the hand on her shoulder, breathing steadily through her nose to control the speed of it. The wounds in her side were stubborn, but she did what she could to help the process, warming one hand with a very small amount of fire magic and melting the ice there away so that the flesh could move and re-adhere to itself, leaving only three jagged, pale scars on her abdomen to show for the trouble. The burns were bit trickier, and she was of no assistance there, so she simply relaxed and tried not to impede his progress. The words being exchanged registered, though somewhat dimly, at least until she heard Sinder.

At least, it sounded a bit like him, only... worse. She'd never seen him transform, a testament to the fact that he had much greater self-control than most of the people she'd ever meet. Now, though, that word was so nearly snarled that it frightened her somewhat, more for his sake than her own. She had no idea if whatever he became coud differentiate between friend and foe, and she had no desire to find out either way. As soon as Drayk had managed to soothe away the pain and blistering from her burn wounds, she placed her forehead against his shoulder and murmured a soft thank you registering that he, like she suspected of most of them, smelled of ash. Gathering her fortitude to herself, she pushed herself back upright and faced the situation at hand.

Van appeared to be trying to calm the obviously-angry Sinder, and one look at the other three people in the circle identified why. There was nothing to stir his anger with Lynly or Stonehammer, but the other woman looked very much like Adrienne had always imagined a Glenmoril witch might, a fact that had not really made itself apparent to her before. This was... bad, and that was probably an understatement. It was probably better for all of them if Van distracted Sinder and she prevented the witch from speaking to him, lest she inadvertantly (or perhaps advertantly, who could say?) goaded him into something far worse.

"What miscalculation was that?" Adrienne asked, too tired to be all that surprised that a seemingly-fortuitous entrance had apparently been anything but. When had she stopped believing in coincidence? It had been years, at least.

Maya had raised her eyebrows, then taken a single step back, upon being spoken to by the Altmer. She crossed her arms, appearing slightly offended. Or possibly annoyed. It was difficult to tell. "If I'm not mistaken," she began, "the potion I freely gave to you is the only reason your friend here has stopped bleeding all over the place. If I've somehow wronged you personally in the past, I apologize, but I do not remember any such occasion. I feel like I'd remember a face like yours. Very handsome, if I may say."

Shaking her head slightly, she switched to the previous line of thought. "Anyway, I'd ask that you please try to contain your hate for the moment. We've more important things to attend to." Stonehammer seemed to agree, as his hand had drifted to the pommel of his hammer upon Sinder's small outburst, an indication of the side he would take if things came to violence once more. Hoping to avoid that as well, he joined in Adrienne's tactic, shifting the conversation away from witches and werewolves, and back to the matter at hand.

"Her miscalculation was the dragon. Without it, I'd never have gotten free of that cage. I'd never have convinced you lot to kill them all and free me. I couldn't even get you to kill one. Seems the old man might have actually changed after all." The few remaining Stormcloaks had awkwardly gotten closer, unused to seeing their commander speaking with such a group of strangers. He waved them off. "Stop standing around. Search for survivors. We'll be moving out shortly."

The witch's words were not what the Altmer needed to hear, though there was certainly some truth to them, one which his more rational self was quick to latch onto and attempt to batter his groundless hate with. It wasn't the case that every Glenmoril witch was responsible for what happened to him. Indeed, the ones who directly were had... died quite some time ago.

A heat built beneath his skin, and Sinder was uncomfortable in his own body, as though it was too small to contain everything that he was any longer. It was profoundly uncomfortable, and precluded him from remaining still in body or mind. There was something metallic and rotten in his mouth, thick over his tongue and choking in its consistency. He retched, spilling something dark and liquid and glistening onto the dirt floor of... somewhere. He neither knew nor cared where he was; the pain was too great for that. It reverberated, splitting through his skull like arcs of magical lightning, and trilled into his limbs with all the force of a tidal wave. It was impossible to stop, and once he realized that, he stopped trying.

Something snapped, and then shifted, and it felt like he was being torn apart. It was suddenly obvious what he had to do, and unthinking, the beast lunged for the nearest pale neck, heedless of the magic that scorched his tawny fur.


'Died' was perhaps a gentle word for it.

To his shame, some part of him still exulted in that, and he wondered, somewhere in that primal part of himself that he hated, if she would taste as they had, flayed to bits and lifeless. The thought panicked him, and when he caught motion out of his peripheral vision, he focused on it immediately, seeking any form of distraction that could be provided. Even as close to that dangerous internal precipice as he was, he recognized his friend's face, and the grim expression on it brought something of himself back to him. The meaning of Vanryth's gesture was obvious, made so with time spent acquainted, and Sinderion nodded his assent, shutting out the conversation and slowing his breathing, trying to force his heart rate to slow. The less adrenaline in his system, the better.

It worked, for the most part, and he blinked slowly several times, letting a little more of the rage dissipate each time he faced the world anew. He could not bring himself to look at the witch, so he focused instead on his companions as they spoke, and on Stonehammer. That was simpler, safer, better for all of them.

At this point, Drayk rejoined the conversation, having done all he could for Adrienne. The wounds would certainly be sore for a good time to come, but the damage was mostly healed, and the burns from the dragon had been removed almost entirely. "So can you help us at all? Either of you?" Maya merely shrugged. "I don't actually know why I'm here, either, beyond being told to by a very dangerous and very dashing man. How about it, Vodrin? Got a direction for me?" The Nord rolled his eyes.

"I was given a task, and I will fulfill it. We received a visit from the Shade in the night, when the convoy had stopped for the evening. None of the Imperials saw him, nor did I until his face was just beyond the bars. I didn't actually see the old man, but the Shade said he was with him. They knew of a simple task the Spymaster had given me some time ago, a simple message delivery. He wanted to know who it was for. Saw no reason not to tell him. They were sealed orders of some sort, to be delivered to an Orcish stronghold in the Rift."

At that, Maya raised her eyebrows. "You delivered orders to the Bloody Curse? What did they say?" but Stonehammer simply shook his head. "Wasn't my place to ask. I just delivered the orders and left. That was all the Shade wanted to know. He told me the old man's new pupils would be coming along after him, and that I should send them in the same direction. He wants to be followed, though I couldn't say why." Maya appeared thoughtful for a moment. "If you're going to be searching for that Orc, then I'm coming along. Unless any of you are from the Rift, then I know the area the best. I can help you find her."

"As am I." Lynly stated evenly. A bold statement, considering just a few moments beforehand, the Stormcloaks and herself were enemies. To interject herself into the conversation seemed bullheaded or, optimistically, brave. At first, it felt as if that was all she was going to say until she continued. "I know the Rift as well. My travels have taken me all over Skyrim, and now that my mission with the Legion has ended," she said, even though the mission ended as a failure. She was tasked to aid the Captain in capturing the Stormcloaks. Now that the same Stormcloaks were milling about around them freely, it was no stretch of the imagination that the task could be construed as a failure. "I am free to do what I wish. I know nothing about the Shade and this old man you speak of, yet I can smell adventure on your heads. That scent alone is enough for me," She said, finishing her speech.

Though, despite what her bold words said about her as a person, her body language was an entirely different matter. Her shoulders were drawn close around her, her hands clutched at her elbows and she was situated a bit further from the group than was considered normal. She may have held the words of a warrior on her tongue, but she had the appearence of a rabbit ready to run. A stark contrast from the surehanded warrior who fought the dragon with no reservations only minutes ago.

The places this conversation had taken them were not really at all what Adrienne had expected. Perhaps, where these people were involved, it was best to give up any notion of expectation at all. They apparently had two volunteers and a jumble of new information, only some of which made sense. She supposed that the 'Bloody Curse' must be a group of orcs, or maybe just a singluar orc, it was hard to say. Either way, they were located in the Rift, which was apparently their next destination, and the Shade was both aware of their continued progress and apparently desirous of it. The reference to the Mentor changing somehow didn't surprise her much, as something to that effect had been hinted at before. She still didn't understand what it meant. Had he once been like them? Nearly irredeemable and lost? Was this as much a trial for him as they were finding it to be for themselves? The idea of the Mentor struggling with anything was foreign to her, and uncomfortable somehow, but she supposed it was not impossible.

Either way, she felt herself in no position to legislate about whether or not they were taking volunteers. There was something about this task that was immensely private, but on the other hand, it seemed that the world wasn't going to cooperate with her desires there, and she wasn't sure they could refuse help where it was freely offered. She looked to her friends- no, her family- for once allowing her feelings to freely show on her face: she was apprehensive, she was exhausted, but she was also hopeful, and a tiny bit optimistic.

Vanryth breathed a sigh of relief as Sinder managed to regain control of all of his facilities. He finally stepped out from in front of Sinder, but maneuvered himself between him and the witch, hopefully blocking his view. The pieces of conversation he heard only managed to confuse him, and for him their next goal was all but fuzzy. He hoped that Adrienne, feeling that she was more intelligent than he was, would be able to decipher all of the information they had gathered and digest it for him. But from what he gathered, apparently, two others had volunteered to guide their little group. The Nordic woman, and the witch. The Nord, he was fine with. She proved herself capable. The Witch on the other hand... Would be probablematic. He quickly glanced at Sinder and sighed again.

He felt weary, yet again. It seemed like a recent occurance, him being reminded of his age and hard fought life. That morning, he had woken up to stiff bones and sluggish muscles. He felt the same would be true for the following days. Especially with the witch around... He sincerely hoped that the mentor had a good reason for putting them through this, if not, Van had a couple of choice words for him... If only he had the tongue to speak them.

Upon hearing the apparent verdicts of their newfound... allies was far too strong a sentiment, but he could think of no other appropriate word, Sinder swallowed thickly. He could still swear that the taste of blood and flesh lingered at the back of his throat, but that was probably just an unwanted sense-memory. He wasn't in a position to trust any of them, but there was nothing terribly objectionable about the warrior-woman's presence, and if it was beneficial to the others, he would willingly concede to it. The witch- Maya, someone had said, and he'd need to use it if he wanted to avoid dehumanizing her too much- was another matter. How long would a rational consideration like her relative innocence in his case keep the rage at bay? Given the pressure the beast had been exerting on him recently, he did not know. It was not his desire to kill her, and the best way for her to preserve her life would be to stay well clear of him.

But, a voice reminded him internally, she should not have to. Nobody deserves punishment for being what they are. The obvious 'except me' did not even need to be thought, and Sinderion set his jaw resolutely. "...Do as you will," he managed, and at least his voice was back to its normal mid-range tenor, though not without an abnormal raspy edge to it. He'd make it a point to explain exactly the danger he presented at some later point, but for now, he was eager to be away from this place- he was growing to hate it already.

"Excellent," Maya said, perhaps more cheerily than was necessary. "As Stonehammer mentioned, my name is Maya, though some have called me Blackfeather. Now, if there's nothing else to be done here, shall we be off?" It seemed that her reasons for wanting to accompany the group to find this Bloody Curse would be remaining with her. Stonehammer nodded. "My men and I should be moving along as well. I'm going to Markarth, to pay that Dunmer woman a visit. Good hunting, Maya."

"An excellent choice of words," she said, seeming pleased. With that, she led the way east, expecting the Sellswords and Lynly to keep pace. They had a trail to follow once more.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero

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The Sellswords picked up camp early the next morning, accompanied by their new guide, the witch, as well as the mercenary woman, Lynly. Motivations were unclear, and Maya certainly wasn't forthcoming with the reasons behind her choice to help them find this Bloody Curse, an Orc woman as the witch had mentioned. The significance of this individual, as it had been with both of the previous people the Mentor and the Shade sought, remained shrouded in mystery, but as the Sellswords pressed on, a certain air came over the group. They had come this far, still on the trail. If nothing else, their answers would come soon.

The young Glenmoril took them along the eastern road out of Markarth, continuing in the direction they had been traveling in for a time. Her pace was quick, her sense of direction excellent. She seemed to always be the first to voice the presence of travelers coming the opposite direction, though it was unlikely that even her own honed sense of smell could surpass that of the werewolf at her back, the Altmer whom she seemed so pleased to be traveling with. The mercenary woman she gave repeated glances as they walked, especially when the Nord shared the lead with her, since she too seemed to know the lay of the land well. For brief moments she would seem bothered, but then return to her normal composure of confidence. She did not seem a woman to be bothered by anything for very long.

The fire mage, too, seemed moderately pleased with himself, occasionally flicking sparks from the tips of his fingers off to the side of the road. There was, for lack of a better word, a fire in his gait that had not been present before the incident with the dragon. Whether it was surviving a battle with a dragon, the rediscovery of his destruction magic, or being hot on the trail of the Mentor remained to be seen.

They came to a crossroads, with north leading towards Rorikstead, east to Whiterun, and south to Falkreath. The witch chose the southern road, due to it providing the quickest route to their destination, although it would lead them through the mountains in order to enter the Rift. She trusted the party would be up for the hike, however. It was just before night fell once more that they reached Falkreath, and Maya suggested they find some actual beds to sleep in for the night, 'like civilized people' as she worded it. After some discussion, it was decided it would be better to split up, with three to buy supplies in the town before the shops closed, and the other three to secure rooms. When Drayk requested to buy supplies with Adrienne and Vanryth, it seemed the decision was made for everyone. The three of them headed into town, while Maya, Sinderion, and Lynly entered the Dead Man's Drink, the local inn...




Chapter III
The Game Begins




Falkreath's market was modest compared to what Drayk was used to in Solitude, or most cities he'd known, for that matter. There wasn't anything in Skyrim that could match the splendor of the Imperial City... at least in his memory. He occassionally entertained the thought that time had somehow warped his memory of the city, turning it into a more fanciful place since he left. He'd have to go back there someday, when this business was ended and his name was cleared. He didn't know how that was possible, but he'd figure something out. He wanted to show it to everyone.

He shook himself from his thoughts before he grew too absorbed by them. It was near closing time, and they'd need to make any purchases quick. Their food stores had run somewhat low since departing from Markarth, and it would be good to replenish them before making the trek through the mountains and into the Rift. Seeing as he didn't actually do any of the cooking, however, Drayk decided he'd let Adrienne lead the endeavor. He hadn't asked them to come so that he could shop with them, after all, even if the change of pace was refreshing.

No, he had a more important idea in mind. "I figured we should talk about the dragon and... the fire, and all that," he said, the words coming out significantly less elegantly than he'd imagined them. "I know it was sudden, and I didn't ease myself back in... but I don't feel any different. I feel great, actually. I can use this for good now that I have a direction." He believed it, too. He'd done a lot to drive off the dragon that had been tearing into them, and so far he hadn't done anything rash, nor felt any particular desire to. He was confident that the Mentor's help would allow him to now wield destructive power tempered with reason. Whether he knew it or not, he was hoping for the approval of his fellow mages.

As a woman who'd spent most of her life in urban areas, Adrienne was simply glad to see other people again. She felt safer here than out in the wilderness, but not because of the armed guards wandering around or the sturdiness of the buildings. There was just something to be said for a crowd in which to blend and the pleasant thrum and ebb of human voices that one could hear without listening to. It was familiar, and it set her at ease. Which was, perhaps, why she was smiling as she went from merchant stand to merchant stand, taking care of most of the ordering of food supplies. This, the quick, witty exchanges with shopkeepers and the subtle gestures and hint-laden words used to secure discounts in a much gentler way than most of Skyrim's residents went about it, was also something old, and no less welcome for its mundanity. A little bit of the mundane seemed a blessing at present.

She had finished the procuring of the strictly necessary foodstuffs and some all-purpose soap, and was looking with a critical eye at various kinds of yarn when Drayk spoke, and she paused her inspection, index finger still against her chin, and turned to face the others. The young woman found herself torn, and it felt for the briefest moment like the world had dropped out from underneath her, leaving her suspended in nothing so thick as air. A flicker of memory played across her vision, and she had to stop her hand from reaching for her shoulder, still pink against the rest of her flesh. That... hadn't been his fault, not really, but it had been his fire, not the dragon's. She'd been in the way, and she was willing to accept the responsbility for that. It was nobody else's burden to bear that she wasn't very skilled with navigating battlefields yet. She couldn't make it anyone's burden either.

So Adrienne did what she'd always done best: she slipped on the flawless porcelain mask she wore so well and smiled softly. She had promised to do whatever it took to help him in this, hadn't she? Right now, taking away from his confidence that he'd succeed was the last thing she'd want to do. "I'm happy to hear it," she replied honestly. "I trust you, but don't forget to ask if you think you'll need any sort of assistance. I did say I'd help, after all; I'd feel a little silly if I never did." The humor seeped quietly into the cadence of the words, and she nodded just slightly. It was fine. It would be fine. She trusted him, trusted them, and that alone was extraordinary. Trust was not something that came easily to one whose very life had been fermented in lies and deception and double-talk. She was wise enough to know that it should be cultivated and cherished where it could be found.

The mute dunmer found himself below the ensuing conversation. Literally. He had found his own prize on a nearby shelf adjacent to Adrienne's. While she was looking to find homely items, Vanryth found himself searching for the practical sort. Well, for himself. Varyth was thumbing through the various sorts of paper and writing implements. Scrolls, parchment, journals for his paper, quills, charcoal pens, and graphite pencils for his writing. His hand found their way to a (cheap) inkwell and a (mottled) quill. Even though the eldest, he was a still a man, and thusly had an eye for deals-- or rather whatever was cheaper. While his supply of charcoal pencils would do for everyday communications, this would be for something a bit... More special.

He had opened the stopper and dipped the quill in to test it's ability when Drayk spoke. He listened quietly as he spoke to both himself and Adrienne, and then listened to her reply. One silver lining of being mute, one tends to learn patience before "speaking" in a matter. As she spoke, he sat the inkwell on the floor, and plucked a small sheet of parchment from the shelf (Also cheap). Once she was finished speaking, Vanryth followed up with his own note. He set the paper on the floor beside the inkwell and began the scratching that had become his tongue these days. The feather flourished and danced in his sure hands, his writing as elegant and wordy as ever. His own words held a bit more of a bluntness, if the same inkling of humor, to them. He ended the note and handed Drayk the letter, looking around the shop.

Vanryth Galero wrote:Ambition is good, it will ensure that you keep on the right track, though too much of it will burn you-- Apologies for the pun. Dreadful things. Still. Best that you always remember your direction, for a flame without direction can quickly become a wildfire. Not to say that I do not trust you, because I do. And I agree with Adrienne, I am happy you feel that way, and if you ever need assistance, do not be afraid to ask. I may look like an old codger, but I'm not. I promise. Now have you by chance seen where they sell the drink in here? I'd think I'd like to have some for the road.


It's been a while since he too had someone he could trust, though it wasn't the act of trust that he held dear. No, it was rather the idea of being trusted. He had never felt like he... belonged before. The Grey Quarter never felt like home, and despite being filled with his kin was still located in the racist Nord's home of Windhelm. He'd also never had a reason to fight except for the fight itself. Now he had a reason to fight-- three, actually. He never even had a reason to live before. It was good to have these things. It helped temper the the demon of rage that guided his hand many times before. Though, he'd never tell any of the others this. He feared that demon. He feared allowing them to see it. He hoped that he could keep it locked away... For their sakes.

They all weren't without their flaws after all.

The trust of others was never something Drayk had been burdened with before. It was a responsibility he had never proven himself worthy of, something others had never thought to give him. The people he'd run with in Cyrodiil had slept with one eye open, as had he, to ensure that no one thought to slit the other's throat and take their belongings, or steal or horse, or in his case, burn them alive simply because they were perceived as a threat. Certainly he wasn't the only one to have had those thoughts. Alliances born of flights from the law could be only tenuous at best. They were useful to each other or they weren't. Occassionally a friend was made, but even then something came along to sour it. Drayk's thoughts went to Liam for a moment, before he forced them away. It hadn't been the only time, but it had been the worst.

Things had to be different now. He couldn't stand the thought of hurting Sinder, Vanryth, or Adrienne... not after all they'd done for him. He finally had people who meant something to him. He was going to see things differently now. Not only would he not hurt them, he could protect them, repay them for their kindness, for their acceptance. He'd been a dead man when the Mentor found him, scheduled for beheading by the Rif--

How could he be so stupid? He'd almost walked right back into a hold where the guards knew his face and would pay gold for his head. The Mentor had pulled him from that place under the condition he never return. Not that he had a choice now, given the circumstances. He certainly wasn't going to let the others out of his sight, not when they were so close. "There's a bounty on my head in the Rift," he said, his voice low enough so that only his companions would hear. "It's... pretty sizeable, enough to where the guards... might recognize me. We're only trying to find this Orc, so hopefully we can avoid the city and any confrontation with guards."

He was visibly frustrated with himself, that this was haunting him now of all times. "I did some terrible things that they don't think can be forgiven. Only the old man was able to convince them to let me live. I don't want to cause more trouble than we already have, but... I can't let them catch me, if it comes to that. Not with the Mentor so close. I just wanted us to be prepared for that. It shouldn't be a problem." He was wishing he hadn't brought it up. They wouldn't be seeing Riften anyway, nor any guards. He'd be in and out in a day or two at most.

Maybe if he told himself that enough, he'd actually believe it. Nothing was ever that simple.

"Hm. It might not have to be," Adrienne mused. "I know a thing or two about disguises, and if they don't know it's you, there won't be any problems, right?" She turned back to the fabric-seller and fired off a list of rapid, but warm, directions, adding the length of fabric she recieved as a result into her rucksack. "I'll need a few ingredients, too, but cosmetic potions actually aren't all that hard. I can change your eye color, at least, and we can do the rest with ordinary flour and a bit of crushed violet..." She trailed off, approaching Drayk and scrutinizing his face with her head tilted to one side. She stopped about two feet from him and nodded sagely. "Shouldn't be a problem at all to make you look older than they'd be searching for, and we can give you a different accent if you're worried about that. How about it? Would you like to be from a border region? Maybe where Cyrodiil touches Elswyr? I always thought they sounded nice with that little bit of desert lilt."

She smiled, trying to convey wordlessly that there was no point worrying about it now. What she'd said was true, though; there were a number of simple (if underappreciated) ways to make oneself seem like an entirely different person. Those who knew how could do it with nothing but body language and voice, but putting all that pressure on her friend in what was already going to be an intense situation was not something she wanted to do, so adding a few more complicated touches would probably help. A little dusting of ash and flour at the temples, some false purple bruising under the eyes, and less... orange clothing would go a long way.

Hopefully, it would be far enough.

Drayk couldn't help but smile stupidly when Adrienne studied his face. The way she described her solution, like it was such a simple matter to simply make him into a different person... it made him feel so much more confident about this already. He certainly wasn't able to see any of the implications for her, of how experienced she was in altering identities, throwing on masks, so to speak. Drayk just assumed she was an intelligent woman, and he a simpleton in comparison. He was glad she was here, to say the least.

"Sounds like a plan," he said, unable to remove his grin, "I don't know about learning an accent, but a disguise should help. I could probably use a haircut, too." Drayk ran a hand through dark brown hair. It was starting to get down into his eyes. "We should probably go check on Sinder once we're done here. I might need to apologize for leaving him with the newcomers."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong

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Adrienne nodded easily. "I can handle that," she replied, but was prevented from saying anything else by a motion out the corner of her eye. Turning, she frowned when she realized it was Maya, fleeing from the tavern. And fleeing was the right word for it, she was quite sure. Not overtly, not with outward fear, but only so many things could trigger so much urgency in someone so self-confident. "Oh my," the young woman mused aloud. "It looks like we may have run into a complication." She chewed on her lower lip for a few seconds, then shook her head and hefted her rucksack over her shoulder. Neither Lynly nor Sinder had followed, and while she didn't know much about the Nord woman, she knew Sinder well enough to say that he would have if he had thought it'd help, regardless of his personal feelings on the matter.

Perhaps it was best to inquire of the two of them what had happened. Glancing at her friends with a worried air, Adrienne headed for the tavern, pushing open the door and glancing around. There was nobody terribly out of the ordinary in the place, save Sinderion. Even Lynly blended pretty well, folded into a corner with a drink in front of her. Conscious that the appearance of the remaining three Sellswords was going to be fairly close to a spectacle in comparison, she tried to be as unobtrusive as possible, stepping inside and holding the door for her companions behind her.

Light steps carried her up to the bar, and she leaned against it, putting her within a few inches of Sinder, so she could speak in a low voice. He'd be able to hear her anyway, she knew, but the point was that nobody else did. "What happened?"

Though he was making little indication of it (a failure in his expressiveness more than any strightforward desire for inscrutability), Sinderion was rather disturbed by what had just occurred. His hypothesis that the man at the bar and Maya at least knew of one another was apparently quite correct, proven in a rather more hostile way than he'd been expecting. He'd had a scant second to process the spike in aggression from the Dunmer man, and by the time he'd thought to react, it was already too late to stop him from grabbing the witch. After that, he'd taken it that she was her own best defense, and when she'd denied being there 'for' the stranger, he'd been right again. He'd tracked the man out the room with his eyes, but he was somewhat more concerned with Maya's state, and had assumed that any necessary explanation would be gained more easily from her.

In this, he had been quite wrong. Her distress was thick enough to be perceptible in the olfactory sense, and he wasn't sure if it was consideration or cowardice that kept him in place after that, simply nodding complacently in return to her demand to remain alone for the night. If he had voiced such a request, he would have meant it, and he was only minimally concerned for her safety- more than any of them, Maya seemed to understand what was going on. So why did some part of him still think following was the right thing to do? Was he still so suspicious of her motives? Perhaps, but... the Altmer shook himself, pushing the thoughts aside and staring for a long moment at the tankard in front of him. Experimentally, he placed it to his lips and took a swig, frowning at the acrid taste of it. It was about as awful as he'd expected, maybe worse. Something about that seemed appropriate to the situation, and he took a second swallow before the tavern door swung open once more, this time admitting much more welcome company.

He didn't turn around; the shift in scent alone would have told him which one approached, even if the particular tread over the floor did not. He glanced sidelong at Adrienne for a moment before he exhaled, the sound a reasonable contender for sigh-hood. "An encounter, probably with another one of the Shadow's agents. It... did not end particularly well for Maya. She has requested to be left to her own business for the evening. I..." He stared down at the tankard again. "It seems wisest to let her do as she likes. She said she'd return."

"I see," Adrienne mused, tracing a knot in the wood of the bar with her finger. Well, actually... maybe she should just tell him the truth. "Or perhaps I don't. There's too much about all of this that I don't understand, Sinder. This business... the shadowy conspiracies, the people with dangerous secrets... this is supposed to be the part I understand, the part I can figure out. I'm supposed to be good at it, double-edged sword though that may be. And yet, I'm no better off than anyone else, and of little use at all to the rest of you." It didn't sit well with her. It was quite true that she'd left that part of her life as far behind as she could, but it wasn't the kind of thing that left you, not ever. She still saw plots in the dregs of her tea in the morning and in the sidelong glances of strangers at night.

It was paranoia, there was no mistaking that, and it had taken so long just to loosen her hold on it enough to assume that at least the other Sellswords weren't out to undo her. Here at last, she thought there might be some good use for it. Drayk wasn't the only one who wanted to turn what had been wicked in him for a better purpose, but she seemed to be failing spectacularly already at that. Though in truth they were making some progress, it felt as though they were just being led about by the nose, achieving nothing on their own. They were being shepherded by the Shadow and his agents, and everyone seemed equally powerless to stop it.

That was the rub, wasn't it? It was that feeling, of being powerless, that lay at the root of so many of her troubles, back to the very fact that had set her life spinning on this crooked axis. She'd lacked the power to heal, to meet the expectations of her parents, and she'd striven away from that awful sensation ever since. Adrienne the court lady had been powerful in the most subtle of ways, but also the most effective. She'd been in complete control of herself tapped into the power of her mind and her body, and in doing so, she'd discovered just how easy it was to bring other people under her sway as well. Knowing how to get the better of someone was as simple as knowing that person. Because Sinder made her feel like it was all right sometimes, and because he knew the exhausting cost of steel-forged self-control as well, she allowed the mask to slip a bit, and the look she shot him was plainly-read anguish. It was harder to admit that not everything was fine than it was to smile and pretend that all was well.

She knew nothing of the Shadow, nothing at all, and she was powerless again.

Sinderion had never been too good with words. Even as a child, he'd been more or less reticent to speak, he remembered. There was always someone else to do the talking for him, someone who could read his mood from a simple look, and translate it to the rest of the world if the world needed to know. Most of the time, though, whatever he had to express simply wasn't that important, so he'd never put any effort into learning the eloquence other people had. Most of the time, he didn't regret that at all. But right now, with a friend of his looking at him with an expression like that, one he could read but not give voice to, he rather wished he knew what to say.

In one sense, she was right. None of them knew enough. And the people who did know didn't seem the kind who could be charmed or intimidated into talking. Still... "For all that what you do doesn't work much..." he hesitated over the words, as though they were heavy and foreign on his lips and tongue. "It...you..." frustrated, Sinder ran a hand through his hair, loosening the tail tied at the nape of his neck and unwittingly making himself appear dishevelled. "It is still better than having no skills but violence." It was painfully inadequate, but he had accepted long ago that he could not balm the wounds of others while so many still lay open and festering in his own soul. All he could do was exist in the same space and try to understand and hope that it provided some measure of reassurance.

So he fell silent, and passed Adrienne the tankard he was still holding without a word. It wasn't pleasant of taste, and he would not have recommended it to anyone, but he wasn't offering because it was something nice or worth sharing. It was, like his sympathetic ear and bitter life experience, not very valuable or good at all, but all he had to give.

"Hm." The syllable was hummed more than uttered, but she hadn't been expecting a solution. If the problem were one solveable by mere words and assurances, she would have likely done so herself. Ill-suited as he thought himself for it, Adrienne found Sinder to be of great comfort. There was, as far as she could tell, nothing deceptive about him in the slightest. If he had something he didn't want anyone to know, he simply never spoke of it. There was an honesty in that that she could appreciate.

With a murmured thanks, she accepted the tankard and lifted it to her lips, grimacing at the taste. It was about what she'd expected.




As Vanryth stepped over the threshold into the tavern, whatever made the Blackfeather flee was not immediately present. In fact, it seemed like rather normal for a tavern. Drinks, cheap food, rough speech, nothing too out of the ordinary. That made him wonder. Did Sinder or Lynly have anything to do with it? Should he be worried that she wouldn't return? Sure, they still had the Nord to find this Bloody Curse, but... two is always better than one, as they say. Adrienne chose to approach Sinder, so that left Lynly with the duo consisting of Drayk and himself. The elf laid a hand on the boy's shoulder and pointed at the flaxen haired woman peering deeply into her tankard. He then looked at the boy as if to say, "Let's go talk to her." Well. As much as a look could say.

The elf released his hand from the boy's shoulder and snaked through the bar, deftly avoiding contact with the other patrons. A bit cautious for the old man, but he of all people knew an errant touch in a bar could easily lead to a fight. Many of his own fights in his younger days started in such ways after all. Hopefully, they could escape the tavern without meeting such an end. Once he reached the table, he took a seat to the side of Lynly. It was likely he was going to do much of the talking, with perhaps a little note from himself here and there. He also raised a hand to order himself a tankard of ale or mead or whatever they served. It mattered little to Vanryth, as long as it had a bite to it. He'd been dry far too long.

Drayk hadn't the slightest inkling what was going on in the witch's head, but he was quite certain she was upset about something. However, he was quite certain she had seen them on her way out, and the lack of any kind of acknowledgement of their presence seemed to hint that she wanted to be left alone. No offense to her, but the mage was more concerned if anything had gone wrong with Sinder inside, considering that the witch had shown by far the most interest in him out of the four Sellswords.

They found him alone at the bar, and Adrienne took it upon herself to speak with him. Certain that he would not think of anything worthwhile to say that Adrienne could not, he was happy to follow Vanryth's suggestion to speak with Lynly. She did look more than a little forlorn, tucked into a corner and consumed by her tankard. He slid onto the bench across from her, trying to figure out where to begin. He knew next to nothing about the mercenary woman, after all. "Looks like our feathery friend is in a bit of a bad mood. Did she get in an argument with Sinder or something?"

"No argument. Someone, an acquantiance perhaps, surprised her. Roughly," Lynly said in a whispery tone. She had saw the confrontation between the man and the Blackfeather. Lynly even managed to get to her feet in case things became violent. Though she did not approach the scuffle, as her appearance would probably only worsen matters. Besides, Maya could protect herself if needed be, Lynly figured. She had surived... worse things after all. Once the scuffle was settled without bloodshed and Maya fled from the tavern, Lynly sat herself back down and continued gazing into her mug. She certainly wasn't going to chase after the girl. "Heard her say she would return before first light," She added, much to the relief of Vanryth.

So she would return. That was good news. Though, that did bring to thought who this man who had accosted Maya was. And for what reason. Odds were they weren't pulling that information out of Maya any time soon. Though, he did wonder if the man had anything to do with their own quest. Relations with the Shade perhaps? Maybe even the Mentor? It was a longshot, but one could never discount such coincidences, especially now of all times. Still, there was nothing to do but wait. Wait until morning for Maya. Wait until they found this Bloody Curse. Wait until they found the next clue this Curse pointed them to. Wait until they found the shade... Wait until they found the mentor.

It felt like all they were doing was waiting. And Vanryth, still being the impatient man he was in his youth, hated waiting. What he hated worse was being led around by his collar. Though there was nothing he could do about it... but wait. He looked down at the amber ale in his mug. Well, wait and drink, he told himself, downing a long draught from the stout mead. He then looked at Drayk and shrugged, unsure as to where to go from here.

Drayk was not much of a thinking man, preferring to use what facts he had. Maya would be returning, and they still had their trail to follow. Still, it was getting tiring to not have a goal in sight at the end. He signaled for another drink, deciding that was probably what would be most useful to them tonight.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson Character Portrait: The Representatives

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The witch stayed true to her word, returning to Falkreath before the sun made its first appearance over the tops of the trees. The Sellswords and their Nord companion found her awaiting them just outside of the Dead Man's Drink, the horses already prepared for the day's ride. It the events of the previous night were still bothering her in any way, she did not show it, nor did she give any indication that she had spoken with Sinderion. She seemed to have returned to her usual self, and was far cheerier than necessary given the early hour of the morning.

As they had the previous day, the group rode hard, taking the east road out of Falkreath. Down the road they passed by the Imperial fort at Helgen, or what was left of it. The former stronghold had indeed been transformed into a smoking ruin, its strong walls and proud towers turned to rubble. The Sellswords more than anyone should have been willing to believe tales of dragon attacks, and seeing the ruins of Helgen would only confirm the fact that the dragons had returned to Skyrim.

Not having the time for sightseeing, however, they pressed on, pushing east and gaining altitude, heading into the mountain pass south of the Throat of the World, the snows blasting them for the first time since they departed from the Mentor's manor west of Solitude. It was perhaps easier there for the group to maintain their quick pace, and thankfully, the pass was a short one, winding down into the Rift. Considering that there was still significant daylight left to them, they chose not to halt their progress in Ivarstead for the night, rather pressing on past Lake Geir, taking the southern fork and following the Treva River towards Lake Honrich and the city of Riften.

Maya had informed the group at large of what she had told Sinderion the previous night, that the Orc they sought was known as Rikka gra-Tagrin, known as the Bloody Curse, and that it was indeed the woman's death that the witch sought. The Mentor and the Shade were reportedly seeking her as well, and Maya was willing to bet that when they found their target, they would find the Mentor as well. As they continued east, they neared the Orc stronghold of Largashbur, and Maya advised the Sellswords to hold while she scouted the area. Upon her return, she stated that the Sellswords simply needed to "see this for themselves."





Drayk had been on his guard, shield in hand rather than slung across his back, as Maya led them briskly down the path towards Largashbur, the trees clearing somewhat before them. His right hand had a fire spell on the tips of his fingers, not visible yet, but ready to spark at a moment's notice. It was unnecessary, however, which became clear as the Orc stronghold came more clearly into view.

It had been utterly destroyed.

Even a number of the nearby trees had been smashed, trunks fallen over onto the village wall or even the houses within. The wooden wall in question had nary a stake still standing, the splintered pieces scattered around the area. The Orc longhouses had been smashed from the top down, the roofs caved in on most, walls knocked over, smoke drifting lazily from crushed hearths. Maya walked with purpose in her step towards the destruction, but slowed when they arrived at the gate.

"Quite the battle they had here..." she mused, peering about at the wreckage. Inside the village were bodies in the dozens, mangled and crushed, most a grotesque assortment of rearranged limbs and shattered bones. Those were the Orcish bodies, and they were of all ages and statuses. Most Orcs were warriors of some kind, and some of these deceased were such, but others were old, and others very young. And littered among them, quite impossible to miss, were a few hulking forms of giants, who had quite literally painted the ground red with the amount of blood they contained within their bodies. One had been hacked into pieces, with only his right leg remaining of his four limbs. It was a gruesome sight, but judging by the numbers of dead, the Orcs had fared worse than the giants.

Drayk felt the need to vomit, but managed to hold it back, averting his eyes from the most disgusting sights, difficult as that was. He set his mind to the business that needed to be done here, so that they might be moving on soon. "Is our Bloody Curse among these, Maya?" The witch looked over the Orcish corpses with less disdain than Drayk, calling out so that the group might hear her. "You'll know her if you see her. I'm of the opinion that her father's actually a giant. She's the biggest Orc I've ever seen. Doesn't look like she's here, from what I can tell."

Sinder did not bother to fight the need to cover his nose and mouth, the fetid stench of death was so strong here that he could taste as well as smell it. Covering his palm with the fabric of his sleeve, he placed this firmly over the lower half of his face. His left hand still held his sword in a relaxed grip, but there was no mistaking the tension writ into the lines of his posture. He took in the details as well as he could, given the assault on his other senses. It was even a problem for his ears- he could hear the maggots starting to feast on rotten flesh, and though it was a necessary and natural thing, it was not the easiest to listen to. Morbid as it might be, he counted it his good fortune that the corpses were not more freshly dead-- that would have triggered a number of memories he had no wish to dwell upon at present.

He removed his hand from his mouth just long enough to speak tersely, rapidly. "Something's wrong with this. Giants are usually quite peaceful, and I doubt any orcs who wanted to kill them for whatever reason would have done so in the company of their aged and their children." Able to manage that in one breath, he filtered his next inhalation as best he could again and picked his way through the bodies, examining them for any other clues as to their fate. Other than the obvious violence done to them, there didn't really seem to be any. The orcs had been crushed, as one would expect when facing enemies with blunt weapons, and the giants mostly hacked at, quite likely with that green orcish alloy. That well enough explained how, but not why, and something about it bothered him.

Adrienne admittedly did not know much about giants, but she was more tha willing to trust Sinder's information on this one. Swallowing thickly, the young woman was trying very hard not to look at anything in particular, and to ignore the way the place smelled. She wasn't sure how the Altmer was still standing; surely, if he had the sensitive nose she was suspicious he had, all of it was bothering him horribly. Yet he remained relatively stoic about the ordeal, which she supposed was rather normal as far as he was concerned. Turning to Maya, the blonde mage asked the natural follow-up question, though perhaps it was only natural if you were used to steeping in conspiracy. She was certainly not in a position to know the difference.

"Is there a chance that this was somehow engineered by a third party? Perhaps Rikka herself?" She wasn't sure what the woman's absence meant, but it seemed to be conspicuous, given the circumstances. Why anyone would want to kill these people and giants wasn't a question Adrienne was really in the business of asking anymore. People had so many reasons for doing terrible things; the fact that none of them were good reasons hardly mattered. It could be anything: to take some form of revenge, to cover up one death with many, or even something as simple and horrible as enjoyment. Maybe it was to hide, make her enemies presume her dead along with the rest. If so, it was clearly a waste.

"I don't see why she would," Maya replied, "she was devoted to her clan, as far as I could tell. If she's not here, I'd imagine she's still very much alive, and probably making these giants pay for attacking them, whatever their reason for doing so was."

"Used to get along with the bastards," the mercenary muttered darkly to himself, nudging an orcish corpse with one of his leather-clad feet. Shaking his head with derision, he scowled and crossed his arms, shifting his weight from one foot to the other with an air of impatience, though what exactly he was waiting on was unclear. At least he hadn't been ambushed yet; that was something. Frankly, the part where all of these people were dead was of less concern to him than that fact, though he studiously avoided so much as glancing at any of the young ones. Also, the statement was highly redundant-- the orcs he knew were of a different clan entirely, and thus had nothing to do with any of this. Didn't change much, really.

His peripheral vision picked up a movement then, and he was on the nearest high ground, bow drawn and arrow nocked, before he had to think about it. A few minutes passed, in which he did not move and scarcely even breathed, and then some voices carried over to him. They lacked the rough, underbitten pronunciation of orsimer accents, and he lowered his bow just slightly, approaching the unfolding scene with caution.

Sinder, meanwhile, nose-blocked by the awful stench as he was, was unaware of the stranger's approach until he heard it, and even then it was the barest whisper of sound. Still, it was enough, and it wasn't long before he and the unknown man were both staring at each other down the shaft of an arrow. Whatever the reason, this caused the unfamiliar person to laugh, a distinctly edged sound. "I'm a better shot than you," he asserted plainly, "but it looks like you brought friends." With an obvious shrug, he relaxed his draw until it was taut but only barely, lowering both arms and scanning over the group with a practiced, diffident gaze. "Well, you're not orcs, so I'll take it, I suppose." He made to leave, but Sinder called out after him.

"Wait. You know something of what occurred here?" The Altmer returned the gesture more fully, returning his arrow to its quiver. The recent purchase was a good one, if plain. It certainly lacked the elegance of the stranger's elf-made recurve. The man had the look of the rough-and-tumble about him, between his durable clothing, mostly in dark green and grey, and the set of his body language. His hair was an unusual shade of red, pulled into a very long tail high on his head, rather odd for a Nord, which was what he seemed to be. The question appeared to amuse him, if the feline smirk he gave was any indication.

"I know something of a lot of things," he replied shrewdly, "but I don't give it away for free. Unless you're offering money or different information, don't bother asking."

Lynly kept her distance from the party, having already lead them to their destination and she didn't see any reason to add anything that they couldn't see for themselves. The stronghold was attacked by giants. Which was strange in itself. As the elf had said, giants were normally peaceful. Though the odd bounty on a rogue giant filtered through the Jarls wasn't unheard of, there had yet been mention of a band of giants laying havoc on the hold. Strange indeed, Lynly had just kneeled to sit on her haunches when the sharp eared elf heard something. Being the cautious warrior she was, Her hand immediately went to the hilt of the sword on her back. Before long, the cause of such a reaction made itself-- himself rather-- known. When the threat of danger had passed, Lynly let go of her own blade and began to pick through the battlefield, raising up her armor around her nose to drown out the smell.

She wasn't one much for talking, as if that hadn't been made explicitly clear. If the party wanted to find information through the tongue of another, they were well within their right. She'd rather find solid clues and evidence amidst the battlefield. Unlike words, solid clues never lied. The massacre itself didn't affect her, nothing that she hadn't seen in her line of work. It was the severity that truly humbled her. Bodies were mangled, broken, it was a harsh testament to the prowess of a giant. Biased as she was against the elves, the Orcs did not deserve this, especially those of a stronghold. They were a strong people, spirited, loyal to their clan, much like her own people. Say what they would about their brutish appearance, the Orcs had hearts of true warriors, as the bodies of the gaints could attest to. Though slaugtered, they managed to take a few down with them.

Vanryth was much in the position of Lynly, so desensitized by slaughter he was, though nothing he has seen (or had incurred) of this degree. It was a grisly sight. Though he didn't quite have the time to truly behold the destruction as Sinder drew his bow suddenly. Much like the warrioress behind him, Van's hand went to the imperial blade on his back as his other hand sparked in a surge of lightning. Unlike the warrioress and even Sinder, when the man did not prove himself an immediate threat, he did not remove his hand from his blade. The lightning he did allow to sputter out, but that was the only concession he was going to grant the stranger.

Perhaps he was just paranoid, but a little paranoia would serve far in keeping them alive. How was he to know this man wasn't some common bandit, ready to attack them once his guard was down? How about what he said? How was he to know that the information, if this man even possessed any, was true? Besides, the man had appeared in the wake of a massacre, it was entirely possible that this man was the instigator. No, Vanryth would keep his paranoia draped around him like a cloak until this man proved otherwise. Once again, Vanryth found himself in the position of the silent watcher.

"You're an information broker," Adrienne asserted, though it was more an educated guess than anything else. This kind of thing, she could at least handle, and none of the others seemed eager to immediately speak up. Knowing Sinder, the Altmer had mostly exhausted his conversational resources already, and she didn't want any of them to start talking with steel if they could avoid it. She didn't know about the rest, but she was still more or less exhausted, and though her magicka was running at full steam thanks to a good night's rest, she still hadn't had a chance to replenish her stock of potions. Besides, the man, whoever he was, didn't seem to be immediately hostile, just as cautious as they were. "That means you're probably looking for something in particular. If you told us what kind of information you sought, we might be able to help you. We've been... on the road for a while."

If she had to guess, she'd suppose that businesslike was the best tone to take with him. He definitely wasn't the type that would be swayed by sympathy, and it took no great skill to see that. At least he'd made his terms clear. They probably didn't have the kinds of sum he'd be after for what he knew, and she couldn't gauge how valuable it was to know if he was cheating them, besides. A trade seemed more likely to be fair and get everyone on their way much sooner. As long as he doesn't turn around and ask me to kill someone. That had been... unpleasant, to say the least.

The newcomer's left eyebrow ascended his forehead as the smallest of the adventurers spoke, her words laced with confidence and a certain kind of assurance. He was silent for a moment, flicking his eyes up and down her person, a slow smile spreading across his face. This might actually turn out to be fun. "Have you, now?" He questioned, drawing out the syllables on a languid tongue mostly for rhetorical effect. He wasn't going to jump into this negotiation like some overeager hound baying at a scent-- the best advantage to have in business like this was the psychological one, and there was something just a little bit too desperate about most of this lot. Whatever they wanted from this exchange, they wanted it badly. Or at least he guessed it. The blonde woman was clearly an expert at this sort of thing, and he could read next to nothing from her, so he had to infer what he could from the tense lines of a few of the others. The way the Dunmer didn't let go of his sword, the flare in the Altmer's nostrils, things like that didn't escape his hawkish eyes.

"I could be persuaded to part with what I know. Let's see..." he pretended to consider the question. Actually, there were several things he wanted to know, but his current particular circumstances necessitated the resolution of one particular matter over the others, at least for now. "I want a name, and if possible a current location, for a rather tall female orc who likes her battleaxe a little too much. In return, I might know a few things about her, and about this." He gestured with the point of his arrow to the slaughter surrounding them, but he looked nowhere but at the woman. "And what say you to that, gorgeous? It's quite a generous bargain, if I do say so myself." There was an outside chance that they knew anything worth knowing, but that was increased by their very presence here. He wondered what the little Breton would do now.

If there was one good way to get a rise out of Drayk, that was it. His shield wasn't at the ready, exactly, but he certainly hadn't made any motions to put it away. Into his right hand, however, ignited a small ball of flame, which remained at his side while he notably positioned himself in the immediate vicinity of Adrienne. "You know of her? Spit it out." he seemed obviously displeased that he couldn't think of a more lashing choice of words, but his tone at least helped convey his displeasure. It seemed only to amuse the stranger however, and he was no more forthcoming than he had been.

"Now, now," Maya said, shaking her head, "why don't we let people who are going to act civilized do the talking?" She took a few meandering steps towards the stranger, stopping to cross her arms and study him for a moment. "We're after the same Orc, gorgeous. Her name's Rikka gra-Tagrin, though she fancies herself as The Bloody Curse. If I had her location, we'd be on our way there now. As it looks, however," she turned to look towards the outskirts of the village, "She's somewhere east of here. The giant tracks head that way, and there's Orc tracks following them. Our lovely lass is quite possibly out for revenge."

Ah, so they were Orc tracks. The print was much smaller than the giants that laid around it, so it only made sense that they were Orc tracks. Lynly had found herself sitting on her haunches over such tracks when Maya had confirmed her suspicions. She rose to her full height and turned to the gather group. "The trail only grows colder while we wait," she said, implying that if they were going to track this woman, then they should start with all haste. "Let us hope we find her before the giants do." She said, turning away from the party and toward where the tracks led.

Truth be told, she didn't know why she still remained. She had said she'd take the Sellswords to this area, and she had accomplished her goal. It'd be so much easier to just leave them to their devices, wish them luck, and be on her way. Go to the nearest bar, try to drown out the memory of the witch and what Lynly had done to her and her family. Even so, she couldn't quite find the will to leave them just yet. If asked, her response would be mere "curiousity" though it ran deeper than that. It always did. Maybe she was trying to make amends for what she did to the witch. Wishful thinking, as if aiding her in her hunt would do anything. Just as well, she couldn't just let it go, and leave the story as it was unfinished. She'd need to find a conclusion... Wherever it may lie.

"Well, I suppose it's convenient that most of us can walk and talk at the same time then, isn't it, lovely?" the archer replied breezily, apparently quite happy to do just that. At the very least, he let the rest of the tension out of his bowstring and slung the weapon over his shoulder, quite clearly inclined to follow the trail as far as it led him and let the rest come along if they really wanted to hear what he had to say. Only as they cleared the camp did he start to speak. "Revenge, is it? That seems to fit, though she probably had it coming, and should have seen it. This isn't the first time giants and orcs have been at it lately, at least if the rumors all over Riften are to be believed. That, you could have heard from any streetear worth his salt." He looked back over his shoulder at the majority of the odd little group.

"Of course, the rest would have cost you a small fortune, but since you're all just so charming, I'll play nice. A while back, that crazy wench killed a fellow. Typical orsimer execution: took a nice axe to his head and didn't slow down until she reached the midsection. Poor sod was basically cleaved in two, with a considerable amount of anger at that." He let that sink in for a bit, quite curious as to whether any of them would take the obvious bait dangling in front of their faces. Though he'd stowed the bow, he'd swapped the arrow in his hand for another, this one black from obsidian tip to the crow feathers at the end, and this he spun absently between the fingers of his right hand, something he knew he was doing but didn't really pay conscious attention to. An old habit, by now, and one he'd sometimes quell by methods inappropriate to the current situation.

Oh, brilliant. He was one of those. This was something of a double-edged sword for Adrienne. On the one hand, she'd never much liked his sort; power was attractive enough to some people, and that kind of easy confidence made for interesting exchanges, but that was really it. On the other... she knew the sort very well, and consequently, if push came to shove, she could probably play him like a lyre. Her sigh was soft, lost in the crowding of voices, and she gently laid her palm flat against the smooth wood of Drayk's shield. She could handle this, that much she knew with certainty. At least this one stopped short of being disgusting. That was something.

As it tuned out, she was required to do even less than she was prepared for, as he seemed not at all reluctant to part with his information once Maya had offered theirs. One last lingering look at the surroundings, and then she shook her head and followed, wrapping her winter cloak tighter about herself more for security than warmth, though given the shiver, it would surely be easily mistaken for the latter. She spent the majority of the journey out of the camp focused on the back of the man's head as he spoke, audible enough to be heard even from the front of the column, which he occupied with Lynly and Maya. She saw the lure for what it was and bit anyway. "Who did she kill?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson Character Portrait: The Representatives

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The lone mercenary shrugged, expression caught somewhere between indifferent and bored. "Don't know the poor sod's name, but he was an Imperial. Well-dressed, too, like he thought he was someone important. Then again, Imperial, so I might have just described most of them, no?" He smirked and glanced backward in the general direction of Drayk and Adrienne, lifting an eyebrow as if in some sort of unspoken challenge. "Ginger lad, pasty as all hell, sword at his hip- not that he got a chance to use it. The wench came out of sodding nowhere slightly off the road just outside Riften and drove steel through his skull without so much as a by-your-leave." He chuckled slightly to himself.

"It was actually kind of funny. Completely without any sense of style, but then that's to be expected. I suppose if you're an orc, the only difference between a battle and a hit is the number of people involved." A sigh. "And now, naturally, yours truly is hounded by such guileless attempts at ending my life every time I so much as set foot outside the place. You can understand my curiosity when I discovered someone had taken care of a large portion of my problem for me." He hid well the curl of his lip at the words-- there was absolutely no tact in whatever had happened here, and he at least wouldn't have killed the children. Still, he was a practical man, and wasn't about to pretend he was weeping for this lot or that it hadn't benefited him considerably. That said, Rikka likely had control of more than just these, and he was not free to leave the area just yet.

Soren's bash on Imperials didn't get so much as a glance from Drayk, who was busy keeping his eyes to the ground, examining the trail they followed, the deep giant footprints with the Orc ones placed around or even inside of them. The destruction had ceased by this point, which clearly pointed to the fact that the separate groups had come through here at different times, rather than battling all along the way. Drayk was now feeling poorly about his earlier outburst, realizing that it was probably exactly what the Nord man had desired from him, or any of them. Only when Adrienne had gently placed her hand on his shield did he actually realize the little fireball hovering in his palm, and snuffed it. That bothered him as well, but now wasn't the time to share it. He would instead focus on keeping his mouth shut so as to refrain from saying anything stupid, and focus on the task at hand.

Maya, however, would do nothing of the sort, seeming very interested in Soren, or perhaps just the story he was telling. She plodded along occasionally glancing to the trail, but it was evident that this was a trail she could follow while sleepwalking, and so her attention was diverted to speaking, as it often was. "That does sound like her. I'm afraid your description of the victim doesn't ring any bells. If you'd like to take care of the remainder of your problem, however, it's where we're going, and it is our intention. An extra bow would be more than welcome. I do tend to get lonely shooting arrows from the rear." It was perhaps an odd statement considering that she clearly didn't have a bow or arrows on her person. The only other in their party that did was Sinderion, and though she hadn't yet seen him fight, her knowledge of him gave her the idea that he typically fought best in more up close and personal situations.

"Well, we certainly can't have that," the sniper mused lightly, shrugging. "Why not? I want to kill someone, you want to kill her too, might as well murder in groups." The statement actually managed to produce a moment of thoughtful-looking silence in the man, during which the arrow in his hand completed several rapid rotations, then found its way back into his quiver. "You lot are rather unexpected, though. If I had my guess, I'd say mercenaries, but I always do think the best of people." The accompanying smile flashed too many teeth, a sure indication of its untruth. Sure, he was probably going to be asking some intrusive questions, but giving a damn about that would require a conscience of some sort, and he was sadly lacking in one of those. Besides, it was his job to know things.

"So then, what do a bunch of mercenaries want with our delightful mutual acquaintance? I don't suppose she murdered someone in front of you and then sent her little peons after you, too? Waste of good arrows." And it had been, too. He'd had to fletch a fresh lot of the ordinary kind; the black ones didn't get used on mere lackeys.

Something about that man's lacadasical attitude struck her, and she couldn't help but think that his question, framed as carelessly as it seemed to be, was nevertheless a very pertinent one. Why was this Rikka a target of the Shadow or the Shade or whomever was supposed to be pulling the strings here? Vodrin had delivered orders to her, which probably had something to do with all this, if she were truly being honest with herself, and yet it seemed that Maya, working for the same people, had standing orders to kill her. What in all of Tamriel was going on here?

"Those among us who are actually mercenaries don't really want much from her at all," she replied softly. "We're looking for someone, and the people who know where he is are intent on forcing us to jump through quite a few flaming hoops first," the Breton continued, choosing her words quite intentionally and glancing at Drayk with a small smile. Here before them was an intelligence man, seller of information. It was an outside chance, but it was still possible he knew something of the Mentor's whereabouts. It might serve them well to ask him. But first, she wanted to know a little more about who they were dealing with here. "Can I ask your name?" she enquired sweetly, quite certain that flattery and ego-stroking were the way to go with such people.

Oh, this one was good. He'd nearly just come right out and given it, too, lulled in by the big doe-eyes and the unassuming demeanor. That was downright dangerous, and he shot her a foxlike grin, as if to warn her that he was wise to the game. He held up a hand, fingers outstretched, the universal symbol for the number five. "Fifty. That's a fifty gold question right there, so unless your pockets are lined, I suggest you don't. Of course, I'm always interested in a good trade, so perhaps if I knew who all of you were, I'd tell you who I was."

"I'm Maya," the witch offered, more than happy to do so. "Some call me Blackfeather, and you may if you wish, but I prefer Maya." Drayk was more grudging about it, keeping eyes straight ahead and simply saying, "Drayk."

She was intrigued despite herself, and not really sure how to feel about that. This was clearly not the man's first waltz, so to speak, but she was curious as to how far that experience extended. Surely, he was not a member of a Jarl's court? He seemed far too rough around the edges for that, and he made his interests (coin and information) far too clear, which made her wonder if this was really what they were. Had she been so long-starved for a puzzle such as this that she was really considering trying to solve him? "Adrienne. This is Van," she indicated the Dunmer, hoping he wouldn't mind the liberty she'd taken. Considering the process of him introducing himself would reveal something a little more pertinent than his name, though, she thought it was probably good judgement.

"Lynly," was all the Nord woman offered the talkative man. She didn't see any reason to season her name with superflous words, and her tongue was no where near a loose as his, when he wanted to be though. He liked to talk, but he also liked to keep secrets. Fine by her, she didn't want to, nor was she going to pry the secrets out of him. That had nothing to do with her and she could survive with or without his bantering. As she had before. Van as well took the man in stride, though his eyes always came back to him, watching him for any moves that he didn't like. Just because they allowed him to travel with them, didn't mean he trusted him. Trust takes a while to gain, and does not come tied with a name. Van was just as stoic when Adrienne introduced him, which was fine for him, considering his disability.

"Sinder." The last name was given politely, if coolly. Frankly, the Altmer in question didn't do too well in the company of strangers, and this was the third new inductee into their little group in about as many days. He was also distracted, thinking on the nameless Dunmer's words. Try as he might, he could not shake the thought. A psijic monk, in Skyrim. What business would any psijic have here? He knew next to nothing about them, in all truth, only the fragments of stories he'd heard... somewhere. Maybe from his parents; the memory was only partial. He inhaled deeply, as if the wind would carry her scent to him over all this distance, but of course even if it could have, he knew not what she smelled like. She was a relic from another life, and part of him hoped that it was anybody but her. He was far from certain he was ready or willing to confront that last tie to what he'd been once, before all of this.

"Cheerful lot, aren't you?" the man asked, raising a laconic eyebrow at Maya, who seemed to be the only one much inclined to speak with him. Not that he truly cared either way-- they didn't need to speak to be of use to him. And useful he was quit certain they would be. Most of them were armed to the teeth, and those that weren't wore the robes and the look of mages, something he was a fair hand at on occasion but didn't much bother with outside the more... clandestine schools. "Still, a bargain is a bargain. Soren Ivarsson, at your service. Now, about the fellow you're looking for. Anybody have a name? I'm good, but I'm not a mind-reader, unfortunately."

It was such a simple question. The most basic of them, really. Just who are you looking for? It was perhaps indicative of the strangeness of their predicament that she didn't have an answer, not really. "I don't... know his name," Adrienne replied, something ringing hollow in it. All this time, all that guidance, those encouraging words and pointed rebukes, and she'd never learned his name. It was like something sacred almost, something that she wasn't allowed to ask until she was a whole person again. Or maybe that was just an excuse. Either way, it made her feel thrice a fool now.

"Everyone just calls him the Mentor, and we the Sellswords." She gestured to encompass the four of them, but left the other two out of it. If they chose to state their business, then that was fine, but she wasn't going to presume to do it for them.

"Then there's naught I can tell you," Soren replied with a shrug. He'd heard vague tales of the Mentor and his Sellswords, and a few of the more informed folk who'd chosen to speak with him on the subject had informed him that each of these people was a former criminal or ne'er-do-well of some description, though as to what exactly any of them had done, he'd simply have to guess. And guess he would, but not before he had a little more to go on. For now, he simply turned back to the trail, not that it was difficult to follow. Almost too easy, actually...

Drayk was thankful when the tracks did not lead to the gates of Riften, but rather around them by about half a mile, close enough that the people living there would no doubt have been disturbed. Giants did not travel quietly, and these Orsimer probably hadn’t either. The fire mage hadn’t yet been properly disguised, but their proximity to their goal was the more pressing concern here, especially if the Mentor was at the far end of these tracks. One thing was for certain… they would find either giants, Orcs, or both at their destination. He adjusted his grip on his shield. This was bound to get rough, considering that the witch would probably attack them on sight, given her previously stated intentions of killing the Bloody Curse.

Maya led them south around Riften, staying clear of sight of the walls and using the cover that the woodland provided them. “Not all of the group is exactly welcome in the Rift,” she explained to Soren along the way. “So it’s best we keep a low profile when near the city.”

Ah, someone in their merry little band was a wanted person. He remembered with false fondness the days when he'd been much the same, though of course, growth and notable change in physical appearance had been on his side, and nobody recognized the squirrelly lad he'd been now. As an adult, all of his illegal endeavors had been much more discreet. If he was charging for this, his price would have just gone up by a considerable margin. It was actually kind of a shame that he wasn't charging. He'd have to think of some way to rectify that in the future. "Of course. Discretion is the better part of valor, or so I've been told. It's certainly the smarter part." He wasn't exactly unaccustomed to moving beneath the notice of others-- such things were necessary for a person with goals like his. And keep a low profile they did, exercising caution even after the sun had set behind the mountains, the price they paid for choosing to continue on rather than stop for rest. Thankfully, it was a trail they could follow even in the dark, and the witch had no difficulty keeping them headed towards their destination, appearing to want to get there as much as they did.

It led away from the city, winding north and east through the forest, through streams and over rocks, gained some altitude, and came to a halt near the foot of the mountains that divided Skyrim from its eastern neighbor, Morrowind. “Might want to have a weapon out,” Maya advised, lighting a black and purple spell in her right hand, “I believe this is Malacath’s shrine we’ve arrived at.” She left unsaid that giants in a place as sacred to the orcs as this would go over none too well.

Sinder wasn't terribly pleased with the announcement, as he understood its implications, and furthermore, he could already smell death, thick and cloying and fresh, and unbidden, his heart rate increased, in anticipation of violence to come. It was not something he liked about himself, but he would not deny that it had its uses. For some reason, this thought prompted him to glance at Maya's back, but then he shook himself and moved on, not willing to entertain the other thoughts burgeoning in those darkened places at the very back of his mind. To even open the door to such possibility was to weaken his resolve, and he knew well that he would need every measure of it that he could spare. From his back, he withdrew the bow, nocking an arrow to it and pulling until the string was tense, but not quite ready to fire. A short distance ahead of him, Soren did the same.

Ever the bold one, however, Maya was the first to set foot inside the gaping hole in the stone, leading the party through a short cave tunnel and to the other side, into a gorgeous site. Well, it was a gorgeous landscape, but dotted with the increasingly familiar gruesome outcome of a battle. A stream ran from the base of a waterfall into a giant cleaved cleanly in two at the waist, turning the crystal waters a dark red. Their battle had clearly resumed here, but on this ground the giant dead were at least equal in number to the orcs, if not greater. Here the orc dead were not elderly and young, but powerful appearing warriors, garbed in traditional orcish mail and plate, well armed, and clearly deadly, considering their moderate success against their giant adversaries. It was here Vanryth picked up another blade, Orcish in make. They would no longer need it. There were no living here, but as they pressed onwards, the sounds of battle eventually reached their ears.

They emerged into a large circular clearing, the cave opening up to the night sky, the area centered around a small hill in the middle, the land adorned with a great hulking statue of Malacath himself, keeping vigil over the slaughter that occurred beneath his stone gaze. The orcs numbered at least thirty here, all clearly trained warriors, armed by orcish smiths and fierce as the lord they served. The giants were dwindling, and they numbered six, no five, as one of them had just had his leg removed by the largest of the orcs, sending him to the ground on his back in a spray of blood. The orc warrioress, at least a foot taller than any of her fellows, leapt upon the giant’s chest, raised a massive battleaxe over her head, and brought it down into the giant’s, cleaving it vertically to the base of the neck.

Maya, having taken in the sight of the battle, immediately sprang into action, her left hand calling forth a dark magic while her right began conjuring. She tossed a spell towards the nearest fallen orc warrior even as her bound bow appeared in her right hand, glowing with otherworldly light. The deceased orc was lifted from the ground and placed firmly on his feet, his axe returning to hand, his eyes dead and unseeing, but his body obeying her will. He set off to hack at the nearest enemy in the rear as the witch pulled back the string, an arrow forming in place in her fingers, ready to be loosed. Her reasons for killing these orcs remaining her own, the Sellswords would have to fight as well, if for no other reason than the necromancer was about to draw a large portion of their aggression.

Adrienne wasn't unusued to the concept of necromancy; her people were notoriously-skilled conjurers, after all, and while her own skills ran more in the vein of bound weapons and atronachs, she knew well that his side of the art existed, and it didn't much surprise her that Maya used it. More problematic was the fact that they were just leaping into a fight completely unaware of what was even happening. She had no great familiarity with Daedra, but she knew enough to say that she was wary of being involved with anything so close to one of their shrines. Especially anything bloody, and especially anything she wasn't fully prepared to face the consequences of. Waltzing in here and indiscriminately killing anyone who got in their way was about the least-ideal plan she'd ever been forced to participate in, and it turned her stomach considrably.

Still, there was in one sense no mistaking what she was fighting for now: they'd drawn attention, and if they didn't defend themselves, her friends, her family, would die. Next to that, even the possible innocence of these orsimer only went so far. It was a part of herself that she wasn't proud of, but she'd done horrible things for the people she loved before, and she may yet have to do so again. With a deep breath, she summoned an ice atronach to her side, gesturing it forward to tear through a line of incoming orcs, but they would be no easy foes, of that, she was certain. One had only to look at all of the dead giants in the area to figure that out. That hand lit with an ice spell, frosting her near-impervious palms, but the other slid Redemption from its sheath, readying the sword for the inevitable possibility of close-quarters fighting. She'd be nothing on an orsimer in terms of size or strength, so she had to play to her good points: speed, and intelligence.

Soren, for one, didn't much care that he was effectively being forced into this fight. He would have picked it anyway, perhaps in smaller numbers, but they would have died all the same. It was what happened when you decided to hound him for seeing something he shouldn't have. Without much of a conscience left to bother with, he drew back on his elvish bow and picked a different target, launching an arrow for a nearby orc who was just turning around upon noticing the disturbance. The arrowhead bit with effortless precision into his eyesocket, sliding into one of the slits in his helmet as though the offending chunk of metal hadn't been there at all. A satisfied smirk curled the archer's lip upwards, and he wasted no time finding the next victim.

Sinder, on the other hand, was less ambitions with his shots, and aimed mostly for chests, throats, and exposed flesh. There was no mistaking that with these numbers, he and anyone else capable of it would be forced into melee eventually, but if they could soften the numbers somewhat beforehand, well... they increased their odds of survival, however marginally given the circumstances. He knew Maya wanted the orc chieftain dead, but perhaps the giants would withdraw once their foes lay slain. Fighting five of them did not carry good chances of living through the experience, that much was certain. Still whether to engage at all was no longer their choice to make; it had been made for them, not that he'd failed to expect as much. He wasn't a soft touch like Adrienne, not anymore, but even he felt some measure of distaste at what they were doing. Perhaps because he knew nothing of what was going on, and there was no guarantee they were intervening on behalf of the side they would have otherwise supported.

Necromancy. If Van was surprised, he didn't show it. His eyelids did slide down halfmast as Maya raised her first corpse. As a Dunmer, his kind was naturally averse to the necrotic arts, though Vanryth didn't particularly care. Just as long as the walking corpses didn't get in his way or cause him any trouble. He stepped forward beside Sinder and Soren as lightning began to arc between his fingers. The witch could hunt her prey if she wished it, Van didn't care, her blood had nothing to do with him anymore. He drew back his hand as he gathered the Magicka need for his spells. Lightning then arced from his fingers and into the fray below before arcing between a number of orcs. Another bolt followed that one, and he then drew his sword as lightning still popped in his other hand.

Lynly had followed the witch, sword and shield at the ready. She couldn't call the dead to her aid like the witch, she was too proud for such parlor tricks. She would win her own fights by her own hands, not by the rotting hands of thralls. However, that brought up another point. Was this her fight? Did she have anything at stake here other than mere curiousity? Why was she fighting? The witches words rang in her mind as she squared off against the first orc. What purpose would his death serve? What purpose would all their deaths serve? She brought her shield to bare the brunt of his greatsword, sending a shock through her entire frame. Was it some petty ideal of making it up to the witch? Some excuse to make herself feel better? It was weak. She was weak. Letting such thoughts, such emotions take hold of her mind in the middle of a fight. The orc's greatsword crashed against her shield again, pushing her back. The warrioress was pushed into the defensive, as the relentless assault of the orc continued, until he either broke her arm or he tired out. By the way he foamed at the mouth, his battle lust wouldn't subside until either everything was dead, or he was.

The Nord became frustrated. Frustrated at her own weakness of mind, frustrated of what had transpired, frustrated how easily she was thrown into turmoil. This was not how a true nord fought, she was not some mewling kitten, some girl who's feelings got hurt. She was a daughter of Skyrim, descended from a strong line of warriors and adventurers. Her goal was to write her story, a grand tale of adventure, of battle, of blood, not of weakness. She was a warrior. The greatsword came again, and instead of merely taking the blow, she pushed against it, a fire lighting in her eyes. The clash was great and ferocious, nocking the greatsword away like it was a kitchen knife. The sudden ferocity threw the orc off balance and caused him to hesitate. Long enough for Lynly to wail a Nordic battle cry, one that carried her and her ancestors past. Fear etched into the Orcs face as he took a step back. A step too slow as Lynly surged, bashing the flat of her shield against his face, and throwing him to the ground. The warrior ended the fight with a deep slash across his chest.

Emotions would no longer hold her back. She was a true daughter of Skyrim, and battle was in her blood. She would win the day, she would win her tomorrow, and she would find her story. She stalked deep into the fray to fight, her face solid and eyes wide, and she would prove her ancestors in Soverngard proud. She'd sing a tale of blood and victory today.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson Character Portrait: The Representatives

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Thirty orcish warriors all in the midst of a berserker rage is perhaps one of the most frightening sights one could see, and it was enough to get the two surviving giants to simply turn tail and flee. Unfortunately, the only way out was the way the Sellswords had come in, and as such the group now had two massive men barreling down on them, swinging great trees of clubs side to side as they went. The first actually went down before he could reach the Sellswords, the orcs hacking off his feet and sending him slamming face first into the dirt, before they set about removing him of his limbs and head. The second was luckier, or perhaps simply bigger, and was soon charging through where the Sellswords had mostly gathered, swinging at anything in range, mad with fear and the smell of blood.

The giants largely defeated, the berserkers turned their full attention on the Sellswords, axes and greatswords and great double-sided cleavers raining down upon them, not a single bow among them, heavy armor shielding them from returning blows. They gave about as much thought to fighting them as Maya had seemed to give in return, and that was none. They were so far gone to their bloodlust it was a small miracle they didn’t turn and start cleaving each other to bits. Perhaps it was their leader that kept their minds focused on the enemy, kept their rage centered into a focus.

The Bloody Curse was like a massive rock amidst the raging sea that was her warband, standing a foot taller than any of the rest, covered head to foot in blood and guts and mud and dirt, her command over her battleaxe making it seem a mere stick in her hands. In fact, if Maya had not told the group of her gender, she would easily have been mistaken for a man, so muscled was she, and so unrecognizable under the layer of gore.

Drayk had taken his position towards the front of the group, spewing flame at the nearest orc, only for the warrior to burst through it, axe overhead. The mage barely got his shield up in time to prevent his head from being cleaved open, but the force was enough to drive him backwards a good three or four steps. He was intimidated in a way even the dragon could not bring forth, surrounded by some of the best warriors in the world, and the fact that he was no great warrior himself was becoming apparent. The Mentor had distilled knowledge into him at a rapid pace, but courage took time. His had not reached this level just yet.

He enveloped himself in flames, the fires swirling and licking around him, eager hands reaching out for victims. The orc pressed his attack again, and Drayk met it, letting the fire wrap the pair of them in a deadly embrace. The orc did not feel the pain immediately, and perhaps he never did, but he eventually fell, only to rise moments later in a violet light as the witch returned him to his feet, the flaming corpse launching itself at former allies. “They are blind and stupid in their rage!” Maya shouted from the rear. “Use your wits, not your arms.”

"You mean raging orsimer lack intelligence? I'd never have guessed!" Soren replied facetiously, grinning rather too broadly for the situation, perhaps. Armored or not, they still had eyes, and he could leave them blind in more ways than one. For a moment, he didn't draw a new arrow, instead lighting a spell in one hand, of all things. Still smiling like a madman, he released it, abruptly disappearing from the field. Ordinarily, he considered invisibility in rather poor taste and preferred the challenge of simply sneaking past people, but this wasn't a heist, it was a fight, and he was going to get himself some superior positioning. Weaving in and out of the bull-rushing orcs, he flanked them, setting his position on the massive boulder near the shrine to Malacath. Uncaring of any implications that might have, he nocked three arrows to his bowstring at once and aimed high, launching them into the sky even as the shroud of his spell dropped away. It was still dark, and he was still behind them, so it'd be a while yet before he was noticed.

For what looked to be a random act of violence, the arrows had accuracy, one of them entering the juncture between a man's helmet and the back of his chestplate, and the other two striking less-vital areas on another. It wasn't bad, but he'd really prefer to give things a little extra... something. He didn't much go in for magic that wasn't illusion, but even a gifted child knew the most basic flame spell, and this he used to light his next shot on fire, aiming squarely for the crazy murderess. Of course, that she too was facing away from him meant that it wouldn't be finding her eye, which was rather a shame, but he aimed for the back of her knee. Armor, however well-made, still had to flex, and it was always weaker there. With a little luck, it might even hobble the nasty bitch. Before the flame could do any damage to the arrowhead or burn away the shaft, he let fly.

Using one's wits rather than one's arms would have been sound advice, were Sinder faced with anything other than a giant. Granted, being smart was still a good idea, but the giant was rather intent on leaving the area, and the Altmer had the misfortune to be directly in his way. Leaping to the side and tucking into a roll, he came up onto the balls of his feet even as the mighty club crashed into the ground where he had been mere seconds earlier. Abandoning the notion of fighting from a distance any longer, the elf drew his swords, assessing the situation for an opening. What he really wanted to do was duck in around its legs and slice along its achilles tendon, so as to bring it down swiftly. A protracted fight with one would merely increase the chance of someone getting hurt, and not just by the giant himself...

Luckily, he'd not have to fight the giant alone. Vanryth had been beside Sinder when the giant had charged, and had thrown himself in the opposite direction of the club. Instead of rolling up to his feet like the young Altmer, Van had managed to slide into a kneeling position, sword dug into the ground to stop the sliding. In the calm before the storm, the minute before the battle with the giant began, Van locked eyes with Sinder and then nodded. While he wasn't the agile or graceful fighter in the Sellswords, he could take a hit. He'd just hope that Sinder was fast enough so that he wouldn't get them both killed.

Lightning arced in his hand and the streaked toward the giant, drawing it's ire to him. Another bolt of lightning, in order to cement the giant's attention, and he swapped to his orcish blade and waited. It'd be foolish to rush a giant after all, and Van had hoped that the lightning would dissuade it from fleeing and instead attempt to squash him. By Azura, he hoped it would only be an attempt and nothing more. Being plastered by the club didn't seem like fun.

When the charge began in earnest, Adrienne had to admit, if only to herself, that she was afraid. But she'd been afraid before. This was exactly what masks were for: smoothing oneself free of such troublesome things until everyone, oneself included, believed that there simply were none. The one she wore now was perhaps the closest to frightening her own aspect could become, her face closed off, soft eyes hardened, grip firm on her sword. The first orsimer that charged for her, she dodged, darting to the side and spinning, sweeping low, so as to hack at the back of his knees, parting the flesh there and sending him to the ground. Doubling back with celerity, she drove the point of her sword into a less-protected spot at his waist, hitting his spine with uncanny precison. Few knew the body as well as an alchemist, after all, and she had always been a quick study.

Today would not be the first time she stepped into danger with little but her wits to her advantage, and she cast cold eyes over the field. There were simply too many, and they were approaching too fast. Clenching her free hand, she opened it again, sweeping it in front of her and covering the snow about herself with a thick sheet of hardened ice, the swath cutting at least ten feet in a broad arc from her position. Shoring her position carefully, she allowed the first few to tumble and slide past her, not wishing to interrupt their momentum, their own force working so insidiously against them. Well enough, for when one at last found himself on a collision course towards her, she was ready. The large shard of ice hurtled towards him, meeting his forward progress with enough impact to almost halt him on the ice, and then she leaped lightly onto the sheet, skating with much more grace towards him, grabbing his helmet and tossing it off to the side as she passed. Like that, half-dead and without any protection on his head, he'd be a prime target for an archer, or anyone who wanted to finish him.

As she reached the end of her ice, she produced more, creating herself a slick pathway across the field, diverting occasionally to throw more patches underneath the feet of incoming warriors, or to lay steel across this exposed neck or that bare shoulder; while most of them were heavily-armored, she was more than willing to exploit chinks here or there, or punish one for losing a piece in the fray. A humorless little smile turned her mouth up at the corner, and whatever part of her was softhearted and tender fell silent, at least for now.

Adrienne’s maneuver succeeded in bringing a pleased smile to Maya’s lips, and with her off hand she prepared a concentrated blast of lightning, unleashing it in the direction of the orsimer she had weakened and exposed. The bolt struck true in the warrior’s skull, causing him to spasm for a brief moment before his head popped and sent bits of skull and brain in a neat radius around him.

Soren’s arrow hit its mark in the back of the Bloody Curse’s leg, and though she did not howl in pain or cry out whatsoever, she wobbled awkwardly with her next step, seemingly unaware as to why one of her legs was no longer functioning very well. The witch had to assume she wasn’t feeling much of anything at all at the moment. But even slowed, the orc woman managed to move with speed comparable to that of her kin, hacking clean through the chest of the orc warrior Maya had most recently raised. Maya felt mostly drained at this point, and doubted she’d be able to raise another corpse. Best to keep the spellpower in reserve in case a lightning spell became necessary. In the meantime, she kept towards the rear, putting glowing arrows in targets when she could, and kindly allowing all of the others to take the hits in her place.

Drayk was doing a fair bit of that himself, his flames a protective wall wrapped around him. He had unintentionally made himself something of a beacon to the orcs, as the man on fire tended to stand out just about as much as the giant did. Still, with as quick of movements as he could muster and the knowledge of shield use that the Mentor had bestowed upon him, he had so far been able to avoid taking any major hits, or being surrounded.

At least until one axe-armed warrior barreled full-on into him, axe biting deep into his shield, the orc’s shoulder slamming into the wood and knocking Drayk over, the pair of them going to the ground in a fiery heap. The sensation of burning had been enough for Drayk to get the upper hand once he had been flattened, however, and he firmly took a hold of the orc’s throat before he could do much of anything, pushing and rolling so that he could get out from under him. Once the orc was on his back, an intense heat flowed out of Drayk palm and enveloped the warrior, and it was mere moments before he was melting inside of his own armor. The smell of burning flesh right in front of his face had almost been one Drayk had forgotten.

He was aware that his back was currently exposed to the enemy, however, and so his next move was to roll back over and unleash a cone of fire in the direction of the orcs, not bothering to aim or try to limit his output. The flame cloak made it difficult to see anything not immediately in front of him, and thus his instincts guided him into doing the safe thing, and burning whatever was in front of him, before it could have a chance at laying an axe into his head.

The numbers were against them, Lynly knew that. She couldn't just rush into the middle of the field and begin swinging her sword and shield. That's how fools and greenhorns died, and she was neither. She was a tested warrior, and she would not fall to the mere rage of an Orc. She dropped back behind her shield and stepped back to their lines, as scattered as that may have been at the moment. Two orcs converged on her, one wielding a warhammer and another a mace. Things did not look bright for her shield arm. She gently led them backward, leading them away from the bulk of their number. If she was to fend them off, then it'd do to not have any undue attention

She dug her heels in and waited patiently behind her shield, only her sky blues peering over the rim. She wasn't kept waiting long as they both attacked at the same time, warhammer coming from above and mace to the side. Instead of choosing one to block and taking the other, she opted to take a hop back, and dodging the blows. She would not be pushed back however, and once the weapons went wide stormed forward to her original position and slammed the edge of her shield into the chestplate of the warhammer wielding orc, the force of the momentum forcing him back and down. Even over the din of battle, she could sense the heaving of lungs. He'd be down for a while, perhaps just enough time to deal with the mace wielding orc.

She was not allowed the time to savor her small victory as a mace came from the side again. She twisted her whole body around and brought her shield to bear just in time. The rage driven mace sent needles of pain through her arm, but she was still alive, and her arm was in one piece. Once more, she set her heels and stood before the berserker's onslaught. Another mace blow from above, and another, and another. After the trio of blow and on the forth, instead of merely meeting it, she threw her shield against it. Her arm was wracked with pain again, but the force was enough to throw the orc off balance and send the mace flying. She took a step forward, slamming the edge of her shield into his throat. Hands went to his neck, as if trying to claw his way through his collapsed throat. He began to fall forward, just in time to fall on her blade.

She pulled her blade free, just in time to go up against a warhammer. Lynly hastily threw her shield up, but the force was much greater than the mace, cracking some bones in her wrist and bringing her to a knee. The orc was beginning to drop the final blow just as Lynly was pulling her sword back to pierce him. Though their blows were interupted by a gout of fire. The heat was sudden, engulfing Lynly's arm and the side of her face, while the orc was completely scorched. The nord threw herself to the ground to avoid taking any more fire damage, while the orc was burned in place. Once the fire subsided, the orc fell to his knees as Lynly raised herself to her own. The orc was still alive, but it was clear he was in no shape to continue. Lynly mercifully put the orc out of his misery with a stab to the heart.

She stood, throwing her shield to the ground and dipping into her reserves of magicka for a restoration spell. As she did, she yelled back to wherever the fire came from and barked, "Watch your aim boy!" Her voice was filled with a rage not like her, but the total disregard displayed by the boy enraged the disciplined warrior within. Luckily, the healing spell was steadily easing the burns and sapping the pain away.

Still working from her broad swaths of ice-slick snow, Adrienne might well have been a blur, skating past orsimer and ally alike as she flitted this way and that, picking off those foes which were not currently directly engaged with any of the others, but might be moving to reinforce their ranks elsewhere. She might not be much help in a direct fight, but this sort of fringe utility and strategy was very much in keeping with what she knew, even if the application was quite different indeed. Homing in on one in particular, the girl executed a light pirouette motion, which might have looked a bit silly, perhaps, but was entirely serious, considering the extra momentum it lent the slim sword in her hands. The blade cut deep, exploiting yet another armor-joint, and this one, she drew away from the main body of the fight, skating backwards mostly to keep an eye on him, but also because it was a little bit funny to watch the confusion turn to anger on his face at the apparent ease with which she moved around.

Even her considerable reserve of magicka wouldn't last forever, though, which was why she was trying to get this one apart from the rest. Unfortunately for her, perhaps, not all of the others were occupied, and as it turned out, a slip of a woman dashing around on the snow, leaving a steady trail of dark red behind her, while not as notable as a flaming man, perhaps, was certainly something one paid attention to if one was hit by her. As she hopped off the slick, she found herself with rather more company than expected, in the form of exactly five orcish warriors. All were to some extent maimed already, whether by her or someone else, but that didn't lessen the fact that she was thoroughly outmuscled here.

It was perhaps telling of how far into the psychology of battle she was that it didn't outwardly phase her at all. Inwardly, the story was a little different, and she hesitated for just a moment. It... wasn't really the same thing, was it? The purpose was completely different, and was it not the intent that made the action, for the most part? Would it be a little bit wrong? She might be able to live with that, especially if it literally saved her life. No, surely it wouldn't be the same. It couldn't. So why did those thoughts sound like hollow excuses, even when she heard them only in her own mind?

Her moment of indecision cost her, and two of the orcs coordinated an attack, one sweeping low with a wicked sword while the other brought a war-axe down in a brutal vertical arc. She was able to jump backwards and avoid both, but not with the proper forethought to make the motion at all graceful, and she wound up on her back, in the snow, at the feet of another. He wasted none of his time in contemplation, and his attempt to crush her skull with a mace was admittedly quite sincere. She rolled to the side inches before the first of the spikes met her nose, scrambling to her feet and staggering backwards several steps, fumbling at a belt-pouch she usually left closed. Her hands found the vial of the right shape with an ease too practiced, and she tossed it deftly, shattering it on the nearest one's face. There was a momentary delay, but the howling started up shortly thereafter, as the corrosive substance ate away at his eyes and the tender flesh of his mouth.

Perhaps the most horrible part of all was that she couldn't decide if she was entirely replused by that or not. Then he dropped his mace, dropping to his knees, and she felt her stomach turn as he clawed at himself, tearing his helmet off and trying to dilute the acid with snow. Small, small comfort that she hated it, then. His fellows, who had been for the barest moment just as engrossed in the sight as she, looked between one another then, as if forming some kind of unspoken consensus. The man with the sword raised it, the downstroke cleaving the fellow's head from his shoulders, and they turned to her as one. Adrienne, hands shaking, reached for a different vial, uncorking it and tipping the viscous contents down her sword. There was no mistaking, however, that the addition of a paralytic was just as likely to be futile as helpful. They were twice as angry as they had been, and there were still four of them. She wasn't so sure she was going to survive this.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson Character Portrait: The Representatives

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Vanryth's play at distraction was quite successful, and with the giant's attention focused almost solely on the Dunmer, Sinderion knew that time was short. He had to do some serious damage before the behemoth could bring that club down too close to his friend. Dropping into a crouch, the Altmer made a stealthy approach to the creature's flank, rising and darting in under its guard while it was still staving off the effects of the lightning. Sliging in behind it, he did not hesitate, driving one of his steel blades into the back of the giant's knee, and wrenching with the considerable strength packed efficiently onto his tall frame. The mortion jarred his shoulders, but he just threw his body weight into it, torquing his abdomen until the blade tore free of the muscles and tendons there. A nimble jump, and he was repeating the process on the other side, but by then the giant was no doubt aware of what was going on, and he had to abandon the sword and roll to the side to avoid another devastating blow from the club.

Still, there was no mistaking the fact that the creature was quite hobbled now, and its movement would be incredibly restricted, assuming it wasn't brought to its knees. Sinderion could not gauge what the attack would do until it had been done; he had no experience in confronting giants. At least none that he could remember. Either way, it seemed he was now playing the role of distraction, which should allow Van an opportunity to pummel away with his magic.

Now taking the role of the agressor, Vanryth closed the distance between the giant and himself, his blade glistening in the low light, patiently waiting for the chance to taste blood. Now that the giant had eyes only for Sinder, it gave him the chance to quickly approach without having to dodge the club. Agile as he was, he was not Sinderion, and he was not as quick as the boy was. Just watching the boy dance and roll around the giant would have tired him out, had he not the familiar feeling of adrenaline surging through his system. Sinder had managed to bring the giant to a knee, which made Vanryth's intent all that more easier to accomplish. He approached from the side in which the giant wielded his club.

A flash of his sword and a spray of blood later, and the giant no longer wielded the club, instead coming short a finger. The club clattered to the ground harmlessly, though he wasn't done yet. He vaulted onto the gaints arm and then used every muscle possible to clambor up and over the giants shoulders until Vanryth sat on the back of his neck. He then placed his free hand on the back of the giants head, igniting the sustained electricity spell. Van hoped the act would stall the giant from just grabbing him and chucking him like a rag doll. He also hoped Sinder would use this opportunity to do something-- as the idea of learning to fly didn't appeal to the landbound dunmer.

The electricity forced the giant's muscles to lock up, its mind no longer able to command its body effectively. It was all the opportunity the Altmer required. Taking a deep breath, Sinderion backed up several paces, aware that he didn't have long to accomplish something important. Having been liberated of the longer of his blades, he was left only with the shorter, more dagger than sword. At present, it was the one he'd prefer to have anyway, and he flipped it in his hand until the base of the blade rested delicately between his first two fingers. With a sharp flick, he sent it flying, end over end, until it embedded itself with a solid thunk at the base of the giant's throat. The creature's skin was tough, and no doubt an actual fatality would require much more force, but he'd planned for that, and he was off after the steel projectile like a shot from a bow, quickly reaching a risky velocity. Risky, because what he was about to do would test the limits of his body quite thoroughly, and the beast may well be justified in deciding he needed its assistance.

He didn't. He couldn't, and if this wasn't so damn important, he wouldn't even be attempting it. Still in a full-out sprint, he gathered his legs beneath him and sprang, momentum carrying him forward as strength propelled him higher. He alighted on the crook of the creature's slightly-bent elbow, pushing off that at an angle to take him past the neck and the dagger in it. Twisting his body, he slammed a heel into the hilt of the knife, burying it in the extra five or so inches, feeling the jarring reverberation through his whole body as the end of it scraped against the first few vertebrae of the spine.

"Off!" he barked tersely to Van, as much a warning as he had time to give. His landing, he'd thought through even less than his approach, and unless he wanted to land on his back or his neck, he'd need yet more acrobatics. Luckily, his angle off the blow hadn't been too awful, and he was able to complete a full backwards rotation, landing heavily but safely in the snow, only to roll immediately out of the way of the inevitable fall. A mighty one it was, too, as the combination of electricity and a critical wound to an artery in its neck proved too much. Slowly, with an air of great ponderousness, he tipped forward, crashing into a snowbank as though it had been choreographed that way.

At the command, Vanryth drew up his heels to the shoulders of the giant and pushed, flinging him off behind the giant and nudging it into it's forward fall. Again, the dunmer displayed his amazing lack of grace dispite his elven linage, and instead of rolling into a ball and making it to his feet, he more or less planted himself in the snow before scrambling away a distance from the giant. Pushed it forward he might had, but the chance that fate would forgo that and topple the giant on him was still ever present. He never did have the best of luck after all. It stark contrast to the agile and graceful sight of Sinder just slipping away, compared to Vanryth who on all fours padded off.

A hand missed and he fell to his shoulder, rolling to his back. Luckily, the giant didn't collapse on top of him and Sinder was alive. Good news abound as his head dropped back into the snow where he just laid for a moment. He was getting too old for these young man's antics.

Sinder, slightly favoring one leg, spotted his friend over a ways and picked his way over, heedless of the red snow that coated his boots. Wordlessly, he offered a hand to Van, so as to help the other man leverage to his feet. There was little he could do to ease anybody's physical maladies, but he could manage this much, at least. Vanryth shot him a look of utmost tiredness, eyelids hanging in halfmast before he accepted the hand and drew himself back to his feet. He put the ball of his fist in the small of his back as he followed Sinder away from the giant's corpse.




Watching this little band try to coordinate itself, Soren wondered if they were even capable of seeing the big picture. Certainly, the two men were at least able to coordinate with one another, but the rest were running around more or less on their own, and the battlefield was a chaotic mess, full of openings and flanking opportunites that they were frankly lucky the orcs were too stupid to take advantage of.

Scratch that, the young one was not that fortunate after all, and quickly found herself surrounded. She threw something, which resulted in one of the men screaming bloody murder and dropping to his knees, forcing his comrades to kill him. That still left four though, and he wondered if he shouldn't charge for his mercy, as keeping any of them alive was never part of the deal. Still, he nocked an arrow to the string, unable to resist the taunt that followed. "You know, gorgeous, I don't normally do this for free, but it'd be a damn shame if they mauled that face of yours, hm?" The arrow flew, striking one of the remaining orcs in the back of the neck, that irresistable joint where helmet failed to quite meet chainmail.

From there, though, he turned his attentions back to the Bloody Curse, aware that she had yet to select a target from among them. Though he did not by any means desire to be that target, all things considered, he knew it was practically better if it were him than a boy who couldn't control his own damn fire, a waif of a girl without much staying power, one of two people already engaged with a giant, or a mage. The nord woman was probably optimal, but it hardly mattered since none of them would last five seconds against Rikka in a no-holds-barred melee. Hence, the attempt to bring her down from afar before she had the chance to engage in that sort of thing.

Words, as much insult as compliment, were something she had not expected, but she could not deny that one less opponent was a mighty relief. Adrienne could not draw her attention from the other two to fire back, either, as may have otherwise been her wont. It had been long since she'd last held a purely verbal match with someone, and this Soren seemed ever-inclined to them. She might have even appreciated that, were his tongue not already proving a problem on some other counts. As things were, she had not the time to devote to such thoughts, and simply accepted the boon for what it was-- a favor, unlikely to be repeated.

Darting forward with all the speed and suddenness she possessed, Adrienne feinted for the vulnerable line between neck and shoulder on one of her foes, turning the blade aside at the last second to hit the inside of his elbow instead. The blow was precise enough to slice through the leather strapping that held his elbow armor in place and flay delicately into the skin and tendon beneath, but it was no mistake to say that it was glancing at best. The man looked down at it, then back up at her, chuckling darkly. Adrienne simply smiled, as if, in fact, yes, it had been rather silly of her, hadn't it? But of course, as was always the case in situations to her advantage, she knew something that man did not, and when he next went to heft his axe, he found that arm to be quite useless, hanging at his side as though the limb of a dead man.

And one of those, he would surely soon be. Ducking to the side whipchord-quick, the girl evaded the blow incoming to the left, intent on finishing off the paralyzed one before the poison wore out. Small amount as it was, it would not stop his heart outright, and her brews had ever been designed with delay in mind, and death only in the highest doses. Dancing around the third's attempted shield bash, she nevertheless gasped in pain when it clipped her hip, spinning her about ninety degrees as it struck too closely to where the dragon's claw-marks were still tender and scarring on her torso. Frantically, she shoved the end of her blade into the juncture between chin and throat, up into the paralyzed man's head, then snaked the blade out with a slick squelch.

That was one down and two to go, but things were looking less well when those two attacked in tandem, one moving high, and one low. Jumping back wasn't exactly an option, as one of those attacks was hooking around from behind, and she bit her tongue hard enough to draw blood when her vertical hop evaded the mace to her knees but not the sword to her shoulder. Stumbling backwards, she tried to regain her balance, but was tripped when the mace-wielder, unperturbed by his miss, simply swung back the other way and swept her legs out from under her entirely, landing her flat on her back with a profusely-bleeding shoulder and an aching side.

If one thing was on the Sellswords' side, it was that berserker rage or no, these orcs were tired. They had trekked across half of the Rift after finding their home obliterated, perhaps even fighting in that battle, and then carving their way through at least a dozen giants while wearing heavy orcish armor, equipped with naught for weaponry but their axes, swords, hammers, and rage. They were slowing, and while still very dangerous and very skilled, it was playing a major role in the fight, and their numbers were dwindling.

Given a moment to take a look around, it did not take long for Drayk to spot Adrienne's predicament, nor did it take long for him to react, his feet digging into the ground and propelling him towards the two orcs. His flame cloak faded just as he reached them, though whether or not this was a conscious act of his was unclear. He slammed shield first into the back of the one wielding the sword, the pair of them going to the ground, the intense impact of the collision jarring the fire mage. A quick punch from the orc slammed into his jaw, lighting stars in his eyes, but Drayk was quick to return the blow by laying his palm across the orc's face, and an agonized wail followed his helm was melted onto his face.

A struggle followed, Drayk fighting to keep the warrior pinned and keep the deadly heat flowing from his hand. His efforts were rewarded with an orcish sword sinking in under his left ribs, bringing a grimace to his face and cutting off the fire. Before anything worse could be done, however, Drayk brought the rim of his shield down in a punching motion at the orc’s softened helm and skin, the first blow stunning the orc, the second denting his skull, and the third crushing through it to the ground, spattering him with gore. The sword he was quick to pull from his side, hissing at it went, before he pushed himself away, reigniting his flame cloak in a more violent manner this time, the fire whipping out wildly all about him in at least a five foot radius, Drayk himself staggering to a knee and clutching his side, the fire a defense against anything remaining that would wish harm upon him. It was a panicked maneuver more than anything, his instincts of self-preservation breaking through loud and clear, and demanding an assurance that enemies would burn before they got near him.

Drayk's intervention left Adrienne with but one foe to contend with, though admittedly she did not know that until she managed to scramble to her feet, profoundly-sore and tiring fast from the blood loss. Her vision swam in front of her, and she blinked several times to clear it, steadying her grip on her blade. Thankfully, the fact that she seemed to keep winding up in the freezing snow was of little concern. Small and not-Nord as she was, years of favoring frost magic had left her with a bit of resistance to the effects of the cold, something which one could put to great use in Skyrim.

Within a few seconds, the four identical orcs in front of her eyes resolved into one more steady image, who wasted little time in worrying over the state of her comrade and charged the Breton girl, war-axe in one hand now coupled with green-metal knife in the other. What had the Mentor told her about situations like this? There were ways to overcome large enemies with more weapons than you, she was just having difficulty remembering. The orsimer was fatigued as well, and moving much more slowly than she likely had been at the beginning of the fight. Maybe not quite slow enough for Adrienne to take advantage of, as her shoulder forced her to hold her sword in her off-hand, which she usually reserved for magic. Her frost atronach was still fending off a few enemies elsewhere, so it would be of no help. Her magicka reserves were low, bordering on depleted, so it had to be something basic, something practically innate.

With a quick thought, Adrienne moved the magic to her injured side, reaching just inside herself for the most innate spell of all, the one that connected almost directly to her being. In better condition, she would have been able to manage two, and they would have been on fire, no less, but for now, one familiar was enough. She only needed a distraction, after all.

It was taught to her that the shape of one's soul changes as its character does. When she'd first called this power to her, the resultant manifestation had a look much akin to a smug, slinking fox. These days, it most often took the shape of a large crow. Perhaps it was related to her desire to be free, or her self-loathing for the time she'd spent essentially a scavenger, perhaps not. Symbolism was for writers and people who had time to think about it, not battlefields. As it was, the creature winked into existence, and with a caw, rushed the orc charging for her. Weak as it was, it fell relatively easily under the weight of the axe, but not before giving her enough time to dart in and take advantage of the distraction, stabbing up into the orsimer's sternum. It was enough, and the woman fell, leaving her to turn and try to thank Drayk while no more presently surrounded them.

What she saw wasn't quite reassuring. She was opening her mouth to speak when he burst into flames, more or less. Though she knew this to be relatively harmless to him, she was forced to take a couple of steps backwards, or else face a repeat of what had happened in the fight with the dragon. One sleeve of her robe, already largely tattered and in serious need of repair, singed, and she immediately plunged that arm into the snow to stop the smoulders from catching properly. From that crouched position, she remembered herself and found her voice. "Drayk? Drayk, it's fine, you're fine! Nobody's here but me right now, and I think I need your help. Can you take down the flame cloak, please?" A glance at the snow beside her confirmed her suspicions: it was dyed a deep red, and a good portion of that was hers. She might have tried to stand, but she wasn't sure she'd make it back up without fainting from the blood loss, and now that the adrenaline was slowly leaving her, the wound was beginning to hurt in a way past simple aching.

She swayed uncomfortably on the balls of her feet, trying to remember if she had any healing potions left. That the answer eluded her was perhaps equal evidence for the severity of their recent trials and her current fragile state of consciousness.

It took a moment for Drayk to remember why exactly he'd come running over here. He just remembered a life or death struggle with an orc, that overwhelming need to shroud himself such that nothing could touch him without burning. At first, Adrienne's voice was akin to an ember floating around in a forest fire, but eventually it took hold, the stress in her tone breaking through to him. Soon all that was left was the crackling of the Orsimer corpse beside him, the body having lit when he'd ignited his flame cloak. Drayk needed only to see the amount of blood, and the way she was swaying about, to know the urgency, and how much he was needed here.

He did a fair bit of swaying himself when he stood and moved towards her, his shield cast to the ground so that he might clutch his side with his left arm, leaving his right free for the casting that would be necessary. He didn't know how much was left in him, but he would be using all of it here, he had no doubt. Drayk made it nearly to Adrienne before he stumbled and fell forward, catching himself on hands and knees. At that point, it was the best he could do to sit back on his heels, beckoning slightly, his voice coming out rather hoarse. "Come... here. I might have enough magic for the two of us."

Enough... magic? The words filtered too slowly through her mind, and Adrienne resisted the urge to shake herself. That... was only likely to make things worse, right? It was so hard to tell... She settled for blinking, and trying to think. There was something she could help with, she was almost certain. Grey-fog-silence pressed in around her like something palpable, nearly cutting her off from the outside world entirely, but something sharper, more acute and focused, kept it at bay, if only just. Healing. That's what he was talking about. Could she help with that? She'd tried to, once, but... something had happened, hadn't it? The fog pushed back, and she fought the rising tide of panic in her throat.

Not that. Something else. Something else she could do. Why was it so hard to think?

By chance, her hand brushed something at her hip as she half-dragged herself forward, and she paused as this triggered some other thought. Bulb and stem. Why does that matter? But it did, and so she reached into the satchel there, feeling around until she had what she wanted, then withdrew it with a shaking hand. Blue. Yes, surely that was right. She held it out to him, still coherent enough to manage a few words with reasonably-steady clarity. "Yourself first. You need... to be able to concentrate. I'll... I'll live." Not the most eloquent phrasing she'd ever used, but sensible enough for the present. At least she hadn't come right out and said that his life meant more to her than hers did. Maybe, she speculated in the detached manner of one in extreme pain, that was why she even kept on doing this. Because they meant that much to her. Or because he did. Or because she wasn't good, and could only be worse without them. It was difficult to say.

Drayk did not hesitate to take the magicka potion, quickly uncorking and downing it. He probably would have argued some over who should be healed first, but he also didn't want to waste the time. She was right, focus was necessary here, and so he closed his eyes, taking his hand off his bleeding side and raising both palms upwards. He tried to calm himself, clear the thoughts from his mind, but it was little use. He summoned a healing spell nevertheless, only to be confused when he didn't immediately feel the sensation wash over his body. He opened his eyes to a glow in his peripherals, and quickly determined that both of his arms were on fire. He shouted slightly in alarm, calling the flames back into his palms, before banishing them entirely. He blinked in surprise, too tired to try and figure out why that had just happened. Shaking the cobwebs he imagined in his mind, he tried again, and this time his hand lit with white light, a glow surrounding him, the familiar feeling of a heal spell returning.

He waited only as long as necessary for him to regain enough strength to stand before stopping, pushing to his feet and standing before Adrienne, gently healing her shoulder and side as best as he was able in the moment, allowing her to lean on him if she needed to. "This'll have to do for now, I may need to save some for the others. Will you be alright?"

The offer of support was most welcome, half-slumped as she was already. In the end, Adrienne was able to push to her feet, the shoulder-wound closed, but not fully healed. That was all right; at least her mind was shaking off the last of the persistent fog. "I'll be fine. Thank you, Drayk." Her fatigue was more evident in her tones now, the last few sylables trailing off into a near-whisper of sound. But she was alive, and it was time to make sure the others were, too.




Meanwhile, the witch was none too pleased to see that her intended prey, the Bloody Curse, had chosen to hunt the hunter. Rikka had her eyes locked on Maya, narrowed slits on each side of the nose guard of her orcish helmet. Maya’s immediate response was to back up while firing arrows, three to be exact, all finding the mark, one in the orc’s stomach, one in the gap in the armor at the underarm, and a third deviously placed just above the thigh plate, near the groin. The orcish berserker was dripping blood everywhere by the time she closed the gap, most of it probably not her own, considering the amount of blood she was covered in, but at least some, enough to where she was slightly slower than she had first appeared.

Maya banished her bow, no longer useful as it was, and instead lit lightning spells in each hand, lowering her base and preparing to dodge. A single blow from that axe would cleave her in two, she knew, and thus her agility was about to become very important. The first swing came diagonally down, and Maya sidestepped. The attack was immediately followed by a backswing, Rikka’s recovery time from the first swing seemingly nonexistent. The cut came horizontally, aiming to slice her head clean off, and Maya was forced to bend over backwards, the flat axe face passing inches above her face. Not letting up her offensive, Rikka continued the attack with a quick spin, letting the weight of the axe carry into her next strike, a pommel thrust that caught Maya in the stomach hard, her wind leaving her with a grunt, and her feet leaving the ground, the force of the blow enough to knock her to her back.

She rolled over once, ending perhaps conveniently on her back, as she was able to send twin lightning bolts into the Bloody Curse’s chest, slowing her enough for the witch to roll out of the way of the down stroke that cut a foot into the snow and dirt beneath her. Acting quickly, Maya conjured a quick dagger, having the idea that her axe would be quite awkward to use in extreme close quarters. She plunged the glowing purple blade into the back of the other knee, the one Soren hadn’t shot, and the second hobbling strike was enough to bring the orc warrioress down to her knees. Ripping the knife free, Maya rose to her own knee level, going quickly for the throat, an attack which hit a stone wall that was Rikka’s forearm. The orc had dropped her axe and gone for her own knife, something Maya wished she’d seen coming as she wasn’t able to move out of range of a stab to the right side of her abdomen. She gasped as the pair fell to the snow, the Bloody Curse’s armored weight crushing down on her and the knife in her side.

With whatever magicka remained to her she looked left and found a corpse. By the time it reached its feet the snow around the two was dark with blood dripping from the both of them. Rikka’s single-minded rage prevented her from seeing it coming until an orcish axe was buried in her back. She cried out, feeling pain at last, ripping the knife free from Maya and turning on the risen corpse. By some bizarre roll of the dice her undead servant managed to preempt Rikka’s strike, the next axe swing slicing the orc’s hand clean off to a stump. That didn’t stop the Bloody Curse from closing in further, wrapping her good arm around the corpse’s head and twisting until the head was on backwards, and the minion fell. Weaponless and likely delirious, Rikka returned to Maya, still lying in the snow, dropping a gauntlet to her throat and squeezing, her strength letting Maya do little other than struggle pointlessly.

Lynly had dispatched another Orc, though taking her time and allowing the berserking warrior to do most of the work for her. She wasn't stupid, they were outnumbered-- were, she had lost count a while ago, so whether the case still stood or not remained to be seen. She'd need to save her strength else she would tire out and a tired warrioress was the same as a dead one. She had picked her shield back up, and despite the bones in her hand still mending from a healing spell, she had built a fortress behind the metal disk. Rage had carried the orc too far, taking one too many steps forward. A simple dodge from Lynly and a focused effort brought the orc down.

A long exhale and she turned back to the battle at hand. Maya's battle rather. The witch seemed to have bitten off more than she could chew with the Bloody Curse. Taking on a warrior like that small as she was, Lynly took her for crazy and decided to see if the witch could use assistance. Of course, that meant she'd have to wade over to the battle, and through another orc warrior. So be it. She raised her shield and took a steadying breath. She issued a challenge, banging her sword on her shield as she approached the orc. Gaining his attention, the nord and orc squared off-- all for about a couple of seconds. In a split second, Lynly positioned her shield primarly on her shoulder and charged.

Blood drunk as he was, the Orc was to slow to react to the charging nord and was thrown to the ground. Lynly replied with a steel boot to the temple, if not outright killing him, knocking him out for the duration of the battle. She then approached the pair of Curse and Witch, of which the former was attempting to choke the latter to death. Intervention from Lynly would see to it that the Witch saw her hunt through. A rising uppercut from her shield met the Bloody Curse's head, attempting to use brute force to get the orc off of the girl.

"I thought you were the hunter," Lynly said.

Lynly's attack had worked well on the Bloody Curse, the orc giving a low grunt as her weight was forcibly removed from Maya, who gasped for air the moment she was able. She made no immediate attempt to reply to Lynly, her eyes alight with a sort of anger that could only be brought in such a tense moment. After scrambling away, and throroughly ignoring the wound in her side, she reached a hand into her satchel, retrieving one small vial of blue liquid, all that she would need. After downing the liquid, sparks lit at her fingertips, and then a storm exploded from her hands, forks of lightning stabbing through the armored orc woman, who convulsed with at the attack, body wracked with intense pain. Only when her skin was smoking did Maya relent, and Rikka was allowed to fall to her back in the snow, breathing heavily and making no further attempts to move, the blood running freely from her stump of a right arm.

The witch, still fuming, took the moment to retrieve a larger vial of red liquid from her bag, which took her slightly longer to drink. The healing potion helped to stop the blood flowing from her side, even if it didn't completely mend the wound. It was more than enough to go on. It was at that point, now that she was satisfied her target would no longer struggle, that she acknowledged Lynly with a small smile, one that carried a mix of relief, self-satisfaction, and a hint of deviousness. "I'll admit, my experience hunting seven foot tall axe wielding orc berserkers is woefully limited." Her thanks were in her eyes, if not her words, but soon enough she turned them away from Lynly, and towards Rikka gra-Tagrin.

Soren, damn opportunist that he was, flickered into view just then, Imperial steel drawn and hovering about the Bloody Curse's back, but something that he saw when he happened to glance over at the two women gave him pause. With a lofty sigh, he rolled his eyes and stepped back. "I suppose this is personal, is it, beautiful?" He seemed quite unconcerned with the answer, however, and merely retreated a few steps, not stupid enough to take his eyes off the downed warrior for a moment. As far as he knew, she could spring back up again at any moment, and frankly he wasn't willing to be unprepared for that. So even when a great crash sounded from the other side of the makeshift gladiatorial arena they'd created, he didn't blink, unwavering emerald stare fixed on the orsimer before them.

Off in one corner, it would seem as though the last of the orcs were getting pummelled under the gargantuan fist of an ice atronach, and the rest of the field had fallen almost eerily quiet, the only audible things to his ears the crackling of flames and the low murmur of voices from some undefined location behind him. Fitting enough; something about the settling of a grudge was potent enough to demand near-silence, if indeed that's what this was. It certainly appeared that way, but maybe he was projecting now. He did have that habit from time to time.

"To be honest," Maya admitted, "this isn't personal at all. Still, it'd be best if I finished her off, I think." Her confidence returned with her victory, the witch stepped lightly over the snow to the Bloody Curse's side, bending over to pull her helmet off. Rikka's face was a sheet of blood, mostly not her own, and she turned her head to cough out a globule of it when Maya tossed the orcish helm aside. Into her hands Maya called her bow once again, quickly pulling the string back even as an arrow formed in place. "I've heard some warriors wish for their last words to be remembered," she commented. "Would you like me to remember yours?"

Well, if it wasn’t personal, that was an insane level of loyalty to one’s employer. Either she was being paid a hold’s worth of gold (and one of the big ones, at that), or else there was an equally-compelling reason to charge into a damn war between crazed giants and crazier orsimer. Not many things could provoke a reasonable person to do that, though he supposed that entailed assuming Maya was sane. Maybe unsafe, given all of this, but the opposite wouldn’t be a bad thing, necessarily. He’d run with some crazy folk before; it might be fun to do so again, as long as he didn’t make the same mistakes. Unlikely; Soren was a man who learned his lessons flawlessly, really.

The orc quite nearly sighed. "The Blackfeather didn't think she could finish her hunt on her own, I take it?" The corner of Maya's lips curled up. "It was never forbidden, and only a fool would hunt prey such as yourself without company." Rikka spat out more blood, her gaze not wavering from the ethereal arrow trained on her forehead. "And the giants? Were they your doing as well? You thought to destroy my home and my family, force me into battle to weaken me, then strike when I was vulnerable?"

Maya's smile faltered only slightly, her tone more serious. "No, I had nothing to do with that. I can't deny the effectiveness of my timing, but I would have preferred to avoid slaughtering family. I know that pain, and it is not one I would wish upon others." The Bloody Curse seemed to believe her, and she huffed a few breaths, preparing herself. "Then you are not in the wrong here. You have done as you should, and bested my warriors and I. Take your kill and press on. There is no better place to die than by Malacath's side."

The revelation about the giants wasn’t exactly unexpected; the orsimer weren’t usually stupid enough to go seeking out those buggers if they could be left in peace. Especially not when their families were involved. Smarter than I was. The thought was terse, bitter, and dropped Soren's face into an automatic scowl. Let anyone curious assume it was from the further mystery or something.

They locked eyes for a brief moment, and then Maya loosed the arrow, letting it thrum into Rikka's skull, ending her life. When she was certain the Bloody Curse was gone, Maya turned to the others, gathered about the scene. "Well, glad that's done. You all fought well out there. Glad I brought you along."

”I can think of a few better places,” Soren muttered darkly, but timed it after the arrow struck, apparently by sheer coincidence.

Sinderion, at this point drawing up to the main group of the others, looking bruised and exhausted but otherwise unharmed, shot a glance at the man, but it quickly refocused on Maya. ”We did, and you should,” he agreed, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Despite the heaviness of his limbs, he felt quite alive just beneath his skin, and it was making him irritable. He knew why, and didn’t like it at all. ”Have we yet earned the consideration of walking with sight, or would you have us remain blind and hunt more without answer?” his tone, while relatively mild, was clipped, and for Sinderion, quite close to upset. He could smell the blood of his friends, and it was not sitting well with him, even less than usual because this had not been their fight, and their participation just short of coerced.

No sooner had he said it than another voice spoke, not belonging to one of the group, but from slightly beyond. "And the deed is done..." Maya peered in between two of her companions to see a dark-haired Imperial man roughly of her height standing alone in the snow, a hood up over a pale, lightly bearded face. He was not physically imposing, and only light leather armor protected him beneath a black cloak. His eyes had almost a yellowish hue to them, and an undeniable glint. Maya found herself smiling in spite of the atrocities she had just seen and participated in.

"I thought we might find you here, Shade."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson Character Portrait: The Representatives

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“Your timing was excellent, my dear,” the Shade said to Maya with an undeniably charming smile. “A perfectly executed plan, I think. The giants performed admirably, and you came along just in time to clean up the mess.” His demeanor perhaps could not be described as happy, but perhaps exhilarated was a more effective word. Eyeing a few of the Sellswords quickly, he then shook his head.

“Forgive me, I seem to be forgetting myself in the moment. I am Tarquin Aurelius, called the Shade, representative of Nocturnal in the Game of the Shadow, son of the Master, brother of the Light, and a man who loves it when a plan comes together like that.” He introduced himself with a small flourish of his hand, before coming slightly closer, quite uninvited. “Now, I imagine you have a few questions for me. Lovely Maya can’t have told you much, if she got you to come here and fight orcs for her. I hope she didn’t promise your dear Mentor to you? I would hate to dash such hopes, but sadly I was forced to deliver him elsewhere.”

"I've had enough of Daedra Lords for today," Lynly muttered under her breath, much to Van's grunting agreement. Between the Witch's Hircine, the Orcs' Malacath, and now this stranger's Nocturnal. Both individuals had enough of Daedra Lords stringing them along. The fact that they may be involved in some kind of fantastical game did cross Vanryth's mind, and that thought did little to ease the weariness and the embers of rage in him. His stance was tense as he stood beside Sinder, waiting for one of his other companions to ask the questions he couldn't. Lynly stood apart from the group, sitting on her haunches with her weaponry laying on the ground beside her. A faint glow from her hands was easing away the injuries she may have missed, but she too listened intently to the man's honeyed words.

There was an incredible amount of information alluded to in that statement, but Sinderion was finding it hard to care about the majority of it. That this man, who had caused them so much trouble already, could just appear in front of them and behave as though everything was all sunshine and roses was setting his teeth on edge, rankling something in his stomach until it turned sour. His irritated post-battle (but far from post-adrenaline) state wouldn't allow him any option but cutting straight to the point-- one way or another. "Spare us your pretty words. Where, and why?" These people could play all the foolish games they wanted, entangle themselves with Daedra and darkness and whatever other sins they wished. All he wanted was to find the Mentor and go home, before something snapped and he lost what of himself remained.

"Ah, but my pretty words have power, don't they? You may not want to, but you'll watch them dance before your eyes anyway, you'll let them drag you along through the mud and be silent about it, because my pretty words are all you have to go on right now." Maya looked to be considering putting a hand on Sinder's shoulder, but decided against it, instead crossing her arms. "That... was probably not the most delicate way of wording it, but he's right. I don't think anyone else knows how you can find your Mentor." She looked to the Shade. "I told them next to nothing, Shade, and they followed on the faint hope they might find him here. I thought it best for my chances that way. The more they knew, the less likely they would have been to assist me."

"Wiser than your years as ever," the Shade commented. "As for your question, brute, I cannot answer the where, for that would interfere with the why. He is the final destination, not the first. There are many places we must visit first, many sights to see, many people to kill. Such is the nature of the Game that you and I will be a part of."

Pretty words but no substance for a man who has been stringing them along by the short hairs. The gall of the man to just appear after a hard fought battle just to wax poetic about useless nothings. It had the hairs on the back of Van's neck stand up in fury as his hands clenched and unclenched, trying to find an outlet for his fire. Only the faintest chance that this man could tell them where the mentor was stayed his hand, though he was unsure for just how long. However, much to his anger, a clear answer wasn't forthcoming. Only calling Sinder a brute, many riddles tied up with enigmas, and punctauted with the allusion to a game.

A game? Did this man really believe this was some damn game? They were clearly in no mood to play his game, yet he spoke as if they had no choice, as if they were compelled to play his game. The nerve, it stoked the flames. How many hoops were they to jump through? How many more riddles do they have to solve? How many more battles do they have to risk themselves in until they can get a bloody straight answer? It was almost too much for Van to handle. There was a moment of silence, a calm before the storm. Van made no move, nor did he make a sound, only his breathing was heavier than normal.

He had reached his breaking point, and the demon of his youth broke it's rusty cage. Rage and anger engulfed his mind and carried his feet forward a step, hellbent on beating the Shade senseless. He was tired of the riddles, and he was tired of the game. He wanted the Mentor, and he wanted to go home. The flames had surged and if not restrained soon, would try to beat the man into a puddle, like so many others in his youth.

For once in her life, Adrienne was not the first person to jump into a situation like this with ready-made words, and it made the response of the group more... visceral, certainly, but also more honest. Unfortunately, it was undoubtedly not the right way to approach this situation. It was no secret that they were tired, hurt, and probably of the right mind to just get their Mentor back and leave, but it was also clear from the obvious strength and complexity of this setup that things would not be happening that way, not while the other players still held all the cards. She was about to speak when Van lunged, and though her body was still tired and sluggish, it was probably safe to say that his was, too, and she managed to get herself in front of him, spreading her arms to block his forward progress as much as anyone so small could hope to.

"Van, wait, please!" The words were a bit too loud in the clearing, but she could either modulate properly or ensure she was heard, and the latter seemed more important. "I know this isn't what we want, but we have no other choice. They have all the information, and we have none. If we want to get the Mentor back, we must hear this man out." She glanced over the Dunmer's shoulder, trying to make eye contact with Drayk or Sinder. Chances were good that if he wanted to, Van could simply ignore her, and she had not the strength to do anything about that. A spell was an option, but she was very depleted and didn't much like the idea of manipulating a friend's mind like that.

Adrienne's appearance and words had managed to slow him for a moment, but the fires were lit and nothing short of an razing would quell it. After his momentary hesitation he roughly pushed through the breton girl in order to get to his shade.

If the Shade hadn't been able to react, Adrienne's intervention had certainly changed that, and when the Dunmer pushed past her to strike him, he was more than prepared. Drayk had come forward to restrain Van too late, but the Shade simply darted around the punch, lighting a spell in his right hand, which he touched to the side of the Dunmer's head. The calm spell was quickly cast, and very powerful in its concentration. "Be still. Be passive. Be gone." His spell was more or less designed to remove thoughts of any kind from Vanryth's head, for at least the time it would take to finish this conversation. Once he was quite certain Vanryth would not move to strike him further, he turned to the others. "I have stilled his mind, but it will return, unlike his tongue. If anyone else thinks to beat the Mentor's location out of me, they would do well to know that I have simply no fear of anything that any of you can do to me. You cannot kill me, for I am your only link to your goal, but know that while I would value the use of tools such as yourselves, I do not need you, and will not hesitate to leave you in this wasteland if I see fit. Are we clear?"

Sinderion had no interest in answering such a question, and he was much more concerned with the present state of his friend. He was willing to bet that when that spell wore off, Vanryth would need to be somewhere away from anyone that did not wish wrath upon themselves. The Altmer could take a few spells or blows if he had to, and he could also hear the conversation from a much greater distance than anyone else, so it only made sense that he take his comrade elsewhere for a while. If his desire to do so also had something to do with getting himself away from a person who was practically asking to be assaulted, well, he wasn't about to mention it.

Clasping the Dunmer on the shoulder, he shot the Shade an unmistakably dirty look, but said nothing, his upper lip half-lifting in what might have been a snarl, had he been just a little further pushed. But this was more important, and he was still wise enough to know that. It didn't mean he could manage the careful phrasing and delicacy necessary to accomplish this, but he trusted Adrienne and Drayk to manage more than either himelf or a mute, angry Van would have been able, and steered the other man some distance off. If that bastard had been lying, and he saw no indication of his friend's mind returning within good time, however... well, he might not care how confident the Shade was anymore.

Adrienne added a few new bruises and yet one more humiliating fall to her abnormally-high tally for the day and sighed softly. This situation was far from ideal, but at least she might be able to carry on a conversation with the Shade now, unpleasant as she found the idea. A concerned gaze followed Van and Sinder away from the rest, but the Altmer seemed to have things more or less in-hand. Biting her lower lip, she pushed herself back to her feet and attempted to brush the snow from her robes, however little it mattered, considering all the tears in the garments. She really would need to fix those, or the next few rips would probably verge on immodest... but enough of that.

Something in the Shade's words struck her oddly, though, and she slanted a curious gaze at the man. "You do not fear us, perhaps, but there must be something you do, else you'd have spoken differently." She blinked, then shrugged, apparently quite willing not to pursue that, at least for now. Tilting her head to one side, she fixed him with a dark-eyed stare. "If we are to be tools, to what use shall we be put? There are many kinds of game one could play with a setup and pieces such as these." The smile she wore was a little askew, something about the asymmetry suggesting that it was not a sign of good cheer at all. It was... brittle, perhaps, and not at all warm, as though the ice that she called so frequently to her hands had bled a little into her demeanor.

Icy as she was, the Shade seemed to warm from the words, appearing visibly pleased. "And here I was beginning to think the Mentor was collecting nothing but half-wits. You bring us to the heart of the matter. Though, considering you had the first true kill of the game, Maya, perhaps you would like to explain?" Maya did not seem to enjoy the suggestion, and in fact there was something akin to a guilt crawling on her face. "The Game of the Shadow is a competition among the Daedric lords, sixteen in all. Each elected a representative of their own choosing," she recited, eyes falling somewhere towards the carnage, "Every representative is given a target, meaning that we hunt even as we are hunted. We know not who seeks to kill us, only who we seek to kill. Skyrim is the arena to which we are confined. To break any of the rules is to invite a punishment worse than death, as we are told. I am... surprised this was allowed to stand, actually. The Bloody Curse was my target, not yours, Shade, and yet you interfered by provoking the giants upon them. Who is your target?"

"The Inquisitor," the Shade answered without hesitation, "which is our next destination, but we'll get to that later. The giants were provoked when Rikka was not present, and she made the decision to lead her warriors in retaliation. You arrived here, you slayed her, and I have taken my revenge, even if it was not direct. Now thirteen remain. Perhaps we might work together for a time longer, Blackfeather? Who do you hunt next?"

"The Omen," Maya responded, though it was not clear when or how she had learned that information. The Shade pondered for a moment. "Hm... I'd be willing to help with him if you grace me with your presence back to the west. I did just deliver you this victory, after all." Maya nodded, though she didn't seem that interested in repaying any debt she owed him. "You may want to explain why the Sellswords should help, with this..."

"Quite simply, once the game is through, you may have your Mentor back. Assuming I'm quite alive at the end of it, of course."

What in Talos' name did she just step in to? Lynly had rose to her feet at the Dunmer's outburst and her curiosity of this Shade had drawn her closer to the group. A Game of Shadows. It sounded like a tournament of sorts, and she would be lying if she said that the whole thing didn't intrigue her. That also raised a couple of choice questions, and solved a couple of riddles. The reason that Stonehammer must had been a part of this game too, considering how bent he was on killing the Imperial Captain. She found herself wondering if the Captain was in on the Game as well, but she brushed it off. The cowardly fool probably didn't have the stomach to deal with Daedric Princes. Still... She found the entire ordeal a lot more interesting than a normal person should. This certainly would make for a grand story.

At the tail end of the Shade's words, Lynly had found herself between both Adrienne and Maya, listening intently to sate her curiosity. Though, there were still riddles hidden within the revelations. She'd been drawn in too far to let these slide. "If you expect us to hunt these representives for you, then perhaps it would best serve to speak their name instead of their titles. Perhaps even the Daedra they serve," she implied. The Inquistor and the Omen were awfully vague terms after all. She allowed the unasked question to sit in the air, up to either representives to answer.

"Very well," the Shade acquiesced, "we seek Talmoro Vasuderon, a high ranking inquisitor and war mage of the Thalmor. He keeps himself in the west, in an estate of his own near Solitude, one of the few places he can be reasonably sure the locals won't try to drag him out and tear him limb from limb. Not that they could, as he's the most powerful Destruction mage I have encountered in my time, and the representative of Mehrunes Dagon. He is not to be treated lightly, and thus I do not believe it wise to approach him on my own." He turned to Maya. "Of course you have just been hunting another, but do share what you know of the Omen, if you will."

"He's a Redguard," she said, "Silas Rialta, representative of Vaermina. I know he was formerly a pirate lord, and may still be, and probably is captaining a ship somewhere in the icy waters off the north coast."

Sinder, several yards away, was still perfectly capable of hearing what was being said, and was not nearly so simple as the Shade seemed to think he was. Not that he much cared what the other man thought of him; it might actually be better this way. He almost asked the obvious question: namely, why Maya would agree to travel in their proximity when the plan was obviously going to necessitate them killing her eventually. Even if it was convenient now, any time she spent with them was an opportunity for them to learn of her, and any hunter knew that was a marked disadvantage. Perhaps she, too, planned to manipulate them into something, but she at least he would allow to give an accounting of herself before he simply asumed this. Shaking his head slightly, he turned back to his watch over the stilled Vanryth and chose to keep his mouth shut for now.

Soren was of no such inclination. He had to admit, the whole thing sounded rather fun, and suitably life-theatening. "You know, I really am going to have to have a chat with Sanguine about this. I've been living in a constant state of organized debauchery for years. You'd think that'd entitle a person to some consideration for this sort of thing." The Shade raised an eyebrow. "Interesting that you say so. Sanguine's Drunk is the only one that none of us have any knowledge of." Without any stake whatsoever in the game, the assassin's tone was light. "Oh, but about that fellow she murdered... don't suppose he was playing, too? Or did she just go around chopping into people for fun? It'd be nice to know I was inconvenienced for something at least mildly worthwhile rather than a random act of violence." Not that he had anything against random acts of violence per se, but he was a selfish bastard and would prefer it if the whole affair was at least backgrounded by something interesting. This was actually kind of like a game he played with the Dark Brotherhood, only he was the one with a specific order and they were all on the same side.

At Soren's second question, he darkened somewhat. "It was my brother she murdered. He was the representative for Meridia, called the Light, and he never belonged in this game, but that is a story I'll not go into now. Perhaps once we collect a few heads together. The important part is that his death is avenged, and that the game has begun in earnest now."

Well, that explained the 'brother of the Light' part, but not a few other things. "The title you gave yourself," she said quietly, dropping her gaze to the snow for a moment, "you also said 'son of the Master.' Who is that? Would this game have you play against your father as well?" That part was a little harder to swallow than the rest. All the games she'd ever played had been for them; playing against them seemed so impossible, even now, when the constitution of her 'family' had changed so much. "And..." she hesitated slightly, trying to decide exactly what she wanted to ask with the next question. "From what we could tell, the Mentor left with you voluntarily. I know you can't tell us where he is, but... just how deeply is he involved with this Game you're playing? May we know that, at least?"

"Ah, but you are going to be a useful one, aren't you?" the Shade said, lips curling into something of a smirk. "You ask the right questions. But if the Mentor was indeed a player in this game, my plan to win it and then return him to you would not work very well, would it?"

"True, but I asked after his involvement. Games do not have only players." There was something a little evasive about that answer, but this was a question she wasn't quite willing to let go.

"There was never any Mentor involved in the Game. There was a man who called himself the Master, and he served the Lord of Domination faithfully for more years than you want to imagine. He prepared us for this game, one and all, and we agreed... father, wife, and sons, that we would see it through. There are only so many years a life can be carried out in preparation. But when the time came, even after all we said, he turned his back on us, fled from his Lord. Molag Bal showed him how truly little he meant by stripping him of his gift, and ordering that the Game carry on without him, starting with the butchering of one he meant to protect. Now all he has to show for it is a hopeless bunch of broken souls he thought to repair rather than dominate. But his Lord is not forgotten so easily. Just look at where your lives would be without him. Through him, I dominate you, and if you want my father back for the precious few years that he has left, you will do as I say. Does that answer your question?"

Adrienne was quite certain she'd never relied so heavily upon her ability to remain impassive in the face of anything. Well, save once, but this was nearly as bad. "A little heavy-handed for Nocturnal, isn't it? But yes, that does indeed answer them. I'd disagree in only one place: we are not hopeless. You hold our leashes, and I'll not deny I have one. But this is not all we are, and the wise would remember it." It was no threat, simply an observation. Truthfully, she was reeling, dizzy in a way too similar to the one the sheer blood loss had produced, but even that was not enough to deny her her wits. It wasn't too hard to guess that the Mentor's son, the Light, had been the one butchered, and this man doubtless blamed the Mentor for his brother's death. That was fair enough. His accusations of their being under his control were fair, too. But denying them even the chance to be otherwise, she would not sanction, either with words or silence.

"Give him a chance. I believe in him, and I believe in you." she murmured, shaking her head ruefully. At least that made sense now.

"For all of our sakes, perhaps it is best if we do not travel together. The next target is near Solitude, as I said. Return to the manor. I will meet you there. The Inquisitor has nowhere to run, that much I know. It's merely a matter of slipping in without his detection. Believe me when I say we will not be heavy-handed then." He said no more, instead making his way past them, and away from the shrine of Malacath.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal

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The sound of footsteps drove Drayk from his sleep. Sleep. How could he have let himself fall asleep? Not here, not now. This place wasn't safe, especially not after what they had just been through. They were tired, delirious, exhausted, weak, vulnerable. Wasn't he supposed to be the shield? He was supposed to guard them, not the other way around. Perhaps no one had ordered him to, but he had taken it upon himself to do it anyway. It seemed actions were a lot harder to perform than words. A lesson he seemed to be taking some time to learn.

He looked towards the footsteps, saw Adrienne and Soren emerging into the little clearing. He went to stand up, wincing when he strained his side, having still not fully healed from his poor attempt back at the shrine. He probably looked a complete mess, his robes bloody and tattered in places, what skin was showing caked in dirt and mud, red from the cold. His hair was a shaggy disaster, coming down into his eyes and requiring a swipe of his hand to remove from his face. Amidst all that, however, his eyes were still somewhat bright, though what kind of light shone in them was unclear.

Drayk tried to make his way to Adrienne as casually as he could, aware that Soren's little touch of her arm was probably meant to just rile him, since he knew it would never have an effect on her. He waited until Soren was gone until he spoke in lone tones, the early stillness of the morning seeming to demand it. "Hey, are you alright? I mean, with the... your shoulder, and... everything." He rolled his eyes at himself, sighing. He doubted any amount of the Mentor's teaching would get him to speak like anything other than the street rat he was. "Stupid question, of course you're alright, you rescue me more often than not... I just..." he trailed off, not knowing what he was hoping to say. He was just what? Tired? They were all tired, in more ways than one. But maybe talking about it would help. She was always better with words than he was, and that included when he wanted to work something out with himself. He never knew what to say.

Smooth porcelain impassivity softened considerably, and Adrienne smiled, hiding it mostly behind a hand as Drayk answered his own question. It seemed that, on many occasions, when he couldn't quite find the words he wanted, he just kept trying more out, as if to see if he might come upon his meaning by accident. It was... nice, really, to know someone who did not have their language down to calculating precision. Setting her basket down by her bedroll, determined still to bundle them properly before she went to sleep, she cocked her head to the side and reached out, taking a part of his forelock in between her first two fingers. "Would you still like a haircut?" she asked gently, releasing the strand. "I had a bit of time when last we camped, and I have a few other things to help keep you from being recognized in Riften, too." To keep you safe. She couldn't risk losing them, not now, not if there was anything she could do about it.

Her thoughts drifted uncomfortably to a moment not too long ago, when moved by near-delirium, she'd come much closer than she'd ever wanted to be to causing him harm, and she swallowed thickly around the forming lump in her throat. She wanted to apologize for that, but for once, she wasn't sure how to go about explaining something. She'd known what she was giving him, but the problem was that she could have been wrong, and the nature of her poisons was such that sorry would not have cut it then. It disturbed her, though the only indication she gave of this was a shift in her weight from one foot to the other. Perhaps she simply needed time to think about it, decide what needed saying. The world would not stop while she contemplated, however, and there were still things to be done.

He grinned a little at the suggestion, tipping his head down and shaking it slightly so that locks of hair fell down in front of his eyes, mostly obscuring Adrienne from his vision. "Yeah, it could probably use a little cut. I'll be blind soon enough if we don't do something about this."

Adrienne nodded simply, casting her eyes around the rough circle that comprised their camp. "That stump should do nicely, if you'll sit," she said, gesturing lightly at what must have been once a pine tree of considerable girth. Now it was more or less petrified, but shouldn't be particularly uncomfortable. It was a little removed from the center of things, but there'd stll be enough light to see by, especially with the rising sun just creeping over the horizon. It was a reminder of just how long they'd been awake, but she shook the fatigue off. That much, she could do for a while longer, yet.

Her saddlebags yielded a pair of shears and a straight-razor, both of which she had occasional use for (though admittedly not usually this one), and she also dropped a small satchel of alchemical tools on her bedroll as she passed it. Potions did not make themselves, either. The razor was folded in on itself, and this she tucked into her belt, as it would be a rather awful idea to just go hacking away at a person's hair with that. The shears were covered in leather, which she slid off as she approached. "Any preferences?" she asked with a light smile, attempting to straighten some of the more askew bits of his hair by combing with her fingers. She hadn't done this for anyone else before, though she did cut her own, so it shouldn't turn out badly.

"Uh," Drayk started, trying to imagine the last time he'd seen his reflection. He was rather sure he didn't want to see it now. "Just... shorter? Everywhere?" He turned a little red. He couldn't even say this much without sounding like a dimwit. Maybe the Shade had been right. But really, it wasn't like anyone other than himself had cut his hair before, and when he did it... well, it usually didn't turn out so well, hence the decision to let it grow.

Fairly certain she would understand his words well enough, Drayk tried to rack his brain for something to say. He knew he wanted to talk, but he was apparently being stubborn with himself, and refusing to give himself a subject. The constricting feeling in his chest said that there was something wrong, but it was almost as if he didn't want to admit it. Or something. If there was anyone who understood Drayk, it certainly wasn't himself. "Sorry, I've always just done this myself before, and the results have been terrible. Well, except for this one time, when it was ridiculously long, this tavern girl offered to... uh, cut it, yeah." That didn't help the redness at all.

Adrienne bit her lip, trying to stifle the giggling that threatened. It wouldn't do much good to be unable to steady her hands when she was attempting something like this, but she was only partially successful. "I see," she mused, almost thoughtfully. "And do tavern girls often offer to cut your hair?" Her tone was light, teasing, almost masking the first rasping click of the shears sliding together. Shorter everywhere it would be. She left the question in the air for just a bit, before choosing to supplant it with another, mostly out of a sense of mercy.

"While I'm sure that experience was quite interesting, perhaps you'd care to tell me something of Cyrodiil? I recall you talking to Orrin about a friend of yours? Someone named Liam?" she prompted, taking up another section of hair and measuring it out to be the same length as the last, snipping decisively. This was actually a bit simpler than doing her own, as it was all visible, and she didn't need to set up any mirrors. She tended not to favor them, really. Too many unfortunate reminders.

He would have rather told her about the tavern girl, honestly. That had just been an overly warm night in the summer south of Chorrol, one of the few times he'd strayed close to the Imperial City after fleeing it. It had actually been a pleasant evening, and she had actually cut his hair for him, but the night had ended up in the back of a barn rather than in front of it, and that was something he was not going to talk about with her. Still, Adrienne had asked about Cyrodiil, and though the specific subject was perhaps not what he preferred, he seemed to remember promising to show her the City someday. Couldn't hurt to wax a little nostalgic, could it?

"You were listening to that? Yeah, he was one of the guys I ran with before I had to smuggle myself here. There were a bunch of others, but Liam was the only good one, I think. He was a thief and an outlaw, and a bit of an anarchist, but he was alright. We just... met on the road one day, near Anvil I think. I bet you would have liked him. He was... an idealist, I guess. Only stole from the rich, and he was the type of guy who just didn't get angry, you know? Didn't have it in him or something, and he insisted on being respectful to everyone, polite and stuff. All smiles. He saw the bright side in everyone, and never judged me or anything. Maybe that wasn't for the best."

He hadn't meant to say that. That had been stupid, she didn't need to hear that. "Anyway, I guess he was the closest thing to a best friend I had in Cyrodiil. The only place we didn't go together was the big City, but that was more for my sake than his, he totally could have slipped in there and never been seen. Me, I would've been stuck staring at some spiralling tower touching the clouds and a guard would have smacked me over the head."

Another dark lock fluttered to the ground, and Adrienne paused. The obvious question was on the tip of her tongue, but, Mara help her, she didn't know whether she should ask it or not. Funny that now of all times, she should be appealing to the goddess of her parents for help; she'd never been much for that kind of thing. And yet, what else was she to do? Sometimes, to speak is to ease a hurt, and sometimes it does nothing but make these things worse. There was no mistaking that he hurts, as she does, as they all do. But...

"What makes you say that?" she asked, her brows furrowing, though she was standing behind him, so there would have been no way for him to know that. She honestly doesn't have much more to operate on other than instinct, and instinct tells her that it might be worthwhile for her to ask. "Surely, someone that knew you would be able to decide such things for themselves. Gods know I have no right, and wouldn't want to even if I did; perhaps he felt the same." Her hands, which had stilled in their motion, resumed then, and she shook herself just slightly, as if to refocus on the task before her.

"He had to have known he was better than me," Drayk said rather softly. "I mean, he never hurt anyone, never killed anyone, he just took from people who flaunted having too much, and he hardly even kept what he took. Maybe if he had judged me, and told me what I was, or if we had gone to the Imperial City together, he would have gotten away just fine while I was dragged into a dungeon and left to rot. Then things could have been different. Better."

He realized he was just dancing around the inevitable now, and so he sighed tiredly. "After that mess in Leyawiin I told the kid about, we made north, up the road to Cheydinhal. His parents were there, and he thought we'd hole up for a while, lay low until the Legion pass over us. They knew they were looking for me, not him, he never let himself get nearly so notorious, so we figured if I kept my head down in the town, we'd get by." He understood he was supposed to keep his head still during all this, otherwise he probably would have let it sink to the ground.

"I don't remember what I did wrong, but the Legion kicked down the door in the middle of the night. Swords drawn. I... I panicked. Forgot myself, like I did. Hit them with a fireball, a big one. I think the first two died right there, but I didn't wait to see. I ran. I made it out fine, but Liam stayed, said his dad had a busted leg from Legion service. I watched the house burn down from the base of the wall. Never saw any of them again. I went north after that, past Bruma, found a way to get myself out of the country."

Maybe that was what he'd wanted to tell her. Or maybe he'd wanted to tell it to anyone, and Adrienne was the only one that could get him to open up about this. He turned to look at her then, not really remembering the haircut. "That was before all of this. I... damn it." he rubbed his hands against his face, sniffing in a long breath and trying to come up with what he wanted to say. "I won't do that. Not anymore. Not to you. I don't know how I was able to live with it then, but I know that I couldn't live with it now."

Adrienne sighed softly, setting the shears down for a moment and moving around the stump so as to crouch in front of him. Gently, she wormed her hands under his, grasping either side of his jaw and tilting so that he was forced to look at her. "I know," she soothed quietly, nodding once, "I know you won't. I've... never been one to take things on faith, Drayk. It's hard for me to believe in what seems difficult or beyond what I can see and hear and figure out. But I can, and I will. I think... I think your friend must have believed in you, as I do, and as the Mentor surely does. It's not in my power to forgive you for what happened then. That's something only you can do. But... I wish you would, and I hope you can." She smiled ruefully, rising to her feet, her hands running from his jaw back over his ears and thorugh his hair.

"I still have a little work to do, though, so chin up, okay?" She decided then and there that she wasn't going to tell him about the real cause of her burns a few days ago. It had been an accident, and one that could prove more harmful to him than it ever had been to her. In fact, she was sure it would. Picking the shears back up, she moved onto the next section, deciding it might be worthwhile to move away from things that hurt him so. "Well, I suppose it's my turn, isn't it? Anything you'd like to know about High Rock?" Though spoken without much gravity, the offer was serious as could be.

His thoughts wanted to go to how believing in him didn't seem to do much in the end, considering the fate of those who had, but he then decided that train of thought was a little too dark for a calm morning in the Rift with Adrienne. He knew he had no choice when the dragon had enveloped him in flame, unless life or death was a choice. He supposed it was, but he wasn't going there either. What he felt was that since then he had been slipping... denying it, but slipping all the same. The fire spells that had come into his hands without the proper thought, the fire that had come to him when he had meant to heal... if he had forced the issue, and tried to heal Adrienne before himself...

In the end, there were simply too many thoughts he wasn't willing to entertain right now, and so Adrienne's change of subject was more than welcome. He took a breath to steady himself. "What are the cities like? I... don't get the chance to see cities often enough." He may not have known it himself, but Drayk actually possessed a moderate interest in architecture, and in general the interior workings of cities, places which he had always been forced to avoid since he had cornered himself into a wicked life.

"Most of the cities in High Rock are on the shores of the Iliac Bay," Adrienne replied. "Many of them are also walled, or used to be. The Empire has demolished quite a few of the smaller castles and fortifications. Presumably to prevent their use as strongholds in the event of rebellion." She shook her head; she found it rather a shame herself, that history fell so easily beneath the weight of conquest. "There are cliffs surrounding the bay in some places, sheer things made of grey stone. The waters lash up against them terribly when there's a storm; it's... well, beautiful and terrible in equal measure, I suppose. The rest is a little like that, too; our castles are built with turrets and towers, but out of lovely stone, with spires to challenge the sky. Most of the cities have a castle, and a town that was built around it. The streets carry resources in and out like blood flowing into and out of the heart. It all keeps going, with clockwork regularity, and the nobles play their idle deceptive games."

If she had to work to keep the bitterness from her tone, she didn't seem to struggle with it much. "It's always... lively, in Daggerfall. It's large and wealthy enough to be essentially a state on its own. Most of the larger ones are like that, really. They pay their taxes to the Empire, and their lip service when they must, but I suppose for all their faults, there's a real spirit of independence there that seems to persist." One final slice, and she was done. "There you go. I've a hooded cloak for you as well, and a solution for under your eyes. Changing the color should wait until tomorrow, though; I still need to prepare that."

"I think I'd like to see it someday, if that's possible," he mused. "Last time I saw a sea was... well, in Winterhold. It's... not exactly a pretty sight there. Well, impressive maybe, but certainly not a comforting one." When she was finished, he stood and turned. He wanted to say something to thank her for her support... but his words probably would have just gotten muddled and rolled up into something stupid. So he settled for a simple "Thanks," with whatever other meaning he wanted to convey in his eyes, and the smile he managed to conjure.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson Character Portrait: The Representatives

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For whatever reason, upon entering Riften, the sulky Altmer and the mute Dunmer decided to split off from the group, but the rest of them indicated an interest in resupply, so Soren decided to lead them to what little marketplace Riften boasted. Considering most of the business really happened underground, that wasn't much, but they at least had the basics: a forge, an item shop, a jeweler, and a few people he was pretty sure just sold whatever sundries they could get their hands on. Usually for inflated prices, but his presence would likely be sufficient to ensure his companions recieved the fairer Guild rates. He walked somewhere, merchants lowered the cost of everything. It was a pretty nice system, really; he was going to miss it someday.

"Dunno what you need, but this is what they've got," he announced in a deadpan, a sweeping gesture indicating the small circle of merchants. Turning to face those that still remained, he gave a shrug, then paused upon apparently noticing Lynly. "You look like you'd make use of the forge, lovely. That's this way." He casually waved for her to follow and set off around the circle, leaving the rest to sort themselves out. He had a bit of business with the Forgemaster himself; the man had promised to pay quite nicely for some fire salts, which were apparently what kept that pit burning hot enough to make decent equipment. Why anyone would stake the success of their business on something that hard to procure, he didn't know, but then, that was where people like him stepped in. Good, honest, greedy bastards who were good at killing things.

"Balimund! You dirty fool, I've got what you asked for." Balimund looked up sharply, apparently ready to be offended, but settled for rolling his eyes upon recognizing present company. Soren untied something from his belt and gave it a toss, which the smith caught deftly, opening the satchel and nodding to himself.

"Fair coin for fair work, Ivarsson," he replied in the near-typical gravelly Skyrim accent. A coinpurse changed hands, which Soren surpisingly did not bother counting, though he did grin and dip his head only half-seriously.

"Pleasure doing business. Now, I believe the lovely lady here might have some actual work for you, so you might want to see to that."

One of Lynly's eyelids had slid halfway over her eye as Soren paraded about the market and the eventual forgemaster, though she kept her tognue and her thoughts her own. He was so graciously leading her around after all, what kind of tourist would she be if she said something? So she kept quiet and let Soren do his business before he finally deposited her with the forgemaster. Like she didn't know how to smith her own armor. What kind of Nord would she be if she didn't know how to mend gaps in her arms and armor? Though, the idea of having someone else tend to her equipment was an appealing one. It'd get her out of the armor for a bit and let her breath. Why not? If Soren had these connections, why not utilize them?

"My armor and shield recieved some kinks. Would you repair them for me?" she asked, pointing at the singed plates and a gap in the midsection, as well as taking the shield off of her back. "... I need to change first," she admitted. She didn't quite think that one through. How was she expecting to repair her armor if she was still wearing it? Luckily, she carried around some extra clothes (a dark green dress specifically) for just such an occasion. "May I borrow your house for a moment?" she asked, pointing at the door behind him. At his ok, she slipped in, and changed.

She handed him the armor, along with with shield and sword and left him to his devices... A smith worked best when a pair of eyes weren't hovering over his shoulders.

At the warrior's reemergence, the assassin raised a speculative eyebrow, then grinned, obviously quite laciviously. "I knew there was a woman underneath the metal somewhere," he opined sagely, smile only stretching wider. "Bet all that training comes in handy when you have to beat them off with blunt objects, hmm?" He chuckled, but though he might have liked staying to bother her further about this, he unfortunately did need to see a man about a job. Dropping a two-fingered salute, Soren strode off in the opposite direction, only calling out once behind himself. "Try not to be the subject of any fights. There are parties here who look poorly upon such disorganization." Lynly snorted at this. If she was a subject of a fight, it'd be her finishing it.

Now, to find Brynjolf.

Adrienne, who'd spent the last few minutes procuring of all things a few pieces of worked metal (for later enchantment, truthfully), found herself mostly browsing, at least until she spotted Soren and Lynly by the forge. She rolled her eyes somewhat, wondering if the man was harassing her, then deciding that the answer to that was obvious. He was walking harassment. Shaking her head, she made her way over, having a legitimate question for the lady-warrior anyway, and passed the grinning fellow as she went. Well, if nothing else, her life wasn't lacking for excitement, and hadn't she once complained of exactly that? Hindsight was so much better than any other kind, unfortunately.

"Hello, Lynly," Adrienne greeted, assuming the manner she usually did with most Skyrim natives, which was considerably more direct than she would have been otherwise. "May I ask you something?" Assuming there was some kind of assent (or at least not a refusal), she continued. "I'm planning on working some enchantments, you see, and I was wondering what kind of defensive augment would be most useful to you. I can do the standard sort of thing for people with armor like yours, but if you'd prefer an elemental resistance, that's possible too." She paused delicately, inviting input on the matter.

Surprisingly, Lynly was thrown off-guard by the breton girl's directness. At the first word, she locked up and her mind went blank as shades of her social dysfunction returned in all of its awkward glory. She knew of the girl, Lynly didn't peg her for cutting to the point like a Kinsman would. She though Adrienne's words were a fluffy affair, dancing to the subject, not straight to the point as these were. She was surprised, and at the inquiry Lynly could only manage to nod her assent.

Eventually, her social dysfunction wore down enough so that she could become a functioning member of this conversation, albeit with her shoulders drawn. Unconsciously, she had began to put distance between the breton and herself. She mulled on the question for a moment, a couple of questions of her own coming to mind. Why, for instance. Why would this girl offer to enchant something of hers? Perhaps so that she would be more of use to them. Or something. Her mental processes had been thrown for a loop, so it may have been just an inkling of paranoia sneaking. Decided that no harm was meant, she debated on the question in earnest. What would she like enchanted?

Her sword and shield were out of the question. Pride refused her that. She would not resort to magical weapons if her own arms failed her. Stubborn pride, but she was a Nord so it was to be expected. Though, an elemental aid weaved in the plates of her armor... That was a better thought. But what element? Certainly not the cold, her blood and upbringing had already granted her a resistance to that. The irony of a Snowsong being afraid of the cold was too much. Lightning was a choice, though she didn't in recent memory remember be struck by it. Fire. That was the best choice. Her gaze drifted around them, trying to find the boy who nearly roasted her in her armor before going back to the girl.

"Fire resistance. On the armor. In case your friend becomes overzealous again." She stated flatly. Feminine or not, she hated having to trim the singes from her hair because of an errant fireball.

Adrienne nodded, though there was a tiny frown on her face. "That... yes, I understand. I can do that for you." She'd originally simply been planning on enchanting the new necklaces and rings she'd procured, but she was quite capable of working similar magicks on armor plating. "If you'd like, I can do so as soon as the smith is finished with the repairs. There's a worktable nearby which would make the process a great deal easier." At this, she smiled instead, shifting her items from one arm to another, then ducked her head almost bashfully.

"I... I'd like to apologize, too. I realize that you're here of your own free will, and I haven't thanked you for that. Whatever your reasons may be, you are helping my friends and I, and I have not been mindful enough of that to bring it up before now." She didn't bother making excuses; it was obvious what the reasons were, but whether they granted her pardon was something for the Nord woman to decide. She also pretended not to notice the fact that the woman was putting distance between them, instead mentally adjusting her estimation of the bounds of Lynly's personal space for future reference. It occurred to her that she might say something similar to Maya, though the other Breton's stake in the happenings was considerably more obvious, their use of each other much more mutual.

Attempting to break some of the ice she still sensed lingering, Adrienne tilted her head to one side. "Have you any other errands to run? Perhaps you would care to tell me something as we walk? I'm curious as to where you learned to fight as you do, if you don't mind parting with the tale." Truthfully, it was probably from a member of her family or through a Guild; most such stories ran that way. But it wasn't the potential novelty of the situation that she cared about; it was the simple fact that she enjoyed hearing other people talk, when it was up to her. Especially when she didn't have to take mental notes for later exploitation, and could simply listen.

A hand raised as if to brush the apologies and thanks off. "No need," Lynly explained. It was her choice after all. There was no coercion, no strong arming, she didn't even remember an offer to join them. Not that it mattered, she joined them to watch their own adventure, to see them write their tales before her eyes, as the world turned around them. She supposed that if there had to be any thanks, it was hers. Thanks for allowing her to be a part of their story. She wouldn't of course, Nordic pride and stubbornness runs deep after all, and pulling a thanks like that from the woman would be the same as trying to draw water from a stone.

"No other errands, unless you count breaking the archer's arm as one," She said. Though the statement was a joke, the stone-faced delievery might have said otherwise. A small wisp of a smile proved the statement to be what it was. Adrienne chuckled; she could sympathize. It was the first time she had brought up the archer's constant flirts, all of which she had taken with her normal impassive face. Without any other words, Lynly settled into a stride next to Adrienne as they went about her tasks. She was quiet after the breton asked her question, not because the subject matter was some secret, just so that she may gather her words without floundering like a slaughterfish. She was not wordsmith like the woman she walked beside after all.

"My father. And necessity," she answered. Figuring that was a sour answer for a genuine question, she explained, "Father taught me to handle a sword and a shield. The basics. He was in a profession much like mine once upon a time, though he did not want me to model after him. "Forge my own way" he had said. Other than that, I picked up what I know along the way, and through many fights and scuffles. As you noticed, I'm more defensive than your average Nord," She said, crossing her arm and tilting her head. "The tale itself isn't much, but the scars on the shield can tell you more than I can," She finished.

Adrienne nodded sagaciously; that made sense. She had been taught, too, but all these fights were teaching her even more still. "I'd never even had cause to hold a sword until the Mentor taught me how," she offered mildly. "My family were all healers, back in High Rock. I... can't. I've never been able to. I mostly relied on my alchemy and enchanting before I wound up in Skyrim." She lifted one shoulder in an approximation of a shrug, smiling gently. Relied may have been too weak a word for it, but it was the one she used in polite company, anyway. She stopped for a lull at another clothier, picking up a few bolts of fabric and a new bone-needle as well as some strong thread. Her robes were still in serious need of repairs, and at this point, it might be wiser to just make some new ones. It was a poor court lady who didn't know how to sew, after all.

"I suppose the fact that they're on your shield instead of elsewhere says quite a bit already, doesn't it?" she mused, amusement crinkling her eyes at the corners. She thought on the three new slash-scars over her abdomen and avoided cringing only through practiced control. In one way, she'd known such things were inevitable with her new lifestyle, but they and the reddish burn-mark that now covered her left shoulder were not exactly pretty things, and perhaps she was a little more vain than she'd estimated herself to be, or maybe she was just looking out for one of her few advantages.

It wasn't something to think about now. "Do you... ever miss your family? Or are they still close enough that you don't? I suppose you could visit, couldn't you?" There was an edge of wistfulness to the tone of the question, but she made no attempt to hide it. She'd readily admit that she missed Daggerfall sometimes, but it was home for her no longer, and the people that resided in the Jastal holdings were not her family. They had ensured that, and it was her burden to bear. She had a new family now, and a new home, and perhaps losing that scared her even more than anything she'd yet had to contend with.

"Windhelm. They still live in Windhelm. Father runs a forge and mother trades with the local produce," Lynly offered plainly. They lived a plain life now, while she took up her father's adventuring torch. Every time she went home though, she could still she the fire in Sven's eyes. The only reason he wasn't out fighting in the war was because he was more afraid of her mother than anything else. The thought brought a smile to her face. Remembering seeing her mother crack the whip on the adventurous man never failed to do that. "I... Worry about them sometimes," She admitted. "They are still loyal to the Empire, despite them living in Ulfric's Windhelm. They keep their allegiances secret. Still, it's hard not to worry about them,"

The irony of her worrying about them was not lost on Lynly. She was the one facing the elements, fighting in some dank dungeon or getting caught in some skirmish, not her parents. For all intents and purposes, she had no right to worry about them after what she puts them through day after day. Well. Her mother. Her father was proud as he could be of her, but her mother... Disapproved, to say the least. "That color," she said, pointing out a violet blue bolt of cloth. "It matches your hair. My mother disapproved of my profession. Unsurprisingly. Don't blame her for it. She settled my father down, if only she could have done it with me," she said, the wisp of a smile returning.

Adrienne would admit she was surprised at the unsolicitied color advice, but she took it in stride, ordering that color instead of the dark green she'd been eyeing. It probably would have washed out her complexion anyway.

"Yes. I can still visit. Though tearing myself away from all of this is a bit harder than that." There was a deadpan tone somewhere in her voice. It wasn't Riften, but rather Skyrim as a whole. She was a grand vista, with awe inspiring sights if you found yourself at the right place at the right time. She never got tired of standing on a rise and watching an aurora at dusk. "Though every time that I do, it gets harder to leave them..." she added, her own wistful edge finding it's way into her words.

Adrienne could sympathize, and nodded her understanding. "Family's a funny thing that way, I think. Sometimes, just knowing you're under the same sky is enough. Other times, you wonder how you could ever think that at all..." She shook her head, folding the new fabric gently over her arm. "Forgive me that sentimentality, I suppose. It's rather silly." Still, it had propelled her through more than one hard-fought night, curled into herself and unable to sleep for fear of what her dreams would bring her: agonized faces in the throes of deadly poisonings, and her mother's fearsome expression when she'd at last been able to confess her sins. It had needed to be enough that they were still out there somewhere, still safe.

Done with her errands, she turned to the Nord. "Well, perhaps it's time to head back. If you need to retrieve your armor, we can do that, too."

"Let us go then. And pray we don't run into the archer on the way," she said, uttering her first genuine chuckle.




"You know," Maya muttered under her breath, "I don't think you could look any more guilty if you tried. Loosen up for a little, you'll be fine." Drayk scowled at her. "Says the witch. Don't these people want your head for something, too?" They walked together, and much closer than Drayk preferred, through the market area. Somehow and somewhere Maya had managed to change her clothes, and she was now wearing a slightly fraying, long sleeved woolen dress of a dark grey tone. Drayk hadn't seen when, nor did he particularly care, but apparently Riften was a big enough place that the witch thought extra caution necessary.

"I'm sure they'd like to kill me for existing," Maya said, seemingly unconcerned, "but this is not my first time in a city, or Riften for that matter. There are more of us here than you might think. We simply prefer to avoid shouting our presence from the rooftops. It tends to result in the peasants crying for people to be put to the torch. Now, do at least try to cheer up. You're much more handsome when you smile, and fear not, your hair will grow back eventually. Your ladyfriend's damage will not be permanent."

He seemed mildly affronted. "What? I never said anything about--" but Maya was grinning deviously at him, and Drayk rolled his eyes. "Can't you bother someone else?" She screwed up her face in thought for a moment. "Let's see... I think I've bothered Sinder enough for now, and he seemed to want to be alone besides. The Dunmer's no fun to bother, he can't even talk back, and he looks just as likely to try and hit me as he is to walk with me, you saw what he tried to do to Tarquin--"

"The Shade," Drayk interrupted, "he tried to hit the Shade. I don't really care what his name is, to be honest." Maya just shrugged, and continued. "Have it your way. As I was saying, Vanryth would be no fun, the real Breton girl's off getting to know the warrior-woman, and while I will admit that Soren is devilishly attractive and at least as mysterious to me as the Shade is, he smells like danger, and I'd prefer to observe a while longer before getting involved."

"So that leaves me," Drayk concluded, and she nodded cheerily. "Yes, indeed. Truth be told, I think I'll bother you more often. It's as if you wear a sign around your neck that lists all the things that bother you. You're mildly unstable, yes, but I was never the type to avoid dancing by the fire, even if I got burned once or twice. That, and you're as cute as a button, and warm, too." She said the last word as her arm slithered under his, and she got a little too close for Drayk. He wormed his way out of it, putting the former distance between them.

"Don't do that again," he commanded, but she smiled mischievously as they resumed their walk. "No promises."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: Anirne Direnni Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson Character Portrait: The Representatives

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They were three days into the ride by the time Anirne had convinced herself that it would not be egregiously out-of-line to ask. Granted, she hadn't actually discovered that Van wasn't mute by choice until the first time she saw him writing and showing the script to somebody in response to a question. The other Sellswords seemed to accept this as a matter of course, which meant it was something he did regularly, hence her deduction. The others seemed disinclined to speak with him at all. She had to admit, she was curious. There was certainly a story there, but it was probably unpleasant, and besides, there were much better ones she could ask, especially considering the situation they were all about to find themselves in.

Like most of the rest, the Altmer woman owned a horse, and so presently she steered hers just a bit so as to be alongside his and leveled the best question she could think of. Admittedly, the phrasing was a bit inelegant, but hopefully he wouldn't mind. "Sir Vanryth? If I may, are you not familiar with any sign-language systems? Or is it just that none of the others know them?" She pursed her lips for a second, then followed up with a bit of context, that the inquiry might make sense, perhaps. "There are several silent brothers and sisters where I'm from, you see, and I'd thought Skyrim might have some such method."

There it was again, Sir Vanryth. The first time she had said it was a novelty, something that held an ironic tone for Van. That novelty was slowy beginning to wear thin, but the stubborn Dunmer was loath to correct her. It didn't matter what she decided to call him after all, and he'd heard worse in his lifetime. Still, he lent an ear and listened to what she had to say. Sign language, it wasn't something that he didn't entertain thoughts about, but none of the Sellswords to the best of his knowledge didn't know it, and had the Mentor, Van was positive the man would have taught him. While a quill and paper was one option in order to get around that handicap, he often didn't find himself with the luxury of time, nor space to write when he needed most to.

Fortunately, this was not one of those times. He had managed to position his blank journal on a knee and was able to write satisfactory enough to convey his thoughts. He licked the end of the quill in his hand to loosen up the ink and put quill to paper. First though, he had to flip the end of his newly mint scarf of the side of his shoulder. The thing may not have been him but it did make waking up without rocks for joints a lot easier.

Vanryth Galero wrote:A bit of both, I'm afraid. I have heard of some being able to speak with their hands, but unfortunately such an ability is rare in these lands. Or perhaps it is not rare and I am just looking in the wrong places. My travels don't tend to lead me to the intelligent sort who would know of such systems and none of my friends here know any sign language, as far as I believe. Alas, as far as I know Skyrim doesn't employ any such language, unless you count the grunts and chest beating of some of her inhabitants,"


He stopped his writing, ripped the page from the journal, and handed it to the girl. A chuckle was in his throat and a wry grin played at his hard face. The fight at the bar must have let some that steam building vent. At least, until they had to meet the Shade again, but Van didn't try to think of that. No point in ruining a perfectly decent mood after all.

For a moment, Anirne was left to wonder if it was something she said, but a quick scan of the paper yielded the source of his amusement, and her own eyes crinkled at the corners, the shallow lines there sure evidence that she, at least, had spent a good portion of her life smiling. "I see. I think I might have borne witness to some of that, now that I get to thinking on the matter." The smile itself followed the words, a brief flash of teeth receding into a more subtle slant to her lips. She thought on the matter a moment, a slight crease in her brow perhaps indicative that she also spent much time contemplating, and nodded. "Would you like to learn? I know how to use signs myself, and if nothing else it will give us something to do. I enjoy the landscape here as much as the next person, but one can only gaze upon so much snow before one grows weary of the color white."

She flipped the paper over and handed it back so that he could use it a second time. No sense in wasting it, though with luck, by the time they reached Solitude, she personally wouldn't be causing him to use any more.

Van accepted the paper and slid it back into the journal, for use at another time. He contemplated her words for a couple of moments, thinking it over. Really, there wasn't any reason not to, as he didn't have anything else to do for the long ride. But he asked himself how useful would it be, really? If he was taught, then the only ones who could be able to communicate like that would be Anirne and himself. It was still better than using ink and paper for one's tongue. He looked around, at his friends surrounding them. Perhaps... Perhaps they could learn to listen to him. Maybe he put a bit too much faith in his friends, but as he had thought earlier, it was better than nothing. Another option if nothing else. Why not?

He shrugged his shoulder and nodded his assent. There was nothing to lose and more to gain. There was no reason to deny the idea. If anything it'd burn the time that have until they reach Solitude, and maybe take his mind off of what was to come.

"Sorry to intrude, but could you teach me, too?" Adrienne asked from her own horse, not more than a few paces behind the two of them. "I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but it's sort of hard not to when we're traveling all bunched up like this. I think it's a wonderful idea, and it would only be more useful if more of us learned, right?" She looked hopefully to Anirne, who nodded with simple acceptance.

"Of course. The idea is to expand communication, not limit it. I'd be glad to teach anyone who wishes to learn." She pursed her lips momentarily. "Actually, I could use everyone's help. It seems most important to cover certain words and phrases first, but the way we teach it, those words usually have much to do with magic and technical minutae that probably aren't of much use to you. With what things would you all recommend I start instead?" She suspected that they would have reason to know commands, and warnings for the same purpose, but as she knew little of their habits outsie of their occupation as mercenaries, she was interested to know what they considered most pertinent.

Adrienne hummed somewhere deep in her throat, glancing up at the sky as if it were an aid to the considerations. "Well, aside from the obvious, I guess words about locations would be good. Hills, mountains, streams and so on. Directions, I guess. An alphabet to spell things we don't know otherwise? Can we do that? What else do you think, Van?"

Van tapped on his journal for a minute, thinking it over for a moment before he opened the book and went to the blank side of the paper he had just recieved. A couple of scratches from the quill and he offered both ladies the paper.

Vanryth Galero wrote:How, what, why, when, and where are simple things that would help to glean information. And what Adrienne said, locations and directions seem useful. Maybe an alphabet. Practical things like that. If I need to be eloquent with my words, I can always go to these books. We'll see where we'll go from there, see if your teaching jars anything else loose that would end up being useful.


"Teach them to proposition somebody. Not a one of them doesn't need to get laid," Soren advised with dripping sarcasm from the sidelines. Actually, he was a little curious about the whole endeavor, and about the woman offering her lessons up to the lot of them. Like all of the women in his present company, she was obviously fetching, but for once, that wasn't what he meant. He'd been quieter than usual for the past few days, choosing mostly to observe rather than comment, and in that time, he'd noted a number of things, none of which puzzled him quite like the psijic did, if indeed that was what she was. Not everyday you met someone who could walk up to this mad band and not judge the hell out of them.

He was certainly judging them, or he would be if he thought he had any right. But he didn't, so he pretended instead. Her though? She practically radiated that spun-sugar goodness that usually made him sick, but somehow managed to not be overbearing about it. In a party of sinners, she looked like a saint, and what the hell was with that? It made him incredibly suspicious. Moody Blue's sister or not, her presence didn't make sense, so naturally he didn't like it. Besides, he might actually have some use for that sign-language business.

The "moody" individual currently in question shot the archer a halfhearted glare, but at this point, he knew well enough that nothing would stop the man from being the way he was, and trying was only a wasted effort, something that he couldn't really afford anymore. Additionally, he was expending it fighting the pink tint to his cheeks, which he dearly hoped nobody noticed. "That list seems a fair place to start. I... will learn as well." His words were failing him more often than not of late; whether that was something about his tongue or in his head, he really didn't want to know. Hopefully, something like this would at least help keep him from dwelling too much. It'd be nice to be able to talk silently with the others, anyway, especially Van, who had few other means of saying anything.

Drayk was doing his best to ignore the archer as well, though that didn't mean he hadn't been thinking about him. He'd mainly been trying to decide whether he or the witch was more annoying to have around. It was clearly a debate that would take some time to resolve, and as such he set it aside for later. He shifted the shield on his back and turned around as best he could to look at the others from his position near the head of their little caravan. "Count me in. At the very least, it gives us something to think about and work on. Couldn't hurt."

Maya flashed Anirne a smile. "You'll have to teach us some rude signs as well. I'm just imagining the look on Tarquin's face if we all said something absolutely dreadful to him at the same time in some language he didn't understand." Perhaps opposite of how she should have seemed, the witch appeared to be growing steadily more pleased with how things were going. Impending doom obviously was having a negligible effect upon her mood. She had, however, not spoken a word of anything that occurred between her and Sinder the night previous, no doubt to the Altmer's relief.

Vanryth didn't nearly take the Archer's quip as well as his companions, and as soon as he shut his mouth, Vanryth flung his book in his direction, aiming for head heigth. Decent mood or not, Soren's big mouth could manage irritate the dunmer to no end. Hit or miss, Van leveled an intense glare on the Archer, daring him to say something else. As far as appearances go, played the part of the irate elf very well, but internally as soon as the book left his hands, he knew he made a mistake. He was slipping back into his old ways, and he knew it. He was coming undone. But he wouldn't let the archer see that weakness, he wouldn't let any of them see it. He'd rather die first. He'd play the part of the angry man in order to hide the broken one underneath.

Anirne sighed softly through her nose, but if she was genuinely frutrated by any of the events or the facetious suggestion she made no actual sign of it. It would, truly, take a great deal more than some immature antics and a few issues with tempers to upset her; she'd been spying on Thalmor for a good portion of her life. If pretending to kowtow to them did not teach one saintly patience, then nothing would. She did manage a half-smile for Maya though. "And what makes you think that I would know any such gestures?" she asked lightly, in a way that very clearly suggested that she did. She watched with passive interest as the journal sailed towards the archer, supposing that the man would probably catch it and disinclined to help, really.

"Well, I suppose we'll start with basic question words, then the alphabet. I hope you're good at riding without hands."

Quietly, Lynly made her way closer to the group on her own horse. While she said nothing, nor even agreed to be taught, the idea wasn't too outlandish. It wouldn't hurt to see what this lot was learning, if only to see if they were talking about her without her knowledge. Besides, the psijic knife-ear did have a point, snow did get old to look at after a while.

A deft limb shot out, plucking the book from the air before it could reach his face. Raising a brow mildly, Soren shrugged and tucked the thing into his cloak. Much as the fellow had been scribbling away a few nights ago, there was bound to be something to read in there. Not that he probably would, it was the threat of it that could prove interesting. Or not. Maybe he would snoop around; information was still his stock-and-trade anyway, and if the Dunmer was stupid enough to just throw the thing at him, he figured he could do whatever the hell he wanted with it.

"Heh, I don't know. I'm willing to bet there's quite a bit you know that you shouldn't," he replied to Anirne, eyes narrowing half from humor and half from actual suspicion. The point was fair; none of them knew much about her at all. Not that they were all exactly well-informed on each other anyway, but it wasn't every day you met someone from a supposedly disappeared and clandestine group of monks. Plus, if he was being honest with himself, she was damn good-looking for someone he suspected to have hit thirty-and-five, so the fact that his tone was bordering on lacivious was perfectly excusable.

Van began his lessons by showing the archer a particularly... rude gesture. Soren simply smiled.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: Anirne Direnni Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson Character Portrait: The Representatives

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They continued west, making good time as they went. The witch had no doubt the Shade was ahead of them, perhaps a day or more, but she did not seemed concerned that they would miss him. Just as the Sellswords needed to help him, the Shade needed their help. He was powerful, but so was the competition, and so one needed something to tip the scales in their favor. The Sellswords were that something.

They arrived before Whiterun near midday, but chose to press on, trading for what supplies they needed with the Khajiit caravan that happened to be camped outside the walls. Continuing west, the group passed the remains of what had been Whiterun's western watchtower, now a mostly collapsed ruin. A short inquiry to the guards there led to the information that a dragon had attacked it. Though they had apparently managed to slay the beast, its description did not match that of the dragon that had ambushed the Sellswords in the Reach, this one's scales being bronze rather than a stony gray. They moved on once the guards would tell them no more.

The road cut southwest for a time before rounding north at the intersection between Falkreath Hold, The Reach, and Whiterun Hold, and the group managed to arrive in Rorikstead just as the sun set on the third day, spending the night in the Frostfruit Inn. Hoping to arrive at the manor while light still hung in the sky, the group left early the next morning, heading into Hjaalmarch and then into Haafingar, passing over the Dragon Bridge in the afternoon. The sun was setting before them by the time Solitude's magnificent natural rock arch over the mouth of the Karth river, and the Mentor's manor came into sight...





Drayk's smile was tinged with sadness. He used to complain about this little climb, the steep hill and the winding steps the led to the Mentor's manor. Compared to the climb he had already made, this little walk should be nothing. That was what the old man had said to him, more than once. Or something like that. He was having trouble remembering a lot of the things the Mentor had told him, and it left him feeling empty. The sun was hitting the building just right so that the wooden walls seemed to glow with light. It was almost like he would be stepping into a house of the Divines, so beautiful and shining it was set upon the hill like that, overlooking the river, the city up on the rock, the Blue Palace shimmering in the sunset. He felt as though each step he took back was a transgression. Somehow, he now felt so unworthy to even look upon it.

He hadn't expected it to be this hard to come back. So much had happened since they left, so much that had changed him already. He'd left the manor having not conjured fire in years, but now he was returning amidst a storm of his own flames, so to speak, his mind secretly reveling in being reunited with his power while his heart was calling out for him to stop, to grab on to something and keep himself from falling any further. Of course, it was too late for that now. Only one force on Tamriel could halt his plummet into darkness now.

Sighing, he hefted his shield up higher on his back and took the last step. The witch let out a low whistle. "Nice place," she murmured, though even she seemed to realize that this wasn't easiest moment for any of the Sellswords. This wasn't how they imagined themselves coming home. Drayk avoided looking at the door as he pushed it open, afraid it would glare at him or something. The main hall appeared... more or less as they left it, though he noted that the great table was currently set with plates and dinner. The source of the changes sat comfortably at the end of the table, boots propped up on the edge, his elbows on the arm rests, fingers lighting touching together. He beckoned Drayk and the others upon seeing them.

"You made good time," the Shade said in a pleased manner. "Welcome home, Sellswords, and welcome to my father's manor, honored guests. Please, be seated, and eat. You must have had a hard day's travel. We can discuss preparations for the morrow over dinner. It gives us something more useful to do with our hands while we speak, no?" The last part was said while eye contact was quite clearly made with Vanryth, and the Shade wore a pleased smile as he said it.

Vanryth returned with a hard, furrowed stare.

The smell of home was tainted with the increasingly-familiar collection of odors belonging to the Shade, and Sinderion was clearly not happy about it. The entire trip onto the grounds and up the stairs, his mouth was compressed into a line, and he made eye contact with nobody. The whole endeavor was poignant enough that they should have had the opportunity to wade through its complexities before the new was melded so jarringly with the old. Symbolism was not lost upon him, and he knew what it would mean, to find that man in this house. It meant that the one place which could possibly offer them sanctuary any longer was gone, and they were fully immersed in this world they had so unwittingly been thrown into, drowning with no more shore to be found.

Soren, on the other hand, was hardly bothered. "Hm. Don't mind if I do," he replied easily, settling himself into a chair closer to the Shade than any of the Sellswords would probably want to. The thought crossed his mind that the stuff could be poisoned-- paranoia taught one lots of useful things like that. But the guy needed them, for whatever reason some other bunch of mercenaries wouldn't do, and he was unlikley to waste his considerable effort thus far in procuring their services. Honestly, the Shade seemed like a pretty reasonable guy. Give me what I want, and I'll return the favor. The language of trade was a simple one, really, so why so many of these kids seemed to balk at the very idea was a little beyond him. Either they cared enough about this Mentor fellow to do what they were being asked to in order to retrieve him, or they didn't.

Not in the least bothered by the awkward and perhaps somewhat hostile atmosphere in the room, he was at his dinner afterwards, though to be fair, his table manners were quite appropriate otherwise. He wasn't a complete barbarian, despite some insistence to the contrary at times.

The archer's ease only made the werewolf tenser, but he recognized the futility of arguing directly, at least for now, so he settled himself at the opposite end of the table from the Shade, for the moment refusing to touch anything. It smelled fine, as far as he could tell, but that didn't mean he was happy taking his blackmailer's charity.

For a place so close in distance to the one in which she had last resided in Skyrim, this manor house could not have been much different. Upon their flight from the Isles, Anirne's parents had been of relatively little means, despite their famed ancestors and former nobility. Such was the trial of the exile, perhaps, and she had been raised on nothing like this. To be sure, the Mentor's abode did not shock her in the same way the grand architecture of Summerset had done, but that was simply because she was long used to the grand by now. She tried for a moment to imagine Sinderion's first days here, so far removed from the little set of rooms above the enchantment shop, where dinner was often as not placed on the table by the skill of his own hands. It must have been jarring, even leaving whatever else had been happening aside.

She glanced to her left, where he was walking, and observed without comment the tense set of his movement, the way he was looking at nobody. It didn't appear much like a homecoming, though she supposed she could understand. It really wasn't, not now. Anirne maintained a passively-relaxed demeanor as they crossed the threshold into the house itself, and therein, she laid eyes upon the man called the Shade for the first time. Aside from being fair of feature, as humans went, there was nothing about him to immediately suggest that he was at all extraordinary, and that was a much more pressing, subtle kind of danger than that displayed by those who went around bristling with weapons and violence. It was something that she was at once aware of, and she would not forget it.

Anirne sat across from Sinderion, the better to keep an eye on him as things progressed, though neither she nor Adrienne beside her ate at once, perhaps more inclined than Soren to observe the typical etiquette of such situations: eat only when the host has begun doing so. The breton woman hadn't spoken for a lengthy interval, and she didn't seem inclined to do so now, either, eyes fixed ahead of her on the space just over her plate and otherwise nearly entirely still. If Anirne had to guess, she'd suppose that the woman was contemplating something, most likely reaching an unfavorable conclusion, but even as the Altmer watched, she seemed to emerge from it, looking over at the Shade and smiling a bit, not entirely mirthfully. "How very thoughtful. My thanks." To Anirne, it was as though she were looking at a completely separate second person, one unwearied by the road and with absolutely no resentment towards her position at all, and the older woman blinked once before shaking her head minutely and deciding that it didn't matter.

Vanryth obviously wasn't going to stand sitting near the Shade, but he was beaten to the seat furthest away from the damn man by Sinderion. So instead he took second place, taking a seat beside the Altmer and in front of Adrienne. Though the food spread out in front of him smelled delicious, Van had decided he wasn't going to touch any of it. Hunger was no match for his pride, and he'd eat nothing that came from this man's hands or hospitality. Oblivion take him. He'd rather starve. He was bloody lucky Van didn't decide to lunge across the table and choke him.

Lynly however was somewhat more courteous, if not just as reserved. She had taken a seat closer to the Shade than the elves at the end of the table, unfortunately, that brought her nearer to the Archer than she would have prefered. Also closer to the archer and the elf, she had partaken in the food. Warm food was rare in the wild, and she was glad to eat something that hadn't decided to eat her first. Still, she ate quietly, though not with the manners Soren displayed, and her arms tucked in close to her. She didn't do very well at banquets...

The Shade removed his feet from the table, sliding his chair a little closer so that he could begin eating, deftly stabbing a slice of chicken on his plate, followed by a small sip from his goblet. His eyes fell to Anirne, and once his cup was once again on the table he spoke. "Forgive me, we've yet to be properly introduced. I am Tarquin Aurelius, though my fellow competitors call me the Shade." He awaited her reply, eyes taking in the similarities between her and the other Altmer at the table. If he was at all surprised at the Sellswords arriving with one more than he had encountered previously, he did not show it. The table had even been prepared with the correct number of plates.

Anirne dipped her head in acknowledgement, a small, polite smile crossing her features before they receded once more to neutrality. "Anirne Direnni," she replied, and then a light touch of amusement entered her tone, "but as many of us seem inclined to titles instead, some do call me Greycloak." She took the opportunity to begin eating, As did Adrienne close to her, who looked at Van with something resembling a request. Indeed, she also awkwardly signed over the table. Please? Need strength. The psijic smiled to herself.

The Shade clapped his hands together softly, leaning back in his seat at the head of the table. "To business, then? I have already had the opportunity to scout the Inquisitor's fortifications, as well as gather information on him within Solitude. I must say, I'm rather excited to see how this all plays out." Another short drink separated his words, and he wiped his mouth delicately before continuing. Discussing murder had put something of a glint in his eyes, moreso than the one that was always there. "He houses himself within an embassy of the Thalmor here, perhaps the most secure location the Aldmeri Dominion possesses within Skyrim. The compound is walled and patrolled day and night by Thalmor soldiers and war wizards, the entire force of which is somewhere between fifty and seventy-five, housed in a barracks on the north side of the grounds. The manor itself is in the center of the compound, two stories, with guards posted in pairs on each of the ground floor doors."

He propped his elbows up on the table, threading his fingers through each other. "The man himself is the reclusive sort. He follows the commands of one Elenwen, though I understand that she has traveled south to Markarth to make contact with Thalmor agents there, and to investigate dragon attacks in the area. This leaves Talmoro in command at the embassy. Apparently he spends his time either locked away in his study in the manor proper, or otherwise making his way below the barracks to the interrogation chambers, to practice his craft." Anirne frowned. That much, at least, didn't seem to be news to her.

"The area is not without weaknesses, however, nor are we without opportunities. Apart from the front gate, there is one other way in: a cave at the bottom of a short cliff behind the embassy, below the barracks and torture chambers. A frost troll took up residence there, and so the Thalmor dispose of bodies from interrogation in that way. It is unguarded, and would be a simple path in, at least until we reached the barracks. The other option is through the front door. The Thalmor have a reception planned tomorrow, with invitations extended to prominent and affluent citizens of Skyrim, something that apparently happens perhaps once a month. I am aware of several men and women that will not be attending, and some of us should be able to pose as them to gain entrance, should they think themselves up to the task. Talmoro will have to make an appearance at such an event in Elenwen's absence."

How the Shade had managed to come across such information was not readily apparent, nor did he seem about to explain.

The elder Altmer looked pensive for a moment, lips pursed slightly as she chewed something over. Swallowing, she took a sip of water and spoke. "I... should perhaps enter as clandestinely as possible. Without an attempt to sound self-important, there are not a few Thalmor who know my face, and none of them have reason to like me. I'd not like to take the chance that one of them will be in attendance. Barring that, though... having an Altmer in the reception party would not be a bad idea, particularly if things go south and such a one could pretend to be Thalmor proper, perhaps by procuring some of their armor?" She glanced at Sinderion, unsure of how he'd take that but having the inkling that it might not be to his taste. Nevertheless, it was a safety measure that would surely help, and perhaps that alone would be enough to sway him.

"So we try both, then?" Adrienne queried, then nodded as if in answer to her own question. "That makes sense. I'm much better with talking than fighting, so I think it's obvious where I'd be best-put." She paused, then, and glanced over at Tarquin. "What you've said so far is a fairly good indication, I suppose, but what kind of man is this Inquisitor? What sort of thing would be most likely to convince him to abandon his guard and be caught alone? I doubt a few flattering words and some fluttering eyelashes would do the trick, after all." The less work she had to do assessing his demeanor at the event, the better.

That got an amused smile out of Tarquin. "As lovely as you are, I'm afraid no amount of fluttering eyelashes will have an effect on our Inquisitor. He doesn't care for such things, and if we're drawing from the spheres of Mehrunes Dagon here, I'd say he most highly values destruction and ambition. The most tempting thing to present to him would be an opportunity to advance his own position, lure him with the promise of some way to surpass his superiors, to do something important while his commander is away."

"Someone interested in allying with the Thalmor presenting him with a prisoner he would be most interested in would likely get his attention, and perhaps draw him away from the festivities and to an interrogation. I think while a simple Talos worshipper may not suffice," he said, eyes darting towards Lynly for a moment, before settling on Anirne, "perhaps if the Thalmor dislike you enough, they would desire to take you as a prisoner?"

Soren didn't try to hide his amusement at the very thought. "Why not go the full distance? Dress Moody-Blue here-" he jerked a thumb in Sinderion's direction, "in some of that Thalmor armor, tie up the psijic lass," he paused for a moment, cocking his head to one side as though contemplating the image, "and bring her in as a tribute from the Inquisitor's new favorite allies. That ought to get his attention. Shouldn't be too hard for the gifters to feign some curiosity on the matter of their prisoner's fate and get down to the right chambers; it's not like no Thalmor ally's ever had a thing for torture before," he spoke casually, diffidently, and perhaps with a little too much knowledge, though exactly what kind it was wasn't immediately obvious. "Or maybe the good little Thalmor soldier just doesn't want to remand custody until she's properly in a cage, whatever works."

Sinderion immediately hated the idea, mostly because it called for hobbling his sister and putting her at great risk. "Absolutely not," he said, shaking his head. "There has to be another way." There was also the matter of whether he'd even be able to pass himself off as Thalmor, though honestly he probably could. It was more about the amount of danger Anirne would have to deal with, for something that wasn't even her problem.

"There might be," Anirne acknowledged, "but not one so efficient, I should think. I believe it will work, and as for the danger of it, well, it's not as though there's a way to do this that's any less hazardous." She smiled somewhat, as though she might actually enjoy the idea, and honestly, why not? She'd never liked the Thalmor, and if her status as a rather public opponent of their policies could be of some use to them, there was no reason not to use it. It had been a little too long since she'd last staked her life on something, perhaps, but she'd never forgotten the unique sensation. Anirne did not play games, but whatever anyone else thought of it, this was no game to her. It was clear that the lives of her brother and his companions hung in the balance at every moment, and for that reason alone, she'd throw her own in to tip the scales as well.

Adrienne sighed. The problem was, it was too obviously the best plan they had. Nodding slowly, she glanced over the others. "If it's advancement the Inquisitor wants, we're best off playing him that way. I don't expect it will be too hard to convince him that we are as he is, or perhaps interested in his methods." That was the thing, really; no matter who you were, validation didn't go wrong, and you tended to switch off your suspicion of the people who validated you.

"Then it's settled!" the Shade exclaimed, leaning back in his seat with a smile that did not fit the gravity of the situation. "the mages among us enter through the front with our psijic here as a prisoner, with Sinderion in the guise of a Thalmor guard. The others will follow me through the cave entrance to the interrogation chambers, and prepare an ambush. Unless there are objections?" Maya looked rather pleased with the plan. "None here, though I'll need a change of clothes. Perhaps we should wear matching robes? Unless they expect us to look the part of nobility, that is." Drayk didn't look pleased, but at this point, he was beginning to believe there was no arrangement that would suit his abilities. He knew he'd only ruin the stealth group's chances somehow, and as it was... well, hopefully he would be able to be the quiet member of the group, playing the part of Adrienne's subordinate or something.

The Shade waved a hand in dismissal. "There's a store of gold in the basement. I'm sure it will be sufficient to purchase suitable disguises. The reception begins tomorrow evening, so we have until then to prepare. I'll be in my father's study, should you need me for anything." He took his leave of the table, making his way up the stairs behind him into the Mentor's study, closing the door behind him. Maya leaned across the table towards Adrienne. "Well? Shall we do some shopping?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson Character Portrait: The Representatives

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Rather than spend the remainder of the night in the immediate vicinity of the Shade, Drayk had decided to lead a movement to take a trip up the road a short ways to Solitude, and visit the Winking Skeever. He was beginning to see the value in drinking moderate amounts of alcohol when on these long and stressful ventures. It actually helped him to relax, to speak easier, and turn his thoughts away from... other vices. Tonight he managed to secure the company of Vanryth, the mercenary woman Lynly, and to his slight chagrin, the archer, Soren. Normally he would have tried to tell the man to go find his own hole to drink in, but something about being in the manor had the Mentor whispering give him a chance in the back of his mind, and so the party of four departed for the city.

It was dark by the time they reached the front gate, but the tavern was lit up on their left, orange firelight glowing from the windows. The fire mage led the way in, the group picked out a table in the middle of the main floor, and Drayk left to secure drinks for the group. The tavern was busy for the night, many of the local soldiers in attendance. Their number had been much higher than usual ever since the war had started, Solitude being the center of Imperial control in Skyrim. Still, the Winking Skeever was not without more colorful patrons tonight as well. The bard for the night was a green-scaled Argonian deftly playing a lute, and another of the lizard-folk was sitting at the bar garbed in armor of a light leather. In a corner of the tavern, facing the door, was a hooded Dunmer with red face paint trailing from his eyes. He watched the group with some amount interest as they came in, Lynly in particular, his brow narrowing as though trying to remember where he'd seen her before.

It was out of sheer boredom that Lynly had elected to go to the bar with the flirtatious archer, sulky dumner, and the firebomb. It may not have been her initial choice of partners, but she felt like she sorely needed a drink. She followed behind the group at a short clip, noting the dunmer was walking closer to the mage than he was either of the archer or her. The mage was the only one Van actually was fond of, much less trusted, in this motley crew they had that night. Still, the allure of some kind of elixer proved more powerful than the choice of companions. Van needed to remind himself however, to not partake too much of the drink, else a repeat of the last bar incident was inevitable. He hoped that Drayk would keep an eye on him, for he didn't even trust himself in this.

Once seated, Lynly (nor Van) didn't offer to start conversation. Not like the dunmer was going to be able to participate anyway. She figured Soren would be the one to do that. Least, she was waiting for a flirtatious comment when a familiar figure strode through the door. Lynly's eyes locked with the newcomers furrowed brow for a moment before she averted her gaze. Not due to some sort of worry at being recognized, just that eye contact wasn't her most favored thing in the world. Still, from what she saw of the man, he looked strangely familiar. She turned her eyes back to the table in front of her as she mulled over the thought.

Oddly, Soren was quiet on the walk to the bar, simply choosing to fall in line next to Lynly and keep pace with her. He said nothing, and he honestly didn't so much as glance at any of them, keeping his eyes fixed straight ahead and half an ear out for any odd bits of conversation or disturbances from outside the group. He'd grown up that way, always expecting to be ambushed around the next corner, lynched if he was lucky, and if he wasn't, well... worse. He supposed that was what happened when your father was a fleece and you were his accomplice, whether you wanted to be or not. But in the end, it had made him better at what he did, and it was all probably the only reason he was still alive, so he could barely be bothered to summon the necessary bitterness anymore. Yes, yes, the old man beat me black and blue, terrible person, yadda, yadda. He didn't care.

What he didcare about was the time of year. That day was approaching again, and this was the reason for his silence. It was perhaps a week away now, and he still hadn't done what he was supposed to. He still wouldn't be able to meet that day straight-backed and sober. Ordinarily, he would have tagged along to the bar for an opportunity to observe and perhaps toy with the others, or just to get laid. Today, though, he was going because he really wanted to get plastered and forget. He was willing to bet the only one of this lot that had a chance of putting him under the table was the tongueless one, and even that was a long shot.

He entered the bar just behind the rest, and though he was astute enough to observe that they were being watched, and the Nord woman's reaction to it, it took him a second to find his own tongue. "Friend of yours?" he drawled, raising one red brow just slightly and letting his empahsis do the rest of the work. He took a seat at the table and immediately waved over a round for everyone in the small party, handing the barkeep the requisite funds and ordering two more for himself. The first one went down in a single long draught, but he'd linger over the next two a bit longer. Maybe. "First one's on me," he explained. "Gods know you lot could stand to relax a little." The words lacked the usual bite of cynicism, and it actually sounded like he might mean it.

"That's the plan tonight," Drayk said, perhaps the first thing he'd said to the archer without at least a mildly hostile tone. He started in on his own, noting the way Soren attacked his own drink, but not commenting on it. For his part, he was completely unaware of anyone watching them. Despite all he had been through, it seemed it was still not in his way to keep a watchful eye at all times.

Vanryth harumphed in reply. He didn't need to relax. If anything he needed to tighten up a little. Last time he tried to relax, it ended in a barfight, and he really didn't want to start one here. The more he drank, the shorter his fuse got. He couldn't promise that an errant word from either the archer or the warrior wouldn't light it either. Still, despite his wariness, he gladly accepted the first tankard, nearly matching Soren's own draught. Lynly was much more reserved about hers, thinking deeply about the familiar face. Her eyes glazed as she down at the table, trying to force the memory back to the forefront.

Soren's question ushered a shrug, but it did remind her where she had saw the face. "I am relaxed," Lynly began. If she was, it certainly didn't appear so. Her shoulders were drawn and her hands were in her lap. By all accounts, it looked like she afraid of being out in public. Though at this point, the others had to have noticed her social awkwardness. It wasn't so easy as to turn it off afterall.

"That man. The kni- dunmer with the face tattoo," she caught herself before she could utter "Knife-ear" infront of Van. Luckily, the mute man was too busy trying to get to the bottle of his next tankard to have heard. Lynly's eyes danced between him and Soren before continuing, "He was in the bar in Falkreath, before we ran into you. He was the reason Maya ran into the woods that night," She said, shifting eye from the archer to Drayk. "My guess is that he has something to do with the game..." Though, that could be her suspicion talking. Vanryth belched then nodded, remembering something like that.

Perhaps the Dunmer had come to the same conclusion Lynly had at the same moment, as he was soon on his feet, moving slowly over towards their table, his own mug in hand. He came up alongside them, resting a hand against the open chair at the table. He directed his question towards Drayk in a calm voice, not emotionless exactly, but as though he simply did not use his voice that often. "Would you object if I sat?" Drayk looked to the others for any objection, before shrugging a consent. "Have a seat." He nodded, pulling back the chair and sliding into it, the glint of a war axe on his belt appearing for a moment before it vanished beneath the cloak. "My thanks."

He went straight to the point, crimson eyes locking solidly with Lynly's, his gaze rather intense, though it didn't seem like he was trying to be. "I remember seeing you speak with the Blackfeather, in Falkreath. Would you have any news of what became of her? You were traveling east to the Rift, as I remember, and yet you are here now."

"Are you seeking her?" Lynly posed with a curious tone, leaning back in her chair. Her eyes didn't quite meet the man's, instead focusing on his plain manner of dress. She wasn't completely certain, but if he was indeed involved in the game, then Maya could be his next target. She didn't feel comfortable giving the man information on the girl if he intended to hunt her. While Lynly was uncertain if they could be considered friends, she felt she owed her at least this much. She wasn't about to throw Maya to this man.

The Dunmer took a long drink of his ale before setting it down on the table and removing his hood, revealing a rather impressively maintained mohawk and suddenly making him appear much less closed off. The hood had cast shadows over his features that were now gone, and though he was certainly still a dark elf, he appeared slightly less so now. "Well said. I was unaware how much you knew. They do not appreciate word of their Game being spread needlessly, but if you are already informed, then I may speak freely. No, I do not seek her."

He leaned forward slightly, shifting in the seat and speaking such that only the immediate audience could hear him. "Forgive me. I am Invorin Hastati, called the Horizon, and representative of my lady Azura. I would be willing to share what information I know of other targets if I could receive some in exchange."

"Oh good," Soren replied this time, clearly warming to the conversation. "An exchange of information. A sad dearth of people in this world speak the trade tongue. Well then, allow me to ask for the specifics: exactly what information are you offering, and what questions are you asking?" This was his profession, after all, it would be rather remiss of him not to at least assist in the conducting of this little venture into the sharing of knowledge. It was also best done when both parties were as at-ease as possible, as it tended to loosen tongues a little, so he waved over the waitress again and turned, brow cocked, to Invorin. "What's your poison?"

"This will be enough for me, but thank you," he replied politely, holding on to his singular mug of ale. "I can offer you the current locations of no less than six representatives, some of which you may already know, and what I know of their movements. I can offer you the name of my own target as well. I would ask that you provide whatever similar information you possess. The more knowledge we have of the kill order, the more effectively we can plan out our movements."

Drayk shrugged. "Seems like a fair deal to me. Would be nice to know what kind of people to watch out for when we're on the road." It wasn't that he was particularly interested in Maya's or the Shade's well being, but considering that he was working with them, anyone who sought their deaths would likely seek his as well, and for the moment, he wasn't interested in either the Shade or himself ending up dead.

Vanryth held up four fingers and another two to make six from within his tankard, not even bothering to look up. Though, he was intrigued to hear that the bar traveler was the representive of Azura, but it made sense. Azura wouldn't have chosen a nord or imperial to be her representive, considering she was the matron of the Dunmer of people. It was this bloodline that gave the Horizon a small measure of respect from the scarred Dunmer. Not enough to stay his hand if the man stood between him and what they were after, but respect none the less.

Lynly glanced at Van, noting his the number he held up before looking back to the Horizon. "We too know six of the players," Apparently. She really only knew of Maya, the Shade, and their targets, the Omen and the Inquisitor. She raised an eyebrow at the Dunmer wondering where did he get the other two. What were they doing before they met her? Still she shrugged and elaborated on what she knew, "Of those, we know of the Blackfeather, the Shade, the Omen, and the Inquisitor..." She looked to the dunmer to explain the other.

Reluctantly, Van sat the tankard down, and began to try and figure out how to convey his message to the Nord. He sat for a moment, his beard in his hands before making the signs that meant rock, and a hammering motion. That one Lynly understood, the man had made an impression in her mind, though she was slow to piece together that he was a representive of the game as well. "The Stonehammer, and..." The next sign meant spy, though that seemed a plain name for a representives... "The Spy?" She asked, confused. This had to have been before she joined the Sellswords.

Vanryth merely shrugged figuring it was close enough. He had meant the Spymaster, Rylin Moroth, they had met in Markarth, though Drayk perhaps understood what he meant by spy. He hadn't learned the word for master yet. With that done, Van buried himself back into his tankard, and Lynly likewise kept her silence. She had given enough information to grease the wheels, and if any bartering was to be done for more, Soren could more than handle it.

Soren shrugged; it was a few less septims he had to spend, which was never a bad thing as far as he was concerned. The recitation the mute one was getting the warrior woman to perform was interesting, but the list of names was not really of much use unless it was accompanied by connections between them, and these, he could provide. As soon as he'd figured out the nature of this little Game, he'd been most intrigued by it, and had set about asking questions (largely of Maya) until he knew exactly what was going on. Well, exactly what the Sellswords knew of it, anyway. He wasn't dumb enough to think that was all there was, which was why this little opportunity intrigued him. That it kept him from thinking on far less pleasant things than Daedra and assassination games was only a bonus, if a large one.

"The Stonehammer seeks the Spymaster," he started, downing another half a drink. "The Light is dead; he was killed by the Bloody Curse, who is also dead. Blackfeather's last target-- so you can thank us, in part, though the Shade had an apparently non-illegal hand in it as well. He hunts the Inquisitor, and she's now after the Omen. They're both in this area, so if by some off-chance you're after the Shade, I'm sure most of these upstanding mercenaries would be happy to lead you where you need to go." Unlikely, but possible, based on the numbers involved. "I think that's about the long and short of what we know. So, what do you have that we don't, hm?"

Honestly, he ordinarily wouldn't have given it all away at once without some guarantee that he'd be getting something back, but the fact was (conveniently), this was nothing but a diversion for him, and nothing really depended on the outcome. In other words, while he might like whatever information the Horizon was offering, he had no need of it, it was hardly saleable, and therefore he didn't much care in the long run.

"The Stonehammer sought the Spymaster," the Dunmer corrected. "While I was in Markarth a dragon struck the city, sowing chaos. This was accompanied by a jailbreak of Forsworn prisoners from Cidhna Mine, a small number of Stormcloaks among them. The Stonehammer had turned himself in. Apparently Rylin thought to keep her enemy closest to her. The dragon nearly cooked me as I went for cover. After the Forsworn had left the city and the dragon disappeared over the hills, the Spymaster was found dead, her head crushed. The Stonehammer seeks the Spymaster's target now."

He took a long drink of ale. Speaking of it seemed to be making him irritable, an indication that he had so far been met with naught but frustration in his pursuits. "With the Light and the Bloody Curse also dead, and the Master gone, it brings us to twelve. I am... surprised the Blackfeather prevailed. Perhaps she is more resourceful than she lets on. I'm sure all of you had your reasons for helping her." Drayk took a long swig as if in response. If being deceived was an adequate excuse for a reason, then sure, they had their reasons.

"You must be here for the Inquisitor, then. He seems content to wall himself in his fortress for now, and I know not who he hunts. The Stonehammer left Markarth heading north, but he paused in the nearby mining town, and I continued on. I did not speak with him, so I do not know who he seeks now, only that he is a force to be reckoned with. I also had an encounter with the Feral near the Dragon Bridge. He still possessed enough of his sanity to know not to attack me, but that was the extent of the encounter. If Blackfeather and the Shade are here, it's likely he seeks one of them. Have you heard of him yet?"

Drayk shook his head, interested. "No, we've heard nothing of him. Care to explain?" Invorin nodded, looking rather grim. "His name was once Ja'karo, a Khajiit hailing from Elsweyr. I know nothing of his history, only that he acquired a rather unique case of lycanthropy, and a taste for flesh. He hunts in the night, in the shadows, with claws and teeth, his form somehow crossed between the beast and the Khajiit. He feasts for Namira. I'd advise you sleep with an eye open from now on."

It was advice Drayk had received a few times in his life, that he had sadly failed to heed to this point. "Thanks for the heads up. And who are you trying to kill?" That question seemed only to make the Horizon more irritable. He took a swig of ale before answering. "The Bard," he spat, "of Sheogorath. A maddening traveling minstrel, with seemingly no connections to any living being in this country. My problems are not yours, though. I hope we are not forced to meet again on less pleasant terms."

The Bard. Truthfully, Van had expected the chosen of Sanguine to take the title of Bard, but then again, he knew very little of this game and only a passing knowledge of Daedra Lords. The Bard. He knew many Bards. Though... Something about it seemed to strike a familiar chord. He sat down his mug and began to think, drowning out the voices of the others. The Bard. He vaguely remembered lyrics dancing around in his head, dissolving as he reached for them. The bar in Riften, before the fight, there had been a bard, singing the strangest song. He had only heard it because he was enjoying the drink instead of either Anirne's or Sinder's company. The harder he thought about it, the more lyrics came to mind.

He closed his eyes and nodded. From what little he could remember, the lyrics sounded like their little venture, and something to do with what the Horizon had just told them. He covered his face with his palm and chuckled lightly. It did sound something someone affiliated with Sheogorath would do. He looked up from and began to motion with his hands, city, east, and south-- city in the southeast (Riften), and the best bardlike motions he could conjure up. If his guess was correct, then the Bard was the same one in Riften. Though if he was still there, he did not know, but it was more information than the Horizon had now, and it wouldn't hurt for him to owe them a favor. He'd leave it up to one of the others to interpret his words.

Drayk did his best to interpret the words with what training he had managed to master in the short time they had. "City... southeast, so the Bard was in Riften?" Perhaps unfortunately Vanryth was the only one among the four of them to have visited the tavern in Riften, for Drayk remembered seeing no such character. Invorin rolled his eyes in frustration. "I had just come from Riften when we last met, and he was not there. It means little now, he has undoubtedly moved a dozen times over since you encountered him. Perhaps a change in tactics is necessary." Having finished his drink, the Horizon pushed his chair back and stood.

"I thank you for the information. I will be staying here until the day after tomorrow, should you wish to seek me out." He took his leave, departing up the stairs and towards the private rooms. Drayk turned to the others once he was gone. "Well, that was enlightening. Good to know the Stonehammer saved us a load of work, I guess."

"I'd rather have to fight this Spymaster over the Stonehammer..." Lynly mumbled. "In any case, we should keep an eye out for this 'Feral'. It sounds... Unpleasant."

"Oh, I don't know," Soren countered playfully, "I think we're due for a nice ambush at some point. Pity we know it's coming." He polished off his third drink and slammed the mug down on the table. "Another!" Lynly scoffed, and added "Pity," in agreement.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: Anirne Direnni Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson Character Portrait: The Representatives

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The rest of the day was spent in preparation for the night's strike at the Thalmor embassy, the disguises prepared for the mages of the group. The Shade delivered a set of elven armor to Sinderion just before they departed, rather pleased when he informed him that he'd cleaned the blood from it personally. Once all were in disguise, and Drayk reiterated once more how he was going to let the others do the talking, they departed. The news had been spread by Drayk about the meeting with the Horizon the previous night, and the Shade had seemed none too pleased to learn of the Feral's presence in the area. The witch, too, seemed somewhat disturbed by the news.

The plan was run over again: the mages were to infiltrate the embassy with a Psijic prisoner, to get the Inquisitor's attention and hopfully intrigue him into abandoning festivities in favor of an interrogation, retreating to the questioning chambers below the barracks where he would be more vulnerable. There, the team of Tarquin, Lynly, Vanryth and Soren would already be lying in wait, having gained access through a frost troll's cave in the rear of the compound and together with the others they would bring him down. If all went well, another would fall tonight, and the representatives would number eleven...





Most of the procession of important guests had already passed through the front gates, and Drayk noted how fashionably late they were. This was sure to get some kind of attention, and he could only hope it was the good kind. The kind that didn't involve arrows and lightning bolts flying at them. He felt ridiculous in this get-up, even if it admittedly made him look a little more presentable. He was without his shield for the night, the dull wood and steel contraption clashing terribly with the rest of the look. He would have to rely on his wards alone for defense if it came to that. Just one more thing to be nervous about. He added it to the list.

Maya was excited, however, barely staying behind Adrienne to allow her her role as the leader, or at least the spokesperson, of the group. The one thing that did have her on edge was the rumored presence of the werewolf in their midst, and not the one she trusted to have her back. She had absolutely no desire to have an encounter with the Feral, certainly not while they were trying to pull off an operation as complex as this. Fortunately, her own weapons could not be separated from her, and her bow could be in her hands at a moment's notice. Apart from that, her best defense was her disguise, the crimson robes leaving her looking nothing like the wild woman she normally was, her hair done up in an elegant bun, curls falling down to brush lightly at the base of her neck. She would have to compliment Adrienne on a job well done after all this.

The front gates were open to them, but they were soon met by a Thalmor war wizard, flanked by two personal guards, as well as two more standing watch over the front door. More were patrolling the length of the wall, armored in shining elven plate. At their approach, the war wizard pushed back his hood to get a better look at the nearing group. He raised a hand to command them to stop. "Halt! What is the meaning of this? Guardsman, who are these people?" He spoke to Sinderion, expecting that such a group would be met by a patrol if they did not appear as though they were one of the guests.

Adrienne had to admit, she'd done rather well for a budget and a time crunch. They certainly matched, and the visual effect was actually quite arresting, helped along by the fact that nobody in the party was at all a strain on the eyes. Her hair was fashioned similarly to Maya's, though half of it hung in neat, soft curls down her back. The dress left her shoulders bare, though, and she'd had to mix something up to hide the faint redness of a particular burn scar on her left one. She'd also darkened the area around her lashed and painted her lips a bright red, something that she now used to considerable effect, smiling wickedly at the guard with his hand held in the air. It wasn't enough to look the part, however, and she knew that as well as anyone.

"Well, aren't you just precious," she purred, apparently quite amused by the Thalmor's actions. "Such a shame you're all so serious, though." she shot a glance at Sinder, as though he were the confirming case of her point, and lifted one shoulder in an elegant shrug. "My companions and I represent the Burning Circle, a particular group of individuals with an... interest in the continued growth of the Aldmeri Dominion." She stepped aside, revealing more clearly to his sight the enchained Anirne, shackled at the wrists, her iron bindings resting firmly in Sinderion's hands. "We're here to speak with a very important someone who may have a very specific interest in our tribute here. A Psijic monk, if you were curious."

Anirne straightened at this, standing at her full height and affecting every inch the haughty, proud demeanor a prisoner of her stature would likely take on. Adrienne raised a brow as if bored with it, and the conversation already. "I assure you, it's an opportunity you don't want to leave standing at the gate." She made a point of examining her nails, the lines of her posture conveying a sort of contained impatience that wasn't at all uncommon on the highborn and those with far too much self-importance but an unfortunate amount of ability to back it. Essentially the posture of every major noblewoman she'd grown up around, really.

Given the incredible shift from her usual demeanor, it was fair to say Adrienne was purposefully attempting to take over most of the talking, and for that, Sinderion would have had difficulty being more grateful. It was already hard enough to stand there in this armor that still smelled of old blood, holding a cold chain to which his sister was attached, still in her Psijic greys and an obvious target if things went wrong. Given his actual frustration, it wasn't hard to fake it, and he channelled the feeling into a skyward roll of his eyes, meeting the eyes of the guard and nodding curtly. "She speaks truly. They caught the monk, I'm just here for... security." That sounded plausible, right? The Thalmor would surely wish to keep track of a prisoner this important.

The wizard looked a little flabbergasted at it all. He looked confused at the guardsman's response, but really too taken aback by Adrienne's act to respond to it. "A... Psijic? Caught by... who did you say you were again?" Maya took this one, appearing none too pleased with him. "The Burning Circle. Open your ears, elf. I expect much more of Skyrim will have heard of us soon." He looked torn, as though he should be reprimanding them for the severe lack of conventional boot-licking he'd become accustomed to from the other nobles, all full of air and empty promises. These ones did not merely state their intended allegiances, they were showing it.

He sighed, giving in. "Guards. Escort them into the lobby and summon Lord Talmoro. I believe he'll want to handle this himself." He returned his hood to his head once a slight breeze blew a small puff of snow about the air around them. "The Thalmor appreciate this, I assure you. Please, enter, and enjoy the party."

A pair of guards came forth to join Sinderion in escorting them in, and they made their way up the few steps, the double front doors swinging open for them to reveal the interior of the embassy manor, and the small mass of clustered nobles speaking to various members of the Thalmor, among each other. Drayk shifted about nervously, doing his best to keep his face straight. Adrienne and Maya were doing an excellent job of playing the parts needed. He felt bad for Sinder. His role placed a lot more pressure on him, as the armor almost invited questions to be directed his way.

"Wait here," a guard said firmly, departing up the nearby set of stairs to the second floor. An awkward minute or so passed in which Drayk attempted to catch the eye of one of his friends, but he knew they needed to stay in character, and reassuring him however they would wasn't part of that. He hated this already. Perhaps his only consolation was that it wasn't one of his loved ones currently in chains. He'd do whatever it took to make sure everyone else came out of this fine, though.

"My eyes must betray me," were the first words their target spoke as he came down the stairs, the words elegantly falling from the tongue. Talmoro Vasuderon was garbed in an immaculate set of Thalmor mage robes, black as night and trimmed with gold. He was no youngling, his hair graying and combed back, a slight arch to one eybrow accompanying the smirk upon his lips. He came to a halt before them, the eyes of more than a few guards and war wizards upon him. Drayk was sorely tempted. He was here, right in front of them? But no, he would see it coming from the front, and there were far too many of them to handle on their own. Patience was key here.

"You bring me a monk of the Psijic Order? An excellent choice of gift, indeed. I don't think I could stand another moonstone circlet." He stepped forward, stopping before Anirne, raising one long-fingered hand to grasp her by the chin, as if inspecting her for some abnormalities or some such. "How did they get their hands on you, I wonder?"

Anirne smiled tightly, eyes narrow and displeasure radiating from her stature. "I'm not hiding what I am," she said, voice low and full of simmering heat. "So few recognize what they see anymore. The doing of people like you, in no small part." To her credit, she did not flinch in the slightest from him, standing her ground and looking as regal as one could, imprisoned as she was.

To be completely honest, Adrienne wasn't sure how much was an act and how much represented genuine sentiment on the woman's part, which was actually a good thing. It was that much more believable, even to someone who knew there was a ruse involved. She'd not let it go to waste, either. "And those who do don't always have to act like it," she finished blandly, shooting the woman a disdainful glance, which was returned with pride, as though they'd been through this song and dance several times already. Which was quite likely, if indeed they'd had to journey to bring her here. "We found her in Riften, actually. I suppose that's to be expected; who in a city of thieves would know anything of magic?"

She returned her attention to Talmoro, though, because he would be expecting an explanation, a pitch of some kind, and the kind of person she portrayed would not hesitate to give it. "We," she said, gesturing to encompass herself, Drayk, and Maya, "are the Burning Circle, and we offer up this little... gift to you because we know enough to understand that she might be of some value for a man in your rather... unique position." The smile was close-lipped and conspiratorial this time, though she left it at that, for the moment. Of course, there was the matter of what they wished in return, but it would be much more in keeping with the proper order of things if they waited for him to inquire-- his was the superior bargaining position, after all.

Drayk was reasonably certain that Talmoro was impressed. He released Anirne's chin and stepped back to speak with the three of them. "Well, you're obviously no fools, and even the Thalmor have had extreme difficulty capturing any of the Psijic Order, so you must possess a good deal of skill to match your boldness." He thought for a moment, before a small smile formed upon his face. "Yes... perhaps a partnership could be formed from this. Such a gift to the Thalmor shall not go unrewarded, I assure you."

Rather abruptly, he turned to look at Sinderion. "Escort the captive to the interrogation chambers, guardsman, then return to your post. I'll be along momentarily to speak with our guest in a more private setting." He took in all three of the Burning Circle, such as they were, his eyes lingering momentarily longer upon Maya, but not so long to warrant worry. "If you'll follow me, perhaps we can discuss the terms of an arrangement in my personal quarters."

Sinder was momentarily paralyzed, because he was quite sure he had no idea where the interrogation chambers were, but he knew he had to act, and now. "Yes, my Lord," he replied, hoping quite fervently that it was the proper form of address. It was what he'd heard the other guards use, so it was the safest bet he had. Gripping Anirne's chain tightly, Sinder exited the room, attempting to keep his breathing steady. A wave of unfamiliar smells assaulted him, including odious perfumes and old books, but oddly, the smell of blood and unwashed bodies lay under the rest like a sickly undertone.

Oh, wait. He could definitely use that. The dirty people were more likely to be soldiers, and they were likely to be near the prison, which was probably the blood. Chances were, if he got close enough, he'd be able to pick out Van or the Shade to get to the actual chamber. This was... possible, and strange as it was, he had only the bestial part of his nature to thank for that. He almost hated to admit that, but... if everyone he'd spoken to on the subject (sans the Mentor, but he was trying very hard not to remember that) was right, then it might be the case that he could come to terms with it after all. Just... not right now, while he was trying to get unobtrusively as possible from one end of this gods-forsaken place to the other.

He almost wanted to say something to Anirne, seek some kind of assurance that his plan was the right one, but he couldn't risk it being seen or heard. In everything but the physical fact of her proximity, he was alone on this one.

Back in the original recieving room, Adrienne wasn't much more sure of how they'd fare than Sinder, but she hid it well, trusting as well as she could that her friend would figure things out. He was resourceful, the Altmer, even if it wasn't usually something he used in situations like this one. They'll be okay. She watched them leave with feigned disinterest, but immediately refocused on their target. "Well, of course I'm sure our capabilites are modest when compared to the might of the Dominion, but we have our moments," she demurred politely, though of course things like that were formalities at best. On one level, obvious, due to the numbers involved. On another, irrelevant, as they'd clearly been able to "accomplish" something that would have given three Thalmor more than considerable difficulty.

"I think we'd find that most ageeable, your lordship," she said, glancing at both Maya and Drayk as if to confirm it. It, of course, hardly needed confirmation, though they were going to have to find a way to get him down into the interrogation area. Patience would be important, though; they couldn't appear to be pushing it.




It was an excellent night for a hunt, Tarquin mused to himself. Clear skies, a general lack of wind, the stars and moon bright above them. His eyes shone with excitement. The plan was certainly not foolproof, but at the very least it would serve to be interesting to watch, and the Shade had every confidence in his ability to escape if things turned south. He certainly could have hired another group of mercenaries, but certainly none more interested in seeing the job done, none that wouldn't flee at the first sign of their deaths. On top of that... he was curious. His father had cared about them a great deal, that much was obvious. Perhaps a small part of him wondered at the effectiveness of his new appoach.

He crouched down in the snow to the rear of the compound, watchfully peering towards the cave, his hand lightly gripping an ebony dagger beneath his cloak. He expected to be able to hear it by now, they were close enough. No guards patrolled back here for risk of angering the troll out of its cave. There was a chance it was inside, feasting on some poor soul's flesh, but trolls did nothing quietly. He could certainly smell it, when a slight breeze carried the stench in his direction. He frowned.

"Something's not right," he voiced quietly to the others, Van, Lynly, and Soren. "I could use the werewolf's nose right about now. It smells... wrong." He shifted to look at his help, taking a moment to refresh himself on their abilities. "I'll be needing a volunteer. It's possible they've somehow learned of this, and have a trap planned. If the frost troll is dead, then something is amiss. Someone must scout the cave and send a signal."

Soren's answer was a low, trilling whistle, that sounded something like a mockingbird. "Dank cave, possible trolls, possible half-mad khajit? Sounds like my kind of fun. That'll be your signal, Tarquin, if you'll listen for it. If you hear a lot of shouting and growling, let's go ahead and say that means you should leave." He grinned, catlike in his own right, and unslung his bow from its place on his back, nocking an arrow to the string, but not pulling it too far back, yet. Lynly's own answer wasn't anything near so verbose as Soren's, just the whispered scrape of steel on steel as her sword left her sheath and her shield found it's way into her hand. "I'd rather you not leave, but come and help. I'll make sure he doesn't kill himself," She added.

"Ah, so I face death not alone? I didn't know you cared, lovely. Well then, we're off." He spared the woman a lacivious wink, (which Lynly scoffed at) but didn't dwell over it when there was work to be done. The smell of the cave was even worse the further in they went, and the whole thing gave off an aura of a bloody swamp, thick and cloying like chokedamp or some kind of insidious fungus. Soren made a face, though it was really more for effect than anything. He was actually remarkably serious for once, though it was apparent perhaps only in the fact that he kept a quick clip and passed soundlessly. Not that stealth would do him much good here-- he was walking beside a woman in plate armor, of all things.

True, Lynly was making a lot more noise than the prowling archer, though not for lack of trying. Still, this was a creature's lair they were entering, if it hadn't smelled nor heard them by now, then perhaps they still had the element of surprise. They covered a decent bit of ground in the cave without incident, until they came to a bend. The warrior nudged the archer's arm and pointed at the corner, while she planned to step past it and deeper into the cavern. As she rounded the corner, she came to find something that was wholly unexpected. They had found the troll, but that wasn't the unexpected part. The unexpected part was that it was strewn across its den in pieces. Entrails lay smeared across the ground and a massive amount of blood painted the walls. Lynly dropped her guard for a single moment in surprise before she raised it doubly so. Lynly scanned the immediate area, searching for the culprit, and after not finding it, called back to Soren, "This doesn't bode well..."Lynly lowered her guard for a moment before raising her shield, doubly on the defensive.

The sniper, who'd come up behind warrior woman, arched a red brow. "Yes, but for whom, I wonder?" Sharp eyes scanned the room, and though he did not loose the tension in his bowstring, he did straighten to his full height, picking his way over the worst of the scattered organs and bodily fluids to the remains of the troll, which had tufts of black fur caught in its claws. "Hm," he murmured, almost reflectively. "Snowball here had a tussle with another furry somebody, by the looks of it. Not many khajit come in colors that dark. I think we may have found sign of our Feral friend." Shrugging, he whistled, the mockingbird's call unnecessarily flippant, but the piercing sound would carry well enough back through the cave and to the men behind them. Lynly sighed to herself, allowing her shield to drop a couple of inches as she stood beside the archer. "Talos save us... I'm beginning to think this lot is cursed..." Though she wouldn't admit it, she was having quite the adventure.

"I know, isn't it wonderful?" For his part, the assassin had no qualms about admitting that he was enjoying himself.

The Shade made his way to them with the tongueless Dunmer in tow, stepping soundlessly through the powdery snow until he reached their position. He frowned at the grisly scene present in the cave. It wasn't hard to figure who had done this, but who the Feral was here for was still not apparent. "I would have thought Ja'karo would have simply attacked us if he was hunting me. He doesn't seem to be here any longer. I would say we should warn the witch, but frankly I don't think that would be in my best interest. If she's alert, she may survive." He really didn't care one way or another. The Blackfeather needed to die at some point, that much was clear. That he'd actually recruited her to help was almost laughable. She'd grown rather attached to this group already, he could tell. If she insisted on making his job easier, he wouldn't complain.

"This way," he said, leading them through the cave to its end, a wooden ladder leading up to a hatch in the roof. "Archer," he spoke, turning to Soren. "You know how to work around a lock?"

"Does a fish know how to swim?" Soren asked rhetorically, aware that he was probably being asked to do this because it carried some form of risk, not difficulty. It suited him just fine, really, and he was already pulling a specialized lockpick from his belt and ascending the ladder within heartbeats of the initial question. The immaculately-polished steel demonstrated the same level of care as he showed his weapons and his home, and slid smoothly into the surprisingly well-maintained locking mechanism. The man kept an ear cocked, listening for the tumblers to click properly into place, and he was awarded for his skill in mere seconds, as the lock came apart in his hands.

For all that he wasn't really mindful of his life, he wasn't a moron, and so when he opened the hatch, he did so slowly and silently, cracking it just enough to see through. The back of a pair of boots was some distance off, and from the pained groaning and the occasional dull scrape of something metal, it was clear that there was an interrogation in process. Chained to a wall and in a cage on the right side was a man, in a general state of undress and looking quite ill. He apparently saw what was going on, forcing Soren to lift the door just enough to put a finger to his lips, then draw it across his throat. The man looked away immediately, apparently compliant. Carefully lowering the hatch again, Soren tuned to the three other people behind him. Speaking was probably a bad idea, given how close they were to the torture chamber, so he signed instead.

Three fingers first, for the total number of people in the room, then two, and he curled his hands into fists, touching his wrists together. Prisoners. His index finger alone, and then he hesitated for a moment before spelling out 'Thalmor' in Anirne's alphabet. Then his face broke into a grin, and he repeated the second motion he'd shown the caged man, a fairly universally-recognized sign for a rather grisly death. Tarquin might not get most of it, but that was half the fun, now wasn't it? The bow returned to his hands, and this time when he nocked, he drew it back all the way, setting his feet on the highest rung of the ladder he could, intending to open the hatch with his back. When he moved, it was quickly, rising as quietly as he could and firing, letting out a satisfied 'hm' when the projectile buried itself cleanly into the back of the wizard's neck, dropping him without so much as a scream.

With his now free hand, he beckoned the others up and climbed into the room more properly. "Nothing like a nice assassination to get the adrenaline going, eh gentlemen?" he asked of the two prisoners, not really caring for the answer one way or another.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: Anirne Direnni Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson Character Portrait: The Representatives

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Four guards in shining gold elven plate accompanied the Inquisitor as he led the Burning Circle members up the stairs and away from the party. Drayk felt reassured, and significantly more uncomfortable at the same time. On the one hand, they had gotten away from the party and the threat of people all around, expecting him to act a certain way. Well, save for Talmoro, of course. On the other hand, things were about to get significantly more intimate with him. They were going to be speaking with him, alone, in private. No doubt he would want to get to know the people he was working with. Ugh, he'd probably have to speak for himself at some point. No matter. He could handle this, he knew he could.

Again he was tempted to strike. The man's back was even turned, and yeah there were guards around, but only a few. Surely they could take them, and fight their way out. He found his fist clenched, and forced it open, forced himself to relax. No, he had to think clearly here. He had promised to follow Adrienne's lead, to trust in her far more extensive experience in these matters. He had to trust that they would do this right, as they had planned. There was no need for being a hero.

Maya, of course, couldn't attack Talmoro even if she wished. The Inquisitor was not her target and thus it was forbidden. This game was a mildly enjoyable one, but the sooner it was over the better. She smelled something foul on the air just before they came in, and her thoughts lingered on the Feral. Every corner held the potential terror of a beast leaping forth to claw her open. She couldn't possibly be prepared for that and still be able to trick this Thalmor at the same time. It was a difficult position.

"In here," Talmoro said, gently ushering the three of them through a large door into the Inquisitor's private quarters, a rather expansive room with an amount of wasted floor space that seemed wholly unnecessary. Two of the guards remained outside the door, while the other two accompanied him in, shutting the oak behind them. The Inquisitor guided them to his desk, a massive contraption of sparkling clean wood, taking a seat behind the desk. The two guards hauled over three identical chairs for them to sit in, before taking up flanking positions on each side of their Lord.

"I believe we missed introductions in all the excitement. Though you probably already know, I am Talmoro Vasuderon, High Inquisitor, and in command of this embassy while the Lady Elenwen is away. You have introduced yourself as the Burning Circle. I'm afraid I've never heard of it. How many do you number?"

"Not many," Adrienne replied as though confiding a weary secret. "Not yet, anyway. About twenty, all told, and these scattered over Skyrim. We usually work in threes, though there's currently one pair, as numbers demand." She sank gracefully into the chair presented, folding her hands in her lap. "I am Celene Madec, and when they need to be led, I lead them." It was obviously unwise to give her real name to a Thalmor, especially since the organization would long survive him, and they'd have only a name, not likely a face, with which to try and track this mysterious group. She left it to the others to devise names for themselves, as they'd be much more likely to remember them, that way. Her own selection had been the only warning she could give.

Maya's posture was much like Adrienne's, one leg draped elegantly over the other, hands folded before her. As much as she hated to do it, she met the Inquisitor's gaze when he looked to her for her own name. "Marjolaine Bellasaris, my Lord. A pleasure." He smiled and nodded in return, which Maya thought to be the best of signs. Then it was Drayk's turn. He tried to model his own introduction after Maya's. Just a name and a greeting. "Liam Jerrik, Lord. I look forward to working with you." Though his posture was somewhat relaxed, confident even, he felt anything but, and merely speaking at all to Talmoro had turned him a bit red. All in all, that had gone well. If the Inquisitor assumed him to simply be muscle of the magical sort, as he intended, then perhaps he needn't do any more talking here.

"And I look forward to exploring this opportunity," Talmoro said graciously, before launching into the heart of the matter. "Now, to business. As you know, Skyrim is rife with heresy that threatens to tear the land apart, and has already done so with a civil war. The Thalmor seek to restore order to the region, that further cooperation with the Empire might be maintained. Unfortunately many of the people of this land will not give up their false idol willingly, nor do they trust those of the Dominion to hold their best interest at heart. An alliance with a local organization such as yours could prove most useful. Tell me, what would you ask in exchange for your services?"




The main floor of the Embassy had led out into an open courtyard, and nobody had stopped him yet, so he assumed he was traveling in the proper direction. Unfortunately, rather than the brief respite of fresh air he was expecting, the smell of blood grew thicker, accompanied by one like a damp hound would give off. But... it wasn't exactly a hound, was it? The other odors floating around made it hard to tell for certain, but the scent raised he hairs on the back of his neck all the same, and unbeknownst to him, a low, nearly inaudible rumble began in his chest, until he finally heard it and forced it to silence. That was... not good, to say the least. If the Beast was that wary, he should be, too. Closing his eyes for a moment, he forced his feet to continue, one in front of the other, though part of him railed against the very notion, informing him in no uncertain terms that he needed to free his sister now and run back to regroup with the others, to protect the pack, and that in and of itself was alarming.

Sucking in a breath, he ignored his instincts and kept going, reaching the barracks (and the two guards in front of them) shortly thereafter. The both of them looked over he and Anirne both, eyes lingering somewhere between disbelief and confusion. Still, they were good enough at their jobs not to abandon protocol, apparently. "Prisoner?" one asked, and Sinder couldn't help but think the answer to that was obvious.

"Psijic," he replied curtly. "For interrogation. Brought in by some human lot, call themselves the Burning Circle or something." He figured it couldn't hurt to spread the word, in case these two guards happened to encounter his friends somewhere. At least it might give them pause before they drew steel. The guard's eyebrows ascended his forehead, and he exchanged a speculative glance with his parter before he shrugged and waved Sinderion through. That placed him in the barracks proper, and though he could smell several more Thalmor, a dozen and then a few, he bypassed most of them without comment, having caught steel, blood, faint traces of alcohol, and moon sugar-- Soren and Lynly, at the very least.

Following that, he eventually found the door he was looking for. Well... that and the screaming, though he detected the clang of metal underneath that. A hatch led to a staricase, which would doubtless take them down into the chamber they wanted. Hopefully, he wouldn't get shot or stabbed for his trouble, but he trusted them to be cautious enough not to do that. Exhaling in a huff, he lifted the door and started down, Anirne behind him still.




"Nice shot," Lynly complemented as she emerged from the trap door. She took a cautious glance around the room before she lowered he own weapons. Her first order of business was the prisoners' safety and freedom. Both were Nords, and Lynly had an idea of how they ended up in this predictament. Chances were, they were Stormcloaks, and though she didn't agree with their idealogy, they were her kinsmen. She slipped past the archer, looking to free the one on the table first. His wrists and ankles were bound in iron cuffs at the four corners of the table. She sheathed her sword and grabbed at the first lock trying to get it to come loose, but her bare hands couldn't prevail against the cold iron. Option two involved searching the body of the Thalmor for keys, but too proved fruitless. She sighed and leveled her eyes on the locks. She had hopped it wouldn't come to this.

"Can you help him?" Lynly asked Soren, indicating the man in the cage. She then began to test her shield arm and adjusted her grip, lining up her aim on the cuffs. She didn't want to miss and break the man's wrist. However, before she began though she leaned down and instructed the prisoner to scream. It'd help cover the racket she would cause. She raised her shield and hammered the cuff with her shield. It took a set of two bashes in order for the cuff to relinquish it's grasp of the Nord's wrist. She repeated the process for the other three before the man found himself free. As she sat on the table, Lynly said, "Leave. Fast. Don't look back," she said, pointing at the trap door. The man didn't need much more than that, and after a volley of rapid thanks and praise Talos's the man was escaping through their entrance.

"I normally charge by the lock, but for you lovely? I think I can manage," the mercenary replied, half sarcastically. Honestly, he didn't really care whether or not these prisoners escaped; the whole 'Aldmeri Dominion versus Empire versus Stormcloaks' thing wasn't really of interest. Empires rose and fell, and dynasties with even greater frequency. He wasn't arrogant enough to assume that anything he did would matter in the long run, ironically enough. Still, there wasn't really any harm in it, and a pretty lady had asked, so...

"You, my friend, are one lucky bastard," he told the prisoner, who shot him a weak glare. "What? It's true. You could be dead. I could have left you here. Sure, you've been tortured, but life's like that sometimes. At least you're going to survive it, hm?" He made quick work of the lock, and then of the chains binding the man to the wall. "Well, there you go. Now run along, little Stormcloak, and do try to find some trousers. It's cold outside." Lynly had overheard and shot him the dullest glare she could manage. He simply shrugged, as if to ask where his culpability lay.

Vanryth opted to do some janitorial duty. After Lynly had inspected the body for keys, and both she and Soren had freed the prisoners, he lifted the corpse up and began to drag it toward the trapdoor. No use in cluttering up the space with the dead, and if they needed to hide, a body laying in the middle of the floor was the most conspicious thing he could think of. With little ceremony he kicked up the door, and threw the body into the hole, watching as it crashing into a couple of rungs before the ground stopped i's descent. Vanryth shook his head at the sight, but otherwise seemed to not care about the whole ordeal. They had more pressing matters to attend to. He felt glad that he could finally be of some use, instead of silently waiting at the Shade's side. He hated the man, and every word that came out of his mouth only intensified that hatred, but he kept himself together. He had to, for the sake of the others, and for the sake of the Mentor. And now with evidence of the Feral on the loose, there was no time for rift between their rag-tag little team.

"It's your head when they get caught and half a hundred guards storm in here," the Shade said off handedly towards Lynly as the Stormcloak prisoners escaped. He was certainly capable of disappearing if he needed to, although he had no illusions as to how difficult it would be to be free of this place entirely if everything came down on top of them. "They're lucky indeed. I'd have cut out their tongues and put them back in their cells, or just killed them. Simpler that way."

He had just been beginning the process of examining their surroundings for a good way to ambush his prey when a telltale click informed him that the door was opening above them. A small flight of stairs down was now the only thing that separated them from a legion of Altmer soldiers. He hissed at the others to hide, before a wave of his hand and the briefest flash of light accompanied him turning entirely invisible. Soren sank into a shadowed corner, another arrow at his string already, but this probably wasn't their man quite yet, not unless the others worked awfully quickly. Meanwhile, Lynly darted forward, sliding into the recess between the stairway and the floor, shield at the ready. She didn't dare try to draw her sword lest the sound give away her position. Luckily she was just as proficient with her shield as her sword. Vanryth opted to hideway in the cell that was just opened by Soren, itching to call forth a lightning spell if things went sour.

The sound of soft footfalls descending the stairs filled the silence, which Sinder found too complete. It was obvious from the very muted breathing he could hear that conscious concealment was happening, and the scents were all familiar. "It's me," he called into the relative gloom, and his eyes weren't quite as good as his ears or his nose, so that was still relatively difficult. "And Anirne." He finished the descent, withdrawing the key from his pocket at last and using it to free his sister's wrists. Anirne sighed, bringing her left hand up to rub slightly at her right one, the soft glow of magic illuminating her face from below. That cuff was rusted, as things turned out, and it had been bothering her since they put it on, slowly wearing the skin raw. But it was much better now, and she glanced around, seeking a familar face, perhaps.

"What news? The others are still with Talmoro." His expression darkened. "The courtyard smells like death and dog." That was about all he had to relay, though-- he knew not how the rest fared now, in the viper's nest as they were.

At the sound of the familiar voice Van stepped out of the cell he was in, looking extremely relieved. He gave both of the Altmer a thumbs up, telling them that things went along decently enough. Though the mention of scents of death and dog caused his brows to furrow. He then took the time to spell out the word 'Troll' and pointed at the hatch, and made the same motion Soren did for death earlier. If the pair didn't understand, he'd figure one of his companions would elaborate for him. Still, it was good to see that Sinder and Anirne faired well. He patted his friend on the shoulder, a gesture that meant he was glad to see him. Lynly took her time to emerge from under the steps as it came to light that they were theirs. She stepped past the golden knife-ears and stood a distance in front of them, arms crossed. "The troll is dead, and not by our hands. I do not believe we are the only one prowling these grounds..." the let the implication hang in the air.

"The Feral killed the frost troll, that much was clear," the Shade, appearing out of thin air to state the obvious. He sheathed his dagger upon seeing allies appear rather than enemies. "Ja'karo could have attacked us if he wished, we were a smaller group in the open. I am left to assume the wolf seeks our dear huntress instead. He may... complicate things. Perhaps the matter must be forced. If the Feral were to strike before we do, the entire compound will be up in arms before we get into a bow's range of Talmoro. We need him down here, and soon."

Sinder's jaw clenched uncomfortably tightly, and he had to double down on himself again to prevent the idiotic dash up the stairs and into the courtyard. He could catch the scent, follow it, hunt down the wolf-cat that threatened the pack. It was nearly unbearable to sit here in relative security when three of his friends were still so clearly exposed to danger from not one, but two obvious sources, neither the kind of thing one should ever trifle with. On one count, he knew personally, and as for the other... he was sure Anirne could infrom him if he really wished to know.




This was the delicate part. Adrienne knew what the endgame was, but the important bit was getting there and sounding reasonable about it, in a way that would produce results today while aiming (or appearing to aim), distinctly for the future. She'd given this matter some thought, and as a result, her phrasing was delicate as she could make it while still cutting to the chase, so to speak. "We are a small organization, my Lord, and while this is itself a disadvantage, it is not one that cannot be overcome. We forsee growth in our future, after all, but in order to be successful, there are certain... gaps in our knowledge that need be filled. As you have witnessed in some measure, we are not without the subtlety required to accomplish certain tasks, but we do lack a certain... resourcefulness in the obtaining of more delicate information." Here, she paused, allowing her implications to sink in. If this worked properly, they'd have him hook, line and sinker, convinced that they wanted an alliance not only with the Thamor, but with him, and that would leave them, proven effective as they were, manipulable by him, an excellent opportunity for his own advancement.

"One thing we do not lack is information, Lord Talmoro, and when it comes to the artful methods required to obtain testimony from... witnesses, let's say, the learned wisdom is that you are without peer. When we came upon the opportunity to present suitable tribute to the Thalmor with whom our goals align, then, the choice was an obvious one. I hope you'll not think us too forward for making such an observation, but I'm a practical woman, and I've always found that I like the best considerably more than the simply passable. I'm sure you understand."

The Inquisitor looked most intrigued, leaning on one of the armrests of his chair, fingers idly stroking his beard. He smiled wickedly when she was finished. "I do believe I'm starting to like you," he said, thinking it over. "Yes, I think I can help you with this. Perhaps a demonstration is in order? You have, after all, brought me a specimen I have very much been desiring to--"

Sadly, that was as far as he would get. The door to his private quarters burst open, a pair of Thalmor soldiers rushing in, hands still wet with blood. "My Lord!" the first of them blurted, bowing quickly. "There's been a disturbance. We found one of the patrolling guards dead. Something cut clean through his armor!" They were huffing for breath, clearly frightened out of their minds.

Drayk was confused. The Shade had killed one of them, he had to assume, since Sinder was wearing the elf's armor, but they hadn't found that guard. So someone else had died? For a moment he worried for Sinder, but then realized that if they had found him dead, they would have been reporting the battle occurring around him, as his sister would never have abandoned him, nor any of the others. No, something else was afoot here.

Talmoro was none too pleased by the announcement, and unfortunately for the Burning Circle, he directed his anger straight at them. "What is this? You... thought to slip in here and sabotage the work I have done? Was this the Psijic's plan all along?" Apparently he didn't really care, as turned to his guards. "Seize them! They wished for a demonstration, after all." A ring of metal accompanied swords coming loose, and one in the back readied a bow.

Drayk didn't know what happened, but he reacted. The ringing of steel brought fire to his hand, and he was on his feet. The words seize them rang in his mind like a bell in utter silence, and suddenly there was no plan, there was no following Adrienne's lead, there was no subtlety, there was only fight or flight, and he had run all his life. They could end this here. Talmoro was powerful, but so was Drayk. He knew he was. His arm drew back, and he hurled a fireball into the group of elves.

It sent two flying, a third staggering back, trying futilely to push the flames off of him. The one in the back, the archer, had drawn an arrow and taken aim. Maya groaned. So close. There was nothing left to do now but fight it out, wasn't there? She hoped the others could reach them in time, as they certainly couldn't handle Talmoro on their own. Well, in her opinion. She conjured a glowing purple bow into her hands in an instant, drawing the string back and conjuring an arrow in place, loosing before the archer could get off his shot. The daedric arrow struck him in the throat, and he stumbled about, clutching at it.

In a flash of understanding, Talmoro looked at Maya, and saw her. What went into his eyes then was a mix of confusion, amusement, and pure aggression. "Blackfeather." Was all he hissed, and then he did what she really hadn't been expecting: his arm cocked back and threw a thunderbolt directly into her chest, sending her flying back away from the desk and sliding across the floor, smoking and motionless when she came to a stop.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: Anirne Direnni Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson Character Portrait: The Representatives

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Even from within the interrogation chambers they could hear quite clearly that the entire compound has just entered a state of chaos. Boots that were previously resting upon the edges of tables or idly bobbing off the edge of a bed were now stomping in the direction of the courtyard, clear ringing echoing in the night as elven steel was drawn and readied, shouts from the war wizards directing their troops into organization. The Shade' upper lip curled into a disgusted sneer, and he cursed.

"The damn dog's gone and ruined their cover, no doubt. We need to move, before they're organized." He was already on his way up the stairs, ebony dagger gleaming maliciously in one hand, a glowing red spell lit in the other. "The Inquisitor is the priority. We sow chaos among his troops, and then we cut through to him. Perhaps your friends will still be alive by the time we reach them." He didn't wait around for their reaction, or even to see if they were going to follow his orders. No doubt they would, though. Sinderion would not leave his friends to die, nor would Vanryth, and the Psijic apparently would follow her brother into any danger. The archer and the warrior woman strangely seemed to seek it out, something Tarquin had no qualms with.

He pulled the door to the barracks open and stepped on through. The second of the door guards was just beginning to leave his post, but he was cut short when the Shade grabbed the top of his helmet and pulled back, exposing his throat for the dagger to slice open. A second saw this done, raising steel and charging him, but the Shade was gone when he swung, appearing a moment later to stab into his belly, and then up under the chin, dropping him. Through the window, he could see a number of Thalmor troops watching the second story of the embassy building, which was currently flaming out of a window, no doubt the work of their level-headed fire mage, while more led by a few war wizards were heading inside to neutralize the threat. The sound of screams from the guests could be heard on the far side of the compound as they fled the building. If there was one thing to be thankful for, it was that a majority of the soldiers had their backs turned to the barracks, and an opportunity to carve through them was available.

Lynly hesistated for a moment, looking up at the door above her and wondering just what was happening beyond it. If the Feral was truly involved, then Maya, along with the other Sellswords, would be in danger. Not only from some otherworldly mix of cat and dog, but from the Inquistor as well. She sighed, and not from the lack of adventure. She looked over to Soren and shrugged, freeing her blade from it's sheath. Maybe this time it'll see some use. "Cursed," She repeated before taking to the stairs. Her pace was slower than the others, and notedly slower than Vanryth's who had pushed past the Nord warrior and followed the Shade out. He crossed the door just in time to witness the Shade rip his blade from the Altmer's chin.

He paused for a second so that he wouldn't be sprayed by blood before he approached the window beside the Shade. His eyes were immediately drawn to the fire in the second story building. The first name in his mind was Drayk, followed by a number of curses not worth repeating. Without wasting any precious moments, Van pushed himself away from the windowsill and drew his orcish sword while igniting a lightning spell into his hands. He was tired of the cloak and dagger anyway. As she passed the window, Lynly offered a look outside, and Drayk was the first person in her mind too, though for different reasons. "Damn firebomb..." She muttered as she followed the mute knife-ear.

"Heh," Soren half-chuckled, drawing an arrow from his quiver. "You're not fooling me, lovely. You'd not have it any other way." He flowed up the stairs behind the rest, not really inclined to make a prominent target of himself until he knew what he was up against, but he needn't have bothered. Most of the guards were facing towards the embassy building itself, probably warranted considering the jet of flames issuing from the second floor. Someone's unhappy, the mercenary thought dispassionately, but he refocused his attention on the ground in short order. It was, for the moment, so easy it was almost painful. "Like fish in a damn barrel," He muttered, drawing the string back to his cheekbone. The elf-made bow, rather similar to what a few of the Thalmor were carrying, loosed the arrow when his fingers slackened, the string humming faintly for a few seconds after its departure. Though he'd hardly wasted time lining up the shot, it still thudded reliably slightly left-of-center in on guard's back, where his heart would be.

There was a joke in there about the likelihood of any of them having hearts, actually, but it was a little tired for his tastes, and not raunchy enough to tell anyway.

Sinder was barely able to ascend the staircase without bowling over the Shade and anyone else in his way, drawing the sword that had come with his armor with a rasp of sound. The weight was off, but he could hardly be bothered to notice. As soon as he was clear of the stairs and the others, though, he was off much like Soren's arrow: swift, silent, and pointedly aiming for a certain spot, in this case the door into the Embassy. As he was dressed identially to the majority of the Thalmor here, he wasn't anticipating too much resistance, and frankly he had a feeling the group down here was more prepared than the one up there. He assumed the Shade wouldn't care, since Talmoro was supposed to be the target anyway, but frankly, the Altmer couldn't have cared less about Tarquin's opinion right now if he'd tried.

Long, loping strides carried him forward, the smell of burnt wood and blood flooding just about anything else, the sound of his own heart thundering in his ears nearly all he could hear. It was close, so close, but he couldn't tip over that edge just yet.

It was... not the best moment to be without her staff, perhaps, but Psijics were mages first, anything else second. Granted, killing was not her favorite pasttime, but she was mature enough to admit to herself that the fact that these were Thalmor was making it considerably easier to stomach. She'd never liked the organization, as monks tended to disaprove of the concept of mass subjugation and also being called infidels and heretics, that sort of thing. Tossing her braid over her shoulder, Anirne set about clearing as much of a path for her little brother as she could, knowing that time was of the essence. To both hands, she called power of storms, cloaking herself in crackling lightning and then letting another version of the same leap to her palms.

The bolt struck with almost as much accuracy as one of the sniper's arrows, but it didn't quite need to, as the jolt to the system of the warmage that it hit from behind was enough to slay him, stopping his heart. Bringing both hands in front of her, Anirne advanced, a constant stream of electricity arcing from all four fingertips towards a gathered cluster of soldiers. If that didn't get her some attention, she didn't know what would.

The pawns had taken the lead, as he'd wished, and Tarquin was somewhat pleased to remember that they had an elf on their side in Thalmor elven armor. Perhaps he'd be able to reach the others quick enough to do some good. Then again, perhaps he'd simply get himself killed and put yet more work on the Shade's back. Either way, this had quickly become a rather irksome situation, one that required careful but powerful uses of force. The first step being the chaos he had previously mentioned.

The Shade stepped out into the moonlight, his dagger temporarily sheathed so as to better cast the spell, a glowing red orb of light hovering in between his hands. The others had drawn more attention, as was their purpose, and so the Shade was free to cast his spell as he saw fit. He aimed for the tightest cluster of Thalmor soldiers that he could identify, loosing the magic, sending it flying hungry and furious towards them. The frenzy spell exploded on one of the elves, the effects spreading outward like wildfire, and within moments they were turning on each other, possessed of an incomprehensible rage. The war wizard tried to shout them back into order, to no avail. There was little any of them could do but defend themselves, and thus the courtyard turned into a bloodbath, Thalmor killing Thalmor, and the Shade and his pawns killing them all.

He'd just been about to cast invisibility over himself when he caught a glimpse of the beast, eyes gleaming like a dark blue ice on the rooftop of the embassy, black fur bristled and blowing in the breeze that had picked up. Claws were dug into the roof, powerful legs coiled for a leap. Ja'karo, the Feral, was at least ten feet large at his full height, and he very quickly put that on display, legs pushing with incredible force away from the roof, sending him soaring down into the courtyard. And here the Shade had thought Ja'karo had come for Maya.

He landed lightly on the group not five feet from Tarquin and took another bound in one smooth motion, barreling into the Shade's chest, jaws snapping and claws closing around the Imperial's shoulders, the pair of them hurtling backwards to crash through a window of the barracks, rolling through tables and chair, a ball of murderous fur and flesh. They tumbled back through the beds and out of sight.

Insane as the sentiment might have been, Soren was half-tempted to stick his head through the broken window and see what happened. Instead, he shot a glance at Lynly, who, though occupied, was certainly close enough to hear, especially considering the few seconds of silence that had followed the most unusual intrusion. It was surprising enough to strike the Thalmor in the immediate proximity dumb, but it took a lot more than this to shut him up. "Somebody fed kitty-cat a little too much, methinks." he observed dryly, though he actually was wondering just how one went about becoming a ten-foot-tall man-beast. It definitely wasn't the skooma. Whatever it was, he rather wished to avoid it. Lynly groaned and shook her head, "Really? Is now the best time?"

Their foes were starting to regain their senses, however, and a quick succession of three arrows later, things were back to normal, though he did keep glancing back at the window. If a shot presented itself, he'd take it, but other than that, he surmised that it was probably best to let Tarquin handle himself.

Somewhere in the heart of the free-fall-all against everyone, Van was ankle deep in the blood of his foes. His mind was only focused on the next enemies and his next kill, thanks to the Shade and his wanton disregard for friendly fire. That meant that Van was running off of both his natural anger, and the magical effects of frenzy. After the frenzy spell hit, Vanryth dropped all semblence of a magical offense and drew the second, imperial longsword on his back and threw himself into the fray with a sounding wordless warcry. No longer was he fighting for his friends, he was fighting to sate his anger. The Orcish blade caught the first Thalmor in his exposed side, as he fought his ally. Then he brought his other sword from the opposite side, lopping the elf's head off with little effort. Without minding the blood that was stained him, the fallen elf's opponent then became his own.

He took a step forward to close the distance, planting a foot on the back of the headless elf as he beat the elfish longsword away with a savage parry, cutting across with his other blade. This elf had enough sense to dodge the slash by leaning back and followed it up with a gout of frost. Heat or cold, it didn't matter, Vanryth felt nothing in his state. He surged through the frost and cut the offending limb off. The Thalmor wouldn't have time to lament the missing limb though, as Van lodged the imperial sword into his throat, silencing whatever yell he was shouting in his throat. The victorious Van almost didn't feel the dagger enter in his back, but the force told his feral mind something was right. He spun on his heel, digging it in deeper into the body of the first elf, and brought both swords across. A flimsy dagger had no chance against the ferocity of two blades. Both pushed past the Thalmor's defense and lodged themselves inside the Atlmer's frame, stopping only because of his spine.

Van ripped free his weapons and went to his next opponent, not realizing that he had been struck.

Anirne had noticed much, though unlike Soren, she hadn't quite been able to find the words for most of it. A roundhouse kick snapped the neck of her most recent assailant, leaving her free to survey the battlefield. Adrienne's enchantment was quite good, and it kept her magicka restoring at a decent clip (plus the augments that her robes already carried), fast enough that the low-level lightning she'd been using for most of the engagement thus far was almost nothing. That said, she had a feeling she'd need to save it, and she wasn't far wrong. Van might not have noticed the dagger slip between his ribs, but she did, and Anirne frowned, aware that she was needed in more than one place. But first things first: she concentrated, bringing years of training and mental discipline to bear in what was actually a relatively simple task. The healing spell worked quickly, forcing the blade from the Dunmer's back and healing the wound it left behind, flesh closing seamlessly and without scar. There was a certain merit to battle-scars, perhaps, but not one earned from a sneaky Thalmor when you had your back turned.

That done, she turned, running back behind the lines created by Lynly and Soren respectively, to the broken window, presumably wherin lay Tarquin. She disapproved quite fiercely of what he did to the Sellswords, but that did not mean she would leave him to die, and a person like this Ja'karo would not likely leave anyone unscathed, not even the Shade.

It was hard to tell what was going on inside, and as such, she lacked the resources to properly diagnose and spot-heal any wounds he might have, so instead she simply flooded his system with her benevolent magicka, laying a broad-spectrum curative spell upon him. It would drain her, but not quickly, and she had several magicka potions stored in the loose sleeves of her robes. They were more useful than health draughts, to one such as herself.

Lynly found herself faring better than the berserking dunmer, as she was well out of range of the Shade's frenzy spell. It did make things difficult for her when she had to fight the wild knife-ears of course, but savagery brought about sloppiness. She just had to mind their swords and she'd live the day-- Maybe. There was still the matter of Inquisitor and the Feral, but she'll deal with those if she comes across that bridge. The first contest was against the Thalmor gaurd who's golden eyes were flashing red. He was predictable as she imagined he would be, coming in with a swipe from his sword. It was child's play for her to knock it away with her shield. What she didn't account for was the ferocity of the blow, and it twisted her wrist a little bit. Something to keep in mind if the fights dragged on for too long.

Not wishing to be caught trapped by a flurry of savage blows, Lynly took the opportunity to advance, bashing him once with her shield and then thrusting forward with her sword, skewering the knife-ear. She planted a boot on his chest and pulled it free, collapsing the Thalmor into a pile on the ground. The action managed to slip her Talos amulet free so that it dangled freely in the open. She quickly dropped back, letting her foes come to her, and not the other way around. And so they did. A group of three including a war wizard, who somewhere deep in the subconscious psyche decided that they hated a Talos worshipping Nord more than themselves. One on one, their savagery was to her advantage... Three on one, not so much. She was not looking forward to this.

He was losing arrows at an alarming rate. Just how many Thalmor did this place contain, anyway? Soren sighed, mostly to himself, and decided to abandon the shooting for now, at least until he could procure some more arrows from a corpse. Of course, there was the matter of the half-dozen black ones still firmly tucked in his quiver, but he wasn't using those. Not even for this. Not even to save his own skin. Instead, he slung his bow upon his back and drew the sword at his hip, the Imperial steel glinting in the light of the sun. It didn't stay that way for long, as a quick thrust drove it home into the belly of a Thalmor who'd thought to out-sneak the thief, and that would have been laughable if it wasn't so pathetic.

A spell sparked to life in his hand, causing him to waver and disappear, and he was off then, murdering his way through the distance that had grown between himself and the closest ally-- which excluding Tarquin and the psijic who'd quite readily taken over the role of "Tarquin's probably superfluous assistant," happened to be Lynly. Who was presently staring down three enraged Thalmor, including a warmage. Oh, what fun!

Disguising the noise his feet made was hardly necessary, and so he didn't waste the time sneaing or even throwing a muffle into his current magical repertiore. Instead, he circled round the group at a swift strafe, approaching the wizard from behind and enclosing the unfortunate's forehead in his left arm, holding him still while he made good on an old suggestion and drew the blade across the fellow's throat, flaying it open neatly. Of course, to the already-less-intelligent-than-usual guards, it looked like he'd simply been cut by nothing, save perhaps the stare of the woman before them. The one on the left's eyes bugged, something breaking through the haze of his rage. "Witch! Talos-worshipping witch! Kill her!" The other one nodded hastily, and Soren chuckled to himself. He'd never been attibuted to heathen witchcraft before.

Unseen, he advanced until he was shoring up a position at Lynly's back. "Ever had an imaginary friend, lovely? It's like that, only I kill people for you."

"A witch?" She asked, disregarding Soren's comment. She had never been called a witch before, and the only thought that sprung to her mind was Maya. A wayward glance to the tower took her eyes off of the fight for a moment, long enough for the first of the Thalmor to attack, blades to bear. It was trained discipline that brought her shield edge up in time to intercept the blade. There was a moment where Lynly pushed up against the blade, and the Thalmor pushed down each trying to when a battle of strength. It wasn't to last long, however, for the opportunistic assassin slid in and impaled the altmer contender from behind, a nasty twist of the blade earning him a labored shout, then silence and slackening as the body went still.




Damn it to Oblivion! She'd had him, right there, wrapped around her little finger, and then what? Some plebian had to go and interrupt, because clearly an idiot had killed a guard without bothering to so much as hide the body properly! She was halfway thought through her next sentence, which was probably going to be equal parts false offense and very real confusion and outrage, when everything rolled right off the cliff it had been sailing towards and hit the ground with an emphatic splat.

He recognized Maya. And he attacked her, which obviously meant that she was his target. Which also meant that even if they did kill him, she'd be next on the Shade's list, too. Well. May the crows feast on your entrails, too, Fate.. This was too many things to deal with at once. First priority... well, that was caught somewhere between "don't die" and "don't let friends die," but they required the same things anyway, so it would do for now. Adrienne dropped low to the ground to try and avoid becoming collateral damage in the maelstorm of fire and lightning that was being hurled around, but she was willing to bet that the Inquisitor wouldn't miss if he were really aiming for her. From the sheath secreted on the inside of her calf, she pulled a knife, a far cry from the sword she usually bore but more than she would have had otherwise.

...Not that it was going to be much help here. It was pretty clear that their best option was to run away, but that wasn't happening with Maya prone on the floor. Adrienne was pretty certain she had two choices: try and get to the woman and force her to swallow a potion of some kind, using Drayk as a very bright distraction, or... try to bring him down from whatever fire-fuelled state he was in and get him to heal while she played bait to a far superior mage and tried not to die. Oh, excellent. So both of her plans were suicidal. That was always a good sign.

Trying to stave off the symptoms of what was probably a combination conniption fit and incoming panic attack, she ducked as low as she could, scrambling behind furniture where she could and sort-of hoping that Drayk could keep Talmoro busy long enough for her to do... something to assist the witch. She could only pray to whatever gods had not yet forsaken them that help got to them, and quickly.

The four nearest guards were dealt with, and they had a small window of opportunity before legions more arrived to defend their master. In the time that Talmoro had spent sending Maya across the room, Drayk had summoned up as much fire as he could muster in both hands, free of the typical restrictions he placed on his output potential. Like the dragon exhaling the inferno that had reawakend his own fire he unleashed his energy at Talmoro, enveloping the Inquisitor in walls of flame that wrapped entirely around him, to the point where no part of his body was visible any longer, his desk in front of him and the bookshelf behind him long since having gone up in flames.

He pushed closer, expending magicka at a dangerous rate, the fire spreading around them. There was seemingly no movement from within the inferno he'd created, at least not until the center of his destruction was smothered like a waterfall on a campfire. Everything was instantly cold as a swirling blizzard tore through the flames and reduced them to nothing, shards of razor sharp ice slicing through the air. The spell passed right through him, and at least a dozen stabs of pain accompanied the little blades slicing through him. Drayk staggered backward as the Inquisitor emerged from behind his ward, another ice spell prepared. Drayk's ward went up just in time to shatter into pieces the bolt of ice that slammed against it, but the force blew his concentration to pieces. The second ice bolt came right through, slamming into his gut, and it was Talmoro's turn to advance, closing to melee range, a flash of otherwordly light accompanying the daedric sword that appeared in his hands, and with a swift diaognally upwards slice he cut across Drayk's chest, sending him spinning to the ground on his side.

Spending no more time than was necessary on the fire mage, the Inquisitor turned to find the witch, who was coming to, shaking her head and trying to push onto her hands and knees.

Trying to ignore the obvious chill in the air (a sure sign that things were not going well for Drayk), Adrienne crawled with all the speed she could muster to Maya's side, yanking a potion from yet another artcile of storage hidden by her voluminous skirts. She hadn't been able to bring her entire bandoleer, though, and she was low on supply as a result. Still, she had a few, all of them incredibly potent, and even as the witch was just starting to open her eyes, Adrienne was holding the glass rim of one such concotion's container to her lips. "Drink, quickly," she implored in a hissed whisper. "We have to run; there's no way we'll survive if we don't." She tipped the contents of the vial back as quickly as she dared, and was just about to stand when a dread silence fell over the room, a sure sign that either Drayk or the Inquisitor had fallen.

Whatever her fickle heart wished to believe, her intellect knew exactly which one it was, and something sank like a lead weight into her stomach. Oh gods. She should have helped him. Maya would have woken on her own, with enough time. She should have helped him! Aborting her effort to stand, exactly, Adrienne placed distance between herself and Maya, trying at least to create two separate targets, if nothing else. Where, oh where were the others?

Drink was something Maya understood, and she obeyed, lights and sounds and smell of burning returning to her in a rush. She looked around in time to see the situation: Drayk was down, impaled by ice and bleeding from his chest, probably dead. Adrienne was moving away from her, trying to buy time or something. There was no time, not with him here, not in this empty space, not with his power. They couldn't wait. The witch cast aside the glass and pushed up quickly, sprinting to the side and towards Adrienne, but more importantly, the window behind her.

The Inquisitor was kind enough to cast a brutal chain lightning spell, which forked into Maya's side and no doubt struck Adrienne after that, but her momentum couldn't be stopped. She spread her arms and lowered her shoulder, tackling the other Breton woman and taking her with her right out the window, the pair falling among shattered glass and drifting snow, down a full story until they landed harshly in the shallow snow. Her field of vision was swaying slightly before her, but Maya forced herself to stand, and get her bearings. Where were they? She could hear fighting, a great amount of it, coming from her... right.

"We have to go, into the fight," she insisted to Adrienne. "Nothing we can do for him now," she added, referring to Drayk. It was true. Staying there would have ended in both their deaths. Staying here apparently would, too, as Maya spied Talmoro in the window they'd fallen out of, preparing a fiery explosion in both hands. "Run!"

It must have been something in her subconscious, some basic human instinct to live, that moved her limbs, because Adrienne herself wasn't really feeling up to it. All she knew was pain, and it was unlike anything she'd ever had the misfortune to experience. The chain lightning was awful, her muscles still tense and spasming after the impact of it, her entire body rattled like a bone-dry old tree in a tempest. She felt that she'd crack and splinter to pieces any moment. Her mind was moving sluggishly, bereft of its usual sharp acuteness, as though she were watching her own life, and quite possibly the last moments of it, unfold through some soup-thick fog, settled low over the ground and weighing heavy in her belabored lungs.

That was nothing, though, nothing at all compared to the lead she could almost feel on her shoulders, the result of a tremendous amount of guilt and misery. Her first instinct, was, honestly, to pull her knees to her chest in the snow, curl up on her side, and weep until she was numb or dead. But someone was speaking insistently in her ear, and her heart still thudded away in her chest, her lungs still pulled the breath of life into her body, and some annoying part of her that refused to be silenced knew she should be paying attention, because viscerally, instinctively if not presently cerebrally, she wanted to live. So, much as it cost her, the young woman pulled herself to her feet and ran, the heat of the fire searing the skin left exposed by her garments as the spell exploded behind them, though not quite close enough to burn.




From within the barracks, sounds of a savage struggle floated into the cacophony that was the rest of the battle. Claw swipes, growls, a lower rumbling growl, and then what was akin to an explosion of flesh, as if the walls had been spattered with blood and entrails. There was a single whimper, and then the Feral came flying out of the same window he'd barreled through, bouncing once across the snow before his back slammed into the statue in the center of the courtyard. Ja'karo rose quickly, his bloodlust tempting him into placing both claws on the nearest Thalmor and biting into the neck, severing the elf's head in a single bite, reveling in the blood and flesh before turning to search for his target once more.

The Shade presented himself, though not in any recognizeable state. Taloned feet hovered perhaps a foot off the ground as his floated through the window and out into the courtyard, his previously pale skin now a blue-gray. His dark clothes had been mostly torn off above the chest, his form now intensely muscled and toned, hands ending in wicked claws. Wing bones had sprouted from his back and hung poised at each shoulder, sharp, fanged teeth bared as black voids of eyes glared down at the werewolf. The form of a vampire lord was magnificent and terrible all at once.

When the Feral lunged for him again, the Shade caught the beast in the grip of powerful vampiric magic, holding him struggling in mid-air for several moments before he cast him violently aside, the ten-foot werewolf sent flying over the outer wall and out of sight. He turned to look down upon the nearest of his pawns, which happened to be the Psijic. He gestured lightly with his hand towards where the Feral had passed from his sight, his voice deeper than it had been before, but still unmistakably his.

"Do not let that filth interrupt me again. I will be finishing this momentarily."

Anirne sighed, more than accustomed to dealing with attitudes like that, though admittedly they usually did not issue from vampires. The only one she knew was a rather mild-mannered fellow. Immediately cutting off her ill-advised attempt at healing, she nodded politely and trotted off to where the Feral had fallen. There was no mistaking that he was still quite possibly a fearsome foe, but that did not seem to deter her any.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: Anirne Direnni Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson Character Portrait: The Representatives

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Sinderion rounded the last corner, bounding up the remaining flight of stairs three at a time, and bursting into what he could only suppose had once been the Inquisitor's study. The place was in complete shambles, most of the furniture burned or blasted into splinters. The walls bore scorch marks and frost alike, some of the impact radii clearly belonging to more concentrated lightning blasts rather than the raw flame Drayk would have summoned. It was also completely still, any occupants either dead or gone. Wait... no. Not quite. He could still hear the sound of ragged breathing, and following it, Sinderion came upon the fire mage, prone on the ground and impaled with a massive ice shard, doubtless courtesy of Talmoro. Despite knowing that, being so easily-able to guess the cause, it was still a shock to see his friend like that, and Sinder's eyes opened wide, his stride hitching badly enough that the normally-graceful Altmer nearly tripped in his haste to reach the youth, hands moving automatically to check his pulse, as if for confirmation.

It was there. Weak, certainly, but present. If Sinder had his guess, the ice had probably slowed the bleeding by blocking the wound, but it would melt, if he'd even last that long. For a few moments, the elf hovered indecisively, unsure how to best handle the situation. It was clear that he needed to get Drayk to Anirne, as quickly as possible, but moving him in this condition was not a good idea. His breath left him in a frustrated huff, but he knew that he had to do. He just wasn't sure he could do it. Shifting his weight in his crouch, Sinderion gripped the ice bolt and ripped it cleanly from the wound, activating the simplest healing spell there was in an attempt to slow the continual bleed enough to at least stabilize the mage. Gradually, a bit of strength returned to the heartbeat, but he knew it wouldn't last long. There was no other choice: they had to move, now.

With a bit of effort, the Altmer managed to get the Imperial situated somewhat securely on his back, probably the most stable position he could occupy for what was certain to be a bumpy few minutes. "Drayk, if you can hear me, hold on." He wasn't sure of whether it would make any difference, but it bore saying anyway. With a steadying breath, Sinder ran for the window, following unknowingly the selfsame path forged by Maya and Adrienne a few minutes prior. There was a moment of vertigo as the solidity dropeed out from underneath him when his feet left the windowsill, and then he was dropping. His feet hit the ground hard, borne down by the extra weight of another person, but his knees absorbed the impact in a maneuver so practiced it was second nature by now.

He skirted the edge of the battlefield, catching Anirne's scent also moving away. Why that was, he couldn't say, but he hoped she wasn't hurt.

Maya had known from the get-go that her only shot at survival was to get the Inquisitor to the battle, and thus the Shade. Of course, that also got her to the Shade, and she'd long since connected the dots. She had no idea how the next few minutes were going to go, but there was no time to think on that. For the moment, it was certain death now, or almost certain death later. She'd buy herself a few more minutes of life.

She vaulted a low stone wall into the courtyard just as a forked thunderbolt exploded it under her. The witch went rolling into a small storm of snow and rock, roll over once, and then went back to her feet, raising the nearest corpse she saw and booking it, raven hair whipping behind her. It wasn't as though there were no corpses to choose from. She caught sight of the others, fighting the steadily dwindling elves, but she'd lost track of Adrienne. If the Breton was smart, she'd split from Maya, as the lightning bolts were aimed at the witch, not the Sellsword. And there was the Shade, in the form of a vampire lord. She'd been wondering when he was going to pull out that little trick. It certainly didn't make her feel any better about her chances.

"Inquisitor behind me!" she shouted out to anyone who cared, coming to a stop towards the rear of the group, trying to stay low, simply hoping she might have escaped the Inquisitor's sight. The Shade smiled wickedly upon seeing the witch, honestly rather impressed that she actually managed to drag Talmoro out here. The wizard himself was just appearing in the courtyard, looking on at the scene in no small amount of horror, watching his men fall around him, the floating Shade waiting in the back. The vampire began raising his own corpses, one, two, three, four, the dead of the elves joined his side and marched on their former comrades. Talmoro called out to his remaining soldiers. "To me! Into the embassy, fall back!"

And the Feral, ever persistent, bounded back over the wall with a growl, to find the Psijic in his way. He crouched low in a predatory stance and lunged forward, attempting to simply swipe her aside with a powerful and deadly claw, in order to move on to his true prey.

The nimble monk ducked and twisted out of the way of the blow, but she had nothing on strength of this magnitude, and so it was into the Feral's back that she fired the lightning bolt, still covered in her cloak of the same, for all the good it would do her. She rather wished she had some kind of weapon in her hands, as there was nothing her bare flesh could so that would even leave a mark on Ja'karo, she was sure, and her robes would be precious little protection against such a set of claws. It was entirely possible that he'd ignore her and keep going, but if so, she'd have little choice but to chase him down.

Soren’s outline shimmered, and he appeared in full view gradually, as the invisibility spell wore off. This managed to give the final Thalmor soldier pause for all of a second, before he thrust his sword at the new foe, too far gone to the battle-lust to remember the old one on his other side. While the assassin usually preferred to let other people be the distraction that he then utilized, he supposed turnabout was fair play, and Lynly had so kindly handed him the last one on the battlefield equivalent of a silver platter, sometimes also called a shield. Returning the favor seemed agreeable, at the very least.

Bringing his sword up with both hands, Soren blocked the incoming swing, using the locked blades to kick out with his right foot, catching the elf in the kneecaps, and he staggered to recover his balance. Raising a brow, the mercenary clocked him on the back of the head hard enough with the pommel of his sword to dizzy him, then kicked him again, sending him sprawling to the ground at the warrior-woman’s feet. “Oh, it appears I’ve dropped something. Mind taking care of that one, lovely?” The elf was currently trying to struggle to his feet, taking a potshot swipe at Lynly’s legs. The last ditch effort was quickly stopped by plunging her blade into the ground to catch it before it lopped off her legs. Without retrieving her blade, she lifted her shield and drove the edge straight down into the throat of the elf. A single death gurgle was her answer as the elf choked on his own blood. With that out of the way, she retrieved her sword, and hefted her shield up back into it's defensive position. "Careful where you drop your trash, you almost got it on my boot," she said before nodding her thanks. Soren's brand of humor might have been getting to her... Realizing what she had just said, she furrowed her brows and looked back into the fray. Things were much more interesting there anyway.

Soren, however, caught it easily and laughed, quite satsified with the results of his constant forays into the exchange of barbed words with the woman. He was also rather thrilled to discover that he’d happened upon a near-full quiver of elvish arrows, a fact which made him very happy indeed. Tossing these into his own quiver, he sheathed his blade and drew his bow once again, quite happy to be doing what he did best once again.

The Thalmor with an arrow in his eye was probably less joyous, but there was just no pleasing everyone, really. Some people were simply impossible.

Adrienne straightened, kicking the body off the length of her stolen sword. Gone was any feature that belonged to Celene, or the ever-courteous young woman who managed to smile even at her bitter foes. Gone, too, was the taunting combatant, the one that teased orcs dangerously close to her own death. Belladonna the poisoner was vanished with the sweet junior member of the Sellswords. All of her porcelain and silk and stone had cracked and fallen away, and as she feared, what lay beneath was... nothing. Just hollow acceptance of the situation and mechanical movement of her body in time to the pulse-point of the battle. It felt almost like everything were moving through water, even she, the slow-motion shadowplay of life that at once amplified and diminished the goings-on to a very loud but mostly indecipherable hum somewhere in the back of her head, where her thoughts used to be.

An errant elvish axe caught her mostly unawares, slicing though the red satin of her gown and biting viciously into her arm. She paid it no mind, though, simply switching her blade to the other hand. Magic had fallen by the wayside, at least for the moment; it wasn't as though it had done her much good recently, anyway. She looked up (always up) at her assailant with lifeless eyes and sighed, darting in whip-quick under his guard and shoving the elvish sword up and into his throat. She should have been angrier, would have been angrier, but vengeful Adrienne had perished with the rest, and this was all that remained. It might have been some consolation that she was technically doing what that version of herself would ahve wanted to, if she'd even been in the frame of mind to consider it.

The fight was shifting vastly in their favor, Maya noted. The elves that the Shade had raised were falling to ash, having served their purpose, their uses as tools no longer worthwhile. The Sellswords and their allies were hacking their way to the Inquisitor, who seemed more concerned with firing spells at the Shade than stopping the encroaching attackers. Tarquin nimbly manuevered around them, however, waiting for the right moment to strike. The witch spotted Sinder emerge with Drayk on his back, skirting the battle. She stood up only enough for him to see her. The Inquisitor was more interested in staying alive than taking his mark at this point, anyway. "Sinder, here! Quick!"

The Altmer's sensitive hearing would have picked up on the shout even if he hadn't seen Maya, and he made a beeline for the witch, Drayk still not stirring behind him. He dropped into a smooth crouch beside her, lowering his friend carefully to the ground. "I've stabilized him, but there's no telling how long it will last. Do you have any draughts with you?" The mage's wound was already starting to ooze again, and with Anirne far enough away that he couldn't see her, he had to hope that Maya would have a solution. There was worry evident in both his tone and his body language, but it was also clear from the looks he was sending the fray that at least part of him desired to be in it, not on the sidelines, so to speak.

As of yet, he was unaware of the nature of Talmoro's target, else he might have been quick to stifle that instinct and remain precisely where he was.

The Feral growled and little else when the lightning bolt struck him in the back, sprinting on all fours past her and towards the Shade. Tarquin saw the beast coming entirely, of course. At the same moment, the Inquisitor launched another swirling mass of razor sharp ice out away from the battle, towards the vampire lord. Just as Ja'karo reached the Shade he seemingly exploded in wisps of dark smoke, which snaked through the ice and across the length of the courtyard, twisting through the air and into the embassy building itself, halting behind the Inquisitor, where Tarquin reformed and landed upon clawed feet.

The Feral was struck wholly by the Inquisitor's spell, vicious slices cut across dark fur. He surveyed the battlefield, the odds arrayed against him, the distance and the number of foes between him and the Shade. Ja'karo growled in anger, before pounding a clawed fist into the snow and letting loose a screeching howl that echoed into the night. Then, before any further attack against him could be made he scambled off and up over the wall, sprinting away into the night.

Maya watched the Feral go only long enough to know they weren't in danger. Not that he was allowed to kill or even attack her, but still, a ten foot werewolf was worth watching at least until it was out of sight. She looked down towards the fire mage. "No, I've none. Hey! Psijic! Help here!" It was the best she could do on short notice. Despite how much she knew the young mage meant to them, she had more important news to relay. "Sinder, listen, Talmoro attacked me, I was his target. The Shade will know once he kills him. I need to know... do I need to leave?" He would know what she meant by that. Very shortly, the Shade would likely be ordering them to slay her, if not attacking her himself. Sinder knew the others better than she did. If there was truly no hope of them standing by her, then she needed to start running. Now.

As predicted, the Feral ran right by her without so much as pausing, and Anirne took off after him, though this, too, was clearly without point, as the three men in the middle of the field were a battlefield unto themselves. Which was why she didn't feel all that frustrated diverting to heed Maya's terse request. Jogging over to where the young Glenmoril was behind some cover with her brother, she soon detected the reason for the distress: Drayk lay prone on the ground, looking quite worse for wear. It appeared that some rudimentary healing had already been worked upon him; Sinderion's, if she had her guess. It was clumsy, but it had worked in the interim, and she knelt, setting to work immediately and trusting the two of them to watch for any incoming enemies.

"What in the name of the ancestors...?" she murmured softly, though of course she expected none to answer. It was more an expression of sympathy than anything else, and her hands lit with the necessary light a second later, the psijic leaning over the boy to do what good she was able. Anirne was fairly confident she'd be able to save his life, but it wasn't going to be a short or simple matter. Though she tried not to listen, she did hear Maya's urgent question to Sinderion, and found herself somewhat curious as to just what he would say. Her own opinion was rather sure, but she did not enter this arrangement under the same conditions as they, and that was bound to have an impact.

The news had the impact of rendering Sinder speechless, though admittedly, this was not the hardest thing to do. Still, he had to take a moment to absorb what he was being told. Of all the gods-cursed luck... but then, he'd known something like this would happen eventually. It was just much sooner than he'd thought it would be. At first, he cursed the fact, but in thinking about it, it might not be as bad as all that. His own primary worry had always been that by the time Tarquin tried to turn them on Maya, they'd be too far gone to care. Now, though... he gave the question as much serious thought as he could, and finally, he shook his head. This was a turning point, for all of them, he could feel it, and the morning he'd spent in he shell of his former home had given him some much-needed perspective on it. "You have nothing to fear from me," he said firmly, glancing down briefly at where his sister labored to keep his friend from the precipice of death.

Had he known what this would put them through? Could he have known, and still claim to care at all for them? These were questions Sinder didn't have the answer to, but he found that in the end, the answers weren't the important thing. Not right now. But he knew not if they'd all see it so. "The others... I can't speak for them. I do not think they would harm you, but... it isn't us that present the real danger, Maya." He looked up at where the Shade was currently locked in conflict with the Inquisitor. "We're barely alive. We don't stand a chance against him, and I hope you'll forgive me, but neither do you." He didn't want to tell her to leave, but it might well be the safest thing she could do. And, he realized with a degree of chagrin that he chose to ignore, he did want that.

"Do what you think best. If you run, I'll do whatever I can to slow his progress. If you stay..." he shrugged. "The same, really."

This felt... wrong. She hadn't felt indecision in the forest that night, she'd known her plan then. Where had it gone? It fell apart as the Sellswords did. They were still here, in a sense, but of them, only Sinder was still capable. The others were spent, damaged, useless in a futile resistance against a man who might as well have been a god to her. Maybe she should have left, that night after she'd kissed Sinderion. At this point, it wasn't the character of the Sellswords she needed to question, but the character of the Shade. There was one thing she could still bank her hopes on, one small, tiny hope, placed in her by the looks shared between this god, and the god he always had and always would answer to, no matter what words he spouted about him. She'd seen different when they came to her, in those few days before she even met the Sellswords, before she followed a dragon on a wild chase through the cliffs of the Reach.

The bonds of a family were more powerful than any devotion to any Daedra, and family was not given up so easily. Not when you lived as long with a family as he had.

"I trust you," she said, staring into his eyes. "I need you to trust me. Stand in his way. He chose you and your friends to serve him for a reason. Put it to the test." It wasn't much and she knew it, but her hunches had served her well in the past. "If he attacks us all, well..." she leaned forward and kissed him for a long moment, before pulling away. "Then we'll all go down right here. I'd rather die here and now than alone in the woods in two weeks time. I'm not leaving." The last words were almost more for herself than him. They felt good to say.

To his credit, while Sinder hadn't been precisely expecting that, he was much less confused about it than the last time, and tentatively placed a hand on Maya's cheek when she drew back, nodding solemnly. "I will." It was a simple answer, but it served well enough for every implied question. He'd trust her, he'd stand with his family, blood and bonded, against a man who could probably kill them without breaking a sweat, all to test a hypothesis he didn't quite understand. Maybe it was because, in the end, he was done running, and done calling himself a coward and knowing it was true. Whatever the case, it would be done, for once with no reservations. That was, surprisingly, enough.

Anirne smiled to herself, though she continued to repair Drayk's wounds, quite content to pretend as though she hadn't seen anything at all.

Enough time had lapsed for the Frenzy spell to dispel, and most of Van's rage along with it. What was left was a tired husk of a man trying to get his bearings on what exactly in Oblivion's name was going on. What was left of the Thalmor was dropping back with whom he could only figure was the Inquisitor, a piercing howl off to his side somewhere was apparently the farewell of some wild pitch-black were-creature assumedly the Feral, and amidst all of that, a grotesque vampire monster hovered just feet above the ground. Whatever went on, it was readily apparent that it spelled poorly for the Sellswords. At first, he didn't know where to go. In the distance, he saw Lynly and Soren holding there own, and elsewhere Maya and Sinder was hovering over someone. He didn't see either Drayk or Anirne, and could only hope for their safety.

And to top it all off, he saw Adrienne stalking the battlefield all alone. While he had faith in the girl, he knew her martial skills put her at a disadvantage in a melee. Figuring that she would need his help over the rest, he began to trudge his way over to her. As he moved, he realized that his legs felt leadened and jolts of pain shot all across his body. Apparently, in his rage he had taken a number of hits, unbeknownst to him. While Adrienne's scarf managed to take the edge off of some of the pain, they still hurt like hell. Still, he didn't have time for pain, and he pushed past it, trying to make his way to Adrienne. He approached her from an angle, from behind and with his tongue there was no way he could call to her.

As he approached his eyes met a wet red spot growing ever larger on the sleeve of her robe. Now he was worried, and urged his legs to quicken his pace. Along the way, he had discarded both of his blades in attempt to drop weight and give him a bit more speed. He'd need it too, as out of the corner of his eye he saw a mage readying a spell intended for Adrienne. He didn't think, he didn't have time to. He threw himself behind Adrienne just as the spell was fired. His back was met with the entire wrath of a vicious Thunderbolt. The shock wracked his entire system, and he could think of nothing but the white hot searing pain in his back. The bolt had his limbs in their grasp and when the spell finally dissipated, it was all he could to keep from crumpling into a pile of flesh. Instead, he drooped forward across Adrienne's shoulder as smoke rose from his back.

In his last act of consciousness, he tossed a ice spike in the direction of the Thalmor hoping to save Adrienne.

Even through her foggy haze, Adrienne heard the telltale strike of a thunderbolt, its proximity to her alarming enough to temporarily shake away her apathy. Moments later, a weight draped over her shoulders, dragging her to the ground, and the faint scent of smoking fabric alterted her to the fact that whomever was behind her had taken the hit. For her. That significantly narrowed the options, and even as she was borne to her knees and Van's ice spike, unbeknownst to her, ripped through the mage's chest, she regained with startling clarity an awareness of what was going on around her that she'd lost. The flutter of red fabric in the corner of her vision made the sensations that much more real, and her eyes filled with the tears she'd been too numb to let fall before.

"Gods, Van," she muttered in broken syllables, and all at once, the pain she should have accumulated over the last ten minutes or so was back in a rush, and Adrienne lost all strength, tasting dirt as she buckled under his weight. He half-pinned her to the ground, but she was not quite so numb, now, and she squirmed, trying to work her way out from under her friend's limp form. With a great deal of struggle and fresh tears from the sheer pain of moving that much, she managed, at last working her fot free from underneath his abdomen. With shaking hands, she fumbled at her skirts, pulling them to her knees to rummage in the leather pouch affixed to a leg. "One more, just one more.." she muttered indistinctly, her mind fogging for a completely different reason this time.

With a small sigh where a triumphant cry should have been, Adrienne produced two vials. Ripping the cork out of one with her teeth, she knocked it back in one swallow. The other was for him, and if there was any justice left in the world, it would be enough. Slowly, painstakingly, she crawled to his side, unstoppering the cork in this one and holding his chin in the other hand. "Sorry for this," she slurred. "Tastes awful. No poison. Made sure." The thought of who she'd almost poisoned caused her vision to blur again, but the blinked furiously until she could sort of see, guiding the alchemic concoction down his throat as well as she could. When the vial was emptied, she slumped, falling backwards into the snow, but nothing so blissful as unconsciousness awaited her, just exhaustion without respite.

Vanryth laid still for a while, even with the potion snaking it's way through his system. His breathing was shallow and didn't seem to gain strength, up until the point a raking cough escaped his lungs. He felt horrible, like he was on death's door stop. There was only one other time he had felt like this in his entire life, and they had also made the mistake of leaving him for dead. He surprised then too. He tried to get up, but the fatigue and pain wouldn't allow him the luxory of movement quite yet. He lay in the snow for moment, unaware that Adrienne was nearby. He tried to work out what had happened to him to leave him in such a state. There was the Frenzy spell, he was running, and then... Adrienne! He forced himself into a sitting position, fighting the pain and aches the entire way. Pain be damned, he needed to see Adrienne okay.

What Gods that still watched them allowed him that bit of respite, Adrienne was nearby, and from the looks of it still alive. Relief washed over him as he uttered the longest sigh that his injuries would allow him. He stayed as he was for a moment, silently watching over Adrienne, until he decided that he had worked up enough strength. He dragged his old carcass closer to Adrienne, and then lifted her up, placing her head in his lap. And so he held her, keeping a watchful vigil against anyone who would dare approach them. A memory came floating back in his ravaged mind, one from what seemed like years ago. When he once held her in a similiar manner, in very dissimiliar circumstances. But they'd be alright. They would all be alright. They had to be.

His men dead and gone, the Inquisitor was left alone to battle against the Shade, the vampire lord having appeared directly behind him. Tarquin's first slash of claws cut into the Altmer's chest and spilled his blood onto the stone floor, but the Inquisitor hardly reacted, swinging a daedric sword to try and open the Shade's throat. Tarquin nimbly ducked, but the Inquisitor followed with a gout of flame from his off hand, catching the Shade full in the face, staggering him for the briefest of moments, in which Talmoro sought to swing again, a swift cut again aimed for the throat.

Tarquin caught him by the wrist, stopping the cut short, reaching out with his other clawed, long-fingered hand and snatching the Inquisitor's spell hand, following up with a powerful headbutt to stun him. With a snarl, the vampire lord's teeth sank down and into Talmoro's neck, sending a fountain of blood spewing forth, spraying in several directions. The Inquisitor struggled briefly, a struggle which was then reduced to twitches, before Tarquin unceremoniously released him, allowing the elf to fall in a heap at his feet, his formerly golden skin reduced to a pale grey, drained of blood.

The Shade stood triumphantly over the kill for a moment, swallowing the elven blood while more dripped down his chin and onto the floor. A few short moments passed before his rapid, excited breathing slowed quite quickly, and he tensed again, eyes darting up towards the aftermath of the battle. A smile slowly worked its way onto his face, and he moved forward at a gradual pace, one foot carefully placed in front of the other, stepping over the masses of dead left behind by the fight. He stopped in the doorway of the embassy, gazing out upon the battered state of his pawns. His voice was still arrogant as ever, even if it was deeper than normal, and blood dripped from his mouth with every word.

"Bring forth our dear witch. We have business to attend to."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: Anirne Direnni Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson Character Portrait: The Representatives

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The battlefield had at last grown quiet, the corpses strewn about the courtyard and the vampire lord still hovering in the air the only visual cues as to what had happened, excluding the battered state of several of those still alive. What to most would have been silence was nearly deafening to Sinderion: he was hyperaware of the rasp of breathing from Drayk’s healing lungs, the quiet shifting of Anirne as she moved to another wound, perhaps, the rustle of Maya’s clothing, the sound of his own heartbeat, vital and strong.

He could see what looked to be Vanryth and Adrienne some distance away, both looking considerably worse for wear. Soren and Lynly were in the opposite direction, the three groups forming a rough triangle in the courtyard. The Shade’s voice thundered over to them, then, and the Altmer clenched his teeth at the man’s haughty tone. It was obvious what he thought they were worth, to say the least.

Rising from his crouch, Sinder stepped a few paces forward, removing himself from the immediate proximity of the wounded fire mage and the witch that was the vampire’s next target. He was actually a bit upset with himself for not sniffing out the man’s nature sooner—he could certainly scent all the blood now, and the faint odor of rot that must have signified the sanguinarus disease. He wasn’t inclined to dwell on it right now, however.

Meeting the Shade’s eyes from across the field, he shook his head. “No. You shan’t have her so easily.” Truthfully, he did not know what the man’s intentions were, whether he planned to simply kill her now or delay for some strategic reason. He supposed there might be such a possibility, but he was not the strategist Adrienne was, and now wasn’t the time to try figuring out what it might be. Not when the possibility of being attacked was so live and immediate. It was actually rather electrifying, and though he appeared to be making his denial with relative equanimity, there was a small tension-tremor in his limbs, not the shaking of fear or fatigue, but one of the conscious repression of a fight-or-flight instinct.

He would not flee. But attacking was not a resort he wished to have to take, either.

The sounds of battle of faded out into the snow, leaving Lynly casting her glance around. All of the Thalmor knife-ears lie dead or dying in their wake, but the Sellswords weren't without their own losses. Of their number, three lay on the ground and out of the fight. Sinder was the only one of the original group who stands, and along with him, Maya, Anirne, Soren, and herself were also relatively uninjured. Still, those numbers meant little when they stood against a Vampire Lord.

The appearance of the ancient monster took her aback, leaving her in gaping awe for a few precious moments. The monster was undeniably still the Shade, he still looked like that man once did, only more grotesque now. She had heard stories about the ancient race, though scant few. Of all times, this was the least expected to which she would find herself face to face with the creature. She glanced back to Soren once more, cursed on her lips for the third time that night, but then decided to swallow it. It was no time to be tossing ribs back and forth with the Archer, not when one of their number was threatened by the Shade. Instead of speaking to the man, she merely shrugged and walked forward.

Her shield hung heavily from her side and she carried her sword over her shoulder. For all of the urgency present in their situation, Lynly painted a portrait of absolute calm. Not even a hint of her earlier social disfuction remained. Such as she was, more comfortable in the heat of a fight than she had ever been in her own skin. The only time she felt truly alive was in a fight, and while the fighting had sense died down, danger still lingered on the air. She had chosen the subject of her story, and she was going to see it to it's conclusion, even if that meant her death. As she walked past Maya, she nodded acknowledgement. She was unsure whether she was considered her friend, but it didn't matter to her. She had a debt to repay.

She stopped beside the knife-ear and settled into the snow, lifting her shield while her sword hung at the ready at her shoulder. "No. He won't," She said, agreeing with the elf. While she may not have understood what was going on, she knew enough about the Shade to know she didn't like it. If he wanted to see Maya, then it was probably not for the best of reasons. She might not had been part of the sellswords, or even the Game, but still. She owed the girl that much. She had killed her family once upon a time, the least she could do was to see that the witch lived through the night.

She was not so conceited as to believe this would be simple if he did decide to attack. Far from it. Two fighters against a Vampire Lord were sorry odds, and not for the Vampire either. Even if all of the Sellswords were willing and able, it would have still been a difficult fight. And yet, it was not the first time she stood between a strong opponent and his target, the memory of Stonehammer and the Imperial Captain coming to mind. Though Stonehammer was a man, and not a monster. Hidden by her shield, a smile crossed her face and she muttered "Cursed."

She'd have it no other way.

Soren didn't seem so inclined to immediately leap to the defense of someone he didn't really know, and indeed it was debatable whether knowing any of them any better would have made a difference anyway. It wasn't that he was a coward (he was many unsavory things, but that had never been one of them), just that he was predominantly self-interested, and frankly, he doubted the Shade would even spare a thought to him if he chose not to interfere. He was, essentially, free to come and go as he liked, and taking any sort of stand here would doubtless diminish that ability to some extent by making him a rather defiant ink-spot on the fellow's mental map.

If it didn't make him dead, first.

That was a thought, though, wasn't it? If was one to go to the gates of Oblivion at last (as all must eventually do, functionally immortal or no), there wasn't a much grander way to go about it than to be escorted there by a nasty set of vampire-claws impaling your chest, perhaps. But there was still something he wanted to do, and in the end, it was a poignant mental image that held him back, of folk who had met much more inglorious ends than that. The world would have plenty of people to be concerned over it, and the Daedra and their Representatives many more peons. But nobody else was going to care enough about a few mercenaries and a little boy with a sweet face to bring justice for them.

So Soren remained where he was, watching with apparent disinterest as Lynly moved to stand by the Altmer fellow, who acknowledged her with a nod but did not remove his eyes from the vampire. Smart, not that it was likely to save any of them. A quick glance behind himself revealed that there were several ways off the premises, though if the creature Tarquin had become was of a mind to kill them all, he wouldn't find much escape there. In fact, those two might have just doomed him to his fate anyway. Sighing through his nose and rolling his eyes, the sniper drew an arrow from his fresh stack of them and took to turning it between his fingers, the same absentminded gesture he'd used many times before. This time, though, his bow was still in his left, and it would remain there.

Anirne finished the last of Drayk's wounds, then, and sat back on her heels for a moment, regaining her equilibrium. Her magicka was fairly drained, but her enchantments would take care of that in short order, and the important thing was that the young man would live. At least for now. Bracing her hands on her knees, she glanced over at Maya and smiled. She had not missed the exchange between the witch and Sinderion, but if she had an opinion on the matter, now was not the time to offer it, anyway.

"Well, it won't be the most foolish thing I've ever done," she said lightly, though there was gravity to the proclamation all the same, and she used her hands to push herself into a graceful stand, shaking a few stray hairs from her face before taking long strides to Sinder's other side. She said nothing, as truly she didn't think there was anything to be said. So much of this journey could kill them; Talmoro would have been capable of it, and the Feral as well. She did not doubt that the other Representatives were just as mighty, in their way, else the Shade would not have thought to use them at all but wiped out his opponents by himself.

In a world where anything and everything could prove fatal, it made sense to risk yourself for the right reasons. And reasons did not get much more 'right' than protecting a friend or family member. She was inclined to take her brother's hand, but she did not, knowing well enough that he might need to move at a moment's notice, perhaps more quickly than she could react. She suspected his reflexes were quite superior to hers, even given her training.

So instead, she laid a hand on his shoulder and squeezed briefly before letting it drop. Reassurance, affirmation, support. If that was all she could give, she would give it freely, without a moment's hesitation.

A distance away, Adrienne was aware of being moved, but found for the moment that the task of opening her eyes was simply too great for her capacities to handle. She would live; she had that much faith in her alchemy. But what did it matter, anyway? Drayk was dead, and that was her fault. Vanryth probably hadn't survived either, and that was her fault, too. People had died because she was too weak to do what needed to be done, so caught up in her plans and her hopes that she'd forgotten what was really at stake, how vulnerable they really were. She'd had faith, when what they'd needed was help. And the worst part of all was that, where another might have been able to save them, she could not. For the same reasons she'd always been inadequate. She couldn't give life, couldn't coax someone back from the precipice of death or heal so much as the smallest parchment-cut, not without plants and patience and time the universe had not seen fit to give her when she needed it most.

What did anything else matter, next to that?

Somewhere beneath the grief and abject misery, though, her mind was still working. Sluggishly, it was true, but working all the same. She hated it, almost, and tried to make it stop, to think of nothing but all the things she'd done to deserve her agony, but something was nagging at her. Frustration tightened her fingers in Vanryth's sleeve, though she wouldn't realize that's what she was doing until her eyes snapped open seconds later, havign finally tracked down the thought and discovered what had bothered her so.

"Maya," she whispered, her voice unable to gather the strength for anything else. Her vision came into focus, and she registered Van's face above hers with a relief so great it brought tears to her eyes. Her voice did fail her then, and she weakly brought one hand up and signed two words: Van. Alive. Smiling hollowly, Adrienne rolled to the side, gathering herself on her hands and knees.

"Maya," she repeated. "Talmoro attacked... Maya. She's... Tarquin's next... target." Her words were punctuated with small gasps as she forced her aching, trembling body to its feet. "Can't... no more dying." But Oblivion take her, she needed to move! She had something, nothing more than a vain little string of words that fancied itself strong enough to save a life. A plan, a tiny piece of strategy that might sway the mind of a being without much mercy to him. Whether or not it worked, she could not allow it to remain in her mind only. Nobody else could die because of something she'd failed to do. She wouldn't, couldn't, bear it.

Sinder, Lynly, and Anirne couldn't be more than fifty feet from where she now stood. So why, why did that seem like such an impossible distance?

Van couldn't stop her-- or could stop her in his state. It wasn't the wisest to challenge the shade in condition they were in... Though no one had ever accused Van of being wise. He tried to rise to his feet as well, only to stumble back to his knees. He grunted in frustration, why should he have to stay while Adrienne tried her hardest to protect Maya. He snarled through the pain, through the fatigue and finally found his legs.

They were shakey, and unreliable, but they were there. He wavered but righted himself. Once positive that he wouldn't keel over he slipped his neck under Adrienne's arm, and placed her own hand on his collar. If they were going to do this, then it was going to be together. If they were going to do this then they all should be together.

It wasn't that he thought of Maya as a friend, the witch and him hadn't hardly spoken since she joined them. But that didn't matter, that wasn't factored in the decision. His decision was focused squarely on the Shade and denying him everything. The asshole Vampire Lord had nearly cost him everything. He had almost cost him all of his friends and family. That was the line, it was because of that he would deny him everything. The Mentor was not worth any one of their lives. Not Sinder, not Drayk, not Adrienne, none of them. And if they were to die denying him Maya, then they would all die together.

It was with confusion at first that the Shade watched as first Sinderion, then Lynly, then Anirne stand in front of Maya, blocking his path to the witch. Maya found herself unable to watch as the battered Adrienne and Vanryth struggled to make their way to the rest of them. Back in the Rift, in Malacath's shrine, had been a... similar feeling, when the Sellswords had learned just what they'd nearly died to do. When they learned that she had effectively used their life's blood to further her own goals in a Game they wanted no part of. But that had been guilt. This wasn't guilt, it was... humbling. She hadn't thought the Sellswords would simply try to kill her, but to see them seemingly willing to die in this moment was... powerful. Almost more than she could bear.

Regardless of how this ended, her decision to stay had been the right one. The Shade would track her down, and a head start on him would make little difference in the end. If the Sellswords truly meant to oppose him, better that she help them than leave them to their fate for a few days of life. Sinderion was right; she stood no chance against him alone. And though it pained her to use them in this way, having the Sellswords between her and Tarquin gave her a chance at life, if her theory proved correct.

The Shade wiped remnants of the Inquisitor's lifeblood from his chin, taking a few steps forward into the courtyard. "Perhaps I was misunderstood," he said, maintaining his composure, "you will allow me to kill the witch, or I will ensure that you never see my father again. Those are the terms." Maya knew she had no right to be excited at the moment, but as those words were spoken she knew she had been right. She could not help but whisper to those in front of her. "He won't attack you, any of you, I'm certain. Just oppose him, and we leave this alive."

"Has Maya wrapped you so easily around her finger? That she has you doing her bidding now, to your own detriment? I offer to return whatever security the Mentor brought you. She leads you only towards madness and death, pain and suffering. Choose what you will, Sellswords."

Sinder remained unmoving, Maya's words loud enough in his ears to register, though he was not quite yet able to share her certainty. It was possible, just possible, that the Mentor had gone with the Shade only on a condition of that nature, but in the end it didn't really matter. There was something, something that he saw, that he was almost sure the Shade did not see. It had nothing to do with Maya, or what she had convinced any of them to do, though he would readily admit that he stood here for her sake.

"And what would it be worth," he asked, "to stand before him again, having forsaken everything he taught us? To need him again as we did then, because we failed him utterly in our pursuit of him? I should think he would rather we never saw him at all, as long as we were able to live as he had given us opportunity to." Suffering? Madness? What did the Shade know of these things, that he was not already intimately acquainted with? More pain was hardly sufficient deterrent, as they were going to face it anyway.

Though he was inclined to, he did not draw blade or bow in service of his words, feeling perhaps that it would undermine the point. He would fight if he had to; it was always emphasized that sometimes, there were things worth fighting for, killing for, even, but that to make it the first course of action was the error of a man with poor judgement and little wit. That said, if he did have to fight the Shade, it would be with neither blade nor bow, that much he could feel.

Adrienne could not hide her relief at Van's support, and slowly, painstakingly, the two managed to hobble their way over to the others. The Shade did not seem pleased, to say the least, and all Adrienne was able to think was that, much as she agreed with Sinder, she couldn't take it if any more of them died. They had to live, didn't they see that? Their lives were worth so much, to her and surely to each other, and damn what the Shade or the rest of the world had to say about that.

"Perhaps," she ground out, leaning heavily on the arm wrapped awkwardly about Vanryth's shoulders. Her voice was raspy with fatigue, absent of its usual music, but that seemed appropriate somehow. "There is a third option." She agreed wholeheartedly with Sinderion; she always had. But living as the Mentor had given them an opportunity to required living period, and being wholly unaware of the plan he and Maya played at, she had only her own observations to go by, and though the vampire lord before them seemed relatively collected, she at least wasn't buying it.

Gathering her breath to her, she continued. "As it stands, your position is superior to basically any of your opponents'," she told the Shade, straightening as much as she could to look him in the eye. She was without the resources for flourish and dramatics, and he wouldn't have fallen for it besides. "Two people in this Game have permission to kill you, and you know who both of them are. You might as well exploit this fact for as long as possible. Let Maya take down her targets, and use us to guard you from those that target you simultaneously. You eliminate foes without them ever being able to touch you at all, through us, through her. And then, at then end when only the two of you remain, we have this... discussion again. At no time, except perhaps after the Feral is dead, will you ever have to wonder about where other people stand, and that will allow you much leeway in choosing your battles to most suit yourself. As for when that time comes, well..." she trailed off, coughing several times and wincing when she pulled away her free hand bloodier than it had been, "I hardly think you're worried about being able to defeat us." She held up the hand, palm open, as if to let it prove her point.

This battle had beaten them, killed one of them, and certainly come close to killing a few more. He was relatively unscathed. She was content to let those facts speak for themselves.

"A temporary solution to let the witch live longer," the Shade pointed out. "In the end, if you want the Mentor, she must die. If you've all become attached already, then better to do it now, or never do it at all. I do not need a puppet to slay targets for me, nor bodyguards to defend me from a beast. You will help me, or I will leave. Again, those are the terms. Make your choice." Perhaps it was not the right word, but something beyond the Sellswords' simple lack of cooperation was irritating the Shade here. It was of course fact that if he desired, they would be able to do little to stop him, wounded and weary as they were, and yet he showed no signs of hostility. If anything, there was a hint, just a small hint, of sadness in his tone.

Adrienne caught it, but she knew not what it meant, only what must be said next. Shaking her head slowly, she gave up the attempt to make it otherwise. "Then farewell, Tarquin, because I will not do that." The others were of course free to speak for themselves, but she couldn't offer up another sacrifice for this man's ambition. Not even if she'd wanted to.

When none of the others spoke, Tarquin nodded. "Very well. Hunt your Omen. There's someone I must speak again with. If you have not changed your minds by the time I return, I suggest you sleep a little lighter. Farewell, Sellswords." He lifted lightly into the air through the force of some kind of vampire magic, taking off into the night, heading south and east.

A long moment passed in silence before a loud cough came from the ground near them, followed by a rather agonized groan as Drayk stirred again for the first time, returning to consciousness.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: Anirne Direnni Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson Character Portrait: The Representatives

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Well, that certainly sounded ominous, didn't it? Anirne watched the Shade leave with a contemplative expression on her face. Knowing that such a man would be after them with only a small time delay was not the most reassuring piece of information she'd ever recieved, to say the least, but the monk tore her eyes from where he'd vanished into the horizon, marking the direction but otherwise content to let it be.

Taking stock of the immediate situation, however, she realized that there was work to be done yet. The conversation's duration had allowed her ample opportunity to regain her magicka, and two of their number were in dire need of it. At once, Anirne approached Adrienne and Vanryth, hands already aglow. She might have asked what had happened to put both of them in such a sorry state, but honestly, she knew all she really needed to. It was difficult to tell which one of them was worse off, and she'd just decided to start with Van, who seemed to be leaning a tad more heavily on Adrienne than the girl was on him, when her other patient finally decided to come to.

"Oh good, he's--" her remark was cut short by the abrupt, slightly lurching passage of Adrienne, whose expression of disbelief was so exaggerated as to be almost comincal in any other situation: eyes wide, mouth slightly ajar until it clicked shut, and she was out from under Vanryth in almost no time at all, leaving the healer to steady the Dunmer in the wake of her passing. Well, that made her choice for her, she supposed.

Vanryth stumbled as his only stablizing force skittered away and towards the sound of a racking cough. The only reason he didn't end up face first into the snow was that Anirne had luckily been close enough for him to throw his arms around. At first, he wasn't aware that he had the woman locked into a hug, only curious as to what would cause Adrienne to act the way she did. He looked past Anirne and found his answer. Drayk was on the ground, and he was stirring. During the confrontation with the Shade, he had his eyes locked solely on him. He wasn't even aware that Drayk was in danger until just that moment.

At least he wasn't in much danger now. They all were safe for the night. And with that knowledge, the weight of the world was lifted from his shoulders. He inhaled the deepest breath of the sweetest air and exhaled, smiling all the while. They were all still alive and safe now. That was a damn good day if there was one. Now that he was sure that everyone was okay, the realization that he had Anirne in a tight hug finally occured. He was hesitant at first, confused, and had his face had any blood in it he would have blushed. Still, the best he could do was point to the ground so that she could sit him down.

Anirne, slightly thrown off by the weight of an incoming Vanryth, nevertheless bore the ensuing situation with an easy friendliness, chuckling lightly at their predicament and nodding sagely, sinking the both of them to the ground as gently as she was able. Once safely detached from the Dunmer, she crossed her legs in front of her and made the hand-sign for 'healing.' This was, of course, followed up with precisely that, though she suspected that what he needed most of all right now was rest. That was probably true of all of them, actually, herself included. Still, she'd do what she could for now, and see where it got them. He laid back throwing her a thumbs up, happy for anything she could do. Happy for the moment of rest. Happy that everyone was alright. He was just... Happy.

Adrienne hadn't believed it; not until she'd turned to see from whence the sputtering had issued. He hadn't been there before, had he? No, she'd certainly left him upstairs, to die. He'd certainly been dead, Talmoro's ice lanced through his chest like some kind of grotesque elemental spear. But... "Oh merciful Mara," she whispered, paying actual homage to the deity of her parents for the first time in more years than she cared to think about. "Drayk!" Heedless of her wounds (though still undoubtedly slowed by them), Adrienne crossed the intervening distance, pinpricks of pain needling up her legs with every step.

It didn't matter. Just then, nothing mattered except the fact that he still lived. A few feet short of her intended destination, they gave out anyway, and she had to more or less drag herself to his side, wrapping her arms around his torso and holding on for what seemed dear life indeed. "Gods above, Drayk. I thought you were dead! I thought I..." she couldn't finish the sentence for the choking sob, but she didn't care. As tears went, she'd never been happier to cry.

Drayk really had no idea how he'd gotten here. He remembered Talmoro, trying to hold him off for Adrienne, really just trying to incinerate the bastard, and then nothing but ice and agony and cold, a lot of cold. He shuddered slightly at the cold, though it probably wasn't the only reason he was shaking. He was able to look around enough to see the others, Sinderion, Vanryth, Anirne. Lynly and Soren were still there. The witch was as well, but he couldn't think about anything other than the fact that they were going to be okay. He wrapped his own arms around Adrienne, content to simply lay there for a moment. It wasn't likely he could get up on his own, anyway.

"I'll admit," he said hoarsely, threading a few fingers into her hair, "walking around in this outfit nearly killed me... but I think I'll be alright. It's okay. It's okay." He said it a few more times for good measure, taking the moment to enjoy the feeling of breathing deeply, even if it was sending twinges of pain through his chest.

Adrienne's reply was to grasp him all the tighter. He didn't realize, maybe, that she'd nearly been responsibe for his death, and could have been twice. It wasn't something she wanted to tell him, now or ever, but she knew she'd have to. She wouldn't feel right until she did. Still, for now at least, she could wait, and just rejoice in the fact that she wasn't. The joke, a little on the weak side as it was, drew a small laugh from her amidst the more general sobbing, and she was quite conscious that she was probably getting the front of his robes quite wet.

Releasing him, she braced her palms on his chest, using them to leverage herself upwards as quickly as she could, Chances were, he still hurt there. She managed a watery smile. "I'm sorry," she said sheepishly. "That was probably unwise. We're both a little beaten up here, aren't we?"

Drayk had indeed winced at the movement, but in all honesty, pretty much every movement was causing him pain. He was happy enough in the moment to dull the pain. She was wounded as well, he noticed, but he could not bring himself to try and heal her. Not now. The Psijic could handle it... Drayk didn't want to risk anything happening to her, not when he'd come so close to losing her and the others entirely. "Please, have Anirne heal you, I... I shouldn't. I'll be fine, I just... might need to have Sinder help me stand up."

"All right," she replied, noting that the healer was indeed just finishing with Vanryth, or appeared to be. "I understand." She wasn't sure she did, exactly, but she knew that if he was saying this much, he'd have his reasons, and that was enough for her.

Soren tracked Tarquin's movement as he disappeared into the sky, shaking his head minutel when the fellow disappeared. Still twirling his arrow between his digits, he approached the rest of the group from the side, surveying the disaster that was currently the Sellswords with something caught between amusement and genuine respect. Still, he was never one to convey that directly. "Well, that was a bit anticlimactic," he pointed out blandly. "Still, I suppose there's a story to be had from it, eh lovely? 'The time you stood with a bunch of crazy people and faced down a vampire lord, ready to die if that's what it took?' I know quite a few men who'd make that the subject of a nice tune, certainly." Hell, he could do it, if he wanted. The embellishment wouldn't even have to be that extreme, and it shouldn't be too hard to procure a lute or lyre from someone in a tavern.

He wasn't quite sure he wanted to admit that this was within his talents, however, as it really kind of clashed with his image. The Bard's College had been a misadventure of his youth, really. "Stick around," Lynly said, "I doubt this lot's story is over yet." Upon leave of the Shade, Lynly's shoulders sagged in relief. While it would have made for a good story, she would need to be alive in order to tell it. If she had to fight against a vampire lord, being alive to tell the story was only wishful thinking. Still. She had to agree with Soren, there was a story to be had here. She couldn't say that she was disappointed.

Sinderion relaxed at last several moments after everyone else seemed to have done so, his posture visibly slumping as he let out a relieved sigh. There was no mistaking that that wouldn't have gone well, had it turned out differently. He was almost tempted to follow, sure that the person the Shade needed to speak to was the Mentor, but even for one with skills such as his, tracking a flying thing would have been nigh impossible. Besides, the point of this whole encounter was that he was needed here. They all were.

He turned in enough time to see Adrienne and Drayk reunite, and he thought he could understand why she was so overcome. The fact was, the fire mage had been nearly dead when Sinder came upon him, and if not for Anirne, he surely would be now. He didn't think that was necessarily something either he or she needed to know, though. His gaze moved further to the left, alighting upon Maya, and for the first time in a very long time indeed, the Altmer smiled. It wasn't overwhelming or particularly noticeable, just a small quirk of the lips, but unlike the sardonic thing he'd worn once before, this one was quite honest.

"Thank you," he told her simply, though why exactly he was doing so may not have been immediately clear, all things considered.

"We can still find the Mentor," Maya said, doing her best to at least look like she believed that. "We'll find another way. Skyrim's not all that big. Seen the whole thing, more or less." Far more likely would be them finding the Shade, or rather the Shade finding them, in a state where he no longer cared whether they lived or died. When that day came, Maya could only hope they were better prepared. She supposed, however, that if she had to die, this was not the worst company to go out with. She found herself smiling genuinely at the scene of Drayk and Adrienne embracing. Maya hadn't wanted any of them to die standing between her and the Shade. She was immensely relieved that, at least for now, it had been avoided.

"Back to the Manor, then?" Maya suggested softly. "I believe we could use some rest."

Sinder nodded easily, and, having caught Drayk's point about needing assistance to stand, moved the short distance to the young man and offered his arm for leverage. "Let's... go eat and sleep," he suggested to the group at large. "If we need to make more plans, we can do that, too."

Drayk took the hand, carefully pulling himself up, grimacing the whole way. "Plan... tomorrow. Eat and sleep is about all I can take right now."

Anirne, cutting off the flow of her magic, stood fluidly, grasping Van's arm and pulling him up with her. "Can you walk without aid?" she asked kindly, "Or do you require assistance?" she would, of course, if it was necessary, but otherwise she was going to attempt to support Adrienne and heal her on the move. The others were right; the sooner they were away from this place, the better. Vanryth shook his head no, and pointed at Adrienne. He signed the words for help her before straightening his back. He might not be able to bounce back like he could once upon a time, but he'd be alright. He'd walk. He might stumble, but he'd be damned if he didn't make it home on his own power... Home. He glanced around himself and offered everyone a smile, signing the words for the phrase let's go home.

Anirne nodded her understanding, patting his shoulder just briefly before she turned and padded over to Adrienne, helping the younger woman to stand, promising to tend to her wounds as they walked. It was a bit of an awkward arrangement, given their relative heights, but it was manageable.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal

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And here Drayk thought he'd been sore after some of the Mentor's workouts.

Had his bed ever been this reluctant to let him go? The muscles in his chest and abdomen didn't seem to work, and he winced several times just getting to a sitting position, grabbing the bed posts for leverage. His arms still worked alright, at least. He'd barely been able to get any of his clothes off before falling unconscious into the bed last night. He wondered vaguely what time it was. There was light streaming into his room from the single window he was granted, but for all he knew it could have been afternoon rather than the morning.

Though he wanted nothing more than to simply lie down and recuperate for a while (and perhaps eat something first), there were things he needed to do. He never would have made it back here at all if not for his friends, his family. Their well-being had to come first, no matter what his instincts made him think on occassion, or what his reactions made him do. If he stopped telling himself that, if he allowed himself to be selfish as he had been before, then there was no hope, and things that he truly wouldn't be able to handle would happen. Maybe this was just a stupid young man getting out of bed to check up on friends who could handle themselves, but to him, it was more important than that.

He managed to throw a white tunic over his bare chest, noting the wicked scars that were present. The ice spear had left rather ruinous circle scar just below his ribs, while the daedric sword left a long, diagonal line across his chest from his right side almost all the way to his left shoulder. Those were marks he wouldn't be rid of for the rest of his life, certainly. He wondered how many more he would earn before this was done. On top of everything, he still didn't know what had happened last night, other than what he had assumed. The Inquisitor was dead, that much he knew, but the witch was still here. He had seen her attacked by Talmoro, and unless he had misunderstood the rules, that meant the Shade would have targeted her next. There was clearly a lot he had missed, but it would come later.

He eased himself carefully down the hall, bare feet sliding slightly along the floors as he walked down towards Adrienne's room. The act actually made him a little woozy, probably from blood loss the night before. He'd required Sinder's help most of the way. Once he reached the door he sought, he knocked on the door gently, before leaning himself up against the wall for support.

The knock resounded quietly in the room, and at first, it seemed to produce no reaction at all. After a few seconds, though, there was a shifting somewhere beneath an enormous stack of blankets, accompanied by a mild groan. Skyrim was cold, and she was sore and these factors were combining to make Adrienne very disinclined to move indeed.

It took a few moments for it to dawn on her that anybody knocking on her door at... well, at whatever time of day this was probably had a good reason to be doing so, and it was with a sigh and great reluctance that she tossed off all the covers, instinctively curling in on herself when the cool air rushed over her previously warm skin. It was enough to galvanize her, anyway, which had been the point, and her feet touched the floor shortly afterwards, grateful for the rugs that coated the stone beneath. Because she thought it was probably important, she did not think much on the state of her hair (it was all over the place, wispy strands of ash flying every which way) nor her dress, which wasn't more than a grey shift at present.

Moving herself to the door as quickly as her enfeebled legs would allow, she had a bit of trouble with the knob, trying to get her unresponsive fingers to wrap around it in the proper fashion, but she was at last able to manage the task, pulling the wood panel towards herself and peering outside with still-bleary eyes. Blinking a few times, she managed to zero in on Drayk without much difficulty and smiled in a sleepy sort of way. "Good morning. Um... is it morning?" She really wasn't sure.

Despite the serious feeling he had walking over her, Drayk was easily able to return the smile, looking quite clearly as though he'd just gotten out of bed himself, though Adrienne's previous work on his hair limited the current case of bedhead. "It is light out," Drayk confirmed, "but I really have no idea. We'll go with morning. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you up. I kinda thought I'd be the last one to get up today. Can I... come in? I... wanted to talk to you about something."

Adrienne shook her head, indicating that it wasn't any trouble, and then nodded. "Of course." A short pause. "I guess you'd have the most excuse, wouldn't you? I think we were all quite fatigued, though." She stepped aside to allow him entrance, which put her in front of her mirror, which in turn produced something of a grimace. If Madame Madec had ever caught wind of her entertaining a guest looking like this she'd have been flayed.

Shutting the door behind him, Adrienne donned a blanket from the top of her pile, more for warmth than anything, and sank into one of the three armchairs in her room, by the currently-unlit fireplace. "Would you mind?" she asked him, nodding at it. Of course, she was perfectly capable of lighting it herself, but presently her arms were wrapped around herself and ensconced in blanket, so she was disinclined to move. Plus she figured it was another way of saying that she trusted him not to burn the place down. Little things. Sometimes, they were all you had, really.

He obliged with a nod, kneeling before the fireplace and reaching a hand out beneath the wood, a gentle flame lighting in his palm. It was surprisingly refreshing to use it for such a mundane purpose, and he watched the fires spread until a comforting crackle accompanied the conversation. He then settled himself in the arm chair nearest the door, visibly relieved to have his weight off his feet again.

"What's on your mind, Drayk?" she asked, though she suspected she knew what it was. Not necessarily something she was looking forward to recounting, but someone had to, and it might as well be her, she supposed.

His words and thoughts were typically jumbled at times like these, and this morning appeared to be no different. There was a lot that he wanted to know, but only a few things he needed to know, and he tried to focus on these. He didn't want to lay the burden entirely on Adrienne, but he did need to start here. "I... don't remember anything from after I fell. Missed the rest of the fight, I guess. All I know is that the Inquisitor's dead, and that we're all alive. That's all that's important to me right now."

He wanted to express his concern, but it just seemed so blunt. He didn't know a better way to say it. Surely there were words somewhere that the Mentor had never taught him that could adequately convey what he felt, but for now he would just have to go with the poor, dull ones that came to him. "Before we get to any of that, I... need to know that you're alright. Seriously this time." He wouldn't say of course you're alright this time, not like before, because he didn't know how any of them could be just alright anymore. She had thought him dead. Drayk knew for a fact that he wouldn't have been alright if he thought her dead. Especially not if any part of him felt responsible.

Adrienne remained largely still for a few moments, curled up on her chair and staring thoughtfully, if a bit morosely, down at the floor, mindlessly following the pattern in the nearest rug without being very aware that she was doing it. There was a lot she could say, and she knew she could decieve him if she wished, convince him that everything was fine on her end and he need worry only about himself and the mess they'd all managed to get themselves into.

But she didn't want to. She didn't want to smile and pretend that it was fine, because it wasn't. It had been easy enough to ignore the lingering guilt in the moments immediately after the Shade had left, because it had been more important that they were all alive. Now, with some distance from the events, it wasn't quite so simple.

Adrienne sighed, lifting her face to speak. "I don't think so," she told him honestly, looking a trifle lost. "After the Inquisitor... hurt you, he was ready to kill Maya and me, and we just... we ran away, out the window." She couldn't fault Maya for acting as she had, but that didn't mean she didn't think it her own fault for trying to aid the witch instead of Drayk, who had been in the far more dangerous position. Maya would have recovered. The fact that both of them had believed him dead spoke differently of Drayk.

Clenching her teeth together, she swallowed thickly. "I thought you were dead. And I thought I'd left you to it. I didn't... I couldn't... I should have fought him with you, and I didn't. It was a bad judgement on my part, and I was convinced it killed you."

Damn it, he should have prepared more for this. Should have thought about how to respond to something like this. It wasn't enough to hear her open up like this, he needed to help her somehow, find a way to make this better. The old man would have had the words, of course, but Drayk had none of the Mentor's charisma. And though he feared blundering and somehow making things worse, he had to try. He stood, not really knowing why. He took a few steps around. He wanted to hug her, hold on to her like they'd held on to each other at the embassy.

"No," was all he could think to say at first. "No, no... we can't do shouldn't. All of us could have done something different. I thought I could beat him. By myself. I should never have reacted like that. He would have taken us prisoner, and we'd have all ended in the interrogation chambers like we planned. But we can't do shouldn't." He struggled for more words. That wasn't how to end it, there had to be more, some other thing he could say.

"You... ran away with the witch? I don't..." he didn't feel like this was right, either, but he wanted to know. He was visibly struggling with asking the questions. "How did it happen? I fell, you got her up, and then... you ran?" As much as he tried to hide it, he could not keep the small drop of hurt from his tone, or his face. He was no adept at this, as she was. He could not hide his feelings if he wanted to. He knew what he had just said, but her words did not add up for him. She wouldn't have run, not at the witch's bidding.

Her eyes were wide, glistening with unshed tears. She could read the implications in the question like an open book, and they wrapped around her heart like climbing-vines, constricting and squeezing until she was breathless. She wanted, somewhere inside herself, to deny it viciously, to rail against that insidious hint until she was blue in the face and reduced to begging for him to believe her. But... wasn't what had happened just as bad?

Maybe, maybe not. She was tired of it, of that choking thought, and maybe if she just let him decide for her, that would be better. Adrienne's lower lip trembled slightly, and she dropped her eyes back to the floor. "After... after you fell, Talmoro hit us both with lightning. I couldn't even move; it felt like my whole body was breaking from the inside. Maya, she... she recovered first, somehow, and ran into me, or maybe she was running before it even hit, I don't know. Whatever happened, it forced us both out the window, and down into the snow. Talmoro, he... he threw a fire spell, some kind of explosion." She shook her head. She'd never felt the like of such a thing before.

"After that... I don't know. My memory gets kind of hazy. There was... pain. And dead Thalmor, and Van saved me, and... then I thought he might have died, too, and..." She lost the words. There just weren't any, not for what she'd been feeling, or not feeling, in those, what? Minutes? Hours? It had seemed like days on end. The entire episode was a blur, and it was only as they were walking past the spot where she and Van had fallen that she'd observed the crude semicircle of bodies. There must have been twelve, at least, and that had only made her feel... sick.

A small spot appeared on the blue wool she was encased in, and then another. "I'm sorry," she managed, quietly, pulling one of her arms loose to dash at her eyes in an attempt to rid them of the saline fluid there.

That was what he had needed to hear. It wasn't what he'd wanted her to feel, certainly, but he had a target to direct his frustration at now that left his faith in Adrienne unshaken. "No," he said again, this time closing the distance between them, sinking to a knee, and gently grabbing both of her shoulders. "You can't do that to yourself. You did nothing wrong. The witch forced you from the room, she had to have done it. Because I know you wouldn't have left me to die if you had a choice, and so do you."

His eyes fell away from her for a moment as he gathered himself again. "I don't think I can do this without you, Adrienne. I won't let you do this to yourself." He didn't know what else to say. She had to believe in herself at some point. Allowing this to continue weighing down on her would eventually crush her, and it would bring Drayk and all the rest down, too. He refused to let that happen.

"Mara, Drayk, I know, I do. I just..." her logical self, so usually cool and controlled, was presently struggling to bring her feelings back under control, an endeavor that was growing a little easier with his help but still seemed far from completion. "I... lost it, when I thought you were..." she couldn't say it, not this time, but of course he'd know what she meant.

She extricated herself from the blanket and moved forward, sliding from the chair and to her knees on the ground, fitting her arms beneath his and placing her head on his shoulder. "I don't want to lose you, not to any of this. I've always known that, but... not like I do now." She was almost surprised at how much of a relief it was, just to embrace him, to know that he was solid and real and alive.

"I do need to apologize though," she murmured. "Maybe not for this, but... that time, after the orcs. I was carrying poison, and I could have... I was practically delirious, I could have accidentally killed you." She drew back a bit, enough to look him in the eye. "I know none of us were in good shape, but..." She shook her head.

Drayk was unimpressed. "And if you remember, we decided I would heal myself first, at which point I set my arms on fire. I could have hurt you even more if I'd tried to heal you first." The thought was physically painful to imagine. It would explain, at least, why he'd let Anirne do the healing in the aftermath last night. The longer he kept on this path, the more he seemed to forget, the longer it took him to recall simply how to summon magic for a purpose other than killing and self-defense.

"If there's one thing I'm certain of, it's that none of us are perfect. We're as far from it as we can possibly be. If you try to hold yourself to that, it's going to kill you. We're going to make mistakes. We're going to hurt. But as long as we rely on each other, and help each other, I think we can make it through this. It goes both ways. You just need to let me help you."

Maybe that hadn't been perfect, and maybe it hadn't been what the Mentor would have said, but Drayk didn't know what the Mentor would say anymore. He only knew what he felt, and he had put it into words as best he could. He touched a hand to her cheek, his touch surprisingly warm, and wiped a tear away from her. He didn't want to see those anymore.

"Okay?"

Adrienne exhaled, the breath seeming to take some of the strain with it as it left her body. "You're right... thank you." It seemed woefully inadequate, truly, but at least it was honest, and that was more than she could claim for half the elegant things she'd ever said. Reaching up, she placed her hand over his and laced their fingers, drawing it back slightly and turning her head to just lightly kiss his palm, rising to her feet and trying to draw him to his as well.

"As long as I get to help you, too, I think I can do that."

He smiled, and nodded. "Of course. Now, what do you say we help ourselves to some breakfast?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero

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Vanryth sat at the dining table, looking for all intents and purposes, miserable. He was sore, but that was beginning to become a daily theme in his day-to-day. He knew that if he tried to get up too fast, that he'd fall out of his chair and then he'd have to crawl to wherever it is he was going. Hell, it was a miracle he managed to make it to the table without collapsing into a heap of dunmer colored pudding. Even with Anirne's post-exercise healing (which was a godsend compared to the exercise itself) he felt like death. Before collasping at the table however, he managed to procure a journal and some ink-- he was not going be completely mute in his home, even if he did feel like the jaws of Oblivion chewed on him.

It was a long while before people began to filter in and out of the dining room, though Van made no move to talk or acknowledge them, as he currently laid his head on the cool wood of the table and try to regain what little measure of sleep was lost. He could smell.. Something coming from the kitchen and could only hope that the chef would be kind enough to bring it out and sit it on the table for breakfast. He wasn't sure he could get up and collect himself a bowl. Still, for all of his mental bellyaching and sullen look, there was something carthartic about doing something about himself. Instead of sulking in his worn mind, he could actually do something now, and become a better man for the Sellswords.

Hidden in the crook of his arms, he couldn't help but smile to himself.

Porridge certainly wasn't Drayk's favorite thing in the world, but considering that Sinderion had actually gotten up to make it while the others slumbered blissfully (or so he thought), he had no right to complain. Immediately after his conversation with Adrienne this morning, he'd decided to give her a moment, heading to breakfast himself. In all, he felt... good. Cautiously optimistic. Even though last night had gone horribly wrong, and he'd nearly died, they had pulled through. The things that were said this morning... he felt that they needed to be said, and it had been that way for some time previously. He felt as though a constricting weight had been lifted from his chest, and he was willing to bet Adrienne felt the same way. He didn't know if the various threats they would face in the future would kill them or not, but honestly Drayk wasn't so worried about that right now. So long as they refused to fall to their own vices, and so long as they helped each other (and allowed themselves to be helped), this would be an okay end.

Of course, it was no doubt easier said than done, but Drayk found himself with significantly more motivation than before.

He spied Van crashed at the table and grinned a little, wondering what that was about. He moved into the kitchen, noting the witch sauntering away like she did. Thankfully, she said nothing to him, nor did he think she even paid him any attention. Now that he'd spoken to Adrienne, it was time to get an explanation. He needed to be back in the loop. He poured two bowls of porridge, saying hello to Sinder (he intended to speak with him soon enough) and returned to the main hall, setting one down in front of Van and taking a seat directly across from him. Drayk noted that he had a journal at hand, which was good. He didn't think either of them were quite prepared for full signing conversations just yet.

"Morning. Brought you some breakfast," he greeted, starting in on his own. "Got some new scars, too. At this rate, I'll be as ugly as you in no time."

The sudden clatter of a full bowl of something in front of him perked up his sense, especially his nose. While his taste was gone with his tongue, he could still smell, and he smelled the warm scent of fresh porridge-- it really didn't matter what it was, just so long as it was warm. He nodded his thanks to Drayk and stuck the first spoonful into his mouth. It was soft-- that was good. He didn't think he even had the energy to chew, another thing that being tongueless made difficult. Just stick and swallow. The simple things in life were the best after all, it seemed.

Van raised an eyebrow at Drayk's rib, giving him a moment to rescind before the spoon flew from his mouth and cracked the mouthy boy across a knuckle. Still, Vanryth offered him a grin in order to say that there were no hard feelings. As he replaced the spoon back into his bowl, taking another glob of porridge with it, he flipped open his journal and unstoppered the inkwell that lay close beside. He worked both spoon and quill with equal amount of deftness and he began to write out his reply.

After a bit of scratching, Van punctuated his last sentence and turned the book towards Drayk so that he could read it.
Vanryth Galero wrote:You've got a long time to go before you even begin to have as many scars as me. Do not believe yourself the only one to have escaped the battle with their share of scars. My back looks like a bloody spiderweb thanks to one of the swits' lightning spells. Another to the list it seems.

The look written on Van's face didn't seem to betray any anger or forlorn woe. It was true, he had enough scars, too many to count and after a certain point you just stop. The spiderweb scar however, he was proud to bare. It was a reminder that he had saved Adrienne from the pain. It reminded him why he fought. If he had to have his guess, he'd say that it was his favorite scar. One not won in a hotblooded brawl, or born through mistakes of his youth. It was one won for good reason.

Drayk straightened his face upon reading that Van had taken a nasty lightning spell the previous night. Adrienne had mentioned something about that, thinking he was dead. He wondered what the circumstances behind that were, and if Adrienne felt the need to take the blame upon herself for Vanryth's injuries as well. He didn't know if it was possible to show gratitude on a face, but if it was, Drayk was doing that right now. Just another thing he had missed while being dead last night.

"I haven't really been filled in yet," Drayk said between spoonfuls. "Although I've seen the witch around. What happened?"

Vanryth paused with the spoon hanging from his lips as he pondered the question. What could he tell him that he himself hadn't missed. The Shade's illusion magic had managed to blur the meat of the fighting and when he came to things weren't looking too well for their merry group. He took the spoon and filled it back up before letting it hang from his mouth as he wrote. He began where he came to, at the tail end of the melee in the courtyard. He covered the incident with Adrienne and the thunderbolt, the fact that the Shade was a Vampire Lord, the Inquisitor's demise, and how Maya was the next target. He said how Sinder was the first to stand against the Shade, then the Nord Warrioress, and then how Adrienne and himself hobbled over as well.

Vanryth Galero wrote:"It was not because of the witch that I stood against the Shade. After what the bastard has put us through, he deserves nothing and he will get nothing from me without a fight. Your lives mean much more to me than some swit's game. I am done with him, and I am done with this game. The only reason I still think about it is because of you all. I will not leave you to your devices, but I am done. I don't want to risk your lives any more than we have to."


For him, if they decided that the Mentor was not worth all of this, that they could live quietly and happily in his mansion without him, he'd accept it in a heartbeat. But he wasn't some young fool. He knew the game was not done with him, that their lives would be in jeopardy again soon. The best he could do is to make sure that they didn't die.

Well, that was a lot to absorb. Fortunately, Vanryth was writing rather than speaking, and so Drayk had a good deal more time to absorb each sentence as he wrote. He would have given the man a hug, if not a clap on the shoulder, for saving Adrienne as he had, but he was still writing and it would have messed him up. The Shade being a vampire lord was a little more startling, but to be honest, not all that unexpected. It seemed fitting for a vampire lord to be a royal ass, and Tarquin fit the part pretty damn well. What messed with his head was the implications there. If the Shade was a vampire, and not just any vampire, but a vampire lord, which had to mean he was very old... then wouldn't that make their Mentor a vampire as well?

But... he wasn't. Drayk was certain of it. He'd spent enough time around the man to know that the Mentor was definitely not a blood sucking night stalker. Whatever the explanation, Van probably didn't know either, and he was still writing. The Shade had killed the Inquisitor, as he expected, and then... they defended the witch.

That... made sense. Well, it was the only way her still being here made sense, as the Shade would have killed her easily, if he was truly a vampire lord. Vanryth's next sentences ate at him, because he knew he did not share the same view, but he couldn't immediately think of the best way to phrase it. He lowered his voice, though, as it seemed like the right thing to do here. "Look..." he sighed, hating this. "I don't know all of what the Mentor did for you, but I owe everything to him. My life least of all. And maybe he wasn't entirely honest with us, but I'm not going to leave him to whatever he's gotten himself into. I'm getting worse at controlling myself, I'm slipping back towards the way I used to be. He's the only one who's ever been able to make me really see what I've been doing to the world. And now that I have so much more to lose... I have to try."

He worked on finishing his porridge for a moment, hoping that went over well. After looking around for a moment to ensure she was not present, he added, "and we can't trust the witch. We can't trust any of the Representatives, but her least of all. I don't know what she's done to Sinder to make him protective of her, but... the witch can't help us, she can only lead us to more trouble, trouble that might get one of us killed."

A twitch in the eyebrow and Van's face darkened as he glared at Drayk. It wasn't the issue with the witch, Vanryth agreed on the point, it was concerning the Mentor. Vanryth took his book and began to write, perhaps a bit of anger guiding his hands as well.

Vanryth Galero wrote:Do you believe you were the only one saved by the Mentor Drayk? Without him, I'd be dead in a ditch right now. I owe him just as much as you do, perhaps even more. Don't think that you are the only one who wants him back, because you are not. I want him back just as much as you do. But I don't want to lose you because of it. I don't want to lose any of you."


He pushed the book in front of him and pushed the bowl away, his apetite suddenly gone. He was quiet for a while, cooling down and calming his mind. Had Drayk been anyone else, he would have recieved a fist for his words, but the boy was family, and he wouldn't even dare. He'd be frustrated with the boy, but that was going to be his extent. Once Drayk was finished reading that note, he snatched the book back and began to write again.

Vanryth Galero wrote:You look. He gave you the strength, he gave us all the strength to fight our demons. I'm not saying forget about him, I'd never say that. You are not so weak as you think. You are never weak. You are one of us, your problems are our problems, Drayk.


He paused for a moment, tapping his quill before continuing to write.

Vanryth Galero wrote:One time, a while ago, after the dragon had attacked, I told you that we were always here to help. I didn't lie, nor did I do it to assuage your fears. I was honest. We will help you.


He pondered the note for a moment before pushing it toward Drayk. After he was done reading that, Van once again, took the book and began writing once more, tackling another point Drayk made. Conversations like these were taxing, especially on the wrists, but it was better than nothing and allowed him to better clear his thoughts before he spoke. Perhaps it was a good thing.

Vanryth Galero wrote:I only trust them so far as we remain useful to them. The witch or the Shade, the only ones I trust are you all. I trust Sinder as well, he's not the one to be entranced by feminine wiles. I believe his mind is his own. At least, I hope that is what it is. Either way, I'd rather take the witch over the Aurelius bastard. She never hid who she was. It matters little I suppose...


Drayk's head was resting against a hand by the time he finished reading Van's last paragraph. "I didn't mean to say I was the only... just, nevermind." He didn't want to imply that he somehow had it worse than the others, because he knew that wasn't true. It was just that he didn't think they had a choice. Maybe their search for the Mentor would kill some or all of them, but he had this feeling in his gut that this wouldn't last if they were to try and put it behind them. It would eventually fall apart, something terrible would happen, and they'd lose each other anyway.

Maybe they could slow down his descent, but he didn't think they could stop it entirely. "You'd think I'd have learned to think about what I say a little more carefully by now. I'm sorry." His breakfast was just about finished at this point, so he figured it best if he took his leave. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to go get Sinder to glare at me too." Maybe not the most tactful way to put that, but he did imagine that was how the conversation he wanted to have with him was going to end.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: The Representatives

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In the absence of much else to do after breakfast, Sinderion had wandered back outside, though he'd resolved not to stray too far from the grounds. At present, he suspected the others would be either taking what little time they could to relax, or else making ready for what was certain to be a long journey... or perhaps a very short one. Either way, they would not be returning to the mansion in some time, and it was perhaps best that they prepared accordingly. From the day he'd been born to an impoverished family and likely until the day he died, Sinder had never had much in the way of property. He'd simply never been able to, and by the time he might have acquired any, he was quite used to living largely by the work of his hands. Anything besides his bow and his two blades was superfluous, unneeded, and he was generally quite content to do without it.

Even those might not be entirely required. Treading lightly out into the courtyard, he passed the flattened spot where Anirne and Vanryth had been practicing that morning, and though he noted that their scents yet lingered, he knew not the exact reason for their presence there, nor did he question it. Vanryth usually had good reasons for the things he did, and he was quickly relearning that Ani always did. Reaching the tree he was looking for, Sinder hopped, catching a lower branch with both hands and pulling himself up. He contented himself with being about halfway up, and pulled his legs in underneath him. Might as well give himself a moment to get some equilibrium.

Drayk did not have the sense of smell that his Altmer friend had, and as such it took him a moment to find Sinderion perched up in the tree as he was. His skin did not agree with the decision to go outdoors into the light breeze, which even still carried a chill. A wind in Skyrim always carried a chill. He meandered slowly over towards the base of the tree, running a hand through the hair that Adrienne had shortened, trying to think of how to go about this and not produce the reaction he'd gotten out of Vanryth. It probably wasn't possible, but Drayk felt some things had to be said anyway. He was concerned for his friend, and he hoped Sinder would be able to see that this was the motive behind his words.

"Bad things seem to happen when I try to climb trees," he said awkwardly, peering up at the elf from the base of the tree. "Think we could talk? Van filled me in on what happened. I... wanted to speak to you about it."

Sinder had marked the younger Sellsword's approach, though he had to admit, he'd had no idea why it was occurring until Drayk spoke. Well, that sounded promising, now didn't it? Still, it wasn't like Drayk had no right to questions; he'd been unconscious the whole time anyway, and as such he'd certainly not been in a position to agree or disagree with the course of action that Sinderion (and the others, by their own movements) had deemed necessary at the time. It was with this in mind that the Altmer nodded simply, pushing himself out of the tree and landing in a crouch a few yards from Drayk. Pulling himself to his feet, he fixed the younger man with his customary patient stare. It was as close as he usually bothered to get to something like confirmation or assent, though in this case he added a slight tilt to his head, indicating that he would hear whatever the other had come to say.

It occurred to Drayk that he should feel a little better knowing that whatever difficulty he had speaking to Sinder, the Altmer would probably have more in replying. It didn't really make him feel better, though, as that stare wasn't particularly inviting, and he hadn't even started talking about the previous night yet. "Van told me you were the first to defend the witch," he began, doing his best to try and hold his gaze up. "I know that I wasn't really there, but... are you sure this is wise? We can't trust any of them. Maybe she doesn't show it as much as the Shade does, but she's dangerous, and unlike the Shade, she hasn't the slightest idea where the old man is. I know he's done nothing to deserve our cooperation, but the Shade is our only link to the Mentor right now. Surely we can't afford to turn him against us."

Ah. He'd wondered if one of them might come to such a conclusion. It wasn't like the line of the logic was at all unfamiliar-- Sinderion had not been immune to similar considerations, either, though in the end he'd had to decide against them. Shifting his weight slightly, the Altmer leaned back until his shoulderblades hit the trunk of the tree behind him, resisting the urge to cross his arms for fear it would be interpreted as hostile, which he was not. "No," he replied at last, "I am not sure it is wise. You speak logically, and I did consider these things before I acted." Not right then, exactly, but before the battle. He'd known something like that was due to arrive eventually, but even he had not expected it so soon.

Something in the harsh lines of his face, natural to his heritage, softened slightly, and his shoulders relaxed a bit. "Everyone we run into for the next while is going to be dangerous, Drayk. The warrior-woman is dangerous, the archer is dangerous... my sister is perhaps moreso than either of them. I'm dangerous, and so are you. Likewise... it is difficult to decide how much to trust anyone. We've all got considerations for and against us. I happen to trust Maya far more than I trust the Shade." Probably unwise, but there was a point at which it wasn't really up to him anymore. At this point, he was rather stuck with the feeling... among others.

But it was the last point that was the most problematic, and they both knew it. Sinder paused, trying to find the words he sought. The ones they'd given the Shade might be the right ones, they might not. But he didn't seek to defeat his friend in argument, he sought to put him at ease. "Perhaps we have not lost that link yet. There was something strange about the way the Shade reacted to us. Mayhap Adrienne would understand what it meant better than I do." He shook his head. "But I do not think the time to give up or despair of finding him is yet upon us."

Indeed, Drayk hadn't seen how the Shade had reacted to them, but he hadn't killed them, and for that Drayk was honestly a little surprised. He was surely capable of doing so, especially when they were as wounded and broken as they had been. So that meant he had some reason for wanting to keep them alive, beyond them being useful tools to him. For if he did not really care for their lives one way or the other, he would have just killed them to get through to the witch. So why in the world would they test that? Why would they tempt him towards shifting his stance, and changing his view of them from valuable tools to mere obstacles.

"Why do you trust her?" Drayk asked. "What has she done to earn it? From what I've seen, she's lied to us, dragged us across Skyrim to fight orcs for her, nearly gotten us killed, and is now continuing to use us as shields against the Shade. All of the Representatives are evil, Sinder. Some of them are just better at hiding that than others. All any of them want is for the rest to die, so they can win their sick game."

He paced slightly, not really knowing what to do with himself. "I'm not saying the Shade deserves to win any more than the witch does. Gods, the world would probably be better off without any of them. But the witch... I see the way she looks at you. She wants you to go back to the way you were, to make you forget who you are until all you know is... hunting, or whatever it is she does." The look on his face was a mix of pain and concern. Mostly because he knew however much he disagreed with the course they'd taken, he was not willing to go over them to go his own way.

"Look... you've become like an older brother to me since the old man brought me here. I don't want to see her do anything to you that would make us somehow lose you. So... is there something I'm not seeing here?"

"...I do not know," Sinderion replied, spreading his hands, palms up, as though in a gesture of defeat. "Perhaps. I think I would prefer it so, but I do not know. The what eludes me, so it is hardly surprising that the why does as well." In a way, the answer encompassed all of the questions, and some of the statements, but all the same, he knew it was unsatisfactory at best. And yet... it was all he had. Sinder had spent much of the past decade attempting to shut down anything resembling impulse or instinct inside himself, because those things were tied irrevocably to the bestial portion of his nature. It was no simple matter to explain his intuition now, nor what could be described in someone else as feelings. He just had them, and that was it.

He was certainly aware of the deficiency now, in an acute way he had not been when all that sort of thing had been unncessary. "I hold you in no less regard, Drayk, but we are not working with all the information here. You are correct-- we have been lied to, indirectly decieved, and manipulated. This from all quarters, not simply hers. Even now, every word that any of them speaks may be a lie." He stopped, lifting his shoulders and shaking his head. "I cannot read people well, not in the way some can. The facts are inadequate to provide me with an answer. All I have left is my instinct, and whatever the Mentor has managed to leave behind in me, whatever my family has nurtured. And.." He trailed off. He trusted Maya. He'd stood against the Shade. He would do both again, given the choice.

"All I can do now is believe. In you, in the others, in her. Maybe in myself, at some point. But I do not wish to be taken further from the Mentor in order to return to him." Metaphorically, that was; not so much geographically. Peace of mind was the same anywhere, and he wanted dearly to find it.

Drayk was forced to acknowledge the possibility that he wasn't aware of everything that was going in within the group. The witch had not made an impression on him, but if Sinder saw something different in her, he would have been an ill sort to not trust the man he'd just proclaimed his brother. "All right," he said, relenting visibly, relaxing. "Just... try to make sure it's what you want, and not just what she wants." What exactly it was, Drayk wasn't exactly sure, but the words seemed to make sense to him anyway.

His thought was cut off by a foreign call from the road leading up to the manner. "Hail, Sellswords!" Drayk turned to look down the hill, seeing the familiar face of a painted Dunmer, wrapped in his cloak as ever, though he was unhooded today. The Horizon approached rather slowly, obviously trying not to appear threatening. "Word spread of quite a commotion in the house of the Inquisitor. Perhaps we might speak of it?"

Drayk looked to Sinder, shrugging. "Round up the others? I'll walk him in." Sinder nodded, taking off to do just that.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dominicus Drayk Character Portrait: Adrienne Jastal Character Portrait: Sinderion Direnni Character Portrait: Vanryth Galero Character Portrait: Lynly Snowsong Character Portrait: Anirne Direnni Character Portrait: Soren Ivarsson Character Portrait: The Representatives

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The Blackfeather and the Horizon had a much more civil greeting now that they both knew not to immediately fear each other. Drayk had led the painted Dunmer into the main hall, where Sinderion had quickly rounded up the group around the long table for a discussion. Invorin had allowed Drayk to seat him near the center of the table, where he was more or less surrounded now by the Sellswords and their allies, with Drayk leaning up against the wall almost directly behind him, and Maya seated across from him, leaning back in her chair with one leg draped over the other.

"I'm leaving the city today," the Horizon began, his tone soft and calm as ever, "but word of the havoc at the embassy prompted me to stop here. I understand Talmoro is slain? I had thought to find the Shade here, but it seems he too is gone." He did not seem at all surprised by that, though, and he had not asked of Tarquin's whereabouts before this point.

Adrienne, seated next to Maya, had folded her hands primly in her lap, understanding that the positioning of people in this room was quite indicative and not particularly feeling the need to add to the atmosphere. Indeed, when she spoke, it was cautiously, but politely. "Your information is good," she replied. "Tarquin slew Talmoro, and Ja'Karo made an appearance as well, which accounts for the pandemonium," this last was inflected with traces of displeasure; though in the end they'd all survived, the Feral had very nearly ruined that. Without his interference, she was almost positive they would have succeeded in their aim without needing to destroy an entire Embassy full of people who were just doing their jobs. Then again, who knew what would have occurred between Tarquin and Maya then? She felt... conflicted about the entire situation, and it was not a feeling she enjoyed.

"Is there new word of any of the others?" Anirne inquired from the other side of the table. Admittedly, she wasn't sure how much would matter-- the Shade was the greatest danger to them right now, and Rialta after that, but he was supposedly off the coast to the north.

"Ja'karo hunts the Shade, then?" Invorin asked rhetorically, seeming somewhat satisfied with the news. "That should keep him busy for a year or two. As for the others... if the Stonehammer continues north as I believe he will, he should be close by the end of the day. You are hunting the Omen, are you not, Maya?" The witch nodded across the table from him. "Well, the actual hunting hasn't really started yet, but he is my next target."

"Perhaps we might assist each other, then. Indirectly, of course." Maya sat up a little. "Oh? Do tell." The Horizon ran a hand over his shaved head before continuing. "I can tell you for a fact that Silas' ship is docked in Dawnstar as we speak. He has been off the coast near Morthal for some time, sending raiding parties to try and root out the Pact and her warriors in the swamp, but she is elusive. He fears stopping too long in Morthal, and he is not welcome in Solitude, so he rests in Dawnstar. He will not stay long, however. Only long enough to replenish his numbers."

Maya considered this for a moment. "It's probably our best shot, unless any of you own a warship and haven't told me about it." Drayk didn't seem quite as pleased, however. "Why would you help us?" Invorin did not turn around, only twisting his head slightly. "Kill the Omen, and I will help you find and kill the Pact. The Shade isn't the only one capable of skirting the boundaries of the rules."

"You have some reason to want her dead?" The Dunmer snorted slightly in displeasure. "I will not go into it, but we have history, and it would please me if that Bosmer made it no further in the game than she already has."

Soren, who was presently tipped back onto the hind legs of his chair, feet propped on the table with ankles crossed, hummed a pensive note. Dawnstar. It was almost too good, the timing. He'd been needing to head up that way for a while now, and if he made it before the next month turned, he'd be in good shape. There was someone he needed to see, and a few other people he needed to kill, and the last information he'd managed to obtain before leaving the Guild had put them up there. Old news, by now, but still worth looking into. "You know, we're still missing a few," he said offhandedly, glancing back and forth between Maya and Invorin. "If you expect us to kill someone for your vendetta and you expect us to keep you alive, it might be a good idea if we knew who to be watching for, at any given time." They knew not who hunted the Horizon, after all, and if they were to find themselves in his company for any length of time, it was best to at least have names and defining characteristics on anyone it could be. Ideas on skill and relative danger would be nice, too, but he didn't want to overtax their generous natures.

"Let's see," Invorin began, going over the information they knew. "You already know of the Blackfeather and the Omen, the Stonehammer, the Feral and the Shade, the Pact and myself. Have you heard of the Drunk?"

Maya nodded. "Tarquin told them when they first met." The Horizon nodded back. "Then you know as much as we do. The Bloody Curse, the Light, the Spymaster, and the Inquisitor are all dead, and the Master is gone, which leaves... just the Librarian and the Webspinner. Representatives of Hermaeus Mora and Mephala, repsectively. I cannot say what their locations are. I know nothing of the Librarian's target or his hunter, nor were the Argonian's strengths made readily apparent. As for the Webspinner... the Pact hunts her, but she has been far too busy evading Rialta's attacks to make any progress. I will say no more about her."

He seemed uncomfortable at the subject, and indeed, Maya as well seemed rather closed off to the idea of discussing that particular representative. No doubt there was a reason for it, but neither seemed particularly willing to dive into it.

"I should warn you," Horizon said, changing the subject, "The Omen possesses powerful Illusion magic, and is rather uniquely gifted in the art. Killing him will not be easy. No doubt he will make every effort to confront you in dreams, where he has power and control, rather than in the flesh. I would advise caution; dreams often seem very real until the dreamer passes through them. Do not allow him to turn your own minds against you."

"You speak as if everything we've done to this point has been easy," Lynly leveled tonelessly. Perhaps, a bit colder than usual, but then again, she didn't like the way the knife-ear insinuated their journey so far had been a cakewalk. Half of the sellswords about died during the last night, the only way it could be harder was if they did die. She locked her jaw and turned away from the conversation at hand, instead taking in the view she had from her window view. Vanryth was much of the same mind, though he wasn't confrontational about it. He appreciated the fact that the Horizon had come and told them the score, though he didn't approve of the Game. He'd follow along, he'd take the bait, but only because the others were so adamant about continuing. That being said, he had to keep a mind not to get to know this Horizon too well, as he may as well be at the end of his sword before the Game was over.

There was something going on with the Webspinner. It didn't make sense that they would both be reluctant to talk about her unless there was good reason. But did the reason have to do with Invorin and Maya, or with their audience? He recalled that Tarquin had told the others that the Mentor's family, his whole family, had been participants in the Game, or at least trained for it. He supposed that even a man like Tarquin had to have a mother, and wondered if perhaps this was she. It was nothing certain, but the inkiling of the idea refused to leave him, at least for now. If true, it was at least more confirming evidence that they'd done the right thing, choosing to alter the nature of their participation in this Game. He doubted that what the Mentor intended for them would have anything to do with killing the woman he'd once called his wife.

Yet there were so many factors at play, and there was no telling if his guess was even remotely possible. Sinderion wa